20 February 2017

In Which We Meet an Assassin



Scene:  A residential street in a small New Zealand town in summer.  Camera pans over peach trees, branches heavy with fruit hanging over a corrugated metal fence by a sidewalk.  From left side of the screen enter Mali, pushing a jogging stroller carrying Pax in the front and Bear in the back.  Mali is wearing a t-shirt with a picture of The Cat In The Hat and the words "Trust Me, I'm a Doctor."  This is important later.  Bear is wearing gray sweatpants and a long-sleeved red shirt with a fire engine on it.  His hair has not been brushed.  Pax is wearing a shirt with a unicorn and miraculously, is still wearing the pink shoes that were forced onto her feet at the beginning of this run, two kilometers ago.

Siri: Your current pace is. Eight minutes, twenty-three seconds per kilometer.  You're behind; speed up.

Mali slows from a very slow jog to a walk.

Bear: Mom, she said speed up! Why are you walking?

Mali: This is my cool-down walk.  We're almost to the playground.

Pax, removing her shoe and casting it to the ground: Gaah!

Scene: A playground in the same town, about 30 years old and showing it.  The ground is covered in wood chips.  A man is slowly raking them off the concrete path that runs through the sidewalk.  He is about 60 years old and has long black hair pulled into a ponytail. As he moves down the sidewalk, we see that he walks with a limp.

Mali, Bear, and Pax enter the frame from the left.  Bear climbs out of the stroller and runs for the swings.  Mali bends down to release Pax from the harness.

Mali, to the man with the rake: Good morning.

Man: Hello.  'Trust me I'm a doctor,' that's good! I had a stroke a few years ago and it's so hot I'm feelin' like I might have another one.  I hope you're a real doctor.

Bear, yelling from the top of a climbing structure: She is!

Man: All right, buddy, thanks.

Bear: What are you doing?

Man: Cleaning up the playground.

Bear: Why?

Man: Because I did some bad stuff in the past, so now I got to do some good stuff to kinda make up for it.  Community service.

Bear: What bad stuff?

Man: Well I used to be in a gang.  My gang name was Possum, and I could make people disappear.

Bear: How do you make people disappear?

Possum: By killin' em.

Bear, totally unimpressed: But did their bodies disappear? Didn't you have to bury them in a cemetery?

Mali, trying to redirect this conversation: Hey Bear, can you climb up onto that big swing over there?

Bear runs off.

Possum, to Mali: He's a smart kid you've got there.  But its easy to get rid of bodies around here - we've got heaps of rivers.

Mali laughs nervously and starts edging back towards the stroller.

Possum: Of course, if you don't want to risk going down for a homicide, there's a better way to get to somebody.  If you just hit em in the knee with a hammer a few times, I mean a few good solid whacks - well then you don't go down for murder bur you can always out run them if they come for you later.  That's why I got out of the gang though, hated always looking over my shoulder.  But now I got nothing.  I got no woman at home, I had one but she left.  Now I find I don't get on too well with women.  I don't even talk to them anymore.  Last time I talked to a woman out at a pub; asked her if I could buy her a drink and she said she was there with her girlfriend.  Now I was raised in a time when that just didn't happen.

Mali, yelling in Bear's direction: Bear, time for us to go!

Bear: But MOM, WE JUST GOT HERE

Possum, continuing as if there was no interruption: If you acted a little gay your parents just beat you till you acted right.  I once put on my sister's shirt.  My dad gave me this (points to a scar over his left eye) with his belt buckle.

Mali: I'm sorry.  We have to get going.

Possum: So anyway, if you need someone to disappear, I have literally nothing to lose.

Mali, grabbing Bear by one arm and wrestling him back into the stroller: Nice to meet you.

Bear: Yeah, nice to meet you, Mr Possum.



09 February 2017

Calling it

I am called to declare a man dead between dinner and bedtime.  I leave my son watching cartoons and drive the six blocks to the man's house, where family members have parked on the street, the alley, the lawn, the neighbor's lawn.  Dogs and kids run the block while the adults tend to the business of mourning.  I take off my shoes on the porch and hug five aunties before I reach his body, thin and jaundiced, eyes closed.

My job here is to confirm that he is, in fact, dead.  I have brought my only props, a stethoscope and a pad of carbon paper death certificates.  I lay my stethoscope on his still chest.  I sign the paper, rip the white copy off the top and hand it to his wife.  My hands no longer shake when I fill these out.

When I get home my son is still watching TV, perched on top of a beanbag chair that he has balanced on top of the sofa.  He is vibrating with excitement because, "Mom, this mission needs the WHOLE Paw Patrol!"

That night the baby won't sleep, so I try to bring her to my bed, tuck her under my arm like I used to when I nursed her to sleep every night.  But she sleeps only minutes at a time and wakes crying and thrashing and pushing me away.  I take her to her crib and she eventually settles, but now I am awake.


Last night I told Benjamin that I don't want to be married anymore.  I didn't mean to tell him yet, hadn't planned out what I would say, I didn't have a plan for what happens next.  I hadn't even decided, really, hadn't stopped my constant mental tallying of pros and cons, contingency plans and carefully worded ultimatums.  But it was there like a drum beat I could feel in my sternum, "This is over.  This is over.  This is over."

I sit in bed, hugging my knees, waiting for the grief, waiting for the anger, waiting for the loneliness.  Still wondering if I'm doing the right thing.  But at least now it is real, at least now I have said it out loud.  This is over.




16 January 2017

RESUSE



My morning schedule has been a shambles.  Right off the bat my simple follow-up patient became a forty-five minute ordeal of an admission, and I've been behind since.  Finally I am sitting down with Ange to go through the medication refills that have come in today.  I recognize the name of one of our palliative care patients attached to a request for pain killers.  "Oh, he can have whatever he wants," I say, starting to register a repetitive squeaking sound coming from the waiting room.   I assume it's Austin, a forty year old man with cerebral palsy who lives in a group home and makes little vocalizations when he is overstimulated.

But it is not Austin.  It is Ember, a one year old with wide brown eyes and terrible recurrent skin infections.  I usher them into my office - his mum and nan and five barefoot siblings, mostly in swim suits. ("Togs," in local parlance.)  Then I look at him, grunting, the whites of his eyes showing all the way around the irises, his fingers mottled and bluish; and I herd the whole clan down the hall to the treatment room, where there is more space and more equipment and a wide door that leads out to the reserved parking space for ambulances.

I am in the midst of a collaborative project with the nurses to organize our emergency equipment.  We have made checklists of materials and ordered new laryngoscopes and looked at wheeled carts.  But so far the only part of the project that has been actualized is that our existing emergency equipment has been tossed into one large cardboard box that someone has labeled "RESUSE" in black sharpie.

I sit Ember and his mum on the exam table and listen to his lungs.  No wheezing.  They actually sound pretty clear.  But he is breathing 70 times a minute and his heart just sounds like a little whir.  His skin is warm to the touch.  The nurses Ange and Micki have followed us into the treatment room, and Tania the practice manager has shepherded the other kids back out.

Ange and Micki and I begin a scavenger-hunt style "resuse" of our patient - I suggest a piece of equipment that I fancy using, and they paw through the box to locate it.  We assemble a set of vital signs - not a single one is within the normal range.  We put him on oxygen and deliver some antibiotics via injection.  I gather all the smallest IVs and attempt to place a line.  But he is a baby, and very dry, and the dark line on his hand that I thought was a vein came off when I rubbed it with alcohol - not a vein after all, just dirt.

And while this goes on, I am keeping a running tally of the items that I have requested that have not turned up in our box and I am wondering how long until we need these things.

Have I mentioned that the ambulance is 40 minutes away?  The ambulance is 40 minutes away.

I internally debate the merits of throwing Ember and his oxygen bottle in the back of the RAV4 and driving him to the next town myself.  In the US, this would be fraught with liability concerns.  But in New Zealand? In Opotiki especially, we're a practical people.

Then he starts vomiting.  Clear but viscous it comes forth from his mouth and nose, filling the oxygen mask before Ange pulls it away from his face.  And there is a terrible pause in the rhythmic squeaking that has been like a metronome to the whole exercise up until now.  Pause, sputter, squeak.

Even fully equipped and organized, we wouldn't have suction.  Which seems like it would be helpful, I think as I watch another bout of gelatinous sputum pour out of my patient's face.

Last time Ember was in the office, he had multiple open skin sores as well as an acutely exploded poopy diaper. ("Nappy.")  Now I'm not what you call a germophobe, my kids both enjoy the post-dinner course we call "floor food."  But the poop in the skin sores situation was too much for me to handle.  I recall now that my answer was to carry him down the hall and bathe him in the staff shower.

This mum is going to think I am completely insane.  But that can't be helped and isn't that far off.

I wrap Ember in a towel and trot across the parking lot, holding him to my chest so I can feel the little whir of his heart.  We arrive at the Opotiki community hospital and I put him down in their treatment room, next to the suction set up.  I eye the clear plastic tubing and then my patient, daring him to attempt to aspirate his own vomit again.  I'm ready for him now.

Of course by this time, the antibiotics are perhaps kicking in.  His breathing is marginally slower and his color looks excellent.

The ambulance arrives and the paramedics give the IV placement a go themselves.  Nothing.  We debate the merits of an intraosseous line ("bone drill," for the non-medical folks), but I feel certain this thrashing toddler will not respond well to this.  In the end, they just package him up and load him into the ambulance, leaving me to pick my way back across the parking lot to my waiting room full of patients.

Normally I am not too affected by experiences like this.  Since my college days and perhaps before, I have suffered from complete adrenaline failure, even in situations where it would be decidedly useful.  I once came across a bear and her cub while hiking in the woods and thought to myself, "surely a surge of adrenaline and cortisol will soon be released by may adrenal glands and allow me to outrun this claw-covered human-eater."  I waited and waited, but nothing.  Intellectually, I knew it was sub-optimal for me to be standing between a large bear and her cub, but physiologically, nothing happened.  No fast heart beat or feeling of flushing.  I eventually just turned and hiked on, figuring the bear would follow me and eat me or she wouldn't but there wasn't much I could do about it.

Ditto for medical situations, except for one thing.  The only bit of the physiologic stress response that I get is the sweating.  No hyperactive focus or super-human strength, just sweat dripping off my body and face to the point that it stings my eyes.  The paramedics, who I tend to encounter in these situations, must think I have a serous BO problem.

Today was the same.  I was certainly worried about the kid, but it didn't occur to me to be panicking until I heard that anxious edge to Ange's voice and thought, "oh, yes, this is a bit touch and go, isn't it?"  I was, of course, already drenched in sweat.

Emotionally, it was different.  In the best of circumstances I struggle to keep that balance between cold detachment and crippling over-involvement, but my over-involvement tends to be more material than emotional.  Ember was different.  Maybe it's because he is a week younger than Pax, or maybe I feel responsible - if only the crash cart had been ready, if only I had treated his skin sores effectively in the first place, etc.  Whatever the reason, I took this one home with me.



(Not literally, Benjamin won't let me literally take home any patients; he's quite strict about that.)




13 November 2016

My Homeland is Still a White Supremacist Police State

I'll start by saying you don't have to read this.  I likely have nothing new to say.

My heart is heavy with all these emotions. The righteous indignation about the electoral college and about white women somehow going for Trump.  The grief and despair for my home.  The gnawing fear for my family and friends.  The flat acceptance.  The embarrassment of being from such a place, of believing that things would be different.

I feel like this is not a place I can go home to anymore.  At the same time, I want to go back and fight - I want to found a safe house for LGBT youth, I want to send my kid to the Muslim Montessori preschool in Baltimore and work at Healthcare for the Homeless.  But I want to tell everyone to leave.  I want to change my visa status to permanent resident and find people jobs here in New Zealand.  I want to get excited about wearing safety pins and I see the hollowness of the symbolism. I want to cling to my belief that these small gestures of human goodwill matter - in some ways, that they are the only thing that matters.  And I also feel the crushing isolation of knowing that my small gesture means nothing in the face of overwhelming fear and hatred manifest in this election.

It's the same feeling I get every time I read another news story about American police killing a black person.  Powerlessness, grief, the aching gulf of injustice and impotence.  But I'm able to tell myself a story about police violence - namely that this is the Old System that is moving on, that is changing, that things are going in the right direction.

And then my fellow Americans voted for police violence.  They voted for white supremacy.  They voted for violence against women.  They voted for more guns.  They voted for mass deportations and economic collapse and the end of our hope to do a damn thing about climate change.

I can't tell myself a story about progress today.

So today I went to the beach. (And yes, you exhausting liberal corner of the internet where I live, I acknowledge the absurd privilege I have in being able to do so.) I took my "gender creative" four-year-old and went to the beach.  And I tried not to think about what country would be safest or best for him to grow up in.  I just watched him play in the sand and I listened to the waves and the gulls.  And for a moment I felt ok.






11 September 2016

It All Goes Pear-Shaped (Part 2)

The day after our midnight medical adventure was fueled entirely by caffeine (me) and opiates (Benjamin).  I had the sensation that I was dragging myself through the day by my fingernails.  I somehow got the children out of bed and dressed.  Bear requested a chocolate bar for breakfast, reasoning that he had pancakes in the middle of the night, so this was actually "breakfast dessert."  I could not argue with that logic.

While Bear ate his chocolate bar, I checked on Benjamin.  Having partaken of the aformentioned opiates, his level of consciousness did not engender a great deal of confidence in his ability to care for a seven month old.  Wednesday was not a planned day for Pax to go to "school,"  but I stuck her in the car anyway, hoping they would have space and staffing to take her.  My backup plan involved quickly babyproofing the staff room at the office and/or assigning the medical student to a surprise "developmental pediatrics" rotation.  Luckily, they were able to take her at daycare.

Chewing on a hammerhead shark and talking to her friend


After depositing my offspring with surrogate caregivers, I made my way to the bakery next store to the office and acquired the first of many caffeinated beverages for the day.  When the barista handed me the hot paper cup, I thanked her a bit too emphatically.  Her eyes looked concerned for me.  "You're welcome?" she said.  I was already scalding my tongue and scuttling out the door.

We muddled through the week.  I fell asleep while putting the kids to bed. Benjamin's pain level was up and down.  There was no sign he was passing the stone but it did seem to get better from time to time.

By Saturday we were feeling well enough to attempt another walk on the trail.  My phone rang in a particularly windy area, but I answered it because it was my co-GP.  (I haven't actually gotten permission to use her name on here so we'll call her Laura).  Laura was inviting me to a peer group later that day.  I could only kind of hear her and wasn't that sure what a peer group was but sure, I was game.  Great, she could pick me up.  Did I want to bring the kids? Not knowing what peer group entailed and seeing as it was during nap time, I declined on behalf of the kids.

Guys, it turns out peer group is the best thing ever.  It's a bunch of women doctors getting together to let their kids play and talk about medicine.  And there were muffins.  I think it's lucky I was still moderately exhausted because otherwise my enthusiasm may have overwhelmed them.  I basically want to be at peer group always.

***

On Sunday morning, I was just getting things packed up for our weekly trek into Whakatane when my phone rang - it was Laura again, but this time she sounded like ... like Benjamin sounded the week before, frankly.  She sounded quite sick.  Could I possibly do the weekend surgery hours for her? Of course.

On weekends, our surgery opens for one hour - all patients who get through the door during that hour get seen, no matter how long that takes.  Sometimes there are three patients and sometimes there are thirteen.  The staffing is just one doctor and one receptionist, so it's kind of like climbing without ropes in terms of nursing support.

On this Sunday, there were fifteen patients.  Of them, I sent four to the hospital in Whakatane.  One of the others needed sutures.  It was busy but it was fun.  I hit a rhythm, found my groove, etc.  Part of it is that I've grown accustomed enough to the Kiwi accent that I don't need to strain so much to understand people.  It was one of those days that makes me remember that I really like my job.  I like talking to people and hearing their stories.  I like the puzzle of making a diagnosis.  I like the craftsman satisfaction of bringing two edges of a wound together.

I came home tired but happy.  The week would be slightly disorganised given that we hadn't gotten to do our big meal-planning and grocery shopping trip or the massive laundry turnover that I had planned - but we would manage.

When I got to work on Monday, Laura was not there.  She was not just home recovering from food poisoning; she was in the hospital with appendicitis.  And so our two doctor practice (which was actually already short a doctor - we should have three) was down to one.  And the one doctor was me.  Gulp.

The next week was Rough.  On regular days, squeezing patient encounters into their allotted 15 minutes is difficult.  Now I had my patients to see, as well as some of Laura's patients who had urgent concerns that could not be rescheduled.  On top of that, I was signing off on the notes and scripts for four nurses and supervising a medical student.

Our EMR has a little counter so you can see how long your patients have been waiting.  As I finished with a patient and sent him on his way clutching a script for an increased dose of Metformin and a handout on carb-counting, I thought, "my next patient has only been waiting 45 minutes! That's not so bad in the grand scheme of things!" And then I opened my door and found two nurses, a medical student, and a receptionist all waiting to talk with me.  Rinse. Repeat.

When all the patients were finally gone for the day, the mountain of forms, notes, and lab results remained.  I trudged home with the surgery's laptop.  After putting the kids to bed, I stayed up writing notes and sifting through lab results.  Even after closing down the computer and crawling into bed, I kept jolting awake with thoughts like, "must remember to call that patient about his sub-therapeutic valproate level," and "did I send in the paediatric referral or did I just think about doing it?"  I was on call every night, fielding questions from the nurse about kids falling off horses and grandmas with pneumonia.

Every morning, there is a staff meeting.  The practice manager would report on her attempts to find another doctor.  She did find some locums to help with a day here, an afternoon there, but no one remotely long term.  There kept being whispers about doctors that people knew that might be free, but inevitably it would fall through.


***

There have been many meetings recently about the future of health care delivery in this rural community. As a newcomer and a temporary resident, I have not participated in these discussions.  But now I am right here, living the microcosm of these organisational decisions.  And all that is clear to me is that model of the solo GP must die.  We must have a system robust enough that it does not collapse when one person gets appendicitis.  We must make this work appealing enough that doctors want to work here.  It shouldn't be this hard, given the setting includes the glittering sea and rolling hills of verdant farmland.

Laura told me on the way to peer group that she used to be the only woman.  Now there is only one man, the rest are women, all with kids under six.  The older (male) generation of doctors always seems to be complaining that we younger (female) doctors don't want to work hard, that we selfishly want to spend time with our children and away from medical practice.  And you know what? I'm guilty as charged.  When I signed up for this job, it involved working four days a week and every third weekend.  Because I want to spend time with my family.  And I want to spend time exploring this amazing country.  But until now I have always subconsciously agreed with the assumption that this was to the detriment of patients, that I must be taking something away from the patients to spend more time doing anything else.

And because I learn best by doing, I now know that is not the case.  Right now, I am exhausted.  I cannot give my patients my best self because I am distracted and half asleep.  This is not a problem that can be solved by just doubling down and working harder, the system must change.

Unlike the US health care 'system,' I have faith that things here will change (and for the better).  Sitting around the table of another GP, another mom, at peer group, I saw that we young doctors actually have a community, it's right here.  It's just the organisation of things that make us feel alone - these women work right down the street from me.  And they all want the same things I do - to take good care of their patients and also their families, to have enough time away from medicine that they can bring their best selves to medicine.




07 September 2016

It All Goes Pear-Shaped (Part 1)



Benjamin and I are trying to establish a new ritual of taking a walk every day as a family.  We live near a walking and cycling trail that leads through the dunes to the beach.   The idea is we go every day right after I get done with work.  There is currently juuuust enough sunlight left for this to happen if we walk about 3km.  I recently purchased a second child-carrying device, so I wear Bear on my back and Pax on my front, trying to guarantee that I will never get osteoporosis.

Still more comfortable than being pregnant.

This is a fledgling habit, in that we've only done it a couple of times.  I feel protective of this tiny baby habit, I want to foster it, help it take root.  I feel like this will be a very positive thing for our family - getting some exercise, getting outside, having a routine.  Though right after shooing the last patient out the door I really very rarely want to dart home, change my clothes, and go for a brisk walk.  Going home and collapsing on the couch with an adult beverage sounds more appealing, but I am committed to this plan.  As the plan's main cheerleader I have to counter a lot of whining from ranks - "It's too cold," "I'm hungry," "It's raining," and other ridiculous objections.

So on Tuesday when Benjamin started with the, "my stomach isn't feeling so hot," I was having none of it.  "Put on your shoes," I growled at him.  And he did.

Attempting to just 'walk it off.'

We got out to the trail and he helped me strap the kids on.  We had walked less than 500m when he started grimacing and twisting around, hand on his belly.  "I think I need to go use the restroom," he said, "You keep walking, I'll pick you up."

So the kids and I continued on and he headed back to the car, but walking without Benjamin to talk to or keep pace with seriously eroded my enjoyment of the situation.  In the new child-carrying device I have for Bear, Bear's mouth is positioned approximately four centimeters from my ear.

"Mom, can I have a snack when we get home?"
"Mom, can I watch Paw Patrol when I get home?"
"Mom, do you remember when we got a cupcake at that store? Can I have a cupcake now? Can I have a cupcake for dinner?"
"Mom, Waitangi at school has a Thomas backpack."
"Mom, is Maryland close to New Zealand?"
"Mom, Skye from PawPatrol has a helicopter."
"Mom, I want to go back now.  Can we go back now? Is our walk done yet?"

We did not make it 3km.  We went down to the beach and I let Bear run around a bit, hoping to run off some of the energy flowing out of his mouth in the form of a continuous verbal onslaught.  It was unsuccessful.


"This is my dune-running game!"

"Mom, it's too windy."
"Mom, are we there yet?"
"Mom, can I have a cupcake for dinner?"
"Mom, Pax is touching me."

When we got back to the trail head, Benjamin was waiting in the car, still looking a bit uncomfortable.  We got everyone loaded and then unloaded.  I busied myself getting some dinner together for the kids (spoiler alert: it was not cupcakes).  Benjamin disappeared into the bathroom, where I assumed he would take care of whatever unfortunate gastrointestinal situation he had going on.  Later I realised I had not seen him in a while.  I checked my phone and found that I had a text from him, "Why aren't you helping me?"

I was confused because my husband is the only family member that I usually don't have to assist with pooping.

So anyway, I went to the bathroom.  When my obstetrics patients look the way Benjamin did, I generally ask the nurse to assemble the delivery table, so that we have the gauze and suction bulb and umbilical cord clamp at the ready because we will be needing those things soon.

While I was standing there wondering why my home first aid kit lacks both injectable drugs and portable CT scanners, Benjamin motioned that he was going to vomit.  So I provided him a readily accessible vessel, the baby's bathtub.

I was proud of myself for keeping my sympathetic vomiting reflex under control, but apparently more was expected of me.  I am, after all, a doctor.  So shouldn't I be fixing this situation?

I hate being my family's doctor.  Like, if my in laws need their blood pressure medication refilled, fine.  But when it comes to diagnosing my family I am often awash in self-doubt. So I sort of stared at my husband as he writhed around on the bed.  Appendicitis? Gall stones? Small bowel obstruction? Gastric ulcer? Gastric adenocarcinoma? Pheochromocytoma? (It has to be a pheochromocytoma some time, right?)  Eventually I snapped out of it and loaded Benjamin into the car.

I took him to the town's tiny hospital and dumped him unceremoniously at the feet of the ward nurse, Debi.  When she asked what to do I said, "Whatever you do for people who aren't my patient."  Then I went to bring in the kids from the car.

The beneficiary of his wife's compassionate medical expertise.
Debi, having considerably more medical experience than me and also her wits about her, quickly determined that Benjamin should go to a larger hospital.  Like one with a CT scanner.  She also requested a urine sample, which when produced looked like cherry Kool-aid.  This jogged Benjamin's memory enough to mention that time about nine years ago when he had a kidney stone.  Right.

Debi called an ambulance. And I took the kids home and put them to bed.  I tried to get some rest myself, but I couldn't fall asleep.  So I got up and cleaned the vomit out of the baby tub.  And then I got a bit carried away and cleaned the rest of the bathroom and folded two loads of laundry and did a bunch of dishes.

Benjamin made contact around 2am to say that he was feeling much better and he was being discharged without having taken a trip through the hospital's famous CT scanner but with a fistful of pain medication.  I woke the children and put them in the car.  I drove through the dark to the hospital, I retrieved my husband from the hospital entrance, and I took him to that fine 24-hour drive-through dining establishment, McDonalds.  Bear got pancakes because, "they serve breakfast all day, now,  Mom."

***

One of the reasons Benjamin wanted to come to New Zealand was to establish some independence for our little family.  At home in Maryland, we enjoyed the support of a wide network of family and friends.  Finding middle of the night emergency childcare so that I could go pick up my kidney-stone riddled husband from the emergency room would have been no problem.  In fact we often partook of free childcare for totally frivolous things like "date night."  To Benjamin this somehow represented unacceptable dependency.  I have always maintained that I have absolutely no problem taking the grandparents up on their desire to spend quality time with their grandchildren.  But I must admit, driving through the dark with the kids in the car, I did have a small sense of pride, like, this is tough but we can do it.






25 August 2016

Long weekend, long post (Okere Falls, Rotorua, Taupo, Napier)

Okere Falls

Last weekend we ended our break on travel and had a bit of an adventure. Benjamin has become quite the travel agent and put together this three day tour of the central North Island.

We got off to a bit of a slow start owing to a complete lack of sleep that has been occurring in our household on a roughly every-other-night basis.  This has nothing to do with my call schedule and has everything to do with our adorable offspring.  Mostly the fact that Pax refuses to take a bottle during the day and instead waits until night to want to nurse constantly.

So we were supposed to get up and get going on Friday morning but it took us until about noon to make it past Whakatane, where we somehow had errands that involved going to the Warehouse (New Zealand version of Target) three separate times.  Benjamin and I attempted to divide and conquer but the SIM card on my phone had just run out and so the situation ended with Benjamin waiting for me at the back door of a cafe while I waited for him at the front door, holding Bear's wrist firmly in one hand to enforce a time-out while simultaneously nursing Pax and muttering obscenities under my breath.

We finally got on the road to our first destination - Okere Falls.   We parked in the deserted parking lot and took a short but steep hike to the falls.  Bear really enjoyed the part where we got to go into a "cave."  I continue to be impressed by the range of plant life - it looks like Washington state meets Costa Rica.

Benjamin surveys the falls


Check out the flora


Our new hobby: looking at waterfalls and estimating if they are navigable by kayak

Winne the Pooh benefits from Bear's attachment parenting




Like five different kinds of moss

After our hike we loaded back into the car and drove to the Whakarewarewa forest to an attraction called the Redwood Treewalk.  Unfortunately no babies are allowed on this adventure, so Benjamin stayed down below with Pax while Bear and I explored the treewalk.  

It was amazing.  The closest thing to being an Ewok that I have ever acheived, and therefore the closest I have come to fulfilling a lifelong dream.  Which is to be an Ewok, in case that wasn't clear.  Bear also really liked it, though he had a lot of trouble wrapping his head around the "no running or jumping" rules. 

Hello down there!


Brave explorer

My baby ewok

Treewalk selfie!

Forest of ferns

After our Ewok experience, we got back in the car and continued on to the Rotorua Museum, which is housed in the old bath house building.  Rotorua is a town build entirely in the caldera of a volcano and has many geothermal features.  In that way it is similar to Yellowstone - including the sulfurous odor.  Back in the day, this bath house featured water heated by underground magma, and it was thought to have special healing properties.  Bear is currently obsessed with volcanoes, so it's neat to be able to say, "we're actually on a volcano right now."

The museum itself was quite enjoyable with a good display of the area's Maori history.  Photos of this part of the museum are not permitted - so you will just have to come visit and see for yourself.  We were allowed to take photos from the rooftop viewing area, where we could mostly see a storm rolling in, as well as the steam rising off the volcanically heated lake in the distance.



Check out the steam coming off the lake!




We got back in the car and drove for Taupo.

Our accomodation in Taupo was unexpectedly delightful (Benjamin hotwired the room so we were not exactly sure what we were getting.)  It turned out the room was actually a suite with a door between us and the kids - winning!  It also featured not only the electric kettle that I'm pretty sure is considered a human right in New Zealand, but a whole kitchenette.  And off the bedroom there was a semi-outdoor spa room with a private hot tub.

We put the kids to bed and had some adult beverages in the hot tub.  I began to get that relaxed "I'm on vacation" feeling.  But when my body relaxes that much I pretty much instantly fall asleep, which is what I did.

On Saturday, we got up and got moving - slowly as usual.  Though I fell asleep for the night in bed with my husband, I woke up on a twin mattress on the floor between my two children, everything sodden with spit-up.  It was raining and I felt like I was moving in slow motion.  We stuck the kids in the car while we packed up and Bear asked when we were going to eat breakfast 6,427 times.  I was bummed about the rain, because the hotel also had a trampoline out back.  A trampoline!

After we accomplished breakfast, we loaded back into the car and headed to Napier, famous art deco city. The region between Taupo and Napier has recently gotten some snow which actually closed the road for several days.  It just reopened about three days before our trip.  There have also been widespread power outages, and the power company estimates that it may take a month to get power restored to some areas.  And I thought BGE was bad.

Verdant hills, snow-capped peaks!

Snow-capped highway
This drive was a bit curvy and we did get to use our newly assembled car-sickness kit.  I am glad to report it worked as designed.

Napier is home of the National Aquarium of New Zealand.  As aquariums go, this one was a nice accomplishable size for younger kids.  My favorite attractions were definitely the kiwi birds and the korora (the word's smallest species of penguin).  I had never seen an actual kiwi bird before - they are much bigger than I thought.  I was picturing something the size of a fist, but they are more like the size of a volleyball.  And completely adorable.  The little penguins were delightful, and the enclosure allowed you to get so close you could almost touch them.

Bear's favorite exhibit was definitely the "shark tube," where you go in a tube through and under the tank of sharks and reef fish, all while riding on a moving sidewalk.  On about the seventh time through, he actually noticed the aquatic life.




Why does this fish have a random face in his cheek, in addition to his own fish face? I don't know.


Skull of the exotic American Alligator.  There are no alligators or crocodiles in New Zealand.



The shark tube!


Looking back on it, though I certainly enjoyed the aquarium, I think this is when things started to go off the rails.  When Bear was on his 17th run through the shark tube, Benjamin declared he was 'tired,' and sat down on a bench.

I will admit, there is something about hearing Benjamin say he's tired...it causes an involuntary twitch in my eye.  I think about how I spent the night letting a teething lamprey nosh on my nipple, fetching drinks of water that were "too wet," readjusting blankets and pillows so they were juuuust right, and mopping up spit up with my own t-shirt.  And I think about how the soundtrack to this nightly ritual is the gentle snores of my beloved spouse.  And then I think about him saying he is tired.  And I kind of want to burn down the National Aquarium of New Zealand but I don't because I don't want to create an international incident and besides it's not the penguins' fault that my husband is a--

It's probably best I don't finish that thought.  Anyway, you will be happy to know I have not burned down an aquarium.  Instead I left Benjamin to rest and took the kids to double back to the kiwis and penguins again to try to kill 40 more minutes until the penguin feeding.  But by then Bear was hungry.

"I don't want to see the stupid penguins get fed," he said.

"Fine."

Back out into the rain, into the car, in search of food.  I was not hungry, but somehow I was in charge of finding food.  I peered at my phone while Benjamin drove through the rain.  Various streets were closed.  There were no parking spaces.  Communal blood sugar in the car was running low.  Finally we found ourselves in a bright bakery/cafe.  Bear and I had smoothies.  Benjamin had a curry pie.  The lamprey had more nipple.

Then we headed to our next hotel which was perfectly serviceable but with no surprise suites.  We attempted to get the kids to nap, with an only 50% success rate.  Bear was coughing and coughing and didn't want to take his inhaler.  Benjamin was grumpy and acted like Bear was skipping nap on purpose, which made me angry.  Then Bear coughed so hard he threw up all over his bed.  In medical parlance this is known as 'post-tussive emesis,' but in parenting it's still just called 'oh fuck, the kid is puking.'

I swooped him up and carried him into the bathroom to clean him up and get him to breathe some steam from the shower.  As I stepped into the bathroom, another coughing fit let loose an amazing cascade of puke - purple smoothie type puke - that flowed down my back and splashed onto the tile floor.

The next hour was spent bathing, cleaning, changing linens, administering medication, etc.  Finally, we were all loaded into the car on our way to dinner.  There was a strange glug-glug sound. Benjamin turned around and discovered that Bear was doing one of his "experiments" - in this case, dumping the entire contents of a water bottle onto the floor of the car.  Benjamin yelled.  Bear cried.  Pax was already crying.  And I lost my shit.

In retrospect this is probably one of the more reasonable reasons to raise your voice at a four year old.  But I had been gritting my teeth at small annoyances all day and I had reached the end of my rope.  I jumped out of the car and then methodically undid all of the carseat straps on both children.  "Take a break," I snapped at Benjamin, dragging the kids back into the hotel room.  But he wouldn't take a break.  He followed me back into the hotel room.

"Fine," I said, struck with sudden inspiration.  I set the baby down in the crib.  "Give me the car keys."  He handed them over, so naive, so trusting.

I brushed past him and out to the car.  I threw open the driver's side door and climbed in.  I couldn't stop a manic cackle from escaping my lips, "I gave you a chance, motherfucker!" I shouted at my husband.  My only regret is that I did not have my camera ready to capture the look of surprise and then respect that spread across his face as I pulled past him and out of the parking lot.

I just went to the parking lot of the hardware store.  I took deep breaths.  I wondered why I couldn't just chill out and be appreciative of the trip Benjamin put together.  I tried to picture what life would look like if we got divorced. I noticed that I still had a bit of smoothie puke in my hair.  I played two rounds of candy crush.  And then I was ready to go back.

We had a nice dinner.  Pax loves pan-seared tuna.  Bear hates macaroni and cheese if there is garnish anywhere near it.  Benjamin apparently still wants to spend time with me.

***

Sunday was much, much better.  We all got some sleep, somehow.  I used my google powers to find a really nice breakfast place with a seriously delicious buffet (oh, this is why finding places to eat is my job).  Bear was stoked because they had some juice drink with Paw Patrol characters on it.  Pax was stoked because there was bacon.

It was a bright sunny day and there was a awesome playground.  Bear made friends with a little girl and Benjamin and I chatted with her dad.  When we were packing I had stuck his scooter in the back of the car, and this was lucky because the playground featured a little bike and scooter track complete with a working stoplight.  Bear was over the moon about this.  Which is understandable - our town doesn't even have a stoplight.
Learning to drive on the left.

Scooty scoot!

Winning playground also had a baby paddock. 


My guy

After the playground we headed back to Taupo, where we visited an establishment called Taupo Bungy.  Benjamin has been bungy jumping before (also in New Zealand) and planned to repeat the experience.  I have long maintained that I have no interest in it.  I don't even like going upside down on roller coasters.  I sometimes get vertigo if I roll over too quickly in bed.  So, no thank you.  But somehow by the time we got to the bungy place, my flat refusal became, "I'll watch you and then we'll see."

So Benjamin jumped off a thing.  No hesitation at all.

I watched from a viewing area off down the bluff.  I could pick out his red shirt and his dark hair and then off the platform he went.  He said he was planning on making noise this time, but I guess he forgot - he was silent.
The bungy platform




Meanwhile, Bear goofed around and stole the hearts of about fifty teenage girls.

There he goes!


We met up on the trail back up to the office and huffed our way to the top, pushing both kids in the stroller over the semi-strollerable trail.

Then he asked me if I was going to do it.  I still wasn't sure.  Maybe the swing thing they do instead of the bungy? I went into the office to sign up.  But a busload of tourists had just signed up, and the next space was not for over an hour.  I took it as a sign.  "Never mind," I told the woman behind the counter.

We went out to lunch.  This restaurant had a kid area - with a fence around it.  Fucking genius.  Why isn't this standard at all eating establishments? Yes I would like to keep my offspring contained in a pen while I eat with no one touching me. It was glorious.


"Mom, take my picture!"

"Mom, now take my picture while I do my hands like this!"

"Take my picture, I'm Kylo Ren!"

Over lunch, Benjamin described his bungy jumping experience, which overall seemed ... not as good as the first time.  He wasn't happy with the way he exited the platform this time - the first time he dove off the platform, and this time he just sort of stepped off.  But he still was trying to convince me to do it.  "I didn't really know if I was going to do it until I did," he said, "I learned something about myself."  And then, "it's an experience."

Well.  We are here to have experiences.  Here, as in New Zealand, but also here, as in Earth.  And, honestly, while learning something about myself was sort of compelling, my more pressing drive was to prove to Benjamin that I would do it.

So I jumped off a thing, too.

There was a moment when I wasn't sure I would.  I was all strapped in and shuffled to the edge and looked over and realized that this is a terrible idea.  But, I reasoned with myself, I had already decided to do it, so I might as well.  And then I jumped.

People are always describing falls as "the ground rushing up to meet you," but I definitely didn't get that feeling.  I was very clear that I was the thing falling.  Overall it was less physically intense than I thought.  The blood rushing to the head feeling was really negligible.  It was frankly kind of pleasant.

I agreed to do what now?

Here I go!

Can confirm: water is wet

"I'm so impressed that you did that," Benjamin said afterwards.  And I smiled, because I still want to impress this man.

We did the thing!