Friday, March 13, 2015

The Shunt

1: to turn off to one side:to switch (as a train) from one track to another; 2: to provide with or divert by means of an electrical shunt 3: to divert (blood) from one part to another by a surgical shunt 4: move (someone or something) to a different and usually less important or noticeable place or position
   My first child, Julie, was born with a birth defect: spina bifida. At less than a week old while in Kentucky, she had her first brain surgery to alleviate pressure on her brain from cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) build up. Without that surgery, she would have experienced excruciating headaches and severe mental retardation.  A new and different neurosurgeon operated on her brain in Texas when she was six months old. Thus began the rounds of medical interventions that have lasted her lifetime. 
     Julie grew and prospered and I learned to divert my attentions toward pursuits outside that of a care giver. I learned to paint, went back to school, began observing nature and even planted a garden while living in Montana. The aurora borealis could be seen at night, a glorious sight with its green and white lights dancing in the evening sky, creating fire in the sky. Long days up north lasted until almost 10 PM, and that extended growing season allowed foods to burgeon from the rich soil. 
     During those summer sunlight hours, I energetically prepared soil, planted seeds, and then directed my physical efforts in hoeing between the rows of vegetables, cucumbers and tomatoes, fat and juicy. Irrigation water from the Yellowstone River was shunted off through where it originated in Laural, Montana, and was directed to our valley via the Billings Bench Canal. That river water was then siphoned down to my garden through plastic tunnels where it was further channeled toward to the ditches between raised rows of vegetable impregnated soil where our seedlings were planted. A generous harvest resulted.
     The numerous jars of cucumbers I pickled that summer lasted for two years, and were foisted off on family as Christmas gifts. The older daughter, Julie, at six, wore a wig for a few months because her head was shaved for another brain surgery that Christmas. She and I spent Christmas in the Billings hospital that year while her body became accustomed to a new plastic disk implanted in her skull to siphon off CSF from around her brain. I felt like tearing my hair out from worry over her.
     In Denver, seven years after that first Montana pickle and tomato yield, I planted another garden. These vegetables were planted without the zeal I had for that first garden farther north, as I had time then to garden only on weekends. My time and efforts went toward my career and growing family, not toward that second garden. I turned off those initial physical efforts that were effectively used to grow produce in a prior summer. I did not devote as much care toward the second garden; my efforts were diverted into other emotional and mental avenues, so produce from this soil was sparse. But the cucumbers thrived and I again made pickles. That year I used larger quart Mason jars for preservation and made bread and butter pickles. Hot, sweet syrup water was poured over the cucumbers packed tightly into jars, using a big red plastic funnel to shunt the boiling syrup over those thick, round cucumber disks. They reminded me of Julie's shunt, being about the same size both in diameter and thickness. 
     The cold winter following after that second gardening effort, Denver recorded the largest snowfall in twenty years. My mother came up from Texas for Christmas, and stayed through January. It was a good thing she had time off from work, because she cared for Julie as she recuperated from another emergency brain surgery. 
     I saved out a few jars of pickles and gave them to Julie's grandmother that Christmas, and lots of scarves for Julie. Julie did not like her shaved head that winter, complaining of being cold in her upstairs bedroom. She learned from her grandmother how to wrap scarves around her forehead for warmth, redirecting body heat to her head where the wool layers of yarn retained warmth.  Julie's grandmother had enough pickles to take some back home with her in mid January.
     A few winters later, while still in Denver, home health nurses changed out intravenous bags of antibiotics after a systemic shunt infection almost took Julie's life. These nurses briefly visited our home three times every 24 hours for several months. Each nurse had a key to our front door for access while I was at work, and to come in at midnight without awakening the household while they undertook the IV changes. The home health personnel were like caring mice, quietly coming in and out, and I hardly ever even saw one of them. Like Julie's shunt, the nurses did their job efficiently, diverting attention away from the enormity of her illness. 
     Now Julie is in her 40's and that shunt, or its 100th iteration, is keeping Julie free from CSF building up around her brain. Those AV shunts have been a part of Julie's world all her life. It is her sword of Damocles, and soon again it will kink up or become infected. And each time her headaches last more than a few hours, the shunt lurking in her skull becomes the first target of worry.
     I plan on planting cucumbers this spring and I will recall my diversionary tactic of replacing shunt concerns with the pickling of cucumbers. I expect a big crop.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing lady. I too love gardens and big ones up north, but here in So. FL, it is almost impossible. I miss that and I miss the animals (dog and birds). I'm in a condo which is much too limiting. I made some bad decisions and am unable financially to move. There is always hope and prayers. Blessings on you and darling daughter. Janet (PPF) thanks for the visit.