Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Spica Cast, Part II

My three-year-old smells horrible. The boy reeks. He smells so bad, he’s hard to love. We are a little over two weeks into our Spica cast adventure, and it’s getting hard to take. If you do not know what a Spica cast is, please stop reading this and go back and read the “Just a Smidge” October 19th post entitled, “The Spica Cast.” We’ll wait for you.

OK, so now we’re all on the same page.

Turns out, the Spica cast on a preschooler has a few hidden logistical issues. For starters, the only parts of him that are not in the cast are half a leg, some shoulders, arms and a head. That means that almost 80-90% of his skin is under the cast. Anyone who has ever worn a cast on any amount of their skin will attest to that being a major problem from the sweat/itch/stink “trifecta of fun” standpoint.

Now, for the mostly potty-trained preschool crowd, add wet diapers to the mix, and you’ve got yourself one smelly party.

During the day, pee is not an issue (as long as the parent running the urinal bottle has their head in the game). At night, however, the diaper occasionally gets peed in during a deep sleep. If all parties involved are sleeping, that diaper can stay wet and tucked inside that cast for hours.

Mind you, the diaper is doing its job. The people at Huggies® have got super-absorbency down to a science. There are no liquids getting into the cast. But keep that wet diaper tucked inside a hot, sweaty cast for a while, and the vapors tend to migrate up into the cast lining. The result is a three-year-old with such a pungent ammonia smell about him that if you get within three feet of him, your eyes water.

We, as his family, have the ability to get away from him if we need to. He is trapped, however, with his nose six inches from the top of the cast. If he comes through this with any sense of smell left at all, it will be a miracle.

During many of the daytime hours, my youngest son can be found lying on his stomach on top of his beanbag chair, sans diaper, proudly airing out his butt. It’s not dignified, but it is necessary. Besides, he’s three, so he could care less.

There’s one other reason I’m really glad he’s only three and doesn’t have a developed sense of dignity or shame. That would be the Summer's Eve® feminine deodorant spray. My wife has been scouring the internet, reading Spica cast tips from parents who have gone through this, and feminine deodorant spray was one of the suggestions to combat the stink.

I read the directions printed on the back of the flowery pink and white aerosol spray can: “Shake well; remove cap. Hold can 8-12 inches away from your lovely lady parts, and spray away.”

I’m so glad he probably won’t remember this.

After watching my wife spraying the exact opposite parts intended for use with said deodorant, and getting a whiff of the now flowery smelling ammonia cloud, I decided a more manly approach was required. Something with 110 volts. Something with some serious CFM. Something with spinning rotor blades and pressure differentials. We needed air flow, people. We didn’t need to cover up the smell, we needed to blow it away!

I set out into my garage to make a ventilator for the boy. We would be cooling him off and airing him out in no time.

Prototype Number 1 involved a 20” box fan, like the kind you use to ventilate a whole room. I fashioned a giant pyramid-shaped funnel out of cardboard and a half a roll of duct tape that necked the 20” square fan housing down to a 3” hole. My plan was to duct tape a vacuum cleaner hose to the hole, with the crevice tool attachment on the end of the hose. We could then stick the crevice tool down his cast, fire up the fan, and de-stink-ify our patient.

The only problem with the final product was that it was really big. It was lightweight and had a convenient handle, but the whole thing ended up being the size of a small filing cabinet. Just prior to attaching the hose, I happened to be in our bathroom and noticed -- perhaps for the first time in my whole life -- that my wife’s hairdryer had a “cool” button.

I charged downstairs and confronted her. “Your hairdryer has a cool button!”
“Yeah, so what?”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“All hairdryers have a cool button. Why would I have told you that?”
“They do?”
“Yes, moron. How is the house-sized ventilator fan coming?”

Prototype Number 2 involved a $10 hairdryer, and the vacuum attachments I was going to use on Prototype Number 1. It was a lot easier to make, and only took me about 10 minutes to put together. I proudly displayed the new anti-stink solution to the family.

“What happened to the giant, inconvenient fan?”
“I ended up going a different direction. Say hello to the hand-held model.”

With the cool button locked down, I fired up the Conair® Cast Savior 2000 and felt the perfectly cool air rush out of the crevice tool and across my face. Oh, the joy. Oh the ventilating that would soon… wait a minute. The cool air was suddenly not so cool. In fact, it was warm and getting warmer. As it turns out, hairdryers were not meant to force air through three feet of flexible vacuum hose and a skinny nozzle. The motor couldn’t handle the pressure it was being asked to produce, and subsequently began heating up. Forcing hot air down an already warm cast seemed like a pretty bad idea. Starting an electrical fire near an immobile three-year-old didn’t sound like such a great idea either, so I was back to the drawing board.

“What’s wrong, honey? The ‘cool button’ not working out for you?”
“I just need to make some minor adjustments, that’s all.”

After my walk of shame back to the garage, the first adjustment I made was removing the hose from the hairdryer, and throwing the hairdryer in the garbage can. Now all I needed to do was figure out what to attach the hose to. Would my pride let me go back to the box fan? Would my wife ever let me live that down? Probably not, but it would be worth it if we could get rid of the ammonia smell… Suddenly, it hit me. The Aerobed®!

Of course! Why didn’t I think of this before? Our inflatable Aerobed® portable mattress has a big, beefy air blower on it. That thing is so powerful you can lie on the mattress while you’re filling it up. That baby will surely do the trick. I ran upstairs to the hall closet, yanked it off the shelf, brought it back to the garage, and pulled it out of its carrying case. All I have to do is take the motor and blower off the mattress and then… Oh, darn…

Can I really justify this? I could always go back to the box fan... But this would work so well. He really, really stinks. She’ll probably understand…

Ten minutes later I walked back into the house holding Prototype Number 3. The coffee can-sized black blower motor was skillfully attached to the vacuum hose with enough duct tape to adequately cover up the ragged edges of blue mattress vinyl that I had to cut with my razor blade knife to free the molded-on pump housing from the mattress itself. For good measure, I used enough silver tape to cover up the Aerobed® logo on the motor.

As I opened my mouth to tell the world of my triumph, my wife called to me from the kitchen. “Come here, honey. Look what I found online. It’s called the CastCooler®. You just wrap it around the cast, hook up your vacuum cleaner’s hose to it, turn on the vacuum, and it pulls fresh air into the cast and removes all the moisture and stink. I just bought one on Amazon for $39.99.”

“Wow. Sounds great, sweetheart. That should really do the trick.”
“Did you want to show me something?”
“No. I’m just going to head back to the garage.” I need to go get rid of a queen-sized blue tarp with the giant hole in it and order a new Aerobed®.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Spica Cast

“Daddy, I need to pee.”
“OK, buddy, hang on. I’ll be right there.”

My fully potty trained, three-year-old son is lounging on his back in the corner of the living room in a borrowed bean bag chair. He cannot be bothered to get up. I grab the plastic urinal bottle out of the “potty bucket,” and get down on my knees in front of him. I undo the protective outer size-6 diaper, and pull the inner size-4 diaper from its tucked-in position. I slide the plastic urinal between the bean bag and the wooden dowel, get it into position, and tell him to go for it.

Suddenly, everything is going wrong. Pee is spraying everywhere. I frantically try to reposition the bottle, but the pee just keeps going everywhere except where it is supposed to. What is happening? Why is this not working? Why am I an idiot? I left the cap on the urinal bottle. I think we’re going to have to keep this bean bag chair.

Such is life with a groggy dad and three-year-old in a Spica cast.

Son Number Three broke his femur last weekend, and we are in the middle of week two of the Spica cast. In case you are like me and had never heard of a Spica cast before, allow me to explain. SPICA stands for Sadistic Physician’s Inconvenient Children’s Apparatus. At least, I think that’s what it stands for. They didn’t actually tell us.

Since they cannot do orthopedic surgery on small children, apparently, the only way to mend a broken thigh bone in a three-year-old is to put him in the cast equivalent of a lower-body straight jacket. He is armor-plated and immobile from his chest all the way down to his toes on the bad leg, and to mid-thigh on the good leg, with a nifty wooden dowel spreader bar attached at an angle between the two legs to keep them apart and rigid.

Our once highly mobile little boy is now basically luggage. He stays where we put him until it’s time to pick him up and move him again. Unlike a suitcase, however, his seemingly super-convenient wooden handle is strictly off limits for lifting. Plus, he yells when he gets bored. My Samsonite never does that.

Our orthopedic surgeon told us, about the cast, “If we ever come up with a better way to do this, we will. But as of right now, this is as good as it gets.”

As we were getting the tutorial on how to kinda sorta stuff a diaper up in and around the poop and pee access hatch, and then kinda sorta keep it in place with a bigger diaper around the outside of the cast, and then just sorta try to keep everything as clean as possible for the next 4 to 5 weeks, I thought to myself, “We put a man on the moon, but this is the best we as a country have to offer in the area of preschooler bone mending? I don’t think we’ve really fully applied ourselves, here.”  

I guess I could put my engineering brain to work and try to come up with something more convenient, but it will have to wait. As the urinal bottle incident attests, I am not getting a whole lot of sleep lately. Just when my wife and I thought we were done with the sleepless nights of infant care and feeding, we’re suddenly back to sleeping in shifts. And the sleep we are getting is the non-satisfying light sleep that new parents and soldiers know all too well. Deep sleep never comes when your brain is busy listening for something all night.

We should be back to normal sleep in a few days. His pain level seems to be dropping off steadily, and he’s becoming his old cheery self during the days, albeit a little more hyper at times. We can’t fault him for that, though. When you cage a wild monkey, you’d better expect to hear the bars rattle.

On the first night that we were back from the hospital, I told him I was going to carry him up to his room, to which he replied, “Daddy, I don’t want to wear my cast to bed.”
He has since grasped the concept a little better, and has accepted his new reality a lot better than we thought he would. He even has a pretty good handle on the maintenance issues. His grandma and grandpa are here helping out, and the other night he announced that he had accidentally pooped in his diaper, instead of waiting for the bed pan. His grandma was the only one in the room when he made the announcement, and he looked at her concerned expression and asked, “Grandma, do you know how to do this?” When she hesitated, he said, “Go get Mommy, please.”

We can’t really leave him in the care of anyone not prepared to handle the Spica cast, which is pretty much everyone else, so his social calendar has been put on hold. He is playing hooky from preschool for the next month, and my wife’s daily gym visits have stopped abruptly. The good news on both those counts is that he is no doubt being read to more now than ever before, and his cast weighs as much as he does, so my wife is probably getting a better weightlifting workout at home.

You have to look on the bright side of things in this life. Our precious little baby boy is hurting, but we’ve received more casseroles and cookies in the last week than you can shake a stick at. Some clouds have a delicious, buttery, oven-baked lining.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to today and get your copy of My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, Marc’s exciting new children’s book. Get ready for a wild rhyming adventure!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The "Free" Play Structure

I now have a huge, redwood play structure in my backyard. It takes up one whole side of my back lawn. It has a big elevated deck with a sloping roof, two regular swings, a rope swing, a weird ball and handle swing, a chain ladder, a rope ladder, a regular ladder, and a slide. It even has an extra tire swing, if I could figure out where to mount it. The kids love it. Well, two out of the three love it, anyway.

We just got it this weekend. It was free. At least, my wife says it was free. I look at that a little differently. The price we paid for it was definitely zero dollars, as it was given to us by a friend of a friend whose family had outgrown it. The costs associated with getting this backyard behemoth to our house are another matter.

As my wife raves about our new “free” play structure, I just can’t help adding a few things up in my head:

Let’s see…

There were the three cases of beer that I bought for our friend and the previous owner as a thank-you. That was $49.

There was the 24-foot U-Haul truck that I had to rent to move the play structure from El Dorado Hills to Rocklin. That was $97.

There was gas for the U-Haul truck. That was $33.

There was the beer I bought for my brother-in-law and my friend who came over to help me retrieve, transport, and re-assemble the play structure. That was $32.

And lunch for the crew. One of whom ate three Chipotle burritos. $40.

And a pizza dinner for the crew and their families, since reassembly of the gargantuan play structure took all afternoon. Another $45.

If my math is correct, that already makes our free play structure cost at least $296. But let us not forget the hidden costs. I will inevitably have future work day obligations at my brother-in-law’s house and my friends' houses to properly complete the cycle of home improvement assistance reciprocation. Not only do those future days have gas and travel costs associated with them, but opportunity costs associated with all the things I won’t otherwise get done that day.  Also, I’m confident that my wife will want to get rid of the grass that is currently under the new play structure, and replace it with decorative bark. There’s another future weekend down the drain, and bark is not exactly free.

And as for this past weekend, we also need to take into consideration the gas my wife and I used to get the U-Haul and the meals. The gas my crew used to get to my house and back. The thirteen wood screws and two lag bolts that I had to find in my garage to finish the installation. All these things add up.

Then, there’s also the ER bills. And the cost of the overnight hospital stay. The bill for the team of two orthopedic surgeons and the anesthesiologist in the OR. The missed day of work I had while getting the three-year-old’s femur re-set in a cast. Those things might add up.

Did I forget to mention the broken leg?

Now, Son Number Three has been to the park probably hundreds of times. He has played on countless different sizes of play structures, both at parks, school playgrounds, and other people’s houses. He has never jumped off the top of any of those.

Apparently, however, when the play structure is suddenly located in your very own backyard, that obviously means that you can also fly. At least, to my three-year-old it did. Ten minutes after we finished the installation, that play structure got a whole lot less free when mini Superman learned a hard lesson about gravity versus imaginary super-powers.

I haven’t received any bills from the hospital yet, but after going back through my records on some of our previous ER visits and hospital stays, I’m estimating the “free” play structure is going to end up costing me about $27,000, give or take a few hundred bucks.

Outstanding. Oh, well. At least I have less lawn to mow now.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to today and get your copy of My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, Marc’s exciting new children’s book. Get ready for a wild rhyming adventure!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Great Juice Caper

Son Number Two is five years old and is almost two months into his first year of Kindergarten. (We are hoping it’s his first and only year of Kindergarten, but based on our experience, you never can tell.) He has a best buddy in his class named Luke, and he and Luke are as thick as thieves. Actually, they are thieves.

Now, it is no surprise when little kids get into mischief. What is surprising is when two five-year-olds get together, hatch a devious and complicated plan involving simultaneous stealth and deception in two separate houses, and execute the plan flawlessly every day for two weeks unbeknownst to their parents, only getting caught by sheer happenstance.

The silent alarm that these two miniature partners in crime unknowingly tripped came in the form of a casual conversation between a mother and a teacher. My wife was volunteering in Number Two’s classroom one morning, and had a few spare minutes to chat with Mrs. Camarda.

“Your son is a real pleasure to have in this class.”
“Thank you.”
“He is such a sweet boy. He and Luke are inseparable. They are so cute at lunch with their juice.”
“Excuse me?”
“I said he is a sweet boy…”
“No, no. About the juice.”
“Oh, you know. When he and Luke buy their juices at lunch. They think that is so fun.”
“He buys juice at lunch!?!”
“Well, not every day. Sometimes they buy chocolate milk.”

Upon further questioning, it turns out that the cafeteria at my son’s elementary school sells juice for a quarter and chocolate milk for fifty cents. Number Two and his buddy had been throwing back delicious lunch-time school beverages every day for at least two weeks. Luke’s mom happened to be volunteering on the same day, so she was immediately brought into the conversation to compare notes. Both boys were being sent to school each day with a lunch box and a bottle of water, and neither one had ever been authorized by a parent to purchase any extracurricular liquids, nor was either one ever given any money to do so.

My wife called me later that morning in hysterics. Hysterical laughing, that is. She explained what she had learned, and amazed, noted that Number Two had somehow apparently been leaving the house with money in his pocket every morning without us knowing. The questions were plentiful. Where was he getting the money? When was he getting it? Was he bringing money for Luke, also, or vice versa? Why is juice only a quarter? Can I, as a dad, get in on that? Etc.

As any good parents would do, we weighed our response options. How should we handle this? Should we sit him down and have a talk with him, or booby trap his piggy bank and scare the living daylights out of him? We debated for a while, but in the end, our hand was forced by the sheer lack of information we had. The junior juice larcenists had us in the dark. We had no idea where the money was coming from, so we were forced to talk with him without setting any elaborate trip wire/air horn devices. Oh, well.

Aside from being a key player in a beverage crime syndicate, Son Number Two is generally a very honest and generous boy. We were sure of a few things: If he was getting the money from a piggy bank, it would be from his own. (His older brother, Son Number One, would have been a whole different story.) Also, it was possible that he was funding the whole operation. He would happily buy his friend juice every day without thinking twice about it, and that would put us in the awkward position of needing to praise his generosity while chastising his deception.

As it turns out, each member of the Capri Sun cartel was paying his own way. Upon intense questioning by two moms who were trying very hard not to laugh, both boys sang like canaries. With an odd mix of relief and disappointment, my wife found out that Luke was the mastermind. It was his idea to steal the car, and our son had decided to come along for the joy ride. Number Two had been sneaking downstairs to his piggy bank early each morning to get his daily quarter and secret it into the pocket of his school clothes before getting dressed. As it turned out, Luke didn’t have access to his piggy bank, so he had been swiping coins from him mom’s kitchen change jar that was meant for vacation spending money. Busted!

They were getting together each day to decide on juice or chocolate milk, so they would know if tomorrow would be a one or two-quarter day. That is seriously long-range planning for five-year-olds, and amazing when you compare it to their lack of ability to remember almost anything else about their daily routine. Number Two can’t remember to brush his teeth even though he has to do it every morning and evening. He can’t remember to wash his hands even though he has to do it before every meal. But when it comes to deception and covert refreshment operations, he can remember to hold daily planning meetings, remember what the next day’s cash requirements are, and remember to pilfer the correct amount each morning before dawn. Go figure.

When all the details of the caper were uncovered, the four parents had a good chuckle, but our reactions to the miniature crime spree were mixed. We all had the same general thought, but the men and women viewed it from slightly different sides, as is so often the case.

Both mothers said, “Oh, great. They’re able to fool us already, and they’re only five years old. High school is going to be a disaster!”

Both dads said, “Holy cow. They can already fool us at five years old. That is so cool. I wonder what kind of stuff they’re going to be able to pull off by the time they’re in high school?”

Women are always looking at things so backward.

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

Have kids? Have grandkids? Need a great gift?
Go to today and get your copy of My Giraffe Makes Me Laugh, Marc’s exciting new children’s book. Get ready for a wild rhyming adventure!