31 May 2013

Adventures in Anaphylaxis.

   So this is a post I didn't expect to make.  My little Kaylee Jo has found out the hard way she is allergic to fire ants.  We were playing at my grandmother's home - she and Zane love visiting their great-grandma and her dog, Gizmo.  Zane was running ahead of Grandma, and Kaylee was behind.  Grandma warned Zane not to step in the ant bed she just noticed, but didn't see Kaylee behind her step right into it.  I was on my way across the yard already and I scooped her up and brushed off the ants - but they'd already done a pretty severe job of chewing up her right foot.  She started to swell immediately.  When I noticed a few moments later as we were covering her foot and leg in salve and a wet rag that she was starting to break out on her face - that's not right.
  I asked Grandma to look after Zane and I took Kaylee to the car and drove her to the urgent care facility two blocks from Grandma's house.  They took one look at her already swelling lips and eyes and told me to take her to the ER immediately.  So back into the car we went, and I ran a coupla lights and cursed more than a few other drivers rushing to get Kaylee to St. David's Round Rock.  As we drove she was crying loudly most of the way, and it seemed every time I looked back at her she was more and more red and swollen.  I reached back and held her hand - when the crying stopped, that's when I really started to worry.  The memory of finding out my JROTC classmate David Antonie had died in college of severe anaphylactic shock kept playing over and over in my head.  Smartest kid in the battalion, full ride to A&M... brought low by carrot cake.  I rushed Kaylee into the ER and to be honest, their immediate action made me even more worried.  I mean, I've seen people with bleeding wounds sit for hours in the waiting room and whoosh - they took Kaylee back without so much as asking if she had medical insurance.  She was instantly surrounded by a doctor, three nurses and two techs.  Epinephrine.  Benadryl IV.  Luckily, she never actually stopped breathing - but her eyes were nearly swollen shut at that point, and her lips looked like the wax candies we used to get as kids.
  Dr. McCusky told me I could hold her to make her feel safer, and I did.  I climbed into her bed and she fell right asleep on Daddy as the benadryl won out over the epi.  We spent five hours in the ER watching her color slowly return to something less like a killer tomato.  I'll admit it, folks, this is THE most scared I've ever been in my life.  The thought that I might lose my little girl was earthshaking.  Here it is five days later and it still sends chills down my back.  The Doc told me this was a no-shit allergy and Kaylee would need to have an epi pen with us wherever we went.  He quipped - not entirely kidding - that we should consider moving north where fire ants are much less prevalent.  Here in Texas you can't go ten feet without finding an ant mound in a field or public park.  It's like a poisonous, biting minefield.  When Mary finally got my phone message and came up to the hospital, we swapped off for a bit so I could hit the restroom - but true to form Kaylee really, really wanted Daddy.  Back into the bed I went until Kaylee was released.
  The hospital staff was uniformly awesome.  They spared no effort to make sure Kaylee was as comfortable as she could be, and one of the nurses (cute!) could tell how worried I was, and made sure to get my attention and tell me "You did good getting her here, Dad."  When we got Kaylee home, we were able to see the actual bites once the major swelling had gone down.  I counted FIFTY separate ant bites.  All in under 20 seconds.

  This was a major eye-opener for me.  When we visited our GP two days later Dr. Turner confirmed for us that this was a potentially fatal allergy if untreated, and also reiterated what Dr. McCusky had told us - if she begins to swell, hit her with the epi pen, give her children's benadryl, and then take her immediately to the nearest ER.  Don't wait and see, just go.  It's more than a bit unsettling to know that something that's as common as days ending in "Y" here in Central Texas have the potential to be life-threatening to our little girl.  Zane and I have become overly paranoid about ants and making sure Kaylee stays the hell away from them.

  Ugh.  I still shudder when I think about it.  For Kaylee's part, she's bouncing back just fine.  She's smiling and happy, snuggly and cheerful (when she's not acting like she's two) and generally an amazing little girl.  She knows how do dial my friend Bobby on my cel phone.  She can manupulate Netflix on the 360.  She's smart as well as beautiful - and oh, yeah, she apparently kissed a boy at daycare two days ago.  Now I have to find out who he is and make sure his intentions are honorable...

A couple of pictures I quite like...

24 May 2013

Specialist Webb reporting, folks.

  Well, I screwed up and missed an on-time post - but I have had good reason to be busy.  On Friday, 17 May 2013, I was finally granted the honor of raising my right hand and swearing into the Texas State Guard as Specialist Webb.  It's quite surreal, after resigning myself to never being able to serve in uniform, to finally have an actual military status.  To be clear - the Texas Military Forces, as opposed to the federal military of the United States.  I make this distinction because as a military force organized under title 32 of the US Code, the Texas State Guard is distinct from the US Army or US Army National Guard.  While I am proud to be a soldier in the Texas State Guard, I readily acknowledge that my service is not the same as federal service - I will (most likely) not be deployed outside the CONUS to warm and friendly spots such as the ones my friends in federal service have been deployed to.  That said, I'm now just as bound by the Texas Code of Military Justice as a federal soldier is by the UCMJ, and I can be prosecuted for the same things under the TCMJ that any other soldier would be held accountable for. 

  Why bring this up?  There are those both in and out of uniform that look down on the Texas State Guard and State Defense Forces in general.  They maintain that we are not "real" soldiers.  Allow me a brief rebuttal - we are not, in and of ourselves, equivalent to active duty federal troops.  This is evident in that we cannot afford to send our non-prior service troops to a 9-week recruit training followed by AIT (or OSUT) and we receive little or no weapons training in most cases.  99% of what we are expected to do consists of disaster response, shelter operations, food and water distribution and other "civil affairs" missions.  We support National Guard troops at need, and often work with them - most especially our Air Wing.

  So if we're not trained to go downrange and engage the enemy, what kind of soldiers are we?  As you all know, I'm a student of military history.  My first response to this question would be that we are soldiers in the greatest traditions of the United States.  Citizen Soldiers.  We hear that term quite a bit in certain circles, but to the jaded and the uninitiated alike it has lost its meaning over the years.  What is a citizen soldier?  What does that imply?

  The average guardsman (or woman!) in my unit could be doing so many other things with their free time.  Many of the officers and NCOs in my battalion are prior service.  They've "done their bit for King and Country" and returned to civilian life.  They have chosen to continue serving.  We have law enforcement members, medical first responders, members of fire departments - all citizens who chose a life of service to their communities as a vocation, now serving further as a volunteer soldier.  As a member of the Texas State Guard, each soldier is responsible for their own equipment, transportation to and from drills, and training time.  We are not paid for monthly drills.  The FEMA, Red Cross and other courses taken by members of the Guard are done on our own time away from drill.  We only draw pay when deployed, or for part of the time during which we are at our Annual Training.

  The sacrifice of time, money and commitment is directly analogous to the militia of the Colonies before our great nation became a nation.  The rank of private comes from the term "private soldier" which at times in history denoted a soldier who served on the requirement that they provide their own equipment.  These militia soldiers maintained their civilian lives in the full spectrum of occupations, reserving a portion of their time to train, drill and prepare for the day their services would be needed in a military capacity.  These were not professional soldiers to the exclusion of all else - but they had a willingness to serve and make the necessary sacrifices that service required.

  I may never be fired upon in the line of service.  Indeed, I hope this is the case.  Most people assume that it goes without saying that a member of the State Guard will never be in a combat situation.  We are here to help our fellow Texans and others when floods, fires, hurricanes and other disasters occur.  We train for those sort of events, and take great pride in the earning and wear of the Military Emergency Management Systems badge.  That said, I know of more than one fellow guardsman who HAS been fired upon - sometimes during duty near the border, sometimes by looters and the like after a disaster. 

  The point is, as a cadre NCO who has earned my respect is fond of reminding is "Soldiering is inherently dangerous."  I did not sign up with the Guard with the expectation that I would be toting an M4 in a combat zone.  That is not our primary mission.  I did sign up with an understanding - the understanding that taking the oath and putting on the uniform meant that should the need occur, I might well be placed in harm's way in the line of duty.  The probability is that unlike one of my good friends who is in the US Army and has been fired upon, returned fire, and exposed to IEDs and all sorts of nastiness, I will never have to fire a shot in anger.  That does not mean my service is guaranteed to be safe.  We may not be facing the same kinds of threats, but each of us has to accept that the cautionary tale of the experienced Guard soliders might be us some day.  We're not joining a civilian organization, and we must be aware of the possible ramifications of that decision.

  You will not ever hear me saying that service in an SDF is equivalent to federal service.  Those that choose soldiering as a vocation have my utmost respect and gratitude, and I am honored to share the uniform and traditions.  At the same time I will defend vigorously the function and duties of my unit and my organization.  We of the Texas State Guard have chosen to give our time and our money in the earnest desire to help our fellow Texans in time of need.  We are, by legal definition, soldiers in the Texas Military Forces.  Period.  Does that mean we are the same kind of soldier the US Army sends overseas?  No, but we are the kind of soldier who will be there when our community needs us - training as volunteers and procuring all the gear necessary to render aid.  We are citizen soldiers in the grand traditions going back to the first colonial militias.

  I have the fortune to serve with some incredible people.  Soldiers who already served in Iraq, Afghanistan and many other places.  Police, fire and EMTs looking for more ways in which to serve.  Fresh-faced young college students looking to learn something about military life while continuing in their studies.  One of the most amazing NCOs I've ever met is a former MP who is a real estate agent in civilian life.  Another was a soldier in his native Norway before coming here, earning citizenship, and deciding to continue to serve his new country.  It's incredible to watch this diverse group of citizen soldiers develop as a team in anticipation of the time when our communities will need us.

  I look forward to serving in this way - the only way I can, thanks to my OSA.

So, Specialist Webb has reported.  Hooah.

03 May 2013

First post as "DAD" in a legal sense.

Greetings, True Believers.

  This post is a special moment for me.  Since 21 OCT 2011 I have been a father.  In the hearts of my children, I've been "dad" for a long time now, but in the eyes of the law I spent a lot of that time as a foster father, with the State of Texas being the "managing conservator" of my children's welfare.  If all of you are wondering why I broke my resolution to post once weekly last week, it was because we were coming up on a landmark day in our parenthood, Adoption Day, which occurred on 30 May 2013 just a few days ago.  There was a lot of preparation, a lot of tough decisions financially, and enough emotion to wreck the spiritual development of a thousand Vulcans. 

  To quote the much-maligned theme music from Enterprise, "It's been a long road... gettin' from there to here."  In the eyes of the courts, Mary and I were nothing more than the babysitter for the first 11 months and 29 days of our parenthood, which could have been revoked for the slightest reason at any time up to that point.  During that time, we got to watch the State do its' level best, as is required of it, to place our children with family members.  That almost occurred.  Our final court date was 17 October 2012, just days before the one year mark at which Mary and I would have been "party to the case" and finally allowed to speak in court.  At that time, all indications were that the kids would have been moved to a family who were extended relatives of the birth parents.  We walked into the courtroom with the full expectation that the judge was going to tell us to pack up the kids, they were moving.  We had seen visits with this family increase in frequency and duration, and the lawyer for the birth mom had already tried a hail-Mary play to move for immediate placement.  We were emotional wrecks.  MUCH to our surprise, our CASA worker delivered an impassioned plea for the children to be left where they were, as they were in a good home and had bonded so deeply with Mary and I that moving them would be detrimental to the well-being of the children. The Court agreed, and the birth family's rights were terminated - voluntarily to our surprise.

  Last Tuesday we appeared in court with a large number of supportive friends, family and caseworkers who arrived to see us made the legal parents of our children.  We had members of Mary's family, members of my family, members of the Royal Dragoon Guards/Starship Texas... in short, a humbling outpouring of support and love.  We had more Facebook messages from other friends, family and well-wishers who could not make it to the event.  It was, in short, amazing.

  I believe my proudest moment was watching Kaylee, as she ran from the well-populated table of stuffed animals in front of Judge Hathcock to the peanut gallery and back giving each person in the crowd a stuffed animal while statements were taken from myself, Mary, and our CASA, CPS and Arrow representatives.  When the judge asked Zane what his name was, he was initially reluctant to speak, but when I told him it was OK, he said proudly "My name is Zane Charles Xavier WEBB."  It was all I could do to hold back the tears.  The judge declared us a legal family, and the birth certificates for our children will reflect Mary and I as their by-God parents, as if they were born to us - which is fitting, since that's how we feel about them in our hearts.

  I'd like to take a moment to thank the birth parents for having the courage and presence of heart to know that Mary and I could provide a warm, loving, secure home for their children better than they could at this time.  I know it must have been a hard decision to sign those papers, voluntarily terminating their parental rights.  I could see the love in both their eyes when they visited with the children, and I wish they could know that I respect the depth of love it takes to make the admission that someone else might provide a better future and a more stable home and act on that realization.  I consider it my solemn duty to make sure that Zane and Kaylee never want for anything, and are raised to be inquisitive, loving, respectful, thoughtful, and kind.  I want my children to respect their elders and authority figures, but not be so slavishly dependent on them that they do not think for themselves.  I want them to question, to learn, and to stand up for what their hearts tell them is right regardless of anything they have been taught.  I want them to have the courage to speak their minds, and the compassion to be respectful of the beliefs of others - both qualities it has taken me thirty-seven years to develop.

  At this point in my life, everything is wonderful, and special.  I remember the feeling Wednesday night as we sat down do dinner at our kitchen table and I looked at Mary and mused "This is our first family dinner at home where our last names match!"  My heart is exploding with love, and joy, and hope for the future.  I love my children, and I hope they experience the love of many, many others as they journey through life.

  Ladies and gentlemen, I happily introduce you to Zane Charles Xavier Webb, age 3, and Kaylee Jo Webb who will be 2 this month.  They are my world, they are my children.  I had so many plans for where I would be or what I would be doing as I approached forty years of age, but to quote the song one additional time, thanks to these kids, I will be "Goin' where my heart will take me."

The Old Dragoon