Asa Begins Kindergarten

Spot_12_Asa_Monkey_barsIn the spring of 2010, when Asa was five, we made plans to relocate from Vancouver to the town of Duncan on Vancouver Island, where some friends of ours had moved the year before, and where we hoped to find more affordable housing, a quieter, greener life, and maybe a more cohesive community. Asa’s health was stable enough now for us to be away from the big hospital in Vancouver, and to be in the vicinity of Victoria General, about an hour away from us on the Island.

 

Spot_12_Asa_Teddy_5With Asa about to start kindergarten, and with nights getting easier all the time, we switched from night nursing hours to daytime, so a nurse could be present with Asa at school. Asa now only needed suctioning when she was sick, so the role of the nurse at school was mostly to look out for any safety or infection hazards around the tracheostomy, and to handle any (unlikely) occasions when the tube might become dislodged. This left the nurses a lot of free time to help the teacher prepare materials for the class and help out with the other kids.

 

Chris and I wondered how things would go socially for Asa at school, having a noticeable visual difference, and also a voice and manner of speaking that were somewhat different because of the trach tube. So far, most kids, we noticed, were curious at first, but once they heard it was “a little tube to help her breathe” seemed to forget about it. There was the occasional rude comment or stare –including from adults– or kid who was freaked out by it, but most of the time there wasn’t an issue. We also had to see how more germ exposure would go for Asa.

 

Spot_12_Asa_Tree_5As it turned out things went fine. Asa didn’t get sick any more often than her peers, and she began making friends, though she connected better in one on one situations rather than in the group. The kindergarten class was a lively place, a little on the loud and chaotic side, and at recess Asa seemed to prefer the monkey bars to socializing. She mastered the monkey bars that year, and, as the school was a French immersion school (yay Canada!) began learning French.
The big theme for me that year was that for the first time since Asa’s birth I had some regular time alone. Being an introvert with a big need for solitude, I pretty much spent Asa’s first five years clinging to sanity by the skin of my fingernails. Asa had never been without either Chris or I during the first five years after the NICU, except when we had a night nurse. Even when we had our playschool I had to be there. After relocating to the Island, life in a new town meant working deliberately on meeting people and making connections, but the hours when Asa was at school became a refuge. In fact, I was so desperate for time to myself that if I accidentally talked to someone in those hours I considered it a waste of time. Eventually I found work I could do at home–sewing dolls for a local company. Over time, as Asa’s care became less intensive, and with these quiet hours in my week, I thankfully began to not just survive, but live.

 

Spot 12: Five Months in the Neonatal ICU

Spot_12_Cover_90Jenny Jaeckel is author of Spot 12: Five Months in the Neonatal ICU, the graphic novel coming out this October about Asa’s infancy. Visit the Spot 12 website for more information or visit the publisher’s website: www.raincloudpress.com. You can preorder the book directly from the distributor here: IPG (in English or Spanish). 

Or go to your favorite online retailer to preorder. Spot 12 will also be on the shelf in select bookstores, or have it special ordered.

An Infant’s First Year Home From the NICU

Readers of my book Spot 12: Five Months in the Neonatal ICU have told me they want more. They want to hear what happened to Asa next, and how our family continued to grow, learn and survive. So this summer I’m putting together some posts to fill this request. Here is the first installment.

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Asa outside with Parents (from Spot 12)

Things got so much better once we were able to leave the hospital, but it wasn’t easy. We did our best to manage the chaos, discover how to live in the outside world with Asa and all she required, weather the crises that arose, and generally survive the stress that was through the roof on a daily basis. The business of feeding Asa and maintaining an open airway was non-stop, messy and often scary, but we could go on walks, to parks, and eventually friends’ houses and other places. For the first year and a half any kind of group activity was impossible, and even the library was barely doable. The suction machine was loud, the supplies were cumbersome, the looks from strangers were withering, and Asa’s puking was spectacular.

Let’s talk about the puking. The coughing and suctioning because of the trach triggered Asa’s gag reflex, and combined with her compromised esophagus she puked the full contents of her stomach several times a day. I was still pumping and we tube-fed her breast milk exclusively for her first year. We went home from the hospital with an elaborate tube feeding pump that we quickly abandoned in favor of using syringes to put milk in the tube. Since Asa had so much difficulty keeping anything down, we eventually were feeding her very small amounts every half hour. I often felt that it would save a tremendous amount of cleaning and laundry if I just dumped the milk I pumped straight into the washer. Once at a hospital visit Asa puked on my shirt and on my pants in such a way that it appeared that I had puked on myself and also wet my pants. We were in a public area and we had to wait for 20 minutes like that for Chris to pick us up. Another time we stopped into our neighborhood Ethiopian restaurant for takeout and Asa puked gallons all over their floor. Another time Chris took her to the grocery store and she puked gallons just as he was trying to pay and wrangle the groceries with a whole line of people behind him.Puking_Spot_12

Somehow though, Asa absorbed enough calories to grow and thrive. She was happy. She learned things. She had fun. Somehow we managed to keep her afloat and despite the craziness, she had a good life. We found lots of ways to be creative and find solutions to living within the limits. The fall and winter before her first birthday there were many days when the Vancouver rain was so heavy going out was unthinkable. We had a small one bedroom apartment, and I set up Asa for playtime in different spots –like spending 20 minutes in the bathroom with blocks– and with interludes of going out for interludes in the rain, so that she would feel like the day had variety.

One saving grace was that we got Asa an exer-saucer, having her upright was helpful with the puking, and since she couldn’t crawl yet allowed her to play with toys and turn around when she wanted. Another saving grace, of course, was friends. There was one particularly bad day when I had been up since 3:00 in the morning (I still slept very little). Asa’s G-tube came out accidentally and I had to get a neighbor to help me so I could get it back in. We got used to the G-tube coming out eventually, but that day it was a new situation and added a lot to the stress load. In addition, Asa was especially pukey that day. By late morning we had gone through the feed, puke, change clothes cycle about six times, and I had to turn my back on her so she wouldn’t see me crying. Just when I was at the end of my rope my friend Teresa came by with her infant son Griffin. Griffin was younger than Asa but already crawling, and as soon as Teresa took him out of the carrier and put him on the floor, he marched straight over to Asa. He actually crawled, rather than marched, but you have to imagine a march-style crawl. They were instant friends. I felt like having Teresa there saved my life that day. Two friendly faces, and something going on besides me being crushed by my desperate exhaustion, at that moment was everything I needed.

One time, a month or two after leaving the hospital, when Asa was six or seven months old, a friend of mine asked me if I had wanted to “throttle” Asa yet. This was a well intentioned comment, the kind that hopes to normalize the frustrations of parenting an infant, and I understood that, but all the same hearing that felt like a kick in the face. If you’ve seen your baby nearly die from asphyxiation, and watched her struggle to breathe the whole of her life, you just don’t imagine throttling her yourself. As freaked out as I ever got I never once got angry at Asa. It was so clear that none of this was her fault, and so clear that she had been through a lot of hell. Every time I recalled that comment, which unfortunately haunted me for months after–a testament to my state of mind–I felt that kick in the face all over again. However, the larger context was this: we were at home, we were not any longer in the hospital. This point of reference made the worst day a hundred times better than all the days in the NICU. And even more than that, Asa was growing, Asa was healthy, Asa was happy. This is what kept me going.

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