Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dr. Canoe and Love that Heals

Motherhood is never a predictable journey. My journey began on October 19th, 1990 after 33 hours of labor. Russell was not in a hurry to get here. When he arrived he had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. He was blue and the doctors quickly determined that he had congenital heart disease. I was told we would have to go to Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. I was scared. So I called my mommy. I cried softly into the phone and said to mom, “something’s wrong with my baby.” I then fell asleep exhausted from labor.

When I awoke my mother was seated next to me holding my son. To this day I do not know how she spanned the 500 miles between us in the blink of an eye, but I was grateful. When we arrived at Children’s hospital we were all anxious to hear what the experts had to say. What I remember was hearing a lot of big words I did not understand, with the exception of surgery. When I looked at the surgeon as he described what he needed to do to repair Russell’s heart, I did not hear his words. I only saw the size of his hands. They looked like canoe paddles. Russell in his entirety fit in the palm of his hand.
What I do remember is hearing the doctors say that Russell was too small for the surgery and that we were to take him home, watch to make sure he didn’t turn blue and to bring him back into the hospital each week to be examined. And so it began. I watched over him as he slept and kept him close when awake.
At five weeks old “Dr.Canoe”, as I had begun to call him, determined that he could no longer wait to perform the corrective surgery and would have to do a temporary procedure that would keep Russell from further spells of cyanosis until he was big enough for corrective surgery.  We spent Russell’s first holidays at Children’s Hospital and would spend a great deal of time there over the course of the next three years.
Motherhood is never quite what you expect. My second son, Joel was born on June 20th, 1993 after 90 minutes of labor. Within a week of Joel’s birth Russell was back in the hospital in need of immediate corrective surgery. Again, I called my mommy. It seems in my memory that again mom and dad traveled those five hundred miles south in the time it took me to hang up the phone.

Russell’s surgery was complicated and recovery was slow. Mom, dad and I fell into a rhythm as caretakers to a newborn and a two and a half year old in ICU. Mom and dad kept Joel in the hospital cafeteria and would call me down from the ICU when it was time to nurse Joel. I’d nurse Joel, and mom or dad would go up to the ICU with Russell. It was a crazy and difficult time.

Russell’s recovery was slowed by his absolute refusal to get out of his bed. Dr. Canoe kept insisting that Russell get up and walk around the unit and visit the children’s play room. At some point in Dr.Canoe’s frustration, he became aware that we had a newborn son downstairs in the hospital cafeteria. Against all hospital rules, he immediately asked me to bring Joel upstairs into Russell’s room. He then told Russell that the only way to see his brother was to get out of bed and push Joel’s stroller to the play room.

And so began our daily parade. Russell pushed Joel’s stroller, and we walked behind pushing Russell’s IV pole and monitors. We were quite a sight. During that time I learned that Dr. Canoe’s heart was as big as his hands and brotherly love is a force to be reckoned with. Surgery may have fixed Russell’s heart, but it was love that healed him. It is always love that heals.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Love. Protection. And Sleep Deprivation.

I have condensed in my mind the journey of motherhood. It consists of love, protection and sleep deprivation. My two sons, Russell, 22 and Joel, 19 are as different as night and day, yet similar in many ways. Regardless of their similarities and differences, they have changed my world. That’s love.
Russell arrived after 33 hours of labor; he took his time and was in no hurry to get here. I remember calling my grandmother when Russell was born. She was so excited for me. She knew Russell was born with congenital heart disease (more about that in next week’s story Dr. Canoe Paddle) and she said to me, “Love that boy and watch over him.” And so I did. I watched him when he was awake and I watched him when he slept. That’s love and protection!

Joel arrived after 90 minutes of labor. He’s been fast and fearless since the moment he arrived. Joel never slept. He was climbing and running before he was one. We had to lock him in his crib at night with a loosely woven blanket and vice grips just to contain him so we could sleep. That’s love, protection and sleep deprivation.
When I called my grandmother after Joel was born she simply said, “Oh . . . bless you child.” She was the mother of two sons. She knew what was in store for me. As the boys grew older I learned that all I really needed was a black and white striped jersey and a whistle to succeed in motherhood. Each day started with the battle cry, “Let the games begin.” I was the referee. Russell and Joel could fight about anything. I believe it was their language. On long car rides (1000 miles to grandparents) they would fight about who was looking out whose window. It was unbelievable. I had intentionally bought that big uncool minivan just so they wouldn’t be able to reach each other while I was driving. But I could do nothing about who was looking out whose window.
I remember one trip north to visit grandparents I stopped at Promised Land State Park in Pennsylvania. I planned a camp out and an early morning hike in hopes of wearing the boys out in order to have a quiet second half of the journey. It seemed like a brilliant plan to me. We enjoyed an evening walk under the stars and crawled into the tent to sleep. I was between them and had just fallen asleep when I awoke to the sound of them arguing. I sat up thinking, “now what!” But as I looked at them I realized they were sound asleep. Unbelievable! That’s just sleep deprivation!
During their teen years when they had to move away from childhood friends and then watch their father leave they formed a bond that touches my heart to this day. It’s as if when their world was falling apart they decided they’d stick together. They still argue and fight of course but they referee themselves quite well. At times I’ve watched their bond and have felt on the outside looking in wondering if I still fit in their world. Do they need my love and protection I wonder?  I still lose sleep.
A couple years ago we were in Massachusetts with grandparents and family for Christmas. We woke up the day after to news of an incoming blizzard. My boys were determined to get home to South Carolina and not be snowed in for New Years Eve away from friends. Being the responsible adult that I am, I stated that there was no way I was going to drive in a snow storm. They answered, “Fine. We’ll drive.”
Joel, in his fast and fearless way, started off in the driver seat for our journey. He pushed it far longer than I would have dreamed possible before he finally turned the wheel over to my more cautious Russell. I was thankful when after less than an hour Russell declared the roads unsafe. In ten hours we made it as far as Pennsylvania. We pulled into a motel off the highway and miracle of miracles, they had two rooms left. I took both, said good night to the boys and was glad to be rid of them for a few hours.

I had just fallen asleep when I heard a loud crash as my door was being kicked in. I screamed and the intruder ran off. My boys heard my screams from their room and came out running, chasing after the intruder. The intruder was not found.The police were called, reports were filed.

That night my boys tucked me in and kissed me goodnight. When I woke up, they were sitting on the floor with their backs to the door watching over me. Life is a circle of love, protection and sleep deprivation. My world is forever changed. I'm glad.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Duct Tape Love

Life is a circle
I’m caught in the middle
Between sons and parents
1000 miles divide us
It is duct tape that binds us.

 This summer I had the honor and pleasure of staying with my 80 year old parents in MA for six weeks. After two months in a rehab hospital dealing with congestive heart failure and late stage Parkinson's Disease, dad decided it was time to be back at home so he could sleep with mom. I left SC and traveled North to help with the transition from hospital to home.  I learned the true meaning of what it is to be of “middle age”.

 One week into my time away from home I received word from Russell, 21, that he needed duct tape. I found this odd as my dad has always supplied his children and grandchildren with an endless supply of the stuff. When I reminded him where our many rolls were kept he simply stated, “We need more.” When I inquired as to what he could possibly need more for, he simply responded, “You don’t want to know. And don’t worry. We’ve got it covered.” Oh my!  I was 1000 miles away. There was nothing I could do, but I had terrible visions of the state of my home.

During the second week of my stay mom woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me that she needed to go to the hospital. Mom’s healthy. She doesn’t go to the hospital. That’s dad’s thing.  She stated that her blood pressure was sky high and she wasn’t feeling right.  She told me that I needed to stay home with dad and that Eric, my brother, would be with her in the ER. She said dad was sleeping and not to wake him. But as soon as she was gone dad knew something was wrong. When I told him he began to tremble and shake as he does when he’s stressed. He grabbed my hand and asked me to lie down with him until morning. As I laid there next to him on their small double bed with him shaking next to me I thought, “How does  mom sleep like this?”

As soon as the sun rose dad was desperate for news of mom and asked that I call Eric. With the news that mom was being admitted to monitor blood pressure and stabilize medication I assured dad that mom would be fine and would likely be home the next day.
Dad insisted that we go visit mom and spend the day with her in the hospital. This was a switch! We’ve spent many days and nights by my father’s hospital bedside over the years, but never my mom’s.  With dad’s Parkinson’s disease, arthritic spine and congestive heart failure, getting him dressed and out the door to travel to the hospital would be no easy undertaking. But there was no discussion of not going.
Dad insisted that he wanted to look nice for mom.  He wanted his hair and beard trimmed. He wanted a shower and he did not want to wear sweat pants and a tee shirt. He wanted real slacks and a button shirt. Oh my . . . this was going to take awhile. And so we began.

It’s not easy to trim the hair and beard on the bobbling head of a Parkinson’s patient! But we managed. Dad showered and I waited outside the bathroom door. When he opened the door he had shaving cream all over his face and he held out a razor for me to shave him. As I watched his head bobble up and down I thought, “No Way!”  My dad was gracious and understood my fear. He then slowly turned back into the bathroom and stood in front of the sink, shaking from head to toes. I watched in terror as my father’s trembling hand approached his bobbling head. I thought to myself, “This is going to be ugly and bloody”. But in an amazing demonstration of focus, determination and muscle memory, my father’s hand and head stopped shaking. He shaved his face and throat around his beard with perfection and not a drop of blood.
We then began the slow process of dressing, one button at a time. It seemed to take forever.  I could see the pain in his whole body as we finally loaded him into the car for the drive to the hospital. He looked so frail and weak. A mere shadow of the strong man I remember. And yet, he did look handsome.

When we arrived at the hospital I could tell that my dad was in a hurry to get in to see my mom. I reminded him to wait until I could get around to help him out of the car. But by the time I came around to his door, he had literally somersaulted out of the car. He looked up at me, smiled and stated, “I get out that way sometimes.”  This time it hadn’t worked so well. My dad had split his head open and blood was pouring down his newly shaved face and neatly trimmed hair. I told my father that we would have to go into the ER for some stitches. He immediately responded in the strong voice I remember, “NO HOSPITAL’s for me, EVER again!” He then reached into his pocket and pulled out his handkerchief and held it over the wound. He then instructed me to get the duct tape out of the glove box.
Playing by my dad’s rules we patched and cleaned him up, put a hat on his head and went to visit mom. Upon entering the hospital room, my mother sat up, smiled and said, “oh Ted you look so handsome!”It was worth every terrifying moment of the journey to get there.

Life is a circle, and stuck in the middle is not a bad place to be.
Happy 58th Anniversary mom and dad!!!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Brat

I was a brat. I didn’t mean to be; I just was. Or at least that was what my brother Chris thought. Chris was 7 years older than me and everywhere he was, was where I wanted to be. But in the spring of 1972 when I was 8 and he was 15, everywhere he was, was not where he wanted me to be.

Chris was the brother who taught me to swim, ride my bike, climb trees and pop the heads off my sisters Barbies. Of course I would want to be with him. So when mom and dad sat me down and told me that on Saturday afternoons Chris would have to babysit me while they did something with Beth, Brian and Eric, I was ecstatic!!

I couldn’t wait for that first Saturday to arrive. Finally it did and I was alone with Chris. He would have to play with me. I had it all planned out in my mind: we would ride bikes to Forest Park, climb trees and go swimming. But then there was a knock at the door. It was Elsie, Chris’ first girlfriend.

Chris and Elsie went into the den and sat down on the couch to watch TV. I went into the den and sat down right between them and proceeded to beg Chris to play with me stating firmly that mom said he had to. Chris just poked me, pinched me, called me a brat and told me to get lost. I just sat. Elsie was much smarter than Chris. She didn’t call me names or poke me. She just reached into her pocket and paid me to leave. That worked. And it worked for weeks.
 Life was good, until my parents informed us that we had to move. We couldn’t take Elsie with us. Chris was mad and my cash flow dried up. It was devastating. When we arrived at the new house Chris went upstairs to his new room, closed the door and didn’t come out for years. I know he was in there because I would knock on his door and ask him to come out and play with me. He would just throw things at the door and yell, “GO AWAY BRAT”.
Chris did come out of his room in the middle of the night while the rest of us slept. He would go downstairs to the kitchen and bake apple pies. He learned to bake the best apple pies in the world. He would always bake two pies. He would eat one by himself and he’d leave the second pie for the rest of us. I loved those mornings when I woke up and the whole house smelled like apple pie. My dad would heat up the pie and we’d have warm apple pie and ice cream for breakfast. Awesome.
But the years went by and Chris moved to New York City to go to college. More years went by and I moved to Maryland to go to college. Chris stayed in New York City, got married and in the fall of 1990 he had his first son. I stayed in Maryland, got married and in the fall of 1990 I had my first son, Russell.
Russell was born with congenital heart disease and we had to spend a great deal of time in the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. One night when I was there alone with Russell watching his tiny little body hooked up to machines that blinked and buzzed constantly I got restless and decided to take a walk around the hospital. As I walked down a long corridor, I smelled apple pie. I couldn’t help myself, I just followed my nose. At the end of the hall, my brother Chris stepped out of the nurse’s lounge carrying two apple pies and a pint of vanilla ice cream. He looked at me with a big goofy grin and asked me if I wanted some pie.
We gave one of the pies to the nurses working that night and the other pie and the ice cream we took into Russell’s room. We ate. We talked. We laughed. We shared our stories until the wee hours of the morning until Chris had to leave to drive back to New York City. After he left, I stared at the empty pie plate in the trash and thought to myself, “Wow, my brother Chris came all the way from New York City to hang out with me and not one time did he call me a brat or tell me to get lost!”  Life is good.                                       . . .  Happy 55th Birthday Chris!!

Everyone has a story to tell . . .
Audio version of "The Brat"  -  click here