Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thank You, Thanksgiving

I had a really great time today catching up with two different far-away friends who were in Portland visiting family for Thanksgiving.

I saw Katy (and her husband Adam) and their three kids at her mom's house in Lake Oswego.  It was a short visit, but fun nonetheless, as they have added a baby boy to the two girls in their family since we moved away from Bend.  Her girls are close in age to my boys, and she is one of the few full-time stay-at-home moms I know, so we have common challenges and concerns in our lives right now.  For example, our deteriorating ability to have a conversation with an adult.  I was also somewhat relieved to see their almost three year-old daughter revel in her crabbiness and create a lot of drama.  I am not alone.

When we got back to Camas, we had a visit from our friend Kylee from Boise.  She was an art student of our friend Amanda's and a babysitter extraordinaire.  The only non-family babysitter our boys had ever had.  Kylee is at a very different place in the life experience spectrum--she finished her undergrad last year and is in that interesting and sometimes frustrating (well, for me it was) season when one tries to gracefully navigate the big unknown of what comes next.

It was truly a pleasure to spend time with these two women today (or yesterday now, I guess) and to be let into their lives a little bit, even though we don't see one another very often.  I hope it's helped motivate me to be more proactive in making friends here, and to take advantage of the connections we already have in the area.  Blogs are nice for keeping in touch and all, but they're a poor substitute for conversation over tea, or watching Nels and my friend's daughter stretched out on the floor reading a Disney book together. 

Monday, November 24, 2008

Nothing Much Going On Around Here. Hooray.

It really is a slow news day, and that's a good thing.  I introduced the boys to Malt-O-Meal this morning.  It was a hit with Willem, a gag-inducing miss with Nels.  

We showed the movie Wall-E to the boys this weekend, and they are both officially obsessed with it.  I thought the sounds were genius (it was the first time I ever even noticed sounds in a movie) but the story was so weak as to spoil my enjoyment. 

Something I DID enjoy was an interview with director Spike Jonze about the movie of Where The Wild Things Are on Ain't It Cool News.  The article is really long, but they cover a lot of ground.  They discuss everything from the laborious process Jonze used to create the Wild Things to the true wildness of childhood, as opposed to the sanitized version we're often presented with.  Lots of food for thought.  If you decide not to slog through the entire article, be sure to scroll all the way down to the end for two images from the movie.

I also ran across this article on Slate about the lolcats.  I don't know what's more embarrassing--that I never heard about the website "I Can Has Cheezburger" before reading the article, or that I find it hilarious.  Only about 1 in 50 submissions is really funny, but I love how it creates its own little universe.  Read the article and then check out the site if you haven't already.  It takes a bit of familiarity before you can really appreciate how good the good ones are.  

I leave you with an example:

funny pictures
more animals

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Show and Tell

I thought I'd post some photos from the past week.  I'm leaving out the gruesome ones (no ICU pictures at all), so no need to proceed with caution.  The last one is of Willem at home showing off his battle scars, just so you know.  Being a huge crybaby myself, that's the kind of thing I tear up over when I'm not expecting it.

Here's Willem in the "holding room" before the surgery.  They give the kids some medicine to make them tired and loopy before they take them in and administer the general anaesthesia. We shamelessly got some video of Willem giggling in my face in a very drunken manner.

Prior to the surgery, Willem's heartbeat ALWAYS elicited raised eyebrows from everyone (except cardiologists) who heard it.  The chief anaesthesiologist on the case was no exception.  In fact, he asked if we minded if he told some of the med students to come have a listen.  We didn't mind, and the comic sight of the students lining up to chat up Willem before springing their stethoscopes on him was a welcome distraction.  That's what the assisting anaesthesiologist is doing in the photo above.

After Willem was almost asleep, they had me carry him down the hall to just in front of the doors of the operating room, where I handed him off.  I found this to be a far more humane procedure than having them wheel him away from us in a bed.  The sight of him in someone else's arms made me feel like they would be caring for my child, rather than making it feel like a purely scientific/medical endeavor.  Gotta love my "trying not to freak out" face.

A grape Popsicle made an excellent early meal.  Here is Grandma looking through the book that Nels's preschool made for Willem.

Willem's Auntie Kim and Uncle Cory got him finger puppets for his birthday, figuring they would make convenient hospital toys.  Here are Grandpa, Willem, and two of their animal friends checking out the glow-in-the-dark moon and stars built into the ceiling before the four of them settle in to watch a movie.

A barbershop quartet came around and sang to all the patients.  Willem listened intently to a medley of American tunes and then proclaimed, "I don't want to go home."

I didn't get great photos, but I had to put these up for those of you who've never seen OHSU.  Pictured here is the "sky bridge" that runs from Doernbecher's to the VA hospital.  I ventured over it once.  I have a minor fear of heights.  At least the views are spectacular.

Here's the view from the hallway outside the surgery waiting room.  It's a pretty good distraction.  Just to the right of center, you can see the aerial tram.  Which I rode.  Unhappily.

The doctors warned us that Willem would be grouchy (check), disobedient (check), and likely have nightmares (check) upon his return home.  They told us to encourage him to express his feelings about his experience through things like role play.  He needed no encouraging from us:  Me-ma's book light was immediately employed in a thorough examination of her mouth.  The boys have been performing surgery (with lasers) on me all week, and I have been informed that Spiderman had his heart fixed.  It's been really interesting to watch Willem work through it all.

Below you see the first time Willem willingly showed us his chest.  Alas, it has now become his new party trick.  A mom from my MOPS group dropped off dinner for us the other night, and Willem lifted up his shirt and yelled "Look!"  In the photo you can see his incision, the stitch where the chest drainage tube was, and the two bandaids over where the pacemaker wires came out.  The stitch came out on Tuesday and he took the bandaids off himself last night.

So, hopefully this will be the last of the medically-themed posts for a while.  I have a lot of other important things to write about, like raincoats.  

It's wet here.  But I'm not going fishing; I don't need a big yellow or green slicker.  I'm not going to be sporty; I don't need an anorak or ski/snowboard jacket.  I don't work in an office or live in the big city; I don't need a trench coat. How's a stay-at-home mom to keep dry without being dumpy(er) or overdressed?  Yep.  I've got big things on my mind.

What's the Average Lifespan of a Bulimic Cat?

We probably should have looked into that before we bought a house with wall-to-wall carpet.  Or at least budgeted to replace the carpet with something mop-able.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Crisis Mode is Hard; Recovery Mode is Tiring

Any time one anticipates a major event, there is bound to be a let-down period after the event occurs.  That's where I am right now.

The surgery and the critical time in the hospital were extreme, but in some ways that helped make them easier to get through.  The focus was single-minded:  comfort Willem; be with Willem; restrain Willem when necessary.

I hardly slept for three nights; if the nurses weren't coming in to administer meds or check his vitals, then Willem's fitful sleep was disturbed by nightmares.  "Mom!" he would call out in a new, distinct way, with an urgency I'd never heard before.  And I'd pop out of bed and put my hand on his forehead and soothe him back into his uneasy sleep.  That's what I was there for.

Now we're home, and the same level of vigilance is not required.  And I no longer have the "We WILL get through this" mentality to energize me.

We DID get through it.  And I am SO thankful for that.  But Willem still calls "Mom!" in his sleep in that new tone of voice.  And he has been as vigorously disobedient as the doctors warned he might be.  Nels, the most sensitive little boy you're ever likely to meet, has been alternating between losing his temper and falling to pieces by wailing in a heap on the floor every time we tell him something he doesn't want to hear.

All of these things are a little more difficult to handle gracefully once one falls even farther behind on sleep and is no longer in emergency mode.

Today I took Willem to the pediatrician for a follow-up appointment.  (He'll see the cardiologist next week.)  He did great until it was time to take out the one remaining stitch from where his chest drainage tube was.  It took 3 adults to hold him down, and all that hospital sympathy I had for him came flooding back.

If only that sympathy would last.  It's easy to rise to the occasion when the stakes are high.  The day-in, day-out love is harder.  I struggle to remain kind when Willem spends a good part of his day intentionally pushing all of my buttons.

We're all just a little beat and out of sorts as we absorb what's happened in the past week.  A little rest, a little "normal" life, and I'm guessing we'll be much better.

And what a luxury that is.  Our health issue was only an isolated incident this time.  I can't imagine what it's like for families with a member who needs ongoing hospital care, and must figure out a long-term way to synthesize the "crisis" and "everyday" modes.  It's draining.  Thanks to our experience, I'll be paying a lot more attention these days to how I can support people in that situation.

Friday, November 14, 2008

We're Home!

That's right, home.  Can you believe it?  

Yes, we're home, and just in the nick of time.  I expected Willem to be sleepy from his medication, but, instead, the hospital environment has seriously disrupted his sleep schedule and he has slept only about half as much as he usually does for the past three days. 

A tired Willem is a terrible thing to behold, even on the best of days.  Thus I find myself in the strange position of wanting to strangle my poor darling three-year old child who has just been through the most trying experience of his life.  Of course, I'm a little behind on sleep myself.  In my case this resulted in tears at the dinner table because I thought Shaun was looking at me funny.

Anyhow, there will be more tales to tell of our interesting experiences, but I just wanted to share our happy news.  If today is any indication, we will have a stressful week or two ahead of us as Willem heals up and gets his sleep back on schedule.  Other challenges include trying to remember not to pick Willem up underneath the arms for six weeks and preventing him and Nels from wrestling with one another, an activity they usually engage in several times a day.

So, that's the latest, and I'm glad the hospital portion of this latest adventure has come to a close.  I'm off to sleep on my own pillow in a room that doesn't beep.  Good night!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

MAYbe Everybody Says It Because It's True

"Oh, but little kids heal so fast.  It's amazing."

You may have heard this.  I certainly have, and I've never had reason to doubt it.  I've also heard lots of stories in which young whippersnappers have heart surgery and are up and about the next day.  I believed these stories, but my mind filed them in the "anecdotal evidence" category.  It seemed presumptuous to count on such a thing happening in our case.

Well, today Willem ate a bit at every meal.  He drank a lot of milk.  He came off all the monitors.  His chest tube was removed (poor kid--I would have totally freaked if I were anticipating that, and he was none too thrilled), he went for a first walk, and he had his first poop.  

After that first little walk down the hall, he found his feet and wanted to go to the play room.  He was all OVER the place, playing like nothing was wrong.  He bent over to retrieve toys, dragged an enormous basket of dinosaurs across the room, and had to be told repeatedly that he was not allowed to climb a bench.  I had to tell him NOT TO RUN.

Now the only hardware he's left with are an IV in his hand (not hooked up to anything most of the time) for administering a few medicines and the two slim pacemaker wires that are lightly attached to the surface of his heart.  These are always put on as a precaution, and they are the last thing to be removed.

There has been talk of Willem possibly going home tomorrow, not that Shaun and I are quite sure that WE'RE ready for that.  So, yeah, little kids do heal so fast.  It's amazing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Moving Right Along

Willem is doing really, really well.  The two of us had a rough night last night; in a case of insult added to injury, Willem got an ear infection and his eardrum ruptured.  The good news was that he didn't even notice his chest incision.  The main question on his mind was, "Mom, how do I get out of here?  Can you get me out of here?"  They finally got him settled down at about 3 am.

He's been getting better and better all day today.  He'd had an elevated heart rate and temperature, and those both came down.  They took out several IV's and the catheter, so most of his extra lines and wires are gone and he's a lot more comfortable.  He was able to start eating and drinking today.  The original plan was that he get out of bed and do some walking, but everything else took a little too long, so we'll get to that tomorrow.  This afternoon they moved him from the ICU to a regular room.  Apart from the fairly gruesome chest tube, he looks fantastic.

As we walk the halls, we hear other parents on the phone, explaining to their loved ones how their kids are doing.  And I feel so blessed that Willem has this fixable problem and that things have gone so well.  I'm also incredibly thankful for all the doctors and nurses who make it their work to care for people.  It's hard to imagine a more important job, and I have so much admiration for all my friends and family in the medical field.

Shaun said it before, but I too would like to thank you all too for your prayers and support.  It has been such an encouragement to us.  I'm guessing that we'll be heading home before we know it.  When Thanksgiving comes we will be feeling particularly thankful, both for Willem's health and for all of you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


(This is Shaun writing.)

Surgery went very well, no problems! One of the primary risks of VSD repair is damage to the heart's electrical system (which then requires the installation of a pacemaker), but this was successfully avoided! No pacemaker! We are very thankful (and relieved).

Willem is in ICU now, and hooked up to every machine you can imagine.  He should be off the ventilator in a couple of hours and should become conscious again shortly thereafter.  He's still very much in critical condition, with much attention required, but doing very well.

Thanks everybody for your comments, gifts, thoughts and prayers!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Getting Ready

It's been an unusual few days for us since I last posted.  Every person--and family--reacts differently to stress.  Our way of preparing for Willem's surgery has been to hunker down, stay close to home, and enjoy spending some time together with just the four of us.

Over the weekend, we watched some TV, finished up a few house projects, and got caught up on laundry and dish washing.  Shaun took the boys for a drizzly walk around the lake in the last hour of daylight.  It's too bad that it always takes some major upheaval in my life for me to appreciate how precious these seemingly mundane moments are.

This morning we roused our protesting boys at 6:30 to try to get to the hospital in time for our 8:00 appointment.  Shaun's folks came and got Nels while the rest of us did all of the pre-op stuff.  Willem was a champ like he's never been when it came to all of the tests and procedures.  Up until now he has refused to lay on a table to be looked at, but today he seemed excited to have the opportunity to show how grown up he is.  He was perfectly still when they drew six vials of blood.  His only response was to say "Ouch." 

We met several of the people who'd be working on Willem's case and then took a tour of the PICU.  It was really helpful to see everything and have a better idea of what to expect.  It's pretty amazing how involved heart surgery is.

My sister prayed that Willem would be the first case of the day (so he wouldn't have to go too long without eating or drinking), so I'm going to blame her that we have to be at the hospital at 6:30 tomorrow morning.  Actually, I'm very thankful.  Willem wakes up ready to eat as soon as he jumps out of bed, so the early hour will hold him off a bit.  They'll come take him between 7:00 and 7:30 and get started.

Once they have him under, they'll do an echocardiogram down his esophagus.  This will give them better pictures than they've had so far, and they can confirm what they need to do.  At this point the plan is to close the hole (VSD), break up a muscle bundle (they just snip it and it comes apart), and trim an area near the base of the valve that is obstructing the blood flow.  The last problem has the potential to recur after the surgery, but the first two should be fixed for good.

If all goes well, he'll spend 1-2 days in the PICU and then a few more days in a normal room, with a stay of about 5-6 days.  They gave Willem a bunch of toys today, so he's quite looking forward to going back tomorrow.  I really feel for the parents whose children are old enough to be anxious.   

Speaking of anxious...well...Shaun and I could use your prayers in that area.  They expect to be all done in about 5 hours, and I'm sure that will be the longest 5 hours of our lives.  Of course there is a risk anytime anyone undergoes anaesthesia, so we will be praying for Willem to come safely through that.  

We'll also pray that the surgeon will be able to make the repairs without damaging anything else, and that the heart will return to its regular, healthy beat once it is restarted.  This is considered a low-risk operation (which somehow does not do much to make me feel better.)  The surgeon said the risk of fatality is about 2%, and the risk of needing a permanent pacemaker (if the heart's electrical system is accidentally disrupted by the location of a stitch) is around 5%.  My step-brother's baby had a large VSD and came through surgery swimmingly, and my brain knows that that is the norm.  Sometimes, though, my heart does a very good job of disregarding the facts.

I don't know how much I'll be posting over the next week, but I will make sure to share all of the major things, like how the surgery went, when we leave the PICU, and when Willem is discharged.  We'll be in touch with my mom and Shaun's folks by phone, so family members can call them for updates.  And I'm sure that Willem would love some visitors after the first few days, for those who live nearby.

Deep breath and here we go!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Let's See...

What have we been up to lately?

Well, not to be outdone by his older brother, Willem has decided to do some representational drawing as well.  See above for his rocket.  You'd be forgiven for guessing that the rocket is surrounded by smoke and flames from the blast-off.  But no.  It's a storm.  

Here's his tank:

As for me, I'm just trying to fill the time until next Tuesday.  I went grocery shopping and noticed that my impulse buys are getting stranger as I get older.  This time it was blood oranges.  I discovered blood oranges on my honeymoon in Italy and have since noticed that they are used much more widely in Europe than they are here.  I love them, and, every year as the weather cools, I start to think about what I might make when they arrive.

Alas, the blood oranges never made it to Boise last year.  I called every grocery store in town and nary a produce manager could explain it.  So this year I grabbed a bagful when I saw them at WinCo.  Now what to make?

I settled on this recipe for a blood orange tart.  I figured it would be my belated birthday dessert.

Doesn't this look gruesome?  (I'm referring to the juiced orange, but the faux-stone countertop qualifies as well.)

Here's the finished product.  I was a little disappointed in how it tasted -- the flavor was too mild.  Not bad, but I  wouldn't make it again.

As for what our cat's been up to (you were wondering, weren't you?), she's been eating the birthday flowers and throwing up on the carpet.  So the flowers are in the trash now.

Nels has been spending his time thinking of new ways to drive his brother (and, by extension, us) crazy.  Once Willem started correcting people on the pronunciation of his name, Nels figured it would be good fun to start calling him "WILL-Y-UM."  His other tack is simply to not reply when Willem asks him a question.  "Nels?  Nels?  Nels?  NELS!"  It's been a long week already.

In election news, the results of the Bright Futures Learning Center apple election are in, and the red apples have taken it.  Nels was excited to have voted for the winner, mostly because it meant he got a red apple to take home.  According to the pre-school directer, as quoted in the Camas-Washougal newspaper (we live in a REALLY small town), the exercise in democracy was very successful, with only one student voting for an orange.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Democracy In Action

When I picked up Nels from school today, he was wearing a big "I Voted" sticker on his chest.

"What did you vote for?" I asked.


Monday, November 3, 2008

What Does Kindness Look Like?

Like this:  On Saturday night I stopped at Trader Joe's for some dark chocolate sea salt caramels and a bottle of wine.  When the cashier carded me, I couldn't help myself; I told her that it was my birthday, and that I had just gone out alone because my husband was home sick.  SO LAME of me, I know.  Instead of (justifiably) rolling her eyes, she disappeared for a moment and then returned with a bunch of flowers, which she placed in my shopping bag.  I almost burst into tears on the spot.

Now LOVE, love looks like this:

Upon my return home (and I really did have a nice time out by myself, eating and shopping), I found that Shaun had cleaned the house.  It had gotten into quite a state with me being sick for a week, added to the fact that I'm not the keenest housekeeper even when healthy.  Shaun's folks had the kids, so we got to enjoy Sunday with a clean, quiet house.  SO QUIET.  Our own personal resort.  Our "Camas vacation home," as Shaun now calls it.  Best birthday present ever.  I do count my blessings.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Ah, Halloween.  I'm pretty sure our kids were talking about it FOREVER before it arrived.  I enjoy Halloween and all, but I won't miss the drama that comes along with a trip to Michael's or Target this time of year.  Nels is weird enough without having to worry about the impact a life-sized motion-triggered ghoul or a headless bride will have on his fragile psyche.  Seriously.  

Nels goes to a Christian pre-school, which chose to throw an inoffensive Noah's Ark party on Halloween.  Each child came dressed as an animal.  When I asked Nels what animal he wanted to be, he immediately said "DEER."  Didn't think about it for a second.  I suspect this is his grandmother's influence.  The boys see lots of deer out at their grandparents' house.

That was fine with me.  It sounded easier than any other animal, except maybe a cat.  Of course there was no way that Willem was going to allow Nels to dress up as a deer without him.  When I mentioned this to the pre-school director, she invited us to come a half hour before the pick-up time, so Willem could join in the fun.  Willem LOVES his big brother's school.  He's made friends with many of the teachers and knows them by name.  He also spends evenings poring over Nels's class photo and memorizing the names of the students.  I'll often hear him yell things like "There's Kaara!" in the parking lot.

I dressed the boys in head to toe brown (thanks to the providential sale at Target where I found brown pants for $2.98) and affixed white puffballs to the backs of their shirts (with a safety pin) for tails.  Of course I handed the headbands and pipe cleaners over to Shaun for the fashioning of antlers.  He once made me a sculpture of a man holding a flag out of wire, so I knew he was up for it.  The antlers received rave reviews from the teachers.

Here's our aspiring school boy.

The antlers didn't hold up so well, but I like them this way too.  I love how it's not even noon and the boys are already totally wasted by all their excitement over Halloween.  That's Nels's teacher, Ms. Treese, in the background.  She reminds me a bit of me.

Now THESE are the costumes the boys had already picked out for trick-or-treating.  We got it all a few weeks ago.  I was thrilled to score Nels's outfit at the thrift store (you can't see the jeweled short sword too well, but he's holding one) and Willem had a complete outfit with just the purchase of the $12 coat and hat at Target.  He already had rain boots with a firefighter insignia on the side.

I realized a little too late that I should have briefed Willem on what trick-or-treating is before we went out.  Apparently he does not share his brother's uncanny ability to remember things, so he didn't know what it was.  After the first house, he asked me if we were going to go home or go to another house.  And he asked that after the next house and the next and the next and the next and after EVERY house until we were ready to hand him off to the next vampire that happened by.

My birthday happens to be the day after Halloween.  I'm pretty sure that for about the next 10 years, my birthday is going to be mostly about "Phew!  Halloween's over!"