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Always Zebras

Zebra

I’ve heard medical students are told “When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.” Meaning whatever symptoms they see are more likely to be explained by something common than by something exotic.

I’m here to tell you that with my son, a medical appointment often turns into a safari. It’s always zebras.

It started with his teeth, which came in early. We saw the first pearly buds when he was four months old and we had our first visit to a pediatric dentist five months later, since some of his teeth erupted with visible holes in them. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking it’s baby bottle mouth (which can also be seen in breastfed babies, so what the heck is with the name?) He was breastfed and no, the holes were not from any substance – formula or mother’s milk – eating away at the teeth. The dentist found no signs of decay. The enamel simply wasn’t there. Ever. His teeth came without all of the advertised features. While the dentist was probing with his little prober tool, a chip of tooth went flying across the room. They were that fragile.

“What would cause it? What would make his teeth be all wrong?” I asked. Among the possible answers, one stood out. If a pregnant mother runs a fever during the stage of fetal development when the tooth buds grow, it can cause dental problems, including incompletely formed enamel. Ah, yes, I spent a large part of the pregnancy ill. Two different intestinal viruses, a series of head colds and a nasty, lingering sinus infection. Zebras prenatally. We opted for baby oral surgery to cap the teeth a few months later.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks before my boy’s tenth birthday. It was a beautiful spring day, perfect for planting flowers, riding bicycles, enjoying the glory of life. I decided to plant flowers and enjoy the glory of life. My husband and son decided to take a bike ride together.

Picture: Mother with her garden trowel, adorning the family yard with festive petunias, waving happily, heart swelling at the joyful sight of her husband and their child bonding in a healthy activity. And know that in a horror movie, this is when the ominous music begins to play, warning viewers that things look a little too perfect now, don’t they? Within ten minutes the father-son duo arrived back home, excursion truncated as the son was experiencing too much pain from his helmet pushing against the bump on his head.

“Bump on your head? Where?” he pointed to a spot just behind the hairline and above his right eye. I felt it with my fingers. Yep, big old goose egg.

“Did you hit your head on something?”

“Not that I can remember?”

“How long has this been here?”

“I don’t know. Two or three weeks.” (As an aside, my son had a very poor grasp on time for a very long time.)

“Why didn’t you say something?”

Shrug.

What’s the opposite of hypochondria? That’s what my second-born has. Tumor on the head? No biggie. Why raise a fuss?

And, oh yeah, it was a bone tumor. We became well-acquainted with the town’s only pediatric neurosurgeon, who eventually took charge of his treatment. After many tests and appointments and scans and x-rays and more scans, it was determined that he had only the one tumor, but it had already eaten away a spot in his skull right down to the meninges of the brain.

One neurosurgery, a bone graft and a biopsy later, we had a diagnosis. The good news: it wasn’t cancer. The weird news: it was caused by an extremely rare auto-immune disorder that can mimic cancer – Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis. This is a disease so rare that the biggest risk factor is being a fictional character on a TV medical drama. In fact, it was the disease of the week once on “House.” LCH affects four or five people out of one million. My son’s doctor might never see another case in her entire career. My son might never have another tumor or symptom from it. Or he might. It’s so weird and rare it’s impossible to say. He’s had no more problems from it so far.

But there was another thing with his teeth after that. What to say about his teeth? I could fill a book with details of his dental woes. When his permanent teeth began showing up, his baby teeth were reluctant to leave. He kept getting more teeth but not losing many, so they came in wicky-wacky. We had some baby teeth removed by his dentist. I honestly think she could have lost every patient but him and still made a pretty good living.

I was overjoyed though, when I saw his top front permanent teeth were strong and complete, even if a little crooked. That lasted a few weeks, until he chipped both when he fell off the jungle gym on the school playground. We would discover many years later that one of the teeth sustained severe permanent damage. This came to light when he got braces at age twelve.

One of the aims of the orthodontia was to bring that front tooth down in line with the others. It had been riding high, never descending completely after getting whacked on the monkey bars. But the tooth didn’t move down. Instead, all of his other teeth started moving up to meet it. Wait, what? I know! That’s exactly what we said, too.

A super-duper futuristic 3-D x-ray revealed the root of the problem. The tooth was ankylosed. This is an uncommon but not unheard of complication that can happen with injured teeth, especially in a human whose bones are still growing. The tooth had fused to the bone up above. It wasn’t going anywhere. Well, not until an oral surgeon cut it out and the orthodontist built a fake tooth-on-a-retainer (like pizza-on-a-stick except a tooth on a retainer) to take its place. The hope is to get an implant if the kid ever stops growing. We’re on hold with that issue for now, but sometimes…

I can’t keep my mind from leaping to TUMOR. For instance when my son and I are sitting in the living room, both reading, as we were a couple of weeks ago, and he says “I hate it when that happens.” And I say “What?” and he says “When I can’t read because the center point of my vision disappears.”

WHAT???!!!!

“Has this happened before?”

“Only a few times.”

“How often?”

“Not very often. It’ll be, like, a few weeks sometimes between one time and the next. And my vision always comes back before too long.”

And he hadn’t thought to mention it. What is the opposite of hypochondria?

The good news this time: still not cancer. Not even a tumor. The weird news this time: it turns out you can have migraines without the headache part. Ocular migraine – that’s what he’s experiencing.

It’s like the Serengeti around here. Always zebras.

zebras

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A License Obtained and a Hearing Aid Found

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My son is 17 1/2. He’s had a driving permit for quite some time and we completed his required practice hours weeks ago. But every time I looked at the calendar and found a time when he and I were both available to go to the DMV for the driving test, something interfered. Once he came down with a bad cold. Another time there was a thunderstorm.

I’m in a launch frenzy with my two young adult kids, frantic to get them through a check-list of steps to competent adult life. I’m pretty sure the driver’s license is more important to me than to my son. Continue reading

Pneumonia Falls

Pneumonia Falls — it’s the dystopian anti-vacation destination my mom has been visiting for the past several days. First she spiked a fever, then she got weak and dizzy, then she fell. Nothing broken, so I guess that means her osteoporosis medicine is working.

After a series of tests, it was determined she had a mild case of pneumonia. Antibiotics have taken down the fever and cleared up congestion. But neither her strength nor balance has returned. She’s fallen two more times and is now under injunction not to walk anywhere without the accompaniment of an aide.

Yesterday she told me she has to stop and rest on her way to the dining room and asked me to bring her wheelchair the next time I come. This feels like a big step down to me, as she’s been adamantly anti-wheelchair up until now. But she’s looked a lot closer to the edge of death than this in the past and then bounced back.

I guess we’ll go on the way life has to go on anyway. One day and then another day and then another until eventually there isn’t one more.

Oklahoma City 20 Years Later

I don’t usually reblog myself, but this is one I feel like sharing on both of my sites.

Nomadic Noesis

Where were you when…?100_0699

On the morning of April 19, 1995, I was at work at an office job when I overheard colleagues talking about a bombing somewhere. I was slightly more than 8 months pregnant with my first child. 450 miles away, my sister-in-law was at home, taking a personal day off from her job in the Murrah Federal Building.

Neither my husband nor I knew she hadn’t gone in that day. We had no cell phones. Phone lines were jammed; we couldn’t reach anyone in Oklahoma. There was email, but it was accessed through dial-up connections – same problem.

As everyone in my building listened to their different news sources and conferred back about the latest, the pit of despair began to seem bottomless. A daycare in the building? I put my hand on my belly, feeling my baby kick, willing the report to be wrong.

At OKC Memorial At OKC Memorial

At OKC Memorial OKC Memorial. Each…

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Entrance Ramp to a New Decade

90 is the degree of every angle in a rectangle. The Kansas City Royals came within 90 feet of tying the score in the bottom of the ninth inning in the last game of the World Series. A score of 90 gets you an A in many academic classes. 90 is a highway in the southern part of the United States. Most importantly, my mother is 90 years old today.

When we moved her to town three years ago, I didn’t expect we’d get to celebrate her 90th. She seemed too frail. She’s still here, though, and even using a walker instead of a wheelchair. She’s one of those tiny old ladies, struggling to maintain a weight that’s at least as high as her age. But she’s always been tough at the core, and she comes from sturdy stock. She has an older brother who is still living in his own home. Her own mother lived to be 94, and two of her aunts also survived more than nine decades.

Mom made it through a childhood marked by hunger and hard labor during the Great Depression, maintained the fortitude to raise six children, despite the immense grief of losing two, worked long hours at whatever she needed to do to keep us fed, clothed, housed and healthy. She’s picked cotton, worked as a welder, run a dairy farm, managed a cafe, assembled suitcases in a luggage factory, had a home daycare, and always kept her house clean (something I can’t manage.) She’s made the “final move of my life” four different times over the past 15 years and has adapted every time.

We’d planned a big party for her, slated for yesterday, but the weather had other ideas, laying a coat of ice on everything. A handful of us still made it to the nursing home yesterday for cake. Through the miracles of Internet and Skype, even more loved ones were included. We’ll try again for a big gathering with extended family, maybe after spring is officially here. Meanwhile, every day I still have my mother feels like a bonus. I’ll try to remember to celebrate every one of them.

Liebster Blogger Award

Thanks, Coach Kathy, for nominating Gen BLT for the Liebster Blogger Award. I’m happy to know my words mean something to somebody. It’s especially nice coming from someone offers so many insights, both profound and practical, into the business of daily life. I appreciate her sharing of the lessons she’s learned on the nature of giving, saving, personal growth and more.

The Liebster Blogger Award

~A Writer to Watch~

The Liebster Blogger Award rules are:
1. Thank the one who nominated you by linking back.
2. Nominate five blogs with less than 200 followers.  (I’ll do my best, but I don’t know the number of followers on all of these blogs.)
3. Let your nominees know by leaving a comment on their sites.
4. Add the award image to your site.

I assume there’s no obligation to accept the nomination and come up with five of your own, but I’ve decided to.

Numbers 1 and 4 are done.  On to the nominations:

1. readncook. Amy is a teacher who has excellent taste in books and keeps up with her blog much better than I keep up with mine. All teachers should care about their students as much as she cares about hers. She also writes about a variety of eclectic interests, including food and Harry Truman. This blog is always interesting.

2. Early Onset Alzheimer’s L.S. Fisher knows what she’s talking about. She lost her husband to early-onset dementia. She’s one of those inspiring people who are able to use tragedy to spur them on to activism. A blog full of information and love.

3. Caring for Our Parents Another sandwich generation blog I just discovered. The full gamut of feelings can be found here – humor, frustration, love, acceptance, worry – you know, life.

4. Andrea’s Buzzing About – I started following this blog because of Andrea’s posts about auditory processing disorder, something she lives with. You may remember my son does, too. I’ve found her posts on the topic enlightening; her words help me understand a little more what my son’s life is like. But she writes about many other topics as well, including the insect world, which I find fascinating.

5. Mindful Poetry –  The title explains the blog. Susan puts a lot of energy into her poetry, and a lot of thought. I particularly enjoy her work with formal poetry.

On Becoming a Sandwich Filling

My mother is 87 years old, a fact that perpetually surprises her. “I never imagined I was so old. Maybe 82,” she told me today, after once again inquiring about her current age. For the past couple of years, she had been living with my oldest sister, a ten-hour drive from my home. Then Mom fell. And fell. Now she’s in a nursing home in my town, and I am taking over her affairs.

I’m in my mid-40s, the youngest of her living children. My two kids are teens. Helloooooo Sandwich Generation!

On this blog, I hope to share experiences, information and emotions that come with being double-blessed and double-tasked – caring for a parent while my kids are still at home and need me. I know many people around the world are in the same situation. Thanks to the Internet we can know how unalone we are. Helloooooo Fellow Sandwich Generation Members!