Hollywood has a history of giving movies present participle titles that include the word “saving,” presumably to indicate that this is a Very Important Film. Saving Sarah Cain. Saving Private Ryan. Saving Mr. Banks. And I think there are like, four different movies called Saving Grace. (Spoiler alert: I’m pretty sure the main character in each one is named…wait for it…Grace. Punny.) And then there are the not-so-important movies that piggyback on this precedent, like Saving Silverman.
I think if Mr. Mostafa and I had a movie, it would be called Saving Cerelac. Because we always seem to end up eating Cerelac.
Once upon a time, about seven years ago, Mr. Mostafa and I paid a visit to the only Middle Eastern store in our city (or town? I’m confident that some people would call the place where we met a town; its population is around 165,000. But for me, growing up two hours southeast in a town–or I’m confident some people would call it a village–of 212, that big “town” was, to me, the big city. Also, fun fact–that Middle Eastern store was also a Latin American store, because the couple who own it are bicultural–the husband was Middle Eastern and the wife is Latin American. Love). Anyway, Mr. Mostafa took an immediate liking to this store, obviously, because it was the only one in town (city?) that carried such homesickness-alleviating items as black limes and Vimto.
And then he found the Cerelac. He picked up the can and looked at it wistfully. “My mom used to make this for me when I was a kid,” he said sadly.
“What is it?” I asked. I had never seen a can of this stuff in my life. I would later learn that Cerelac is common in many countries around the world, but not in the United States (although you can get it on Amazon, of course. I’m surprised you can’t buy a human kidney on Amazon yet).
“It’s hot cereal for kids,” he explained. “It’s so delicious.”
“So, like…baby cereal?” I asked, trying to make sense of this.
“Basically,” he nodded.
“Huh,” I said.
So we bought a can of Cerelac. I watched, incredulous, as Saleh, a grown graduate student in his mid-twenties, expertly mixed a bowl of hot baby cereal. He held out the bowl for me to try it.
“Wow,” I said, impressed. “It’s really good!”
And, um…it is really good. Especially when you fancy it up with things that babies can’t really eat. Like honey. And chunks of fruit. Swirl some honey and toss some blueberries in a bowl of hot Cerelac, and you’ve got a breakfast fit for a queen.
We ate it quite a bit when we were in the States, but we haven’t eaten it much here in Saudi Arabia, where it’s readily available in any supermarket. That’s partly because, you know, it’s baby cereal–designed to be heavily caloric for the benefit of growing babies, but not so much adults who are trying to stay the same size (or get smaller). But every once in awhile, something happens that reminds us how good it is. Like, having a kid (who actually didn’t like Cerelac until a few weeks ago–the first time we brought home a can to try it with her, she wouldn’t eat it, so of course, we did). Or developing a massively abscessed tonsil.
Which brings us to the present day, where Mr. Mostafa has basically been living on Cerelac and soup for the past few weeks. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you might have seen my post about his recent medical situation. Poor dude has been dealing with an abscessed tonsil for about three weeks now…except we didn’t know it was an abscessed tonsil until a little over a week ago.
The thing is, he never got sick sick. Like, when people talk about tonsillitis or strep throat, I think of a sore throat along with flu-like symptoms–fever, headache, general malaise, as they say on WebMD. He never had any of that. He just had a pain at the back left side of his mouth, and we assumed it was a canker sore.
Except canker sores eventually go away. This didn’t. In fact, it got worse, and worse, and worse, until eventually, he couldn’t swallow food without tremendous pain. Furthermore, the left side of his jaw and his left ear had also begun hurting. He’d been super busy with work lately and hadn’t wanted to take any time away, even to tend to his freaking health.
“Enough is enough. It’s time to go to the doctor,” I finally insisted, on about the tenth morning of watching him cringe down his breakfast. On his way home from work that evening, he went to the hospital and saw a doctor.
“It’s a tonsil infection,” he told me when he got home. “The doctor gave me a shot in my ass. Then she gave me a prescription for antibiotics and one for a pain medicine.”
“A shot in your ass?” I repeated. “Why would she give you a shot in the ass?”
“I don’t know, but it hurts,” he said, rubbing his right butt cheek.
“So what else did she say?”
“Nothing, just that it’s a tonsil infection. And she said I should come back in a few days if it doesn’t get any better.”
“A tonsil infection? Tonsilitis? Strep throat? What does that even mean?” I nagged.
“I don’t know,” he shrugged.
“I knew I should have gone with you to ask questions,” I sighed, kissing his forehead as I unfolded the insert to one of his prescription boxes.
Four days later, nothing had gotten better. He was even more miserable.
“Enough is enough,” I said. “It’s time to go back to the doctor. And don’t go to the emergency room. Make an appointment with an ear, nose and throat doctor. Something is seriously wrong.”
He did. He came home later that night after visiting an ENT doctor. “How did it go?” I asked.
“Awful. I think he’s crazy,” he said.
“You think the doctor’s crazy?”
“Yes. He had me sit in the chair and then he sprayed some numbing stuff on my throat and then he took a giant needle–A NEEDLE, HONEY–and he stuck it in my tonsil and pulled out all this nasty stuff. IT WAS SO GROSS. And it hurt. And he gave me more antibiotics. And I want to go to bed. Can I go to bed?”
“Eat some soup first, sweetheart. Then of course you can go to bed.”
Fast forward four more days. The tonsil infection was not improving. Mr. Mostafa was still subsisting on soup and Cerelac, and cringing even when he had to swallow that.
“ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. GO BACK TO THE DOCTOR,” I said. “And I’m going with you this time.”
“Do I have to go back to the crazy one?” he asked.
“I don’t care which one you go to,” I said. “But you have to go back. You’re not getting better.”
That evening, we left Lavender with her auntie and grandmother and we went to the hospital, back to the doctor that Mr. Mostafa swore was crazy.
I could see why he thought that. He was very jolly and he spoke to Mr. Mostafa like he was a small child, cajoling him into the examination chair while calling him “Salooh” the whole time (“Salooh” is a cutesy nickname for “Saleh”).
The doctor strapped a light onto his forehead, pulled on a pair of gloves, and peered into Mr. Mostafa’s mouth with aid of the flashlight. “Scalpel!” he said cheerfully to the nurse standing next to him. He sprayed some numbing spray on the back of Mr. Mostafa’s throat.
As she took a sterile, plastic-wrapped scalpel out of a drawer, Mr. Mostafa looked at me, wild-eyed, and held out his hand. I stood up and went to the chair and took my hand in his.
The doctor laughed. “He is a baby?” he said to me.
“Well, he is my baby!” I retorted.
“Okay, take care of the baby Salooh,” he laughed. He pressed Mr. Mostafa’s tongue down with a tongue depressor, then took the scalpel and announced, “Suction!” Then he swiftly sliced the tonsil right open.
Mr. Mostafa wrenched at my arm and yelled, “Aaaaaack!” The nurse stepped in between Mr. Mostafa and the doctor and expertly placed the suction tube in his mouth, sucking out all of the infection draining from the tonsil.
The doctor tugged his gloves off, threw them away, took his flashlight off his head, and went to sit back down at his desk. He instructed “Salooh” to go to the sink and rinse out his mouth.
Mr. Mostafa complied. Rinse and spit. Rinse and spit. Rinse and spit. This continued for about five minutes, because the incision kept bleeding. I stood there, rubbing his back. I felt awful for him.
Finally, after he was done, we sat back down at the doctor’s desk.
“Why isn’t he getting better?” I angrily inquired. “It’s been four days and he hasn’t improved at all. In fact, I think it’s worse.”
The doctor raised an eyebrow at me. “Did your baby tell you he was supposed to come back in two days if it wasn’t better?”
“No, he did not,” I said, narrowing my eyes at my husband, who hung his head.
“Yes,” the doctor said, nodding. “I told him to come back after two days if he didn’t feel better. Why he didn’t?”
“Yes, why didn’t he?” I said.
“I was busy with work,” Mr. Mostafa mumbled.
The doctor laughed. Then he prescribed yet another oral antibiotic, along with three days of intravenous antibiotics to be administered at the hospital. “Do not let him go to work tomorrow. And make your baby come back to see me after the three days,” he said.
He’s doing much better now. The intravenous antibiotics did wonders, and he is finishing up his oral antibiotics. It’s such a relief that he’s going to avoid having his tonsils taken out, which, according to the doctor, was an option on the table should he continue to not improve after the three days of IV antibiotics.
But we’re still finishing up the can of Cerelac that we bought when the whole saga first started. Because it’s good. Really good. And even Lavender likes it now. This morning, when she woke up and came into the kitchen, still bleary-eyed from her sleep, she said, “Hi, Mama. Whatcha doin’?”
“Hi, baby! I’m making tea. Do you want me to make you some Cerelac for breakfast?”
“Yes, please, Mama. I like Celelac.”
Me, too, cutie pie. Me, too.