Friday, October 14, 2011

Flat and Futile

First, before you say "typical girl" to yourself or "that's a pregnant woman for you," let me remind you that the way we process life's circumstances and the decisions we all make are based on the previous experiences we've had. Shortly after we were married one of the rear wheels on Matt's old Ford Escort began grinding and the back end of the car swaying. We were told by a mechanic then that the wheel had nearly fallen off. We were also recently told by a mechanic that something was wrong with the back end of our Toyota Camry that caused it to feel a little loose and rattle, but that it didn't pose a safety hazard. With these experiences in mind, I think it was actually quite understandable that I immediately assumed that mechanic had been wrong when the Camry began to shake and make a horrific grinding noise today on my way to the Children's hospital with Naomi.

One hour away from home, I had just passed a rest stop, feeling that I could make it to the next one, when there was a sudden, horrific grinding noise from the back end of our Camry and I felt the car become difficult to control. I immediately pulled into the right lane, then the shoulder, and about ten yards further to the intersection of a small side road. Shaking with the adrenaline surge, I was adequately prepared to defend myself from any attacker, but found it more than a little difficult to think clearly. I began to hop out of the car so I could have a look at the rear wheels, but I thought, "Silly girl! What in the world am I going to see? If something is that seriously wrong with the car I might as well stay put and call a tow truck ASAP." But where was my cell phone? OK, there it is. Now who am I calling? Oh yeah, I have AAA coverage. Where did I put that card?

So I proceeded to call AAA and order up a tow truck, then my friend who was watching my kids, then another friend who agreed to drive down and pick me up, then my parents because, well, they're my parents, and then Matt's voicemail, even though I knew there wasn't a thing he could do, and finally the children's hospital to cancel Naomi's appointment. By that time I realized I needed to save my cell phone battery so I sat a minute watching the wild clover wave in the ditch beside me. Finally, I decided there couldn't be any harm now to taking a look at the back wheels, even though I most certainly wouldn't be able to see anything, and it obviously wouldn't change my situation at all.

Coming around the rear end of the Camry to the passenger side, I suddenly felt utterly ridiculous. The tire was completely flat and ripped to shreds. It looked like Sasquatch had attempted to eat it for lunch. Oh. A flat tire. Right.

For half a second I wondered if I should be able to handle this myself, but 0.5 seconds later I recalled that my last lesson in flat-tire changing was fourteen years ago in driver's education class. About that time I also recalled that I was seven months pregnant and that squatting for an extended period of time while trying to turn lug nuts with all my might would probably be less than an ideal way to spend my morning.

One humiliating phone call to AAA followed to change my tow truck request to a tire change request. "Umm, so I actually looked at the car,'s a flat tire...sorry...guess I should have looked before I called you." Then I called my friend, who was nearly half-way to meet me and told her to turn around and go home. "Um...sorry...guess I should have looked at the car before I called you...oh wait...maybe I should make sure I actually have a spare tire in the trunk...hang, OK, you can go home now." And then I called my parents, and then Matt's voicemail again. Regaining consciousness, I began to compute just how late I would be to the neurosurgery appointment, and decided that I could still try to make it there after my tire was changed, if they would accommodate me showing up two hours late. Unfortunately, they would not accommodate the pregnant lady with the sick daughter and the flat tire. Rules are rules, sorry, then next available appointment is November 3rd, ma'am. So I booked us for November 3rd and wondered just what adventure I could look forward to if I went into labor on my way to that appointment. And then my cell phone battery began beeping, so it was just me and Naomi and the waving ditch of purple clover.

It was a pretty ditch, and I was thankful that it was a warm day and that I had packed lunch. I almost could have been content to wait for the service man to change my tire, except that by this point my bladder was threatening to burst. I looked back at the horizon where the giant McDonald's/BP rest stop mocked me less than a mile away. Then I looked at the warm, inviting ranch house just in front of me with the well groomed yard and the pretty mums beside the porch. I calculated the odds of a demented mad-man living in that house and grooming his mums just hoping to lure in some innocent lady who had car trouble nearby, and I found the odds fairly low. I decided to take my chances ringing that doorbell over squatting in a ditch with ankle-high clover beside a busy highway.

Naomi skipped happily in front of me to the house and we rang the doorbell...once, twice, three times, but alas, either no one was home, or the demented mad-man inside decided to wait until I died of a ruptured bladder before making his attack. Back to the car we went, where I sat looking at the McDonald's/BP sign and then the ditch, and back to the sign. About this time an old man with a white beard pulled up beside me and rolled down his window. Thankful for his gesture of concern, I opened my door and walked to his van window. "It's just a flat tire. I'm OK, triple-A is on their way," I assured him.

He wrinkled his forehead and looked at me with contempt, then remarked in all seriousness, "Didn't your daddy ever teach you how to change a flat tire?!"

Taken slightly aback, I responded, "Well, I learned thirteen years ago, but I am seven months pregnant now. I think I'll let triple-A handle it." He slobbered slightly on his beard, shook his head in utter disgust, and drove away. With that new temperature reading on the local hospitality I began to feel fortunate that no one had answered the door at the house.

I passed time in my car wondering if someone had actually slashed my tire on purpose the night before and composing nasty letters in my head to the cruel person who would do such a thing. Then I calmed myself and went over again in my head all the things I was hoping to discuss with the doctor today that would now have to wait until November 3rd.

The recent CT on Naomi's spine had shown "incomplete fusion of the posterior elements at L5," which means that one vertebrae in Naomi's lower back hadn't formed properly. Apparently this can be a normal variant of anatomy that causes no problems whatsoever, or it can accompany other spinal-cord abnormalities, namely a "tethered cord." The Internet articles had warned that a tethered cord, which is generally a birth defect but worsens over time, can cause club feet (which Naomi has) and a host of neurological symptoms as the child grows, including back pain and Naomi's newest symptom: pain trying to uncurl her toes.

I had wavered about whether or not to make another trip to the neurosurgeon to ask about yet more strange symptoms and my Internet research. Sometimes I just feel like I must be the most annoying, paranoid mother to these poor doctors. The spinal abnormality could be harmless. Naomi's club feet could very well be due to low levels of amniotic fluid during pregnancy because of her kidney condition. It's just that that explanation has never fully satisfied me since Naomi's kidney function was more than adequate when she was born, no ultrasound or measurement ever suggested I had low amniotic fluid, and her kidney condition actually causes her to pee excessively, not too little. Her recent symptoms of tight legs, worsening club feet, and painfully curled toes could be a result of tight tendons and ligaments because she laid in bed for too long in the hospital without stretching them out. But these could all point to a tethered cord as well, and that would offer an explanation as to why what should have been a routine spinal tap caused her excessive pain for weeks afterwards.

I had called the neurosurgeon two weeks ago to discuss some other concerns with him, and I had not ever received an answer. Then, on Wednesday, when I was about to call him again with my new concerns, I suddenly received a computer generated courtesy call to let me know that his office had taken the liberty of scheduling an office visit for Naomi today at 1:00pm. I decided that must be a sign that I should drive Naomi down to see him again and ask him about my new concerns.

But here I sat, me and the clover ditch and the mad-man's house, not any closer to answering the profound medical mysteries inside my daughter. I wondered for awhile if she would be better off without me constantly dragging her around to doctors appointments, but then I recalled just how much she has improved in the last year since I pushed for answers and found that she had celiac disease and a host of other food sensitivities. The stomach aches are gone, the joint pain has vanished, the tantrums have diminished greatly, and it is because I relentlessly pushed for answers. Whether I seem crazy or not, I know that I must continue to ask questions and demand accurate answers: the consequences of my laziness could be too great if I didn't.

Exactly three hours after I placed the SOS call to AAA, and just as I felt I must be succumbing to water intoxication, a tow truck arrived. A kind man hoped out, jacked up the car, popped on the new tire, and had me back on the road in under five minutes. God bless that man. He also assured me that no one had slashed my tire, but the wall had blown out in seven places as I drove to the shoulder and pulled off the road. A large silver screw embedded in my tire was enough evidence of the cause of my troubles.

I was back at the McDonald's/BP travel stop thirty seconds later. Within an hour I was safe at home, wondering why my day had been completely consumed by futility. I may never know, but I can decide to be angry with the unforgiving universe or I can decide to be grateful to the God who put a screw in my tire. Maybe the doctors appointment isn't what Naomi or I needed today. Maybe it's better if I remember that today was ultimately out of my hands, much the same way my daughter's health is. There's rest in remembering that.

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