Dreams, Aspirations, and Other Things That Cause Pneumonia

I feel like there’s an unspoken rule that if you keep a blog, you’re supposed to update it regularly. (I feel like most people just abandon their blog after a few posts, but that’s another story.) At any rate, let me explain my absence.

First, there was the week I swallowed a land mine. And by “land mine,” I mean “two-day-old sausage kolache.” It was so delicious. I have no idea why I didn’t think to refrigerate it. It was the worst pain I’ve felt since labor.

A few days after I recovered from food poisoning, we woke up to find baby John in his crib, sluggish and covered in vomit, with his blanket wrapped around his face. He was certainly alive, but barely responsive. As my husband Ethan called the nurse, I fed John, who seemed only vaguely interested in food. This is extremely strange behavior for an Unklesbay. The nurse didn’t sound too worried, and told us we might as well just come in for our regular appointment, which was the next day. By the time Ethan hung up, however, I had noticed a raspy quality to John’s breathing and some blueness in his fingertips. We took him to the pediatrician and they rushed him in.

Our pediatrician measured his oxygen at about 70%. She gave him some oxygen, took a few more vital signs, and used some albuterol to open up his lungs. She then personally carried our son to the elevator, told a perplexed woman holding a lunch tray she would have to wait, and loaded us in. (Someone had pushed the “up” button, so we ended up coming back the other direction and letting the lunch-carrier in. She looked annoyed. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would be annoyed at being inconvenienced by a baby in respiratory distress.) The doctor then marched us into the E.R., checked us in, explained to the staff everything they needed to know, and told us to let her know how he was doing later. We are never changing pediatricians.

In the E.R., more stuff happened. I’m no doctor. I know there were a lot of monitors, and some more oxygen and an I.V. Also some chest x-rays that showed he did, in fact, have fluid in his lungs. Aspiration pneumonia.

We were then transferred up to the pediatric section of Utah Valley Regional hospital. Ethan’s sister was flying in to see the baby (good timing,) and we were supposed to pick her up from the airport, so Ethan drove off while I sat listening to Dr. Doom (that’s what he called himself) explaining the worst possible scenario: John gets put on a ventilator and flown to Primary Children’s Medical Center in a helicopter. Dr. Doom did, fortunately, reassure me that this scenario did not end in death – just longer recovery.

After a few hours, Ethan and his sister Sarah showed up to see John with his new, improved oxygen apparatus – “high-flow.” It’s basically a Lorax mustache that forces the oxygen in. John wasn’t super excited about it, but he got used to it. He also got a feeding tube put into his nose, since the Lorax device might make it hard for him to eat. I volunteered to stay the night at the hospital, and Ethan and Sarah went to get some sleep. I slept very little, since John cried every thirty minutes or so. I was paranoid that if I left him alone, he’d throw up again and inhale it. Or something. I don’t know. The night before all this, I remember feeling worried about him, realizing there was nothing I could do to make him any safer, and praying, “Well, God, he’s in your hands now.” At this point, I wasn’t sure how much I trusted God. That didn’t stop me from praying, though – a lot.

Around four in the morning, all hell broke loose. His breathing was still labored, so the doctor wanted to put him on a CPAP machine – the kind used for sleep apnea. Apparently, that would force even more air in, so he wouldn’t have to work so hard and his lungs wouldn’t get tired out. Trouble is, my son is stubborn. He gets it from both sides of the family. And probably both sides of those families. As soon as the CPAP machine was on, he was not having it. He started fighting against the oxygen flow, and it was soon clear that this was only going to make things worse. The doctor quickly decided to intubate him (put a tube down his throat and put him on a ventilator.)

Suddenly, I was sitting in a chair in the corner while twelve (I counted) medical personnel went running around like headless chickens. I remember a few confident-but-worried-looking people by his crib, and two nurses near me who would have been a good comedy act under different circumstances. One looked completely indifferent to life, while the other had wide eyes and a look like she had just realized the Apocalypse had come, and it was her fault. Both of them kept messing things up and getting yelled at. Eventually, they worked as a team and yelled at each other.

Despite the doctors’ previous reassurances, I was convinced my son was dying. I’ve seen TV. You can’t fit that many people in a hospital room unless someone’s just been shot. I sat in the chair with wide eyes, trying not to lose it. After an eternity (probably about fifteen minutes), a kind nurse named Carson noticed me, made his way over, and reassured me that everything was fine, and my son was actually doing very well. He also called Life Flight to make sure I had a seat on the helicopter with my son, folded my blanket up for me, and packed up the rest of the diapers so I could take them home. The doctor tells me this nurse is leaving soon to go to law school. I say if he wanted to become a pediatrician, I would personally pay his student loans.

The helicopter flight was actually really cool, although I was worried about my little baby boy in the back. I got to sit in the front seat next to the pilot, with a headset on, and watch as we flew over the lights and gorgeous temples of the Salt Lake Valley. (If my son was a little older, I would get “Coolest Mom of the Century” for this.) The flight only took about fifteen minutes, and we checked into the Pediatric ICU at Primary Children’s.

I sank into a chair in the ICU room, sleep-deprived, and answered questions from half a dozen medical students hovering nearby. For about the fifth time, someone asked if my son had a history of seizures. Apparently, most children don’t just breathe vomit without a darn good reason. I kept telling people he had a vomit-soaked blanket wrapped around his face, but they still wanted to cover all the bases.

At this point, I broke down. I called Ethan, sobbing, and begged him to come to the hospital, and then collapsed into a chair and slept until he and Sarah arrived. We stayed a few days in the PICU, and then they moved us upstairs to the infant unit. We slept nights at my parents’ house, while my mom and dad took turns staying the night with John.

By this time, I was starting to forgive God and realizing that He could have let us find John a few hours later, when the pneumonia would have gotten a lot worse. Besides that, I was blessed to have a nurse I knew in junior high school. (We both vowed not to mention anything from junior high.) And by this time, John had been moved from ventilator back down to Lorax mustache and down again to a regular oxygen cannula. He was breathing quite well, and was only in the hospital for some tests. And some antibiotics. Apparently, they found a staph infection in his blood.

He had an MRI to determine whether there was any damage from the low oxygenation, or whether there might have been a seizure. He was normal. And while he was sedated for that, they put a PICC line in, which is basically a more permanent alternative to an I.V. Then the next day he had a bone scan to determine whether there was an infection in his bone. He was fine. I was starting to get really anxious to go home again. Then they found something a little off in the MRI, and asked for another one. They sedated him again, got another MRI, and then told us there was something off in the bone scan, and they wanted another MRI. Every time he got an MRI, he couldn’t eat for several hours, got super ornery, and then had to be sedated. Which meant he had to stay in the hospital for another twelve hours. And of course, they had to read the results of one before they could decide about another. I was furious. I would have given a doctor a piece of my mind, except they rotated through so I only saw the same one around once a day.

Another blessing – possibly for the doctors as well as for me: the morning I finally decided to let them have it was the morning they compared all the tests and said, “Well, there’s really no reason we have to keep him here any longer.” Glory, hallelujah! We were out the door by noon, and heading home to freedom! John was happy, playful, and sticking his tongue out at everyone. I was relieved to be going home with a healthy baby. Ethan was thrilled we were coming home.

The past week and a half has been a rough transition – John has been very clingy, and I think he’s afraid we’ll starve him or leave him again. But he’s slowly starting to loosen up, and once he finishes his antibiotics next week, he should be able to get the PICC line out of his arm. Until then, we’ll distract him with tongue exercises and the baby in the mirror while we give him his medication. ♥

Book Review: Sailing Alone Around the Room; New and Selected Poems

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Here is another collection of Billy Collins’s: Sailing Alone Around the Room. I’m quickly learning to like Collins, but I still don’t feel I know enough about poetry to provide any critical insight as to the quality of his writing. It feels clean and fresh, and I like it. I’m still not sure why, though. So I’m going to include one of my favorite poems, as I did with my last poetry post, and call it good.

“November”

After three days of steady rain –
over two inches said the radio –
I follow the example of monks
who wrote by a window, sunlight on the page.

Five times this morning,
I loaded a wheelbarrow with wood
and steered it down the hill to the house,
and later I will cut down the dead garden

with a clippers and haul the soft pulp
to a grave in the woods,
but now there is only
my sunny page which is like a poem

I am covering with another poem
and the dog asleep on the tiles,
her head in her paws,
her hind legs splayed out like a frog.

How foolish it is to long for childhood,
to want to run in circles in the yard again,
arms outstretched,
pretending to be an airplane.

How senseless to dread whatever lies before us
when, night and day, the boats,
strong as horses in the wind,
come and go,

bringing in the tiny infants
and carrying away the bodies of the dead.

Book Review: The Trouble With Poetry; And Other Poems

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The Trouble With Poetry; And Other Poems is a poetry collection by Billy Collins. I started reading this to pass the time while breastfeeding, at my husband’s suggestion. Billy Collins is my husband’s favorite poet.

Confession time: I don’t have a favorite poet. Confession, part two: I’m not really comfortable with poetry at all. I consider myself a writer. I always got great grades in English. I got so good at using different writing styles that I could tell what my English teachers were looking for, and I gave them exactly what they wanted – and when it came to poetry, this meant I could put together something sappy and flowery for my flowery teachers, and something witty and sarcastic (usually about the pointlessness of the assignment) for my saltier teachers. But I don’t think I ever put an ounce of introspection, outerspection, or any other kind of perspection into it. As a result, I’m really good at mocking poetry, and I have absolutely no idea what’s good and what’s not.

So, being a complete amateur, I’m not going to try to review this. I’ll simply say that I liked it, Collins’s approach to poetry feels honest and fresh, and here’s one of my favorite pieces from the collection:

“The Lanyard”

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the pale blue walls of this room,
bouncing from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past –
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sickroom,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift – not the archaic truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

Book Review: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

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E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is a childhood classic and a Newbery Medal award winner. It’s a classic tale of growing up and coming to know yourself, with a little adventure.

I found this book pleasantly dated: it’s a story about a boy and girl running away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. And maybe it’s the history geek in me, but I just kept thinking, “Wow, inflation has skyrocketed since then!” The book took me back to the late 60s, a time when I wasn’t even alive, let alone reading, but the book itself still appeals easily. The cost of living is different: the internal struggle is not.

The book follows Claudia Kincaid as she faces the “injustices” of her family life: taking out the trash every Saturday, taking care of her little brother Kevin, and getting by on a small allowance, for a few examples. She runs away, thinking she’s looking to teach her family a lesson, but slowly realizes she’s looking for more than that: she’s looking for some way to be different from everyone else. Along the way, she and her brother Jamie unravel the secret of a statue of an angel, supposedly carved by Michelangelo.

While this isn’t an action-packed book, it’s a good, lighthearted adventure story, and it’s friendly for all ages. I recommend it to kids and adults alike. ♦

Book Review: The Return of the King

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If you haven’t read my reviews on The Fellowship of the Ring or The Two Towers, let me sum up:

Tolkien wanted to write one huge, epic novel. His publisher said no. They split it into three parts and called it three novels, hence the Lord of the Rings series. This means that the books don’t really make sense on their own, but they’re fantastic when you read all three of them.

While The Two Towers is probably the most action-packed of the books, The Return of the King has the most spectacular action; there are less battles, but the ones in there are more glorious and pivotal and necessary for the salvation of Middle Earth and stuff. Frodo destroys a ring (spoilers). Eowyn kills the lord of the nazgul. (Spoilers.) And you should definitely watch the movies before you read any of this, because otherwise, there’s no way you’re going to be able to tell the characters apart. At least, I wouldn’t have.

This is one of the few times I’m going to tell you to watch the movies first – usually, I like to bring my book bias to the theater with me, but on this one, the books are so detailed that it’s actually going to be really helpful to have some idea what’s about to happen and what each character looks like. It’ll help keep the cities straight, too.

Overall, I’d give each book two stars on its own – but the series gets five. ♦

Book Review: The Two Towers

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Even after reading all the books, I still think the elves are pansies. Sorry, Orlando Bloom.

This review is going to be short, because this book really shouldn’t be treated as its own book. For those of you who didn’t read my review of The Fellowship of the Ring (or are generally unfamiliar with Tolkien), you should know that the Lord of the Rings series was written as one book. Tolkien just wanted to publish one epic novel, and his publishers were like, “Dude. No. Nobody reads that much.”

And Tolkien probably just raised one sage eyebrow at them and said, “Oh, really?”

But the publisher was in charge of the publishing, and he sent Tolkien into a corner until he could find a convenient place to split the thing up into thirds. Hence, the trilogy.

The Two Towers is the dead middle of the series/book, the filling in the novel. The peanut butter in the PBJ. The meat in the meatloaf. The cheese in the cheesecake. You get it. This is where all the action builds up, but doesn’t really resolve. Also, since the assumption is that you’ve already read The Fellowship, you’re not going to get much explanation, either. So don’t – I repeat, don’t –  try to read this as its own book.

As long as you’re reading this as part of the series, it’s delightful. This section is an action movie of epic proportions, with battles and skirmishes peppering the pages in blood (but mostly ink). It will take a while to wade through, because it’s Tolkien, but it’s well worth the wade, and you’ll be left hungry for The Return of the King. ♦

Read-a-thon Week!

Well, folks, here’s how it is.

Postpartum depression sucks.

Don’t read that wrong: I didn’t say motherhood sucks. I didn’t say babies suck. Babies are awesome. My baby is exceptionally awesome. But he’s taken a lot of my time, and every now and then, depression hits and hits hard. Which means that about 90% of the time (and getting better), I feel great, and I’ve got a marvelously renewed purpose in life. And then sometimes I just want to throw things.

Which brings me to the reason I haven’t posted practically anything since my son was born. Most of the time, I’ve got this newborn baby to play with, take care of, and just stare at, wondering how something so dang cute could ever have been living inside me. So naturally, I’m not thinking about my blog. Then, whenever I’m not taking care of Little John, it’s because I hate the world. So naturally, I don’t care about my blog.

I’m repenting, because I need this blog. It’s an outlet. I’m also repenting, because I flatter myself by thinking some people have missed it. I’m apologizing, because the coming week is all going to be book reviews. I’m nursing. I have a lot of down time, stuck in one spot, with very little conversation to pass the time. I’ve done a lot of reading.

So, since I’ve been having a read-a-thon, I’ll invite you to join me! If you don’t particularly care what I’ve been reading, or what I thought about it, you can pretty much just skip this week. Toodles. ♦