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And then I told Barack, “Look! This is how we’re gonna do this! End of story!”

Back-to-back trips = no blogging for a couple weeks. I’m not one of those travelers that’s motivated enough to lug around a laptop, much less add one more item to the list of things TSA can harass me about. I’m already getting crazy with secret 4-5 oz bottles of*gasp* liquid! On February 26 I caught an early morning flight to DC to join other staff and volunteers of the TS Alliance for training and meetings with representatives and senators. Little did I know that of the four flights I would have over the next couple weeks, this would by far be the best one. It was almost empty and everyone could have their own row. I was traveling with Wendi, and she’s one of those social types that actually engage total strangers in conversation (I’m trying, okay!?). We began talking to a guy that, quite by fluke of another medical issue, had discovered that both his daughters had a health issue related to a faulty gene as well. Theirs is quite different though. I can’t remember what it was called, but basically they are lacking the ability to create an enzyme that creates a protective coating of organs such as the lungs and liver. So although they don’t have any current health issues, the basic drinking and smoking that other people may partake in casually, is a whole different ball game for them. They are at a very high risk for cancer because of this. They are young now, but that’s a lot of pressure as they get older. Those teen and college years are going to be awfully stressful for those parents…

Red velvet, baby!
Red velvet, baby!

We arrived at the Melrose Hotel with plenty of time to spare before training, so we went strolling through Georgetown and stopped for lunch, where I categorically deny having any wine. We also happened by DC Cupcakes of reality show fame. Cute cupcakes, but honestly, I think they were from the day before. Apparently the sisters on the show (which I really don’t watch) only come in when they are filming. Oh, the lies of reality television. We all received matching shirts to wear on the Hill which is great for visibility, but bad for the amount of time I spent obsessing over what to wear before I left. I suffered a closet induced mental breakdown for nothing, but whatever. My Jackie O. dress is still a bit tight where my body mistakenly thinks there is still a baby inside. My ribs would have hurt by the end of the day anyway. We rose early to get through security and where I met my favorite government employee of all time. As we prepared to pass through security at the entrance of Cannon, there was a hysterical number of abandoned coffee cups just inside the door on a ledge. Had I had the time, I would have taken a picture. A female security guard walked over, took one look, and it was, “Oh Hell NO! This isn’t a trashcan! Tell those people outside to use the one out there!” Then she stormed off yelling, “This is bullshit!” I should apply for that job because I used to do that when I worked at Barnes & Noble and Starbucks, and I always got in trouble…

We Georgia volunteers managed to meet with the offices of all the representatives but three, Paul Broun and David Scott, as we never got a response to our requests from either office, and Sanford Bishop, who responded, but had no staff available to meet with us. The morning started off great as our very first meeting was in the office of  supporter Rep. John Lewis who promised IMG_2595continued support. We had other positive meetings, but this was the only straight up yes on the spot. Of course, given that we were there just before the sequester, these meetings were a little different from what they would usually be. What we should have been doing was asking for them to sign the FY2014 Dear Colleague letter to support tuberous sclerosis research. Problem is, as you probably know, Congress never got around to dealing with 2013. So we were trying to get that through, and let them know that eventually there will be a letter for 2014. You see, the House wrote a bill that funded the Tuberous Sclerosis Complex Research Program last summer, but things came to a stop at the Senate and here we are still awaiting a budget for a year that will probably be over before anything gets done. So thanks to the sequester that went down a couple days later ,there are more cuts…to everything. I could rant here about how this kind of performance in the private sector would lead to mass firing, but other people are far better at discussing politics.

With Georgia representative Tom Price.
With Georgia representative Tom Price.
Just after getting a promise of support.
Just after getting a promise of support.

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That evening the Alliance held the Volunteer Awards dinner, my final evening of being introduced to people and pretending not to know who a lot of them were already, as if I haven’t spent the last several months since Connor’s diagnosis stalking everyone online to see how others were faring with TSC. “Oh, hello, nice to meet you!” (In my head: So you’re the mom of so and so, who’s 10 years old, loves soccer, and went as a zombie for Halloween).

Dinner was steak, potatoes and asparagus. Why am I telling you this? It’s significant and will affect the next several days of my life.

Then there were drinks in the lobby, and a trip to a bar across the street.

With Wendi and Reiko, TSC moms and volunteers.
With Wendi and Reiko, TSC moms and volunteers.
With Wendi and Chris Hawkey of the band Rocket Club, emcee for the awards ceremony.
With Wendi and Chris Hawkey of the band Rocket Club, emcee for the awards ceremony.

It was a fun evening, but given the nature of the trip I didn’t get too crazy with the drinks. That turned out to be stupid. I might as well have danced on tables for all the good it did me because when I woke up the next morning, I was NOT well. Wendi had an early morning flight, and should be very grateful of it. I spent about an hour or so being “not well”. And then a miraculous recovery! That’s how I roll. I’m never sick for long. So I spent the next few hours before my flight checking out the monuments.

Just cuz I tried to hop the fence for a photo didn't necessitate a physical assault. Jerks.
Just cuz I tried to hop the fence for a photo didn’t necessitate a physical assault. Jerks.

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Don't I look healthy here?
Don’t I look healthy here?

I found myself feeling particularly tired after a couple hours, which I chalked up to the fact that I hadn’t gotten much sleep the last couple nights, so I headed to the airport early. This turned out to be the only reason I got home that day. I arrived at Reagan to learn that my flight was cancelled and I could either go standby for the next two (full) flights home, or I could take the shuttle to Baltimore and fly from there. Two other early arrivers were in the same boat. I’m quite grateful to one of them, who is a weekly business traveler and had beat me by only a few minutes. Despite the clear skies and the fact that they had another (full) flight departing 45 minutes after ours, AirTran tried to tell him it was weather related. He called BS on that one, and they finally admitted the plane had mechanical issues. So at least for my irritation I got a free shuttle ride and plane ticket (which will probably be so blacked out I can’t use it). While I appreciate the free ticket as compensation given that I still ended up on a flight that departed roughly the same time, I DO  NOT care for them lying. I don’t care if it’s typical of the industry…it’s crap. I also do not care for the fact that I had booked a 2:00 flight, and two weeks earlier I received an e-mail that my flight was cancelled and I was now on the 4:00. I accepted that change–it was fine. But now this, too. And he said, well we sent you an e-mail today. I said, “Yes, you did send me an e-mail today, and it contained my itinerary exactly as it still was. The reference to the cancellation, I thought, was reference to the 2:00.” And I’m not crazy because the business traveler got the same e-mail and didn’t understand the flight was cancelled either. His colleagues that hadn’t arrived yet would later receive e-mails that they could not fly out until the next morning.

At any rate, they paid for a shuttle in which we had to bully the driver into actually taking us. And then when he finally left, he turned around to go back and get someone else despite our protests that we would barely make it as it was. Nonetheless, we did make it. And I thought I was dying the whole way.

Turns out, I wasn’t better after all. But I can’t even claim nausea. It was soooooo much worse. More of a “stomach full of acid eating away at my insides” kind of thing. The TSA lines were thankfully short, just the perfect length in fact, for me to redress, run for the bathroom and retch loudly enough to horrify the entire row of stalls.

Oh my God, it’s Cambodia again. The only time I had ever thrown up on a plane before. Oh please, not again. I can still hear that mean French lady snapping, “Close ze bag! Eet smells!” I rode the wave of post-puke feeling better-ness into feeling hopeful all was well. Until I got on the plane and was seated next to two girls  with attitudes that had seemingly never flown before. I mean, I don’t care if you’ve never flown, but I care that you can’t comprehend that the flight attendant has told you three times to shut off your devices and that you refuse to put your purse under the seat because the floor is dirty. I know an omen when I see one. I was so miserable between the bathroom and my seat, that I actually started to cry. The flight attendant was really sweet and gave me a hug. But then I was terrified of letter her know I was sick because she’d think I’d contaminated her, even though I was certain it was food related. Yeah, the ride home in Chris’s car wasn’t much better. But at least he brought plastic bags.

In defense of the hotel, I have to say I don’t know of anyone else getting sick. I thought the hotel was otherwise fantastic.

The wall in my hotel room.
The wall in my hotel room.

I feel bad if I picked this up elsewhere and I’m blaming them, but timing wise, I just don’t know where else it happened. And they were a little lax with the food I thought, as far as taking a long time to bring things out and letting stuff get cold…so that’s my guess anyway. I would have the pleasure of battling my body all the way to Boston, where I had to fly two days after I returned. But that’s for another entry if you made it this far…if the mention of vomit hasn’t scared you away. Don’t worry. That’s as detailed as it’s getting.

DC footwear on the Metro.
DC footwear on the Metro.
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Do you like apples? Connor went to Boston! How do you like them apples!?

Connor's first airplane ride.
Connor’s first airplane ride.

We flew to Boston so Connor could take part in a TSC study through Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard. It helps us by potentially identifying areas in which he might be showing delays so we can intervene, and in exchange we are helping the study identify early markers of how TSC might progress. Since there is such a wide variation in how TSC presents, from people leading competely normal lives to round the clock care and everything in between, the earlier doctors can identify who might go down certain paths, the better.

I was worried about flying with a baby. Ever since 9/11, I have had a decidedly contentious relationship with TSA. Apparently I resemble p. 33 of The Big Book of Terrorists. It’s gotten better since right after 9/11 when I was one of the randomly chosen few for the arbitrary secondary search at the gate (every. single. time), I guess because I so perfectly fulfilled the role of “white girl” in a politically correct collection of humans to pat down. So I’d be chilling with Asian Dad, Black Grandmother, Hispanic Mom, and various other people wearing t-shirts that said “Just Do It: Blow up the Plane.” TSA relaxed with me after a few years and mostly only chose to arbitrarily search my bag even though I had cleared security, finally prompting me to remove my bomb-shaped luggage tag and collection of Middle East flag patches meticulously sewn all over.

Who knew a baby would make it easier?! First, we got to bypass the security line in Atlanta. When we returned our Hertz rental car at Boston Logan, they drove us to the terminal instead of making us catch the bus. Then I got to bypass the full body scanner since I was holding him (I’ve successfully avoided these ever since implementation! Score! knock on wood). We got to board early.  Rather than making us choose peanuts, pretzels, or cookies, the flight attendant gave us two of everything. And finally, getting to enjoy that intense look of fear in passengers’ eyes when they see you. Pure awesomeness.

It was Connor’s first flight, and generally, he’s not a fussy baby, so we weren’t too worried. Naturally, as soon as we sat down on the plane, he whined and shrieked, until we got him to sleep. From there it was smooth sailing. On the flight back, we had a standard rough Delta landing which he loved. As we bounced and jerked, he laughed and laughed.

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We arrived Sunday night (oh no, I’m sorry. It was only 4:30, it just happened to look like night already) and went to pick up our rental car from Hertz. We were upgraded to a Hyundai Elantra. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cute sporty little car, but the key word is still little. Were we getting a moped before? No complaints though. We had a great experience with them (see above about how they drive people with kids to the terminal). I’d detail our adventures of trying to navigate the big dig and poorly lit Boston roads with tiny street signs to the Holiday Inn, but I try to keep the four letter words to a minimum in the blog.

We finally found it though, only to discover they didn’t have our reservation. Apparently, the hotel made the reservation for the day they received the request from the study, not the dates we would be there. So we were a couple months late for our reservation. Fortunately they had plenty of rooms, with windows into the interior lobby, not to the outside. Deep breath. I will not freak out that I’m going to suffocate and die in here. The study ladies were unthrilled to hear that this occurred (seemingly not the first time) and we are being reimbursed for this as well. So we enjoyed a “not bad” hotel dinner, followed by some extremely questionable eggs benedict in the morning, and to the study we went.

What are these tiny pillows on a king bed?!!
What are these tiny pillows on a king bed?!!

Unfortunately Connor had one of his eye rolling episodes during breakfast which meant he was gonna be a little bit on the tired side. They started with the EEG net on his head, a very expensive and newer version that delightfully didn’t require the glue of the standard EEG. The computer tracked his eyes while a screen flashed pictures of shapes, me and a random woman.

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Then he sat on my lap at a table and they watched how he interacted with certain toys. He was given particular tasks to complete with objects, but at that point he had more eye rolls and it was sleep time. We had to cut the cognitive test short and do it based on parent report. The final part was an examination by the neurologist, who noted his slightly low tone, but otherwise thought he looked good. She was impressed that despite his surgery on the right frontal lobe, he showed no weakness on either side, which can occur.

All this took place in just under 2.5 hours and we had several hours to fill before catching our flight home. We decided to tour the campuses of our backup schools, Harvard and MIT. As we both got into our first choices, Chris into Marquette, and myself into the University of Georgia, fortunately neither of us were forced to go to these second rate institutions. Harvard does have a beautiful campus, although that does little to negate their horrendous academic reputation.

This is a Harvard snowman. I rest my case.
This is a Harvard snowman. I rest my case.

We received the assessment results within a couple days. Areas of concern: visual reception (have to look into this more, I think it means he wasn’t paying much attention to the screen with flashing pics-we’re hoping a factor in this was that he was quite tired and not really wanting to keep his head up to look at the screen), expressive language (already looking into speech therapy, since he can certainly be noisy, but isn’t yet making consonant sounds), and gross motor (already getting PT). Not really major surprises. Receptive language was a slighter delay, meaning while he seems to recognize some words, he doesn’t consistently respond to them. I definitely notice that when he’s in a good mood, he’s pretty responsive. If he’s tired or disinterested, he’s pretty good at ignoring me. Interestingly, his fine motor skills were right on target, something I already thought to be the case.

His 12 month follow up looks like it will be the last week of March. We’re extending this trip into a little family vacay. I look forward to building my positive relationship further with TSA. If they stop feeling me up permanently, maybe we can even be friends…

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