This Is the Worst Book Ever

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I got the CD-ROMs in the summer, and I opened them in November.

I’d asked the hospital to send me my daughter’s unabridged medical records only when I’d realized that it was as simple as filling in a form and sending a check. I did it before I could chicken out. I did it because I could. I did it because I was starting to jumble the facts in my head, because even though I didn’t want to sue anyone, I wanted those records before they got lost or deprecated, before their systems changed, before the years of my daughter’s misdiagnosis and unnecessary treatments got buried under other things, both in the hospital filing cabinets and in my soul.

When they arrived, I realized that they were not a box of papers, as I’d expected. They were on a handful of CD-ROMS: one for the notes and chart, and five for medical imaging: chest X-rays, CT-scans, EKGs, echocardiograms. I held the imaging CDs in my hands and wondered: was there a video in here of my daughter’s heartbeat? If she’d died, would I have wanted to hear it? Would I have wanted to play it as I fell asleep? Continue Reading…

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One Day on the Six Food Elimination Diet

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Between June of 2010 and May of 2011, my daughter Sammi progressed through the six food elimination diet for a rare inflammatory disorder called eosinophilic esophagitis. In an effort to determine which — if any — of the most commonly allergenic foods might be irritating the tissue inside her esophagus, her gastroenterologist asked us to remove dairy, eggs, soy, wheat, and all nuts from her diet, which was already vegetarian. One by one, we added foods back in as endoscopies and biopsies guided us as to the foods that seemed to be safe for her.

On this blog, the most popular post is called Practicalities of the Six Food Elimination Diet. It was my first effort to write the content that I wish I could have read while Sammi was on this diet — a lot of empathy and even more practical, straightforward advice on where to start. So much information on elimination diets online focuses on adults who can, for the most part, understand that what they’re doing is for their own good. Adults can sit in front of uninteresting, repetitive meals for weeks on end and make their peace with it. Children often don’t have that same ability.

As I’ve seen how popular that original post of mine has become, I’ve wanted to add to it, to provide more information to families who are struggling to feed their children with both attention to the restrictions of the diet and with love and compassion. To that end, I wanted to share a typical day for Sammi — who was five years old at the time — when she was on the full elimination.  Continue Reading…

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Layover in Holland

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Within the community of families with special-needs children, there is a well-known poem/essay called “Welcome to Holland.” It became famous in this community because some loved it and felt it really spoke to them, and some found it galling and infuriating. In “Welcome to Holland,” the writer, Emily Perl Kingsley, compares life with children who have special needs to a flight she expected to arrive in Italy, only to touch ground permanently in Holland. The rest of her life is filled with experiencing all the real, tangible beauty of Holland, even as she has to hear all the stories of Italy she will never experience firsthand.

It’s an obvious metaphor, and certainly simplistic, but it’s easy to see the comfort it might provide. Few pregnant mothers dreamily stroke their stomachs and imagine the beauty of the metaphor in which Holland stands for a life of health struggles and emotionally draining paths to seeing one’s child’s basic needs met. However, once they stand in on the tarmac in the strange land they’d never considered, it’s only human to peer into the distance and seek out the tulips. Those tulips are real, at least some of the time. Continue Reading…

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Write the Story You Need to Read

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“rapid breathing of the newborn”

“morbidity vascular ring repair”

“esophageal dilatation toddler”

“vascular ring story blog happy ending”

“double aortic arch multiple surgeries”

“afraid my child will die”

“misdiagnosis eosinophilic esophagitis”

These are all real search terms I’ve typed into Google in the years since my daughter — now twelve years old and completely healthy — was diagnosed with a Double Aortic Arch just after her first birthday. In the intervening years, I typed those words into a desktop computer while nursing her on a big pillow in my lap or while she played on the floor nearby with her big sister; on a laptop at a coffeeshop while she went to preschool; on my first smartphone while I waited for her to come out of general anesthesia. I’ve been searching for stories like hers since I knew she’d have a story to tell. Continue Reading…

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No Way Through It But to Do It

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She is at the kitchen counter, tongue jutted out over her top lip, pencil in an awkward grip, tears rolling down her face.

“There’s so much of this!” she says, between strangled sobs.

I chop carrots, a profile at a counter perpendicular to the one where her science book, notebook, tablet, and half-eaten bowl of cheese crackers are scattered. Her hair is in her eyes, and she keeps angrily tucking it behind her ear. I put down the knife, rinse my hands, wipe them on the back pockets of my jeans, and walk gently and slowly around the edges of the counter. I pull her hair back and wrap it into a quick ponytail, and then I kiss the top of her warm, slightly-sweaty head.

“No way through it but to do it,” I tell her.

She falls forward, her head in her arms, and cries, still gripping the pencil. I rub her back, softly, and rest my cheek on her neck to whisper in her ear, little useless things about getting a drink of water, taking a five minute break, finishing her snack. She growls and rises, determined through tears to get it done.

I straighten and make my way back toward the carrots, noting that her sister is on the couch in the next room, laptop propped on her knees, papers everywhere, water bottle cuddled against her side. She’s absentmindedly eating a package of dried seaweed, listening to music, and occasionally holding her phone up at just the right angle for a photo containing only half her face. She looks up, and I blow her a kiss. She smiles, waves, and catches it.

The battle rages on at the counter.

I wonder what made my two daughters so different: the older one go-with-the-flow, flexible, arched toward satisfaction; and the younger one frustrated, questioning, mourning, her happiness easily won but equally easily lost. Continue Reading…

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