Saturday, July 31, 2010

Dr. Underwood

As promised, here is another excerpt from Raising God's Rainbow Makers, my next book, which is currently in progress. Comments welcomed and adored! I prefer to get comments, especially negative ones, before publication. After publication is a bit late!

Dr. Underwood and I had met under difficult circumstances when we were living in Washington, D. C. during my stint of duty at the U. S. Department of State. I had made a Monday appointment at Georgetown University Hospital to which Donnie and I had decided to transfer Noelle’s care. On Saturday, in the middle of the night, while the records were in transit and her care in the process of being moved from one hospital to another, Noelle’s shunt malfunctioned. There was no question where to take her. Georgetown University was five minutes from our house; the other hospital was a 45-minute drive.

The young neurosurgeon on duty that night at Georgetown University Hospital went through the normal procedures to determine that the vomiting and pain was from the shunt and not from a stomach problem. “Tell me how many fingers you see,” he directed 11-year-old Noelle.

“Forget about your fingers,” said Noelle wanly. “I can’t breathe. Do something about that!” With those words, she stopped breathing.

The emergency room was suddenly alive with doctors and nurses, carts and paddles. We were quickly ushered to a waiting room. We would have preferred to stay in the emergency room, but these doctors and nurses did not know us and did not realize that we would not have been in the way and might even have been able to help. Realizing that arguing was going to waste precious time, we complied with the request to wait in the waiting room for the results of medical intervention.

Fortunately, we did not have to wait long. The paddles got Noelle breathing again. The resident informed us that he had called the doctor who would be the attending physician, Dr. Underwood, at this happy hour of 2:00 in the morning and got him out of bed. He would be in soon to install a new shunt portion.

Within just a few minutes, indeed, Dr. Underwood showed up. He told us that Noelle was in acute hydrocephalus (she had not become shunt-independent as many hydrocephalic children ultimately do) and that he would need to operate to repair the shunt. Since no records were available, he asked me to recite as much of Noelle’s medical records as I could remember. As it turned out, it would take three surgeries, each two weeks apart, to get Noelle’s hydrocephalus under control again. He replaced the brain portion of the shunt first, leaving the older tubing in the peritoneum since it was functioning fine. Then he had to replace the valve because I had forgotten to mention that she could not tolerate medium pressure, the default valve type used in cases where records are not available. Finally, it turned out that the peritoneal end of the shunt was not really functioning fine; it had become trapped in the peritoneal tissue and so the third revision in six weeks was undertaken.

Dr. Underwood and I came to know each other well during these weeks. In making rounds after the third revision, Dr. Underwood hesitated as he was leaving Noelle’s room, turned to me, and flabbergasted me with his words, “You know, when I put in the new valve, I looked at the lower portion of the shunt and decided not to replace it since it was working. I could kick myself now for not taking care of it all at the same time.”

How did he dare say that to a parent in these days of rampant lawsuits, I wondered. And especially to me! Did he know that I was the scourge of many clinics and hospitals because I questioned everything the doctors and hospitals did and made them re-think or took my children to different doctors when I thought they were wrong? Did he know that I was an outspoken advocate for my children? Was he not afraid of my reaction upon hearing these words of fallibility? Or did he know that I had great respect for honesty and integrity? Did he understand, intuitively, that I could handle any truth; it was the partial truths and manipulations that caused me to take out my lance and pierce one doctor after another?

Copyright 2010

Thursday, July 29, 2010

RGRM: Why Noelle?

As promised, here is another excerpt from Raising God's Rainbow Makers, my next book, which is currently in progress. Comments welcomed and adored! I prefer to get comments, especially negative ones, before publication. After publication is a bit late!

Although Noelle was our second child, she was chronologically the first child to introduce us to the world of exceptional children, a world in which we would live forever thereafter. Lizzie would do that in a different way a couple of years later, but at the time that Noelle was born, we did not know that Lizzie was gifted; all we knew was that her stages of growth did not match the baby manuals, so we threw them all away about the time she was a year old. Therefore, when Noelle arrived, we did not even try to find a manual for her, but we did read everything we could find about spina bifida and later, hydrocephalus, and after that epilepsy. In between we learned about lesser concerns: a neurogenic bladder, lack of bowel control, colostomy care, range of motion exercises, breastfeeding a special needs baby, and on and on — a number of things which I have fortunately forgotten and another number of things that are too numerous and relatively minor to include here.

When you have a child with a life-threatening birth defect, you can feel very alone. This is especially the case when grandparents do not step up to the bat. Both sets of our parents were shocked by Noelle’s birth and immediately began professing that “their” side was not to blame. Our parents’ finger-pointing at each other, rather than their jumping in to help us, isolated us even more in the days of Noelle’s early surgeries. We, in contrast, blamed no one. We did not blame either set of parents; the appearance of spina bifida is a matter of both parents having some genetic weakness. We did not blame the obstetrical doctors for not warning us: at that time in history, there was no way they could have known. We did not blame ourselves: we had done everything we could to ensure a healthy pregnancy. We did not blame God: we did not know God existed. So, there was no need to ask “Why us?” “Why not us?” would have been an equally good question. Gene selection is a matter of chance; every biology student knows that. The need for our parents to place blame, however, tore away from us a potential source of support.

We did have solace and help, fortunately. They came serendipitously to us in the form of friends. As in childhood, in adulthood I gathered friends around me. I may have been an atheist in mind, but in heart I was surrounded by God’s influence through friends, many of them believers and most, if not all, of them bringing me comfort and giving me the opportunity and pleasure of helping them. As someone (wish I knew who it was) once said, friends are God’s way of taking care of people on this earth.

Some friends helped out with action. The hospital where Noelle was born could not handle her medical problems and so airlifted her from San Angelo, Texas, where she had been born 250 miles south to Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. I signed myself out of the hospital that same day over the medical staff’s objections, and Charles and I headed south. It turned out that Noelle would need multiple surgeries and we would need to spend several weeks in San Antonio. I called friends at Ravalli Federal Credit Union in Hamilton, Montana, where we had our savings account, and the treasurer not only made out the check the same day but drove it 50 miles north to the Missoula post office so that it would go out by air immediately, rather then wending its way by ground to Missoula and then on out.

Other friends provided emotional support. When many people did not know what to say upon hearing of Noelle’s birth defects and met the birth announcement with silence, David and Diane Edgerly (Dave-Bear and Di, as they were known to Lizzie, our oldest daughter, whom they had frequently babysat) responded differently. NCOs in the U. S. Army (yes, I was a sergeant in the U. S. Army when Noelle was born and, while she slept in a baby chair beside me, was promoted to officer ranks, the only person ever in the Army with the dubious distinction of having stood a direct commissioning board in maternity clothes), Dave-Bear and Di had recently been transferred to Germany, but as soon as they received the birth announcement, which included the information about Noelle’s condition, they wrote a very simple note that gave us great heart and a very warm feeling, the first in a long time: “Welcome, Noelle; Dave Bear and Di love you, too.”

So many people helped then and later. All along the way we have had the support of friends, and so have our children as they have grown. Amazingly, these friends have been grateful for the opportunity to help. Even strangers have helped on many occasions and have clearly felt pleasure from doing so. Sometimes they even were rewarded in other ways.

Nadezhda Long recently described to me the impact on her children, whom, when they were young, Noelle babysat. When Liza and Sasha, Nadezhda’s children, were in grades 3 and 5, Nadezhda bought them velvet dresses for Christmas. After watching a Christmas play that focused on humanitarian values, Liza and Sasha begged Nadezhda to let them take back the dresses and use the money to take Noelle shopping. Ironically (or was it ironic?), after Christmas, the dresses were still at the store and on sale for half price so that Nadezhda's girls ended up with the dresses after all.

Accepting help was never my forté. I was a product of New England, and New Englanders, in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words, are “rugged individuals.” Along the way, though, I learned to accept help, not only because I needed it but also because people truly liked to give it. It seemed that Noelle and Doah, both of whom exuded an irrepressible faith in God in spite of being parented by an atheist (me) and an agnostic (Donnie), brought out the best in people. Now, post-conversion, I understand a little better why: we were God’s gift to other people. We presented them with the opportunity to experience the pleasure of helping others: us.

copyright 2010

Saturday, July 24, 2010

God's Trouble with His Children

I cannot resist. I am going to post something that came to me in email. I think all parents (and grandparents) can relate. Here it is:


To those of us who have children in our lives, whether they are our own, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or students... here is something to make you chuckle.

Whenever your children are out of control, you can take comfort from the thought that even God's omnipotence did not extend to His own children.

After creating heaven and earth, God created Adam and Eve. And the first thing he said was "DON'T!"

"Don't what?" Adam replied.

"Don't eat the forbidden fruit," God said.

"Forbidden fruit? We have forbidden fruit? Hey, Eve! We have forbidden fruit!"

"No way!"

"Yes, way!"

"Do NOT eat the fruit," said God.


"Because I am your Father and I said so," God replied, wondering why He hadn't stopped creation after making the elephants.

A few minutes later, God saw His children having an apple break, and He was ticked! "Didn't I tell you not to eat the fruit?" God asked.

"Uh huh," Adam replied.

"Then why did you?" asked the Father.

"I don't know," said Eve.

"She started it," Adam said.

"Did not!"

"Did too!"


Having had it with the two of them, God's punishment was that Adam and Eve should have children of their own. Thus, the pattern was set, and it has never changed. If you have persistently and lovingly tried to give children wisdom and they haven't taken it, don't be hard on yourself. If God had trouble raising children, what makes you think it would be a piece of cake for you?


1. You spend the first two years of their life teaching them to walk and talk. Then you spend the next sixteen telling them to sit down and shut up.

2. Grandchildren are God's reward for not killing your own children.

3. Mothers of teens now know why some animals eat their young.

4. Children seldom misquote you. In fact, they usually repeat word for word
what you shouldn't have said.

5. The main purpose of holding children's parties is to remind yourself that there are children more awful than your own.

6. We childproofed our homes, but they are still getting in.


Be nice to your kids. They will choose your nursing home one day


If you have a lot of tension and get a headache, do what is says on the aspirin bottle: "Take two aspirin. Keep away from children."

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Errant Suitcase

I thought I might share a tad of a touch of what I experience from the travel part of my travels. Perhaps it will lighten someone's sense of what a bad day might actually be.

My day today was spent alternating between running between buildings at work and making phone calls to track down my wayward luggage. You see, yesterday I flew non-stop from San Francisco to Baltimore. My luggage, however, went to Chicago and seemed to have taken up residency there. United Airlines originally thought it had hitched a ride on a plane Wednesday morning. Not so. Later in the day, United was certain that it had stowed away on some plane headed East and would be knocking on my door some time. Date, time, and other specifics were not available.

My bag finally showed up this evening. I have no idea where it spent its time as a stowaway and how it was directed homeward. Perhaps that is one of those things one does not want to know.

Once American Airlines lost my bag, and a janitor at the airport found it and called me, using the 800# for Stuffbak. I use Stuffbak labels, which mean I usually do get my stuff back. Except for the time that luggage going to Moscow through Helsinki disappeared into Finnair forever.

Too frequently, though, my luggage takes trips separately from me. I arrived recently in Dubai, running to catch a plane, while my luggage spent a leisurely overnight in Washington. Similarly, once, in returning from Prague, my luggage and I parted company in Frankfurt, with me coming home to Monterey while my luggage took an excursion to Moscow, perhaps a matter of habit since I was spending a lot of time in Moscow in those days.

In essence, my luggage just seems to have a life of its own, too often apart from me. My sister asks a good question: "Can you get frequent flyer miles for your luggage since it takes extra trips all by itself?" Dunno. Maybe I should ask!

Years ago when I was traveling more than now (yes, that is possible), I simply maintained a spare wardrobe in the closets of friends around the world in those cities to which I flew most often. Those clothes, which would have been available here in Baltimore in an early era, unfortunately were not available today because they have since all moved home.

In any event, the errant suitcase has found its way to my hotel room. It was a joyful reunion!

Double-posted on 100th Lamb and Clan of Mahlou.

RGRM: Noelle

As promised, here are the first couple of pages from the book I am currently writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers. I would love to have your feedback on this book as it develops.

Heralding Noelle

Angel (A): Lord, you could prevent this. Why do you allow it?

God (G): And what do you perceive as wrong here?

A: Well, you see, this baby will not be able to walk, not as a toddler and not as an adult. Epilepsy will interfere with her ability to drive as an adult. Hydrocephalus – all that extra fluid in the brain – is going to bring her the need to check periodically that her mechanical device for removing it is working, and when it doesn’t, there will be moments of panic and stress as her brain is compressed and she is in danger of dying. Not once, Lord, but I can see that there will be a dozen times that the mechanical device will have to be repaired. Human doctors cannot do with the human body what You can. Their mechanical devices are like fingers in a dam. Would it not be better if this baby were every bit as physically able as the people who surround her?

G: No. The gene pool is what it is. I will not intervene. Besides, she will be one of my rainbow makers, my special sprinklers.

A: Spinklers, Lord?

G: Yes. Some people call these kinds of sprinklers broken. Sometimes they call them defective. They are, however, neither. They are simply differently configured, and because of that, they spurt water, they gush water, they spray water wider and farther. Noelle will splash water on all around her. She will water humanity.

A: I don’t understand.

G: Think about watering a field. You need to have rows of sprinklers. Each splashes water onto a given section of land. However, every once in a while, one of them is broken. More water rushes out, and more land is watered. That is a special sprinkler.

A: Ah, I see, but I still don’t understand how they water humanity.

G: Others are drawn to protect and help them, and then they feel good about showing mercy. My sprinklers bring out the best in others. That’s what I mean by watering humanity. Watch Noelle. You will see this.

A. Okay, but what does that have to do with rainbows?

G. Absolutely everything. Have you not seen how in the water splashing out from a long row of field sprinklers you can see rainbow after rainbow? That’s what this little sprinkler, one that others might consider broken, will do.

A: But what about her family, Lord? Her sister, Lizzie, and her parents?

G: Oh, I am happy that Noelle will be born into this family. It does not always happen that my special sprinklers are adequately tended, but these parents are fighters. They will protect my little sprinkler and make sure no additional harm comes to her beyond what she born with. They will make sure that she can refract light through her water droplets to cause rainbows.

A: How, Lord? They don’t have the expertise.

G: They will find it. When they can’t find it, I will lead them to it.

A: But, Lord, there will be so much to find, and there will be so many crises. How will they handle all this?

G: I will be with them. In the good times and in the bad. In the triumphs and in the crises.

A: But they don’t believe in You!

G: Oh, I can handle that, too.

copyright 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More Little Mahlous

Our three cats, Murjan, Intrepid, and Simone, are not the only cats who have passed through our hands. When we lived in Jordan, where people, mainly from fear, abuse cats, Donnie and I rescued 24 of them, most of whom we turned over to a wonderful shelter that a British lady had built on a hillside. There the animals could run free and be fed and taken care of by vets. It was like a wide-open zoo where the animals, of which there were all kinds (horses, dogs, cats, birds), could come and go as they chose. All, as far as I know, chose to stay. Many were adopted, especially by foreign diplomats who were used to having animals as pets.

Of all those cats, we kept six and brought home four. We had to give two of the ones we had adopted to the animal shelter because when Donnie returned from Jordan, it was summer, and in the summer animals are not transported; it is too hot in the hold of the plane. Of those two, one, Snowflake, was adopted by a British family and is now, we believe, residing in the British Isles. Doah was particularly attached to that cat, so it was a difficult choice to part with him. However, he much preferred to be an only "child" (er, cat) than one of many, and the chance to be the darling of a British family seems perfect for him. The other one, Newbie, was a wonderfully loving cat who slept in bed with me under the covers, with his head on the pillow. I rescued him when he was in bad shape, and the vet did not believe he would live. He weighed only a few pounds. Once he improved, he kept eating. There was no way we could stop him; he ballooned to the size of a raccoon but was otherwise healthy. Unfortunately, he got a meal of the Chinese-produced cat food that killed so many cats worldwide and perished not long after we came back to the States. I am happy, though, that his last two years were pleasant ones where he was well taken care of.

Of the cats that we brought back, one was Biseh, the last cat we rescued. (Biseh means "cat" in Arabic; we kinda ran out of names!) She used to hang out at the university that I presided over. Some of the students were kind to her, but others were not. When a group of young men decided to use her as a football, I grabbed her and took her home. It took her a month to come out from under the bed, but she is now happily leaving with Shane. She loves Nathaniel and Nikolina and enjoys spending days hanging out in their backyard. She is a very lucky cat.

Another lucky cat is Abby. Abby was one of three kittens who were abandoned when their mother died. Their mother was a feral cat whom we had been feeding. She most likely died of feline AIDS, which is an epidemic among the feral cat population in our town and the primary reason that we don't try to tame and domesticate them. We don't want to infect our three cats who are AIDS-free. When I returned from one of my trips, Donnie told me that he had heard meowing day and night between our neighbor's house and our fence, but that the sounds were becoming fainter. We checked with the neighbor, and she confirmed that she had seen the mother dead and knew that there were kittens there, but the fence was so close to her house that she could not reach the kittens. I followed the sounds of their cries and broke the fence at that point, finding three kittens clinging to a vine: gray, orange, dark multicolor. They could not have been more than two weeks old. We named them Possum, Cody, and Abby. The picture of Abby peering out from a coat was taken a full four weeks after we rescued them.

Poor Donnie got stuck with handfeeding them multiple times a day. I helped when I was home, and a visiting friend, an NICU nurse, had some ideas how to get Abby, who refused to eat, to take the bottle. It worked. Abby grew. In time, we were able to find people to adopt the kittens. One of my colleagues adopted both Possum and Cody, who were so bonded that it would have been a shame to split them (and would have been difficult for them). Abby was adopted by another colleague who gives me frequent updates. Under his care, Abby grew and grew and grew and grew. That huge animal in the picture with the bushy tail is little Abby all grown up. It turns out that she is, at least in part, a Norwegian forest cat, and they are very big cats.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Back at ChiPs

Shane has been back at California Highway Patrol, dispatching 9-1-1 calls for the Chippies, as they are colloquially called here, for two months now. (For those who are just stopping by here for the first time, we had quite a scare earlier this year when Shane lost his job without any notice and after just having received a raise for outstanding performance; the announcement came just a few days after the insurance company got the second million-dollar bill from the hospital for Nikolina's care. See, in order, Clan under Siege, A Matter of Perspective, Clan Rising, and Shane's Hidden Blessings.)

Donnie and I feel the stress-be-gone change that comes with Shane's full employment since we paid his last COBRA payment last month, freeing up a rather large sum of money each month, or, more factually, relieving us from having to find that large sum of money each month. He and his family are once again covered by good health insurance!

We also feel the back-in-the-know change that comes specifically with Shane's working at CHP. There is much behind-the-scenes information he knows, as well as having good insights into what might and might not be safe areas at any given time although, in general, we don't wander too far from San Ignatio, which is entirely safe. Well, with the exception of the one time that a gang member decided to test out the fertility of our sleepy little town for gang activity, drove down our quiet main street, shooting an elderly man in the leg, only to be chased back to Salts and off the road by our part-time sheriff who was on the scene immediately and ended up hauling the smart aleck off to jail. Later, we learned that Shane had taken the 9-1-1 call and had dispatched the sheriff. Good work, Shane! (We also have a little dog that makes sure that all is above board in town.)

So, all is hunky dory these days. Right? Nope. It seems like where there is a step forward along a clean path, there is Murphy up ahead, strewing rocks across the way. Murphy now is dressed up as California Governor Schwarzenegger, who, because the legislature has not yet passed a budget for this financial year, has decreed, as he must by law, that all state employees will be paid no more than minimum wage until the budget is passed. The state supreme court upheld the decision, and the legislature seems nowhere near passing a budget. So, the state workers remain at risk. CHP may or may not be exempt. At the moment, Shane is looking at the possibility of having less total monthly income than the rent on his house, let alone having any money to pay other bills or buy food. But he will have insurance, and that is important.

Shane's reaction to all this? Life as usual, calm and collected. After all, he has already been tempered in the fires of dire medical circumstances and threatened impoverishment and come out on the other side safely. What is left to be concerned about?

Besides, God has always taken care of the Mahlous. Why would He stop now?

Stay tuned for the next chapter in this twisting saga with strange and unexpected turns of events and thickening plot that is otherwise known as the Life of Shane (and, of course, his parents).

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