Dispatches from my Dining Room (No 5): Day 76: Staying Home in the Midst of Re-Opening

It is now day 76 of our staying home whenever possible. America is strange right now.

There is no vaccine for the coronavirus. While there are a few treatments that may offer glimmers of hope, nothing has proven to be dramatically efficacious.

And yet Americans are tired of staying home. Some believe the coronavirus is not as serious as people are making it out to be. Others are annoyed that they can no longer be served as usual – there were protests in my rich, white hometown (just miles from Milwaukee, in which the Black community is suffering and dying at alarming rates). Some are convinced that they personally are young and healthy and are likely to survive, so they would prefer to risk exposure in order to return to business as usual. Whatever the reasons, many people want to be out and about and would like to return to their lives as they existed pre-pandemic.

I really resonate with this tweet –

Wishing for something doesn’t make it so – but we seem to be pretending that it can.

For our governmental leaders, the move to re-open the country seems to be primarily politically motivated. People are filing for unemployment at unprecedented rates. Many do not have savings to sustain them for long periods without a paycheck. People and businesses need relief. The solution presented by our politicians is that the country should begin to open again. However, as businesses re-open their doors and call employees back to work, even those who do not feel safe returning are rendered ineligible for unemployment benefits. It is a terrible situation to face. I wish that, in America, we were willing to look for economic solutions to economic problems – instead of forcing people back to work in situations that may cost them their lives in the name of preserving the economy (and/or politicians’ political futures).

Our family is incredibly fortunate that, at least for now, Matt and I are both able to work from home. We don’t have to go anywhere on a daily basis.

Even we, though, have not been able to maintain our policy of zero tolerance for contact with the outside world.

Matt, who suffers from interstitial lung disease, was having lower oxygen levels than his pulmonologist wanted to see, so he needed to go in for additional testing and an appointment. He actually had to be tested for the coronavirus (video here) before he could do any of that because of the high risk nature of all of the patients in the pulmonology clinic and the risk of spreading the virus during the types of testing they do. I’m thankful he was able to go, though, as he is now feeling better, and he now has access to supplemental oxygen when he needs it.

Additionally, FangFang receives quarterly Pamidronate infusions to strengthen her bones, and she was due for another one this month. These aren’t absolutely life sustaining, but they greatly improve her quality of life. They also reduce the risk of serious fractures, any of which could necessitate an emergency trip to Omaha for surgery, which would be a much higher risk situation than a day at the hospital for an infusion. I consulted with her endocrinologist and decided to go ahead with the infusion but moved it up to May 7 (as soon as possible after Missouri’s re-opening date of May 4, to minimize the likelihood of widespread community transmission), and she and I spent the day at the hospital. The hospital has policies in place to minimize risk (only one parent and no siblings allowed to come with her, no waiting in the waiting room, no playrooms, no wagon rides, placing us in a private room with a private bathroom, and everyone was asked about symptoms and had temperatures taken upon arrival, and we were required to wear masks). We also brought all of our own food, so we would not need to interact with any food service personnel.

And then, in an unwelcome development, when we came out to the parking lot, we saw that one of our tires was completely flat. Matt had to come put on our spare tire so we could drive home, and the next day he took the tire to get patched. As low as we would like our exposure to be, we need our van to be drive-able.

I’ve been missing the ability to interact with friends and family, and while it is 100% worth it to me to keep our family safe, I also wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to go see Courtney while her risk of exposure was minimal. For a couple weeks, her workplace was closed to the public, and she wasn’t doing appointments or lessons at all, employees were wearing masks and keeping their distance from one another, and she stayed out of stores and public places and didn’t do any of her supplemental jobs. After two weeks of that had passed, I got to go visit her for a weekend, which was a nice time of relaxing and fun.

We continue to order our groceries to be delivered (and try to tip well for those who do that work and assume the risk that we are avoiding). We order everything we can online, whether books, household supplies, or clothing. This past weekend I made my best guess at shoe sizes for the older girls – we’ll see whether they fit when they arrive! Matt had to go to Menards one day to get some supplies that we couldn’t easily order online to fix our leaking freezer, and we took advantage of that opportunity to have him pick up some paint and supplies so we could paint our hallway – ready to tackle some quarantine home improvement projects!

We’re still trying to stay home as much as we can, and overall, life feels pretty peaceful. In addition to our regular school work, there is time for board games, playing outside, and reading books for fun.

We have acknowledged that, two months in, we need to use wisdom, not absolute zero, as our guide for interactions outside of our home. Life is not black and white. We have very high risk family members. We will not be taking any significant risks. But we do have weigh the different risks involved in the various shades of gray and make the best decisions we can for our family. We can’t allow our health to deteriorate or our van to become un-usable or our freezer to leak perpetually, so we take those risks. But that doesn’t mean we have to throw caution to the wind and engage in ridiculous behavior. Some of the most dramatic examples of people flouting expert recommendations are coming out of Missouri this past weekend. It’s hard to have standards that we know others aren’t following.

I am mourning. Our neighborhood pool is opening for the summer, and while others enjoy that lovely activity, we’ll be at home, trying to find other ways to cope with the humid, 90-degree weather of Missouri summers. Our two almost-swimmers will not be mastering that skill this season. As Miranda’s swim team resumes practices again, she’ll be staying home.

We see pictures of friends out at parks or gathering together. We miss our people, too. We miss feeling like we belong to a community (an experience obviously exacerbated by having resigned our membership in our long-time church just months prior to a pandemic). We see others returning to life, more or less as normal.

Psychologically, it’s a strange experience. It feels almost like collective gaslighting. So many others are acting like there is no problem at all – like everything is normal. I’ve had moments of beginning to wonder whether I’m the one who has the truly skewed perspective. Am I over-reacting? Are the lengths to which I am going to keep my family safe (and protect anyone with whom we would need to come into contact) absolutely ridiculous?

And then I look at the statistics. And I read the stories. And I remember – the risk is DEATH. And for several members of my family, that risk is high. And we have no way of knowing the risk factors of anyone with whom we may need to come into contact. I’ll trade my summer at the pool to give us the best chance to preserve their lives. Everyone has to make their own choices. But as for me and my house, we will be staying home.

Omaha and Beyond

Our trip to Omaha last week was amazing. We knew going into adopting FangFang that the medical care necessary for a child with osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) would be significant. What a blessing to be able to see a specialist in every single related area all at once!

We arrived on Tuesday night and checked in at Rainbow House, which is right down the street from Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and is where most of the families getting treatment for kids with OI stay. We’d heard good things about it…and there were some good things…but actually our experience there was awful and ended up having repercussions that extended days (and dollars) beyond our stay. That’s all I’m going to say about that now, but we were pretty disappointed.

However, our experience at the hospital itself was great. It would be impossible for me to recommend the OI clinic in Omaha more highly!

Matt took Miranda, Mei Mei, and Atticus out for some adventures on Wednesday morning, and FangFang and I headed to the hospital. First up for her was a dexa scan, which measures bone density.

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Her bone density z-score actually came back at -5, which means the density of her bones is 5 standard deviations below the mean value for children her age – that is a huge difference.

We also did a bunch of x-rays – partly as a baseline, partly to give us more information about a recommended course of treatment now. I was really pleased – everyone was so helpful and easy to work with. I wanted an x-ray of her right humerus, as it had broken last September and felt a little off to me, but that wasn’t included in the standard list of initial x-rays, so the radiology nurses called right away to get an order from the OI clinic for that, so we could do it all at once.

FangFang and I had some time to kill in between appointments so hung out in the cafeteria for a while, about which she was pleased!

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You mean I can choose any snack I want, Mom?!?!

Next up was audiology. She clearly did not share their view that their attempt to look in her ear was a “no ouchie” situation, and after that she was pretty uninterested in their attempts to engage her further. We were able to measure that her ear drums do move, which is a good sign, and we’ll just leave the rest for next year.

Then we were free for the afternoon! Matt and Atticus went back to Rainbow House for naptime, and all 3 of the girls and I went to the hospital playroom for a play date! The online community of OI moms is so incredible, and 3 of us moms had discussed ahead of time the possibility of getting our girls, all with OI, all home from China within the last couple months, together. It was so cool to connect in person!

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The kiddos had fun playing, and we mamas got to chat, which was so nice!

Xiao (on the left) and FangFang were actually both at Agape Family Life House together in China, so they were reconnecting here for the first time since they were adopted! At first they seemed to have some cognitive dissonance seeing each other again in a totally new environment, but as our time went on, they warmed up to each other and were interacting really sweetly.

photo by Xiao's mama, Heather, of Snapshot Photography
photo by Xiao’s mama, Heather, of Snapshot Photography

It was so good to see. FangFang continued to ask about Xiao throughout our time in Omaha. We were so thankful it worked out for us to reunite these two, and we hope they can continue to enjoy this relationship in the years to come!

That evening we were able to reconnect with an old friend from our days in Chicagoland, who is now a professor at a nearby university, and we enjoyed a dinner out with him and his family.

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We really enjoyed that not only was this a trip to get some much needed medical care for FangFang, but we were also able to work in some fun times and connections with friends, both old and new!

Thursday was an early morning as we headed to clinic. We were given a large room (the better to house our large family!), and we settled in there. We just stayed in that same room all morning, and all of the doctors and medical professionals rotated around and came in and talked with us. It was awesome to see so many experts so quickly and easily!

First we met with Dr. Rush, the clinic director, and his team.

photo by FangFang!
photo by FangFang!

Then we saw Dr. Esposito, the world-renowned orthopedic surgeon. We also met with a social worker, a dentist, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, and several nurses.

We learned so much. We went into this already having a lot of general knowledge but lacking the medical expertise to apply what we were learning to specifically what FangFang’s care would need to be. The doctors there believe that FangFang has Type IV moderate OI, which is what we’d expected. Her right femur shows evidence of having fractured and healed multiple times in the past, and it’s significantly bowed, so it will need to be rodded. Hopefully we can do that surgery before it fractures again, but it would also be great for her bones to be slightly more dense before we attempt it, so we’ll probably wait 4-6 months. That gives this mama a bit of time to prepare for the surgery, too, and try to prepare FangFang as well as possible. We’ll also have her left femur re-rodded at that time. It broke about 8 months ago and was rodded in China, but the rod has migrated a little bit, and that will start to get uncomfortable, so Dr. Esposito is recommending that we take care of both legs at the same time.

After clinic we split up. It was great for both Matt and me to be there and be able to ask questions and meet all of these key players on FangFang’s care team, and all 4 kids did amazingly well, given the expectation that they sit in a small room reasonably quietly for over 4 hours. There were some other things we needed to take care of that afternoon, so Matt took Madeleine CaiQun and Atticus with him to tackle that, and Miranda stayed with FangFang and me at the hospital. FangFang would be getting some bloodwork and her first stateside infusion of Pamidronate, which works to strengthen her bones and help them grow in their density.

Unfortunately, FangFang is not a super easy stick, and no matter how good they are, she is not happy for anyone to be poking at her veins, so that portion of the day was a bit traumatic for her. We got the infusion going, though, and then we were free to wander the halls!

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They had plenty of fun toys in the infusion center, but we hadn’t had lunch yet, so we went off in search of some food. I was so thankful that Miranda had stayed with me. She really has stepped into this role of big-sister-to-3 amazingly well, looking out for FangFang and offering hugs and playfulness and protection. Any time I needed to step away to use the bathroom, I asked a nurse to keep an eye on them, but it was Miranda who really engaged with FangFang and kept her happy.

We actually spent most of the afternoon in the surgery waiting room with Xiao’s parents. It was great to get to chat with them more…and they also helped me out a few times. I joked with Heather that everyone needed a friend who could serve them even while their own daughter was in surgery!

By the end of the day, we were super ready to be done. I hadn’t realized quite how long the whole process of getting the infusion would take, and we were finally discharged that evening about 12 hours after we’d checked in to the hospital that morning. Whew! It was a long day.

Between the reports of the suspected impending ice storm and our unhappiness with things at Rainbow House, we opted to drive home that night, so Matt and the other kiddos picked us up at the hospital when we were ready to go, and away we went, arriving home around 1:00 am.

The kiddos did really, really well with the whole trip, and we were so thankful we were able to get to Omaha so quickly and get such great input from so many experts in the field about how we can best care for FangFang. It was really awesome, and we’re so thankful for that opportunity.

The days ahead are rather daunting, as Matt heads back to work today. It has been such a blessing having him home in these early days as a family of 6, enabling us to have a much smoother transition than I suspect would otherwise have happened. However, he does have to return to teaching, and I’m somewhat intimidated by the prospect of having much longer days at home by myself with all 4 kiddos! Yesterday, a day during which Matt was gone for much longer than he was regularly away for most of winter break, was also a bit rough – I had moments of feeling quite triumphant…but that feeling was quickly squashed when both littles, enamored with the novelty of having Mom put them down for their naps instead of Dad, refused to sleep, rather complicating my plan for the day. We obviously have some kinks to work out. We’ll also be beginning the process of meeting with our local specialists (a local orthopedic surgeon, a PT evaluation, an OT evaluation, a school system evaluation, etc), and we’ll have to see how all of that goes and what the effects on our lives and schedules are going to be! Please pray for us as you are able!