Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A new malady

Sophie thinks it is silly that the common cold is called "a cold" when it isn't caused by the cold weather, rather by the fact that in cold weather we all hang out inside with closed windows breathing each other's germy air. She suggests it should instead be called "cabin fever." Very apt, I say.

Friday, February 19, 2010


We've had almost no snow since Christmas time. We've had a fair bit of rain, and a lot of warm temperatures. And so the lawn is beginning to show. This puts us 6-8 weeks ahead of a normal year. Until this week I didn't dare to believe that this might be IT for winter. I was sure the other half of winter was coming.

But now I have to wonder. The highways department had the sweepers out yesterday, cleaning up the winter's accumulation of sand from the roads. My kids have put the hammock up. The deck is free of snow and basking in sun and warmth. The chickens are laying beautifully again.

Could this possibly really be it?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I live in a small town

I drop by the convenience store on the way home from work, because I think we might be out of milk at home. There are three people in the store -- me, the cashier and another customer. Amongst the three of us we work out that ...

Erin needs to drop by the school and pick up her report card.
One person's Pap smear result is back and is normal.
Chuck didn't stop in to buy milk this morning, so yes, I definitely need to buy some.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Piano recital

It's been a spotty piano year for Fiona. Her teacher was away for most of December and January, and then we missed lessons in early February due to our travels. Practicing was also very spotty, and impossible while we were away. But Fiona was still keen to perform on last weekend's recital, despite the lack of preparation time and coaching. She played a piece that is easily within her grasp, if not quite totally there. The plan is that this will be one of her four Music Festival selections in April. I was blown away by her pedaling. Pedaling is a very new skill for her. In the first 2/3 of this piece, where she is quite secure with the notes, her pedaling was dynamite! She hasn't really worked on it much -- it just seems intuitive to her.

For anyone wondering about the pedal box, it's an older version of one being carried by cpsimports. We've been reasonably happy with it. It's not as easy to use as pedals, and it's a pig to transport around, but it is much better than nothing and works reasonably well.

On the couch

Many of you have asked how Sophie is doing. Things are pretty good. She's still really tired, and still has some mild belly pain, but her fever has not returned and she's now been off her antibiotics for five days. She's spending much of the day on the couch, but her couch demeanor is much improved (see photo). Rather than lying there staring into space and napping, she's now smiling, laughing, goofing around.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Last dose

Well, it was supposed to be. Sophie's courses of antibiotics finished late yesterday.

Her temp spiked again today, though, and she started feeling kind of crappy this afternoon, so we may not be out of the woods yet. Poor kid. She really deserves to be done with all this.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Metaphor for a sibling

Fiona: "Polyphemus is the guy from 'The Lightning Thief.'"
Noah: (laughing and rolling eyes) "No, Fiona, he's from Greek mythology. He wasn't invented for the Percy Jackson books. They use stories that were invented thousands of years before."
Fiona: "Oh."
Noah: "Hey Fiona, there's this cool food, it's called a tomato and it's from a book called 'My First Vegetables.'"

Uproarious laughter. Fiona is reassured that we are not laughing at her, but at Noah's gift for creating witty and incisive examples of concepts. She is eventually somewhat persuaded.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The vacation rental house

Here is the amazing house we rented. Adobe, with opulent tile floors, five bedrooms, three en suite baths and another bathroom for good measure, décor décor décor, over-the-top appliances (a full-height clothes dryer with an  integrated heated drying cabinet above) and a state of the art entertainment centre. The house is a seldom-used secondary residence for some wealthy guy from LA and he rents it out by the week for less than it would have cost us to put our family up in a couple of motel chain double rooms.

Better still, the house was ensconced in an area filled with sandstone boulders just perfect for climbing. This helped salvage a little 'vacation' for the people who weren't at the hospital. We had brought our climbing rope, shoes and some basic equipment, and when the sun came out we were able to saunter down there and scramble around, do a bit of top-roping, look for lizards, admired the vegetation.

The comfort and amenities of the house turned out to be a real blessing when it ended up (a) pouring rain for a day and (b) being the location of a 3-day medical recuperation.

Part of one of the bathrooms

A bedroom

Looking out at the entry gate, through the rainstorm.

Hospital adventures

We got Sophie to hospital as soon as we picked up our rental minivan and were able to get out of downtown LA and onto the desert. The Hi-Desert hospital was our first stop.

We spent that day in the ER, and dropped the other kids off at the house we'd rented, alone, with no cellphone contact, to enjoy themselves getting to know the place. Sophie got a million tests, the most significant of which, the CT of her abdomen, suggested she had already ruptured her appendix. The general surgeon at the small desert hospital wasn't comfortable keeping her, so the tertiary care teaching hospital in Loma Linda, 75 miles away, was consulted and agreed to take her in transfer. At that point Chuck and I split up. He went home to the other three kids, and I headed out in the ambulance with Sophie.

For the next couple of days we spelled each other off, trading jobs. One of us would drive to Loma Linda to stay with Sophie, the other would drive home, hungry and sleep-deprived, to try to give the other three kids a little bit of a vacation experience. Fiona came along for one of the parent-exchanges and got the chance to visit with Sophie for a few minutes. Sophie endured a lot of pain, a lot of blood tests, medication side effects, indignities and disrupted sleep, and also the sorrow of missing the vacation, not even having seen the amazing house she'd been looking forward to with such excitement.

They didn't do surgery. These days when kids have already ruptured their appendixes, they usually treat with pain meds and broad spectrum antibiotics, wait a couple of months for the inflammation to settle down and then do surgery electively when there's less risk of infection, the kids aren't so toxic, and recovery time is less. Sophie's fever began to settle, and her pain lessened, and somehow I managed to talk the pediatric surgeon into discharging her early.

Back at the rental house she gradually turned the corner. Her temp went up and down. Her pain waxed and waned. It took about 2 more days before she was able to walk around comfortably. For most of that time she and the other kids mostly enjoyed the huge flat-screen TV and a succession of DVDs. Finally the day before we were ready to leave she was healthy enough to enjoy herself a bit and participate in a couple of family activities. And I stopped holding my breath.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The train

Being in the sleeper compartment of the train was fabulous. It made us "first class" passengers by default. Our meals were included in the (very reasonable) price, as were the parlour car with its movie theatre and lounge, the coffee and juice station, the shower facilities, the morning newspapers and the attentive attendant. We had three double-berth roomettes. During the daytime the bunks folded away and we were often four or five to a roomette. At night we had plenty of room and comfort. The movement and sound of the train was incredibly soothing and we all slept pretty well.

Sophie was getting sick, though, and as the trip went on we got more and more worried about her. She was able to just lie in her berth and take it easy, which was nice, but it also meant it was harder to see that something really serious was going on. She'd been up most of the first night waiting to hop on the train, and was understandably tired and off-kilter from that. All the kids were. She was just a little more so. And because we were all spending almost our entire time sitting in our roomettes, we didn't notice that Sophie was simply unable to do otherwise.

Appendicitis aside, we would highly recommend Amtrak sleeper car travel. It was an amazing way to go. Relaxing, on time, scenic, comfortable, affordable and eco-friendly.

Boarding the Train

On Saturday we dumped the dog at the kennel, crossed the border and headed to Spokane to board the train. There's one train a day to Portland and it departs at 3 in the morning. So we did some last minute shopping. Got Noah some sneakers. How could he have exactly zero pairs of shoes? The kid outgrew his last pair of shoes after the move to winter boots in the fall. His dress shoes are his dad's old dress shoes with kleenexes stuffed in the toes and he had no running shoes and no casual shoes. My efforts to find him anything other than $12.99 vinyl Made-in-China shoes in Nelson had come up empty. So among other things we got him some shoes.

Then we went to the train station to wait. And wait. We went out for a late supper, in shifts, leaving folks behind to guard the suitcases. As it turned out this would be Sophie's last real meal.

We spent 9 hours based in the train station. It was mostly empty and reasonably comfortable. The kids read, played cards, chatted, napped, used the laptop, listened to some of our current readaloud. And waited. Finally the train rolled in. We boarded, took up our sleeper berths and most of us were asleep within a few minutes of pulling out of the station.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Insurance Gratitude

It was almost as an afterthought that Chuck bought travel medical insurance for our family as we headed out on our first out-of-country holiday. As Canadians we take universal medicare for granted. Our kids are healthy. Other than Noah's croup at age 3 months I don't think any of them have ever been sick enough or injured enough to see a doctor. But luckily Chuck paid the $40 for nine days of travel medical insurance. And luckily we have one of those auto insurance plans that covers you for rental vehicles. Because within five days we would need both of those insurance plans.

Sophie got sick almost as soon as we crossed the border into the US. At first it was mild and non-specific, but was we made our way down the coast of California on the train we started getting worried. By the time we got her to a hospital ER the next day she had perforated her appendix. We racked up medical bills pretty quickly after that. Within an hour or two she'd had blood work, plain xrays, an ultrasound and a CT scan. The surgeon had been consulted and she'd been referred to the pediatric surgery department at a major teaching hospital. What followed was a lights-and-sirens 70 mile ambulance transfer, assessment by two physicians in ER, admission as an in-patient and two days of IV's, antibiotics, morphine and repeated assessments by the surgical team. It would have cost a fortune.

On the second morning she was in hospital I was driving the 70 miles in to trade off with Chuck at her bedside. I'd got up early and was cruising along the interstate hoping to be there early. Some guy in a paratransit van pulled over into my lane without looking, side-swiping the rental vehicle, creating dents all down the two passenger side doors. He'd been reported to the police for erratic driving 20 minutes earlier, and his octagenarian passengers told the police that his driving was "terrible!" so there was no question where the fault lay. But still, without an insurance company to broker the claim on our behalf we would probably have had to pay out of pocket and I'm sure it would have been tough to pursue a personal claim against him from Canada.

(They do say that bad luck comes in twos, right? That stuff about threes is just a myth. I hope. If not, can I count the fact that it has rained on us here in the desert as our third bit of bad luck, please? I don't think I can take any more catastrophes.)

Anyway, I am very thankful for the insurance we carried on this trip. We've never before had to rely on insurance like this. It has worked flawlessly for us.

Oh, and for those who haven't followed the saga on Facebook, I'll just reassure you that no one was injured in the car accident, and Sophie is out of hospital and doing fairly well, choking back her antibiotics and codeine like a trooper, and managing to eat a bit too.