Our New Normal

Our New Normal - Under the Monkey Bars blog

As I type, my patient sleeps. My husband Don now knows what a 10 feels like on a pain scale, because when his ski boot was pulled off his foot with a dislocated knee and broken leg: he was a 10. It’s the first time the monkeys and I have seen true pain on his face. We’ve been through a lot together in our almost 15 years of marriage. But this? I wasn’t ready for this. It’s our new normal for as far as we can see.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me start this story on March 5th when a regular Saturday in Stowe turned into one of the scariest days of our lives.

I skied down Nosedive behind Don on one of the most gorgeous mornings of the season. The sky was blue. The conditions were better than we expected. The snow was groomed beautifully over this season’s dreaded New England ice. We were on our second run of our usual Saturday ski date while the monkeys were conquering Mt Mansfield with their Buster teams. 

The moment he fell still plays in my mind like a video. Don was in the middle of a right turn, almost in a lunge when his already bent left leg slid into a groove in the ice. His knee popped and dislocated before he even fell. Then his femur came down on his tibia like a hammer. It was a total fluke thing. I’ve seen Don take some pretty sick falls; this was not one of them. When his knee gave, he twisted around on his back clutching his left leg. 

I skied down below him and yelled, “Should I call Ski Patrol?” I’ve asked him this question dozens of times. The answer is always no. We always joke about how predictable he is. I wish on that day he could have been more predictable. Instead of no, my sweet husband cried out, “YES!” in a voice I’ve never heard before.

I pulled out my phone to call Ski Patrol, realizing instantly that I didn’t have the number. I looked up in a panic and magically 2 red coats with white crosses appeared gliding down the snowy trail. Ski Patrol expertly tended to Don, initially assessing a fracture based on the fact that his knee was not where it should be. These guys were our angels that day, and I’ll never forget their professionalism, how they took control, and eased my nerves. 

While we waited for a sled to arrive, Bean skied down the trail with her team. I tried to reassure her that Daddy would be okay, but even I wasn’t sure if my words were true. After a much needed hug, I asked her to look out for Sweet Pea. I knew their coaches would take care of the monkeys while I stayed with Don wherever this awful day would take us.

You never know how you’ll handle a crisis until you are in the situation. Apparently I’m pretty good under pressure — especially with friends by my side. 

All of the decisions that go along with a trauma injury have been the hardest part. Does the surgery need to be done asap? Do we trust these doctors? Should we go back to Newburyport or stay in Stowe? Should we keep the monkeys with us or get them back to school?

Ultimately, we decided to put our trust in the local doctors here in Vermont, and they didn’t disappoint. The ambulance took Don to Copley Hospital in Morrisville where an orthopedist performed his first surgery, installing an external fixator to set the break and reduce the swelling for his next surgery. Catastrophic was the word the surgeon used to describe Don’s injury. Not a good sign.

That contraption of metal pins sticking out of his leg, known as an “x-fix” in medical lingo, stayed on for 10 excruciating days. I lived in fear of bumping it and causing him more pain all day every day (I ended up only stepping on his foot once…not bad for my debut as a nurse).

We chose to have Don’s second surgery at UVM Medical Center with a rock star orthopedist who repairs this type of injury at least once a month. That 4 hour surgery on March 14th was successful in repairing his tibial plateau, ACL, and meniscus. Between surgeries, Don suffered through complications that brought us to the UVM ER. His pain has been off the charts, with bad days around 8 or 9. Every day has been a challenge. 

The monkeys were with us until this past Sunday when their grandparents graciously brought them back to Newburyport for school (only to be met by a snow day!). While friends and family thought we should get the girls back to school and their routine right away, I’m so glad we kept our family together. We decided that their routine is with us. Missing two weeks of school isn’t nearly as important as our family. We needed them as much as they needed us, and we’re all stronger because of what we’ve been through together.

Our new community in Stowe overflowed with support for our family. We truly couldn’t have managed without them. Family and friends both near and far were there for us in every way imaginable. Help came by way of packages to keep the monkeys busy, grocery shopping, babysitting, and rides for the monkeys. I’m forever grateful to the friends that cheered us on with texts and messages. Funny stories from home and pictures from friends were the best distraction. 

Here’s what Don went through so far by the numbers: 1 ambulance ride, 2 ER visits, 2 surgeries at 2 different hospitals, 6 hours in the OR, 3 X-rays, 1 MRI, 2 CT scans, 1 ultrasound, 4 pins, 8 screws, 2 plates, 2 roommates, 8 nights in the hospital, 2 crutches, and we’re not counting pain killers because I lost track long ago. I think we’ve met our deductible. 

In the wise words of a nurse on our first night at the hospital, “You never know where you’re going to end up when you wake up each morning.” These past few weeks were definitely not how we planned to spend the last days of winter. But we’re okay and it could have been much worse. Don’s pain lessens a bit each day and we’ve accepted our new normal. He’ll be in the immobilizer for 12 weeks with a possible 3rd surgery in a few months. Until then, I’ll be healing him in the way I know best: with food as medicine.

Thanks for reading and supporting Under the Monkey Bars. Blogging is an important part of my life, but my family will always come first.

Halloween Traditions

Halloween Traditions - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

Our city of Newburyport is magical in October. The air is chilly and crisp. Leaves crunch against the brick sidewalks as you walk through the city streets. Crowds of people with hot beverages in hand pop into shops and restaurants.

Halloween is our favorite family holiday, mostly because of where we live. We trick-or-treated in Newburyport’s South End long before we lived here — even at the very house we live in now. With houses so close together, this city is the perfect place to trick-or-teat for kids of all ages. Little ones don’t have to walk far to fill up a bag of treats, not to mention it’s safe and beautiful.

My monkeys have learned over the years which houses are too scary and which houses give out extra special things. For example on Federal Street, there’s a woman who gives out balloons on Halloween night. As far as the monkeys are concerned, the house with the “Balloon Lady” is a permanent stop on their Halloween route.

What makes that balloon even more special is that you can’t eat it. My monkeys, like many others, have food allergies. They cannot touch, let alone eat, 99% of the candy they collect on Halloween because it could make them very sick or cause anaphylaxis. Bean has Celiac disease and a dairy sensitivity and Sweet Pea has a severe peanut allergy and a gluten intolerance. Between their different food allergies, we’ve never been able to let them eat candy from their Halloween treat bag.

You would think Halloween wouldn’t be much fun for a family with food allergies. I’m not going to sugar coat it; things were tough the first few years. But we’ve created our own Halloween traditions to make it safe and extra special for our little monkeys. I decorate the house almost as much as I do for Christmas. Our family takes a trip up to the White Mountains for some leaf peeping. We carve pumpkins, then bake pumpkin seeds and make muffins. On Halloween night, friends and neighbors come over to share a big pot of chili while the kids trick-or-treat and play in the yard together. It’s a simple celebration that makes these monkeys feel comfortable on a holiday that could be quite scary for them.

I’ve heard that people use the “Switch Witch” to trade Halloween candy for something else. Witches have always been a little too scary for my monkeys. Instead, I just trade them a party bag for their Halloween candy. This year, I’m filling the bag with natural allergy friendly candy, Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty, and some of the non-food items we give out.

Kids collect SO much candy on Halloween. Have you ever thought about giving out something different? We participate in the Teal Pumpkin project, which raises awareness for food allergies by encouraging people to give out non-food treats so that trick-or-treaters with food allergies can fully participate. There are tons of fun alternatives to candy like glow sticks, coins (mostly pennies), small water bottles, witch fingers, pencils, and erasers. Join me in providing a safer, happier Halloween for allergy kids by placing a teal pumpkin in front of your home and giving out non-food treats. There will be plenty of candy handed out on Halloween even if some of us decide to give out something different.  

Get out there and enjoy the magical month of October! What are some of your family traditions this month?