Saturday, September 9, 2017

Adoption Stories: Reflux

This is a picture of a literal roller coaster.  Not a metaphorical one.

It’s the oldest roller coaster in Canada, built in 1958 in Vancouver at the site of the annual Pacific National Exposition.  You still ride in the original cars, with padded bars rather than individual seat belts, so the centrifugal force makes you slide and squish your seatmate as you rattle around the rickety wooden curves.  Numerous cheap horror movies were filmed here.  This was my first real roller coaster ride, over forty years ago.  I hadn’t been back since I was a teenager.  Instead, I’ve enjoyed riding other old wooden roller coasters across America, as well as the increasingly thrilling high-tech metal attractions that didn’t exist in my youth.

Last month I took the kids to Vancouver for a long-promised day at the PNE, and we all rode the roller coaster together.  Once.  Only Rosalind and I went back multiple times.  In fact, only Rosalind and I went on most of the scary rides.  It’s good to know I won’t need to keep adopting more children until I get one who will ride roller coasters with me.

In contrast, it turns out Eleanor and Oliver prefer those meek spinning teacups.  I avoid such rides myself.  As much as I love the thrill of free fall and loop-de-loops, whirling in circles makes me want to throw up.  Especially after eating the kind of food my kids order at midway concession stands.

Now that the pairings are established, we can finally plan a family trip to Disneyland.  Rosalind and I will have fun.  Eleanor and Oliver can listen to “It’s a Small World” and spin with the Mad Hatter to their hearts’ content. 

During our drive across the border to the amusement park last month, we had a family discussion about who was most likely vomit on the rides.  Eleanor pointed out Oliver is the only one of the kids with a sensitive stomach, and the one who threw up most recently.  In contrast, she proudly announced hasn’t vomited for many years. 

To cut off the ensuing sibling argument, I reminded Eleanor no matter how many times in our lives the rest of us might throw up, we will never catch up with her first year on the planet. 

Like many babies, Eleanor was born with gastric reflux.  Infant reflux occurs because the valve allowing food to pass from the esophagus into the stomach hasn’t fully developed.  All babies spit up.  Babies with reflux spit up ALL THE TIME.  

Eleanor had a relatively virulent case of infant reflux, starting when she was a newborn.  But you get used to it.  Too used to it – for the first year of her life, Daddy and Papa would often show up in public without realizing they were wearing vomit-stained clothes.  On more than one occasion, I discovered the evidence on my suit while I was in the courtroom. 

Fortunately, as with most kids with reflux, Eleanor eventually outgrew her projectile vomiting.  But when Eleanor was a month old, her reflux spiked.  Whole bottles of formula ended up on her fathers, and she stopped being her happy self.  We took her to the pediatrician, who assured us this was perfectly normal.  But it got worse.  Eventually we got took her into the clinic.  They immediately sent us across town to the emergency room at Seattle Children’s Hospital, where she was diagnosed with pyloric stenosis.

The pylorus muscle connects your stomach to your intestines.  It’s the valve at the opposite end of the stomach from the one causing infant reflux.  In something like one in a thousand babies, the pylorus closes completely a few weeks after birth.  Nothing makes it past.  Anything you try to put into the stomach just comes back up.  Pyloric stenosis is what hypochondriacs (and new fathers reading Dr. Spock's ancient baby book) assume their baby has when it's really just infant reflux.

In the old days, infants with actual pyloric stenosis soon died.  Fortunately, a century ago surgeons figured out how snip the pylorus and get things flowing again.

It took three days in the hospital before Eleanor was hydrated enough for surgery.  My parents came down from Bellingham, and my sainted ex-mother-in-law Judy flew in from Nebraska.  Before the surgery, the nice Korean-American doctor explained to us what was about to happen.  Then he and Eleanor disappeared behind the ominous doors, and the rest of us went around to wait on the other side.

This was an example of every parent’s worst nightmare.  I have faced down similar terrors on a handful of subsequent occasions.  (One involved Eleanor being helicoptered to Seattle Children’s Hospital six years later – such a Drama Queen.)  But my first time came barely a month into fatherhood.

Fortunately, the routine surgery was uneventful.  An hour later, Eleanor and the surgeon came out through the happy doors, and she began her swift and complete recovery.  We went back to another eleven months of ordinary infant reflux, never again begrudging the vomit-stained clothes.

Today you can barely see any sign of her incisions.  Nevertheless, she is more than enough of a Drama Queen to regale you with supposed memories of surgery twelve years ago.  And I am a grateful father.

Click here for more episodes of Adoption Stories.

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