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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Bike Back

bikeIn 1989, when I was fifteen years old, I had a terrible bike accident. Following my friend and her father through a wide intersection in the final moments of our yellow light, I rode my bike directly into a car that began moving forward just as our light turned red. As I saw that the driver was speeding up and that I would almost certainly collide with her, I did what many people do, instinctively, when they’re frightened: I closed my eyes.

The last thing I remember from that crash was seeing that my front bike tire was about to hit the side of the moving car. The events that followed were a series of flashes: seeing my bike twenty feet away from where I lay on the street, the EMT’s face above me; answering the question of who our president was as the ambulance sped toward the hospital; my mother’s face in the emergency room. I had a concussion, stitches on my scalp, and a compression fracture in one of my vertebrae. The friend who had been behind me on the bike ride said she watched me collide with the car and fly high into the air, landing heavily on my back and the back of my head. It was the 80s; no one wore bike helmets.

I often think of this as I ride my current bicycle around town. I recall the crash from my childhood and even remember the aftermath in the hospital. My back still twinges from time to time, and hair never grew in again over the spot where I had stitches. Still, I love to ride my bike. I love the way a hot day turns cooler with the wind I create on two wheels. I love the freedom of choosing alleys instead of roads, of avoiding traffic, of parking anywhere I can safely lock my bike. I love my bright blue bicycle itself, and the quirky helmet that all my friends can identify from afar. I love the inner child who tugs at my shirt when I get on, proud to keep herself balanced on the pedals and thrilled to be moving faster than on foot but still using only the power of her own two legs.

In short, that bike accident — violent, frightening, memorable — has not ruined my love of bicycling. So, how can we know, as parents, which experiences will wreak havoc on a child’s future interactions and which will be unable to change what is fundamental? Continue Reading…

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