27 March 2007


It was about a month after my first miscarriage, after hope was extended and then destroyed. My heart still ached, and tears came quick and too often, and I felt hollowed out and old. I went to a women’s church retreat, perhaps hoping that a weekend away would give me some perspective, or maybe even some answers.

I remember that the theme was something like “A Time to Be,” and in the back of my mind I guess I wanted God to come to me and explain why it was not time for me to have a child. But that didn’t happen. Instead, that weekend started a whole different time in my life.

The second morning, I woke in my dorm-like room in the lodge with the worst cramps I had ever had. I spent some quality time in a bathroom stall, which kind of helped, but I still felt pretty bad. I went to breakfast, where I had just a piece of toast (the irony of which you probably can guess). I participated in the rest of the retreat, when I could.

Back at my in-laws’ house (where we were staying for the time between our townhouse selling and our new house being completed), I surmised that I had caught some sort of intestinal virus. I felt terrible for a few days, and somewhat better for a few days, and then waited to get wholly better.

I didn’t get better.

The painful intestinal cramps and diarrhea came and went. About the time I thought that I should really get to the doctor, it seemed to improve. And so I put off the doctor’s visit. It didn’t help that I had no primary care physician at the time, and it just seemed a bit embarrassing to spring these symptoms on a stranger.

And then, of course, it would get worse again.

I started to wake in the middle of the night and rush to the bathroom. Mornings, it was difficult to get anywhere on time. But by afternoon, I felt like myself again.

That summer, we went on a trip to Poland for a friend’s wedding. And I love(d) the heavier, crusty bread that is the norm in Europe. I ate a lot of bread, especially in the mornings when I wasn’t feeling too well, and the European breakfast of meat and cheese looked unappetizing. But the bread? That I ate.

What with the sightseeing and all, and never knowing where a bathroom would be, I also took Imodium frequently. It kind of worked. For a day or so at a time. But I still remember being in the middle of a small Polish city, practically doubled over with pain, and trying not to let my traveling companions know. Jon knew, though, and he was quite upset with me. Not for the sickness itself, but because I hadn’t seen a doctor sooner. And, of course, he was right.

I finally made an appointment to see a doctor in early September. He listened carefully, did a cursory exam, and gave me an initial diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I got some blood tests and some IBS medicine.

Not only didn’t the medicine work, it had a side effect of dry mouth. Which, when the doctor mentioned the possibility, didn’t sound so bad. Believe me, dry mouth can be bad. It felt like not only my mouth but my throat would just stick together and I would never talk or breathe again if I didn’t drink about a gallon of water right now.

So, back to the doctor. He said, “I want to give you one more blood test. You probably won’t have this, because it is pretty rare, but some of my IBS patients have been diagnosed with celiac disease.”

About the time he said rare, I figured I had it. My medical history has a peculiar pattern to it. Born with rare heart defect, diagnosed with a rare reproductive system defect (when my ob/gyn told me over the phone what the problem was, he asked if I was sitting down first), I didn’t seem to get common medical disorders.

A week later, the doc called. My blood was sort of positive for celiac disease. One of the blood tests was positive, that is, and the other two were negative. There was another test to make sure, said the doc (an endoscopy), but that seems kind of invasive. Why don’t you just stop eating gluten for awhile and see if it helps? (Later I learned that I should have had the endoscopy. And that celiac is not nearly as rare as doctors thought it was.)

Hm. Never had the words “Easier said than done,” seemed more true. When I started downstairs to eat lunch, I stared into the fridge for a looong time. My usual lunch was a sandwich. OK, couldn’t have that. But what about…no. Oh, here’s this…no. I finally settled on leftover pork fried rice. I didn’t know then that most soy sauce has wheat. That was the last pork fried rice I ever had that wasn’t made by my own hands.

Going gluten-free was an education. Sometimes it still is. I read books and books and books, and subscribed to an e-mail list, and read pages and pages online. I figured out what to look for in ingredient lists. I wandered the aisles of the local Giant, reading labels and getting more and more frustrated and nearly crying in the frozen food section. I darkened the door of a health-food store for the first time in my life, and nearly cried again to see a whole section with those beautiful words gluten-free.

About the time my celiac symptoms cleared up, another new time in my life began. Three months after that rare diagnosis, I finally received a common one: I was pregnant. And this time, hope grew and was delivered. Katrina was born. And the next morning, I met with the hospital dietician to discuss my need for gluten-free food during my stay.

Reading: Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah; and
Rumors of Another World: What on Earth Are We Missing? by Philip Yancey

20 March 2007

Plans Called on Account of the Plague

We're dealing with illness here, so I haven't had much time to write. Katrina missed out on the horrible rotavirus that decimated her preschool class about a month ago (thank goodness! one stomach virus a year is enough).

Instead, our girl had her first-ever bout with strep throat last week. She came home from a birthday party last Sunday and within an hour became lethargic. Katrina asking to go to bed at 6 p.m. means only one thing--fever. And so it was, 102 degrees. Next day, she complained of a sore throat and a sore ear. To the doctor we went. The very kind receptionist noted that the "infectious disease" waiting room was already taken (the doc's office was more crowded than I'd ever seen it), so maybe we should just go have a coffee and come back in half an hour. There's a bakery/cafe downstairs. Much better than a doctor's waiting room.

Anyway, we waited another 20 minutes when we got back. (This is entirely unusual for this doctor. On occasion we have been in and out in under 20 minutes.) The nurse walked in and immediately swabbed Katrina's mouth for strep. No gag-inducing tonsil swab! Just the inside of the cheek, and results in a few minutes. The miracles of modern medicine!

So, yes, strep. Over to the apotheke for penicillin. No school until Wednesday, as the doc said she'd still be contagious Tuesday. Let's see, about 60 euro for the doctor's visit (which included 10 or 15 euros for the cool strep test) and 30 or so euro for the medicine.

Fast forward a week. She was fine Sunday. Yesterday morning, "Owwie! My ear hurts!" while clutching the offending appendage. We talked about it a bit, as I couldn't believe she could get an ear infection or have one get worse while still on antibiotics. "Are you sure, honey? Because we'll have to go to the doctor if you stay home from school." (This is not much of an disincentive. She loves the doctor's office.) Plus, she also said her toe hurt. So it started to sound like a random, "last time my ear hurt I got to stay home and watch TV" kind of thing. Until I tried to take her temperature with the ear thermometer and she clutched her ear again and refused to let me take it on that side. She's never done that.

So back to the doctor. A bit of a wait again. Doc confirmed that she had an ear infection. Actually, he walked in, looked at her record on the computer, said "Oh, nein!" loudly, and kind of laughed with the nurse. Apparently, the antibiotic he prescribed was only for strep. It was not strong enough for an ear infection. And apparently, Katrina was not the first child to come back with another infection.

So, back to the apotheke. 75 euros for TWO bottles of Augmentin (the nastiest stuff she's ever had to take), a small bottle of probiotics, and a bottle of stool softener, because these antibiotics are wreaking havoc with her little tummy. The doc only charged 25 euros because it was a "follow-up visit."

Another two days at home. And poor Katrina trying to get down a teaspoon and a half of Augmentin twice a day. After only a day of her second round of this stuff in as many months, she started to gag involuntarily this morning as soon as she got a whiff. She managed to get it down, though, with me using a medicine syringe and her holding her nose. There's not enough candy in the world to reward her for that.

08 March 2007

Longing for Spring

My skin craves the sun.

In Northern Virginia, the sun is an enemy, heating the heavy air and clearing shadeless playgrounds by eleven a.m. Here in Germany, the sun is an old friend or long-lost lover, seldom seen and greatly cherished when it appears for even a few hours. Although winter temperatures were unusually mild this year, day after day brought gray skies and rain. From drizzling to pouring and back again, with hail here and there for good measure. The only snowfall merely coated the ground in the morning and dissipated by midday. No gleaming white reflecting the sun into squinting eyes. Just fast-moving dark clouds, wind, and rain.

After a while, the wet and the damp and the sameness tighten into a drab cloak. The world contracts: inside the house, inside the school, inside the car, your boundaries the circumference of a small umbrella. Your spirit draws in, and your breath, too, until you hardly notice how small they’ve become. Darkness seeps in, and slowly takes up residence. A gloomy Eeyore roommate, unmoved by reason, convincing you that light is a distant memory. The sun is in hiding, and it's never coming back.

And then, you notice that the mornings seem a little lighter. You’re no longer eating dinner in the dark. But the differences penetrate slowly, and the grayness lingers. You wake at midnight to a roaring wind driving the rain against the windows. And another day dawns, and a speck of blue sky appears, until clouds rush in to blot it out.

But the day does come when the skies clear. It’s still chilly, the wind still chaps your face, but that doesn’t matter. Because that long-lost lover, your old flame, has returned. And you turn your face up to the sky. Oh, this is what it’s like to breathe deeply and freely. Your vision lengthens, and earth and sky and arms open up. Time slows. The afternoon lengthens as you watch children on the playground, running and screaming with joy. Other families come and go, but you stay, relishing even the slight warmth, the light, the charged air. Why should we go home? Who knows when such a day will come again? You soak it in, and take one more deep breath, putting off the moment when you must open the door and step back inside. You suddenly understand why the ancients worshipped the sun.

It’s supposed to rain tomorrow.

Reading: Raising Your Spirited Child (again)
Listening to: Redemption Songs by Jars of Clay and Baby Beluga (Raffi)
Watched Last Night: "Torchwood"

02 March 2007

Conversations (or, Exercises in Humility)

Talking with Katrina is an exercise in humility. I hear about children who talk about what happened at school or what their friends are doing, but nearly all attempts to elicit information from my daughter are met with resistance. Apparently, school is her domain, and she only occasionally drops little pearls of information for us to hoard and speculate about later.

But that's not the humbling part. Because as much as Katrina dislikes talking about her own experiences, she adores asking questions. About everything. Pretty much any conversation with her that lasts more than a minute or two exposes at least one hole in my knowledge base. A vast, dark ignorance. And here I am, a college graduate.

Here are the topics that we covered in the time it took to eat breakfast yesterday.

"How is bread made from wheat?" A good start! I can answer that one! Although, no, I don't really know how the grains of wheat are separated from the rest of the plant. And the closest I can come to explaining how they are ground into flour is to say they use a machine like our coffee grinder. I mention the other ingredients quickly, hoping that she won't want an explanation of what yeast is and how it works (good, she doesn't ask that one).

Next question: "How do they get the milk from the cows into the milk container?" OK, I can answer that, too. "And then they sprinkle sugar into it?" Um, no...hmm. Oh yeah, I explained some time back that she could no longer drink milk at bedtime because it had sugar that could hurt her teeth if it sat in her mouth all night. "No, honey, the cows put the sugar in when they make the milk." And then she launches into a rambling musing about what if a baby cow had no mama or papa. I have no response to this, being a bit confused as to how we got there.

Next question: "How did they make that door out of wood and cut it and fit it into that hole?" Buzzzz. I answer vaguely with something about cutting the wood and measuring the doorway. I'm sure there is more to it than that, but I just don't know.

Then, breakfast is over and it's time for the Ride to School Philosophy Hour (actually only about 15 minutes, but it can seem longer). You see, there are two times when Katrina's mind turns to the questions of the universe: when we're in the car, and when she is on the toilet. No, I don't know why.

For the past few days, she's wanted me to play her "God songs" in the car. That's a children's CD with worship songs. These are not kiddie songs like "Jesus Loves Me," but worship songs you'd hear in a contemporary church service or on Christian radio. And, boy, do they bring on the questions.

"Mama, why do they call God a rock?" (This said in a faintly indignant tone, like she thinks someone is calling God names.) I've explained a number of times that the song is really saying that Jesus is like a rock, being strong and always there, but I'm not sure she really gets it. Because she keeps asking the question. Every time the song plays.

"What is a Judah?" This from a song that repeats "Hail, hail, Lion of Judah" approximately 264 times. It is a catchy tune, so she's been singing it. And really, how much meaning does "Lion of Judah" have to present-day adults, either?

"Why do they say the lion and the lamb?" I say something about God being as fierce as a lion but as gentle as a lamb. She says it must be that God is fierce to "bad guys" and gentle to "good guys." I kinda go "umm-hmm" and let it stand. I've got nothin'.

And then there is the whole Trinity deal. Oh, yes. I'm driving her to school at 8:50 in the morning and trying to explain the Holy Trinity to a four-year-old. Because she gets that Jesus is God, and that God is God. So, naturally, that means that there are two gods. I, of course, try to correct her by talking about the "mystery" that is the Trinity, but I think all she gets is that there's a Spirit, too. Yay! I can't wait until she tells our pastor that there are only three gods.

She's four years old, people. And I end up trying to explain parts of theology that wise people with seminary degrees have trouble with. I thought we'd still be in the "God loves you" territory at this age, but she's on to why the bad guys killed Jesus, and exactly when is Jesus coming back, anyway? Maybe tomorrow?

And I haven't even mentioned our conversations about plumbing and water treatment and how did Pap used to make paper (which she finds fascinating...maybe Pap needs to explain to her how it's done) and how do they make books and get the pictures on the page and what are those white things by the side of the road and why are bad guys bad and why do we live longer than lions and why did God make people after dinosaurs and why are the dinosaurs all dead and what would happen if there were one dinosaur left--would he eat our house and why are they digging there and what does the yellow light mean and does the traffic light know we are not going straight and when are we going to Raina's birthday party? Wait...that one I can answer.

Reading: Happiness Sold Separately by Lolly Winston
Listening to: Eleventh Hour by Jars of Clay
Watched on DVR last night: "Torchwood"; "Medium"