Sister in the Periphery

girlsThe story of a sick little girl is compelling. The story that spans across years of doctors and procedures, melting into each other in a pool of brackish gloom, punctuated by moments of glittery hope — that’s good reading, right there. You want to know: did she get better? did they figure out what was wrong? how did it all turn out?

That’s the story I’ve been telling about our family, and it’s true. It has driven every other decision in our life, in one way or another, for as long as our younger daughter, Sammi, has been a force on this earth. Figuring out how to keep her healthy, to help her breathe, to feed her and manage her doctors’ appointments and procedures and surgeries, to hold my own head up and make it through my own fears each day: these are the things that dictated the way we navigated the world.

But there is another story in the periphery. We have another child.

I don’t write much about my older daughter Ronni largely because she is now thirteen. She deserves the right to decide what information about her goes public, and so I’ve refrained from sharing her experience so far until now. Until yesterday. Continue Reading…

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinteresttumblrmailby feather
twitterby feather

A Healthy Family’s Thanksgiving

Thankful TreeFood and shelter. Family and friends. Good schools and teachers. I’ve been grateful for them every year as long as I can remember. This year, I am thankful for much more.

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful that none of my family members are in the hospital. No one is eating their Thanksgiving feast off a white tray while others take turns visiting. No one is disconnected from the big family meal because her heart is too connected to the hospital room and the child who is stuck there.

This Thanksgiving, no one is waiting for test results or surgery.

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful that none of us are following a medically prescribed diet. No one is reading ingredients in someone else’s kitchen, saying “excuse me, but what’s in that sauce?” No one is unpacking small, carefully-labeled plastic containers that hold a facsimile of Thanksgiving dinner, subtly resting her arms over her plate as “dangerous” food is passed over it on its way around the table.

This Thanksgiving, no one is on edge because of ingredients or cross-contamination.

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful that my marriage is intact. My husband and I did not break under the pressure of our daughter’s medical dramas. We did not stop talking about our own feelings and dreams when we became stewards of the feelings and dreams of our children. We have not stopped liking each other.

This Thanksgiving, no one has fallen out of love.

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful that my family is alive. My daughter did not die in the surgery that changed her life eighteen months ago; my parents are here and active; my husband and my older daughter have not been taken in a car or plane crash; I have survived every bike ride and run I’ve enjoyed.

This Thanksgiving, no one new is missing.

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the ways our bodies work. No one is struggling to help prepare the meal with arms in slings or missing. No one is pushing a walker to the table. No one is swallowing their food into a kinked esophagus, or skipping the meal while being fed formula through a tube.

This Thanksgiving, no one has lost an ability we take for granted.

This Thanksgiving, I know that had any of these blessings been missing, we would have still been grateful for the others that remained. It would still be a holiday. There would still be joy, celebration, moments of grace. I know that to be true as well as I know that there is no end to the blessings I can hold up and say thank you, universe. Thank you for protecting us from these things which threaten to chip away at our happiness.

Thank you, universe, for the elegance of the human body, for human life and community, for love and endurance, for a bounty of ways in which we can nourish ourselves, for those who care for our hearts, and for the ability to recognize our gifts.

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinteresttumblrmailby feather
twitterby feather

A Test She Couldn’t Fail

glowheartWhen I was pregnant with my younger daughter, Sammi, I worked in an aging office suite with a highly-coveted tiny kitchenette. Other departments of the same non-profit had to go to the basement to retrieve and reheat their lunches, but our little corner of the building had a full-size refrigerator and a microwave.

That microwave must have been older than I was. In the years before having children, I often warmed my cold fingers in front of it as heat leaked out the seams in the door. Once I was pregnant, I wouldn’t even pass by the cubby where it rested if I knew someone was using it; I was afraid the radiation was seeping out with the heat, and I didn’t want to put my unborn child at risk of cancer before she was even born.

Then she was diagnosed with a rare congenital heart condition at the age of 13 months, and in addition to the chest x-ray she’d already had, she had to be put under general anesthesia so that her surgeon could get a clear picture of her vascular anatomy via computed tomography — also known as a CT scan. An IV allowed the flow of a contrast solution into her veins and arteries so that they would all light up in the scans. I sent her in — all sixteen pounds of her — and tried not to think about how much radiation she was absorbing. They needed those pictures. It was the only way to get them. Continue Reading…

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinteresttumblrmailby feather
twitterby feather

Inactive Waiting

waitingIn November 2013, a radiologist explained to me that my eight-year-old daughter Sammi’s aorta was smashing her esophagus into an unnatural shape that trapped food inside it every time she ate. After receiving that news — and the news that we needed to get my daughter evaluated by a cardiothoracic surgeon as soon as possible — I took my daughter to school.

A few days later, after confirming the referral with my daughter’s previous doctor and scheduling a CT scan for her, I went to meet with a client about the web site project I was managing for him.

During that week, and every week for the next several months, I researched upcoming medical tests and procedures and I volunteered in my daughters’ schools. I took Sammi to doctors’ appointments and managed my client project load. I planned travel. I spent time with friends. Everything looked the same, and for my daughters, everything felt the same.

Nothing was the same, though. Continue Reading…

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinteresttumblrmailby feather
twitterby feather

I Am Not a Fool, and Other Thoughts

hosesAfter ten endoscopies, a year of restricted diets, nearly six years of medication to block acid production in her stomach, diagnosis with an inflammatory disorder called eosinophilic esophagitis, and dozens of trips to gastroenterologists, my eight-year-old daughter slid under an x-ray machine, drank some barium, and lit up the screen with a reveal of her esophagus, kinked into utterly unnatural shapes. After the radiologist told me in a hushed voice that the indentations in her esophagus were coming from her aorta, snaking its way across the back of her body, I began to put all the pieces together on my own.

The esophagus is like a rubber hose stretched between two funnels —  mouth on one end and stomach on the other. For Sammi, on one side of that hose —  about a third of the way from the top — a firmer hose was pressing into it from the side, trying to make its way across. That was her aorta, arching down the right side of her body instead of the left, where most people’s aortic arch lives, because of a surgery she’d had to correct a double aortic arch as a baby. It partially succeeded in crossing, but when it met with too much resistance, it snaked down further and tried again, forcing Sammi’s esophagus to follow its path until that esophagus was shaped not like a long straight rubber tube but like a lightning bolt. Continue Reading…

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinteresttumblrmailby feather
twitterby feather