WTR! (What the Reflux!)

My daughter entered this world the traditional way: with a nice strong epidural and lots of yelling at my husband. I will never forget the moment she was born. She let out a high pitched scream and didn’t stop. My obstetrician paused, looked over at my daughter and said, “Well! There’s nothing wrong with her lungs.” He then pulled off his gloves, tossed them in the garbage, and left to go deliver another baby.

My husband and I looked at one another with raised eyebrows. Even though this was our first baby, we both had a suspicion that if an obstetrician comments on how loud an infant is crying, it can’t possibly be a good sign. We were right. She did not stop screaming. Even the newborn nursery – where I tried to put her so I could sleep – brought her back.

“She can’t stay,” the nurse said cheerfully as she wheeled my crying daughter into my hospital room, “She’s keeping all the other babies awake.”

As I watched the pink-smocked nurse leave, I burst into tears. I didn’t get it. Weren’t babies supposed to sleep? How was I going to sleep with this red faced, screaming little person in my arms? Welcome to parenthood.

The hospital made us take her home. She cried the entire way there. She cried the rest of the day. Then all night. She cried, and cried, and cried. For weeks. And months.

She also vomited excessively. No sooner had I fed her then everything she had taken in would come right back up. Our pediatrician, an angel in the form of a stocky Italian man, was concerned about the weight she was losing. He also wasn’t pleased with her incessant screaming. He diagnosed her with reflux and so our journey began.

My daughter is almost ten now, so most of us are familiar with the term “reflux” being associated with infants. But back in 2003, it was a relatively new concept, and this concept generally did not go over well with the majority of people.

“Reflux? Whoever heard of a baby having reflux? That’s for adults”, “In my day it was called colic”, “How can you medicate a six-week old infant? Aren’t you worried what that will do to her?” “Are you sure you’re not overreacting?”, “Who is your pediatrician?” These were only a few of the comments I heard when I tried to make excuses for why my daughter was so fussy…and didn’t sleep…and why I looked like something out of Night of the Living Dead.

People tried to commiserate with me. “It will get better once she turns three months old.” (It didn’t.) “I know exactly what you’re going through. My son was so colicky when he was born! He didn’t sleep through the night until he was five weeks old!” (Excuse me while I sob.) “Have you tried burping her more?” (Thanks Einstein. Never thought of that.) I found I wanted to kick these people even though they were trying to help.

The word “reflux” became equated with a naughty four letter word in our household. A pacifier was the only thing that would occasionally soothe her, and yet when a well meaning acquaintance told me that her children never used pacifiers (since a good mom should know how to soothe her baby without the use of a pacifier – her words, not mine) I threw it away; Only to drive out to the grocery store late at night to replace it.

I felt inadequate and not up to the task of caring for this puking, crying, squirmy, rashy, insomniac baby. Was I accidentally assigned the wrong daughter? Wasn’t she really supposed to go to a great mom who could handle everything? A mom who makes her own bread and soap and doesn’t own a TV and drives a Prius?

Shortly before her 4th birthday, the doctors discovered that my daughter had a malfunctioning lower esophageal sphincter. In other words, the muscle that was supposed to tighten around her esophagus to keep her esophagus closed and stomach acids in her stomach was not working at all. The doctors suspected that even though she was on reflux medicines, they would never provide adequate relief. At this point, the only option was surgery.

If the idea of my four year old daughter undergoing major surgery hadn’t freaked me out, I may have felt vindicated. Her reflux had been really bad. I hadn’t been overreacting or wrong to use medicine. She wasn’t sleeping because she was in pain, not because I put her to bed too early or too late, or because she didn’t nap. I had done everything I could, and what I had done had not been wrong.

Six years ago on July 12th my little treasure had a Nissen Fundoplication to correct her reflux. The surgery was four hours long and it seems like just yesterday we were sitting in the OR waiting room of the children’s hospital, watching parents leave because their kid’s surgery was over but my daughter’s was not. When they finally wheeled her out of the OR, she looked so tiny on that big gurney. As I approached her the anesthesiologist put his arm around my shoulders and said, “She did great and you’re doing great.” They were the kindest words I could have heard at that moment.

My daughter opened her eyes and looked around with heavy eyelids. “Mommy,” she mumbled groggily, “Get me out of this thing.”

The nurses placed her in my arms and I rocked her back and forth, knowing that the worst was over. Knowing that when we left the hospital the pain she had always known would finally be gone.

You’re Not So Different From Your Car

Unlike an aged cheddar or bottle of Balvenie, people and automobiles generally don’t improve with age. As my husband once said after visiting my great aunt in a nursing home, 

“There is nothing glamorous about growing old.”

While attending graduate school, I drove an ancient Honda Accord that was held together by a lot of prayer and encouragement. The cassette player would run even when the car was turned off. Rain would get trapped in the moonroof and proceed to gush onto my lap when I put the car in reverse – soaking me to the point where I would have to go inside and change. It also seemed that as soon as I had one of its parts replaced, another would decide to break.

How I hated phone calls from my mechanic! As soon as the phone would ring I would squeeze my eyes shut and brace myself. He always started the conversation with,

“Hullo, it’s Karl, I’ve got some bad news. Your  _____ is shot.”

Your front wheel axle is shot. Your alternator is shot. Your motor mounts are shot. Your master cylinder is shot. Shot. Shot. Shot.

As I age, I have noticed how people are not so different from cars. Our body parts eventually become “shot” – just like my old Honda.  Arthritis is the human form of rust and corrosion. Our hearts – the fuel pump of the human body – stop pumping efficiently. Unless we can afford the services of a cosmetic surgeon (auto body shop) our exteriors become dented, scratched, and faded. Akin to transmission fluid leaking, we need to use the bathroom frequently during the night.

Some men tend to upgrade their cars – going from a practical Ford to a speedy red Porsche. Similarly, some men have the nerve trade in their wife for a newer version. One who doesn’t have dents or scratches. One who is younger, sleeker, and peppier. One who is fresh off the lot.

Ambulances are the human version of flatbed tow trucks. The mechanic – or car doctor – uses terminology we don’t understand. Similar to CAT scans and MRIs, your mechanic will run diagnostic testing that costs a bundle. A new car warranty is the automobile version of health insurance.

Food is our gasoline. The cost of filling a car’s gas tank can be equated to the expense of a large grocery order. Opening the refrigerator and seeing its bare shelves has the same feeling of frustration as noticing your gas light is on.

Cars are also like people in that there are big ones and small ones. Black ones and white ones. There are high maintenance, complicated people (Mercedes) and low maintenance, easy going people (Toyotas). There are people born in this country (Ford, GM) and people who immigrate from Europe (BMW, Lamborghini) and Asia (Mazda). Lastly, some people would rather avoid the snow (front-wheel drive cars) while others enjoy winter sports (the 4×4).

Thankfully,  that is where our similarities end. When a car reaches the end of its lifespan, it is sent to a scrapyard and crushed. When we reach the end of our lifespan, we are put in an overpriced box and buried in the ground.

It is unfortunate that cars and people don’t age as gracefully as say, a bottle of wine or a Redwood tree. But a bottle of wine and Redwood tree won’t drive your family on vacation or share the memories of their childhood.

Pardon Me. I Just Need to Press Your Mute Button

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone came equipped with mute buttons? That way, when you realize a conversation isn’t headed in the direction you had planned, you could simply lean over and press the button and not hear what is coming next.

You would need to use these mute buttons wisely, of course. For example, you wouldn’t necessarily want to hit your doctor’s mute button when she enters the examining room and says,”We have the results of your CAT scan and it appears that you have cancer of the – BEEP!”

You also wouldn’t want to use the mute button with your boss. It probably wouldn’t be the smartest thing to hit your boss’ mute when he starts to give you a new assignment: “Starting tomorrow, you will need to – BEEP!” (Let’s be adults about this – the risk of unemployment far outweighs the pleasure of pressing his mute button.)

The mute button would be very beneficial with family – including children. “But mom! I just cleaned my room! It’s not fair! I – BEEP!” The family mute button comes with an extra benefit: Muzak. Instead of listening to your children whine and cry, you would hear Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young” performed on a synthesizer, which is the lesser of two evils.

Oh! And with coworkers. And Toppers. You know the kind: you have a headache, they have one too but much worse; you decide to take a vacation, they suddenly decide to do the same, only the vacation is fancier. How delightful if Toppers came with mute buttons!  “Oh you think THAT’S bad? Well! Wait to I tell you about – BEEP!

Mute buttons could also be used on yipey dogs next door. This would save you from those awkward conversations where you have to knock on your neighbor’s door and say that even though you think Pebbles is just so adorable, could they please not leave her outside for sixteen hours a day when she would clearly rather be inside?

Spousal mute buttons need to be handled delicately. As tempting as it may be, you shouldn’t hit this button willy-nilly. They may catch on. Be forewarned that spouses can also ask follow-up questions to make sure you were truly paying attention.

Lastly, we can’t become indignant when someone hits our mute button. It’s gotta work both ways.

And The Award Goes To…

Thomas Edison, Alexander Fleming, George Washington Carver and Eli Whitney are people who are regularly credited for their inventions. Rarely does an adult say, “Who was that guy who invented electricity?” or “This peanut butter sandwich is so darn good! Who invented this stuff?” It seems that we have always known.

Yet, what about the lesser known people who invented things we use everyday? How often do we use an item without having the faintest idea who thought it up? Of course electricity and penicillin are extraordinary creations and I would hate to think of life without them. I would, however, also hate to think of life without my vacuum cleaner and toilet paper. So, without further ado, I present:

The Underground Writer’s Recognition of Little Cared for Inventors

The Pull Tab – You know, that little thingy on top of soda cans (and more recently – soup cans) that we hook our finger through and pull to open? According to the LA Times obituaries from October,1989, Ermal Cleon Fraze of Muncie, Indiana invented these. Ermal, for all of us who have arthritis or a disdain for the can opener – I thank you.

Spatula – Remember licking the bowl after your mom made brownies? That experience would have been far less productive had it not been for Horace Spatula (per an exhaustive 3 minute google search). According to an unreliable web page, Horace originally developed the spatula for use as a fly swatter. The history of the spatula invention is spotty at best, so I am assuming one day Mrs. Spatula was making a double layer chocolate cake when a fly landed on the counter. As she went to smack the fly with Horace’s invention, she paused, looked at it, and said, “Land’s sake! Why am I killing bugs with this thing?” and she promptly started to scrape cake batter out of her mixing bowl. Horace Spatula (and Mrs. Spatula), we salute you!

Doorknobs – Can you imagine life before doorknobs? How did one open a door? With a hearty kick? Very little is known about the inventor of the current day doorknob – except that his name was Osbourn Dorsey, he patented the doorknob in 1878, and he was an African-American. Locksmiths give you a shout out, Osbourn, as well as the rest of us who use your invention constantly throughout the day without giving you any credit. Well done.

Eraser – As someone who struggled through math class, you would think I would have taken the time to thank the inventor of the eraser before now. Pencil erasers and I were well acquainted with one another throughout high school and the mandated math courses I had to take in college. Per another questionable webpage (again, the whole point of this recognition is that we are acknowledging little known inventors), the eraser was developed in 1770 by a scientist named Joseph Priestly. Mr. Priestly, I thank you! (As do my former math teachers.)

Vacuum Cleaner – Many people were involved with the invention of the vacuum cleaner, so I had to take it upon myself to narrow it down. The Underground Writer’s Recognition of Little Cared for Inventors goes to a James Spangler of 1907. Mr. Spangler was a custodian who realized the carpet sweeper he operated as part of his profession was giving him a nagging cough. Using a pillow case to collect dust and the motor from a sewing machine, Mr. Spangler concocted the first portable vacuum cleaner. A round of applause for Mr. Spangler, please!

Toilet Paper – Prior to Joseph Gayetty, various items were used to, well, you know. I will spare you the details of what these apparatuses and methods were, but let’s just say we should all be grateful for Mr. Gayetty who introduced commercial toilet paper in 1857. As if the invention of toilet paper alone wasn’t wonderful enough, each sheet also beared a watermark of his name. While I am sure there were many before Mr. Gayetty who attempted to replace the weird things that were being used in lieu of toilet paper at that time, I think we should all recognize Mr. Gayetty as being the one who brought us our current day Charmin.

 Toggle Light Switch – While Thomas Edison invented electricity, let us not forget the people who made this electrical phenomenon user friendly. Before William Newton and Morris Goldberg, people were stumbling around in the dark trying to find the cord that they had to yank in order to turn the light on. In 1884, the two aforementioned men created the light switch that now adorns the walls of every home. Because of Mr. Newton and Mr. Goldberg, we can say, “Hey! Would you mind flipping the light on for me?” The next time you enter a room and turn on the light (unless, of course, you own a Clapper; then you should thank Lee Boschen), think of these two men. Mr. Newton and Mr. Morris, thanks!

Granted, The Underground Writer’s Recognition of Little Cared for Inventors cannot be equated to the Academy Awards or the Nobel Prize. But given that so very little is known about these inventors to begin with, this recognition will simply have to do.

The Prostitute

I didn’t notice her enter the Hallmark store. I was up to my elbows in Mother’s Day cards, attempting to find one that didn’t have “mother” scrawled dramatically across the front in cursive letters. (I don’t know about you, but I have never, ever, called my mom ‘mother’ – but apparently Hallmark seems to think that is quite common.) It was then that I noticed the two teenage employees whispering and pointing to something behind me.

Turning, I saw a prostitute looking at cards. She was clad in thigh-high, high heeled boots, miniskirt, and a shirt that exposed her stomach. Basically, she resembled Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman before she cleans up. The prostitute then moved to where I was standing and, shamefully, I lowered my head and acted as though I was engrossed in what I was reading.

I tried to focus on finding a card for my mom, but I have to admit it was a challenge. The prostitute reeked of powdery perfume that was so strong I could practically taste it. The two employees were also doing a not-so-subtle job of watching her. Each time I  reached for a different card I couldn’t help but notice the two teenage employees who were whispering to one another and staring at the prostitute. When I finally found a card I liked, I approached the cash register only to stand behind the prostitute I had been trying so hard to ignore.

She was digging around in her denim purse before she carefully placed the money, a dollar at a time, on the counter. Avoiding eye contact with the prostitute, the one teenage employee who was operating the cash register took the money with her fingertips and quickly dropped it into the cash drawer, as though the money were contaminated.

The prostitute asked the two teenage employees if she could borrow a pen. The other teenage employee mechanically handed a pen over and stared, speechless, as the prostitute bent over her Mother’s Day card and wrote. As the prostitute filled out her card, the two employees nonchalantly looked down at what she was writing  before looking at one another and smirking.

“Thank you,” the prostitute said as she handed the pen back.

Without a word, the teenage employee took the pen and continued to stare as the the prostitute left the store.

The other teenage employee exhaled, as though she had been holding her breath.  “Did you see that?” she asked me.

“Yes.  She was pretty hard not to notice,” I answered as I put my card on the counter.

“Did you see what she wrote?” the teenage employee asked. Without waiting for an answer she said, “She wrote ‘Happy Mother’s Day Mommy’.  But get this: she spelled “mommy” m-o-m-e-e.  She didn’t know how to spell mommy!”

Both girls burst out laughing.

I paid for my card and left.  As I headed towards my car I saw the the prostitute walking down the road, clutching the Hallmark bag that contained the card she had so carefully chosen for her mom.

We rarely see these women in such common places as a Hallmark store or grocery market. And no wonder. Even I admit that I stole a few glances at her. And yet, we forget that they were once little girls who giggled and wore nightgowns and loved ice cream. We forget that these women were once little girls who dreamed of being a princess, or of growing up to be a movie star. But something terrible happened to them.

After her purchase, the prostitute was headed back to the streets; back to pimps, drugs, and abuse. This was not the Hollywood version of prostitution. I am sure she wished Richard Gere was waiting to rescue her from the horrors of her lifestyle.

I think it’s safe to say that it is only out of desperation that a woman (or worse yet: girl) becomes a prostitute. It’s not as if she woke up one morning and said, “Ya know, I think I am going to leave this perfectly good job and have sex with strange men for money despite the risk of disease and my personal safety.” The majority of prostitutes, if not all, fall into it as a desperate way to support a drug addiction or as a result of past sexual abuse. Usually both.

While her lifestyle was vastly different than mine, she still had a love for her “momee.” The prostitute and I were looking at the same cards, each thinking of our own moms.  The love she had for her mom was no less than the love I have for mine. Yet, I was not subjected to whispers, mocking and judgement when I purchased my Mother’s Day Card.

Later that day as I filled out the card for my mom, I couldn’t stop thinking of the prostitute. I wish I had made eye contact with her. I wish I had smiled and said hello. That would have made my mom prouder than anything I wrote in her card.

Special thanks to Heather Dellamore, editor extraordinaire,  for her thoughts and guidance while writing this.

Freeze Drying Dead Pets

CNN recently did a segment on a company in Missouri that will freeze dry your dead pet. You read that right. For pet owners who can’t find it in themselves to say good-bye to their beloved cat or dog, this business will freeze dry them for a mere $850. The Freeze Dryer (or whatever the person who performs this creepy process is called) does about 120 animals a year. That’s not a whole lot, but it’s more than I’m comfortable with.

As I watched this process unfold (it was like a train wreck: I couldn’t look away), one thought kept going through my mind: people are so strange.

Was that harsh? My apologies, but let’s be honest here. If someone prefers to have Max frozen in an awkward position in their living room instead of buried peacefully in the back yard, I think it’s safe to say they’re a little weird. Okay, a lot weird.

If these weird pet owners can’t let go of their dead pet, I am assuming they can’t let go of what their pet did. Meaning, do these people still act as though their pet were alive? Do they put their freeze dried dog next to them in the car and take it on errands? Do they still insist on taking the dog on walks? There is a woman in my neighborhood who jogs every afternoon with her beautiful black lab. What if she decided to have him freeze dried when he dies? Would she run along, dragging the dog behind her?

And what about visits to the veterinarian? “She’s been really quite!” the owner says as she plops her freeze dried cat on the table, “But her fur balls have really improved.”

Many years from now, I wonder if we will start seeing freeze dried animals being sold at garage sales. Seriously! What if these freeze dried pet owners suddenly realize how creepy it is? Or they are finally able to say good-bye and let go. Then what? Now they are stuck with a frozen dog or cat on their hands. Disposing of it in the garbage just isn’t right – it was their pet after all. So they decide to sell it.

Among the chipped china dishes, bread maker, and picture frames is Bubbles, the freeze dried Poodle. The pet owner hopes the dog looks inconspicuous among the various knickknacks that she has for sale.  Bubble’s owner holds her breath every time someone picks Bubbles up, examines her, and then drops her with a squeal. Bubbles isn’t sold and is then donated to Good Will. Because that is just what the poor need: frozen pets.

In addition to finding this freeze drying process disturbing, I also find it puzzling. Why is it okay to freeze dry pets? Why can’t we just say good-bye and bury them like we do to the people we love? Please don’t tell me you think we should start freeze drying dead people. I don’t think I could handle finding someone’s freeze dried grandma at a garage sale.

The Typhoid Marys Among Us

Typhoid Mary is still among us. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this disturbing woman, allow me to give you a brief overview: Mary Mallon worked as a cook for wealthy families in the early 1900s. As she went about her cooking business, she was reeking havoc in the form of high fever, slow heartbeat, rash, painful diarrhea, and delirium. Mind you, this was all unintentional. She was an asymptomatic carrier of the bacteria Salmonella typhi. Meaning: she had no symptoms of the contagious disease she was carrying and spreading. There she was, frying up bacon and eggs, but also adding a little dollop of virulent bacteria on the side.

Either denial, obstinance or extreme stupidity kept Typhoid Mary from giving up her career as a cook. She was quarantined several times, only to return to the kitchen upon release. At one point she changed her name to an unoriginal “Mary Brown”, hoping to fool the health department. Subsequently sickening the very people she was feeding gave her away and authorities found her yet again. Eventually she was quarantined against her will until her death. Fifty-one people became infected with typhoid from the food she prepared. Three died.

Typhoid Mary never understood what the problem was. She didn’t feel sick so how on earth could she be making others sick? It completely baffled her. (Remember, this was before webmd or the ability to google “I feel fine but apparently I’m killing others.”)

Mary Mallon could be likened to someone who goes through life creating chaos but walks away untouched. These people are the Typhoid Marys among us.

My first experience with a modern day Typhoid Mary was in college. There was a girl who left campus the same time I did every Tuesday and Thursday. She stood out not only because she was attractive, but because she drove like Mr. Magoo. She drifted into other lanes, causing drivers to slam on their brakes while laying on the horn. She blew through red lights and changed lanes without ever checking her review mirror or glancing over her shoulder. If she hadn’t been such a menace, she was fascinating to watch. I kept telling myself it was only a matter of time before she caused a five car pile-up. But it never happened. While the rest of us were practically plowing into each other to avoid her, she sped off in her own little world.

Another modern day Typhoid Mary was recently at the grocery store. While picking out romaine lettuce, an octogenarian pushing a grocery cart at full speed almost ran me over. Had I not jumped out of the way there would have been a collision. The elderly man blew past me – a flash of high-waisted khaki and plaid- without even so much as a glance. He then careened around the corner and went barreling down the aisle. While he made remarkable speed for someone so hunched over, his gusto for shopping was potentially hazardous for everyone else. Yet he was completely unaware of the havoc he was creating.

Messy children can also be classified as modern day Typhoid Marys. Legos, Barbie parts, Hot Wheels, game pieces, beads. These are all things children “forget” to pick up and we parents have the pleasure of stepping on in the middle of the night. Sometimes the result is nothing more than a hurting foot. Other times our feet go flying in the air and we fall on the floor. Meanwhile, our little children are sound asleep in bed, blissfully unaware that their parents almost killed themselves by stepping on their Thomas the Tank Engine train.

Several historians have labeled Typhoid Mary as the most dangerous woman in American history. Maybe we should consider removing that stigma from her. After all, there is now a vaccine for typhoid. But unfortunately, we can’t vaccinate against bad drivers, aggressive old men who go grocery shopping, or children who don’t pick up their toys.

Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Tiny Polka Dot Bikini

It’s that time of year again.  The temperature has barely hit 40 degrees and yet stores are displaying swimwear.  As I unwrap the scarf from around my partially frozen face, I find myself staring at a flaming red bikini. It barely seems big enough to fit on a doll, let alone a living person.

I step back and look at the rest of the swimsuits.  They are mainly two pieces, with one or two full pieces thrown in there as though they were an after thought.  “Might as well put this out,” I picture the Target employee saying as he is holding up a one-piece bathing suit that resembles a mumu, “There must be some old broad out there that’ll want it.”

That “old broad” is me.  And excuse me, Mr. Target Employee, I don’t consider myself old … nor a broad.  I am merely a woman who has some sense of modesty. I also happened  to have given birth to two wonderful children who did some major body reconstruction as they were incubating in my belly.

Above the bathing suits hangs a huge photograph displaying models frolicking around in the very swimsuits that are being sold.  Their stomachs are taught and flat; their boobs perky.  As I study these seemingly carefree, perfect bodied women, I suddenly pictured an asterisk next to their heads.  At the bottom of the photograph is the footnote that lists the disclaimers about these women:

The pony-tailed blonde in the striped bikini: Isn’t actually a blonde.  Has had breast implants and liposuction.  Smokes 2 packs a day to curb her appetite. Third toe on left foot is longer than all her other toes. Is mean to old ladies.

Brunette playing volleyball: Doesn’t actually play volleyball.  Hates the blonde in the striped bikini. Lives with 6 cats. Airbrush artist spent an hour making her waist look smaller than it actually is.  Airbrush artist also painted over her acne outbreak.

Second blonde wearing black two piece: Actually is blonde.  Smiling broadly while trying to ignore the burning pain she is still enduring from her most recent bikini waxing.  After photo shoot she is going to exercise for 4 hours straight.  Will then enjoy a salad with fat free dressing for dinner.

Brunette with arm draped over 1st Blonde’s Shoulder: Although laughing, nothing is actually funny.  Bleaches her teeth.  Has a high pitched laugh that mimics a hyena.  Airbrush artist had difficulty making the dimples on her thighs disappear. 

There.  Now these swimsuit models are just like the rest of us.  I push my cart towards the laundry detergent aisle; smiling because I suddenly feel much better about myself.