Monday, August 29, 2016

Understanding the Fear and Growing Through It

Our girl started second grade today. She told me last night as I was putting her to bed that she was excited and a little scared ... but mostly excited.

She was up at 6:45 this morning with wide eyes and a smile, ready to take on the world. In the last few days I swear she's grown a couple inches.

Sometimes the growth and change in our children seems to happen so suddenly. One day they are playing dressup, and the next day they're asking questions parents aren't yet ready to answer.

I recently got to witness one of these developmental leaps in Evie.

It centered around the events of Jeff's injury.

She and I were in her room talking about fear. The subject came up because she had been playing out front earlier that day, and I'd been watching her like a hawk. I tried to explain why I keep such a close eye on her - that I'm not necessarily watching her. But rather, I'm watching out for her.

I fully believe that because of Jeff's injury, I now have a deep-seeded, almost constant fear that something else bad will happen. My fear then manifests itself into the completely irrational thinking that if I keep my eye on Evie, nothing bad will happen to her. If I can see her, she'll be fine. And I think my mind follows this completely irrational path because I didn't actually see Jeff's accident happen. It's one of those, "Maybe if I'd been watching him he wouldn't have been hurt" nonesense things my brain sometimes does.

And so the conversation I was having with Evie turned to the day of Jeff's injury.

Evie was at the beach when Jeff was hurt. She had turned four just a couple months before, and as she stood in the sand that day, she couldn't possibly understand that she was witnessing an abrupt change in the course of her family's life.

She's asked me so many questions about that day. Things her four-year-old-mind doesn't remember: "What bathing suit was I wearing the day Daddy got hurt?" "What was I doing right when Daddy hit his head?" "How did I get home from the hospital that day?"

But the questions she asked me now were different. They were deeper and showed a surprising level of empathy that, frankly, I didn't expect yet.

"Did you cry when you first ran up to Daddy when he was laying in the sand?" I didn't cry right away, I told her. I was really scared and was trying to figure out what had happened to Daddy. And sometimes when you're scared and confused, you don't cry right away.

"What was Daddy feeling when he was laying there?" Then she clarified - showing that she was talking about his emotional state rather than physical sensation because she knows that was something that was already gone for him. "I think he was probably really freaked out!" she continued. And on the words "freaked out" she opened her hands and thrust them downward with each syllable to emphasize the emotion. Yes, Daddy was really freaked out. He was very, very scared.

"When they took Daddy in the ambulance, did you ride next to him?" No, I wasn't allowed to ride next to him because the paramedics had to work on him during the ambulance ride. I rode up front with the driver."

"When you got to the hospital, did you stay with Daddy?" The nurses and doctors took Daddy into the hospital to do X-rays on him to find out what happened to his neck. I had to go with a woman to the waiting room and give her all of Daddy's information. After that, I got to go back into the room with Daddy.

"Was he sleeping when you got there?" No, the doctors and nurses were just getting ready to sedate him.

"Was he still really freaked out?"

With that one question, the images of being in that room with Jeff came flooding back to me. It was a tiny room. Hospital staff whizzed around Jeff hooking him up to every machine they could cram into that tiny space. I floated in a trance to Jeff's side. His brown eyes wide with sheer panic met mine, but I could tell that he couldn't really see me. His voice was weak and hoarse, and his shouted words came out as a whisper - "I can't breathe!" - and they left a breath mark on the oxygen mask over his mouth.

The doctors made me leave Jeff's side, but they didn't make me leave the room. I stood down by Jeff's motionless feet as they prepared to intubate him. I looked away as they put the breathing tube in his mouth and down into his lungs. I could see numbers and flashing lights on all of the monitors, but I didn't know what any of them meant. Then slowly, as each staff member finished their job, they ensured their patient was stable, and they began leaving the room, one by one. Until it was just me and Jeff, and the beep, beep, beeping of the monitors.

I was numb and gripped with fear.

I shook the memory away and came back to the present. I quickly decided all those details were probably a little too much for this particular conversation, so I simply answered, Yes sweetie, he was still really freaked out.

She nodded, satisfied with what she'd learned from our conversation.

And I realized that I was witnessing a growing moment. Her questions about that day were no longer centered around her. Today she was interested in learning about the experiences of others. She showed me that she understands that it was a really scary day for all of us - for her, for me, especially for Jeff. And she showed me that she isn't afraid to talk about it.

This morning, the first day of second grade, just before Evie and I headed out the door to walk to the bus stop, Jeff needed suctioning. We always need to make sure there's no obstructions in his lungs before I leave the house, even for just a few minutes. Jeff not being able to breathe is one of our biggest fears. I stood to the left of his bed and made quick work of clearing his lungs. Evie stood to the right of his bed, and as I finished up the suction work, she expertly grabbed the vent tubing, attached it back to his trach, and secured it on both sides with rubber bands, her fingers moving deftly and confidently.

She looked at us and smiled her yeah, I just did that smile. This is one fear she's definitely conquered.

Still, this life is filled with all kinds of fear. And everyday we interact with it.

We face it.
We re-experience it.
We overcome it.
We learn to live with it.

But mostly, we grow through it.



 Look how far we've come.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Quad Cuisine - Fajitas!

Since Jeff and I have recently begun cooking together (you can read the back story on that, here), today's post is the first official segment of ...

... where my quadriplegic husband instructs me on how to make a meal.

A couple weeks ago, Jeff says to me, "I want to make fajitas for dinner this week."

I'd never made fajitas before. (No surprise there.) Neither had Jeff. So it seemed like the perfect meal to tackle together.

The night before the meal, we opened up the skirt steak we had in the fridge, and I cut it into strips. We realized there wouldn't be enough meat to feed everyone (we had Jeff's parents and my dad on the guest list), so we added a couple chicken breasts.

Evie had the job of pounding them with Jeff coaching her in the background.

She's really putting some muscle behind this whack.

Then it was time for me to cut up the fruit and veggies: red and green peppers, onions, and mushrooms. Jeff instructs me to cut the peppers into strips "pencil thin." After what seemed like two hours of cutting vegetables, my work clearly shows that the pencils I've been using are thicker than most. Haha.

Here are the veggies and meat as they prepare for a night of marinating in the refrigerator.

I didn't take any photos or videos of myself and my still-in-development knife skills, though I did snag this quick video from my computer while Evie and I were watching The Adventures of Puss in Boots on Netflix. Perhaps in time I can be this good.

So the next day was fajita day!

Jeff does a great job of giving me instructions when I cook. He knows I need both an overview of where this meal is going then a breakdown of each step (I used to be a procedure writer, so the more specific, the better).

First he tells me to get out the "limp wrist pan." This is what we'll be cooking the meat and veggies in. It's a goliath pan than weighs about a hundred pounds, and every time I lift it, my wrist goes all limp, hence the nickname.

I made Jeff take a picture of me holding it:

Now it was time to begin. Jeff informs me that we need to cook the meat first, then take it out while the veggies cook, then put the meat back in and stir the whole thing together. Why we're doing it this way is beyond me. I'm just following instructions.

So I heat up the limp wrist pan and in goes the meat.

By this time my in-laws have arrived - from three houses up the street - and we immediately put them to work (afterall, they're part of Team Quad Cuisine too!) My mother-in-law starts the rice, and I hand my father-in-law my phone and ask him to take photos.

Here we are as things begin to come together.

At this point Jeff asks me, "How's the meat looking?" His chair doesn't sit high enough for him to see into the pans, so he has to rely on my description.

I shrug and say, "It looks like it's sizzling."

He rolls his eyes and tells me to hold up a piece for him to see. He inspects and says it's time to take the meat out and put in the veggies.

I've failed to prepare a plate for the meat to hang out on while the veggies take a turn in the limp wrist pan, so I fumble around a bit until Jeff finally says, "Just grab any plate. A paper plate is fine."

So I get a paper plate and set it on the counter next to the pan.

That's on the stove.

Over an open flame.

(If you can see where this is going, you have more foresight that I did).

After a couple scoops of meat have been safely transferred from the pan to the paper plate, I begin to smell a hint of smoke.

Then I see orange flame.

"Ohmygod! The plate is on fire!" I scream. Thankfully I was able to big-bad-wolf it out before things really went south. Whew. Never a dull moment in this life.

Here's the evidence:

After all the excitement, a much needed wine break was in order.

So now we're in a bit of a holding pattern while everything cooks. I have a tendency to want to constantly stir, poke at, or otherwise prod the food while it's on the stove. I kept asking Jeff, "Should I stir it now?" And he would close his eyes and shake his head. 

After a few more times of asking the same question, he simply looked at me and said,  "Just. Let. It. Cook."

After some impatient toe tapping, I was finally given the go ahead on the stirring. I open the lid to the veggies (which the meat had rejoined by this point), and Jeff patiently and calmly tells me that my de-lidding technique could use some improvement. You see, whenever I take the lid off of a pan, I unceremoniously lift it and pull it away from the pan. Then depending which side of the stove the pan is on, I drip the condensation either all over the stove and countertop or all over the floor. Today it was the latter.

Jeff then explains to me that if I simply lift the lid straight up, then tilt the lid vertically over the pan, the liquid will magically fall back into the pan, and thus save some cleanup time later in the evening.

Gah ... all these little details! I'm realizing this cooking business takes practice and patience.

And that I've got a lot to learn.

But that's okay.

Because what I'm also realizing about cooking is that it can be fun, even exciting. (Did I really just write that? Anyone who knows me from our old life is likely gasping in shock at that statement.)

But it's true.

For me, learning something new and acquiring new skills is both fulfilling and rewarding.

For Jeff, finding a new way to do something - to be a part of something he loved doing in an old life - is restorative. It's a way for him to feel useful again.

And being able to make all this happen together, even if it isn't perfect, is a recipe for happiness.


So with the table set and the food hot and ready, we sat down (or as Evie points out, "Well, Daddy was already sitting down") and devoured our fajitas, rice, and beans.


Even Evie with her picky, seven-year-old palate gave the meal two thumbs up!

And do you know what one of the best parts about this meal was? ...

Leftovers the next day!

Here's a pic of my and Jeff's plates:

And in case you're wondering, Evie ate corndogs.

Just keepin it real.

Happy cooking everyone! Thanks for following along.

Team Quad Cuisine