Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Diagnosis

I hardly know where to start. If you suffered through my very long last post, you know that my mother was admitted to the hospital a week ago in Little Rock. I stayed with her until Sunday evening, then had to head back home since my daughter started back to school on Monday. I kept in constant contact with my brother during the week and was very concerned to learn that the doctors were focusing an increased amount of attention on some abnormalities they had seen on her spine. By Thursday, they had done a CT, MRI and finally a bone biopsy. I knew in my heart they were looking for cancer and made plans to travel back to Little Rock on Thursday evening. By the following morning, my brother and I had each cornered her doctor privately who had confirmed our suspicions. We agreed to meet with Mom and Dad Friday afternoon so he could break the news to them. My heart was breaking in two as the three of us entered her room. I knew what he was about to tell them would break their hearts, too, and was going to come as a complete shock.

It was awful.

I have started another blog, Jewell's Updates, where I will focus on the more medical aspects of her surgery, treatment, recovery, etc. This site, Potter Place, will be a reflection of my personal journey from a daughter's point of view. I hope that the things I experience and lessons learned as we fight another battle against cancer can encourage someone else who may be going through the same thing.

Please pray for my family. We are eager to see how God wants to work in what appears to be a bad situation.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The top 10 reasons I do NOT plan to have my next family reunion at a hospital

I had one of those days yesterday. You know the kind. They start out differently than you had planned and just go downhill from there.

The original plan was that my two girls and I, my mother, my SIL and her two kids were all going to meet at my grandmother's nursing home to celebrate her 94th birthday yesterday. Afterward, several of us would be staying overnight at a hotel WITH A SWIMMING POOL and celebrating my aunt and uncle's 50th wedding anniversary today.

I'd already gotten wind from my mother on Friday night that she wasn't feeling well and wasn't sure if she'd be able to make it the next day, so when she called on Saturday morning with the news that she hadn't slept a wink all night and definitely didn't feel like making the trip, I certainly understood. The girls and I even offered to bring a change of clothes along and go onto my parents' house after Grandma's birthday party, but Mom declined, saying that she REALLY felt too bad to even think about company.

We couldn't bear to think about Grandma celebrating her birthday without a gathering of family, so the three of us hopped in the car and took off on the two-hour drive. For whatever reason, I had the notion to throw a stick of deodorant, hairbrush, some lip stick and my needlework in a bag just for good measure.

The little birthday party went off perfectly. Grandma was thrilled to see the kiddos, and we walked the halls of the nursing home talking with the residents whose eyes never fail to light up when they see our crew of four little people coming.

Then just as I was heading out of town, my phone rang, and it was my mother telling me that her abdominal pain hadn't gotten any better and she was en route to the emergency room of a Little Rock hospital.

Rachel, Sara and I changed gears quickly and headed south toward Little Rock. We got there around dinnertime, and my SIL met us there to take the girls on to her house another half hour away.

So, here are the three of us, obviously about to spend the night away from home with no PJ's, no toothbrushes, no Pull-Ups for Sara, no contact lens solution ... and I couldn't have cared less. All I knew was that I needed to be with my folks, and the girls were in great hands with my extremely efficient and organized SIL.

It was the first time since before my brother and I each got married 11 years ago that the two of us and our parents had spent an extended amount of time together with no one else around. It was, in a funky way, an impromptu family reunion, but one I hope I don't have to repeat again anytime soon.

We stayed in the ER until around 1:30 a.m. this morning before they finally got Mom moved to a private room and we could get some rest (and I use that term very loosely), so I'm a little fuzzy-brained as I write this. But here, in a nutshell, are the top 10 reasons why I do NOT plan to have my next family gathering at Baptist Health in Little Rock:

10. The soap. I have never in my life smelled soap with such a repulsive scent. It's hard to think of my hands as being clean when they smell like somebody's dank, moldy basement.

9. No shower. Wearing the same clothes from 8 a.m. on Saturday until 8 p.m. on Sunday, a shower and new outfit would have gone a long way to improve my morale, but unfortunately, even if I had gone out and bought some new duds, Mom's otherwise nice private room was only equipped with a bathtub. Ewwwww. (Thank goodness for that stick of Secret in my bag!)

8. No Arvest ATM. I saw a few ATM's near the cafeteria, but none from my bank. And I really hate paying that silly service fee for the privilege of getting MY money from somebody else's machine.

7. No internet service. Not that it mattered anyway, since I left my notebook at home, but trust me, if I'd had it, that would have been an issue. Every two-bit motel between here and Albuquerque is offering wireless connections these days, so wouldn't you think major hospitals would as well?

6. The cafeteria food. Okay, so most hospital cafeterias aren't renowned for their quality. I was especially unimpressed with this one. For breakfast this morning, I reached into a refrigerated case to select a breakfast parfait that looked tasty. Until I had it in my hands and saw the BLACK BANANAS that appeared to be three days old. Double Ewwwwww....

5. Starbucks hours. My anxiety was made a little easier to bear when I realized there was a Starbucks on the bottom floor of the hospital. Until I discovered that they were only open during normal business hours, none of which fell during my 24-hour visit. A Double Chocolate Chip Frappuccino for sure would have made the stay sweeter.

4. In each elevator hung a message encouraging positive health habits. One such message read, "Taking Five Flights of Steps a Day is Baptist Health Approved." And so, after breakfasting alone this morning, I ran from the cafeteria in the basement up five flights of stairs in my Skechers flip flops, trying like crazy to keep the "flop" to a minimum. When I arrived (breathless) at my mother's floor, I was dismayed to see a sign that the door was alarmed. What's the use of encouraging people to take the stairs, if they're only going to get stuck in the stairwell?!?

3. The temperature. I had to have a blanket wrapped around me the entire time to keep my teeth from chattering. I'd hate to be sick and stuck in that ice box.

2. The incessant intercom traffic. The nurses seemed to really enjoy getting on opposite ends of the unit from each other and carrying on intercom conversations with each other. Even at 3 a.m., we were hearing about the patient in 308 who needed her pain meds and a knee replacement down the hall who needed help going to the bathroom. Then there was the code blue on CCU that was cancelled fairly quickly after it was called. The thought that someone might have just expired crossed my mind and made it even harder to sleep.

And the NUMBER ONE reason why I will not plan my next family gathering at Baptist Health is:

1. NO DIET COKE. Apparently, this hospital has a contract with Pepsi, which means that nowhere on this entire large campus can you find a Coca-Cola product for sale. Nowhere. Which wouldn't be so awful if the Pepsi machines were stocked with Diet Dr. Pepper, Pepsi's only tolerable product as far as I'm concerned, but that wasn't even the case. When I complained, I was told that it was a very unpopular decision with the employees, too.

So, there you have it. On a positive note, I will say that every physician, nurse, aide, transporter, and housekeeper we encountered was EXTREMELY nice and in several cases, extremely funny. They all seemed to be enjoying their jobs which is not something I could say of any other hospital I've visited.

And on another positive note, I crocheted 8 more blocks for my friend's baby blanket.

We're still not 100% sure what's ailing mom, but the docs have some pretty good ideas and will be doing more tests tomorrow. If you think of her, pray that she will return to health quickly and be discharged soon. She's missing her own bed and getting tired of those indecent hospital gowns.

Friday, August 18, 2006

As summer draws to an end ...

NOTE: Due to concerns about safety and privacy, I have decided to take my husband's suggestion to not use our children's real names in my writing. From now on, my oldest child will be known as Rachel, middle child as Sara, and youngest as Gavin.

Some of the issues we have faced this summer have left me exhausted. Bone-weary tired would be a more accurate description probably. Tired of thinking. Tired of analyzing. Tired of weighing options.

In early June, before our anticipated move later that month, I visited the elementary school near our home-to-be and put Rachel on the waiting list. "Good luck," I was told. "We have a long waiting list for first grade, but we'll be sure to let you know if a spot opens up for her."

"And what if that doesn't happen?" I asked.

I would drop her off at the neighborhood school every morning where she would get on a bus and be taken to another school in town where there was a first-grade opening, I was told.

"Hmmmmm..." I said. (Translation: Not over my dead body.)

"Well, if there were no spot available here, we would probably homeschool her until a spot opened up," I told the nice lady in the school office, certain that the first-grade teachers would be happy to work with me to keep her in pace with her public-school peers.

"Well, now you're talking about a different animal," she informed me, turning her nose up ever so slightly. To homeschool, a parent must inform the superintendent's office at least two weeks prior to starting. The child is then completely removed from the district's enrollment and, consequently, removed from any waiting lists. That means that as long as I'm teaching my child at home, anybody off the street takes priority over her until she is re-enrolled.

And so we were left to wait for more than two months. Not certain what the outcome would be, I was reluctant to make decisions one way or the other. I didn't want to purchase school supplies and back-to-school clothes, but neither did I want to spend several hundred dollars on home schooling materials. Rachel handled it more patiently than I, but she made it known on several occasions (okay, it was more like DAILY) that homeschooling was definitely her preference.

While I am certainly not opposed to homeschooling, I've just never been convinced that it's the right choice for Rachel (for reasons too numerous to expound on in this post).

What I found most interesting during these past two months were the reactions of other moms. As we hung in the balance, waiting for God to give us a burning-bush experience and make it obvious what we were supposed to do, I had several conversations that went something like this:

Friend (and I use this term loosely to describe a variety of friends/neighbors/family members with an opinion on the matter): So what does Rachel think of moving to a new school?

Me: Well, we're not certain yet that she will even get in because of a crowded waiting list. It's possible we may choose to homeschool next year if she doesn't get in.

Friend: (long pause) Oh. I see. And how exactly would you manage that with a full-time job and two younger children?

Me: My husband's schedule and mine are such that between the two of us, we could pull it off, if that's what we need to do.

Friend: (long pause) Oh. I see.

Better yet were the ones that went like this:

Friend: So what does Rachel think of moving to a new school?

Me: Well, we're not certain yet that she will even get in because of a crowded waiting list. It's possible we may choose to homeschool next year if she doesn't get in.

Friend: Oh, I've been praying for a long time that you could get your kids out of the public schools! They're teaching such garbage there, these days, you know, and I'm just convinced that no good thing can come out of the public school system. Oh, you can't possibly know how happy it makes me to hear such happy news!

Me: Ummm, we haven't exactly made that decision yet. Things are really up in the air at the moment ...

Rare was the person who didn't have a strong opinion one way or the other, and nearly every conversation about the matter left me scratching my head and wondering over and over again, how is it that we in the Christian community have taken matters of taste and preference and turned them into our own personal doctrines that everyone else must follow? It seems to be that the way we justify our own choices is to put down everyone else's. And the more scripture we can use to back up our choices, the more righteous we feel.

Here are just a few:

Breast vs. bottle
Working moms vs. stay-at-home moms
Cloth vs. disposable
Homemade baby food vs. Gerber
To see movies or not
Large families vs. small families
Bunned hair vs. cut hair
Dresses vs. pants
Makeup or not
To partake of alcohol or not
KJV vs. everything else
Homeschooling vs. public or private schooling

The list is endless. And as a working mom of three bottle-fed, disposable-diapered kids who are incredibly well adjusted, smart, and growing in Christian character (who will be public schooled), I've grown accustumed over the years to the stinging criticism (both verbal and nonverbal) from other moms who have made different choices.

Do I feel even a trace of superiority to other moms who have taken a different path than I? What about the ones who have chosen to have more children than I can even imagine birthing? Or the moms who are washing by hand and line drying mounds of poopy diapers daily? The ones who grow their own veggies and hand puree fresh carrots for their toddlers instead of tossing a few jars of Gerber in their cart at the supermarket? Absolutely not. In many cases, I wish I were more like them.

But that, short and simple, is just not a road I personally have been called to walk at this time in my life. I'm one of a growing number of WAHM's -- work at home moms. We've traded our offices for living rooms, our business suits for sweats, and our power lunches for PB&J. And yet, instead of being praised for being hard workers who have made many sacrifices to have both an income AND time at home to raise our children, many of us find ourselves isolated and alone. How much nicer it would be instead of feeling judged by each other if we could extend grace, acknowledging that just because God has instructed one woman to make certain choices in her life does not give her the liberty to impose those choices on anyone else.

As believers in Christ, we're going to spend an eternity living as neighbors in heaven someday. We might as well learn here on earth how to get past the pettiness and -- as a former pastor of mine used to say -- KEEP THE MAIN THING THE MAIN THING!

For a more thoughtful treatise on this subject than I could ever write, stop by Days to Come. It's one of the best posts I've read in a long time.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

It's a sad day in Arkansas

What a sad day for Razorback fans today as we mourn the loss of one of the finest sportscasters ever, Paul Eels. After filing reports yesterday from Northwest Arkansas' annual Houston Nutt golf tournament, Eels was on his way back to the Channel 7 station in Little Rock when his vehicle crossed the I-40 median in Russellville. Sadly, Eels' vehicle struck a car in the oncoming traffic, killing its driver, a 40-year-old Dover woman.

Paul Eels will forever be remembered for his professionalism and the enthusiasm with which he called the Razorback games. Who could ever forget "Touchdown Arkansas! OH MY!" Surely I wasn't the only Hog fan who muted the sound on TV to listen to Paul's play-by-plays on the radio instead. No one ever has -- or ever will -- compare. Razorback sports will never be the same.