June 28, 2010

When Blood Turns to Poop – Do the Best You Can.

Plus – Saving My Daughter from Her Mistakes

It was our second night in the hospital with Dash, our newborn son.  He was apparently a little too yellow for the nurses to send us all home, but they assured us that a day or two under the special blue lights would cure the jaundice and make for a much happier start to life.  As much as I wanted to follow my hippie friends’ advice to just keep him close to a sunny (yet drafty) window, my wife and I had to make the first “real” decision as parents that we’d ever had to make, to subject him to the stress of blindfolds and bright blue lights when he had barely switched from gills to lungs.

Then came the blood.

Needless to say, our newborn son didn’t much like the blindfold, or the isolation of being in a little clear plastic “isolette” (a nicey-nice hospital-speak version of “plexiglass box”), so my wife and I decided to take shifts holding him in our arms under the blue lights, day and night.  All was going reasonably well, until I noticed something red on Dash’s legs as my wife handed him off to me after one of her late-night shifts.  It was a little smear of red that was running down his legs from the edges of his diaper.  And when his diaper was opened, and pulled aside, there was a LOT of red – more than you ever want to see coming from any part of your son or daughter’s body.

Dash was only two or three days old, but already we had a full-blown emergency, with blood gushing from some yet-to-be-determined place on his lower body.  I did what any parent would do – I freaked out.  And hit the nurse call button.  And said something really sophisticated and technical over the intercom, like “um, our son’s bleeding heavily in here”.  It was enough to motivate the overnight nurse squad in full force.

Funny thing about those blue lights…

So the nurses ran into the room and flipped the overhead lights on.  Rarely, I’m sure, has such a drastic problem as “blood – lots of it” been solved so easily.  Because as soon as the lights came on, what had appeared to be a regular Vesuvius of blood turned out to be a diaper-full of rich, deep brown poop.  It was that tar-like meconium, the first stuff to come out of any baby’s newly active bottom.  Turns out that the blue lights that were curing my son’s jaundice were also making brown things look deep, blood red.  Everyone breathed a sigh of relief (after all, we knew where the poop was coming from), and I got to dive in, all nervous-dad-like, for another chance at learning how to change a diaper.

It doesn’t always go that way.

One afternoon I was playing fetch with my dog Nola at the local park.  While we have leash laws here in Portland, Maine (and I always honor them now by using a long leash when I’m there with her) at the time I was young, irresponsible, and leashless.  I threw the ball for Nola, and watched her chase it, when suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of something running our way.

The Bulldog had to have been more than twice her size – about 110 pounds of pure muscle running in her direction.  At first I thought this dog was chasing the ball too, which would have been bad enough – because when it came to sharing toys, my dog was hopelessly aggressive.  At the same time, however, Nola and I both realized that she was the one being chased.  I know that she realized it because she ran right past the ball, and kept on running.  And Nola is a fast dog.  But this enormous dog quickly gained ground, grabbed her by the neck, and started shaking her back and forth in an attempt to kill.  Not that it “wanted” to kill Nola, per se – but for whatever reason this dog had decided that my dog was lunch.  And I had no idea what to do, so I stood there, watching helplessly.

The other dog’s owner had apparently seen this happen before, because he was at least prepared to do something.  He ran over and essentially kicked his dog off of Nola, apologized, then leashed his dog up and hightailed it out of there.  Meanwhile I was left with my dog, who was clearly emotionally (nevermind literally) shaken, and who had several puncture wounds and a decent amount of blood (real blood this time).  And I was feeling demoralized and guilty, like I had somehow failed my dog in a time of need.

The Beings in Our Care

Whether you have a child, a dog, or a goldfish in your life, one thing is for certain:  In any given moment, you do the best that you can do.  It doesn’t mean that you aren’t capable of better (or worse!) – it’s simply a reminder to cut yourself some slack during those times when things don’t turn out quite the way you wished they would.  It doesn’t represent some mortal flaw within you, and it also doesn’t represent something unworkable in the other being.  In that moment, it’s simply what IS.

There’s one other thing  for certain, which is that time spent beating yourself up, or wishing that things were different, is essentially time wasted.  Hopefully if you feel yourself going down that road, you can remind yourself to take a breath.  And then another breath.  And then treat yourself with some compassion.  Your life, after all, isn’t about “being perfect” – it’s about the process you go through, the process of learning about yourself and how best to serve the people around you.  You know, to share what’s unique about you with the world.

Along with our son, we also have a daughter – Zella.  And whereas our son is a studious observer of things before he plunges in (perhaps not wanting to draw attention to some blood-that-was-really-poop), our daughter just throws herself into the ring of life.  I just have this feeling, deep down, that between the two of them I’ll have plenty of opportunities to remind myself that I’m doing the best I can – even when I don’t quite measure up.  And this moment might be one of those times…Zella!!!!!!

Don't worry - no real dogs were harmed in the taking of this photo!

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