Paper and Breath

paperwork

 

I have spent most of the last two weeks in the grips of a terrible asthma flare, brought on by whatever powerful viral misery has a hold on the country right now. Though I’m not immune to illness — I get what I assume is the average number of colds each year — this one was particularly frightening for me, and I am convinced that it sent cosmic signals out into my community, since three separate friends left bottles of juice on my porch and ran like heck. As I curled under an enormous down blanket and drowned my tickling throat — which threatened constantly to send me into another bizarre, high-pitched coughing fit reminiscent of someone stepping on a puppy — I did little more than watch hours of television and poke half-heartedly at my phone from time to time.

This is not my normal position in the world. My normal life since children has been a patchwork of several kinds of activity: my part-time business in web site design and development (hire me!), childrearing, and housewifery. In the two weeks I spent on hiatus nursing my lungs along, I was able to pull a laptop onto the couch from time to time to douse the fires of my business, and my children managed to handle their own rearing at their ripe ages of 14 and 11. The housewifery, however, fell into the crevices between couch cushions, where it waited, growing funky and fuzzy with neglect.

Of course, I have a partner, a fantastic husband who is always ready to help — and he did. The dishes got done and the lizard got fed; children were driven where they needed to go when I could not summon the strength. However, there were several administrative tasks that I had intended to manage before the end of the year, and they began to weigh as heavily on my chest as the infection I was fighting. When I finally felt up to tackling them, I found it was literally The Last Minute, which, of course, is the most productive minute of any project. The most pressing of these tasks was the one billing-related job I’ve managed in our marriage since our younger daughter, Sammi, was born. This task, coincidentally, was born with her.  Continue Reading…

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Huddle Up

winter-1Every day, there’s something new happening that scares me.

In fact, every day, there are multiple things — here in the US, and other places in the world. It feels to me like we are balanced on a saucer held on the index finger of someone walking barefoot across a sea of marbles, and — moment by moment — people are plummeting over the edge. I wake up from my spot nearer to the middle of that saucer than 90% of the people on this planet, and I look at the news and try to decide where I will throw my tiny threads of possibility today.

It feels desperate. On the worst days, it feels ridiculous.

As this year ends, I am reminded of the years that my friends and family made contributions to causes that would likely never, ever affect them. Though I tried not to be a broken record, I did occasionally reach out to friends and family via social media and other means to support the charities working on research, advocacy and support for the conditions with which my daughter suffered. When her primary diagnosis was eosinophilic esophagitis, I asked for support for APFED, The American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders. After she had her second cardiac surgery, we suggested people make donations to Mended Little Hearts. These were good causes — they are good causes, and I’ll continue to support them even though my daughter’s health is no longer affected by these conditions — but the people we asked to contribute or share stories or raise awareness were likely largely oblivious to their existence before my daughter’s diagnosis awakened them.

In the last few weeks, the pitched voices of a number of needs in the wider world and in my community seem to have amplified. Part of that is due to #GivingTuesday, a campaign to encourage charitable giving after the materialistic trifecta of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. Part of the onslaught of need has also come out of the recent US presidential election, which has given rise to a level of societal panic I can’t remember seeing ever before in my adult life. Causes about which I care deeply — civil rights, women’s health, the social safety net, immigration and international diplomacy among others — seem to need support more than ever. I find my personal politics pinpointed perfectly as my friends add me to Facebook groups daily, my email inbox fills with requests, and every news story seems to offer me an action item.

This holiday season, there are so many bigger needs than those that affect my family. This holiday season, the needs affect my whole world.

I’m doing a few things differently this season, and while I don’t dare tell anyone reading this that my plan should be theirs, I’m finding it useful to think about what I can do to help in three ways:

  1. Actions that help the world
  2. Actions that help my community
  3. Actions that help my family

Continue Reading…

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The Teal Pumpkin Project: Because We Remember

teal-pumpkin-remember

When my daughter Sammi was five, Halloween could have been just horrible.

Just a few months earlier, Sammi had been diagnosed with a disease called eosinophilic esophagitis. An inflammatory condition of the esophagus — the tube that runs between the mouth and the stomach — it is poorly understood and responds to only a handful of imperfect treatments. The treatment we chose for her was called the Six Food Elimination Diet, a set of food restrictions that required her to avoid anything with dairy, soy, eggs, nuts, fish, or wheat. We were already vegetarians; this was a huge lifestyle change for our entire family.

Sammi had just started kindergarten, learning to read and write and follow instructions in a classroom that necessarily had been forced to eliminate Play-Doh (wheat) and to keep a small box with “Sammi-safe” snacks available for the days — most days — when she could not eat the shared snacks brought by her classmates. It was a rough start. And then, it was Halloween.

On this particular diet, the only kind of typical Halloween candy she could eat were Smarties and Dum-Dums. All other candies contained a forbidden item or were produced on equipment that might be shared with a forbidden item, and so I tried to figure out how to save Halloween. How would it be to walk from house to house and say, over and over again, “No, you can’t eat that one. No, you can’t eat that one either. No, no, no”?

Finally, I decided to solve our problem with a combination of money and magic. Continue Reading…

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The Long Arms of Childhood Illness

Affordable care act calculator

If you saw my two daughters today, you would never know that some medical insurance companies would historically have considered them uninsurable.

My youngest daughter’s history of illness has been documented in my blog and detailed in articles in a variety of publications. From infant reflux to laryngomalacia to a congenital heart defect, from eosinophilic esophagitis to chylothorax, she has been under general anesthesia 17 times in her eleven years. Though the first nine were full of medical intervention, the last two following her final surgery have been nothing short of miraculous for her. She now eats well, has full energy, is growing, and leads a completely normal life. She has a pediatrician, a dentist, and an orthodontist — a far cry from the pit crew of specialists she used to see.

Even so, without the Affordable Care Act, she could be denied health insurance for the rest of her life. Continue Reading…

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Sitting on Eggs: A Missed Diagnosis

sammiegg

On this day in 2010, my tiny, unbreakable five-year-old daughter got the world-changing news that she would be allowed to eat eggs.

For more than six weeks before this photo was taken, Sammi had been asked by her team of gastroenterologists to avoid contact with — and certainly ingestion of — any foods containing dairy, wheat, soy, nuts, fish, or eggs. She was already a vegetarian, and this diet was meant as a way to pinpoint the source of her new, puzzling diagnosis: eosinophilic esophagitis.

We waited both anxiously and in frenetic motion for the first phase of this diet to be over. I hadn’t been afraid of experimenting with my cooking, desperate to find foods that mimicked those we’d eaten in our prior life, but I discovered to my growing disappointment that cooking a vegan, gluten-free, nut-free menu for three meals a day would require nearly all my attention and still be met with regular catastrophe. When it was time to add the first forbidden food back in to her diet, she chose eggs. They were crucial to so many of the things she missed most: matzo balls, deviled eggs, and something resembling a cookie.

I’m writing about this again (I covered the excitement of the day in a previous post) because the single most popular page on my blog is the post called Practicalities of the Six Food Elimination Diet. It is a post written with the memories of the desperation I felt during the early days of this diet, working like a mad scientist, seeking ways to bind starches and proteins, to flavor the world my daughter inhabited. I was in it for the long haul, I thought. I’d heard horror stories about how likely it would be that my daughter would never eat a normal diet again, that the foods her body could tolerate now would eventually become foods her body would reject violently. I cooked and experimented and baked and threw away and started over many times a day.

Years later, with the knowledge that her diagnosis with eosinophilic esophagitis was wrong, I keep coming back to the words of a radiologist who saw Sammi in 2013. You can read the story of her “swallow study” here, but the most important part is his impression that eosinophilic esophagitis was becoming a trendy diagnosis.

It has taken me years to process that idea.

Could it be, I wonder, that medical professionals are susceptible to popular diagnostic trends in a way that blinds them to less-common possibilities? Continue Reading…

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