Saturday, October 29, 2016

Eviction Notice

October submission for CT Working Moms:

Removal of object unknown from privately owned liver.


Under instructions from the owner, Lilia Gomez, the mass situated at the left lower lobe of her liver (Tumor Unknown) is hereby given notice to vacate and NOT TO RETURN.

The period of that notice being 6-7 hours from the service of this document.

Date: October 28, 2016
Our 9 year old is losing a lobe of her liver this morning, the pinnacle of a terrifying sequence of events that began last Friday. Both Jeff and I were working from home. Usually, on days like this, I am simultaneously rassling a wild toddler, so Jeff retreats to the downstairs office while I run around holding my work cell phone in one hand, and T's sippy cup in the other. Around lunchtime, he appeared in the kitchen looking pale-faced, waved his phone and said, "Lili has a mass the size of a grapefruit in her stomach."

My chest tightened, but I needed way more information before I would be ready to accept that a true crisis was brewing.   I reassured Jeff that we would sort it out, and dispatched him to busy himself delivering a baby gift while I gathered more information. As Lili waited for her ultrasound, I interrogated her mom.  First, I confirmed that the word the doctor used was "mass."  It was.  Next, I asked if it was possible that it could be a little bowel blockage. Lili eats like a champ, so it wouldn't be unthinkable that she'd have a big meal or two still making their way down.  The answer: possible. Last, I asked Lindsey to describe where on Lili's stomach the lump was, so that I could narrow down the possibilities.  She told me it was above her belly button on the right side, just under her ribcage. This was not reassuring news.  The options in that area did not include intestinal anything, they would more likely be lung or liver.

Lili is a bit of an allergic, asthmatic kid.  She has peanut and seasonal allergies, is prone to wheezing, and sensitive to temperature and climate changes.  Suddenly, I wondered if that occasional cough and regular wheeze meant that something awful was happening in there.

Commence freakout.

I texted my sister.  Twice.  Three times.  I called her on the home phone.  Then the cell phone.  Then, I texted her SOS on my cell while calling her from the landline and sending rapid-fire emails. After a bit, she called back from the hospital where she was working. We reviewed possible scenarios. Megan is both a pediatric ER doc and an ultrasound specialist, so I was hoping she would help me get some perspective.  She was very careful not to speculate too much in a way that would completely derail me, but she didn't sugarcoat it either.  Something was clearly wrong.

Ultrasound results led to the Yale Children's Hospital ER which was followed by a complicated, miserable 24 hours ending with Lili's admission to Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center.  Jeff and I grew up with the Fareri family. We weren't, like, barbecuing at each other's houses every weekend, but several kids in each of our families had been friendly when we were school-age.  I reached out to Mike at dawn on Saturday in a panic, and despite not having spent any time together in the past decade, he and his amazing mother Brenda immediately began helping us navigate our way through the ER and then up to an oncology floor. *Please note that Lili is not an oncology patient.*  She, and we, are in limbo currently, and will remain there until the tumor has been studied by the pathology lab.  Lil's bloodwork was perfect, scans beautiful, and all signs point to a healthy kid with a rare, exceptionally large benign liver mass.  Which would be fitting, since Lili is rare and exceptional, without a hint of malice.

Earlier this week, Lili and I named her tumor Toast, as in "he's gonna be toast!"  And today he will be.  At 7:45 this morning, Lili will roll into the operating room for a six hour liver resection.  Toast will take some of her liver with him when he leaves today, but there should be no lasting ill-effect on her.  After the pathology lab does their thing, Lili has approved donating him to the medical school to help figure out what causes these anomalies.  Even uncomfortable, scared and exhausted, she's still the most generous and thoughtful child.

The next few hours are going to be excruciating as we spend our last minutes with her before she goes into the operating room, and then wait the six or so hours until she moves to recovery.  Several days in the ICU are expected, with a total of another week in the hospital. She is going to rock this.  We are going to be with her every minute. It is going to be ok.

I love you to the stars, Lilia Gomez, and you are going to be just fine.  See you soon.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Where does the time go?

September submission for CT Working Moms:

I never wanted to help raise someone else’s kid.  Quite the opposite, really.  Although I’ve always been fond of children, and have the most awesome nieces ever, I confess that for most of my adult life, I was perfectly content to enjoy the company of other people’s kids in small doses and a nicely controlled setting.  When I ran into my now-husband 15 years after we were high school friends, he was a new dad and pretty excited about it.  I thought it was cute, but not necessarily come-hither cute.  More like, enjoy that at a safe distance from me, and show me some photos which I’m likely to find sweet but not nearly as appealing as dog pictures.
A few years later, we ran into each other again, commiserated about being single, and then promptly commenced dating. Funny how that works.  Although I met Lilia early on, it took a while before she and I had any alone time.  The first solo day I spent with her, I discovered that I had absolutely no idea what to do with someone else’s toddler.  My nieces and I had done plenty of hanging out when they were Lili’s age, even a good deal by ourselves.  But I’d known them from birth, and was familiar with their preferences, so it was pretty straightforward.  Trying to entertain someone else’s two-year-old (who was still eyeing me somewhat suspiciously) was a different ballgame.
During our first visit, we mostly sized each other up.  It was impossible to deny that she was extremely cute, but she was not in a hurry to warm up to me, so we stayed in safe, neutral territories: the playground and the bakery.  We didn’t have any big hiccups, apart from diaper changes, which baffled me and infuriated her.  After nearly losing a tooth to her foot during one attempted diapering, I found myself thinking that I should probably just stick to guys with dogs.  In the months following, though, I dutifully soldiered on, and she definitely grew on me, but I didn’t really find myself feeling attached to her.

Until she met my mother.
Lili was a reserved little kid.  Not quite standoffish, but like most toddlers she had her people, and didn’t want to be handled by anyone who wasn’t very familiar to her (and even some who were). Once she’d gotten to know me, she would let me hold her hand to cross the street, but she did not let me pick her up except to put her in her carseat.  And if she got a little boo-boo, she ran away from vs towards me for comfort.  While it didn’t hurt my feelings, it didn’t help me feel bonded to her, either.
Once Jeff and I were getting more serious, we decided that since he already knew my parents, maybe we should introduce them to Lili.  I arranged to meet my mom one day near a doughnut shop in town, and worried for the several nights prior about how it would go. My mother is great with little kids, but I’d only ever seen her with ones she was related to. This was not my kid, which had its own implications and potential issues. And, of course, Lili was not a child who vaulted onto strangers’ laps.  How could it possibly end well?  Oy.
The day of the big event, I picked up the curly-haired kiddo and told her we were going to meet a special person.  Lili walked at eight months and talked very early too, so despite her young age, we were able to have the following conversation:
Karen: We are going to have a doughnut with my mom.
Lili: I love dat!
Karen: Doughnuts or my mom?
Lili: Doe-nuth!
Karen: My mom is very nice, you’re going to like her too.
Lili: No.
Karen: We can wave to her from the car first if you like.
Lili: Wha she name?
I didn't get a chance to answer, though, because my mom knocked on the window and I went around to take Lili out of her carseat.  I figured I’d walk in with them and then see if Lili would let me leave her to order while she eyeballed my mother.  My mom is not very reserved, though, and also highly susceptible to small cute things. So after I unbuckled Lili, she reached around me and scooped her right out of her carseat.  I closed my eyes and waited for a blood-curdling scream.  One never came. When I opened my eyes, my mom was almost to the door of the doughnut shop, holding Lili who was smiling from ear to ear.  I couldn’t believe it.
They went up to the counter together while I sat and watched in disbelief.  My mom sat Lil on the counter while they ordered, where she beamed and swung her legs contentedly. Once they’d gotten their doughnuts, they proceeded to the table (where I sat in complete shock) holding hands.  In between enthusiastic bites of her doughnut, Lili pointed at my mom and said “Thas Gramma.  I like she.”
Until that day, I had never been able to envision what it would be like to have a blended family.  It had felt overwhelming and complicated and impossible.  When Lili decided that Grandma was her people, though, she became one of ours.  I never had to make the big decision, she made it for me.
That was more than six years ago. Since then, Lili has been a central figure in my life. Instead of bridesmaids in our wedding, we had a glorious herd of flowergirls, featuring Lilia. She’s been with us for many firsts, most of them magical and happy.  First room of her own, first puppy, first international flight, and first caribbean vacation with my nieces who are now Lili’s cousins.  
There have been some tough firsts too. Three years ago this week, she broke her arm on a weekend trip and required a surgical repair. So, her first hospital stay was on our watch as well. I’ve had the pleasure of watching her go from an impy little mop of curls to a lovely girl with a huge heart and bright smile.
She is absolutely the best big sister to little T, better than I could ever have hoped for. She is a patient, kind, creative, and tireless playmate for him, despite a 5 year age gap that means her interests are in a different league entirely.
Lili never ceases to impress me.  Today I am thankful for her parents, who brought her into this world and let her be part of mine. Most of all, though, I am thankful to Lili, for choosing my family as an extension of her own.

Happy 9th Birthday, Lilia.  

Love,  Karen