Saturday, April 22, 2017

Some things from 64 hours in a children's hospital

London is ok now. So I can write about this now. She started wheezing Sunday morning and by 9 that night it was uncontrollable. We checked in at the ER at one of our two local children's hospitals (we are so lucky considering the size of our city that we have two excellent children's hospitals) around 10:30 that night.

*Easter night in a children's ER is surprisingly empty.

*Children's hospital's nurses in the ER are nice but registration staff are as gruff as they are in normal ERs.

*A staff doctor with a stutter makes me want to assist her in communication.

*Time passes both quickly and slowly. The moments drag but the hours fly and I don't know how I made it from somewhere around midnight until 4 in the morning.

*Twelve year olds do not want you to take their picture when they are in the ER.

*It's been so long since I had my first IV, and I've had so so many since that first one, that it was hard to live through her as she got her first one. Especially when the first line blew and the nurse got a phlebotomist to do it again and there was blood all over the bed.

*Twelve year olds, however, can be notional and like the idea of hospital beds and how they go up and down at different spots and wheel around and raise up and have rails and so forth. Very entertaining.

*Being told that your child is going to be hospitalized isn't actually that bad.

*Being told it's the PICU is devastating.

*Calling your father, the former ER nurse, at 7:30 in the morning while you drink a cup of coffee the social worker got you a voucher for and hearing him say: "The next step is they will intubate her" destroys you.

*And then when he walks into the ER room and you can tell how worried he is, then you know for sure. This whole time you've been thinking a breathing treatment and then we'll go home. Ok, three breathing treatments and then we'll go home. Ok, magnesium and then we'll get a room and they'll observe her the rest of the night. Oh. Oh this is happening. My child is dying.

*Children's hospitals are both grim and cheerful. I've been to both in town before for appointments and MRIs and whatnot, but PICUs are only grim. So many people. So many upset serious people. London was in room 28, and to get to her room I had to walk past all the other other rooms (hers was the last on the floor). There was a secret back exit I could leave through, but to come back I had to walk past every single room. A gauntlet of human misery. Hallways filled with equipment and cabinets and trash cans and machines.

*They break news to you in bits, although I already had hints from friends over text who knew ICUs and children's hospitals and emergency situations. But the biggest bit was status asthmaticus. Asthma that won't break.

*After being awake 27 hours, a single hour's nap in a parent lounge while my father paced back and forth is frighteningly enough sleep.

*People help. Meals were made. My house was cleaned. Brooklyn and Niles were fed and cared for. My phone wouldn't stop dinging from text messages and facebook responses.

*I am very very lucky. For two reasons, one of which I'll get to later, but the reason I saw and felt palpably in the PICU was how lucky I was that my child was well. That all three of my children were ok until that moment. Many sick, many chronically terminally sick children shared my living space those three days.

*Finding yourself texting a friend that you are afraid your child is going to die and then following it up with "I haven't gotten enough time with her yet" breaks your heart open as you realize how much of life is totally out of your hands.

*Having to tell the story again and again makes you relive it just a little bit and your heart races.

*For some reason this continues even days later. Your heart doesn't stop racing.

*Getting downshifted from the PICU to a pulmonary floor is a huge letdown in terms of staff attentiveness. It's like moving from a Ritz Carlton you never wanted to go to, down to a Quality Inn you can't get out of.

*The Ronald McDonald Lounge is absolutely amazing.

*A good nurse and a child life specialist can make a huge difference for your kid as she gets well enough to be bored but not well enough to go home.

*Going home is a huge relief and also overwhelming in a whole new way. And your heart doesn't stop racing.

*Sitting on your dad's front porch the next evening as he pours you a glass of whiskey with a splash of water and he starts a sentence with, "I can say this to you now..." is a really hard moment. The rest of that sentence is "Status Asthmaticus is one of the three true lung emergencies, with embolism and edema. I've seen people die of this." You know you're going to carry that around with you the rest of your life. The rest of your life, and anytime you hear your child wheeze or cough, your heart is going to stop.

We are home. She is well. All is once again right in this corner of the world.

And I'm terrified.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

I can't even

Warning: gross story ahead.

London tried out for and got a role as "extra with lines" in a student film. A university in town with a film school has student films that need actors and London saw a notice for one looking for child actors and she tried out.

I was busy with pertussis and remember vaguely telling her that sounded cool but not putting much weight into the idea that she might get a part. She got a part, and we went down to the filming location last weekend for blocking and costumes and whatnot. It was being filmed in a field in the country near a house belonging to one of the students (or rather, his parents). Found out while I was there (I'm sure there was an email but: pertussis) that the filming was happening over Easter weekend in the same location. Fair enough.

So on Friday we drove down and planted ourselves in a field somewhat near yelling distance from the set.

Wait let me back up.

Last weekend, I met a couple of the other parents while I froze in the field (why I was unaware of the location and it being outside, I'm not sure. Oh yeah, pertussis). Including a family from outstate Missouri whose kid was one of the leads.

Within ten minutes of sitting down in my camp chair, I knew the birth years of both parents, how long they had decided to wait to have kids, why they only had one, who had a drinking problem, where everyone grew up, and so forth. Kind of awkward but the sort of awkward I can handle. Then the dad insulted London in a vague way, telling her that she had to start somewhere, once she said what her role was. I could see that London was going to have no more of that nonsense. Lucky for her, the actors were busy from there on out and I was trapped with the family from hell.

I was grading papers; he told me what he thought about teachers. About math. About how things in schools are nowadays and how they used to be better. This is MY LEAST FAVORITE DISCUSSION ABOUT MY PROFESSION. I can talk about math, about why I teach, who I teach, about teachers other people loved, about school violence, about any and all sorts of things. But don't talk about how calculators make people dumb. Or tell jokes about how hard math was back in the day. Or how the nuns used to beat you and that was somehow better. Because it isn't better.

I had some knitting....he talked about knitting. He talked about blood thinners. He talked about...everything. He was the expert.

So coming back this weekend, I was determined that someone else was going to be the sacrificial lamb. I brought a friend. We sat waaaaaay far away and talked in whispers to each other. We did not engage. There were other people for him to talk to, and frankly, there were so many people and they were so busy with the filming that he didn't have much to say.

A little set up: we were in a field. The house attached to the field was down a one lane gravel road about a quarter mile. That's where we parked and we were shuttled to the location, although once I realized it was a pleasant little walk, I declined the shuttle service. Beautiful weather under the stars. Might as well walk. The house was also the location of the bathroom. Also not a big deal, I'm a girl scout, I understand walking a little hike to the facilities.

But this family didn't like the set up. Neither adult was in good shape and a long walk to the bathroom was not wanted. The shuttle service (which was a minivan) was fine until filming began at dark--they didn't want the headlights messing with the lighting. So once it was dark, we were stuck with a walk back to the house. Well neither of them wanted that and they both opted to find a spot in the woods. I get this--I've been on hikes where this was the only option.

Ok so back to this week. Sitting apart from them and the other families, talking with my friend Maggie, she looks over at one point and asks in a whisper, "what is going on over there?"

My eyes take a moment to focus on the dim light. On the edge of the trees there's some movement and I finally can see that someone is holding up a blanket. I realize its the dad from that family, and obviously he's shielding his wife from view while she does her business.

After they make their way back to the camp chairs where they are sitting, we focus in again. There's a bucket where they had been.

"Oh no," I whisper. "He held up a blanket while she pissed in a bucket."

We have to investigate. Of course we do. We make a pretense of walking to the house so that we can walk past the bucket. And it has a lid. It has a toilet seat and lid. I have so many questions I cannot answer.

We get back to our chairs and wait to see what happens next. The whole thing is so weird. Did they bring the bucket? Surely the students didn't provide the bucket. Are they going to take it with them? Where did they purchase the seat for a five gallon bucket (this question I answered with a google search)?

Time passes. They both appear to be asleep in their chairs. It's like 10:30 at night in a breezy country field. Other parents are staring at their phones. Everyone is silent.

And suddenly the man topples out of his chair. Maggie runs over, another mom holds up her iPad as a flashlight. I get up to go help and when I get there, he's just starting to get up off the ground.

And he's buckling his belt.

Then his wife, who hadn't gotten out of her chair until we all got over there, goes over with him to the bucket and that whole thing happens again.

We sit down and I turn to Maggie. "His belt was undone?"

She nods. "And his pants. And they were pulled partially down. He was trying to pull them up when I got over there."

We sit and consider this a moment. And another moment while we watch them and their bucket ordeal at the edge of the woods.

We hash this out once we are safely in my car on our way back to the city. And we come to the conclusion, in her words, that "he is a filthy old man, that's why" and just sit in that fact for a while.

I drop her off at home, take London home and get her to bed and I'm still thinking about the whole thing.

And yes, they took the bucket with them when they left.

And yes, they brought it back tonight.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Birds: Sparrow

In college, my freshman year, I didn't have a phone very often. My first roommate had it in her name but she moved out on me and I didn't have the money to join the 20th century. So my neighbors would take messages for me, or the dorm desk, and I would make phone calls from payphones.
My father worked at a private psychiatric hospital at the time and there was a 1-800 number for his place. It wasn't supposed to be used for lonely freshmen to call their fathers for free during the workday, but that's what I used it for.

I was conflicted. I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I didn't understand human relationships and I was having troubles with friends and with the boyfriend back home. And later in the spring, I was sick, probably with histoplasmosis from a caving trip, this unending cough and fever.

I was troubled and worried about many things.

None of my choices seemed clear. Nothing looked easy or even like a good challenge I was up for. I was lonely and conflicted and I would call my father at work on a Tuesday morning.

He had no answers for me. 

No--he did. And they are things I still think about. Life is better through a classroom window than from behind a lathe. Pretty sure he said that to me for the first time on one of those calls. Also: life is too long to spend it doing something you hate.

"You mean life is too short," I corrected him.

"No," he was never to be corrected. "It is too long."

So here I am twenty four years ago. I'm conflicted. I don't know what I want to be when I grow up. I still sometimes don't understand relationships and I'm not sure where I'm headed. I am sick, this time with pertussis, this unending cough.

I am troubled and worried about many things.

None of my choices seem clear.

But I also know no one has any better answers for me than Terry did back in 1993. I need to do what I can. Do what I love. Don't waste a single moment. Hustle and try and get back up and sweat it out and do it, Bridge. Life is too long not to.

Have some faith that you can do what you need.

We all are mostly sparrows--we think of ourselves as cardinals and hawks and doves but most of us are sparrows.

God's got his eye on the sparrow.
And I know he watches me.