Adventures in Foster Care

Baby Boy has been with Amanda and me for three weeks as of tomorrow. In that time we haven’t gotten much sleep. However, the sleep deprivation has been worth all of the joy this new life has brought into our home.

Today, we were asked by the agency, through which we are fostering, if we’d be willing to provide respite care for an 8-year-old boy. Not knowing exactly what to do, we said yes. So now we have two little boys who have been entrusted to us.

The newest addition to our home loves Nintendo, “Captain Underpants,” tacos, and pizza. He is a boy after my own heart. This young man will be with us just a short time, but he seems to be fitting in quite well. Foster care is indeed a bumpy ride. We are just now seeing all of its twists and turns.

Please pray for strength for our family in the coming days, weeks, and months. Sleep will have to wait, there are too many things to explore on this journey. Thank goodness this is a long weekend. That will give us plenty of time for games, poopy diapers, tacos, and the joy of spending time together. Now if someone could just explain to me why baby formula smells so horrific…

Baby Boy

It is just past 2:00 a.m. as I write this. My thoughts cannot help but turn to how infuriating life can be at times. It is simply unfair. I just got done feeding Baby Boy. That is what I will call our foster child, as I will never divulge his name on this blog.

I am angry with this precious child’s biological parents. They are missing out on seeing him develop and grow. Amanda and I have had Baby Boy for nearly two weeks. In that time he has become more aware of his surroundings, he has begun to show pieces of his personality, and he has brought us happiness.

As I look into this baby’s beautiful eyes it infuriates me that there are people who seem to have no struggle at all bearing children. Amanda and I are unable to have a baby of our own. So, why is it so easy for people who seemingly couldn’t care less about the children they bring into this world? It is unfair! It is painful to know that baby boy may go back to parents who lack the ability to provide the things that he needs. We want to be those people in his life.

In the time we have had this child, we have grown to love him as if he was our flesh and blood. He is a sweet baby who has given us a desire to learn all that we can to be the best parents for him, even if it is just for a short time.

It is so difficult to wish for Baby Boy to be reunited with his parents. We don’t know them, but it is heartbreaking to think that this child whom we love will be given back to parents who may not give him the same love and support he needs to grow into a healthy adult. Life is unfair, especially for this little boy who needs two parents to raise him in a loving, caring environment.

The Perfect Gift

It will be a week ago tomorrow that the call came. It was a call that would change our lives forever. We were in St. Louis visiting Amanda’s family for Christmas. It was so unexpected, however, it was something we have been waiting to hear for months.

The social worker on the line told us we would be getting our first placement as foster parents. Amanda and I never dreamed that we would be getting a newborn as our first placement. In fact, we had heard that it was such a longshot that we had prepared only to receive older children. However, God had other plans for us.

Last Friday evening we were told to make way for a day-old baby boy who had been born a month premature. Thruthfully, I think both Amanda and I were terrified. We have never been parents before. However, we now had two days to prepare for the arrival of the new life. Usually, people have 9 months. We had 48 hours! Fortunately, we have a wonderful support network of family and friends who have stepped up and provided many of the things we’d needed to take care of this precious new life.

After getting the phone call, Amanda and I decided we’d head home from St. Louis. However, that was not before Amanda’s mom and sister took us to Target for an improptu shopping spree. My only thought the whole time we were there was, “I know how to take care of my needs, but I have no idea how to take care of a newborn!” Reality was beginning to settle in. We were now going to be caring for another human being!

We had no information about the baby before we went shopping, other than he was a boy. Therefore, we did our best picking out clothes, diapers, and other items we would need. Once we were loaded up, Amanda and I made a late-night trip back home from St. Louis. The following day was spent preparing our home to welcome this new baby boy.

We also had friends from church stop by to drop off items for the baby. Family came as well to bring things to help us. The outpouring of love and support from church and family has been a blessing.

As foster parents we are not allowed to divulge much information about this tiny boy who has come to capture our hearts. He is a perfectly healthy baby who has already brought lots of joy and laughter to our lives. There have been many hilarious moments in just a few short days. For instance, the baby was circumcised before he left the hospital, which led Amanda to note his “penis looks angry.” Being a huge fan of bathroom humor this only made me laugh.

Being foster parents your heart goes out to the biological parents. They have had their child removed from their care. Despite what we make think of these people, it still makes us empathize with how they must be hurting. However, it is such a great feeling to know Amanda and I can provide a safe place for this little boy. He has only been with us since Sunday afternoon, but he is already loved so much. We both love holding this new life in our hands. It is impossible not be thankful for being given the opportunity to care for this defenseless little boy.

We are getting a routine down. Feedings are becoming easier, sleep deprivation is starting to feel normal, and being peed and pooped on is no big deal. In fact, I have been quite inpressed with this little guy’s skills to shoot poop around the room. We have learned quite quickly to use a shield when changing diapers.

Amanda and I do not know for sure how long we will have this baby boy, but we hope it is for a while. He already means so much to us. He will be loved and cared for as long as he is with us. He is a gift that came to us at Christmas. This baby boy is the greatest gift we could have received.

Happy Little Accidents Continued…

It happened again. I tried my hand at painting. Amanda, my sister-in-law Alice, and I took another Bob Ross painting class. This time we had a different instructor. One that was much more patient, especially with my lack of artistic sensibilities.

Lynn, who owns ArtDog in Eureka, Missouri was a fun person with whom to work. She took the time to show us proper technique. Plus she helped me “erase” my mistakes as I went along. I would not hesitate to take another class with her, as I feel I learned a lot. Plus, I did not feel rushed like the last time we all took a class together.

I think another thing that was helpful is that we used far fewer colors today than we did before. This made it easier for me, as I tend to be a little color blind. Lynn also assisted me by pointing out what colors I needed to use for each part.

We had Bob overseeing our work today

It was nice to be able to relax and just take our time painting. Our class began at 10:30 this morning and it was 2:30 p.m. before we knew it. Time does indeed fly while you are having fun.

If you didn’t read about my previous experience learning how to paint using the Bob Ross method, see “Happy Little Accidents…” I think today’s painting looks much better than the first that I did. It was certainly a lot more enjoyable to create.

Today’s finished project

Christmas Past

It seems like the older I get the less magical Christmas becomes. When I was a little boy I could not wait for Christmas to arrive. It was difficult to get any sleep the night before. I was filled with excitement for the things I’d get to unwrap on Christmas morning. As I began to get older and life began to change Christmas became a little bittersweet.

My dad died in September of 1989. That first Christmas without him is when the magic began to fade from the holiday. It was a profound sadness that first Christmas without a father. Holidays after the loss of a loved one are never quite the same. However, you learn to cope and life goes on, albeit, in a much different way.

As my brothers and I began to grow and mature, life began to change in other ways as well. It was not long after my dad died that my oldest brother, Shannon left home for his first year of college. A few years later, my other brother Cory got married and left home as well. With the progression of time came changes to traditions. No longer would we always be together as a family for Christmas. A little more of the magic slipped away.

When my dad was still alive we’d all spend time together as a family on Christmas Eve. He’d read two stories to us. One of these stories was Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. The other book that my dad would read to us was Boffo: The Great Motorcycle Race. This book has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. I am not sure how we even came across it, however, it has great illustrations. In addition, my dad had a very humorus way that he’d read the story. It seemed to jump right off the pages of the book.

After these two stories my mom would often read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. Then, if we were lucky we’d get to play, Twas the Night Before Christmas. This is a game where my mom would read the story, Twas the Night Before Christmas, and my brothers and I would get to change the story around in mad libs fashion. I am 42 and I still love to play this game. Yes, I do still have a juvenile sense of humor now and then.

As I have gotten older and traditions have faded, I have begun to realize that it is time to start new traditions. I am glad I have memories of the old ones. Those are memories that I will never lose. However, Christmas means different things to me now. I no longer feel like I need to get gifts in order for it to be Christmas. It was fun to feel the anticipation of receiving gifts on Christmas when I was a boy. But, I am content with the things that I have now. Sure, our house needs work, and my car needs new tires. However, I am thankful to have a loving wife and a wonderful family that cares for us in countless ways.

I am also thankful that Amanda and I will now be able to share our home with foster children. We will hopefully be able to start new traditions of our own. These traditions will be ones that will bring back some of the magic of Christmas. Along with the new, we can mix in some of the old. Emmet Otter and his jugband will be there. I am also hoping that Boffo and his motorcycle might be able to join us.

I’ll never be able to read that story as well as my dad did. However, through its reading he will remain alive in spirit. I will soon be the same age my dad was when he passed away. He will never be forgotten. A part of him remains alive in each of his boys.

Memories are what keeps the magic of Christmas alive for me today. My family is rarely all together for Christmas anymore. However, that is all right because we all have the same memories that bind us together no matter the miles that separate us from one another. Nothing can erase those memories.

It’s Just a Crutch…

I have walked with crutches since about the age of 4. Not to brag, but I am pretty good at walking with them. In fact, you could say I am great at it. Except, for those times I swing one leg out a little wide and kick a crutch out from under me. One thing I have learned about these two aluminum sidekicks that I have is that they are so versatile. The old proverb, “necessity is the mother of invention” had to have been coined by someone who walked with crutches.

My crutches have become an extension of my physical body. They can be used to pick things up that have fallen to the ground, much like a set of chopsticks. I can also use them to reach out for things that are out of reach. Likewise, they are good for pushing doors open. I can even use them to start the car from the passenger seat. This is especially true now that Amanda and I have a vehicle with a push-button ignition. Just push the brake pedal down with one crutch and push the ignition switch with the other and we are ready to roll.

If you are familiar at all with Marvel Comics, especially those starring Spider-Man, you might have heard of a character by the name of Doctor Octopus. He is one Spider-Man’s most prominent enemies. Doctor Octopus, or Doc Ock, is a “mad scientist” who created a set of mechanical tentacles that he can attach to a harness strapped around his waist. These tentacles are quite strong and allow Dock Ock to move very meticulously. Despite his evil deeds, I have always related to Doc Ock. I feel my crutches are much likes his tentacles. They are my way to move throughout the world. Moreover, as noted above they are useful in so many different ways. Have I mentioned that I can use these things to launch bottle rockets on Independence Day?

My crutches have also been a form of protection at times. I never had much of a problem with other kids picking on me when I was in school. However, whenever anyone got a little out of line, all that it took was a quick whack to the shins with a crutch for them to leave me alone. I am sure my brothers could tell you how this feels.

It is difficult to envision life without my trusty sticks. They are part of me. They have helped me adapt to life in a world that was not created for people like me. Likewise, they make things more interesting. If you don’t believe this just follow me up an escalator sometime and you will see what I mean.

“Call 911 and Get Me an IED!”

I was awake at 4:30 this morning. I don’t know if it was the excitement of having to sit through a long day of training, or the fact that Amanda had rolled over to my side of the bed and was squeezing me out of my space. Whatever it was, I knew it was going to be a long day. However, it was also a good day, despite having to sit through a six-hour class on child/adult CPR and first aid. This was one of the last hurdles that Amanda and I had to jump over before we become certified for foster care. Therefore, once the class ended it was a great feeling. Just one background check to complete and one more home visit to go and we should have our certification!

Initially, I was under the impression that today’s class was going to run from 8 a.m. to noon. So, with that in mind I thought it would be a piece of cake. Four hours would go by quickly and we’d be free to enjoy the rest of the day. Our class was about an hour away from home, so we left at 6:45 this morning. That left us plenty of time to get to the hospital where our was class was being held. This is good because once we arrived I needed to use the restroom, where I proceeded to overflow the toilet. This is a specialty of mine. I have overflowed toilets from London to Rock Island, Illinois. Unfortunately, there was no custodian around to notify, which was probably just as well since I was now running late to get to class.

To my relief, Amanda met me in the hallway once I left the bathroom, since I had no idea where I needed to go for our class. Showing up fashionably late is not something I enjoy, as I always feel all eyes are on the stragglers. However, class had not started yet, so we made our way to the front row. Two things I love, being late and sitting in the front row! Once we got situated class was underway.

The first topic was CPR. This part of the class moved rather quickly, as there were lots of activities involving mannequins. It made me feel as if we were recreating an episode of one of my favorite television shows, The Office. In this particular episode things go horrifically wrong as the staff undergoes CPR training. If you are unfamiliar with this show I’d suggest finding it on Netflix and watching the two-part episode called, “Stress Relief” from season five. Fortunately, no mannequins were injured during today’s class, except for the one the instructor dropped on its head at least three or four times. This woman is also a volunteer EMT. I am hoping she never has to come to my aide in an emergency situation.

The CPR portion of the class was over by 10:30, which had me thinking, “yes, only another hour and a half to go and we’d be done!” Oh, was I sadly mistaken. As it turns out, class was not scheduled to be over until 2 p.m. I am actually glad that I did not know this until class had already started. Despite this devastating bit of news, Amanda and I made the best of it, as we learned all about first aid. We actually did learn quite a lot. For instance, in any emergency situation one must first “check the scene for safety” before stopping to help an injured person. This to me makes perfect sense, especially if electrical lines are down.

Then, you should always direct someone to “call 911” while someone else should “go grab an Automated External Defibrillator or AED.” I think after running through several different emergency scenarios I was beginning to get delirious, or perhaps I was just really ready to go home. For instance, as we were practicing proper emergency procedures for someone who is having an allergic reaction I instructed Amanda to “call 911” and “then go find me an IED, instead of an AED.” I am glad the instructor didn’t hear me, otherwise, she might have thought I was asking for some explosives, as IED actually stands for “Improvised Explosive Device.” Again, it was getting late and I was ready to go home after running through what seemed like every emergency situation one could ever possibly face!

However, then came instructions on what to do if bitten by a venomous creature. This led to what seemed like an hour-long discussion on the difference between being bitten by a rattlesnake and a coral snake, followed by what to do if you ever encounter a poisonous tree frog, you know the kind that can excrete toxins directly from its skin. By this point I was actually hoping for a coral snake to crawl up my leg and just start going to town on my thigh. Apparently, the way they deliver their venom is by gnawing on you for a bit. In the end, I learned that rattlesnakes are probably more deadly, as they can just clamp onto you while the coral snake has to actually do some work before it kills you.

All of the questions regarding poisonous reptiles and amphibians were asked by one particular person in the back of the room. I think perhaps she would have been content to stay all day and discuss the stings and bites of various animals. I say this because after we finished discussing snakes and frogs we moved on to jellyfish. Strangely, I knew where her line of questioning was going as she inquired about there “being any truth to the rumor that human urine” is effective in taking the pain out of the sting of a jellyfish. Fortunately, this ended the discussion on all things poisonous when the instructor stated that “urine is indeed useful in relieving the pain of a jellyfish sting.”

In conclusion, I do not want you to think that I am making light of all the useful things that we learned today. Much of the information was very important. It will be helpful to have this knowledge if we are ever faced with a situation in which someone needs CPR or first aid. Likewise, going through this class got us one step closer to our goal of becoming foster parents. However, I can safely say that after today, we will never be going for a hike in the woods. We will have an AED with us at all times, and we will never be visiting the tropics. Finally, if I am ever stung by a jellyfish, just back off and leave me alone. I’ll go find some vinegar, or some meat tenderizer, as that apparently aids in pain relief as well. For now I am off to work on putting together a first aid kit. Where did I put that tourniquet?

https://youtu.be/ssIY8NYwvh4

A Hydrocephalus Thanksgiving

As I’ve mentioned before in earlier blog posts, besides being born with spina bifida, I was also born with hydrocephalus. This is a condition that causes cerebrospinal fluid to build up on the brain. To drain this fluid, a shunt often has to be placed in a person’s head. This shunt allows the excess fluid to run down from the brain into the peritoneal cavity (abdomen). I had my first shunt implanted within hours of my birth.

Throughout my life I have been very fortunate to have had little trouble with my shunt. This is not the case for many with hydrocephalus. Shunts can often get infected, or simply break down. Only once has mine needed to be fully replaced. This occurred when I was four-years old.

It was close to Thanksgiving in 1981 when I began to experience some of the worst headaches I had ever had to that point in my life. Along with the headaches, I became very nauseated. These are two very common side effects one can experience when a shunt begins to fail. So, when I began having these headaches and vomiting, my parents took me to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

As we arrived at the hospital my neurologist, Dr. David McLone, did an exam of my eyes and confirmed my shunt would need to be replaced. He knew this, as he could see papilledema. This is a swelling of the optic nerves caused by excess pressure on the brain. Papilledema is yet another sign that there is a problem with a person’s shunt.

Therefore, I was scheduled to have surgery the next day. I don’t know what was more upsetting, the fact that I would need to have surgery, or that I would have to be in the hospital for Thanksgiving. However, what the doctors and nurses didn’t know is that I would not be deterred from having Thanksgiving dinner.

If my memory serves me correctly, I had surgery the morning before Thanksgiving. I then spent the rest of that day in intensive care, where I slept for quite a while.

I then woke up on Thanksgiving morning and was famished. However, I was told that I would only be allowed ice chips. If I was able to tolerate these, I would be allowed to have clear liquids. Not being one to give up easily, I downed the ice chips that I was given. Then, it was on to the clear liquids. I knocked those back as quickly as I could and told the nurses I wanted Thanksgiving dinner! They resisted my pleas at first. However, they consulted my doctor, as I was insistent that I wanted some turkey!

It pays to be persistent. My doctor saw that I had tolerated everything else that I had been fed. Therefore, he thought it wouldn’t hurt to at least let me try some solid foods.

I was given some turkey and scarfed it down almost as quickly as it was placed in front of me. Then I asked for some more, plus some potatoes and stuffing. Nothing was going to stop me from having Thanksgiving dinner. I ate until I was satisfied, much to the astonishment of the nurses. They should have never doubted a Bradshaw with an appetite.

Sometimes doctors do know what they are talking about, and their advice should be followed accordingly. I am glad that most of the ones I have had along the way have taken the time to listen to me. I know my body the best, as I have lived inside of it for 42 years now. Don’t ever let someone with an M.D. behind their name pressure you in to anything that does not feel right. Listen to your body. It will often tell you the right course of action. Sometimes, you just have to eat the turkey and forget about standard operating procedures.

Omphaloskepsis

As I’ve noted before in a previous blog post (see The Summer of Ryan), I enjoy the sitcom Seinfeld. I relate to the character of George Constanza, as I tend to be a bit neurotic at times. It is for this reason that my mind usually goes to extremes after I have had surgery. I worry that there will be complications that will delay healing, which has actually happened a few times after previous surgeries.

Today, I have had some chills and a low-grade fever. In truth, this is probably because I have become a little dehydrated. However, my mind instantly goes to the possibility of infection, despite there being no indications of this. Should I go to the ER, or should I just stay home? I often weigh these questions heavily. I also feel quite run down, but I guess that is to be expected a few days after having surgery.

It is difficult to be patient when you are the patient! I want to be back on my feet doing everything I could do a week ago before my gallbladder became my worst enemy. Despite this, I know that healing takes time. It is just a little frightening when your body is doing things it normally doesn’t do.

For instance, I had a blister inside my belly button that popped this evening. It almost appeared as if someone was trying to blow a bubble from my umbilical area. I was thinking this might be a new party trick that I could unveil at Christmas – “Step right up and watch me blow bubbles from my belly button!” I could even take this show on the road. I’m sure there is an audience somewhere that would appreciate my act.

Having surgery is nothing new to me. I have seen my body in much worse shape than it is tonight. However, the paranoia sets in when something unexpected happens. You’d think I would have learned by now to be more patient as the patient. However, at 42 my mind still wanders to the “what ifs.” What if I do have an infection starting? What if I will never be able to have another bowel movement? What if I feel like going to work on Monday, but I can’t get any pants to sit comfortably over and around my surgical wounds?

This is a busy time of year at work, and I am not there. How big of a stack of things are waiting for me upon my return? I would say probably quite a few.

These are all things that I will pray about. Life will go on and I am sure I will be back to my old routines soon. Until then I’ll continue to navel gaze. I’ll let you know if the bubbles keep coming. I am off to take my temperature…

Four statues which stand in the Louvre, depicting the fine art of naval gazing. I like the Greek word for this practice much better, which is “omphaloskepsis”

Postoperative

The past few days have put me through the ringer. It all started this past Sunday around 4 p.m. That unmistakeable knotting pain began to form just below my sternum. In the past I have had this pain, but it usually lasted just a few hours and it was gone. However, that was not be the case this time. I did not sleep at all on Sunday night as the tightness in my chest was relentless. It seemed like no matter what position I contorted myself into, nothing helped. I knew that I was having a gallbladder attack.

Fortunately, I was off work on Monday due to Veteran’s Day, as most of my time would be spent in the ER. I checked in there around 6 a.m. on Monday where they ran blood cultures, did x-rays, EKG’s, and then sent me home with a prescription for acid reflux medication. I was kind of dumbfounded. Here I was doubled over in pain and I was sent home with instructions to come back if I started feeling nauseated or feverish. At this point the doctor knew that I had gallstones, as the x-rays had shown. However, I was supposed to wait three days before seeing a general surgeon. Perhaps, I did not express succinctly enough just how much pain I was experiencing.

After stopping by the pharmacy and getting the prescription for acid reflux medication, a problem that I didn’t really have, I went home laid down and tried to get comfortable again. However, this was not to be. I did start to feel nauseated. So, just a little over an hour after leaving the ER, I went back and was not going to leave until my pain was addressed. Finally, I made some headway with the ER staff and I was was given some morphine. This allowed me to get some rest as I waited an inordinate amount of time to hear what was next on the docket for treatment. I was sent for more tests, and then it was finally decided that I would be admitted. That was with the caveat that I may or may not have surgery the next morning. I would be put be on the surgery schedule, but only tentatively. They’d get to me if they had an opening on the schedule.

I understand that my case was not critical. I also am aware that most surgeries are scheduled at least weeks in advance. Likewise, I don’t believe that my condition was critical. However, to have to “fly stand-by” while I was in so much pain was not a comforting feeling. It was also frustrating to know that I was truly not listened to the first time I visited the ER. I was having a gallbladder attack, not a problem with acid reflux!

Fortunately, as noted above, I was finally admitted and was kept comfortable throughout the night with morphine. However, I did not get much sleep, as I was connected to an IV, heart monitor, and an oxygen mask. I understand that since I was taking a very potent narcotic, the nurses were interested in keeping a close eye on my respiration. However, with no sleep on Sunday night and very little sleep Monday night, I was at my wits end. The only positive at this point was that the pain in my chest began to fade away early Monday morning. This is good because much of Monday was spent waiting to hear if they could “pencil me” in on the surgery schedule.

I will say that all of the nurses that I had were very caring and professional, but I found there to be a lot of disorganization throughout the whole process from the ER all the way up to the time of my surgery. Feeling that things were not being orchestrated very well behind the scenes produced some anxiety, which is never a great thing when you are in the hospital.

It was around 2:30 on Tuesday afternoon that I was finally wheeled into surgery. Having surgery is not something that scares me. I have had around 30 different procedures throughout my life. So, I know the process once an individual gets to the operating room (OR). The nurses have you transfer to the rock-hard OR table. They then drape warm blankets over you. These actually feel like a little bit of heaven, as the OR is usually the same temperature as a meat locker. I am sure this is to help negate the heat that radiates from the enormous lighting fixtures that are mounted over the OR table.

A mask is then usually placed over your face that is pumping oxygen. Then, in order to put you under for the the procedure, the general anesthetic is sent through the mask. This sends you into a euphoric state that quickly fades while you slide into unconsciousness. I do enjoy that euphoric feeling. It is just too bad that does not last for very long. It seems like almost no time has passed until you are once again awake. That is when the pain from the procedure sets in and seems to get worse before it gets better. That is where I am today.

Currently, I feel as if I have gone a few rounds with Muhammad Ali while he was still in his prime. To have laparoscopic surgery where your gallbladder is removed through your bellybutton is an unusual thing. I don’t like to have my bellybutton poked, much less to have it cut open. I am sure that this too shall pass, as the pain from other surgeries have. It just always seems when your body is healing that it will never get back to the state where it was before. I am ready to be able to move again without pain. No more surgery for me for a while. I have had my share.