A Train Wreck of a Week: Surgery, Stomach Flu and Super Bowl

Written February 6, 2012

Grandma Grace, my husband’s 86-year-old grandma, has been known most of her life as a quick-witted woman who usually had a joke or funny story fitting most any occasion. One of her favorite jokes centers around a harried mom of little kids. In the joke, when the husband returns home after a day at work, she tells him in exasperation with kids at her heels, “I have had a hell of a D-A-Y.” That punchline popped into my head a few days ago, but I think more appropriately for me is, “I have had a hell of a W-E-E-K.”

First and foremost, our two-year-old that had surgery last Sunday is doing great. He had an incarcerated hernia, which means that part of his lower intestine (bowels) pushed out of the hernia opening, getting strangulated. Because he is young and otherwise healthy, the surgeon made the judgment call to not remove that part of his intestines, guessing they would recover from their deep purple oxygen-deprived state. We stayed in the hospital two nights so he could be monitored for his recovery progress. If he didn’t show improvement, our little guy would have needed a second surgery to remove the damaged bowel. Luckily, that did not happen.

Three days after hernia surgery, our two-year-old can do headstands.

On Monday, after a night of no sleep with a boy post-op and a baby girl not sleeping well in a hospital crib, I asked my husband to take our baby girl home for the day so I could be with our two-year-old without the demands of a baby at the same time. Jarred was still too sick from stomach flu to want to drive 30 miles home and then care for a baby, so they instead went to his aunt’s house, just three blocks from the hospital. Jarred rested while our baby enjoyed the affection of her great aunt, and they both returned to the hospital for Monday night.

I spent most of Monday right next to our two-year-old, holding him, talking to him, and snoozing next to him in between a steady stream of hospital staff poking, prodding, and measuring any number of things, making vitals checks, and fixing the constantly beeping IV machine. Hospitals are not exactly a place of rest.

By Tuesday morning, our little guy was well on the road of recovery. Instead of laying still in the hospital bed, he perked up enough to make a full-time job out of running the bed control buttons, turning his bed into a carnival ride. On the pediatric floor they also have a little ride-on Power Wheels Humvee, and he happily drove that around the hallways, crashing into the rolling computer stations and slamming into doorways. Shortly after lunch, the doctor finally cleared him to go home. Two days in the hospital plus another spent in the ER felt like an eternity to the four of us. Returning home, seeing our two older kids again, and hanging out in a big pile of six on the couch watching the movie THOR together was a great end to a long few days.

I wish I could say that was the end of the medical shenanigans for the week, but just a day later, the next round began. The stomach flu that knocked out Jarred moved on to me. Jarred’s mom saved the day on Wednesday night when she came over and fed our four hungry kids supper as I made trips back and forth from the couch to the bathroom, where I heaved up everything from the depth of my soul.

Details of it all run together, but I know that I was sick enough to not really notice what the kids were doing for a solid day. While I slept, Jarred worked from home, doing load-bearing engineering analysis for a bulk grain storage system in between changing diapers and feeding kids. As one might expect, engineering and childcare are a challenging combination.

By Thursday night, I began to have that peaceful, easy feeling of finally beating the worst of the flu and coming out on the other side. I cooked supper for the first time in several days, and we all sat down together, everyone happy to have Mom back in mommy mode again. Just as the meal ended, though, I heard a gurgling sound. Looking over at our baby girl, I saw all of her chicken and noodles coming right back out of her mouth again. The stomach flu struck again. Halfway through another busy night and several pajamas and blanket washings later, she made it through the worst of the flu. By 4 AM on Friday, she nursed again and thankfully kept it all down.

Friday night rolled around, and Jarred returned home from an afternoon on site working on the bulk storage system with a big bottle of Chardonnay. Yes, it definitely had been that kind of week. We got the kids to bed, and settled down to a happy night of a few glasses of wine and a little This Old House. As we kicked back, we cracked ourselves up with our witty New England accents and our highly entertaining suggestions for the mystery tool segment they always have on that show.

Ah, we were blissfully ignorant of the Saturday night to come. All of our kids got their customary Saturday night baths, and squirreled away in their beds, all seemed well. Around midnight, though, our two-year-old, just six days after hernia surgery, came down with the stomach flu. I found him crying in his bed, telling me he “bahfed all ovey”. And he did. Clean jammies, sheets, a plastic bucket, and a few hugs later, he settled back down. Three more rounds for him ensued.

Around 4 AM Sunday, we heard the tell-tale coughing sound again, but this time it was his four-year- old brother. I went into the boys’ bedroom to find our four-year-old apologetically saying he just puked a little on his blankets and pajamas (little being understatement). And at the same time, our 2-year-old proudly announced that he just threw up in his plastic container. Yes, synchronized puking. Somehow, I don’t think that will become an Olympic event, but I know that I could use a medal. I tallied nine episodes through the night and into the early morning. We had intentions of going to church and maybe giving a few prayers of thanksgiving for a successful hernia surgery, but instead we spared everyone from our lovely germs and sat on the couch in a daze from the constant clean-up of the night before.

In the midst of this train wreck of a week, I have so much to be thankful for. Jarred’s sister, pregnant with their fourth child, without hesitation took our two oldest kids for two nights. His mom arranged for a local girl to clean our house while we were at the hospital, so we came home to an amazing gift of clean dishes and no kid clutter on the living room floor. And off at our new house in Minnesota, a flock of about eight of my family spent their weekend cleaning and painting.

By Super Bowl kickoff, the sickness was over. We spent time at Jarred’s parents’ house and rotated to our friends’ house just across the street, where we hung out with a dozen couples as 20 kids distributed bits of Cheetos across every room of the house. I got to catch up on the local gossip and have a little girl time, and definitely had a chance to take in a little of the best medicine. (Laughter, of course.) Hopefully, the next week will bring less adventure in health issues and a little more normalcy to life at our house. That is, if packing up everything and planning to uproot everyone’s lives in a few weeks is “normal.” Stay tuned folks, the adventure is just beginning.

© 2012

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Emergency Hernia Surgery for our Two-Year-Old

Written January 29, 2012.

Right now I’m sitting in room 445 in the Pediatric Unit of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Billings, MT. It’s 11 PM on Sunday night, and I’m waiting for our two-year-old to get out of an emergency hernia surgery. In a little hospital crib in the room our 9-month-old baby girl is sleeping. She’s not sick, but she’s along for the ride because she is a nurser. Sleeping in the hospital bed nearby is my husband, Jarred, who is sick with the stomach flu. While waiting in the ER for information about our little boy’s surgery, Jarred got sick and vomited 2.5 liters. We don’t usually tally that sort of thing, but in the ER, measuring things is standard protocol for the nurse who helped clean it up. Life has a way of throwing curveballs and helping keep things in perspective. Here I was stressing out about our upcoming cross country move, and suddenly, all of that screeches to a halt because my baby boy is in surgery right now.

Sleeping in the hospital after emergency hernia surgery.

Even before an emergency hernia surgery, the weekend was full. On Friday afternoon our 6-year-old celebrated her birthday with a much anticipated party with nine friends and cousins, ages 7 and under. The two hour event took every bit of our reserves out of us, even though we tried to keep it pretty low key. Low key just doesn’t happen with that many kids swarming around a house, high on Pixie Sticks and Pepsi. As chaotic as it was, we wanted to let her have one last party here with her classmates and cousins, and they all had a blast.

So after a Friday spent getting a house ready for the onslaught of excited kids, and adding the general melee of the week, and moving plans, we didn’t do much at all on Saturday. Our two littlest ones have been getting me up a lot at night, so my days are a blur, and I looked forward to a Sunday with no plans at all.

Saturday night was especially exhausting. Our baby girl woke up once at midnight, but our 2-year-old got up and out of bed and wandered into our room three times in the night, got up for the day at 5 AM to watch cartoons, and then kept returning to our bed every half an hour or so until I dragged myself out of bed. In hindsight, he was probably starting to feel the pain of his hernia. On Sunday morning, I dragged myself to the shower and we headed to church, where I don’t remember a bit of the readings, but I do remember that our baby girl was hugging her dad adorably for much of the time.

As we were getting ready to leave, our 2-year-old complained that his tummy hurt. A few moments later he was screaming and crying in the bathroom, crouched down on the floor. I thought he was just throwing a fit because he was tired, so I picked him up and he screamed louder. When he quieted down enough, he managed to say “ow, ow, ow, my tummy hurts.” He kept on screaming for several minutes, long enough that everyone in church who sees him regularly and knows him well collectively said we should take him in to the doctor. So, in the matter of minutes, our Sunday got rearranged, and we left our two oldest kids with Jarred’s sister, we grabbed a few essentials, and headed to the ER.

When we got there, they did an abdominal x-ray and palpated his belly, took his vitals, and determined that he had a painful case of constipation and a belly full of gas making the pain worse. They gave him a suppository twice and then an enema, and we waited several hours for something to happen. The whole time he was listlessly tired and had the chills while sweating. When he finally had a messy diaper, they deemed it a success, and we were discharged and went home. As we left, the receptionist at the ER commented that he still had the same horrible look on his face as when we came in.

So, we picked up an easy fried chicken dinner at the grocery store and some recommended apple juice for our little guy, picked up our two oldest kids, and headed home, ready to call it a night. As we drove home, I held him on my lap, and he just was a limp, occasionally wimpering little puddle of his usual self. Not long after we got in the door, our sick little guy threw up all over himself and his blanket. I put him in the bathtub to clean him up, and noticed he sat completely still as the bubbles and water filled in around him. Normally, he’s a blur in the bathtub. As I dried him off he cried out in pain, and when I glanced down I saw an egg-sized bulge just above his groin on the right. Our 4-year-old had hernia surgery just 10 months ago, so I knew right away that we once again had a hernia on our hands.

Wanting to just start crying, I instead went into battle mode, and we spent the next hour getting our kids fed, packing up and shipping off our older kids back to Jarred’s sister’s house for the night, and packing up for a night in the hospital for Mom, Dad, and the two littlest ones. Jarred drove about 90 mph back to the hospital, and even though the ER knew to expect us from the call back we made, everything moved in slow motion. As we drove in the dark, I couldn’t help but wonder how helpless we would be 100 or 150 years ago in this same situation.

Once we got to the hospital, Jarred dropped me and our little guy off first, and I carried him in and mumbled his information, scrawled my signatures, and sat down on the chair. I looked down at that sweet little boy in my arms, limp and wincing in pain but too tired and dehydrated to put up much protest. Wanting so desperately to make my baby all better, but being so helpless, unable to do anything but wait is so hard. We both just wanted to scream, “Can’t you see that this little boy is really sick?” But we just waited, and I didn’t care that the crazy people that collect in the ER saw the tears rolling down my face as I cradled a little boy in footy pajamas.

The hardest part was waiting for an IV. Knowing that he would probably have hernia surgery tonight, we couldn’t let him have water. But after not drinking anything but a few ounces of apple juice all day, and then throwing up twice, he had nothing in him. He held his empty sippy cup the whole 30 mile drive into the ER, and hung onto it until right before surgery. He kept asking for water with cracked, dry lips and sunken eyes pleading for a drink, in between whimpering in another wave of pain. When it tears me up to wait the relatively short time for the IV with pain medication, I’m humbled by the desperation that countless parents feel who handle far more severe illnesses in their children or live somewhere without access to medical care.

It’s now after midnight, and we’re still waiting for our little boy to get out of surgery. Jarred just got sick again, filling up another container. It’s going to be a long, sleepless night with a baby trying to sleep in a noisy hospital crib, a two year-old fresh out of hernia surgery, a dad who is continually throwing up and not able to help take care of anyone, and me, who hasn’t hardly slept for the last few days and won’t tonight either. All of this just makes me think that if all our stuff just burned up before moving to Minnesota, it wouldn’t matter. The truth is, the only thing that I really care about moving to Minnesota is us.

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How about you…ever have one of those days where all of the little things suddenly get put in perspective?

© 2012