Seventeen Years Ago, Plus or Minus a Day

door-349807_1280February 17, 1998. A Tuesday night. Or did it happen just after midnight, making it February 18? I don’t know. The medical records document every IV started, every vial of blood collected, every consent signed.

But they don’t document when I lost my daughter.

The process began Tuesday night. I know this because at 10 o’clock my daughter’s eyes fluttered open—an encouraging sign from her ICU bed as she awaited transfer to a trauma center for the euphemistic explanation of “a higher level of care.” But when my husband whispered, “Erin, you okay?” into her ear, she shook her head, and closed her eyes.

Is that when I lost her?

What went wrong? I asked the doctor on February 17. Nothing went wrong, he said. She’s too unstable. I didn’t do the lumbar puncture. One of her pupils has blown.

My daughter was careening towards brain death but nothing went wrong? Semantics, I suppose. Because when a 14-year-old girl walks into a hospital with a hacking cough and a nagging headache then leaves ventilated on a gurney in the back of an ambulance on the way to a trauma center, something most decidedly went wrong.

Maybe I lost her sometime during her medically-induced three-month-long coma. Eventually she opened her eyes, but in my mind that doesn’t count. By June she tracked objects, and by September she smiled. But those don’t count either.

Nothing counts, because nothing brings us back to February 16, 1998.

Hollywood, I’ve decided, is to blame, because I believed with all my heart—thanks to their wrapping-problems-up-in-an-hour world—that this could be fixed. That even when the situation crawled from days to months, one glorious morning Erin would sit up, rub her eyes, and ask what happened. We would be thrilled, but not surprised.

Along the way, though, something went wrong, and Erin didn’t follow the script.

In word math, “hospital” plus “loss” equals “death.” In Erin’s case there was not a physical death but a death of plans: plans of signed yearbooks and karaoke, of babysitting money and boyfriends. And that’s where her plans stop—or, rather, that’s where I stop them. Which means her plans never included driver’s ed or prom, children or a mortgage. They simply could not.

Here’s another word math equation: “trauma center” plus “medical experts” equals “cured.” In reality that equation needs one of those little equal-sign-with-the-line-through-it symbols, because there aren’t always cures. Or answers, or prognoses.

Most days I face forward, and see the people Erin helps: the students being taught by a teacher she inspired not to quit after his daughter was murdered by a former pupil—that teacher later nominated for Disney Teacher of the Year. Or the disabled people in Third World countries finally seated in wheelchairs of their own, no longer dragging themselves across dirt roads or relying on family members to carry them piggyback, thanks to Erin’s fundraising efforts for Free Wheelchair Mission.

Other days—days decreasing with the passage of time—I think back to that night seventeen years ago today when the doctor said that nothing went wrong. And I think how mistaken he was.

Because something indeed went very, very wrong.

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I Missed My Calling

Today’s Daily Prompt got me thinking about words. New words, specifically.

When I learned the Oxford Dictionaries issue quarterly updates, I presumed it was because (1.) these newly-minted words are much too important to wait a whole year for, or (2.) they have to justify lexicographers’ paychecks.

After viewing a list of new additions, my money’s on #2.

Here’s why: a couple words added in 2014 were merch and queso. Had I read merch somewhere, I would have first assumed it was “march” misspelled. But when “march” made no sense, a little third-grade trick would have saved the day: using the word in context. Granted, I don’t often speak like the example Oxford gave (“people mobbed the merch stand to buy T-shirts”), but I’m smart enough to figure it out. And queso I would have understood from those obnoxious Ro-Tel commercials. That, and quesadilla.

No, it wasn’t urgency that prompted the updates so it must have been the paychecks.

Since lexicographers seem focused on pop culture—and clearly they’re grasping for new material—I’ve got two nominations for them.

Ports and shants.

The words are interchangeable. They refer to those sagging garments you see on 13-to-23-year-old guys—those sagging garments that look like a combination of pants and shorts. Ports and shants. Makes perfect sense. I realize a snafu is possible with ports, but in context the reader or listener would discern between clothing and a harbor.

Is he wearing pants? Or shorts? With "ports" or "shants," there's no need to decide! Photo: Flickr

Is he wearing pants? Or shorts? With “ports” or “shants,” there’s no need to decide!
Photo: Flickr

According to mymajors.com the average salary of a lexicographer is over $70,000, so I think they should show a bit more ingenuity than trolling the Web or eavesdropping at Starbucks for new material. But if they’re ever in a bind—like if their Internet connection goes down—I give them permission to use ports and shants. No royalty required.

 

4 Words I Wish They’d Stop Saying

Thanks to our DVR, I don’t see many commercials anymore. But occasionally we’re forced to watch live TV (like over the holidays, when regular programming is replaced with a 24-hour loop of It’s a Wonderful Life), which eliminates the possibility of fast forwarding, which in turn greatly increases the likelihood of my hearing at least 2 of the 4 Words I Wish They’d Stop Saying.

Pretend I'm screaming. Photo courtesy of Sothebys.com and me.

Pretend I’m screaming. Photo courtesy of Sothebys.com and me.

Now, my words aren’t as extreme as George Carlin’s 7 Words You Can’t Say on TV. And no, I don’t consider myself the proverbial stick-in-the-mudder shaking her fist at the younger generation—I realize every era has its “daddy-o’s” and “dudes.” But these 4 words have become so diluted by overexposure they’re meaningless. See if you don’t agree.

Amazing (/aˈMAAAAAAAAAzing/): “causing great surprise or wonder.” Apparently a very versatile word, because it’s used to describe everything from cable TV pricing to wedding dresses. Enough already! The word should be saved for the truly amazing, like sawing a woman in half or snagging a great parking spot on the first day of Nordstrom’s anniversary sale.

Awesome (\AWWWWW-səm\): “expressive of awe or inspiring awe; terrific, extraordinary.” OK, fine. I suppose to a fan, Taylor Swift’s new CD could be considered awesome, since Merriam-Webster let me down on this one with the inclusion of the terrific/extraordinary option. Really, though, shouldn’t the word be saved for solar eclipses or finding the $20 you forgot you stuffed in your coat pocket last year? Calling a YouTube video “awesome” (unless it’s the one where Pixel gets his bed back) simply cheapens the word.

Epic (/’e-pik/): “of, relating to, or having the characteristics of an epic; extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size or scope; heroic.” Please, save this word for an event worthy of its magnitude—like a tsunami, maybe, or the amount of patience required to sit through an hour of American Idol.* The sentence, “That salted caramel square at Starbucks was epic!” is overkill. Just say it was good. Tasty, even.

Iconic (\ī-ˈkä-nik\): “of, relating to, or having the characteristics of an icon; widely recognized and well-established; widely known and acknowledged especially for distinctive excellence.” Quite similar to epic in the overkill category. I would say Elvis Presley (for the record, I’m not a fan) is iconic in music history; however, I find it hard to believe a truck has an iconic payload capacity. Impressive, perhaps. But Elvis-impressive? Doubtful.

*Disclaimer

To all tsunami survivors: I am in no way comparing your ordeal to sitting through an hour of American Idol. Unless it was the season where Nicki Minaj was a judge.