January 25, 2009

Easy Reader

Alden really likes to read to himself these days.

Self feeding

Behold, the first day of self feeding! Did I mention how excited we are about this? We've been trying to get him to put food in his mouth for 6 months. Up to this point, he was content to put anything other than food into his own mouth. Dead ladybugs. Dust bunnies. Stereo wire. But nary a cheerio would pass such discerning lips.

This is a major breakthrough for us.

Boxes Continued

At some point, Kerstin transformed the box shuffle into a game. It's one of Alden's all time favorites.

Box Pushin'

This is an older video (at about 11 months) when Alden figured out a new mode of transportation. This kid has a bright future in warehouse inventory. He still prefers to travel this way.

Teething biscuit revisited

We officially have a self-feeding baby. Yep, the little monkey is feeding himself bits of scrambled egg, cheese, avocado, orange and banana. Meals have gotten a whole lot messier, but he seems to be enjoying them more too.We gave Alden his first teething biscuit when he was about 7 months and it was a disaster. He managed to gnaw off a pretty large chunk within minutes and gagged after trying to swallow it whole. We promptly purged all biscuits from the pantry after that and gave up on the really solid foods. Very recently Alden figured out how to chew (!!) and how to put food in his own mouth (double !!) so I thought it was time to give this teething biscuit thing another try. He sucked and chewed on it for a good half an hour, ultimately reducing it to a thin, moist wafer while spreading most of the soggy goodness all over his face. He loved every minute of it.
Frankly, I can't really understand what he likes about these biscuits. They taste like vanilla-flavored particle board. But they're wholesome and organic and as long as they make him happy, that's all that counts.

January 22, 2009


This adorable stuffed dinosaur was handmade for Alden by my sister-in-law, Liz. Alden is quite taken with him. We're still working on a name (I call him "boribori" which is Japanese for chomp), but Alden has pronounced him delicious!

Thanks Liz and Aaron!

January 20, 2009

oh yeah, holidays

Besides my brain going screwy and entertaining family and friends, our computer broke this holiday and had to be taken to the shop. Hence, very little was put on the blog about our seasonal celebrations.

Both Ilana and I see the value of a time of year where the culture makes an effort to collectively try and practice goodwill and treat family, friends and strangers extra nice. We are also both pretty lax with the religious connections that go along with that behavior however. I think we hit five out of the seven days of Hanukkah and Karen brought us a live baby spruce tree we decorated with Aldens finger puppets and some old candy canes that mysteriously materialized. We did the Christmas-morning-gift-exchange-thing at Karen's. Alden got a tiny sled that we pulled him around in, despite being over-tired.

Joseph came for the holidays and and was here to help prepare the kitchen counter for a dishwasher and stayed for my birthday. I think he had a really good time despite my hospitalization.

New Years was a quiet stay at home affair and on January 10, we went to the Capricorn Ball. It's a party for everyone, but celebrates Capricorns especially with a goat-effigy bonfire, live music, and loads of people.

Then we got ready for Alden's birthday, which I think marked the end of our celebrations.

January 18, 2009

Happy Birthday Alden

Our little monkey turns one year old today! In retrospect, it seems like this year was the longest of my life (especially in the sleep department) and also the shortest (he used to fit into that tiny onsie!) Whoa.

An early gift were these three turtles whose shells are spheres that spin their sphere-feet when you roll them. Very fun and clever, even though Alden just takes the spheres off and sucks on them.

For some reason I believe it should be a tradition to get a haircut on your first birthday. In keeping with that traditon, we gave Alden a haircut. A dopey, pumpkin-headed, white-trashy haircut... I gave it my best shot, but it was really hard when he's so squirmy.

Alden with trailer-fresh hair and baby-sized cake he is too small to eat. And too pukey. He's got - gasp - another ear infection, accompanied by fever and GI troubles. Poor guy. It was much worse yesterday, but he had a mid-morning rally today. The fever is gone now and he was able to put down some banana and yogurt for dinner without retching afterwards.

Alden showing off some of his chompers.

Opening a present. It's just starting to dawn on him what this "present" thing is all about.
Alden playing with new cars. Alden has a love-hate relationship with toys that have wheels. He thinks they're really neat, but will break into tears when playing with them sometimes. We can't deduce a reason for this, he just sits there, pushing the toy frantically and crying. I think he may have mobility issues and is jealous of wheels.

Other awesome goodies Alden got for his B-day include the sharp sweater he is wearing in this picture and the chair he is sitting in that clamps to the table top. Very handy.
We had grand plans to throw a big party for him with his friends and family, but between his illness and the giant snowstorm that hit the East Coast the festivities were cancelled. Karen and Ben braved the blizzard to pay us a visit, but other than that, we spent the day hunkered down by the fire eating the chili intended for our visitors. Alden seemed to enjoy himself. Happy first, little man. We love you a whole bunch and hope you feel better soon.

Kerstin's Brain - Part III

Continued from Part II

Kerstin didn't remember much about the ambulance ride to Portland Medical Center. He was very tired and had to lay on the gurney during the trip, so he slipped in and out of sleep. Joseph travelled with me and they had a conversation, but Kerstin didn't recall it. In the meantime, Karen and I (Ilana) returned home to fetch Alden and relieve Ben. I nursed Alden and changed his diaper, then bundled him up and loaded him in Karen’s car. Alden was amused by all the activity and happy to be allowed to stay up so late past his bedtime. We arrived at Maine Medical in Portland around 10:30, just a few minutes after the ambulance delivered Kerstin to his room. My Dad met us in the parking lot and we all entered together. Ben delayed his trip to make us some dinner and then brought it down to us in the hospital.

Dad and I stood watch outside the room waiting for the doctor to arrive. In the meantime, Karen, Joseph, and Ben set up shop in a small waiting room outside the ward and took turns checking up on Kerstin, changing diapers/feeding the baby and scarfing down some dinner. Joseph introduced the "Elevator Game" to Alden, who was quite taken with it. This game involved riding up and down in the service elevator. I was grateful to have all this family around so that I could pass off Alden. I shudder to think of what I would have done without them. A baby adds a new layer of stress on top of the cortisol-soaked layer cake that is hospitalization of a loved one. I don't think I would have been able to focus on Kerstin's needs or function at all if it weren't for the fact that I knew that Alden was being cared for all this time.

At some point, while we were waiting for the doctor, Alden started making the milk sign. This was his first true signage and should have been cause for much jubilation, encouragement and reinforcement. I was too exhausted and scared to really respond properly to it and wasn't comfortable leaving Kerstin to feed Alden, so he got a jar of baby food with Joseph and Ben instead. Alden continued to do the milk sign intermittently for a week or so after the hospital incident, but has since stopped signing altogether. I think that because I didn't give him the proper reinforcement initially, I may have missed the sign language window of opportunity, which I really regret, but at the time, I just didn't know how to deal with everything happening all at once.

The doctor finally arrived sometime after 1 in the morning. My Dad and I met him in Kerstin's room. I recanted the whole tale to in as much gory detail as I could remember while the doctor performed some reflex tests on Kerstin and asked him a few questions. Kerstin was drifting in and out of sleep, but was lucid enough to answer a few questions and didn't struggle to find his words anymore. He'd also regained sensation in his arms and hands. Kerstin's doctor and my Dad brainstormed possible conditions, but none of them seemed satisfactory. The fact that Kerstin had lost sensation in both arms seemed to throw them, as did the fact that the entire episode lasted about 8 hours.

"Carotid dissection?"
"Not likely since both sides of his body went numb."
"Lyme disease?"
"He hasn't been bitten by a tick."
"How about Lupus?"
"No family history."

This exchange went on for about 10 minutes, but didn't lead to a satisfactory prognosis. Kerstin's doctor recommended that we wait for the results of the MRI. He felt that Kerstin's condition wasn't life threatening and recommended we run the MRI first thing in the morning when the technician normally arrives. We agreed that Kerstin seemed better (he was asymptomatic at this point) although he was extremely tired, so we left him alone to get some sleep and scheduled the MRI for the morning. We gathered in the waiting room around 1:30 AM to discuss our options. Should we stay in the hospital and sleep in the chairs? Not very easy to do with a baby who's already been up WAAAAY past his bedtime and who, while initially quite excited about this situation, was starting to get really cranky. Should we try to find a hotel? Might be hard to do at this hour. In the end, Joseph volunteered to stay behind with Kerstin and the rest of us drove home. My Dad followed us up to Gardiner and slept on our couch. We agreed to reconvene first thing in the morning and make plans to return to the hospital together for the impending MRI.

This is Kerstin's recollection of the evening:

When I arrived at Maine Medical Center in Portland, I was rolled into a room and more monitoring wires were attached to my chest, an air tube was put in my nose and an IV was put in my arm. I think the rest in the ambulance did me some good because I was feeling more lucid and able to talk with greater ease. A nurse and a doctor asked me some questions, which I think I answered correctly. They did not seem to think immediate action was needed and thought it best to let me get some sleep, my MRI would be the following morning. Scott, Ilana, Alden, Karen, and Ben came in to see me briefly before I drifted off. I don’t remember much of those conversations. Mostly general reassurances and good wishes.

Once I decided to sleep, most of the family decided to drive home. Joseph requested a cot at the side of my bed and spent the night at the hospital too. The doctor woke me up every two hours during the night to make sure my condition hadn’t declined. He would ask me a question like ‘what day is it’ (which I reckon is hard to answer when you just wake up whether your brain is failing or not) and test my reflexes. By morning I was not particularly rested, but more coherent and it seemed like my brain problem had lifted.

I was given a hospital breakfast which I shared with Joseph, and just hung out until they were able to schedule my MRI. The MRI started around 10:30 when I was wheeled to the radiology room in the basement. I was told the MRI machine was going to be loud, but anyone who has worked on a construction site would disagree with that description. I was worried about becoming claustrophobic in the MRI tube, but the tube was well lit and nicely ventilated, which made it a positive difference. The scans took about an hour and a half to do, and being still for that long was tricky, but not too difficult.

Ilana's Recollection:

We made it back to the Hospital shortly after Kerstin returned from his MRI. He seemed in good spirits and was back to himself, although he was still pretty sleepy. While we were waiting for the test results, Kerstin's bedside phone rang. It was Ashley, the ER nurse from Augusta. She had tracked Kerstin down and was calling to see how he was doing. She's such a sweetheart!!

We all waited for a few more hours for the results, passing the time playing the elevator game and pass the baby. Eventually a very friendly, grandfatherly Neurologist came in, said everything looked tip top and told us to go home and enjoy the holidays. It took another hour for the paper work to clear so the nurses could unhook Kerstin, but we finally made it out of there before the clock struck noon. My Dad left for home about a half an hour before Kerstin was cleared to go and before we realized that he still had Alden's car seat base in his car. After a few minutes of panic, we made a short detour across town to Babies-R-Us to get a new forward-facing seat, since he was almost due for an upgrade anyway. Kerstin dozed while we made our way North to Gardiner with Alden in the backseat, watching the world whizzing by his window for the very first time.

January 11, 2009

Kerstin's Brain - Part II

This is the second part of the saga of Kerstin's Brain. Go here to read part one.

Once I was past the waiting room I was taken into the ER. I could tell I was having trouble, but I couldn’t tell how bad it was. I wasn’t sure what kind of shape I was in to evaluate myself. My hands and arms were still numb when they brought me into a large room and set me down on the bed. Things get a bit fuzzy after that, so Ilana will give the details.

This is Ilana’s recollection: Kerstin walked into the ER with me and the attending nurse and she set him down on the bed. While he removed his clothes, a male nurse came in with a dry razor, shaved off a patch of his chest hair and attached several electrodes to his chest. Another nurse came in, introduced herself as Ashley and put in an IV. Kerstin was struggling to talk at this point. He could get most of the right words out, but he was very slow and deliberate, and would clench his jaw with every syllable. He seemed very disoriented, and seemed to have a hard time understanding what we were saying to him.

The ER doctor came in a few minutes later after Kerstin's vitals were taken and asked Kerstin to describe his symptoms. Kerstin was disoriented, numb from the shoulders down and sick to his stomach. He made a few attempts to describe what was happening, but ended up saying things like “I’m having dif-…. I’m hav-ing…fuck!... I’m having diff…iculty… to speech….” He’d clench his jaw when he’d get hung up on the word, as if physically straining to find it in his brain. I noticed that while he had a big problem finding words to complete his sentences, cursing was surprisingly effortless.

The doctor ordered a CAT scan and I had to stay behind. He and Ashley wheeled Kerstin down the hall and I was left alone and trembling in the ER room. I called Joseph, who was watching Alden and told him what had happened. Then I called Karen, who asked if she should come to the hospital or be with Joseph and Alden. I opted to have her stay with Alden, since he’s most comfortable with her, and since I didn’t really know how long we'd be staying at the hospital. An administrator came in at some point during this lonely and scary time to ask me to fill out paperwork for insurance and billing purposes. I understand that this sort of thing needs to be done, but I was really irritated with this woman for being so goddamned insensitive. I was alone in the room after that and I passed the time by pacing and reading cabinet labels.

It took 23 minutes for Kerstin to return. They re-situated him in the corner and Ashley asked him if he remembered her name. He did (which was more that I could say!) and we were both very impressed. Kerstin then asked me to verify text on posters and cabinets in the room. I think he was trying to regain his vision and trying to keep his brain active. Ashley told me that on the way to the CAT scan, Kerstin counted from one to ten over and over again, with varying degrees of success. We waited in the ER room for a while – I can’t remember how long exactly, with both of Kerstin’s arms and hands alternately going numb and regaining feeling. He complained that he felt nauseated and exhausted, but was afraid to sleep. Ashley wanted to give Kerstin an anti-nausea medication intravenously, but Kerstin refused. After she left, he told me he thought he had food poisoning (?!) and that if he could only throw up, this would all go away. I figured he was delusional, but was happy that at least he was talking.

The doctor returned and announced that the CAT scan was negative. I breathed a huge sigh of relief at this news. The doctor then said that he might still be having a stroke or a tumor that couldn't be detected by the CAT scan, heralding in a fresh wave of panic. The doctor seemed surprisingly detached, puzzled and non communicative. He also seemed to be at a loss for what to do next. He finally announced that Kerstin probably needed an MRI, but that he’d have to be transferred to Portland (an hour away) to get it. He left to “start the paperwork”, which was ultimately completed a mere 3 hours later.

I don't know why it took so long or if Kerstin was running out of time for treatment, so these 3 hours were absolute agony. During this time, I called my Dad (who, conveniently enough, is an ER physician!) and asked him to talk to this doctor, in the hopes that he could speed things up. I think my Dad convinced him to go through with the MRI that night. Dad also decided to come up to help us with the diagnosis, and we agreed that we’d meet him down at the Portland hospital. Karen and Joseph were pretty frantic to see Kerstin by this point too, so they left Alden with Ben at home and met us in the ER. We were all there for maybe an hour or two, trying to make sense of everything. Joseph spent most of the time talking to Kerstin, while I brooded in the corner of the room trying to figure out what the hell was taking so long. Karen was the squeaky wheel and hovered just outside our room so as to pounce on the nurse, doctor, or anyone else who happened to walk by for an update. It seemed to take forever to get Kerstin out of that ER.

(Note from Kerstin - I remember some of what Ilana describes. I don't recall time length at all and wouldn't know how long I was in the Augusta hospital if asked. I remember not wanting to go to sleep or allow myself to slip up and not correct myself when I was speaking. I felt I had to fight to keep my mental state and I worried what would happen if dozed, which is why I counted and read the wall text. I was also worried about the nausea medicine more as a strangers-offering-unknown-pharmaceuticals than anything else, and had reservations about taking drugs while my head was being screwy. I was more fascinated than scared at my condition and thought the best thing to do was to talk about what was happening to me at the time in case some bad brain-mojo happened and I would be unable to talk in the future. )

Kerstin started to feel more sick to his stomach and really looked bad. He was still struggling to finish his sentences. Ashley gave another impassioned pitch about why he should take the anti-nausea medication – mainly to prevent his brain from jarring even more when he retched. I think he finally started to realize that this wasn’t food poisoning at some point and agreed to the medication. Ashley’s shift ended before she could administer the drug and her replacement, Ingrid, actually did the deed. Ingrid was much less sympathetic than Ashley. She seemed defensive when we questioned her about what was going on and irritated when we asked for updates. She made flippant comments about how this was probably just a small seizure because that’s what happened to a friend of hers and told us not to worry. These kinds of comments really riled Karen and me, mostly because we had very little information and the doctors still hadn’t ruled out something really awful (like a stroke too early to detect via CAT scan or AVM) and just who was this nurse to breeze in and casually diagnose Kerstin anyway?

Kerstin threw up right after he was given the anti-nausea medication. At first, it was just a little spit up (and I know a thing or two about spit up vs. vomit, thanks to Alden.) He really lost his lunch just before he was loaded on the ambulance and transferred to Portland. This was about 9 PM – 5 hours after his symptoms started. Joseph opted to go with Kerstin in the ambulance. He reported that the trip was largely uneventful, with Kerstin still fighting sleep, but managing to doze lightly for a while. He woke close to the hospital and they had an interesting exchange. Joseph described it as “confused and incomprehensible, but pleasant.”

Karen and I returned home to fetch Alden and relieve Ben. I nursed Alden and changed his diaper, then bundled him up and loaded him in Karen’s car. Alden was pleasantly amused by all the activity and happy to be allowed to stay up so late past his bedtime. We arrived at Maine Medical Center in Portland around 10:30, just a few minutes after the ambulance delivered Kerstin to his room. My Dad met us in the parking lot and we all entered together. Ben delayed his trip to make us some dinner and then brought it down to us in the hospital.

To be continued on Kerstin's Brain - Part III....

January 10, 2009

Kerstin's Brain - Part I

With the holidays now behind me and the New Year in front, I have a bit of time to reflect on the past week. On the 27th of December I began to experience some mental problems that lasted until the 28th. The problems were severe enough to get me hospitalized and unique enough that they remain undiagnosed. The symptoms were similar to a stroke or a psychotic break with a loss of language skills, vision, and hearing. Accompanying these were numbness, nausea, and loss of fine motor control. It is still undiagnosed, so if anyone has any idea please leave a comment.

At 4 PM on December 27th Ilana and I were shopping for a dishwasher. We were discussing various models with the sales representative in the store when I felt a warm sensation and springiness in my legs followed by a pins and needles sensation. The feeling rose into my belly and torso. It took about a minute for the pins and needles sensation to get to my torso and by that time, I took Ilana aside and told her I thought we should leave. We excused ourselves and as we left the store the prickly feeling rose into my head.

When we got to the truck in the parking lot, the feeling had passed. We debated whether to go home or to the hospital. While we discussed what to do next, another wave or pins and needles came over me, along with numbness in my hands. We decided to go to the ER in Augusta, which was luckily only a 5 minute drive away.

On the way to the ER it became more difficult to use my hands. I had trouble adjusting the thermostat controller in the truck and at the check-in desk at the ER, I struggled to get my ID out of my wallet from my back pocket. I was able to sign in to the hospital, but Ilana needed to fill out the forms for me. We were asked to take a seat in the waiting area. I remember a pissed-off kid with a bloody head who had some kind of winter sporting accident and an older lady in a wheelchair hooked up to an oxygen bottle ahead of me.

I don’t remember what was showing on the TV in the waiting room, but I was commenting on some aspect of the show and how it related to larger media theory and how that related to various social trends and patterns (the basic TV programming is rubbish and it is everywhere conversation). I began to notice I was having greater and greater difficulty speaking. It started with a fumbled word or two, and then advanced to an incorrect word said in place of the one I intended to say, then I was suddenly unable to say the words I wanted to.

I didn’t realize I was speaking gibberish immediately. The words I wanted to say were lined up in my brain and were correct, only after uttering them did I realize that something was wrong. The ear is a very poor evaluator of word appropriateness when the brain thinks everything is okay, so there was a conflict between the two. Another disconnect was with my brain and my mouth. I could tell my mouth was not making the correct shapes for the words I wanted to say when they were wrong. However, It wouldn’t be until after I said something, listened to what I said, felt it in my mouth, and then re-thought about the sentence that I could tell if the words that were spoken were the correct ones. If the words were not correct, I wouldn’t be sure exactly what I’d said because I was so preoccupied listening to what I was saying that I couldn’t remember what I’d intended to say. This is how things were for me for most of that night in the hospital.

The 'switch was flipped' in the waiting room when I was talking with Ilana. Selecting words became a little difficult and when I said something that didn’t seem like what I wanted to say, I tried to correct it. I then noticed Ilana had a very worried look on her face. She went to get a nurse. I grabbed a pen and paper thinking if I was unable to talk properly, perhaps I could write coherently. The note I wrote Ilana was not much better than my speech. My numb hands made writing problematic and I started to have trouble with my vision (things would go in and out of focus, making most objects in the room look smeared), and I couldn’t pin down the words I wanted to write.

(This is Ilana’s perspective at this time: Kerstin was talking coherently in the waiting room for the most part, when suddenly he started spouting random words in mid-sentence. Words like “fish” and “tank” were repeated a few times, but I don’t remember exactly what he else said. I panicked and rushed over to the attending nurse at the desk, where I sputtered between sobs “He just started spouting gibberish. I think he’s having a stroke.” She quickly whisked us into an isolated holding room, probably because I was visibly shaken at this point. I suspect she didn’t want my freak-out moment to disturb the other patients. This is where Kerstin wrote his infamous note. I was crying a lot and Kerstin tried to comfort me with it.)

I wrote the following words on the back of a STAT Registration Request form:
“Its kind of kind of body oot of body-ish I wish I had better penpenship This”

The note explained:
I could tell my penmanship in the note was lacking when I wrote it, but at the time I did not know the words I wrote were doubled up and were not the words I intended to write. I believe I wanted to write “This is kind of like a mind out of body experience.” since I was feeling numb and did realize my state of consciousness was abnormal. I think now I was flummoxed by the words “kind, like, mind” being so close together and that’s where the note went wrong.

It's taking some time to recollect this all, but I will try and get the rest of the Augusta Hospital adventure written soon. See Part II to read what happened after we entered the ER.

January 1, 2009

Kerstin is better

Just a quick note to let everyone know I'm feeling better and will write about my ordeal when I get the chance. Docs still don't know why my brain went screwy for ten hours on the 27th, but they have done some tests (MRI, CAT Scan, blood, heart, EEG) and everything looks tip-top... or at least nothing is readily apparent like a tumor or a malevolent gremlin. The 'spell' passed in the night and was isolated to that one episode. Since I got out of the hospital people have shared with me stories about friends and family who have had similar experiences (screwy-brain for 1 to 10 hours) so it may be more common than I realize.