The Ghost of Travel Future

It’s been a long time since I shared a proper hotel failure. While few things can top Miss Chippy, we had an experience over last Easter break that made me think back to my very first travels.

Long ago (I allowed 30 to come and go without mention here last fall) I participated in a high school travel program. This sort of trip is an excellent and cost-effective way to get very drunk indeed under the auspices of mind-broadening travel.

Our trip was called “Shakespeare, Dickens, and Scott.” It hit the literary high notes of England and Scotland over a seven-day period. After being issued our tour-logoed day packs and instructed not to let the guide’s umbrella out of our sight, we were educated about the masters. We were also learning what it meant to navigate a hotel carpeted and wallpapered in mismatched plaid tartan whilst totally bombed on cider.

For the record, it’s possible to see plaid in triplicate.

That trip was on my mind as our family ventured back south to Warwickshire, one of the old tour stops, to take the (largely uninterested) girls around Shakespeare country. We saw pretty and pretty awkward young things touring Stratford and bearing the same backpacks I once did. How nostalgic! Like looking at the Ghosts of Travel Past!

Except, booked in a fit of frugality, our lodgings now were no better than mine were then. It was a beat to hell and stained old Travelodge, with crumbling structures and plank-hard beds. I wouldn’t let the girls play on the bare couch.

It was also overrun by teens on their spring break, sans chaperone, glorying in their Travel Present.

I had a hard time resenting them. Had I not been an obnoxious young guest once upon a lagered time? But as the first night wore on and it became clear the staff had lost the plot, as the teens woke the girls again and again with stomping and screaming, I started to get irked.

The second night began promisingly. The hotel brought in additional security to cope. But by 7pm the hijinks were back on, and slurring voices roamed the halls.

Finally, one of them started drum-pounding on our door looking for his buddy… five minutes after both girls had fallen asleep. I leaped from the bed and charged the door to present the little jerks with the Gorgon visage of the Ghost of Christmas Future: a nearly-30 pudgy Mom of two little kids, sheathed not in robes but in old yoga pants and keening with the shrill banshee howl of death foretold.

I forget what exactly I said to them; I just know there was a lot of cursing. The shocked teen boys (between 15-18) recoiled as if I had come bearing a water cannon. The staff heard me a floor below at reception and came inquiring about the unhinged woman. Tom calmly explained that if they couldn’t get the situation back under control (he had done his yelling the night before during wake-up number five) we wouldn’t be paying for our stay. They readily agreed. Tom clucked after “That is the maddest I’ve ever seen you!”

Ultimately we left a night early and with our stay totally refunded, having had our Murtaugh “I’m too old for this shit” moment. It made me far more patient on our cruise two months after, though: one day I too will chuckle at campy lounge humor and wear sensible polyester slacks that zip off at the knee and lose my bifocals before dinner.

It was, in a way, like looking at our Ghosts of Travel Future.

I’m a Flake

I apologize to the email subscribers, since this is the third post of today and I’ve deleted two.

So…I think the thing to do is to spend a few hours (days) going through post-by-post and locking some of it down, and leaving others open. If some of this is helping people (and I’m beyond honored) then I feel like there’s meaning to it. But I can fix some of it so it’s not all raw and weird and hopefully the kids won’t be *too* embarrassed later.

I apologize again for the huge seller’s remorse. The earlier decision to post a “Hey, I’m done here with public stuff” was floating around for a while but the decision to hit “Publish” was a complete impulse. Sorry everyone. Now you know how Tom feels.

Closing it out

January: Malta
February: Brussels, Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp
March: Warwickshire
April: Amsterdam (me), Lincolnshire (Tom and the girls)
May: Aalborg (Denmark), Stockholm, Helsinki, St Petersburg, Tallinn (Estonia), Copenhagen
July: Cambridgeshire
July/August: Portsmouth, NH; Boston, MA; southern and central Maine
October: Marrakech, Essaouira, Ouarzazate (Morocco)
November: Paris

And tomorrow we’re closing out 2013 with Düsseldorf and Cologne.

Merry and bright, indeed.

November Blue

Dear Moira,

With a labor that began in the morning and ended at lunchtime, I never did walk outside on the day you were born. The curtains stayed drawn so you and I could rest. The midwives told me it was a dull, gray day with intermittent rain. That’s typical for northern England in late fall, but so wrong for you. The week we’ve just passed is more like the days I remember leading up to your birth, and more like you: sunny with the golden, brief light of autumn’s end; full of wind and bursts of wild weather; brilliantly blue skies giving way to fierce sunsets.

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My heart is dancin’ to a November tune 
And I hope that you hear it singing songs about you 

You sparkle. You are effervescent, ebullient. You drive me absolutely barking mad, and even as I am howling “MOIRA! STAAAAAAAHPPPP!” I can’t help but hide my face so you won’t see me grin. You have two sides: the winsome charmer who makes friends with everyone, and the hooligan who will spit milk out in an arcing fountain if dinner is too quiet for your liking. You’re a pop song with a twist, snappy and catchy and fun until somewhere in the middle you get hit full in the chest with a devastating bass line.

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I don’t know why I have to, but this man must move on 
I love my time here, didn’t know ’til I was gone 

You’ve moved fully into capital-T TWO, and there is so much that I miss and don’t miss. I don’t miss waking up 3-4 times a night and I just adore how hard you sleep and play now. I can count on you for a) a three-hour nap, b) a generally easy bed time (puncutated by the odd “Moira! Get back in bed!”) and c) to appear either at my bedside or in the doorway of the bathroom after launching from your bed like a jack-in-the-box. You don’t get out of bed in the morning; you spike the day like it was a volleyball. You have a pacifier now because you were biting, which is why I cheerfully forced you off the breast at 19 months, so every morning is punctuated by your constant low-level “mrrrrrrrrr mrrrrrrrr” engine-revving around your binky. You’re so full of life and full of a toddler’s curiosity. It’s wonderful, but cradling you in my lap on our flight back from Morocco, I realized that the only future guarantee I’d have of you falling asleep on me ever again was if you were sick. The little sleepy sack of newborn who happily conked out in my arms was gone; only a little bit of her remained, mostly in the smell in the fold of your neck. We–mostly I–were ready for you to stop nursing and to start sleeping without assistance, but I’ll never nurse another child again. You were the last.

And that’s why in the end, I loved every second of babyhood with you. Even the parts I hated, and even the parts at 3 a.m. that were so exhausting that I cried. I loved it because it goes so fast, and you were the last one. Now we’re moving on, and a full-blown child has taken that baby’s place.

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November shadows shade November change 

And wow, that child is powerful. Strong. Emotional. While your speech has come on considerably your consonants are still a bit muddled. When you get passionate and agitated–which is often–we can’t quite make you out, which leads to flat-on-the-floor explosions. You scream like you’re being cut with razor blades, and throw yourself into my arms. On the last occasion you did that, you visibly passed the point of no return–I could see that you knew this was ridiculous, and the panic in your eyes when you couldn’t rein it back in. Instead of scolding, I cradled you up and told you it was going to be okay, that everyone had Very Big Feelings sometimes. Once it was over, I asked if you felt better. “Uh huh!” you gulped. The twinkle–the gleam that lights your perfect, sparkling, cheeky eyes–was back.

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November spells sweet memory / the season blue remains 

And you are so cheeky. You’re sassy. And you’re usually quite remorseless. Just a few weeks ago you were my buddy at a charity event, and you snuck one of the lollipops meant for donors despite being told no, not for you. “Moira Autumn,” I said, in my best warning voice. “No lollipops.” In a flash you ripped off the wrapper and licked the pop, and fixed me with an enormous “Yeah? Tainted now! Whatcha gonna do?” grin that went ear-to-ear. You remind me of the last line of Good Omens, the line about Adam and how the apple was always worth the trouble you got into for eating it.

But despite the cheery defiance and the utterly irreverent grin you paste on your face when you’re busted in the act, you’re a born caretaker. No one is as tender to her baby dolls as you; nor as kind to the sad and sick as you are. You stop and consider people and you reach out to them. You try to make them feel better. You see what they need–a blankie, a hug, a fallen leaf, a few Cheerios–and you give.

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Your yellow hair is like the sunlight, however sweet it shines 

What an incredible combination, Moira. The potential and power of you, which is equal parts sass, sensitivity, defiance, and consideration wrapped up in a fiercely independent (“No, Mama! I DO!”) package, is breathtaking. You’re the power of a mid-November day: changeable, flashing, full of possibility and warmth and an errant chill. You and I share a birth month, and I never really thought highly of November before now. November isn’t an attractive month in a lot of places–bare trees and raw, cold rain. Maybe November just needed a Moira, because now all I see is warmth and color–I see the leaves in your red-gold hair and the power of an autumn sky in your brilliant dark-blue eyes. My not-so-babyish baby’s eyes, now two–my November blue.

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Bit by the cold of December, I’m warm beside your smile  

Thank you for being our little girl, Moira. Your radiance warms our lives. Life would be so unbearably dull without you. We adore and love you so.

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Happy birthday,

Mama

(This structure again. I know. Sorry. I like it–helps me organize my thoughts. Italicized lines are from The Avett Brothers’ “November Blue.”)

Fear, Loathing, and Autism Speaks

Trigger warning: fear-mongering, ableism, othering of autistic people.

*****

A little more than two years ago, I began to wonder.

A little more than a year ago, we pushed beyond our initial pediatrician response and reached out to specialists.

On Valentine’s Day, 2013, Margaret received an official diagnosis of classic autism.

*****

Ten days prior to Margaret’s diagnosis I watched a military doctor at RAF Lakenheath administer the ADOS test, the final component of the diagnostic process. I had, I thought, made peace with the idea–we had been told months earlier by a developmental pediatrician that we should “begin to prepare” ourselves for a diagnosis. The occupational therapist we saw prior to that was relieved we had said the word “autism” because that meant “I can say it too. We can’t mention it unless the parents do if there’s no official diagnosis. Parental reactions are too incendiary.”

Too incendiary. Remember that.

Because Lakenheath is hours away from our home and we had an early appointment, no babysitter was possible. It was agreed that I would be in the room while Tom wrangled Moira elsewhere. The doctor looked at me with very kind eyes as I asked “You’re SURE? You’re SURE this isn’t just a speech delay? This is the diagnosis you’re recommending? YOU’RE SURE?!” She was sure. She was right to be.

The world went white. It buzzed. I couldn’t make out anything else she said through the giant, booming voice in my own head, drilling through the buzz and taking me by the shoulders and getting into my space and shouting, BELLOWING, in my brain:

“Do. Not. Screw this. Up.”

The next forty-five minutes are a blur. We were handed the American Pediatric Association’s book about autism and sent on our way. We went to the RAF commissary for snacks for the drive home. I staggered around the aisles, still buzzing (“DoNotScrewThisUpDoNotScrewThisUp”) paying for the food, somehow. Going back to the car and lasting maybe 15 minutes, maybe 15 seconds, maybe an eternity–maybe, in a way, I’m still there–until I broke into great whooping sobs.

“It’s so big, Tom.” I wailed. “This is so big.”

It is a small comfort to me that I didn’t, even in the white-noise depth of the moment, say that it was too hard, or too sad, or too bad. It is a small comfort to know that even then, way down deep, I knew the truth of the matter was not that this–not that autism–was tragic, but that the enormity of what I really needed to understand meant that the ice-cold, brutally reptilian voice of my maternity had to leap over the doctors and the rhetoric and the fear to speak the loudest:

You have been given a beautiful, rare, intense, precious responsibility. Do not screw this up.

*****

But why the wait? If the diagnosis was so certain, and we knew and had educated ourselves and surrounded ourselves with a community of autistic adults and teens, people who filled us with hope and pride and joy, why did we wait? Nearly 13 months lagged between our first questioning and our first serious action.

We were afraid. I was afraid. The conflated rhetoric surrounding diagnosis, decrying doomed marriages and bankrupted futures and finances, was as immense as the confusion we felt. The biggest organization of them all was the first we turned to: Autism Speaks. Some of what they wrote was useful, but some of it was clouded in language that unsettled me deeply (discussed here in this fabulous, must-read post by Jess of A Diary of a Mom). I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt for so long. They are the largest. They have the biggest reach. Awareness surely counts, yes? Surely with enough work they’ll grow to include autistic people more and more in their upper echelons, yes?

Last night I read Autism Speaks co-founder Suzanne Wright’s Call to Action DC. My blood boiled and my head buzzed as it has not done since that cold, cold February day when we became sure that this thing–this condition that people spoke of in the hushed tones saved for the sick and the dying–was going to touch our lives. An excerpt from the introduction, the tone of which does not improve over the length of the piece and which, if you read the post from A Diary of a Mom, is sadly indicative of an alarming linguistic trend:

This week is the week America will fully wake up to the autism crisis.

If three million children in America one day went missing – what would we as a country do?

If three million children in America one morning fell gravely ill – what would we as a country do?

We would call out the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. We’d call up every member of the National Guard. We’d use every piece of equipment ever made.

We’d leave no stone unturned.

Yet we’ve for the most part lost touch with three million American children, and as a nation we’ve done nothing.

We’ve let families split up, go broke and struggle through their days and years.

Now that, my dear friends and family, is what should call for an incendiary response.

Margaret is not missing; she was never lost. She is not ill. My family is not broken, we are not a tragedy, and the enormity of my rage requires that I have to, HAVE TO, resort to incendiary language here to decry this steaming pile of utter horseshit in the strongest terms I can muster:

Autism Speaks: my child, our children, our friends, our family, is not a crisis.

HOW FUCKING DARE YOU declare that we are?

Autism Speaks, you may not speak for us. You may not speak for me. You may not speak for my child. Your blue lights and puzzle pieces may not cast shadows on my home. Autism does not destroy families. They are destroyed by fear. This is why children suffer: because their families become convinced that their children are inevitable ticking time bombs of incomprehensible burden. Futures are bankrupted because nobody believes in presuming competence and investing in real, genuine, dignified accommodation; we are too busy being told to be afraid to see what is possible.

I hope like hell that Margaret never reads anything like what Suzanne Wright has written. I know that this is an impossibility. The actual words change, the people change, but the attitudes don’t change as quickly. Much as it sickens me, she will lose her innocence. What terrifies me–what shakes me to my very core–is the utter loathing in Suzanne Wright’s words. Oh, how I dread the possibility that Margaret may internalize that loathing; how I dread that her joy may crumple and her hope may shrivel from the core out. We must, MUST not support these attitudes. We must turn away from fear-mongering, othering, and martyrdom.

We are turning away from Autism Speaks.

Our family gets one chance. One chance to raise our daughter to adulthood. One chance to make a difference. One chance to turn to joy.

And we cannot–we dare not–screw this up.

Echoes

Of the things I know now about autism, one of the big ones I wish I had known from the start is how echolalia functions in Margaret’s (yeah. Margaret. I’ll get to that) brain. Reading up on it fell off the priority list for a while as Margaret started to develop more spontaneous speech, but in the last few weeks I’ve been reading more about it.

“Echolalia: That’s What She Said” by Musings of an Aspie is the single best breakdown I’ve seen of it. Easy to understand, and from the beginning with her immediate echolalia down to non-immediate echolalia for self-regulation, I can trace the four-year arc of her speech development. It’s fascinating. I wish I had realized sooner what the echolalia meant, and how to use it as a tool.

Margaret has moved more into spontaneous speech, questions, and give-and-take in the last several months. Earlier, when I wrote that she was adjusting well to school, she was at the time. Between the new schedule of days, business trips, and house guests, Margaret began to show signs of emotional and sensorial disregulation–meaning, that between autism and SPD, and her routine changes, she was holding herself together with metaphorical tape and string. There was only enough in her for utilizing one or two senses at a time, and after throwing on the anxiety of routine disorder for good measure, I noticed a big drop in her spontaneous speech. More using delayed echolalia, more uses of the third-person, more echolalia as a means of regulation. This is interspersed with huge insights into her character, like when she found the vocabulary to tell us that she found “Maggie” to be an ugly name and she wants us to call her “Margaret” from now on, and tempered by some physical outward signs of extreme upset.

One of the regulatory times has been on the way to school. I was irritated with her the third day because she refused to bring her own lunch box in. I was wrong. I was so in the wrong. Why? Because with a new schedule, with new aides, with going to consecutive full days instead of broken-up halves and fulls, she was DONE. She couldn’t handle one. new. thing. And her lunch box? We bought brand-new this past summer, and she loved it at home, but was now incredibly upset by it. I couldn’t understand why she was refusing to take it and breaking down in tears. I got snappy. I didn’t handle it the way I should have. I didn’t listen to the behavior.

I wrote once that autism has forced me to break down who I was and rebuild myself as the parent I needed to be for Margaret. This doesn’t make me perfect, and the thing about echolalia? It keeps me honest. Most people would say to themselves after getting snappy with their kid “Oh, well, it really wasn’t so bad.” The justification, the “oh, but I’m a nice person, she knows that” that comes after. Not so. Margaret echoes my every inflection, my emphasis, my slightly spitty sibilants. She sounds more like me than I do.

So on to echolalia as self-regulation: on the way to school, we now do this script.

“I ASKED you to bring your OWN lunch box in. YOU need to be responsible for it.”

“That is what I said. Mommy didn’t realize you were anxious. I had no right to get that irritated with you. I am sorry.”

“Mommy was not kind. She was angry.”

“I was not kind. I made a bad choice, Margaret. I’m so sorry.”

“I ASKED you to bring your OWN lunch box in. YOU need to be responsible for it.”

And we repeat as much as she needs to hear that I’m sorry. Ten times per car ride, maybe? There is no lying to yourself when you have an anxious, echolalic child. You will relive your mistakes as many times as your child needs you to relive them. You will hear yourself how she heard you–how cold and mean you sound. And, hopefully, you’ll learn something in time to prevent it the next time around.

What took me way too long to get, and what I finally, finally realized tonight is that we *might* be able to use echolalia as the linguistic bomb squad. At bedtime on particularly difficult days I noticed she would start doing her favorite scripts (usually a piece of new and interesting information repeated over and over) as a means to calm herself and prepare her mind for bed. No different than counting sheep, really. So we were cuddling and chatting, and I asked her a question that was open-ended and difficult. Sure enough: rocking, agitation, upset. Immediately, I prompted her latest favorite script: “What kind of camel has one hump?”

“A camel with one hump is a dromedary. A camel with two humps is a bactrian. Camels eat grass and drink water. Camels store water and fat in their humps.” Repeat. Calm. Cuddling. Happy goodnights.

So from now on, before anything else, if I see that she’s really upset I’m going to trigger her favorite scripts as quickly as possible. We do a lot of sensory work as a part of occupational therapy, which lets off a lot of steam and allows her to regulate really well. But maybe, just maybe, echolalia could be the next best tool in our box.

Follow The Bouncing Ball

Another Moira story, because it was sweet and I don’t want to forget it.

Moira attends a baby gym class and has since she was scarcely crawling; there’s some organized song-and-dance but mostly they roam free on the gym equipment.

It should surprise no one that Moira combined today’s activity–jump from one tall foam block to a low one, then do a somersault on the low one–into an aerial front flip that I had to course-correct in midair to keep her from landing on her skull.

Anyway, toward the end of class they get out the soft sensory balls for basic chasing/throwing/catching. They come in different colors and sizes, but there’s only one purple ball in the set of smaller nubbly ones. It is hotly coveted by all the kids, and I see why–in a sea of faded primaries, this particularly rich shade of purple stands out.

One of the little girls we’ve come to know was crying–she had been bumped and fell down, and it triggered a big upset. She got past the point where she could control it; it was just one of those crying spells they lose the ability to manage. Her mom was holding her.

Moira looked at the little girl and her miserable little sobs, and looked around. Her eyes fell on the little purple ball as it bounced out of the scrum. She darted over, picked it up–eyeing the other kids approaching her–and ran over to the sad little girl. Moira pulled on the girl’s shoe and offered up in comfort the finest gift her toddler brain could conceive. The gift was taken, but the girl’s grief was too great–the ball was put down, and they left to calm down outside. Moira shrugged it off, took the purple ball, and toddled over to a hoop and slam-dunked it through the center.

My darling Moira, you have two rare and precious gifts: the compassion to see suffering and want to fix it, and the confidence to shake it off when your plan doesn’t go quite accordingly. You’re not yet two, but you’ve figured out something some people never learn. I see great things in you, my little fireball.

Butterfly

Last week Maggie began Reception Year at her lovely Montessori school, which is UK pre-k and the last year before compulsory education begins. She’s in school three full days a week, and adjusting nicely. Moira, on the other hand, made it abundantly clear by the end of Maggie’s first week that she finds my company…a bit lacking. I’m okay, I’m just…not that interesting. It’s not my fault. It’s her, not me. But since I have to entertain her, I tried a new playgroup yesterday that my friend told me about.

We arrived to a church hall with wood floors and vaulted ceilings, where the echoes of almost thirty children and their caregivers vibrated over an expanse of toys, thrift shop keyboards and phones for kids to pound, mini-trampolines, and an art table. My body locked up defensively; this is not an atmosphere I’m used to. Such utter bedlam would have been impossible for Maggie to process, and until now most of our activities have centered around Maggie’s needs, since Moira was just happy to be where her sister was.

Moira took off into the din without a look back, arms stretched wide and a huge smile on her face as if to say “MY PEOPLE! YOU’VE BEEN HERE ALL ALONG!” I kept an eye on her to see what she was doing–and to whom she was doing it, if applicable–but I really believe that she could not have cared less if I was alive or dead. Once in a while she brought me a baby doll or enlisted my help to get the art smock on and off, but she mostly tore around exploring. I had to intervene a few times: she got a little bossy with the baby dolls, holding a miniature high chair over her head as if to kosh her new playmate, and another time she got up on the mini-trampoline and hugged the little girl next to her, who was not at all pleased that Moira had invited herself up. “Sweetie, not everyone likes surprise hugs on the trampoline.”

When I told her it was snack time, she ran away to find an empty chair and started babbling to her friend. When it was time to clean, she automatically took the lead in collecting toys and then, because she is a beast of pure strength, started stacking the miniature chairs. At the very end at song time, she raced into the circle and grabbed a stranger’s hand to sing “Hokey Pokey,” again not caring where I was or what I was doing.

Today I had to go to an event, a coffee social with lots of vendors and such. Moira did laps the entire time: continuous circuits past the tables, up the stairs, down the ramps, past the food, grinning at everyone, high-fiving, talking (babbling mostly incoherently) to people, giving hugs, pointing to friends. My friend Kathleen, herself a mom of three older kids, observed her in one of her circuits and said “My God. She just…never…stops.”

And she doesn’t. That’s what makes Moira so fascinating to me. Maggie’s autism diagnosis has challenged how I think and view the world, for sure, but at her core she’s an introvert who enjoys her books and quiet pursuits. That, I can manage. I’m an introvert myself and Tom claims extroversion, but he really straddles the ambivert line. Moira is an extrovert’s extrovert. It’s like living with a tiny diapered Oprah. “And YOU get a smile and YOU get a smile and YOU get a high five and YOU! YOU GET A HUG! HEY YOU!”

Being a natural introvert has meant that learning the rules of social interaction has been hard for me. I don’t have an intuitive knack for social comfort, and not a lot of desire to learn. Moira has the knack. She moves with such easy confidence and grace; very little gets her down. She certainly understands the rules–she picks up cues fluidly and easily–which makes it more galling when she then turns around and knowingly, smirkingly flouts the ones that are inconvenient to her purposes. This is the girl who taught her Little Gym class that it was fun to slide down things headfirst instead of feet-first; she’s given boys more than twice her age who want her to get out of their way at the playground raspberries and holds her ground like she’s seven feet tall. 

I know that her nonchalance in flouting the rules and pursuing her own ends is something that needs to be tempered, but truly, I am awestruck by her. That intuitive knack for mixing it up, jumping in, and getting to know everyone–even if they don’t necessarily think they want to be known (sorry, poor trampoline girl)–is so foreign to my experience that seeing it in action from such a young age is incredible to me. She’s a crackling sparkler of a girl, hard to ignore and hot to handle.

One way or another, this girl is going to be a showstopper. I’m so glad and grateful that we get a front-row seat.

This Post is Brought to You By the Letters MRI, CAT, & ER

“And unto them a child was born, and it was decreed unto them all that thy needeth to prepareth thy shit, because thou hast no idea what havoc that child could wreak.” – Proverb I just made up

Long ago, I had my first MRI. That revealed an optic nerve that had a head-start on the rest of my body by being so thoroughly underachieving that it refused to work at all. I’ve never had much peripheral vision on my left side, which is less restrictive to driving than one might think.

The biggest issue with a defunct eye is blind spots (ha, no pun intended). If I don’t hear someone coming, they can be three inches from my face before I realize they’re there, and the shock of being perpetually surprised by left-approachers has shaved several years off my life. So it was painful, but ultimately not surprising, when Maggie ran full-force into me while I was sitting on the grass and knocked my body into the shape of an acute angle.

Immediately, I felt three huge pops in my neck. The pain flared intensely, but then faded, and I got about my business making ready to fly us to America for our vacation and to ready the house and other projects for our departure. This is busylady talk for “I ignored the odd flares of pain and headaches popping up near-daily.”

By the time we landed in Boston I was suffering a migraine so intense that I couldn’t sleep for more than 45-minute stretches that knocked down with Advil but refused to fully abate. Because I had started another medication, I didn’t immediately connect it to our little picnic tackle. What kind of person gets whiplash from a four-year-old?

People, I am that person.

After waking in the night to vomit and suffering balance loss and blurred vision while visiting friends outside Boston, we finally went to the emergency room. If you ever need to have an IV inserted and blood taken, the Lahey Clinic is tops. However, they gave me medication for the head pain–which was so intense that it eclipsed the neck pain–that made it impossible to take a full breath, and then had me get a CAT scan to rule out anything especially scary. It may be important to mention that at this time, I was sure that I at least had a blood clot or possibly was having a mild stroke, and I got wheeled into the scan room just in time to hear an orderly tell another patient “There was something concerning on your scan, so the doctor will need to keep you.”

DUN-DUN-DUUUUUUUN.

I was discharged with migraine medication, which helped for about twelve hours but did next to nothing after that. We went back to Maine, and I made it a day before I capsized, again in massive pain. Thus it was that I landed back in the ER, but now armed with this important information: the primary head pain vanished with medicine. The neck pain didn’t. And brother, I had a ten-pound baby at home, a baby with stuck shoulders and a 99th percentile head, without so much as a belt to bite and I would do that AGAIN if given the choice between that and experiencing that early Sunday neck/head pain again.

When you’re in that kind of pain, they punch an express ticket for you on the morphine train. It was a tiny dose, tempered with anti-nausea meds, and I felt well enough to finally sleep a bit. The powers that be ordered an MRI, and after a brief comedy of errors where I got wheeled around the hospital looking for a pair of pliers to remove an earring from my ear that was original from the initial piercing, I got stuffed into a tube and then suffered the itchiest nose I’ve had since my first MRI…you know, the one that revealed the bad eye that led to the blind spot that led to the surprise tackle and the green grass grows all around.

The results–severe muscle sprain, aka fucking whiplash from my four-year-old–were quick, but by that time I was in pain again. There had been a shift change, and apparently they did not write down that I am a cheap date and that I get nauseous. Years ago, when I saw Trainspotting, I thought Ewan MacGregor was exaggerating a bit when he did that head-back flop on the bed when that heroin hit his bloodstream. I tell you now that once the second dose of morphine hit me I felt it in my toes, fingertips, the tip of my tongue, and the top of my head simultaneously and I flumped straight back into a stack of pillows. My poor father, who had been volunteered to trade with Tom–who had been up since 4am tending to my broken self–so he could trot the girls out to familial obligations, had to listen to my stoned babbling for over an hour before I finally was discharged and we could go home. I was higher than the cast of Requiem for a Dream. 

After all that–and oh, God, why didn’t I deal with this earlier in the UK, where health care is free! FREE I SAY!–three days of muscle relaxers and Vicodin shaped me up right speedy, and we were able to enjoy the rest of our vacation in unmedicated peace. Except for poor Tom, because Moira came down with croup (this is two for two visits to America where she has become so afflicted. I suspect she’ll fare better in Morocco) and I was still absolutely useless from the barrage of drugs in my system. Since he was the only functional parent he ended up back in the same ER that evening for steroid shots. He slept almost the entirety of Monday, Moira slept a bit herself, Maggie ALWAYS sleeps in, and I was cruising on Vicodin. It was like a mini-episode of “House.”

So let that be a lesson to you: if you have children, and especially if you have a blind spot, put some damn bells on your kids.