I Have a Theme Song Too

My stomach has given me troubles all my life. I remember being hunched over my desk in grade school, feeling like I was going to pass out from how much my stomach hurt. So imagine how delighted I was when I heard "I.B.S." by Cam'ron, a song all about his stomach troubles.

This is especially relevant right now, because last Friday my stomach pains sent me to the emergency room. I was sure I had appendicitis but I guess it was just my gastritis flaring up really bad, or possibly an ulcer. (Luckily I don't have I.B.S. like Killa Cam. Also, the doctors didn't suspect I was a junkie. Basically the only things that Cam'ron and I seem to have in common is our stomachs that hurt, our love of rap music, and our hatred of 50 Cent/Curtis.) The severe pain I was experiencing on Friday night went away in a few hours, but since then I have been experiencing symptoms that I haven't had since I was a teenager. I saw a doctor about my stomach for the first time ever on Monday, and now I have medicine to take for it. I just started taking it yesterday, and I think it has started to help, but I'm hoping it will continue to improve. They say it can take up to four days to totally kick in.

Here's another song, just because I like it.


Recovery as Roller Coaster

Yesterday was a good day. Long, but good. I was at my parents' house along with my mom and grandma. It's amazing how much easier it is when the work is shared. I helped my dad do his exercises again, which I had been dreading ever since the first time I attempted that task. He was much stronger this time, stayed awake, and gave me hell for making him work so hard. At dinner, he was the most talkative, the most himself that I have seen him since the stroke. I drove back home after dinner, tired but encouraged. After the deep down lows of the previous day, I unexpectedly found my heart's eyes gazing timidly upwards.

Yesterday Nate's mom came over bearing Valentine's gifts for her grandsons. Mere moments before she arrived, Nate and I had engaged in a long discussion regarding Theo's need for new shoes (his little feet keep growing, go figure). We were trying to decide if the best baby shoes ever would fit into our budget. It was quite the back and forth.

Guess what Theo got for Valentine's day??? Right! Beautiful providence.

Simon got this camera, and I'm not sure who is having the most fun with it, him or us. Here are some of his original works to take you into the weekend. Prints available for purchase, contact us for sizes and pricing.


On Comfort

The last time I saw my family was on Thursday. I spent the whole day there with Theo. For several hours in the morning, I was responsible for looking after my dad by myself. Around lunch time my sister and her kids came over, then in the evening the house really came to life as my mom and grandma arrived (mom had spent 10 hours, round trip, driving to pick her up; it was the first time my grandma had travelled further than the grocery store or Wal-Mart in 7 years), and then my brother and his wife joined the crowd.

The morning was hard, really hard for me, the worst day yet since the stroke. Seeing my dad at home made me realize how much has changed. In the hospital, a hospital bed is inconspicuous. In my parent's basement, a rented hospital bed screamed terrible things to me... sickness, convalescence, immobility. In the hospital, my dad's sleepiness somehow seemed natural. I guess I thought, what else would he do? He's stuck in a bed all day, he may as well rest. I'd probably do the same. Now that he's home, his exhaustion continues and is even growing. Now I can't chalk it up to boredom or the nature of hospital stays. Instead, I have to remember that he's sleepy all the time because he had a stroke. Seeing my dad back in his house, in the basement where he spent so many, many hours of his pre-stroke life, draws such a stark contrast between the new and the old. I see him silent, heavy-eyed on the couch and I remember the dad who used to sit on the couch. Alert, sharp, loquacious.

As that morning wore on, the knot in my stomach grew. I started to learn about myself as a caregiver. There are things I can handle and things I cannot. Preparing food, washing hair, cleaning nails, taking phone calls: these things I can do. I am glad to do them, in fact, especially since the stroke my dad has become very sweet and affectionate. "Thank you, sweetheart." [reaches for my hand and pats it gently] "Thanks, baby." When I can do these little things for my dad, I am helpful, I am useful, I am a good daughter.

In other areas as a caretaker I felt like a monumental failure. When it came time to make my dad do his exercises (things that for most of us seem easy: bending knees, flexing/straightening ankles), I wanted to crawl under a rock and make protest signs that said, "Daughters shouldn't have to do this." Also there are only certain times, small windows, when my dad is allowed to watch television. Most of the time, we are supposed to talk to him, engage him, in order to aid his mind's recovery. Still, when my dad flipped on some soap operas, I couldn't tell him no. I sat there and watched with him, feeling sick. I knew I should be enforcing a better choice, but I was too timid to exert my new authority over him. I think I was a little scared, too, of finding something to talk about if the TV was off.

When my sister showed up around noon, I was so happy to see her. The knot in my stomach slowly released and, fighting back tears, I asked if she could be in charge of the next round of exercises.

The last two weeks have ushered in a new types and levels of stress for our family. I have been gone a lot, and emotional when I am at home. Nate has been amazing, sensitive, not complaining about extra chores or dinner times without me. If he's picked up any vices to deal with the strain, I haven't noticed. Simon has been mostly sheltered from the bad news, but inevitably he has taken note of my absence. There have been a few puking incidents recently, and, while there's no way to know, I suspect stress is the culprit, stirring up his little tummy. Theo is gloriously oblivious, of course.

I have been dealing with the stress in various ways. In the first week of the ordeal, driving to and from the hospital, I found great release in blasting music and alternating between singing loudly and shouting obscenities at other drivers. After a long day at the hospital, I could yell, "YOU'RE TOO SLOW FOR THE LEFT LANE, MOTHERFUCKER!" and feel the tension in my shoulders start to subside.

After the boys are in bed and Nate has gone to work, I watch Sex and the City reruns, as I have been doing for months. Now I laugh more heartily than I used to, and I also cry, cry, cry. Yeah, I'm sad about Charlotte's miscarriage, but it also just feels great to let the tears stream down my face and neck. I dab my nose on my shirt sleeve, not bothering to fetch a tissue until I'm sure I'm finished, certain the moment has passed.

Unfortunately, my greatest source of comfort throughout this time has been food. At the hospital, I made a daily trip to the ice cream shop downstairs, and I munched on the candy bouquets dropped off by visitors. At my parent's house, I had to really hunt for some comfort calories. My mom doesn't keep much junk around. Finally I found half a bag of chocolate chips. I lined them up like marching ants along counter tops and grabbed a few every time my heart buckled under the weight of my dad's condition. At home there are myriad things to choose from, things I normally would eat slowing, sparingly, I now grab 5 of at once (Ghirardelli squares, for instance). Some people drink alcohol. I prefer ice cream.

I know it will sound vain to bring this up as my father recovers from a brain attack, but turning to food for comfort is certainly not helping my weight loss efforts. I'm starting to lose hope that I'll ever unpack those boxes in the attic labeled "skinny clothes," or that I'll ever look in the mirror and see beautiful instead of bloated. That is vanity, yes, but also I fret about the future. I'm afraid that if I don't lose the rest of this baby weight now, and if I continue down this food-feels-like-a-big-hug path, it will have negative impacts on my health. And I don't want that. I want to be around, you know, just like everybody does.

What I need is a new stress release, a new habit deeply ingrained, that doesn't negatively affect my weight, health, or self-image. There are a lot to choose from, and some with which I already have experience. Yoga, for instance, would be a good alternative. The downside of yoga, though, is that it's hard to fit into my schedule. And it takes up too much space that would first need to be cleared of toys and stray Cheerios. What I need is something quick, something I can do any time, something the boys won't notice. Here is my idea: obsessive housecleaning. Like Monica on Friends. When I'm feeling blue, instead of reaching into the cupboard, I can scour the sink. My house would certainly benefit from this type of self-soothing. And possibly my waistline too. Now, how to override my urge to eat and replace it with an urge to clean? Is electroshock therapy the answer here? Acupuncture? Hypnosis? All too expensive. For costs that prohibitive, I could probably just have liposuction and be done with it. Or hire a personal trainer. I guess that's a little more reasonable.


Since I started writing this post, I've had some bad news. First of all, my mom is sick. Quite sick. This morning she couldn't stop vomiting and complained of the room spinning. How miserable. One of her neighbors, a nurse, was able to order a prescription to help her, which caused her to sleep all day. My poor mom. No doubt her new role as primary caregiver for her husband has taken a toll on her body. My sister was able to fill in for my mom today, and I'll be there all day tomorrow.

The other bad news is that my dad is not doing well, not improving. He is not responsive to my mom's or my grandma's efforts to help him. He has been refusing to do his exercises or take his pills. We are concerned that he could be depressed, or his personality could be changing, as stroke victim's personalities are apt to do. Either way, it doesn't seem good. After a stroke, the window for recovery is rather small. Whatever improvements are made in a three month period are likely to be the only improvements. That is to say, after three months are up, recovery will probably come to a standstill or a slow crawl. Because of this, stroke victims and their families are in a race against time, working to regain as much ground as possible before the clock strikes three months (that's why I felt so sick when I let him watch TV instead of engaging him in conversation like I was supposed to). So, in a race against time, it's imperative to move forward. Any backward motion is likely to send the participants into panic mode. That's where we are now, except that we try to keep up strong facades for each other. We are thinking of hiring in 24 hour care for him. Maybe a professional can motivate him in ways we cannot and help him get some forward momentum again.

After learning all of this, I felt ill all day. My stomach was like a rock polisher, heavy with worry and churning with fear. Maybe in addition to obesity, I should be worried about developing ulcers.

We didn't have any ice cream, and I knew I would get heartburn if I even looked at another square of dark chocolate. Can you guess what I did to get my mind off my troubles? I cleaned! I did a couple loads of laundry and I scrubbed the kitchen sink. And it kind of worked. I felt a little better. Maybe there's hope for my fat ass yet.

That's good, but I'd rather have more hope for my father.


Snow Day

It's 7 pm, both of my boys are asleep, I'm watching Gilmore Girls, and eating bon bons. Well, dark chocolate squares, actually.... Ghirardelli's, my favorite.

Simon was supposed to have school this morning, and I was supposed to be the parent volunteer. I got up early and turned on the TV to see if we had school, even though I already knew, just by looking out the window, that it would be cancelled. The scrolling text underneath the local news anchors confirmed it: SNOW DAY! I'm a stay-at-home-mom. Staying at home is what I do every day, so the cancellation should have just meant another day at home alone with my boys. But I guess I'm still under the influence of childhood programming, because a snow day was exciting, invigorating, nearly thrilling. In honor of our snow day we wore sweat pants all day, bumped up the heat, made brownies, watched Nacho Libre, and just generally lazed about. It was fun. It is seriously snowy outside, blowing, drifting like crazy. It's been a long time since I've seen such a snow.

Nate, my third shift manly man, left for work last night and couldn't get back home because of the snow. He stayed at his sister's place all day and will go to work from there tonight. I hope he can get home tomorrow morning, or maybe in the afternoon, after he sleeps. Believe it or not, in this age of constant communication, I have no way to be in touch with him tonight. My phone is broken and his sister doesn't have internet access (I know, right?). Hopefully his sister will let him watch Veronica Mars at 8 pm, and our souls can be connected through our ardent love for television.

Hey, sweetheart, embroidering on the couch tonight won't be the same without your shoulder getting in the way of my needle and thread. Hurry home, baby, but not too fast on those snowy roads.


my kind of town

Our weekend in Chicago had some ups and downs. We were simultaneously happy and sad to be back in the city. We couldn't help but daydream about how to get back, someday, somehow...

I fear we've become the world's most boring visitors; an afternoon spent with friends featured all four of us falling asleep. Sorry guys! Still, while we were awake, it was great to be with friends. GOD, I MISS HAVING FRIENDS.

Nate partied hardy for two nights, making people's feet happy with his DJ grooves late into the night (er, early into the morning, I guess). On Saturday night he even had a reunion with Jitney, and was welcomed back into the scene with cool stares and head nods, the warmest those hipsters know how to get.

While he enjoyed his celebrity status, I was trying to comfort a sick little boy. What I failed to mention about our sleepy visit is that it ended with Simon throwing up into a bowl of orange wedges (the closest thing I could grab when I heard that ominous sound). He was sick the rest of the night, and that is why we had to cut our trip a little short.

We had planned to attend a 1st birthday party this afternoon, in fact it was the impetus for the whole trip. But after Simon's troubles, we thought we should just head home.

All in all, a good trip. If we missed you, sorry. Hopefully we'll catch you next time we're up. Or, you are always welcome to visit us here. Simply name the date, friends.

Here is a picture of the gift we dropped off for Lily, the birthday girl. Just a box of little pretties, a bit of color, shape, and texture for her wall. I hope she'll like it for a while. I know some day she'll be too grown up for such whimsies.

But that's okay. I had fun making it, and I was glad to give it to it to such a sweet little lady.

We're back in Bloomington now, and it feels like home. But I predict I'll still go to bed dreaming of those Chicago streets.

Goodnight, all.


My dad is home now.

He'll be getting some in-home nursing and physical therapy.

I have so, so much I could write about the past few days. But it's almost time for the (second) season premier of Lost. And who can concentrate on a cohesive post about stroke recovery when the fate of Benjamin Linus is about to be revealed?

Thank you all for your kind words and well-wishes. I appreciate them very much, more than I can say.

We are still planning to come to Chicago this weekend, to see friends and celebrate a special little girl's birthday. If you live in Chicago and are reading this, I hope we'll see you very soon.


Because I could use a little levity.

One more dino picture, this time with props. I am going to get some wallet-sized prints of this and use them to make the invitations.

Everyone in this house is wiped out. Nate and I went to see my dad for a few hours yesterday. He was sleeping most of the time. He had been sedated earlier in the day for a test that involved swallowing a tube with a camera on the end. The doctors examined his heart and found a tiny hole. This means that a blood clot could have formed at the site of the fracture (ankle) and traveled all the way up to the brain. Without the tiny hole, it would have stopped in the heart, but the hole would've allowed it to pass over and continue going north. All of this is theoretical, it doesn't mean that the ankle break and the stroke are related, but it means they could be. I doubt that we'll ever know for sure.

We got home last night and put the boys to bed. A few hours later, Simon was up crying, complaining that his "bones hurt" and feeling terribly hot. We got him back to bed and he was up again shortly. This time he threw up all over himself and his mommy. The rest of the night was full of waking up, moaning, rocking, and tummy rubbing. None of us got much sleep, except for Theo, God bless him.

I hate having a sick child, but every time I pass the children's ward in the hospital, I am painfully thankful that my boys are typically quite healthy.

This post isn't turning out to contain much levity at all, except for that picture. Let's focus on those dinosaurs for a while. They are having a fun time.


Diagnosis & Prognosis

On Sunday, my family went roller skating, part of a birthday celebration for my brother-in-law. The rink was old-school amazing: rainbow colored lights flashed frantically over the floor, loud pop music saturated every inch of the cool air in the room, walls were lined with arcade games, their noisy jingles muted by the pumping bass of the stereo. A middle-aged couple came in with their own skates in cases and glided effortlessly around and around. Chubby, adolescent girls dressed in tight shirts and reeked of insecurity. Young black men synchronized their moves both to the music and to each other. And, my personal favorite, one employee just could not stop dancing, whether she was taking money or pouring cheese over nachos.

I wondered what it would have been like to grow up a roller rink regular, as many of these kids so obviously were. I surely would've been one of the chubby girls, on the prowl for attention.

My dad was a regular at his small town's rink. I lived with my paternal grandmother for 2 years when I first started college and I used to sometimes skate at the same place as my teenaged father. I liked to picture him, much thinner, wearing fitted sweaters and flared jeans, picking up one wheeled foot after the other, maybe racing with buddies, maybe putting on a show for the ladies. On Sunday afternoon, at 57 years old, my dad hadn't retained the skating moves of his youth. Three-fourths of the way done with his first lap, he fell and broke his ankle.

He was kept in the hospital until Tuesday afternoon. My mom took him home and got him settled before leaving to pick up some medication and sweatpants, to fit around his cast. She was gone 20, maybe 30 minutes. She returned to find my dad sitting up on the couch, with his head drooping down, looking sleepy. When my mom finally roused him, she says he looked at her with "nursing home eyes, " meaning they looked glassy and disoriented. My mom struggled to get him to talk to her, and when he did, his words didn't make any sense.

The ambulance was summoned and my parents went back to the ER. Twenty-four hours, a CAT scan, spinal tap, and MRI later, my dad's confusion was given a name: thalamic stroke.

I've spent the last two days in the Neuroscience Critical Care Unit, where faces are long and eyes are red from exhaustion or sobbing. Everyone seemed to be dealing with devastating news. On day one, we weren't dealing with any news at all. Instead we were waiting for tests to happen, then waiting for the results, not knowing what to think or how to feel. When we finally learned that it was, indeed, a stroke, it was a relief to have an answer, something to tell people who called asking about my dad, something to research on Google. Today was a day of answers and hope. The phrase "full recovery" was uttered by the neurologist. This made my mom ecstatic, so I had to be thankful to the doctor for giving her such a boost, despite being slightly skeptical of his proclamation.

Besides his broken ankle, my dad's body is in good shape. Many stroke victims experience loss of movement on one side of their body, but he did not. With each day that passes, he seems a little more alert, a little more himself. He can identify people he knows and some objects. He knows that George Bush is president and that he works at Caterpillar. Today he named all five of his grandchildren. The one question that always stumps him is, "Where are you, Wayne?" He never knows where he is ("Ag Farm." "Autumn trees." "Out in the barn.") It's amazing and unsettling to see his surprised expression every time he learns he is in the hospital. This haunts me a little. When we get to go home for a respite and he has to stay, what does he think when he wakes up? Is he scared or worried? Can he simply accept being in a mysterious place, or does his mind create some kind of alternate reality? Maybe his location doesn't make it to the forefront of his brain over the pain in his ankle and the discomfort of wires and needles. Another thing he loses track of is the reason for the pain in his ankle. It hurts badly, he isn't receiving any medication for it, and he will tell us about his pain. But he's always surprised and a little embarrassed to learn that he broke his ankle while roller skating.

It's hard to see my dad so completely vulnerable, totally at the mercy of everyone around him. But there is a sweetness to his vulnerability, too. I see myself being annoyed in his situation, but he is so calm, so cooperative and patient. A doctor rouses him from a snoring-deep sleep, a nurse asks him for the 10th time today, "What day is it? What month is it? What year is it? What's your name?", a physical therapist commands him to squeeze his hands, raise his thumbs. But he never questions, he never complains. To be in the room with him is at once exhausting and relaxing. His demeanor is so peaceful; it makes all the waiting easier.

In the course of the next few months, the picture of my dad's future will become clearer. Right now there is nothing to do but look ahead. I'm trying not to worry, trying not be be scared. I'm getting ready to meet my father again for the first time.