Jon tells the story of the worst April Fool’s ever

As he mentions, I’ve been trying to get my husband to write down the story of the girls’ birth and my near death for a while. I’ve written extensively about the experience and its aftermath, but my perspectives are blurred by my trauma, my sedation, and my lack of a medical degree. Here we are four years later, and both Claire and I are healthy and strong. I will always have a heart defect, and she will always have spina bifida, but it feels so good to take a moment and realize how far we’ve come from those very scary early days. Here is that story in the words of my husband Jon, pediatric ER doctor, love of my life, and amazing dad to two very lucky little girls: 

I told Sarah I’d write this down over 4 years ago. To be a guest blogger.

I’m not the writer she is (obviously), but she’s not the doctor I am (thankfully).

I have told the story of how I spent one terrifying night in the hospital with all three of my girls in three different ICU’s many times. However, I was recently telling someone, and was having difficulty remembering the sequence of events, and I knew I had to write it down.

My first feeling after Etta and Claire were born was that of overwhelming joy. My first thought upon seeing Claire, was about how much worse her spinal defect was than I was expecting. Her defect had been, after all, so small that all we had seen on prenatal ultrasound was a subtle finding of her head being slightly more oblong than expected. While trying to look at her spine on ultrasound, nobody was ever able to see the defect. Therefore, we assumed it was very small. I was not prepared to see her open spine seemingly taking up her entire lower back.

She was whisked away to children’s hospital, where she was expertly taken care of, had an amazing course, and is exceeding all expectations.

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The story I want to tell, though, is about Sarah.

In the first 2 exhausting days, she was learning how to breastfeed. She had lost so much blood during the C-section that she required a transfusion. She was dealing with lots of pain, both physically as she was recovering from surgery and adjusting to the huge shift of fluids and weight, and mentally, as she was separated from Claire. However, she was slowly improving and gaining a small amount of endurance, and gaining hope that we could all go visit Claire, who was recovering from her own surgery, soon.

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Sarah was doing so well that they asked us if we wanted to go home. We decided to stay for one more night, to work on breastfeeding another day with Etta and the lactation consultant, and to gain a bit more strength before giving it a go on our own.

Thankfully, we stayed.

The next day, on a bright, sunny, Sunday morning, Sarah was walking the 8 feet back from the bathroom all by herself for the first time, and she started feeling short of breath. “Well, that’s OK,” I thought. “You made it! Way to push yourself!” Sarah sat and tried to catch her breath, but couldn’t, so we called the nurse. She came in with a pulse ox monitor and put it on Sarah. It read 80. I knew something was wrong.

“Take some deep breaths,” the nurse said.

“No, you go call the doctor, right now” I responded. You can’t deep breathe out of a pulse ox of 80.

The OB intern entered next. She looked at Sarah from the doorway (never got close enough to listen), and seemingly nonchalantly (although I’m sure she was terrified) said “I’ll order an EKG.”

I’m not sure what she was thinking, because I was only thinking one thing. PE. I thought Sarah had a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in an artery to the lungs, a possible surgical complication), and needed a CT scan of her chest at minimum, if not just starting treatment for it.

During all this time (it felt like hours) Sarah was slowly getting more short of breath. I was desperately trying to remain calm and let the doctors and nurses do their job, but I also requested that the intern please call her attending.

I happened to have her attending’s cell phone number, so I also called her. She didn’t answer, and I’m sure I left the most pitiful, desperate message about the poor state of my wife’s health she’s ever heard.

Well, Sarah became more short of breath, and they called a MET call, meaning a rapid response team that included ICU nurses and respiratory therapists came to help. They applied more monitors and attempted to place an oxygen mask on Sarah. However, at this point, I could hear crackles when Sarah was breathing from the doorway, and realized she was getting worse. She was hypoxic still and likely in her oxygen hunger, she felt smothered by the oxygen mask and was pushing the respiratory therapists away. She would occasionally steal panicked looks to me with her expressive eyes saying “Help. Please. Now.”

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I felt helpless, though. At some point (I can’t remember when) the nurses took Etta away from me and to the nursery. I stood there and knew what needed to happen. Sarah needed to be sedated and intubated. I didn’t know what was going on exactly, but I knew that. The respiratory therapists called the ICU residents, who came, evaluated Sarah and talked to me. They recognized me.  I recognized them. They said “We need to intubate your wife, are you OK with that?” Which is crazy, because why would they ask my permission? But it was an awkward situation for them I’m sure. I said “yes, please!”

I certainly didn’t watch them sedate and intubate my wife. I pushed back the thoughts that this might be the last time I saw my wife alive. That I might be tasked with the job of caring for my two beautiful babies all on my own.

A CT got ordered, and Sarah was taken to the CT scanner, which is by the ER. I somehow met up with her dad, who is also an ER physician, and we headed to the ER to get a first look at her chest CT, fearing we would see a PE. We found a resident, who scanned through the images with us, and we saw nothing. No answer. Why then?

Sarah got moved to the ICU, and I met Mack, her nurse. I also saw a frantic intern who scrambled to examine her, attempt to get enough of the story to get some orders in and present her during rounds, which were starting. I was allowed to listen in on rounds, and was able to ask for a lactation consult—knowing that her milk was just coming in, and not wanting her to be in pain. I’m sure they had to tell the lactation consultant how to get to the ICU-they don’t go there much.

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I then remember the OB attending, Sarah’s doctor, meeting me in the ICU waiting room. Saying how sorry she was to miss my call and having rushed in to see how Sarah was. So sweet. Everyone cared so much.

They asked me multiple times if Sarah was an alcoholic… because Sarah took such a high dose of sedation to keep her calm. She was calm, but quite awake. We would tell her where she was, and she would answer with her eyes and her eyebrows. Quite lucidly. She seemed to be aware.

At some point during that Sunday, she had a bedside echo performed by the first year cardiology fellow. The report was: it was a limited view, but looked OK. Still, no answer.

I took a break from her bedside and her mom stayed with her. I went to see Etta, who was in the nursery ICU, as they no longer have a regular nursery. She was in a crib all alone in a big room. I held her and sat and tried to process, but couldn’t. What was wrong with Sarah? Would she pull through?

I think it was later that night when we got word that the cardiology attending had looked at the echo and said no, it wasn’t normal. Sarah in fact had exceptionally poor function. The pieces started coming together.

I stayed with Sarah that night. When the night respiratory therapist came in to evaluate, I had seen that they had taken about 6 liters of fluid off of Sarah and she was breathing very comfortably. “What’s the plan tonight for weaning her vent support” I asked. “Oh, I guess I can work on that tonight” was the reply. She started bringing down her support to “normal” levels throughout the night.

Then, when I just snoozed at about 1am, I woke up to beeping. I found Sarah, with her eyes wide open, holding her breathing tube out to the side of her face. She had a look of shock and confusion I will never forget. She had pulled out her tube! I called the nurse to evaluate, and he put her on oxygen, but she continued to breathe easily. They reduced her sedation and she slowly became more cognizant and talkative. I was so relieved that she was back.

I can’t imagine life without her.

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First photo as a family of four, 9 days later, in the NICU with Claire.

House Hunters: Bufflo Fam in Denver

As you know, my family is moving from Little Rock, Arkansas to Denver…next week. Initially, our plan was to stay with family there for a few months as we explored the city and figured out which neighborhood we wanted to live in before committing to buying a house. Then, a few weeks ago, we found out we had an opportunity to buy the house Jon’s grandparents built in the 1950s, which his aunt and uncle have been living in for the last several years. The only thing was, we needed to decide soon, because the Denver real estate market moves fast. Number one real estate market in the country fast. Cue a whirlwind trip to Denver.

As we ate breakfast on our first morning there, we realized that, like every house hunter on HGTV, we had three main choices before us: the grandparents’ house, a city house, or new construction in an area of Denver called Stapleton (a redevelopment of an area that used to be the airport into a “New Urban” community).

The Grandparents’ House

Jon’s grandparents’ house obviously held a lot of emotional pull. The idea of keeping the place in the family really appealed to us. Plus, it had a lot of great midcentury modern appeal, and great mountain views. The main drawbacks were that it was in Wheat Ridge, an area of town farther from the Children’s Hospital than we had initially been considering, and that it would need significant renovations to get it to where we wanted it to be.

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New Construction

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A lot of people who heard we were moving to Denver asked us if we were considering Stapleton, because it’s apparently one of THE places to be if you’re a family with young kids. We toured the community and several model homes. I can’t lie, the homes are large and gorgeous, and I could imagine that we would easily make friends with other families just hanging out in the community’s playgrounds. There is also lots of shopping, dining, and great schools nearby. However, the lot sizes are very small, with postage stamp yards, and the area had more of a cookie-cutter, suburban feel than we are really into. We currently live in an older neighborhood full of 20s Craftsman bungalows, and that’s the style we like.

So we crossed off Stapleton, which left us considering the grandparents’ house and a house on the east side of the city where we had been thinking we would buy before the grandparents’ house came into consideration. We knew we’d need to see some houses in the city in order to really decide if the grandparents’ house was a real contender, so we connected with a Realtor through a friend, and planned a very ambitious day of house hunting. We saw 12 properties in one day!

City House

Since the Children’s Hospital is on the east side of Denver, we were considering areas like Park Hill, Five Points, Cole, Whittier, and Congress Park. One way in which Jon and I differ from most couples on HGTV shows is, we’re in almost complete agreement about the kind of homes we like. I really think either of us could pick out a house for the other one without them there, and they’d be totally pleased. In fact, I once did that when we first moved back to Little Rock– I chose our rental house on my own, but Jon loved it! Our Realtor said we set a speed record for seeing houses for him. We could walk right into a place and know if it was a contender or not, and if not, there’s no sense wasting time there.

Of the 12 places we saw, we ended up with 5 strong contenders:

  1. The Garden Bed House: had an amazing front yard with a ton of raised beds for Jon’s “victory garden,” and a large back yard with a covered patio too. However, the interior living space was smaller than we’d like, and the ceiling in the basement was a little low for my 6’3″ husband.FullSizeRender 5
  2. The Funky Victorian: was on an AMAZING triple lot with a pond and gazebo. Had been nicely renovated with an amazing kitchen and dining space. The main drawbacks were there was no bedroom on the main floor, which we prefer for Claire, and the ceilings in the upper floor were slanted in strange ways because of the roof– Jon might not have been able to shower in the master shower because it was so low!FullSizeRender 3
  3. Race St: I walked into this little Victorian bungalow and loved it. It had been nicely renovated into a big open kitchen/dining/living room, had two bedrooms on the main floor, had a second floor master suite, and a great basement with playroom, guest room, and full bath. However, the yard was the size of a postage stamp, mostly eaten up by the large garage. Also, we weren’t entirely sure about the schools it was zoned for.FullSizeRender 4
  4. The Congress Park House: This house and street reminded me a lot of our current neighborhood. It had a great Craftsman feel, and the tiny closets to go along with it. The main drawbacks were that it was near a noisy street, the back yard was looked down on by a large apartment building behind it, and the basement had a real hobbit feel with curvy floors that hand’t been fully dug out to level it. Also, because of its location, it was at the very top of our budget. FullSizeRender
  5. The Hip Bungalow: This house was very similar to the Race St. house, but had cool exposed-brick walls in the main living space, and a slightly larger yard. However, it had no finished basement, and all the bedrooms were upstairs. We were the very first people to see this house, and it was already under contract the next day. Not kidding about how fast the Denver market moves. FullSizeRender 2

Decision Time

Ultimately, we were left considering the Grandparents’ House and the Race St. House. The day after all our showings, we had to catch a morning flight back home. When we went to bed that night, I felt like my heart was leaning toward Race St., and I felt like Jon was leaning toward the Grandparents’ House. We slept on it and didn’t talk about the decision until we were on the way to the airport the next morning. “So, which house are you thinking about this morning?” I asked. “Oh. I decided which one I wanted at 3 am when I couldn’t sleep,” Jon said. I shouldn’t have been surprised, I’ve been with this internal processor for 13 years now, and he always needs some time to work out things in his head. What surprised me was when he said “Race St.”

He realized that what appealed to him about the Grandparents’ House was mostly emotional, but that Race St. seemed like the place we would be the happiest, in the area we had been considering all along, before the Grandparents’ House came into play. At the airport, we called our Realtor and told him to start writing up an offer. Given the seller’s market, we had to offer full price, and all closing costs, and I even wrote them a letter about why we loved their house so much. We anxiously waited to hear if we got the house, and the next morning, the call came.

WE GOT THE HOUSE! Looks like our 10 year wedding anniversary gift to each other will be a house in Denver.

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*Image of Stapleton via Flickr user BeyondDC under a Creative Commons license.

on dealing with anxiety

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It was only 9 a.m., and I had already screamed at every single member of my family and had just broken down in tears. I could see in my husband’s eyes that things had gotten bad.

“I see the way you look at me, like you don’t like me very much right now. I don’t like me very much right now either, but I don’t know how to feel or do any different. I feel out of control all the time.”

He wrapped his arms around me as I cried and cried. And then he gently told me that while he knew I had an appointment in a week or so to talk to my doctor about my anxiety, but that he thought maybe we should talk to her about doing something NOW. I could only agree. I talked to my doctor on the phone, and after I described how I’d been feeling, she gently suggested that I start taking medication that night, so I could be on it for several days by the time my appointment came around.

As I took that first pill, I felt more hopeful than I had in a while, even though I knew it might take a while for the medication to begin to help.

The last few months have been very hard for me. I am not generally a person who yells at people or regularly breaks down crying, and it had begun to happen a lot. It was like I was walking around all the time at stress level 8, and every small setback, even things like my kids refusing to put their pants on or my inability to parallel park, would trigger explosive rage or tears as my stress level hit 10 again and again. My whole body vibrated with tension. My muscles in my head, neck, and face were so tight, my teeth hurt. And I was having to take melatonin every night just to slow my racing mind down enough to fall asleep.

I know it’s normal for people who are preparing for a big life change like a cross country move to feel tension and stress, but my feelings had become overwhelming past the point of my control. I felt awful most of the time, unable to find bright sides or hope, unable to feel anything but scared and angry and sad. Not a good way to live.

Within a few days of taking the medicine, I was sleeping much better, but still feeling very easily triggered. We have eased my dose up a little bit, and now that I’ve been on it for longer, I feel maybe 70% of my normal self? I hope to get to feeling even more back to myself as I am on the medicines longer, and my doctor says if I’m not feeling 85% or so in a month, to let her know. Already, I’m not screaming at my family constantly. I haven’t cried in days. I am so glad I had people in my life who encouraged me to get help.

And I’m sharing this with you because we don’t talk about this kind of stuff often enough. First, you feel bad because of the anxiety, and then you feel bad because who wants to admit that they keep finding themselves yelling at the people they love most, blinded by rage and fear, falling apart at every turn? But that stuff wasn’t ME. That stuff was anxiety. And for me, this anxiety was a sickness that needed medicine.

And I want to talk about this so that anyone out there reading who is feeling awful most of the time, who is feeling panicky and fearful and rageful and wired, knows that it’s not just you. You don’t have to keep feeling terrible all the time. You don’t have to be ashamed to ask for help. And you deserve to feel better.

a spanking for frances?

We have the book Bread and Jam for Frances. It’s a book I remember loving as a child. A picky-eating badger turns her nose up at her mother’s cooking a few times too many and finds herself eating bread and jam for every meal, until she gets sick of it and decides to try new things. Luckily our girls haven’t been particularly picky, but they seem to enjoy the story, even if to them “bread and jam is just for breakfast.”

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Today at the library, I saw some of the other Frances books. I asked the girls if they’d like to try them, and they picked out Bedtime for Frances. In this story, Frances keeps coming out of her room after bedtime, because of tigers, giants, and scary cracks in the ceiling. Her parents are at first bemused and then increasingly frustrated. And then all of a sudden, Frances’s father says that if she comes out again, she’s getting a spanking.

“What’s a spanking?” sweet four-year-old Claire asked. “Well, sometimes parents hit their children on their bottom when they do things they aren’t supposed to do. Kind of like how you sometimes get time outs. We don’t like to hit, so we don’t do that,” her dad explained

I’m thankful my kids have made it to four years old and find it unthinkable that an adult would hit a child, that they’ve made it this far and don’t even know what a spanking is. I wish I could say that I find the idea of hitting my children unthinkable, but the truth is, I have wanted to. Children have their ways of pushing you to the limits of your energy, patience, empathy, and self-restraint. I have been so tired, angry, and frustrated with my children that I wanted to hit them, that I felt that impulse. But that’s what it would have been if I had given in: impulsive, angry, and wrong. It wouldn’t have been about teaching them, it would have been about me lashing out in my anger. The only thing it would have shown them is that I am no more capable of managing my emotions and impulses than they are.

I am not one to say “there but for the Grace of God go I” very often, but this is one of those areas where I really do feel it’s only grace that has kept me from that brink. It’s only the whisper in my ear that tells me to walk away, take a breath, make a different choice, hide in my room if I have to long enough to cool down. Because maybe giving a kid bread and jam for every meal for a while is creative parenting, but bedtime spankings don’t make sense to anyone in my family, even in my tiredest, most rock-bottom moments. Thanks for the reminder, Frances.

*Note: I’m not interested in debating spanking with you. I only presume to know what is best for my family.*

i hate april fool’s

I hate April Fool’s Day on the internet. Some pranks can be funny, but mostly they just make me feel frustrated and annoyed. Plus, I always feel kind of Debbie Downer-ish on April 1st. Four years ago, on a bright, shiny, April 1st morning, I almost died.

On Easter morning, my pastor mentioned in his sermon that he had never had a near death experience. That he had never felt outside his own body while teams of healthcare professionals worked to save him. He went on to talk about how he had felt life-less, though, had experienced darkness, despair, depression, and how this life-less-ness is something we all can relate to, a reason we all need to experience the Life Abundant that Jesus offers. I appreciated that message.

But as I sat there, I must admit that I missed a lot of the sermon, because I have had that near-death experience. I have felt suddenly all too aware of my body’s own frailty. As my heart failed and my lungs filled with fluid, my body became a prison. As respiratory therapists, nurses, and doctors fought to save me, I felt helpless and panicked and irrational. I pushed masks meant to help me breathe away because they felt suffocating. I fought the people trying to save me as I fought for my life. And in the middle of it all, I remember thinking, they’re going to have to sedate me, or this is never going to work. Flashes of lucidity in the middle of sheer panic and terror. I remembered all of that on Sunday morning, and so I distracted myself grinning at a small boy in front of me wearing a seersucker suit instead of going there in my mind.

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This is actually a picture taken during the girls’ delivery, not of me when I was intubated.

It’s a weird thing to be a person in the world after something like that. Around the first year anniversary mark, I was having panic attacks and intense anxiety, because I’d been so busy keeping twins alive, I never really got a chance to process what happened to me until a year later. Now, four years later, I mostly forget about that time I almost died. I can tell the story in such a way that it makes people laugh, even. Or I can shock even healthcare professionals as I tell it in as vivid a way as possible. Somehow the process of turning an experience into an anecdote has placed some distance between me and the intensity of the feelings I have about that trauma.

Also, though I take pills every day to keep my heart from every doing THAT again, I mostly don’t think about it too much. But sometimes I’m reminded unexpectedly, or something brings it up– someone asks if I’m going to have any more kids, for example–and then I remember that time I almost died. I’m usually sorry I have to mention it, like I need to spare the other person from the news of my trauma. I worry about becoming That Girl Who Won’t Stop Bringing Up That Time She Almost Died. Do people want to avoid me in case it comes up? I can’t imagine it’s really what anyone wants to hear about over cocktails. I’m even wary of writing too much about it for fear this blog becomes That Downer from that Girl Who Almost Died Once and Can’t Seem to Get Over It.

But I can’t avoid this day. It’s a marker of time for me. I was a different person before April 1, 2012, and I’ve been a different person ever since. Sometimes I think my experience made me fearless, because nothing short of death itself can ever be as scary as that day was. Other times I think it made me feel more fragile, a little too aware that it could all be over in a blink, more than a little afraid that it will be. On this anniversary, I’m not much of a person who can take a joke. I feel a little bit raw and a little bit fragile, though I am also pretty sure each year will lessen those feelings as I put more distance between myself and the trauma of that day. I hope so.

 

menu planning monday

Well, after last week’s big announcement about our upcoming move to Denver, we have worked our butts off to spruce up our house and it is officially on the market! So far we’ve had five showings in two days, so we’re hoping things go smoothly. If you know anyone looking for a great house in one of Little Rock’s cutest neighborhoods, let us know!

Also last week, I made one of our favorite dishes that I first fell in love with on our 5th anniversary trip to Costa Rica, gallo pinto, and I must say it was totally worth ordering Salsa Lizano on the internet, because it totally scratched my pura vida itch.

Also last week, I had a rare dinner flop. The Tandoori Quinoa. I think it turned out fine, I just didn’t like it. I admit I pitched the leftovers because I couldn’t face eating it again. It’s ok to have a cooking flop once in a while– comes with the territory if you’re trying new things.

It’s also nice to diverge from the meal plan once in a while. I had planned on tuna cakes with sides of grits and zucchini, but we ended up having salmon with baked potatoes and zucchini instead, because I had some potatoes I needed to use:

This was supposed to be tuna cakes, grits, and zucchini. Instead it became salmon filets, baked potatoes and zucchini. The tuna will keep in the pantry for another day.

This was supposed to be tuna cakes, grits, and zucchini. Instead it became salmon filets, baked potatoes and zucchini. The tuna will keep in the pantry for another day.

As far as what we’ll be eating this week, here’s what we have planned:

We haven’t had a pizza night in a while, and this one from Annie’s Eats looks particularly veggieriffic:

I have sweet potatoes and tortillas chilling in the pantry, and 3/4 of us are obsessed with fried eggs, so these sweet potato huevos rancheros sound amazing:

I love a one-pot pasta meal, so this one-pot zucchini mushroom pasta sounds great:

My one upgrade to these spinach and bean burritos is to grill them in my panini pan:

And for a seafood meal, this lemony shrimp and couscous sounds good (and is a recipe from the binder of recipes I made for Jon):

What’s cooking with you lately? Got any Easter treats planned? I’m going to be making these little nests for my girls:

 

big news

Many of you are aware that last summer, Jon interviewed for his dream job at the children’s hospital in Denver, which is his hometown, and is where all of his family still lives. The search process for that position has been long and drawn out. At first we thought we might hear something in the fall, then after the holidays. In all of that time, uncertainty hung over us. I had trouble sleeping, and my neck and shoulders seemed constantly tense. I tried not to consciously worry, but I basically just stuffed all of those feelings into my muscles, apparently.

Well, we finally heard a couple of weeks ago, and now that all the appropriate folks know at his current job, we can tell the world: Jon landed his dream job in Denver. We’ll be moving most likely in July. This is obviously huge, life-changing news, and a big new adventure for our family. I feel like I’m now feeling many conflicting things at once. I’m so proud and excited for Jon professionally, and I’m thrilled that our girls will be getting to grow up near a lot of family who love and support us. But this means we’re leaving my home state, a life we love here, and family we love here. Leaving is HARD, no matter how exciting the place you’re going. And I’ve actually never lived outside the South before. I might have some culture shock in store.

The cousins the girls will be growing up with in Denver.

The cousins the girls will be growing up with in Denver.

Now we are working on getting ready to list our house here, and hoping it sells well. While also trying to throw a fabulous fourth birthday party and enjoy the time we have here with the people we love. If the emotions and worry were making it hard for me to write before, life has been getting in the way of me writing ever since we found out. Still, I hope having the cat out of the bag will make some room in my head to get back to the creative pursuits that give me life. Especially when our life seems to be in a lot of flux right now.

And if you’re one of our Little Rock friends? Let’s hang out. A lot. From now until July. OK?