The Kt we loved

The Kt we loved
"I just might hurt you if you don't move that camera." — Kt

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Grinch

The Christmas that The Grinch came out on videotape (1990 or so, I think?), three different people gave me copies of it. I guess they'd noticed that it was one of my favorites!

And it was one of Kt's favorites, too. (I of course mean the original, animated version; the live-action Jim Carrey version was surprisingly not horrible, but an entirely different experience.)

With the death of Quincy, M.E. (Jack Klugman) today, the following seems particularly apt...and entirely in line with our girl's sense of humor.

Here's hoping that everyone got has a safe and happy holiday with their families, eh?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

#@24*! Timezones...

A friend points out that my last post shows as December 6. It was really posted in the wee hours of December 7, which was Kt's birthday—blogger uses Pacific time. Sorry for the confusion!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Twenty One Years Ago

Went to sleep at a normal-ish time, woke up, now I can't sleep. Obsessing slightly over the date.

Kind of interesting knowing with dead certainty where one was 21 years ago: I was sleeping on the floor of a Fairfax Hospital room next to Anita (well, trying to sleep, in between being stepped on by nurses). Anita was "being induced"—forced to go into labor—but it wasn't working.

I remember figuring out that the machine monitoring her was networked, and so I could switch it to view the other patients in nearby rooms (something I suspect HIPAA regulations would frown on nowadays). So when she would have a contraction, I could show her that it was very minor compared to other patients'. Not sure she really appreciated knowing that.

When we left the hospital with Katie, Anita was in an entirely normal paranoid-new-mother mode: if a car came within 50 feet of ours, she would alert me, just in case I had somehow managed to miss it. And of course there had to be a tractor-trailer jackknifed on the Beltway! Fortunately it was just after the I-66 exit, and I managed to get over and take 66, instead of the Toll Road, as I had planned. So we made it home safely.

Then we both have very distinct memories of putting our wee bairn in the bassinet, looking at each other, and asking, "So what the heck do we do now?"

But, as with every generation before, we figured it out.

The company I was working for at the time had a sabbatical program, and I was eligible. This meant that I got to take four weeks off with pay. My month started December 6, 1991, and it was a truly magical time. I know that in some other countries, paternity leave is the norm; in some, it's not only allowed, but required, thus avoiding the "Well, you know, I really would love to, but I feel like the office will frown on it". This is a good thing; the US should be so enlightened.

And now, 21 years later, our girl would have been able to drink legally. She would have voted in her first presidential election last month (and those who knew her know who she would have voted for, no question!). She would be in her third year of university, perhaps considering graduate school. We'd have been planning a bash for tonight.

Happy Birthday, my peanut girl.

I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
As long as I'm living,
My baby you'll be.
– Robert Munsch

Saturday, November 10, 2012

731 Days

Way back in the late 1970s, when the world was younger (as was I), a friend brought over an album by Pink Floyd. No, not Dark Side of the Moon; while that is, was, and always will be a classic (and I've bought it at least five times, in different formats), I'm talking about Wish You Were Here.

I immediately loved it, and think it's in some ways better than DSOM, although I'm sure that could lead to a lengthy discussion/argument. Maybe it's just that DSOM's whole alienation theme has been overdone, but that doesn't explain why I loved it instantly, as I hadn't really listened to that wide a variety of music yet.

Anyway, the Floyd's simple tribute to their lost friend and bandmate, Syd Barrett, remains a triumph, 35+ years and uncounted listens later.

And of course, on this day and every day, a gut-wrenching experience just to think about. Still can't believe it's been two years; still can't believe she isn't just out with friends.

Katie, sure wish you were here (YouTube).

We're having a quiet day, and greatly appreciating the things Kt's friends are writing on her Facebook page. Somehow they make us feel happy and sad at the same time; this is a good thing. Thank you.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Three, Two, One…LEGO!

I’m writing this between rounds at the Ashburn regional FIRST LEGO League (FLL) tournament, where I’m Head Judge again. I wrote about FLL last year, and am glad to be back.

I just watched the only all-girl team at this tournament: six fourth-grade girls. Although their youth and inexperience was evident, I thought they did remarkably well for fourth-graders. And they were having fun, as is every kid I’ve seen here.

I felt simultaneously nostalgic and enervated this morning as I drove down a dark, deserted Greenway, music blasting. It reminded me both of many such tournaments past and of taking Katie to her early-morning hockey games. Special times, much missed.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Prayer for Owen Meany

I’m reading A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving), which was made into the movie Simon Birch. Katie loved that movie, and I'm pretty sure she read the book. The two are quite different in some significant ways, but have the same spirit and mood. (By the way, Wikipedia reports that “The movie does not share the book’s title at Irving’s request; he did not believe that this novel could successfully be made into a film. The name “Simon Birch” was suggested by him to replace that of Owen Meany.”)

So last night at 30,000 feet, on my way home, finally, on a three-hours-delayed flight from Cincinnati, I read this:
“When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time...Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes—when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever—there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.”
And suddenly I’m sobbing. Fortunately most of the other passengers had bailed after the second flight delay, so the cabin was mostly empty, and with all the lights off I didn’t have to deal with anyone trying to be solicitous.

It’s not that I’m embarrassed—if I were, I wouldn’t be writing this—but that such interactions always make me feel badly for the person who asked.

I had been in Cinci to give three presentations at a user group. My Windows wallpaper these days includes the following, because I like to look at it:

At the meeting, I messed up while connecting to the projector and showed my desktop briefly; afterward, a lady came up and asked me if that had been my daughter, and what happened.

So I got to ruin her day. Yeah, she asked, but I still feel bad about it. The same thing happens whenever someone asks if we have any kids.

Sure wish I could see a way around this.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Time Flies

...and the weather turns, and I see it's been a month since I posted. We're in the fall blahs: this used to be an exciting time, with back to school and back to real life: new classes, new teachers, new opportunities. Now, not so much.

I'm sitting at a friend's beach house in Nags Head overlooking the ocean as I write this. It's a nice quiet place to get away for a few days, in the off-season. Gorgeous and the ocean sound is a balm.

We'll drive home tomorrow, planning to arrive in time for the presidential debate. Something else Katie would have loved: debating and politics, together! Plus she could have voted this time 'round. And I know she would have been exhorting her friends and acquaintances to vote—even those who were going to vote the "wrong" way. Probably would have convinced a bunch of 'em, too...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

More Dad-Trolling

I guess I started Dad-Trolling Katie when she was pretty small.

Evidence: I remember the first time we went to a pet store and I showed her the hamsters. She didn't believe me: she was firmly convinced that "hamsters" were something I'd made up. I finally got a clerk's attention and said, "Tell her what kind of animal that is"; he gave me an incredulous look and said, "It's a hamster!"

Much later, I tried to convince her that molasses wasn't vegetarian—since, obviously, it's made from the rear ends of moles. Nope, she didn't buy that, but she did try it on a few of her friends.

Monday, September 10, 2012

I might have been guilty of this on occasion...

But Katie never fell for it. Well, probably once or twice when she was little, but by the time it mattered, she was far too wily. She did enjoy my attempts, however, and would have liked this one.

From SMBC, which is usually good and frequently great.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Back To School

Tonight I was sitting in a Thai restaurant waiting for takeout, and a family with three little girls was eating nearby. The father had apparently spent time in Thailand, and was introducing them to the cuisine for the first time.

During the wait, I enjoyed hearing the girls asking questions and exclaiming over the food. At one point I heard, "This is the best chicken ever!" and the mom started laughing; when asked why, she explained that it was calamari, not chicken. Which the girls didn't freak out about.

Reminded me of a little girl I used to know who, when they were asked to do the "About Me" thing in first grade, put "Tom Kha Gai*" instead of "pizza" or "spagety" or "hambergers" for her favorite food. And (until she became vegetarian), Katie would at least try anything we offered her.

And it was sixteen years ago this week that we walked her to the bus stop for kindergarten. Anita was snapping pictures, I was running the obligatory video camera (Hi-8—state of the art!). After the hugs and kisses, we watched her little head travel slowly to the back of the bus, then return all the way to the front. The driver opened the door and a somewhat bewildered Katie explained that there were no available seats!

I forget what we did about it; I assume we jumped in the car and drove her that day. I know Anita talked to the school about getting a bigger bus, and they did. Our stop wasn't the last on the bus run, so I'm sure we weren't the only ones!

Gosh, that was a long time ago...

* Tom Kha Gai is a Thai soup made with chicken broth, coconut milk, galanga (aka "galangal", a ginger-like root), cilantro, lemon grass, straw mushrooms, kaffir lime leaves, and chicken. Pure comfort food, especially with some rice thrown in! (Linguistic note: Tom = boiled, thus soup; Kha = galanga; Gai = chicken)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hate the disease, love the victim

I wrote before about my friend, whose son is going through travails somewhat akin to Kt’s. He and his wife are of course continuing to deal with their son’s illness. Recently they’ve been communicating with the school about the approaching school year. One teacher in particular has always been somewhat less than understanding, and recently emailed, in part:
 >I know he has been a handful.

My friend responded with the following:
We agree with you that his illness is indeed a handful. In fact, his illness is life threatening! However, he is not a handful. He is actually one of the most well-meaning and courageous individuals that we know. In the face of absolute terror and panic attacks he works so hard to stay safe, composed, and rational. When the illness overtakes him and he gets knocked down he gets back up. We are so proud of him and could share more examples, not just from us as parents but from his friends all along the way. This perspective, and the distinction between him and the illness, is critical in terms of all of us choosing words and actions that help him.

I immediately wrote back, “Good point”; after rereading, I was compelled to update that to  “AWESOME point”.

I’m not sure I can say anything that will add more to his powerful words, except to relate it back to my earlier treatise: if his son had cancer, would a teacher even consider saying that the boy “has been a handful”?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Aurora Errata

It now appears that when the Aurora shooter's mother said "You have the right person" she was responding to, "Are you the mother of x?" and not "Is x likely to have shot up a movie theatre?" (P.S. I'm not willing to call him "the accused shooter": he said he did it, so he's the shooter until and unless proven otherwise. Political correctness only makes sense to a point.)

In retrospect, this seems much more plausible than the way it was reported. But my point from the previous post remains: too many folks will—with or without this utterance—think the parents "should have done something".

It also reminds me that for every single case where I've had first-hand knowledge of the facts of a newspaper story, the article was incorrect about at least one significant, objective fact. In one case, I remember them getting the defendant's name and age wrong; in another, they listed someone's work address as their home address. Not that I think any of the reporters involved were deliberately lying—the exigencies of publishing a daily paper mean that such fact-checking is too often overlooked (especially as the newspapers die a slow death).

Just a reminder of what we know: Just 'cause it's in the paper doesn't mean it's true.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


One of the many tragedies of the Aurora shooting is that his mother's reaction was apparently, "You have the right person".

Some people are going to pillory her for that, surely, saying "She knew he wasn't 'right' and should have done something!"

Of course, they're really just exhibiting their ignorance: what do they think she could have done? The guy was 24. That would be "more than 18". Which means that his parents had exactly two choices:
  1. Worry
  2. Try to get him declared incompetent/insane
Given that he was apparently supporting himself in a pretty technical job until just a few weeks ago, #2 is a non-starter: he was more competent at daily life than a lot of people.

So Door #1 was the only option. And his mother's worst fears (well, presumably only most of them—he's still her son, so she's surely glad he's alive) came to pass.

There's no clear or easy answer here. We've decided as a society that we have the right to protect the common good from those who are clearly deranged, but we also strongly value the individual. And that's as it should be: if everyone who fits the criteria for some sort of mental disorder were declared incompetent, we'd have a much larger problem dealing with all those wards of the state, and likely wouldn't actually improve things.

I've said for many years that one of the hallmarks of a nominally free society is that there are times when the society cannot react until it's too late. Random, senseless attacks like this are in that category. The alternatives—explored in 1984 and Minority Report (as well as the former Soviet Union), among many, many others—are clearly much worse.

I wish I could discuss this with Katie. I know she'd have some insights I don't.

On a lighter note, she would have liked this picture. It reminds me of  a visit to the St. Jacobs Farmer's Market in Ontario, near where I grew up, where someone was selling emu oil. Katie asked him if it was from emus or for emus; when he looked confused, she pointed out that "baby oil" isn't from babies. He laughed...a bit nervously. Anyway, from the "In case you wondered" department:

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hasta Luego

Last week our next-door neighbors and dear friends moved back to their native California. We’ve known them for almost 18 years, ever since a Lincoln Town Car full of kids pulled into the court one day while we were outside playing with Katie. We rushed over and chatted them up: I’ve actually always been a bit surprised we didn’t scare them away!

Fortunately we didn’t. Their then-11-year-old daughter babysat Katie, and when Anita spent 12 days in hospital the year after they moved in, she and her mom were both a huge help. I was fortunate in that I was able to just blow off my job for that period, but there were times when I had to be at the hospital and it would have been too hard for a three-year-old Katie to just hang out, and they took her and kept her entertained.

Over the years, we watched their three kids grow up, becoming two fine young men and a lovely young woman. We swapped recipes, last-minute ingredients, and culinary experiments, spent time together at holidays, celebrated big birthdays, and had silly evenings playing games.

And then in fall 2010, three weeks before Katie’s death, their youngest son was killed in a car accident. As most people would be, we had little idea what we could do to help, but tried our best. And when we found ourselves in a similar position three weeks later, they played a huge role in helping us get through that terrible time.

Since then, we’ve been closer than ever. Neither Anita nor I can imagine having survived without their friendship and love.

But nothing lasts forever, and it was time for them to move back home to be near their daughter (their other son is an Army captain in Afghanistan). We’ve known this was coming for several months, of course, but somehow it was still a shock.

It finally hit home for me the day before they left. I had two garbage cans of weeds sitting by the garage. When I went to take them out for the yard-waste pickup, I found that they were already there. Now that’s obviously a small thing, but how many neighbors know you well enough and are thoughtful enough to do that?

And now they’re gone. Well, not gone gone, obviously: his job is still here, so he’ll be telecommuting and visiting often, and she’ll be visiting too. But we won’t see them every day, and that’s a shock. Their house looks sad and empty without them—as are we.

Until then...

Monday, July 2, 2012

Los Desaparecidos

I’ve been trying for the last two weeks to get up the gumption to rewrite a post I did on the 17th, which was both my birthday and Father’s Day, without success. I think once I’d written it, the catharsis of that thought was complete.

Suffice it to say that it’s not one of my favorite days any more.

I believe I know what happened: I did publish the post, and at least one person saw it, because she mentioned it. But I had the Compose window open on two computers, and must have made some change on the “other” machine, which was showing an unfinished draft, after posting. That overwrote the published version, and also put it back into Draft status. So the final version is now desaparecido. Ah well…into the ether, ne’er to be seen again!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Keep On Truckin'

Some friends are going through much the same experience with their 17-year-old son as we went through with Katie. Their situation isn’t identical, of course—as Tolstoy wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, and the same applies to individuals.

But the fundamental problems are the same: their bright, happy, smart child goes through periods of dysphoria and rage, culminating recently in a suicide attempt. Fortunately, they found him in time and he’s OK for now, but nothing is resolved. Indeed, it rarely is in these situations, until and unless either a set of medications seems to stabilize the situation, or the individual just “grows out” of it.

The former isn’t a sure thing even when it seems to work, because the efficacy of meds can change without warning. But for some people a particular regimen can work for long periods, sometimes even permanently. (And by the way, television writers, please learn that medication isn’t magic—I almost threw something at the screen last year when a character’s problem was diagnosed as bipolar: “Now we’ll get you on medication, and you’ll be fine!” A tad bit facile.)

“Growing out” of the problem shouldn’t be taken to mean the child is doing anything deliberate, i.e., acting out to get attention. Instead, it reflects that fact that just as these disorders often start at puberty or around age 18 (as various major stages of physical brain development occur), they can also vanish, or at least lessen, as further physical maturation transpires.

When IMing with my friend today, I was finally able to articulate something that had been percolating in the back of my mind for some time: that mental health issues are in some ways far worse than physical health issues for the victim’s family.

If your kid has cancer, I wouldn’t expect you to feel any qualms about telling friends and neighbors. They’ll rally ’round and help support you to whatever extent they can.

If your child is bipolar or has severe anxiety or any other sort of mental illness, you’re likely to feel much more chary about discussing it. Not because you think you’ve done anything wrong, hopefully (although of course there’s always some latent guilt lurking in the back of your mind, even if you know intellectually that you aren’t responsible), but because you don’t know how others will react.

As I’ve written previously, Katie was blessed with a great number of friends, but she (and we) were also blessed with the friendship of a great number of other parents, many of whom “got it” without any discussion or weirdness. They welcomed her into their homes despite her “problem”, offered us support, and did all of the things that good friends do when someone they know needs help.

But this isn’t always the case. Some people just don’t get it, and that’s sad for everyone involved. A few of Katie’s supposed friends dropped her like a hot potato as soon as word got out that she was ill. I don’t feel hostility toward these kids: their experiences and/or attitudes are what they are, and they didn’t act as they did to be mean. We are all damaged people in one way or another.

All-too-common modern “helicopter parenting” confuses things, too: the parents of a child who has real problems and needs real monitoring may just appear overprotective to other parents, or—perhaps worse—no different from their actually overprotective peers. Either case makes real threats become harder to detect.

History hasn’t helped here, either. We used to put people in “nuthouses”, and even have words like “bedlam” that are derived from that practice, and “You must be crazy”, “My boss is nuts”, etc. are part of the language. There’s still a stigma associated with mental illness, and the insurance industry tried hard to preserve that: until the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was signed in 2008, U.S. group health insurance plans were allowed to treat mental illnesses differently. Typically this meant some small number of psychiatric visits were covered per year; after that, well, sorry, you had to pay yourself—or forego treatment.

As Dennis Miller would say, “I don’t want to get off on a rant here”, but the injustice of those limitations and the fact that it took so long to rectify it is pretty sad. I know people who have all but bankrupted themselves trying to pay for mental health care for their child despite having “good” health insurance. And don’t get me started on folks who have to deal with not having any health insurance. But I digress.

Having a child with a chronic physical illness—celiac disease, diabetes, myasthenia gravis—is of course terribly hard on the rest of the family. Parents can focus too much on the sick child, to the detriment of the rest of the family; or try to treat everyone equally, usually to their own detriment—there are only so many hours in the day! But the one thing everyone in such a situation can usually agree on is the enemy: the illness.

With mental illness, the sick person can become the enemy, both to themselves and to the family. Rage and threats and physical violence are usually directed at the rest of the household, and can occur at random. If, as is often the case, the afflicted child doesn’t even admit to having an illness, things are that much more difficult: the parents are clearly the bad guys, since if the kid isn’t sick, what’s all the fuss about? This positive feedback loop just makes things worse. Non-compliance (the medical term for “not taking your meds”) is common and further muddies the waters.

The parents are often left with a dilemma: do we try to enforce restrictions (curfew/driving/etc.) that are clearly aimed at trying to protect the child from himself, knowing that doing so makes us even more the perceived root of all evil? Or relax the restrictions, lowering stress for all involved? It’s a tightrope dance that has no right answer (to mangle a metaphor).

It’s axiomatic in the mental health business that someone who is determined to kill themselves is likely to find a way to do so. What makes cyclic disorders (depression, anxiety, the entire bipolar spectrum) even more difficult is the fact that you never know from day to day what to expect. Of course there are physical illnesses like that, but with those, if things get really bad, you typically wind up at a hospital. If your child is raging and threatening, your choices are to try to deal with it, or call the police. And the latter can obviously get real ugly real quick.

One final factor that makes things harder: once the child turns 18, (s)he’s legally an adult, and you lose a lot of parental rights. For example, even if (s)he’s on your insurance, you don’t have the right to know anything about diagnosis or treatment unless the child consents. Which, of course, may not happen, since “it’s all your fault” anyway.

Again, the choices are lousy: deal with it, make ugly bargains (“If you don’t sign this paper saying we have access to your medical information, you can’t live at home”), or get the child declared incompetent. The last of these is not only time-consuming, expensive, and likely devastating to the relationship, but isn’t even a sure thing: just because someone has attempted suicide several times does not make them incompetent in the eyes of the law, especially if they’re able to make a good representation to the court (“Yes, but that’s all past me now: my meds are working and I’m fine, honest!”).

With modern communications (texting, Twitter, IM, et al.), a child who is suicidal will often say something to his or her friends (this has always been true, but it’s more real-time now). But their friends are, after all, not full adults, and are torn between worrying about their friend and wanting to be loyal. There’s no good answer to this one either: the friend who “rats out” the kid who wasn’t serious, or who had passed the crisis point without taking action, may lose a friendship; yet of course Katie’s friends who saw her the night she killed herself are wracked by guilt over what they think they might have done differently.

As my friend wrote, “The whole situation is crappy”. Indeed, it defines the term. So what’s a parent to do?

You brought this beautiful child into the world, and have spent most of your adult life trying to help them achieve and grow. You’ve told them “You can be whatever you want to be”. And now you’re finding out that nature has conspired against you, and the fact is that instead of looking ahead to them being independent and discovering a career and finding love and maybe having their own kids, you’re instead simply hoping to get through the next month, week, day, hour without a crisis, without losing this battle that you didn’t even know you were fighting until you were hip-deep in shattered visions of how you thought things would be.

Remind the child constantly that you’re there, that you love them, that you will do whatever you can to help them. If there are people outside the house (an aunt/uncle, perhaps) whom the child trusts, encourage them to reach out to the kid with unconditional offers of help, including promising to keep secrets from you (whether that promise actually applies is something they may have to decide on the fly).

You know your child better than anyone, so trust your gut: if your medical/psych professionals aren’t working, find new ones. Most folks out there with psych degrees are caring, hard-working professionals, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be right for every kid. Talk to the school guidance counselors—they’ve seen a lot more of these situations than you have, which doesn’t mean they’ll have any magic answers, but they’ll at least have some ideas and can suggest more resources.

Reach out to others. NAMI ( and and other groups offer support meetings of various types, including many for parents and relatives of folks suffering from mental illness. When you talk to other people, you’ll be surprised at the number who have been touched in some way by similar problems. Of course, they likely don’t talk about it much, because we still have this societal stigma attached. But that’s slowly changing.

All you can do in the end is keep on keepin’ on, doing your best, and adjusting as the waves threaten to swamp the boat. And know that you are not alone.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Kt the Iconoclast

A friend posted a picture of her new running shoes on Facebook:
Katie would have loved these (while the rest of us screamed, "My eyes! My eyes!"). Her kind of colors.

I've been "stuck" listening to Saga again lately—can't seem to tolerate anything else. They're playing a rare U.S. gig in Manhattan at B.B. King's club on September 5, and I'm booked to go see them. Sure wish my concert buddy could go with me like she used to. It's not even an over-21 show...

Saga track of the day: "I Walk With You" (the YouTube clip is mistitled)

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Day Late and a Dollar Short, as Usual

Yesterday marked 18 months, and I found myself ("uncharacteristically", Katie would no doubt note!) short of things to say.

Many folks sent/posted sentiments, including my oldest sister, who emailed:
I'm not uncognizant of the significance of today's day. One point five years -- how the hell'd this happen...
...which pretty well nails my feelings about it: How the hell did this happen?!

Anita's Facebook post was also trenchant:
Today is the 18th month anniversary of Katie's death. I am still so devastated, and I wonder if that feeling will ever go away. I miss her so much. She was the light and joy of our lives, and the world is a much darker place without her in it. Please take a minute to think of our beautiful daughter today and the incredible joy she brought to so many people.

Meanwhile, the Oakton High School Theatre Department is holding a special performance of The 39 Steps tomorrow evening (Saturday, May 12th). Part of this event is a fundraiser for a scholarship they are creating in Kt's honor:
Just like KT, this scholarship is different than any other. We are not looking at just your school work or your activities. Rather, like KT saw everyone, we are viewing you as a whole person, with all sorts of quirks and personality.
We are again humbled to have been her parents and to have had this amazing person in our lives for almost 19 years.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Long Strange Trip It's Been

Spent the last two weeks recovering (somewhat) from spinal surgery to correct two herniated discs. I think I damaged these in 2007 when we took Katie to New York for her 16th birthday. We took the train, and there's one closet on each car for luggage, so you wind up stacking your bags on top of everyone else's. I was humping one of our suitcases up onto the pile and felt something let go in (I thought) my shoulder.

I didn't think too much of it, though I did notice over the next few years that occasionally that shoulder would ache something fierce. I thought maybe I had a minor rotator cuff tear, and even discussed it with a co-worker out in California who had just had rotator cuff surgery (aka "Tommy John surgery"), and it seemed to fit the symptoms.

Then one day last October I woke up in agony: the shoulder felt like it was on fire. I got in to see a shoulder specialist a few days later, and he immediately said, "It isn't your shoulder, it's your back/neck, see the neck guy. And meanwhile, have an MRI done." (Note to Canadians: I'm a big fan of the Canadian healthcare system, but this is one of those cases where I was definitely better off being here in the US with good insurance!)

The MRI showed that, indeed, two discs were herniated. They sent me to a pain management specialist, who injected cortisone into my back, using a fluoroscope (live X-ray) to position the needle, and within a few days the pain had started to ebb. In fact, it was during that time that I suddenly recognized the pain as the shoulder pain I'd had off and on since 2007—just much, much worse!

Anyway, after two of those cortisone shots, the pain was under control, but my right arm and hand were still partly numb, so the doctor recommended surgery. And that's what they did on the 11th. It's an interesting surgery if you're not the one having it: they go in through the front of your neck, moving your trachea and so forth out of the way; remove the discs; and then attach the affected vertebrae together using a titanium frame, plus some new-fangled artificial stuff that replaces bone (I call it "Silly Putty", but apparently it's somewhat more structural than that).

So for the last two weeks, I've been surviving on Percocet and muscle relaxants ("Livin' on reds, vitamin E and cocaine..."). Anita has been taking care of me, of course, and I'm healing nicely.

While I was in the hospital, I had a nurse the first night named Katie. She came by with my medications at some point in the wee hours and re-introduced herself (presumably having had many post-operative patients completely fail to remember anything from earlier!), and said "Don't forget my name, now!"

In my somewhat drugged state, I told her why I was unlikely to forget her name. Since it was the middle of the night with nothing happening, she sat down and told me that she'd lost a brother to suicide over seven years ago, and had a sister who had institutionalized herself. I don't remember much else about the conversation, but it was yet another reminder of how many, many people depression has affected.

I've had more Kt dreams than usual while on meds, and am thinking about her an awful lot as this strange spring proceeds!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Muttations, Tracker Jackers, and Mockingjays, Oh My!

The Hunger Games comes out at the end of this week. If you haven't read it, try to do so before seeing the movie—while the film looks to be quite true to the book, it surely can't capture all the depth of the original.

I plan to see the movie (obviously) but will do so through a significant cloud. It's exactly the kind of story Katie would have loved, I think, and I sure wish I could see it with her.

I dreamed about her last night. In the dream, I woke up around 3AM and looked out the window (which was in her bedroom, which is wrong, since I wouldn't be sleeping there) and she was trying to get in the front door. I went down and let her in, and then we lost power. And none of it made any sense, then or now.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Back from Canada

I was up in Waterloo, Ontario, where I grew up (ages 8-25) this week. It was nominally a business trip—I had a two-hour meeting with a prospect—but of course I took advantage of it to see my sister in Toronto and my mother and several friends in Waterloo.

As usually happens when I go somewhere that we used to visit with Katie, I was flooded with memories, overlaid with the nostalgia that goes with being older and visiting somewhere that you spent a lot of time when you were young.

In talking with one dear friend, she told me that when her oldest two boys were little, they got two cats from the Humane Society. The boys wanted to call them Batman and Robin, but she said "They already have names" and so they kept those. "Why did I do that?" she asked. "Why was I so rigid about it? I should have just let them call them what they wanted!"

I thought of this when I passed a place on Highway 6 that has several life-sized fiberglass dinosaurs in front, for some reason (OK, this is the web era, and the reason is here). When Katie was little, she of course always wanted to stop to see them, and now I'm similarly wondering why we never did (although perhaps it would have just been a disappointment, as such things so often are).

My friend went on, in talking about Katie, to say something that I quite like: "You'll never get over this, but eventually you may get used to it". I think that's pretty good: humans are amazingly adaptable creatures, and folks learn to live with daily problems ranging from irritating co-workers to chronic pain, physical handicaps, and even terminal disease.

That's not an imperative: there's no "should" here. Some people don't learn to live with whatever troubles them, and that's just the way it is. That doesn't make them "dumb" or "weak" or anything else bad, it just means that they weren't built that way, just as some people can't learn to read music (me, for instance!). Katie didn't manage to "get used to" her disease, and everyone knows how strong and smart and adaptable she was.

And of course there's no timetable, either. I've heard of people saying that "It's been long enough, so-and-so needs to get back to normal". That's just ignorant in the extreme. One actually hopes such people either never suffer a loss, or that when they do, they realize how wrong they were, rather than beating themselves up about not following some imaginary schedule for "getting over it".

It's been 14 months today. Maybe at 140 months, or 280, or some other number, I'll get used to this.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Still Making the Same Mistakes

So I'm at the grocery store and see a package of Halloumi, which notes in large letters that it can be fried. Katie always loved Queso Para Freir, which is sort of the Latin American equivalent.

I reached out and picked up the package before I realized that I wasn't about to take it home for her to try.

Meanwhile, at our local Giant grocery store (home of "Lemons: Perfect for orange juice", as noted in a previous post), they had this:

Another one she would have loved.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Bowl Sunday and Double Features

Super Bowl Sunday. Pomp, circumstance, and hype. And of course the ads!

Kt and I used to watch the show together—I'm hardly the world's biggest football fan, but I do enjoy the occasional game, and if you're gonna watch one, this is the obvious choice! I think she probably hated football, but would join me as a social thing.

A few years ago one of the ads was for some movie (I forget which), and it prompted us to make up a game: movies that sound like they go together, but really don't.

Inappropriate Double Features
Finding Nemo / Finding Forrester
28 Days / 28 Days Later
Animal House / Animal Farm
Slap Shot! / Face Off

I just came up with that last one this morning. I think she would have loved it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Frolicking in the sprinkler

I woke up this morning thinking, as usual, about Katie. The summer that she was almost two, we were visiting Anita's parents, an hour west of Buffalo, and planning to head on to my parents', up in Ontario. While we were there, Anita came down with the flu. After a day or so, she said, "I'm not going anywhere; why don't you take Katie up to see your parents tomorrow?", so we got an early start and headed off.

Growing up in Ontario, I've crossed the border dozens of times. So I quickly noticed that they seemed to be asking a lot of questions, but it wasn't until they asked, "Does her mother know she's with you?" that I twigged to what was going on: a 32-year-old man with a 2-year old, crossing the border, certainly could be a "custody situation", as the phrase goes. They sent us over to the immigration building, and we parked and went in.

Then we sat there for ten or fifteen minutes, while I kept Katie as entertained as I could. I'm sure they checked my passport information and car registration, but also kept an eye on me, to see if I was at all hinky. So I just made sure I looked as calm as possible, and eventually they came over and said "You can go". So off we went.

When we got to my parents, it was one of those glorious Ontario summer days: sunny and 80s, with low humidity. We had a light lunch and then my mother suggested that we set up the sprinkler and let Katie play in it while we adults sat and watched and chatted.

Of course I hadn't brought a bathing suit for Katie, so we stripped her down and she happily ran around in the water. I asked whether the neighbors were going to think it strange that she was naked, and my mother quite sharply said that if they did, they could go to hell. Then she told me that exactly thirty years earlier, we had gone to Shelter Island, off Long Island, to visit some friends. I was just two. When we went to the beach, I of course immediately got sand in my (cloth!) diaper, so she'd taken it off. Some woman made a snide remark about me being naked, and my mother told her to pound sand! I often forget just how much moxie my mom has.

Anyway, it was one of those wonderful, low-key visits, with no agenda (hard to have one with a 2-year-old in tow!), and we just relaxed and watched her play until she got tired and took a nap. And eventually headed back to Anita's parents that night.

A great day, even if Anita wasn't with us.