Saturday, November 22, 2014

My Hospital Trip

So, the story starts the morning after Cleveland although, to be honest, it is entirely unrelated to Cleveland.

Saturday morning, when I woke up (about four hours or so after falling asleep after the long drive), I was not feeling particularly well. Congested, headachy, that sort of thing - likely related to the cold that'd been going around the house most of the week. The Wife let me take a nap, which helped.

Sunday morning, I woke up somewhat worse and spent most of the day in bed. I worked from home on Monday so I could take a nap during lunchtime. Tuesday morning I woke up feeling better and made the trek to work. Tuesday night, you see, the chorus had a performance at a senior home up north, followed by a normal rehearsal at that site. I surely wouldn't miss the performance for something like a cold.

Tuesday afternoon I texted The Wife: "Man, my stomach just suddenly starte killing me." I thought it might have been the food I ate at lunchtime, but an examination of the rest of the leftovers at home showed that they were fine. Over the next two hours, the pain - which felt like the ache after someone has repeatedly punched you in the stomach - intensified, and my ability to concentrate on anything else evaporated.

I started to drive to the performance, got about ten minutes from the office, and realized that I wouldn't make it. I made the appropriate calls, then drove myself to the hospital, checked into the emergency room, and curled myself into a fetal position for the next couple of hours until they came with pain meds.

Long story short, the next twenty four hours contained a whole heap of blood draws, viewing machines, and every kind of poke and prod and press that you can imagine. EVERY kind. The good news: they ruled out all of the awful stuff (cancers, kidney stones, et al). The bad news: they had no idea what was causing the pain.

Wednesday night, they had decided that my digestive system was just backed up (confirming what many students and colleagues have thought of me for many years, that I'm full of sh**). They backed off the pain meds, which turned out to be a colossally bad idea. I had an awful reaction to the ibuprofen based medicine they gave me and spent the next five hours in greater agony than Tuesday night, until someone took pity and gave me medicine that worked.

Thursday, they took me downstairs and did their best to clean out my insides with medicines and a device that, I'm pretty sure, has its roots as a fire hose. I'm fairly sure they dumped enough fluid (pun intended) that my eyeballs started to float independently. I'm also fairly sure that my breakfast from the day before floated back into my stomach for re-digestion.

Talk about doctors with a crappy job.

They sent me home Thursday night with a prescription for a mild painkiller. The only problem is that, at that point, my lower back was in as much agony - maybe more - as my stomach, caused by 48 hours of immobility. Instead, I took an alleve pill, which calmed the muscles in my back and let me sleep.

I'm doing better now - I'm probably at a solid 30, 35% of normal. If I'm careful and slow, I can do most of my normal stuff without any pain or discomfort. The only issue is that I'm not sure where my limits are, and when I go past - ouch. My body violently lets me know.

Best part of the hospital, UPMC Shadyside: the nurses were fabulous. Friendly, caring, quick, and universally funny. Plus, the two main nurses I had - Wednesday and Thursday day shift and Tuesday and Wednesday night shift - were geeks like me and loved talking about the comic book shows and movies. My PCP was also amazing during this - came by a couple times a day and maintained strong contact with the doctors at the hospital.

Worst part of the hospital: sleeping like a baby. Meaning, you get an hour of sleep here, then get woken up. Two hours, then woken for tests. Forty-five minutes, then another intrusion. 90 minutes here, then a random resident comes to visit. When it hurt to talk, one does not want to tell a frightened bunny the same story again,

Worst part, part deux: some bastard told the dining department that I was allergic to caffeine. That meant no coffee and no chocolate chip cookies. If that was a practical joke, it would have been the most amazing one ever. Thankfully, my nurses gave me the cup of coffee or two that I needed to avoid the worst of the caffeine hangovers.

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Home Free Day!!!

Last Friday, the 14th, I took a half day from work to take The Boy and Little Bear to see the a cappella group Home Free perform in Cleveland. It was a truly epic day and a real "Dad Level Up" kind of moment!

Now, I had been planning this since August, when I bought the tickets. We did not tell the kids that they were going on this trip - I wanted it to be a surprise, because this was the primary Christmas/Channukah present for them. (Side note: wouldn't it be great if the presents that I was able to give my kids revolved more around an experience like that, as a family, instead of toys? That deserves some more thought and exploration, but I digress.) mission accomplished - everyone involved (me, The Wife, their teachers) managed to keep their mouths shut long enough.

I left work at noon, came home, and napped for an hour. I got to the kids' school at two, and we were out the door at 2:20. After we left the school, I sat down on the bench and told them where we were going. The Boy's jaw dropped to the ground, and he began bouncing up and down with excitement. Little Bear, being of cooler variety, merely nodded his head: "Cool."

We got in the car for the roughly three hour drive to Cleveland. As I hoped, the boys fell asleep fairly quickly and slept for a shade under two hours - for a concert that starts at eight (which is around their bedtime) they needed to be well-rested. They woke up in time for a gas and potty break, then we completed the drive into Cleveland.

The concert was in the Ohio Theatre in Playhouse Square, which is a nice theater district in town. We drove around a bit until we found the theater, then we found a parking spot about two blocks away. We walked to the theater, picked up our tickets, and used their potty.

We spent fifteen minutes looking at the restaurants before choosing Otto Moser's restaurant. It was a forty-five minute wait, and we spent the time playing on the various iDevices I brought along with me. Dinner was sandwiches, and we had a nice conversation with the couple in the table next to us.

When we settled in the theater seats, we did a little more playing and some talking with the people around us. The theater was packed full - I did not see any empty seats around us, and we were about halfway to two thirds back from the stage.

Then, the show started. Wow, those boys can sing.

Home Free won the Sing-Off in December 2013. They're a country and pop a cappella group from Minnesota, and they are our family's favorite singing group right now. They do a nice mix of country covers, pop/rock songs, and original tunes. Some of their better songs include covers of Cruise (Florida-Georgia Line), Colder Weather (Zachary Brown Band), Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash, with an unbelievable bass solo); original tunes Wake Me Up and Champagne Taste (on a Beer Budget).

They sang songs from their debut album, Crazy Life; from their YouTube channel (they have been releasing a video or two every month for a while now - we are Patreon subscribers to support this); from their brand new Christmas album; and from their Sing-Off performances. One of the highlights was a neat arrangement of God Bless the USA, which we hadn't heard before. The boys love that song, particularly since last year's kindergarten flag day ceremony.

The boys were rapt listeners and watchers for the whole concert, which is a feat for two little boys and two 45 minute halves. They sang along with a bit of it - since they know the words to all of the songs, they could have sang everything, but I don't think they did.

After the concert, the Home Free guys did a handshake / autograph line for the fans. We had bought concert t-shirts and pictures for them to sign already. The guys from Home Free were gracious and friendly to the kids, who were obviously star-struck and couldn't speak: the guys had a kind word or question for both the boys. The crowd was too big to pose for pictures with them, but I tried anyway.

When we got back to the car, the boys wanted to listen to - you guessed it - more Home Free for the ride home. Little Bear was asleep before we left the parking deck, The Boy about five minutes later. We arrived home around 1:15am from an immensely successful concert trip.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Home Free Eve

24 hours from now, we'll be somewhere in Ohio, travelling to the Home Free concert. With luck, the boys will be fast asleep - a nice afternoon nap means that they'll be able to last the entire concert without an issue. I expect to arrive in Cleveland somewhere around 5, 5:30 - find the theater & park - find a place to eat reasonably close to nearby. With any luck, I can find a backstage door and see if I can shake any hands. I think the boys would absolutely plotz if they could meet the Home Free singers. I know that >>I<< am geeking out over the prospect, so I hope to make that happen. I have a feeling the crowd will be too large, but you never know.

I'm still trying to decide what we're going to do after the concert. We have family in the area, and we could probably stay the night there, but I'm waffling between driving home (arriving in the neighborhood of 1 or 2AM) and staying somewhere. I am going to bring a bag, and if we feel like staying - or if the driving becomes dangerous - then we'll stop. I don't mind spending $50 on a hotel room, mostly because we NEVER do crazy things like this.


The Boy has chosen "Witches' Dance" for his talent show violin piece this year, so he performed it for us. It's a little rough right now, but he's got a few months. The quartet was appreciative, but that's because they're cool guys and it's really cute seeing a kid that size play an instrument.


Little Bear's chin is healing quite nicely. We're still keeping it covered up, even though the cut has mostly scabbed over, because we don't want him playing with it. He's also doing a decent job of dealing with his finger-sucking, albeit grudgingly. We're trying to find substitutes that will calm his anxiety - sleeping with a blankey or a teddy bear, or chewing gum when he's awake. (...and G-d help him if I find gum stuck under any furniture in the house!)


Tonight, The Wife has quartet rehearsal, and we'll do baths and snuggles while watching "The Flash" as a group of boys. We like the show a lot, although it might be a shade too scary for Little Bear. He usually falls asleep 2/3 of the way through. The Baby rarely makes it past the credits. The Boy watches like I do - rapt attention and good response at the appropriate beats.

Now, if I could only get them into Doctor Who....

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Easy Like Sunday Morning

Yesterday, I had off from work (Veteran's Day), and The Boy & Little Bear had off from school. It was the last nice day of the fall, so The Wife and I dropped what we were doing and spent the day with the boys.

I slept late; my shoulder was bothering the heck out of me (price of growing old and continuing to exercise intensely), so I wasn't going to risk the free weights at home. We went to breakfast at The Bagel Factory, mostly because The Wife is always working on the weekends when we all go out. Afterwards, I drove The Baby to pre-school (they still had pre-school), which was nice: I got to chat with his teachers, who are very dear people that I don't see often. Harriett has had all three boys (I think Sally missed having The Boy), so we have a nice relationship. I think the world of her.

The four of us remaining went to the JCC on the way back. I worked out while they swam - then I joined them for a little dip. The boys are doing a nice job with their swimming and are certainly comfortable enough to go underwater and emerge again without incident. They're also tall enough to stand in about 90% of the shallow area of the pool. We played chase games, and dunking games, and throwing-little-boys games, and "get the change from the bottom of the pool" games, and that sort of thing.

After lunch, I picked up The Baby from pre-school, then all five of us went to the castle playground. I played baseball with Little Bear for quite a while, then the three boys spent time chasing each other around. When we got bored and hot from that (it was a bit higher than 70 degrees and sunny, and the water fountains were closed and boarded for the winter), we went home, fueled up, and went to the local park.

I'm pleased to say that we made it through the day without anyone getting injured or re-injuring old wounds (read: opening up chin wounds sustained by certain small members of the ursus genus). We had a lot of nice, easy, relaxed fun as a family group.

Also, the best part of the rest? Chorus rehearsal - with a meeting / discussion with friends beforehand - went quickly, smoothly, and easily. I'm a better director when I'm relaxed and well-rested.


We're all still dealing with a nasty cold. The Baby hasn't rested well at all during the week, which isn't easy on anybody. Try having one-on-one time with your wife when there's a crying, coughing, snotty little boy stuck to one of you - I'm not even necessarily talking about playing snugglebunnies, just having an actual adult conversation while we do such romantic things as clean the kitchen. Sigh. I know he'll grow out of it - I know I'll miss him when he's not a little, tiny boy any more - but I wish this part of his sleep development would end quickly.


Two more days, and I surprise The Boy and Little Bear with our trip to Cleveland to see Home Free, the a cappella group. I can't wait - I know they're going to be really, really excited. It's going to be a great trip.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Halloween is an interesting holiday in our house, mostly because the costumes are part of the everyday play. One or more children, when we're lounging around the house, is usually dressed in a super hero costume. They might not necessarily be playing super hero games, but they're in the costume hanging out. So, we started discussing what costume they're going to wear approximately one week before the holiday.

Eventually, they settled: The Boy and Little Bear had two costumes, one for the Halloween parade at school and the other for trick or treating. The Baby had similar designs, but they don't do a Halloween thing at the Rodef pre-school. Considering that I have awesome managers at work, they let me work at home during the day. I took no lunch during the day so that I could go to the parade and see the boys.

The day started with a light rain as I pulled up to the school. There was a handful of parents waiting on the stone bleachers around the playing field, and I joined them. the music started - "The Ghostbusters Theme" - and the kids started walking. They do a long, twisty course back and forth across the field, then around the outside of the school and back to the classroom. Little Bear wore a Mr. Incredible costume, and The Boy wore Batman. They were very excited to see me, and The Wife, and Grandma (who walked with Little Bear). I grabbed a quick hug before heading back home, stopping to drop of C & W, our new friends from around the block who have kids roughly the same age as The Boy and The Baby.

Later in the afternoon, the wife left for services, and the boys and I got ready to go. They didn't want me to wear a costume for some reason (already embarrassed?), and they wore different costumers from earlier: Spider-Man (The Boy), Lightning McQueen's pit crew (Little Bear), and a dragon/dinosaur (The Baby). We went down our dead-end street to say hi to our neighbors (mostly not home), starting trick or treating around 5:45-ish, after we ate dinner.

We went up our hill, then around the block. At the top of our hill, the houses are close together and the land is flat. It was still raining a bit, so we started with umbrellas, and the bigger boys wore rain boots. They had an amazing time, and The Boy was ready to hit every single house and talk to every single person: he wanted to tell them about his costume, and his powers, and what he wore in the costume parade, and that sort of thing. Sociable kid. The Baby spent the entire trip roaring at people like a dinosaur: I am honestly shocked that his voice lasted that long, although he does have good breathing technique. Little Bear had a good time at first, but he pooped out after about an hour. He was ready to go about twenty minutes earlier than the other boys - even earlier than The Baby.

We've been doling out the candy one to two pieces at a time, mostly because sugar is not that good for these children. It was an awesome holiday, with very friendly and active neighbors. I'm so glad I live in my neighborhood!

We ended the evening watching Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, which was awesome.

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A Stitch (or 8) in Time

On Saturday, The Wife's quartet sang in the afternoon and the evening shows for the Pittsburgh Metro chapter's annual show. She didn't get home until after 11, which was long after all of us were in bed. Considering that she woke up Saturday morning with a nasty cold, only made worse by being on stage all day, I knew that Sunday was going to be a struggle. She and Things 1 & 2 had Sunday school the next morning, which I figured would wipe her out pretty well. So, I made some plans to have some fun in the afternoon.

We met at Grandma's house for lunch, and I took the boys home while she stayed there to get some rest. While at Grandma's, Little Bear started complaining of an upset stomach - his stomach has been in knots for more than week, which coincides with the yucky-stuff-on-fingernails to get him to stop sucking his fingers. He hasn't figured out a way to channel all that tension that the fingers released, and it's upset his stomach with the stress. It was particularly bad on Sunday, as he sensed that Mommy was sick and not feeling well. Being the empathic soul he is, that made him quite upset. He ate no lunch, sitting on my lap and crying and grousing instead.

The Wife came back to the house relatively soon after, being worried about Little Bear. She spoke with the new pediatrician - we just changed pediatric offices last week, and since we hadn't seen the new pediatrician yet, we spoke with our old pediatrician. At this point, we were seriously considering taking him to the emergency room for x-rays and an ultrasound - we were 99.9% convinced that it was stress-related, but considering the history of fast-growing kidney cancer in his brother, that .1% chance was gnawing at us. The doctor agreed with us that it was stress-related and gave us a couple of little coping things.

At that point, once we finally got through to the doctors, Little Bear was engaged in a game with his brothers and acting normally, so fine. After a little while, I threw the kids onto their bikes to go to the park - again, in the hopes that we'd give The Wife a little vocal rest (maybe a nap). Little Bear and The Boy took their bikes, and The Baby wanted the balance bike - which I knew he wouldn't ride, but he wanted it, so. I was chatting with a grownup at the park when I heard the crash and screaming.

The park is circled by a small drainage trench, which is about two inches deep with a small curb on the outside. The boys like to ride their bikes through the grass, across the trench, and up the curb. Little Bear was heading over the curb, turned his wheel, and flipped over the front of his bike. Good news: he was wearing a helmet to prevent head trauma. Bad news: he landed on his chin.

I ran over, saw that his chin was ground into hamburger and bleeding profusely, and took out my phone. I called my wife, asked her to bring a car and something to sop up a lot of blood, ask questions later, and move quickly. She was there in about two minutes with a clean dishrag and quickly assessed what happened. I carried Little Bear to the car. Normally, she's his first choice when it comes to hospital companions, but - since she was sick - I was elected to go.

The difference between cancer parent and non-cancer parent: when my child was lying screaming on the ground, I was able to assess the situation calmly, see that he wasn't in serious danger (helmet was intact, no blood in the mouth (so no tooth / tongue issues thank G-d), and I was able to figure out how to hold and to soothe him in a way that did not result in getting blood all over my jacket and pants, both of which I like.

He calmed down in the car ride over to the hospital, and we got checked into the emergency room reasonably quickly. We got into a room, and he got the numbing cream on a bandaid on his chin which they were assessing the situation. While we waited for the attention of everybody, we flipped on the television and - for some reason - he was fixated on Spongebob Squarepants. Now, we NEVER watch Spongebob. It's just not on our watchlist. There's other stuff that we choose; it's not restricted, they just don't watch it. But, that's what he chose to watch.

Eventually, the physician's assistant came in to do the stitches. They put him down on his back, covered everything as best as they could, and a child life specialist came to help. They figured out a pretty good way to keep his chin in the air: she held an iPad with the show high enough that he had to crane his neck up to see.

Little Bear is a good patient. He's had stitches before - not to bury the lead, but he's now gone from 1 to 4 to 8 stitches in his chin - so he knew what to expect. 8 stitches takes a while, though, so he did get a little wiggly at the end. He knows what happens, though: good patients in the hospital get to have grilled cheese in the cafeteria afterwards. Even better patients get grilled cheese with PICKLES. He earned the pickles.

He was his relatively normal self by the time we were on the way to the cafeteria. He now has a nice horizontal scar to go along with his two vertical ones. We had a nice dinner together, and we were home about three and a half hours after we left for the park.

The trick is going to be keeping the steri-strips on for a few days to give the wound time to close enough. The chin is an active area, and it gets wet a lot - Little Bear is a good eater, but he's a little boy, and little boys are frequently damp and sticky. We'll see.

Post-script: He saw the pediatrician Monday morning, and the pediatrician thoroughly examined his belly and didn't find anything. Granted, we did, too, but I'll never forget the feeling of the hard lump in The Boy's belly, so I feel better today. The doctor also looked at the chin and called it a decent job of sewing, so we'll see what it looks like when he's done healing. Something tells me it won't be the last time we're in the emergency room for this little boy.

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