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Monday, August 31, 2009

Bring on Fall

For the first time in a month, I feel like I can breathe. My son is recovering from his knee surgery, and I feel like I can look forward to some (trivial) things that I gave little thought to while we were filled with anxiety over his health situation.

First of all, it's almost football season. Well, not almost football season, it actually has already arrived with the NFL pre-season, my fantasy football draft this past Sunday, and the beginning of Michigan's high school football season this previous Friday night.

As anyone who has read this blog knows, I'm much more of a college football fan than pro or high school. I'm optimistic about the 2009 Michigan State season. I don't know if they'll equal last year's 9-4 campaign, but I think they should at least finish in the upper half of the Big Ten and go to another bowl game. It should be interesting to see how the quarterback battle goes, and who, if anybody, stands out at running back.

Part of football's appeal for me is that it takes place during the fall, which is far and away my favorite season of the year. I love the chillier temperatures, the crisp air, the changing colors of the trees, apple cider and donuts, the homecoming parades, the Spartan Marching Band, and Halloween. September 2 is my oldest son's birthday, and this date has become my official signifier that autumn is upon us. (Yes, I know that fall doesn't officially begin until late September, but I don't go by the official date).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A difficult month, a difficult summer

First of all, let me say that everything now is fine. No need to be alarmed. But this month, as a whole, has been the most anxiety-ridden month I've ever experienced, and that's the reason I've been away from this blog for so long.

Let me start at the beginning. In June, my oldest son began complaining of knee pain. At first, I thought he was simply using it as an excuse not to play baseball (he was playing in the local youth baseball league and was not particularly enthusiastic, probably due to his chronic knee pain). In about mid-June, he began waking up in the middle of the night crying because of his knee, and at it was at this point that we knew there was a real problem. My wife took him to the local "redi-care" for x-rays, but they didn't reveal anything. Initially, the diagnosis was tendonitis, but several weeks of physical therapy produced no positive results. Meanwhile, my son was on a consistent diet of children's Motrin.

Finally, when we'd reached a point where we had no idea what was wrong with his knee, we had an MRI performed. Two days later, on August 3, our pediatrician called me at home to let us know that the MRI revealed a "mass" in is kneecap, which was most likely benign. Of course, the mere thought that this thing could be malignant was about all I could focus on.

Making things doubly difficult about this news was the fact that my wife and I were headed for a four-day mini-vacation to the Wisconsin Dells on August 5, without the kids. How would we, how could we, possibly have fun on this vacation? The night we left our two sons with my wife's parents was incredibly tough on the both of us. We had this mysterious "mass" that had been diagnosed somewhere on or in our son's kneecap, and we were about to leave the kids for four days.

As it turned out, we did have a pretty good time in the Wisconsin Dells, given the difficult circumstances. I think, to a certain degree, we were able to take our minds off our fears. We indulged our interest in architecture by visiting Taliesin and the highly unusual House on the Rock (and did the ubiquitous Dells boat tour on the Wisconsin River). The day we drove back to Michigan, though, we knew we were going to have to face reality head-on.

Our pediatrician referred us the pediatric orthopedic doctors at the University of Michigan, and we had an appointment at their Brighton clinic on Friday, August 14. It was during the few days prior to the appointment that I did what I often do in medical crisis situations, I fell back on the religion in which I was raised, Christian Science.

I'm not a churchgoer, and I'm not really religious. My feelings towards God and religion are conflicted at best. I've often contended that Christianity would be just fine if not for all the self-righteous "Christians" who ruin it for everyone else. However, in a crisis, I will fall back on religion because it gives me comfort. In this, I feel a bit hypocritical, as if I'm a Christian only when it's convenient.

I come from four generations of Christian Scientists. My great grandmother on my mom's side, who experienced some personal crises (not sure exactly what they were), was attracted to the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy. Her daughter (my grandmother) was a lifelong devout Christian Scientist who I don't believe ever missed a Sunday service. One of the everlasting impressions of my childhood is my grandma's well-marked and notated copy of Mrs. Eddy's Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.

I attended the Christian Science church until I was sixteen, at which point my mom let me choose whether I wanted to continue going to church. I quit going and only went if it was Christmas or Easter Sunday (mainly to make my grandma happy). The last time I went to a Sunday service was in 1987, and I distinctly remember wondering why I went.

I believe way too much in the miracles of modern medicine to be a true Christian Scientist (and my attraction to Buddhist teachings prevents this, also). I love the idea of healing through prayer, which I'm sure made a lot more sense when Mrs. Eddy founded the religion in the late nineteenth century, a time in which medicine was chockful of quacks and charlatans. However in 2009, with the incredible advancements in medicine, Christian Science as Mary Baker Eddy envisioned it is an anachronism. (I should also mention that most dyed-in-the-wool Christian Scientists, like my late grandmother, eschew the use of stimulants like alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine. Beyond my faith in modern medicine, I am way too fond of coffee, beer, wine, loud-ass music, and general merriment to ever be a real Christian Scientist).

Sorry for that digression (but it's an important part of the story)--back to my son's situation. I was feeling extremely anxious prior to that August 14 appointment, so I decided to transcribe Mary Baker Eddy's "Scientific Statement of Being" on an index card, which I folded and placed in my wallet. Whenever my mind obsessed over the worst case scenario, I pulled out that index card and read it. It gave me comfort--it made me feel that at least I was trying to do something.

Dr. Kelly Vanderhave gave me a great deal of comfort when we consulted with her on August 14. Still, my mind continued to wrestle with dark thoughts until my son's surgery on August 25. I stuffed my grandma's copy of Science and Health into my front pocket of my pants as a sort of talisman or good luck charm. I recited the "Scientific Statement of Being" in my head (or whatever I could remember of it) when I felt the need--and I had faith in the abilities of the doctors and nurses operating on my son.

When one of the nurses called down to the waiting room to let us know that the tumor was benign, it was the most relieved I have felt in my entire life. Thanks go out to the wonderful staff of the Mott Childrens Hospital at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. They were so good at putting my son at ease. My heart broke to see how nervous he was about his surgery, but the people at Mott were absolutely wonderful.

Whether spiritual healing had any impact on the end result--who knows? I will say that it did give me comfort, though. I will still characterize myself as conflicted when it comes to Faith. Something about me is just too cynical to ever buy in completely to religion.

That, folks, was my summer. Without a doubt the most anxiety-ridden summer of my entire life. I could really use a carefree autumn.