How to Help, Right Now.

Chicago has been under an excessive heat warning since Saturday. We tried to go for a walk for Father’s Day yesterday. After half an hour (and a second iced coffee), we had to call it quits to hide out in apartment for the rest of the day with the blinds drawn.

We have a window AC unit, but even with it running on high all day, it never got below 83F in our bedroom last night. I tucked our son in at 7:45. He tossed and turned from the heat until well after 11.

This morning I’m thinking of the children who will be sleeping in the “temporary tent shelter” in El Paso. It’s 75F there – cooler than Chicago – but the highs this week will be around 100F every day. How will those children sleep? How many of them will toss and cry for their parents – just from the heat?

Our son woke up at 6:30 and snuggled with me on the couch before asking for his breakfast. When I left for work, he was working on math problems on the couch with his papa.

He’ll be 4 in September. This is a hard age. Some days he’s sweet and helpful. Other days he’s a nightmare. Some days he’s both. Some hours he’s both. I’ve been reading a lot about how toxic masculinity starts to infect boys young. I have a lot of thoughts about this, but while making sense of them, I keep returning to a place of deep gratitude that our son is so closely bonded to us. That we can at least try to mitigate some of the societally-constructed bullshit because at least for now, he loves and trusts us and the other grown-ups in his life, and feels comfortable exuberantly demonstrating that love and trust.

So what happens to these children who have been taken from their parents? We know what happens because we’ve been doing it longer than we’ve been a country. We know what happens because we did it to generations of Native children. We know what happens because our country did it to generations of enslaved families. We don’t have to look to Nazi Germany, but we can look there as well.

But we also know because we have children of our own. Imagine the drama of the worst drop off at school or daycare or grandparents’ house – or even just an average level of departure-related drama. Nearly 4 year olds know drama. Now imagine this is happening with no opportunity to prepare your child. No helpful Daniel Tiger songs to mitigate the drama. No way of knowing if your child will be safe or fed or cared for. No idea when you’ll be reunited – if ever.

The harms are real, and they’re immediate, and they’re long-term. These are the sorts of things you never get over, never outgrow. Our country is breaking children. Our country is destroying families. And unless we, every one of us, takes action, we are as culpable as the agents at the border or the bureaucrats in Washington.

Here are some things you can do right now. Go do them. Right now.

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Stray Thoughts on the Hospital and After

The hospital food was worlds better than expected. I would go so far as to say that it was decent for non-hospital food, and that was while ordering from the ‘cardiac diet’, which meant no full-fat anything. However, it’s hard to eat a strictly pescatarian diet in the hospital for multiple days, which is why I’m relieved again that I define my diet as vegetarian-mostly.

In his spare time, my cardiologist designs (or at least used to design) high-end men’s shirts. Mom thought that this level of attention to detail was a good thing in a cardiologist.

My nurses were mostly wonderful. I think it helped that I wasn’t the typical cardiology/ICU patient – I was generally self sufficient, except for when they needed to connect IVs or disconnect my machines, and by the third day, I was able to do at least the machine part on my own as well. My daytime nurse the last two days was delightfully bossy. I appreciate that in a caretaker.

I had to make my first after-hours call to the cardiologist after a particularly bad coughing spell (thanks, hospital cold, for infecting my entire family) resulted in new soreness/pain around my pacemaker “pocket”. The on-call fellow was very kind and patient – and surprised me by calling back half an hour later with the offer from my cardiologist to fit me in Monday morning for a quick check of my device. All is well, but I appreciated the reassurance, and the willingness to get me in right away.

That said, I also had a major crying jag after the coughing fit but before the reassuring call back from the cardiology fellow. The pain was secondary to the fear – not of something life-threatening happening, but of going to the hospital for something that seems minor and losing another week of my life. I’ve been told this will get better.

What happened.

The short version: I blacked out in a restaurant last Sunday. While being monitored overnight, my heart stopped for 13 seconds. I spent the next four days being continuously monitored around the clock and…nothing happened. There’s absolutely no indication what caused the incidents on Sunday.  I got a pacemaker as an insurance policy, and was discharged on Friday. I’m fine apart from recovering from the surgery, and there are no significant lifestyle modifications going forward unless I decide to take up a career in welding or as an MRI technician.

The longer version:

Last Sunday, we took a day trip to the suburbs to visit the Little Red Schoolhouse nature area and have lunch at a place that had promising vegan options. I was hungry by the time we made it to lunch, but not overly so, and probably hadn’t had enough water, but I wasn’t dehydrated by any means. We ordered lunch, and as it arrived at the table, I had a moment of feeling weird, and the next thing I knew, I was being picked up off the floor, having hit my head on the table or the floor or both.

I was convinced to be transported to the ER by ambulance, where I promptly threw up my virgin Bloody Mary (thanks, motion sickness). We waited for more than an hour in the hallway of the ER before being moved to a room, where they checked me out, did blood work, etc. More hours of waiting in the hallway and – nothing. No idea what had caused the blackout. Nothing wrong with my blood sugar, blood pressure, electrolytes, etc. No signs of concussion. Annette and Liz drove out to rescue us, taking the boy out for ice cream while we waited for news.

They wanted to keep me overnight for monitoring. Panicked at the idea of an out-of-network hospital stay, we called my parents (my dad is a doctor), who strongly encouraged us to stay. I was admitted, and Annette and Liz drove the guys and our car home.

Once I was settled in my room, I called N to video chat. While were on the phone, I blacked out again – except this time I was hooked up to telemetry devices, and they could see from the readout that my heart had stopped for 13 seconds. Over the next few hours, I had what could best be described as hot flashes – a temporary rush of heat, nausea, and dizziness – that they correlated with sharp drops in my heart rate (into the 30s – my resting heart rate is around 55 normally). The on-call cardiologist was called in. Family friends came to see me and got the doctor straight talk, which was relayed to my anxious parents. The decision was made to transfer me to the University of Chicago, which is where I would’ve preferred to be the whole time. I arrived by ambulance (no throwing up this time) around 5am Monday morning.

I spent the next three days waiting for something to happen, first in the SICU, then in the cardiac ICU. Nothing happened. No more hot flashes or pauses. No more nausea or dizziness as long as they let me eat. Nothing. Not only was I the unusual young patient in the cardiac ICU – I was an otherwise completely healthy one. It was surreal to say the least.

Meanwhile, my family was scrambling to cover things at home so that N could spend time with me at the hospital. My sister and the baby dropped everything to drive in for the first night. My mom flew home early from vacation, and took turns with N visiting me and wrangling the boy at home or in the hospital lobby – he couldn’t visit due to flu season. Everyone was amazing and did their absolute best through an exhausting week.

I met with more doctors than I can even possibly remember, especially since some of them stopped by in the very early morning or while I was trying to eat, or called while I was in the middle of talking to other doctors. The attending cardiologist happened to be the head of the electrophysiology team and a “rising star in the field of arrhythmia management” – exactly the sort of person you want on your case if your heart is doing something weird. He was mystified, as were the colleagues he consulted at top rhythm centers around the country.

He presented me with several options, all of which he said he felt equally comfortable recommending, both for my health and in terms of his responsibility: I could go home after several days of monitoring. Or I could go home with an implantable chip that would transmit my telemetry data to them for longer term monitoring. Or I could get a small pacemaker that would “catch” my heart if I experienced another pause or dip.

We talked it over extensively, and came to the conclusion that the pacemaker was the safest choice. I kept contrasting this choice with choosing to wear a bike helmet. If I don’t wear a bike helmet and have an accident, generally I’m the only one affected. If my heart crashed again, however, it could be disastrous. We got exceptionally lucky that it happened while I was sitting in a chair and lying in a bed. The thought of it happening while driving, or crossing the street with the boy, or walking down a flight of stairs, or cooking dinner – any of those could be catastrophic.

So on Thursday, I got a pacemaker. The surgery was done under sedation, not general anesthetic. A small injection in my groin allowed them to access a vein to place a sensor that would allow them to generate a map of my circulatory system. After making a two-inch incision just below my collarbone, the pacemaker lead with a tiny sensor was introduced. The doctors used the 3D map to thread the lead into my heart, attached the device, and closed me up. It took about three hours from start to finish.

I was rolled back to my room, where I spent the next four hours flat on my back on bed rest. I wasn’t allowed to move my left shoulder or my right leg. They angled my bed up to about 30 degrees so that I could eat for the first time in 18 hours (I didn’t order wisely, but managed to finish my veggie burger without too much mess). The plan was to discharge me after the period of bed rest, but neither N nor I thought that would be safe, so they agreed to keep me another night. I spent my last night in the hospital zoning out and watching Battlestar Galactica and trying not to think about the previous few days, or the days ahead.

So what is life for an otherwise healthy 38-year-old like after getting a pacemaker? A few more days without showers. No driving for two weeks. I can’t lift my left arm above my shoulder for 4-6 weeks. I’m very sore, though the soreness has as much to do with strange motions compensating for my range of motion as it does with the surgery itself. I have a box under my bed that downloads data from the pacemaker and transmits it to the doctors and the device company. I can’t climb radio towers, or take up welding, or hang out between loss prevention gates at stores. I can’t play football or any other sports where there’s a risk of hard contact to my chest. I can’t get an MRI.

But I can have an almost completely normal life – once I figure out what normal feels like for all of us after all of this.

40 Months

I think we’re actually done nursing.

I said all along that I would follow his lead, that I would keep going as long as it worked for both of us. That turned out to be 40 months.

For a long time, he would wake up and ask for “mai” (which in the final weeks turned into “maik”), and we would shift out to the couch to nurse before or after breakfast. Sometimes he would nurse for 20 minutes, sometimes less than 2. Sometimes he would ask again during the day. Most of the time he wouldn’t.

For the last month, nursing has been uncomfortable for me. I pumped once over the holidays and barely expressed anything, so I knew that there wasn’t much left – it was more about comfort and connection than slaking the even slightest thirst. So when he asked for “maik”, I would often stall, telling him we could have some after breakfast. Many mornings, he would forget. Some mornings, he insisted, and we would stay in bed and nurse. Once in awhile, he was really upset. Most of the time, it was fine.

The last few times, we talked about how we could try, but if it hurt, we would have to stop right away. He said he didn’t want it to hurt. I said I didn’t want it to hurt either. So we would try, and it would hurt, and then we would stop.

It was the same story last Sunday, the 28th. He asked. We tried. It hurt. We stopped. He hasn’t asked since. And now I think we’re done.

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December 19, 2017

January

A bunch of mostly small things have happened in my world this month, and that is my excuse for why it is January 31 and I have yet to talk about my aspirations for the year, much less anything else. We were all ferociously sick for a few days, and then it was so cold that the kid was literally climbing the walls, and then I accidentally bought sickly-sweet strawberry fizzy water at the Polish grocery store because I was overwhelmed. I turned 38 and failed to obtain timely birthday ramen but did have this completely absurd taste adventure:

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We started rewatching Battlestar Galactica, and I’m afraid to say that all of the new TV we’ve tried pales in comparison. I finished a book and two podcast series that challenged me in pretty significant ways (that I hope to talk about here). Two important cats died (not ours – she’s as fat and funny as ever). A faculty member at my institution thought it was a good idea to invite a noted white nationalist to campus, so I attended my first organizing meeting. I made Ottolenghi’s sabih and read a lot of Frog and Toad. I got a standing desk.

I’ve made a tradition of sharing my resolutions in this space, and of posting semi-regular updates measuring my progress toward and/or commitment to these goals. This year it took quite a big longer than normal to settle on my hopes for the next year, in part due to moving pieces that hadn’t quite sorted themselves out. Many of the things on my list look more like intentions than easily measurable goals.

So, for me: acceptance and mindfulness. Reading more books.
For my family: focusing on connection and patience. Reducing consumption.
For my relationship: encouraging and listening. Making time for us.
For my loved ones: expressing pride and gratitude. Connecting with family, especially my  99 year old grandma.
For my work: reasonable expectations. Saying no.
For the world: center marginalized voices. Find sustainable ways to take action.

This week, here and there:

  • The Parents’ Guide to Affairs with Esther Perel – The Longest Shortest Time – holy cow, all the feels throughout this incredibly insightful and compassionate conversation about infidelity and the importance of choosing and defining the relationship you want, not just making the best of the relationship you find yourself in. (Despite the headline, this episode is not in favor of infidelity. I also think it could have been improved by eliminating the section on non-monogamy, but that’s a whole other topic.)
  • What Does it Mean to Die – The New Yorker – a fascinating and devastating article about one family’s struggle to challenge their daughter’s diagnosis as legally dead, and a deeper dive into how ‘death’ is and has been defined (and by whom).
  • How Carob Traumatized a Generation – The New Yorker – we were literally just talking about carob after a bulk foods PLU mix-up. Now I’m worried that we might traumatize our kid with our food choices.

2017 Resolutions In Review

1. Eliminate credit card debt.
Done. With a balance transfer about to start accruing interest, we decided the best thing we could do was use some of our savings to pay off the remaining debt.

2. Take action every week.
I kept this up for a couple of months, but like many, I lost steam.

3. Finish Brain Pickings book club list.
Good enough! We didn’t finish the list, but we kept the book club going all year, so I’m going to treat this one as a success.

4. Incorporate professional development into my schedule.
I managed the conferences, but didn’t manage much else. I have a couple of things that I want to work on this year, so maybe I’ll rededicate myself to this one in 2018.

5. Finish weaning.
Despite my sad post a couple of months ago, we’re still nursing pretty regularly. I broke out the pump last night, and that made me feel like I was ready to be DONE all over again.

6. PR at any distance.
DONE. I blew away my 5K time in Champaign in April. I had hoped to PR in the half, but considering how hard I’d run the night before, I was totally fine with just finishing.

7. More regular visits with family.
Done. The kid absolutely will not nap when we’re out in Rockford, so since he’s doing better with car naps (and in the car generally), we were able to make more day trips happen.

8. At least two blog posts/month.
Technically done. By the numbers, this was a success, though posting dropped off pretty significantly after the beginning of the year.

9. Try at least four new recipes/month.
Done, for sure.  The My New Roots cookbooks were my go-to source.

10. Make time for monthly dates.
Monthly dates didn’t happen, but we did manage some child-free time about every other month. In 2018, I would love for us to GET AWAY! OVERNIGHT! WITH NO CHILD! but that continues to be a tall order.

2017 in Meme

1. What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before?
What did I do in 2017? Participated in a protest march; ran the entire Lakefront Path; made an impressive-looking maqluba; potty-trained a kid; broke a finger; baked with aquafaba; kept a book club going for the entire year; submitted an article for publication; went an entire year without getting my hair cut*.

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
About half of them, and probably.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My sister, sister-in-law, and several friends had babies this year.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
My friend Molly passed away at the beginning of the year.

5. What countries (or new places) did you visit?
No new places this year. Conference travel to Atlanta, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Indianapolis. An overnight to visit my grandma in Davenport. A one day trip to East Lansing for a football game with Mom. A quick trip to Madison to celebrate the kid’s third birthday.

6. What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017?
An actual vacation, as Timehop keeps reminding me that I haven’t been out of the office for a full week since we went to Belgium in September 2016.

7. What date from 2017 will remain etched up on your memory, and why?
At the moment, nothing stands out.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I’m pretty damned happy with some of the work I did this year.

9. What was your biggest failure?
I have basically lost my last shred of patience over the holidays between multiple days of sickness and extremely cold weather have kept us cooped up inside. I’m sure there have been days when I was grumpier, but not in awhile.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
In August, I broke my right ring finger while getting on my bike. Yes, you read that correctly. I also had a wicked stomach bug over the holidays.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
We picked up an electronic keyboard for $30 a few weeks ago, so that’s been the standout purchase recently. Other great buys for the year include the Fjällräven totepack N bought me for my birthday and the terrible spiralizer I got for free that convinced us that we would actually use a spiralizer. Oh also we finally bought an actual bedframe after multiple years on the floor.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
I never cease to be proud of and amazed by my sister.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Most elected officials’.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Food and drink and rent, as usual.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Aquafaba, spiralizing, weekend long runs (miss u, warm weather), being able to walk to work.

16. What song will always remind you of 2017?

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?
Happier

ii. thinner or fatter?
I’m striking this question.

iii. richer or poorer?
More money and less debt than this time last year.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
The usual: sleep, running, time with friends, lying on the couch doing nothing.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Emotional labor.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
We’ve made a real effort to keep all holidays low-key. Sometimes it’s really hard, but sometimes it’s really worthwhile. This was the first year the 3 year old was excited about “Christamas”, and basically everything about the last month was magical for him: making decorations for our tiny tree, opening the doors of the paper advent calendar, drinking hot cocoa and shaking sleigh bells at the winter celebration in the park, looking forward to eating apple pie at my parents’ house on Christmas Day. The day itself was hectic and exhausting after a 4:45 wake up, but he was so happy, and there were big hugs all around, and now I understand why parents work so hard to make these moments special, even if their kids won’t remember.

21. Did you fall in love in 2017?
We finally moved to the neighborhood where I work after almost six years in my job. When I first moved to the city, I had absolutely zero interest in living in this neighborhood as it felt like the suburbs, and that was NOT the point of moving to the city. Priorities change, however, and the move has been such a net positive for our family that it’s caused me to see the neighborhood in a whole new light.

22. How many one-night stands?
Also striking this question.

23. What was your favorite TV program?
Comrade Detective, followed distantly by The Crown, Game of Thrones, and Twin Peaks. Also let me just tell you that texting about TV with my pal Jimi makes just about any show better.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
See above re: elected officials.

25. What was the best book you read?
This was the year that I maxed out my library account – apparently you can only check out 50 books at a time from the Chicago Public Library? Most of them were for the kid’s obsessions with dragons and Mr Putter and Tabby, of course, but I read a number of good books as well – more than in the last few years put together. My top three were:
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life – Amy Krause Rosenthal
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? – Roz Chast
Liturgy of the Ordinary – Tish Harrison Warren

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
The new lcd soundsystem album was the first album in a looooooong time that I deliberately chose to sit down and absorb the first time through rather than treating as background noise.

27. What did you want and get?
Good news.

28. What did you want and not get?
Impeachment.

29. What was your favorite film of the year?
Moonlight absolutely destroyed me.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I got a brand new birthday buddy – niece #4 was born on my 37th birthday. My fell on a Monday, so a friend babysat the night before so that we could go out for a wonderful birthday dinner at Dusek’s. I was pretty hung over the next day. We went out for lunch and coffee, and apparently had pizza for dinner, though I can only tell you that because I’ve been keeping track of our dinners in my planner all year.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
More time at home with friends. I sincerely miss having the people I love in my home, even (or especially) when it’s for no good reason.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2017?
My Lent challenge this year was trying out a capsule wardrobe. My core wardrobe was something along the lines of 4-5 sleeveless tops, 3 cardigans, 2 skirts, a favorite t-shirt, and a pair of jeans (and maybe other things that I’ve forgotten because it was 9 months ago). These were, of course, the things I gravitated towards wearing anyway, but I was surprised to find that it wasn’t difficult at all. Of course, you’ll note that workout clothes aren’t included in there – or pajamas, for that matter – but these 12ish items worked out just fine for me. So: drapey sleeveless tops, a colorful skirt OR sweater paired with a dark sweater or skirt, kneesocks or tights, and practical shoes.

33. What kept you sane?
Running. My sister.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Nicolas Jaar tweeted about frogs and I replied and he liked my tweet and it was basically the best.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
Everything was terrible all year. It’s hard to pick just one.

36. Who did you miss?

*I may have actually gone a year between haircuts before, but not in at least a decade, and since that’s long enough for things to fall off a credit report, I think that’s long enough to count here.