25 Jul

Paging Dr. Mom to the O.R.

I’ve performed my first successful surgery, and the patient is recovering nicely. I didn’t want to operate but I was the only one here when 8-year-old Jack ran his hand along the wooden banister and got a splinter in his finger. Tears and wailing started immediately after.

I knew the dramatic reaction wasn’t about the tiny sliver of wood lodged under the skin. It was about the fear, the panic, the dread of getting it out. I knew this because I’m the same way and always have been, which makes me wonder if phobias are as hereditary as eye color. If I had to choose between a splinter and a spider, I’d take my chances with the creepy crawler.

At our house, Tom is the official splinter surgeon because he’s less squeamish, but he was away on business which left me on-call for splinter emergencies. I did my best to appear cool and calm so I could talk Jack out of a full-blown panic attack. He didn’t want me to touch it, he said. Didn’t want me to get too close to it in case I accidentally touched it, he said. He was caught between the proverbial rock and a splintery place. His finger hurt because of the splinter and removing the splinter would hurt, too. What’s a kid and his splinter-phobic mother to do?

I gathered the surgical instruments – peroxide, tweezers and a flashlight – and explained the possible courses of treatment to the petrified patient.

“Listen, you’ve got some options here. Number One: You leave the splinter in there and your finger keeps hurting and might get infected. Number Two: You take this pair of tweezers and take out the splinter yourself. Number Three: You let me take out the splinter. What’s it going to be?”

The patient refused all three courses of treatment, opting instead for dramatic 8-year-old angst. I needed to get creative.

“Okay, let’s try this idea. Let me rub some ointment on your finger that will help make it numb, and then you won’t even feel it when the splinter comes out,” I proposed.

“I won’t even feel it?” he asked, hopeful that such an option existed.

“That’s the plan,” I said, hopeful the idea would either work or I’d get the splinter out before he realized it wasn’t working.

With the patient’s consent, I rummaged through the medicine cabinet until I found an old tube of Anbesol I’d once used on a teething baby. I rubbed the amber-colored gel onto the afflicted finger and waited a few minutes.

“Okay, it should be numb now, so let’s take out the splinter,” I said to the patient. “You hold the flashlight and I’ll hold the tweezers.” We both took a deep breath and held it while I grabbed onto the offending splinter and yanked.

“Yes!” I said, holding up the tweezers in victory. “I got it!”

Then there was celebrating and dancing around the kitchen island operating room because the procedure was a success and the patient was alive! For an hour or so afterward, the patient regarded me as a genius and a hero. And I enjoyed the accolades because a mother has to take her pats on the back wherever she can get them.

The operation made me realize the worst part of any unpleasant job is the time that comes before it. Dread makes the task (and the splinter) far bigger than they actually are.

Perhaps the best medicine is to tell ourselves it won’t hurt (much) and then “grip it and rip it.” Relief waits on the other side of courage.

# # #

18 Jul

A Close Call

Today I’m making good on my word. Our 4-year-old cat Percy, who was named for her persistence, is sprawled out across my desk, serving as a hairy paperweight for the file folders and papers I should be working on today.

Now and then she reaches out a clawless paw and takes a swipe at the cursor moving across my computer screen. It’s a technologically advanced game of “cat and mouse.” It’s funny the first few times she does it, but after an hour of the cat blocking my view of the monitor, it gets frustrating. I’ve told her many times that this is not a mouse she’s going to catch, but she doesn’t give up.

But today I’m thankful for her stubbornness. Because two weeks ago, I was almost certain I’d never see her sprawled out on my writing desk again. One morning I came downstairs and noticed Percy wasn’t leading the way to her food dish, as she usually does. I searched the house calling her name and found four large spots of coughed up blood. Percy was close by, crouched and hiding in the corner. Something was very wrong.

It was a Saturday and our vet’s office was closed, which is almost always the case when you have an animal emergency. So I scooped her up and rushed her to an emergency animal hospital 20 minutes away.

The vet said Percy was losing blood at both ends and needed fluids right away. So she stayed hooked up to tubes in the kitty ICU and I went home and worried about the bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I called to check on her several times, and the vet said she was slowly improving and would likely come home Monday morning. But at 10 p.m. Sunday night, they called to say Percy had taken a sudden turn for the worse.

“Should I come there now?” I asked, praying he would say it wasn’t that serious.

“Yes, you should come,” he said.

My worst fears were confirmed when I arrived and the receptionist ushered me into what looked like the “death and dying” room – a private space with a sofa and tissue boxes.

Veterinarian assistants wheeled Percy into the room in a newborn’s hospital incubator, encased in glass with two openings big enough for hands to reach in.

She was lying on her side, struggling to breathe. She had those sickly white “third eyelids” cats sometimes get when they’re sick or drugged. Her long gray hair was matted with blood around her mouth, and her tongue stuck halfway out as she struggled for air.

After the vet assistants left, I cried and stroked her hair and prayed for a different outcome than the one that seemed to be coming quickly. I didn’t want to lose her.

I’d grumbled about her plenty of times when she got underfoot or pushed paperwork off my desk for her own amusement. But she’s family, which means she’s allowed her own annoying quirks just like the rest of us. So I asked Percy to hang on and promised her she could sleep on my desk whenever she wanted and have as much tuna as she could eat.

Somehow – perhaps a combination of answered prayer and Percy’s persistence – she made it through the night. By morning, she was transferred back to our regular vet. By that evening, she was home again – exhausted and weak – but home.

Today she is healthy and sprawled across my desk with the distinctive smell of tuna on her breath. Our persistent stray cat is back, and life is good.

# # #

11 Jul

The Bucket List

Often the best conversations I have with my kids happen on the way to somewhere. I don’t remember what errand we were running when my son Adam and I had this exchange, but I’ll remember the talk for a long time.

Him: “Mom, I’ve decided to write a bucket list. You know what a bucket list is?”

Me: “Yes, it’s a list of things you want to do before you die. You do realize you’re only 10-years-old, right?”

Him: “Yeah, I know. I just think it’ll be good to have a list.”

Me: “You’re right. So what are you gonna put on your bucket list?”

Him: “Well, the first thing is ‘Be on a game show.’ Either Kids Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune.”

Me: “Excellent choice. What else is going on the list?”

Him: “I also want to write my name on the moon with a Sharpie.”

Me: (Stunned silence.) Uh, okay… That’s pretty interesting. So does this mean you’re going to be an astronaut and go into outer space? Did you change your mind about playing in the NBA for the Chicago Bulls and being an announcer for ESPN?”

Him: “No, I didn’t change my mind about that. I definitely want to do those things, too.”

Me: “Oh. Wow. So you’re going to play for the NBA, be a sports announcer AND become an astronaut?”

Him: (Noting the skepticism in my question) “So I can’t do all those things? Is that too much? Maybe I should mark the moon off the list.”

As he thought about scaling back, I remembered something I saw online recently – a quote from an unknown source that says, “Have big dreams. You will grow into them.”

And it reminded me that I should never imply that my kid’s dreams might be too much or too big. Because I don’t know what he’ll grow into. Who knows what possibilities may exist for his generation? Perhaps by then people will be taking quick sightseeing adventures to the moon the same way we rent a hotel room in Branson for the weekend. So I retracted my earlier skepticism.

Me: “Actually, I bet you can do all those things. Who knows what you’ll do when you’re a grown-up? And you shouldn’t take things off your list. If you want to do them, then they should go on the list. Your bucket list can have all kinds of cool dreams on it.”

Him: “Good. Because it would be really cool to write my name on the moon.”

Me: “Definitely. I’d have never even thought of something that cool. And it’s smart to use a Sharpie marker because then the ink won’t wear off.”

He smiled and nodded, and then we moved on to other important matters like whether or not we could have pizza for dinner.

But that conversation has stayed with me – reminding me how important it is to reach for something that forces us to grow. As adults, we often compress big dreams down into more practical packages. We edit them down so small that they disappear or become something that looks more like a mundane to-do list versus a big-dream bucket list.

I’m realizing now that part of my job as a parent is to protect my kids’ ability to dream. I don’t have to figure out how they’re going to accomplish those dreams. I just have to help them believe in themselves enough so that they’re not afraid to try – to “reach for the stars,” so to speak, or possibly even autograph the moon.

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