April 17, 2017 by The Citron Review
by Laurie Ember
As a little girl, I poured salt on slugs. Summer fun. Thick, white mountains from blue and white containers of Morton’s. Iodized or not, it sizzled their slimy bodies, dehydrated them.
“I’m melting!” I’d yell as they turned to mush.
They wasted away, lives extinguished in seconds, saline tidbits for the birds.
* * *
In college, with boyfriends and frat friends, we sprinkled salt between thumb and forefinger, licked it off, slugged down shots of tequila, sucked slices of sour lime. Briny lushes wasting the nights away until graduation. All in fun. Taken with a grain of.
* * *
Years later, our four-week-old baby was vomiting, dehydrated, listless, gaunt.
My husband and I rushed her to the ER.
Her blood pressure was falling. She was in shock. They stuck her with needles. She didn’t cry.
We were told this condition is genetic. A missing enzyme resulting in dehydration and salt deficiency. It’s called salt-wasting.
When both parents carry an abnormal allele, each child has a 25% chance of having the disease, a 50% chance of being a carrier like the parents, and a 25% chance of having two normal genes.
We had taken salt for granted. Squandered it. Underestimated its value. Ignored its place in history. There was a reason civilizations traded with it, that Gandhi marched for it. Salt is essential, and needs to remain in the bloodstream to sustain life.
We did not know salt-wasting was a thing.
Approximately one in fifteen thousand live births.
In our city of ten million, we might find sixty-seven similar kids. But only if they lived. And only if they wanted to be found.
Our baby was fading. Her whole body tasted like tears.
This is termed a salt-wasting crisis and rapidly causes death if not treated.
Rehydration was critical and constant.
We learned to dose her with saline from a needle-free plastic syringe. She sucked it down. Craved it. A sodium addict with her life-saving fix.
As our little girl grew, we filled her with green olives, dill pickles, caper berries, cornichons, pretzels. We stuck pitted black olives, like rings, on her fingers. She ate one at a time, grinning. She was having fun. We poured mounds of Morton’s into her hands and watched her lick it up. Replenishing and plumping. Thriving, unlike the slugs that foamed and disappeared.
Laurie Ember’s essays and creative nonfiction have appeared in Grand Piano Passion, Cheat River Review, The Huffington Post, CulturalWeekly.com, and MariaShriver.com. She lives and writes in Los Angeles, CA, was raised on Long Island, NY, and spends as much time as she can in Fairfield, CT.