Thursday, October 29, 2015

In an Instant

A few years ago I read Joan Didion's memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, which chronicles her struggles the year after the sudden death of her husband.  In it, she details how her husband collapsed and had a massive heart attack right before her eyes, while they were sitting at the kitchen table having dinner.

"Life changes fast.  Life changes in an instant.  You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends," she wrote.  

That quote struck me enough to stick with me, some three years later.  And this past weekend, it was one of the things I first thought of when in a mere instant, my life changed as well.

One minute my husband was running on the Canal tow path, getting in an 11 mile run before our half marathon in a few weeks.  The next minute, he was flat on the pavement, being awoken by an EMT asking him if he could remember his name or address.

Who knows how long he had been lying there?  Assuming someone found him instantly, called 911, and then another ten or fifteen minutes for the ambulance to get there - 20 minutes?  Twenty minutes of him seizing, and then lying lifeless on the pavement, bloodied and bruised.  Fast asleep.

When I received the call from the ambulance I was lying in bed with my five year old - encouraging him to leave me alone and watch his movie so I could nap.  I was looking forward to a lazy afternoon and an evening of entertaining friends at our house.  And with that call - in that instant, it all changed.

Unbeknownst to me, while I was lying in bed with my son with Aladdin playing in the background, my husband was lying alone, having a grand mal seizure on a gravel path, and a stranger was summoning help.

How could that be?  How could I not know?

I in turn summoned my village.  I texted my close friends and asked whoever received it to call immediately.  Two minutes later I had arranged to drop off my kids, and a few minutes after that my sister had arranged to pick them up later and bring them back to my house, should I be at the hospital overnight.    I arrived at the hospital shortly after that, with my husband conscious, but confused, and so began the medical jargon.  CT scans and EKGs and blood sugar levels and anything and everything and it all came out normal.

My husband had never had a seizure before, so this was all new to both of us.  And in yet another circumstance, I was reminded that although modern medicine is incredible, in other aspects doctors don't know anything, and can't answer the most important of questions.

Why did this happen?  Will it happen again? 

Don't know, don't know.

There are practical implications.  For one, my husband can no longer drive, at least for the time being.  This is a huge inconvenience, but not insurmountable, and we will make due.  We are lucky that we live in an area with a vast network of public transportation, and that someone invented uber.

There are the big questions.  Seeing Daddy walk in the house bloodied and bruised after a visit to the hospital was unnerving for my two older kids.  We have reassured them that Daddy is fine, but my seven year old seems anxious and knows something larger is amiss.

There's the fear of the unknown.  Of why and how and what the future holds and what we should do about it.

There's the introspection.  This incident has reminded me that life is short, life is unpredictable, and life can change in an instant.  It's made me ponder life and death and how we're all just our bodies and our brains, and how weird and bizarre is that?  It reminded me of a quote from a book I, coincidentally, just read: "Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery," a memoir of the career of a neurosurgeon.  He writes:

"In neuroscience it is called 'the binding problem' - the extraordinary fact, which nobody can even begin to explain, that mere brute matter can give rise to consciousness and sensation."  

That brute matter - our consciousness - our brain- how can it just turn off?  Or fire uncontrollably? How can it make a 34 year old man who is jogging fall flat on his face, to the ground, unconscious, in an instant, and jerk uncontrollably?   There's a scientific explanation that my rational mind can understand.  But yet, deep down it's mystifying and unreal and not something I can grasp.

Lastly, there's the gratitude.  That he's okay and home and well and that things could be much, much worse. There's an indebtedness I feel to the random strangers who found him on the ground, who stopped, who called 911, and who stayed there until the paramedics arrived.

Who are these people?  My husband has a vague recollection of people looking on as he was carried off by a stretcher, but no memory of who they were or what they looked like.  How odd that complete strangers can play such a large role in a pivotal moment of your life, and then you never see them again?

Both my husband and I would like to find these people to thank them.  So, for people in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area, if you wouldn't mind forwarding this post around, we would greatly appreciate it.  The incident happened on Saturday, October 24th around 1pm on the Canal Tow Path, near Carderock.

Overall, my husband is fine, I am fine, we are fine.  We are happy.  We are normal.  We are going forward.  It's just another one of life's many twists and turns, and there's nothing to do but go with it with a smile.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Where He Comes From

From the time he was born - five years ago, my baby boy Casey has been unique.

For the first few weeks of his life, his left ear would droop - the cartilage hadn't hardened yet.  He looked a little like an elf.  A cute, adorable elf.

His ear eventually became normal, save for a little indentation, that almost looks like a nibble on the side.  I like to think that it's from me kissing his ears so much.

Casey, unlike his older brother, was a skinny baby.  Long and skinny, with little frog legs.

As opposed to this:

Casey's chubby healthy older brother.  
Given the contrast with his brother, and his little elf ear, when Casey arrived, many would comment, "Where did this baby come from?"

To this day, five years later, we still get that comment often, and I have to say, I love it - I love it because it means Casey is different; Casey is unique; Casey is extraordinary.   And that he is.

We get that comment in response to his appearance.  His older and younger brother look nearly identical to each other.  Casey, the middle child, is his own version.  He is nearly as tall as his 7 year old brother, and has petite facial features, unlike his round cheeked baby brother.

Casey as Batman.
His personality is also in stark contrast to his brothers'.  His older and younger brothers both love to be the center of attention - they love to yell, to be heard, to flirt with that coy little boy smile. Casey, on the other hand, is quiet.  More often than not, he'll have his thumb in his mouth and simply nod in response to a question.  When he does talk, it is often as soft as a whisper, and you have to ask him to speak up.  People that don't know him tend to pass over him, which is their loss.  Because Casey is the funniest, wittiest, smartest, quirkiest kid that ever was.  I mean, just check out his artwork from school:

He may not be verbose, but from the time Casey was a baby, he was physically adept.  He talked late, but walked early, and he hasn't stopped moving ever since.  When watching TV, you can usually find him hanging upside down, jumping from couch cushion to coffee table, or some permutation of the two.  He's had more injuries and ER visits than my other two kids combined.

March 2013- ER visit who knows what for stitches
His physical feats have translated into a real athleticism which is a huge shocker.  There is no one in our immediate, or extended family for that matter, who is athletic.  We just didn't give our kids good genes in the coordination department.  As a result, we also aren't really sports fans.  So the fact that Casey is a soccer star and obsessed with basketball and football and anything with some sort of ball or scoreboard or timer is beyond me.  My husband and I even find ourselves asking, Where did this kid come from?

He got this for his birthday and refused to take it off.  
We ask that question existentially, because in fact, I do know where he came from.  He came directly from me.  Exactly five years ago.

I fell in love with him five years ago and the more I discover who he is, the deeper I fall.

I love that he is different.  I love that he is his own person.  I love that he is quirky and funny and reserved and loud and confident and the best cuddler in the world.  I love that he surprises us everyday with who he is, and I can't wait to see who he becomes.  Because it's sure to be awesome.

Happy 5th birthday to my baby boy, Casey.  I couldn't be prouder.

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Monday, October 5, 2015

Double Dipping

My 7 year old introduced a new term to the family last week, when we were talking about how his little brother is about to turn 2 - "double dipping."  In his words, "Double dipping is when you feel two feelings at once.  Like how I feel about Colin - I'm excited for him to grow up and play with me, but I'm sad because he won't be a baby anymore.  I feel both things."

Double dipping.  Probably the best thing he has learned in school thus far.

Double dipping was on my mind when I exchanged some texts this weekend with one of my dearest friends.  She is pregnant with her first child, and due in just three weeks time.  She was describing her angst with the last few weeks of pregnancy - her eagerness to get the baby out, her nervousness about how exactly she will do that, her stress about childcare and maternity leave, and all of those things that occupy your mind when you're in that final stretch.  At one point during our conversation, I sat with the phone on my lap, closed my eyes, and smiled - remembering.

"I am jealous of you and so glad I am not you at the same time," I wrote.

It's a weird thing to say, but so incredibly true.  I feel both emotions deeply.

I am jealous of her because she is experiencing something that one only experiences once - the first time.  The first pregnancy, the first delivery, the first baby.  I think back to August of 2008, when I was in my last month of pregnancy with my first child.  I was huge, I was uncomfortable, and I had no idea what was coming to me.  How could I have?

I love the innocence that I had - the nervousness, the apprehension, the excitement.  I was about to experience a transformation that I intellectually knew was coming, but could not fathom in a spiritual sense.  And spiritual it was - after three hours of pushing, I came face to face with my baby and literally could not believe he was real.  It was the most incredible moment of my life.  For all three of my children, I can remember with clarity what their faces looked like the first time we locked eyes. There was disbelief and the purest of joy each time.

I am jealous of her because she will have a newborn - a time I now recognize as terribly fleeting.  I can filter through memories to the precious, cherished ones, with all of my three children as infants. The way they smell, the way they purse their lips when they are done nursing, the way they stay all scrunchy and cuddly and almost purr in the crease of your neck.  The way they are connected in a primal way to you, how they fit perfectly in your arms and on your chest and how their breath and yours almost feels like one and the same.

I remember amazement and wonder and joy and so much love.  What I wouldn't give to experience it again - to relive it over and over.

But then there's the other side.  The side where I am so glad I am not in her shoes.

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