Monday, January 26, 2009

Down with the ship?

There's a great Bill Cosby stand-up sketch about Noah building the ark. When I was a kid we listened to the bit on road trips, over and over, until we all could recite it. There's a line that stands out in my mind -- maybe it's even the last line of the sketch? -- that Cosby delivers right around the time that Noah loses his cool and tells God to take a hike, that he's not building the ark anymore. God says, "Noah. How long can you tread water?" For some reason that line is repeating in my head over and over today. But it's not as funny.

I have worked at the same nonprofit organization for over 10 years now. Those of you who are good at math will realize that means that I've been at the same place for all but 1.5 years of my professional life. One of the first things that struck me about IRA was that so many people had worked there for 20+ years; in fact, the first week I was there, they threw a retirement party for a man who had worked in the mailroom for 35 years. So I have been working there in this happy little bubble, thinking not only is the organization inherently secure because of its nonprofit status, but my job is completely secure -- even with the crash of economics as we know it, everyone needs books about how to teach reading, right?

Wrong. On all counts. There are no guarantees. And the happy bubble has burst.

Today we received an e-mail informing us of a number of drastic, organization-wide cost cutting measures, effective immediately. The first part of the list was rather innocuous -- no more free coffee, no more cable TV, no more travel or discretionary spending, no more new hires, consolidating staff from two other satellite buildings into one building -- but the bottom portion of the list nearly knocked me off my chair: Voluntary reduction in salary expenditures to cut the salary budget by as much as 10%.

Hmm...what does this mean, you ask? We have four options from which to choose by February 12: (1) a buy-out equal to about three months' salary in my case, (2) 20% reduction in hours and pay until July 1, 2010; (3) unpaid 10-week leave, or (4) stay as is, ride it out, hope for the best.

Now, obviously for those of us with children and mortgages and sick husbands and ridiculous amounts of debt, the only viable option, really, is #4. Especially in an economy in which jobs are few and far between. I mean, a couple years ago I might have taken that first option with full optimism that I would find a new job within a couple of months. Not right now. Not when Wharton grads are hoping for part-time data entry jobs and the biggest companies in the world are cutting jobs and freezing new hires. This is not the time to roll the dice with a buy-out.

Here's the real excitement in this plan: If the 10% reduction in salary budget is not met with this first voluntary action, we will may all have to take a hit with either involuntary salary cuts, and then layoffs. It just keeps getting awesomer!

I'm trying to remain calm. I mean, yes, I currently have a job. There's that to be thankful for. And sure, things could turn around world-wide and by next year and all will be well. On the dark side of my brain, I know that if my job were to disappear in the next few months, we wouldn't be able to pay our mortgage after about three months. But whatever. There's more important things in the world than, say, a home in which to raise one's family (she says as she gulps down a second glass of wine). So we'll just have to seriously evaluate how we're spending now, try to rein it in to save as much as possible, develop a Plan B. I am a woman of action, so I know that by the end of the week I will have figured out what to do next. (I may lose some sleep, but I will have a plan.)

However, the real bitch of this scenario hit me late in the day today: One of the reasons I have stayed working at IRA as long as I have is because I feel that in some small way I am contributing to the greater good. That is, I believe in the mission of IRA, to improve literacy around the world. I like to think that in my tenure, perhaps a few kids have learned to read because their teachers have read books that I've edited or marketed. That's huge. As I sat in our staff meeting today trying to process all the different options being discussed, it hit me. The whole operation could go under. The situation is dire. We're not talking cutting out paper products and saving on postage costs and all is hunky-dory; we're talking millions of dollars in the hole, with budget and revenue forecasts in the red for who-knows-how-long. So beyond the "what about me" question, I feel anxious tonight because of the larger picture. These last few months I've been feeling such apprehension about corporate America collapsing, I never really stopped to think of us little guys. I somehow felt above the fray. Not any more. It's happening to all of us. And it really friggin' sucks.

As our director stated today "We've hit an iceberg and we're taking on water fast. They're evacuating the boiler room, moving everyone up onto the deck. But the aft-end of the ship hasn't yet gone vertical." So I suppose I'll just grab a life ring, hang on tight, and hope that I'm one of the lucky few who is pulled from the wreckage. How long can you tread water?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Grown-up words and what to do about them

We know our children are little sponges who soak up all our words, actions, mannerisms. They are often parrots, but even more often they are fun house mirrors, amplifying and exaggerating our own idiosyncratic behaviors until we cringe, laugh, or hang our heads in shame.

Yesterday while cleaning up his toys, Sweet Boy got frustrated trying to put one of his train pieces together. Instead of crying or raging like he would have a few weeks ago, he threw the toy down and yelled, "Oh, fuck it!"

Oh. My. Lord.

The air was sucked out of the room. We were suspended in time and space, frozen as our eyes met. I took a split second to consider my options:
(1) Freak out and yell at him---scare him into never saying it again;
(2) Ask him to repeat what he said, because maybe I heard it wrong and I don't want to overreact;
(3) Ask where he heard that word, stuff his mouth full of soap, then call the offending child's parent immediately (a la The Christmas Story);
(4) Ignore it so he doesn't realize that he can get a rise out of me with this new word, thereby eliminating its power;
(5) Marvel at his intelligence because he used that word correctly!

He stood there looking up at me with big scared eyes. He knew that what he said was a no-no. What he didn't know was how I would react.

My gut tells me that I should not react in a big way when he uses bad words. He's experimenting, not only learning new words but learning the power of words. So I squatted down to his eye level and simply said, "Buddy, what you just said is not a nice word. It's a word that sometimes grown-ups say, but it's a naughty word. And it's not a word we use in our family. I hope I never hear you say that again."

And he responded, in all his glorious three-year-old innocence, "OK, Mommy. From now on I will said 'Oh, bin!' instead of 'Oh, bucket.'"

We're working on rhyming words these day, too.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Professorial President

I have been struggling the last few weeks to generate interesting writing on this blog. Sorry. I hope you're not completely bored.

As I sit here tonight drafting and deleting, rewriting and rethinking, I have the ABC Nightly News on the TV in the background. Of course they're focusing coverage on Obama's first few days in office, and of course I'm smiling.

Today Obama signed executive orders to close Guantanamo Bay and to ban torture. (Hooray!) Politics aside, what was most remarkable was that as he signed, he read a portion aloud -- and then he explained its meaning in laymen's terms. You know why? Because he wants We the People to be aware of and understand the laws under which we live. What a novel idea! Could there be any more striking contrast between the current president and the former (He Who Shall Not Be Named)?

Maybe it's because I'm the child of teachers, the grandchild of a principal, and the editor of teacher books, but I am just shy of giddy that the President of the United States took advantage of a "teachable moment" while signing a hugely important order. Our president is a constitutional law professor, after all. I can hardly contain my glee.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Let the goosebumps ripple

This weekend started the festival of goosebumps called the inauguration of Barack Obama. First on Saturday morning, we rode the Claymont Amtrak station in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the Obama Train. We knew we wouldn't see Barack or Michelle or Joe or Jill, but we wanted to be among the Delawarians to welcome them to the east coast. We just wanted to be part of the excitement. Unfortunately we didn't make it before they had closed off the road to the station, but we did drive up and down Philadelphia Pike, with police chopper circling overhead, trying to time it so we could see the train go across the overpass bridge. The lone state trooper sitting under the overpass eventually waved us along with stern warning, so we didn't get to even see the train. But we tried; we waved to the Obamas and Bidens in our hearts. Instead of being there live, we went home and cuddled on the couch with some hot chocolate and watched Obama's address in Baltimore. Commence goosebumps.

A few minutes ago I watched the HBO telecast of the We Are One concert on the National Mall. It was fantastic. Go watch it, at least part of it. Now. I defy you to stay dry-eyed when you see Bruce Springsteen singing "The Rising" -- the song about our nation standing up after getting the snot knocked out of us on 9/11 takes on new meaning when performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with a huge gospel choir backing, the Obama children looking on, and the beginning of a new world only a day away. I dare you to sit still when Garth Brooks takes the stage! Sweet Boy got up and danced with me during Garth's medley of "American Pie," "Shout," and "We Shall Be Free."

Of course, for me the pinnacle performance was U2 singing "Pride in the Name of Love" and "City of Blinding Light" -- two of my very favorite songs by my very favorite band. (By the way, I find it interesting that most of the news stories about the concert made a big deal out of Bono's remark that freedom is a dream of Israelis and Palestinians alike -- of course it is! And wouldn't you expect Bono to take that opportunity to make one tiny little comment about world politics?) Can you imagine getting teary-eyed over "This Land is Your Land"? I did. I wept while singing along with Pete Seeger and The Boss and thousands of people on the Mall, whose performance was topped only by Beyonce and the entire ensemble belting the hell out of "America the Beautiful."

All of the songs performed were obviously chosen for their uplifting, kum-ba-ya vibe. The entire program was fairly melodramatic and in places overwrought, and I felt like a big ol' cornball singing and dancing in my family room -- but I just couldn't help myself. I was overcome with enormity of this week, the symbolism, the patriotism. I wanted to run and hug my neighbors. I wanted to call long-lost friends. I wanted to play in the snow and dive in the ocean and skip through field of daisies and climb shoreline rocks and do all the things that make me feel good. I had to sing and dance.

Tonight, I am filled today with pride and love and excitement for my country. It's so cliche to say this is the eve of a new era -- but it is! A brand new world starting tomorrow. Of course the scariness all around us will not disappear in a poof of smoke at 12:00 pm. There's a lot of scary ahead and a lot of darkness, I'm sure. But the beauty of this inauguration is that we can see the light. We're not just welcoming in a new presidential administration; we're standing up and telling the world that the United States is back, that realize we have not been our best the last decade or so, but don't count us out. Sure we stood by while our leaders made bad decisions, but we have learned the important lessons. Regardless of what happens in his first 100 days in office, Barack Obama is already a great leader because he makes us want to be better spouses and parents and neighbors and workers and friends. He makes us believe in all the things our elementary school history books taught us. He makes us want to be better citizens of this country and this world.

So folks, I fully intend to go through tomorrow with goosebumps all over my body, head to toe. I will not fight the goosebumps. I will let the tears flow freely. I will hug my neighbors. And I will shout as loud as ever "Yes we can!"

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A new year, a new us

Sorry I've been away for a while -- just trying to get in the groove of our new diabetes-and-hyperlipidemia lifestyle, focusing on training Chris in the ways of the healthy eater, spending as much time as a family as we can. Everything's going well, one week in. I'm proud of Chris, truly. He's taking this seriously, writing down every morsel he eats, going for walks outside (we went out at 7pm one night this week, all three of us bundled up, and played a game of Eye Spy with our maglight -- really fun) or inside on the treadmill when it's mega-cold out.

He seems like a new man, and I can't believe we didn't recognize all the signs and indications that he was sick. I mean, it's possible he's been full-blown diabetic since about last spring -- which would explain many of the things about his attitude and lifestyle that have been really frustrating to me this past year. Hindsight is 20-20, I know, but I'm hoping that now, as he finally discovers what it feels like to be healthy, he will pay attention, be more vigilant, and be more diligent in the years to come.

I know the really hard work lies ahead, when he gets his true appetite back or goes back to work full-time and his buddies order the 5-lb cheesesteaks from the joint up the road. But I'm confident that he's committed to this, that he will work hard so he can be part of our lives for a long, long time. He has to be -- both committed and in our lives for a long, long time -- because I don't want to imagine my world without him in it.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The next chapter begins -- time to get healthy!

He's home! He's home! He's home!

I picked up Big Daddy and hauled him from the hospital yesterday afternoon, took him home so he could scrub the hospital funk off, and then we went over to pick up Sweet Boy. I can't adequately describe the scene, but I bet you can imagine the reunion of father and child: We walked onto the playground, where Sweet Boy was swinging Superman-style. I let Chris walk in first, and when Boy saw Daddy, he ran harder than I've ever seen, arms outstreatched and joy all over his face, yelling "Daddeee!!!" across the playground. A big family hug, smiles and giggles and kisses, and teachers dabbing tears from their eyes. Fabulously good homecoming.

We had a happy experience at Target, where Big Daddy picked up his new meds and learned that they're available in cheap generic form -- $4/bottle. Thank you, God! So, instead of spending $40/month on pills as we've been doing, we'll be spending $48/month on pills...not the $100 or more that I'd anticipated. Whew! (Oh, while in Target, I bent down to pick up a bag of ice melt and nearly brained myself on a display hook -- no blood, but it knocked me to my knees, and I had to sit for a minute to avoid barfing. Wouldn't that have been awesome? To end up at the ER with a head wound? I have a nice little goose-egg bump on my hairline, but I'll survive.)

Big Daddy looks pretty good, though he doesn't really seem to have an appetite yet. Which is interesting and challenging because he has to eat every 4 hours to keep his blood sugar in check. I'm keeping track of everything in a notebook -- glucose levels, times of meals and snacks, calories, fat, carbs. He scared me in the middle of the night when he rolled over to tell me he was going downstairs to sleep in his recliner; apparently he's not used to the flatness of our bed, after 9 days in one of those groovy adjustable hospital bed. I wasn't alarmed that he wanted to sleep downstairs, but being awakened in the middle of the night by a husband who's been so ill makes one's heart race for a while.

Our major project right now is weight loss -- he's got to lose A LOT of weight and fast. The hospital doc even suggested he consider gastric bypass, but BD wants to try it on his own first before going drastic. We're both going to follow Weight Watchers, since counting "points" is much more manageable than counting calories, fat, carbs, fiber, etc. He's already lost some weight -- 9 days without food will do that to a person who's used to consuming thousands of calories each day -- and it's very visible in his face. I've never known my husband without an extra 30 or more pounds on his bod, so this will be interesting. Even in college, when we first started dating and he dropped 20 pounds, he was still a big guy (and frankly, that's one of the qualities that attracted me to him -- his cuddly grizzly bear quality). I'm hoping to convince him that a photo diary of his weightloss progress will be worthwhile, but he likes his photo taken about as much as I like a gyno exam, so I'm not sure it'll happen.

I'm ok with ideas for low-fat, low-carb breakfast and dinner, but lunch and snacks have me a little bit stressed. I need to come up with some ideas for things he can pack for his workday that don't require a lot of reheating or prep time (his access to a microwave is limited during the week...hence all the crappy take-out food that landed him in the hospital!) If you have any ideas for quick-prep lunches -- or anything I could cook in large quantities on a Sunday afternoon to have on-hand for the week -- please send them along. It's snowing here today, so after I clean our disgustingly dirty and cluttered home, Chris and I are going to pore through the piles of Weight Watchers, Cooking Light, and Rachel Ray cookbooks I have on the shelf, armed with sticky notes to mark the ones that look easy and tasty.

So here we go: Healthy Living, chapter 1...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

It ain't easy parenting grown-up kids

My dad took me out to lunch today, and I realized about halfway through the meal that I was really not good company. I apologized to my dad for being so grouchy, explaining that I've just been feeling all sorts of junk this week, yada yada yada. And then I said, "It just wasn't supposed to be like this, you know? We're too young."

I looked up and noticed his teary eyes and thought, dammit, girl, you're an idiot! You see, those were the exact words my dad said to me on the morning we realized that my mom was dying. She had been admitted to the hospital on the previous night with seizures and by morning they had determined her cancer had spread to her brain; it was, therefore, only a matter of time before she was paralyzed, and death wouldn't be far behind. We'd been in the ER most of the night, and once they admitted her, Chris and I came home to take care of my sister. My dad walked into the room where we were sleeping on the pull-out sofa, and he just completely broke down. I hugged him and we crumpled down on the floor, and he just kept saying, over and over, "It wasn't supposed to be like this." My mom and dad were both 47 that day. They'd been married for 26 years and had planned to be old world-traveling fogies together. It wasn't supposed to be like this. They were too young.

But today Dad calmly replied, "It never is as you planned, but you've got to do your best and make the most of every day and every experience, right? You'll get through this. You'll just have to learn to live with being skinny, that's all." This sense of lightness in dark times is one of my favorite qualities about my dad; he's a pessimist, really, but always knows the right things to say to his kids when it counts.

When I looked at his face today, I realized how terribly hard it must be to be the parent of grown children. On Monday, he took my sister to the airport to board a flight for Ghana, where she'll be until February; he called my brother to see how his first day at his new job went; and he called me throughout the day, after having spent the whole weekend with me and Hayden, to get updates on Chris and on me. I can't even imagine the worry that he carries this week...and probably most weeks. Because now he doesn't just have three kids -- he has three kids, two kids-in-law, and one grandchild. That's a lot of people to love with your whole self. And my dad shows us daily how much he loves us. He is so reliable and steadfast. He's the only person in the world that I count on more than myself; he's the constant, especially when I'm not.

I am often critical of my mother-in-law, even though she has always shown me love and friendship. She was such a brave woman last weekend. She came to our house and spent the day with Hayden so I could go be with Chris, even though I know all she wanted to do was to run to Chris's side to be sure he was ok. That's what we moms do; we take care of our babies. I took her to the hospital later in the evening to see him, and she sat calmly at the foot of the bed, mindlessly working a piece of string between her fingers over and over. She just sat there watching him sleep, and it nearly broke my heart. I can't imagine how much pain she felt, knowing that his illness was caused by her genes. She had been through countless hospitalizations with Chris's father, and now she is watching both her sons go through her ex-husband's illnesses...I don't know how she's bearing that.

I know we all love our parents, and I know our parents often drive us bonkers. But I don't look forward to the day that I'm far away from my own son, wondering how he's getting on at work or worrying about the congestion I hear in his voice over the phone. It must be excruciating at times to be the parents to a grown kid. Which is why I'm going downstairs right now to hug my dad and tell him I love him.

Almost home

Day 8 and the end of Chris's hospital stay looks to be drawing near. Thank goodness. His triglyceride count came down from 6,000 on the first day to 500 this morning -- as the doctor said, he's their Golden Boy success story of the week. While 500 is still high, it's much more manageable, and with time and diet and exercise and many pills, hopefully he can keep his levels in the normal range (@150). And Chris just called with palpable joy in his voice: He'll be eating solid food for dinner tonight -- real food for the first time in 8 days! -- and if his angry pancreas tolerates it, he'll be coming home as early as tomorrow.

So I should be really happy. But I'm feeling anxious. Even though I've gotten my head about the super-special diet, the news about the number of pills he'll have to take (forever) nearly sent me into a full-on panic attack this morning. And once he's home, it's all on me -- no nurses to administer pain meds, no doctors to test blood counts, no helpful little techs to bring him a cup of water or remake the bed in the morning. I'll surely have to be the one to pick up all the medications and supplements he needs (and I may have to get a second job to pay for them all!), and for a while I'll have to wait on him hand and foot. Oh, and I'll have to keep the bruiser of a three-year-old occupied enough that he doesn't touch his daddy the wrong way, because Chris is still experiencing some belly discomfort. And who do you snap at when you're ill, tired, and uncomfortable? The one you love. Which means I'll surely be taking my fare share of grouching.

I'm so selfish. This is not about me. But dammit, I could use a break. And Chris hasn't yet this week even asked me how I'm doing. I was finally able to hug him this morning -- he's been so hooked up and in enough pain that I could only hold his hand until now -- and I teared up because it was so wonderful just to be in his arms; he looked at me like I had two heads, like he couldn't possibly fathom why I was emotional. Is it possible that he doesn't have a clue about how scared I've been this week? As if maybe because the pancreatitis doesn't seem to be as bad this time, there's nothing to worry about? Maybe it all just hasn't quiet sunken in...perhaps morphine dulls your brain enough that you only have a small idea of what's happening.

Anyway, he's coming home. Soon. I'm happy about this, truly. But those doctor's words of "Your husband should be dead" just keep playing over and over in my mind. We're too young for this, I keep thinking. Not part of the plan. Maybe in a few weeks, though, once I see that he's back to normal and not going to just keel over, the impact of those words will fade a bit -- just enough to lose their sting, yet not enough to convince me it's ok to eat a bucket of wings or a cheesesteak.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Just want to quickly say THANK YOU to everyone for the love and support you've shown me, Chris, and Hayden this week. You're all wonderful, and I'm forever grateful.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Things we learn, part 2

Spent this morning with Sweetie in his fabulous hospital digs. First thought as I entered the room: What the hell is that smell?! Turns out, it's Sweetie. Ew. He's been bathing every day, but the stuff in the "fluids" IV bag seems to be seeping out of his pores and permeating the sheets, his clothing, the curtain around the bed. This is a smell I can't seem to describe -- not quite BO, not quite antiseptic, but somewhere in the realm of really sharp cheese mixed with vinegar. To say it's nasty is an understatement, and I can't seem to get it out of my nose this afternoon either. (I brought his clothes home to wash them, but I really wanted to just burn them!)

Of course you can't crack a window on the 4th floor of a hospital, so after about 10 minutes in there, I couldn't take it anymore. I asked the tech to come in and change his sheets and unhook his IV so he could shower. Sheets, fine, she said, but IV no-can-do; the morphine pump cannot be unhooked and taped up like the regular pic line can be, so sponge bath is your only option. Those of you who know my husband know that he is a Nevernude and he would have to be completely unconscious to have a stranger sponge-bathe him. So I learned yet another new thing today: Giving your man a sponge bath is not nearly as sexy as some late-night cable programs might have you believe.

I also re-learned today that morphine makes a person funny as heck. After receiving more potentially bad news about more crappy genetic disorders that he may have, he looked at me and said "See? All this time you thought I was just fat and lazy! Maybe I'm just unbalanced!" I guess you had to be there, because it doesn't sound that funny now, but to see him sitting crosse-legged on that bed wearing a pair of gigantic shorts and that big dopey smile, with his belly all swollen and Buddha-like, I just fell into a fit of giggles. Even the doctor cracked a smile. (We have found over the three hospitalizations that we've been through together that most doctors don't quite understand our sarcastic humor -- in fact, I think we make them very uncomfortable -- but they endure and get used to it in time. That's why we stay so long -- it takes at least six days before the docs and nurses loosen up.)

On a serious note, though, I did learn something important today that I need to pass along to you: Know your own medical history and that of your spouse. Know the conditions that their parents may have or had, even things that seem small. So many health issues are passed down in our genes, and what may not seem like a big deal to you may be extremely significant to your doctor. For instance, I didn't know until this week that Chris's mother suffers from hypothyroidism. But guess what? That causes extreme fatigue, rapid weight gain, and severely dry skin. And guess who has been extremely tired, putting on weight, and suffering from skin so dry that it cracks and bleeds? You got it. When I mentioned it to the doc, his face lit up. They're testing Chris for hypothyroidism today. So, I came home and wrote down every medical condition of everyone in his family going back to his grandparents, and I've written down all the different hospitalizations, medications, and complaints that he's had since we've been married. I'll do the same thing for my own family and self tonight. And I'll keep all this in a notebook if ever either of us needs to return to a hospital.

Which brings me to my next what-I've-learned point, the reason such a notebook might be crucial: Sometimes we spouses have to be the voice for our loved ones. Chris has been so in-and-out from the pain and pain medication that often I'm the one who has to answer the questions -- and ask the questions. I had to ask for his fluids to be increased yesterday because he was trying to sleep off a dehydration-induced headache. I had to speak with his doc this morning about the hypothyroidism because Chris was knocked out by the morphine. (Another reason why I feel sad for the man in the bed next to Chris -- he has no one there to be his voice. I find myself listening in to his discussions with his docs so I can fill in any details for the other specialists and nurses who come in!)

Anyway, these are lessons I hope none of you ever have draw on -- at least not while you're younger than, say, 70 -- but if you do, know that you can do it. Like I said previously, you really learn what you're made of in times like these, and these are the times that make us who we are.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Things we learn, part 1

It's the end of hospital day 5. I'm tired. I'm sad. I'm lonely. Spent the entire day in the hospital with Chris, waiting for various docs and dietitians and nurse-advocate people. We started the day hopeful, ended the day crying over the phone. We thought he'd be coming home today, but around mid-day his pain came back with a vengeance, so they stopped the liquid diet and pumped up the morphine, drew some blood, and came back two hours later with the news that the magic numbers that need to go down have instead started going back up. So we wait. Maybe another day or two. We hope. Deja vu. This is exactly what happened last time. I'm trying to not think about that, trying not to panic.

Tonight after tucking my sweet little one into my bed because he is afraid to sleep alone, I'm taking a minute to count my blessings. One thing you learn when you spend time in a hospital is there are many, many people in the world who are worse off. For example, the man in the bed next to Chris is very ill, with all sorts of buzzers and beeps and monitors sounding all day and night, and he doesn't have anyone visiting him, ever. That makes me sad for him.

In times like this you learn, too, what you're made of -- and what your friends and family are made of. So many people swooped into action for us this past few days without me even asking. I'm so grateful for my little village. And for my family. You learn how much your marriage and your family mean, and you learn how easy it is to make sacrifices without even flinching.

You also learn not to take things for granted. Big things, like the wonderful Christmas and holiday break that the three of us shared, are so much more meaningful. As I look back on last week, I smile just thinking of Christmas morning giggles or our walk through Rittenhouse Park on a crisp winter evening. And little everyday things come into sharper focus. For instance, and this may sound silly, but one of the things Chris does around the house is fold the laundry. This is huge for me because I HATE to fold laundry. I am currently staring down three large baskets of clean clothes that need to be folded; they've been sitting here mocking me for five days. I won't overlook these things anymore.

As hard as this week has been, the real challenges lie ahead as we learn how to deal with his disease. I know this and I'd be lying to say I'm not afraid. But I won't dwell on that right now. Tonight I'm focusing on the positive things that will come out of this week. We will have to focus more on our health -- which happened to be a New Year's goal anyway. We will be leaner -- which means new clothes, new haircuts, new self-esteem -- all good things. We will exercise together, which is excellent time for talking and planning and dreaming together. We will teach our son how to make good lifestyle choices so he doesn't ever have to go through this himself. And Chris's brother has told him too that he wants to go to the diabetes classes with him, since he is also diabetic, so maybe they'll both be healthier for it -- and maybe their relationship will strengthen too. We will appreciate the mundane, routine, everyday-life little things even more.

It's been a long day. I'm going upstairs now to cuddle up with my little one. I know I'm blessed.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Dear doctor

Dear kind-faced doctor with the spiky hair,
I hope I didn't offend you with my questions this morning; I'm not a pushy person, really, and I hope I didn't come off as disrespectful or ignorant. Just that I've been in this situation before -- I've watched my husband go through this pain, and I know which medicine eased it. There was a team of specialists on the case last time, so it seems unusual to have just a small group of family docs working with us now. I did a lot of research last time, so I know all the complications and risks he's facing -- please don't try to candy-coat it. I'm tired of repeating the same damn story to a different doctor every two hours -- can't you just look up his records?

I'm sorry I told you I'm pissed. That was inappropriate. But I am pissed. I'm pissed that you told us his genetics are crap and this is beyond his control. I know you were trying to ease his mind, make him think that this wasn't his fault, which we all know it's not. But now you've basically told him that no matter what he does, there will always be the possibility of repeating this nightmare, any time, without warning because it's in his crappy genes. Then you told him he has inherited the disease that eventually killed his father, at age 62, for God's sake. Do you have any idea what you just did, you sonofabitch?

Diabetes, you said. You're a walking heart attack, you said. Your triglycerides as so high, you said, that you should have died before you even got to the ER. But it's beyond your control, you said, because it's in your genes. And you may have passed these horrible genes on to your son, you said, so take him to the pediatrician and have a nice day.

Do you realize that you walked in here just now with your new diagnosis and your "I'm gonna give it to you straight" attitude and you've flipped our world inside out? In five minutes, you changed everything about our lives. You just kicked my husband in the knee, then slapped me in the face.

Maybe I'm projecting a little here. I'm probably not really mad at you. My rational self knows you're just doing your job. But I'm mad at this whole deal. I'm mad that I never thought to interview my husband about his genetic make-up before I fell in love with him. I'm mad at my husband for eating too many Big Macs, and I'm mad at myself for not being more vigilant and outspoken when I knew he was putting on weight. I'm even mad at my dead father-in-law for his crappy genes and even crappier treatment of his family!

I'm mad, dear doctor, so you'd better be done with your bad news.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

In sickness and in health

I can think of at least 100 ways to spend New Years Day, none of which involve sitting in a hospital emergency room watching my husband writhe in pain. However, I'm sad to say, I welcomed 2009 in just such a way. Craptastic, no? My honey has been admitted to the hospital this evening with acute pancreatitis, the very same illness that kept him hospitalized for 22 days in August 2004.

There are a events over the course of a lifetime that really define us, you know, the ones that we use to mark time periods, and his 2004 hospitalization was one of them. It changed us both. The timeline of my life goes something like this: grade school, moving to Stratford, going to college, meeting Chris, Mom dying, getting married, Chris in the hospital, Sweet Boy being born. That three-week hospital stint really stands out for both of us because it was horrible. Traumatic. Terrifying. He almost died. I remember one specific instance when I stood at the foot of his bed watching him drift in and out of conscioiusness while a team of nurses tried to figure out what was going on, and I prayed a prayer that went something like "Dear God, you will absolutely not take my husband from me."

The thing about pancreatitis is this: It is agonizingly painful. There is no treatment. You simply have to wait it out. They call it "resting the pancreas." You know what this means? No food or drink -- not even freaking ice chips! -- until the little angry pancreas calms itself down and your body regulates itself. And while that regulation is going on, your body literally starts attacking itself. It could lead to kidney and liver failure, heart problems, lung dysfunction. The last time, Chris's body took almost 3 weeks to regulate itself, and in that time his lungs, kidneys, and heart couldn't figure out what to do with themselves...he had periodic EKGs because his heartrate was sky high, he was on oxygen 24/7, and they started talking dialysis right before his little pancreas finally figured itself out.

We knew this morning driving to the hospital that he had pancreatitis. In fact, he walked into the triage station in his pajamas and slippers and said, "I think I have pancreatitis; you should probably just look up my records from August 2004." Knowing the diagnosis before you even set foot in the hospital is a double-edged sword: You know what to expect...but you know what to expect.

Tonight, after sitting in the hospital for over 12 hours and going through the full range of emotion from anger to fear to sadness to self-pity to manic laughter and back to anger again, I'm feeling a little bit numb. I'm trying to be hopeful -- after all, the docs said today that because we came in early on and because they knew what to test for and treat right away, chances are his pancreas will settle down quicker and the complications (and therefore duration of stay) will be less. So I'll hang on to that hope. I'll cling to it, because I don't know what else to do. There's nothing else I can do.

I really don't know what the next days, weeks, months may hold. I do know, though, that this time it's more complicated here at home. This time I have to muster my courage each day to say goodbye to my husband, who is scared and in pain, then get all my tears out in the 10-minute car ride so I can go home and play Mommy with my bravest face. This time there is a 3-year-old child who will look at me as I tuck him in and ask where his daddy is and when will he be home. And this time I have to figure out who will stay with Sweet Boy while I shuttle back and forth to the hospital, which means I am going to have to ask for help, which is something I'm really not good at. This time I have to face my mother-in-law and my father who have been telling me for two years that I really have to crack down on Chris's weight issues and help him to lose weight (because it's obvious that it's my fault he is overweight, right?), and this time I have to stand up and remind them that it's not Chris's fault, nor is it mine, that this has happened again; it's just bad luck, bad genes, perhaps (and this is directed at you, MIL). This time I need to be a rockier rock than I ever have been, and I'm not entirely sure that I can be.

When I left Chris tonight, I said that prayer one more time, but in truth I was thinking, you absolutely will not take my child's father from him. Right now as I tuck myself into my giant bed alone, I'm simply praying, "Please God, give me strength." Selfish, isn't it, to be praying for myself when my husband is so ill? It would be nice though if I could just be strong enough for both of us -- for all three of us -- until this next life-defining challenge has passed.