School’s Out

For the summer!

Well, even though I’m not on the blog so much these days because time is simply something I don’t have, I did want to post a little bit to celebrate the end of the school year. Nell is a first grader now, which is almost impossible for me to believe. Even though she was a school-ager already, she was a kindergartner, and kindergarten is different — it’s still young, it’s still my baby.  But now she is one of those school kids who know the routines in the halls, who can handle the lunch room, and who carry their backpack like a pro.  Wait, no, she still wants me to carry that.

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She’s taller, she’s smarter, and she has grown up so much this year (even though, yanno, she was five when she started kindergarten, and she is still five years old, much to her dismay — she recently discovered she will always be the youngest in her class, and she was NOT pleased).

She had a wonderful school year, and we were really lucky to have such a wonderful teacher (and teacher’s assistant, who Nell adored).  It’s hard to remember the beginning of the year, but now she can add and subtract, she can read almost anything (and tries to read everything), and I definitely can’t spell words in front of her anymore — that game is OVER.

She has also gotten stronger and more confident.  She has been doing a CrossFit kids program since Easter, and it has been an excellent experience for her.  She can carry kettlebells, rope climb, do burpees, and is close to doing complete pull-ups on her own.  She practices on a bar she has at home with various attachments, and she is so proud of her progress.  She practices every night and is proud of her strength and her new skills.

I am so happy with Nell’s school, which has a really strong spirit and sense of community. This weekend, I joined members of the PTA and teachers from the school to paddle in a series of dragon boat races as part of a massive fundraising event to benefit End Hunger in Calvert County.  More than 10,000 families in Calvert County rely on the organization, including families at Nell’s school, so it was an honor to help raise $4000 to support this organization along with other members of Nell’s school community.  Here are a few shots G took of the event.

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First race of the day — we got our butts kicked in this race but it was a great *learning experience* of what not to do!  We did much better in our second and third races.IMG_8552 IMG_8559

Game face was on! (So were my jellyfish pants, for one race anyway!)IMG_8580 IMG_8587 IMG_8600

Race two, second place — a little bit better!IMG_8636 IMG_8661

Our third race was for the division cup (PTA versus teachers).  We took the trophy, but it was nothing but smiles on both teams. Our team motto may have been “in it to win it” but really, the motto was “two boats, one team.”IMG_8682

Now that school is out, we’re in full summer mode. Beach days, pool nights, mermaid tails, and beach towels hanging on every rack and rail. It’s going to be a great summer!

The empty space in the room

I had a fluoroscopy today, which is basically a test where you don’t eat for a day, then you chug cement, then you get x-rays taken every 15 minutes over the course of several hours, then they use a strange paddle to smoosh your insides around to take even better pictures, and just when you think you’re going to puke, they tell you it’s time to go.  I’ve got several more tests like these in the next few weeks (all the things that end in SCOPY!) — all of which require fasting and cement mixtures and some of which add in sedation for the trifecta win!  All trying to see might have caused the volvulus, and what has been going on since.  Do I know how to have fun?

But since I feel like an absolute slug right now, it’s a good time for another back blog post!

When we first moved into this house in 2013, we did a lot of updates/remodels — most notably, the kitchen, the bathrooms, the basement, and the guest house. After that initial burst of GETALLTHETHINGSDONE, major updates slowed down, in part because, yanno, kids, life, work, etc., but also in part because the things we didn’t do right away were more often than not the things we were undecided on.  Things like the fence — when we first moved in, we had expected to fence a much larger portion of yard until we realized our property lines were wider and more complicated than that, and the change in plans led to so much indecision.  But the fence for the yard and the gates for the deck turned out to be such a wonderful change that really enhanced our quality of life outside around the house.  And things like the stairwell and the loft — we puzzled over solutions for that for years before realizing what we wanted to do to update the space and make it safer and more usable (and I do owe this blog some proper photos of that transformation at some point).

And, most recently, things like the big empty gap between our kitchen and dining room that just existed.  As you will recall, our kitchen looked like this when we moved in:

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We remodeled the kitchen, but kept it on the same (more or less) footprint as the old kitchen, which meant that we still had one annoying problem: the empty space between the kitchen and the dining room that was just useless.  (Also, I forgot what it looked like to see the wood railing! Wow, I don’t miss that!)

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We tried different solutions for the space over the years — a rug, the kids’ play table, that little sideboard, but nothing felt right.  I had one (spectacular, if I do say so myself) idea for the space, which would have only required a major remodel of the kitchen and some plumbing here and there to move the laundry but for WHATEVER REASON, G vetoed that.  So, luckily there was a second idea in place that I sketched to G in concept and he ran with and built himself.  And it turned out to be one of the most fabulous changes we have made to the house!

He redid the bar top and extended it into a full counter over the empty space.  More seating (cough, when we buy more bar stools, thanks IKEA for discontinuing these), space for appetizers and platters when we have folks over for dinner and meals, and an area for everyone to gather and have snacks while I cook that isn’t actually IN the kitchen.

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And since we were IKEA-ing, and G likes to wrap all projects into one, we also replaced those awful laundry doors with beautiful glass sliding doors.  And by “we,” I mean G. This was all his project.

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The Eagle

I’ve been watching the tides.  I always watch the tides, even when I am not on the water.  In the morning, checking the weather, the water temperature, the tides, and the wind are as natural to me as checking my email.  Since I started my recovery walking (which is when I replace my early morning sunrise paddle with an early morning sunrise walk and pretend I enjoy it just as much), I’ve walked more than 55 miles on our beach. Most of my walks end in the same spot where the trees have fallen from the cliff and meet the tide, creating an impassable (unless I feel like climbing a tree and going for a wade in 45 degree water) turnaround spot.

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But when the tides are very low, a thin stretch of beach appears that connects our community to the town north of us like beads on a string, and one can walk for miles and miles on the shoreline with only a few branches to hop over and some small creeks to jump across.

I’ve been waiting for a super low tide to coincide with my morning walk, and yesterday was the day — bright sunshine, warm morning temperature, and an open stretch of beach from one town to the next.  I knew exactly where I wanted to go — to see if my bald eagle, the one who watches me when I paddle and does a single loop overhead every time (whether he is assessing if I am a threat or if I am food, I do not know), was still on his perch.

The walk started out with a gorgeous sunrise.

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My footprints were the only ones on the sandbars and stretches of beach that are normally covered with water.

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He was there, of course, in the same tree where I knew I would find him.  He didn’t fly over me, though — just watched. I must look less tasty on the sand.

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As it turns out, he protects more than the cliffs. I found an absolute treasure trove of sea glass on the sand under his watchful eye.  I filled my pockets with beautiful colors that are perfect for some of the sea glass crafts I want to do this summer.  I had to start a new glass jar just for the glass from yesterday’s walk–and I filled it halfway!

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I turned around in the spot where I usually turn on my board — my normal short paddle 3 mile marker.  I know the mile markers by heart from the water, and I enjoyed seeing them from the sand.  Though I’d rather be paddling, I am grateful I had the opportunity to walk on the full stretch of beach.  It’s too far for the kids to walk, and it’s something I just may never have done otherwise.

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Serum Sickness, I think

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For ten days, I had the best recovery. My incisions were healing, my surgical site felt great, and I was walking miles a day and gradually picking up my pace. I didn’t need any of the meds that had been sent home with me from the hospital, and I felt strong and comfortable.

On day 11, everything fell apart.

I could feel it starting in my back that day, a dull ache that splintered if I stretched the wrong way. I thought I had been spending too much time in my desk chair, so I went for a walk. Movement felt better, but by the end of the walk, I could feel the soreness creeping in. So I went home to rest and laid down on the couch.

I couldn’t get up from the couch. With blinding pain, it felt as thought my spine had been severed. I could not sit up or stand up, and as hard as I tried to straighten my spine — holding on to G, holding on to furniture — I could not do it. In tears, I took one of the strong pain meds I had received post-operation, which had been untouched until that point, and G helped me get into bed. What did I do? I was certain it was my fault. I had sat too long, or walked too much, or bent at the wrong angle.

The following morning, my back ached, but the blinding, searing pain had faded. Instead, with every step, pain tore through my knees. Had I overdone it? Had I walked too much? I noticed, too, that a rash was forming across my ankles and feet. Was this all connected to the surgery, or had I done something? I thought through every step I had taken. Did I ever go through any grasses?  Strange leaves? Did I get bitten?  But the rash covered both feet, and I had never gone out in anything but pants, socks, and sneakers. The thought of it being a contact rash seemed unlikely, but I pushed concern away and focused on making it to Monday. On Monday, I could see my doctor.

I tried to have as normal a day as possible, but by the end of the evening, my joints were screaming. My knees, my back, my neck, and my shoulders ached. The rash on my feet was spreading. I took meds and went to bed, hoping for the best.

A few hours later, I woke up with the severed spine sensation again. I was sleeping alone in Guy’s room so I could sleep propped up and not bother anyone if I had to get up or move around. But this time, I could not get out of bed. I finally managed to roll out, but could not stand up. I gripped the side of his bunk bed, but could not stand up, no matter how hard I tried. I crawled to the bathroom, where I knew I was going to be sick from the shocking pain, and I realized the rash was spreading. It had covered my hands, and my ankles under the original rash had started to swell.

Before the sun even came up, I called the urgent care line and was able to connect to my doctor who was on call, and she told me to go to the ER, and so we did. By the time we arrived, everything hurt, and the rash had begun to spread over my knees.

This week, I have seen more doctors than ever before (has it really been less than a week?), given blood, had x-rays and CT scans, and realized that even when you can’t make a certain diagnosis, there is an awful lot you can try to rule out. In the end, my doctors are of the general agreement that this was a case of serum sickness — a severe allergic reaction to something that was administered to me during surgery. I didn’t have all the symptoms (such as a fever) and no one had ever quite seen it manifest like it did for me, but the timeline, the general symptoms, and the fact that the treatment course (steroids, antihistamines, pain meds, and more…) I started in the hospital worked, all point to that being the likely diagnosis.

It has been a disappointing setback, but I think I am on the right track now.  The swelling and the rash have finally faded over the past two days, and I am focused on weaning myself off of meds I never intended to take, and working to get strength back, particularly in my legs and my back. I missed a few sunrises in the midst of all this, but then I caught a few that were worth the wait…
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Sunrises and Healing

I saw the sunrise today. It started out like this.

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And then gradually got a little lighter, a little brighter.

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Until finally the sun appeared on the horizon and squeezed in for just a moment before it slipped behind the clouds for the rest of the day.

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My dawn outings began as the only time to paddle that didn’t interfere entirely with family life and our day. In the summer, when it’s light enough out that I can get on the water exceptionally early, I can even manage to slip back inside the house on certain days before Nell wakes up.  (Guy is always up.)

But now, dawn is my favorite time.  I love the sunrise — I can’t count how many I had the privilege of seeing in 2016.  I love paddling toward the light, witnessing the colors, and watching the night give way to morning.

I am not on the water right now.  I am sidelined for 4-6 weeks depending on who you talk to (me or a doctor), but the one thing I didn’t want to lose during this recovery window is my time with the sunrise.  So since I’m not paddling there, I am walking there.

A shot of the pre-dawn light earlier this week.

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I never wrote about the surgery or shared anything here in the lead-up to it primarily because it all happened very fast and it all happened over the holidays. In fact, the call that I got from my doctor explaining that the surgery would be a bit more intensive than we thought came while we were at the airport on the way home from Florida.

(If you’re not in the mood to read a surgery story, feel free to skip down to the beach pictures below!  I won’t mind, really.)

It started as a lot of pain that came in waves throughout 2016.  Pain so severe on some days that I couldn’t walk.  The bad days became more frequent, and the good days became less good, until there was never really a day when I was without discomfort.  I told my doctor in December that I thought something was wrong, and just before Christmas, I had an ultrasound that found a tumor that would need to come out, taking one ovary with it.

I had a follow-up MRI (also known as the most expensive procedure ever) between Christmas and New Year’s which confirmed the tumor and also showed that my uterus was sick (unrelated to the tumor).

So, about a month after finding all that out — last Monday — I had surgery to remove the tumor, during which I also had a hysterectomy and an oophorectomy and kicked in my tubes for good measure.  (Going in? Take it all!)

The surgery went really well. There were two major concerns going into it: that I would have too much scar tissue from my c-sections that they wouldn’t be able to perform the surgery laparoscopically and I would need full open abdominal surgery; and that they wouldn’t be  able to save my second ovary, which would have put me into medical menopause.  But neither of those things happened, and so for the last week I’ve been focused on recovery.

I really had no idea what to expect from the laparoscopic surgery.  One of my most vivid memories from my c-sections is of the first time I tried to stand up after Nell’s birth. Moving upright felt like my insides were ripping apart, and I’ve never forgotten that sensation — that awful moment when your body feels like it’s doing unreal things. I had expected something similar, but to a lesser degree, from this surgery, but I was really surprised at how different it was.

Admittedly, it took a while to get pain management under control after the procedure. My blood pressure and heart rate were too low for them to be able to start on the prescription painkillers, and there were several hours post-surgery that were almost unbearable.  But once we got on top of things, all I could think was that I needed to get up.  The bed was making every part of me ache, and I was in a near panic wanting to get up.  I hadn’t been cleared to get up until the following morning, but around 9pm that night, I begged the nurse to call my surgeon and get permission to start moving around, and doing so provided so much relief.  And I was so scared for that first time I sat upright — thinking of my c-sections and the pain in that moment — and it was absolutely fine.

It’s been a week now.  The worst of the pain early on was from the trapped air in my shoulders, which my pre-op nurse warned me about (but which no one could have fully warned me about because OMG, the pain).  But I tried to find a balance between staying active and resting, and within five days, I could no longer feel air in my upper body.

While I wouldn’t say recovery has been painful, it’s hard.  I still get tired easily, I can feel when I overdo it, and I need to lay down for portions of the day to give my body a rest.  Sitting at my desk for too long or standing for too long causes a painful pressure that I can only relieve by laying flat, which is about all I want to do by the end of the day.  But I am definitely getting better.  The incision sites themselves still hurt when they are touched or something brushes against them, so I am limited right now to sweat pants that sit below the incisions.  I am working from home this week and next to recover and regain my strength and my stamina.  I couldn’t wear a single pair of work pants comfortably right now, and I definitely couldn’t walk a mile from the parking garage to my office carrying my laptop and other work stuff.  Hopefully, by the time I return, none of that is an issue!

In the meantime, I am going to try and be the best recoverer I can be!  That means walking slowly twice a day on the beach, which is fabulous for my sea glass collection.  These four handfuls were from my first two days home.  Being slow has its benefits!

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It means walking to the sunrise instead of paddling to it.

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And it means staying off the water for now.  Admittedly, it’s been hard — we’ve had unusually warm days coupled with low winds (who knew that was even a thing around here!) and the flattest water.  I asked G whether there is a lesson to learn in the fact that almost all of my winter paddling was done on cold, windy days during small craft advisories, and as soon as I am off the water, it’s warm and calm.  He looked at me like I was nuts.

Those aren’t waves; they’re rollers coming in from barge traffic.

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Although, if we’re going to have a stretch of calm, glassy water, I am glad it is now, when I am fresh enough in my recovery that I don’t have a single thought to try and paddle.

Random picture of a very small lion’s mane jellyfish I took the other day on my walk. 

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However, in a few weeks, when my resolve is less steady, then let the seas rage!