Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rosie's bath

Rosie, the beloved, was in need of a bath.  Mariam took great delight in helping me undress Rosie, then tucking her into a load of delicate wash.  A little spinning day spa, if you will. 

Next, Rosie sunbathed au naturel inside our privacy fence.  (No gawkers.  We protected her dignity.)  When she returned home she was fresh and clean, ready to put on her diaper and jammies.  We think Rosie enjoyed her time away, but she seemed really happy to be reunited with her girl.  Mariam missed her, and kept checking on her as she dried.  When it began to rain, Mari reminded me that I had to go get Rosie so that she wouldn't get wet.

We heartily recommend Rosie (or her little brother or even her big sister - in several different skin tones and hair colors) for pre-school children.  Rosie has taken several baths since she came to live with Mariam on her 3rd birthday.  She holds up so well and is soft and still looks as good as new.  Mariam is...ahem....HARD on toys.  I visited a local doll store and hospital a few weeks ago, and didn't see any other Rosie dolls.  I made a recommendation to the store owner, and she was so pleased  that she will now stock dolls similar to Rosie.

I love these sweet rites of "little girlhood."  I remember being small myself and playing for hours with my dollies.  I gave them baths and washed their clothes, hanging the garments to dry on bushes or on mama's clothesline.  

  It was so sweet to enjoy these times twice before when Emily and Julia were small.  It's a special joy to experience them again, and to record the moments with my current little girl.
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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Yarn Along - September 28, 2011

This post is linked to Ginny's "Yarn Along" at her lovely "Small Things" blog.  

I've begun the Great Hat Crochet that commences every fall.  My guys like a simple double-crochet skull-cap type of hat for winter.  Everyone from Jeff down to Ben asks for this hat.  Fortunately for me, these hats only take an hour or so to make.  I'm looking forward to picking up some more yarn this week to see what colors I can offer my seven men.  :)  The nice thing about making hats is that you can easily take them anywhere and add a row in a few minutes of time.  Yesterday, while I sat waiting for my son to grab an iced-tea at a gas station, I put a row on this hat.  When you are making something so small and easy, a minute here and a minute there really adds up. I think that Emily is planning to help me make some for us girls. Ours will be cuter, of course.  :)

I've also been reading lots of different books.

I have this really weird way of reading.
I'll have about twenty books that I'm half-way to two-thirds of the way thru but just can't seem to finish before I find another good book that simply must be read.  :)
I'm a sucker for books from the "newly acquired shelf" at the library, so if I happen to visit said library I most likely will come home with a stack of books that immediately jump to the top of the pile (because of dates due and fines, etc.)

Every once in awhile, though, I will take a month or so to catch up and go back and finish all of the books that I've started.  That's the kick I'm on right now.  I finish a book a day.
It makes me feel really smart.  :)
Paperback Swap is my new best friend.

From the library:
Last week I finished both of the Duggar books -
A Love that Multiplies and 20 and Counting.
I enjoyed 20 and Counting better than their new release, but still,
came away thinking that Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar are really, really incredible parents.
Their style and philosophies are a little too rigid for me, but on the other two hands, (Ha), I'd imagine they have to be very structured to make things work so well AND I realize that I still have a lot to learn about managing a large family.  Bottom line, ideological agreement or not, the Duggar books called me to be a better parent, to love my children more and to find better ways to make our home work well.

Upside:  This book deserves a special mention.  It's based on the long-view of life, backed up by long-range statistics.  You know, there's so much bad news out there, so much panic and gloom.  The truth is, a lot of it is based upon misinformation and fear.  Statistically, there really is a lot of good going on in our world, and Christians have had a good hand in it.  Dr. Bradley Wright, sociologist, has written this well-documented book.  I think everyone should read it and be encouraged and challenged to press on.
My highschool/college kids will read this;  Emily will use it to supplement her Sociology class this year.

Somewhat along the same lines, but on the flip side of things, I read Among the Truthers. It's about the burgeoning growth of conspiracy groups post 9/11.  Fascinating read.  

Also this week, all from PaperbackSwap,  I've finished up:

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Letters to Gabriel by Karen Santorum
The Audacity of Hope (Thought I should finally finish this one, before the next election.)


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Monday, September 26, 2011

Pictures: 9.24.2011

We spent the weekend at the farm celebrating my Dad's 87th birthday.
Nick would like you to think that he caught this fine specimen,
but really, Jeff did.   There was this really awkward moment where Jeff was reeling
in the "cat" and my brother was cutting down a tree across the yard. 
It was a "suspended motion" feeling, everything was happening at the
same time in slow motion.  I didn't know who to watch.   

The rope swing....popular as usual.

You saw the fish, this was the tree.  It was cut, stacked, and
the remnants burned and the yard raked clean in the span of an hour and a half.

He asks..."Do you suppose I'll make 100?"
We say, "of course."

Gabester and mama.

For more family pix and a better representation of the weekend,
visit Emily's blog at

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The year that was: My father's surgery - part 2

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9

Dad and I pulled up to the surgery entrance.  I helped him get inside and checked in, made sure that he had his book and reading glasses, paperwork, and medications.  I headed back out to park the car.  Walk, walk, walk - or rather, endless waddling, at my stage of pregnancy.

By the time I returned, a nurse was taking a list of his medications.

Dad is mostly deaf and due to neurological damage suffered during his adrenal crisis and resulting coma almost twenty years ago, many people can not understand what he says.

Since I'd been with him for every doctor's visit from endocrinology to nephrology for the last four years, I was fairly used to this.  The nurse or doctor would ask a question.  He would pretend that he heard, and smile happily at them.  I have learned that my parents are "authority pleasers."  They come from a generation that respected authority, and as such, they "over-perform" when they are talking to the doctor.  They may have been writhing in pain and unable to walk at home, but as soon as the doctor hits the door they are right as rain and capable and agreeable.  It's only after the appointment they realize that they never told the doctor how badly they hurt nor what their difficulty might be.  The main thing to them is that he is pleased with them, and that they made a good impression on him.

Well, dad was grinning, and the nurse was writing down his answers.  Only problem was, since he couldn't hear her, and she couldn't understand him, the answers were all wrong.

We started again with his complex list of medications and with directions for surgery as related to his adrenal insufficiency.  We got him gowned up and the proper hip swabbed with betadine solution.  Labs were drawn and an iv started.  Nothin' to do but wait.

I sat and read; Dad got quiet as he contemplated what was going to happen to him.  He likes drama, but this was a little too real.  At his age, many of his friends had not survived surgeries.

I tried to not notice how very, very small this person who fathered me really was.

In real life, in his element, I forget how small he is.  His "in charge" presence has always dominated in our family.  But here, on the flimsy hospital bed, in an even flimsier gown, I noticed that my papa was the size of a boy.  Five foot tall, 124 pounds.


"It hurts me to see you like this, old, and small.  I could pick you up, if I needed to."

"Why am I the one doing this?  Why me?  I'm the youngest - I'm not really strong enough to handle seeing my Dad like this, to be the one to hold his hand and see his skinny white legs and hold his gown down when he turns over so he's not ashamed."

"This hurts too much.  I can't do this.  This is too intimate.  I've borne enough suffering.  This is the fifth time I've sent a loved one into surgery this summer.  I handled so much:  Nick's mugging, Sammy's accident, Jeff's illness, mom's fear, her recovery.  I can't handle his fear too."

"Why is life like this?  Why does it come down like this, Jesus?  Old, frail, our dignity at the edge....oh, we need YOU, Jesus.  I don't understand this, but I need you today."

I didn't say it, of course.  It was all inside my head.

Outside my head, I snooped around his bag and saw that he has snuck in contraband soda for after the surgery.  Bubba.  Dad loves a generic, awful soda called Bubba.  Just like Dad to make sure he had his Bubba addiction covered.  He also had a flashlight in the bag.  Once a boyscout, always a boyscout, I guess.  Always prepared.  I can't imagine when he thought he might use the flashlight - perhaps if there was an emergency and the hospital generator also failed, he and his new hipjoint might be able to heroically lead the rest of us unprepared people out of the building.  Never mind that if the power failed the elevators would also fail - and we were on the fifth floor - Dad was sure he would still find a way.  It made me grin.

This was my job.  I knew his medical history, his idiosyncrasies.  I was his interpreter.  There was no one else.  He was mine, and no one else could or should be doing this for him.  He gave me life - I was holding his hand when he needed me.  No matter what, I would do what needed to be done.

I kissed Dad goodbye when they said that it was time, and headed for the coffee at the now-familiar waiting room.

The year that was: My father's surgery, part 1

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8

(I know that I am posting quickly now, maybe it is too much for you to read right now.  Maybe you don't want to read it at all.  :)  That's okay.  I never look at my blog stats and I never know who is reading.  I am just compelled to finish telling this story.  I want to write it down and move on.  Most people who read here know me in real life, or else we've been friends online for years.  Don't feel bad if you can't read it all right now, maybe you'll find time later.  It's all okay with me, it's just something I've got to do.  I'll probably post the next part later today, even, while I have time, and then not post for a few days.  Saturday is my father's 87th birthday.)

The three weeks after my mother's surgery passed all too quickly.  We were balancing my frequent ultrasounds with mom's therapies, care, and doctor's visits with preparation for my father's surgery.

On the morning of the surgery, it was just me and Pop.  My mother should not have been left alone, as she was still in much pain and was having trouble keeping her medications straight.  My oldest son was working, and I needed the second two eldest to watch our little ones for me.  I would be away from dawn to close to midnight.  There was no one to stay with her, so we made sure she had the phone at her side.  She was able to get up and get herself around, minimally.  I was so worried about her, worried about the kids, just plain overwhelmed and worried, really.  I'd worked hard to have things ready at the house for the kids, too:  food, laundry, things to do.

It was the perfect storm of a youngest child caring for parents who were already older when they had her.  I know that my situation really isn't all that unique.  So many people care for their elderly parents and try to juggle work, life, children, and maybe medical situations of their own.  I've been extremely humbled by the incredible love and care I've seen many people take of their elderly.  My situation is perhaps unique in that God has led my husband and I to have a large family, and that I was already worn down by Jeff's illness, and by the fact that I had a baby due in less than a month.  But still, as we analyzed all things, we did not see any other way.  Our family errs a little too much on the side of thinking we are invincible, that we can handle anything.  (If you know us in real life, you are likely laughing at this point.  We have a "sure, I can handle that" mentality.)

Dad drove the 45 minutes to my house.  He can still handle the drive, as he knows the road well and there are only small towns to pass through.  (Truth be told, he still drives really well.  He has great reflexes and has a good intellect which serves him well in crisis situations.)  He's just not too comfortable with city traffic, particularly if he hits construction or detours.  He'd rather meet me at my house and let me drive in the city.

It was a horribly hot and sweaty morning, even though he arrived shortly after 6 a.m.  My Dad is short, only 5 foot tall.  When I hop in his car to drive I have to readjust everything.  I toss his cushion that he uses to lift himself up so that he can see over the dashboard into the backseat.  I push the seat backward, tilt the rearview mirror, strap my very pregnant self in, sweating all the while. 

He struggles with his seatbelt buckle on the passenger side, bursitis makes the necessary movements difficult.  I always reach over without a word an latch the buckle.  He chuckles, embarrassed, but he's really okay with it.  He turns the air on, barely, out of deference for me.  He does not like the air, but knows that I do.  He couldn't possibly crank it high enough for me on this day.

We set out, make it into the heart of downtown traffic.  A woman, perfectly coiffed, races past me.  Angrily, she yells silent words at me and raises her finger in an obscene gesture.

I have no idea what I have done to offend her, but she has no idea of how much her rudeness hurts me on this day.  She has no idea that my heart is already about to explode and I am about to crumble. 

It took awhile, but I have chosen to forgive her for this.  She had no idea.  It is a great lesson that I return to again and again when I am tempted to be angry with some nameless person over a minor grievance.  I have no idea what they are carrying.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The year that was: getting ready for my parents' surgeries

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

(I'm on a roll.)

It's so strange.  I'm still struggling with writing all of this.  Not because it is so long and complicated and it's hard to find time (although those things are true, too....) but because I have this severe fear of looking like a whiner.  I have waited to allow time to pass, to sort through it all, and while I have learned many things and gained much perspective, I still don't know how to write about this time without sounding like I'm complaining.

So for the record, I'm not complaining.  I'm recounting.  :)  The Lord brought so much growth and good from this time - but you've got to go through this to get to that.  We are who we are because of all of our days, the good and the bad.  If we don't talk about the tough things, we can't see or show how God has redeemed us.


Jeff returned to work.  He wasn't riding bikes or playing football, but he was recovering.

My parents had both been suffering from lots of joint pain.  They had both taken several hard falls over the past year.  My dad, at 86, had slowed his gait to tiny mincing steps.  He was vitally afraid of falling and breaking a bone.  My mother, at 74, had suffered chronic knee pain for four years.  She, too, was falling a lot.

My parents live about 45 minutes away from me.  We moved to this area four years ago, in order to be able to help them out.  They had no other children living nearby, and we worried about them.  They still lived in the same home in which my father had been born.  His grandfather had built the house, they would never willingly relocate.  Their small town is in the middle of nowhere, really.  There is no pharmacy, no bank, very few services for the elderly in their town.

My parents were still vital people.  They were capable of taking care of their physical selves prior to the surgeries, but that capability was diminishing.  If, perchance, they fell hard and broke a bone, they might be unable to care for themselves at all.  We visited a surgeon, talked over the possibilities of a knee replacement for mom and a hip replacement for dad.  Without surgeries their worlds would gradually grow more painful, more debilitating, more isolated.  Their situations were impossible.  Their house is filled with stairs.  The bedrooms are upstairs, the laundry is in the basement.  Their home is on a hill, with quite a few stairs to enter the home.

With surgeries, we were giving them the opportunity of extending their years of independence.  There was no guarantee, of course, but we were hopeful.

We all decided to go ahead with the surgeries, no matter how hard it might be.  (But I must say in retrospect, that we had NO idea how difficult the healing would be, and I do feel that the material presented to the potential surgery patient paints a little bit "too-rosy" of a healing scenario.)

We considered waiting until after my baby was born, but I was not sure how I would help them get to all of their appointments and therapies with a newborn in tow.  Also, to delay the surgeries would send us into winter.  Winter where we live may be fine, but it may also bring lots of ice and snow.  At the very least, winter would mean bundling a newborn up and making sure my parents had coats on and buttoned.  I couldn't imagine trying to get them transferred from hospital to house with icy stairs.

We began the pre-joint replacement process.

And what a process it is.  Prior to last summer, I would never have dreamed how many doctors/specialists visits there would be in preparation for a joint replacement.  We met with the surgeon three times, attended an educational clinic, had an EKG, then further stress testing was done.  Blood labs were drawn.  From April thru September, there were seventy doctor's/clinic visits.  Those were not just for my parents, of course - that included Jeff and myself as well. 

I began collecting hospital equipment from estate sales and garage sales and thrift shops:  shower chairs, walkers, a cane, a three-footed cane, a bedside toilet, a toilet that fit over the regular commode.  I felt way too young at 41 to have a shed full of hospital equipment.

I worked with my parents to get their home as ready as we could for them to heal from surgery.  They saw no real need to adjust their home; they believed they would be up and walking around within a few days.  By a few weeks, for sure, they would be back to normal.

I urged them to pull up and turn over most of their garden.  I felt their gardening work was done for the year.  We picked all of the apples from their fruit trees early.  I had bushels and bushels of apples to can.  Normally, that is a wonderful thing.  As it was, at the end of pregnancy, in 90+ heat and no central air conditioning, with added responsibilities, it felt suffocating.  Some days I suffered panic attacks.  At the time I wondered why.  Silly me.  There was no need to suggest not canning the apples.  For my parents, if they grew it, it must not go to waste.

I baked ahead and stocked up their freezer with ready-made meals in small portions.  Muffins, instant meals, chicken nuggets. I cleaned and vacuumed their house, got the beds ready for any family members that might come following surgery, bought new items my parents might need for a hospital stay.  I worked hard to memorize their complex medication schedules.

My father has trouble speaking clearly due to a serious adrenal "accident" (which left him in a coma) almost two decades ago.  He doesn't make phone calls or talk on the phone.  While they were very positive-minded and eager to get the surgeries underway, they began to turn more and more responsibilities over to me.  I made all of the phone calls, picked up the prescriptions, scheduled the procedures, looked over the forms, made adjustments. 

By the time my mother had her surgery, I was seven months along and exhausted from the events of Jeff's illness, the care of our eight children, the care of my parents, and the intensive medical schedule we had been on.

I felt so overwhelmed.  I was torn between "good-daughter/good-mommy guilt."  There were many times I had to choose between my parents and my children.  Often, my parents won that battle because their needs were the most pressing.  I know that many women of the "sandwich generation" suffer from the same struggle.  I often found myself crying because I knew I was missing so much with my children.  They were growing up and changing - and I was in and out of their lives while the biggest kids took care of the little ones.  The big ones were growing up and transitioning as well, and they needed their parents available to help out.  Jeff was working long hours to make up for being out of work, and I was spending enormous amounts of time on my parent's care.  Fortunately, it was summer, and their schooling did not suffer.

Several caring friends suggested that I "not be afraid" to let my older children help.  They did not realize how very, very much our older kids were handling.  They shared the care of my parents and our younger children.  They shared the lawn work and the fruit preservation.  Yes, they learned many wonderful lessons.  Yes, we worked through a very hard time as a family and saw God's hand of provision.  But it was still very difficult, and I wish that it had not been so tough.  I wish that things had been different, somehow.

I had always known that I needed to take care of my parents, to be "there" to help out as they needed - I just never envisioned that everyone around me would fall apart physically at once.  Given more time, I would have worked out better long-term solutions.  As it stood, we were just taking a few days at a time and hoping for good enough improvements that would make life so much better for my parents.  Things did not get better for a long time, though, they simply got worse as my pregnancy progressed.  It was such a difficult situation that I simply did not know how to balance.  Jeff and I and our children want to be faithful to all of the tasks that God has given us to do.  What do you do when all of the tasks seem to collide and be incompatible?  I don't think my parents felt the struggle, I don't think they knew how difficult things were for us.  Perhaps they were simply relieved to have someone to help them?  They would have been devastated to think they were causing such struggles.  Aging and all if its ailments - mental and physical - can be such a hard and humbling thing.

My mother had her knee surgery and it did not go well.  She experienced severe pain and several resultant infections.  She stayed at our home for a week, where we cared for her day and night.  We cared for Dad during that time, too, all the while continuing to get him ready for his surgery three weeks later.  Mom did not do well on any pain medication - it made her so sick she couldn't even sit up.  The medications also stole her short-term memory.  Therapy was useless, as she couldn't remember from day to day what she was supposed to do.  The medications made her jumpy, unable to handle things emotionally.  She snapped at the children who were trying to help care for her.

After a week we moved her home, and my eldest daughter and then son stayed with her.  We had set up a temporary recovery bedroom in their living room, and the young person who was watching over her slept on the floor beside her bed.  They helped her get to the bathroom in the night.  They helped her sort out her pills.  They made meals.  They took care of the cats.  :)

We visited the surgeon several times and tried many different medications.  When it was time for my father's surgery, my mother was still in intensive pain and still needed someone to stay with her.

Fortunately, my oldest brother and sister were coming up the evening of my father's surgery.  I was so relieved, so thankful that they were on their way.  They are wonderful, hard-working, loyal and faithful people.  They just live so far away and they both have intensively full lives with work and commitments.  When they show up, they "really" show up.  I couldn't wait to see them!

The year that was (third hospitalization)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

And so we continue...

A new doctor took Jeff's case.  We were not confident that he was aware of the previous infection/situation, he was not a joint surgeon, so we requested that Jeff's first surgeon (Dr. B.) come back on the case.

Jeff suffered through the weekend, we worried about a repeat infection in his hip joint.  If re-infection had occurred, he would lose the hip joint for sure, and a new one would have to be installed.  It was frustrating to wait through the weekend, difficult to consider yet another possible surgery, and besides, this mean that Jeff would be out of work long?  Who knew?

Good news came on Monday morning.  Our brilliant surgeon, Dr. B., stopped by Jeff's room.  The antibiotic beads that had been inserted into Jeff's hip were designed and infused with full-spectrum antibiotics.  They were meant to fight against almost any known type of bacteria.  (We later learned from Dr. B's assistant that together they made the cement beads themselves, grinding and lacing, infusing them with antibiotics.  We blessed their brilliance, acknowledging it as a true gift from God.)  What a thrill to hear this news.  We could breathe again.

Where was the infection coming from, then, if not from the hip joint?  The hospital had repeatedly assured us that it could not be coming from the PICC line, as they had never had a PICC line infection.

For my part, I was a little freaked out.  One staph infection with no known origin is bad enough.  But two?  I started becoming a serious germaphobe (bacteriophobe?)

Finally, one doctor ordered the PICC line pulled.  The tip was tested, and sure enough, the line was the culprit. Once it was removed, and a new one reinserted, Jeff began to improve.

It was June.  The office for my fetal/maternal specialist was located at the same hospital.  It simplified things, in a way.  I could walk over a few buildings and talk with the office instead of dealing with phone calls.  I tried to talk them down from such frequent ultrasounds and blood draws (every two weeks for both) but to no avail.  The baby was continuing to grow well and the titers for the isoimmunization never raised, not even a blip, and they never did.

The big kids were still running things the best that they could at home.  We were still caring for my parents, keeping up their properties as well.  Both of my parents were beginning the preparations for joint replacement surgeries.  Mom's surgery would be in August, Dad's would be three weeks later in September.  And the baby was due three weeks after that - or so.

I'd come home at night, cook supper, do laundry, spend as much time as possible with the little ones, handle finances, send out updates, etc., then head back to the hospital to be with Jeff as much as possible.  The big kids did well, considering, but they suffered.  They had their own heartaches going on at this time; struggles to fit in to their worlds, friendship issues, etc.  We sorta, rather...fell apart during these days, quite honestly.  I know that everyone wants to hear how a good family "overcame," and that part comes eventually, but for a time we were just in a world of hurt.  Sometimes, even though you love the Lord and even though you "trust," you just struggle and the path is terribly long, dry, dusty and painful.  I looked ahead and saw two more surgeries, still, on top of everything.  I saw two elderly people who desperately needed me, and I really was the only one around to help them at that time.  There were no guarantees that the surgeries would help my parents, even.  How much would they directly need me in days to come?    I saw many children who needed their mommy, teens who needed mom to not be so distracted, and a husband who needed to be nursed back to good health.  I looked down the road, and saw no end in sight.  Why did we ever think we could do this, handle this much?  Well...we were still following what we were sure we were supposed to for our children, care for our elderly, care for each other. 

We were overwhelmed, but we did what we had to do.  We kept getting up and doing what had to be done, day after day.  God kept carrying us.  There is no other way to explain it.

Jeff got well enough to come home from the hospital.  He improved little by little.  In mid-July, he re-entered the hospital for another surgery, this one to remove the antibiotic beads from the hip site.  Dr. B. took his joint completely apart, cleaned it out again, and put him back together.  Jeff didn't stay very long this time, just a few days, and when he came home he was soon walking without the walker.  He brought me coffee in bed the first morning he was home.  What a sweet memory that is.

Jeff was cleared to return to work the second week in August.  His workplace had retained his job for him, that was a real blessing too.  He had been out of work, without a paycheck, without work paying for his insurance, for three months.

God taught us so much through these trials.  We were humbled, but in a deeply good way.  We gained compassion for the "down and out."  We were blessed by the love and remembrance and strength of friends.  God is so good.  Blessed be His name - through easy times and hard. He is worthy of our trust, not because things turned out, but because He is God and He loves us.

(Next time, I'll write about my parent's surgeries, and then finish by telling about the day that Gabriel was born.)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Year That Was: A second staph infection

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

(I'm going to try and finish this "remembrance" by the time Gabe turns one.  That gives me three weeks.  This is such a long story - so much happened last year, but I think I can do it.  I realize that the average blog post is supposed to be 600-700 words, but since I'm writing this all down for our family to remember, I don't want to leave out the important parts just for the sake of the average attention span.  Jeff and I were *just* talking thru the events of this post a few moments ago, and were pretty surprised at how much we've forgotten about the sequence of events.  There are some feelings, though, that I will never forget.  This was a hard one.) 

We were one week out from having Jeff's PICC line removed.  He'd been on iv antibiotics for five weeks.  Anyone who has dealt with that knows how frustrating it is.  We'd wrap his arm in plastic, cover it in more plastic, tape it shut, and still water would soak the line dressing.

At first Jeff was very weak, we were unsure of how to get him in the shower since he was still healing from the hip surgery.  I was always nervous - what if he fell?  We got into a good pattern, however, and he was slowly regaining strength and color.  He was able to walk outside occasionally as the weeks progressed, he was returning to decent health although he was still weak.

One night, I noticed that he felt hot.  Shortly after, he started uncontrollably shaking again.  Of course we were concerned.  How could he be getting another infection, considering all of the daily antibiotics he was taking?

We called his case nurse.  She assured me that it was nothing, that sometimes the body simply "got a little temperature in the evening."  As it was getting quite late, I wanted to be sure for the night, and so I asked for clarification.

"What you are telling me is that there is really NO way he can get a second infection?"

"That's right,"  she replied.

"And so I really shouldn't worry."

"That's right.  I've been a nurse working with PICC lines for over 20 years.  Trust me.  Your husband is NOT getting an infection."

"Okay.  When SHOULD I worry?  How high of a fever is too high?"

"He'll be okay as long as the fever stays below 104 degrees.  If it gets into the 104, 105 range, you'll want to go in and have it checked out."

Well......we didn't really believe that, and Jeff's symptoms continued to increase.  I was still scared stiff from the first staph infection, so I wasn't willing to wait around for his fever to climb.

We went to the Emergency room, told them what was going on.  Jeff looked pretty good, walking with no cane, etc.  He's a strong man in his early forties, joking around with the staff, etc., at least while ibuprofin kept his fever down.

A doctor came in to examine him and to ask him some questions.  (We were at the same hospital he had been in a month prior.)  The doctor was very confident - overly confident, I'd have to say.

"You don't have an infection of any kind."


"No.  You CAN'T have.  You have way too many antibiotics in your body."

"So an infection is IMPOSSIBLE?"

(We were really double checking here - Jeff's recent brush with death was still too fresh in our minds.)

"Trust me on this.  Another infection is IMPOSSIBLE.  You're fine.  Just have a little fever.  Nothing to worry about.  And it can't be a PICC line infection, because we have NEVER had a PICC line infection here in our hospital."

But they took blood samples, anyway, "just to be sure and put your minds to rest...."

And we went home.

You know where this went, right?


The lab called within a few hours and told us to come right back to the hospital, because Jeff indeed had another staph infection and it was growing.  They did not wait for the entire, normally required period to see what was growing - they could see that something was and that he needed to be readmitted.

So we packed up our bags and left the big kids in charge and went back to the ER.  We ran into the doctor from the previous night who had assured us there could not possibly be an infection.  He did some serious back-peddling.  "Boy!  When I saw you last night I knew there just wasn't something right.  I went with my gut and ordered bloodwork done, and I'm sure glad I did that!"

We smiled wanly, remembering very clearly what we had been told.  We waited several more hours, during which time Jeff continued to get more and more sick and I grew more and more panicked.  Everything seemed to drag and just took so long.  An hour to get a gown, an hour to get labs drawn, an hour to get labelled, tagged, etc., and during this time no evaluation and no meds were given.

Jeff started shaking uncontrollably.  I began going out to the linen cart to get blankets for him.  He'd cycle through sweating and shaking.

I stood in the doorway of our little room, hoping that my presence would make someone remember that we were here and that my husband needed to get to a room.  He needed some attention.

The charge nurse, a tough looking guy, saw me in the doorway and sent a nurse my way.  "Tell her to get back into her room.  We can't have people out here gawking."

Honestly.  I wasn't gawking.  I was so exhausted at 3 a.m after the past month and with handling so much of everything at home and with the extra care, plus the stress of what was happening to my husband a second time.  I wasn't "gawking," I was staring into space, vacantly.  But I obediently took my offended little self back into our cubicle and wiped Jeff's sweat-drenched face and changed his soaked gown.

Still no doctor, still no medications, still no room.  And now, he was missing even his PICC line meds.

Finally, around four-thirty a.m., Jeff was taken to a room.  By this point, he was shaking so hard and breathing so rapidly that I thought his heart would explode.  His fever was high and he began to vomit.  At one point, he began to throw up and the charge nurse and his regular nurse were in the room.  They did nothing.  I leaped to the adjoining bathroom and grabbed the pink bucket where they stow a patient's toiletries.  (Bear in mind that when I say "leaped" that I was six months expectant.)  I threw the contents of the bucket into the sink, ran back to my husband, and held the bowl for him.

The nurses just stared at me.

This cycle continued for the rest of the night/early morning.   I did not mind caring for my beloved - in a way, I wanted that to be my job.  But I felt so alone! I wanted help, but did not receive any.  Neither was there any communication given from the nursing staff to me.   I ran between his bed and the bathroom, almost overcome with panic.  Eight kids at home.  In a hospital, but receiving no real care.  I kept a cool cloth on his head, kept changing his gown as he soaked it, kept replacing his blankets as he soaked them.  I hunted down his nurse and asked for a warm blanket to help with his extreme shaking.  I was told that they did not have a blanket warmer on that floor, and that it was against policy to use the microwave to warm a blanket for him.

I watched his chest rise and fall and waited for him to have a heart attack.

Would they come and help then?

It was so awful.

I finally left the room and went to the main desk on the floor and asked for the head nurse.  I asked her for at least a warm blanket.

She replied that "she would see what she could do, but they were running low on blankets."  And the implication was that I had been using too many blankets.

I could not believe my ears.  A man came near death, has his second staph infection in a month's time, you've given him no care, and you're going to fuss at the wife because she has used too many blankets?

A limit was reached in that moment.

I knew we were not being treated right, and something rose up within me.  Perhaps it was justice, I still haven't put my finger on it.

I said, "Then you will need to go to another floor and get some more blankets.  I do not care if it is against hospital policy.  Go to the laundry and get more blankets.  And while you are at it, please let the doctor know that we are here and that my husband has not received any medication."

Within a short while the doctor arrived and examined Jeff and read his charts and ordered a new kind of medication.  The head nurse hovered near, filling the doctor in on all of the care she had been giving Jeff.  It was dawn, it had been such a long night.  I was ill myself with worry and the trauma of seeing him so ill, again.  Once the doctor left the nurse spoke with me, never apologizing but saying that she understood why I was so upset, seeing that I was pregnant and over-emotional and all.

I took it.  I didn't really know how to respond.  I was beyond spent, and I was just glad that Jeff was finally getting help.  As soon as I could, I would request that Jeff be seen by our regular family doctor and his surgeon.  They had handled his original illness very, very well, and they would interpret the lab results for us.  Our concern was that the staph illness had settled in his hip joint again, and that he would maybe lose the hip or worse.  And if the staph infection was the same kind, and had overcome the antibiotic beads placed in his hip joint and in his PICC line - what would we do?  What could be done?  Were we facing death again?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

It's finally official. School has begun.

For this family update, I believe that I will intersperse pictures from a recent backyard cook-out.  Cool weather has finally graced our place and we are loving it, trying to take advantage of being out of doors.  Commentary will come as is needed.

I think it is finally safe to say that we are back into the fall swing of things.  Although we know that children learn "all of the time" and though we do many educational projects throughout the summers, there is certainly a time where our activities shift and we become a little more studiously applied.

Our two oldest sons, Nick and Jake, have been back to college classes (local) for the last two weeks.  Jake is in his second year, and Nick is still a highschool student but is taking Speech and Psych.  (He is now spending significant amounts of time trying to analyze all of us.....)  We are trying to decide whether Nick is a Junior or a Senior this year.  What I mean by that is this:  He has had three years of highschool and will be 18 next summer.   He will have plenty of credit hours and will have met all requirements for graduation.  He will have taken the SAT this fall and will have applied to various colleges.  He's just not certain of what he wants to do at this point - graduate and go away to school?  Remain a highschooler for another year, live at home, work and save $$$$?  Graduate and go local to school for a time to save $$$ then transfer in to an "away" college as a sophomore?  For now, Nick continues to do high school, college, and carries on with his lawn-mowing business.  He's still working off a car from one of his clients.  He worked this summer for a corn research facility and put most of his money away for college (besides a splurge for a keyboard.)  He still loves to play and write music, both guitar and keyboard, so thinks he wants to go to school for that.  We'll have to update you on the final decision....

(Note the little soggy spot on my jeans here.  Gabe was using me as a napkin.  Mommies are SO convenient!)

Jake's internship at our local PBS station turned into a job offer after a few months, so he is no longer working at our library.  He attends college full-time, writes at a tech blog, writes at his own personal blog, and works a couple of days a week at PBS doing something or other.  (Ha Ha.  He's way over my head, so I don't even actually know what he's doing.  Programming?  Coding?  I don't know. I just feed him.)

I tell you - I have homeschooled my children for 14 years now, and at some point they have all "outgrown" me.  They have found their areas of expertise (usually NOT the areas I would have picked or pinpointed for them) and that is such a neat thing!  I realize that as parents we really are simply the foundation, the facilitators, the encouragers, the guides,  Our children NEED us to be strong and supportive for them, but they will find their own paths thru the gifts God has instilled deep within their hearts.

Jeff and I have no problem accepting the fact that our children will be much better at some things than we are.  We hope that they are!  We give them a beginning, a nurturance, forever love (and yes, chores, responsibilities, guidance, prayer....) and God draws them along to how and where He wants them to be serving Him.

(Sam is not really so glum.  Maybeeeee he has eaten too many marshmallows.)

Emily is a sophomore in highschool this year.  She is carrying a full load with Geometry, Sociology, Theology, World Lit., Guitar/Piano, Health/Economics, and Composition.

She, too, worked for a corn research facility this summer, and she (and Nick) will be working for the same company this fall again in hand-harvesting.

She has her first "official" job now.  She took over Jake's job at the library!  We joke that we could possibly keep a Johnson kid in that role for several decades.

Sometimes I say things on Facebook but don't say them here.  It feels like I am repeating myself, so if you've heard this already I apologize in advance.  Emily recently had a couple of pictures featured in a local magazine.  That was pretty exciting for us all.  She also won first place in the nation for a poster she designed for the WCTU (a drug and alcohol abuse prevention organization.)  Julia took second place in the nation for her poster, as well.  It has been a good year for our girls!

(Love this picture.  It looks like Gabe is taking the shot - holding the camera out from his body, cheesing for the photo op.  Love the fam in the background....)

Gabe is now 11 months!  I guess I'll just do his update here, rather than a separate post:

He is doing so well, as active and mobile as can be.  He keeps us all hopping, keeping him out of danger and getting himself into predicaments that he can't get out of.   It is safe to say that he is ADORED.

The rest of the kids have started school too.  We're a mix of formal and informal, whatever the day calls for.  Math is pretty formal, although I'm incorporating more math games into the year.

Julia is a 7th grader, Josiah is in 3rd, Sam is in 1st, Ben is in K, and Mariam and Gabriel are in the middle of it all.  We don't leave them out of a thing, although we do take advantage of their early bedtimes, sometimes, to get some projects accomplished or extra read-alouds done.

The pictures below just have to be published in a series.  This is what my life is like, this is why there are long silences on my blog.  My two little ones are BUSY!

Watch the faces!


See how noticeably tired my eyes are by the end of the sequence?
Ha Ha.  Yeah.  That's how it is.

We're looking forward to a jam-packed, bursting at the seams, thriving, joy-filled school-year.
We wish the same to each one of you!


Monday, September 5, 2011

What she wanted

This is what Julia wanted for her thirteenth birthday.

She picked him out at birth, the only orange, tailed kitten in a batch of grey manx babies.
His name is Puff, and he and she are now conjoined.  I'm thinking of making her a "sling" to hold her baby in.  It's that serious between them.  Homework?  Holding your sleeping kitten on your lap is obviously a perk of homeschooling.  Reading before bed?  It's super-cozy curled up in your blankets with just your bedside lamp on and your kitty wrapped purring against your chest.  Kittens and apron strings....kittens and yarn....kittens and fall leaves....ah, memories yet to be made.

And this is Clementine.
She's the little sister.  We're keeping her, too, because Mama (that's me....) wants her.....
rather fiercely, actually.

Clementine has spina bifida, most likely due to the manx mutation.
She's feisty, and sweet, and although she has weak hind legs and hops when she runs, she holds her own just fine against her brother Puff.
I've resisted having indoor cats for years now, feeling like I had plenty of living "creatures" to take care of and clean up after.  We've tried dogs this summer, and have concluded that we are NOT dog people.  We are at least kitten people, and so I've given in,   I have a feeling they will be spoiled rotten.  How could they not?

Clementine is completely tail-less.  I love her coloration, too, sort of a silvery-grey with almost siamese markings.

~Happy Thirteenth, Julia~ 
It is our hope that Puff will be a long-time friend and a gift that gives many happy memories over your girlhood years.
You are so very, very loved.
~Mom and Dad~