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Archive for the ‘Gratitude’ Category

There are times when I say my prayers and thank God that I live in peacetimes.  That I am not worried that bombs will rain down on our heads in the night, that I will not have to gather my babies up from their beds and rush for the relative safety of a bombshelter, or the crowded Underground.  That I don’t have to make that unspeakable choice to either keep my children with me in a blitz-targeted city, or pack their bags and send them on a train, on their own, to some stranger I’ve never met — who may be good or bad, kind or cruel — in order to gain the safety of the countryside.

I thank God that I am not peeping out my window, terrified, wondering when the storm of war will appear over the hill, come rolling down my road to envelope me, my home, everything I love.  I am grateful that I don’t have to worry about wandering bands of men and boys who are feeling the thrill of power for the first time, the menace of their guns, the dominance of their sex.

And though the economy is tough right now, I am grateful that there is food aplenty, fuel for the house and the car, no blackouts, no shortages.  It’s been hard to get by lately, with M’s short hours, and maybe it was a silly time to start my little business, but it’s nothing like it would be in wartimes.  During wartimes, life is really hard.

Today the sun is shining in a blazing blue sky, and the birds have been singing happily — a little too loudly — outside my window.  Traffic is quiet because it’s a three-day weekend, the girls are playing together, and my parents will be coming round later for a barbeque.  The fridge is already full to bursting in preparation.  The news in my news-stream is the usual…  mundane… nothing interesting.

Thank God for peacetimes.  Thank God for peacetimes!

And then I remember — with a little surprise — that these are not peacetimes.  We are at war!  And all the fighting and the shooting and the chaos that I fear is going on right now.  There are soldiers fighting — scrambing, sweating, filled with adrenaline and fear — and enemies to be fought.   There are civilians caught in the crossfire, mothers reaching out in the dust and rubble for their terrified children.  There are shortages and hunger, homes destroyed, lives destroyed…  soldiers injured, dying…  and their families back home.

It’s so easy to forget — here amongst our everyday lives, our normal lives.  It’s on the news, but who is really watching the news?  And who can keep up?  Another bomb… another marketplace or military column…  We hardly look up from our dinners:  Where was it?  Didn’t catch it…  Another mouthful, mmmmm dinner is good tonight.

I had forgotten.  I am shamed to realise I had forgotten we are at war.  I was thanking God for the peace while others were fighting and dying, and ducking in the crossfire.  And I was lying in my quiet bed, in the quiet dark, safe and warm, saying my prayers and then drifting to sleep.

This Memorial Day, let me wake a little, and remember the soldiers who are deployed and their families who are desperate for them to come home.  Let me remember the soldiers who have died, and pray strength for those left grieving them.  Let me pause and think of the civilians caught in the indiscriminate cruelty of war, the mothers and fathers terrified for their children… or who have lost them.  Let me remember even our enemies, that there can be an end to this, and mercy for us all.

Most of all, let me remember how easy it is to forget, and so not to forget again.  There is little that I can do to change or end this war, but this Memorial Day, let me realise that what I can do is to not forget.

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Sitting on the couch watching telly, M turned to and very casually asked, “So, what do you want for your birthday then?”  It was Wednesday of last week, and my birthday — a very Significant Birthday — was only a few days away.  The sound of the telly faded from my consciousness abruptly as I looked at him, dumbfounded.

M has not had a good track record these past few years when it comes to my birthday.  He started out just great a decade ago, when love was fresh and the stakes were high, but these days… Well, I haven’t had a birthday or Christmas present from him for about three years running now, except for one book that he grabbed at the grocery store on Christmas Eve.  And not wanting to continue this trend, I have been reminding him of the Significant Birthday almost every day for the last four months.  So it really did stop me cold when he asked his question.

“Youuuu… ummmm…”  Paused, dumbstruck again, and then found my words, “You haven’t bought me a gift yet?!?”  It was said with calm control, but with a rising irritation he could hear plainly.

He decided to play with fire.  “When have I had time to go shopping for a gift?!?”  It’s true that he works practically every hour God sends, but if he thought that kind of logic was going to help his cause in any way, then he clearly did not understand what he was walking into.

I will spare you the full transcript, but suffice to say I flew almost instantly into a full-blown rage, and proceeded to tear strips off him in a manner that he never saw coming.  Honestly!  When did he have time?!?  He’d had the past four months that I’d been reminding him every other day!  No, he’d had the past YEAR, because — conveniently enough — my birthday rolls round with stunning predictability.  I’d even made a wishlist for him and emailed it to him, as well as my sister and my mother.

He made more feeble attempts, pointing out that he barely knows how to use the computer, let alone how to buy off a wishlist…  and I blasted back that he could have asked my sister, my mother, or even ME to walk him through it.  He made noises about me maybe helping him now…  and I nearly spat that it was too late — most everything on my list was obscure enough to need to be back-ordered, almost nothing could be bought now, with my birthday only a few days away.  He’d blown it!  He’d blown it AGAIN!  And that realisation motivated me to really rip into him in earnest, at full volume and with hands waving wildly, and — I’m quite sure — steam blasting out of my ears.

There was no stopping me and he didn’t fight it.  He sat quietly and let me go on and on and on.  And then, at a moment when I paused to draw breath, he said quietly — so quietly I barely noticed he’d spoken — “Could we…  could we just forget this happened?”

I stopped at that.  This is what psychologists call the “rescue moment” — he was trying to rescue this, to claw it back before it really went too far.  He was presenting me with a fork in the road and I could choose which way to go: to follow his lead and rescue this, or to carry on tearing mercilessly into my husband’s psyche.  I thought about it for a moment, and the sensible part of me decided to stop now, to go with the rescue.

But then, just as I opened my mouth to say something mature and calm, I realised what was about to happen.  I would forgive and forget this ever happened, he would rush out the next day and try to buy something… something…  some little trinket or maybe the easiest thing on the wishlist or, heck, a book from the grocery store again…  And on my birthday I’d stick by the bargain and say, ooooh thank you, thank you, and give him a kiss…  And the whole time — the whole stinking time — I’d know that, actually,  he’d forgotten.  Actually, he’d forgotten my birthday again.  So there was no “forgetting this had happened”. It couldn’t be done — the cat was out of the bag, the truth was told:  he  had  forgotten  my  birthday  again, even though this was an Important Birthday, even though I’d been reminding him, even though I’ve been a GOOD WIFE, DAMMIT!  He hadn’t cared enough about me to make as much paltry effort as was needed to just remember my birthday long enough to order a present off a wishlist.  And now I knew it, and there was no “forgetting” that.

And so when I opened my mouth, instead of going with the rescue moment, I let all of that fury and frustration  fall out instead — very loudly and for a very long time.  And when I was done, I turned back to the telly and just sat staring in its general direction and so angry my stomach ached.

M let out a little groan and I looked at him.  His face was twisted, his jaw clenched at an odd angle, and he was looking at the floor.  Then a glance at me.  And then, “No… wait.”  A pause, a deep slow inhale, and then very quickly, all in one breath: “Look, something’s been done.  It’s… it’s been taken care of.”  And then his eyes back to the floor, and an uncomfortable silence.

Suddenly I understood.  He’d got me a gift.  He’d remembered my birthday — not forgotten me at all.  And he’d just been winding me up and it went too far and he’d not known how to pull it back.  But he hadn’t forgotten me at all.

And it was only then that I felt the full strength of how hurt I’d been by his question.  The feeling took me completely by surprise, and churned violently in my stomach, and mixed with the relief and the regret that were washing over me like waves.  I felt suddenly nauseated.  And all that emotion rose up from my gut so fast that I couldn’t contain it — up through my chest and spilled out across my face, mouth open and pulled tight, eyes closed.  And I managed a soft  “oh no!” before it all escaped from me with a sound a little like belch, and I burst into sobs that racked my whole body and revealed, there for him to see, just how much the being forgotten has hurt these past few years.

“Oh no,” he repeated back, so lost for words that he could only borrow my own, and then sat there, helpless beside his blubbering wife, no idea what to do with her.  This what never what he’d intended — he’d only been taking the mick — and now he wasn’t quite sure how it had gone so far.  He’d never meant to hurt me.  He put his arm around me and pulled me in.  I needed that desperately, but there was no outward sign that it help — I couldn’t stop crying.  He let me go, except for one hand that he held, and stared at the floor.  Eventually, I calmed myself down.  We sat for a while, both a bit shell-shocked, and neither of us knowing what to say.

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My birthday was absolutely wonderful.  There were balloons and singing and three cakes and my family all around me.  My children presented me with hand-made gifts.    It was not a big celebration, but it was exactly what I’d hoped for.

Led by M into the next room, I spotted a bouquet of balloons first and then, underneath it, a huge box wrapped in flowered paper.  I knew immediately — there was only one thing that would be in a box so big — and the realisation made my lip quiver.  I tore the wrapping off and spotted that I was right.  “Oh sweetheart, look!” my mother exclaimed to my father, “She’s crying!”,  and her announcement embarrassed me sufficiently to stop the tears before they really started.  But the emotion was the same, and I was overwhelmed.  “Something’s been done,” he’d said and, indeed, something had.  It was the Lendrum spinning wheel I’ve been coveting for a year; the wheel with an 18-month waiting list, and my mother had had to ring a dozen places before she found one in stock; the wheel we couldn’t afford.  I pulled to from the box, put it together there and then, treadled and felt the silky movement of the mechanism, wished for fiber and spun air instead.  Over the moon!  Over the bloody chuffing moon and not knowing how to really tell them all properly and just hoping they could tell by the trance I was in.

Later, after my family had gone back into the kitchen to pick at the leftovers and I was still sat treadling, M came in and knelt next to me.  “Do you like it?”

“Yes!”, with shock and incredulity plain in my voice, feet still treadling, hands spinning air.

“The thing is…  we, um…”  He took my hands.  “I have to pay my portion of it.  Ummm…  I owe your mum.  I don’t really know where that’s going to come from.”  He had to tell me, because I handle the finances and, when money has to be found, I am the one who finds it.

But I didn’t mind, because he hadn’t forgotten me.  He’d got me my heart’s desire, taken that plunge even when he didn’t know how he’d pay for it.  He could have been sensible and bought a book from the list, but he hadn’t.   He’d bought me what he knew I really wanted because he loves me, and love is not sensible.  It was never about the gift — it was about being remembered.

And that was what I’d needed — what I’d been needing for a long time.  And now, to his surprise, I could offer back a little of what he needed.  “I have something we can put toward it, ” I said, as he looked up with surprise.  “About half of it.”  Because I’d gone to my knitting group earlier in the week and cards had suddenly appeared, and some of those cards contained money from new friends who had read my previous post and had taken the opportunity to act like old friends.  “It’s for your Lendrum fund,” one had said, and I nearly cried there too, stunned by their generosity.

There were loud voices from the kitchen and then laughter, and I felt a warmth rush over me.  There is much in our lives that we have to worry about but, at that moment, none of it was touching me.  I had my family gathered around me, a husband who (secretly) loves me, and — after a long time — I have some friends.

And those things alone were gift enough.  But then, there was also the brand new Lendrum, whirring away softly at my feet.

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Going into this week, it was not without a little trepidation, but I wasn’t fully aware of my own feelings.  I just knew there was an uneasiness hovering, lurking, in the back of my mind.  When I finally put my finger on it, I realised that I wasn’t wrong to be a little uneasy.

Blogging has not come easily to me lately.  I’ve chalked it up to everything that’s been going on, but I know that’s just an excuse.  After all, we’ve been through a lot of fraught and stressful times in the past few years, and I’ve been able to blog right through them — no sooner would I sit down at the computer than the words would spill forth, so fast that I could hardly type them all out.  But, just lately, the words have… stopped.  Just stopped.  I sit down at the computer and nothing comes.  My mind goes blank, even as only moments before I had been writing blog post after blog post in my mind.  When I come to type those thoughts out, I find they are no longer there –just gone — and trying to force the words out is as futile as trying to push a pile of sand up a hill.  And that has caused me to panic a little inside, because I don’t want to stop writing.  I don’t want there to be nothing there.

I have never been overly keen on those blog posts that recap and look back at other blog posts from the past.  I know they’re useful and relevant sometimes, but they remind me too much of when you turn on your favourite television show and find all the characters are sitting on the couch, drinking coffee and laughing, and saying, “Do you remember when…?” while the screen fades out to various clips from old episodes.  Arghhhh… I’ve seen all this before, and I switch over to something more interesting.

But, wading through the deep sand of this dry spell, I’ve considered doing one of those “looking back” blog posts, to sail through this drought on the coat-tails of what I’ve written before.  I know I’m not writing anything of worth these days, but look!… look!…  I’ve written good things in the past! So I sat down for a moment and looked back at my past posts, from this time a year ago, two years ago.  Of all the weeks in the year, and with that strange feeling of foreboding looming in the back of my mind, I choose this week to look back.

It was a year ago almost to the day that we rushed E2 to the Emergency Room for the first time, as her breathing grew slower and slower and more laboured and we finally realised that this was serious.  It was the night that they gave her breathing treatment after breathing treatment that had little effect, and the doctor finally explained to me — exhausted and hardly believing what I was hearing — that if she didn’t respond to this last treatment, they would have to cut a hole between her ribs and insert a tube into her lungs, because her muscles were going becoming fatigued and she was not going to be able to keep breathing on her own.  It was the first sighting of her (now diagnosed) asthma.  It was the night I realised that my daughter had nearly slipped away…  that had we been living only a couple of generations ago, she probably would have slipped away quietly as we slept.  And that was the night I realised that her own mother hadn’t spotted the seriousness of the situation and that, if I’d been left to make the call on my own, she might well have died.

It was two years ago exactly that I finally couldn’t take another moment of this mysterious, excruciating pain in my breasts and, with all the doctors’ offices closed on a Sunday, spent seven hours waiting to be seen in the Emergency Room, where the doctor examined me and thought she found an “irregular lump” and — eight days into our new life in the United States — I contemplated all the dark and frightening scenarios that come rushing in after those words.  It was the day that we tumbled head-first into the ridiculously complicated pit of confusion that is the American healthcare system, with only a high-deductible temporary policy to break that fall, and learned first-hand that it is not only the uninsured who face misery when disaster strikes, but America’s under-insured as well.  It was the start of the difficult journey to eliminate soy from my diet that led me to realise not only what a detrimental effect this seemingly innocuous food can have, but also to nearly turn my life upside-down in order to avoid the all-pervasive soy in the typical American diet.

So, two years and two trips to ER.  Two years and two stressful days that I’ll be glad never to repeat again.  And then I cast my mind back one more year, to three years ago…  You can’t read about that day — I wasn’t blogging back then — but we spent that one in hospital too.  We made another rushed and stress-filled journey along icy roads in the dark of night.  And there were hours of pain and an awful lot of blood, and that strange sensation of time slowing down and everything coming into sharper, excruciating focus.  And it went on for hours and then… it stopped.

And I looked down and asked the midwife in surprise, “Is it a girl?!?”, because I’d been sure we were having a boy.  And the midwife nodded, and my baby took in a great lungful of air and let it out with a loud cry, and we all smiled with relief.  And then without any delay — without even cleaning her off or even cutting the cord — the midwife lifted her onto my belly, so the baby and I were skin-to-skin, and she latched on and began to feed hungrily, drawing comfort from the warmth of my milk and the warmth of my skin, and slowly letting go of all the fear and stress that the last few hours had been — for her as much as for us.

E2 is three this week — and she is beautiful… wonderful… everything I could have hoped her to be as I gazed down on her in my arms that night she was born.  Over the next few days, we will sing “Happy Birthday” to her and open gifts and celebrate these amazing three years and the miracle she is to us.  And I will thank God that she is with us — because there are so many ways that she might not have been.  And I am aware of them every day.

And if we don’t end up in hospital this year (touch wood), that will be fine too.  Because things come in threes, and we’ve done our three, thank you very much.  This year then, perhaps just a nice quiet birthday, eh?  And maybe another slice of that (surprisingly good) egg-free, dairy-free, nut-free, soy-free birthday cake.

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Just lately, several people have written to me or left comments on the blog, wondering where I am, whether I’m ok.  The happy-spin answer is that I’ve been taking some time off, basking in the glow of the love of my family.  The truth is, it’s felt a lot more like hanging on by the skin of my teeth, and so I’ve found myself  cutting out anything that’s not about what needs to be done now.  With the emphasis firmly on needs and now.

Things began ramping up round about the time we ended up in the Emergency Room three times in five weeks.  That’s going to be a rough time by any standard but, more than that, it was the fear and unsettling of it that exhausted me.   Would it always be like this?  Is this a spate of bad luck, or is this the beginning?  And I wanted to go to bed and curl up for a while.

But there was no going to bed, and no curling up.  There was work, work, and extra work to be done: holding and loving and comforting and night-feeds and breath-watching and breathing treatments and lots of cleaning up.   All mess and the putting away and tidying up seemed to multiply exponentially, and I don’t know why.  But it did and it called my name and I had to answer, because I am the only one who hears it.

And then there was the book-balancing.  For every trip to ER, there was a follow up appointment with the paediatrician (or sometimes two) and then maybe one with the allergist as well (or two),  and a prescription (or… many), and maybe even a vaccine just for good measure.  And so for every one of those, there is also a co-pay.  In a matter of weeks, we racked up hundreds — hundreds — in co-pays.  And this at the same time that M’s hours were going through (yet another) stage of fluctuating wildly.  One week he’d barely get 40 hours, the next he’s scramble to clock up 30… and then would come a week of 60-plus hours, which provided the blessed relief that almost brought us into the black but also tore the stuffing out of M in the process.  And then start over: short week, short week, work-to-death week; short week, short week, work-to-death week.  M was shattered, I was trying to ride this financial roller coaster, and the copays cut right through whatever cushion we might have had.

And the pressure on M to workandworkandwork was immense.  Every day that he came home early felt like storm clouds gathering.  Every day that he worked late was… oh so good as I looked at the clock and watched the hours mount up, but his work is back-breaking and those extra hours exhausted him, and then the girls went to bed before he got home again.  And then the on-call rota changed: instead of being on call every four weeks, it would now be every three — which sounds more benign than it is.  Because they line up the jobs for the on-call days, what this effectively means is that he works a normal week, then twelve days in a row, and then a normal week, and then twelve days in a row…  Combined with the fluctuating paycheques and the feeling that work had become everything and everything was work, the pressure on M cranked up another notch.

M has never been one to handle stress in a particularly healthy way.  He internalises everything, expresses nothing, pushes everyone else away, and allows his mind to run away with worries.  And then the worry increases his stress, and he falls into a vicious spiral, and he can’t break free.  And as I watch him go down and down and down like this, I feel that I must do something — I must do something — to lift the pressure from him.   And then I am heaping the pressure on myself:  I must get a job,  I must start a business,  I must clean the house more… or maybe better.  I must keep the children quiet, I must give him more room, I must try to talk more, I must draw him out, I must leave him alone.  et répéter: I must make some money, I must get a job…  or work from home… start a business.  And he asks me when I’m going to start a business, when I’m going to pull in some money.  And my mother asks me why I don’t just start a business, or find a job working from home…  And a quiet voice in my head tries to point out that if starting a business were easy or work-from-home jobs weren’t like hens’ teeth… but I feel the criticism so keenly that it never gets much further than that.

The truth is, I don’t know how I’d do it.  The balance between us is off-balance: he works (so hard!), and does the grocery run, he takes the trash out, and cooks about half the time; and I do everything else.  By that I mean everything else that keeps our lives running: not just all the housework and the childcare 24/7, but the taxes, the banking, the bill-paying, the letter opening, the form-filling, all the problem solving, the bureaucracy navigation, the appointment making, the car maintaining…  Every decision that impacts our lives rests squarely on my shoulders.   And the more stressed he is, the more I try to take on to lighten his load.  His pressure spills over to become my pressure too.  I want to take as much of his burden as I can, but thought of adding a job to that — or starting a business – just stops me frozen in my tracks.   And so there I stood, frozen, right next to him, frozen.

So it makes sense that, one day a few months ago, something inside him finally snapped — quite literally.  He came home from work and showed me a protrusion in his lower abdomen, an area about the size of his palm where the muscle wall had torn and his intestine was pushing through under his skin.  It’s not the first time he’d had a hernia — he’d had an umbilical hernia all his life that he’d finally had corrected about eight years ago — but that was nothing like this.  This was big and, with his kind of work, it was only going to get worse.  So a specialist was consulted (co-pay!) and a surgery date was scheduled.  And I asked… how long is the recovery?  How long? Because he gets no paid sickdays.

And here was a bright spark of good news!  The hernia was caused by work, so the surgery and recovery would be paid by Workers’ Compensation.  Oh, thank goodness for that.  And though Workers’ Comp pays reduced wages in order to encourage you back to work as soon as possible, it would be enough.  It would be enough.

Ten days before his surgery, I felt a tickle in the back of my throat.  M could not get sick — a delay would put the surgery to the other side of Christmas and mess everything up.   I got worse, he stayed away.  I felt rotten — rotten — and then E1 fell ill too, and he couldn’t take care of either of us.   So I did everything — all the childcare, all the comforting, all the while just wanting to crawl into bed — and waited for E2 to come down and the inevitable trip to ER.  It would surely end in the trip to ER…

And here was another bright spark, shining through the dark: E2 not only didn’t end up in ER, she actually never even got sick.  This child who has not been able to come within ten feet of a single germ without coming to the brink of not breathing, without scaring us all half to death…  this child kissed us, she cuddled us, she shared a drink with her sister (aughhhh!!!) and yet she never even so much as coughed.  Saints be praised!  Steroids, how wrong I was to distrust you!

And then, one last bright, shining spark.  The surgery is  done, the patient recovering and, by coincidental timing, he is enjoying what is truly  Christmas for him: days on end away from work.  Days and days and days to just rest and relax, in a way that I haven’t seen him do since we arrived in the States.  And as the days have passed, the worry has fallen away, the vicious spiral has stopped swirling around him and…  he has changed.  Today, I caught him looking at E2 in wonder — the kind of wonder that parents should have when they contemplate the miracle of their own children…  but which I haven’t seen on his face in months…  or even years?  I had forgotten what that looks like.   And yesterday, as I as dashing out to the shop, he floored me by suddenly looking up and suggesting to the girls that they make the gingerbread house that had been overlooked in the run up to Christmas.  He offered to make the gingerbread house! I left the house in shock.  Dear reader, I say this in all honesty: I had forgotten what it was to have a partner who wanted to be a part of the family.  I had spent so long watching him want to escape us — really wanting to escape us and the bother and the chaos — and suddenly here he was,  sitting the girls at the table and breaking out the icing sugar…  Volunteering to do something with them.  I left the house hardly recognising my own husband.

And as I drove to the shops, I felt like I was floating on air. Floating on air! The way I felt inside, in that space right behind my ribs — so light, so warm — I can hardly describe.  Like… like maybe we weren’t falling apart.  And suddenly I realised that, with a little more of that behind me — just a little more — I could do anything.  I could do everything!  I could keep this house running, I could make some money, I can put our world on track.  I can get us home.  I just need the love in the house, I just need the strength it gives.

I worry that when he goes back to work, the spell will be broken.  I worry that life will overcome us both again and we will slide down again.  But at least we have seen it, seen how it might be if we can make things change.  …If we can make things change, and keep ourselves up here, up here with our heads above the surface.

Here’s to a fresh start and God’s blessings in 2010.  Happy New Year, everyone.

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In the end, we did go to the emergency room, and a very good thing too.  As I said in the postscript to my last blog post, E2 got me back up again around 3.15am (though I say she “got me up”, I had yet to actually sleep) and, this time, she was having to work very, very hard to breathe.  She was asking for milk, but what she really needed was an immediate breathing treatment, and I carried her straight downstairs to set it up.

The medicine is a strong stimulant — this is what forces the airways open again — and the result is almost always a burst of activity, as if she’s suddenly ingested four cups of strong coffee.  It’s hard to judge her breathing at this point — I have to wait until she’s calmed down a bit to get a true idea of whether the treatment has worked.  She ran around until around 4am, and then slowed and I could begin to see…  and I just wasn’t happy with what I saw.

She was still working to breathe — less than before, for sure, but still visibly working.  And that meant it was probably time to go to the emergency room.  But… I wasn’t sure.   It was 4am, I hadn’t had much sleep for nights on end and no sleep that night at all, I was exhausted…  it was chucking down rain and cold, and dark, and hospital has recently moved to a new location which I don’t know that well…  I thought of my other daughter, fast asleep in her bed upstairs…  I wasn’t sure what to do.   She was working for the breath but…  was it that bad?  Or was it just the usual struggle from having a cold? I couldn’t decide.

I woke M from his deep sleep and made him watch her breathe.  He  wasn’t sure either.  She was so happy and lively in herself, smiling at her daddy, but still… there was that rasping, the belly working with each breath, a slight collapse at the base of the neck…    “Mmmm… ” he weighed it up, “I think she’s ok.  Let’s just wait a bit and see.”

I agreed, relieved to share the burden of the decision.  “But I don’t want to put her in her room.  I want her to sleep here with us.”  It was a sign of his true uneasiness that he agreed immediately — he has always been adamantly against the girls sleeping in our bed.

She didn’t sleep.  She tossed and turned, and sang, and played with her daddy’s ears and his nose, and smacked me gently on the face.  So exhausted was I that I managed to slip into blessed unconsciousness even still, and so grabbed my only sleep of the night — about 30 minutes.  But when I came to again, there was no question — she was not getting better.  I rang the doctor’s office — it was now about 5am.  The nurse on call listened to my description and then said, “You know what I’m going to say, don’t you?”  I did.  “I’ll ring ahead to let them know you’ll be coming…”

Poor E1 sat up with a start start when I rudely flicked on the light, and she blurted out in confusion, “What’s… what’s going on?!?” I told her we were going to hospital and I needed her to get up, use the toilet, and get dressed.  My recognised my tone and followed the orders without complaint.  But when her knickers wouldn’t cooperate, the sleeiness got the better of her and she faltered.  “Mummy, I think I might cry…”  Big eyes, wobbling lip.  I fixed the knickers, gave her a squeeze and a big kiss, and she composed herself again and carried on — so exactly the big girl I needed her to be at that moment.

I rang my mother and asked her to meet us at the hospital, then grabbed a change of clothes and whatever food I could find — breakfast would be corn muffins and leftover pasta with garlic-tomato sauce — and bundled everything and everyone in the car.

I took a wrong turn in the dark and got lost in the city, then found my way again, then took another wrong turn and got lost again.  “Sweetheart, are you ok?” I called out every few seconds, and she’d squeak a small sound in reply.  I barked at E1, “Watch her! Watch her breathe!  Is she breathing?”  This time, the nurse had not suggested an ambulance.  And we’d made the trip every time before in the car so I just hadn’t thought…  Oh, why hadn’t I called an ambulance?!?  I turned left… found it was a road I recognised, worked out the way to the hospital, and gunned it.

She didn’t respond to the first treatment, even after a full hour.  The wheezing continued, the effort with every breath still painfully apparent.  And, more worryingly, even the stimulant no longer perked her up much — she laid on the hospital bed, listless in a little blue gown covered in dinosaurs.  They tried another treatment, with a different medicine and, thankfully, that one.  She began to breathe more easily and her eyes brightened.  We stayed another hour for observation, and then we were released, and left feeling disorientated, surprised to find that it was lunchtime.

The doctor had asked me — no, ordered — to take her for a follow-up the next morning.  He was adamant that he did not want it delayed until after the weekend.  But when we arrived, the pediatrician was running behind, and we sat in the waiting room for over an hour, surrounded by all the other children who also so sick that they couldn’t wait for Monday.  One mother, her arm around a bleary-eyed, coughing girl, told the woman next to her that 300 children had been out that week from her daughter’s school with suspected or confirmed swine flu.  I made E2 put her book down, and slipped into the bathroom to wash her hands.

The doctor’s eyes went immediately to E2’s chest and belly, from the moment she walked in the room.  “She’s working for it now, isn’t she?” she observed before we’d even begun.  “She needs a treatment now.  We could do it here… but, no, that will cost you.  How far are you from home?”  Ten minutes, I told her, and we agreed we could do the treatment the minute we got home.

I like this doctor very much — she is gentle and respectful with my daughters, shows them all the instruments before she uses them, and sings a quiet and soothing  song as she examines them.  More importantly, she genuinely understands that I am generally hesitant to resort to medication, because she is of the same persuasion herself.  So when she suggested at our previous appointment (that is, after the last breathing-trouble run to ER) that perhaps we should consider giving E2 a nebulised steroid treatment — daily steroid, for the next six months — my initial gut instinct to reject the idea was tempered by the knowledge that she wouldn’t be suggesting it if the situation weren’t really that serious.  And yet…  and yet, I couldn’t hide my revulsion.  “Think about it for awhile,” she had said, writing the prescription.  “Pick up the medicine from the pharmacy…  Maybe discuss it with the allergist too.  But the way she goes down so fast…  I think we might need to do something to help her get on top of this, for the future.”   And now the doctor brought the subject up again, suggesting in her gentle manner thatperhaps we should be using that daily steroid treatment — and this time I had to agree with her.  It all gets so critical so quickly with E2…  It’s dangerous to carry on like this.

I asked about swine flu: could the girls be vaccinated, given their egg allergies?  No, but M and I can.  In fact — she pointed her pen at me, concern on her face — we probably should be as soon as possible.  With E2’s history…  She didn’t finish her thought, but I understood.  I have no doubt that if this child contracts swine flu, it will not be the “mild case” that we’re told most people get.  I will be that mother praying fervently, with her forehead resting on the edge of a hospital bed, next to the child fighting for her life.  I need to register the two of us with a doctor — or perhaps ring the allergist — and hope my explanation of the situation is enough to persuade him or her to bend the rules and give the two of us the H1N1 vaccine.

But for now, sat here at the computer and up far too late again, I am just counting my blessings — grateful that we made it to the hospital in time, and that my daughter responded to the treatments at last, and that tonight she is sleeping peacefully upstairs… her little chest rising and falling gently in the dark.   The last few days have been exhausting, draining.   Tackling the next hurdle can wait until tomorrow.

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This time I spotted the signs much quicker — the belly breathing; the way the base of her neck caved in on the inhale; the listlessness, so much so that she was lying flattened on the floor and wouldn’t even lift her head — and I knew what to do.  My mother held her on her lap as I put the mask over my daughter’s face and turned on the nebuliser.  She would be fine, I knew.  I’d done my bit by spotting the signs and now her breathing treatment would open her airways again.  It would not go to croup this time.

And she did perk up for a time — the adrenaline rush to her system gave her a jolt of energy that spilled out in songs and giggles and, once she was eventually free of the mask and the machine, the kind of crazed dancing that only drugs can produce.  I watched her mania with waves of relief.

So the shock rocked me to the core when I realised only thirty minutes later that she was struggling to breath again.   Again, the belly-breathing.  Again, that horrible pulling at the base of her neck.  It was too soon to use the nebuliser — much too soon, it should have lasted four hours!  How could she have fallen back so badly in only thirty minutes?

A cursory call to the doctor’s office, only to confirm what I already knew — we were to go directly to the Emergency Room, by ambulance if necessary.  I calmed my racing heart, told it that those words came as no surprise — to no avail — and began to pack our bags.  We needed enough nappies to perhaps see us through the night, more wipes, and food.  We can go nowhere without bringing our own food — even the hospital struggles to cope E2’s extensive dietary restrictions.  Last time, it produced an apple and a bowl of plain rice noodles covered in canola oil.  She’s two years old: of course she turned up her nose.

But the timing was terrible and the cupboard was bare.  “I’ll make something,” my mother said, hastily shoving a pair sweet potatoes into the microwave.  “You…” she looked at me, still in my pajamas and with great globs of snot dried in my hair.  E1 had cried through the night with a sore throat so pitifully that I’d slept (or, rather, not) beside  her, contorting my too-long body into her toddler bed, where she’d sneezed repeatedly, violently, all over me.  My mother winced a little, “You have a quick shower — quick — and get dressed while I make the food.”

I looked at my daughter, judging her breath.  She was working at it for sure, much more than she should have been so soon after a treatment, but she was ok for the moment.  I could see that. There was time, I thought, and dashed to the bathroom.  My shower lasted two minutes — soap on, soap off — but  I kicked myself for it the whole time, stepped out onto the bathmat in a guilt-induced near-panic.

In the car as I drove, my mother kept her body turned around in the passenger seat, watching E2’s chest rise and fall, and periodically telling me to slow down.  My wet hair dripped down the back of my neck.  E2 kept breathing.

At the hospital, they issued us with masks first and read the registration paperwork.  “Breathing troubles”, I’d written and they waved us straight in.  Weight, blood pressure, stethoscope — ah yes, that wheeze and rattle — and they settled her down for another breathing treatment, this one lasting an hour.  She perked up again almost immediately and asked to take the mask off so she could dance with her fidgetting, bored sister.  “No, sweetheart.  You just breathe,” I told her.  She sang instead, which was just as good.

The treatment finished, they left us for a while to see how it took.  But when they returned at last, the rattle was still there, so she had another — shorter this time, a steroid.  And that one did the trick.   After another long observation period, made more difficult by one child who was now totally wired and the other who was bored beyond her tolerance, they declared her fit and released us, with a prescription for more steroids.

We drove home in the falling dusk.  E1 succumbed to sleep immediately and, as the adrenaline rush began to die away, her little sister followed suit.  I watched them both in the rear-view mirror: their faces relaxed and angelic, their mouths both hanging open, and their chests rising and falling …easily, rhythmically.  I counted my blessings.

And then I counted something else: four colds so far this year, and all four times, we’ve had to use the treatment to keep her breathing.  Four colds so far this year, and two have ended up in the Emergency Room.  What gave the rest of us sniffles and coughs brought E2 to the edge of disaster every time.

We pulled up to the pharmacy and I turned off the car.  It was dark now and I was exhausted, ready for bed but knowing it would be another long night with two sick little girls.  “Oh, Mum… I hope she outgrows this.”  I reached to open the car door when another, darker thought suddenly chilled me.  “But…”  I turned my head and looked at my mum.  “But if she doesn’t…  if she’s this susceptible to everything…  how will I ever be able to send her to school?!?”

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Today’s post is an homage to my mother, and how wonderful she is.  Yes, I know, I don’t say that much and it probably comes as a surprise to hear it at all.  But she is, truly wonderful, very loving, and everything a mother should be — she really is.  The fact that she and I are very, very different people causes us no end of problems for us, but it doesn’t change the fact that she is a wonderful mother.

The four of us — M, me, and the girls — have spent the last four days with a violent stomach bug and it’s been a thoroughly miserable experience (if you don’t like graphic details, stop here and jump to the next paragraph).  No one has been able to keep anything down — even a mere sip of water would be vomited straight back up.  At least M and I know to make a run for the toilet, but the girls don’t.  They just spewed their guts where-ever they stood, and I have quickly learned to keep sick toddlers corralled in the areas of the house with hardwood floors instead of carpet!  Oh, and what didn’t come out the top end came flying out the bottom end with no warning.  Again, M and I know what to do, but the girls had no idea what was coming.  I have done 10 loads of laundry in three days: all the sheets twice, all the bedclothes, all the towels, the bathmat (someone nearly got to the toilet, but not quite…), and change after change after change of clothes.  And the whole time, all I’ve wanted to do was curl up and die.

Within minutes of her first bout of violent vomiting on Monday morning, E1 looked up at me, with a miserable face and said, “I want Grandmaaaaaa…..”  I gave her the phone and, when her grandma answered, she said, “I’m sick!  Will you come please?”  No magic spell could have worked faster — my mother was here in 30 minutes and spent the day cuddling and rocking her increasingly listless grand-daughters.

When it hit me with full force that evening, and I realised what I was in for, I gave my mother a ring and asked her if she could come in the morning.  She rearranged her schedule so she could be here for 9am.  At 8.30, I was cleaning dried vomit out of E2’s hair and dried diarrhea out of her bum (and both off her bedclothes, her sheets, her crib, the floor, and the walls) and praying for 9:00 to roll on.  It did, Grandma took over, and I dragged myself back to bed, where I clutched my sick bowl and shook under the covers.  She stayed all day and then, at my request, stayed into the evening to put the girls to bed, while I slept and was sick and slept and was sick.

She came again at 9am on Wednesday.  Everyone had stopped vomiting at last — though no one was back to being themselves again by any stretch — but I am so dehydrated and exhausted that my vision kept going black.  She took care of the girls while I rested, and then had my first wash in 48 hours — discovering bits of old vomit still in my hair and under my fingernails — and then went down and collapsed in the rocking chair.  I told her again how grateful I was for her help.  I had told her yesterday, but I wanted her to really know.  It is this kind of help, more than anything else — more than shopping, more than dinners out, more than babysitting — that I really missed when I was so far away in England.  It was times like these when I would really wish I lived near my mother and, now that I do, I wanted her to know how very, very grateful I am for her help.  She hadn’t thought for a moment about the fact that she is now likely to come down with this too — she’d just come over straight over to help.  She is a wonderful mother.

And when she left, I told her to rest the next morning — I was on the mend and I wouldn’t need her, I was sure.  I woke up still nauseaus, but feeling confident that I could handle it myself today.  But as I laid the baby down on the bed for that first feed, a jolt of electricity shot from my hip and ran up my spine and down my leg, and I screamed out in pain.  I’d caught my sciatic nerve and it hurt like hell.  I hadn’t actually pinched it — thank Heavens — but, oh, how it was excruciating!  And, then to top it off, that pain brought on an instant and pounding headache.

I let E2 feed whilst I contorted and then, when she was done, I hobbled down the stairs — slowly…  slowly…  — and rang my mother.  Please, Mum.  She didn’t hesitate.  She arrived 15 minutes later and I dragged my nauseous, aching body and thudding head back to bed.

My mother and I are very very different people, and that causes us no end of problems. We have spent years misunderstanding each other, driving each other crazy, and struggling to keep our relationship on an even keel.   But she is a wonderful mother, and I love her, and I am very blessed indeed to have her.

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