Category Archives: troubles



When you’re going through hard times, one day at a time is the only way to do it.

I keep forgetting that.  I try to bite off big chunks of the future and choke on them.  I fill my mind and heart with fears and “what if”s; is it any wonder that I feel overwhelmed?

Just get me through today, Lord.  That’s all I’m asking right now.  I put my trust in You.



I feel like a character in a scifi horror movie.  Namely, the one who comes back from a routine jaunt on the surface of an alien planet feeling fine and dandy, only to realize hours later that she has been somehow mysteriously mutated by alien DNA or impregnated with a terrifying little pod baby.

After two courses of antibiotics for a sinus infection, I am still having pressure headaches in my face and head most of the day (worse at night).  More worrisome, my panic attacks are back.  I’ve had one every night for the last five days, including one that woke me up out of a dead sleep, which has never happened before.  My doctor says that is probably a side effect of the azithromycin, so I’m hoping it will go away.

At any rate, we’re at the part of the movie where the audience finally finds out what’s going on.  At least I hope we are.  Dr. B scheduled me for a CT scan of my sinuses today.

I’ve never had a CT scan before.  I’m not nervous about the procedure itself, but I am a little worried that it won’t show anything.  What if I don’t find out what’s causing all these symptoms?  That would be extremely frustrating.  After all, how are they supposed to extract the alien brainsucker if they can’t find it?

Can’t worry about that now, I guess.  I just have to buckle down, keep my wits about me, and hope I’m more of a Hicks than a Hudson.

Stay tuned.



The first time it happened, I thought I was dying.

Paul and I were just relaxing after putting the kids to bed, sitting around and watching a movie together, when I felt my heartbeat stutter.  That’s how it started.

“What was that?” I wondered.  Unarticulated fears and the words “heart attack” flashed frighteningly across my mind, and all at once I couldn’t catch my breath.

“Paul, something’s wrong,” I gasped, and found myself suddenly swirling in the center of a storm of horrible sensations.  My arms and hands went numb and cold, my heart raced as if it was trying to escape my rib cage, and I dashed to the bathroom, sure that I was going to throw up.  Hovering helplessly over the toilet, I was shaking all over as wave after wave of nausea rolled over me.  My chest was in the grip of a giant fist, the pressure increasing along with a choking sense of fear.  Even though I felt like I couldn’t get enough air, I was hyperventilating, and the lightheadedness cast an impression of unreality over everything.

Paul was worried.  He wanted to take me to the emergency room, but I thought we should call Urgent Care first.  I hated to wake the kids up and drag them to the hospital for a three hour ordeal, and as scary as my symptoms were, they didn’t seem like classic heart attack symptoms.  The Urgent Care doctor agreed with me.  He ran down the list of signs:  chest pain, fainting, shortness of breath, shaking, weakness or pain localized to one side of the body.  I had some of them, but not the biggies.  He advised me to get some rest and come in the next day to be checked out.

Get some rest.  Not much chance of that.  Instead, I lay my head on Paul’s chest, shaking, trying to take deep breaths, and clutching his shirt like a drowning swimmer clinging to the lone buoy in a dark and angry ocean.  After a small eternity, sleep finally drew her curtains around my exhausted body.

I’ve already written about the medical follow up to my heart attack scare.  A visit to the cardiologist and a battery of tests confirmed the good news that I was in perfect heart health.  The palpitations were judged to be the result of a high caffeine intake, and I promptly cut the offending drug out of my life.  The palpitations themselves didn’t return, thankfully.

What I didn’t write about at the time, partly because it was still too emotional to talk about, was all the other stuff that happened that night.  The nausea, the shaking, the hyperventilating, the hot and cold flashes, and, worst of all, the disconnected feeling of terror rocketing around in my head.  I looked up my symptoms at WebMD and made an appointment with my general practitioner, who confirmed my diagnosis.

Panic attack.

“Tell me,” I begged Mark, our friend and doctor, through tears, ” Tell me how to make it never happen again.”

He didn’t guarantee that, but said that cutting my caffeine consumption and trying to manage my stress was a good start.  He also gave me a small prescription for Lorazepam, a benzodiazapine that is sometimes prescribed to treat panic.  He said that if I ever experienced another attack as intense as that one, I could take a half a tablet and it would take the edge off of it.  He recommended that we take a wait-and-see approach to any further intervention, until we determined whether or not the dietary change would help.

And it did help.  I ended up using the Lorazepam twice while my body came down from the caffeine saturation, but after a couple of weeks without caffeine, I felt completely recovered.  Months passed uneventfully, and I was pretty sure my experience with panic was behind me.  I wish I’d been right about that.


Unfortunately, I don’t think caffeine or stress told the whole story.  This summer, the attacks started back up again.  Is the cause physiological or psychological?  I don’t know.  I usually get them in the evening before bed or first thing in the morning.  It can’t be caffeine, because I’m not drinking any, and I don’t think it’s stress; I’ve been on summer break for the past three months.  Happily, I’ve never had an attack as bad as that first one, maybe because I know what they are now.  And I’ve picked up some coping techniques.  I pray.  I focus on breathing slowly and deeply.  And I talk to myself.  “You’re not dying,” I tell myself.  “Oh, yeah?” myself replies, “How do you know?”

Exercise seems to help, too.  Mark described a panic attack as your body triggering its flight-or-fight response over and over again, flooding the system with adrenalin.  Working up a sweat seems to burn off some of that extra adrenalin, so whenever I start to feel myself getting twitchy, I head for the gym or for the elliptical machine that our friends Alan and Kathy have generously loaned to us for me to use.  It takes the edge off, and the firm thighs and calves are just a bonus.

I’ve also done some research (by which I mean I typed “panic attacks” into Google) and have decided to cut aspartame out of my diet.  Aspartame toxicity has been linked to panic attacks, and if anyone has absorbed enough aspartame to qualify for “toxicity”, it’s me.  It takes a few months to cleanse it out of your system, so I won’t know if it’s helping for a while.

Meanwhile, my little 10-pill prescription of Lorazepam is only about half gone.  I usually take it as a last resort when nothing else is helping.  My hope is that I’ll be able to continue to cope with the attacks on my own, or that they’ll go away altogether.  However, I’m glad to know that there are medications out there that can help people whose lives are being persistently and negatively affected by panic disorder.  Only time will tell if that will be me.  I’d appreciate your prayers.

Goodbye, Essie…


Well, it’s official.

Essie, our beloved Ford Escort of eleven years, is in her death throes.

It’s hard to say when her downward spiral started.  That infuriating red “check engine” light came on forty thousand miles ago and just never went away, no matter how many times we took her in for a check-up, but we learned to live with it.  Over the years, she occasionally needed this or that part replaced, her brakes repaired, or her tires aligned, but it was never anything serious.  About six months ago, the lights in the dashboard went out, leaving us to guess how fast we were going anytime we traveled after dark, but it was a minor inconvenience at worst.  We were (mostly) faithful about her quarterly engine service appointments, and, in blatant denial of her Ford-ish origins, we were somehow convinced that she would keep running for years to come.

Then one day, this past fall, it happened for the first time.  Sitting at a red light, waiting to turn right, Essie shifted herself out of Drive and into Neutral.  The light turned green, I pressed on the gas pedal, and the engine revved, but we went…nowhere.  Confused, I tried again.  After an interminable four or five seconds, the engine caught and on we went, as if nothing had happened.  But we both knew that wasn’t true.  It was the first of many times she would pop out of gear, and romancing her touchy transmission back into forward motion became an artistic exercise, involving everything from running the gear shift through all the gears to restarting the engine, all while the people behind us were looking pointedly at their watches and tapping their horns.

Essie’s occasional lapses in reliability soon became frequent lapses, and we took her in to the shop, so Paul’s dad could bring her back to life as he had done so many times in the past.  His auto-mechanics class found and fixed a few problems (there is always something to fix on a Ford) and gave her back to us.  For a few days, she was fine, and we thought the problem had been solved.  Until it happened again.  And then again.  And again.

As Essie’s downshifting problem increased in frequency, we noticed a few things.  It was worse when it was cold.  Or when we were forced to brake quickly.  Or when we talked about Essie’s “little problem” anywhere within her earshot.  She’s a sensitive car.

Finally, one day on the way to church, she popped out of gear at a red light, and no amount of cajoling could get her going again.  Fortunately, after five minutes or so, our friends Jim and Alyson pulled up behind us on their way to church.  Jim hopped out to see what kind of trouble we were having, and he and Paul ended up pushing our car across three lanes of traffic, through the intersection, and onto a side road.  We knew the time had come to figure something out.

Paul’s dad recommended that we take her to see a transmission specialist, so last night we dropped her off at Rod’s Transmission and waited with baited breath for the verdict.

Today, Rod called Paul, and this is what he said:

“It’s time to start looking for a new car.”

He said that the transmission fluid was looking pretty dark, but that if he flushed it out, she’d probably stop working altogether.  He said we could probably get a few more days or weeks out of her, but not to go on any long trips.  He said some stuff about the flywheel and rpms and wear and tear.  He said something that sounded like “total transmission rebuild”.

And he definitely said “thousands of dollars to fix”.

Sorry, Essie.

So today we went to pick up our car…and we brought her home to die.

I know she’s just a car, but I’m sad.  I started remembering today how excited we were to get her back in 1999.  She had just 1300 miles on her and was practically brand new.  We got an amazing deal and I remember feeling like God had led us to the perfect car for our freshly minted family of three.  She carried both our babies safely across three states, and we took scores of road trips in her, playing games and singing out loud as we rode along with our feet up on the dashboard.  She bears the scars of spilled juice, smashed raisins, and worse in her worn-out upholstery, but she bears them with dignity.  When Caleb was three, he called her “our red race car”, and she tried her best to live up to the name.  It’s harder to say goodbye than I thought.

We’ll still drive her, of course.  We have no choice.  We’re going to buy my parents’ 2006 Honda Civic, but the plan is for my sister to drive it up here when she and her husband move in early April.  I hope Essie can hold out that long.  We always said we would drive her until she stopped moving.  Who knew she would take that so literally?

From the bottom of our hearts, Essie, we thank you.

You had a good run.

That Mom


Thursday, Caleb had a dentist appointment.  He sat very still and opened his mouth wide while the dentist cleaned and filled two cavities.

That night, he started complaining that his teeth hurt–on the same side as his dental work–and neither of us got much sleep.  I thought it might be residual irritation from the procedure, so I gave him acetaminophen and ibuprofen and sent him to school in the morning.  He seemed to be fine on Friday, which was unfortunate, because by the time his jaw started aching again, the dentist’s office was closed for the weekend.

The pain steadily grew worse throughout Saturday and Sunday, but I didn’t really worry until this morning, when Caleb’s poor little face started swelling up on one side.  After Paul dropped us off at the building, I sent Caleb to class as usual, determined to get him an appointment as soon as possible, but it wasn’t long before he was back in my office, moaning and holding his cheek.  Frantic, I called the service line for our dental provider and was told that the earliest I could get an emergency appointment was late this afternoon–hours away–and that it would be a forty minute drive away in Spokane, at a facility we’ve never been to.

Nuh uh.  My baby wasn’t going to wait one minute longer to feel better if I could help it.

There was only one problem: I didn’t have the car.  Thankfully, that didn’t stand in my way for long.  Like a superhero, my boss, Michael, came to the rescue.  He loaned me his beloved Tahoe and took over the office phones so that I could get Caleb some help.  I packed him into the vehicle and drove to our local dentist’s office, praying all the way there that I could convince them to see us without an appointment.

I have to pause here and tell you that I’m not usually “that” mom.  You know, the one who makes a pest of herself pursuing special treatment and favors for her exalted offspring.  The one who insists on the coach playing her son all four quarters, or throws a fit until the weary teacher gives her daughter a bit part in the school play.  I don’t usually bend the rules.  I don’t work the system.  I don’t show up at doctors’ offices without an appointment and push my way to the front of the line.

Except today, when that is exactly what I did.

“Please,” I begged the receptionist, after I had explained our pitiful situation, “please…isn’t there ANY way someone can just look at Caleb for a second and find out what’s causing the problem?”  I could feel the annoyance coming off of her in waves as she heaved a sigh.  And I didn’t care.  I would annoy whoever I needed to annoy to get my boy back in the examination room and on his way to feeling better.

“Okay, sit over there,” she said, pointing to the waiting area, “and I’ll see if there’s anything I can do.”

We waited about ten minutes.  I started to wonder if she was just trying to outlast us when, finally, she came out and beckoned us up to the front desk.

“I found someone to see you,” she said, “but just so you know, you’ll still have to pay the emergency appointment fee.”

“That’s fine,” I breathed, relieved.  She looked surprised, and I realized she probably thought we were trying to avoid our co-pay by sneaking in under the official radar.

In minutes, Caleb was in the dentist’s chair and I was talking to the doctor about the whole horrible weekend.  He examined Caleb, checked out his x-rays, and then gave us the bad news.  One of the fillings Caleb got last week was very deep, and the root of the tooth had become infected.  The filling was causing a pressure buildup; hence the swelling and pain.  Caleb needs a “baby” root canal to remove the infection and save the tooth.  It’s a pretty involved procedure, and we scheduled it for a week from tomorrow.  Meanwhile, the doctor prescribed some antibiotics to address the infection, which should bring down the pain and swelling.

I was so relieved, my eyes teared up as I thanked the dentist for squeezing us in without an appointment.  He still looked faintly disapproving as he shook my hand, but I couldn’t bring myself to feel bad about it.  I was just happy to be leaving with an appointment and a prescription in my hand.  The receptionist even took pity on us and charged us the $15 co-pay for a regular office visit instead of the threatened $50 emergency fee.

As I type this, Caleb is in his room, sleeping comfortably for the first time in three days.  The antibiotics started helping almost immediately.  We’re hoping the swelling will be all gone by tomorrow.

And me?  I’ve come to terms with the realization that I am “that” mother, after all.

The thankful one.

We’re Extras in an Action Movie



“Hurry!  The truck is just down the street!”  I called to Paul as we rushed around the house this morning emptying all the trash cans and tying up the bags.  Throwing the whole lot into our wheeled garbage cart, Paul opened up the garage door and trundled the gray bin down to the curb for pickup.  I had forgotten the trash in the downstairs bathroom.  Quickly, I hooked it out of the wastebasket and ran out after Paul to toss it in with the rest.

No sooner had I stepped foot on the driveway than I met Paul coming the other way.  “Go back in the house,” he said in a strange voice.  I obeyed with alacrity.

“What is it?  What’s wrong?” I asked.  He told me.

He had parked the trash can at the curb and turned around to see a team of FBI agents in flak jackets, their guns drawn, converging on a house just a few doors down from us.  We hurried back inside, wondering aloud what could be going on while  taking occasional peeks through cracked blinds at the strange events unfolding outside.

By the time we left the house an hour later, local police cars and unmarked SUVs (which must have arrived with the FBI guys) were parked all up and down our street as officers milled around taking pictures and going in and out of our neighbor’s house.  We pulled up next to one of the officers and asked if it would be safe for us to return home later.  He assured us it was, so I guess that whatever brought them there had already happened.

And that’s it.  We still don’t know what it was all about.  Drug trafficking?  Kidnapping?  Unpaid parking tickets?  It’s hard to wrap our minds around any of the possibilities.  We didn’t know the neighbors well, but we had talked with them.  Aside from a slightly unkempt yard and an unusually high number of cars parked in front of their house, they seemed normal, friendly, highly unlikely to be the subjects of an FBI sting operation.  (Jeffrey Dahmer?  “He was shy, a little withdrawn. But not real bizarre.  He never bothered anyone.”)

I’ve been poking around local news sites for clues, but so far there’s no indication of what, if anything, happened this morning on our street.  Perhaps we will never know.  After all, even if the neighbors do come back, I don’t imagine even Miss Manners could conceive of a polite way to go up and ask someone why the Feds hauled them in.

Maybe a plate of homemade brownies would help smooth things over?

Sick Day



Well, it was bound to happen.  I’m only surprised that it took this long.

After five months of inexplicable good health, I finally caught the Kindergarten Krud.

In a room full of kids just learning the ins and outs of nose-blowing and hand-washing, germs abound.  Today, for example, I caught one of my students using a Kleenex she had just sneezed in to “wash” her desk.  Though I instantly cordoned off the area and hosed it down with hand sanitizer, it made me wonder how many other incidents of inadvertent plague-spreading escape my notice every day.  Kindergarten is a place for hugs and hand-holding and sharing snacks and trading pencils.  It’s also a place where germs meet, fall in love, and have millions of offspring–a roiling, boiling kettle of bacterial diversity.

Apparently, my very robust immune system has met its microscopic match.  It started Tuesday with a tickle in my throat.  By Wednesday, my nose was running and my voice was hoarse.  And today, it feels like a tiny army of dwarves is mining the inside of my skull with picks and shovels and illegally dumping the debris in my lungs.

So tomorrow I’m taking a sick day.

It’s my first (and hopefully only) sick day this year.  Unfortunately, it’s also the school’s annual Skate Party day, when all the students are loaded into cars and driven over to the local skating rink to spend the day skating circles around their less graceful teachers.  I was really looking forward to breaking out my old backwards skating moves and revisiting the Hokey Pokey.  Instead, I’m going to be hacking away in a sea of Kleenex, waiting for the ibuprofen to put the dwarves to sleep.

This is so not fair.

Fortunately, I have an amazing room mother coming in tomorrow morning to save the day.  She’ll be herding kids in my place and making sure the class gets where it needs to go.  So at least if I have to forgo glory under the disco lights, I know my class is taken care of and having fun.

I’ll just have to save my sweet limbo skillz for another time.

Can’t Buy Me Love


Paul knew I’d had a busy day today, full of running errands and catching up from our long weekend, and since he was going to be out with the guys tonight, he suggested we stop for fast food on the way home to relieve me of the chore of cooking dinner. I was easily persuaded.

We swung up to the McDonald’s drive-through, ordered our food, and pulled forward to pay for it. A couple of seconds after I had handed my debit card through the window to the smiling octogenarian at the register she handed it back to me, lowering her voice to tell me in embarrassed tones that it had been declined. Puzzled, we tried Paul’s card. Declined. Already my stomach was clenching with the panicky feeling I get whenever money matters go awry. We apologized, canceled our order, and turned toward home.

“I don’t understand!” I started in as we drove away, a note of hysteria creeping into my voice. “The checkbook register says we have plenty in our account! Could there be a problem with the actual cards? Maybe they were flagged for unusual activity or something? I bet we forgot to write something down! How could I have done that? Oh, man…”

My pitch and my agitation climbed in equal measure until Paul, with his customary calm, reminded me that we didn’t know anything yet, and told me not to worry–that he would look at our online account records when we got home to search out the problem.

“Don’t worry.” Ha! And again I say it: ha! I have a long track record of falling apart in the face of financial adversity. Like Chicken Little, I am convinced that the sky is falling at the least little pecuniary hiccup. Bounced check? Shrinking tax return? More month than money? Leave it to me to blow it up into a dark, foreboding future of living out of our car and scraping up nickels and dimes on the street to feed our starving children. That’s why, even though I pay the bills, when something goes wrong, Paul takes over. He’s the only one who can unravel a bank statement without moaning under his breath and beating his head on the table.

Anyway, despite my sepulchral warnings that we were never, ever going to resolve this mystery, the problem became clear within minutes of Paul opening our account records. Every month, I transfer 550 dollars from our savings account to our checking account, and then turn around and send a payment for that amount from our checking account to our student loan company. This month, the transfer didn’t go through, but the check did, and the result was several overdrafts.



With accompanying fees.

Chicken Little kicked it up a notch.

Bookkeeping error! Wasted money! Careless! Costly!

I went on speaking in exclamation points for a while, until Paul reached out for me, mid-rant, and pulled me close. Inside me, all went quiet. Then, touching his forehead to mine, he whispered, “This place doesn’t run on money, you know.”

And you know what? I do know.

But Chicken Little might need a reminder now and then.



I usually ignore those little lights on the dashboard.

Our car, a Ford Escort, was born the same year the Euro was introduced*, and is starting to show her age. I’ve decided that the “check engine” light, which has been on for the past 30,000 miles, is the automotive equivalent of arthritis. We’ve taken our beloved car to professionals, performed batteries of tests, and repaired everything from the timing belt to the oxygen sensors, but that red light just stays on. I don’t even notice it anymore.

That’s why yesterday, when the little battery-shaped icon started flickering on and off, I didn’t panic. The car seemed to be functioning at normal parameters and I knew the battery was only a year old. Still, to be on the safe side, I pulled into the NAPA parking lot on my way home from dropping Katie at school, just to have them check it out. (Side note: I love NAPA. The floor and walls and shelves are full of interesting looking parts and gizmos that I don’t understand, the air smells slightly of engine grease, and the employees are always extremely kind and helpful and not condescending at all even though I clearly don’t know a manifold from a manatee.) I told the man behind the counter about the flickering battery light, and right away he knew it was caused by one of two problems. Grabbing one of his many cool diagnostic voodoo devices, he followed me out to the car and hooked its two clips up to my battery. After studying the display for a moment, he announced, “Well, the good news is that it’s not your battery.”

In this case, the “good news” wasn’t so good. A battery costs about $50 to replace. A new alternator, on the other hand, costs closer to two hundred dollars. And a new alternator, he assured me, was what we needed. “How long have we got?” I asked. “Do I need to drive straight to a mechanic, or can I get away with shopping around for a few days?”

“Well, if you turn off your radio, heater, and headlights, you might be fine for a while. Just don’t go out of town. And ma’am? If you stop at 7-11, leave the engine running.”


“A while” turned out to be less than 24 hours. We had made arrangements to have my father-in-law, an auto mechanic who works near Paul’s office, take a look at the Escort this afternoon, but that wasn’t soon enough. This morning, as I was driving Paul to work (we only have the one car), our alternator commenced its death throes. First, the engine started missing. It lurched, and stalled, and lurched again, making a sickly thrumming noise all the while. We were about a mile from our destination. Then I noticed the speedometer had stopped working. Its needle was buried deep under the zero, unresponsive. Next, we lost our turn signals. I switched on the left one to take a corner, and nothing happened. We were about a block away. “You’d better drive straight to the garage,” Paul directed worriedly. “There’s no way you’re getting home in this bucket.”

In the end, the engine cut out (and this is no exaggeration) just as we were coasting into the last available parking space in front of Dad’s garage. In fact, Paul had to push us the last three feet. Talk about timing! I’m thinking it was a God thing.

While Paul went and consulted with his dad on our options (a two day wait for the proper part, most likely), I made phone calls to cancel my eye appointment and to tell Katie’s school why she wouldn’t be in attendance today. We came in from the cold and Paul’s wonderful coworkers set the kids up with some computer games to keep them busy as we tried to decide what to do. Ultimately, Dad loaned us his truck and Paul deposited the kids and I back at home, where we are marooned until such time as our old red tank is ready to roll once more.

Not exactly the best morning, but being a cup-half-full kind of girl, I’m going to count the blessings in this situation. Here they are:

*The car died right in front of the garage, not on the side of the road or in front of the school.

*Paul was with me, so I didn’t have to juggle kids with waiting for rescue and working out the car salvage details.

*We actually know what’s wrong with the car, and we have the money to fix it.

*It’s great to be related to a talented auto mechanic. Between Paul and his dad, our cars and computers always receive the best technical support.

*We didn’t have a wreck, despite having to drive our rapidly decomposing automobile on slick, icy roads.

*We might be stranded, but we’re warm and together and at home, with no place to go, just watching the snow falling, falling, falling outside.

It’s not so bad.

*1999 (You didn’t know my blog was educational, did you?)