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This is an embarrassing column to write, but I owe it to my 13-year-old son, Jimmy. It was bad enough that I didn’t take him seriously when he complained of a belly ache, so the least I can do now is come clean about how the whole thing went down.

By “the whole thing,” I’m referring to his appendectomy two weeks ago, which required an overnight stay in the hospital and scared the daylights out of me.

His symptoms began with a bellyache on Wednesday. It wasn’t so bad that he couldn’t sleep that night, but he did try it out as an excuse not to go to school the next day.

That’s exactly what I thought his symptoms were, an excuse to skip school. I booted him out the door and sent him to the bus stop.

Jimmy has been known in the past to exaggerate symptoms if there is any chance I might permit him to stay home from school, so I’m constantly on guard in case he’s trying to pull a fast one.

Since it was only the second week of school, I was especially vigilant. He had suggested that his abdominal muscles might be sore from doing crunches in gym class, and I pounced upon that explanation.

By Friday morning, however, he was complaining so much that I allowed him to stay home. As I called the phone number for the school attendance line, I told myself for the zillionth time what a pushover I am when it comes to parenting.

Jimmy spent most of that afternoon playing video games with his brothers, and I became even more convinced that his aching belly wasn’t the sign of anything serious.

As the boys and I settled back to watch a movie on HBO that evening, we looked forward to another busy weekend of football and soccer games. But Jimmy was still complaining and by then had a fever of 100 degrees.

“You don’t think it’s appendicitis, do you?” Ron asked, around 7:30 p.m. Jimmy’s face was panic-stricken, but I told him there was nothing to worry about.

“I’ll look it up on the Internet and show you,” I said.

Less than 10 minutes later, Ron and Jimmy were on their way to the emergency room at Dewitt Army Hospital, Fort Belvoir. I continued to reassure Jimmy as he headed out the door even though I had lost faith in my ability to diagnose his symptoms on my own.

When they weren’t back by midnight, I told myself there must have been a lot of people ahead of them in the ER. A few hours and frantic phone calls later, Jimmy gave me the news that his appendix had to be removed.

I asked him to repeat himself, then hung up the phone and began to pack up his toothbrush and a change of clothes. It was a struggle to appear calm while waking up Tommy and Ronnie at 3 a.m.

“We have to go meet your daddy and Jimmy at the hospital,” I said, as we headed out into the night.

“What’s going on? Is Jimmy going to be OK?” Tommy asked. I said of course, Jimmy would be OK, hoping to convince myself as well.

Tommy’s response helped me keep my cool behind the wheel. We were backing out of the driveway when he asked, “Can I have Jimmy’s appendix after they take it out?”

I was too worried to laugh at his comment, but over the next 24 hours, it was our sense of humor that kept us together as Jimmy headed off to the operating table to get rid of that rotten appendix.

Next week, I will reveal what famous movie line Jimmy uttered after returning from surgery and more details of his hospital antics.

[PULSCALTAG]A mother of three boys, Pam Zich has moved eight times in 16 years of marriage to her Marine Corps husband. They have been stationed in various locations, including Okinawa, California, Texas and their current home in Springfield, Va. E-mail her at homefront@stripes.osd.mil or find the Zichs online at www.lifeonthehomefront.com.

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