Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My congressman will kick your congressman's ass!

**Let me just start in saying that I am recovering from a really, no, REALLY bad day at school, so if I come off a little snarky or bitchy you will understand. 

I am currently trying to see the good in life's situations (as I always do) and several things make me happy.
1)  I have exactly 17 days of school left before break. ( 2 of which are 1/2 days.)
2)  One of said half days is this Friday! Woot!
3)  The summer home is almost ready for habitation and I can hardly wait.  I can feel the grass between my toes as we speak.
4)  I got an amazing mother's day gift and can't wait to use it.  Guess who's awesome husband got her a day spa package?  This lucky girl!
5)  My dog is cute and a good listener.  I told him all about my day and he smiled at me, sneezed and then said he completely understood.  He's awesome, now if I could just teach him to make cocktails, we'd really be set.
6) That's all I got. ( And that took a lot of effort.)

On the down side some things that are really pissing me off right now. ( Careful, Heather, this list may be longer.)
1) People
2) Ignorant People
3) Ignorant people that reproduce ( ok that was wrong and I take it back. Kinda)
4)  Rude people in public ( I heard a lady say to a waitress tonight, "Hurry up, your tip depends on it"  Really??  Are you that much better than someone? This inferiates me.) 
5) Facebook games.  They get you all hooked and then expect you to buy points to keep playing. Bogus.
6)  Apparently our lovely state of IL is trying to jack with teacher's pensions AGAIN and I could have to pay 28% of my salary to continue my current pension plan.  Sorry, no thanks, I'll just get a job at Taco Bell or something. Especially after the day I had today.

I guess that's it.  Not as bad as I thought it would be.  I guess I covered quite a bit of ground with #1-3 though.  Those pretty much sum it up.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, have you see this!!

Apparently, my friend, ahem, congressman Aaron Schock (R- IL) decided that it would be a good idea to promote men's health by taking his shirt off for a magazine cover.  Hey, no skin of my back, Aaron, I'm not complaining, BUT, is that the best choice for a republican from IL?  My guess is that he is trying to capture the female vote.  Any opinions on this one?

Ok, well, I think that's enough for now.  I have a new magazine to read, er, look at, so, bye!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Crazy Busy

Sorry, it's been a while.  It's been a super busy couple of weeks at school.  We had conferences, St. Patricks Day and syrup Fridays to deal with and quite frankly, I've been tired.
Although, it has been a rather productive couple of weeks.  Just look at all the fun stuff we did in second grade last week!

As a family project, the kids made leprechaun traps at home with their families.  I must admit that they were very creative and I was thoroughly impressed by the effort that put into it!  The kids all got a chance to demonstrate how their trap worked and then I set all the traps out so the kids could walk around and see them up close and  see how they worked.  I have a bunch more cool pictures but they have students in them.  (And they frown upon posting students' pictures these days.)  So here are the traps as a whole.

 There were several of the standard, box-with-a-stick-and-a-string, but some got REALLY creative with it...

And in a moment of pure insanity, on Friday (aka syrup day) I decided that since the kids would be so spun on the sugar highs that we should definitely paint.  Duh? Made sense at the time!  So we made ladybugs out of paper plates that are now suspended from my classroom ceiling. 

I know, right?  Aren't these things adorable!?

So, overall it was a frantic week getting everything ready for conferences but in the end, who doesn't want to wrap up a crazy week with some red paint and googly eyes??

Friday, March 4, 2011

Syrup again!?

Damned if the school cafeteria didn't serve french toast sticks with syrup again today!

Last Friday I noticed how sprung my class was after lunch.  I had children literally bouncing all afternoon.  By the last 30 minutes of the day, I had had enough.  I told everyone to sit on the rug and I told them a story.  Since I love telling stories, with enough details to put an insomniac to sleep, I told them about the time my dog Phoebe, who is pathologically afraid of thunderstorms, bit through the water supply line in the bathroom and flooded the house.  The kids were thoroughly entranced by the story of the this menacing dog and by the end claimed that she must have super powers. 

After school, I must have looked frazzled, I ran into the principal and she asked how my day was.  When I replied, "I don't know what they gave those children for lunch, but they were wild this afternoon."  She laughed and then responded in saying that it was the syrup with the french toast sticks.  She claimed to have seen several drinking it through a straw!  Well that explains a lot!

So now I have a pathological fear of french toast stick days.  And today was one of them.  Again, I picked my kids up from lunch and I had several spinners*.  We made it through most of the afternoon until I couldn't keep a lid on my frustration any longer. 

In the last half hour of the school day I pulled them down to the rug for some more storytelling, since it seemed to work last time.  This time I told the story of Dixie, my other dog, that ran away on Christmas Eve and we didn't find her until Valentine's Day.

I thought a lot about the storytelling sessions and how the kids enjoy them so much.  In an age of technology flashing in our faces constantly, there isn't much time for talking, visiting and exchanging stories. I have found that not only do the kids love this, but they have wonderful stories of their own to share.  I hope that my storytelling sessions can become a catalyst for them to reflect a little deeper on everyday life and think of their story as a writer.  I have been teaching so much about taking a small moment and stretching it into a complete story, that I hope they see the relationship from what we do on syrup days. 

I chuckled a little after telling the 20 minute story of the dog that ran away and returned nearly two months later.  A little boy (who can't sit still to save his life) grimaced his face when I was through and asked me to tell them another story.  It made me feel happy that they enjoyed my stories, even if they are 8 years old.

*A spinner is a child that can not walk in a straight line without spinning, skipping, hopping, jumping or running along the way.  Usually caused by watching too much Spongebob or playing too much XBOX 360.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Heartfelt post ~Part 2

In the moments that would follow, the details get very blurry.  The whole situation is surreal and it still feels like a really horrible nightmare.

I recall Ivan being admitted and Jake coming to my side.  I remember the doctors hovering around Ivan trying to figure out what to do first. 

They conducted loads of tests, x-rays and echo cardiograms.  The day turned into night and I stayed by Ivan's side not knowing when we would get called in to see a doctor.

The doctors and nurses were so wonderful in the midst of it all.  The nurses made sure I ate and kept the room comfortable for us.

The next day, March 2, was a lot of waiting, testing and more waiting.  Ivan grew very frustrated with being in a hospital bed and not being able to eat much.  He was starving and all we could give him was several ounces of formula at a time.  The doctors didn't want to put too much into his stomach since he was bleeding internally.  In fact, at one point he was so mad at the nurse and my mom that he couldn't have more formula that he threw the bottle at them, which is very unlike him.

That afternoon, we finally met the surgeon and team that would be performing the surgery to save Ivan's life.  The doctors explained that the heart valve was deformed and not working at the pace it needed to.  Our family listened attentively and asked questions.  The doctor went on to explain that Ivan would need a mechanical heart valve. 

The heart valve would be large enough to last until he was probably 6 or 7 years old and would need to be replaced as he grew.  In addition, patients with mechanical heart valves have to take blood thinning medicine daily to prevent blood clots that can form on the valve.  This obviously would pose a threat of stroke if a clot formed and broke off the valve. 

Being told that my 8 month old baby would have to have a mechanical heart valve was enough to deal with let alone that he would need to have several more surgeries as he grew.

I felt my heart sink into my chest and I fought back the tears as I held my husband's hand.  We asked all the possible questions that one can think of when being confronted with this type of news. 

Would he live a normal life? 

Would be able to go to school? 

Would he be able to enjoy normal activity? 

And then in the pit of my stomach, I felt a question that I wanted to ask but I was scared to hear the answer.  Finally, as the doctor explained the procedure and asked if we had any final questions, I gathered the nerve to ask.

What are his chances for survival?

No mother ever wants to ask this question and you certainly don't want to hear the answer but I had to.

I think of myself as a very logical person and right now my heart couldn't handle anymore what-if's.  I needed something concrete, something logical and mathematical to tame my fears.

The doctor thought and took a deep breath and answered that the chances were fairly good and he should have about a 95-90% chance of survival.  I let out a blast of air as if I had been holding my breath underwater for two days. 

I felt relief.  I felt peaceful and hopeful.  I put all the trust I could ever have into this doctor's able hands.  The same hands that would save my baby's life.

And so it was, that Ivan was scheduled to have this surgery the next day, March 3, 2005.  That evening the nurses gave Ivan a sedative that would help him relax and sleep.  They urged Jake and I to go home and get some sleep because the next day would be a long one. 

After much deliberation, we relented and kissed Ivan good night and went home.  We drove a silent ride home and very little was spoken.  I think we were both in such shock that, for once, neither one of us had anything to say.

We got home around 10pm and settled into a zombie like routine, just going through the motions.  I was so numb that I don't remember much of what happened until the phone rang.

The nurse on the other end spoke with urgency and concern.

"We have some concerns.  Ivan's blood work came back very abnormal.  The liver function tests showed that something is not right." 

Slowly, my hope and relief started to fade and she went on to tell me that until the blood work could be analyzed, they had to postpone his surgery.  She went on to tell me that they would need to test for meningitis or hepatitis, which could be the reason the liver function was so abnormal.

Meningitis?  Hepatitis? 

How could my baby have meningitis or hepatitis?

Something had to be done!  They couldn't postpone the surgery!  He needed to be fixed right now!

As I cried and sobbed into the phone, I asked the nurse, "So, you're telling me that while we are trying to figure out what is wrong with his liver, we will postponed his heart surgery?  So, what happens if his heart stops working in the mean time?"


She had very little comfort, empathy, or answers to give me.  She said she was sorry and they were doing everything they could to figure this out.  I hung up the phone and lost all the strength, hope, and relief that I had in these last two days of roller coaster emotions.

I fell to the floor in Ivan's nursery and cried from the depths of my soul.  I cried into my hands and thought WHY?!?! 

Why did this have to happen to him? 

Why couldn't he be safe and healthy and home in my arms?

Why can't I help fix this?

My mind raced with thoughts of sorrow and loss.  I started to grieve.  The thought of losing him ripped through me and filled my whole body with pain. 

Just 8 months ago I had given birth to this perfect, beautiful baby and now I may be losing him.  I felt angry. 

I was angry with the general practitioner that told me he was only experiencing the flu and gave me suppositories for his vomiting.

I was angry that I hadn't listened to my gut instinct that something was wrong with my baby. 

I was angry with God for letting this happen.

I sat for a long time in Ivan's nursery looking at his things, smelling his sweet smell and looking at his pictures.  As I sat and looked around his room, I thought of losing him and having to return home to an empty room.  I wept as I thought about what I would do with all his things.

Sadness and sorrow overcame me as my baby lay in a hospital bed dying while the doctors ran tests and tried to help him.  I couldn't get the thoughts of losing him out of my mind and I needed to shake it. 

I went to the camcorder and got out a video I had made just a month earlier and watched it.  It was soothing to see him smiling and laughing.  I felt hopeful that nothing that beautiful could be taken from this Earth so soon.  I felt at peace in knowing that everything would be ok.

That night I don't think I slept and we were back at the hospital by 5am.  When we rounded the corner to Ivan's room, I noticed a flood of doctors, nurses and residents.  When we entered the room I was greeted by the surgeon that we spoke with the day before.  Ivan was sleeping and hooked up to so many wires and drips that I lost count.

The surgeon told me that after more tests, they concluded that the liver function wasn't because of meningitis or hepatitis but that it was a direct cause of the heart malfunction.  With that said, they decided to give him some proteins that would simulate the liver function that he was lacking and they would be able to carry on with the surgery that day. 

I gasped and held my hands on my face and cried a cry of relief.  I felt the hope, trust and belief flooding back in.  The doctors and nurses quickly prepared Ivan for his surgery since it would be a 14-16 hour ordeal.  They would need to get started right away. 

And just like that, they wheeled my baby away.  Hooked up to tubes and monitors, he rolled down the hallway covered in my hopes, faith and trust in those doctors.

It was a long wait and even longer day.  Family and friends came and went and I envied them.  I envied that they would come and drop off food, but go home to the one's they loved and hold them.  I feared that I may never hold, touch, hug or kiss Ivan ever again.  I feared that the last memory he would have of me was him throwing a bottle at me because he couldn't have any more. 

A chaplain from the hospital came frequently and gave us updates on the progress of the surgery.  Every time I saw him my heart sank and I worried that the news wouldn't be good.  But every time he came, he had something good to tell me.

Around 9pm that night, the surgeon gathered our family in the conference room.  With a big ball of nerves we sat down and he told us how it went.  He explained that the surgery went better than they could have ever expected and he would be just fine.  The heart valve that they replaced was badly deformed and was hardly working at all.  The new valve, however, was working wonderful and he now had a strong, healthy heart.

Relief swam through me and I felt, for the first time in a month, that my baby was going to be ok.  He was fixed and would be back to normal very soon.  I knew the road that lay ahead was going to be rocky but the fact was that Ivan was still here and he was going to be fine.

When Jake and I walked into his room several hours later, after the doctor had given us the ok, I was startled at first.  Ivan lay in the bed lifeless and limp.  He was sedated and had about 13 different tubes coming from him.  He had a ventilator, a tube in his nose and several drainage tubes. 

Ivan just 3 days after surgery.
A nurse came in to check on us and asked how we were doing.  I wept as I looked at my boy, lifeless and limp.  She touched my shoulder and asked if I was ok.  I nodded.  She asked if it was upsetting me to see him this way.  I will never in a million years forget what I said to her.

"I'm not crying because he looks so horrible.  I'm crying because he's here."
Ivan playing at home less than two weeks after surgery.

A heartfelt post~ Part 1

It started with the milk jug.  As I reached for the milk yesterday I noticed the date stamped on the side: March 11.  In big, bold, black letters the date slapped me in the face.  It's funny how I can or can't remember some dates and this is one that is forever burnt in my memory.  On March 11, it will be 16 years ago that my dad was killed in a car accident.  I was only 16.  I started thinking about how I have now lived half of my life without him. 

I then started thinking about how March is here and it is notoriously bad for me.  I thought for a while about March being here and how much loss and heartache this time of year brings.   March is also when Ivan had not one but two of his open heart surgeries.  Two years in a row.

I have had a heavy heart since the milk jug incident and I have been debating whether or not to write about it.  It is pretty personal and I don't think that many people know what pain I have experienced in my life.  After much thought and contemplation, I think I should write about it and share my experience.  It is a HUGE part of who I am. 

***I warn you that this post will be mostly sad and very honest. 

If you want to hear of a mother's heartache and a courageous baby's struggle for his life, read on.  If it hits too close to home, you may want to close out now. 

Ivan was the most loved baby from the beginning.  I had thought, planned and waited for so long to have this beautiful, perfect baby and now here he was.  With a seemingly flawless pregnancy I gave birth to this baby that was perfect in every way.  I endured nearly 24 hours of hard labor before having a C section.  Even with the most horrible physical pain I have ever felt, I was in love the minute I heard him cry as he was born.  He was a perfect baby, although he cried alot and had hard times sleeping.  I though it was normal and smiled through dreary eyes and loved every minute of it. 

Months passed by and he grew.  He got bigger, stronger and smarter.  At his four month checkup, for shots, the doctor noticed an irregular heart beat.  Since he was unsure of the cause, he suggested that we take him to a cardiologist.  I had been told that heart murmurs were fairly common and most babies will outgrow them.  I took a very nonchalant approach to the situation and feared nothing really would be wrong.  My assumptions were extremely understated.

A month later, I walked in to a doctor's office alone with Ivan.  I was unprepared for what I was about to find out.  After several tests and echo cardiograms, the doctor so gently told a young mother that her baby had a heart defect.  ASD (Atrial Septum Defect) to be exact, which is hole in the atrium of the heart. 

As tears welled in my eyes, I tried not to cry and be strong for the sweet, smiling face that was staring so innocently at me. 

He seemed so healthy!  How could this happen?  The doctor must have seen me immediate blame myself as he comforted me in saying that this is something that could not be prevented and was a "fluke".  He reassured me that it was not because of anything that Jake or I had done.  He then went on to explain that Ivan's heart condition would be life threatening if not corrected.  This would require surgery.

This moment would later prove to be the catalyst for a series of heartbreaking events.  Ivan had his open heart surgery a month later.  He was six months old.  He was six months old and they had to put him on heart-lung by pass machine to breathe and circulate blood through his tiny body as the doctors so delicately repaired his little heart.  The surgery was roughly 12 hours long and he came through with flying colors.  His hole was fixed and all was well...so we thought.

His hospital stay was merely four days.  Four days!  He was able to come home on Christmas Eve to celebrate his first Christmas.  I couldn't have been happier to bring my boy home after going through that and feeling that it was all behind us.  I would soon find out I was very wrong and my happiness was premature.

In the weeks following his surgery, Ivan became very lethargic and started breathing strange.  He would grunt alot and seemed to hold his breath.  I thought it was strange but wasn't sure what to make of it. 

Within a month, I noticed a orange-yellow color to parts of his face.  In addition, he was having trouble holding food down.  All of these things compiled and I took him to the doctor.  (A general practice doctor that had very little experience with heart patients, as I would find out later.) 

He examined Ivan and said that the vomiting and breathing problem must be a cold/flu bug and it would go away soon.  He claimed the orange-yellow skin tone must be because Ivan loved carrots and sweet potatoes so much.  He prescribed some suppositories for nausea and sent us on our way.

Within days, the vomiting was worse and he wasn't able to eat anything.  At one point, he vomited and aspirated some and began to choke.  He was with my mom at the time and she called 911.  When I got there the EMT's were checking him out.  He was fine but had everyone scared.  The next day I took him for a checkup with the cardiologist.  The date that would be burnt in my mind forever. March 1, 2005.

Again, I took Ivan to the doctor's appointment alone.  (I later realized that never again will I take that child to a doctor by myself!)  After several routine procedures, xrays, blood work and echo cardiogram, we waited to see the cardiologist.  During the echo cardiogram, I remember the technician leaving the room for a moment and the doctor came back with her.  The doctor grabbed the scope and finished the echo on his own.  I thought it was strange that he would be doing it himself but figured he just wanted a really good look.

As we waited for the doctor to return I thought of all the questions I would ask him.  I felt like the general practitioner had ignored or discounted my concerns and there was something very wrong with my baby. 

Why was he throwing up every time he ate? 

Why did he sleep so restlessly and cry so much? 

Why was he so tired and just want to be held all day? 

Why was he orange? 

Why was he only 16 lbs at 8 months old? 

My mind was racing with all the questions and I didn't want to forget anything.  It was a hot office and I started to sweat a little.  I remember holding Ivan as the doctor entered the room.

The next several hours are really a blur.  I remember the doctor coming in and having a concerned look on his face.  He laid Ivan's thick medical  folder down on the examining table and smiled at him as he grabbed his little hand and shook it.  He made some sweet baby talk conversation with Ivan and checked him over as he did it. 

He then  looked at me and told me the results of all the tests.  He explained that they noticed a valve in Ivan's heart was not working properly. The valve was leaking blood into areas of the heart that was it was not supposed to.  The blood was also backing up into his stomach, lungs, and liver.  Ivan was experiencing congestive heart failure.

Those words Congestive Heart Failure pierced through me like a lightening bolt.  I remember grabbing Ivan and squeezing him as tight as I could without hurting him.  I shook and trembled and tears welled up in my eyes.  As much as I tried to contain my sorrow, I couldn't. 

I tried to listen as the doctor told me that Ivan needed to be admitted immediately and they would have to perform surgery right away to save him. 

To save him. 

The severity of the situation hit me and I felt like I would vomit.  I remember trembling, crying and shaking as they asked if I had someone that I could call to be with us.  I composed myself long enough to call Jake and tell him to get to the hospital ASAP.  I'm sure he was equally as terrified as my voice and lack of ability to speak was hindering the information about what was going on. 

As I hung up the phone, I recall a hoard of nurses surrounding me and them taking my hand to lead me back to Ivan.

As I passed another cardiologist in the hallway (we knew all of them by now) he asked if Ivan had been sick.  I thought of all the signs, the symptoms and the lack of listening of the general practitioner. 


Instead I got the strength to nod my head and burst into a sob that would stop until I saw my husband.