Thursday, September 30, 2010

Yep, You Look Normal to Me

Two weeks ago, on a Friday, I received a call from H's middle school nurse informing me that H had been to see her after lunch complaining of chest pain. I appreciate the stellar communication between the school and home. We get called for every hang nail and gas pain; but, I was truly hoping that on this particular Friday "chest pain" wasn't on the list of ailments which required immediate pick up from school. I had just gotten The Baby down for a nap and she truly was fighting off an ailment, her first ear infection. The nurse brushed past the chest pain and said that she was really calling because upon listening to his heart, she heard an abnormal rhythm. "It's probably nothing, but you should call your pediatrician to see what they want to do about it. I know that if it was my child, I'd want it checked out. And I know that you are a good parent, so you will want it checked out, too."  Jabbity-jab right into my heart. Thank you, School Nurse. I know what our pediatrician's office wants to do about every phone call, "Bring him in." And sure enough, after years of managing to avoid the pediatrician's office for sick calls, I was going to be visiting them for the third time in one week. H made it through the rest of the school day and the bus ride home. He wasn't too happy when he walked through the door and I told him to keep his shoes on because we had a date with the doctor at 3:30. After some griping, I reminded him that he was the one who went to the school nurse, not me. I suspect that some small part of him was hoping that this was an opportunity to prove, once and for all, that there is something truly wrong with him.

H has always maintained that he is not normal. It has become a full time job trying to understand what normal means to him and also reassuring him that his concerns, his feelings (physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually) are all normal in relation to the rest of human kind.  September always drums up the insecurities of his soul. At the commencement of each new school year, we navigate through a phase of questioning his purpose on the planet, of self loathing, of loathing his family for being honest with him, and a swinging pendulum of moods. I offer my own experiences with my struggles with school related anxiety- a battle so paralyzing that I missed a year of school in a normal classroom setting. But, my experience, my story of success in overcoming the suffocating strong hold which is anxiety, does little to quell his self-doubt. And, he turns toward every ache, pain and twinge in his body- seeking a tangible reason for why he feels bad.

H is a bright child- attending an elite public school where he takes advanced classes. He is stubborn with enough obstinance to occupy a small city.  He is a clam- hard shell and squishy insides. In the presence of company he is often quiet, maybe even aloof (unless, of course, he is playing with his sister, Princess Commando, and then the din in the atmosphere is deafening). He can do without offering my family- the only extended family he knows- so much as a casual conversation that allows them to know that there is something going on upstairs. But then, unexpectedly, unsolicited, empathetically, articulately and oh so privately- he will  connect with someone who needs it most at that moment. He has been this way since he was a baby. He was very connected to me, but he was difficult for others to connect with. But in times of darkness, he could be light. We first noted it when he was about 8 months old. My mother and step-father had taken him to my Aunt L's home where her husband, M, dying from lung cancer, was placed in a medically induced sleep on a convalescent bed in the dining room. I am told that H was placed upon the sick bed and he made his way up to M's feverish face placing his chubby hands on him- gently, lovingly settling down beside him. He knows how to reassure as much as he as adept-during times of his personal duress- in knowing how to cut your heart with a vicious tongue. In short, he is exquisitely sensitive and keenly observant.

For the past three years, I have taken him to our homeopath for help in balancing out his issues. Just talking to her and having her listen validates his feelings and helps him to get over the hump which is September.  But as sure as these manifestations of anxiety are likely to bloom at the start of the school year, I will surely (not deliberately, mind you) be slow to catch on to the fact that H is suffering from apprehension again.This is why I proceeded in taking him to the pediatrician's and did not think much of offering his school fretfulness as an explanation for his chest pains. At the pediatrician's office we were seen by the nurse practitioner. She was thorough in her questioning. She confirmed the abnormal heart beat- a sinus arrhythmia which is considered a normal abnormal. And because she could not detect any defect in his lungs or sinuses, decided that it was best to run some tests which might give us an explanation to the chest pain: an x-ray, an EKG/ Echocardiogram and some blood work. She was fixated on his skin color. "Is he normally this color?" He had been looking a little pale the past few weeks, but he always did when he was tired or his allergies were acting up. "He looks a little pale," I offered. "No, its something else. Maybe just the lights," she said thoughtfully examining his tone and the whites of his eyes. She asked which doctor we normally see- so she could bring that person in to compare his tone to what he normally exhibits. She left the room and brought Dr. S back with her. He didn't seem overly concerned but agreed that H looked a bit sallow. So, they would check his liver function, too. Great, now there is something to worry about- something to send my head into Google induced panic-something to prove that some small piece of H is truly not normal.

Fast forward to this week. After the x-ray came back with nary a speck to suggest an anomaly; and, he survived the bloodwork (which, I am assuming is fine as the doctor has a 'no news is good news' policy and we haven't been called to confirm otherwise), he has the slightest hint of a spring in his step. We still have the EKG/ ECHO today which may pull the rug out from underneath us. But, my gut is telling me that we will discover what we already know- he has a benign arrhythmia and he has a human heart. When I asked to take his picture to compare his current skin tone to earlier images, I was met with that playful, scrunchy, tongue out of the mouth, oh so special expression above. All I could say was, "Yep. You look normal to me." And, by the date on the calendar, it appears that we've, once again, gotten over the hump that is September.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dog, What Every Woman Needs to Keep Her House Clean

The baby has just turned 8 months old. She has been practicing self-feeding with finger foods for a few weeks now. Generic crispy rice cereal seems to please her greatly. I only use them when I need a few minutes to prepare her "real" meal. I sprinkle a bit of crispy rice on her tray and she busies herself with her little pinchy fingers- picking at the individual pieces with precision and bringing them to her mushy mouth. For every one in the mouth, ten get brushed to the floor. I've never worried about the stragglers. We've always had a dog or two underfoot to lap them up with relish (yes, sometimes there is relish on the floor). Today, the baby seemed disinterested. She has a new high chair-one that she can lean over-one where she has a terrific view of the dog. And, the game has begun of pinching the food bits off of her tray and nonchalantly, deliberately dropping them for our dog, Ruby, to catch.

Today, Ruby, also, seemed dispassionate in helping the baby finish her pre-breakfast. Instead of sitting by the high chair- at the ready, she was laying on the living room rug reluctant to budge. I called her over and pointed at the crispy bits on the floor. She sniffed and backed off. The only other time Ruby refused meals or snacks was this past July when she was ill with a horrendous case of diarrhea and depression as she mourned the loss of her companion, Oscar. So, I turned to Ruby,"What is the matter, dear?" Ruby promptly crossed the threshhold to the kitchen and stood before her water bowl. Dry as a bone. I seem to remember seeing it in my periphery last night-less full than usual- as I went about washing and drying the parts to my evening shackle (I mean, my manual breast pump). I made a mental note to fill the bowl before bed. But then my brain farted and knocked itself out. And my poor dog went thirsty. I filled the bowl to the tip- top with cool, fresh water. And, apologized for my neglect. She stood lapping it up for two full minutes and then joined us in the dining room where she effortlessly swiped up the crispy bits with one sweep of her purple tongue.

In that moment, I realized how very grateful I am for Ruby. Without her, I would actually have to use the broom that spends more time hanging in our kitchen closet than it does on the floor. But, she is so much more than a four-legged Hoover. I feel safe(r) knowing that she is around. For years, the Mr. worked from home. I never worried about armed robberies during the daytime because I knew that I could fend off the burglar while he snuck in the other room to phone the police. But now that my hands are so often tied with baby matters and there has been a recent wave of thievery in our quiet neighborhood, I know that my enfeebled arms have no muscle memory for fighting and my flaccid brain may forget the three simple digits to call for help. I rely on Ruby to be my first line of defense. By physical appearances she looks like something wild. Her muttiness has been construed as both an homage to Muppet Theatre and also something to be wary of. I am certain I have heard more than one stranger mumble,"We don't know what she is, or what she is capable of- we should probably cross to the other side of the street." She alerts me to the changes in the rhythm of our neighborhood. As much as I would love to believe that this Chow Chow/ something mix would protect me- viciously warding off whatever enemy breaches the peace of our home, I know that she would just wag her tail and fold in on herself at the slightest attention from a stranger, from even the evilest of interlopers. She would not hurt a fly, but her high pitched, excited whining, would let me know that a fly has entered the house. Maybe that alone would give me enough time to find the fly swatter-arming myself against the intruding insect before it has time to take stock in our valuables and poop on the bananas we leave out on top of the microwave.

Having animals reside in your life is expensive to both the financial and emotional pocketbook. When we made the decision to put to sleep the senile creature who barked to go outside and then would forget why he was out there, who then would come in and poop on the floor, and would have intense anxiety attacks even if he thought we had left him alone making him go out of his mind enough to gnaw on the metal support posts in our basement- we felt the blow to our chests. It knocks the wind out of you to walk into the veterinarian's office with this animal who has spent 12 years in your home and to walk out alone( this time the poor Mr. took on the death duty) . I know we will experience that with Ruby, as well. I don't want to think about that now. Our relationship has been symbiotic- we rescued her from the probability of a short life due to abuse and neglect at the hands of her former owners, and I believe that every day she rescues us- possibly from the dangers that would enter our home if she was not here. But, most definitely, she has rescued me from an exhausting Cinderella life (pre-glass slipper)- constantly mopping, always sweeping. What more could I need from her?