Friday, May 31, 2019

On Letting Go Too Soon


I come from an affectionate, demonstrative family. We said "I love you" freely - and still do. It is no small blessing to know, always, that you are loved. While I am sure that my husband's parents loved him, he never heard those words. Ever. It took a while, but his heart is open now. Even a little mushy sometimes. Plus, he's a great dad.

He hates it when I tell this story, but it's one of my favorites. When our daughter was three months old, we took her to the state fair. We had a great day and she looked so cute in her hat and sunglasses. As I was pushing her stroller up a hill on our way out at the end of the day, I asked my husband, "Have you ever told her that you love her?"

With a straight face, he replied, "I don't know her that well yet."

He wasn't making a joke - that's just how is brain works. Despite that goofy response, he's thoroughly devoted to her. He overcame the lack of affection in his own upbringing and routinely tucks his daughter into bed. His hugs might be accompanied by a reminder to "turn in that science assignment tomorrow," but he's there for her in body and spirit.

Growing up, I accepted affection from my family but was hesitant to interact with others in that way. I suffered with vitiligo and other visible physical conditions, resulting in a desire not to be seen and certainly not to be touched. It led to a lifetime of chronically low self-esteem.

As I've gotten older (and have grown in some ways more comfortable in my own skin), I've gotten better about receiving and even initiating physical contact with others. A beloved member of my church lost her husband several years ago. She got up to light a candle in his memory, her voice shaking as she spoke about her pain in losing him. Karen was new to our congregation then. I didn't know her. But as she made her way back to her seat, I found myself rising to catch her in a hug. It was out of character for me, but it was genuine.

I try to connect with people when I can, and when I sense that they are open to it. A hand on a shoulder while asking, "How is your dad doing?" seems like the right thing to do. I dole out compliments on the regular - it's amazing how startled people are to receive a compliment sometimes. If you like the cashier's necklace, tell her so. Of course, I've gotten no better at small talk (like, how do you end it? just walk away?), but I'm out there tryin'.

Lately I've been thinking about hugging, perhaps the most human way of all to connect. A couple months ago, my friend Carrie officiated at a memorial service. The service was held at my church so I was standing near the kitchen in case anyone needed help finding the bathroom, coffee, whatever. I greeted Carrie and she hugged me. She is a very warm, genuine person and her hug reflected that. I mean, it was some kind of great hug - long, steady, and sincere. I felt like she was saying, "You matter to me."

Here's where I go wrong with hugs. I assume that people would not want to touch me any longer than necessary, and I always pull away first. Always. I did so with Carrie but nope, she was still in full hug mode. I can't tell you how many times I've done this. I mean, what is wrong with me?

Last weekend, my friend Heidi experienced an unbelievable tragedy. She and her husband, along with their daughter (they also have an adult son), were at their cabin. Chad mentioned some slight nausea and shortly thereafter, he died. If I understand correctly, it was a cardiac issue. Heidi is a nurse and tried to save him, but it was out of her hands. His death happened with a quickness that feels especially cruel. I should mention that Chad was just two months older than I am. It's always particularly startling when you lose a contemporary. Chad was a great guy. I saw him annually at the circus protests that Heidi organizes in our community, and crossed paths with the whole family at other events, too. Heidi and her children are reeling, as you can imagine.

Heidi is not a person who is inclined to ask for help on a personal level. She has a lot on her shoulders now. Obtaining new health insurance, figuring out how to do the chores that Chad used to do, making sure that her children are coping . . . the list goes on and on. The only bright side here is that there are a lot of people who care about this family very much. A GoFundMe campaign already has a pretty healthy balance (enough to ease some immediate worries, anyway). I wanted to help in some small way (in addition to making a donation) so I made a casserole. Heidi is vegan so I knew that I could whip up some comfort food for when she needs it. Another mutual (vegan) friend has been cooking for her as well. I think Pam and I were both worried that well-meaning neighbors might drop off food that Heidi and her family could not eat.

Heidi is someone for whom I've always had a lot of admiration. I've known her for several years. Not only does she organize circus protests and try to educate people about the realities of factory farming, she is very active in TNR (Trap Neuter Return). I'm sure she has saved hundreds of cats. She inspired me to get rid of my dumb excuses and to switch from vegetarian to vegan five years ago. Heidi has a big heart but she's not a mushy person. She has an offbeat sense of humor (which may be why I love her so much). She once posted a meme on Facebook that related to hugging. She was not, from what I gathered, a hugger.

I was prepared to deliver my casserole to her home, but Heidi said she'd be nearby and offered to stop and pick it up. She said she would have her parents with her. I told her that sounded great because I'm currently fostering a puppy and Lexy has been looking for some new flesh to gnaw on with her razor teeth. I told Heidi, "Don't worry, I won't hug you." It's been a running joke between us because I did hug her the first time we met in person.

"I've been hugging. It's okay," she responded. I'm so proud of her for letting people help her. I know it's not easy.

And so, I hugged her when she arrived. I tried not to let go too soon.

I'm going to keep working on this hugging thing. Life, as they say, is short.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

ADHD (Sub-title: Parenting is Hard, Y'all)

The funny thing about being the mom of an only child is that for every new challenge that comes along, I'm technically still a first-time mom - even though my child is a teenager. While my daughter does have biological half-siblings (through her birthmom), she is my only child. I can't compare her behavior/illnesses/whatever to my other children, because they do not exist. This sometimes leaves me wondering if I'm making the right call when decisions must be made (and my husband, as you might guess, is not a decision maker).

If you had asked me a decade ago, I might have been one of those people who said, "Geez, kids are over-medicated. Just let them be kids." Now I've been forced to re-think my uninformed stance. My child has been diagnosed with ADHD - Inattentive Type.

Since my daughter started school back in 2009, I've made jokes about how she talks too much. I've heard words like chatty, distracted, talkative, etc. from teachers at every parent-teacher conference I've ever attended. I think it was her second grade teacher who said, "She can't walk across the room without stopping to entertain every table."

I love the fact that my daughter is friendly and extroverted. People tend to like her and to enjoy being with her. My dad once said, "She makes me feel like I'm special." I think that's her superpower - making everyone around her feel special in some way. I wouldn't want her to be any other way.

The other side of the coin, alas, is that she struggles to focus and is profoundly disorganized. It was a problem in elementary school (unfinished assignments, lost assignments, etc.) but her grades were always fine. At times I wondered if she was getting by on pure cuteness (I mean, I am biased but she is pretty cute). However, I'm sure her teachers could see that she understood the material and may have let some of the homework slide. I've been hearing about her intelligence all along, too - even if she doesn't turn in the homework, she is 100% capable of understanding the content. She tends to do pretty well on tests.

Middle school has been a challenge, and that's an understatement. Cuteness gets her nowhere and teachers care a lot more about missing assignments. Sometimes, she has done the assignment but it's crumpled at the bottom of her backpack. She is constantly behind. She has had an F in some of her core classes at various times this year. Her dad and I feel like we have no choice but to harangue her about her homework every night. We resort to taking away her phone, iPad, etc. Tears are shed. We started to wonder . . . were we fussing at her for something she truly couldn't help? Then we started thinking about high school. She'll be a freshman in September. Her GPA will start to matter a lot more. Our daughter plans to study music in college. We've told her over and over again that even if she studies music, she'll still have to take the core classes like math and science.

If I'm being honest, I actually think homework is a bit of  a crock. (Apologies to my teacher friends!) I understand that it's meant to enforce lessons learned during class but I feel like it's just a time-suck with no real payoff. Nonetheless, I tell my daughter that she has to play the game and Get. It. Done. We do our best to help her. We remind her constantly. We don't make her do chores or anything that would interfere with homework time. We buy her the tools she needs (a new desk, post-it notes, etc.) But still, she has struggled. She truly cannot focus on this stuff.

I called her neurologist's office to see if any of the symptoms are related to her epilepsy (and meds for that condition). They told me that the symptoms I described are not really on the list of side effects. Plus, I can testify to the fact that the focus issue was present before the epilepsy meds came into play.

Next, I called her pediatrician's office. I had started to think, "Maybe life doesn't have to be THIS hard?" It's not like we enjoy riding our daughter about her homework day after day. They sent us a packet of forms. It's called the Vanderbilt Assessment, which provides a scoring system to determine if a child is exhibiting ADHD symptoms. Her dad and I filled out the form (separately) and the rest went to A's teachers. Her pediatrician compiled the responses and called us in for a meeting. Yes, it's clear that she has it. I should also add that I spoke to A's birthmom and two of her sons have ADHD and are on meds for it. The third son tested borderline and is not on meds (as far as I know). So, with the family history, it's not too much of a surprise. I should add that she doesn't really have the H (hyperactivity) but I guess the same acronym is used regardless. She has the "Inattentive" type. Here's an example: a few weeks ago she brushed her teeth and then went to bed with the water still running. Not trickling, mind you - full-on running. She can remember the lyrics to a thousand songs but not to turn the water off after brushing her teeth. I think one reason we waited so long to look into it is that her dad and I don't really know what's normal teenage-girl-who-thinks-about-boys-a-lot stuff and what constitutes an actual problem. Once it became clear that her future may well be affected by her inability to focus, we started to see it differently.

Dr. T gave us a list of medications that can be used to treat ADHD. We're checking with our insurance to see how much each one will cost so that we can decide which one to try. From there, we just see how it goes. At this point, I'm feeling like . . . if there is a tool that can help my child, I owe it to her to look into it, at least.

Last weekend, A competed at the district-level Solo & Ensemble Festival. She performed in a solo (Class A), a duet (Class A), and a madrigal. She is moving on to state for the solo and duet! (the madrigal was a less complex Class B song that was therefore ineligible for state - however, the judge said it was the best thing she'd heard all morning). I am so proud of my girl. She is so talented, if I do say so myself.  I firmly believe that she will go far in life. She may just need someone to pay her water bill while she does so.


Thursday, February 28, 2019

Sven, Part 2

At the end of November I wrote about my bout with a kidney stone, whom I affectionately named Sven. My kidney birthed Sven about two weeks before my daughter and I were scheduled to leave for our Christmas trip to Orlando. At the emergency room, I was told that Sven would probably pass in the next few days. I was given a plastic insert for the toilet and a strainer. You have not lived until you've strained your own pee, let me just tell you.

Sven did not pass within the next few days. I called the urologist to whom I had been referred. She gave me a prescription for a medication that was supposed to "relax my ureter." It just figures that I'd have an uptight ureter. The pharmacist indicated that Tamulosin is typically prescribed to men. I quickly realized that the odds weren't in my favor. Sure enough, nothing happened.

I went to Disney as planned. On the long drive to the airport that morning, I felt quite a bit of discomfort and thought, "Ohhhh, maybe today's the day!" Having experienced the pain of the initial attack (pain so intense I couldn't form actual thoughts in my head), I was scared to have a recurrence while walking around Epcot or something. Eventually, I started to think that maybe it had passed and that I somehow didn't notice. Maybe Sven broke apart or something - I didn't know what his options were. I had secretly hoped that that roller coasters and all the crazy rides would force an eviction either way.

The original pain I felt occurred when Sven traveled from my kidney to my bladder - or at least that's my understanding of the situation. Fortunately, once that pain had passed, I only experienced mild discomfort from time to time. Once the new year passed, I was hesitant to generate any new medical bills since the deductible starts over and all that jazz. I still owe over $2,000 from an emergency appendectomy that I had a year ago. I told myself that everything was juuuuust fine. Denial is a powerful thing, mes amis.

About a week ago, I spent a day feeling really crappy and I suspected it was Sven. The mister encouraged me to call the urologist's office. They sent me to the hospital the next day for a CT scan and bloodwork. On Friday, I met with a Nurse Practitioner at the urologist's office. "It's still there," she said, tapping the screen on which my scan was displayed. SON OF A! Sven had barely moved at all. He was blissfully hanging out in my bladder. The intermittent discomfort was occurring whenever he attempted to block the flow of urine. Sven was endangering my kidney.

The NP advised me that surgery was needed. She opened a brochure with pictures and started pointing out what needed to be done. I don't know why I hadn't expected this news, but I didn't. I started to feel woozy and hot. I closed the booklet. "I'm sorry, I can't look at it right now," I told her. I then used it to fan myself. I am not a queasy person in general - and goodness knows I've had plenty of surgeries. However, my urethra is intended for outbound traffic only, and the thought of a medical device going in the other way . . . it was just a little too much.

My surgery was yesterday. It was scheduled at the older hospital in town, which is affiliated with a Franciscan sisterhood. There are crosses everywhere. I winced when I saw a painting in one of the hallways of a surgical scene in which Jesus was present with his hand upon the surgeon's shoulder. I never never never look down on anyone's faith, but I basically just want science in my operating room, thanks. I wondered if the nurse who started my IV noticed my UU chalice tattoo on my arm.

My husband and I arrived at the hospital at 8:30 for my 10:30 surgery. All of the preparatory stuff went fine. The nurse separated me from my husband so that she could weigh me and then ask me a couple of mandatory questions: was I in fear for my safety at home? did I have thoughts of suicide? I think it's good that they ask these questions.

The hospital is indeed old but they've modernized a lot of stuff. They have a digital surgery display board. I was assigned a patient number and then my husband I could watch the color coded board to see where I was at any given time - in the operating room, in recovery, and so forth. He and I hung out in a pre-op room for a while. We watched some of the Cohen hearings, mostly because the broadcast was on virtually every channel. Will his testimony be enough to change the minds of Trump supporters? I doubt it. "He's being railroaded! Fake news!" Whatevs.

A parade of people came through my room to meet me. The hospital calls it a "Circle of Care." My favorite was Jenny, the nurse who got my IV in on the first try. My veins get a little uncooperative sometimes. I met the anesthesiologist and a couple of other nurses. Then the urologist herself came in. I had already read the reviews on her, most of which seem to frown on her bedside manner. Indeed, she was not the friendly sort - just matter-of-fact. That doesn't bother me too much as long as she's competent at her job. I asked her a couple of questions and I could tell that she would have preferred that I had kept them to myself.

Now, there must have been a note in my file about my pre-Disney attempts to get the stone out, because the nurse who wheeled me to the operating room asked about the trip. She is getting ready to go to Disney as well. I was moved to the hard, flat operating table and then three of us were chatting about Disney. They were a friendly bunch. Soon, the anesthetic was added to my IV. Apparently, my last words before sleep were something like, "I really thought the Tower of Terror would have taken care of this."

I woke up in recovery with a young nurse named Rachel looking after me. "So, you thought the Tower of Terror was going to fix your stone, huh?" The OR nurse had passed along the news. Then she asked me if I wanted more ice chips. I didn't remember asking for any. Holy cow, anesthesia is just the weirdest experience.

Eventually, I was wheeled to a normal hospital room and my husband was there. I was given a Vicodin (and some Saltines) and was accompanied to the bathroom with a male nurse whose name I've forgotten. I'll spare you the details on my bathroom trip but . . . owie.

I almost forgot one super important detail (not that anyone is still reading). I was originally told that a stent was a sure thing. The stent would be installed in my ureter to make sure it stayed open. When I met the doctor, she called it a 50/50 chance. This had been my biggest fear all along - leaving the hospital with hardware that was likely to be very uncomfortable. Fortunately, I did not need the stent.

Once I felt well enough to get dressed, my husband drove me home. We stopped along the way to pick up my prescription for Vicodin. I went home and went to bed. I spent the rest of the day in bed, watching dumb daytime TV shows. Daytime commercials are the worst - no, I am not at home because I've been injured in a motorcycle accident, have Mesothelioma, or have a child with a birth injury. But let me know if y'all have those things and I can tell you who to call.

So, that's the tale of Sven. The pain isn't too bad today. I've taken half a Vicodin so that I can still work in a couple of hours. Wheeeeee

I don't really have any photos to share with this post so here is my Chalice tattoo. :-)