Sunday, May 29, 2011

Jack's second hospital visit in two weeks. Just breath

Traveling will a baby is certainly different than traveling without a baby. The last time that Greg and I were in Europe together, it was 2007, and we were getting married in Rome. We had three weeks to disappear into blissful relaxation. It was otherworldly. This trip to Barcelona -- while enjoyable in an entirely new way -- has emphasized how totally and completely different our lives are now. There are certain responsibilities and stresses that we simply can't escape.

First, let me finish up the story about the forgotten breast pump charger, and to tell you that story, I've got to tell you something about Beata. Beata is my co-worker. We were pregnant together, due one week apart. At the time, she was my only pregnant friend, and her little boy, Julian, was born just 10 days after Jack. Beata and her husband have always been wonderful: a more generous couple, I could hardly describe.

Anyway, back to the pump charger story. Everything worked out, and I cannot express my gratitude to the *many* people who helped. After my last frantic post on Jack Attack, I sent an email to my female coworkers, asking if anyone had not yet left for Spain. Luck was with me, and someone replied: if I could get the charger to her in the next few hours, she could cram it in her suitcase and hand it off to me at the conference. One of our tenants was able to enter our floor (thankfully the key was in the common door -- it usually isn't!), dig through my bags and find the charger to put it in our mailbox. Then Beata took an hour out of her day, walked to our house and then to a second location to drop it off with the courier... but not before her husband dug through his own stash of electronics chargers at their house (to find one he thought might work) and drove that one by, too.

I cannot get over how amazing people are. Folks, I am embarrassed to have caused so much trouble, and especially to have caused so much trouble over the charger to a device that's designed to suck milk out of my boobs. Awkward. Let me send a giant, public Thank You to everyone who went so far out of their way to help with the pump charger.

Thank You!

On to other topics.

We've been in the hospital with Jack.


Here's how events proceeded. On Monday morning, Jack threw up. Then came the 104 fever, diarrhea*, listlessness and general malaise. He nursed well the first day, but he quickly stopped nursing and refused all liquids and food. He screamed and cried from the intense stomach pain. Fever of 101-104 despite alternating advil and tylenol. The wet diapers started slowing down. He. Was. Miserable.

*I can finally spell that word correctly the first time. Does this mean I am officially a Mom?

We were miserable.

We were sick with worry. We were frustrated and helpless and so sad for Jack being in such pain. Admittedly, we were also frustrated and sad that our Great Family Vacation was spinning rapidly down the drain.

But mostly we were worried. Because if there's anything worse than being in pain, it's watching your baby be in pain. It's feeling desperate. It's wanting to do anything to make the pain go away, but knowing that you can't do a damn thing.

I'll skip over the freaking out parts (and there was much, much freaking out), to say that just when we thought he was getting better... just when his fever cleared and he started nursing again... just then, the bright red blood showed up in his diaper.

Seriously. Fresh blood.

Hospital Del Mar, there we went.

We checked into the emergency room. We saw some very nice Spanish doctors who spoke a bit of english. They said he looked good: he wasn't dehydrated. They took a stool sample. They explained that babies bleed easily from tummy bugs. And eventually they sent us on our way with instructions to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

And within 5 hours, Jack was totally fine.

Really. Completely fine. No fever. No diarrhea* (well, less of it anyway). No blood. Happy Camper. Smiles and laughing and pointing and much "duh! duh! duh!" (and a few "Uh-Oh!"s, more on that later).

*I'm 2 for 2.

So Greg and I are now hyperventilating at even the slightest hint of potential injury (you would not have wanted to be a fly on the wall when Jack slipped and bumped his head on the wood floor in our rental apartment...). But our baby is fine and apparently that is the theme of parenthood: freak out, baby OK. Get a moment to breath. Freak out, baby OK. Etc.

Having a sick baby in a foreign country -- albeit one that speaks quite a bit of english -- was terrifying.

The first few days in Spain were consumed by nursing Jack back to health. Then I had my conference for a few days. We played all day Saturday, all day today, and we have all day tomorrow to chill out before our flight back on Tuesday.

More on the rest of the trip soon.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


OK, I owe this blog some attention. For starters, Jack turned 10 months on Wednesday (10 months!) and I still haven't found the time to write his 10-month-day post. Many things have happened in the last month, and I am eager to write about them all.

Why the hold up? Well, we've been traveling... traveling a LOT. First, Jack and I went to Phoenix for a week. Then Greg went to Oregon for a week, leaving the two of us + dog to fend for ourselves. And now all three humans are in Barcelona, Spain. I have a work conference later this week, so we figured we'd take a few extra days to enjoy the sites and sounds of Europe.

Here's the trouble. I have to pump during the conference hours. Jack is still nursing quite a bit, and I get uncomfortable after about 6 hours. I will be gone for 8-14 hours per day for 3-4 days and I *need* to pump during that time. I don't mind giving Jack formula. But if I don't pump for that long, I will be in pain, and I will run the risk of mastitis. So I made arrangements with the conference coordinator ahead of time. I packed my pump. I packed all of its various parts. I counted them over in my head a hundred times: pump, pump bra, 2 horns, 2 shields, 2 rubber fitting thingies, 2 back pieces, 2 adapters, 20 milk bags, 2 ice packs, 2 medela bottles with 2 nipples, 2 collars, 2 covers, and 2 stoppers. 44 pieces to count.

I counted all of those important things, and then I forgot to count the pump charger.

The pump turns on, but I have no idea whether the battery charge will last. I have no idea where to locate a charger in Barcelona (Google hasn't been much help). I've considered ordering one from Amazon, but it won't arrive in time.


I almost brought my handheld (manual pump) instead of the freestyle. Why, why, why did I have to forgot the charger?!

Will I have to have Greg bring Jack to meet me at the conference every day (perhaps even twice?)? That's such a huge pain.

Shit!!! SHIT! I don't know what I'm going to do...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

About the babysitter

Mother's Day, 2011. Jack is enjoying some world-famous New Haven Pizza! (After suffering a major concussion the night before!)

We are so lucky: Jack is doing great. He was a little strange on Sunday* and a little sleepy on Monday, but he was perfectly Jack-like today. He is laughing and smiling and giggling and running as fast as he can behind the wheels of his walker-wagon. He is pointing and exclaiming "Duh! Duh duh duh!" at everything he sees. He can still find the doggie in the book. And for that degree of normality, for those constant indications of his good health and great cognitive function, we are very thankful.

*As best as I can tell, Jack had one killer of a headache. He kept reaching behind to the back of his skull. And he was confused. While snuggling against my arm on Sunday, he opened his mouth and bit me so hard that I can still count the toothmarks.

In case you wondered what was outside the frame of the other picture. Does that expression look familiar? Let me caption this emotion: immense, terrible fear

Several of you have asked about the babysitter. We've only actually left the house without Jack several times and have never had a stranger sit for us. Twice, Greg's parents watched him. Three times, our neighbor watched him. She is our babysitter; she is in her 50s, is a responsible landlord in the neighborhood, and has a grown child of her own. Once, she forgot to show up when she was supposed to. She missed the appointed time on a vitally important night, when I was throwing an engagement party for my best friend. I don't think the two issues -- forgetting to show up and tripping on our back porch steps -- are related, but the point of that is... things have been awkward with this woman for a variety of reasons and I have felt continued pressure to assure her that everything is just fine and that I'm not upset with her.

When Jack's accident first happened, I was not the slightest bit angry toward her. I felt sorry for her, because I knew how terrible she must feel inside. I knew she meant well.

Still, I doubted her judgement. She chose to take an infant out of the house for a walk at 8:30pm in near pitch black darkness. She utterly failed to communicate the seriousness of Jack's injury. Once I learned the height of his fall, before I knew that he was nearly unconscious, I had a sudden urge to rush him to the hospital: she did not. She let my baby pass out in her lap and misinterpreted it as "happily falling asleep". And then there was this email...

The day after the incident, she sent us this email telling us that in our "essential care of Jack", we ought to do something about the back steps. She described several reasons why the fall was not her fault. Those were not her words, and I am certain that transferring blame to us was not her conscious intent... but the subconscious motivation behind the email was obvious. She felt guilty. And she decided our back porch, with its 4 concrete steps, is a safety hazard that we are responsible for.

Truth is, she's right. We ARE responsible for the structure of the house, for what goes on in our own backyard, in the same way that I feel terribly, horribly responsible for Zane's death when he was hit by the car. This is why I didn't feel angry with her: accidents happen and her stumble happened on my property. Still, I was not the person speeding down Dwight and I was not the person to drop Jack on concrete and I think it show terrible, horrible judgement on her part to play the blame game just one day after Jack was in the hospital.

Now I'm pissed.

I have an inclination to send her an equally "helpful" email suggesting that in her "essential role as a responsible citizen" she might not want to ever lift or carry an infant again, given the possibility that she might trip and fall because the lighting is dim.

By the way, we've lived in this house for 7 years and none of our guests have ever had an issue with the four concrete steps, including drunk people.

Don't worry, I won't tell her that.

Truly, I don't ever want to see this woman again.

But she lives across the street from us and I've already seen her twice in two days.

My instinct says that I should simply ignore the email and not make any additional overtures. But, as Greg pointed out, this would leave the relationship sour and that's simply never a good idea.

So what do we do? What would you do? At the moment, I'm sitting on my hands. If there's one thing I've learned in life, it's that no good can come of "schooling" a person in appropriate behavior. I had and have no interest in laying blame about this incident, and I am upset that her remarks have made me think of what happened in terms of blame. I wish I could tell her that, but I can't.

Back to Jack. Thank god he's OK. He could have been killed by that kind of fall. I've learned a few lessons from this experience. If my child should ever hurt himself while I am away from home, I will know these things:
  1. Don't listen to the babysitter. Don't let her say anything about "normal" or "OK" or "seems fine". You know your baby. You know your baby better than anyone else in the world and you can never, ever rely on someone else's judgement to say whether he is healthy or not.
  2. Don't delay coming home if you have the inclination to come home. I shouldn't have waited the few minutes. I should have gone immediately.
  3. Don't feel any pressure to assume it will be OK. It might not be OK. Mama Bear is a phrase for a reason: my job is to protect this child and if that means making a babysitter feel bad by reacting externally in the same manner that I am reacting internally (*read, frantic with worry), I will do so without shame.

Let me reiterate. Jack's doing great. He reached two major milestones the day of the accident -- walking behind his walker wagon and pointing at objects in books -- and he's still doing both of those things. He is smart and happy and more bubbly than I ever imagined a baby could be. He's just fine.

I love Jack so much. I would do anything to protect him, and I try to take every precaution I can, but I know that's not enough. Accidents do happen. There will be more scary moments in the future. I just hope this was the worst*

*What if it isn't?

Monday, May 9, 2011

I don't ever want to see the babysitter again

When I think of my first Mother's Day, a variety of strange, incongruous topics will come to mind. Whoopie pies, concrete, and radiation.

When think of my first Mother's Day, I will think first of Greg's 35th birthday. He turned 35 on Saturday. A good friend of ours was organizing a charity evening of music to support pitbull rescue. We had tickets. Greg was playing at the show. I made peanut butter chocolate whoopie pies and accidentally purchased candles that wished Greg a Happy Retirement instead of Birthday. We mingled with friends and ate hors d'oeuvre off of toothpicks and cocktail napkins. Greg tapped a keg of his own home brew. Everything was great for just a little while.

The very minute that Greg got on stage, I received a call from our babysitter. It was 8:30pm. Jack had been fussy, so she decided to take him out for a stroll around the block. While she was stepping down our back porch steps, she tripped. They both fell. He hit his head. He definitely hit his head.

He cried, she said, for a minute or two. He cried and then he seemed fine and happy. He pointed at things. He exclaimed and giggled. About 30 minutes later, he settled down and she put him to bed.

Was there any change in his behavior?, I asked. Was he cut or did he have any major wounds? No, she said, after he stopped crying he seemed totally normal. Nothing out of the ordinary. Did she think he was OK? Yes, he seemed just fine.

I called my doctor anyway. She asked me a question after question and I answered as best as I could. "99 times out of 100, falls like the one you described turn out just fine. If it'll make you feel better, wake him up when you get home and be sure he's alert".

I waited for Greg to finish his show. I told him the news and I headed home.

I assured the babysitter that I wasn't upset, that I understood accidents happened. I asked for more details about the event, and what I learned began to horrify me. She had not fallen with Jack, her hands protecting him as she stumbled. She had been on the second to last step when she tripped. He flew out of her hands, landing at least a foot away from where she did, on concrete. I did the math in my head: he fell from six feet onto concrete? I bade her goodnight. I noticed that the lights were on, Jack's door was open, we had been loud... and he was sleeping.

So I went into my baby's room. I reached into the crib and picked him up and brought him into the light. He had an welt the size of a silver dollar above his right eyebrow, scrapes across his elbow and hand. And he didn't respond. He didn't open his eyes. He didn't move.




His eyelids barely parted. I could see one eye completely dilated and the other a small spec. He closed his eyes again. Oh my god.

Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.

I don't even believe in god.

Oh my god.

Oh my god.

All I could feel was his warm weight across my shoulder as I lunged for my cell phone and car keys.


I think we flew to the emergency room. I cannot account for my speed. I only know that my son wouldn't respond to me and if that was that then my life was over.

I skidded into a parking spot at the pediatric ER and flung my keys at the valet attendant. I explained Jack's condition to the triage nurse. They took Jack from me and placed him on a stretcher. At least 8 people crowded around him, assessing him, testing him. A nurse came to help me, sat me in a chair and offered me some water, but there was nothing to do. I just waited in the corner and cried.

But then he started crying, too, and that was a good thing. He started yelling and he started moving and twisting. He was upset and that was a very good thing. They let me go to his side. We looked into each other's watery eyes and he instantly calmed down. My baby was very scared and very confused and he wanted his mama. Soon they let me lay down on the stretcher with him and hold him, and he began to be to be like a baby should be. He cuddled his head against me. This was very un-Jack-like behavior, but I appreciated it.

And then they informed me that he had to have a CT scan. He had to. He probably had a subdural hemorrhage. Based on the change in mood, decreased respiratory rate and unequal pupil sizes, there was a strong change of hemorrhage and a hemorrhage could kill him. They had to know.

But, my god, the radiation, the excessive radiation. A 9 month old should not be exposed to that kind of radiation. I asked them about dosing. They said it would be OK. I told them I was in diagnostic radiology at the school of medicine, a medical imaging researcher, and what would his dose be?

One in one thousand and five hundred. What? One in one thousand and five hundred, the doctor repeated. I'm sorry, what is that? That's the increased likelihood of a brain tumor from the scan that we will give him.


But that's when he's old, the doctor said.

I actually laughed. Some of what I do involves brain tumor research. My husband studies occupational risk for a living. He's writing a review on the overuse of radiation in medical imaging. I explained this to the doctor. I am a conservative person: 1 in 1000 risk of brain tumor, and half of brain tumors being fatal within months? No. No no no. We could not let him be exposed to that kind of radiation.

What alternatives? MRI? Wait and see? What would they look for? How would they treat it? How would the CT scan change the course of treatment? Each question was carefully answered. I thought about my paranoia during pregnancy. I thought about how careful I was to avoid occupational radiation. How my film badge came back below detection each and every time. How we didn't even let him fly in an airplane until he was at least a few months old. I thought about our caution with his body, about the organic food and the non-ozone emitting air purifier, the no-VOC paint and the used furniture, about sunscreen and caution and every attempt we make to ensure his future health.

The nurses reiterated how bad it could be. I felt frantic. I explained to Greg on the phone. Greg was adamant: we could not let them expose him to that kind of radiation. Wasn't his improved mood an indication of anything? The doctor sympathized and said if it was his son, he would do the scan. Immediately. It was necessary. It was absolutely necessary.

Greg showed up. Greg showed up and Jack cheered up. He started to move more. He tried to sit up. He started crying again. He wanted to play.

It could happen quickly, they said. The pressure of an intracranial bleed is relieved through the baby's fontanelle, and often there are no symptoms until it is too late.

And so we put on aprons and wrapped our baby in led sheeting. We placed our hands in the scanner along with him. We sang Jack songs and jiggled a toy in his line of sight. And between the CT and the x-rays, we gave him 500mRem of gamma radiation in a span of 20 minutes.

And then we went back to the ER and waited. And Jack cheered up. And as his smile broadened, ours did too.

Then the doctor came back and said it was all OK. There was no bleed. His liver was fine. His kidneys were fine. His skull was not fractured. His blood vessels were not damaged. He had a concussion. He had a serious fall and his brain was swelling, but the swelling would go down. Jack would be just fine.

And I cried and we hugged and we held Jack tightly. I nursed him. Then we took him home and curled up in bed. I cuddled Jack and Greg cuddled me. We spent a worried night with a sleepy, confused and disoriented Jack. And then we woke and spent a beautiful morning with a happy, talkative, playful Jack. A Jack we recognize.

So we gaze in wonder and fear and acknowledge the greatness of good health. Our amazing, special boy. The terrible magnitude of love and worry that all parents have feel every day for their children. Jack is here and he is happy and there is simply no thing more important thing in life than that.