Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Home for Christmas

After all of the recent excitement in Prietoland, it's time to revisit the calm of the islands.  I just have a few more posts from our Christmas trip to Hawaii.

After a relaxing and wonderful week on the Big Island with our family to celebrate Grandpa's 90th birthday over the New Year, my mom and our little Prieto clan took off for O'ahu for another week, to catch up with friends and reconnect with our home town of Kailua.  The Big Island is, as you can guess, the biggest and newest of all of the 8 main Hawaiian islands, but O'ahu is definitely the most happening.  Since the island is much older, there are no active volcanos, all of the beaches have become beautiful white sand beaches, and there is a lot of tourism and a lot of things to do.

After arriving on a Monday night and being graciously welcomed by our sweet friends the Hallstrom's who hosted us for the week, the next morning our first stop was Kailua beach.  Both my mom and I were raised in Kailua, in the same house, and this beach is our stomping grounds.  It was a bit voggy those first few days ("vog" is fog that blows over from the active volcano on the Big Island, and it tends to cloud up the sky), but it was surreal to be back in Kailua at my unchanged beach, barefoot and this time with our little girl.  We stocked up at Times grocery store on all of the things that I love - Hawaiian sweet bread, haupia, lychee and mango yogurts, and POG (passion orange guava juice) for breakfast, and had a grand time digging our toes in the sand.

Marcos' handiwork.  At one point he actually had a little row of pupils - children who were playing on the beach - crowded around to learn how to make a sand snowman.  (I'm sure that those of you who know his magic with children can well imagine.  I had to resign myself long ago to being the uninteresting parent :-)

When we picked up our rental car they didn't have the size we requested, so we had a brand new prius as a free upgrade.  I was not in love with driving the car, but I was in love with the huge flat trunk that always provided a perfect traveling changing table!  For the entire week on Oahu we had the trunk stocked with extra bathing suits, a few beach towels, sunscreen and snacks for an impromptu visit to the beach.  Here in North Carolina a trip to the beach means packing up half of your house for the excursion, and I definitely miss that part of island-style life - see a beach?  Have a few minutes?  Pull over and jump in the ocean.  So little concern for being sandy, or wet, or having salty skin, or walking around in slippahs with no makeup on...  a lifestyle that I miss.  

Not that I've evolved too far from that, but you know.

And when we weren't out and about, we loved being at the Hallstrom's home and enjoying their company as much as our busy schedules would allow.  I took the above photo from their driveway because the peak on the very right is Olomana, and I grew up at the base of that mountain at the edge of a valley.  It's a little hard to tell in the photo below, but the Hallstrom home sits up in Keolu Hills above Kailua, and at night it was so beautiful to look outside after all of our lights were out, and see the entire town of Kailua and the beach and lake, all lit up and twinkling.

The room where we stayed, above.  I miss it already.  It was just after Christmas and so decorations were up throughout the house in full force.  Gigi loved to admire the tree ornaments and play with baby Jesus in all of the nativity scenes.  Kathie, I hope you aren't missing any pieces!

An added treat at the Hallstroms was the industrial grade shave ice machine that Santa had brought this year.  It was such a treat to sit with my friend Chris Hallstrom and his cute wife Wendy, to have shave ice with vanilla ice cream at the pool deck.  We had planned to visit our favorite shop Island Snow down at the beach but the Hallstroms had the same assortment of syrup flavors so we were saved a trip.  Mango and pina colada and lilikoi....  mmmm....  

Being in Hawaii this year for the holidays REALLY made us miss the islands in a big way.  They don't call Hawaii paradise for nothing, that's for sure.  Thank you Kathie and Jim for making our Oahu stay so happy and comfortable!  We hope it won't be another three years before we are back to visit.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

...and Another

This is probably old news for most of you, but it's time to announce that because we dig Giovanna so very, very much, we've decided to up and have another!

As of Halloween of this year, we will be a four-person family, and we are so happy about it!  I wanted to say it earlier, and this pregnancy actually played such a big role in the surgery experience, but I thought it would be rather dreary to hide a pregnancy announcement in the middle of a long post about removing organs that most of you will never read anyway.  So here it is - we're expecting a second child!

I'm just coming up to 13 weeks along, and this first trimester I've been feeling much better (generally) than I did when I was pregnant with Gigi.  I am having my prenatal care with the UNC midwives again, and because they are fairly hands off I usually don't have much of a baby visual this far along.  

However, because of my last extraordinary week spent in the hospital, and a kind ultrasound technician who let us peek at the monitor during her exam, we had a chance to see our happy little mover and shaker a week ago when I checked into the ER.  When we first drove to the hospital that Saturday night we didn't know if our little shrimp was okay (according to my foodie pregnancy tracker, at 13 weeks along the fetus is the size of a "medium shrimp"), so my time in the hospital was actually kind of cool, in that sense.  At every juncture an OBGYN team was there to make assessments, bring in the dopler machine to make sure that little one was doing well, and to make recommendations for the surgery team so they could make adjustments that would keep baby safe during operation.  I think part of why I enjoyed being at the hospital (besides all of the obvious reasons that I hated being there, of course) was because I listened to my baby every day.  And that made me a happy mama.

The Lap Coli

I wish this post were about our new lap dog, but it's not, it's about a new constellation of holes I have in my stomach where my recent laparoscopic cholecystectomy (removal of the gall bladder) left it's marks.  I will try not to go into an immense amount of detail, because it's painful to empathize with someone who feels like they are dying, but I'd like to record briefly the last couple of days.

To rewind a bit, I think it's important to say that I've had issues with my gall bladder for a little over a year.  Gall bladders do the important work - but not imperative work, as you shall see - of storing bile and releasing it when you eat food, which aids in the digestion process.  For fair skinned women who are of child-bearing years, it is not uncommon for us to develop stones in our gall bladder, which can be excruciatingly painful.  I have learned over the past year to manage my stones by eating better - less fatty foods, less sugar, and more controlled portions each meal.  I had never had a formal diagnosis of gall stones, but my impressive online education lead me to believe that because of the location and nature of my sporadic pain, there was no other reasonable explanation.

And that brings us up to date: last week Thursday, Friday and nearly all day Saturday I had terrible pain in my gall bladder (upper right portion of the abdomen).  This was alarming, since three days in a row of pain is highly uncommon, in my experience.  Plus, the pain was different than usual.  Last Saturday, instead of being intense and temporary, it stayed, and stayed and stayed and I just could not get comfortable in my body.  Finally I took two extra strength Tylenol, which took the edge off and allowed me to rest, but when the medicine wore off and I was back to feeling everything, the pain had moved to my entire abdomen and had intensified.  As it grew closer to midnight I became fairly certain that I was dying, and so I said my farewells to my beautiful sleeping daughter, Marcos rushed over to pick up my mom and brought her home to spend the night at our place, and Marcos drove me to the Emergency Room at UNC hospitals.

Fortunately, the ER at UNC was nothing like the show.  Midnight on Saturday night was actually very quiet, there were no dangling severed limbs in the waiting room, people wailing, or mass chaos, and after a relatively quick check-in process in a small space where I continued to heave the last dregs of foam from my body in privacy, I was put on a stretcher and wheeled in my delirium to a small curtained portion of a bigger waiting room, where I was given morphine - and finally started to feel human again.

Over the next few hours into the darkness of Sunday morning, I had extensive blood drawn for testing, and was pushed on my stretcher to the ultrasound technician, who spent over an hour with us examining my internal organs.  That was the testing I underwent, and other than that my main job was to help the nurses manage my pain, and wait until the Doctors had enough information to make The Diagnosis.

The ER is a really interesting place.  When I first arrived at midnight I was put in the curtained space next to a happy Latino family - a father (the patient) who was on the bed and clearly in some discomfort, as well as a mother and two teenaged children.  They seemed in good spirits.  Then a number of hours later, as my own pain had been managed and Marcos curled up in my stretcher asleep and I ran my fingers through his hair, my heart broke as I overhead the results come back from the father's testing, and the resident calmly and kindly break the news to the family that it looked like the father had cancer in the upper portion of his lung, and likely into his spinal cord as well.  There went all confidentiality, and the opportunity I had to be spared the sadness and heartbreak of being privy to a stranger's diagnosis.  The man heaved grown-man sobs, and my own nurse came in just at that moment to find me crying out of sadness for my neighbor.  His family held it together until he had been wheeled out for further testing, and then fell apart quietly in the room where we all waited.

After many visits from doctors, and residents, and nurses, the results were finally back and it was time for my diagnosis: Gall Stone Pancreatitis.  Yes, my gall stones had been the culprit, but the pancreas was the current problem.  Stones had fallen out of the gall bladder to obstruct the functioning of the pancreas, and my pancreas and liver functioning were wild.  Lipase levels up the wazoo.  Thousands of levels higher than they needed to be.  So what was the plan?  To wait it out.  Apparently, 85% of the time the stones move past the other organs on their own, and the organs resume normal functioning.  So Sunday and Monday were spent waiting, and waiting, and waiting.

I was moved on Sunday to the surgery floor, and lived for the next three days on a diet of ice chips.  To avoid triggering the gall bladder to release more bile, and perhaps more stones, I basically survived on an IV for three days straight.  The hunger and thirst went away after about one day, as did the satisfaction of sticking ice chips into my mouth.  I was entertained by terrible TV, the lovely nurses and nurses aids who took care of me, and the visits of friends and family, which kept me sane.

By Monday evening my blood results were back and they looked very promising - all of the offending organs had simmered down, and it was time to plot the removal of the gall bladder for the following morning.

Tuesday the 17th of April, I woke up, prettied myself, Marcos showed up around 9am, as well as my boss with flowers and a beautiful card from work friends, and at the last minute another friend from work arrived to do a final send-off into the OR.  I breathed deeply, and tried to stay calm, and was wheeled into a cold operating room with a dizzying assortment of gadgets.  A warning that my IV may sting in a second, five deep breaths into an oxygen mask, the sensation of falling through the floor and zonk.

When I woke up, I felt like I had been run over by a semi.  A few times.  Nobody deserves to feel what it feels like coming out of general anesthesia after a surgery, because it's just terrible.  I've selectively forgotten those first few hours, but I learned that the surgery had gone well, my anatomy had been straight-forward enough for them to remove my gall bladder laparoscopically, and so I was left with four holes on my tummy, which were covered by a hardened glue, and my gall bladder had been pulled out of my belly button.  I didn't have the courage to look at those holes until much later that night when I was feeling like a person again.

That afternoon I continued to feel better, and take strong narcotic pain medications, and for the first time in three days I ate food.  It was delightful.  I ate jello first and eased into real food with a garden burger and salad for dinner, and another grilled chicken sandwich and sides for a late night snack, just because I could.  Our friends drove Gigi and my mom over to the hospital after feeding them dinner, and we were all together and the surgery was done, and successfully!  That night Gigi kissed mommy's tummy very softly, and I showed off my holes and peeked at them myself, and I was really feeling good.  In the evening our friend who works as a nurse on the floor stopped by when her shift ended, and we spent an hour talking and enjoying each other's company.  I went to bed that night happy, and relieved.

The next day was a nice slow process of getting ready to leave the hospital.  I was sad to leave that afternoon, but I had waited in the ER for a room to open for me, and knew there must be people much worse off who needed my bed.  After lunch my mom came to pick me up, while Gigi stayed with our sweet neighbor Ali and got her toenails painted and played with her buddy Boston.

While I waited in my wheelchair at the hospital doors for my mom to pull the car around from the parking deck, I had such mixed feelings about leaving the hospital.  Friends have been bringing over meals every day and we have been so well taken care of, but transitioning home is really hard.  I was used to my very soft bed at the hospital, and a nurse who would bring me my pain meds at the press of a button, and a quiet floor to take walks on in my peep show hospital gown in the late hours of the night, and nothing that I had to do.  At home Gigi wants my every attention, she wants my snuggles, and she wants me to hold her and lift her, and be her mom just like I was before.  I know it will be like that again soon, but I still flinch when she comes close, and put out my hands to protect my tummy, and can't smother her with the warmth of my mama bear hugs as I'd like to.

The good news is, each day at home has gotten better.  I'm sleeping downstairs on the airbed, and it's perfect.  Each morning I wake up feeling better and more mobile, and I hurt less.  I still feel exhausted and sleep for hours in the middle of the day, but Marcos and my mom have been working around that schedule, and I love them for their sacrifice, and for helping Gigi in so many ways.

Well this didn't end up being brief at all, but I want to end with a thank you to everyone for your well-wishes, and prayers, and the cuisine that comes from your kitchen to ours, and for the flowers and cookies, and groceries and for taking Gigi this past week!  When one woman goes out of commission it really take a village to keep things running in her life, and we have felt so humbled and grateful to have so much help in keeping our heads above water.  Thank you endlessly for your kindness.


Metta and Co.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Giovanna is 2!

Today is little Gigi's 2nd Birthday, and we feel really lucky to be her parents. She is clever, and imaginative, and she is a little love magnet!

This year we barely got it together to have a little celebration for her, but I am so glad that we did. Our options for timing and location were very slim, and we ended up hosting an Easter Sunday brunch at our place followed up with an egg hunt in the park near our home. Our wonky afternoon church schedule allowed us to do a morning gathering, so we invited just a few of Gigi's little playmates and their families, and it was really nice. When I was dreading the event, and felt like I had absolutely no extra energy to put into hosting a party, it was helpful to remind myself of the adage I made up, that where good people and good food are combined, a good time will follow.

As long as we live in the Northern Hemisphere, April is just going to keep falling during the Spring, so I wasted no time digging out the tablecloth I had sewn for last year's party, and using leftover napkins, etc. New this year were our Easter carrot cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting and cupcake toppers proudly purchased and ready to stick on top. Ta-da!  It was all about streamlined and simple.

Since it was Easter Sunday, my mom made Gigi a beautiful Easter tree for the centerpiece on our brunch table. Each year I've had an idea at midnight the night before Gigi's party, and this year my midnight idea was a little banner for her Easter tree. "Happy 2nd Birthday Gigi!", completed about 1:30am.

As our RSVPs creeped into the 20s, I realized that I would be most sane at the end of all this if I asked our friends to bring something to share. My mom and I made three quiches between us, and with breakfast sausage links, and tons of fruit, homemade croissant rolls, orange juice and of course the cupcakes for brunch-dessert, we ate like royalty.

While I rounded up the kiddos for Ring Around the Roses and a hilarious version of Duck, Duck, Goose where all of the children stood up and ran in the circle, Marcos and Adam snuck out with the eggs and hid them in the small park just across the way from our home.  After giving the guys a few minutes of a head start, we took the kiddos out with their baskets and bags, and let them loose.  Watching children run into open grass gives me such a wholesome feeling.

After witnessing an egg hunt the day before, I made some mental notes and made sure we had enough eggs for the more aggressive hunters, as well as the more pensive gatherers.  I agonized briefly while stuffing the eggs between using sweets or non-sweets, but in the end went with some of each: a few mini chocolates, gummies, and Trader Joe's gourmet jelly beans (yum!), but also goldfish crackers, craisins, kiddo bandaids, some small toys like bouncy balls and slinkies, stickers and monster finger puppets.

Above are Gigi's little friends after the egg hunt: Emerson, Livy, Ava, Becca, Henry, Layla, Gigi and Maya.  Clearly, Gigi is much more interested in checking out her loot than looking up for a photo.  Below, Tutu helps Gigi with her cupcake after we sang Happy Birthday to our little girl.  Someone had the brilliant idea of bringing the cupcakes outside, and my carpet is still thanking me for that one.  We had ice water and cupcakes to end our gathering, and the kiddos played for a few minutes at the park before heading home.  It was a stunning Easter morning, and we loved being outdoors with friends.

Happy Birthday Giovanna!  We think you're something special!