Reblog: Partial Ellipsis of the Sun

I love the serendipity of blogging. The post I put out this morning, Julia, Julie, and blogging, elicited a comment from Steph, a Smith alum who I met online through my Smith roommate who lives now in Colorado, where Steph lives. I popped over to Steph’s blog, Partial Ellipsis of the Sun, to see her latest post and felt I had to share. Gorgeous photographs, fractals, advances in cancer care, science, personal connections, wordplay – who could ask for anything more?  Due to her use of a different platform, I needed to reblog by link, but I encourage you all to check out Steph’s latest post!

http://wordwomanpartialellipsisofthesun.blogspot.com/2014/08/nautilus-phi-and-carbon-ion.html?m=1

One-Liner Wednesday – Healing Mandala Quilt

“May the wounds which pierce us open us to the Divine Center and to each other.”
– quote accompanying a Healing Mandala Quilt by Janet Rutkowski (2002), hanging on the wall of the Interfaith Chapel at Wilson Hospital, Johnson CIty NY

I prayed beside this quilt during my parents’ hospitalization last week.

This post is part of Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays:  http://lindaghill.wordpress.com/2014/08/06/one-line-wednesday-t-shirts-say-the-funniest-things/

Do hospitals run two-for-the-price-of-one specials?

This was supposed to be the schedule for Thursday.
5 AM: Get up.
5:30: Arrive at my parents’ apartment to get us to the ambulatory surgery unit of the hospital.
6:00: Wait in the waiting room until surgery because only one person is allowed to be with the patient in the unit.
8:00: Dad has laparoscopic hernia repair surgery while Mom and I grab breakfast at the hospital cafeteria.
9:00: Surgery complete. Talk to doctor. Mom waits for him to be brought back to his cubby in the ambulatory surgery unit while I drive to church for
10:00: Millie’s funeral, where my daughter Trinity is singing in the choir. After the funeral, attend the funeral luncheon in the church hall.
1 PM: Check in with my parents by phone to see if there is a release time set for Dad yet. Drop off my daughter at home and get to the hospital to bring my parents home and get them settled, perhaps in time to attend
4:30: Poetry workshop.
6:00: Dinner with my daughter, followed by rest, attending to email, phone call with my husband who is traveling for business this week, television, etc.

We followed the schedule until 7:35 AM.

Dad was all ready to be brought down to the operating room and Mom came to get me from the ambulatory unit waiting room so we could re-locate to the OR waiting room. As we neared Dad’s cubby, Mom got really dizzy, grabbing onto a spare gurney in the hallway for support. We were just outside Dad’s cubby, so we navigated to a recliner next to his gurney. I got her a sip of water from the bottle she had with her, hoping she was just a bit dehydrated, but it didn’t help. She started to zone in and out of responding to my and Dad’s questions and we were becoming alarmed. Just then, a transport person arrives to bring Dad to surgery and he helps me to get nurses there to help Mom.

Suddenly, we have at least half a dozen people in the tiny cubby, so I have to step out into the hall. I hear someone say her pulse is twenty. They put her on oxygen, which seems to help her pulse a bit. Her skin is clammy. She is continuing to zone in and out of awareness. Sometimes, she could answer a question from the medical team, but more often my father would. Yes, she had eaten some breakfast at 5 so she could take her meds. From the hall, I chime in to let people know that I am their daughter, that Mom has a history of TIA. The staff calls for a team to come up from emergency to bring her down for evaluation, as it is clear something is really wrong. Snatches of prayer mixed in with the jumble of thoughts in my head.

Meanwhile, the OR is waiting for my Dad. It has only been about five minutes, I think; my perception of time is distorted by so much happening at once. They ask Dad if he wants to postpone surgery, but I tell him to go, that I would take care of Mom. On a practical level, we had to get Dad’s gurney out of the cubby in order to get the transport gurney in to take Mom to the emergency room and I knew that with Dad under anesthesia in the OR, at least he would not be worrying about Mom for a little while. There really wasn’t anything he could do; we both needed to let the professionals do what they needed to do.

They lift Mom onto the gurney and attach her line to a portable oxygen tank, as they had initially attached it to the central wall unit. They rush her down a patient elevator to the ER – one of the few things my mom remembers between the initial dizziness and being in the ER was that she told them it was a rough ride – and the nursing supervisor takes me down by another route. When I arrive outside the curtained area where they are working on her, Mom is able to answer some questions on her own, but I am able to help with some of the them. Frustratingly, a new computer system had gone in to the hospital in June, so they weren’t able to bring up her information easily. I had to give addresses and contact numbers. I have my mom’s pocketbook in which she carries a complete list of her medications, which was a huge help. Meanwhile, the ER team is getting monitors attached and I hear them tell my mom within a few minutes that she is having a heart attack. I also hear her surprised reaction. She isn’t having chest pain, but does have a pain in her back.

At this point, they had IVs started and they let me go back to be beside Mom. They give her baby aspirin to chew and administer heparin and plavix. The pain in her back goes away. They tell us there are clots or blockages that need to be cleared in the cath lab, that the cardiologist on emergency call is getting ready to do that, that the aspirin and other blood thinners have relaxed the vessels enough to help the blood circulate better so that the back pain went away, that we are lucky she was already in the hospital when she had the heart attack so that treatment was started very quickly because that tends to lead to better outcomes, although not guarantees. Mom tells me I should still go to the funeral; she is worried about my sisters, who are together on a Florida vacation, and Dad. I tell her that I will handle everything, that she needs to concentrate on herself right now.

She is wheeled up to the heart catheterization lab – on a much cushier and more shock-absorbent ER gurney – and a nurse brings me first to the OR waiting room to tell them what has happened and then to the cardiac waiting room. Although it feels like a long time has passed, it’s not yet 8:30. My dad’s in the OR, my mom’s in the cath lab, and I’m alone. I call my husband, Brent. I guess the first words out of my mouth were, “I need you to come home.” Because I did. I tell him what is going on and that I would call back as I know more. He needs a couple of hours before he can leave anyway. As I wait, I am making lists in my head of how and when to tell people. I knew I couldn’t tell my daughter until after the funeral. I was hoping she wouldn’t get too worried when she realized I wasn’t in the congregation; the choir is in the front of the church, so she would be able to see that I hadn’t arrived. I post a vague Facebook message asking for prayers/good thoughts for my parents. I couldn’t be specific because I didn’t want our older daughter, six hours earlier in time zones so it was still the middle of the night, to see a post that her grandmother had had a heart attack first thing when she woke up in the morning. I needed to make sure that my sisters didn’t find out via social media, too.  And I needed to be able to give good news about what I was praying would be successful treatment. As much as I wanted company in the frightened, shocked place where I was, I didn’t want to subject anyone else to it, although I had already, by necessity, dragged my husband into it. And I wasn’t sure if I would need to be the one to tell my father after he was out of recovery. And, more than anything, I needed to have two successful outcomes to report.

Dr. T, my dad’s surgeon comes in at ten of nine. Dad’s surgery had gone well and he is in recovery. Dr. T knew what was going on with my mom and had decided to admit him for a day or two, because he is 89 and because it would be easier for us. Obviously, the plan for him to go home with my mom to look after him was not going to happen. He had tried to see if he could put them in the same hospital room, but my mom would have to go to the cardiac unit, which only has private rooms. Dr. T says that it was very lucky my mom had already been in the hospital when the heart attack happened. I call my husband with the update and resume alternately pacing or sitting, staring into space. I had reading material and my iPad but couldn’t concentrate enough to use them. The CBS morning news on the waiting area television finishes and a repeat of Queen Latifah starts. She is congratulating Boston on the successful marathon. Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts was originally April 19th. My parents’ wedding anniversary. Sixty years. More prayers.

At about 9:25, Dr. K., the on-call cardiologist comes out. Mom had had two blocked arteries that they had opened through angioplasty and that were now being held open with stents. Another report of how lucky she was to have already been in the hospital. I need to wait there and they will come get me when my mom is ready to be moved to her room. I call my husband again with the news. We are so thankful and relieved. Our conversation is brief; he needs to finish getting ready to leave. I am alone again, but feeling an intense need to talk to someone. Someone with whom I am used to sharing personal and spiritual issues. I want to call my friend and spiritual companion Yvonne, but I can’t remember her phone number, which is stored in the cell phone my husband has with him. I use my iPad – and the hospital’s free wifi – to search for her home phone and call. She is home and we speak for about ten minutes, which calms me down a bit, helpful as I have gone from the paralysis of numb anxiety into a phase where I am feeling jittery.

While I was speaking to Yvonne, my sister Kathy had called the cell phone that my husband had, because it is the one I usually carry. She was looking for news on my dad, as she had expected a call by then. He had to tell the story to her. It was a blessing that she hadn’t called until Mom was out of the cath lab, so that he could tell her that she and Dad were both okay. I missed Brent’s call while talking to Yvonne, so I call him, find out that he has spoken to Kathy and call her, using my mom and dad’s cell, which is in my mom’s pocketbook. We only speak briefly because a nurse comes to take me back to my mom, who is being moved to the cardiac care unit.

The nurse tells me that my mom and dad have met up in the hallway outside of the recovery area. They got to talk and hold hands for a moment. They got to see that they are both all right. My dad says not to make him laugh because laughing makes his belly hurt, but just saying it makes him chuckle.  The nurses all think that they are an amazing couple. I know that they are. Later, my mom, who was only under sedation in the cath lab, will remember this hallway encounter. My dad, who had been under anesthesia, loses the memory from this point in his recovery process.

I ride up in the elevator with my mom and wait in another waiting room while they get her settled in her room and attached to all the monitors. When a nurse comes to get me, I first have to stop at the desk for a phone call. Another nurse is calling to tell me my father’s room number. She had also been witness to their hallway meeting. My parents are adorable and we were so lucky that my mom was already in the hospital when she was stricken. I thank her and tell her that I know how lucky I am to have them.

Other than the fact that my mom is not allowed to move her right leg where the catheter had been threaded from her groin up to her heart and that she needs to keep her head back on the pillow and still, she is amazingly chipper. We talk about everything that has gone on and I let her know of the few people that know what has happened. I need to make more calls and I need to get to church after the funeral to tell Trinity. Mom says that she will make phone calls so I can make a visit to Dad’s room and then head to church, where I can tell Trinity and we can attend the luncheon.

Dad is resting in his room, still a bit groggy from the anesthesia. We talk about how lucky we are that Mom is okay. He says they are the talk of the hospital. They have promised to take him down in a wheelchair to visit her a bit later in the afternoon, after they have both had a chance to rest. I let him rest and head out to the church. It’s a little after 11:00.

As I near the church, I see the funeral procession on its way to the cemetery. I go into the church hall and ask the choir member who had driven Trinity to church for choir warmup before the funeral if she knows where Trinity is. She is still in church. She has a worried look on her face and I tell her that Nana and Paco are both doing fine. Then, I deliver the first of several shortened renditions of the story. Right before Paco was brought down to surgery, Nana had a heart attack. They took her to the ER and then the cath lab and put in two stents. Paco’s surgery went well. Now they are both in the hospital for a couple of days, but everything is fine. We are very lucky her heart attack took place at the hospital. Trinity gives me a long hug, which I definitely needed.

We only told a few people at the funeral luncheon what had happened. Several people that we had known for a long time. Three priests whom we asked for prayers. Most importantly, Millie’s daughter Nancy, our good friend and Trinity’s godmother. I told her I was sorry to have missed the funeral, but, of course, she understood, reminding me that her father, who was sitting close by would not have survived a cerebral hemorrhage years before were it not for the fact that it had happened while he was already in the hospital.

In  a way, even though I was not physically present at the funeral, I was there in a spiritual sense.  I had written the universal prayer that closes the liturgy of the word before the liturgy of the Eucharist begins. Nancy, all three priests, and a friend who had also participated in reading the petitions thanked me for the words I had written. I was heartened to know that my words enabled me to have a presence in Millie’s funeral in my absence.

Trinity and I leave the luncheon a bit after 1:00, which meant that our older daughter, Beth, would be up and about in Honolulu. While I drove to the hospital, Trinity calls Beth to fill her in. We go to Nana’s room to visit and to Paco’s room. Brent arrives and we alternate rooms for visiting. My dad’s room in particular can’t easily accommodate three visitors at once.

The next two days are filled with visits back and forth to the hospital. My dad gets a couple of visits to my mom’s room, which are good for both of them. They are both discharged on Saturday, a process which winds up taking over five hours.

Last night, they got to sleep in their own beds. They need to take it easy for a few days. Mom has some new meds added to her daily regimen. Follow-up visits need to be scheduled. Dad’s incisions and muscles will heal. Due to the speed of re-opening the arteries, Mom has no damage to her heart. They have very few restrictions and will be able to ease back into their social and exercise routine over the coming days/weeks. We are so thankful that they are doing so well and are very grateful for the care they received.

But my dad still wants to know, as he kept joking, if the hospital gives discounts. He thinks two for the price of one should apply.

 

 

belief vs. fact

A couple of hours after the elation of yesterday’s court decision upholding home rule in New York State, came the utterly convoluted US Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case. While there are thousands of words of talk and text on this ruling out there already, the aspect I want to weigh in on the collision of belief and fact that is in evidence in the decision.

The family that owns Hobby Lobby believes that a few of the forms of birth control mandated for coverage under the Affordable Care Act cause abortions. (They apparently didn’t believe this prior to the ACA when their employee health insurance plan covered these same items, but that is a different story.)

The fact is that these forms of birth control are not abortifaciant. The morning after pill will not abort a pregnancy. The IUD works chiefly by disrupting the activity of sperm. One of the best brief explanations of the facts I have seen is from Jamie Manson, writing in the National Catholic Reporter, here.

The US Catholic bishops make the same factual error in their public pronouncements in condemning the ACA because of the contraception mandate. It’s probably not a coincidence that the five Supreme Court justices who formed the majority in which belief trumped fact in the Hobby Lobby case are Catholic men. On the other hand, Catholic woman on the court Sonia Sotomayor and female-led Catholic organizations NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, and the Catholic Health Association, the largest non-profit health provider in the US, recognize that these contraceptive methods are not abortifaciant. NETWORK and CHA would never have advocated for the ACA’s passage if abortion were part of its provisions.

I am Catholic and well aware of my Church’s teaching on so-called artificial means of contraception and assisted reporduction. I also know that the vast majority of US Catholics reject these teachings and act according to their own consciences in making these personal decisions.

If one believes that contraception in general is immoral, that is your right and that is the choice you make for your own life. Employers – or anyone else for that matter – should not mandate assent to their personal religious belief on others. It makes absolutely no sense to inflict that belief on anyone when it flies in the face of scientific/medical fact.

I fear for our society when belief trumps facts. I hear this over and over in the “debate” on human-induced climate change. The science is settled. It is happening. There are reams of data showing it. Yet some persist in a belief that the world is cooling instead of warming and that the cycle is a purely natural phenomenon.  Their belief does not change the facts/science. They are demonstrably in error.

That the five Catholic men on the Supreme Court decided a case on a mistaken belief is highly disturbing. We can only hope that our dysfunctional Congress will enact legislation to correct the Court’s error before more damage is done.

 

Corpus Christi

This morning, we observed the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, still often called by its Latin name, Corpus Christi. Because for many years we ministered at a church dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament who also observed it as its feast day, we are especially attached to its observance. I even composed a Corpus Christi anthem for the Blessed Sacrament choir to sing, based on part of the reading from the gospel of John (Jn 6:51-58) that we heard proclaimed today. It has also traditionally been the last Mass at which the adult choir sings before taking a break for the summer, so it was the last opportunity for Trinity to sing with Genesis Choir at our current parish, as I alluded to in this post.

Trinity was able to sing, although not without complications. For the last week and a half, she has been battling what seems to be a systemic allergic reaction. We can’t figure out what is causing it. So far, there have been a visit to the walk-in clinic at our family practice, overlapping doses of three different antihistamines, oatmeal baths, special lotions, blood tests, and a visit to the allergist, but no real relief or answers yet. Despite not getting much sleep last night and not feeling well, Trinity made it to church to sing and say good-bye to her choir friends, many of whom are a generation or two older than she.

I sat near the choir area and kept an eye on Trinity, in case she became so uncomfortable that she needed me to bring her home. By the grace of God, she made it through and is now changed into more comfortable clothes and resting. There will be a follow-up appointment with the allergist later in the week; we are hoping for answers and a plan to bring lasting relief.

An OB/GYN writes to George Will about college rape

Dr. Jennifer Gunter wrote this powerful response to the recent George Will column about rape on college campuses. It’s easy to tell who is the wise voice of wisdom through personal experience and who is the voice of ignorance.

Dr. Jen Gunter

Dear Mr. Will,

I read your recent column on the “supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. sexual assault” and am somewhat taken aback by your claim that forcing colleges to take a tougher stand on sexual assault somehow translates into a modern version of The Crucible that replaces witchcraft with rape hysteria.

I was specifically moved to write to you because the rape scenario that you describe somewhat incredulously is not unfamiliar to me. Not because I’ve heard it in many different iterations (I have sadly done many rape kits), but because it was not unlike my own rape. The lead up was slightly different, but I too was raped by someone I knew and did not emerge with any obvious physical evidence that a crime had been committed. I tried to push him away, I said “No!” and “Get off” multiple times,” but he was much stronger and suddenly…

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I can’t even…

This has been a terrible week for national and international news. It is overwhelming.

News I got today from a sick friend just added more.

Near the end of February, I had written a poem about her cancer diagnosis. While I had been getting news about her, I had not spoken to her until she called me this morning. She has been very, very ill. Simultaneous chemotherapy and radiation reduced her to 85 pounds and she nearly died from internal bleeding.

What is so overwhelming is that I found out that her cancer is one that should have been able to be diagnosed early with routine medical screening, but it wasn’t caught because she has had periods without medical insurance and others on Medicaid. It’s not the Medicaid itself, because she has very good doctors treating her now through the Medicaid system, but through whatever combination of difficulty finding doctors who would accept Medicaid and periods with no insurance at all and labwork expenses and lack of continuity of care and whatever else, what should have been found in a pre-cancerous phase has advanced so far that successful treatment may not be possible.

Right now, she is in a period of trying to regain strength. There may be further radiation or surgery if she can get strong enough. There is no way to know.

24 Years of Lessons Learned

The nursery rhyme tells us that “Friday’s child is loving and giving.” While I don’t universally subscribe to the accuracy of nursery rhymes, as all Wednesday’s children will be grateful to hear, in the case of my younger daughter, who was born twenty -four years ago yesterday on the Friday before Trinity Sunday , the nursery rhyme was definitely true.  We didn’t know her sex until her arrival, but we had chosen the name Trinity for a girl, after a high school friend. It was an extra bonus that she was born so close to Trinity Sunday.

Her birthday this year fell on Pentecost, and at early morning Mass where she was both singing and ringing handbells, I began to reflect on the gifts that she has given to me as a parent and a person. (I recently wrote a post about the impending end of the resident-daughter-in-church-choir era here.)

Trinity reinforced a lesson I had begun to learn from her older sister:  that children come as their own individual selves, with a large portion of their temperament already formed. Even before she was born, Trinity reacted strongly to her environment. For instance, she would startle markedly in utero if there was a loud noise nearby. As an infant, she was so sensitive to sound that she would awaken if someone across the room turned the page of the newspaper.

This sensitivity extended to people and emotions as well. It was clear at a young age that Trinity had a social conscience. I remember her playing with paper dolls and creating conversations between them, as though performing a little play. She told me that this doll worked at helping people who were poor, but her sister liked to have lots of nice clothes and things so she had a job where she made a lot of money, but she also gave money to her sister that she could use to help people.

Trinity’s empathy also encompasses the environment. She went on to major in the Science of Natural and Environmental Systems at Cornell and will soon start a master’s program in Conservation Biology at ESF, with a goal of restoring native species to ecosystems. Her empathy does not extend to harmful invasive species!

Trinity also taught me the importance of solitude. Perhaps because she was so sensitive to the world around her, as soon as she could crawl, Trinity would sometimes go off to her room to play alone. As she got older, there was always solitary reading, writing, thinking, dreaming time built into her day. This alone time is vital for keeping her sense of personal balance and I expect will remain so. Her example taught me about being alone without being lonely.

Trinity was also spiritually aware from a young age. She was blessed with a sense of prayer and connection with God as a child. Unfortunately, dealing with the church as a human organization is more complicated. Her place in the church was severely tested in her early teen years, when we left our home parish over an emotionally abusive and unstable pastor. Trinity was halfway through the two-year preparation for her confirmation, so we joined a parish where many of her high school friends were members, so that she would have familiar classmates for the final year of preparation. It was still very difficult to decide that she wanted to be confirmed in a church that had hurt her and many friends and family very badly. She also had to write a letter to the bishop who had refused to protect us, asking to be confirmed. I never read the letter, but she apparently forthrightly told him of her struggles with the situation. She did decide to be confirmed and receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit, whose gifts she displays in her own quiet way. The red vestments and banners in the church, the symbol of the tongues as of fire, and the readings and prayers of Pentecost reminded me of her confirmation and her spiritual gifts yesterday on her birthday. Next Sunday will be Trinity Sunday, so I’m sure more reminders are in store. Each of us is a child of God in our own right; Trinity has always clearly shown that being my child does not make her God’s grandchild or child-once-removed, but always her own unique reflection of the Divine Light.

In other ways, Trinity has taught me to patiently and quietly deal with suffering. When she was sixteen, she was hospitalized for a week with severe colitis, which was diagnosed as Crohn’s disease. I stayed in the hospital with her and she was such a good patient, despite pain and some pretty harrowing test prep protocols. Given that we were already dealing with a chronic illness with her sister, Trinity’s diagnosis was a big blow to our family. After catching everything her sister had brought home from school before she was old enough to go to school herself, Trinity had been remarkably healthy during her own school years, so her level of equanimity in the face of illness was amazing to me. The next two years were filled with side effects from meds, follow-up tests, second opinions, diet changes, concerns about health care facilities when looking at colleges, etc. Finally, after transferring her care to a gastroenterologist near her college, she was put on a carefully monitored program to cut back and out the medication she was taking, which revealed that she did not have Crohn’s disease after all, for which we are all very grateful. I will always remember how calmly and maturely she dealt with a very difficult situation and an uncertain future.

I should probably close before I risk embarrassing Trinity any further. I don’t think she reads my blog very often, so perhaps she will be spared. Thank you, Trinity for the privilege of being your mom for the last twenty-four years. I wish you a great year to come, as you embark on grad school. I’m sure you will keep learning and that others will learn from you by example, as I have.

News from back home

I was awake early today, which usually happens when I know I have a morning flight. Because we were ready early, I called my mom, which, on Eastern Daylight Time, makes her six hours later than on Hawai’i Standard Time. (Given its latitude, Hawai’i has no use for shifting its daylight hours later.)

That morning, my mother had heard back on some tests that she had had done. It turns out that she has giant cell arteritis, a condition that often occurs with polymalgia rheumatica, for which she has been receiving treatment with steroids for about a year. This link has further information on both conditions.

A few days before we left for Hawai’i, I had been thinking how lucky we were that my dad, who has had a number of medical issues in the part year, was doing well. That same day, my mom had an appointment with her family practice doctor, who was concerned that her sed rate wasn’t staying down. She had had a couple of instances with difficulty chewing crunchy foods and he was concerned that she had developed giant cell arteritis. He wanted her to see a rheumatologist, have more blood work, and see a surgeon for a temporal artery biopsy. She wanted to wait to do the biopsy after we returned, but it turned out that it was arranged for more quickly, so she had it taken last Friday, with the results coming today, Wednesday. It was a bit of a shock to us when the biopsy came back positive, because the only symptom she had had was the very occasional jaw pain. No visual problems, no headaches, no sensitive temples or scalp. Given that it was caught early, there is little chance of any lasting damage.

Mom’s doctor is about to retire. We were joking that he wanted to go out with a bang, diagnosing a serious condition early on minimal symptoms. It shows the value of having a good family doctor looking out for all aspects of your health. Even though he is retiring, my mom will be in good hands, with care provided by her new rheumatologist and one of the younger doctors from the family practice who has been her back-up provider in recent months as her long-time doctor has been cutting back his hours to ease into retirement.

Now, nothing else is allowed to happen on the medical front, at least until we get home from our second week, now in Honolulu…

 

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