My nightmares and a public “Thank you, Delta Airlines”

Since my daughter was diagnosed with a peanut allergy at 17 months of age, my nightmares have had a recurring theme. In them, she has a severe reaction and we are away from home.  Sometimes the settings are as mundane as playgrounds where children run wild with peanut butter sandwiches. Other times we are isolated, camping in the middle of the woods, or on a boat. Most often, we are on an airplane.

I’m not a comfortable flier to begin with, but when my daughter is with me, the winged tin can takes on all the qualities of a death trap. I don’t fear water evacuation. I fear the peanuts and cashews I see ground into the floor even after I’ve called ahead to warn the airline of a peanut allergy. I tense at the sound of every snack package ripped open because I have no idea what has been brought on board and whether this will be what sends my daughter’s immune system into overdrive.

On July 3rd, 2016, my nightmare came true on Delta flight 304. At 30,000 feet somewhere between Montego Bay, Jamaica and Atlanta, Georgia, my daughter, who sat next to her brother and her Gran in the row ahead of me, turned and said, “I have a hive. I need a Benadryl.”

I handed her one–this is routine for us–and flagged the flight attendant. I identified our group as the peanut allergy and asked we could get up and clean her seat of residue, even though the fasten seatbelt sign was illuminated. The flight attendant offered to take her to the back and help our group of five find another group with whom we could switch seats.  My daughter walked down the aisle and I offered a reassuring smile from my middle seat.

“Where’s the mom? Do you have an Epipen?” Maybe 30 seconds had passed from when she stood. Two or three minutes since she asked for a Benadryl. I grabbed the bag from under the seat and sprang into action. I suppressed my urge to panic or show my fear. My daughter stood in the back galley, looking pale. The backs of her legs were blotchy with hives, an angry wave spreading north and south with a ferocity I’d never seen.

“Do you want to do it?” I asked as I pulled off the cap.

“I’m scared.” Her voice rarely trembled, but this time it did.

“Okay. I’m going to give you a big hug.” I stood behind her and wrapped my 5’2″ frame around her 5′ one. “On the count of three. One. Two. Three.” She tightened her grip. We counted to ten. Several new faces had joined us in between. I have no recollection of who came when or how they got there. Time bends and narrows in an emergency.  Lots went on while I held her. My husband cleaned seats and surfaces, people changed seats, flight attendants procured enough new in the package blankets for us to make a sort of blanket fort to protect her from contact with potential contaminants and two medical professionals, a nurse and a pharmacist, stepped forward to help monitor my daughter’s vitals and the reversal of the allergic reaction.

I owe a huge thank you to amazing flight crew working Delta 304 on July 3. I didn’t get all of your names, but you are all my heroes. Our lives seemed pretty up in the air, but you kept us grounded, especially Rosanna (P.S – I hope your daughter outgrows her allergy and that you never need to use an Epipen on her). To the pharmacist and the nurse, I thank you so much for your calming presence and for helping to ensure we didn’t have to use the second Epipen. The flight crew called ahead and paramedics walked my daughter off the plane when we landed at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta airport. They were gentle giants (seriously – I think they were all at least 6′ tall) who gave my daughter the best care possible. You’d expect in an airport the size of Atlanta that everyone would be in a rush, but they spent more time assessing her symptoms than we’ve sometimes experienced during some urgent care visits.

Thanks, Mary, for looking after your grandson and keeping him calm, while your granddaughter needed medical attention. He said later he was scared, but felt better with you beside him.

I also want to thank my fellow passengers on Delta 304. I was worried you’d be mad that our emergency disrupted the drink service and delayed your disembarking from the plane, but as the paramedics escorted us off, many of you offered well wishes and reassuring smiles.  Your kindness gives me hope.

epipen usedWe may never know exactly what triggered this episode. But it has been a reminder that we must maintain our vigilance, even when we can’t see the allergen. We got lucky this time. She didn’t ingest peanuts. We had the Epipens handy. We had a lot of wonderful people willing and able to help. This may not always be the case.  My nightmares continue.

If you’ve read this far, and are interested in doing more to make air travel, school, and life safer for those with life threatening food allergies, please visit Food Allergy Research & Education. They will get a fat check from me this year.

Happy Arm-iversery to me!

Today is my first Arm-iversery, and a great time to check in on my goals. One year ago today, I bit it on the ice while walking my kids to the bus stop. I couldn’t get back up. Fortunately, there plenty of grown-ups around to help me. Unfortunately, my husband wasn’t one of them. Fortunately,  a neighbor drove me to urgent care. Unfortunately, it was closed. Fortunately, he drove me to the ER. Unfortunately, the X-rays showed my left arm shattered above and below the elbow joint. Unfortunately, I needed emergency surgery and the addition of 14 screws to hold the bone fragments together. And so my recovery saga began.

At my first post-surgery check-up, my surgeon said my arm wouldn’t straighten all the way IMG_1024again and there was a possibility I might not regain full nerve sensation to my fingers. I wore a splint that covered my left arm from arm-pit to thumb joint. The surgeon warned my recovery would take a full year, with most of the progress noticeable by the six month mark. Wiggling my fingers sent jolts of pain through my entire arm, but it did it to reduce the swelling and work the nerves.

This is a picture taken 4 weeks after surgery.  I could not change the bend in my elbow. I could not lift my arm to my shoulder without using my other arm to raise and lower it. Positioning this photo took a long time.

Six weeks after this, I started physical therapy. My right arm grip strength was 58 pound. My left arm grip strength was 2. Normal for a non-dominant hand would have expected to be about 45. I couldn’t hold a book or a toothbrush in my left hand. I couldn’t grip a cup or a coffee mug, but that wouldn’t have mattered because I couldn’t bend my arm enough to bring a beverage anywhere near my mouth. When my physical therapist asked about my long term goal, you would think drinking a cup of coffee would be enough, but no. I said I want to do one push-up on my arm-iversery.

Today is my arm-iversery. Can I do a push-up? Technically, no. I cannot do the one military style push-up I envisioned myself doing. But I can do one set of 12 on the knee push-ups, two sets of 15 push-up style motion with the TRX bands at the gym, five pushups where I let myself fall to the ground the last two inches, rest a second and then push back up into plank, AND do one set of eight “push-ups” of the lazy style permitted in physical education classes where I start in plank, go half way down and then push back up.

arm-iversaryThis is me today. My scars have faded and most days my pain is minimal. So I can’t do a push up.  My left hand grip strength is in the 40s. I can raise a mug, shampoo my hair, shovel the driveway and walk my kids to the bus stop. I also chaperoned a 6th grade weeklong field trip where I belayed kids on a rock wall and paddled on a five mile canoe trip. My alter ego even published a short story, so the nerves to my fingers and my keyboarding skills still work.

Recovery was long journey, but having a clear goal helped my muddle through those days I wanted to quit because of the pain.

Oh, and, in case you didn’t notice – my arm is straight.

 

Review: Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

I’ve been a bad blogger lately, but as I prepared for my annual “best books I’ve read this year” list, my daughter threw me a curve ball.  Who out there guessed a book geared for ages 8-12 would throw my list into turmoil?  A Maud Hart Lovelace Nominee–which is some Minnesota thing– my daughter spent three months trying to get this book from the library.  Don’t waste your time on the wait list. BUY this book immediately, especially if you have school age children. Because of Mr. Terupt  by Rob Buyea is the type of book they will want to read again and again, and chances are, so will you.

I hardy know where to begin, except to say this is a masterful work.  As a writer myself, I am in awe of Buyea’s technique. Plenty of authors struggle to create two distinctive and believable narrators for their story. Buyea created seven unique fourth graders with heartbreaking authenticity.  By the time the reader gets partway through October, the point of view character is obvious, even without seeing the name.

Technique is nothing without heart and Buyea writes with plenty.  The seven fourth graders are part of Mr. Terupt’s class and the story follows them throughout the school year. Mr. Terupt is the type of teacher we all want our children to have — someone who inspires them and encourages them, alas to add conflict and drama, an accident occurs. It is only then, the characters truly understand what their teacher gave them.

My daughter handed the book to me and promised “you’ll cry because you’re laughing so hard and because you are sad.” Yup. I also loved how it opened communication between us.  With so many different types of characters, we had lots of conversations that started about the book, but ended with both of us learning more about each other.  Terrific writing entertains and builds empathy.  Mr. Buyea wrote one for the ages.  So whether you are a grade-schooler, the parent of a grade-schooler, a grade school teacher or someone who once had a memorable and wonderful teacher, do yourself a favor.  Get this book.

Because the cute photo didn’t want to work, here’s a link to the book on Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/Because-Mr-Terupt-Rob-Buyea/dp/0375858245/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1387405374&sr=1-3&keywords=rob+buyea

And one for B&N http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/because-of-mr-terupt-rob-buyea/1019626278?ean=9780375858246

The Hyphenate’s Dilemma

I’ve got a problem.  Actually, I have many, but today let’s consider the Hyphenate’s dilemma.   When I got married many years ago, I chose to hyphenate my name for a number of reasons that are irrelevant to today’s problem.  The result is a lengthy last name, but one that gives me an incredible amount of information about the speaker.  Telemarketers never say it fully or correctly, for example.

I never considered being a hyphenate much of a problem.  The children share part of my last name so at school functions and so on, I am easily identified as being part of the same family unit.  Unless I introduce myself to the faculty first, there is a tendency among teachers and administrators to direct their initial comments to me as “Mrs. Naylor.”  When I hear this, I always look around to see if my Mother-in-Law is in the room.  Within minutes, we are on first name basis and the issue doesn’t pop up again.

Living in the South for the last nine years has made being a hyphenate easy, even with children.  Growing up in the Midwest, adults were always “Mr. Lastname” or “Mrs. Lastname” unless they were family.  A few beloved adult earned the nickname “Mom Lastname” or “Dad Lastname,” but the last name was present.  In the South, I avoided this awkward hyphenate convention through the charm of Southern Gentility.   Adults call me Lyra and children me either as “child’s name’s mom” or “Miss Lyra.”

Frankly, I love being “Miss Lyra.”  It took me less than a month of living in Georgia to fall for the dual layers of familiarity and respect bestowed in this naming convention.   When my children’s friends call me “Miss Lyra,” I become as connected to them as I am with my own family.

I’m on the verge of returning to the Upper Midwest. I fear I’m returning to the form of address I grew up with, one that makes me uncomfortable as a hyphenate and as a person.

So Yankee and Midwestern friends, what do your children’s friends call you?  Am I worrying for naught? Or am I about to start a Southern Rebellion?

 

Why I’m not voting on Tuesday

Yes folks, you heard it here first. On Tuesday, November 6th, I will not be voting in the presidential election. Wow, do you have a loud gasp. The candidates do not want to hear this.  As a white, suburban woman raising children in a swing state, I realize I am a highly coveted voter. The non-stop TV, radio and mail ads remind me how important my vote is. Frequent phone calls from the two major parties beseech me to vote on Tuesday. The truth of the matter is, I will not be going to vote on Tuesday, but my uterus will.

My uterus is a bossy little thing, but I’ve got a lot of respect it. After all, my uterus carried my two healthy children to term.  Our relationship has not always been easy, plagued by painful cramps and a cancer scare. We’re good now.  Except when it comes to politics.

It’s not that my uterus entirely disagrees with my desire to vote for the third-party candidate most closely aligned with my views, but my uterus is scared. My uterus fears that the uterus of the girl who once lived inside its protective walls will not enjoy the same privileges my uterus does in terms of fertility and health care. My uterus remembers how women of previous generations fought for access to control our fertility and for the right to vote.  My uterus shudders at the thought that some gray-haired men think a pregnancy from rape is either impossible or a gift from God.  My uterus wants to know how many children of rape those men have personally adopted. Come to think of it, so do I.

Come Tuesday, my uterus will take charge of my body and march us to the polling place. I’ll show my voter ID, and receive the voting instructions. A worker will lead me to the designated voting booth. But, do us both a favor, don’t look behind the curtain. My uterus will vote for the candidate who respects women.

Shhhh – Introvert at work

Shhh – can you keep a secret? Ah forget it.  I want to shout from the rooftops how much I loved Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Book cover for QuietCan’t Stop Talking.  At a time when political discourse, health care and economic policy seems to be decided by who literally shouts the loudest while on TV, the radio, the pulpit or self-help seminar stage, Cain argues we need to rediscover the power of introverts.

Cain introduces her readers to a range of introverts who have found success by embracing who they are and granting themselves the tools necessary for introverts to succeed, including “restorative niches,” pursuit of a passion, and a safe way to express their ideas.  Some are well-known, like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates; others are people who could by your neighbor or the shy girl in the back of the second grade classroom.

Adding weight to the argument for valuing introverts, Cain synthesizes scholarly works from a variety of fields and makes them accessible to the lay reader.  I particularly enjoyed chapter 3 “When Collaboration Kills Creativity” and the discussion of the group think mentality.  As someone who does a lot of reading, I can occasionally identify when manuscripts have been overworked in an effort to appease all the members of a crit-group. The result is an inauthentic and rarely enjoyable book.  I hated doing group projects in school. When I led college level history discussion groups as a Teaching Assistant, I disliked giving those assignments.  When I had my own class, I stopped them. If I had read Quiet while still in the classroom, it would have given me the courage to stop the useless practice earlier.

In “Part Two: Your Biology, Your Self?” Cain pulled together complex debates in psychology, physiology and philosophy to address the nature versus nurture debate. As a parent and an introvert who must participate in the world outside my keyboard, I appreciated this section. In some ways, she was “preachin’ to the choir” when I read this section.  I wonder what the extroverts I know thought of this section. The fourth section offered practical tips for introverts negotiating an extrovert dominant culture.

As much as I loved this book, “Part Three: do all Cultures have an Extrovert Ideal?” tempered my enthusiasm.  I found this section which contrasted an introverted ideal Asian cultures with Western and particularly American thinking to be weak compared to the rest of the book.  Cain relied more on evidence from literature and one can be highly selective when picking and chosing proverbs.  For each saying from the west like “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” it’s easy to find a common phrase that reflects what Cain posits is an Asian ideal. However, since you catch more flies with honey, I’ll get back to the positive.

Quiet is an important book and well deserving of its place on the New York Times best seller list. For those I know who have read it, it’s sparked a number of discussion points. It’s changed the way I look at the world and that is no small feat.  The people I know who are most enthusiastic about reading this are all introverts.  I wish more extroverts could be convinced to pick up the book. Perhaps with enough general discussion, they will be forced to do so.  This is one conversation not to be left out of.

A fear of death

Recently in Virginia a first grader named Ammaria died after suffering anaphylactic shock.  We may never know the precise details, but the gist of the story is this: Ammaria came in contact with peanuts at recess. She fell ill and was rushed to the school clinic. Someone called 911 but when help arrived, it was too late.  Her life could have been saved if she’d been administered an Epi-Pen.

The night I learned of Ammaria’s death, I tended to my daughter’s hives for the fourth time in three days. I dutifully recorded every thing she ate, drank and played with trying to pinpoint where she may have encountered the peanuts most likely responsible for her reaction.  I breathed a sigh of relief knowing she had life saving medicine at school in case the worst happened. Then she told me she first noticed the hives at school.

I reeled on her. I know she heard the panic in my voice. Her eyes grew wide and fearful as I bombarded her with questions, demanding to know if she told an adult and why she hadn’t. I couldn’t believe it.  My daughter, the one who reads labels, refuses to eat anything if she isn’t sure of the ingredient list and tells adults and children in the area that she can’t be near peanuts, also is the one who didn’t speak up because she didn’t want to bother anyone.

My daughter’s hesitation to speak up could bring about her death.

This is the reality of parenting a child with food allergies.  It’s not just a peanut butter sandwich that could kill her, but also a fear of being a nuisance or forgetting an epi-pen, or an entrenched system of laws that prevent a child from receiving life saving medicine.

Here’s the thing. If Ammaria’s school is anything like my daughter’s, there was a drawer full of epi-pens in the nurses office that will be thrown away, unused, at the end of the school year. Any one of those epi-pens that will become trash could have saved Ammaria’s life, but they were prescribed to someone else.  Laws prevented the school from giving her life saving medicine.  If she lived in my school district, Ammaria would most likely be alive today because local law requires Chesapeake Public Schools to keep two doses of unprescribed epinephrine on site.

If Congress gets its act together, we can make sure all children have access to this life saving medicine, at least during the school day.  S. 1884, also known as the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, would require schools to stock this medicine. The cost per school is minimal, but could save lives of children and staff. Remember, epinephrine helps not just those with a reaction to peanuts, but also deadly bee stings and more.   You can learn more through FAAN’s website.  We require defibrillators, why not epinephrine?

Until this law passes, I’ll keep my daughter’s epi-pens handy. And if I see your child in the throes of an anaphylactic fit, I’ll use my pen to save his or her life.  But please, promise not to sue me.