Two cuter kidneys

Wednesday, June 19, 2019



As I sat in my hospital room, lights low, I filtered this information - but slowly. Terrance, who had gone home for the evening, would need telling and I needed to do that gently.  He gets deeply rattled when I am truly sick, for I am never truly sick.  Even when I was diagnosed with diabetes I soldiered on, diligently taking on the task of glucose monitors and medications and tons more doctor visits.  When a mammogram came back sketchy, I soldiered on, soothing him with the statistics of this being a scare and not a true problem.

Later, a good friend described the moment when he appeared at the desk of our Admin Assistant to share that I was being admitted to the hospital and I would not be back to teach classes for the foreseeable future.

"I've never seen a human look like that. He was white.", she said.

I've just been told that I am in very bad shape - far worse than I thought and far beyond my optimistic assessment that I would be out in a day and we would all laugh because I'd just been dehydrated and I could go back to teaching by Thursday.

Terrance called a bit later and I braced myself for his barrage of questions. When he is scared or upset he can revert to his lawyer training, peppering you with a barrage of questions that you can't quite answer.

"Hi Hon. The nephrologist was just here." I pause. We both know that the nephrologist should not have been there at 9 p.m.

"It seems that I am in acute renal failure. We don't know why. We just have to wait and see what the fluids will do and if my creatinine comes down."

His questions come fast - does this mean dialysis? When will we know for sure? Why did this happen?

I don't know, I don't know, I don't know.

"Don't tell Emily yet. I don't want to freak her out. She is in the middle of final exams and she is already freaked out about my being in the hospital."

This, readers, is an understatement. My daughter is positively violet with fear and worry. I get texts every 5 minutes begging for updates. I refuse video chats because if she sees me in the hospital bed, hooked to an aggressively beeping and humming IV, she is going to positively lose her shit. She is in New Hampshire. She will be home in a week. She needs to focus on her final exams.

"This is my worst fear", she says later. "Like, Mom. I have had nightmares about this - not being able to get to you and you are dying and I can't get there."

I soothe her too.  I am fine. I am being taken care of, there is nothing she could do even if she was here. I am in the best place for me to be in this situation. Focus on her final exams. Everything is fine.
This is the mantra of most mothers. Things are all right. Nothing is unsolvable. Our unflappability is an anchor for our children. We are their herd leader. Our fear becomes their fear and they do not need to fear.

I am not fine, of course. I am shaken.  On the day I am turning 49, I was unknowingly beginning to die - quietly and slowly but the path was being constructed.  As it was my first real brush with my mortality it is deeply disquieting. I mean, sure , we all consider our mortality, but it is abstract even when it encompasses the deaths of family members or friends or acquaintances.  We all hope for deaths that are predictable coming when we feel as if we have had enough time to be on the earth to accomplish everything we had hoped to accomplish.  We want a clean death, pain free and not messy.

I sleep fitfully. Hospitals are terrible places to sleep and even my sleeping medication is not keeping me asleep.  Not to mention that the VAST amounts of saline being pumped through my system demands that I empty my bladder every 20 minutes.  When I sleep for a little over an hour, I am amazed to see that I urinate 20 OUNCES of fluid. Nearly a whole water bottle full of urine. I had no idea my bladder was so robust.

By the morning, my creatinine is dropping. Slowly but surely. There is a smidge of movement in the right direction. The doctors look happy. I ask - for the last time - when I can go home.  They look at me sternly and make no promises.

I become accustomed to the routine - unhooking the IV, wheeling to the bathroom, coming back, replugging the IV and getting back in bed, careful to not tangle the lines or displace the needle. I take a shower, an extensive plastic sleeve covering the IV port, and trying to wash with one hand. It wasn't awesome, but it helped.  Visitors come and stay for awhile. I am deeply grateful for the distraction. I read, I manage panicked freshman who are registering from afar. I plan for how my classes are going to finish their last week and a half without me, how presentations are going to get done and how good enough is fine.

The next morning my nurse is pleased. "Have they told you your numbers?" No, I hadn't seen anyone yet that morning and I had actually slept in a bit. My creatinine numbers are continuing to decrease nicely.  It seems that the massive push of saline into my blood had woken them up and they were operating again. That meant no biopsy. No more white blood cells in my urine.  I am eating some small meals.

A final day, it is decided, to make sure my numbers continue to decrease and hold. The IV is slowed and then taken out. I am wildly grateful to have the use of both arms again. Later, the bruises will bloom up and down both arms, flowers of purple and blue planted in haste.

I cry again as I am given advance directive paperwork to complete.  These things are concrete and final. I am being asked to not only consider my death, but to plan in advance for the eventuality.  I am controlled until the question about "Is there something you want to say to someone in the even you are unable to speak?"  I sob. SOB. 

Yes. Yes. Yes, but it can not be contained on this paper. I can not commit to this question. It is too big, too amorphous. It is beyond my human capacity to distill into words.  I leave that section blank.

The rest I read aloud to Terrance, getting his consent to the things I ask him to consider.  How I want to die, what parameters I can control and his possible role in facilitating those wishes is a conversation we have never seriously had in the course of our relationship. While necessary, it is unnerving for both of us.

When I am released from the hospital, I am shaken. While now deemed physically OK, I am more emotionally fragile than I knew.  I have a panic attack that evening, convinced that my kidneys are shutting down again and I won't know and die.  Simultaneously, I know this is a reaction that is in my mind and not my body. 

It's been a bit over a month now. I am doing well. The medications that could have caused this have been removed from rotation. No ibuprofen or naproxen ever again- Pour one out for my beloved Liqui-gels. I mourn them. Metformin was taken away, then reintroduced at a much smaller dose.  No more Prilosec or its cousins.  My blood sugars soar and we have to do a different medication to eventually get it under control. We do, and we do another creatinine test because we always do more creatinine tests.  I am .88. Perfect kidney numbers.

I joked that I now know what kidney failure feels like. Terrance does not find this funny. He monitors me closely and when I don't feel well, he asks a litany of questions to assess if this is a passing thing or the prelude to something more serious.  I drink water, so much water.  I am still a little slower than I feel I should be at this stage in the summer. I get a bit more tired. I try to be more gentle with myself when I don't get as much done as I'd hoped, reminding myself that I was very sick even if I don't admit it.

I wish I had a grand pronouncement, but I don't.  Listen to your bodies, my friends.  We are more fragile than we realize, especially as we move solidly into middle age with all of it's accompanying insults, aches and pains. (Ask me about my rando aching knee!) Make sure you are peeing. Drink water. Don't take too much ibuprofen, they aren't kidding about the kidney thing.

Take care of yourselves. I would miss you if you were gone.



A cute kidney

Saturday, May 11, 2019

On Monday, April 29th, I turned 49 years old.

On Tuesday April 30th, I was admitted to the hospital with acute renal failure.

They didn't know that at first, of course.  The ER doctor, though I am sure well meaning, was fairly dismissive of my description of my symptoms.  I was trying to explain that my dizziness had become so pronounced that I could move only if I stared down at my feet and never looked up. I explained that my appetite was gone, and I was only eating one very small meal a day. Oatmeal. I didn't even have a cupcake for my birthday, because I felt so bad.

I explained that on Monday I'd tried to teach class, but had to sit down because of the dizziness. That quickly became dry heaving, then full body sweating leading to my releasing class early because I was not doing well.  The poor startled and concerned students were rather beside themselves.

I described that on Saturday I had dry heaved and vomited a little in the parking lot at Walmart. I did this while a man in a white truck watched me, and Terrance looked on with concern.

Yes, of course I was drinking fluids. That's all I could do, really. Green Tea and Water. No, I hadn't been sleeping either but who can tell with a 49 year old body. Sometimes you just wake up and stay awake.

The ER doctor told me that I could control the dizziness with over the counter medications! Why he too suffered from Vertigo - Right now, even!

Could it be ear infections, I asked? Maybe some kind of weird ear infection that was making me so dizzy? Grudgingly, he looked. Nope, no ear infections.

He left me alone on the ER bed, feeling foolish and overreactive.  Nurses came in. They took more vitals, someone took blood.  When it was determined that I was dehydrated, a kind man came and got an IV started. He was very kind and patient, as my veins were just about invisible and he had to work hard to find any place to get this started. After he was successful I asked, "Can you get my husband? He's in the waiting room."

Terrance arrived. He sat down and asked me what the doctor had said. I shared that he thought I must be dehydrated and there were no ear infections.

Now, what I am not explaining here is my utter insistence that I am fine.  This is a little virus. Maybe a small bacterial infection.

I am *always* like this. ALWAYS.  Everything is no big deal.  Earlier this spring right before class was starting, I ran to the washroom and vomited profusely. I hadn't realized that the door had kicked itself open, meaning that ALL of my students got to hear me vomiting profusely. In fact, the whole first floor got to listen to me puking.

As I returned to class, I faced an entire room of startled students who just put together that the person they had just listened to was, in fact, their professor. 

Readers, I taught the class. For the full 2 hours.

For me to say "I think I need to go to Urgent Care" is the white flag of defeat in Dawn world.

A nurse came in and asked me to take out my earrings as they wanted to do a MRI to make sure I wasn't having some kind of tumor or stroke issue.  I lay there feeling utterly ridiculous. I was just dizzy, terribly dizzy.  And nauseated.

They wheeled me back into the room. I lay there, eyes closed.  Terrance stared at the walls.

Here is where the dramatic moment of hospital shows happened. The doctor whips open the curtain and exclaims that my blood tests are showing something very wrong and they are admitting me right now.  People appear. More things are done. Terrance is handed my purse and told to go get things from home because I am being wheeled upstairs now.

Truthfully, I am now feeling guilty because this is all a bit much. For some dizziness?  I've had two liters of saline pushed into my body in such rapid succession that when they hook up the third, I am confused because I thought we had just started the 2nd one. I am transferred into a hospital bed. I am covered in warmed blankets.  I lay there and begin calculating how much this is going to cost us and how soon I can get out of there because we have a child in college and I can not afford a 20K hospital bill.

Sidenote: Thanks, American medical and political systems for that extra tidbit of stress.  As if I am taking a spa break, or a fancy vacation,  I worry about the cost of the bill for my portion of the hospital admission.  In fact, I begin to cry in the hospital because I am thinking of how much this is going to cost.  I apologize to my husband when he arrives because this is going to cost too much.


The first doctor arrives.  The next bag of saline is being hooked up and pushed through my body.  My doctor says they aren't quite sure what is happening yet.  Something is going on with my kidneys but they don't know what. They are going to keep pushing saline. A nephrologist has been called.

Terrance arrives with a backpack full of things. We sit in silence as I cry about the cost and he reassures me. The IV pump hums aggressively.  After about 7 hours of continuous IV fluids, my appetite returns in the smallest way.  With the nausea controlled with medication, I might want to eat a little.  I want a salad. I want a little hamburger. Maybe even a few fries.  Terrance does what he does best - he manages food for me.

The nurse smiles when she sees me eating, even if it isn't much.  It's good.  I still can't stand without getting dizzy, but I am peeing lots now. My indignity is enhanced by the fact that I have to pee into the "hat", a large plastic container that measures my urine.

I am wildly grateful that I went with the boy shorts underwear instead of the usual thong given my hospital gown and the frequency with which I am now peeing.

I am still optimistic that this is just all an overreaction and I am fine. Terrance goes home for the night.

The nephrologist arrives at 9 p.m.  I am laying in bed actually trying to grade papers and respond to  emails from panicked freshman asking about registration. ( See: Dawn's inability to admit she is ill, above)

This startles me for a couple of reasons. First, I was told that he wouldn't see me until tomorrow since he had left for the day. Second, he seems *very* serious.

He is kind. He is clear. He does not talk down to me. He takes a history, asking me about medications, health, any changes I had observed in my general well being.  He then starts talking me through what they suspect has happened.

My kidney's, he explains, had simply stopped working. When I arrived at the Urgent Care that morning, I was in acute renal failure. I had lost 95% of my kidney functions by the time I was admitted. A few more hours of waiting and I would have been in the ICU.  He explained that they weren't sure if this was reversible yet and that they would need to wait and see my numbers in the morning. The ultrasound of my kidneys and bladder showed no tumors or obvious blockages, so it could be an infection inside the kidney, or a combination of other factors.  A biopsy may be needed.

After he left I sat in my very dim room and considered my fragility. This was the moment that I got scared.






Roots and Wings

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The baby bird is leaving the nest. Well, not really, but she is testing her wings.

On Friday, Emily walked to school ....“Alone”. Of course this means that Terrance trailed her to school, keeping a not unsubtle distance between she and he as he pretended to be out for a jog.

Upon his return from said jog, he reported that she walked with confidence the 3 blocks to school. Then he sent me to the school at noon to make sure she was really IN school. When I picked her up at 3:30, she was all smiles. “How was the walk to school?”, I asked her as she hopped into the car.

“Good. Daddy followed me the whole way you know.”She said this without irritation or indignation at being granted her independence....but not quite. I paused and listened for tone, as the nuances of my daughter are becoming more shaded and obscure. No tone was forthcoming and I did not deny that her father had indeed followed her to school. We both knew he had.

Later on at dinner, she casually mentioned to him that she knew of his poorly concealed attempts at
covert surveillance . His blustery attempts to deny the facts made it only that much more obvious. She accepted his denials with a world weary grace that took me aback. It was then that I realized that our daughter has come to understand that she must be patient with her parents as we learn to let her fly. Our intent is not to stifle her growth, although it sometimes may feel that way to her. She is secure
in the knowledge that we love her wholly and that everything we do is done to protect and encourage her. This knowledge allows her to accept some of the perceived indignities of being a child as acts of
love and caring. We, in turn, see this acknowledgment as indications of her growing maturity and need to stretch and grow.

This push and pull is a wonderful, terrible thing. Our dance of mother, father and daughter is growing
more complex and entangled with every passing day. We – the mother and father – find her struggles for autonomy both thrilling and maddening, for we never know how much to give or how much to curtail, and more often than not we are at odds with each other about what she can handle and where she needs support.

Today, however, she told us exactly what she needs.

After deciding to walk to school on her own yesterday, she invited her father to walk with her today. 

Her decision. Her terms. Her wings.


September 17, 2007 Gimlet Eye

Dark chocolate and espresso

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Sometimes I get very tired of being a Mom.

I know, I know.

Not for long. Usually a good sleep, or latte will bring me back to myself.

However, it is the moments when you have said "Get ready for school" for the 18th time, or picked up the underwear off the bathroom floor, or had the same round about argument with the 8 year old about whether or not you signed her permission slip ( come on! Of course I signed it!)

and you think...."When do I get my life back? Will I ever get my life back?"

Because you don't think so, really - you suspect that this goes deeper than you thought as you were deciding to get pregnant and have a baby. That this is the hidden part of the deal.

That this person, whom you adore and who makes you laugh like no one else - This person, who leaves her underwear on the floor everyday- This person, who turns her nose up at the food you have prepared and tells you that your breath smells bad....Well, you would step in front of a truck for this person.

And that freaks you out, a little.

Because as much as you sometimes wish for this person to grow up and leave the nest, you realize that the nest is getting smaller and your baby is much bigger.  That pretty soon, this person who can't keep her damn clothes ON will stop letting you see her naked.

And like very good dark chocolate and espresso, this makes for delicious bittersweet thoughts.

Undercover Picniker

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Tonight, I led my daughter from the path of righteousness.

Yes. I secreted food and beverage in her backpack and had her carry it into the movie theatre.

The movie being Harry Potter, of course.

I lay out the plan in the car after stopping to pick up sandwiches. I mean, in my defense....Summer Camp ended at 4 p.m. The movie was downtown on St Catherine. It started at 4:30 p.m. The next showing wasn't until 7 p.m. - and I knew that she could not eat dinner that late - nor was she making a massive tub of popcorn her meal. Plus going into the movie at 7 would get us out at 10...and home by nearly 11 p.m. No way I was handling the exhausted puddle she would become by that time of night.

So, we ran into the sandwich shop and got a couple to go.

"Look", I tell her in the car. "The movie people don't really want you to bring food in - at least not food that you haven't bought THERE in the movie - so we have to be kind of ....not Obvious about bringing it in..."

The truth of what I am saying sinks in.

She weighs this. "What if they find them?", she asks.  She is, after all, a rule follower.

"I don't know, but I don't think they will take our sandwiches - I mean they're just sandwiches!"

I begin to feel kind of bad, inducing my child into being my accomplice in the illegal transport of bread and meat and vegetables. And a couple of bottled waters.

I look at my purse. I wish I had brought a bigger purse. I look around and see her backpack.

"Ah", I think, "the ubiquitous child's backpack...."

Being opening week, they will undoubtedly search my bag. Montreal is, apparently, a hot bed of illegal taping in theaters. Indeed, a security team is at each of the doors of the  screens showing  Harry Potter. You show your ticket, they check your bag...and then they walk up and down the stadium seating, making sure no one has whipped out the video-phone to capture Old Harry in his 5th year.

I sigh. This moral dilemma is bigger than I wanted at 4:22 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon.

I decide to go with the "Don't ask, Don't Tell" Policy. I pack her backpack and carry it down the street. I suppose the worst they can do is take our sandwiches.

We get our tickets at 4:32 and race up the escalator to the FIRST theater. I present our tickets to the security team. They look in my bag....and completely ignore her backpack.

We walk in past the doors and Emily,  in true nine year old fashion says (loudly):

"WOW! They didn't even look in my backpack!"

Mata Hari, she's not.



July 13, 2007 Gimlet Eye

Storm Front

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The storm arrived fast. There had been no tell tale clouds in the sky. No predictions of rain in the forecast. In fact, until the moment the storm arrived, you would never have guessed that there was even the vaguest possibility of foul weather.

It started with some mild howling. She didn't want to do her reading, she said. There was a law against kids having to do homework in the summer, she said. This progressed into precipitation - tears rolling down her cheeks as she is sent to her room, foot steps thundering away as she stomped off, muttering loudly about fairness.

Moments later, like lightening setting a meadow afire, she returned to curse at her mother. She hated her, she said. She wanted to live with her grandmother.

The mother, calm and passive until that moment, is struck by the lightening of her daughters fury. It passes from body to body, the smell of ozone lingering in the air.

The mother gets up and leaves the room for the kitchen, beginning to make dinner. The storm follows her. Upon opening the freezer, a water bottle falls out and cracks  - the plastic shattering into jagged shards. The second crash follows on the heels of the first, as the glass coffee carafe falls into the sink and breaks.

The mother now storms from spot to spot, trying to clean the glass and plastic and cook at the same time. The daughter returns, rumbling about the choice of dinner as the thunder cloud of her mother moves from mess to mess.

The storm cloud expands, mother and daughter echoing the thunder back and forth...

Until , like all storms, it passes. The child is fed. The mother cleans the mess. The quiet is restored.

You would almost not know that the storm had rolled through, save for the melting ice bits, slowly melting on the kitchen floor.

July 11, 2007 Gimlet Eye

Cannibal

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The old cliché is that the shoemakers kids are the ones walking around barefoot, right?  Well, kids of early childhood professionals are the ones who fail to adhere to developmental timelines. They are also the ones on whom all the advice their parent has ever spoken will be guaranteed to NOT work. They will talk late, be constipated as exclusively breast-fed babies, and get chronic ear infections. They will also become biters in their classroom.

Yes, I was the Mom of the Biter. That Biter – you know the one who took a chunk out of your child’s face? Then followed that up with the bite on the back the next day? Yep – That was my kid.

What doubled my pleasure, so to speak, was my dual role as point person for the angry parents who wanted me to “do something” about that Biter.

Logically, I could tick off the reasons for Emily’s biting. She was small. At a year old she weighed a whopping 13 pounds so her classmates were behemoths in comparison. She used her teeth when she felt threatened or unsure. She also bit people when she was overcome with love or happiness. Knowing her life long struggle with the modulation of her emotions and her eventual diagnosis of ADD, it doesn’t shock the Me watching seven years later. But try to explain to another’s mother that your child loves her child so much, that she bit them. Not a popular sell.

For Emily, she was also dealing with a significant language delay. Having experienced chronic ear infections from the age of 3 months on, she was a very late talker. She would get frustrated with a friend, and since the word or objection couldn’t be quantified as a word – the teeth were handy and fast.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The day that another child bit Emily, I fought back my urge to punch a 14-month-old child in the face. I also knew that my husband was going to go apeshit when she saw the marks on her cheek. “Who was it, Who was it, Who was it” he grilled me over and over.

“Are you asking me as the mother or as the Director?”, I responded

“The Mother”, he said

“I don’t know, as the mother. Staff doesn’t tell you the name of the biter.”

I braced myself for the follow up.

“Then Director. I am asking you as the Director.” His eyes were widening, mouth tightening.

“As Director, I must tell you that we don’t release the name of the child. It is a matter of program policy and confidentiality. I can assure you, however, that the parents have been notified and are working closely with the staff.”

I took a deep breath. I braced myself, for the gale was a-coming.

“What!!! You will tell me Dawn. You will tell me who bit our child! You will tell me …or I’ll sue you. I’ll sue the Center! This is a matter of health! What if that child has something?” He paused, panting and huffing.

After several more threats to my professional well-being, he desisted. The tables turned soon after. WE became the parents of THE BITER!!!

Her reign was not mercifully brief. She had a long and glorious stint as the top shark in the pond. It persisted through the Two-year-old room, off and on.

The crowning moment in my title as “Mother of the Biter” came after one of Emily’s best beloved friends transitioned into the classroom. 

Now, Early Childhood people worth their salt will tell you that groups of children behave in some very predictable ways. In groups of Toddlers, new children are often targeted with a bite. This may come from the last child to transition into the group – or may come from the “Top Toddler” so to speak.  I wasn’t kidding when I referred to my groups of children as “Wolf Packs”. They have very, very similar characteristics.

J was coming into the Ones and Emily was overjoyed. She was her buddy in badass behavior. In fact, this group of Mom’s and I often joked that there must have been a streak of Bad Ass in the water, since we had produced some of the most Bad Ass group of little girls to grace the center in quite a long time.

Day One, Emily greets J and Bites her on the right Cheek. The bite takes up about 70 percent of J’s cheek. It is a nasty thing. Purple and swollen. I want to cry when I see this other child. It is bad. It’s a bite that, as Director, I have to call the Mother about. A mother whom I considered to be a friend. As with my husband, I am going to be questioned. As with my husband, I am going to have to hold the professional line.

This Mother was actually OK. This was her second child, and she was a bit more relaxed when it came to life in the child care center. Her husband, predictably, flipped out. I believe that she later told me that he had wanted to come beat up the Toddler who had bitten his child. I understood.

No, the beauty of my tenuous situation came from another mother in the group. Mother of the very first child who had bitten my own child, in fact. Having observed J’s bitten face, she approached me in the hall.

Her: “Boy, J has a bad bite!”
Me: “Yeah, It is a big one”
Her: “You know, I’ve been thinking. The parents of that Biter have got to do something about this. I mean, they can’t be very good parents if their child keeps biting, right? What kinds of parents have a child that bites like this?

Me:” I can tell you that the parents are very aware of the situation. They are working closely with the staff and they feel just terrible about the biting.”

Her: “Still, if they were better parents, their child would stop biting.”

At age one, Emily taught me that while she is Of me, she is not me. She has to make her own way, as hard as that is for me to watch and experience. So what kinds of parents have the biter – or the hitter, or the pincher, or the pusher-downer? Ones just like Terrance and I, apparently.

July 9, 2007 Gimlet Eye
 
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