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Archive for December, 2016


Amie, by her own admission, is not the most empathetic person in the universe. Sometimes that happens when your recovery from a car accident results in a bunch of surgeries. As a result, I’ve been the one to go with him for all his surgeries except one, his locally done tympanoplasty. This time she was going to LA and dealing with the stress of uncertainty regarding rides, housing etc.

The Lead Up

She needed to get some details sorted out in preparation for their trip on Saturday. They were going to stay with a friend on Saturday night, but needed to nail down details for Sunday and Monday. Our friend lived about 45 minutes away from the hospital. I’d been told she may be able to stay in the PICU the night after the surgery. At Shriners’ they required me to stay overnight if he was staying overnight (that only happened once, thankfully). But they were uncertain, and she needed to be certain. She also needed to know if there was a spot at the nearby Ronald McDonald House.

So the phone calls began: the hospital, Shriners’ and the Ronald McDonald House. She discovered that parents did not stay in the PICU, but there was a “Community Parents’ Room” with curtains between beds. “Sorta like camp?” “I’m really not sure.” This was not sounding like a great option, but rather a last resort.

On the RMH front, nothing. She left messages. She got the weekend loop of “Dial 0” which brings you back to the same message. She had to go the “hotel points” route for a nearby hotel. Accommodations were set, but it took awhile and some frustration.

Despite his little brother having a runny nose all week, Eli didn’t seem to have any cold symptoms. He may have escaped illness which would postpone the surgery.

Heading to LA

It was a 12:30 flight to the City of (Fallen) Angels. This meant we could have our usual Saturday breakfast together of waffles and bacon. While talking that morning before breakfast she mentioned:

A: “I really wish you were going, not me.”

S: “I am a cad and a scoundrel.”

A: “You know why I can go?”

S: “No.”

A: “Because there are no exercise classes that week. I didn’t need to find a substitute.”

Praise God for the little things.

Eli never really unpacked his backpack which was already bursting with books, toys and his tablet. He just added to it. This time he remembered a charger; two actually. Not wanting to mess up her neck meant bringing her pillow, which meant bringing a bigger suitcase (violating my travel light policy). Thanks to the “pre-op” appointments this was a longer trip than usual.

It was an easy ride to the airport. Child #1 bailed on us since she hates car rides. “I can say ‘good-bye’ here.” She just wanted to be dumped at the curb. Contrary to her wishes I came to a complete stop.  They made it to the gate and waited. And waited.

A weather system was slowing down flights. Their plane was coming from Denver which had recently suspended flights indefinitely. Thankfully their plane had taken off, although late, before the suspension. But there was the appointments, a schedule to keep. This creates stress. Despite the delay, they arrived in LA in due time, met our friend and were off to the appointments at the hospital.

Keep in mind, these were necessary “pre-op” appointments to take place within three days of the surgery. I’m thinking blood work and stuff like that. They weighed him, measured his height, took his blood pressure, a nasal swab, and an oral history. The first two were done on Monday. The last was all in his file which they should have had. No off book surgeries in Mexico. So they made Amie and Eli travel early and spend an extra day so they could take his blood pressure and a nasal swab. Yeah. But at least they got to celebrate Dr. Thomas’ birthday with her and her family. They enjoyed some good Indian food, reminding them of the times Reena would cook for community group.

On our end, things were pretty uneventful. In light of an upcoming trip, and the fact that we only had one key for the van, I stopped by a place to get a spare. It was 40 minutes of whining by the little people. After rest time I popped some corn and we watched the rest of The Princess Bride, which we had started the previous week. Child #1 even joined us (that tween thing). We had some red beans & rice for dinner.

Sunday

Sunday was rather uneventful. But there were two key moments when it created unfortunate circumstances for me. Those were the moments Amie called.

Since I had “medical leave” I was not preaching. I taught SS and lead the liturgy, but one of the assistant pastors of a sister church in town preached for us. Since I planned on being home all day Monday, I printed off a bunch of stuff for our Session meeting Monday night. Then I got the phone call. Distracted, I forgot to send the liturgy information to my admin, and forgot to get my paperwork from the printer. I did not yet realize this unfortunate reality.

One of the things she told me was that he was groggy and had a sniffly nose. Perhaps he was coming down with Asher’s cold. But one side effect of the pain meds we were supposed to give him was drowsiness. Who really knows.

After giving them lunch, I watched the Patriots beat the Broncos (yes!!).  Then we all watched Chicken Run since Micah wanted to watch it. Asher loves that movie, laughing all the way through even if he doesn’t catch all “The Great Escape” allusions. Then it was time to work on dinner. I forgot to thaw chicken which I intended to cover with Bisquick and creole seasoning. So I used the last of the Tyson breaded chicken which was just enough, barely, for the 4 of us. I made some cheesy risotto and was sauteing spinach. At the critical moment, Amie called.

In a panic. She had the borrowed Civic and her phone was going to die. She needed it for directions but couldn’t find the plug to charge it. Reena and her mom were in the worship service and couldn’t be reached. With the food at the point of being done or burning, she wanted me to look up the schematics to discover the location. I couldn’t find it, but she finally did (passenger side in the obvious location of under the dashboard- there is a special place in Hades for engineers like this). And my spinach burned.

The Day Of

Eli was scheduled to be there at 5:30. His was the second surgery on tap, but you just never know if they may have to switch the order. Nope. So began the wait with Eli watching the Cartoon Network for a few hours, awaiting his turn. Eventually they were brought to a room to watch more Cartoon Network and play on his tablet. Finally Dr. Magee showed up and the process of preparation began.

When he’s had surgery at Shriners’, they give me a pager. I can walk around to get exercise, pray, read and go get something to eat. At this hospital, Amie was trapped in the family waiting room. They didn’t let her go get food. I told her, “Ask if they’ll give you free migraine medication since they won’t let you go eat.” They had her cell number in case of emergency, but they wouldn’t let her leave.

Dr. Magee came out and talked to her. He thinks the sphincterplasty went well, and he did remove two teeth that were growing through his palate. If he’s happy, I’m happy.

In recovery and PICU he struggled with nausea.  More so than usual. The night nurse had a similar problem and was all over it. After she went to sleep, Amie went back to the hotel to get some sleep. I wanted her to peek into the “family community room”, but you can’t always get what you want.

Back on the home front all was going well. We did school work and then went to Wal-Mart to pick up some ingredients for the shrimp scampi that was on the menu that night. We were taking advantage of Amie’s allergic absence. I had invited the elders over for dinner, so just in case there wasn’t enough shrimp, I bought some 4-cheese Italian sausage. We picked up lunch at Chipotle since there were no leftovers from the night before, and ate at the church office so I could get my materials for the meeting.

The Aftermath

The next day he was still struggling with nausea. While he’d already peed, he needed to keep a meal down before he could leave. And so the wait began. And the stress due to the immovable flight time. At least on our end.

While she was waiting, we did school work after our second morning in a row of pancakes. Then it was off to work for about an hour to do some things I couldn’t do from home. Then back home for some leftover scampi and angel hair pasta.

Eli seemed to be well enough, so Reena, aka Dr. Thomas, arrived to get them to the airport so they could wait. LAX was horribly behind. 40% of the flights were late, and 40% were extremely late. On time was no longer a possibility, so which would it be- late or extremely late.

I checked on the plane’s arrival to LAX from Phoenix. That it was in the air was good. There was still plenty of confusion on their end as flights back logged, The plane couldn’t get to the gate because another flight was boarding. When they boarded, it looked like there were about 90 minutes behind schedule. So the rest of us ate the turkey soup I made. My first soup. Just before we left, I checked again. Apparently they spent another half hour sitting on the tarmac waiting to take off. Now it was an 8 pm arrival instead of 5:45.

When we got to the airport, they were now scheduled for an 8:15 arrival. This just keeps getting better. But they arrived safe and sound. Soon we were all home again.

Eli has been doing well. When asked about this pain he often say “1” or “0”. He has been getting more active. He has had trouble swallowing the pills. He also is less excited about pureed food. We’ve noticed he sounds different. But the food thing can be a pain for him. We stopped by a local theater to get a “loyalty shirt” which gets you a free medium popcorn when you wear it to the movies. I didn’t realize they’d actually give me one today. Eli was upset that Micah could have some, and he couldn’t. Yes, disappointing. But he’s on the right track.

 

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4 am.

That’s when the strains of Charlie Peacock’s West Coast Diaries Vol. 1 awakened me.

They didn’t play long because I hadn’t slept well. I’d gone to bed later than desired, watching The Walking Dead’s mid-season finale (finally Rick realizes they need to join together to destroy Negan and the Saviors).

I was up at 4 am because our flight to LA left at 6 am. After a shower to wash the smell of the fire pit off of my body, I was dressed and ready to go. Eli already has his backpack on his back. I think it weighed 20 pounds, filled with his tablet, toys, books and who knows what else. He was ready for an adventure. I was ready to go to bed. But we had some pre-op appointments to make in LA.

It was a smooth and quick ride despite the exit at Prince Rd. being closed due to an accident. We could see the vehicle which looked like it rolled a few times. We decided to try the “economy parking” lot, only $4/day. Since it is December I wasn’t worried about covered parking. As we walked to the shuttle stop I could see the shuttle bus approaching.

With no bags to check we went straight to the security line. While we waited, the TSA guy chatted me up about the Red Sox and D’Backs since I was wearing my long sleeved Red Sox jersey. And so we soon sat waiting for the flight to board. I started Faithful Presence by David Fitch in preparation for my upcoming series on 1 Peter. I would read it throughout the day. I decided not to read any of the other two work books I brought. Eli was anxious; rocking, roaming, eating an apple and going to wash his hands (after I suggested the common sense idea).

There aren’t many direct flights to LA from Tucson these days, so it was the early flight. I decided not to buy a Chai and wait for the flight’s drink service for my caffeine- Coke. It was an uneventful flight as I read, he did some Minecraft on his tablet and the guy next to us slept on the short flight.

I love not having to go to baggage claim. I wasn’t exactly sure where the Shrine van would meet us. The corridor turned right, and there were doors to the curb in front of us. I saw a van, and the driver looked vaguely familiar. Finally I saw the name on the van and knew it was the right one. He mentioned calling twice, as if we were late or something. “We just got off the plane. I didn’t hear a call.”

And we were off to the Shriners’ Hospital for our 4 appointments. It was about 7:30 Tucson time, but 6:30 LA time. Even though I had the luxurious breakfast of peanuts, pretzels and Coke, I was still hungry. But first the van right, which seemed exceedingly bouncy. I was reminded of Trena’s “burping ‘Burbon” which made her kids puke. Tires? Shocks? Then I noticed the PSI light was lit.

Finally our bouncy ride was done. I thanked him, and noted the light. It was now time to check in. You might say we were early. No one else was waiting. After checking in we went by radio to wait. And read. And play Minecraft. I took a few texts for work-related stuff and read.

Finally it was 8:30 and the cafeteria was to open. Breakfast! I made sure I had cash (a rarity) since that is all they took. And we waited. They were a bit slow getting going. He picked scrambled eggs and bacon with juice while I had a breakfast of champions: bacon, hash browns and a Vanilla Coke. Sweet nutrition.

As we were putting our trays away, I heard his name being called. Figures…. We walked to the nurses station and they begin the preliminary work. The boy has actually gained 6 pounds since May. He has been eating like a horse, so it has paid off.

Then we waited. I read. “I’m bored!” He only had 42% of his battery left and he forgot to bring his charger. I noted the 20 lbs of toys & books. No go. So began the time of playing with medical stuff, rolling around on the stool and generally driving me crazy. We took a few walks up and down the hall to get ants out of pants, but there were too many ants. Way too many ants.

The doctors showed up late, at least 45 minutes for the first appointment. But they were all nice. The anesthesiologist talked about a new protocol they were using to reduce the use of narcotics by kids post-surgery. We would begin dosing him with painkillers on Saturday so they’d be in his system already. We’d have to chart us dosage post-surgery. He usually has a high pain tolerance and turns down pain killers after a day or two.

We talked about the surgery with Dr. Magee. They would be rotating some muscles in the back of the throat so he can fully close the airway connecting the nose and mouth. This way he can make all the sounds necessary to speak. Hopefully this helps more people understand him, and makes him less self-conscious. He will have to re-learn a few things. The opening will be smaller so he will snore (more than he already does) and have a hard time hocking a loogie to get excess mucus out.

There are risks. They will be working close to the spinal column and the carotid arteries. This is why they will do it at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena instead of the Shriners’ Hospital his last 3 surgeries have been in. Any future surgeries will likely be in the new outpatient surgical center they are building near Huntington Hospital in Pasadena.

Our flight was at 3:30 and the cafeteria didn’t open for lunch until 11. More waiting. I sat and read while he went to see “the show” they had. Apparently when they asked if any kids spoke English he didn’t raise his hand because most of it was in Spanish. The humor seemed similar to El Sabado Gigante, and he enjoyed the part when one guy kicked another in the bottom. Always gets the 10 year-old boy in the audience.

I got the meds, read and we went to the cafeteria for a far more affordable lunch than at the airport. He had spinach manicotti and a roll while I had chicken parm over linguini. And more Coke for me as I struggled to stay awake.

I saw the van driver and said we were ready when he was. He passed us off to another, younger guy. But they made sure he still got a gift. In addition to the bag, there was another item and he could choose another. One of the things I love about him is that he can be quite generous. He was thinking about which things his siblings would like. When he wasn’t talking to me about this I was talking to the driver. First about the new restaurants in the area (where were they in 2012 when I had to walk over a mile to Korea Town for dinner???), and the new facility.

One of the benefits of this ride was learning the LA method of “discreet” public urination. In Tucson, I’ve just seen guys “whip it out” by the bus stop. Yeah, public johnson sighting as I drove by. In LA the method, witnessed in two cases on this one ride, was to get close to the wall, or lamp post, to minimize any visuals of said johnson. Thinking of the children, obviously. Though I imagine it would splash all over your pants so pick your poison- public exposure or wet, stinky pants. Life in the big city has its charms.

I think it was my quickest ride to LAX ever! It was quite congested when we got there. Dropped off at Southwest we went to security. They sent us to the family line which was short. Okay, non-existent. “Whose printer did this?” he said. They worked in Tucson this morning, I noted. “That’s Tucson…” he said forebodingly. Sure enough, his boarding pass refused to be read. I tried to pull them up using the SW app. It also told me to go to the kiosk. Back down the stairs. Back up the stairs with a newly printed set of boarding passes. Through security and to the gate.

Back at the homestead …. Cody the Destroyer was digging again. I’d filled a hole this weekend. Well, back to the same basic spot. There is something about that spot that he really likes. If there was a rodent hole, we can’t tell because of the Cody hole. We have realized how difficult it is to get dirt out of artificial turf.

And so we waited back at the gate. Again. I read and he fidgeted. Another reference to the backpack full of books and toys. Nah. Eventually he wanted water. At lunch I bought him a bottle of water. He drank about 2-3 ounces before I had to throw it away before we got to security. Tired, and in need of even more caffeine I bought a Chai Latte and water.  Our plane was late arriving, but we were only about 10 minutes late departing.

Being at the end of the “B” group we were way in the back in the only 2 seats we could find together. He was happy to be able to use the tablet again. Tired of Faithful Presence and it’s overuse of the word “space”, I read some of War Room by Michael Holley about the Patriots and team-building. Our whirlwind trip to LA was nearly over.

We arrived on time and next came a classic Eli moment. It took us quite some time to get off the plane, so I asked if he needed to go potty. “Nope.” He then proceeded to remove the burden of his backpack and head into the men’s room.

The shuttle came quickly, we headed home. Nearly home, I got the text that one of the other children had become curious. “Hmmm, what will happen if I stick these metal tweezers into the outlet” kind of curious. Thankfully said outlet was in the bathroom and therefore GFCI. This meant the circuit broke before this child could electrocute themselves. Thankful for small mercies that result in big mercies. The tweezers were damaged, but the child was only traumatized as Dad explained the reality of electricity and conductors later that evening.

We arrived home to the dogs and fish since the others were at BSF. I checked the outlets, reset the breaker and then the GFCI outlet (both tripped) and reheated some pizza while I turned on the Patriots’ game. It was a good game except for the 14 seconds or so in which they allowed the Ravens to score 2 touchdowns.

And so we wait until Saturday when Amie and Eli head back for some pre-op appointments at Huntington Hospital.

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This past weekend we started to watch This Is Us. It stirs up lots of dust, lots of emotions, particularly as an adoptive parent.

It is a show that just sucks you in as they slowly reveal the truth. Some of the truth is about the lies we tell ourselves, or the lies we’ve been told. Sometimes the lies are driven by fears, and sometimes the lies create fears.

The show shifts back and forth between two time frames; childhood and the present for three siblings. One of those siblings was adopted, a black boy in a white home before it was common. One of his struggles was the longing to know his biological parents. He didn’t love his adoptive parents less but he wanted to understand who he was. Understandable.

His mother struggled to connect with him initially. She was mourning the death of one of her triplets. Desperate, she seeks for the man she saw lurking at the hospital. She stays in touch with him, but prohibits him from contacting her son. She bonds so well with him, that her biological son feels left out. When he’s discovered to be a gifted student it only aggravates his brother’s wound and the sibling rivalry that tears apart their father’s dream of the Big Three.

There are those moments when black moms offer help. We’ve had those moments, like one in Hartsfield Airport near midnight. Some people are kindly about it, and others not so much. You feel judged as incompetent, uncaring, a “great white hope complex” etc..

As parents we struggle with these fears, these tensions, longings unfulfilled. We have our own wounds from childhood and are afraid they will have the same problems we do.

We want our kids to be close not just to us but one another. There are those beautiful, magical moments when they all play outside together. The laughter is as beautiful to me as a brilliantly composed and played symphony. I cherish those moments. There are times I’ve just pulled up a chair to watch and soak it all in.

Then there are the other moments, those ordinary sibling moments that my fearful heart can easily blow out of proportion. There are the stages as they grow older to pull away from us, from one another.

It gets back to this: I often feel like a wholly inadequate father. It is like they want what I don’t have, and don’t want what I do. For instance, I want to share sports with them. They really aren’t interested in watching a game with me (they are missing the beauty of Dustin Pedroia play defense, or Tom Brady leading the offense). One those rare occasions when they want to toss the ball around, it is so hot outside I struggle.

I’m not a handy guy; I’m more of an intellectual. I read. I think. Thankfully we live next door to a neighbor who works on his truck often. The boys are drawn like a moth to the flame. He’s able to scratch an itch that I cannot. Nor should I begrudge my neighbor for the time he spends with the boys because it isn’t about me, but them.

I love my parents, even my mother who can’t remember who I am. They are from a very different generation. They did the best they could, but there were …. gaps. For instance, they wanted me to control their anger but couldn’t show me how. My mother was an angry, fearful person. They really didn’t know how to process grief. When our dog was hit by a car on Easter Sunday, my father had to pull over the car on the way home. It was the only time I remember seeing him cry. We didn’t get another dog. I never had another pet until I was a young pastor living alone.

Kids, especially adopted kids, can expose those wounds, those gaps and those inadequacies. It is humbling. It can be paralyzing, like it was for the mother in This Is Us. Our kids can’t perceive the fear we have. They just see the anger and control that the fear produces. It can teach us to be patient with our parents’ shortcomings. We can finally put ourselves in their shoes.

Hopefully my kids will show me a similar mercy in years to come.

I will have to trust God for the future. I will have to trust for the outcomes: whether they will share our faith, love each other well, discover, cultivate and utilize their gifts. I will have to trust that they will choose to call one another, hang out together. I can’t make it happen, only provide opportunities. Yes, you often feel helpless. Welcome to parenting.

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