Thursday, July 8, 2010

So how is Peter?

The short answer is “good”, but of course that won't be much of a blog entry considering how long it's been since I've written.

Peter has been completely off supplemental oxygen for a couple of weeks. This allowed some doctor's appointments to be canceled. Yeah! We still have to hold onto the equipment for at least three months in case he gets a cold or something and needs the oxygen. It was all shoved into the closet the same day we found out he didn't need it anymore. The closet is the most spacious room we have in our flat anyways.

We did have a concern about Peter's eyes. Randomly, Peter's eyes began to jiggle vertically. This is called a nystagmus. We got an appointment with the ophthalmologist that did the surgery on Peter's eyes while he was in the neonatal unit. The ophthalmologist examined Peter's eyes and said that physically Peter's eyes were great, perhaps a little nearsighted, but fine. He referred us then to a neurologist who had Peter get an ultrasound of his brain. It looked like there might have been too much fluid in his brain that may have been caused by a blockage in the ventricales, fluid, of the brain. This can happen to a premature baby because some bleeding in the brain happens at a premature delivery. This blood can cause a blockage in the flow of the fluid in the brain. This type of blockage could have caused the nystagmus, but could also lead to worse things. They talked about the fact that Peter may need a shunt from his brain to his stomach to drain the fluid. After an MRI, which is much clearer than an ultrasound, it was discovered that there was no blockage and no unusual build up of fluid in the brain. His head will continue to be measured for unusual enlarging and we will continue to have check-ups with the neurologist. All this to say that they don't know what is causing the nystagmus, so they need to wait and see what happens. As of the writing of this blog, the nystagmus has become less frequent and we are very confident that it isn't effecting his vision substantially.

According to the check-ups Peter has had, everything from his heart to his growth is all very good. He is catching up to the size he should be and he has a great appetite to help. We have introduced him to baby food according to his birth age as we were instructed. Since developmentally he isn't as far as a normal baby is when eating the first time, like in sitting up and developing teeth, we are staying with smooth food for a little while. Developmentally he is progressing according the his gestational age (his due date age). He is a little ahead in the use of his hands and how much he babbles, but slightly slow in holding his head up. This is not unusually for even a term baby, but the doctor's are kind of holding Peter under a microscope looking for the first smallest sign of trouble.

Other than all the doctor's appointments, vitamins, and strange developmental timing, Peter is just a normal baby...sort of.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Linlithgow Palace

How conflicted must the man have been
Who, posted high atop Linlithgow's tower,
Would daily scan the placid, verdant glen
For any sight of opposition's power.

The loch below, on clear and sun-filled days
Would gleeful play with cooling gusts of air;
The multiplex, refracted rainbow rays
Were dancing, rapt in the Creator's care.

And even through a damp mid-Lothian mist
The guard would look about at gentle slopes
And wonder how the present world had missed
Its true and peaceful Avalonian hopes.

Instead, he knew the harshness of that state
That all around him called reality.
“For anger, lust, deceitfulness and hate
Is all there is or has been or will be.”

Perhaps the guard would dare imagine, with
A disbelieving grin, a time and place
When one could stand up here (it is but myth)
To merely wonder at Edenic grace.

Then shaking peaceful thoughts out of his head
He deems mere idle dreams, he looks again
Upon the far off hill; from there his dread
Will any moment come, his violent end.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Time Management

Having Peter at home is so much cooler than having him at the hospital. Obviously, Peter's presence 24/7 demands an immense (though not entirely unexpected) amount of time, but if all I had to worry about was Peter, who cares about the time commitment? And, let me give a tremendous shout out to Lara who spends more time with Peter than I do and still manages to be surprisingly productive, though she doesn't see it that way. The problem is not Peter, it's all these other things I'm supposed to be doing, most especially a little thing called a doctoral dissertation.

The way the PhD program at New College works is that your first year is technically probationary. After nine months or so in the program you go before a review board. For that review board, I have to submit an official dissertation proposal, a sample bibliography, and a sample chapter of around 7000 words. My review board is June 9. I knew back in February as I was looking ahead to the coming year that March would be very busy with Peter related things, and that we would have visitors in May, so I expected to have a busy April working on getting ready for the review board. Fortunately, I've managed to produce something that I am actually satisfied with. It's not really related to what I thought my dissertation would be about when I first got here, but it's good work, I think, and I've learned a lot doing it.

What's really surprising, despite the fact that every time I've tested it its proven true, is how the more I have to do the more I am able to do. This was always the case in undergrad, where my worst semester was the one where I did not take 19 or more credit hours. All the extra time strangely drained my general productivity. The same appears to be true now. Not only do we now have Peter at home AND I have a hard deadline in front of me, but I've also continued to be involved in soccer and church, joined the church's men's choir, started attending an OT reading group, worked on my increasingly glitchy desktop computer (AARGH for defective motherboards), read at least one novel a month, played a lot of Nintendo and Super Nintendo games on my computer (via emulator), and begun two new online MMORTS games to the two I was already playing regularly. All this AND I wrote a chapter that was too long (the unedited file for my 7,000 word chapter originally had around 20,000 words). I trying to figure out what I've been neglecting. Oh yeah. This blog. But I did post the two poems.

Ok, so I really want to tell everybody about this MMORTS game I'm playing called Lord of Ultima (MMORTS – Massively Multiplayer Online Real Time Strategy, for those not in the know; though it actually looks like some sort of Mars candy, maybe like chocolate-covered fruit-flavored M&M minis). It's a city/empire builder where the construction times and army march times take longer time than a standard single-player real-time strategy. There are no NPC (non-player character) cities. Every city on the map is (or was; many are abandoned) operated by a real live person who might very well live in an entirely different country. So when you raid a city, somebody on the other side of the world curses in a different language. I love cultural experiences!

The “Ultima” part of Lord of Ultima is familiar to those who have experience in RPG's (role-playing games) going back to the 80's. The Ultima series is classic, and the foundation for Ultima Online, the grandaddy of MMORPG's (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game; this one just sounds like a Borg whose circuits got crossed: “Serstistance is fulty!”). Admittedly, Lord of Ultima's connection to the Ultima game series is thin, but it's still kind of cool to see some familiar monsters, dungeons, and place names. Plus, the graphics are among the coolest I've seen for MMORTS's (though it would be even better if the buildings changed as they leveled up, like in Kingdoms of Camelot).

So as you can see, I've been spending my time well. Seriously, in actuality, as I've filled up my schedule, my productivity has increased more than accordingly. I find that having a game or two (or three) to check periodically throughout the day helps my concentration when working and increases my research/writing stamina. This welcome paradox has been very fortuitous (or, should we say, providential?) recently, because I have not been able to dedicate five days of any week in the last three months to research because of either Peter's doctors appointments or computer troubles. Fortunately, the three to four days per week that I can dedicate have been doubly productive.

Instead of a haiku of the week, I will try to post a haiku or some other poem at the end of each blog post.

Squeaky noises mean
That Peter is sucking on
An empty bottle.

A Haiku by Kerry

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

Peter's Tummy Ache

I know it hurts, I've been there, too,
the pain that swells inside of you.
But it will pass, I promise it,
It won't be long before you will forget.

I fear there's little I can do.
This hurts me worse than it does you.
My hugs and kisses cannot send
This cursed discomfort to a hasty end.

So I'll hold you tightly to my chest
And pour my love into each step
I'll kiss your fuzzy head and pray
That God will make your tummy ache go away.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Finally Home!

OK, so I haven't blogged in a while. The last six months have held some of the worse experiences of my life. The last two months have tested me in ways I never imagined, but in the end, I am so glad to have Peter that I would go through it all again if I had to.

Peter has done well though out his short four month life. Everything that was asked of him he did well from breathing to enduring tests and even an eye surgery. In the last month, as the time for him to come home drew nearer, the stress level seemed to grow exponentially. Things stopped being clear cut. It used to be that everything was measured and had a prescribed treatment, but then it turned into a free- for-all on opinions about how to raise a baby. One nurse would tell me I need to breastfeed because it would protect him and prevent illness. The very next day a nurse would say we need to give him formula because he isn't growing fast enough. One specialist would say don't ever give him a bottle because then he won't breastfeed and he really should breastfeed. Instead he should begin a tiny cup. Then a doctor would meet with me as though I was being difficult because giving him a bottle would help him get off the feeding tube faster. One nurse would write a feeding plan for when I should feed him then the next day I am told that I will over tire him by following that plan. I would call the hospital at night and be told Peter was settled and fine. The next I would be told that he was screaming and I need to try to spend more time at the hospital. Finally I was asked to stay at the hospital over night. I was excited because I thought that some consistency would occur. None did. Finally after weeks of staying at the hospital on and off and try every feeding method and technique under the sun, we were allowed to take Peter home.

Peter came home on March 13th. We have a machine in our apartment that pulls oxygen out of the air and sends it to Peter via a plastic tube that has prongs that stick in Peter's nose. We also have five oxygen tanks. One is a back-up to replace the machine if we were ever to loose power or if the machine broke. The other four are to use when we go out with Peter. They are about the size of a fire extinguisher and fit in a book bag. This constant leash attached to Peter it not as bad as the staff seemed to thing we would be worried that it was. The they were constantly trying to reassure us when we were just thrilled to get Peter home no matter what it involved. Peter seems to be more annoyed at the oxygen than we are. He constantly pulls the prongs out of his nose. The staff gave us various types of tape to try to hold it in place, but with Peter's determination the tape just served to pull his hair and get the prong stuck in odd positions. We have stopped using the tape and just adjust the tube to fit around his head snugly. We continue to place the prongs back into his nose the same zillion times a day we were doing before.

Peter also has an apnea monitor that we can use when ever we like. It has a probe that tapes to Peter's chest and alarms if Peter ever stops breathing. The nurses said we don't have to use it, but most moms use it all the time at first. I found it to be a horrible waste of machinery. First of all, to actually get the probe to stick to Peter you have to use a type of tape that peels Peter's skin if you try to remove it without drenching it in lotion first. Even though this industrial strength tape sticks to Peter wonderfully, it doesn't stick to the probe. Instead of giving us peace of mind, the dumb thing would get stuck to Peter's shirt, go off, and scare us to death at random times in the middle of the night. Eventually we just put the device away.

Other than those two devices, Peter has multivitamins and iron supplements he takes once a day. He is mostly breastfed with a bottle of prescription preemie formula once a day that has extra calories to help him grow faster. He also has about two doctor's appointments or check-ups each week.

Even with all this extra stuff, Peter is a pretty normal baby. He development is supposed to follow his gestational age (which would make him one week old developmentally), but in reality, he tends to fall somewhere in the middle of his birth age and his gestational age. Another words, he acts like a typical 2 month old baby. He cries, feeds, plays, and interacts with us completely normally. For this we are very grateful. It is so much fun to see him interact with the world and I love dressing him, bathing him, talking to him, and just holding him. The tiredness of feeding him multiple times a night is just physical. The tiredness that came from worrying about him has pretty much gone away.

Peter still has to be continually tested until he is off the oxygen. He will also have a hernia surgery in a month or so. He isn't quite normal and that has given him a unique personality. He is our little miracle and I look forward to everyday with him.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Beginning of an Era

Peter comes home tomorrow. Lara and I are both agreed that this is going to make our lives immeasurably easier. We've been parents now for 3 1/2 months (longer, I realize, if you count from conception). Still, it feels momentous. From now on, "we" means three of us. I think Lara is more in that groove than I am: she has been at the hospital with Peter far more regularly than I have in the last two months. In the last two weeks, she's spent more nights at the hospital than at home. This much time alone has enabled me to consider our situation, and my dedication to this family, more closely. It's also enabled me to watch some movies Lara doesn't like.

In the last month (it's been a month since I posted last), I celebrated my 30th birthday. This seems like it should be more important. I mean, the 10's digit changed. That's big time. At numerically significant moments like this we humans have a sacred tradition of overreacting. When I turned 10, it was a big deal because I was a whole decade old. Turning 20 was more important to me than 21 because it meant I was no longer a teenager and I wasn't planning on going out and getting drunk. Often, people who have grown up with an unreasonably young concept of where "old" starts get depressed at 30, possibly because they can't think of any other reason it's important when it seems like it should be ("OH NO! I'm THIRTY. I'm soooo oooooold!" - at which point I would like to poke this person in the eye). I've never really felt like "old" started until somewhere around 60, and even then it wasn't "old" as in past the point of usefulness, but "old" as in some parts don't work the way they used to. For me, "old" has never been something to dread, it is simply something that is, and it's only necessarily something that is on the outside. I feel sorry for people who get old on the inside.

Even so, 30 felt significant to me, I think, because it sounds like the point at which full adulthood, along with the associated furrowed brow and weight gain, truly begins. But you know, I still can't really identify with that overly serious worldview that seems to be part of what most people mean by "grow up." If adulthood is anything other than 90% play, I can do without it. I like smiling, running and jumping, playing games, laughing, teasing, and making faces. I still chew bubble gum in order to blow bubbles. I still tend to like cartoons better than anything else. Ice cream is the nectar of the gods. Sure, I fall victim to worry, especially recently. The most tragic thing about worry is how it blinds me to the wonder of the moment. Recently in prayer, I have been frequently feeling the impulse to look around me in child-like wonder. Look! Realize that you're in Edinburgh! Look at the buildings, the roads, the walls and fields. Feel the crisp air and breathe it in! Listen to the sounds! Smell the ... hops (yeah, for those of you who come to visit, Edinburgh has a pretty distinct smell that comes from local breweries). Okay, don't smell the hops, but you're alive, in Scotland, with a wonderful church, getting your PhD, together with your wife, and you have a son who shouldn't have survived the first night! Worry and anxiety, which it sometimes feels is the demeanor expected by small-minded individuals who take themselves way too seriously, shut all that out.

The feeling of significance, of entry into adulthood, may also be exaggerated because this was my first birthday in which I am a parent (which sounds like it should be antonymous with invisible). But the immutably young part of me, the Toys R Us kid, sees that what I've gained with Peter is a new playmate, somebody who will eventually find all my gags fresh and funny (for a while, at least), somebody who will like puns and what I call time bomb jokes (the kind that I throw into a conversation not expecting anyone to get it until later; they're really more for my own amusement). So what is so inherently significant about 30? Absolutely nothing. As I've noted elsewhere, if our numbering system was not based on tens (but on, say, powers of 12, like the Sumerians, or powers of 16, as in hexadecimal numbering in computer engineering), this birthday wouldn't be even have the illusion of significance. What is significant is that here I am at 30, embarking on a totally new journey to a destination I cannot see and have never seen (dangerously overused metaphors acknowledged), and I could not be more optimistic about our lives only getting better and better. God is driving the current and I'm along for the ride. Tomorrow, truly, is the beginning of a new era.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Thursday Football

Thursdays have come to be one of my favorite days of the week. Perhaps interestingly, the reason has nothing to do with the University or Peter or Skype time with family overseas. Rather, my peculiar good will toward the penultimate day of the work-week derives from a source unconnected to anything causing my sojourn in Scotland or directly resulting from it. Thursdays are soccer days.

Come sing the glories of that sport,
That game divinely blessed,
Whose single rule is “hands no touch!”
(Or if so don't confess).

Come dance on pitches green and smooth,
With some lines painted, too,
On which one ball is passed and struck,
Past a keeper to put through.

Come score a goal with head or feet,
Or buttocks if you want'er
For there's no manlier sport than this:
Football (that is, soccer).

For the last five years I have had little to no contact with the game that has in no small way defined most of my life since I was five years old. This is because adult recreational soccer in East Texas is almost non-existent unless you want to play on Sundays in Tyler. Going to church in Longview kind of put the finishing touch on an already logistically difficult idea. I had vague hopes of renewing a regular involvement in soccer of some sort when we were planning on moving to Scotland, because I know that the sport has a much bigger role in society here. It's a rarity for a group of guys to get together over here to play basketball; baseball and american football are pretty much non-existent. But people here are fanatical about soccer and rugby, the first full match of the latter of which I had the pleasure to watch the night Scotland won an upset victory over international powerhouse Australia for the first time in a generation. Professional soccer, or football as they call it pretty much everywhere else in the world except the USA, has the sort of drama and larger-than-life personalities in the UK that one expects from the NBA or the NFL, the connection with national identity of MLB, and the fanatical fanbase of the NHL. I like it here.

The first Sunday we attended the church we ended up making our home, Buccleuch and Greyfriars Free Church of Scotland, I was quick to observe that they had a group of guys who played soccer on Thursday nights. I'm afraid I have to admit that this was a major factor in my decision to keep attending Buccleuch. Obviously, my attachment to the church is much deeper than that, but soccer on Thursday nights was a catalyst like a pretty face in beginning a deeper relationship. In other words, it was love at first sight.

The only way it could be better, in my opinion, is if it were a full 11 on 11 on an outdoor pitch for 90 minutes. Instead, we play 8 on 8 on an indoor 7 on 7 field for 60 minutes. Until recently, the shorter game length was critical for my survival. The first several games were positively embarrassing. I played okay, but my muscles quickly tired, I wasn't very quick to a contested balls, my cardiovascular conditioning was pathetic, and I even had trouble chipping the %*&$# ball. I knew I was in bad shape, because the last time I had even kicked a ball with my sister I had pulled a hip flexor, which is not fun to say the least. But I stuck with it, because despite my poor conditioning I felt like a part of me that had been missing was back. Part of my reason for getting involved in ballroom dancing was to find something physical to do to replace soccer. Unfortunately, all it ended up doing was creating a new favorite and irreplaceable physical hobby. Joy is starting to get expensive.

Beyond my expectations, my physical conditioning has returned in what appears to be full force. I don't know if I am as fast as I used to be, because the field is small enough that I haven't had a chance to get up to a full sprint yet. But my leg muscles appear to be close to as quick and strong as they used to be. My ball handling skills are returning (and with them the confidence that enables one to see the field creatively), sometimes surprisingly well. My left leg (the weak one) is at least as strong and accurate as it was in high school, maybe more, which is shocking. And best of all, last Thursday when the game ended I was stoked to realize that I felt good enough to go another hour, and that is not an exaggeration; it is an honest assessment of my leg and lung condition.

I honestly think that this opportunity to play soccer on a regular basis is an intentional and multi-faceted blessing from God. The physical exertion has been instrumental in helping me to be physically and emotionally in good health during what is in many ways the hardest time in my life. I feel and look better, and the stress relief helps me to think clearly, and thinking is a huge part of my job description right now.

Perhaps even more importantly, it helps Edinburgh feel like home, a feeling which, I've come to realize, is not actually tied to a particular place. Anyone who has moved somewhere and grown can tell you that even though you return physically to the place called “home”, it's never really the same. Those nostalgic memories instead become a set of ideals, a vague sense of safety and happiness which we call home, but which we seem unable on our own to recover. I know the sad reality of the saying that “you can never go home again.” But God is good. Sometimes when you leave “home” for his sake, true home finds you in the strangest places.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Justification by Faithlessness

One of the most significant contrasts with my previous experience that the city of Edinburgh has presented to me is the presence of beggars. Let me hasten to qualify what I mean. I am no stranger to the sight of men and women who stand on the street corner in the U.S. and hold up signs that say, “Need food, God bless”, or something like that, though I must say that I have never personally aided someone in that particular situation. I like many Christians have bought into the notion these people aren't really as desperate as they claim, that they are professionals who prey on the sympathies of good people, etc. I've only once picked up someone on the side of the road to help them because in the the back of my mind I hear the voice, panicked without experience, that says that hitchhikers have guns and are going to kill me and steal my car. It would probably do us middle-class, white Christians some good to be forced to hitchhike for a little bit.

Nevertheless, I have at times bought food or gasoline for, or even given money to, people who approached me on the street or in a parking lot and asked me for it. Lara and I helped a man buy a train ticket our first weekend here. We witnessed to him, prayed with him (he was in tears; no one's going to convince me that he was faking, either), and gave him most of the money he needed, which wasn't really that much. I honestly feel that helping people I don't know is an essential part of what it means, at least for me, to be a true follower of Christ. It doesn't matter if some or all of these people took advantage of me. It is my responsibility to be vulnerable, to not look out for number one, to let God be my vindicator. So I say, but my implementation of this principle has been very selective.

Up until now, however, I have justified this selectivity in two ways. First, I have tacitly believed that the Spirit of God would alert me when I came across someone who really needed my help, and this I still believe. I think we have to be sensitive to the possible direction of God that would counter our normal pattern of living. On the other hand, in situations where I did not help someone, my conscience was generally let off the hook before I turned around and helped someone because my mind works surprisingly quickly to fabricate a justification for acting out of fear. Or laziness. Traveling at 45 to 70 mph aids the justification process, because the more quickly out of sight, the more quickly out of mind, but being on foot in Edinburgh has put a face to the cultural phenomenon of begging.

That there were regular beggars who staked out particular places on the streets was something Lara and I noticed our first weekend in Edinburgh. The regularity of these people struck me as odd. I had not personally encountered someone sitting on the street with a cup, asking for change, apparently sleeping in sleeping bag in that very spot, even on the coldest of nights. My first reaction to it was to dismiss them. These were professionals, I said. There are too many government programs (another wretched justification for Christian inactivity in the U.S.; if conservatives are going to truly not be hypocrites, we cannot use government for stinginess at the same time we vote for the elimination of those programs which support our stinginess) for these people to really need to be begging. They were choosing to beg.

The first beggars were easy to forget because we didn't stay in that area for very long. But after we moved to Buccleuch Place, I have come to be able to recognize the local beggars by sight. There is one lady in particular, overweight, mildly hooked nose, looks to be somewhere between 35 and 45, who stakes out several places on Clerk Street. A particular man, slight of build with ordinary features is often located right next to the entrance to the Tesco we shop at. They are not aggressive, hardly even vocal unless you look at them. I've tried to appease my conscience by smiling at them and greeting them, but they always replied by asking for money. I stopped looking at them.

Not giving was also easier for me to justify at this stage in our lives because, frankly, we don't have an income. God has provided in miraculous ways, but I don't have a dependable income, and I feel a slight (perhaps manufactured) twinge of guilt at the idea of using gifts or loans to give money to beggars. I have not really been able to contribute to our local church except by contributing some time (and not much at that). We are in the process of fixing that problem.

But today, as I was walking to Tesco from the Elephant House, where I had purchased a latte for £1.62, and was thinking about playing soccer tonight (which involves a bus fare of £1.20 and £5 to help with renting the field), I was caught off guard when I saw the beggar at the entrance, not the usual fellow, but a girl, probably in her twenties. She could be pretty, but she looks beaten down and was not attractive. My heart went out to her. She didn't hardly look up as I whisked around the corner into the store. My decision was made at that point to give her some change when I left the store.

After a shopping trip where I bought everything I needed for several days' worth of lunches and breakfasts for less that £13 (and this was one of my more expensive shopping trips; grocery shopping over here is actually rather inexpensive compared to my experiences in the U.S.), I fished out a £2 coin and put it in the girl's cup as I left the store. She looked up, appearing to be mildly surprised and said, “thank you,” in such a way that I was certain she really meant it. I smiled back and left. It is customary for me to reflect on events like that and evaluate them afterward, trying to understand how they fit into a larger and more comprehensive approach to Christian ethics. I felt good. I felt like I had heard the voice of God and done something pleasing to Him, and I still think this is the case. But as I approached the crosswalk I would take to return to my flat, I spotted the overweight beggar woman with the hooked nose down the road just a bit at the bus stop Lara and I use to go to the hospital. It was then that I realized that the reason I had been open to helping the girl was because she was younger and prettier. That was it. I am disgusted with myself right now as I write this. I do not mean that I was sexually attracted to her. That was not at all a part of the situation. The only masculine motivation to my actions was general protection and aiding. But the fact that she was a young, prettyish female made it possible for her to break past the wall of faithless justifications I had built around the insignificant change in my pocket. I had judged her less likely to be a professional con artist and more worthy of my donation than the overweight woman simply based on the way the two women looked. I had been selectively vulnerable to the world around based on the meanest of foundations for judgementalism. I don't know what any of these people have been through. I don't know if they are mentally disabled, if they are forsaken by their families, if they are asking God for some sign of his love for them. I can't know what they've been through until I know each individual. How shallow have I been that I have profiled people on the street based upon what other middle-class, white Americans have said.

This creates a dilemma for me. I can no longer act and think the way I have till now. Something must change. Either I must live fully by the principle of vulnerability, which I believe to be the very heart of the gospel, or I must harden my heart against every beggar equally. I choose life. Will God hold it against me if the money I give people is used to buy alcohol? I can't possibly know that it will or will not be used that way, so where does my culpability end? I believe it ends when the money leaves my hand. You buy gasoline from companies who exploit third-world countries. The crude oil form of that gasoline is just as likely to have come from Saudi Arabia as anywhere else, and let's not fool ourselves by saying that there is not significant funding of terrorism going on with oil money. Does that mean that driving your car is immoral? No. This is the problem of corporate sin, a concept with which we in the West are not intuitively familiar, a problem which is dealt with by the cross of Christ. I believe in spending your money in a moral fashion, like supporting fair trade agriculture, but who else is being taken advantage of in the chain of commerce that links me to the fair trade coffee bean? God forgive me, for the evil my money supports, and for the evil in me which uses that as a justification for stinginess, for greed. No, I will not be deceived into thinking that I am culpable for the money I give in obedience to Christ being used for the perpetuation of sin. I choose to be willfully vulnerable in totality, not in part. Jesus deserves that much. I don't know, yet, what this will mean in its entirety, but I do know that now, whenever I go over to Clerk Street, there will be just a little insignificant change in my pocket. I can skip the latte.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Watching the Grass Grow

I haven't written in a while because while a tremendous amount has happened in the last month, it is difficult to organize those events or the feelings surrounding them into a short, coherent blog entry. Also, I just haven't felt the energy necessary to write one of these. It takes a surprising amount of energy for me to write one of these, because I really try to pour myself into it. The purpose of this blog to begin with was to chronicle our experiences & feelings and God's faithfulness so that it would be a lasting testimony and a future encouragement to others. Therefore, I feel it incumbent upon me to bare myself while writing. Don't worry - I always put my clothes back on afterwards.

I have a son.

It's a very short sentence, and it seems pretty straightforward in its meaning, but it's not really. Within those four words are packed an immense amount of emotion, history, and future. I don't even fully know what it means. At a very basic level, I know that there is a new human being who emerged a month and a half ago from Lara, and who shares with me 50% of his DNA. I know that my sense of well-being is now very much wrapped up in this new human being. I know that he is very small, but that his personality is very big. At times I am overwhelmed by emotion when I even think of him, and at other times I feel completely numb when I am sitting right next to him. I know who he is as well or better than anyone else in the world, except perhaps for Lara, but I don't feel I really know him, yet. He is like me, but he is also not like me. He will surprise me countless times in the future as he shows me how much is like me and unlike me.

I feel so attached to him, but it's difficult to feel the full depth of the emotion, because so far physical interaction with him has been very limited. More recently, we both have had the opportunity to hold him, and we can reach into the incubator pretty much whenever we want. We've been able to change his diapers and feed him regularly. Still, I can't wait until he doesn't need the incubator and CPAP anymore when we can hold him without a time limit. Then, I think, I'll start to feel like I can begin to express to him what he means to me. As it is, most of my affection is expressed through staring at him.

I have to be honest, though. I get bored watching Peter sleep for five hours. I love him more than anything, and I am thrilled everytime he moves or opens his eyes. Just last week I heard his first actual newborn “wah, wah, wah.” He was irritated that the nurse had put him on his stomach, which is where he has preferred to be up until he threw this particular fit. He settled down once he was on his back again. These little things are amazing and wonderful. But watching him sleep is boring.

So I bring a book and sit there next to him for a couple of hours reading. But then I think to myself, “Why am I here, if I am just reading and not looking at him?” I can read just as well, better even, somewhere else. Many days, when Lara and I come to the hospital together, I spend about an hour with Lara and Peter, then I go downstairs to the hospital restaurant where I can concentrate (which is where I am as I write this) and read or write or whatever I need to do to feel like I am going somewhere. I'm there until a little less than an hour before we go home. Then I head back up to the neo-natal unit, watch him for 45 minutes or so, then leave. I've started wondering why I come even on days like this.

But if I take too much time away from Peter, I begin to feel guilty, like I should feel like I'm missing something. I came in today after having taken two days to stay home and work on research to find Peter having clearly gained weight since Monday. I can't really say that I feel bad, though. I just feel like I should feel bad. I actually feel that I have begun to discover a balance in my time spent here at the hospital. Two to three times a week max is sufficient for me to feel like I'm getting stuff done and seeing Peter enough. I don't feel guilty about that at all, but I feel guilty for not feeling guilty. I think I would feel guilty otherwise.

I'm not really as conflicted as it sometimes sounds. I think our current existence, while difficult, is actually rather fun. I mean, when is life ever ideal? It hasn't ever been for me, except for scattered five minute spurts when I can focus on only the good and ignore the hard. I want to cherish this time for itself, because how many people get to experience the amazing joy and relief of having an extremely premature baby who survives and thrives? I love having unique experiences. They are what define my life as opposed to anyone else's. If that sounds existential, it's because it is. Who is Kerry Lee other than the choices he makes and the things he experiences? The only appropriate ideal against which to compare this is the hypothetical plan of God, but how do we know even that outside of experiencing life as it comes to us? We've been on an adventure with God for a long time. I don't want to start being a party pooper now, especially now that I have a new partner in crime.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Neonatal Unit and More About Peter

I get most of my subject matter for these posts from questions that I receive. I also get the source of my questions for Peter's doctors from questions I receive. Since Peter has been born I have had cotton in my brain and have not been able to think of these things to ask myself. So continue asking me stuff, so that I can ask and feel more informed.

Well, the neonatal unit has become somewhat familiar to me in the past month. I have found that it has three areas: the intensive care area, the high dependency area, and the special care area. Peter has been in the intensive care area since he was born. This area has about ten beds split into two rooms. One nurse is assigned to each baby and only the very sick, very small, or very premature are in this area. Once Peter is almost or all the way off the CPAP and is needing little intervention, he will be moved to the high dependency area. This area has room for nine babies and one nurse is assigned to two babies. Finally, when Peter is pretty much only on the feeding tube or on nothing at all, he will be moved to the special care area. This area is like a typical hospital nursery with open cots and more freedom for the parents to handle their babies. Often babies go here for a little bit of light for jaundice, or minor care that can't be done at home or in the maternity ward. Most babies are kept with the parents in the maternity ward when born, so this area is a little more specialize than a typical nursery. Peter will be move here to be watched and get bigger before going home. Because he was so premature, he will have to be completely free of any assistance before he can go home. Other babies may go home while still needing a feeding tube or a little oxygen or a heating pad, but there are too many factors and risks to do that with Peter.

Since the last time I posted, Peter has continued to make progress. We were told by the doctors that they would wait a while before trying to take Peter off the ventilator again so that he could grow and get stronger. Peter had other ideas. On Christmas morning, as the doctors were making their rounds, Peter pulled on his ventilator tube and dislodged it. Instead of replacing the tube, the doctor decided to put Peter on the CPAP to see if he could stay on it for a few days. That was over twelve days ago and Peter is still on the CPAP. The CPAP is a little mask that goes over his nose and gives him oxygen. The ventilator was a tube that went down his throat and helped inflate his lungs while giving him oxygen. This is a huge step forward.

Also, at this time, Peter does not have any lines in him (like an IV or such). He still has an oxygen monitor strapped to his foot, a body temperature monitor that he lays on, and heart monitor stickers on his chest (which fall off pretty often when he wiggles, but he hasn't had any heart problems anyways). He also has the feeding tube still. He will continue to have the feeding tube until he reaches what would have been 34 weeks gestation because until that point he will not have the ability to suck, swallow, and breathe at the same time.

Peter's eyes have also opened finally and he is actively looking around even though he can't see much yet. At six weeks old, an eye doctor will come and look into his eyes to see if they are developing properly. In extremely premature babies there is the tendency to develop to many blood vessels in the back of the eyes which impair vision kind of like a cataract. They can fix this pretty well with laser surgery.

The main focus is for Peter to continue to gain weight and mature. This will help him to regulate his body temperature well enough to get out of the incubator and onto a heated cot. They had to switch Peter to half breast milk and half formula so that he could get enough calories to gain weight. As of this post, he is eating 7ml of milk/formula every hour and weighs 2 lb 7oz.

You may wonder what I do all day at the hospital. When I first get there, Peter's nurse updates me on how he did last night, what the doctor's plans are for him, and if there was an increase in his food or oxygen, etc. Then I will sit by his incubator and talk to him or just watch him or read until something comes up. Every hour, I get to feed him with a syringe on the end of his feeding tube. Once every six hours, more or less, his nappy/diaper is changed and I am allowed to do it when I am there. I can also rub his skin with coconut oil when it looks dry or give him a pacifier/dummy. Usually about twice while I am there I will go to the “humanlactor room” to express milk. I sometimes get to see various tests that they run on him or get to talk to his doctor. Many times I will get into a conversation with his nurse and find out more information, though sometimes the information alters slightly depending on the nurse. Recently Kerry and I have been able to hold him. If he continues to be stable on the CPAP, the opportunities to hold him should increase. Of course, I also take pictures any time some thing new happens.

So there you go folks. Feel free to post any questions because it gives me things to ask about.

Christmas and New Year

I thought I would take a short break from the Peter updates to talk about how Christmas and New Years differs in Scotland than in the US. Kerry and I were able to celebrate both holidays with friends who are from here and so we learned a few things.

Christmas day does not seem to be dominated by the gift giving frenzy so common in the US. Gifts are still a major element in Christmas here, but there is a lot of focus on the Christmas dinner as well. The Christmas dinner is traditionally a turkey centered feast much like our Thanksgiving dinner. Cranberry sauce has even been imported for this purpose. It seems, once asking around, that goose may have been traditional in years past, but the American turkey has become king. Along with this meal's varied sides , it is required traditionally to serve brussle sprouts, Christmas pudding (which is a fruit bread), Christmas cake (similar to fruit cake but with frosting), minced pies (which does not have meat, but a dessert pie with dried fruits), mulled wine, and chocolate truffles.

During the dinner, those around the table will open the “crackers” at the same time. These tootsie roll shaped little packages are held by two people sitting next to each other while crossing their arms and holding the package on the other side of them to make a circle around the table in which everyone's arms are crossed and each person has the end of two packages, one on each side of them. Everyone then pulls the packages apart at the same time. These packages make a pop sound as they open and reveal a small trinket, a joke, and a paper crown that everyone wears. Also on Christmas day, the Queen give a little speech on TV that most people watch.

That pretty much describes the differences. From Christmas trees to Christmas cards, the rest is very similar. I have have to say that the lack of materialism in the holiday here was refreshing. Decoration did not ooze from every corner and annoying blow up statues are not in the yards (wherever there was a yard), but the potential for that option was still present.

Oh, and unlike the US, Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) is a national holiday. That day is still celebrated much like American's by spending the day shopping.

Now New Years Eve and Day is a much bigger holiday in Scotland than in the US. In fact, the holidays are seen to be almost equal in importance. On New Years Eve in Edinburgh, a section of the city around Princes Street in closed off for a huge street party. Ticket paying partiers come from around the world and dare to cold for a night of fun (which I am not sure what all that includes). Then at midnight, the cannons from the castle shoots and fireworks are lit from five hills around the city for a spectacular show. Then people are supposed to go visit friends' and relatives' homes bearing a gift for the first house they enter. On New Years Day there is a another great dinner. Traditionally, this dinner is steak pie.

Well, that is a summary of the holidays as I saw them. My friends from the UK can feel free to post comments correcting any misunderstandings or omissions that may have occurred. I hope I did both countries justice. Happy holidays!