Saturday, September 29, 2012

Nuts and bolts

Blogging is proving to be therapeutic for me at the moment, so I'm going to try a little harder to write regularly. I don't think I have any followers anymore, though. Oh well.

I realized I mentioned the possibility of surgery in my last post, but I hadn't ever explained why. So here we go.

Almost 11 years ago, when I was a wee middle-schooler, I found out that I had really bad scoliosis, and surgery was pretty much the only thing that would correct it. My initial doctor's appointment was in late September or early October. My surgery was in December. It was apparently pretty bad- and the curve of my spine grew almost 5 degrees worse between that first visit and the surgery. My lower lumbar spinal fusion was the day after Christmas, which worked out pretty well for me because I got more presents. : )

The pain after the surgery was pretty horrible, but more because of the incision (halfway around my torso) and the rib they took for a bone graft. I don't really remember my actual back hurting me that much. I was in the hospital for about a week, and missed a month of school. When I went back, I wasn't supposed to carry my books to class, and I got permission to use the elevator to get to my classes.

Over the years my back has hurt some, but really, wouldn't you expect to have some back pain if you had a metal rod screwed to your spinal column? I think we all assumed it came with the territory. The pain has popped up more frequently over the years, though. In the past few years I've also started having pain spreading from my lower back to my hips. This year the pain has started to spread to my legs- not all the time, but often enough. I can't sit in bed (or on the couch or whatever) with my legs straight out in front of me because they start to burn after a few minutes, like my femur is being heated up. Every day I have a heating pad on my lower back at some point or another. Since this summer, it's gotten to the point where I have trouble standing upright most mornings. I have felt crooked, having trouble bending at the waist in one direction (against the curve.) So I finally made an appointment to see my orthopedic surgeon, whom I have not seen since an early 2003 check-up.

I got to my appointment, dealt with the rude receptionist (it was early so I can't say "oh, well maybe she's just tired after a long day of working"), answered lots of questions and did all the weird exercises orthopedic doctors like to see you do: walking on my heels, walking on my tip toes, bending my arms different ways, etc. I got to have two x-rays (front and side), and after they were printed, the doctor's assistant and one of the nurse ladies (I guess that's what they were- they didn't talk to me much) took a look at them, muttering things like "possible non-union." Then the doctor came in to look, and said something about "possible disc degeneration" and agreed with the assistant person when she pointed out this "possible non-union", whatever it was. Then he wrote me a note for work, saying I shouldn't lift things off the floor but I could do pretty much everything else, said I needed to have a CT scan and to come back in 2 weeks. And that's it. My mom and I got to do all the research ourselves. It's difficult to do that, though, because you don't want to freak yourself out too much, but at the same time, you're not a doctor and you don't know the specific details of the situation. You don't even know that there IS a non-union.

Non-union sounds work related, but apparently in the medical world, it means a broken bone (or in my case, a bone graft) that doesn't heal properly. It doesn't seal itself up completely like a bone should. What's the most common symptom of a non-union? Pain. How informative. In the case of spinal fusions like mine, a non-union would not only cause pain, but it would also mean replacing at least some of the hardware in there that's attached to one's spinal column. In some cases, if a little halo thing appears around one of the screws on the x-ray, it could mean that that screw is loose, which doesn't sound very safe to me. We overheard something about a halo while my doctor was looking at my x-rays with his assistant. Of course, they didn't tell us what that was, or what it would mean, so we learned that part on our own as well.

I took my note to work and left it on my manager's desk, since he was not there when I came to work Thursday, and sent him an email explaining what was (possibly) going on. I didn't work Friday, and when I came to work Saturday, I found out that apparently my place of employment does not acknowledge "light duty restrictions", and even though lifting things from the floor is a very tiny part of my job, if I can't do it, I can't come to work. So I am on medical leave until my doctor's appointment next week. I think it's pretty dumb, but there you have it. I like being off work (and getting paid for it), but I'm really concerned about using two weeks of my banked sick leave on this, when I may really need it for surgery. Remember, last time I was out of school for a month- but one could say that I was on "light duty restrictions" (I'm starting to hate that term.) It's allowed at school but not at work. So, if it turns out that I DO need surgery, I could be at home even longer this time than I was last time. Theoretically.

I had my CT scan this Wednesday, and it was rather pleasant.The scrubs I got to wear felt like pajamas, and I got a cool isosceles triangle-shaped pillow to put under my knees during the scan, and I can honestly say those few minutes were the most comfortable I've been in months. I need one of those pillows. But I digress. Before the scan, I was being asked questions about why I was there. When I mentioned "possible non-union", the nice technician looked up at me from his keyboard, peering over his glasses in this dramatic moment, and asked "do you have pain in your legs?" When I responded with a yes, he gave me this look and said "mmhmm" in a weird way. The EXACT SAME THING happened in the doctor's office the day I had my x-rays. I guess this isn't a good sign.

So here I sit, at home, sometimes enjoying my mandatory vacation from work. I was hoping to get a bit more accomplished at home this week than I actually have, but I still have most of next week to get things done, too. And I don't have to worry about not doing things too close to time to go to work. For example, loading the dishwasher makes my back hurt pretty badly. So I try not to load the dishwasher too close to time to leave to work, so I'm not suffering more than I have to at work. I also don't have to worry about planning my meals around my work schedule- usually I don't eat anything three hours before work, in case what I eat makes me sick. So those things are nice. It's good to have a break. My back is happy about that. I've also had the chance to start taking these iron pills I'm supposed to be taking, since results of a blood test I had two weeks ago show that my iron levels are really low. The iron pills make me sick, so it's nice to not have to worry about getting sick at work. And I'm reaping the benefits of taking the iron pills: I have more energy and I feel less like a walking corpse. That's a plus.

My follow-up appointment with my surgeon is next Thursday morning...five days away. I hope I'm able to make the most of my remaining time off. And while I feel more and more like surgery is in my future (especially because of the "do you have leg pain" thing), I am really hoping that I would be able to put that off until the beginning of next year, when I will have stored away more sick leave, and my mom would have her leave time replenished at work so she could help take care of me. It would have to be on January 3rd or after, because I don't want to be in the hospital or in pain on my anniversary.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Meet Annet

Fantastic news! Our far-away family is back up to FIVE members once again! Before I tell you about the newest member, I do need to provide some back-story. I know it's long-winded, but there's a lot to tell.

Several books, documentaries, and websites have just happened to pop up in my life over the past few months (this is never a coincidence, I believe.) All of these things had something in common: they are about HIV/AIDS, often focusing on the crisis in Africa, in particular (though AIDS continues to be a huge problem in many countries around the world, while the prognosis here in the United States is a lot better than it used to be.) I highly recommend watching the documentary Angels in the Dust, which takes place in South Africa. A wonderful woman named Marion Cloete lives and works there, providing a safe place to stay for children who are orphaned by AIDS, whose parents have rejected them because they have been sexually assaulted and they may be infected, or children who are sick and would not receive proper care if they stayed at home, due to the prevalence of folk medicine in certain areas. Marion holds therapy sessions with these children, works to educate the community about the spread of HIV (which happens almost all the time from either assault or infidelity), visits the sick and dying and offers to take them to the hospital to receive proper treatment...the woman is amazing. She's a firecracker. I have never met her, and I love her. Seriously, the documentary was very moving and inspiring, and at times quite sad. I was particularly moved by the story of one little girl in the film, who was probably about 8 or 9 years old. She lived on site at this orphanage, for lack of a better term, and spoke of a time when she was small (as if she wasn't small already!) She was raped by a man in her home, who then threatened to kill her if she told anyone. It is my understanding (from the film) that one piece of medicinal folklore in the area is that the men have been told that taking a girl's innocence will protect them against this virus. We know, of course, that this is garbage, and is in fact contributing to the spread of HIV. To make matters worse, this girl's mother said she would kill her if she kept talking about the assault, calling her a liar. Later, the girl tells Marion she is ready to be tested for HIV, which may have been spread to her from this assault a few years before. Because her mother was still living, legally they could not do the test without her permission- and the mother didn't even believe the girl had been attacked in the first place! It's heartbreaking enough to think of these children, sick or orphaned from this awful disease. It brings the sadness to a whole new level to think of how many of them have lived horror stories like this little girl's.

After watching the documentary, and reading these books, and stumbling upon these websites while researching other things, I felt a very strong compulsion to help, somehow. One of the most familiar ways I know how to make an impact on a situation so far away from me is through child sponsorship. I spent quite a bit of time online one evening browsing Compassion's site. You can actually limit your search to children that live in HIV/AIDS affected areas, so that's what I started looking for. Uganda was definitely the country that came up most often in my search. I have had an interest in Uganda for quite some time, for a variety of reasons (novels I read as a preteen and teenager, my knowledge of the wildlife there, the fact that it's just across the lake from Tanzania...), and decided to choose a girl living in that area, in the hopes that we could make an impact on her life in such a way that she might be able to stay safe, or get the help she needed if she was already affected by this disease in some way. I found a little girl, 10 years old, living in Uganda. Her picture was marked by three symbols: the symbol for HIV/AIDS prone areas, the symbol for living in an area with a high rate of child abuse and exploitation, and the symbol showing she had been waiting for a sponsor for a long time- well over 200 days, in fact. I went downstairs and told my husband about her, and asked if he thought I could go ahead and commit to be her sponsor. I felt that this was a cost we could probably afford, but I wanted to be sure. He recommended we wait a day while we thought it over. I prayed for that girl that night, but I also realized something: if we could afford the extra cost of another traditional sponsorship, we really should be putting that money toward expanding our family here, as opposed to our far-away family. That money should be used either to pay down debt, or to go directly in the special savings account set up so we can one day bring home a child like the one I was hoping to sponsor. The next morning I got up and got on the computer...and found that this precious girl had found a sponsor. I wasn't sad, I was thankful! Thankful that after all this time waiting and waiting, someone had finally claimed her, had finally committed to help this child rise up out of poverty through Compassion International. I felt good about my decision.

Fast forward a few weeks to my conversation with a Compassion representative on the day I received final details about my Tae leaving the program in Thailand. Normally, sponsors are only allowed to have three correspondence sponsor kids- a limit I reached a little over a year ago. However, earlier this year, maybe in February, Compassion posted the exciting news online that they had 500 children in need of correspondence sponsors, and just this once, we could break the Rule of Three. Of course I called right away and got on the waiting list, and that's when Jayid joined our family. When Tae left the program, that left us at the technical limit of three correspondence kids again. The wonderful people at Compassion told me that although I had three kids, since Jayid joined the group as a "bonus", I could get put on the waiting list for another correspondence sponsorship (as a low priority, of course.) I never would have considered giving any answer other than an enthusiastic "YES, PLEASE."

And that brings us to today. I normally write to my kids every week or so. Because of some things that have been going on recently, I haven't really felt like writing to them. Part of it has to do with the fact that I didn't feel I could write a positive, happy letter. Any letter I sent would surely be a downer ("Another pet died. Oh, and by the way, I might be having surgery.") So I finally logged in to my account this morning, and saw that, although Tae's name finally disappeared from my account a little over a week ago, we were now back up to four correspondence sponsor kids. The newest member of our far-away family is named Annet. She is a beautiful girl, ten years old, and she lives in Uganda. Just saying that makes me feel like crying happy tears. God listens to our prayers. He knows how badly I want to have a connection with at least one child in that country, since going over there myself is not an option right now. And what are the odds that my newest sponsor child would be a girl? Girls are requested more often than boys. Since I was a low-priority on the waiting list, I didn't choose a girl over a boy. I didn't have that option, even if I wanted it! And I certainly never would have guessed that she would be ten years old, the same age as the little girl I was hoping to sponsor more than a month ago. God is good, all the time.

There is a hint of a smile on that precious face!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Quincy Jones passed away peacefully in her home September 17 at the age of 2 years and 5 months, after battling a long illness.
Quincy, born in Jeffersontown on April 15, 2010, was one of a litter of octuplets. She spent all but the first five weeks of her life living with her two adoptive parents, and her sister Monster. Always known for being outgoing and affectionate, Quincy spent much of her youth and adulthood climbing to surprising heights, and spending time where she was not actually supposed to be (in the couch, on the windowsill, up someone's pant leg.)
Quincy's proudest accomplishment was defeating the monster that so many Americans battle on a daily basis- obesity. Quincy struggled with obesity for many months, earning her the nickname "Big Fat Meanie", for her habit of pilfering the food of her sisters. Through a strict diet, though, she was able to get down to a healthy weight once again.
Though Quincy spent much of the last six weeks quite ill, she fought her way back from a stroke, partial blindness, and an inability to eat her regular food. In her final days she was allowed to break her diet and enjoy cookies, pizza, and peanut butter fudge.
Though she was frail in the time before her death, Quincy's family knows she would want to be remembered as the sweet, healthy rat she once was, who gave kisses and liked to have her belly rubbed. She will be greatly missed.

Baby Quincy, the day I got her. 

Having a bit of egg, as a treat

Riding around on my foot

Best buddies. Exploring the world together. 


After she ate her noodle, she took Monster's noodle, too. 

Not supposed to be on the windowsill!

Baby Quincy hiding in her igloo

They used to have hammocks. Then they peed all over them and chewed them up. 

Taken a few weeks ago. I miss her so much.

Loaves and Fishes

I need to tell you about my awesome God.

My Bible study group has served dinner at this ministry called Scarlet Hope. We like them a lot. Basically, Scarlet Hope does outreach to strippers. That's the simplest way to put it. They own two big, connected houses in Crescent Hill, and they have Bible studies there, art therapy, they serve dinner at the house (and take dinner to the clubs), they have dorm rooms that will be available soon for the girls who leave their jobs and need a place to stay until they get on their feet, and they are almost finished with a commercial kitchen in the basement of one of the homes, so they can open a catering company as a transitional job for the girls who quit dancing. They do wonderful work- one club in the area even shut down when the owners gave their lives to Christ as a result of Scarlet Hope's work. They are awesome, and we love them.

Anyway, a few months ago, one of our Bible study members (my friend Blaire) mentioned that Scarlet Hope was doing a fundraising thing where they were trying to raise $150,000 in 100 days. We like to do service projects together, and we like Scarlet Hope, and it just so happened that my church was going to have this community event called Outdoor Market. They did it last year, too- local businesses, crafty people, and other folks could come set up a booth for a very small fee (used for advertising.) My group decided to set up a bake sale booth, right next to a booth where Blaire, a groomer, would do doggie nail trims for a donation to Scarlet Hope.

Somehow, I got put in charge of all this. I don't really know how it happened. I was the one who mentioned that my church would be hosting this event, and I definitely planned on making stuff for sale, but somehow, the bake sale became My Thing. And it was stressful, let me tell you. For one thing, we had no budget. Each of us was responsible for preparing and packaging various treats for sale, and we had some volunteers that would bring tables, a tent thing for shade, bottled water for sale, and several other things, but I got the supplies for posters. I decided on pricing, and made signs explaining how much everything cost. I wrote up fliers explaining why we were fundraising and who would get the money. I made a donation jar. I planned to make quite a few things for the sale, as well, purchasing the ingredients and disposable foil pans and baggies with shiny twist was stressful. At some point I became convinced that we would not have much food for sale. We had six hours to fill. We didn't want a ton of leftovers, but it would be embarrassing and counter-productive to only have enough goodies for sale that would last, say, 30 minutes. I wasn't really hearing much from my fellow Bible study members about what they were planning to bring, as far as food went. I told my mom last Tuesday evening, on our way to the last Bible study meeting we would have before the big event, that I was really worried about how things were going to go, and "at this point, I'm praying for a 'loaves and fishes' moment." I was hoping that the tiny amount of food I was expecting to have for sale would miraculously multiply and we would be able to clear a hundred dollars for Scarlet Hope.

In the days before the bake sale, I ran into a lot of issues with the food I was planning to make. My cobblers bubbled over in the oven, and I had to pull them out before they were done so the drippy bits wouldn't catch fire.  I learned that even though I prepared 50 sticks worth of marshmallow pops, a bag of chocolate chips will only cover about 7 of them- and chocolate chips are expensive. I think I made a dozen total. The brownies I made were very fudgy and couldn't be pulled from the pan in any manner that could be called attractive. About the only thing that went right was the fudge. Three pans of peanut butter fudge. But I kept praying for my "loaves and fishes."

The morning of the bake sale arrived. We didn't have many people to help out, since most of our volunteers could just stick around for the first few hours, and two people were sick and went home. I injured my finger on a folding chair. The weather was nice, but it was windy and blew all my fliers around at one point. But we had three tables full of food. A huge basket of cookies. A multitude of every kind of "krispie" treat imaginable. A big tray of mini-loaves of yummy breads. Pretty plates of cookies, wrapped up with cellophane and ribbon. Baggies upon baggies upon baggies of other little treats, like puppy chow and pretzels with Rolo's candy melted in the middle. I can't even remember the rest. We had so much. We sold a lot, and at the end of the day, had quite a few leftovers. We were able to make more sales by discounting what we had left, and then, at the very end, sent the pastor off with a tray of treats to share with the folks in the church office. Loaves and fishes! Loaves and fishes!

The best part, though, was counting the money that we brought in for Scarlet Hope. There are only a few weeks left in their fundraising drive, and they have quite a ways to go to reach their goal. This morning I went to the bank and deposited the money we brought in from the bake sale and the nail trims. The grand total was $458.10- well over what I thought we could possibly bring in. God's provision more than exceeded our expectations. I am so thankful for all the hard work that everyone did in preparation for this past weekend, and I'm thankful for those who bought our treats and just flat out made donations to our cause. I am thankful that my God is faithful. At the end of the day Saturday, I felt like he was telling me "why do you worry? I've got everything under control." I'll try to keep that in mind the next time I am feeling overwhelmed or like my life is spinning out of control.

"And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19

Thursday, September 6, 2012

"I wish you joy and happiness"

How do you say goodbye to a member of your family that you've never met?

On Tuesday, I logged into my Compassion account to send a quick response letter to one of my kids (Said), since I received a letter from him that morning. When I logged in, I noticed that Tae's picture was missing from my account- his info was still there, but there was a weird, grey avatar where his picture should have been. I thought it was a little weird, but went ahead and wrote my letter and went about my day.

A few hours later, I decided to post on Compassion's facebook page, asking if anyone else had experienced that anomaly. One person wrote back right away and said that it was probably just a glitch, and again, I tried to go about my day. Then I checked facebook on my phone on the way to Bible study, and saw that two more people had commented on my post. One of these people was the author of a very popular blog written by a Compassion advocate- the other one, I don't know who they are. But they both said I should call Compassion and check on things, as it sounded like Tae was no longer in the program. So that's what I did. And just as we were pulling into a parking spot at church, the nice lady on the other end of the line told me that a note had been added to my account that morning saying Tae was no longer participating in the child development program, and they should have more info in a few days.

Well, I was devastated. This weekend was hard enough already. Friday we lost Pig. Saturday and Sunday I got to spend time with family, which was great, but a very large portion of the hours-long conversations that took place revolved around babies: who's having babies, who's going to start having babies soon, who already has a baby, etc. I do not expect to be able to avoid listening to or participating in all conversation revolving around children until I have my own. That's stupid. I love kids. And I love my family. But for whatever reason, on Saturday, it just felt like too much. And then the same thing happened on Sunday. Monday was a nice break, but then, to find out that I would no longer be able to communicate with this boy who has become a true part of my's heartbreaking. And hard to cope with.

I finally did hear from Compassion today. I say "finally" like I've been waiting for ages and ages- really it's been less than 48 hours. Anyway, I learned that Tae, who was spending the summer away from home working on a construction job with his dad, had decided to stay in the city and work, and that's why he dropped out of the program. It's sad for me, but the lady I spoke to said that he is actually earning "good wages", which is fantastic because the whole reason he was able to participate in the program in the first place was due to his living in extreme poverty. If Tae can start work now (which still is kind of bad since he's 14) and practice good spending and saving habits, maybe he can break out from this poverty and be able to provide a good life for his future family. This is really a blessing. But it's also incredibly sad. I will likely never hear from him again. I'm sure we will never meet, at least in this life. Compassion said I can send him one last letter, and they will be able to get it to him through their contacts at the child development center he was going to when he was living with his grandpa. That makes me feel better. I feel a tremendous amount of pressure regarding this letter. How am I supposed to say goodbye? I don't think I have room on my piece of paper to say all the things I want to tell him- how I thank God every day for him, how I pray for him and his family, how I pray for his schooling, and his future, and his health. How I will worry each time I hear about flooding or storms in Thailand for the rest of my life. How I would love to go to the dinosaur museum near where he lives, or attend the Songkran festival, both of which he has written about in his letters. I will miss his enthusiasm for sharing his life with me. When I wrote to him to tell him about my exciting first experience with Thai cuisine, he wanted to know EVERYTHING, from the name of the restaurant to whether or not I had tried the papaya salad, which he was certain they served, because apparently it's a big deal in Thailand. Tae's letters have always been detailed, inquisitive and thoughtful, and I will miss him terribly.

I did learn today that Compassion will allow me to be put on the waiting list to receive another correspondence sponsorship, for which I am extremely grateful (technically, I have the maximum number of correspondence sponsor kids.) I look forward to continuing to expand our "far-away family" in this way, but no one will ever take Tae's place.