Rants from the Crib

An Ob/Gyn gone mad

Archive for the category “Back In The Day”

Mighty White

The last few years of my father’s law school career, he decided it would be good to do some community work as well as his teaching.  He had been president of the BLSA (Black Law Students Association) for many years; coming from a disadvantaged home himself, he felt that extra attention to tutoring and other benefits might even the playing field, particularly for those who found the specific language and diction of the legal jargon to be difficult.

He began tutoring adults to help them prepare to pass their GED.  He worked through a group who would assign him a pupil and worked on teaching reading or prepping skills to pass their GED test.

His first student was an African-American man, let’s call him Micah, who had recently been released from prison, where he did his time for felony larceny.  Upon his release, his girlfriend was waiting for him and they had a little girl.  Micah wanted to fly straight and get out of the criminal life for his family.

He proved an apt pupil.  Daddy said he was very bright and he improved by leaps and bounds.  As Micah got to trust Daddy, he confided in him how difficult it was within his society to avoid crime and better himself.  The men especially harassed him, accusing him of “turning whitey”.  Daddy worked hard with him and had him prepped and ready for his GED.

At some time before the test, there was an article put out in the paper about the tutoring program and it featured a picture of Daddy and Micah working at a table.

A week before he was due to take his GED, Micah was taken by someone out to a local lake, laid on his stomach, and shot execution-style in the back of the head.

Mom called and told me and I asked to speak to Daddy.  By the time he came to the phone I was already crying, sobbing actually.  My dad’s voice was calm and even as he relayed the facts to me.  I cried and cried about how horrifying and unfair the tragedy was.  I haltingly tried to explain to Daddy how upset I was and how unjust the world was.

My dad has always been good with happy emotions, and love, but something about his past and his upbringing in the 1940’s had left him deeply convinced, I guess, that to cry or exhibit grief was unmanly and undignified.

I remember when I was 12, our little cat died.  My dad built him a coffin and the cat actually lay in state in the basement a bit before Daddy took him out and buried him in the woods.  Alone.  And then Daddy disappeared for the rest of the day.  I could occasionally could hear him sobbing.  And I hid too, feeling like I was witnessing something I shouldn’t.  Daddy’s emotions obviously ran deep; he was very tender-hearted, but he just couldn’t let anyone see.

To this day, I won’t let anyone see me cry.

As I grieved on the phone after Micah’s murder, my dad was very quiet.  After a short gap he said, ” Well, that’s mighty white of ya.”

What did I hear in his voice?  He was so restrained.  I hardly heard any grief.  A little anger?  A hint of, not derision, but a feeling on his part that I was railing against something that I never in my life would truly be able to understand.

He insisted on attending Micah’s funeral, and did for his family what he could.  He continued the tutoring program, with good success, but we never spoke of Micah again.

Shrike

When I was in residency in New Orleans, I met a remarkable boy. We didn’t have a relationship, in the normal sense, but I was deeply intrigued and felt drawn to him.

He was apparently the orphan son of very wealthy parents, and had been allegedly left with a large inheritance, enough to make him more or less independently wealthy.

Despite this beginning, which usually results in fairly useless, undisciplined people, this guy had smarts, and had gotten himself through med school and into a residency in New Orleans, where he was doing very well. That is where I met him.

I actually met him in Houma, Louisiana, a little shrimping bayou town just on the far side of the Intercoastal Waterway. Our residents were required to spend half their time there, when they weren’t working in the New Orleans hospital.

The Houma situation was as far from the New Orleans situation as could possibly be imagined. We worked there at Chabert Hospital, since closed down, called Little Charity, as it was a branch of the Catholic Charity Hospital system in New Orleans. The town was poor, the inhabitants were poor, and the hospital was poor.

The residents stayed in free apartment housing during their rotations there. The apartments were located behind the hospital itself, within walking distance, so you could stay there when you were on call. The apartments were ancient, and notable on my part for the fact that the entire ceiling of my apartment once fell in without warning, and for the fact that they had pulled a six foot alligator out of the decrepit swimming pool.

This guy and I met at these apartments. He was single, and the single residents sort of gravitated toward each other. He and his best friend, also a member of his residency program, tended to gravitate more towards strippers than to fellow residents, but I lured him in with my fabulous video game system, bought more on the “If You Build It, They Will Come Theory” than to my predilection for video games.

I got a lot of single guys to come over and hang out for beers and video games. I am no idiot. He was one of those guys, and we got to know each other during late night beer and video-fueled chats.

He was a pretty remarkable guy. He was very very bright, and good at what he did. He was also a big birdwatcher, which is an adorably geeky pastime, and guaranteed to draw me in, as my father was always a big time birdwatcher too, which made this guy instantly appealing.

When we walked around outside, he was always showing me birds. He pointed out a shrike one day, on a barbed wire fence. He explained how the shrike would catch food, usually some kind of insect, and leave it impaled on the barbed wire or a twig for later consumption. I thought that was amazing.

We seemed so close to hooking up. He used to hang out in my apartment, lolling about on the carpet in a manner that seemed to me to invite me to join him, but I never did. He was too handsome, and too cool, and too rich, and I was terrified of rejection.

This guy had an amazing car. I am a sucker for awesome cars, always have been, probably due to the fact that my father revered antique Chevys, which he worked on himself. They were all V-8’s, and my first car ever was a V-8 Chevy, around 1960 vintage, The thrum thrum of that awesome engine and the amazing speed with which that immense car got off the block left me loving automotive power.

So, the guy had a brand new red Supercar (unusual and expensive enough that I will not name the model here). Even had he failed to have any of his many other charming attributes, this one fact alone would have drawn me in. He and his friend and I would cruise out to the few clubs in town, not as a date, but to go dancing, and, for them, hang out with strippers. The best part of this for me, besides the clubbing, which I enjoyed, was the fact that when he and his friend became too wasted to drive, they would let me drive the car home.

The most intimate evening we had together was, at best, an oddity; one of those strange things that happens, but I will remember it forever.

He was hanging out in my apartment, and we were listening to music and drinking beer, and he remarked that he desperately needed a haircut. “I have a Swiss Army knife,” I told him. “I can cut it.” For some strange reason, he was intrigued by that idea and thought that was a good plan. I sat on the floor with him, and cut his hair with the scissors on my good old knife, and amazingly, it turned out great. He thought that was the coolest thing ever, and told anyone who would listen at work the next day about his haircut.

I guess maybe he liked me. I was in a dark time then and had just been dumped by a 5-year emotional terrorist, and had no self-confidence to make an aggressive move. I have always regretted that I didn’t.

For years I remembered him, how handsome he was, and how smart, and his love for birds and medicine and fast cars and video games and dancing, and I wished things had turned out differently. I wish I had pushed just a little bit to see where things might go.

For just a little while, I was left pinned on the barbed wire, regretting letting of go of something that never even happened; a foolish grasshopper on a pin waiting for the return of the Shrike.

Another Rollercoaster

I have been in two worlds. Like Tiresius in Greek mythology, who was both male and female in his lifetime and could finally reveal (but never did) which gender is happiest and enjoys sex more, I have straddled two places, fat and thin. I know that some people who will read this may have been overweight all their lives and my “awful” top weight might seem irksomely low. But for me, as shallow and as concerned about my appearance as I have always been, that top weight was disastrous.

I am 5’3″, and I have been as light as 115 pounds (I am 120 pounds right now). I was 190 pounds just before I gave birth to my daughter, and I hit my all-time “I may as well look like hell because I am dying an endless death in my soul-killing job” high at 175 pounds, definitively NOT pregnant.

When you are fat you disappear. This is largely due to humiliation – in those 3 years I carried so much weight, I passed up so many opportunities to connect with old or new friends because I was so humiliated to be seen like that. No one tells you look nice anymore, especially your husband, because you don’t. And people just look at you differently, or more accurately, not at all. When you leave the societal expectation of reasonable weight, you attain “nonperson” status, especially in the shallow and competitive world of the physician and Junior League spouses, which is where I now was. My neighbors didn’t wave at me any more. I will never know if it is because they found me grotesque, or because I found me grotesque. I suspect both.

In high school I was never fat but I was awkward, curveless, had braces, and acne, and didn’t know what to do with my hair, which was stringy and awkwardly layered. I had had all my hair cut off, and instead of looking like a pixie, or, as my mother had hoped, Dorothy Hamill, I looked like an adolescent boy. I was absent all sensuality. I was a pariah.

When I hit college, I got beautiful. I was a late bloomer, very late, so I consider the beauty I had to be fair. It gave me the humility of the ugly duckling and the pride of the swan. I was a stunner. And I weighed 115 pounds. It was effortless, because I was always broke, and my quick meals were a Coke and a candy bar out of a machine, because that was all I could afford. I learned that my “skinny hair” could be made amazing by being grown out into a long straight curtain, with straight bangs that brought my sharp chin out of focus. I had huge blue eyes, and high cheekbones, and the acne went away. At 115 pounds, I still had the curves, and a size 36C bra. Men I didn’t know literally followed me down the street. I learned I could get a man to do ANYTHING, and I misused that and hurt both myself and them.

I have been a “yo-yo dieter” my entire life and I can tell you exactly what that feels like. My closet now and at any time contains a range of sizes from 2 to 12, because eventually, those sizes will come again. The time I hit rock bottom, or I should say, boulder top, there were size 18 clothes in my closet and I wanted to commit suicide. I destroyed those as soon as that weight finally came off; to paraphrase Scarlett O’Hara, I would never be that fat again.

My weight went up in college when I dated a guy who was 6’4″; I thought I could eat like he did and we drank beer and grilled steaks all the time. I gained a LOT. He was a great guy, but we finally broke up when I realized I was becoming obese. My mom made me try on and buy a size 14 dress; I slammed on the brakes and he stopped the relationship because he didn’t like and couldn’t afford the healthy foods I was trying to eat. We are still friends at a distance, and he too has struggled with weight his whole life.

I lost the weight. I went off to med school. I dated an athlete who pushed me to do crunches and windsprints with him – I was in great shape (although the muscles made me bigger). When we broke up, I had just moved to New Orleans to start my residency, and I was depressed over the failure of the relationship and drank and partied myself to an unattractive and unhealthy weight. In New Orleans, partying among professionals is not tolerated, it is expected. The mantra there: “We work to live, not live to work”. I dieted, and my weight swung between about 120 and 150 pounds, which remained my all top worst weight for years. 150 pounds at 5’3″ puts you at about a size 12. I never weighed because I couldn’t afford a scale, but the sizes of my clothes told the story. At that point I had dieted so many times that I could pinpoint my weight almost exactly by the size that I wore.

I moved to Atlanta for my first real doctor job. The shallowness of that town depressed me horribly. There was a homogeneity to the girls who went out at night in Buckhead; they all wore black and their clothes hung off them as if they were clothes hangers. I literally overheard, one night at a club, a guy say that he “couldn’t find beauty in anything larger than a size 5 dress.” I was miserable.

I met my husband in Atlanta and was a reasonable weight. I quit drinking and smoking, and was about a size 8, give or take, for several years. I looked beautiful in my wedding dress.

A year or so later I got pregnant. I was ecstatic; we both wanted a child, and for the first time since I was 12, I didn’t have to watch what I ate. The first 15 pounds of my pregnancy were my “Oh, thank God I don’t have to be on a diet any more” weight, which I joke with my patients about all the time. Most of them know exactly what I am talking about.

When I was pregnant, I ballooned to 190 pounds right before my daughter was born. I didn’t feel that bad about it; she turned out to be a huge baby and I figured I’d get the weight off after she was born. At that point I outweighed my husband by about 50 pounds – he is a small and fit man and he used to joke that I had gotten so big that “smaller OB/Gyns were orbiting around me.” I had heard him say the same things to his sister when she was pregnant, and it irked me, but didn’t really bother me that much. I threatened to sit on him if he pissed me off. He flung back that I’d have to catch him first.

I did have one eye-opening new experience while I was pregnant – for the first time a man looked at me with utter crawling disgust on his face. I remember the night well; I was in a Chinese restaurant picking up dinner and I saw a redneck bearded man looking at me, and the look on his face suggested that were he in a deer stand, he would do me a favor and put me down. I know that some men just don’t like pregnant women, but the look on his face really shocked me.

I was right about one thing though: I did lose the baby weight. I breast fed for an entire year, and when my daughter was 2 or 3, I got down to about a size 6. I hadn’t been that size since I was in college. I was thrilled, and dressed to the nines all the time. There are pictures of me with my family at the time, looking thin and relaxed and happy.

Then life happened. An OB/Gyn works hard, but my partner and I hit a really bad patch. There were 3 of us in the practice, and our older partner quit doing OB, as older folks will do because it takes so much out of you, so we hired a new partner. The new partner fooled us, and she turned out to be a bonafide sociopath. After tortuous debate, we fired her, even realizing that it would be just two of us covering call for an indeterminate amount of time. We didn’t want to hire just anyone, especially in light of our recent disaster, and that indeterminate amount of time turned out to be two and a half years. Being on call every other night, in a practice that delivers about 45 babies a month, is a life changer. You are either on call, getting slammed from every direction by extra phone calls, add-on patients, unexpected surgeries and deliveries, planned surgeries and deliveries, and just the kinds of crises that come up when you work with women for a living, or you are off call, which means you still have a full work day ahead of you, and which finds you bleary, fuzzy-eyed, staggering, unable to make up that sleep deficit because you need to at least say hello to your family when you get home, and filled with the knowledge that when the alarm goes off at 5:30, you have to hit the ground running and are on call for another 24 hours.

Damage was done. The job was destroying me. I worked 80 hour weeks, barely saw my family, and earned the enmity of my husband for providing no sex, no housework, and little or no attention for my daughter. I slid into a black depression, from which there was no escape, because no amount of pharmaceuticals were going to fix the underlying problem: I was working at a pace that was killing me. OB/Gyns are trained to be ultra-tough; it is a matter of pride never to call in sick. I only took 4 weeks off after my c-section, largely because I knew that at that point my partner had been on call for 4 weeks straight, and I couldn’t hit her with another 2. I went back to work and put my new daughter in day care. I literally fell to my knees and cried in the day care room the first day we dropped her off.

I gained weight. An unbelievable lot of weight. My life was so overwhelmingly out of control, and I had so little time off, that literally my only spark of pleasure during the day would be to stuff down a cinnamon sugar Pop Tart on labor and delivery or an extra dessert in the physician’s lounge. I tried to diet and get the weight off, but at this point I loathed my life and everything in it so much that I fell off any diet near daily, whenever I encountered any setback. I tried Atkins Diet, which had worked for me in the past. I even tried a diet where I ate nothing but dessert in the doctor’s lounge 24/7, because I thought maybe just carbs and fat would shut my body down and make it start losing weight, or I might get so sick of sweets I’d stop eating them. Such was my blurry logic.

My fat clothes stopped fitting. I had never gotten to the point where those 12’s didn’t fit. I shuddered as I bought my first pair of 14’s – God bless J. Jill for her stretch jeans. I started wearing size large scrubs, and it must be noted that they don’t make surgery scrubs in women’s sizes – just men’s. Even worse, scrubs can really let you lie to yourself for a long time; they are so loose and they come in so many sizes that you can just convince yourself that the scrubs you are wearing are still loose; things are OK. I think for me, rock bottom was when I bought a pair of elastic-waist jeans on sale at Coldwater Creek – they were a size 18, and my fat still rolled the waist down. I was too tired to even cry.

Then something amazing happened. Our hospital was bought by a large outside entity, and due to incredible skullduggery, my only chance for a job in that town was to agree to work in the new “elite” practice which was run by unethical hateful men whom I had known and avoided in town for 10 years. Oh, the stories I’d heard, and the things I’d seen them do. I could not work with them. They just wanted me because I was female, and had 10 years worth of patients accumulated in that town. They owned the practice and I would have been their employee. I was well acquainted with two women who had been employed by them previously; their experience had been so bad that they had both quit the practice and moved to another town. The men were stunned when I turned them down.

My only other choice was to start a difference practice, an act which I was made to understand would not be sanctioned by the hospital and would have been seen by the hospital as an act of war. With sheer glee, I turned in my resignation and decided I would do what I had wanted to do since residency and become a locum tenens, which is Latin for “traveling temp doctor”. I could work as much or as little as I wanted, depending on what my family needed.

I got myself the hell out of that job and began traveling for work, part time. The weight just fell off. I made 2 rules: I never ate out, and there were only certain foods I was allowed to eat; fruits and vegetables that were minimally doctored with fats and sugars, fish, chicken, and yogurt. Lots and lots of yogurt. In other words, a healthy diet.

When the weight started coming off I felt so happy. I felt happier every day. I didn’t know how much I weighed, or how much I’d lost, because traveling I did not have a scale. On one of the greatest days of my life, I went to a mall in a small town I was working in and saw a pair of jeans on the sale rack that were beautiful. I picked them up and thought to try them on, but they were a size 6. I didn’t think there was any way in hell that that would be possible, but they didn’t look that small and I thought, “What the hell.”

I went to that dressing room and they fit. THEY FIT!! I was beyond astonished. I hadn’t been a size 6 in at least half a decade. I hadn’t thought it would ever be possible again. I was delirious. I was ecstatic! I went back to the hotel and posted a selfie that night on Facebook, with the caption “Size 6 Jeans!”. My nurse friends, who had last seen me topped out at 175 pounds, were AMAZED. The well-wishings and the compliments and the “how did you do its” poured in. I felt beautiful.

When you are thin you are an object of mock horror and annoyance. I had forgotten about that; it had been so long. I must say, this is much less onerous than the personal and societal disgust that come with fat. I’ll take “skinny shaming” any day. The nurses in North Dakota where I traveled watched me drop sizes until small scrubs were loose. “You need new scrubs,” they told me. “You look like a stick,” they told me. “You’re probably cold all the time because you don’t have any body fat,” said one of them.

I love it! You can skinny-shame me til the damn cows come home! “You’re so little,” said one of the nurses in Ohio. “I’m used to hunting for 2X scrubs for our regular doc.” Don’t throw me in that briar patch, Br’er Fox!!

I let myself slip and put on 9 pounds. I went off the deep end. I was alone in a hotel room, and I cried. I screamed. I hit myself in the head. I threw things. I sobbed for 2 hours straight. I was a madwoman. I did a lot of soul-searching. Why would I overeat and sabotage my hard work, this acheivement that brought me so much pleasure? Overeating is such a fleeting rush, leaving only an uncomfortable feeling of fullness and shame. Thinness is a rush that lasts all day. Why would I sabotage myself? I took a deep look at my life, at the things that had brought me to this point.

I was raised by a mother who was a beauty queen. She was actually homecoming queen of a huge state college in 1962, among other things. When I was a kid, I was walked around the house with books on my head. I was a small child, never an overweight one, but Mom told me I couldn’t have a pair of jeans because they wouldn’t look good on my “lazy little tummy”. By this she meant that I wasn’t self conscious enough to walk around sucking it in all the time. Yet. Weirdly though, when things went wrong, she’d soothe me by taking me out for ice cream or a gingerbread man. But I could only eat when SHE sanctioned it. She could hear me peeling a banana across the house and would swoop upon me, objecting that I would “ruin my dinner”. She once told me that if I didn’t stop eating, she’d have to buy my clothes in the “Husky” section at Sears. I weighed maybe 65 pounds.

I went on my first diet when I was 12. I was not a bit overweight, but I saw all the diet tips in my copy of ‘Teen Magazine, and I guess I thought I’d become miraculously beautiful, or popular, if I did what the beauty magazines said. My mom wholeheartedly applauded my attempts at betterment, even though in the 7th grade I was still wearing girl’s sizes. When I fell off the diet a week later, when confronted by a plate of doughnuts at a school function, Mom expressed disappointment in my lack of willpower.

My mom treated my father’s eating with equal scorn, even though he wasn’t fat either. In fact, he was a jogger, did military pushups, and was in fabulous shape. My father and I became partners in an eating conspiracy. We would happily meet each other in the kitchen after bedtime, and would share cartons of ice cream or bags of chocolate chips. When I was home alone, I would scour the kitchen, eating marshmallows, brown sugar, cereal, chocolate chips, and raw oatmeal.

So I internalized a couple of things in childhood. First, appearances and beauty were tantamount. Second, when you were sad or blue, you got a sweet treat. Third, sneaking around and eating was a way to spite and defy my mother. I used sneaking and eating later to defy boyfriends, my husband, and more importantly, myself. Somehow I was punishing myself by taking in those calories.

Then, in high school, I was such an ugly duckling that the message of the importance of beauty was really slammed home. I couldn’t be less awkward, or have fewer pimples, or make my hair do anything, but by God I could control what I put in my mouth. It was the only thing I felt I could control.

In college, when I was pretty, that brought home the kind of power that a beautiful woman could wield. I was heady with that power, and hurt a lot of people. I also established unhealthy relationship patterns that would persist well into adulthood. And at the top of that list was the constant need to be reassured that I was beautiful, prettier than everyone else in fact. And I raged when I met a man who denied me that reassurance. I dated him for 5 years to make him change his mind and grovel. He never changed, and he never groveled. Many years later, he admitted to one of my friends that we had had one of the better relationships that he had ever had, and that I was probably one of the prettiest girls I had ever dated, but he denied me that to the end. The pain of the failure of that relationship dogged me for more years than we were actually together. He was an emotional terrorist.

I have a terrific marriage now, but my husband is a certified fat-phobic. He is ex-Navy, wiry and muscled with big lats and the proud carriage of an ex-military man who has stayed in shape. He and my daughter have the metabolisms of shrews, or hummingbirds, and it seems that they must consume at least twice their weight daily in food and remain in constant motion to surive. My husband does not like overweight people, and does not censor the things he says about them. When we first moved back to Alabama, he was horrified by the obesity he saw there. One day in Walmart, we encountered a family: the two parents were each in one of those motorized carts, with their fat rolls hanging down. They were each probably 400 pounds easy. Their teenaged son was with them – and he was well on his way to 300 pounds. I kid you not, they were in the candy aisle, heaving bags into the baskets on their carts and arguing about which multipack to pick up next. My husband backed away from them, eyes wide, as if he had encountered an intruder with a gun. He pulled me swiftly into the next aisle and whispered hoarsely, “Oh, my God, can we please move back to Atlanta?”

I know that my massive weight gain hurt him, but he was actually very kind. I think he understood, at some level, how much stress I was under and how really broken I was. And he knows me well enough to know about the “spite” game – he knows I was passive aggressive enough to fight him with sneak eating if he forced the issue too much. He just stopped complimenting me. Which was OK, it wasn’t hurtful as far as I was concerned because I knew how he felt about fat, I’d let myself go, I looked like hell and didn’t deserve complimenting. It’s nice to be married to someone who knows you well enough to provide you with the best strategy to keep yourself from shooting yourself in the foot.

He’s delighted that I’ve lost the weight. Now he compliments me. And when he sees a heavy woman pass by, he does what he did when we were first married, and leans over and whispers, “Thank you”. I’ve worked my way down to somewhere between a size 2 and a size 4 now, and I am holding. I reined back in, tightened up, and got those 9 pounds back off by giving myself a positive peptalk, rather than belittling myself. I lost a total of 55 pounds in 9 months, and I hope with my new attitude, with an understanding of where I have come from, and my new enjoyment of my appearance, that I will keep it this way.

I did mention to my husband that I thought it was odd that fewer of my long-term acquaintances had mentioned my new appearance than I thought would. He thought about it and said that in today’s world, sometimes extreme weight loss means that something bad has happened. I thought about “divorce diets” and HIV and cancer and decided that was right. He also suggested that they might be jealous. I was OK with that too.

So I’ve been on both sides now. Many times. And as the Tiresius of weight gain, I have lived with fat and fat predjudice, and thin and thin predjudice. And I will say, having worked both sides, I’d rather be sassed by somebody who is jealous than by somebody who is feeling superior and disgusted. And, shallow as it may be, looking great is the best revenge!

Weekly Writing Challenge: A Tough Old Bird

When I was growing up, I had a second family.  This family lived next door to us for many many years.  They had a daughter who was grown but they were only in their forties.  This couple married as high school sweethearts.  We moved in next to them when I was five.  I have vague memories of sitting on their porch with them, visiting as they finished their yardwork.  They smoked, and would always have a cigarette in their hands.  This was very exotic to me as no one in my family smoked.  They would be drinking sweet tea in Tupperware cups, the tall ones that had lids that no one used.  They were the muted Tupperware colors, celery green and faded pink, and they would bring me my own glass.  I remember the gentle tapping that the ice cubes made in the glasses, and the shick shick shick of the lawn sprinkler at the end of the hose.

One day, the husband fell sick.  He had lung cancer.  He was sick, and then he died.  He was only in his forties.  The day of his funeral, my friend and I tried to play quietly in the yard but we were kids and we begin to run and shout.  My father came out, grim faced, and told us to come inside immediately; we were being disrespectful.  We felt terrible.

The day our neighbor’s husband died, she put down the cigarettes and never picked them up again.  She was such a determined woman, her hair always done in a sixties bouffant flip that grayed as she got older.  She never colored her hair.  She did all her own yardwork, and my friend and I would come help her pull weeds and wild strawberries out of her yard.  She paid better than our parents did.  For yard work, she always wore zip-up coveralls that had probably belonged to her husband.  She mowed her own yard, until I was old enough and did it for her.  She amazed us by growing banana plants that grew actual bananas on them.

She always had a big dog in her big chained in back yard.  When we moved in, it was Rex, and then it was Bo.  Then she finished her German Shepard phase and started with the black labs.  Her first one was Inky.  They were all sweet dogs and would jump up to the side of the fence to be petted.  I know they were a great comfort to her after her husband passed.  On the rare occasions that she went out of town, usually to visit her daughter, and later her grandchildren, I would come in to her house and let whatever dog it was into the basement to be fed and petted.  She doted on her big dogs and they were inside as much as they were out.  They were always well trained.

As I got older, I learned what a dichotomous person she was.  On the one hand, she was strong and determined, took care of herself and her house and yardwork.  She was raised the youngest of a family of all boys, and she had a boy’s nickname and was a well known softball player in her day.  She worked for a concrete company until the day they retired her.  But her hair was always perfect, not one out of place, and she spoke in such a soft sweet Southern accent.  She always stayed in great shape and dressed immaculately.  She stubbornly refused to remarry for almost twenty years.

Lordy, that woman loved a good gossip.  When I was a child, it was mostly her talking, but as I got older, high school and college, I had gossip of my own to contribute.  She was born and raised in our town, and she knew virtually everyone in it.  I would start a story about someone, and she would say, “Oh, that’s so and so’s son.  I always knew that family was no good.”  I guess as we get older, we begin to see more sides of someone we’ve known our whole life.  Some of her gossip seemed a bit mean-spirited, but I figured that was just her.  I was more disappointed in her than I have ever been when I was visiting her when I was home from college, and she told me that “Them gays got the AIDS because God was punishing them.”  I never felt quite the same about her again, although I realized later that she was just a sheltered woman who had married out of high school and she didn’t know any better.

When she finally remarried we were all surprised.  She had been dating gently for years, but stayed out of the highly competitive, catty hair pulling that she said was characteristic of older ladies, whom she said would fight tooth and claw over a man, since there were so few of them available.  She said one time she was out to dinner with a man and a woman came up to her and said, “Get away from him, he’s MINE.”  She said she never went out with that guy again; she didn’t need the drama. 

She finally met a man that was right for her, and he lived right around the corner in our neighborhood.  They courted for a while and then married in a small ceremony.  I could never remember to call her by her new married name; I had known her by the old one for so long.  She didn’t mind.  In what I considered an impressive and admirable move, she refused to move in with her new husband and stayed in her old house.  They visited back and forth.  He was an avid hunter, and as tough as nails as she was, she was an avid hunter too.  She went deer hunting with her husband all the time, and brought down many a deer.  I remember one Christmas when she was over seventy, her proudest Christmas gift from her husband was a pair of knee-high, camouflaged, snake proof hunting boots.  I came to her house to see her on one of my trips home, and there was a huge stuffed bobcat in her living room.  I inquired as to the origin of said bobcat, and she said proudly, “I saw him in the woods and I shot me that old cait.  Had him stuffed and I keep him in here.”

She went through some rough times.  As she and her husband got older, they took turns being hospitalized for more and more serious ailments.  She nursed him through several protracted hospital stays.  After years of marriage, in a stunning turn of events that blew our minds, her husband’s daughter got to him somehow and persuaded him that his wife was after his money.  Never mind that she was still supporting herself, living in her own home.  The daughter somehow twisted the knife, wanting her father’s money for her own, and turned him against my friend.  He threw her out of his life without warning.  We were all stunned.  She must have had a premonition, hanging onto her home all those years.  She shrugged it off, and after an initial flurry of filling us in on the dirt, she spoke of him no more.

She’s in her eighties now.  She’s gotten a bit more frail, and a bit less sharp, but there’s still a lot to her.  My parents moved away from her neighborhood, but they still visit each other and catch up on the news.  When my childhood friend remarried, I told her and her first response was, “I know his Daddy.”  She always knew everyone, and everyone’s business.  I haven’t seen her in several years, but we exchange Christmas cards.  She’s a tough lady and I think she’ll hang on quite a while yet.

Cooking Class

As long as I can remember, my mom was teaching me how to cook. She was also teaching me to write speeches, speak French, touch type, and on and on. My earliest memories of her are of her gently pushing blocks toward me, or puzzle pieces, so I could assemble them into words and pictures.

She bought me my first cookbook when I was just a little kid. We started out with her letting me stir and add and measure things. When I got to the fourth grade, the training began in earnest. Fourth grade was when 4-H started. I am sure there are many of you out there who are unfamiliar with 4-H; it is now practiced in only the most rural areas, I think. It is a club that celebrates 4 H’s, and I don’t remember what the H’s all stand for anymore. I think there’s a Helping in there, and a Health, and I can’t remember what all else. It is a club basically for kids from fourth grade up through senior year in high school, where you choose a project to do every year or half year or something like that. It was at the most popular in rural areas where rural things such as raising cattle, riding horses, gardening, quilting and home cooking were done. It was, I felt by the time my mom pushed me into it, archaic at best, since we lived in a city of decent size and projects like raising cattle for sale were hardly available to most of us. Mom found plenty of projects for me to do though.

Two of the most popular projects for her were cooking and giving speeches. Activities throughout the year were assembled in a tyrannical green notebook with the familiar 4-H clover on the cover. She had been a 4-H leader at one time in her life, and it was natural for her to expect me to follow in her footsteps. We baked muffins, cookies and bread for competitions, which I frequently won. I learned all sorts of arcane things about cooking, such as the fact that if you overstir muffin batter, you get tunnels inside the muffin where bubbles expand to the surface while baking. The competition judges would take off points for tunnels. Along with the baked goods, I would have to make a God-awful poster as a display to go along with them. Mom would hover over me while I stuck down peel-and-stick letters, drew ruled lines to keep everything straight, and cut out pictures of gleaming baked goods to put on the poster. Then, the day of the competition, I had to go stand, beaming like an idiot, in front of my baked products and poster while the stern judges made their rounds and tasted all the goods.

I also had to give speeches about baking. This by far was my least favorite thing to do. Thanks to Mom, public speaking didn’t scare me, but I despised writing the speeches, despised practicing them, and despised giving them. There is something about standing in the living room and chanting, “Tuna casserole again? This must be the end of the month!”, which was part of a speech I had to give on savvy shopping. Since I was only about ten years old, I didn’t know dick about savvy shopping, but Mom soon had the speech whipped into shape for me. I had to talk about choosing egg sizes, comparing costs per unit ounce, and buying fresh meat. If I had been any more bored, I would have spontaneously mummified.

Then I had to gather all the evidence of me and my active year: photos of my baked goods and me standing in front of interminable posters, clippings from newspapers, and prize ribbons from various events throughout the year. I had to put them all in the hated green binder, in chronological order. I had a nemesis, a girl my own age who actually ENJOYED 4-H and did things like hydroponic vegetable growing (in the 1970’s!, and had green binders that looked like phone books. My mother was constantly holding her up to me as a shining example of how my 4-H experience should be. I hated her guts.

And the baking got more and more complicated as I got older. I was baking braided bread, making full three-course meals, and learning all the vagaries of placement of myriad spoons and forks and knives and cups on a sumptuous dining table. I have to admit, my mom made me into a hell of a cook. The sad thing is, I don’t even cook anymore, except for maybe Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. I think I enjoy cooking, and I know I’m good at it, but when you work ten to twelve hour days and come home from work when it is already dinner time, the cooking kind of falls by the wayside. My husband frequently does the cooking, and throws together mess hall food like he probably had in the Navy: Mexican casserole with canned chicken, tuna salad, and grilled meat. I miss my mom’s good cooking and every now and then will rouse myself to make a crock pot dish or a meal on the weekend. The thing is, my husband is one of the world’s truly finicky eaters, and he doesn’t like half of what I make when I do cook. So what is the point?

So here I have this rare gift, this talent that my mom has honed into me, and I don’t even make use of it. The funny thing is, my daughter is now seven and my mom has been cooking with her. I don’t think 4-H really exists anymore, except, as I said, in truly rural areas, but I’m sure mom would be knocking the door down making sure we signed my daughter up for it too. That is the last thing I want to do, shepherd my daughter into making posters and speeches, which I already have to do for her school and I despise. I don’t know how my mom put up with all the eyerolling and complaining; she must have been a saint. So if my daughter learns to cook, it will probably be my mother’s doing. We have one last-ditch opportunity for me to cook, though. I have taken a part time job as a travel doctor and I will work two weeks and be home two weeks. My husband and I have agreed, I will spend some of those two weeks off cooking for the family. So we’ll see if I can put something together. I may yet get to use all that knowledge that was pounded into me with blood and tears. And if it’s tuna casserole, it truly must be the end of the month.

A Screaming Baby

Today I am thinking about when my husband and I first brought our new daughter home from the hospital.

We were in the hospital for four days after my c-section because everything went so rough. When I finally had enough strength to go home, we went home. Our daughter was a perky newborn with bright curious eyes peering out of her baby carrier and almost a smirk on her little face. We have a picture. I can prove it. I recalled vaguely that on the occasions that we sent her to the nursery so we could rest, I could hear her doing a little crying down the hall. OK, a lot of crying. In retrospect, she was probably one of the babies that the nurses rolled their eyes about and said, “Lord, there she goes again. Somebody make it stop!”

Smug Bean

Smug Bean

I remember pulling up in the driveway with her for the first time and thinking, Lord, what have we done? We carried her in with me walking very carefully, as my new c-section scar pulled and tugged and burned. We installed me in the leather recliner in my husband’s downstairs office where, unbeknownst to me, I was going to spend the next four weeks.

Our new arrival had colic. Bad. As near as I could tell, she hated being alive and it was all my fault. Almost every waking moment, she screamed. For hours. I walked her. My husband walked her. My mom walked her. It was worst around (what would have been) bedtime in the evening. She bowed up and wailed and screamed as if someone were burning a hole through her stomach. She was breastfed, so I couldn’t imagine what was bothering her. It never occurred to me that it might have been nothing identifiable at all.

Screaming Bean

Screaming Bean

A week passed, and my folks went on home. My husband had decided that my time at home with the new baby would be a good time for him to travel for work, since I wasn’t on call when I was off on maternity leave. So he flew away on a work trip. Every day he would call and check on me, and every day I would tell him the same thing: “Remember that chair I was sitting in when you left? I’m still in it.” I don’t remember eating. I don’t remember cooking anything. I really didn’t have a chance. I had a newborn who, if set down for a moment, bowed up and screamed as if she were being branded. So in the chair I sat, all alone, in mid-July, with a wailing infant who could not be comforted, except when she was eating. And eat she did.

One day I decided I was sick and tired of being stuck in the house. Why, I would put her in her stroller and we would go out for a walk around the neighborhood. A great idea, except my baby despised her car seat. And her stroller. And being set down. And buckled in. And the July heat when we went outside. I put her in her stroller and rolled her outside. Immediately she screamed so loud her voice echoed off the houses around us. I slunk back inside with my terrible baby.

Another day, I decided to go for a ride to Sonic, for one of my favorite lemonberry slushes. This would be the first time I had left the house in over a week, save for the time I barely got out the door with the stroller. I was determined. I was going. I put her in her car seat and she began to scream, immediately. I was still determined. I drove all the way to the Sonic with her screaming in the back seat. On the way there, I began to cry. I was a terrible mother. I was making my infant scream with misery because of my selfishness in wanting to go out to Sonic. I arrived there sobbing, with big tears rolling down my face. She was still screaming. I placed my drink order in between sobs. Then I climbed out of the car and walked around to the back seat to comfort my daughter. She still screamed as if I had beaten her. Just then, the carhop came out to the car with my drink. She recognized me. “Doctor…?” she said. She looked from fat sobbing me in my grungy maternity sweats to my screaming daughter who was inconsolable, set the drink down, and backed away. I took my drink and slunk back to the house. The kid screamed until I took her inside and got her out of her carseat.

It was about this time that I called my mother. I hated to ask for help. It KILLED me to ask for help. But I begged her to come back and help me. I was all alone. This was all I could take. When my daughter wasn’t eating (which she did a lot) or sleeping, which she did very little, I had to keep holding her and keep moving with her. This was the only way to keep her from screaming. I put her in a little sling and walked the house endlessly. I looked sadly at all my jewelry making supplies and thought about how I would never use them again. If she fell asleep and I dared just to sit down for an instant to rest, she jerked awake and the Godawful screaming started again. It was just like flipping a switch. Unbelievable. Thank God, Mom showed up to bail me out. She stayed until my husband got home again.

My husband decided to take over and get online and find a cure for the colic. You wouldn’t believe how many websites there are on how to shut up a colicky baby. We put her in the car and drove her – she screamed. We put her in her carseat on the dryer and turned it on, because the warmth and vibrations were supposed to soothe her to sleep. She screamed. I have a picture of her in her carseat, screaming on the dryer. We got her gas drops, and these homeopathic stomach drops, and she screamed. I cut out dairy products in case she was lactose intolerant. She screamed. My husband found this ridiculous site that had a two step process to break the colic cycle. You were supposed to pat the baby to bring up any gas, then distract the baby (how?) to keep it from bowing up and blowing its stomach up full of air again. I wound up wild-eyed chanting, “PAT the baby. DISTRACT the baby. PAT the baby. DISTRACT the baby.” until my husband took her out of my hands for fear I had lost my mind. One night my mom found my husband in his office, passed out with a screaming baby on his lap. She took the baby and walked her for several hours, screaming all the while. I had been sent upstairs because it was obvious I was losing my mind.

Crying Bean

Crying Bean

We took the baby in for her two week checkup and mentioned that we might, er, have a little problem with colic. My pediatrician prescribed Prilosec for possible reflux, and we were supposed to tilt her bassinette up in case stomach acid was coming up her throat. This seemed to help a little, but basically, she just screamed. She screamed for several months. Then gradually, she just stopped. It never occurred to me that this was causing postpartum depression. I was in this mental fadeout fog that made any kind of perception impossible. Looking back, it was more of a postpartum psychosis. But I didn’t see that then.

Was my daughter the most difficult baby ever? No. Probably not. Was she too much for me to handle? Yes, definitely so. Despite my love of photography, I took not one photograph of her that entire time. All the pictures we have, my husband took. Although I didn’t put it into words, did I hate my baby? Yes, I think I did. Yet I loved her fiercely all the while. Looking back, this was an insane period in my life. At the time, it was just a blur. Thank goodness we have outgrown that horrible time and my daughter is a healthy seven year old who, despite a penchant and flair for drama, doesn’t scream and cry any more.

My Tragic Little Friend

When I was in college, I had a roommate who was a lost little soul.  We had known her throughout childhood; she grew up in our neighborhood, but we didn’t thoroughly realize what an awful childhood she’d had until we were grown.  She had spent some time in high school living with my best friend and her family, which seemed an odd arrangement, for a child living just around the corner with her own family to suddenly move in with another.

We learned in college what a nightmarish childhood she’d had.  Her father beat her mother and the three children often.  When the brother got big enough, he started handing out beatings too.  The police were always being called to the house, and the mother took her abuse out on the kids as well.  This little girl had lived in fear of her life.  And all this time, in high school, while she was a twinkling little Goldie Hawn, and Miss Congeniality, she was harboring this terrible secret. 

When we took her in in college we knew she was a bit troubled.  She was only in college because of huge amounts of student loans; her family (college professors, both of them) had done nothing to help her out.  We discovered that her problems went a little deeper when she moved in. 

She was bulemic.  If we ever got it together and cooked anything, she choked it down and then vomited it back up so that none of us got any of it.  And her wiring was very, very broken.  She was a full blown type I bipolar who would not take meds.  She had been prescribed some antidepressants, but instead of taking them as described, she took them “once in a while, when she didn’t feel good.”  For days she would be up up up and she would be awake for all hours, waking us up and calling friends on the phone to talk about brilliant art and music plans she had.  Then she would crash down down down and lie in her bed for days at a time, neither showering nor attending class.  This was a real problem because she was sharing a bedroom with someone else.

She had hallucinations.  She used to read William Blake, and Revelations, and then she would have waking nightmares.  One night her roommate found her standing over the bed with a knife.  She would lock herself in places and be unable to work the lock to get out.  This finally resulted in my poor roommate taking the bathroom door in the back bedroom off its hinges so she wouldn’t come home to find our little roommate locked in the bathtub again.  She tried taking the doorknob off first, but somehow our pitiful roomie managed to get herself trapped in there anyway.

Our relationship as roommates ended when she and her roommate had a knock-down, drag-out fight.  We threw her out of the apartment and packed a truck with her things.  We just couldn’t take it anymore.  I didn’t think I would see her again, and I didn’t for about six years.

I moved to New Orleans about six years later for my residency program.  I had not been in town long when I was riding my bike back to my house and heard a familiar cute squeaky voice calling out to me.  I pulled over to the side of the road – it was her.  She had somehow moved to New Orleans by catching a ride there with some friends, and she just stayed.  Maybe they wouldn’t let her back in the car.  I just don’t know.

Somehow, she worked her way into being a part of my life again.  I liked a good many of her friends; she was once again living on the pity of others.  The bipolar disorder was worse.  She took no meds at all.  She was in a cycle of employment that went something like this:  find new job, wax lyrical about bounteous goodness of new job, describe delightfulness of employees at new job, and that they understood her like no one else ever had.  About six weeks later the rot and paranoia would sneak in.  She would start to talk about how awful the people at work were, and about how they talked about her behind her back, and she would stop going to work at all, and she would lose her job.  Lather, rinse, repeat. 

I tried to help her.  I made her come to the free clinic to get birth control and her pap smear done.  When it turned out she had a hernia, I got her into the free surgery clinic to have it fixed.  She was in beauty school at that time, having long ago defaulted on and run away from her student loans.  I let her dye my hair (although I would never let her cut it) and my nails were always brilliant practice shades.  One time I wound up with eggplant colored hair.  I had to scrub it out with dishwashing detergent over and over again so I could go to work the next day without being fired.

When she was manic, she was up all hours and roaming the streets of New Orleans.  One day she caught a ride home when she found herself in a bad neighborhood and brought a guy called “Eight Ball” home with her.  I could just see him eyeing my stereo system.  She met some interesting people: a lot of famous musicians for one thing, given her nocturnal habits, but she also met some real creeps.  She got raped not once but twice, and now had PTSD on top of her severe bipolar disorder.

She had also become a hard-bitten alcoholic.  She was dating a very nice man, but unfortunately he was an alcoholic too, and they fed off each other.  She would call me at three in the morning, wanting to know if I wanted to go out for a drink.  She didn’t have a car, so when she got the hankering, she just called her friends until one gave in.

She was living with a lovely woman, an artist who seemed to overlook all her many tragic shortcomings.  She even used her a bit as a muse.  Our friend also earned spending money posing nude as an artist model, and in fact I have a painting of her head and upper torso painted by an artist I was dating.  She had introduced us. 

When the house she was living in burned, she became my roommate again.  She and her artist friend moved into my big old house with me and there she was, with all her bad old faults and many more new ones.  It was a given that she didn’t pay rent.  We just covered for her, and fed her when we could.  I used to go visit her at her many jobs waiting tables, and would sip drinks, eat and do crosswords, just to leave her some tips. 

Finally, her problems eclipsed us all.  She broke up with the nice alcoholic and started dating an abusive one.  She moved out and followed him to a coastal Mississippi town.  We all lost touch with her then; I admit I was glad to, and I have heard very little about her or her life since.  Even her artist friend drifted away.  She, too had had enough from her muse.  I wonder to this day if she is even alive, although I would fight tooth and nail to keep her from ever coming into my life again.

Vail Pass

My twenties and thirties were marked by nothing so much as extreme foolhardiness.  There was nothing I wouldn’t try; I wouldn’t let anyone know I was afraid of anything.  Hell, I wouldn’t be afraid of anything.  I would try anything anyone dared me to do, and I would do anything I dared myself to do.

I went on a ski trip to Vail around 2001 with my then boyfriend, an attorney from Atlanta.  He flew in on a different flight and was meeting me later on in the evening.  I was waiting to go skiing until he got there, so I was trying to figure out an afternoon activity.  I was an avid jewelry maker at the time (still am) and when I found a bead store on the other side of Vail pass, I decided to spend a pleasant afternoon over there browsing and buying beads.  There was snow predicted for that afternoon, a good bit of it, so that would be great for skiing.  I had a rental car from the airport, which notably had no snow chains.

I am from Alabama, and as such, have not spent an awful lot of time driving on ice and snow.  I had a former boyfriend who had showed me the basics during a winter trip to Montreal; he made me do donuts and skids in an empty parking lot until I could control the car on ice.  This was mainly because he wanted me to drive for most of the trip.  After all, it was my car.  So I felt ridiculously confident that I could drive my car in the snow through Vail Pass just because I wanted to go buy some beads.

I hopped in the car and took off.  Those were the days without GPS, so I was armed with a map and verbal instructions from the store owner.  The shop was right on the main road once I got through Vail Pass to the other side, so I felt pretty confident.  The snow started on my way over there, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.  I got to the shop and spent a pleasant few hours browsing, shopping and buying.  As usual, I dropped quite a bit of money on jewelry supplies.  After all, I was a doctor, I was single, and had nothing but an apartment payment to make.  My car was paid for. 

Time came to leave and go back and meet the boyfriend.  There was quite a lot of snow in the parking lot and on the car.  I hopped in, turned on the heat, and drove brashly off.  I began to notice, on my way up into the Pass, that my car was doing a bit of slipping and sliding.  I had been taught how to handle a skid, so I kept correcting the car, steering the car into the skid as I had been taught.  The radio I was listening to had a break-in announcement – shortly they would be closing the Pass to all but those with snow chains, and a bit afterward, they would be closing the pass entirely.  This got my attention, because if I got trapped on the wrong side of the Pass, I wouldn’t be going skiing or meeting my boyfriend at all. 

I got through the pass just as they were closing to all without snow chains.  Now I just had to get down the other side without landing in a ditch.  I skewed and slid my way down the road, becoming a bit more nervous and a bit less brash than previously as I contemplated the steep road and the guard rails, with mountains dropping off to the side.  Unbelievably, I made it back to the lodge through piles of snow, parked in front of our lodge and met the boyfriend just in time.  I’d like to say I learned my lesson that day and didn’t do any other stupid things, but I had many, many more foolhardy actions to go before I finally grew up.  My age and mortality finally caught up with me.  I am now just nervous when I have to put my minivan in reverse.  I would no more traverse Vail Pass in a snowstorm than fly.  The interesting thing is, I may be taking a temporary job in North Dakota this winter, and I am feeling absolutely terrified of driving into town from the airport.  Go figure.  Lo, how the mighty have fallen.  Or maybe the mighty have risen, because I finally feel like I might have a lick of sense.  Having a husband and a daughter to look out for makes all the difference in the world.

The Little Boy In The Children’s Hospital

My third year of medical school, my very first hospital rotation I served on was pediatrics.  I quickly discovered that taking care of sick children was a less than charming experience; my Florence Nightingale-like visions of comforting ill children was quickly replaced by the reality of pediatrics:  sick children don’t want you.  They just want their mommies.  You are the enemy.  And if the kids don’t hate you, you will hate their parents.  All pediatricians know, half the time the parents are the problem, not part of the solution. 

The second half of my pediatrics rotation was more specialized:  pediatric pulmonology.  We saw a lot of preemies with BPD; a lung disease we don’t see so much anymore because of the development of pulmonary surfactant.  And I learned about the bane of pediatric pulmonology (and possibly of pediatrics):  a condition called diaphragmatic hernia.  Babies with this condition have a hole in their breathing diaphragm during development in the womb, which allows stomach and bowel and all manner of things that belong in the abdomen to wiggle their way up into the chest cavity.  This in turn can displace the heart and causes the lungs not to develop, because there is no room for them.  So the babies can develop normally up until birth, because they don’t need to breathe until then, but once they are born, what do you do with a baby with no lungs?  How can that baby possibly survive?  A lot of times they don’t, and when they do, they are long term residents of the hospital.  Like, years.

How do you put a breathing tube in a baby whose trachea is kinked from everything being pushed sideways?  How do you make a hole in the trachea for the baby to breathe, when you can’t find the trachea because it’s so distorted and turned around?  There have been some unique approaches to these problems, but these babies are still very, very sick.  Sometimes they use an oxygenating technique called ECMO:  ExtraCorporeal Membrane Oxygenation.  Extracorporeal literally means “outside the body” and they treat the baby like a cardiac bypass patient where they put oxygen in the blood in tubes that carry the blood outside the body.  Various types of ventilators have been tried.  When I was at Children’s in Birmingham, they literally had a young child in an iron lung, of polio vintage, that was being used to get oxygen in the lungs because the trachea couldn’t be accesed.  These children have multiple surgeries in attempt to return the various organs to more or less correct positions – most of which fail or have to be done very gradually with multiple tries.

But there was one child who stands out in my mind.  Dusty was his name, and he was a diaphragmatic hernia baby.  He was abandoned by his parents at the hospital because they were poor and scared and didn’t think they could take care of him.  He never had any visitors.  He was three years old and he had been living on the pediatric pulmonary unit since the day he was born.  He was a baby who belonged to everybody.  The nurses and doctors loved him like he was their own – he was.  He had a tracheostomy tube in his neck when I arrived there, and he had it taken out shortly after I started there.  He had had it in basically his whole life.  He had never eaten real food – he’d always been tube fed.  This was an experiment to see if he could eat.  He cried.  He wailed.  He couldn’t eat.  He had no idea how to began to eat – he’d never eaten in his life.  His comfort feelings came from having a tube filled, not by chewing and eating.  He couldn’t be tempted by ice cream, which is relatively easy to handle, or by any other food.  The nurses and doctors were despairing that he’d ever be able to eat on his own.

I had no idea that situations like this existed.  That parents would abandon a child, albeit a sick one, and leave them as a ward of the state and resident of the hospital, had never crossed my mind.  I didn’t realize that some babies can’t breathe because they were born without developed lungs.  I had no idea that a baby with a diaphragmatic hernia, loving parents or not, would spend its entire life in the hospital without ever going home.  I was floored.  Dusty floored me.  He was my first inkling that there truly were things on heaven and earth that were not dreamed of in my philosophy.  I’d like to say Dusty was eating and normal by the time my rotation on that unit finished, but the truth is more what you’d expect:  he still was not able to eat.  Or speak.  I wonder from time to time what ever became of him.  Is he a teenager, still wandering the halls of the Children’s Hospital?  Was he institutionalized?  Did he die of some opportunistic lung infection?  Did he ever get to go to any kind of home?  I will never know the answers, but I will never forget the kid who lived at Children’s Hospital.

My Two Headed Husband

Behold the amazing two-headed husband!

Two Headed Husband

This was our dog Bella, a beautiful Italian Greyhound.  We had her until her best friend, Nymo, a chihuahua, was killed in our backyard by a coyote.  Bella was heartbroken and so terrified after witnessing the attack, that we could never get her to go outside the house again, despite doggie antidepressants and doggie valium.  Bella started pooping and peeing all over our house as she would not go outside, and the vet advised us to give her away to a family that had expressed interest in her in the past, in hopes she would get a fresh start in a new location, hopefully one without coyotes.  This is one of my favorite Bella pictures.  She was so good with our baby – I really wished we didn’t have to give her away, but it was the best thing for her and as it turns out, the family she went to had a toddler also, so she had another baby to love on.

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