No-See-Ums. A Public Service Announcement.

Beware an evening on the beach.  Sure, the sand is warm and the sun is gently fading.  The light may be perfect for those family photos you’ve been wanting.  Maybe the breeze has picked up and your husband wants to fly his kites and your kids want to play in the sand?  All of those things are tempting.  And possibly so distracting that you won’t notice much else.

Until 3am that night.

Before bed they were tiny pricks of red, almost like a rash.  EVERYWHERE.  And then when I woke up with fever and nausea and intense itching, they had arrived.  I counted over a hundred just on my lower right leg and lower right arm.  When I lifted my shirt and saw my abdomen and chest, I started counting proper, but lost count somewhere in the 400s before getting to my back or hands.

Here is my lower right leg now.  I had some prednisone (enough for a proper dose and taper) and began taking them as soon as we got home.  Antihistamines, of course, are part of my daily regimen.  Topical anti-itch, camphor (Calamine), and some-sort of topical antibacterial are all part of the arsenal… along with scalding water and freezer packs.  Anything to dull the burn and itch.

There were no-see-ums (also called sand fleas, midges, and a bunch of other things I can’t remember but are equally horrible) in Honduras and they were BAD… but I knew they were going to be there and wore proper repellent (which helped), avoided the beach as much as possible (never left the water), and wore long garments covered with DEET.  I had no idea there were in Pensacola Beach… the very beach where we’d spent the past week plus previous weekend.

Here is the public service information about them:

Sand fleas feed on organic and decaying plants. A favorite treat is seaweed on the beach. Whenever seaweed washes to shore, there will be a large number of sand fleas around and a sand flea bite is likely to occur. In general, the sand on the beach is a popular location for these fleas to live.

A sand flea bite is most likely to occur at dawn or in the evening and night time hours on the beach or other sandy areas that are near water. Wetlands, swamplands, creeks, and lakebeds are other areas where sand fleas can be found. Sand fleas generally stay close to their breeding ground. They never wander more than 350 feet or about 100 meters from their breeding area.

The fleas will jump onto the feet, ankles, legs, and then bite. They are very persistent and quite annoying. Because of their small size, a sand flea bite occurs before individuals even know any sand fleas were in the area. Like a mosquito, a sand flea bites to suck blood. ….  The sand flea bite involves the injection of saliva to thin the blood, making it easier for the flea to take blood from its victim. This same saliva triggers the body’s immune system to react.

Despite its size, the bite from a sand flea is quite painful. In fact, most of the time the bite is more painful than one from a typically larger mosquito. In addition to pain, the bite causes a large welt or rashes on the skin that can persist for several days. A fever may also occur. The welts or hives produced from bites are very itchy.

Also?  On my arms, in the middle of all the bites, I have (relatively small, comparatively) jellyfish stings (these don’t bother much).

And?  The edges of the plastic tubes of anti-itch cream make for excellent, eyes-rolling-back-in-your-head excellent, scratching.  It’s about the only thing those darn things are good for.

Was the beach angry that we were leaving?

Am I really that tasty?  (I’m the only one with bites.)

Is this just really, really bad luck?

Suggestions.  Ideas.  Stories.  Information.  People with long, sharp nails.  All are welcome.


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Red Ants Marching

They wait between the bridge and the bird island, very close to mediation walk.  Not the only red ant mound in Audubon Park, but certainly one of the largest.  So large that toddlers may find the urge to climb it.

She did it on Sunday, a week ago.  Falling into the pile meant that her hands and knees took the most punishment.  Little puss-filled bites are on her fingers on palms.  A few trail down her legs.  Paul was there in a second — we saw it happen before it actually happened — to beat the ants off of her, taking a few bites of his own.  It was traumatic for all of us.

The sight of any bug, especially an ant, has become a terror for her — something her brother has started to exploit.  (“Look, Kate, there’s an ant on my truck!” — “Oh no!” says Kate, promptly dropping truck.)  Who knew Kate could develop a phobia?

We’ll see how long it lasts — and how long these take to heal.  As for the ants, I’ve written the Audubon Park people… and I hope they blast those varmints to smithereens.

Family Life in NOLA

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The Funny Boy

Nurse 1: “How old are you?”

Will: “I’m 5. I’m not old enough to drive. My PapPap says I have to be 16 and then I can drive his truck.”

Nurse 2: (smiling) “Oh, okay. Mom, is Will allergic to anything you know of?”

Me: “Nope, nothing.”

Will: “Except poop.”

Nurses 1 & 2: “What?”

Will: “I’m allergic to poop.”

Pause. Nurses look confused.

Me: “Do you mean your sister’s diapers?”

Will: “Yeah, I’m allergic to Kate’s stinky poops.”

Nurse 1: “You’re allergic to your sisters diapers?”

Will: “Yeah. Sometimes they stink even badder than my Daddy’s toots.”

Nurse 2: “Well, I’ll write it down then. It sounds serious.”

This is why the top of every informational piece of paper in my son’s medical chart, RIGHT at the top under “known allergies,” it reads POOP. (Someone in the surgical ward added “per patient,” just to clarify.)

When we reached him in the recovery area, he was shoveling in heaps of crushed up grape Popsicle. Every member of the medical team addressed Paul and I as we entered, “That’s your son? He is HILARIOUS.” Will glanced up from the cup of Popsicle with glassy, dreamy eyes, just long enough to ask when he was going to get his tubes in. I noticed the bloody tissue coming out of his left ear. The one the doctor said held a thick, dull, gray membrane — very different from the perfect shiny membrane in his right. As I came close to ask how he was, explain that it was all done, he reached around the back of his head with his unfettered hand, the one not strapped to a board connected to an IV, to poke in that ear.

“Mommy, my ear hurts.”

He looked up at me with a woozy face, cheeks sort of blotchy and eyes not awake. Out of nowhere, cauliflower sprouts burst in my own ears, filling my brain with white fuzz. It came fast. I had no choice. I sat right down, on the spot, quickly getting my head between my knees. That’s right, I nearly lost it right there. And again, several times, in the short stay unit. It’s 4 hours later and I’m still woozy just writing about it. In this situation, I do not have the constitution to handle my children’s medical needs. Quality parent, me.

Just in case I missed how pathetic I was, our nurse found me a Raggedy Ann sticker to go with Will’s SUPERHERO badge. “It’s ’cause your Mom was so raggedy,” the nurse tells Will.

“Yeah. I have to take a lot of good care of her,” answers Will.

Mi Familia

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For the Surgeon.

Dear Dr. C:

5 years ago, surgical residents at one of the top teaching institutions at one of the best hospitals in the country delivered my son.  In doing so, they used poor protocol and caused extensive scarring and infection.  I rationalized 2 and a half years of health problems as normal because I never would have doubted the solid training or benevolent intent of a medical provider.  Their surgical mistakes in a routine procedure cost me years of pain, put strain on my marriage, and when it was time for my daughter to be born, put her life in danger and nearly cost me vital organs.

So maybe this surgery is routine and ordinary.  Maybe it’s sort of boring.  Maybe it pays poorly and doesn’t offer you challenges or papers or glamor or any of the things you wanted from medicine.  But understand it is a very big deal to me.  Routine surgeries can cause irreparable harm.  I know.

My trust in you to be thorough and professional and GOOD at your job is a Very Big Deal.

Remember that.  Please.

And thank you.

— The Mother of the child you are operating on today.


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It’s Silly. I know it is.

In 9 hours we report to the Short Stay Unit at Children’s Hospital for Will’s surgery.

Tubes.  We’ve waited for about a month and now the day is almost here.

It’s no big deal.  I know, it’s routine.  It’s no big deal.  We know countless kids who’ve done it; some more than once.  It takes no time.  He’ll be fine within hours.  It’s no big deal.  I KNOW ALL OF THIS.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I’m nervous.  Maybe because I can’t control what will or won’t happen?  Maybe I’m nervous because  I’m trusting that this cut-happy doc will respect my wishes and leave Will’s healthy adenoids alone.  I’m trusting that he won’t screw up.  That his ego will remain in check and he’ll do his job respectfully and thoroughly.  I’m letting my kid go into a medical facility where germs exist in all sorts of places, some of them so well evolved that our medicines can do little to fight them.  It’s a scary place, but that is where I am bringing him.  Me, because it was my choice.  I’m The Mother.   I just have to trust that when they are done he will have holes in his ear drums not made by exploding tissue but by little plastic regulators that will finally get that fluid out of his head and help him hear.  It’s a good choice; so I’m surprised to find that tonight, I can’t sleep and my stomach is in knots.  If everything turns out okay then I made the right decision.  If everything is not, well, then it’s my fault.

Pity the Fool from Cold Spaghetti on Vimeo.

Is it silly to be nervous about something so routine and regular?  What would I do if this were something truly serious?  Or risky?  Or vital?

I’m embarrassed.

Maybe I’d be better with it if I liked this doctor more.  If he weren’t so showy to his residents.  Perhaps if he hadn’t pushed for removal of adenoids (which he did, despite having no clinical reasoning for it nor support for why it was even a consideration in Will’s case) I would trust him better.  I don’t think that you need to like a surgeon, you just need to believe that they can work magic.  I’m surprised to be questioning him now.  Is it nerves?  Or is this guy unworthy of the privilege of working on my kid?

I’m embarrassed.  And nervous.

But I know it will be fine.  I know it.

Will: January 6, 2004 from Cold Spaghetti on Vimeo.

Mi Familia

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Life according to bile

Yesterday evening, around dinner time, my Mom was rushed to the Emergency Room with severe chest pain.

For a good hour, I assumed that she was having a heart attack.  It was not a good hour.  Partly because I was worried and anxious.  And partly because I wanted to I TOLD YOU SO over the 7,000 times I had begged her to go to the doctor in the past week and also because I was beating myself up for not begging her for that 7,001 time.  Because maybe that last ONE would have been THE ONE.

Don’t tell me not to feel guilty.  I’m the daughter, I’ve got to take the responsibility.  I knew it was coming but what I didn’t realize is that the parenting of my parents was going to start while they were still so young.

And then I realized I had one more area of parenting to excel in being bad at.  One more set of people who don’t listen to a word I say, complain at everything I cook for them, and ignore all that I do to make their lives better.  I feel like I need to curl up with a few seasons of thirtysomething and study them really, really hard.


Back to my Mom.

If a good EKG can be trusted, then her heart is fine. Her gallbladder?  Not to so much.

It’s filled with tiny stones.  Which explains the incredible pain she has been in nearly constantly for over a week.  The same pain that has come and gone in the past, when unbenounced to her, little stones were bouncing around her gallbladder in a little game of bile-flow roulette.

Then, sometime around Saturday, one of those little stones came to rest in a duct feeding into her pancreas.  Her body reacted to this particular turn of the roulette wheel by forcing her to vomit so violently that the capillary blood vessels around her eyes burst.  But no, this was still not enough to force her to the doctor.  So her pancreas got pissed off called a meeting of all internal organs and sometime Monday afternoon, they spontaneously twisted themselves so tightly in her chest that she had no other choice but to fall to her knees and beg for mercy.  Apparently the pancreas is the head of the Union for Internal Organs and quickly tires of negotiation.

But by this time, she was very sick.  Too sick, in fact, to have the operation (removal of her gallbladder) to address the gallstones that started it all.  She has pancreatitis, is in bed, can take nothing by mouth, and is (miserably) awaiting for her enzyme levels to stabilize enough to tolerate surgery.

I’d totally use her misery as that I TOLD YOU SO opportunity, but knowing how awful she feels and how sick she is, I just can’t bear it.  I just want her to get better soon… so that she can babysit her grandchildren for a weekend.  Because I need a break from parenting.

Mi Familia

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Kate goes crunch.

Will and Kate share a bedroom, which means that we must remove one of them from the room each night in order for either of them to fall asleep.  Tonight Kate wandered to our room while I read bedtime stories (apparently she was not interested in hearing Will’s insults to my French accent).  She crawled in bed and went to sleep with little fuss.

We should have known something was up.

A few hours later, Paul comes to get me from my computer… NOW IN THE BACK IN THE NEW STUDY… where I am working.

“I tried to move your daughter and she went ‘crunch.'”

“What do you mean, crunch?”

“I think you need to come and see.”

“Is something wrong?”

“I don’t know.  She just went crunch.”

I walk in the room and Paul says, “this is what I felt when I picked her up.”  He hands me a pile of this:

And we turn on the light to find this:

Explained by this:

And this:

All done by this:

Note to household: this is not a good time for a papercut.

Family Photos
Mi Familia

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Today’s Headlines

Breaking news, 11am this morning:


Afternoon addition:


Evening release:


Family Photos

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Will, and all his parts.

The kids stood in the crowded elevator enjoying the bounce at each stop up to the 6th floor. “It feels funny, doesn’t it?” Paul asked them.

“It makes my penis feel funny!” Will exclaimed to half of New Orleans.*

And with that, we entered the pediatrician’s office.

What we know: there does not seem to be fluid in his ear, an access of ear wax interfering with “membrane movement,” or anything else in there that would displace enough air to make anyone concerned. He is scheduled for additional testing at Children’s on Wednesday. Damn. I was really hoping for a slam duck on this one… and now I’m thinking that he’s physically fine and instead has some larger, big picture issue. Like, he’s just being five. And five can just be weird. No drug treatment for this.

But while we’re on the subject of Will, I thought I’d share what I know will be his most favorite picture of all time. One that he posed for purposely and requested photographic capture:

Well, this one could be a close second.

* We’ve had some practice with this before.

Art & Photography
Family Photos
Family Stories

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Rambo would have cried like a baby.

“Mommy, can you get me something to read while I sit on the toilet?”

“You need something to read?”


“Like, a magazine?”

“No.  A book.  Can you get the one in your bedroom that is about ducks?”

Before you go to snap judgments…

That Little Man, the one who wants to read about ducks while sitting on the throne, has silently endured an ear infection so bad that the pressure burst through the membrane of his ear drum and started leaking fluid out of his ear.  I noticed the dried fluid when we came home from his Christmas party Friday morning and within 30 seconds, had the doctor’s office on the phone.  Any thoughts on how painful it must be to have your ear filled with pussy fluid* with pressure so strong that it breaks through an organ?  (Okay, so probably that membrane isn’t an organ.  But wow, shouldn’t this at least be memorable in the short-term?  Cause an ‘ouch,’ maybe?)  I found photographic evidence of it from earlier that morning, from photos I took during the holiday party:

So, just to be clear: men who like to read about ducks on the can are tough.  T-O-U-G-H.

Oh, did I mention?  He wore a red flashing Rudolph nose from the party all afternoon, including through the entire trip to the doctor’s office — thoroughly mortifying the two teenage boys that he sat beside in the waiting room — and delighting everyone that saw him.  You know, while his little 5-year old head was leaking pussy fluid*.

That’s my guy.  Keepin’ it real.

(Last photo by Paul, who took the photo.  Photo by Paul showing Will wearing the stocking on his head, taken by Paul, who took the photo.  Just in case: that last photo?  Paul took it.  Thanks, Paul!)

* Meagan kindly noted my use of the phrase “pussy fluid” (not once, but TWICE) in this post and though it would totally be the right thing to, um, watch my phrase-ology, I just can’t bring myself to change it.  I just can’t stop laughing at myself.


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