Friday, July 11, 2008

Satan's Familiar

This dog is so much fun! (did you hear the mangled, wrangled high pitch of hysteria in that line?)
While the Matron was busy battling nature in Itasca State Park, the legendary Grandma Mary took on the family dogs: fifteen year old, blind and deaf Jekyll and the fiesty Familiar, sent by Satan.

This would be Jekyll, struggling to understand where he is and what's in front of him.

One day into their trip, the Matron called her mother to inquire after Jekyll's well-being. He was fine! Lots of barking at air, but that's the thrill of doggie dementia!

She forced herself to ask. The other one?

Grandma Mary: "Well, Scruffy is attached to me. I'm going to train him not to poop in the house. He's sleeping in a kennel and when he's not there, he's attached to me with his leash."

Matron: "You're wearing the dog?"

Grandma Mary: "It's just four days."

Oh, now it all makes sense.

Fast forward to Wednesday morning, when the Matron retrieved the boys. Grandma Mary reported that:

  • Satan's Familiar slept in a crate.
  • Satan's Familiar did not poop or pee in the house, once.
  • Satan's Familiar spent every single waking moment attached to Grandma Mary unless he was doing his duty, out doors.
  • Satan's Familiar is 100% retrained to A) use the great outdoors as his toilet and B) forget the beauty of beds and adore the crate.
Two days later, the Matron can report, this:

  • Satan's Familiar has actually not forgotten how much he enjoys combed cotton and high-quality mattress and he will cast Evil Glance in direction of anyone considering shoving him off said comforts.
  • Satan's Familiar celebrated his return home with instant indoor defecation! Twice.
  • Within one hour of being home, Satan's Familiar broke open the front door and raced across the street, down the block, over the hills and vanished - poof -- for one frantic (Scarlett: HE'S DYING! FIND HIM!!) hour. He returned home with someone else's poop all over him.
  • Satan's Familiar has a new trick! When his blind brother is eating anything - a treat, or say, his DINNER -- that wily Devil's Henchman swoops in and steals whatever food is sitting in front of Jekyll. Then, Jekyll spends the next few minutes sniffing around for his booty, while S.F. munches on it, one foot away.

For the new readers who missed it, there has been much of this lately, too. The new mailman actually rang the doorbell to ask about whose teeth are touching his fingertips.

Satan's Familiar is currently sound asleep on the bed, with two peanut butter sandwiches, half a cupcake and a quarter pound of turkey in his belly. Yes! He can also find his way on top of a kitchen table!

Anybody need a puppy?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hot Dang, Her Household has Class

Sweet memory!

Some children remember the potency of lilacs, a grandmother's apron, homemade jam. For others, perhaps, it's a tummy ache and the constancy of their mother, cool cloth to forehead and soothing words. We're grounded in memory, shaped and set in motion by how we see ourselves emerging in the world. Those early memories might be the most precious.

Today, the Matron's youngest child came to her with this.

Merrick: "Mama? Can I see the movie about the bawd guy with da gun?"

Matron: "Bugs Bunny? That bald guy, Elmer Fudd?"

Merrick (rage, option number one): "NO!!! Knee-member? My fay-for-it? The puter (means computer) movie about the bawd guy shooting evewything? I WOVE that movie. It's my FAY-FOR-IT! My first ever movie about shooting!!?"

Thankfully, Stryker has more functioning memory cells than the rapidly decaying Matron.

"Mom. Dick Cheney's Got a Gun. Remember?"

Suddenly, it call came back. Cheney's 2006 accident in which he unfortunately shot a friend in the face. The Matron would like to say that she remembers chuckling over an internet video about this -- a fleeting moment, a non-event.

Instead, she remembers that the then-three year old Merrick sat mesmerized in front of this. Know those American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations about screens and youngsters, all that? Let's just say that the Matron saw those guidelines flailing in the dust, hours back. She hates it when that happens.

And today, after understanding what her child was begging for, the Matron set up "Dick Cheney's Got a Gun" on her laptop. Merrick spent his afternoon shooting alongside. That's a toy shotgun he's slinging at the laptop. Timing and grace? That kid can shoot precisely at the same moment as Cheney.

Today he informed her that "Dick Cheney's Got a Gun" is his first -- and favorite-- memory. She appreciates -- in the humbling, ironic sort of way -- the fact that he's breathing down a barrel and all about GUN FUN in the midst of a room full of books on peace and feminist studies.

Good thing the planet is depending upon the next generation!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


In October 2003, the Matron developed a tummy ache.

Ache? We're talking face to the knee, this-will-probably-kill-you-pain accompanied by vomit with impressive projectile qualities. More pressure than the downstairs shower, that sorta thing.

After watching his wife tough it out for a few hours, John ordered a quick fun trip to the Emergency Room. Yee-ha! She knows how much fun ya'll have had there, too! After determining that she did have not stones in any organ, the ER physician suggested -- based on the fact that the Matron was breastfeeding an eight-month old baby -- that her problem was INDIGESTION. Something about estrogen roughin' up the esophagus. So sick was she, that she bought this line, hook, line and lethal sinker. But she inquired after morphine (denied!), for her heartburn.

ER Nurse, pulling aside the Matron as she hobbled toward the exit: "Honey, women who've birthed three babies don't ask for morphine for indigestion. Get to your own doctor the second that clinic opens in the morning!"

The Matron felt a wee bit better when she saw her family doc the next day. Funky, odd, a slight discomfort, but, better. Still, a CT scan was in her future -- the following day. Which meant her sweet little appendix had oh so much time to grow, grow, grow. Turns out you can puke so much that you push the appendix out of its regular place and into something more comfortable. Which she did.

Here comes the part where the Matron sits on a hospital bed for over 8 hours, waiting for the surgeon who is rushing toward this emergency appendectomy. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Yes, over eight hours. E-M-E-R-G-E-G-E-N-C-I-E-S generally indicate speed?

During this 8 hour wait, the Matron's pumps grew and grew and grew and grew. Her breasts blew into small leaking watermelons. Breast pump? She inquired? Begged! Demanded! While the hospital staff was trying to figure out where such an item would be located and how to order one (uh, there's a maternity ward at your hospital, sweeties) John had to bring in Merrick to nurse, twice. While Mommy was waiting for surgery.

When no surgeon came running in direction by 8:30 pm, (after a weeping phone conversation with a friend who is a corporate attorney and accustomed to getting his way), she walked up to the nurses' station, yanked out her IV and said, "I am going to die at home."

That's when somebody called the surgeon. Yes, they FORGOT to call the surgeon. Don't worry, there is much more fun up ahead!

Looking at the CT scan that is well, about ten hours old by now, the mortified surgeon notes that the appendix is way way too big for laparoscopy and requires a big huge slice down the middle. Fine. Stop talking to her and take that damn thing out! Which he did (thank you, Nice Surgeon!).

And as she lay recovering, say 40 minutes post-op at 2 a.m., the night nurse wheels in a dusty machine with tubes flying every which way out of it. Here's what she says to the drugged, weary and milk-soaked Matron: "Here's the breast pump. I sure hope you know how to use this thing because I sure don't."

With that, she left.

The next day, the Matron's five star hotel experience continues. Watching the antibiotic drip from the bag into her veins, she asks the nurse (many of them, actually), if the drug is compatible with breastfeeding? Can anyone tell her? Remember, she needs a drug that works with babies? Yes, yes, she knows this might be troublesome and extra work, given all her allergies to consider, to boot, but that baby thing?

After about two hours of this, she gets a phone book and dials Bober Drug, the family owned pharmacy she patronizes. She tells Lloyd what's going on and what's dripping into her blood stream.

Lloyd: "Pull out that IV! That's the worst possible choice! I can't believe they gave you that!"

For the second time in two days, the Matron pulls out her IV but this time she is crying. She is DONE. The second shift nurse is newly on duty, and finally finally finally someone notices the Matron. Within half an hour, that nurse had the surgeon, pediatrician and Lloyd on a conference call, concocting the antibiotic that would work with the allergies and the baby. Thank you, Nurse Nancy!!!!!!

The Matron knows this is a long story and thanks you for hanging in there with her. There's more.

Sooooo. . . . . . . six weeks later, the Matron has pretty much recovered from both the surgery and the various tortures. Indeed, that appendectomy was nothing short of a miracle. Before the surgery, the Matron's body had been behaving badly. Hot flashes without the menopause part! She would turn fire engine red and then the sweat would start popping. Please don't get her going on, ahem, the bathroom. Seems like food just went right through her.

But all those problems were cured by her appendectomy! Indeed, she joked about that, all the time, how her appendectomy cured her high blood pressure and tummy troubles. Today, she's relaxed. Comfortable, sitting in her chair in the surgeon's office, listening to the nurse prepare her for the follow-up physical exam.

Nurse, reading out loud through the Matron's chart. Imagine tone of voice slowly changing, pace slowing: "Okay -- Surgeon X operated and that's who you'll see today. Emergency appendectomy at St. Joseph's on October 29th. Forty-year old female - oh! Oh my! You have cancer. They found cancer in your appendix. Did you know you have cancer?"

Here, the nurse catches herself and very very anxiously attempts eye contact with the Matron: "Did anybody tell you?"

Now because the Matron's blood pressure has just reorganized her entire ecosystem and she is living in a world that is entirely completely different from the one 30 seconds earlier, she has a hard time remembering Language, but when she grasps that function again she says: "No. Nobody told me."

Turns out the pathology report on the appendix (standard procedure) got lost until the janitor found it, that very morning, on the floor somewhere in the hospital.

Sometimes when the Matron tells this story, she cannot quite believe it herself. But this is one time she doesn't have to stretch the truth for the sake of a story.

The next six frightening weeks were spent assessing. Now, the Matron took over. Instead of relying on her assigned oncologist, she herself sent her appendix to the Anderson Cancer Center in Texas and consulted with not one, but TWO national experts on carcinoid cancer. Because those hot flashes and diarrhea? The Matron had been symptomatic for carcinoid syndrome! Her tiny tumor had been working hard on its host's destruction.

Even though her surgeon poo-poohed the carcinoid ("Happens all the time"), her oncologist did not, noting that of all people who die from carcinoid cancer, 1/4 to 1/3 have tumors originating in the appendix.

Thank God-Buddha-Allah-Oprah, both national experts, the pathology tests and her very own oncologist determined that the chances of carcinoid recurring were about 1% and that percentage point was only because a weak tip of the tumor had invaded a blood vessel, potentially tapping the entire well-traveling vascular system.

But the Matronly imagination could not help but wonder what would've happened had that appendix burst? Say, because she thought she had indigestion? Or while she was waiting for the surgeon? Cancer cells popped like corn, could have coursed and seeded throughout her body.

Rage rekindled, the Matron filed a report with the Minnesota Department of Health, chronicling all the fun times she has just recounted, here. She sent a copy of her six page complaint to the hospital, whose attorney and ombudsperson nearly killed one another in their fight to become the Matron's BEST FRIEND.

Imagine their shock when she didn't want to sue! Indeed, they would do anything!

Here's what she wanted and got.

  • Breast pumps on every hospital floor
  • Breast pump training for nurses
  • Firmer procedure for medications and breastfeeding patients
  • Letter to Matron's insurance company stating that Matron never ever ever had to enter those doors again and could go anywhere else!
  • Appendix itself for a two day stint in the library at her children's elementary school

And then the State of Minnesota made it even better by finding that the hospital violated not one, but two federal regulations and fined them thousands of dollars! Now, that was fun for the Matron!

She's fine, these 5 years out, but still has annual check-ups and -- a different outlook. Today was one of those days when she remembered and the world looked a little more lush, a little sweeter. Thanks to this man, who is sharing his journey with the cancer that will soon kill him, with all of us.

That's the end of her cancer story. She hopes.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

More on the High End Offspring She's Raising

Yes, the family returned to city life at 9 pm on Tuesday! The Matron beat her breast against that sultry city ground!

But last night, as the vacation's evening festivities were well underway, such a scenario (involving one of her older children, you guess) transpired, that she was forced to say this, to Merrick.

"I'm sorry. You have to be 12 years old to smoke a french fry cigarette."

That Matron! Twelve years old before you can see if french fries and pizza crusts are smokable. She's certain she's setting some standards.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Comfort Zone? Where ARE you?

Yes indeed, the Matronly comfort zone is SO far away that Siberia looks downright next door.

Now, do not misunderstand. She is having--despite her urban inclination--a fabulous adventure. But adventures of any sort, particularly the fabulous, by definition require leaving the living room and the routine. The comfortable, comfortable routine.

First, the Matron is staying with her scientist friends (parents of Merrick's best friend and future husband, Lachlan) at the University of Minnesota's Lake Itasca Research Station. This would be an alien compound, full of cabins for students living on the lake doing all kinds of projects in even MORE cabins with foreign labels like "Neuroscience Lab" and "Entomology."

Get a bunch of these students with her professor-scientist friends who mentor and teach them--say, get them together for evening fish fries and swims and children's birthday parties--and you enter a strange, alien land (at least to the Matron) where people joke about lake scum and discuss the fine art of extracting parasites from fish brains. You know, regular old cocktail conversation, among very very very smart people who actually know what a microbe is.

Here would be the Matron: "Excuse me, excuse me! I've written two books?! I teach English? Anybody read anything good lately?"

Yes, they did, and it would have been science.

Nature also shook things up when one of these lumbered across her path during her very first run:

Of course, she was convinced that porcupines have projectile potential, so she stood way way back and watched that chicken cross the road. And yes, the scientists all reassured her that porcupines cannot shoot. Okey dokey.

She saw several of these.

Indeed, one stood in her path and stared so long that the Matron said: "You should go home now, sweetie." It did.

But aren't the best journeys psychological? (she has to say that because she's never been to Paris or China or very much anywhere else for that matter, so all of you world travelers, just give her this, okay?)

Ahem. So, journey of the spirit!

Today, the Matron and her husband decided it would be 'fun' to rent a couple extra bikes and take the entire family for an easy 17 mile jaunt around Lake Itasca.

Before continuing, please pause and consider:

Stryer, who is not really interesting in going.

Scarlett, who once bumped her elbow during a ski lesson and swore of Sport for all eternity, who has never ridden a bike with gears, who (unless this is a theater) is not a trooper, and who is prone to hysteria.

Merrick, who is slated to ride tandem behind John and has never been on a bike for more than his city block. But wild horses could not stop Merrick because he has learned there is a Fire Tower at mile 11 and he's all about that! The fire tower!!!!

The weather, with a forecast of occasional showers.

The bike path, which becomes a one way street about a quarter of the way in. Once you're in for 5 miles, you're in for the whole shebang.

Ding, ding, ding go the starting gate bells! It is 10:30 am.

Off they go! Within a mile, the Matron understands that hers are a loud people.







Scarlett starts weeping and wailing smack dab at the half mile mark. You see, she cannot possibly withstand the stress of shifting.

There are general squabbles and complaints and gentle light rain, here and there, and stops at the Headwaters and later the Gift Shop and one million thousand billion mosquitoes until they turn the corner of commitment onto the one-way trail of No Return and then they get this.

Occasional shower?

The skies part and the wrath of the Lord-Allah-Buddha-Oprah pours down upon the Matron and her children (John too, but he's a Man and can take it).

They are not even halfway through.

Rain like this means the Mosquito Feasting Invitational. They bike through hordes, visible as buzzing humming moving clouds. They bike up up up hills and down. Back up, up, up. At one point, Scarlett stops her bike on a hill and sobs (genuinely): "Mama! I can't make it!"

But she could. Indeed, the family had a Power Conference, during which love was declared for all and everybody agreed that nobody wold die and we would help each other get through this, no matter what. Indeed, even Scarlett started calling out encouraging words to Merrick!

And when they finally got to Mile 11 and saw the fire tower was another 2000 feet off the bike trail (reachable only by foot), even Merrick said he didn't want to stop: "Please don't make me!"

And then, finally! They emerged from the deep vale into civilization! A block ahead, the Visitor's Center, a mere 3 miles from the Bike Rental and the beloved, dear sweet savior van. Just as she was going to lead the battle cry for the last miles, the Matron turned back to see Merrick sobbing and blue, hanging on for dear life with one hand and holding the dam of his penis with the other, pleading for the bathroom.

The rain stopped. The Matron left Merrick and John in the Visitor's Center, where kindly staff immediately inquired about assistance? Not that the exhausted wet weeping, filthy, bug-bitten children looked bad. Her baby was wrapped up tight in warm blankets and waited, while the Matron and the big kids drove the final miles to the van.

At 3:30, the ride was finished. Not only did Merrick remain blue and peaked when popped into the van, the entire family decided they were STARVING. After 17 taxing miles and a missed lunch time, they were.

They descended like locusts on the local Inn and Restaurant.

And while they watched their locusts feed and start to retell each other stories about the day--how brave they were, the miles they rode, the ordeal they endured! -- the Matron and her husband smiled and held each other's soggy bitten hands. A fabulous adventure. Who needs Paris?