Hernia

When you have kids, you spend a lot of time at the doctor’s. And when you spend a lot of time at the doctor’s, you get very used to hearing doctors say those three little words: “I don’t know.”

Except when they do … or think they do.

One day at a track meet, after running the 2-mile, Daveon doubled over in pain and lay on the turf for a solid 10 minutes. He had complained about pain from time to time before, but seeing it live prompted me to action. Daveon was off school the next day, which made it convenient to go to the doctor. There were only two issues: 1) Daveon’s regular doctor was out, so he was seen by a new nurse practitioner. And 2) there was only one appointment slot available, which happened to be right when I had an important conference call. So I had to drop Daveon at his appointment and take the call at a café nearby. He was 16 so this was doable, but not ideal.

The doctor visit was … inconclusive. The nurse practitioner referred Daveon to our nearby Children’s Hospital for X-rays, thinking the cause of pain might be a hernia. So we went and, as these things go, spent the next six or seven hours at the hospital.

The X-rays were … inconclusive. There was “something” that might be appendicitis, and nothing that looked like a hernia. So the X-ray people referred Daveon for an ultrasound—nothing like cold jelly on your belly on a Friday night. I told him if he ever gets pregnant, he’ll know what this feels like.

The ultrasound was … inconclusive. Again, they found “something” that might indicate some calcification on his appendix, but he didn’t have any of the classic symptoms of appendicitis, so they couldn’t say for sure. As these things go—again—by the time the doctor got back with the results, I was in the middle of a 20-minute break to get Mark and a friend to a school dance. By the time I got back, Daveon was dressed and ready to go, appendix intact.

I called Daveon’s regular doctor the next Monday. Because we were now officially in Wonderland, the doctor scratched her head as to why they just didn’t take the (unneeded) appendix out just in case, and promptly gave us a referral for an appendectomy.

We met with the surgeon in June, and arranged for the appendectomy in August—the earliest time that both patient and practitioner were available, given vacations and camps, etc. During the visit the surgeon poked and prodded and said he felt some swelling, which he termed a “sports hernia.” This, apparently, isn’t a real hernia, but something athletes get that is currently very trendy and usually prompts them toward surgery they don’t need. Because Daveon isn’t playing for the Miami Heat, the doctor instead recommended a treatment of eight weeks of mega-doses of ibuprofen—as well as rest (read: abstaining from athletic activity). Given that Daveon was looking forward to a breakout cross-country season in the fall, which included intense summer training, he was not at all happy about this. I, for my part, was not happy about 600mg of ibuprofen three times a day in his zero-body-fat, 95-pound frame. But, with the thought that this would improve his performance and overall health moving forward, we signed on.

For those keeping score at home, we’re now at one surgery for appendix, and one non-surgical medication treatment for non-hernia.

Come August, and it’s surgery time. Daveon goes in and under, and partway through the surgeon comes and finds me. “I’m taking out his appendix, and the scope is also showing a hernia. So I’m going to fix that while I’m in there, OK?”

In other words … the hernia he didn’t have? He had one.

The upshot is, Daveon got everything patched up at once, so file this under “blessing in disguise.” He actually did have a great start to his cross-country season, including his first-ever first-place finish. (The season was cut short for reasons I’ll talk about elsewhere … but for now we’ll celebrate victories.)

I told Daveon he should recommend joint hernia repairs/appendectomies for all his teammates. If the surgeon had a sharp uptick in business over the past three or four years, he has me to thank.

Next: Portrait of an Alterna-Dad: Weird

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Pain

One of the hard lessons I have had to learn as a parent is how to somehow get comfortable with pain. I am making this statement as someone who fits the description “pain-avoidant,” although “pain-terrified” might be more appropriate. And I’m not talking about one’s own pain—stubbed toe, heartburn, heart break—that everyone deals with, parent or no.

The pains that are specific to parenthood come in many forms. There is, of course, the pain accrued in your own experience when your kid—consciously or otherwise—rejects you, or defies you, or otherwise does the opposite of whatever would feel good for you in the moment. In other words, the pain you experience most days.

But the pain I’m thinking about here is the pain that your kid experiences, the physical and emotional ailments that you can’t fix, but can only try to support and comfort them through. Of course, watching your kid in pain brings about your own secondary pain—see preceding paragraph.

Though my kids have certainly suffered their share of emotional blows—some of which I write about in other posts—what stands out as a little bit funny, well after the fact of course, is their predilection for major leg injuries. In terms of these injuries, there is clearly some weird sibling energy going on here. Consider:

Over the course of our first year together, on different occasions, one of the kids woke up in the middle of the night screaming with leg pain, which led to a trip to the emergency room. Both visits lasted all night, required x-rays, and turned up nothing. (This, by the way, is usually the answer we get when either kid has a complaint that requires a doctor or hospital visit: nothing Their files under “cause unknown” must be a mile long.) To add that special je ne sais quois to the mix, both (non)emergencies happened the night before a holiday: Daveon on New Year’s Eve (a really, really good time to be in the emergency room, BTW), and Mark the night before his/our birthday. I’ve written before about the relationship for my kids between transition and anxiety—here we had something like a relationship between excitement and psychosomatic shingles.

Two of the other three major injuries the boys have incurred also involved their legs. During an outing in San Francisco, Mark was sliding down a covered slide, caught his foot on the wall of the slide near the bottom, and twisted his leg about 180 degrees. About a year later, during a little league game, Daveon was sliding home, caught his foot on the dirt, and twisted his leg about 180 degrees. Luckily, in neither case did the boys tear anything or cause any lasting damage, and they were both (literally) back on their feet after a few days. But if you ever want to feel your stomach twist about 180 degrees, try watching one of your kid’s body parts get mangled.

For the record, the third major injury was when Mark fractured his wrist. This happened during an afterschool dodge ball game, when the custodian (who I am guessing was older than 11) wanted to show off his strength by whaling the ball at a bunch of 11-year-olds. Mission accomplished: The guy must be pretty strong, because the ball caught Mark in the wrist and splintered it. Unlike the leg mishaps, this one required a cast, which at least gave Mark the chance to get sympathetic signatures from his classmates—and, if there’s any justice in the world, from the custodian. On the bright side, at least I didn’t have to witness this one.

Next: Hernia

Transitions

For the most part, I consider myself a pretty smart person. I like to think I have some accomplishments to back that statement up. On the other hand, sometimes I am not always so quick on the uptake. For example: Over the years, as if on schedule, my kids would regularly  get into some kind of trouble at these times of year:

  • The beginning of the school year
  • Winter break
  • Spring break
  • The end of the school year

After seven? eight? years of them losing outings and other privileges at these times, it finally dawned on me that: a) There’s a pattern here! and b) All these times have something in common: they are all periods of transition.

It took me roughly forever to understand how hard transitions are on my kids. However, once that light bulb finally went off, it wasn’t hard to understand why. I know that most of us don’t do well with transitions. But consider: If your foundational years often consisted of a (not very fun) game of “Now You Live Here, Now You Don’t” (and its spin-off, “Who’s Your Momma/Daddy? Well, Not Me, Anymore”), it makes perfect sense that any shift in context, however slight, would bring up deep wells of anxiety. And, as with most of us, our expressions of anxiety aren’t always the most constructive or useful.

I think the depth of my kids’ anxiety became clear to me when I realized that the “acting up” happened even during a supposedly positive transition. I could understand the boys getting out of hand when school starts—that’s no fun for anyone, guaranteed to bring about low moods and rebellion—but why would you “mess up” the beginning of summer vacation? (Or even, as on their second visit here, why you would act so nuts on New Year’s Eve that you get sent to bed at 8PM and miss the party?)

Lesson learned: Anxiety has no value judgments. It doesn’t discern between “good” situations and “bad” situations. There are only “scary” situations, however benign they might appear on the surface.

So, after those seven? eight? years, I was finally able to start taking a step back when one or (usually) both kids started going to their crazy-acting zone. I was finally able to remember to look at where we were not only in personal circumstances, but also on the calendar. It makes a world of difference to be able to say, “OK, school starts next week and you’re acting like a nut. My guess is that the change is making you anxious, even if you feel like it’s not .* Let’s assume that’s true and see what we can do about it, before you get yourself into any trouble.”

*(Other lesson learned: Kids aren’t always so good at self-evaluating anxiety. Shocking, I know.)

When I remember to take it, this approach has generally proven to keep things much calmer, and allows for a better conversation around limits: “Here’s what will work during this transition period, and here’s what crosses the line.” I know I am really fortunate, but I find my kids respond really well when we lay out the acceptable behavior paths and the consequences for straying from that path. It helps minimize the straying in the first place, and keeps things under control if a consequence needs to be delivered somewhere along the way. It also, I think, helps bring down the anxiety somewhat in the first place.

The beautiful thing about transitions is, they end. What was the “scary new thing” soon becomes “the thing,” and we get into our groove—at least until the next transition presents itself.

Next: Pain

Harm

As a rule, I try not to make gross generalizations based on my own experience. But I think it is safe to say that for most, if not all, parents, one of their worst fears is their child coming to harm. The situations and people who can cause harm to your child—whether accidentally or on purpose—are too numerous to count, let alone comprehend..

And then there is self-harm.

I am uncomfortable, and unsure, about the level of detail to reveal. I believe that the full story is my son’s to tell. I will say that over a period of about two years—fortunately, very occasionally in comparison to many of his peers—my son chose to take out his sadness, negative self-feelings, and rage, and attack not the perpetrators, but the victim: himself. His own body.

In over 10 years of parenting, nothing has come remotely close to the kick in the gut experienced—daily, hourly, sometimes more often—during this period. It was the most of the seven stages of grief—the ones before acceptance—coupled with terror, coupled with self-recrimination and guilt. It didn’t matter that the deep-seated causes of his pain happened, almost certainly, years before he first walked through my door. It didn’t matter that every parenting workshop, advice book, and mentor trumpeted the line “Good enough is good enough—you do not need to be perfect” over and over.

All that mattered was that my little boy was a victim of repeated attacks. And that, out of deep buried pain and shame, he was the perpetrator.

The reactions were, to me, astounding. His school—the one that trumpeted the line over and over to incoming parents, “Trust your kids to us during their time here. We will hold them.”—threatened to kick him out. (For what it’s worth, they did eventually kick him out, for an entirely unrelated reason.) The then-therapist told him, in front of me: “I’m not going to tell you not to do this behavior. If you want to do it, go ahead and do it.”

Needless to say, this wasn’t exactly the message I wanted to communicate.

It did reach a point where I finally said: “As your dad, I can’t see that loving you means just sitting here watching you hurt yourself and not trying to do anything about it. But if you tell me, ‘Dad, yes, the way to show you love me is to just let me do this, and not try to stop it or come up with alternatives or anything,’ then I promise I will.”

I think that conversation (maybe) helped. Something about giving him the power to define the loving action made him, I think, see that having a dad who sat back and did nothing might not feel so good after all.

In any case, that interaction seemed to mark the start of a turnaround.  With the help of some very wonderful people and the good thoughts and prayers of many more, my son did get past that period. My own internal “recovery” took a while longer, but I was eventually able to move past “constant vigilance” mode, looking for danger signs. If any of the “wonderful people” is reading this, I can’t thank you enough.

The experience of trying to find the authentic path to caring for my child also reinforced for me the importance of self-care. Current and future parents, lesson learned: When you are centered, and grounded, and calm, you can be present in a way that is simply not possible when “life” takes over. Engaging in self-care, whatever that looks like for you—nights out, vacations, naps, “grown-up time,” it doesn’t matter—not only helps you stay calm in the face of crisis. I firmly believe it may be one of the most effective ways of helping prevent crisis in the first place.

Your kids inherently love you, and you love them. Most kids are pretty good at loving themselves, however battered and bruised that might appear. Make sure parent loving self is part of that equation.

Next: Transitions