Wednesday, July 28, 2004


Well, Monday was my first day back to Roswell and I loved it!!! Matt had a great day with the kids, he even managed to get showered before I came home (which is more than I've accomplished today). I had a wonderful time. I actually floated to recovery room (PACU), a place where I am gaining expertise and comfort. Now I'm trying to figure out how to get more partial shifts in, mainly in PACU because they can use me for 3, 4, 5, or 6 hours at a crack, and I don't need to be there at the beginning or end of a "shift." The nature of recovery is transient, in one door, out the other, so you don't have to cover a patient for 8 hours. So I'm praying and thinking about who to entrust the kids to, just for a few hours, until Matt can come home and take over. The goal being not to spend the money I'm earning on child care. God bless Matt for even attempting to work with me... the man has a crazy schedule and he does a great job balancing it all.

Work makes me feel powerful, competent, valuable. I like work, but it can be like a drug if I'm not careful. Too much is bad. I found myself looking forward to when Libby is in school so I can pick up more time, and then I felt guilty for wishing this time away... . When I got home Monday and my little girl curled nuzzled into me with her tiny hand touching my chest I thought, "This, this is the most important job." Sometimes it's hard to sort out the immediacy of everything, everything feels urgent. Making more money, getting Libby to learn to sleep without crying, getting Izak to eat food, or at least reject food without flinging it across the room, making more money, getting my ACLS certification, dating my husband (without the 3rd wheel) again-- and the list goes on. I am certain that I am meant to be a SAHM first and foremost. This job is actually what allows the rest of my life to be in balance right now. But, oh, I love work...

I laid Izak down for his nap today and he was having a big ol' party in there! Screeching, laughing, jabbering ~ I could hear things being throw out of the crib, a bottle bouncing off the dresser. All of this is sometimes normal but it seemed much more raucous today. Usually he quiets down and sleeps, but 45 minutes later he's still going strong. As I walked by his doorway to check on Libby, I happened to glance at the bottom of his door. I could see light coming out of his room! And when I opened his door I found that I'd left the light on when I closed him in. Note: Toddlers do not nap well when the light is as bright as day.

Thursday, July 22, 2004


(Warning: This blog contains content that will make mothers and mother-in-laws nervous.)

First of all, I overheard my husband say that good bloggers post everyday or every other day. How depressing. I aim for twice a week!

There have been many sermons during which the Christian body was compared to the children of Israel. The sermons were about the brave ~ "Be strong and courageous" ~ and how the itty bitty army had enough faith that the walls of Jericho fell. For the most part I don't usually identify with that generation of Israel. Their parents, the previous generation, the ones who were cursed to die off, wandering around the desert and never enjoy the promised land of God because they had no faith, yeah, them... that's my crew!

I'm not proud of the fact that I am a coward, but it's a fact nonetheless. Ask my friend, Laura. She wanted to know what my greatest fear of the upcoming year was, and without hesitation I said, "Fear of financial failure, that we won't be able to make it." That's my favorite fear of all times, rivaling that of motherhood. Well, you know what God says about fear? "Fear Me. I should be the biggest thing on your radar." And if He's not, He has a way of becoming so by being the only answer to the situation you feared would happen. I have heard zillions of people say, "My biggest fear is (fill in the blank), and now it's happening to me!!" I think that it's because God will not allow something so big, so controlling like enormous fear, become an idol in His children's lives. He refuses to compete. And before you know it, *poof*, you're lovingly placed smack dab in the middle of crap creek without a paddle, by His permissive will. Why? To work it out, and get fear in perspective.

That being said, I hate working it out. When I decided to be a SAHM (stay-at-home mom) I gave up the ability to contribute several thousand dollars a month to our household. Fortunately, Matt and I had been downsizing our lives for a few years, getting rid of a big truck payment (oh, how I miss the Tacoma!), settling into a little home with a little mortgage when originally we could afford more, just simplifying. But I don't think anything could quite prepare us for what living on one income would be like. How a lot of the time it's paycheck to paycheck, forget about making any real headway on your loans or debt to avoid interest. I am not complaining (well, okay, I'm whining a little bit), it could be much, much worse. But when my definition of "having enough" is "enough to go around with a lot left over", I find that things are tighter than I'd like.

That brings me to manna. That funky bread-ish type of food that was given each day to the wandering whiners in the desert (along with some quail for protein) for 40 years. It was enough. Each day there was provision, but here's the kicker-- it was only enough for that 24 hours. And that's where manna makes me crazy - "Doesn't God know I need a plan? Doesn't he know I need a nest egg? Relief?" This morning as I was getting out of the shower I thought, "What if God came back tomorrow? Wouldn't that be great? Then the debt and bills wouldn't be an issue! And we wouldn't have to worry about fixing the minivan, or paying the hospital for the delivery, and I will have had just what I needed for today!" Being off work for 8 weeks without pay has given Matt and I a chance to watch God provide, and He has... but looking ahead... will there still be manna? Or will we have to rely or our own means of providing, which just end up enslaving us more? And God says, "You want fear? Fear me." *poof*

And another thing, manna could not be stored. If the Israelites attempted to put it away for the next day it would rot, waste, go unused. One of my big boo-hoo's in the event of having a daughter (which I did) was, "I don't have any clothes for a girl!" I still have a huge stash of boys clothes, so many for Izak, that some went unworn and are in boxes and boxes of storage in the attic. Mmmm, manna. And then the inundation of beautiful clothes that I've received for Libby has been overwhelming. And sadly I look at a lot of these pieces and say, "What a waste that some will not even be worn." As I sat folding and hanging up the manna, I mean, clothes, Matt came home and found me stewing. I said, "At first I thought God was blessing us with all these clothes; now I think He's just being a smart a**!" We both had a good laugh. But it sounds like manna, doesn't it?

So, after I get done having a good cry from sheer frustration, I beg God for wisdom and stamina to make it through this hard time. Matt says that the financial need we experience makes us rely on God in a way we wouldn't if we were rich. There are some days I would take that check for a million bucks and not care two hoots about dependence on God for this kind of provision. Believe me, I can be bought for a price. God must know that, and loves me too darn much to lose me to easy living. So I get to wander a little bit more. Great.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

My privilege

As you may know, I work at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in downtown Buffalo. It's a research center, not dissimilar to the National Institute of Health, that has essentially three wings to it - 1) research, 2) testing and 3) patient care. Roswell Park actually was listed in the top 5 cancer centers in America the year I started working there ~ now we're wayyyy down on the list. We had a problem with our accreditation as a cancer institute a few years ago and that's really screwed up our rank. Roswell was actually one of the first research institutes in America dedicated to cancer issues. Since I know I'm called to work with the dying, and those living with cancer, I love it there.

I meet a lot of really special people. I'm often asked how I can stand to work with people who are, in general, dying. (I know plenty of patients who would argue that they're not dying, they're living with cancer.) I've found that people who are battling cancer can be incredibly refreshing. Since they've received a harsh wake-up call that the end may be very near, they tend to not play games any longer. They tend to be brutally honest. They are, most often, more real, living life to the fullest, putting things in order, and grappling with the terror of the unknown.

I fell in love with cancer patients the day I began caring for MD, a 43 year-old New Englander who loved God and his family. He was dying from kidney cancer that had spread to his bones 8 years before I had the privilege of being his nurse. The first thing I remember seeing when I walked into his house was a picture of him, his wife, and two small children. This rendered me virtually useless. I could barely look him in the eye during our visit because I was so upset that this young father and husband was dying a terrible death. I was so flustered when I left, MD later told me that his comment to his wife after I left was, "Wow! I sure upset that young lady!" MD was a professional fisherman-turned associate pastor. We became dear friends. I signed over his case to another nurse so that my husband would have the privilege of knowing him and his family as friends. We attended church with him. My daughter's name is his daughter's name. We attended his wife's remarriage several years after MD passed away. We knew him one year.

I was pulled deeper into the world of oncology by WH, a 50-some year old man who had Stage 4 sinus cancer. He had undergone surgery to remove the tumor and in the process had lost his left eye, upper jaw/ hard and soft palate, and sinuses. I could literally look into the hole that used to be his eye and see down his throat. I visited WH in his home twice a day for months to change the packing in the hole in his head. It was perhaps, one of the most gruesome things I've ever had to do. I remember after I changed his dressing for the first time I had to go into the bathroom and put my head between my knees so I wouldn't faint. WH had the most amazing sense of humor. When I told him to be sure to be "good to (himself)", he took that as a cue to buy a laser scope for his BB gun. He was then able to shoot squirrels from his bathroom window again, a feat greatly hampered by the loss of his depth perception. He was tickled pink. I knew WH one year.

Just a few months ago I met an outstanding young woman in the ICU. LE was my age, mother of twins, and was dependent on the ventilator. Her cancer had destroyed her lung function. She was coherent, mouthing words around her ET tube, and writing a fury on her grease board. She had a fantastic sense of humor, even a bit of sarcasm. She had been diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with her twins. She delayed treatment until after they were born. They are 3 years old now. I was 9 months pregnant while caring for her, and we would have long "conversations" about the ailments of pregnancy. I cared for her the day we had to talk with her about having a surgery for long-term ventilator use (tracheostomy), the truth of her failing condition becoming clear, and the chances that she would return home again fading. We were all crying when she wrote on the board, "I want to see my kids." The hospital was eventually able to arrange for her children to visit. LE was a Christian. She listened to praise music in her room all day long, even having moments of private worship, moving her lips to the words, swinging her toes back and forth to the beat. I was so blessed the days I cared for her because I was able to listen to my favorite tunes and hum along all day. We prayed together at the end of our days together. I visited her when she was moved to a different floor, we shared CD's and pictures of our kids. We laughed and cried together. I went out on maternity leave unexpectedly without saying goodbye. She passed away May 30th. I knew her 3 months. Her death is the hardest to swallow. But she was the most inspirational person yet.

I can't wait to get back to work on Monday!

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Welcoming 3 A.M.

Someone recently commented that they didn't know how I could blog in the midst of bringing a newborn into the house and chasing the 21 month-old. Well, I'm not sure either, but it gives me a chance to have some grown up thoughts that lead somewhere. And don't worry, I only blog when everyone's asleep.

I had a funny experience the other day when I was watching Sadaam Hussein (sp?) on TV. The commentators were reporting on his behavior, his changing moods, how he went from reserved to a little bit crazy, and I thought, "Poor Sadaam. Of course you're a little off your rocker! You're sleep deprived too. I know how that feels, but you've been deprived since Christmas!" And for a brief moment I had pity on the poor man. (Note: Overall I think he's evil, and not at all a poor little old man, but for the sake of the blog, give me some slack...)

The opportunity to get up in the middle of the night definiely pushes my natural ability to function. But it's amazing what kinds of thought come at 3 A.M.. The other night I found myself staring at Libby, making sure she was asleep. I was about 6 inches from her face b/c I'm legally blind, and I forgot to put on my glasses when the initial milk cry rang out. The phrase in Psalms, "I think of you through the watches of the night, I think of you through the watches of the night" kept echoing through my mind. And then I realized the beauty of those night moments. The ablility to recall the tiniest bits and phrases of comfort found in memorized scripture is a real gift.

I have one of those memories, it's been called photographic, though I don't believe it is entirely true. I love to memorize things (especially strings of numbers). But the ablilty to recall scripture was something I learned early in parochial school. Memory was a class that you received an actual grade for. We worked on scriptures, song lyrics, and creeds. Some people are able to put away entire books of the Bible at a time. I love taking the occasional verse that speaks to me, whether because of it's profoundity or it's poetic beauty, and squirrel it away in my mind.

A verse that I've been absolutely savoring for about a year now is I Thess. 4:11, 12 "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." There aren't a lot of ways you can argue about it's meaning, are there? It has been helpful in managing the affairs of my home, and not fussing about how much I'm supposedly missing out on as a stay-at-home mom.

And then there's the Psalm "I wait for the Lord, my sould waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning." I am guessing that sincere waiting for the Lord brings with it a sense of deep longing, because during those sleepless hours I really wait for the morning! And I long for the day when I will sleep throught the night again, (sadly) even at the expense of those precious times of recalling gems of scripture in the night. They are bittersweet. Bitter in that my body cries out under the weight of it's frailty, but sweet because He watches over my sleeping daughter along with me, and I sense His presence.

"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Thought she may forget, I will never forget you. See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands, your face is ever before me." Is 49:15, 16

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Growing up handicapped

As I've revealed in an earlier blog, my older sister, Stephanie, is handicapped. Today she is a happy, routinized 36 year-old woman with the overall intellect of a 4 year-old. I'm sure Mom would argue with me because, yes, there are some areas where Stef is functionally older than 4, but other areas where she is less than 4. She cannot, however, be left alone to take care of herself. Well, you could, but she would make the decisions any good 4 year-old would-- "Now, where are those cookies?" If left to herself during mealtime she may be found eating spoonfuls of ketchup or sugar, yuck. If left to herself she could not dial the phone, or put out a small fire, or write a letter.

A few years ago my nephew, Tyler, Stef, and I were riding in the back of a truck. He stared at Stef for the longest time. I could see his brain trying to decide what to say. I braced myself, because no matter how much I like a person, the minute they make fun of the handicapped they find themselves on my imaginary hit list for years to come. He quietly said to me, "Mom says that she's a grown-up on the outside, but inside she's always a little girl." It makes me cry even now to remember it. What a perfect description. And the enormous respect it gave me for my sister-in-law at that moment can never be explained. To be that thoughtful and careful as a mom, knowing that your son would need a way to understand what he was about to see... Suzy, you're one of my all-time favorites!

I can remember being a teenager, and Mom coming home from an annual evaluation meeting where all of the disciplines who cared for Stef got together and went over "how she was doing". (Mom ALWAYS hated those meeting.) This one was harder than others had been because they were trying to convince Mom that Stef was "low trainable", only a few IQ notches above being considered "severely handicapped." Mom wouldn't buy it. "She's more than that," she insisted. My mom has always been Stef's greatest champion, believing more than was ever predicted for her child's future.

Stef was born 6 weeks early (but weighed over 6 pounds!!!) at a hospital in Detroit, Michigan. She was blind at birth, a diagnosis that wasn't caught until months later, but at nine months miraculously began to see... sort of. She's had Coke-bottle lenses since her nine month birthday. Her corrective prescription was so strong that I can remember my little sister and me putting on her glasses and running around as a game. It made things look warped and uneven, like everything was a mirror in a carnival fun house. Poor kid. Mom made monthly trips to the doctors, who never were able to give her a real diagnosis, just bits and pieces. "Cervical nerve damage, " "cerebral palsy," "reverse swallow mechanism," and my personal favorite, "other mental and physical handicaps." "She will never walk, talk, or be able to remember sequences." Upon discharge for the hospital following her birth - and this is the honest truth - my father was approached by a doctor who told him he had some papers for my Mom and Dad to sign. The doctor said, "You can just go home and forget you ever had this baby." I believe the papers were to either 1) make Stef a ward of the state and institutionalize her for her entire life, or 2) euthanize her. My dad told him what he could do with his papers, and he took his wife and daughter home.

Gosh, I could fill a book about growing up as the younger sister of a handicapped child. Someone once asked me, "How did growing up with Stef effect your life?" My response was, "It impacted everything, the way in which I see and process the whole world." It has made me less trusting, because I have seen children and adults taunt Stef when they thought no one was looking. It has given me an overdeveloped sense of justice - I just love it when the bad guy gets it in the end; perhaps because SO MANY S.O.B.'s who ridiculed my sister seemingly got away with it (for that moment). It has made me the eternal advocate. I am constantly trying to speak for the "victim" or the voiceless. It has made me angry at the Church in general, something which no self-respecting pastor's wife should admit. In my hometown churches I regularly saw people, some considered "saints," who dealt cruelly and impatiently with "the least of these," not just Stef, but other handicapped children in the congregation. My sister loves church, especially the music. I don't know how, but this child, who was never supposed to remember things in sequence, has somehow memorized the hymnal! We lovingly call her "Johnny One Note" because though she knows them, the songs are more or less moaned out loud, but if you listen you can barely make out the correct vowel sounds corresponding with the actual words. One time, one of the saved-and-sanctified club cornered my sister in the foyer and shook her finger in Stef's face and demanded her to be quiet during the singing of the hymns, "You don't sing pretty!" she hissed. My mom, the amazingly poised woman that she is, witnessed the incident with a broken heart, and publicly wept when she saw Stef with her finger silently pressed to her lips, the "quiet" sign, during that evening service. Stef didn't sing out loud for months after that. Oh, the stories I could tell you--

As you can see, I'm the one who grew up handicapped. Yet the God who allowed Stef to be placed in my life, who saw the roots of bitterness wind their way down into my young heart, is also the same God who faces me today and says, "Out with it, Heidi. Time to give up the pain that you've carried on her behalf all these years." He is a trustworthy friend, the author of True justice, the champion of the downtrodden, and the Head of His Body, the Church.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Today I am 33.

Happy birthday to me. I was reflecting this morning about how different my life is today as compared to what I would've guessed it would be like when I was in my 20's. I am slightly sleep deprived, not because I'm working a double shift as a doctor or a trauma flight nurse, but because I'm nutritionally linked to my breast-feeding-every-three-hours-newborn daughter. I enjoy receiving birthday presents, but when Matthew asked me this morning what I would like I did not reply,"A wonderful weekend at an inn." Instead I said, "A hot shower before you leave for work without the toddler peeking into my tub every minute or so." I am thinner than when I was in college, but not because I have that dream gym membership with the rockin' aerobic classes. I can't manage to get a decent meal in me because I'm either chasing Izzy (who hates to stay still for too long)or snuggling Libby (who hates to be alone for too long). I treated myself to a special birthday breakfast, but it wasn't a quiet time of consuming a fruit parfait and hand-made breakfast sandwich from my favorite coffee house while lounging at my favorite stream in the state park. It was 5 cinnamon Timbits, a small coffee, all picked up from a drive-thru window-- oh, and a big chunk of an old oatmeal raisin cookie that I found between the kids' car seats.

It's funny. Life is not what I would have expected, but it's all good. Really good. I feel so lead by God during this time in my life. I enjoy His presence, His strength, His wisdom. I enjoy knowing that I am pleasing Him each day I undertake the challenges of my home, my calling. Yes, somedays are hard, but it is a choice as to how I will respond. Resentment or resolve? I resolve within myself to savor this time. The bitter and the sweet.

Staying home on maternity leave without disability pay= (-) $XXX a month
Siphoning off savings to be a stay-at-home mom= (-) $XX a month
Knowing that I am in the center of God's will right here, right now = PRICELESS

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Natural childbirth

(WARNING: This blog contains candid reflections about birthing babies. Men, you've been forewarned.)

Both of my children were born naturally. By that, I mean that I did not use any pain medication during labor. Labor for Izak was 20 hours long, 40 minutes of pushing. I "won" a Pitocin drip for the last 8 hours of the experience, a medication which increases that frequency and intensity of the contractions, because my body was "taking it's time." Not uncommon with the first baby because the body isn't totally sure of it's job yet. Twenty hours wasn't bad - I was prepared for 24-26. Libby's (serious) labor was about 3 hours and 20 minutes, pushing lasted about 40 seconds. It was intense. However, I spent two weeks laboring during the night. Two weeks. It was incredibly frustrating. But once I went, I went fast! One of the advantages of natural labor is that I can remember every second of both births. A girlfriend of mine who is a midwife in Boston said, "I believe that the reason labor is so painful is because it's nature's way of saying, 'Pay attention, something BIG is about to happen to your life.'" I couldn't agree more.

I don't discuss natural childbirth very openly. Women are very protective and sometimes unnecessarily defensive about their birth experiences. When they manage to figure out that I didn't have drugs with my birth, they usually stop listening (or even asking good questions) and launch into a long explanation about their particular reasons for their choices during their babies' births. And then it becomes a telling of their story, yadda yadda... and I stand there thinking, "but I didn't ask...". Validation of one's experience is the driving force. Fortunately, I have my husband to validate my experience because he was there by my side, coaching me thru each birth. He is always quick to boast about my birthing skills; my favorite phrase is, "She's the special forces of birthing women, like a navy seal or an army ranger." I revel in his pride of me, of us (natural childbirth is a team effort) but very quickly I'm usually left with a staring woman who has stopped listening, and I feel bad because I'm usually not even given the opportunity to explain why I chose that route.

If I think that the conversation is about to end, I usually chirp, "I did it because I wanted to see if I could do it." And that's mostly true. I enjoyed the challenge of pushing my body, especially since I was victorious. But the main reason I go natural is because I want to eliminate the variables in my child's future. When Izzy turns five and still can't tie his shoes I won't be left thinking, "Was it a drug I took at birth?" I'm relatively underexposed to pain medications ~ I do not know how my body would have reacted to Nubain. I have heard many women reflect that it knocked them out to the extent that they could not push effectively, let alone be mentally present for the event. And I'm enough of a control freak that I want to be present and accounted for to make decisions on behalf of myself and my child, even in the throws of labor. That is something I refuse to abdicate.

Another point is that I feel somehow connected to history going naturally. For centuries women did not enjoy the relief of meds. It was a thing you groaned and sweat through, a rite of passage, wondering if you might not just die in the midst of it, in order to arrive on the other side. The relief of the other side of labor cannot be described. "A peace that passeth all understanding..." :) My great-grandmother, Frances Kathryn Ledvinka, was a midwife in Czechoslovakia. She graduated for the University of Berlin. She also practiced midwifery on the sly in the U.S. once she immigrated at the request of obstetricians. I did not know her, she died very young, but having birthed naturally I cannot help but feel like went back in time and walked for a few hours with my great-grandmother. Not sure what it is, but it has a very timeless quality to it.

I remember a moment during my labor with Izak when I thought, "I am going to die now." Just like that, matter-of-fact. Here is my end. And then I can remember the other side of my brain screaming, "You are not going to die! They don't just let women die in labor nowadays!" But the experience was that intense! And after Izak was born I said, "I think that's about the dumbest thing I've done." (Referring to going without pain meds.) After Libby was born I also said, "Now I'm sure that this is, by far, the dumbest thing that I've ever done!!" It was the adrenaline talking. I think it's a common reaction when you've just done something very daring, perhaps even dangerous, for the good of another. Like jumping in to the rapids to save someone who couldn't swim, or running into a burning house to pull out a child. Much like that.

But it was for the good of my son, my daughter... and also very good for me.