I found this short article from Scientific American to be right on the money. This is the sort of education museums and other non-profits do best. click on the link to read.
Museums and non-profit organizations need to partner with traditional public education school districts to take advantage of the strategies each mode of education does best.
Sorry I did not post an update last week, but things were incredibly busy. All incredibly good news though. My recovery is proceeding about 2 weeks ahead of the schedule the doctors told me about prior to the surgery. After the post-operation follow-up visits with both my cardiologist, and surgeon, I have been allowed to start driving again, and have permission to start back to work on a limited basis, with some lifting restrictions.
I also am going to start cardiac rehab this week. This means going down to the facility next to St. Joseph's hospital and doing a supervised work-out for about an hour, three days a week. Turns out this location is just down the road from the museum, so if I work in the morning, I can simply hop on over to the rehab facility for an afternoon session.
At this time, I am sleeping about 6 hours straight, uninterrupted through the night and have virtually no pain. My chest is somewhat irritated around the incision, and my ribs are still a bit sore, but nothing like two weeks ago. I am able to not only do the treadmill at the fitness center, but the stationary bike and rowing machine. Some limited wrok with kettle bells is also okay.
My only issue now was the afib continued. Now the doctors assure me this is perfectly normal for almost all cardiac surgery patients.To try and reset my heart's electrical system, I had to go in for a procedure called electrocardioversion. This means the doctor put me under anesthesia for about a minute while he zapped me with some paddles. This works most of the time to reboot the heart and get it back in normal rhythm. Fingers crossed for it to be successful. At least I left the hospital with everything working normally.
Since my recovery has gone so well, there is not, at least at this time, much more to report. It is simply a matter of allowing time to do its healing magic. I should be absolutely back to full strength and completely healed, sternum knit back fully, at about 3 months, so mid-March. Therefore, I think this will be the last of my blog posts on the recovery process. I hope it proves helpful for someone out there. Thanks for listening.
First of all... Happy New Year 2019 everyone! I hope all of you have a wonderful and exciting, in a good way, new year. I know I am certainly looking forward to some more pleasant experiences ahead.
Physically, the toughest part is sleeping at night. my back still gets pretty sore about 3:30 every morning. My ribs still need time to heal up and stitch themselves back together so every movement is painful. Not too bad, but enough to keep waking me up. The good thing now though is I can sort of sleep on my side without too much discomfort. This has helped relieve some of the pain in my lower back from being so flat and still all night. Heating pads seem to help. I also use a tennis ball between my shoulders and a wall to rub out some of the stiffness. I really need to get back to my chiropractor, but that will have to wait a bit more.
Walking is getting much easier, when I can get out. Diane and I went for a two hour walk one nice day, then another day we went to Planet Fitness for an hour. I used the treadmill and a recumbent bike. I will be able to start cardiac rehab on Jan. 14 so that should be interesting to see what they want me to do. To help keep me occupied, I am also now learning how to tie balloon animals. This will come in handy with an new program we will do at the museum this year. At this time, I can, sort of, tie a dog, giraffe, flower, T-rex, and Stegosaurus. I still need lots of practice, but it is fun to learn. The real trick to it all is keeping my mind occupied so I don't go stir crazy. A person can only watch so many movies. Each day I try to mix things up a bit and do something different just to keep it interesting. Can't wait until I can start to drive again.
This week I get to go see my cardiologist for the first time since the surgery. Next week I have an appointment with the surgeon. Hopefully they will think I am progressing well enough to let me drive a bit sooner, and possibly get back to work a little sooner than expected. We will see how it goes.
First of all... Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you who have been following these recovery posts. Your support and well wishes, and all the wonderful food, are greatly appreciated. My recovery continues to be positive and is progressing very well.
Week 3 is the time when my surgeon warned me that emotions and feelings of depression might begin to set in, becoming their worst next week. However, I seem to be avoiding that particular side-effect of the surgery. Thank goodness for that! Pain levels continue to decrease, although after trying to stop my Tylenol I found that I still need some help with pain control. At least only two doses of Tylenol a day work nicely for me. Sleeping at night is improving somewhat as well. I am getting one session of about 3 hours, and another of about 4 hours. I found that a pillow under my knees along with the wedge helps my back feel so much better. Rolling onto my side is still too painful, but my back is starting to do better. On an encouraging note, I got a full 7 hours sleep last night for the first time. So lets hope that trend continues.
One of the things I think is helping a lot is my going outside for daily walks. I am now up to about a half hour per walk, some days getting in two of them, but that is only if the weather is nice enough. Getting out of the house is an incredible mood booster. I hate being cooped up inside, so getting out for some exercise is a big help. I am still very slow, but getting faster slowly. I even got to go to a movie last week! My son came down and took me to go see Aquaman. To anyone trying to recover from major surgery, getting up and moving is something that has helped me tremendously, so I would recommend that, even if it hurts some, get up on your feet and get moving however you can. It really does help.
I got to spend some time with my granddaughters over Christmas! While I cold not pick them up, or play with them on the floor, we still had a great time together. Their smiles did wonders for my heart. My hope is that the next time we get together I can really get down and play with them. Being restricted to lifting only 5 pounds is a real pain in the keister.
My medications seem to be doing their job pretty well now. The Warfarin, a blood thinner, is testing out at precisely the levels the doctors want to see and is holding steady. I hope I can stop going in for blood draws for this soon. Those are a real pain to schedule around my wife's work schedule. Since I am still on a driving restriction, I am dependent on others to get me places I cannot walk to. This is a bummer, but probably only two more weeks to go at this point. Can't wait for that.
Today, I have to call over to the folks who will be working with me on the Cardiac Rehab process. There are 14 sessions with them, as soon as I am cleared to start that process. I just need to set up the schedule in advance so they can fit me into their schedule. I'm not sure what all that involves, but at least it will be out of the house doing something. Anyway, That is about it for week three. Things are going well. I will be back in touch here next week with how things go during week 4. Thanks for visiting.
Showering is interesting. Using a shower chair and trying to maneuver my long legs in the tiny shower stall is a bit tricky, but I am working out a strategy to alternate some standing with some sitting. The drainage holes have stopped draining, so no more gauze to avoid blood stains on my shirts. Tylenol continues to be the only pain medication I need, so not too bad.
I had a visiting nurse stop by to check over everything a few days ago. This is part of the recovery service with my insurance and the doctors. It actually went well enough that we could cancel a follow-up visit to the surgeon's office. Good news that I didn't have to bum a ride from somebody to go downtown for that.
I am getting about 4 hours of sleep at a time each night now before having to make a bathroom run. My back had started aching from the docs opening up the rib cage, and it made sleeping hard since I am normally a very restless sleeper. The thing that has made the biggest difference is a big foam wedge to elevate my back and head a bit at night. It seems to alleviate some of the pressure from my lower back so I can get some better sleep. I'm not sure how long I will need to use it, but it definitely is working for now.
My walking is also getting stronger. While still very slow and steady, I have noticed the past couple of days that I am able to speed up at least a little. Getting outside is a wonderful break from being cooped up in the house all day. And the weather here in Denver has cooperated beautifully with temperatures in the 50's. Pretty good for mid December.
One more item that has been an incredible help is all the food people are sending us. We have a large variety of dinners in our freezer that will last us quite a while. This has allowed Diane to get back to work already without having to worry about fixing dinner when she gets home after a long day. The leftovers are even light enough for me to pick up out of the freezer and heat up in the microwave without any help. I had no idea there was such a service available online for folks to sign up on and send us food. Thanks to everyone out there who has helped us with this.
So, my second week out from surgery is going well and I am looking forward to continued progress. I know it will be slow, and frustrating to hold back and not over-do too much, but I have a ton of things to keep me occupied. I even want to learn how to make balloon animals for a new show at the museum! It still hurts to work the air pump, but I'll let you know how it goes. Thanks again to everyone who is following my progress on this blog.
Coughing is pretty bad too. I have a lovely little pillow to squeeze over my chest when I cough to help hold everything in place. It still hurts, but is more manageable than early on. One of the weirdest feelings was two days ago when they pulled out the chest tubes that allowed me to drain tons of fluid. It sort of vibrated as they yanked it out. And not even a band aid to close it back up. by day 5 and 6 I began to feel a bit more like myself, and most everything was working close to factory settings. Time to home on day 6.
Nobody came to wake me up and give me pills or take my blood pressure last night! Still only slept 2 or 3 hours at a time, but much more comfortable in my own bed. The tricky part is getting out of bed. I can't simply push myself up. I have to log roll, drop my legs over the side, then slowly raise up until I am sitting. getting dressed, using the bathroom, everything is VERY slow going. I can't stretch out my arms or lift anything more than 5 pounds. I am so grateful to my wife for all of her help and patience as we get through this.
I now look forward to many visits to blood labs and doctors as each week progresses. They set me up with about a bazillion prescriptions to take suring my recovery. Never seen so many pills in my life!Everyone wants to poke, prod, pull and make sure everything is progressing suitably. Not much fun for us as I am not able to drive for 6 weeks, and my wife has to go back to work on week two. Guess I will be dependent of friends and family, possibly Uber, as I try to get to all the new appointments in my near future.
So now, we need to assemble toilet risers and a shower chair, and get me eating and resting. I will continue this blog next week to regail all of you with tales of week two. Thanks for listening.
Last time, I talked a LOT about all the various tests I had to go through so the doctors could figure out exactly what was wrong with my heart, and what would be the best way to fix it all. Needless to say, as each test came and went, I began to feel more and more anxious about how the surgeon would decide to proceed. Was I facing full open heart surgery, or will he be able to do it all with minimal invasive techniques. Only time would tell and it was definitely a trial to keep my anxiety under control. Up to this point I had all the tests to think about and could focus on how cool the science of everything involved was. Now, it was all coming to a head and it was decision time. I had the consultation with my surgeon.
I had done my research and both my surgeon, and the hospital were top of the line. Incredible reviews and top notch references for both. At least I had the comfort of knowing whatever he decided would be from a wealth of experience and skill. What surprised me was how much time he spent with my wife and me. He began by asking me to describe everything that I was experiencing and what led me to begin this journey. Then he went through a very detailed review of all the tests and what they revealed. This was where my heart and optimism sank through the floor. All the tests showed I was a good candidate for minimal invasive surgery, but one. Apparently, the TEE showed my tricuspid valve was also leaking as bad, or worse, than the mitral valve. Now, with two valves on opposite sides of the heart, and the ASD, the surgery simply became too complex for even him to perform minimally. I was in for full open heart surgery.
The shock and disappointment must have shown pretty clearly because he stopped and began to talk about his experience with the procedure and the success rate he and the hospital where well known for. I understood what he was saying, but I kept thinking about my dad on his hospital bed and the pain he was in at the start of his recovery after bypass surgery. This wasn't going to be much different. One good thing was that I have a choice of what sort of valve he will use if he need to replace my mitral. Mechanical ones last forever, but require one to be on medication forever, with a chance of some nasty side effects. Or, I could have a tissue replacement (cow pericardium) which lasts ten to fifteen years, but can be very easily replaced without even stopping the heart, and no long-term medication. This is the route I am choosing if needed. Plus, I think it will be amazing to be part cow!
At any rate, our conversation continued on and the doctor described week by week what I was facing with recovery. That sounded amazing. I am particularly looking forward to the chance of hallucinations in ICU the first couple of days. For those of you who do not know me very well, I typed that with a heavy eye roll and sarcasm dripping from my fingers. Each week apparently has its own unique features and challenges that I will be facing, particularly the first four weeks. It seems that the brain does not like being shut down for five or six hours and takes forever to reboot all the rest of the body systems like hormones, cognitive abilities and even the bowels. Fun huh?
Anyway, as I recover, I hope to be able to continue this blog with a weekly tale of how things are going and what challenge each week brings. My intention is partly to help me deal with all of it, but also, and this is the teacher in me, to help let others out there who may be facing the same thing have a better handle on their own situation. So let the fun and games begin. See y'all after the first week of recovery. Or as soon as I can muster the energy to sit at the computer again.
So yesterday I outlined the issue I am facing with an upcoming heart surgery. Today, I want to give you a look at the many tests needed to diagnosis and determine treatment for my heart. There are a LOT of tests, so this will take a while.
While at my annual physical, after I described the shortness of breath, difficulty climbing stairs, etc., my doctor set me up with a very quick, six-second EKG. This surprised me by actually only lasting six seconds. Apparently they can tell a lot in that time. The nurse came in and hooked up several electrodes on my chest and sides, ran the machine and watched the rhythmic line drawn on the paper strip. Then the doctor came back in ad looked at the pattern of blips on the sheet. Yep, I was skipping beats and adding extra beats so this was concerning to say the least. I mean the heart is supposed to be very steady, so an irregular heartbeat can be a sign of trouble. Not too disconcerting, yet, but worth looking further into. She therefore set me up to see a specialist and get what is called a Holter monitor.
This was only a minor inconvenience and did not cause any difficulties with sleeping or anything at work. Well, I couldn't become the astronaut on Mars at the museum, but that wasn't too bad. I did have to keep a record of any time I noticed difficulty breathing or stress, especially if I was climbing stairs or anything so they could relate the data to my activities. A day or two after I returned the monitor, I got a call telling me that yes, there were some definite problems with irregular beats and I needed to come in for a treadmill stress test.
interesting, but sitting there during the ten-minute scan each time gave me time to think. Not good after only lasting such a short time on the treadmill. I started to imagine all sorts of things that could be wrong. Clogged arteries leading to bypass surgery, damaged valves, any number of heart problems. It was an effort to keep myself under control and let the process carry out to learn the facts. The doctors can't tell me too much, it takes time for an analysis of the images and EKG, so a couple of days later I hear from my own doctor that I need to see a cardiologist. This is getting more and more fun with every turn. Now I am starting to get worried something is really bad. Everyone is talking about a malfunctioning electrical system in my heart. Oh great! Does this mean I need a pacemaker?
A week later I am sitting across from my new cardiologist while he is listening to my heart from every possible angle. He looks over all the previous test results and asks a million questions about how I feel under different situations, any swelling? Do I wake up at night unable to breathe ( I get this one a lot). Then he finally says he thinks he knows what is wrong, and that the irregular electrical system is only a symptom of the real problem, but he needs me to undergo another test to be sure. This one is called a TEE (trans esophageal echo-cardiogram).
It turns out I had something called Mitral valve prolapse. This means the valve separating the two chambers on the left side of my heart was leaking. Blood from the ventricle was back-flowing into the atrium. Not good. And there was an added bonus discovery. Apparently I have ASD (atrial septal defect). This is a hole between the two atria. Now this is not the normal, tiny hole most people have all their lives with no problem. Mine has enlarged and is adding to my difficulties. My cardiologist shows me the video images of both problems and yep, a ton of leaking back and forth. You can read all about Mitral valve prolapse and ASD by clicking on the following link buttons.
So now comes thee moment of truth. I need to have surgery on my heart. This damage will only get worse with time, so it needs to be repaired. He recommends a surgeon and I begin to talk with his office about my options. It seems that they can now do this sort of surgery in what they call a minimally invasive procedure requiring only small incisions and three to four weeks recovery. YES PLEASE! No way do I want anyone sawing through my sternum and cracking open my ribs. That open heart procedure requires at least eight weeks of painful recovery. After a phone conversation, it appeared all my other tests indicated I might be a candidate for minimal invasive. Good News. However, it would require another test. Bummer. This last test is called a heart catheterization procedure. To insure that I have no problems with my cardiac arteries they need to send a catheter up my femoral artery and into my heart, inject iodine, and take more videos of those arteries to make sure they are not clogged in any way. While this sounds terrible, it is actually the one I could watch and be fully awake for. They had to do this in the hospital, but it only required a local anesthetic in my groin area. No pain at all, at least during the procedure, and I got to watch the entire procedure.
This was fascinating to watch. I could see my heart beating and the dye flowing. And yes, the image above is one of the photos the doctor gave me of my very own heart!I told the doctors what a geek I am so they were happy to explain everything as they saw it on a huge monitor right next to me. After a half hour or so, they wheeled me back into a recovery room. They had to make sure the plug in my femoral artery was holding and I was not showing any signs of difficulty. After a short practice walk with the nurse, I got the all clear to go home. I had to take the next day off work, but had a nice rest. Unfortunately, as I was putting on my shoes for work the following morning, I felt a big pop in my groin and a horrendous pain, nearly causing me to pass out. AS soon as the pain began to subside, only a minute or two, I checked the incision site and did not see or feel anything drastic. I called the doctor and he was very reassuring that as long as there was no bleeding or swelling, nope none of that, then I was okay and could go into work if I wanted to. So, since the pain was gone, and no signs of any further problems, I went to work. The next day had a big surprise for me. My entire groin area around the incision sprouted a massive hemotoma (bruise). This was terrifying. I was sure I had done something horrible to myself and messed everything up. I quickly went in to the urgent care facility my insurance covers and was relieved to hear nothing bad had happened. The plug had probably come loose, but was firmly in place again, and all of the bruis just looked bad, but was not a problem. Phew! It took about four weeks to dissolve away, but there were no further complications. All I had to do now was wait for the consultation appointment with my surgeon. That story is for tomorrow. Thank you for sticking with me through this long part of the story. The rest will not take so long. I promise.
Hello everyone. As it turns out, I am facing open heart surgery to fix a number of problems. To help me process this, and to possibly help others going through the same issue, I decided to write down my experiences and thoughts as I go through all of it. So here goes.
Las year, I began to notice that everyday activities I enjoyed, bike riding, hiking, etc, were getting much more difficult than they had ever been before. I passed this off to simply being old and tried to work around it for many months. Unfortunately, the symptoms got worse, to the point where even climbing a single flight of stairs got me all out of breath, heart pounding, vertigo, etc. Yeah, all the fun stuff. I had an annual physical planned before long, so I determined to talk with my doctor about this difficulty. During the physical, the doctor gave me a six-second EKG (electrocardiogram) which showed some definite abnormalities and more tests were scheduled. More about these tomorrow. Without giving away any spoilers, there were at least three problems needing resolution, and some big decisions about how to proceed.
I guess the big thing to me was the shock of needing surgery. I mean, my dad had heart surgery, but he was old. Then I realized he wasn't that much older than me when he had his procedures. It suddenly hit me how much mortality sucks. In my head, I am still about twenty-seven years old. The problem is, the rest of me disagrees. When did this aging thing happen? Now I am a science teacher, and I talk to people at the Denver museum about hearts all the time so I know these things are very fixable, but this is me, not some theoretical person out there. The only thing to do was to go through the various tests prescribed by the doctors, narrow down what, precisely, was wrong, and work with them to find the best course of action. This is why I had medical insurance after all. That early in the process I could delay thinking about the severity of it all, convincing myself not to get too panicky until we knew all the results and the doctors could make a final determination.
So here we go. Tomorrow I will talk about each of the tests involved in discovering exactly what was wrong with me, and what it was like going through each of them. If you would like, please leave any comments, and I will do my best to respond.
Justin Madrid always considered himself an average nerdy freshman in high school, and an outcast because intense migraines prevent him from playing video games or watching television. Even looking at a phone screen hurts. But when the aliens, disguised as local librarians, started trying to kill him, everything changed. And now it is up to Justin and his cool new power to save the earth from invasion.
My new young adult science fiction novel, Aeon Rises, is now available on Amazon.com! To wet your appetite a little, here you can read an excerpt from the book:
“Okay Mom,” he yelled, yanking the blankets over his head. “Okay, I’m up already! Gimme a break! I don’t know why I have to get up before the sun. It only takes a minute to get ready.” Struggling through the fog in his head, Justin rubbed his eyes and shook his head trying to clear it.
“Man, that dream was so real.” The dream, so vivid only minutes ago, faded quickly as he awoke fully. Only a vague memory of his father, long dead now, spoke to him as they stood together among the stars. While most of the conversation was gone now, there was something about it being time. Time for what? That was so fricking weird.
As the dream faded completely, Justin gave in to the inevitable, sat up, and tossed the covers to one side.
Today began as every other day began…unfortunately for Justin. Still having homework with only a week left in the school year, his ever growing and never-ending mountain of chores, his ancient cell phone, and, most important of all, the lack of privacy in his own home were chief among his gripes.
“Don’t give me that tone of yours, young man. Just get yourself up here with a smile on your face and get your breakfast before you miss your bus.”
Mumbling through his hands as he scrubbed his face, Justin argued back. “Maybe if you would drive me to school I wouldn’t have to get up so fricking early just to catch the bus.” He made that mistake once before of saying this sort of thing loud enough for his mother to hear and did not want a repeat of that long lecture again, so he was more careful to not let her actually hear his response. The twice-daily torment on the rolling yellow prison was unbearable. Did she really need to remind me about the bus? As he brushed his teeth, a new strategy came to him and his mood brightened. His mind searched through dozens of ways to open the conversation once again before settling on what he considered the most irrefutable, and logical argument. Putting on his best Mom-pleasing smile and one last check in the mirror, he bounded up the stairs. The meadowlarks sang sweetly in the field behind the house as he entered the kitchen.
“So Mom, I heard they’re going to start charging extra to ride the bus next year…”
“Hurry and finish breakfast so you can fix your lunch, young man. The bus will be here before you know it.” Justin poured a bowl of Apple Jacks and chugged his orange juice, then went to examine the fridge. PB and J on whole grain bread, an apple and an organic juice box. “Don’t forget to take one of those packs of carrots too,” his mom called out as he stuffed everything into a reusable bag.
“And another thing. I’m not going to be your personal chauffer, mister. We are perfectly able to afford any sort of bus fee. It won’t kill you to take the bus. You could even do some homework or extra studying on the ride if you put your mind to it. Your grades aren’t so perfect you couldn’t put more effort into them, you know…” Her soapbox speech lasted for a good three minutes, rambling from one pointless reason to the next. Justin zoned her out—a skill perfected by most teenagers. He only caught the edges of her diatribe and forgot the details.
He sat back at the table and added some milk to his cereal, but did not lift the spoon to eat any of it. Two fingers of his left hand scratched nervously at the table. “I don’t like the bus. They bully me on the bus and nobody does anything about it.”
She moved to empty the dishwasher, but cocked her head, carefully measuring her son’s mood. “Have you reported it to the dean at school?”
Realizing he had made the comment too loudly, Justin shrugged his shoulders, sighed, and decided his best course of action was to finish his complaint before the “I am your mother and you can tell me anything,” speech started up. He gobbled up a mouthful of cereal while he organized his thoughts. “I tried once, but that only made it worse. Nobody would be a witness so all they got was a warning. Everyone except Kevin looks at me like I’m some sort of freak. I try to fit in, but I don’t know anything about the benefits of Xbox versus PlayStation. I can’t text them, or go on Snapchat to talk with them. They all laugh at me in the lunchroom. I don’t fit in with them, so I’m a target. You don’t understand. The school can’t do anything about it so I just try to ignore it. Besides, they’re right. I’m weird.”
Justin’s mom stood up with a handful of plates and turned to face him. Her eyes narrowed as she tilted her head. “What do you mean weird? What makes you say such a thing?”
Justin swallowed another spoonful of his breakfast, sat back, and leaned on one elbow as he faced his mom. “You know… just weird. I don’t like the same things other kids my age like. Those video games they play all the time give me headaches. The glasses you got me help some, but they’re trash. Can’t I get contacts like everyone else? I don’t get what they see in all those dumb You Tube videos. I mean, like really, what’s so hilarious about cats playing the piano after the first eighty-three times you’ve seen it? And I enjoy reading real books, not Audible or Overdrive everyone has. I mean, like real paper books. Real books never give me migraines. Those books just don’t feel right to me. You see? I’m just weird.”
His mother sighed and placed a gentle hand on Justin’s shoulder. “All that means is you have better things to occupy your brain and your time with than all the nonsense those other kids are filling their brains with. You’re not weird, honey, you’re more mature than they are. You’ll see. In a few years they’ll all catch up with you and things won’t seem so bad.”
Justin rolled his eyes at her well-meant remark, knowing she simply did not understand the problem. “So, in the meantime, can you like give me a ride in to school instead of making me ride the bus?” Her look instantly told him the answer had not changed. “Well then, can I get a real phone instead of this piece of crap? At least they won’t be able to mess with me about having a junk phone.” That last statement escaped his lips before he even realized it. He knew it was a mistake, but just couldn’t help himself again. Oh crap!
“Justin Madrid, we’ve been over this before.” His mother’s voices suddenly became a lot less motherly as she continued her efforts to clean up the kitchen. “You said it yourself: going on the internet gives you headaches, and you know how I feel about kids your age being able to text anyone at any time. You don’t need that sort of distraction. You know I don’t even have one of those idiotic smart phones myself. A phone should just be a phone. Now let’s not have any more of this nonsense. I have work to do. Finish your breakfast. If you want, I’ll go in and have a talk with the principal about the bullying.”
“No!” he shouted, spewing cereal from his mouth. “Don’t talk to anybody about anything, Mom.” He turned to face her. His hands gripped the table so hard his knuckles turned white. “You’ll only make things worse. I can deal with it on my own. School is just about over anyway. Maybe next year I won’t feel like such an alien.”
She turned to face him, her eyes wide as if in shock. The muscles in her forearms knotted as her grip on the dish towel tightened. The morning sun coming through the window caught Justin at the perfect angle. For a mere second, his eyes reflected golden the soft light, the way a dog or cat’s eyes reflect a car’s headlights at night.
His mother’s face paled and she dropped the plate she was drying. It shattered loudly all over the floor. She grabbed the counter top to steady herself before kneeling down to recover the shards.
“Mom! Are you okay?” He jumped up to help her pick up the pieces off the floor.
“I’m fine. It just slipped. Must have still been wet, I guess. What was it you said?”
“No, I’m serious.” Her voice trembled slightly despite her effort to control the fear. “What did you say about being an alien?”
Justin sighed, rolled his eyes again, and reached for another piece of broken plate, forcing up a few tears for added effect. “I just said that sometimes I feel like I’m so different from everyone else my age I must be from another planet or something. Don’t go all crazy over it, okay? You have enough to worry about taking care of us on your own and all. It’s just… like a kid thing, Okay? Let’s not turn it into a big deal. Don’t worry about me, I’ll figure it out.”
His mom sat up onto her knees and took Justin’s hands in hers, capturing his attention with her gentleness. “Justin, I know things have been tough for you lately. I’ve tried to be both parents to you, but you’re getting older now and I’m not sure how to handle some of the things you’re going through. I’m sorry your dad can’t be here for you.”
He felt her hands shaking as he saw the worry on her face. “I’m fine, Mom. You’re the best mom ever and I love you. The only way I even know anything at all about him is because of all the stories you tell me. Are you sure you’re okay?”
She tousled his hair and placed one hand on his cheek. “Just go get yourself changed before you miss the bus. I’ll finish up here.”