Thursday, April 29, 2004


I got the call from Lydia, our babysitter, at 3:07PM on Wednesday. “Hello, Pete? This is Lydia. Umm, Kathleen just left like 5 minutes ago, and PJ has been throwing up and he seems really sick. I can’t reach Kathleen on her cell phone.”

“Did he eat something?”

“I don’t know. He seems really sick though.”

“OK, let me try Kathleen on her cell phone and I’ll call you back.”

I had this sense of powerlessness and frustration. I work in downtown DC, about 44 miles from Leesburg. It’s about an hour’s drive without traffic, maybe ninety minutes during rush hour. But I take the commuter bus, so I was even farther away. The first bus didn’t leave for another 40 minutes. I tried to call Kathleen but her cell phone wasn’t even ringing. The battery must be dead. Damn.

I call Lydia back. This time she says that PJ has eaten a dime. I talk to Anna, ask her if PJ has eaten anything. Anna doesn’t know. I tell Lydia to call 911, and hang up the phone. I stare at my desk and try to think of something I can do. I call Kathleen’s mom, wondering if she happened to be in Northern Virginia. No luck. She is in Staunton.

I call Lydia back, expecting the phone to be busy, assuming she is on the phone with 911. She picks up the phone. “Did you call 911?” I ask.

“No, did you want me to?” Lydia asked. She was scared, you could tell on her voice. I found out later she had thought I had said that I would call 911.

“Call 911 now! Call them right now!” I am yelling at her. This also gets the attention of everyone working on my floor. I hang up the phone.

I don’t have the phone numbers of any of my neighbors in my palm pilot. Shit. I’m trying to think of someone to call. I look up a neighbor by last name on the web browser at my computer, and call their house. Sharon answers the phone. She tells me that she can see an ambulance in front of my house. She says she will go over.

When I first moved to Leesburg the hospital, Loudoun County, was right in town. A few months later they moved to Lansdowne, about five miles east of town. Three years later they reopened the Leesburg hospital as an emergency center. Its less than a mile from our house. One of the nice things about our neighborhood is that an ambulance can get there fast.

I find out later the police showed up first, and then the EMTs shortly after. They were both very nice, and evidently, the EMT, a woman named Christine I think, was super nice and managed to get PJ relaxed. PJ had swallowed a coin and it had lodged in his throat about half an inch below the windpipe. If it had been a little higher it would have kept him from breathing. As it was, he was hiccuping and sort of trying to throw up and choking on this coin. But by the point where the paramedics got him in the ambulance, it was just stuck in his throat.

I catch the first bus home, try not to think about it, try not to worry. The worst if over, he’s at the emergency room now. I get to the ER around 5:15PM. Kathleen is still running errands, her cell phone dead, the shock of everything that happened sort of hanging over her waiting until she gets home. PJ is on the X-ray table. Sharon is with him and PJ is crying and upset. Sharon leaves and they take some more X-rays.

The radiologist shows me the X-ray as we leave. It is almost comical. It is a normal X-ray of a three-year-old boy, except it looks like there is a giant quarter shaped blank spot just below the throat. On the side view the blank spot is shaped like a sliver. It was a quarter he swallowed and not a dime. The doctor tells me that we need to transport PJ somewhere where a doctor can remove the quarter. But not just any doctor. He called a gastroenterologist and they said to call a pediatric gastroenterologist. The pediatric gastroenterologist told him to call an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist. The ENT told him to call a pediatric ENT.

Each time the ER doc tells me that he needs to call a different doctor I think to myself (and I know how bad this is but by now PJ is better so I have time to be crass) holy crap!—this is gonna cost me a shit load of money! Good thing I have really crappy health insurance! I’m gonna take this quarter and have a hole punched in it and make a necklace out of it. Tell everyone that it’s a piece of expensive, if not exotic jewelry. Maybe I'll have it framed and hang it over the mantle.

They eventually find a doctor who will remove the quarter and arrange an ambulance to take him to Lansdown, where he is on call. I could drive him, but the quarter could come lose at any moment and that could stop him from breathing. No problem I say, feeling a bit drunk with all the medical spending, send him by ambulance. Wait, do you have some super nice expensive ambulance made for children with things lodged in there throat? What the hell, lets send him by limo! I never actually say any of this. Instead I am stoic and quiet. PJ keeps telling me that he wants to eat, that he wants to go home.

They put PJ on the ambulance to transport him to Loudoun county medical center. I run home and tag Kathleen, who goes and spends the rest of the night with PJ. Sam is asleep when I get home. Anna goes to bed with no trouble. She’s getting to be such a good kid.

Kathleen walks into the emergency room to find PJ sitting on the nurses desk, swinging his feet and chatting. He’s a social one. They wait around until the anesthesiologist shows up. At that point they are wheeling PJ into the operating room to remove the coin from his throat. Kathleen asks if they should take another x-ray before operating. Maybe the coin has dislodged itself. The nurse didn’t think that was very likely, but the doctor agrees and they take PJ in for another x-ray. Surprise! The quarter is no longer in PJ’s throat, but had come loose and is no in his stomach. And according to the doctors, an object that can fit through the throat can usually squeeze itself out of the other end, although there may be some pain involved. Which is fitting I suppose. That quarter’s been a pain in everyone else’s ass so far today.

PJ and Kathleen got home around nine or so, and the rest of the evening was uneventful. So this story has a happy ending. I’ll keep you posted if I find the quarter, or maybe I’ll post a picture of it (ewwwww…).

Tuesday, April 27, 2004


pj can take a nap anywhere when he gets tired enough

and some cute photos of Anna

And PJ and Sam become partners in crime, assaulting the bookshelves left around by a lazy dad.

ANNA GETS AN MRI -- 4.27.2004

Last Thursday, it was the 22nd, I had to bring Anna into Fairfax hospital to have an MRI, to rule out a brain tumor. While this sounds really ominous, its not that bad. Let me explain. When Anna was diagnosed with a Lazy Eye, which is a fairly common occurrence, they need to rule out some potentially dangerous things that might be causing this. So for instance if the odds of having a brain tumor, once being diagnosed with a lazy eye are a thousand to one, from the other direction, if you have this particular brain tumor, the odds are ninety-nine in a hundred that this Lazy Eye might occur as a symptom of it. So while the danger was small, it had a large potential downside and had to be ruled out.

All this is well and good, but when you start talking about things like a BRAIN TUMOR that relates to my oh so cute 5 year old daughter, its not a good thing. And to make matters worse she has to go in for an MRI. This means general anesthesia. There is no way in hell you are going to get a five year old child to voluntarily lie on her back and get slid slowly into a gigantic ominous tube and lie perfectly still while listening to strange snapping an humming noises. Its not going to happen. Also, to make matters worse, Anna had just had anesthesia when she had tubes put in her ears a month back, from which she learned several important lessons. One, anesthesia sucks. Two, doctors lie to you and can not be trusted, especially when describing how much something will hurt. Three, when you come out of anesthesia your ears hurt.

I of course cheerfully volunteered to be the bad guy and to bring her down to get the test done. We brought some toys and games to the radiology waiting room, and spread out on the floor playing Crazy-Eight’s with Clifford’s dog bone shaped playing cards. This was in the sharp contrast to most of the other people in the waiting room, which was a somber bunch of elderly people in wheelchairs. We waited about an hour.
The nurse brought us in to changing are, where Anna went in to the bathroom. The anesthesiologist leaned in to me and whispered. “You are going to need to hold her in when we give her the gas, she’ll probably start kicking and fighting. Most of them do.”

I gulped. Anna came out, and she was still pretty cheerful. This faded, though, when we went into the room with the great big scary machine, and she had to sit on my lap on the stainless steel table. Then, as instructed, I held Anna in a bear hug. As predicted, she started to freak and kick and fight and scream. I held her while the doctor held the mask against her face. I felt dirty, like I was betraying her. Then, just a few moments later really, she was out. I went to the waiting room.

About half an hour later they rolled her in to the pediatric recovery room when she was coming out of the anesthesia. She was very pissed off. She was screaming and kicking her legs and (of course) asking for her mommy. Not her dad of course, I was the bad man who held her down when the evil doctors gassed her. This is just my imagination of course, I don’t think Anna stayed mad at me. After she came out of her anesthetic fog we went to McDonalds, a place where children have been carefully trained to associate with happiness and french fries. Anna was starving; she hadn’t been allowed to eat or drink all morning and by now it was 2:30 in the afternoon. After lunch we had some ice cream and all was well again.

We found out the next day around three pm that there was no tumor. This particular ordeal is over, and everybody is fine.

Saturday, April 10, 2004


Anna just started wearing glasses this past week. Her perceived age just about doubled when she started wearing them. She looks so much like a plain old kid now, and not a little kid any more. It started when she was complaining about her vision, one eye was a little blurry. The doctor said that she has a lazy eye, and we tried her wearing a patch for a while, but that didn’t do much good.

So now Anna is wearing glasses, and not just glasses, bifocals. I feel so bad for the poor thing. She is reading now too, sounding out words fast enough so that she can just about understand the sentence that she is reading. It is amazing to watch her learn. Some thing so simple as reading is so easy to take for granted.

PJ, on the other hand, is quickly dropping through the ranks of our favorite children. Last Saturday he took a big black magic marker and drew big zig-zaggy lines down the wall on the staircase, over the walls we had just painted a few months back. I saw these big lines, and was furious. I ran down the stairs and grabbed PJ. “PJ!” I said, “why did you write on the walls?”

“I don’t know. I’m sorry”

So I am thinking to myself, He doesn’t know? How can he not know? Why would anyone do that? Maybe its some karmic revenge for my transgressions as a child. It’s a good thing these kids are so cute. Otherwise I don’t think anyone could put up with them for very long.

Also, Anna lost her first tooth. She was very excited about leaving it under her pillow, only she accidentally swallowed the tooth while eating a banana, so she had to leave a post-it note for the tooth fairy explaining what had happened, and leave that under her pillow. She is very proud of her newly minted gap in her teeth, though. She shows it to everyone. Neighbors, strangers at the Wal-Mart, cashiers at the supermarket. And the tooth fairy left her a real dollar and a silver one. How cool is that?

Sam has been walking since we just before we took our vacation, and he is starting to move around pretty quickly. All he takes are Frankenstein-style steps, though, with both of his arms outstretched and both knees locked. He doesn’t really have a gate, he just wobbles. His goal in life is to obtain that most prized possession, the telephone. Failing that a remote control is also quite good, but the real prize is the telephone. He lies in wait, watching waiting, curling his tongue against his mouth in concentration as he tries to reach up onto the table farther than he can see and snatch this wonderful thing. Sometimes he succeeds, too, and the runs away. Well he can’t actually run yet, so he Frankenstein-wobbles away at a good clip, laughing his crazy laugh, loving the game. He’s a fun kid.

Monday, April 05, 2004


Well, two weeks later and I am still trying to recover from that fleeting sense of freedom, that taste of how things once were. But that was a few weeks back now and life marches on I guess. Sorry it took so long, but here (finally) are the St. Maarten photos. Check out the album st the link below, its pretty cool.