Pop Quiz, or, Report to my employer on the last three years after a “Sabbatical.”

(Dear reader, I know there is irony in speaking of truth and then redacting parts of this post. However, my commitment to living in the truth does not extend to telling other people’s truths on the internet, and so I have hidden details pertaining to other people where I felt the need to give them the gift of privacy.)

Now, pop quiz time! See how many you can get correctly.

Quiz on Sabbatical Leave

Point value: 1.5% GSI or unspecified merit increase

Instructions: The statements below either do or do not describe Prof. Anne Whitney’s efforts and experiences in the period between her initial application for sabbatical and her return to service.

For each statement, fill the box in the left-hand column with “T” if true and “F” if false.

Prof. Whitney gave away more than 48 cubic feet of clothes.
Both of Prof. Whitney’s children changed schools.
Critical family medical history was disclosed to Prof. Whitney by her parents, including the cause of death of her sister, who died before Prof. Whitney was born and was kept a secret until Prof. Whitney was 15 or 16 years old. This history would have been relevant to several critical medical issues experienced by both Prof. Whitney and her children.
Prof. Whitney had a kidney stone embedded in her ureter, causing urine to flow in reverse.
Two out of the three members of Prof. Whitney’s household were identified as having intellectual disabilities.
Prof. Whitney led professional development for the teaching artists of the nonprofit Ridgelines Language Arts.
Prof. Whitney appeared on television discussing how childhood sexual abuse affected her psychologically from childhood to the present.
Prof. Whitney had a urinary tract stent for two months, causing pain upon any movement including walking.
All of Prof. Whitney’s research sites (schools and professional development sites) closed/canceled.
Prof. Whitney drafted a book proposal focusing on talking with children about childhood sexual abuse.
Prof. Whitney used writing and social media action to make contact with more than ten additional victims/survivors, urging them to report the same coach for crimes occurring from the mid-1970s to the present.
Prof. Whitney had at least five panic attacks. 
Prof. Whitney had two uterine surgeries, the second of which was a total hysterectomy.
All of Prof. Whitney’s doctoral students and at least three of her master’s students completed their degrees.
Prof. Whitney’s mother explained that they had declined psychologist-recommended mental health treatment for her after sexual abuse. They gave as a reason that she had made hurtful and “unhelpful” comments about the family to the doctor. The same explanation was given three years later, when they again withdrew her from treatment immediately following an intake session.
To date, at least 17 victims of Prof. Whitney’s sexual abuser have made reports to law enforcement, alleging crimes over a period of 40 years.
After discovering that her childhood sexual abuser was still active in children’s programs, Prof. Whitney reported him to multiple authorities.
Prof. Whitney enrolled in training to teach Zumba, an exercise dance style.
Prof. Whitney had daily gastrointestinal symptoms.
A geneticist determined that Prof. Whitney and others in her family almost certainly have genetic disorders of connective tissue, bone, vascular system, or hormone function, pending confirmation by whole exome DNA sequencing.
Prof. Whitney was diagnosed with autism.
Prof. Whitney incurred more than $20,000 in out-of-pocket healthcare expenses for her own care alone.
Prof. Whitney had Covid-19.
Prof. Whitney had twelve or more kidney stones.
One of Prof. Whitney’s children was hospitalized for two weeks after an x-ray revealed a bone lesion encompassing almost 50% of the child’s femur.
Prof. Whitney completed a book manuscript on high school writing instruction.
Prof. Whitney was interviewed by investigators including law enforcement, federal authorities, and multiple journalists about her experience of childhood sexual abuse. The interviews required prolonged, repeated engagement with traumatic memories and personal questions about her family relationships, sexual experiences, and mental health from 1983-2022.
Prof. Whitney initiated partnerships between Penn State teacher education students and middle school students.
Prof. Whitney borrowed money from her parents for the first time, even though she is 49 years old and an employed professional.
Two of Prof. Whitney’s colleagues died.
All of Prof. Whitney’s planned sabbatical research funding sources canceled their award cycles.
Prof. Whitney gained 25 pounds in less than 12 months.
Prof. Whitney co-led a group of Anti-Racist English Language Arts Educators in a critical reading group. These teachers teach high school English in two schools that partner with the university.
Prof. Whitney has both physical custody of and full financial responsibility for her two children, making her officially a “single mom.”
Prof. Whitney accumulated a pile of clean yet un-put-away laundry so big that she could not open her closet or walk unobstructed from the bedroom door to the bathroom. It was so anxiety-provoking that she ultimately asked friends and even hired teenagers to fold and stow it. 
Prof. Whitney published two books, two book chapters, and multiple articles.
Prof. Whitney had a bladder resection surgery.
Prof. Whitney missed deadlines for several important academic conferences.
Out-of-pocket medical expenses for Prof. Whitney’s children totaled more than $15,000 in an 18-month period.
Prof. Whitney’s parents explained that they had taken no action following Prof. Whitney’s experience of sexual abuse in 1983 because Prof. Whitney had said she didn’t want to.
Prof. Whitney’s childhood sexual abuser was arrested almost 40 years after he assaulted Prof. Whitney, charged with multiple counts of indecency with a minor.
Prof. Whitney divorced her spouse after sixteen years and two children.
Two of Prof. Whitney’s books came out in the same month.
Prof. Whitney canceled presentations at several important academic conferences.
Prof. Whitney read more than 150 books, 19 of them memoirs.
Prof. Whitney took up kayaking.
Prof. Whitney played a feisty bard gnome in Dungeons and Dragons.
Prof. Whitney visited HersheyPark three times. The SuperDuperLooper was closed every time.
Prof. Whitney’s children required treatment from healthcare practitioners outside the university insurance network. Of the four specialties needed, three of them are not practiced by any physician in a 90-mile radius of State College. The fourth specialty required waiting lists of six months or more at all practices within a 120-mile radius.
Prof. Whitney learned to make pottery using both handbuilding and throwing techniques.
Prof. Whitney drafted a book proposal focusing on the professional development of summer camp staff.
Prof. Whitney was diagnosed with ADHD.
Prof. Whitney had untreatable uterine disease.
Prof. Whitney experienced the prolonged escalation and consequences of a global pandemic (along with most Earth inhabitants).
Prof. Whitney completed a book manuscript on writing practices for spiritual reflection.
Prof. Whitney drafted a book proposal focusing on school literacy experiences of a student with autism spectrum disorder and high intellectual function.
Prof. Whitney joined with hundreds of teacher-writers in a joint writing effort in March of 2021 and 2022.
Prof. Whitney led two new workshops using writing and collage as modalities for reflection and (re)composition.
Prof. Whitney served as a writing partner for women serving prison sentences in Oklahoma, via the nonprofit Poetic Justice.
Prof. Whitney sold approximately 35% of a house, bought a house, and moved into it within a 30-day period.
Prof. Whitney spent whole days and weeks at a time completely unable to think or write.
Prof. Whitney’s children both accelerated in school in two or more subjects.
Prof. Whitney survived.
Prof. Whitney is writing again.

ANSWER KEY: 

No “answers” when it’s my own life I’m living. Whatever answers I have been taught about what should be, or what makes sense, or what a good or healthy or capable person would do– turns out they aren’t really what living is about, at least not if I’m aiming to live my life and not just get through it. I’m learning that, for me at least, reaching for “the answers” is like earnestly, naively trying to answer a trick question. I’ll just end up both wrong and ashamed of having fallen for it.

All I can authentically reach toward is truth. As my therapist Leslie asked me almost weekly for twelve years: What do I know right now to be true? If I look inward, if I listen to what Glennon Doyle calls my “truthiest truth,” what does the deepest me need me to know?

ANSWER KEY #2:

All of the statements are true. It’s been kind of a shitshow. Nadia Bolz Weber tells about a turning point in her own life as “having my heart of stone ripped out of my chest, and replaced again with something warm and beating, like an emotional heart transplant” (I linked to her Substack, but the best place to start with NBW is her memoir Pastrix). I had turned my own heart to stone, in hope that it would stop hurting. Maybe I even stoned myself, like they might a whore in the Bible or another outcast. This is me in January 2023, standing in a puddle of molten rock, melted lies, left with hot feet and a lot of lava around… but alive. A living human with a warm and beating heart.

On TV

The last thing I ever thought I’d be doing on TV news is talking about this! Usually it’s students of mine doing a cute performance, or maybe photos of them eating ice cream at a festival or something!

A story about telling my story

When I decided in spring 2022 to make sure that the man who had sexually abused me in 1983 had actually been officially reported to law enforcement, I did so for my own peace of mind if nothing else. I had no real sense of the places it would lead. Now Mike Spiller, a gymnastics coach who sexually abused me and who is accused by many others, has been arrested, and Danielle Lerner of the Houston Chronicle has written this loving and precisely researched story. With more to come.

Here’s a quote from the top of the full story, as it’s most personal to me:

Anne Elrod Whitney had only recently joined a girls gymnastics team at Rowland’s Northwest when she was invited to attend a team sleepover at the gym’s building in northwest Houston. It was 1983. She was 10.

What should have been a safe, fun-filled event in a familiar space instead became corrupted. 

The sleepover had the atmosphere of a school lock-in with loosely organized games, sleeping bags splayed across the floor and pizza ordered in for dinner. Kids played on the gym equipment normally reserved for rigorous instruction. Some people propped blue vinyl gym mats up against the wall to construct lean-to forts. 

At some point Whitney found herself alone in one of the forts with Mike Spiller, who she knew as a charismatic man and one of the gym’s primary coaches, out of sight between the mats and the wall. 

There, she says, Spiller snuggled with her on top of sleeping bags and began massaging her thighs and hip while commenting on her muscles. Then Spiller put his hand inside Whitney’s underwear and massaged the outside of her vagina. 

“I actually, at that time, didn’t know anything bad had happened,” says Whitney, who is now 49 and resides in Pennsylvania. “I think I liked to be somebody’s favorite, you know? And I know now, that’s the thing that happens to a lot of kids where, you know, there’s (seeking) approval in a relationship, and even affection, from somebody that you care about.” 

Nearly 40 years later, on Nov. 18 of this year, Spiller turned himself in after police in Boerne, Texas, put out a warrant for his arrest. He was booked into the Kendall County jail, where he remains on a bond of $150,000, on a charge of indecency with a child.

Read it in one of these forms:

Full investigation (for Chronicle subscribers, 99 cent paywall): https://www.houstonchronicle.com/texas-sports-nation/general/article/texas-gymnastics-coach-arrest-sexual-abuse-17618101.php

Free version of need-to-know info: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/texas-sports-nation/general/article/Mike-Spiller-gymnastics-coach-sexual-abuse-Texas-17618279.php

Timeline of the allegations: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/texas-sports-nation/general/article/Gymnastics-coach-timeline-17618424.php

I’m not the first to say we’re made of stories. In fact, I have sometimes heard that kind of statement and thought, “blah, I’m sure that’s true, but how trite!” And on a slightly more articulate (but equally grumpy) day, I might have thought, “Stories are meaningful and good, BUT stories don’t get someone more money or medicine or a job or a loving advocate when hard times come. Or at least, they don’t work anywhere NEARLY as well as actual materials, resources, and actions do.

And yet. AND YET! Time after time, in my own life and in so many lives and spaces and communities, I keep seeing how it is true. Stories make shape out of the messy and incomprehensible flow of experiences and ideas. Stories make lives, they make communities, and they make selves.

It’s a beautiful idea and one that I’ve built a life’s work around. Even when I haven’t been aware of it, this idea about the meaning and power available in acts of in storying, storytelling, revising, etc. has threaded through all of my work in writing, research, teaching, teacher education, parenting, and faith.

We don’t make all the components of these stories. We don’t get to pick where and when we are born. Whether our ancestors or our current selves were or are oppressed and/or oppressing. What our bodies look like and the histories of how are bodies are seen in the places we find ourselves. The movements of populations, celestial bodies, revolutions. Diseases. So little is under our control.

And yet. We are always making and remaking the stories from which and into which these components flow. We string together events and feelings and wonderings and all the other bits and pieces into narratives. And as we grow, as we acquire additional story elements, or as our vision changes, we get to change the stories.

What a gift of power.

Abuser in jail. Boom.

They got him. This is Mike Spiller, the gymnastics coach who sexually abused me when I was 10. It took 39 years, but tonight there’s ONE LESS ABUSER out there getting away with it.

Thanks so much to the people who shared, retweeted, looked up old photos, etc. It took your help to turn up enough of my fellow victims/warriors to get here.

If you had interaction with Mike Spiller that in any way connects to his 40-year career as a gymnastics coach, camp leader, and pedophile, please get in touch with me and/or call the Crimestoppers number in the photo.

It’s never too late to tell the truth. We may not change the facts, we we sure can change the story!!

Talk about “just-in-time” delivery!

“This is an example of what we call ‘just-in-time’ inventory.”

Maybe these are not the words you think of a new grandmother saying to her first newborn granddaughter, but if you know that both of my parents are CPAs and that there’s only so much a new mom can chit-chat, it makes more sense. I’d had my newborn home for just a couple of days, and I spent almost all time nursing and nursing that hungry baby, and was a sick combination of exhausted and restless, weeping daily by 6:30 pm an dgenerally no fun at all to be with. So an uncomprehending newborn baby was basically all Grandmamma had in terms of people to talk to. And my mom thinks about stuff like inventory strategies a lot more than theh grandmothers in books and movies do. And I have to admit, I laughed, so it was a good relief from the tension of sleeplessness and adjustment. And I also did not know what just-in-time inventory was*, so hey, it was informative. If you’re wondering, it means a way of managing such that you don’t have piles of materials sitting around but instead have the materials arriving just as you’re about to need them.

*The reason I did not know this term is because having two accountant parents and having a stronger-than-average drive to individuate, I refused to listen to any financial-related info ever if I could help it. And it was hard to help it: two and sometimes three televisions were on with different financial channels and shows on each one for what felt like 24-hour financial education opportunities. Opportunities I rejected, to my later disadvantage most likely, though feel free to look me up when I’m retired and see. So defensive I was of my creative spirit that when Mom suggested I take typing in high school, I adamantly replied, “Why? I’m not going to work Sitting in Some Office!” Apparently I thought all the creative jobs were done standing up and/or outdoors. And that computers, which at that point were original Mac and some early PC clones, were not really going to catch on. Annnnnd now I am a writer for a living, literally typing in an office NOW, and I’m ergonomically horrid.

I’ll never forget my mom speaking these words to my newborn daughter 15 years ago, watching me on the sofa, again, under a baby again, nursing again. I was always on the sofa it seemed and never fixing dinner even though I was so hungry, never cleaning up the mess someone had left just a few feet away, never getting any item from one room to another or getting that glass of water I needed or shower I needed or book I forgot in the other room or or or or or.

Then, your mileage may vary if you’re normal like other moms seemed to be (ok, seem to be, present tense, even now when said newborn is 15 with a ten year-old sibling), but for me it went on feeling just about the same for most of both my children’s early years. I felt behind, always failing in some area, be it cleaning or work or wife-ing or just general being. I was trapped under a baby, and later just trapped, trapped in a body in one place at a time and on one relentlessly advancing timeline in which I could never, ever do enough, catch up, do things right. Never have enough or know enough or be efficient enough or strong enough to do all these many important things. Never organized enough or disciplined enough, or relaxed enough or healthy enough. Never enough.

My head was pretty much always working through how I would get my act together. It went a little something like this:

ME: I feel like there's just not enough time for everything I'm supposed to do.
ALSO ME: Your colleague seems to make time. Why can't you?
M: It's not the same. Their kids are way older, and their spouse stays home with the kids anyway, and doing things like laundry and having dinner ready.
AM: Well, the rest of the department won't know that. They'll just think it's you.
M: Shit. I'm getting up at 5 daily already! I can only do so much. I'll have to try again to divide up the work more fairly at home. Even if I had one more hour a couple times a week...
AM: He can barely do what you're asking of him now. Cut him some slack; some husbands do less! Manage your time better. You wasted a whole hour last night watching TV on the couch.
M: I meant to be packing lunches then, but I was so tired...
AM: And then you conked out early, and you know you need to be having more sex or you're going to end up alone.
M: Being alone wouldn't...
AM: Shut up; you'd be a basket case. No way you can keep all this up on your own.
M: You're right. I know. I can't even keep it all up now. I'm fucked.

And then because minds can be real assholes, as in even worse than it was already being alI day long in conversations like that one, I also felt (feel!) bad that I felt bad about this. Now, I’m a grown-ass woman with a Ph.D.! And I know for a FACT that this isn’t just me. I have read articles! Peer reviewed articles! I actually offended myself as a feminist for feeling like I was supposed to breadwin AND do all the mom stuff AND clean AND oh yeah put out more… but none of that stopped me from feeling it. And then judging the feeling as a dumb feeling to have. Like, I could just feel like I was failing, and that would be bad, but my head prefers the layered, deeply grooved bad of reflexive-looping self-judgment bad. It’s a bit like having that same exact argument with someone you love for the millionth time, and knowing that nothing will change AND you may actually be doing damage…but to yourself.

So a newborn gets just-in-time inventory from a boob, but my mind goes either for excess or extreme scarcity. Excess: My mind appears to have excess stock of poison. Scarcity: I know I am supposed to know that it’s not me, and that I have enough and am enough, and that a lot of my feelings of inadequacy are really just what it feels like to like and work in America in 2022. Yet often my heart rejects the knowledge, seeing just empty shelves where intentionality and self-compassion and acceptance should be. (I think they’re somewhere near the empty shelves for grading, baking, getting grants, raking, and putting away laundry.)

And then, just in time, this text floated near me!

Somehow, I was able to pick it from the air and feel myself set right– or at least right enough to keep going. Nadia Bolz-Weber’s take on the parable of the mustard seed is that it’s not that the mustard seed WILL grow to be enough, it’s more like just a seed IS enough. Now. (Seriously, she even uses Greek grammar to do this, so you know my nerdy heart was extra open to her point.) The disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith, and in answering that, she writes:

Jesus isn’t actually scolding them for not having even the tiniest amount of faith – instead when they ask him to increase their faith he’s basically rejecting the premise of their request.

In essence, he seems to imply that what they need isn’t  more faith,

What they need to realize is that the thing they already have IS faith.

It’s like Jesus is saying how much faith do you have? and I’m like I don’t know Jesus, it’s not very much it’s like barely any and Jesus is saying “perfect!”

That’s a different message entirely isn’t it?

I think this message is for the humanist lacking faith in one’s own sufficiency to circumstances as much as the Christian’s. I don’t have enough, I can’t do enough, my faith is not enough– these are the earworm-y jingles that fear plays on the pianos of our heads. And we let those fill our ears, let them distract us from what we know deep down to be true, and end up seeing ourselves as empty cupboards, tiny seeds, when the truth is: here we are, human and all, already having just what it takes to be human. Not great reassuring piles of what we need, and not all stocked in ahead of time so that we feel ready. But already, always, we are who we need to be to live the moments we live through. Just in time.

Doing Hard Things

In conversation today, I heard myself use a line I’ve used about myself many times, a line that feels truer every time I say it:

I am great at big things; I’m terrible at little things.

I make no claims about the originality of this line, but I have been saying it since my twenties and it’s truer than ever (and improved upon only by the great Glennon Doyle, who has said on We Can Do Hard Things and elsewhere that she can do hard things, but not easy things. I so get this!)

I can do, and have done, some big things. Like, things some people see as forever unreachable: I’ve written books! I’ve moved cross-country (too many times)! I’ve handled a lot of misfortunes from child sexual abuse to mental health issues. I’ve done some big things! Or at least moderately big.

But little things? I am the worst, and I am worsening. The list of things I can’t do ranges from remembering your birthday to paying bills on time to answering email to keeping the kitchen clean to taking daily medications. I am terrible at establishing or maintaining habits or systems of any kind, from exercise to filing to putting away laundry. (Literally. I am so unable to put away laundry, since forever, that in August and September alone I have had a dear friend put it away for me while I was away (several hours’ work), have paid a stranger to help me put it away, and have sorted it into piles several different times… only to I mess up many, many little things per day, and unfortunately many people around me have had to accept this intermittent incompetence.

If you know me in real life– or even if you’ve glanced at some of the titles of recent posts here– you’ll know that I’ve been dealing with some extra-big Big Things. Some of those I have written about, and some I haven’t. Overall, I am coping with these Big Things as well as can be expected or better.

But, there’s a catch! I’m not sure if this is obvious to all but I’ve been clueless, or whether these Bigs differ from my many previous Bigs, or even if my unskilled skills have gotten even less skillful. Turns out: the these Big Things I am dealing with now have necessitated way, way more Little Things than I had already, and I am drowning. Just as one example: my son’s mystery tumor and its related or adjacent other medical mysteries require coordination, communication, and administration by me, as do the bills, insurance, times and places of appointments, transportation, medication, rehabilitation. It’s cascades of unrelenting -ations of the very type I’m absolutely miserable at. The other Big Things I’m wrapped up in are the same way. It’s like the Autobots of important life priorities and the Decepticons of tasks required to address those priorities are in a full-on melee situation, but they keep transforming unexpectedly, and switching sides, and nobody is quite sure whether the enemy is a truck, a dinosaur, a giant gun, or a bumblebee.

Then, and here’s actually why I started this post, there are the ways I make it harder for myself. I’m unaware of most of them, and the ones I have caught onto are apparently the ONLY habits I’ve been successful in forming! Like how I hire help with some home maintenance projects to save me some time, but then I have to keep the multiple unfinished projects in “pending” mode, with materials everywhere and clutter then amassing around it, leading to clutter in some other place, and we’re all living in a house with alarming, precarious piles and nothing in its right lace and a looming threat of panic attacks from the visual clutter alone. You know, those ways!

No solution, just a report from a tired woman who, coincidentally, is not only behind in tidying but who also discovered– just as I was about to hit “publish” on all the remaining course material my students need and have waited so patiently for– that the video material comprising about 1/3 of the “reading” for the course has DISAPPEARED! Like, every link now broken. Good news is the library still owns most of the resources; bad news is every single one is now on a different platform, indexed in a different way and requiring a different link. So what was to be a ten-minute task on Tuesday is now STILL not done!

And so Friday night is like this: the students, who are amazing and very busy, will keep on waiting, and I’ll keep on trying to accomplish the Big Thing of supporting teachers in the very hard work of teaching writing via a trillion impossible Little Things of hunting down links and editing an elaborate course management system accordingly while trying not to accidentally Google symptoms of horrible bone cancers or what kind of grout I am supposed to order or forget to eat the soup I heated up three hours ago.

No answers! But since that’s all both grim and a bit dramatic, I’ll leave you with this aggravating, inspiring statement, one we can file somewhere right in between Little Things and Hard things perhaps: Let it Be Easy. It came up accidentally when I was trying to source/link Glennon’s quote about “easy things.” Go read it. It’s got me thinking about my way of linking one task to another to another, and then overwhelming myself, causing blockage of my more important pursuit of the Big Things that matter to me.

And yes, I knew it wasn’t the detail I needed to complete this post, which itself arose organically and distractingly from a different search I was doing for an essay to replace one of those damn videos! [Process note: I had to search for my own essay Writing is Hard (because Filing! It’s a little hard thing!), which led to this Writing is Hard post from Jeff Goins, which led to his Let it Be Easy post, which led to this post you are now reading. Yes, I know. I KNOW!] I’m a free woman, damnit, and I clicked on it, and read it, and MAN I want to learn how to let it be easy.

The much-awaited appointment yielded zero news!

Still “we don’t know.”

The additional pathology results say semi-encouraging things like “no immunological evidence of lymphoma” but also aggravating things like “etiology cannot be concluded based on this analysis.” Dr Fox will be taking his case to their tumor conference on Tuesday and hopes to know more after those experts discuss it. He also mentioned sending samples out to other experts.

Also, there are still some rare slow-growing bacteria and fungi that need up to 30 days to culture, so “probably an infection, but it’s too weird to be sure” is still William’s “diagnosis.” Maybe the discussion Tuesday will lead somewhere, or maybe one of the remaining cultures will clarify, or maybe an X-ray in a month will tell us more, or maybe an X-ray and MRI in a few months will tell us more, or maybe genetic testing in January will tell us more. Or maybe it will just be “fine for now” and was probably an infection, but in that case there’s no way to know it’s gone!

In the meantime, his stitches are gone, and in a month, he should be walking or close to it. And he’s thinner than ever before, so thin you can see his whole skeleton, and he still has no sense of smell and retains his baby teeth and has a very funky shaped rib cage—- and killer comic timing! And an awesome new school! And no other lesions that we know of currently, but how would we know?

Pray for my impatient soul to somehow not explode! And for it really to be an infection that happens to be knocked out by cephalexin and never returns.

And pray with gratitude for all the help and patience and love around this whole family!

W Medical situation: Summary/Catch-up post

Some folks know and some folks don’t, and there has been a lot of rapidly changing and ambiguous info that has gotten confusing, so if you know my son William and want the medical situation explained in a concise, clear way, here it is.

If not, go look at cool animal memes or at today’s update that is about feelings and friends, not cells and procedures! Otherwise, here’s the summary:

it’s either this one, or the one where the anteater is giving a speech
  • W’s knee has always hurt off and on, and it worsened through the past year. After one really bad night, an X-ray showed an unidentified lesion on it where bone cells are growing. A mass/blob/spot of some kind, maybe a tumor or cyst, possibly cancer, maybe an infection.
  • We went to Hershey Children’s the next day for an MRI (with equipment of a type that is unavailable in our rural/college town). Two weeks in the hospital and two bone biopsies later (one needle, one open), he was released with a femur minus one chunk, some hefty antibiotics, crutches, and a wait for results and for the femur to heal.
  • it’s none of the usual, most common things they see all the time. So, not an obvious Ewing’s sarcoma or an obvious typical benign bone tumor.
  • Based on a needle biopsy, they told us “it’s not cancer” because those common things were ruled out and SOME of the bloodwork supported it being an infection (high platelets and inflammatory markers). So, they started the antibiotics at the hospital under the presumption that infection was most likely.
  • But then, the pathologists from the first biopsy still couldn’t agree on ‘what is it? We have cells that are definitely abnormal, not like any of the stuff we see often, so what is it?’ In other words, they just weren’t convinced they knew enough to say “definitely an infection”— because they DID see some weird cells and some weird bone growth activity happening, just couldn’t tell what it was.
  • so they brought it to a committee of further pathologist people and extra specialized experts, who said basically, ‘yeah I don’t know either… but I sure wouldn’t let it go. Something weird is definitely happening in there, and if it were me I don’t think there’s clear enough evidence here to rule out malignancy altogether— and even if it’s a benign tumor, you’ll need to know what kind in order to know how to treat it.’ Obviously I am quoting perfectly with all this high-powered medical language haha!
  • So, an open biopsy was done by Edward Fox. Samples went back out to all the same experts and also have been having another more complex and fancy process called flow cytometry. I had to Google it.
  • The bacterial cultures of those samples are all done. Cultures have grown zero bacteria or viruses or anything (that can happen and still be an infection though)
  • But, if an infection, then theoretically he’d have had a fracture before by which blood with bacteria in it got in there, and then it grew in the bone marrow. Still possible, but not simple since there wasn’t any obvious trauma.
  • Killing the infection is probably happening now (if it’s in there), BUT then they would look to underlying disease or something to get to why an unbroken bone was somehow compromised such as to let bacteria in there? Bones aren’t supposed to be that permeable. Hence the genetics and other stuff would come in. We have a geneticist appointment in January (it’s necessary that the more emergent situation be treated first, though they are looped in on the results as we go).
  • So, maybe a tumor is more likely than infection, or preceded an infection…. But a tumor of an unfamiliar type. That’s what the pathologists are still working on now. They’re looking at it and running time consuming labs on it, and maybe meeting and talking to each other to try to see what they see, and most likely, if they don’t know for sure, then calling other super top people around the country and saying “hey, we’ve got this kid…” and getting consultation.
  • The appointment with Dr. Fox, bone disease hero, on Sept 1 is partly just looking at how his biopsy wound is healing up. They’ll X-ray and stuff.
  • But also he’ll share any findings, or if it’s still not clear, refer to further tests or experts.
  • So, on September 1, we may or may not find out that he may or may not have cancer or another kind of tumor or an infection.

We wait in uncertainty and try to care for our family emotionally and materially for now. When we know we know.

In W’s own words: “there was something weird on my leg bone, an infection or tumor or something, and they had to cut out a chunk of it to figure out what it is.” And we’re all practicing just doing our best to stick with what’s true now rather than polluting the water with “what ifs.”

Picture him rollin (William update)

William rolled into the school year at Delta Middle on wheels! While he’s getting around great on crutches, they’re exhausting, and while he also drives a mean walker, it’s frustratingly slow. So, thanks to friends who shared a youth wheelchair, a school nurse who’s not only highly qualified but also had some relevant mom experience, and a school community that is literally built on the idea of having a school community, he had a great first day. The basic vibe was “yep, found my people.”

Since both kids AND both parents had first days of school this week, as did almost everyone in our circle as either an educator, a parent, or just a resident of a newly jam-packed college town, it’s been hectic. But, Jason and I have been able to trade off schedules, Beth has swooped in with incredible backup, and the rest has been patched together more-or-less successfully.  Colleagues have helped me to adjust my courseload to a more manageable configuration, loving friends and neighbors from school, work, church, and everywhere have been showing up with meals and gift cards, and I’m basically astounded by the ways help like this really does help. I love the students in my face-to-face course, and my asynchronous online students are patiently waiting for me to get them started a week late. Our other kid is doing well too (but a Mom-initiated update to the internet would not be welcome, so you will have to ask her yourself if you see her)! 

Also, a true emergency does have a way of helping us not to care what others think of how we’re doing! “What I was able to do in the time I gave it,” along with an apology for anything beyond that, is the new standard of accomplishment, and although it sucks to have a sick kid, I am counting this awareness of priorities as a side benefit that I do appreciate.
Still unknown what is actually wrong with William’s femur and what lies ahead. Bloodwork and microbiology yielded no new information, he goes on with antibiotics for now, and September 1st we’ll visit his surgeon (Dr. Fox, a superstar bone specialist), and see where we are then.

What memories and Webb telescope images have in common (TBW #2, #9, #10)

If you’re not excited about the Webb telescope images, you should be.

(Yeah, I said it! Should! I am telling you what to do, and I don’t even care if it’s polite. I’m right here. Go look. Seriously.)

They’re pictures of as far away as anyone has ever been able to see, and for that reason, they’re also pictures of as far back as anyone has ever been able to see. (Because light emitted far away has taken a long time to reach Webb to be photographed. Ask your science teacher!)

so much unexpected detail
https://media.nature.com/lw800/magazine-assets/d41586-022-02056-5/d41586-022-02056-5_23308984.jpg

They’re beautiful. So, to me, is their unfathomability. I want the universe to be deep and unknowable just as strongly as I want to know it deeply. But what what I most love about the Webb images is how they not only depict things we knew about in more detail, they also show many, many things we didn’t even know to look for. (Literally, many of the major scientific findings so far from Webb have been simply background stuff, small things off to the side of or behind something more dramatically centered in the image.)

These discoveries, in addition to being previously obscured by the brighter objects nearby, are challenging all kinds of things we “knew” about the cosmos: when heavier elements began to form, for example, or how many galaxies of what shape appeared when. I love the openness to this fundamental challenge that I see in so many of the scientists interviewed– like astronomer Allison Kirkpatrick of the University of Kansas, who responded to one field-busting finding by saying, “We’re going to have to figure that out.”

That’s the attitude I am trying to take as I experience a similar look at my own past. It’s one thing to deal with my own feelings about having been sexually abused by gymnastics coach/clown/camp games teacher Mike Spiller, which I have had close to 40 years to work on, along with professional help. I’m good! But it’s something new to look at those same memories and feelings, this time with my adult lens and with a completely different set of resources and allies, and see things i hadn’t even known were there. Through these new eyes at this new time, with the help of others looking into Mike Spiller’s past (where it intersects with my own but also beyond that), I see so much more. I see how much bigger the context was. How it fit in to a culture in gymnastics, in Houston, in 1983. How many others were around who had to have known and looked away. The other girls, maybe now grown-ass, pissed-off women like me, who thought we were alone, were believed and/or doubted and/or helped or not. It’s all bigger and broader than it felt when it was a private story. Like looking at your kindergarten class picture, and remembering this kid on the playground and that kid in math class, but also knowing for the first time what each kid was thinking, what was going on at home, how the teacher felt and what all of it showed about that time and place.

That’s what it feels like to be involved, however marginally, in current investigations of the man who sexually abused me when I was a kid. Lots of discoveries, big and small, some answering questions I hadn’t even known to ask. These are accidental discoveries, and some of them are not easy ones. Yet it’s as Dr. Kirkpatrick says: “We’re going to have to figure that out.”

You can have that open-minded feeling of acceptance and curiosity, like she seems to have about the outer space she’s scrutinized for her whole career and like I mostly do about the inner space I have scrutinized just as ardently. I can’t help wanting to hug Dr. Kirkpatrick, or maybe send her a stiff drink. The Nature piece ends:

“With Webb just at the beginning of a planned 20-plus years of work, astronomers know they have a lot of changes ahead. “Right now I find myself lying awake at three in the morning,” Kirkpatrick says, “wondering if everything I’ve ever done is wrong.”