Legos in the Time of Cholera

Today’s post comes from Walter Reed National Naval Medical Center…our home away from home.  I, who am so directionally impaired that I still use my iphone to get to most of Arlington’s grocery stores, can find my way to this hospital with my eyes closed. For the record, I highly discourage eyes-closed driving in general. However, I now have an uncharacteristic homing instinct for the medical facility due to our frequent trips here.

On Monday, our appointment again turned into the seemingly inevitable:  IV fluids and admission to the pediatric floor. Jake and I have developed our own coping mechanisms: his involve Cartoon Network and MarioKart, while mine involve chocolate chip cookies and ebooks with steamy characters named “Daemon” who shoot light out of their fingertips.

While these binge-based strategies help while away the hours and keep us from killing each other, we are both more sullen than usual because WE WERE JUST HERE one week ago when Jake had a bad stomach bug.  On the one hand, I remember the nurses names and where they hide the styrofoam cups, but on the other hand, my back has only just recovered from five grueling nights on the torture device that doubles as a visitor mattress that doubles as a chair.

As recently as two weeks ago, everything was going smoothly. Plans for a fun weekend at the beach were well-formed and progressing easily. On Saturday, we drove to my parent’s beach house, ate a delicious chile dinner, played a rousing game of Apples to Apples and went fishing off the Indian Bay jetty. Then, sometime around midnight, I was awakened by loud retching sounds coming from the kids’ bedroom. I rushed into a minefield of vomit. The bed, floor, other bed, curtain, nightstand, pillows, lamp, wall, and possibly ceiling fan were all spattered with exorcist-grade puke. My poor 10 year old was spewing last night’s chile like a supercharged AK-47 from “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare”.  I ducked for cover and called for back-up. As usual, back-up inexplicably snored through the unholy racket, so I was forced to lob pillows at his head.

It was a bad night for everyone.

The next morning, a couple hours after Danny passed out on the living room couch with his face in a bowl of ice chips, a rumpled Jake appeared and squintily announced his stomach hurt, and proceeded to hurl several times. Then, both boys started with diarrhea. From then on, things went downhill. Plans became loose and unformed. Horrible noises and smells were unleashed upon the world. And we cut short our beach vacay, knowing that a GI bug for Jake often means a hospital visit due to his kidney transplant.

And that’s how Jake and I ended up celebrating Memorial Day in the ER. On the plus side, it was not a popular destination choice that weekend, so it was easy to find a parking place.

A few hours and needle sticks and hours later, labs showed he was severely dehydrated with his creatinine at an all time high of 3.1. Once again we found ourselves making the trip from the ER to the pediatric ward.

Unfortunately, this last hospitalization was a long one, as Jake’s diarrhea just wouldn’t quit. We were in the hospital for 7, long, poop-filled days, one of which was Jake’s 13th birthday. We both discovered that there is only so much binge-watching of Teen Titans and Adventure Time a person can do without starting to hallucinate portals to worlds populated by talking vegetables. Jake kept the crazy at bay through Lego Therapy:  the choosing, purchasing, and building of various Lego sets. By the end of the week, he had several Star Wars spaceships lined up on the windowsill and neither one of us was dreaming in animation anymore. Much.

While Jake was constructing his way to sanity, I found my own in short walks around the military base, lattes from the downstairs coffee shop, and a borrowed laptop from the Red Cross Center.  

For those of you unfamiliar with Walter Reed, it is a huge, gated military compound that seems to be almost self-sustaining. It would definitely be a good place to ride out the zombie apocalypse. The medical facility sprawls over several acres and has 9 labyrinthine buildings with every medical specialization you can imagine (i.e. Apheresis )  Every building, zone, and even many hallways have names that inspire confidence and patriotism: “President Zone.” “America Boulevard.” ” Eagle Building.”  “Warrior Hall.” I often find myself humming “Proud to Be An American” under my breath as I walk by the “Vision Center of Excellence”, or the “Convenience Store of Freedom”. Okay, I made that last one up…but I walk by the VCE every time I check out the movies in the “Redbox of on “Main Street” in “Independence Alley”.

One day I even bravely set out to find the Fitness Center, which suprisingly lacks a superlative prepositional phrase (May I suggest the “Fitness Center of Robustness?”) I soon found out why, as it is comprised of a single room behind the Security Office (which also, disturbingly, lacks a glowing descriptive phrase) next to the boiler room in the basement of an old office building. The gym equipment looks like it is circa 1980 and hasn’t been cleaned since…ever. I imagine that there is a gleaming “Gym of Fabulousness” somewhere that only people who don’t make fun of the base’s patriotic nomenclature get golden keys to. The whole time I was on the treadmill, I gripped my keys between my knuckles the way I learned in self-defense class ( pointy sides out, ladies!) and dialed “91..” on my phone, just in case.

Dangerously close to the pediatric ward (Eagle Building) is the NEX, or Navy Exchange, where you can buy flip-flops, bedspreads, giant bags of pop chips, or pretty much anything you want. Be careful if you visit this shopping mecca, because you just might find yourself walking out with 4 pairs of shoes (20% off, and TAX FREE, hello, BARGAIN!).

Walter Reed is also where combat veterans recently returned from overseas come to heal and rehabilitate. It is common to see large, muscular men missing an appendage or two scootering or meandering around on space-age prosthetic limbs.  Most of these men look like romantic protagonists in  science fiction/fantasy novels, with their titanium extremeties and chiseled jaws. I smile at them and hope they understand that I’m too chicken to say what I want to say, (Thank you for your service and sacrifice to our country! OMG you are so HAWT! Can I touch your titanium? Do you even understand how amazingly miraculous you are? Can I take your picture and pretend I know you?) It’s probably good that I’m chicken, or some wounded warrior’s wife would probably take a gleaming prosthesis and beat me over the head with it.  In all seriousness,  I treasure the privilege of sharing a medical care facility with these rock stars. The both humble and inspire me and I am full of admiration and awe.

And so, today, as we while away yet another day in the hospital (hopefully our last for a while!) I remember to be grateful. I am grateful for this place, with its competent, efficient staff, clean, modern facilities and unapologetic patriotism. I am grateful for the amazing sacrifices of those veterans I see around me and their commitment to our country. I am grateful for my husband, my parents, and my children, for whacked out cartoons with weird metaphysical references and talking inanimate objects, for this laptop, for books about hot aliens who fight zombies, and for Legos. Our life is a roller coaster-one that right now involves way too much poop- but I plan to squeeze out (sorry…hehe) as much joy and fun, and yes, poop jokes, as I can out of it.