I know I just broke semi-serious with a recent post about giving thanks, and I realize that that isn’t the kind of thing most of you come here to read, but I felt compelled to press on with bit more of my story. This is one of those times when having a forum enables me to indulge myself a bit, so I apologize in advance if this exercise is a bit selfish.
This was actually written a few days ago and has been sitting in draft as I debated whether or not to run it. I hope I made the right decision in the end, though I’m not sure there’s really a way to know that.
You see, this is essentially an act of catharsis for me, albeit one that I hope will provide you with a better idea of who I am. I’m not a big interview guy, but the relatively few connections I do have enabled me to conduct little Q&A’s with a couple of well-known media figures. In doing so, I sought to show a side of them many of us don’t get the chance to see.
People who are in the public eye all the time tend to either take on or be ascribed a persona, and thus lose a bit of their humanity in the eyes and minds of their readers/viewers. So too, social media has given all of us the increasing ability to present to the world only what we want it to see.
But now, for better or worse, and realizing full well that I’m not possessed of any appreciable public esteem, I’m going to lay down some of the artifices that come with blogging or tweeting. So much of what I am thankful for stems from relationships and allegiances that have been passed down from them.
As I was brought up to love various sports and some of the teams that played them, so too have I indoctrinated my own children. I can see myself in them at those times when they’re excited to attend a game or when they cheer a big hit or sing “Go, Cubs, Go,” but those are behaviors that I’ve systematically instilled in them.
Much more telling, and in some cases frightening, are those times when you see things that you’ve passed on any knowledge or effort. A little genetic sequence here or there and you can see your own eyes or maybe your father’s nose, along with other familial traits, right there on your child’s face.
But sometimes, our genes fail us. Too much of one chemical here, too little of another there, an improper division of cells at a critical moment; the fact that any of us turn out correctly at all seems more miraculous the more I think about it. Truth be told though, we’ve all got a little something wrong; most flaws are so small as to be biological MacGuffins, interesting little tidbits that mean nothing in the end.
I’m thankful that my mother didn’t overlook one of my flaws as an infant. I’m carrying around a bit more of a spare tire than I’d like these days, but nothing like when I was born. My mom, a nurse, noticed right away that something seemed a little abnormal about my right side. Maybe it was nothing though; after all, babies are supposed to be chunky.
Just to be safe, my parents had me checked out and it was quickly discovered that there was a pretty significant issue with my right kidney. Normal, healthy kidneys serve as the body’s filtration system, passing urine into the bladder via a ureter. My left kidney was fine, but the right was malformed and featured not one ureter, but two.
In order to correct the issue, I was taken to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, where doctors performed a partial right nephrectomy. I can only imagine what my parents felt; here were two 24-year-olds handing their 6-month-old firstborn over for major surgery. I’m sure their relief was immense when I came through everything with flying colors.
But about three years later, I began to develop complications when a blockage developed in that same kidney, forcing yet another surgery. My memories of that second stay at Riley are a bit fuzzy, but I remember my uncle Brian sneaking in Long John Silver’s for me. I remember being pulled around in a Radio Flyer wagon and flipping through pictures on my new Viewfinder.
I also remember having my catheter removed, so it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. That would pale, however, to an experience I would have more than two decades later.
As the years drew on, my memories faded along with the scars bisecting my side and I thought of those surgeries less and less. Until, that is, my wife and I got the news that she was pregnant with our first child. During the course of Sarah’s prenatal checks, we discovered that our unborn daughter had some right kidney issues of her own.
Rather than having a doubled-up organ on that side, though, she was missing it altogether. The doctors assured us that this was not a problem at all and, in fact, we’ve been told by a pediatric urologist that her left kidney is actually larger and stronger than normal in order to compensate.
In order to confirm this, they had to conduct some tests on my daughter. In case you never get the chance experience the act of restraining your newborn as she is catheterized, I’ll just let you know that it’s not a great deal of fun. Thankfully, it was over quickly and the results were relatively positive.
Of course, explaining this abnormality inevitably led to an interesting conversation between my daughter and me. You see, along with several other traits, she inherited or learned my penchants for both pedantry and smart-assery. So one day as we’re driving in the car, she asked, “Daddy, if I only have one kidney, does that mean I have one adult knee?”
Unfortunately, though, that wasn’t the only physical issue Addison was born with. As we develop in the womb, several systems are developing at the same time and, as such, a fault in one is likely to indicate more of the same in another. For Addison, it is her spine that was impacted as well.
We didn’t think much of it at first, just assumed that it was a function of her infantile lack of strength. But it was eight years ago, on Thanksgiving of all days, that I was looking at her back after changing her diaper. I’m not sure whether I was simply looking at the curve of her spine for the first time or if the veil of denial had finally been lifted from my eyes. Either way, I realized that what I was seeing was not simply something she’d grow out of.
Physical therapy, braces, x-rays, and frequent trips to a pediatric orthopedist…all in the routine we’ve developed over the past several years. Thankfully, she has made it past the initial window during which surgery would have been necessary. Her scoliosis is quite severe, but as growth and gravity have taken hold, a compensatory curve closer to Addison’s neck have balanced her out a bit more.
And then, just a few months ago, we learned that she had failed a school-mandated hearing screening, which led to the use of a hearing aid. It’s blue and sparkly and has actually been a source of pride for her at times (she even named it Elsa), so that’s actually been pretty easy.
We had actually known for some time that that ear wasn’t completely right; it’s a bit misshapen, which we had always assumed or been told was a function of her scoliosis.
But the combination of all these issues led one of Addison’s doctors to suggest genetic testing, as it’s likely that all of this is interconnected in some way. As we consulted with the geneticist, he had Addison hop up on the table in order to examine her facial structure for irregularities and asymmetry.
Then he had me hop up there. You know those stories about sororities using lipstick to circle all of their pledges’ imperfections? Well, this was like that…except there was no lipstick and the sorority girl was highly-respected doctor. Either way, having someone point out all your flaws isn’t the most uplifting experience.
While we’ve still got some comprehensive genetic testing to determine all the exact causes and possible future ramifications, it was pretty clear that many, if not all, of Addison’s medical issues have been passed through me. That’s a pretty paralyzing feeling for a parent, knowing that you’ve caused problems for your child that you couldn’t prevent and can’t fix.
All of the doctors and tests and so on only served to exacerbate what we recently discovered was OCD. While more the O than the C, it’s still a little scary for Sarah and me. At the same time, it’s somewhat liberating; we know what’s at the root of some of the issues we’ve dealt with over the past few years.
I’m not writing this as some sort of a woe-is-me sob story; that’s not the point at all. I guess I just wanted to commit my thoughts to the page and to share my experience with some of the rest of my readers who may have gone through something similar, or who will do so at some point.
And I know many of you have endured far worse when it comes to going through struggles with your children. But I’d be willing to bet that you wouldn’t dream of changing them or of making them someone different than who they are.
So forgive me the lack of Cubs-related material here this morning. I understand that this isn’t something that’s going to drive views and apologize if it came off as more of a self-serving piece. But I had asked for prayers yesterday and felt the need to further explain exactly what was behind my request.
As I head into Thanksgiving and get ready to watch the Bears, eat too much food, and drink beer that I brewed myself, I wanted to make sure I took another moment to really lay my thoughts out.
I have passed on so much to my little girl. I gave her a name and a love of sports, and she is so much like me in other ways that it’s downright scary. We butt heads all the time because we’re just so much alike. She’s smart and funny, sarcastic and witty, possessed of only one kidney and various minor facial asymmetries.
You’d think the least I could have done was to make her a fan of at least one team that didn’t specialize in failure and heartbreak. Oh well, I guess I’m shooting par for the course.
I’ve gone on way too long already and I’m sure you’ve got a sandwich to make with the leftover turkey, so I’ll leave you with this. There are so many things we pass on to our kids, many of which we’ve got no control over. But please don’t pass on the opportunity to let them know you love them and are thankful for them.