Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Christmas 2009

Christmas Eve, 2009. My Fair Lady, Max, and I have finished loading up the car. Our plan is to drive that day out to Lubbock, TX, from Dallas and be there in a few hours. Under perfect driving conditions, it normally takes me about six hours and change to drive there, and about five on the way back. If you’re unfamiliar with the terrain, here’s a quickie synopsis:

Lubbock essentially sits on a plateau south of the Texas Panhandle. Once you start heading in that direction, you’re going uphill. The two primary routes to take are I-20 (way the hell south of our house) out into West Texas, then turn north on State Route 84 (I think). This takes you straight into town. The catch along this part is Ranger Hill, which has a steep (around 35%) grade that makes climbing it virtually impossible in bad weather. The other route, the one we opted for, was to take State Highway 380 west then join onto State Highway 114 which, more or less, winds through every small town in that part of the state before depositing you on the furthest end of Lubbock. The benefit is you’re gradually going uphill the whole way so you don’t really notice.

For those of you who may have missed the weather report, a freaking blizzard of unimaginable size and fury happened to be blowing through Lubbock at that point and was headed east. So take a wild guess what happened?

All those of you who said, “Mitch forgot to look at the map on,” go ahead and award yourselves a cookie.

My Fair Lady assured me it was little more than a strong snowstorm and, while we would see snow en route, it shouldn’t be that bad. No worries all around. So we loaded up in the car and took off.

The drive itself wasn’t too bad for a while. Once we were on 380, we cruised right into Bridgeport which is where I figured we’d encounter the first flurries and I was right on the money. As the flurries steadily increased, we began noticing the cars heading east were increasingly covered with more and more and more snow. Being the ignorant yokels we were that day, we figured it wasn’t that big a deal. Heck, My Fair Lady was excited at the prospect of snow.

About an hour later, it started dawning on us that we may have made a mistake. The roads were starting to become treacherous, the snow was thickening, and the cars in front of us began slowing down. I honestly don’t recall the exact moment we realized how hard we were screwed, but I think it was the first of several realizations that I physically could not see the road.

It bears mentioning that I have 20/15 vision, which is remarkable considering several family members wear glasses. I will too, eventually, but the further out that day is the happier I am. We started to slow down to a crawl as the snow grew thicker and thicker. It was sticking to the ground and after another hour of this, it was sticking to the road. Combine that with sleet and you can guess how screwed up the roads had become. We looked at one another and mentally we both regretted leaving the house.

A little while later, I saw a dark shape straddling the middle of the road. We were down to about 20 miles per hour at this point, hazard lights flashing, and silent prayers were being mouthed. As we drew closer, we saw it was a truck that managed to barely steer out of the way before we passed him. Further down the road, we were forced to come to a stop behind a convoy of equally stopped vehicles.

Anyone who has ever driven through white-out conditions in a blizzard knows you have to keep going. It sucks the life right out of you, but the chances of getting through it are better if you keep moving. It proved to be fortuitous that we stopped for a moment, though, because the wipers were freezing up. I leaped out of the car, and immediately was sliced and diced by sleet hurled at me by 60 mph winds. In 20-degree weather. What fun.

I pried the ice off the wipers, then saw some trucks driving past us. I got back in the car, tested the wipers, then followed the new convoy past the old convoy. We inched forward little by little for the better part of four more hours.

You read that right.

In the meantime, it bears mentioning the conditions on the road. We’d long since passed the point where we were driving on a sheet of ice covered by inches of snow. Several cars were stopped on the side of the road, or were in ditches. One more thing to know about west Texas is how much of it is farmland. The majority of west Texas is as flat as a board so we’d drive past acres of open land that was covered in sheets of snow. Throw in high winds and the road, and everything else in front of us, would sometimes just vanish. We’d see far enough in front of us to know we weren’t going to hit anyone, then the wind would blow and POOF! Road, vehicles, everything in front of us was gone. Just… gone.

Eventually we made it to the small town of Seymour and pulled over into a gas station. By this time, we were pale, physically drained, and starving. The Enclave still had half a tank of gas, which was awesome, but we figured it would be best to have a full one. The snow had begun to taper off by this point, so the three of us ran inside and huddled for a little bit. Minute by minute the snow faded, until it stopped altogether.

When we looked east, all we could see were the blackest clouds covering the horizon. Had we actually looked at the online weather map, there is exactly zero chance we would be in that spot. We went ahead and loaded up on snacks and gasoline, then My Fair Lady took the wheel giving me a rest. She pulled out and we took off, slowly but surely.

For a bulk of the drive, we were on ice and snow but at some point, and I honestly couldn’t tell you where we were, the roads cleared up. No ice or snow anywhere on the roads, but plenty on the sides. My Fair Lady floored it and we probably picked up almost two hours worth of time during this stretch. It felt great to be moving again, because by this point we weren’t racing the weather.

We were racing the sun.

The second the sun dips below the horizon in west Texas, the temperature plummets. Being as bone dry as it is, we knew that whatever was on the ground was going to refreeze instantly and that would stretch this nightmare commute even longer. A few towns away from Lubbock, we ran into some serious ice on the roads and were forced to slow down again. Fortunately, My Fair Lady has experience driving in this sort of weather (hilariously ironic when you consider the N00b, i.e. Yours Truly, drove through the blizzard), so the rest of the trip went smoothly. Slow, but smooth.

To his eternal credit, Max was a dream the entire trip considering he was strapped into his car seat for nine hours. As we rounded the last bend and pulled off onto the road leading to the in-laws’ house, he started to lose it. He fussed for about 10 minutes and then we pulled in and were able to get out of that damn car. Seriously, I know of no child who would have been happy the entirety of that trip.

We went in and were greeted warmly. All we wanted to do was sleep because we were beyond exhausted. Everyone ate, we put Max to sleep, we visited for a while, then My Fair Lady and I cratered around 10:30 p.m. All was well.

Until 1:30 a.m. when Max woke up coughing.

We tried to calm him down, but he just kept coughing. We picked him up out of the crib, and brought him to bed with us to try and prop him up. This worked for about 10 minutes. Then he threw up all over us. Then he did it again. Any thought of sleeping was banished instantly. There’s a particular panic button every parent has. It’s behind glass that reads, “Only break in case of emergency.” The second your child starts vomiting, regardless of circumstance, that glass is shattered and the button is pressed.

Helloooooooooooooo adrenaline rush!

My Fair Lady held him while he just sat still with the most forlorn look on his face. I raced into the bathroom, swooped up towels, and ran back to the bed. I wiped him down, stripped the comforter off, and put a towel in front of him just in time for him to hurl all over it. The wiping down continued, and all Max could do was sit there with the most forlorn look on his face as his body expunged everything he had ever eaten in his short life.

Eventually he passed out. We cleaned up as best we could, then both of laid on the bed to keep watch. Bear in mind this is a small freaking bed so with three people on it, “crammed” would be a subtle yet accurate description. Max woke up and threw up again roughly an hour later. He’d cough for a bit, then start hurling, then cough again, then pass out. All we could do was hold him and hope for daybreak. It seriously became one of those times where you literally find yourself praying for the night to be over.

Please God, let the sun come up. Now would be great.

After another hour or so of this, we gave him some water. He promptly threw that up. So I dipped my fingers in the water and let him suck on the moisture. We did this off and on until around 5 a.m. or so when My Fair Lady finally called the overnight nurse’s line to ask what the hell we should do. We’d agreed beforehand that unless we saw blood that we weren’t going to call her in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve. We could, and did, manage just fine.

When My Fair Lady finally spoke to the nurse, it turned out we were one of several people to call her describing the exact same symptoms. Apparently, there was a bug going around that turns you inside out for a few hours, then stops. Fabulous.

Eventually, the sun peaked over the horizon. My Fair Lady staggered out to the family room to brief the in-laws. Max and I laid down on the floor on some pillows and literally blacked out. An hour or so later, My Fair Lady peaked in on us and Max and I were sound asleep on a makeshift pallet. It would be cute if any of us were coherent.

She woke us up and we padded out to the living room for Christmas morning. It was so sad watching little Max. He’d be sucking his thumb, holding onto his blanket, walking a few steps then laying down. Didn’t matter where he was. He’d just lay down on the floor and rest for a moment. The two of us were right there with him. You know you’re completely done when you expect to fall over at any given moment and hope you at least hit the floor.

We opened presents and had a generally pleasant morning. My father-in-law was gracious enough to run to the store that morning and pick up some Pedialite, which is essentially Baby Gatorade. The nurse said if he drinks some of it and keeps it down then he’ll be fine. So we gave him a little bit at a time, and he of course screamed when we took it away from him. Considering how thirsty he was, I couldn’t blame him. Were I in his shoes, I’d have stabbed anyone in the face who dared try to take my drink away from me.

We kept watch over Max throughout the day and to his credit, he was very subdued. He obviously felt like hell, but he never cried about it beyond when we’d take his drink away. We obviously didn’t want him throwing it back up so the morning became an exercise in gradually reintroducing liquid to his system. It was difficult but necessary and he managed to pull through it. At some point, I may have taken a nap as well. I honestly don’t remember much from the day other than it eventually was over. I was able to feed Max a bottle of formula and put him down. We thought he should be able to take that since he hadn’t thrown up since that morning.

Around 1:30 a.m. Max threw up again in his crib. Whoopee!!!!

That damn button was pushed again. I immediately picked him up and took him into the bathroom. Plopped him down in the tub, turned on the heating lamp, and stripped him out of his pajamas. He looked up at me and gave me a ghost of a smile. It was both sweet and heartbreaking because all I wanted to do was comfort him and make this bug stop its rampage. I smiled back at him, told him everything would be okay, then got to work.

I wiped him down and wrapped a towel around him to help keep him warm. I looked around for his diaper supplies, then realized they were in the family room. On the other side of the house. I swooped him up in my arms and he was swallowed by the towel. A little baby face poked out of this massive towel and looked at me quizzically. I moved as fast as possible to the family room, and located the supplies. Wishing I had two more arms, and a team of surgeons on standby, I managed to pack his changing supplies into my pockets and on him. He’s such a good helper.

We made it back to the bedroom where I changed his diaper then put him into fresh pajamas. This whole time he just looked at me and occasionally smiled. Even that, I think, was exerting energy he didn’t have but it was one of those lights moments that puncture a never ending darkness. I propped him up in bed with me, and then watched him until he went back to sleep. Which was about five minutes later.

I blacked out at some point. Later, My Fair Lady came to check on us and I snapped awake. I rapidly briefed her on the situation. She then wound up sleeping with us as well, and soon I found myself literally on the edge of the bed in the most cramped position I could imagine. There was literally no way to get remotely comfortable. At all. I’ve been told the bed is a queen, but if that’s so then they must have measured a small-ass Queen. One person can sleep comfortably on it. Two? Not so much. Certainly not two and a half.

Every time Max would cough, I’d snap awake and tilt him forward so he wouldn’t choke. Then he’d go back to sleep and I’d tried to work the cramps out of my back and spleen. Somehow that happened. Not sure how, but the pain was real. So are the flashbacks.
You can imagine how much sleep we got that night.

The next day, we went to get family portraits made, followed by me helping Lone Star clean the ice and snow off the drive way. Because what’s needed after a few days like that was some serious physical labor. I’d never shoveled snow before in my life, and I hope this remains the lone instance. I actually measured a sheet of ice we pried up from under the snow bank, and it was two inches thick. And it was covered by over a foot of snow. All this was just in the driveway. It took us a few hours, but we managed to clear it up and it did feel good to do something productive.

As opposed to doing what I really wanted which was laying on the floor wishing I was back home in my bed sleeping.

The good news was that the extensive snow allowed My Fair Lady to put Max on her old sled, which Lone Star then pulled over the banks. Max didn’t quite know what to make of the snow considering that was his first time to really experience it. Eventually, he’ll dig it but this time he just looked at it, then back at us wondering why we were smiling at him.

Fast forward to Saturday night ‘round 6:30 p.m. That was the moment when My Fair Lady said, “I don’t feel so hot.”

Take a wild guess where this is going.

She heads to the bathroom, and about 30 seconds later we hear her regurgitating with gusto. I was hoping wasn’t next. Those hopes vanished about 10 minutes later when I started feeling a little off. You know when you’re body is literally out of sync and that your immediate future is going to be filled with a lot of pain and bodily fluids? I knew it on the spot, and planned accordingly. By my reckoning, I had another 15 minutes before the freight train hit me so I quickly spoke with the in-laws.

My Fair Lady and I were essentially screwed for the night. Please take care of feeding Max and make sure he eats what little food he can. Ensure that he stays hydrated. Also, if you could please call a plumber that night to take care of the clogged toilet on the guest side of the house, we’d cover half the bill.

Forgot to mention that gem. Three toilets in the house. One in the master, one in the guest area, one by the kitchen. Two of those were guaranteed to be occupied off and on for the next six hours so the sooner all three were functional, regardless of cost, the better. Father-in-law picked up the phone to call the plumber right as my 15 minutes were up. I headed to the master bath where about 30 seconds later the freight train struck.

The best description I’ve come up with in the weeks since the incident is to imagine all of your insides twisted up like when you ring out a wet towel or t-shirt. Then ring out the water on both ends at the same time. I don’t know what this bug was, but it was the most violent, vicious little animal I’ve encountered in years. Everything I’d had for the day was blasted out of me with the force of a fire hose.

I could take it. I knew My Fair Lady could as well. I was amazed that Max was able to as well. I cannot understate the amount of pain this thing inflicted, and to know that he was able to handle it without being a blubbering mess amazed me. Trust me, the desire to have someone step into the bathroom and kill me was very real. After this round of fun, I cleaned up and rejoined the family. My Fair Lady was back at the table and as soon as I sat down, she was up like a shot and back in the bathroom.

This is pretty much how it went for the rest of the evening. By this point, the plumber was there so we had him walking across the roof and in and out of the house as well. Max started crying then because he still felt wrung out, and he could tell that both of his parents were screwed as well and neither of us could feed him or comfort him.

So let’s review:

1) Max is sitting there crying his head off because he wants his parents to comfort him and we can’t.
2) Some unknown plumber is trying to fix a clog.
3) My Fair Lady and I are constantly hurling in the two remaining bathrooms.
4) All of this at the in-laws in Lubbock which was under several feet of snow and ice.
5) Following a day that was spent entirely on the road in a blizzard and icy conditions.
6) Which was followed by a night of Max puking on us as we tried to make sure he lived until the morning guaranteeing that none of us had really slept for close to 72 hours.

Merry Christmas.

It stopped long enough for me to bathe Max and put him down. I may have thrown him into the crib. Doubtful, but that night was sort of a blur. Once he was down, I had to sprint to the bathroom again. I think it all finally stopped around midnight or so, but I can’t say for sure. It was around then. Doesn’t matter. It stopped long enough for me to black out in the room with Max while My Fair Lady cratered in the other guest room.

The following day was fortunately vomit-free. Max’s appetite started to return. He is a trooper if nothing else. I think I had some soup around 3 p.m. and maybe some toast that night. Not entirely sure. I vaguely recall the rest of our trip, and what’s there involves me laying on the couch or the floor babbling incoherently while Max played with his toys.

Originally, I was slated to drive home Sunday morning. Considering the festivities Saturday night, that plan was shot. So I spent another day in Lubbock resting up. Monday morning, I was ready to go. My Fair Lady would follow on Tuesday with Max. All of us pretty much wanted to be home right then, but this was the plan and we were going to make good on it. She gave me the night to sleep in the other guest room while she watched over Max, and I crashed. A bomb or three could have gone off right outside the door and I never would have moved. As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened.

Max apparently started coughing Sunday night and kept waking up, so My Fair Lady wound up quasi-sleeping with him again. He’d toss, turn, cough, and so forth yet never threw up. So she was exhausted again.

I loaded up the car in the morning, then made like a banana and split. Had the roads been 100% I think I would have broken the sound barrier fleeing the city. Fortunately, there was only one small town that still had ice on the ground. Everything else was fine. I made it back in about five hours flat, which was great. I intended to do laundry and straighten up the house when I got back, yet I wound up pretty much zoning out for a few hours. I think it was later that night before the wheels started actually turning in my head again.

Tuesday afternoon I went to Love Field to pick up the family. Seeing My Fair Lady walking up the way was… interesting. In one hand was more stuff than I figured anyone was capable of carrying. With the other she was pushing Max’s stroller. They both smiled at me with weary eyes that spoke volumes. I could tell they were glad to be home, which My Fair Lady confirmed the second we hugged.

Then we went to baggage claim and the waiting game began.

My Fair Lady was the last one off the plane due to having to carry so much stuff single-handedly so in theory her bags should have already been on the carousel. Such thinking would be incorrect. We waited for close to another hour before the bags finally started showing up, during which time Max passed out and it started snowing outside.

Oh, there were flashbacks aplenty.

We finally picked up the bags, and booked it to the car. Threw the bags in the back, tossed Max into his carseat, and gunned it out of the garage. I got us home as fast as possible considering the weather, but the drive was surprisingly smooth. When we walked in, all three of us pretty much collapsed.

Fingers crossed that Christmas 2010 is a merry one.

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