Lives in Pieces: Vale et memini (Goodbye and I Remember)


Note: this entry was originally posted in January. I am reposting parts 1-3 since so much time has passed between those entries and part 4, which I will post tomorrow.

Part 3: I Dream of Oranges

It’s funny, but the time between the baby showers in February and Alexis’s fourth birthday in July just seemed to pass so quickly. In June, we had Caitlin’s three month portrait made. She was wearing a tiny rosebud print dress with pink trim on the sleeves and neckline. I remember that the sleeves were just a bit tight on her chubby arms. She had this extra crease in her arms like a lot of chubby babies do. I used to love to play with that crease in her arms.

On July 7, we had Alexis’s birthday party. I remember it was the birthday of  Barbies. She had asked for several Barbie items, and the family pitched in and bought them. I remember taking one picture of the Ken doll sitting in a lawn chair, flying a kite. I told Alexis that Ken needed to go find a job and stop relying on Barbie to support him. Then we all started putting Ken in these ridiculous poses and taking pictures of him. It was pretty hilarious. Caitlin was sitting in her little blue chair on the floor, taking all of this in: the bright color of the balloons, the noise, the packages. I took a picture of her sitting in her chair. Everything seemed so utterly normal.

Pat and Winn weren’t at that party. I really don’t remember why. We didn’t see a lot of them that summer. Or maybe we did. A lot of that summer has become a blank to me. The last invitation I remember that summer were friends of Paul’s inviting us to go sailing, but we had to turn them down because Caitlin had some kind of virus and was throwing up. She was throwing up so much that we ended up taking her to the emergency room on Saturday. We saw a resident. He said that it was a virus and gave us pedialyte and sent us home.

On Monday, August 23, I was to begin my new job teaching English at Old Dominion University. It was a pretty exciting time for all of us. We had our two little girls. I had the job of my dreams. Paul was doing well at his job at the medical school. It seemed that life our lives were charmed.

That Tuesday was when our lives began to disintegrate, and they never recovered. When I went back to work, my mom and Paul’s mom were going to share in the responsibility of watching the girls. I was in my first faculty meeting when I was called out for a phone call from my mother. I was really perturbed that she would call me at work. I picked up the phone and it was the pediatrician’s office, one of the nurses who I knew very well. She was speaking calmly, too calmly. She said that she was going to put my mother on the phone.

I remember driving to the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, which was just down the road. I remember meeting Paul; the medical school was across the street from the hospital. I remember a CT scan showed blockage. I remember falling down a wall. I remember calling Kathleen in northern Virginia at work and saying the words, “Caitlin has a brain tumor.”


An operation to remove the tumor. Seven hours long. Pat was there with fresh oranges, talking to me. The tumor was the size of a small orange. Later, I would write a poem comparing the ependymoma to an orange. I remember nothing Pat said to me. Too many people were there. One of the women from the medical school gave me a rosary; it was red, like garnets. I just remember noise. I just remember wanting all of them to go away.

After recovery in the PICU, Caitlin was sent to the Progressive Care Unit. After a few days, she had another operation to install tubing which was going to be used for her medicines: chemotherapy, whatever she needed.

I was trained on how to flush and clean the lines because Caitlin was going to be allowed to go home. The plan was that she would come in for overnight stays when she needed chemo. We were going home on Labor Day weekend. In the meantime, ODU had given me the option of giving up my classes for the semester or taking a reduced load. I took a reduced load down to two classes. I was actually still hopeful that everything was going to be all right. After all, Pat had survived.

Caitlin stayed home for six days. I came home from school to find my mother completely distraught. The back of Caitlin’s head, which had been shaved for the operation, was swollen, the incision puffy. I called the neurologist, and he said to take her to the ER at the hospital. She was readmitted to the PCU with a staff infection, that dreaded infection that hospitals give their patients, one of the oxymorons of a sterile environment. The neurologists had to drain the fluid from the incision every morning.

They put Caitlin in one of the two private rooms in the unit, which had a pull-out bed because the nurses knew that I would be sleeping at the hospital whether or not I had a bed. I began to bring in personal things: a teddy bear, dresses. I didn’t want her to wear a hospital gown. The nurses, who already knew me from our previous stay, indulged my every whim.

Each morning, I gave Caitlin a bath, and I put her in one of the beautiful dresses that Pat had given us. I fixed her hair, at least, the hair that she still had. We took pictures of her. From the front, you couldn’t tell that they had shaved her hair in the back. She still looked beautiful with all of that dark hair. Each day a different dress, a different bow. I brought in more and more personal items. I turned the sterile hospital room into her bedroom. No one stopped me. The hospital closet held so many dresses, her red dress, green dress, blue dress. I brought in her booties and lace socks.

After her first round of chemo, everything changed. Her body became so weak, and she threw up repeatedly, non-stop. The nurses paged the neurologists. One of the younger men in the group showed up and said within range of my hearing, “She’s throwing up. That’s what they do when they have chemo. I don’t know what you expect me to do.” The next day I changed her primary care from the neurologists to the oncologists and had a note put in her chart that that particular doctor was never to touch Caitlin again. The oncologists gave Caitlin something for her vomiting and took blood samples every few hours to check her white cell count, which wasn’t good.

Her main oncologist, who happened to be a friend of mine, called me from out of town to give me the bad news. He told me that he had never seen a count that low from a chemo treatment. They were going to suspend her chemo for now and rethink how to treat her cancer.

jhospital-monitorThat night, her monitor alarms kept going off. I had a new nurse who did not know Caitlin’s case. She would come in, look at the machine, and look at Caitlin, and say, “Well, she’s breathing just fine. I don’t know why the monitor is going off. There must be something wrong with the machine.” I asked her if she was sure. She looked at me as if I were just one of those pesky mothers. The other nurses had already learned to take my questions seriously as by then I knew how to reset all of the monitors, knew how to read results, and knew my daughter’s body signs instinctively.

In the morning, I gave Caitlin her bath, and I was rocking her when I happened to notice that her nails were blue. I knew that meant that she wasn’t getting enough oxygen. I had another new nurse, and she was nowhere to be found. I waited another half an hour. I had asked for a chest x-ray the day before, but no one had followed through, and between all of the chaos, I had forgotten about it. Now, I was kicking myself for not being more assertive.

I went out to the nurse’s station. They took one look at me and asked me what was wrong. I told them that Caitlin’s nails were blue. Within two minutes respiratory therapy was in the room and so was a portable x-ray machine. Caitlin had pneumonia, pneumocystic to be precise. The kind of pneumonia that AIDS patients get because their immune systems are so depressed.

One of the nurses who knew me the best told me and asked me about the pneumonia, and asked me to pack up all of Caitlin’s belongings. They were transferring Caitlin to PICU. I called Paul at the medical school. He and a friend packed up all of her things and met me in the waiting room for PICU. We couldn’t go in right away. When we were allowed in, Caitlin was in a hospital gown, and she was on a respirator.

There would be no more dresses.

end of part 3

Do They Have To Be Called Headless Chicken Moments?

I Believe They Are Called Headless Chicken Moments

So I Had A Bad Day . . .

So it was one of those days. I woke up with one dog on my arm and one dog on my leg, which means that I had lost the feeling in both limbs. I knew that it was going to be a rough day. I don’t think that I needed a much clearer sign than that. I had nothing to write about, and I’m just not able to tackle the next part of the story. It’s very intense, and I’m really not up to it yet.

So this leads me to somthing called headless chicken moments. It’s a term that I found on another site, and it refers to those moments in one’s life of such utter stupidity that you couldn’t possibly repeat the moment if you tried. The actual term is based on a real-life chicken that lived after its head was cut off because it wasn’t in fact decapitated properly, so even though his head was gone, he was able to continue living and became a chicken celebrity, if you like that sort of thing.

I know that I have had many such HC moments (I really don’t like the term very much); I’m just having a hard time pinning down the details. Couldn’t we use something like “Moments I’d Like to Forget,” or “Dumb and Dumber Moments in Time”? What do you think?

So I’ve put off writing this post until I could remember some of my better HC moments that I would want to share, and here they are in all of their embarrassing glory:

Moment #1

I once went to an information session with my program’s director. This was my job, by the way. It was a new location for us. The room was not one that I was used to, but I had been told in advance that the room contained an overhead projector and a laptop projector, so the only thing that I needed to bring was my flash drive with my presentation on it. So, we arrived early to set up (I had brought my laptop just in case but had left it in the car). and could not find the laptop connection. Luckily for me, the Ed.D in Education couldn’t figure out the connection either, so I wasn’t made to feel too terribly stupid.

On the way out of the room, I noticed a small notice on the top right of the board on a piece of paper that was about six inches wide. It explained how to access the laptop. The instruction were blocked by the two rolling carts that contained other A/V equipment. Great location for instructions.

Moment #2

I was certain that I had lost my glasses, as in prescription glasses. I was wearing them at the time which Alexis pointed out to me.gallon-of-milk

Moment #3

I had gone to Costco and bought a pretty large amount of groceries and other things. For some reason, when the boys unloaded the back of the Trooper, they overlooked the milk, which I did not find until the next day when I got in the car to go to work. Summertime. Overnight. Milk . . .

Moment #4

Paul and I once left the house and got in the car before we realized that we had left Alexis inside the house asleep in her crib. She was just such a quiet baby.

Moment #5

I once rode my bike to my mother-in-law’s house when she was watching Alexis. But then, I hadn’t thought about how we would get home. We put my bike in the back of her car, and she drove us both home.

Moment #6

map-of-ohioAfter Corey and I had been dating for a while, he decided to take the boys and me up to Ohio to meet his family for Christmas. It was already a pretty stressful situation as he had not told his father about me or my children, but his mother knew all about us. So we packed up the car, and got on the interstate, and I asked Corey how long it took to drive to Ohio, to which he replied, “I have no idea. I’ve never driven before.” I very calmly asked, “Do you know how to get there?” He said, “Uhm, no.”

I suggested that we stop and purchase a map, which we did. I then looked at the gas tank, and suggested that we get some gas while we were stopped. He asserted that we were fine. We took an exist in Richmond to find someplace to eat dinner as we were already so far behind schedule. As we were crossing a bridge in a completely unfamiliar part of Richmond, we ran out of gas. The boys were still quite young, so they were relatively freaked out by this.

 This is one of his headless chicken moments, and I think that it counts as two.

Moment #7starbucks-coffee

I was going to a staff meeting in D.C. I was wearing a cream-colored turtle neck Anne Klein sweater. About half-way there, I spilled coffee all the way down the front of the sweater. I stopped at the next exit, and went in a gas station restroom. I took off the sweater and washed just the part that had coffee on it in the sink, and then I blotted it with paper towels. Then I put the half wet sweater back on and turned the heat on full blast for the rest of the ride to D.C. I arrived late and freezing, with my sweater still pretty damp and obviously stained.

Moment #8

When I was leaving my job with the government services firm in Arlington, a very large group of people took me out for a going away lunch party. My big boss was there, so there was tacit approval for drinks all around since he ordered pitchers of margaritas and shots of something. There were just two problems. I was the safe keeper for that floor of the building, which meant that I held the passwords, codes, and safe combination. I also had to be debriefed that day as I held a secret clearance. Well, everyone had forgotten about those two events. When they brought me back to the office around 3 or so, I was completely and totally happy. I did remember the safe combination and codes, and managed to sign my signature and release the safe, although at the time, it was not considered to be “an official looking signature.”

The debriefing was a totally different matter. The security guy came in my office, closed the door, and started to ask me questions. Then he took one look at me, and said, we really cannot do this now, can we? I said, ” nope, sure can’t.” He called my big boss, put me on the phone, big boss said, are you in any shape to answer any questions? I said, “what do you think?” Big boss said hand the phone to X.  I hear big boss say to X, “consider her debriefing complete.” X walks out of my door and shuts it. I start giggling hysterically, call Kathleen and Luke, and by the time they walk down the floor to my office, I’m on the floor.

Not the most professional moment of my life, but one of the funniest ever.

Moment #9

And finally, for now, there was a time that I was certain that I had lost my small ID wallet, the one in which I put my driver’s license and bank card. Corey asked me if I had looked in my purse. I answered testily that of course I had looked in my wallet. I had people looking under the bed, under chairs, in the sofa, in the cars. Corey asked me again if it could be in my purse. I said that no, it could not be in my purse, but if he wanted to look, he could. So he took everything out of my purse, and there, at the very bottom, was the wallet. The lining of my purse was black; just about everything in my purse was black, and the wallet was black. I was so angry at myself because I really had looked in my purse at least twice and did no feel it or see it.

And so, for now, that will be enough of my headless chicken moments. More later. Peace.