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Archive for February, 2009

This is your brain

This is your brain on adolescent hormones: Maya just got some salt with which to eat her hard-boiled eggs. Our salt shaker keeps disappearing and we solve this problem by just going straight for the box of salt and pouring out a little bit. It’s a bad method. I give you that. Just now, Maya took, instead of regular salt, kosher salt – coarse kosher salt. She poured out rather a lot – enough to make a small pyramid in her hand, and sprinkled a little over her eggs. She then just flung the rest of the salt in her hand onto the floor. Just flung it, like I wouldn’t notice the sound a handful of coarse salt scattering on the floor. She said, “I thought you wouldn’t notice it.” I did.

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Memory

I’m in the hospital. The air is dry and I’m thirsty. On the small, rolling table beside my bed is a plastic cup filled with ice water. The table is within arm’s reach, but I cannot reach it. My arms are not strong enough to lift that far up and out. I cannot pull the table closer. I cannot lift a cup of water. It might as well be a mile away.

I tell myself that the ICU nurses have better things to do than give me water, and close my eyes and try to sleep. It doesn’t work. My throat is so dry it hurts to swallow. I decide to buzz the nurse. I have a call button clipped to the bed.

But when I look for it, I see that it has slid down beside me, and is now resting at my right bicep. When I bend my right arm at the elbow, the clip is too low and too close, right up against my arm. I try to reach across my body with my left arm, but I am too weak to stretch it far enough. My left hand lies on my right arm, too heavy to go further, the bell tantalizing inches away. Right up against me, it might as well be a mile away with the water.

Okay, no nurse. I turn my attention back to the water. I can press the buttons on the side of the bed to raise myself up more. I do so, and it brings me closer to the table. I lift my left arm at the elbow and hook my hand onto the underside of the table, bringing it close enough for me to actually reach the cup.

That’s when I realize it doesn’t matter how close the cup is. It is full of ice water, far too heavy for me to pick up myself. I contemplate trying it anyway, but visions of a lap full of ice water and no way to get a nurse stop me from making the attempt.

I still cannot get a drink. Frustrated beyond measure, I try to call out to a nurse. I hear voices outside my room. Can I make them hear me? My voice is weak from weeks of intubation, pneumonia and a collapsed lung. I call out, “Hello? Is anyone there?” They don’t hear. The voices recede.

I look at the clock. There is at least an hour before J is supposed to visit. I love his visits not only for the familiar company, but because I have a dedicated pair of functioning hands. He has nothing else to do when he is with me, and has endless patience with feeding me, giving me water, fixing my pillow.

I can lift my head, but can’t lift my hands up high enough to adjust a pillow. I can’t hold a book or magazine. I can’t scratch my own nose. I can’t feed myself. I can’t sit up on my own or roll over. I can’t get my own drink.

A machine behind my head starts to beep. I have two central lines – IVs going into large veins in my chest – and several bags of medications dripping through them. If a bag empties or something goes wrong, such as an air bubble in the line, the machine beeps. The frequency is normally annoying, but this time I am delighted. This means a nurse has to come to see what is wrong.

A few minutes pass, but finally a nurse bustles in to check on the alarm. She greets me and announces that she needs to change an IV bag. I ask if she can give me a drink and fix my call button, and she says she will after she finishes with the IV. I’m almost there.

She finishes with the bag and casually moves the table aside, picking up the cup and holding it so I can drink from the straw. In my eagerness, I suck up water too fast, and start to choke. As I splutter, she moves to the other side of the bed and easily unclips and re-clips the call button, asking me to check if it is now in reach. It is. My lifeline to the rest of the world is back.

She gives me one more drink before she leaves, and I envy her ability to pick up a cup full of water with such ease. I watch her walk out of the room and wonder if she is aware of how lucky she is, to be able to just walk where she wants. I swear that if I regain that ability I will never, ever, take it for granted.

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Bits and pieces

I’ve been very busy with the kids home the last week, plus the monster head cold (almost gone!). I keep starting stuff. These are my bits:

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Earlier today, I headed down to the kitchen, and as I walked down the hall, I heard a heavy thump-thump sound I could not identify until I could actually see the cause. It was Boo, my petite little 6-year-old. She was making running leaps at the fridge, and the double thump sound I heard was both feet hitting that fridge at the same time. It’s better than what she last used the fridge for, when she took to opening the freezer door so she could hang on and climb the fridge with her feet. I am sure it is only due to her tinyness that the freezer door is still on.

She also climbs the pantry doors, slides down the banister, climbs up stairs on the outside of the banister rails, leaps off the top of her bunk bed to the floor like a chimpanzee from a tree … I really never thought I’d have to use the phrase, “Our house is not a jungle gym,” as many times as I have.

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Boo is 6.5 years old, and to her enormous frustration, she hasn’t lost a single tooth. Four of her teeth have been loose for ages, longer than a year, even. Today, she asked me to wiggle them for the thousandth time and I had a sudden flash of memory of Asher’s reticent bottom teeth.  I felt her gums and, sure enough, I found her first two adult bottom teeth, almost broken through the skin behind her baby teeth. Shark child, V2. The baby ones are loose, but still a long way from coming out.

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Maya’s bat mitzvah is charging towards us at the speed of a locomotive and we are actually getting ready for it. I took her looking for dresses and she found something she liked fairly quickly and with a minimum of pain on everyone’s part. Rsvps are coming in, food is being organized. We are both practicing our Torah portions with renewed zeal as the date approaches. She has a great deal to practice. I have 8 lines. It is remarkable how much faster her young and flexible brain picks this stuff up. I have every faith in her ability to be ready in time; not as much in my own.

Every time I hear her practicing, I take a moment to be thankful for the fact that we have a kid who goes off and voluntarily practices every day, without any nagging. In fact, she nags me to practice (I need it). Then I heave a sigh, because I know that as good as we have it this time, there will be payback next time. On the other hand, at least Asher won’t have his own ideas on how the invitation should look, and colour schemes of anything. It all balances out.

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Unicycles and stuff

Maya and I were just out getting some craft stuff for a project of hers and she found a gold metallic pen, which she has wanted for writing thank-you notes for bat mitzvah gifts. When we got home, she tried it out – it was cool – and then handed it to me and said, “Here. Keep this safe.” I took it and said, “Do you realize what you are saying?” She stared at me for a moment and said, “I don’t know what I was thinking,” and snatched it back.

See, having an utter space cadet as a mother isn’t all bad – it teachers a child how to be responsible for their own things.

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I have a huge, snotty, painful head cold and 3 kids off school this week. And laundry piling up, and a bat mitzvah to work on planning for, and on it goes. Okay, whine mode off. It was just a little slip.

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Asher turned 10 on the weekend, and the unicycle that his crazy father wanted to give him was a huge hit. I was concerned because unicycles are hard to learn to ride – no training wheel options – and I was afraid he’d get frustrated. So far, that hasn’t happened. Here’s a little video of him practicing in the hallway (and Boo whining on the stairs as bonus).

I should mention that the first step with a unicycle is to hold yourself between two chairs and work at just keeping upright an on the thing since, of course, the first thing you have to be able to do is keep the wheel under you. Asher spent the weekend doing that at the cottage. This is actually amazing progress.

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Walking

A year ago from the first day of my coma, I had the runs all day. Several people commented on the irony of that. I feel weird, knowing that a year ago I was Napping. It makes me acutely aware of how far I’ve come. I’ve commented before on how I wonder when going up stairs will stop feeling like an accomplishment. It still hasn’t happened. I am still amazed.

I had a nice experience yesterday, walking the dog around the block. We’ve had a bit of a thaw here the past couple of days, which has done a nice job of clearing the streets of ice, making it much easier to walk. I was marching down the street and I realized that, for the first time in a year, I felt normal. No hernia dragging my belly down, or colostomy bulging out. No sore hip. And Duncan the fluid fetus has finally shrunk to a size that it is no longer bothering me.

Now, if you put me on uneven ground, I’d go back to feeling like some sort of invalid, walking slowly in order to avoid tripping, or just tripping. I’m not normal. But it was the first time I got to feel normal, and it was great.

We are off to the cottage for the weekend. I plan to walk like a normal person and knit. I made another pair of the warmest socks in the world, and I’d show you a picture, but my web camera is refusing to work. Damn kids. Next up, a pair for Boo.

Oh yeah! And my boy is turning 10 years old tomorrow! Double digits! We bought him a unicycle. I kid you not.

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One Year

Yesterday, I was doing some work from home and  at one point called and my boss (the principal of the school). I asked her a question she couldn’t answer and told me she’d get the right person and have them call me right back. What’s your home phone number? she asked me. Here’s what I said, “Two, two, six …. um …. two, two, six …. I don’t remember my phone number.”

Six and a half years I’ve lived in this house – oh wait! We kept the number from the last place, so make that 7.5 years with the same number and I was lost. I kept wanting to use the last 4 digits from the number at the cottage and could not come up with any others. Fortunately, the person we needed wandered into the office and saved me further humiliation in front of my boss, who I do try to convince I am intelligent and with it.

I do forget a lot of stupid things – couldn’t remember whether I was 42 or 43 years old a couple of months ago, to my kids’ wild amusement. (It’s 42.) Words get lost more frequently than I remember happening before The Big Nap. And I’m running out of time on using my favourite excuse – ‘coma brain.’ People laugh when I say it, but I’m not totally kidding. I spent weeks stewing in some pretty wicked drugs and was warned that the effects could take some time to wear off. Someone, I don’t remember who, said a year. So that’s how long I decided to give it. One year, and that’s it with the coma brain.

That year is almost over. One year ago tonight was a Sunday night. My stomach was hurting and I was pretty sure I was in for a bad night. I have irritable bowel syndrome that results in random nights of cramps and pain, ending in raging diarrhea. It had been happening more frequently. Still, I had a ‘Girl’s Night Out’ scheduled with friends, and I was determined to have a good time. We do pot luck and the food was great, thankfully, as it was to be the last food to pass through my lips for 19 days.

After I got home, the pain hit with the suddenness of a shot, a stab in the belly that dropped me to the floor. My standard method of dealing with belly pain is a hot bath, and so I dragged myself up and into the tub, into water as hot as possible. It didn’t help. For the first time ever, I could not get on top of the pain. I’ve had two children without any pain meds at all (and one where they only half worked) and I can clearly remember that pain. I have a physical memory of where and how it hurt. This pain, however, except that I remember thinking that it was the most severe I’d ever experienced, I can remember nothing else about.

Some time in the middle of the night, still in the tub, I asked J to call 911. He called a friend to come look after the kids and did just that. The ambulance attendants were horrible, cruel, heartless human beings, but I don’t feel like going into more detail than that because it still upsets me, one year later. At least they took me to the hospital, where I begged the nurse in triage to knock me out. I don’t remember this, but it is on my chart, “Patient making inappropriate comments. (“Knock me out.”) Of course, in retrospect, that comment was really the only reasonable response to the pain of one’s colon tearing open.

They told me I was constipated and forced me to try enemas, which were utterly ineffective except, one imagines, at squirting soapy water and fecal matter though the growing hole and into my abdominal cavity. Fainting after a couple tries put an end to that and sometime in the wee hours of the morning, a CT scan revealed the true problem. My memories of these hours are fuzzy. At one point, J left to get our kids ready for school and my mother took over. I remember moaning repeatedly, slowly and rhythmically, “It hurts, it hurts, it hurts” and being aware that what I was doing must be hard on my mother, because I know that as a mother, watching your child in pain is just the worst thing, but still being unable to stop.

It was all pain, just pain. The surgeon showed up and told us I had a rupture and he would have to operate, and that there was the possibility of death but he had no choice. I didn’t care. All I cared about was that I would soon be unconscious. There was no fear at all.

I listened to a radio program recently about last words, famous and otherwise. If I hadn’t survived that surgery, my last words would have been, “It’s not working! I’m still awake.” The mask delivering the drugs couldn’t fit properly around the tube up my nose and it took longer to sedate me than normal, although it must have only been a moment or two. And then I was gone, for 18 days.

Tomorrow morning, I am going to wake up, run some errands, go into work, try and find a gift for Asher’s birthday on Saturday. The laundry is piling up. I have no idea what to feed everyone for dinner. We are in the depths of planning Maya’s bat mitzvah. I am scarred, deconditioned and forget things like my own phone number. But I am alive.

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who is almost 13, at bedtime:

Me: Goodnight, honey. Sleep well.

Her: Goodnight. I love you.

Me: I love you too.

Her: And, stop being weird.

Me: Me?

Her: Yes.

Me: When was I weird?

Her: Like, all the time.

Alrighty then. I just added it to Monday’s to-do list: Finish video for open house at school, buy missing knitting needles, send pamphlet to printers, stop being weird all the time.

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