Saturday, April 27

Killing, or at least, maiming with kindness

There are definitely people out there who know exactly what to do in tragic circumstances. They know what to write on a card, what to say in that initial, awkward phone call, what type of flowers to send, and what kind of food to bring to the hospital. I am totally not one of these people. I never know what to say or what to do, and I've sort of scraped by with just copying what other appropriately kind people are doing.

Now that I am a bit more grown up, and, having experienced some mildly traumatic things, I feel like I have the right to say that everyone is, to some degree, an asshole. People generally do not like going out of their way for others. I have to say, I can understand the hesitation. We don't like to feel we are a bother, or nosy, or that we are in the way, and we especially don't want to give up our few precious moments of free time in order to selflessly "do" something for other people. We are assholes. I am the biggest asshole. But... I think I can provide some clear guidelines on how not to be as asshole-y anymore (just in case you're interested).

Step 1: Please stop saying, "is there anything I can do."  This statement comes with good intentions, yes, but the pregnant woman whose father just died of a heart attack isn't in any state to know what she needs. The family with a baby son in the hospital may not realize they haven't eaten in 3 days. Please Note: Swiss Chalet = good idea. Take that extra step, decide what she might need, and then just do it. Don't ask. People in stressful/tragic situations need food, clean clothes, someone to feed the meter, long distance phone cards, booze, magazines. Anything. But please, stop with the asking. Just do it.

Step 2: If you have already asked, "is there anything I can do", and the recipient says, yes, please do A, B, and C, then get the heck down to business and do A, B, and C. What are you waiting for?

Step 3: Please always ask, "is there anything I can do?" Confused? That's okay, so am I. If you don't ask, then you are an asshole. That's just the way it is. While step 1 is very important to remember, not doing step 3 will get you into hot water. You have to say something to show that you are actually invested in the situation. That aforementioned statement is easy, derivative, and doesn't require too much brain power on your part. However, you need to make sure you follow step 2, or else step 3 is redundant.

I  would like to reiterate that, yes, most people (including myself) have the potential to be assholes, but, most people are inherently super kind as well. Do you want to be a kind person who doesn't actually DO kind things, or do you want to get 'er done? When people receive kindness, after going through a long period of badness, it becomes their new focal point. Instead of obsessing over whether their son is going to live through the night, they might just take a second and remember the awesome dinner you dropped off at the hospital.

Thank you. Class dismissed. 

Thursday, April 25

A garbage-y day turned into an okay day

Branko is currently sleeping in an ICU bed at the hospital. He has Influenza B, and pneumonia in his left lung. He has an IV in both arms, and tubes sticking out of his toe, chest, and nostrils. His breathing sounds treacherous; I will definitely need hypnosis to forget these sounds.  My husband brought him into emergency yesterday because he had been sick with an ear infection, and had been on antibiotics for 48 hours with no improvement. Over the past few days, he had become lethargic, had stopped eating and sleeping, and generally seemed like he was uncomfortable.

I won't go into the trillions of tiny, messed-up details about his experience here. It's been terrible. I left work early to meet them in the ER. This is how Darth Branko looked when I arrived:

I'm not going to write a stupid, redundant post called "Top 10 Things You Didn't Know About Baby Pneumonia" or "20 Things to NEVER do with a Nebulizer". I could, however, write and write and write about what you shouldn't do to cope when your baby is in the hospital: shots, McDonalds, yelling at husband, listening in on other parents' conversations in order to gage how bad things really are for you, etc. In other words, I have no actual useful pieces of information. I was a complete mess for the first twenty-four hours. I was showing signs of extreme anxiety, I couldn't be in the room with Branko without weeping, and all I could think about were the worst possible scenarios.

And then, just as quickly as all the bad news seemed to come, a handsome Irish doctor (husband's words, not mine) decided to give us a tiny little nanolitre of hope. He wanted to try a different method of treatment, which involved, well, stopping the current treatment. He wanted to discontinue using almost all of Branko's asthma meds -- because he believes that Branko doesn't actually have asthma. Please note: I'm not suggesting using your kid's medicine as kindling.  We are now into our 5th or 6th hour of our 'non-treatment' and, right now, Branko is sleeping. SLEEPING. He hasn't done that in weeks. We are taking it as a good sign. I suppose the point of this tale is to wait. Be patient. Don't expect the worst possible scenario, even if you have this 'feeling' that something is dreadfully wrong. (Those 'gut feelings' are just a mish mash of residual fear from other past shitty things that have happened. Also: Jim Henson's death was atypical!!) And lastly, when the going gets tough, try to believe in the power of handsome Irish doctors.

Tuesday, April 16

All About Me!

This isn't going to be a post about Branko. I am breaking all of my own rules right now. This one's all about ME. I had a miscarriage a little while ago.  While I won't go into detail about what my bathroom looked like (it was gross) or about my shitty doctor (he told me to stop using midwives due to my advanced maternal age), or about my ride in the ambulance (I felt important when they finally turned the siren on), I would like to share a few things with you, if you don't mind.

On one hand, I never thought this would happen to me; on the other, I was always expecting it to happen. I am immediately reminded of a female comedian somewhere out there, who told a pretty brutal joke a few years ago that went like, "well, I guess this is MY rape."  I'm not comparing miscarriage to rape, by any means, I just understand that strange feeling of knowing that, maybe perhaps someday, this shitty, terrible thing might be a possibility. It sucks. It doesn't make it any better. So, I wasn't really surprised when they told me that, at 13 weeks pregnant, my fetus measured at 9 weeks, without a heartbeat. I didn't ask, why me? That's just silly. I was more like, how did I get to be the shmuck who didn't realize she hadn't been pregnant for over a month?

The first major realization after having a miscarriage: I have never felt more disconnected from my own body. If someone from the future had come back and told me I was about to have a dead fetus inside me for four weeks, while still having pregnancy symptoms, yet at the same time having no symptoms of a miscarriage, I probably would have been a wee bit suspicious, and then I would have immediately written a letter: Dear Reproductive System, What the fucking fuck? Why do you consistently, without fail, continue to fuck with me when I am not looking? I have clearly been betrayed by my own body, having never been more surprised at all the hideous surprises that have come out of me in the past week. 

Second thing: This experience is nothing like having a healthy, successful, pregnancy. It's about 10 mazillion times more traumatic, emotional, and painful than giving birth. I don't expect anyone who hasn't been through it to truly understand. This attitude has, unfortunately, made me want to avoid anyone who is pregnant or who has just had a kid. Sorry. Nothing I can do about that. I'm just not going to talk to those guys for awhile.  I feel really bad about this, but I'm also quite confident this feeling will pass very soon, and I will go back to creepily rubbing pregnant bellies and sniffing newborns any day now. 

Third thing: why does noone actually talk about this? This attitude seems so 1985. I understand the need for healing, for privacy, for emotional detachment from other people (see above), but I honestly don't understand this creepy desire to ERASE the pregnancy. That seems like it may do more harm than good. Since I had already told so many people about my pregnancy, I was forced to be honest and share what had happened. In retrospect, I am thankful that so many people knew -- tragedy actually does brings people together, and these same people are the ones who are going to get 25-year-old-drunk-with-you-and-make-dead-baby-jokes (if you're ready). 

And lastly... don't be an asshole. If a friend has a miscarriage, call or text her. Constantly. Come over if you can. Don't send a text like, How are you. That is too vague. You may as well say, I have two eyes. Cancel your plans, buy some beer, get her out if possible.  And not just for the first few days. Maybe check in after a week, when the shit really hits the fan and she has to go back to work and pretend like nothing happened cause everyone is too weirded out by the fact that she was pregnant last week and now she's just... not. 

And now to lift your spirits: Halloween costume ideas!!!.... enjoy?

Bert and Ernie

White Goat

Elvis Presley

Monday, April 15

Why I'm allowed to brag; Why you are not, Part II

In an effort to make myself seem like less of an angry psycho, I am writing this to let the world know, "I am not an angry psycho!!!" I love my friend's kids. I love hearing about funny shit that they do, like punching mom in the face, or shitting their pants on Santa's lap at the mall, or wearing a piece of bread as a bracelet, or dancing to music with words like "shit", "balls", and "suck". I realized after this post, that I was turning into an insensitive stupidhead, one who might just be making other people feel bad about themselves. But wait... how does that help anyone, you ask? It doesn't! And that's why I am going to attempt to actually write something sensitive and helpful to hopefully undo any bad feelings I may have stirred up.

Last August, Branko's pediatrician asked me how I was doing. It was weird, and it seemed like a loaded question. I was immediately suspicious. Why is she asking me that? Is she about to give me bad news? I told her I was fine, and then I said, no, actually, things are pretty shitty. I told her about how hard it was that Branko seemed so different from other babies. It was the first time I had said anything like that out loud.  Up to that point, Branko had appeared to be meeting all his developmental milestones; then, at 13 months, other babies started having these explosive developmental spurts. Kids his age were walking. They started saying 'momma'. They started to feed themselves. What had been a totally awesome, blissful one-year-long maternity leave was starting to feel like a distant memory. Every 'new' thing that another baby did felt like a kick in the stomach. This kick in the stomach felt worse with babies younger than Branko. I stopped enjoying every single moment with my son, and starting worrying, to the point where it was difficult to leave the house. Why put myself through that pain? In retrospect, I realize it was totally, absolutely, like that time in grade 8 when I decided to 'drop out' of school because some kid named Danny told everyone I did not need a bra. Yeah, NEVER going to school again seemed like the only possible solution, just like never leaving the house with your one-year-old son. I realize now, nearly 8 months later, that I don't want to be the kind of person who makes irrational decisions on par with that of an angry, flat-chested grade 8 girl.

Back to my doctor's office. She printed and gave me the following article. At the time, it didn't make me feel better, because I thought I had nothing in common with the author.  And now, a few months later, I realize how lucky I am that someone put these complicated, intense, and sometimes angry feelings into words. PLEASE NOTE:  I am in no way comparing myself to Maria Lin. Her situation is extraordinarily different from mine.  I would also like to point out that she is a fucking hero: a real, honest-to-goodness writer who has the talent to more eloquently describe many of the challenges I have come across.

So that's all I'm going to say on the topic of "feeling sorry for myself cause my son can't do some of the shit that he's supposed to do yet". {Please read Ms. Lin's article.}  

Thursday, April 11

Why I'm allowed to brag; Why you are not, Part I

Sorry to brag, but here's Branko. DOING THE ROBOT!

Just so we're clear: I am allowed to brag about my son. Sorry. You, on the other hand, you lucky parent of a developmentally-normal toddler, you may not. That's just the way it is. Let's do the math. Branko, who is almost 21 months old, can't walk or even stand without support. He's barely talking. He looks like he's about a year old. He wears leg braces. He just, um, looks different.

What's that? Your little one is using multi-syllabic words while walking backwards down the stairs on her way to help momma make organic palm sugar almond butter cookies? That's f&*king awesome.

It makes me feel bad when achievements are all mom/dad talks about. Sorry. Those little humblebrags are a constant reminder that my son is not normal. Would you go up to an adult with any sort of uncomfortable life-changing condition and just start talking about how many kilometres you ran today, or about how much food you ate last weekend, or how much better you slept after doing hot yoga last night? Hmmmm... you might, and it probably wouldn't even hurt most people, but why take that chance, right?

So the next time I brag about Branko (like the time he almost said "egg" in Serbian), please do any or all of the following: Roll on the floor, hyperventilate, make sounds only dogs can hear. Whatever. Please make it clear to me that this achievement is amazing. Cause it is.

Sunday, April 7

Surgical Dress Rehearsals

Branko was scheduled for pretty major surgery this past March. Surprisingly, our orthopedic surgeon has somewhat neat handwriting, and he described the procedure as "B/C ankle pseudoarthoses correction i intramedullary stabilization and casting. Instrumentation: Williams Rod." We are PRETTY SURE this means they are going to line up his tibia to his ankle to correct the bowing, clean up any weird (pseudoarthotic) scar tissue, and put some rods in there, rods that may or may not be in there forever. He will require a hip spica cast for 6-12 weeks afterwards.  The surgery is important; without at least one surgery, Branko's chances of walking with his current deformities are minimal.

We arrived at Sick Kids at 6 am (brutal) and then waited around to be seen by a nurse.  We were all STARVING. Branko had to fast for 12 hours before the surgery (which really wasn't that big of a deal... he's done that before) and we were so rushed that I hadn't eaten anything. I decided to take advantage of the scant 6:15 am line up at Starbucks and get me a breakfast sandwich and coffee. As I was pulling my disgusting/awesome sandwich out of my purse, the nurse calmly explained that "no food was allowed, to respect the children who have been fasting." Of course! Why would I put my own needs before Billy, the sleepy boy in the bed across the room who literally could not care less if I experience the deliciousness of a greasy Starbucks breakfast creation? I was going to eat it discretely -- I am the mother of a toddler, and I know how to keep food hidden so I don't have to share anything.

ANYWAYS. Our orthopedic surgeon came in. He was pretty optimistic and confident about the surgery. He even took out a fancy permanent marker and drew all over Branko's legs to show us exactly what they were doing. My feelings at that moment: No Big Deal. Piece of Cake. However, he reminded us that Branko still needed to see the Anesthesiologist, who would have the final say on whether or not Branko was 'well' enough for the procedure. A few months before, Branko had started taking asthma medication in order to treat some mild wheezing. Wheezing of any kind presents a rather large risk after a major surgery.

The Anesthesiologist examined Branko and immediately voiced his concerns over a small wheeze that he heard in his left lung. He hesitated before telling us that, no, we wouldn't be having the surgery today. He seemed truly sorry.

We had scheduled the surgery during March break, since I would have two weeks off to be home with him, and wouldn't have to use up my sick days. We had spent so much of ourselves mentally preparing for this. And now it was over.  The worst part was unpacking. I brought a lot of stuff to the hospital. I had spent about 3 days packing...  we had no idea of the type of clothing that would be best for a baby with an IV, epidural, and hip spica cast. It's really hard to take shirts off with things sticking out all over your body. I realize now that he may just have to wear a girl's nightgown for a few weeks.... sorry, Branko. A million times sorry.