Last Thursday

August 17, 2017

She showed up beside by my bed at three a.m.

“Mommy,” she said, “I am having great pain.”

That is an odd phrase, I thought. And I got up and asked questions and chose her some medicine, and scooted over to make space for her in the bed. She slept with me the rest of the night, but when she came downstairs in the morning it was worse. She lay on the couch for the next half hour, crying out, increasingly distressed, caught in the pain, chilled, screaming sometimes, vomiting.

“You can pinch my arm hard,” I said. “Ouch.”

We phoned and phoned. Our new doctor was out of the office for the day, and our old doctor’s office said “Since it’s within 24 hours of onset, just have her drink sips of water and wait for the virus to pass. I mean, if she really needs to come in, you can call back to schedule.” I wanted to yell at them.

That doctor called back within minutes to say, “I’m sorry. I was busy with another patient when the office girl spoke to me. What kind of pain is your daughter having? Okay, she needs to go for a scan. I’d recommend the emergency room.”

We had promised ourselves last December that if this happened again, we’d know the signs, and we’d drive her to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh ourselves. We’d skip the extra hours of waiting, the ambulance, the double doctor and hospital bills. Our hospital does very little with peds, and transfer was near-guaranteed.

So we loaded my daughter into the van. I called around for a sitter for my baby. I grabbed hasty supplies – a toothbrush, a change of clothes for Kelly, a Bible, my breakfast. And my little girl and I set out for Pittsburgh, an hour and forty minutes away.

All the way down, as she dozed and retched in the backseat, I second guessed myself. What if it was a stomach bug? But when I could see her again, I knew we were in the right place, and may I say something else? That hospital is amazing. We were met by great staff, checked in immediately, and called back to an ER berth within ten minutes of arrival.

And so the long and the short of this story, several tests later, is that my daughter had a second ovarian torsion, exactly like the first one last December, with this difference: it was her left ovary instead of her right one. The chance of a torsion happening at all in a pre-pubescent child, without a cyst or other “cause,” is very small. For it to happen to the same child on opposite sides is just crazy. The managing doctor in the ER had never seen it, and even after the scans, the surgeon was not convinced it wasn’t the same ovary just pulling a number on us. Until he looked for himself.

Once again, I called and texted frenetically to keep her father informed. Once again, I signed release forms for laparoscopic surgery. Once again, I kissed her goodbye and watched them take her away. She was hardly awake enough to know what was happening, even before the anesthesia. That is what her body does in this kind of pain: vomits and sleeps.

But oh, bless Jesus. While they were in there, they stitched both ovaries in place to keep it from happening again. The release form said they might. “Please,” I said. “If you can do it, please do.” The surgeon looked at me. “Like a time bomb waiting to go off, huh?” he said. You got it, sir.

Her timing is awful. Last time, we were four days from her first Christmas program at school, and she healed up just in time to participate. This time, I was twenty-four hours from leaving for an overnight trip to a ladies’ retreat – one of the highlights of my year, and the only event to which I never take a child. And no, I didn’t make it. I kept watching the clock, thinking of what They All were doing without me, feeling wretched for being so selfish and minding so much. That is my confession.

As if she could choose, poor darling.

Worse, it is our third emergency room visit in nine months, and eats up the money I was hoping to spend to visit my sister in Israel when her baby comes. That is a loss I do not know how to fix.

Although there was worry and sorrow, there was far less stress in round two. There was no talk of a mass, a teratoma or a cancer or a rupture. We had a precedent.

I am so grateful for superior medical teams who knew what they were doing, grateful my daughter’s fertility is still intact, grateful to live in a generation when it is possible to look inside the human body, and to enter it to fix what is wrong, and to do the entering so unobtrusively that the patient can be up and walking (almost pain-free) within hours. I am grateful to my husband and my bestie and my mom, who kept things running smoothly in my absence and who were all around flexible and wonderful. I am grateful to Kelly for being such a trooper. Most of all, I am grateful this part of her story is, Lord willing, behind us.

The only good thing about hospital stays: ordering whatever you want to eat and chain-watching Richard Scarry movies.

“My life has so many miracles,” she says.

And I say, Amen. And please, honey, let’s have no more for a while.


There’s little information I can find even on the internet about ovarian torsions, either because they are rare and unstudied or because they are usually accompanied by another condition, such as a cyst, which receives the greater attention and official diagnosis. They’re easily missed as mimicking something else; and uncorrected, they’re both excruciating and dangerous. The speedy intervention of surgery was a godsend both times. Thank you, Jesus!

Call back later

Confession: When my phone rang at 5:44 Monday morning, I thought it was the alarm, and groggily I punched around on its face a few times until it finally stopped.

That is how I sent a text template to Faith Builders Christian School (calling to inform parents of a two-hour delay), saying Sorry, I’m busy. Call back later.

After I stopped blushing, I wished I could’ve used that response on several more of the unexpected events December brought me.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is the third person in my immediate family to face the c-word, not to mention my sister-in-law, my aunt, and my late grandma. Sorry cancer, we’re busy. Call back later. Mom is brave and calm, trusting Jesus to take care of her through chemo, hair loss, and a lumpectomy. But oh, we dread to walk this path again.

My baby got hand-foot-and-mouth disease and spent a miserable week with it. We missed a Christmas party or two. Sorry, I’m busy. Call back later.

And then (all three of these events occurred in the same week), my six-year-old daughter developed acute stomach pain at school one lunchtime, moving from a pained face to tears to sobbing to screaming in less than an hour.* We thought appendicitis, but when they did the CT scan in the emergency room, they said “If it is her appendix, it’s already ruptured. There’s a mass in there. We can’t tell for sure.” And they transferred us to Children’s Hospital. Sorry, my daughter is busy. Pain, pain, go away. Please, please.

*(This is how my friend Anna described it, and she was there.)

in-the-hospital-20161206_074000

Hours crawled past us.

“There’s a mass of tissue, not fluid. Probably an ovarian cyst,” the surgeons told us after the senior radiologist’s report. “We don’t know what to expect until we remove it. They’re usually benign, but we may need to take her ovary as well. Please sign here.”

I will sign if you will help my daughter. Please, please.

In surgery, the doctors found and corrected an ovarian torsion, the “mass” nothing but her own body tissue, swollen but healthy. Nothing to remove? Really? Oh Jesus, really? And because it was all laparoscopic, she had very little recovery time, no stitches, no scars. The path felt interminable as we walked, but in retrospect I could measure it—from the onset of the pain to the first apple juice post-surgery was exactly 24 hours. Two days after her operation, she returned to school for the dress rehearsal of her Christmas program. On the third day she was her own sassy self, having to be reminded not to run.

Our resurrection story, just in time for Christmas. Thank you, thank you Jesus! We felt his miraculous healing in the skill of the surgeons, the kindness of the staff, the gift of living in 2016.

I spoke with another woman I love. She was cutting vegetables at my sink. She said, “I know it’s supposed to be such a season of joy, but it’s hard. It’s always been a little hard for me.” I know, I know. There are so many things we cannot say.

Sometimes I think that if we really knew what was involved, we’d say no to everything. Sorry, I’m busy. Call back later. Picnics and marriage and doorways and friendship and babies—and it hurts worst when everyone around seems so happy.

(Didn’t you know they each carry their own sorrows?)

But if we said no, we would never have the answers, the miracles, the resurrection stories, love. Sometimes I think if we really knew the joy on the far side, we’d say yes, yes, yes! Pain is the unexpected ring of the telephone, the bad news. Jesus is the one who shows up at the door at the same moment, with a loaf of warm bread and a stiff drink. His body and blood. God with us.

He is not afraid of sorrow, a man intimately acquainted with grief. We don’t have to make ourselves rollicking and carefree to celebrate Christmas properly. We just have to watch for him, answer when he calls, pick up the pain and say hello.

He said it will be all right.

Mogs and mistakes

It seems that posting even twice a week will be over my head at times. I will write when I can. “Just enough to stay sane,” a wise friend told me, and I will be taking her advice. It will help if both you and I forget about my little Mondays and Fridays idea. Pretend that didn’t happen.


Confession: I burned the first batch of caramel good and hard to the bottom of the saucepan, because I was washing supper dishes and singing I Stand Amazed in the Presence, and I forgot to stir even once.

With guests due to arrive within the hour for an apple dipping party, my knight-of-twelve-years-and-counting-who-has-gotten-me-out-of-worse-scrapes-than-this-one offered to make the emergency run for more caramels. {You know the Dr. Laura definition of true love? Swimming through shark-infested waters to bring her a glass of lemonade.}

I turned to drying the dishes, but the kiddos were wild and needy and hyper. Abruptly, I set my tea towel on the counter to rescue one who appeared in danger of sudden death from starvation or sibling attack or something perilous—and when I snatched up the towel again two minutes later, I forgot it was wrapped around my favorite of favorite mugs, the one my best friend gave me for my birthday, hand-crafted by her other best friend.

There was a rather dreadful smash. Continue reading

The tale of Ralph

Confession: My daughter got a pet mouse for Christmas. She’d been begging for one for months.

I said “Honey, are you sure you don’t want a dolly?”

No, she was sure. A live mouse that she could keep and hold in her hand.

Deep breath from Mommy. Already then.

We bought his cage and food and things ahead of time, which she unwrapped on Christmas morning to the tune of a delighted shriek and a huge grin. A day or two later we took her to the pet store and she picked out Ralph, a rather darling black mouse with a white star on his forehead. (Kelly insisted it was a heart, not a star.)

ralph

She held him often in the next few weeks. He was a sweet mouse, if there is such a thing—nice and slow. If he got away, he was easy to catch. We filled his food dishes once a week when we cleaned out his cage. He stayed clean, and didn’t bite, and got used to Kelly and his new home. He never ran the exercise wheel, just moseyed up and down his little purple ramps.

“Ralph is living a long time, Mommy,” Kelly would say happily.

Then came March, my wild month of tasks, and one week in particular when I kept thinking I needed to clean the mouse cage but it wasn’t too bad and I was so busy… I’d do it tomorrow… or the next day… Ralph seemed to be doing alright until the night I found him unmoving on his cage floor, with his food dishes empty. There may have been moments in my mothering career when I felt like a greater heel, but I don’t remember any.

“Ryan,” I said. “I starved Ralph to death. What do I do?!?”

I tried desperately to think of any way to avoid telling Kelly. May I insert a disclaimer here? I am not the kind of mother who shields her kids from the realities of life most of the time. But oh, the realities of life in the country! If it’s not a goat getting chewed up by a passing predator, it’s a darling chipmunk caught by the cats and found too late to be rescued. Entrails on our doormat. Cats always tangling with traps and vehicles. Six precious puppies all heartlessly sold to new owners despite her tears. The purpose of Ralph was to be Kelly’s very own—not to be given, mutilated, or sold, so help me God.

I decided what I would do.

The next day I made an emergency run to the pet store and found they had a single black mouse in a cage full of white ones. He was missing the star, and I thought briefly of doctoring him with Wite-Out, but otherwise—he looked just like Ralph. “I’ll take him,” I said. I hustled home, slipped him into the cage (clean cage) (freshly filled with food cage), and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

But I had not reckoned on one thing: mouse personality. I didn’t even know there was such a thing.

First of all, he wasn’t a he. He was a she, and she was a wildcat. She had more energy than ten Ralphs, nosing about her cage, climbing up the wire walls, scurrying about. That first night as we sat eating supper, she started running her exercise wheel. Kelly went over to watch. He learned!! The rest of us all got a case of the dry grins and tried not to show it. Having learned how, Ms. Ralph kept that wheel running, boys—day and night. I think she had a nervous disorder. Little vixen.

And then her odor!

The following day, from that new mouse in her pristine second-day cage there arose to my nostrils such a stench—(Am I getting carried away? Yes, I am.) In short, she reeked. I couldn’t enter the house without smelling her in the next room.

I hadn’t realized Ralph was such a prince among mice. Now I felt even worse.

I sat down with my daughter and said “Honey, I need to talk to you.” I didn’t exactly say how Ralph died, but I said all the rest, including “Sweetie, I just can’t live with this mouse. Can we get rid of her and let you pick out a new animal at the pet store? A hamster? A gerbil? A new mouse?” She laughed a lot and cried a little and looked at me with those beautiful wide eyes… and agreed.

gerbil-1206

The result is an adorable baby gerbil, no bigger than a mouse, named Sugar. He’s a boy—I’m not taking any more chances with girl rodents. He is very sweet. He has no discernible odor. He will spill his food all over the cage digging for the best bits, but it may have something to do with the fact that I’m feeding him every day.

Sigh.

All’s well that ends well. But I am sure I’m going to get to heaven and God is going to say “Well, dear, you visited the fatherless and widows in their affliction and kept yourself unspotted from the world—but WHAT ABOUT THAT MOUSE??”

The mayhem and the macabre

We had a lot of drama this summer.

You wouldn’t think it, since the walls are still standing and the sunlight is slanting gently down on the goats’ pen. But we did, in our small way.

Once in our yard we found an unfortunate starling—as Dickens would say, dead as a doornail. We trust he died of old age, peacefully in his sleep, although his posture was not necessarily one to encourage hope. Regan, who hardly allows us to kill flies in this household, was quite upset. But he thought, seeing the damage had already been done, perhaps he could keep the corpse? No, no, and again no! We were firm on this.

We should have gotten our first clue that evening, when as we put the boys to bed we sensed a slight twinge of old septic in the air. Sometimes our innocence, like our hope, is not warranted. It was the next night, when the ghost of the bird cried out for revenge, that we went hunting, and found a certain Walmart bag, knotted up, in a certain son’s drawer of treasures…

I will spare you the rest. It was vile. For days.

And then [this one is not macabre] there was the time that Kelly and Regan were playing tug of war with a blanket in the upstairs hall. He let go, and she tumbled backwards down the steps. Her father was also in the hall, and made an amazing lunge that saved her halfway down. She was still bumped up quite a bit, and screaming. We comforted, soothed, and settled… then carried her the rest of the way downstairs and laid her on the couch. She went ballistic—a piercing shriek that drowned out thought—and we found we had laid her down on top of a bee.

That bee, it turns out, was the forerunner. First he was just one, and easily dealt with—and then we found another, several days later… and now on these warm sunny days our upstairs windows are swarmed by them. Two to five on a single pane. Where are they coming from? Almost I would take Jehoshaphat back instead.

Almost.

It’s been a little wild, these last six weeks. I’ve been canning and editing and writing titillating descriptions of pickles. Not joking. I’ve been weeding flowerbeds and harvesting from the garden, and celebrating the warm rekindling of an old friendship and the sparkling addiction of a brand new one. I’ve planted those poppies and hung the wall art and sewed the desperately-needed dresses for my daughter; taken a sick son to the doctor and sat in the classrooms and made the fellowship meal food and pulled off the birthday party.

I’m dreaming of a very quiet October. But you know, I really love my life. Drama and all.