Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Visits, Concerts, Broken Cars and Unhappy Eye Balls

Wow. Nearly a month since I've posted. Absurd when clearly there has been much worth posting. Since I have a month's worth, should I start with the good news or the news about how the world wrapped itself around my skull and started drilling mercilessly?

OK, yeah, the good news. I'm all about eating the maraschino first.

In late August, I reconnected with some old friends from long past assignments. Important friends that I regretted ever losing touch with. Particularly Ragan and Fiona. I met Fiona in Australia when we lived there and when she was an Australian Air Force Officer. She was also my workout partner and never balked at a challenge. She and her husband are now here for 3 years, and I could not be happier that they're around. I hope we can make up for the lost years. There's Ragan too, whose emails I have enjoyed immensely, and who's life story I'm following with zeal. We have even more in common now than we did in Junior high, and I have to tell you, I really needed this soul-connection. Hi Ragan! I'm so glad you're back and I'm with you every step of the way on your new journey. I believe in you!

I enjoyed spending Caroline's last days of summer with her, feeding ducks, sleeping in, and laughing our tails off. And I enjoyed seeing her go from dread to excitement about her first days of school again.

Then our good friend, Francesca, previously posted about, arrived from Australia via UK to spend three weeks with us. We had a marvelous time. We needed that time to laugh and relax, and I so enjoyed showing her around our world here. The markets, the Weindorf, the dairy farm, etc. We spent some hours at the 24 hour Marathon, which is to raise money for the children's programs on the base. There were trips to Rothenburg and Neuschwanstein.

Then there was the Madonna concert that we, along with Fiona and Gosia went to, and was that ever a good time! A girl's weekend right in the middle of the week, complete with Irish Pub, trains, hotel, beer, awesome conversation, laughs and convenient places right under the stage where we all gawped at Madonna's up-close-and-personal muscles for 2.5 hours. Seriously, does that woman ever age?! Is she really 50 with two kids?

Top: Gosia and Francesca, Bottom: Fiona and Gosia. Aren't my friends beautiful?!?

There was a trip to Europa Park:

And of course, some days were just enjoyed sitting at home with popcorn and a movie and good conversation, which is just as much fun and certainly good for the soul.

Enjoying a Weizen at Neuschwanstein.

We all got very used to having Francesca around. We got used to seeing her putter around every morning with her cup of tea. We got used to seeing her cheery, stripey socks, to getting some good laughs out of her own special brand of humor, and to hearing her thoughts on various happenings, ideas and events. She's family, really, so the fact that she's gone has left a hole in our home. As she left I remember her thanking me for letting her come and stay. And I don't think I responded to that, in the middle of heavy thoughts as I was, but all I remember thinking was "Thank ME?". Because really, Franta, we thank YOU. Thank you for choosing our home as the place you wanted to stay and our family as the family you chose to be part of. Thank you for hanging around us even when the times got tough (see rest of the story below). It was a great experience for all of us, but especially for me. I miss you already.

Now, that covers the cherries and frosting. How about the other stuff?

On the 13th of September, we (me, Calvin, Caroline and Francesca) decided we'd take a weekend to stay at the Edelweiss Lodge in Garmisch. Just a relaxing weekend with good food, workouts, pool, Cosmopolitans, etc. And all started well...we did get there. And we had a goooood dinner. After that though, we all went to the gym for a quick workout before heading to the pool. Caroline had her new bathing suit on and was so excited she could barely hold still. So while we worked out, she played with the exer-stretch bands to bide a few minutes. You know the ones you use to mildly work your muscles by stretching them? One was tied to a steel bar by the mirror and she was pulling it, pretending to work her little toothpick biceps. None of us thought anything of it, of course; they're rubber bands. Stretchy rubber bands....pretty much the most harmless thing in the gym and perfect to keep a 7 year old occupied for a few minutes? Right?

Except the tied end of the band came loose and snapped back straight into her eye. Didn't hit a bit of skin around her eye, either, just straight eye ball. I had turned around for just a second as she was happily playing and making faux gruntings, and when I heard the pop I turned back around to see her doubled over on the floor. She was not making a sound; she was not able to, stunned as she was, which was my first clue that something really was wrong. My heart dropped into my feet and I rushed to turn her over and see. When she opened her eye, I had to stifle a yelp. Her eye looked like a glass half-full of blood. Blood was actually pooling up between her cornea and her iris.

She was still stunned beyond making a sound, so I rushed her over to the front desk and asked them to call security. From security, we were given the directions to the nearest hospital that would see Americans (being out of Stuttgart at this time was not a good thing). To make a long story short, there was no sleep that night. We rushed from the hotel to the ER, from the ER to an emergency opthomologist on the other side of town. That opthomologist told us Caroline needed surgery right away, that she couldn't wait until morning, and that we needed to go either to Munich or Stuttgart asap. So we had to drive back through the night to reach Tuebingen, the university hospital near Stuttgart. At around 6am we arrived there, only to be told by a very bleary-eyed doctor,who'd come in just for this on a Sunday morning, that Caroline's eye would absorb the blood itself most likely and that we should just go home and see our own base clinic on Monday morning for a check up. We got home on Sunday morning at 7:30 at which point we all promptly fell asleep and slept all the day through.

Monday morning first thing, I took Caroline to the clinic where the doctor seemed very concerned with the blood in her eye (though it did look much better by this time) and he set up an appointment with another opthomologist for that hour. We drove over there to have the opthomologist tell us what the doc in Tuebingen said, "It will probably absorb itself. Hang in there and come back in a few days so I can look at it."

Now, I have to tell you, I was not comfortable with these breezy diagnoses, but it did appear to be getting better, and I was being assured at home that it was all ok and that it would absorb itself, no worries. So I went along. I set up an appointment for two days later, and we went back home.

But that night, as Caroline was getting ready for bed, I heard her scream from the bathroom. As I was getting up off the sofa to go to her, she came rushing in, grabbed my wrist and pulled me with unbelievable, panicked strength toward the bathroom where she looked up at the light and showed me what she'd been screaming about. The eye, which had heretofore been partially filled with blood, was now fully filled. Instead of going away and absorbing itself, it had re-hemorrhaged and now resembled a black marble in her head and she was fully blind on that side. It was....well...truly frightening. This time I was not taking "No, calm down." for an answer. I grabbed her and rushed her to the hospital in Sindelfingen, carrying her the whole way as she was hysterical and muttering loudly about being "blind forever". There they told us that they didn't have any opthomologist on staff and that we should go downtown to a hospital there that did.

Thirty minutes later we arrived at the Katherinenhospital in central Stuttgart, where the doc looks, tested her with a few numbers and letters and admitted her right away. Luckily, they let me stay with her. Wise of them, since I would have won in the fight I was prepared to have. In fact, they were welcoming. Calvin went back home that night and I stayed in a cramped hospital bed with Caroline, cuddling her and trying to reassure her all night. The next day, we saw the Chief Opt. and he suggested that we opt for surgery since, he said, waiting might only mean a more difficult surgery later. Caroline agreed when it was explained to her that she would not feel a thing because she'd be asleep, and so Calvin and I nodded and agreed too.

The lead up to the surgery was more stressful for me than it was for her, I think. She was in good spirits and fascinated at the thought of the "magic medicine" making her sleep. Naturally, I was feeling all these attacks of mother-guilt: why did I let her play with that rubber band? Why didn't I just skip my workout and take her straight to the pool? Why did I listen to those who told me "Don't worry, it's nothing." when I knew to listen to my gut instead? Would she ever show me rainbows again? Would she ever notice all the tiny but beautiful things she notices every day, like caterpillars, ants, leaves, pretty rocks? Or would she be half blind for the rest of her life?

All these thoughts were running through my head, and they might seem melodramatic to anyone who isn't facing it with their kid, but honestly, they were tearing me up. The thought of general anesthaesia was too, as one of my favorite authors died from it. Caroline, on the other hand, was proudly beaming to me that she was going to be the first person to do the backward count and make it to 1.

In her little gown just before they knocked her out. Doesn't she look way too tiny for that bed?

She didn't even make it to ten. They never told her to count. They just injected the juice and said "This might burn a little". I was holding her hand when she started crying and saying "It burns!". She went to sleep just then without warning and I hadn't even had a chance to say anything else. I worried for the next hour and a half that she'd gone to sleep in pain and hadn't heard me trying to comfort her. Yes, melodramatic to you, but so painful to me.

Fortunately, the surgery went well. She slept for hours afterward as the anesthaesia wore off, but Calvin and I were there right by her side the whole time. When she woke up she was well and in no pain.

For the next few days I stayed with her (we had our own room by this time and two beds). We played Blackjack and War and I read to her from her book, "Sea of Monsters", which she loves. We watched movies on our portable DVD player and we drew pictures and chatted and cuddled a lot. Daddy got a bit of cuddle-time too, which I think they both needed.

Her class all made and sent her Get Well cards, which she loved. She lit up as she was reading them to us, and laughing at the cute and funny things her classmates said. What a creative and smart bunch of kids! Those cards are brilliant and will go into Caroline's scrap-box for keeping.

The card display Caroline made out of her classmates' cards:

On Friday night, her teacher, Herr Zappey, and our friends, Shelley, Riley, Ben and Brooke Johnson all came for a visit.

Left to right: Caroline, Riley, Shelley, Brooke, Herr Zappey, Ben.

There is no place that family can't light up! Caroline loved having them in her room and she loved the balloons and MickeyMouse they brought, but mostly she loved the good wishes and laughter that came with them. She and Riley and Brooke built a dummy out of Herr Zappey's motorcycle jacket and helmet. Herr Zappey, ever-patient man that he is, stood by and let them enjoy themselves with his gear.

She was released on the weekend with the condition that she not do P.E. or physically exert herself for a few weeks at least. There will also be regular weekly checkups with the doc and surgeon back at the hospital so they can monitor how her eye is coping. Her pupil is still almost fully dialated and her whites are still pink, but we're hoping for the best and that it will all go back to normal eventually. Her sight has mostly returned. In the meantime, Caroline is back in school and handing out eye-ball candies as a joke. Lemons=Lemonade, eh?

To add to the stress of EyeBall Week, our car wouldn't start yesterday as I left the post office. So today my chore, as well as catching up on a week's worth of school that I missed, is to find a mechanic who will work with 10 year-old Infinitis. You would be surprised to know that not many here will. Huh.

BUT, all things considered, with all that's happened, we really got off light. Things could have been far worse. What if she'd been wearing her glasses when that band had snapped? Shattered glass in her eye? Thanks to the Powers That Be that she wasn't. It's this I'm going to focus on to remind myself that we really were fortunate, and this I'm going to focus on as I cuddle Caroline a little tighter and a little more often every day.

Flowers from Grandma and Grandpa Myrick: