Friday, September 16, 2011

Don't Try It Topless

Today's post is just a short little ditty from my crazy life ...

The boys were at their dad's house and I was home alone.  It was a Saturday night, and I had a wild hair to clean, sort, organize, etc.  As I cleared the debris that accumulates by living a busy life, I found myself going in and out of the garage.  What to do with this stack of magazines? Oh, I'll put them in the recycling bin in the garage. You get the picture ... out, in, out, in.  Until that one time ... when the door locked behind me.  Yep, I locked myself out of my house.  What's the big deal, you say? People lock themselves out all the time. That's right, but because my life is my crazy life, that "normal" thing couldn't happen to me.  Let me 'splain ...

While I was in this cleaning/sorting/organizing frenzy, I got hot. Really hot.  So I took off my shirt and was working in my jogging bra and a pair of shorts.  I was home alone, my garage was closed, what's the big deal, right? Well, when I went into the garage and the door locked behind me, I didn't have a shirt on.  Yep, I locked myself out of my house ... without a shirt on.

I couldn't figure out what to do.  No phone, no keys ... no shirt! I pondered and pondered and pondered ... what to do? Just as I was about to suck it up, open the garage, and knock on doors with no shirt on (gasp!), I saw a basket where I keep clothes that need to go to the drycleaner, the tailor, etc.  I had just gone to the drycleaner so it was mostly empty, but there at the bottom, all by itself, was a brown velvet "fancy" shirt that had a big hole in the side. I put it on, opened the garage, and headed out onto the street to go borrow someone's phone.

Huh. That's weird.  Did you know that people don't answer their doors at night? I knocked on three neighbors' doors before I got one to come to the door and ask "who is it?"  This was a neighbor I didn't really know, so I had to introduce myself, explain my dilemma, and ask to use his phone.  Thank God I had given my mother a spare house key, and thank God she lives so close.  I woke her, rousted her out of bed, and begged her to come and bring me her spare key, which she did.  That night my neighbor and my mother were heroes.

Moral of the story: No matter the situation, do not step outside your house without your top on.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Later ...

It's hard to believe it's been ten years since That Horrible Day.  It was one of those defining moments ... for individuals, for families, for communities, for companies, and for our nation. Every one who was old enough to remember it, remembers exactly where they were, exactly what they were doing, and exactly what they felt. I feel so blessed that I did not know anyone who perished on That Horrible Day, but I cannot hear the stories of the survivors and the surviving families without feeling all of that emotion.

My "where were you" story is not very exciting. I woke up around 6:30 a.m. PST like I did every day. I turned on the morning news like I did every day. I got up to go to the bathroom like I did every day. I got in the shower like I did every day.  When I dried off and then walked into my bedroom to select my clothes for the day, I heard the commentator say one of the towers of the World Trade Center was on fire. I looked up at the television, and I could see the smoke pouring out of the building. I remember thinking that it must have been a bomb because it looked like an entire corner had been blown up.  And then I heard them say that a plane had crashed into the building. I wondered what happened ... did the pilot have a heart attack? did the plane have mechanical problems? what on earth was a plane doing so close to the skyscrapers in New York? I had no idea, as I stood there watching the billowing smoke, of the horror the news reporters were about to explain.

I started to go about my business, when I heard one of the commentators say officials were reporting that someone had intentionally crashed into the building.  What? Why would someone do that?  I stopped to listen more. As I heard them giving minute by minute updates, it happened. The second plane appeared from behind the buildings, banked a turn, and then crashed into the other tower. I could not believe my eyes. I cried out "Oh my God." I stood there with my mouth hanging open, riveted to the TV. I can't remember if I called anyone. I can't remember if my husband was there. It was like everything around me turned fuzzy and my entire focus was on that TV. I could not pull myself away. Eventually I did, and I went to work.

By the time I got to the office, more information had been revealed. A plane crashed into the Pentagon. A plane crashed in Pennsylvania. Terrorists.  I remember everyone talking about how many other planes there might be.  I live in Sacramento ... was San Francisco a target? What about Los Angeles? Were we in danger? Were we going to be hearing about plane crashes all day? Who would do this?  I was standing in my supervisor's office when a coworker came in and said the towers had collapsed. "Imploded" was the word she used.  She was late to work because her brother was an airline pilot who flew the same route as Flight 93 and she had waited until she heard whether he was the pilot or not. We left my supervisor's office and wandered over to her desk. We sat, and we cried small, subtle tears, and she shared how relieved she was that her brother was not the pilot. I went back to my office, shut my door, put the "do not disturb" on my phone, and turned on a radio. I sobbed. I don't remember anything else about the day.  Literally, I do not remember anything else.

That Christmas it seemed like everyone talked about That Horrible Day in their holiday greetings. People were still missing. People were still mourning.  Everyone was afraid. I remember reading a poignant letter from a childhood friend who described how she and her then 4-year old son spent much of That Horrible Day re-gluing broken pieces onto a cherished treasure box, and she felt like that was what we were going to have to do as a nation ... and though we could pick up the pieces of what was once cherished, and glue it back together, what we rebuilt would never be the same as the original.  I think everyone knew that we as a nation would never be the same and that the canvas of the world was forever altered.

That New Year's Eve I learned I was pregnant with Sweetie. His original due date was September 11, 2002. I agonized over whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, I liked the idea of a new life, a new beginning, and a happy occasion occurring to soften the pain we would all feel when we reached the first anniversary of That Horrible Day.  On the other hand, I did not like the idea of my child's birthday always being overshadowed by what we all knew would be yearly memorials, tributes, and relived memories of That Horrible Day.  (BTW - Sweetie wasn't born on September 11.)

I have been so disheartened by the delay in getting the people who did this. It seemed like all of our intelligence information led to dead ends, while Osama bin Laden smugly released videos, continued to make threats, continued to recruit and train, and was allowed to go on with his life when almost 3,000 innocent Americans had their lives taken away without justification, and thousands of families were forever changes. And in the meantime, we have had our rights limited in the name of national security; the government can invade our privacy, confiscate our property, monitor our spending, seach our bodies ... one of the things that makes this country so great - freedom - was hurt because of That Horrible Day. And because of That Horrible Day, my children were born in a time of war, and have not taken a single breath during peace time.   I pray every day that they will know a time of peace. 

Much like That Horrible Day, the day we learned that Osama bin Laden had finally been captured and killed started like any other day. That evening I had the news on as I was making dinner for my children, just as I do almost every day.  I heard the alert of a special news report and looked up from the stove.  The anchor announced Special Forces had successfully completed a covert mission and Osama bin Laden was dead.  I confess that, even though I know it was not the appropriate spiritual reaction to have, I cried tears of joy. I stood in my living room, and much like That Horrible Day, I sobbed.  Sweetie asked me why I was crying, and I took that opportunity to tell my children - for the first time - about That Horrible Day. They had a lot of questions I could not answer: why don't other countries like us? why would someone want to hurt us? how could someone be so evil?

I have been dreading today since last weekend. I knew that no matter how hard I tried, I would not be able to contain the horrible feelings. I knew I would have to try to explain things to my children, even though I don't understand them myself. I awoke before dawn and turned on the TV.  I watched the ceremonies live on the east coast. I wept when the Navy Sea Chanters sang Amazing Grace. I wept again when the boys' choir sang America the Beautiful. I wept as family members shared their stories. I wept and wept and wept.

As I write this and send it off to the cyber universe, I am emotionally spent.  But I am so grateful for the blessings in my life. I reaffirmed my decision to live my life to the fullest every day, to love my children with all of my heart every day, and to be certain I tell the people in my life that I love them.

We will never forget.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Musings from the Emergency Room

I have had the misfortune of visiting three different emergency rooms in the past five years, two with my mother and one with my son.  (See my post from yesterday for my son's story.) Because I have not been the patient, I have had the time to people watch and observe. Below are some of my observations and thoughts about emergency rooms. Here is a long list for the suggestion box of emergency rooms everywhere.

1. When your hospital is surrounded by one-way streets, and there is so much construction going on that one can't FIND the emergency room, it isn't really designed for "emergency" treatment, is it?

2. If you do not want me to park in a 15 minute spot for more than 15 minutes, make sure there is plenty of parking near the entrance to the emergency room. When my kid is sick and the only parking within 100 yards of the door is 15 minutes, I'm parking there. Your choices are to provide more parking, or get my kid processed in 15 minutes. You make the call.

3. There is nothing like instilling confidence in the care about to be received like uniformed police officers, with weapons, at the entrance to the emergency room, in the lobby, and in the waiting room.

4. I realize y'all are open 24/7, but would it kill you to sweep and mop the floors and maybe wipe the chairs down? Sick people have been here, and more sick people are coming in ... you're supposed to help people get better, not expose them to additional germs and disease.

5. When the sign says no cell phone use because it interferes with medical equipment, I'm pretty sure that means you should have said something to the woman having a screaming match with her boyfriend on her cell phone.

6. If you are going to call an area in the waiting room the "kids" area, it would be nice to have some kid-appropriate things. Is it just me, or did Guns & Ammo change its demographic? Really, I could do an entire post on how wrong it is to have Guns & Ammo ... in a hospital ... in the emergency room ... in the kids area. It's not rocket science, people.

7. Why don't emergency rooms have gowns that are appropriate for children? Putting my 8 year old in a one-size-fits-all adult gown was comical. And wouldn't it just be easier to have all of the "small" stuff - the pediatric blood pressure cuff, the smaller gauge needles, etc. - in a central location so the nurses do not have to run around like cockroaches when they are treating a child?

8. Shouldn't it be part of a technician's training to already know how to re-program a CAT scan for a child? In our case, the tech was on the phone, with someone who had a manual, trying to figure out how to set it for a pediatric scan, while my son was on the table. For Pete's sake, at least make that call BEFORE we get in the room!

9. Bleeding profusely definitely gets the receptionist's attention, as do vomiting and stroke symptoms. I get that. But that doesn't mean the receptionist should be able to dismiss me because my family member isn't bleeding profusely, or vomiting, or presenting with stroke symptoms.

10. I realize the staff and nurses deal with sick/hurt people all the time, but would it kill you to be sensitive to the fact that you are treating a child? My 8 year old son doesn't know what triage means, or IV, or CAT scan. He doesn't understand what you mean when you ask him when he last moved his bowels or what you are going to do when you palpate him. Not knowing what is going to happen is very scary for a kid.

11. Please don't mention "surgeon" or "surgery" unless that is what you are going to do ... for sure.

12. When critical patients come in, such as car accident or gun shot victims, please don't bring them through the waiting room. There must be a back door or a side door somewhere.

13. It is very frustrating to be in a treatment room, waiting for a nurse or doctor, and then see or hear the doctors and nurses yucking it up out in the common area.

14. Please don't send us home before we are ready. Conversely, please do not make us stay when we are ready to go home.

15. If I fill out two forms and give you a medical card, would it kill you to spell my patient's name correctly? Isn't that kind of important?

I think these are small things that would make a big difference. Just sayin.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Cautionary Tale About Kids and Their Belly Aches

First, a little history. Sweetie has been having "periodic" belly aches for more than a year now. It started out as a what appeared to be a school-related problem; he seemed to have a tummy ache whenever he had to do something at school he didn't want to do, like a book report or a math test. I basically dismissed it as some ploy to stay home from school and refused to fall for it. But then he started having belly aches on weekends, when it was all about fun. He never really complained; he would just mention in passing that his tummy hurt.  I asked questions like "are you hungry?" "do you need to go to the bathroom?" "did you eat too much?"  More times than not, he would eat or poop and I never heard another word. And then he started having stomach aches during the summer, and at The Ex's house, and at grandma's ... all of the places where he has fun. He doesn't have a great diet but it's not horrible. He poops regularly. I just couldn't figure out what was going on, but it didn't seem too bad so I made a mental note to ask the pediatrician about it the next time we saw her.

He had a checkup last fall, and I mentioned the stomachaches to his doctor. I told her the history, the progression, etc. She asked me some questions about his diet; she asked him some questions about when they happen, where it hurts, how it feels, etc. She palpated his stomach. She concluded he probably isn't eating enough, and directed us to pack more snacks for school, ensure he eats every 2 or 3 hours, and basically make sure he doesn't allow himself to get hungry. Oh, and drink more water. Perfect. Easy. I got this.

Despite doing everything the pediatrician said, the belly aches continued. He would have a tummy ache, and then he would eat. And eat. And eat. Sometimes it would go away, sometimes it wouldn't. I asked questions, I felt his tummy, I asked about bowel movements ... we were doing everything right. Occasionally I would give him some children's Pepto Bismol. In every single case, the stomach ache eventually went away so I wasn't too worried (though I did think it was a little odd). Truth be told, I feared my Sweetie was developing a nervous stomach because he's very sensitive and he's a worrier. 

Now, the cautionary tale. Two nights ago, Sweetie complained of a tummy ache when we got home from his after-school program.  He had a couple of snacks, but apparently that didn't make him feel any better. Then we had dinner, and he ate like a champ. He watched some TV, went to the bathroom, and went to bed. About an hour later, I heard him get up to go the bathroom again, then I heard a strange noise. Wait, is he crying? Why is he crying? He finished his business and ran back into his room, and then I heard the noise again. Yep, he was definitely crying. I went in to see what was wrong and he said his stomach was hurting really badly. I got him some Pepto Bismol, and then sat with him to try to figure out what happened at school, what did he eat, did he go to the bathroom, etc. I found out - for the first time - that his tummy had actually been hurting him for three days. THREE days! He was curled in the fetal position and crying, wincing in pain, and it was clear to me that something more was going on. He was gassy as a baby and loved it when I rubbed his tummy, so I thought I would try that; I touched his belly and he just about hit the roof. I felt for a fever; nothing. I asked him if he felt like he was going to vomit; no. He had eaten, he had gone to the bathroom, he had tried to go to the bathroom again, he had taken Pepto ... nothing worked. I looked at him and said, "Sweetie, is it bad enough that we need to go to the hospital and see a doctor?" and without hesitation, my 8-year-old all-around scaredy cat nodded yes. Uh oh. This is NOT good. I called the advice nurse, who very quickly surmised that we needed to go to the emergency room. 

I am a single mother and I have another child. What the heck was I going to do about Stinker? It was late, everyone I know was already in bed, and most have to get up and go to work in the morning. I thought about taking him with me, but I knew that once Sweetie got to triage, there wouldn't be any place for Stinker to sit or lay down or anything. Nope, taking him with me was simply not an option. So I got the kids in the car and without calling first I drove to my mom's house. I took Stinker inside and put him to bed. As I started to lock the door behind me, my mother appeared and asked what I was doing. Of course she had questions but hello, right then was not the time for me to answer them.

Sweetie and I made the 20 minute drive to the nearest "plan" emergency room at a general hospital. Let me just say up front that now I know why "county" and "general" hospitals get a bad rap ... if our general hospital is any indicator, they deserve it! Just getting there was the most frustrating experience; I couldn't even get to the emergency driveway because the hospital is surrounded by one-way streets, many of which are closed and/or blocked because of the construction of a new hospital across the street. I parked in a 15-minute zone (knowing full well there was no way we would be done in 15 minutes). As we walked up to the door, I saw two uniformed police officers outside, another one at the interior door, and yet a fourth policeman greeted me inside the waiting room.  I was thinking this could not be a very safe ER if this large of a police presence is required. Yikes.

After I got him checked in, we had to sit and wait. While we were waiting, one of the policeman outside came in and announced that my car was about to be towed. Seriously? It was 10:30 at night. I was a single adult with a sick child in the ER was I supposed to move my car?? I wasn't going to take Sweetie back outside, and I certainly wasn't going to leave him there alone. Luckily, after I explained my situation to the officer inside the waiting room, he said he would make sure it didn't get towed. Not surprisingly, after about fifteen minutes of waiting, a wide-eyed Sweetie said, "Mom, I think I'm feeling better. We can just go home." Uh, no, I don't think so.

We finally got into triage and as the nurse was doing her paperwork and asking questions, I casually mentioned that they had spelled Sweetie's name wrong (despite the fact that I had filled out two forms and gave them a copy of his medical card). Apparently that was a mistake because the triage nurse suddenly became obsessed with correcting it. Mid-triage she left the room to track down a supervisor, and then hovered while the supervisor corrected the computer records at a computer in the reception area. Really? It couldn't wait until she got him into a treatment room?

In the treatment room, the first thing to do was the IV. Having had a few IVs in my life, I knew Sweetie was NOT going to like this one bit. Trust me, he didn't. He was scared, of course, so he moved right when the nurse poked him, and the vein disappeared, so she had to try again. Sweetie blew a gasket, yelling and crying and freaking out. At one point I thought he went into shock; his whole body was trembling, his teeth were chattering, he was crying, and he had a vacant stare on his face. Confession? That was the worst moment of my life. As soon as they were done, he started begging them to take it out of his arm. It took at least 10 minutes for him to understand that the IV was not coming out until we were ready to go home. A few minutes later - after the morphine hit - his stomach stopped hurting, and he started to feel better. Aha! There's my Sweetie, acting like his normal wonderful self. He was intrigued by the treatment room, the gadgets and equipment, his IV pump machine, the rails on the bed, etc. Leave it to a kid to find an ER treatment room interesting. He told me he wanted to learn all about everything because he probably wouldn't ever be in an emergency room again so that was the time to look at everything. God bless him for that.

After the doctor examined him, she decided he needed a CAT scan, "which is a 4 to 5 hour process."  Ugh.  It was clear we were going to be there all night!  A couple of hours later, after Sweetie's participation was no longer needed, and after another hit of morphine, he finally crashed.  It took him until 3:00 a.m., but my Sweetie finally fell asleep. I sat there in the room all by myself, waiting for the doctor to return with results. It was surreal. At last the doctor returned to tell me the scan results were "inconclusive" but she was concerned because of the severity of his pain, especially in the lower right quadrant. She talked with the pediatric surgeon on call at the children's hospital a couple of miles away, and they decided to admit him for observation and possible further treatment.  I heard "surgeon" and the rest of what she said turned into that obnoxious droning noise that signifies adults are speaking in the Charlie Brown cartoons.  Wa-wa, wat-wa-wa-wah. What? Did you say surgeon? My kid needs surgery? Now it was my turn to freak, and I did. I cried for the first time since the whole thing started.

An ambulance arrived to transport him. I thought he would be scared, and spent a ton of energy figuring out how I was going to return for my car if I rode in the ambulance with him. They woke him up to move him, and the EMTs were so cool ... they chatted him up and made the ride sound like an adventure. Sweetie told me he could ride by himself and I could just meet him there. What a brave boy he was! By the time I got to the second hospital, he had changed gowns (now a kid-sized one, not the giant one-size-fits-all adult gown he had previously worn), his IV was hooked up to fluids, he had told the nurse he didn't understand why he needed to change hospitals because the other one was just fine, and he was snuggling down for more sleep. Once he slept again I wanted to go home to turn everything off, shower, grab some comfort things for Sweetie, and get a change of clothes for Stinker at my mom's, but the nurse said I needed to stick around in case the surgeon decided to "immediately take him into surgery."

Here's the thing. I try not to be an alarmist. I try not to worry about things that might happen and focus on what is actually happening. At this point no one has told me what was wrong with my son. A nurse mentioned an appendectomy, but no doctor has said anything to me about it. I have no diagnosis, I don't know what's wrong, I don't know if it's serious, and damn, there is that surgeon/surgery thing again. I convinced her to see if she could find out when the surgeon planned to do his rounds and we found out I had time to go home if I hurried. So that's what I did.

The nurse was wrong, and I rushed for nothing. A resident came into the room at about 8:30, examined Sweetie, and said the surgeon would be in within the hour. Wrong. Another resident came in about 10:00, examined Sweetie (and asked the exact same questions I had answered FIVE times by then), and said the surgeon would be in before lunch time. Wrong again. When The Ex showed up at 1:00, I decided to pop our for some food and give them some time together. Wouldn't you know it? The dang surgeon showed up at about 1:30 and I was gone! I caught him just as he was about to leave so I got a Reader's Digest version: There was nothing wrong with Sweetie's appendix, and he never thought it was the appendix. "Basically, the kid is full of poop. Lots of poop. So much poop that it has hardened and his body can't get rid of it. Those stomach aches? The body's efforts to move the poop." Oh my gosh! And he'd been struggling with it for more than a year! And we told him to eat more, which made it worse! My poor baby. I asked how this could happen when he poops regularly and the doc said he isn't pooping completely and everything is dry and constipating, which just makes things worse. I was so relieved it wasn't anything more serious, I began making poop jokes, like he is literally full of crap, too bad this whole experience didn't scare the crap out of him, and we were about to launch Operation Poopstorm. He smiled, but he did not laugh. Party pooper. (Pun intended!)

So he spent yesterday afternoon having unpleasant procedures like enemas and suppositories. The good news? He immediately felt better. The bad news? He didn't "produce" as much as they had hoped, which suggests the blockage is very large and very old. We've been referred to a gastroenterologist for follow up; she immediately prescribed two "super" laxatives for today and tomorrow, and a daily (mild) laxative every day ... indefinitely. We are supposed to see the specialist next week to begin the long journey to total and complete poop evacuation. We're going to help him be a super duper pooper.