When Doctors Fail


Our Wednesday evening drives have become a little bit of a deep question asking time. I’m not sure what prompts my six year old boy to go to that deep thinking place when he plops down into his booster seat. He buckles in. I start driving, typically music is playing. And he begins to stare out the window.

Then, I hear, “Mommy, what happens when doctors fail?”

I generally hear the question the first time, but I kind of don’t believe it. So, I turn the volume down and ask him, “what did you say, buddy?”

Perhaps, like his mother, when his body is forced to physically stop moving, his mind goes into busy “insightful” mode. He overwhelms me with these questions that are so spontaneous, challenging and amazing all at the same time.

“What happens when doctors fail?”

Yep. I heard it. I try to quickly think of why he may be asking this, what he wants to learn, etc. All in about 30 seconds because now his brothers have chimed in with their own thoughts. He’s urging them, “it’s my turn to talk.” Wait, more like, “IT’s MYYY TURN TO TALK!”  I have implemented a “turn to talk” system in the van, especially. When questions are getting hurled at you from behind, it’s dangerous. You have got to get organized.

I start my often long, yet honest and developmentally friendly answer. “Doctors are people. People make mistakes. Doctors aren’t God. Sometimes, doctors try their very best to help someone, but they still fail. Our bodies are really complicated….”And I think I said some other stuff. But, again, not enough.

“But what happens to PEOPLE when the doctors fail?” He asks, in more of an exclaimatory tone.

“People can die.” There I said it. The “D” word. And I continue on. “Sometimes, if someone’s body is hurt really badly or really sick or even old, like Grandma Fritz’s, it can be really hard for doctors to fix it. Even if they try their hardest. Grandma’s heart has been working for a long time, it’s getting tired.”

“Yeah, like a thousand days.” He responds.

Even more than that, I say. “Like 93 years. Do you know how many days that is? Thousands and thousands and thousands of days. Her heart has been working hard all of the days she’s been alive. And it’s never stopped. And even if the doctors tried to fix her heart, they couldn’t fix it.”

I even talk to them about my own body. And how I have gone to doctors in a lot of different states who have tried to fix mine, but a lot of doctors have failed. Even the best ones couldn’t fix the part of mine that was broken. Even though they tried their hardest.

“But you didn’t die.” His twin brother chimes in.

“You’re right. ” Pretty stinking wise little six year olds.

I’m feeling pretty good about the fact that I have provided living proof that doctors can fail and yet, you still can live. I knew all of those failed surgeries would come in handy. Teachable moments. Just wasn’t sure when. And here it is. I have thrown myself into the road. I created a diversion. We have taken a sharp U-turn away from a death conversation. We have enough of them. We are almost to our destination. And for the hundredth time, I wish I had a hidden recorder in the van. But of course, then these conversations may not happen.

We get to where we are going. Julian says, “So, they always try their hardest?”

I am hoping that he has not watched some medical show or consulted some other source. And that he is just summarizing our conversation.

I say, “Yes. Doctors always try their very best to help people get better. They try their hardest.”

I’m pretty sure he heard me as he was jumping out of the car onto my parents driveway, greeted by a dog entourage. Unbuckled and now physically revved and raring to go. After all, he has been in the car for 15 long minutes. I take a moment and then say, again, out loud, outside, as if I am convincing myself now, “they always try their hardest.” I hope.

Vacuuming up tears


It’s a little embarrassing and perhaps absurd to be vacuuming at 8:30, at night. When I should have been putting my kids to bed. I thought my husband was going to have a friend spend the night with us. I was attempting to find the blow-up bed, then I thought I should probably vacuum. Especially in the areas of the house that this guest would not even be staying in.

Often when I do mundane jobs like loading the dishwasher or cleaning toys at work, my brain goes to a deep thinking place. So, last night, I took a trip to deep thought town. It’s usually not like funky town. I started full-force ugly crying while I was vacuuming. The kids were watching a show…or two upstairs. The sound of the vacuum trumped my sobbing. Not that the kids would notice. They are young boys. Splotchy face, cracky voice, usually they’re not phased. It really was a perfect scenario. The end result: clean carpet and I got a good cry out.

I was convinced that I am going to die of brain cancer. My dad’s mother died of brain cancer. I never met her. My dad was only twelve years old when she died. I have been having a lot of headaches lately. I have crappy sinuses prone to infection, so that could be causing the headaches. I also have a little tumor on my pituitary gland. Another probable cause of  headaches. It messes with my hormones aka emotions. But, that’s not why I was convinced that I would die of brain cancer last night. Within the past few weeks, I have felt numerous knots on my head, above my ear and now above my forehead. I had my husband feel them to make sure I was not losing my mind. He felt them. Validation. They were actually there. He made me promise to make a doctor’s appointment. I can be somewhat stubborn when it comes to scheduling doctor’s appointments. I have made one for tomorrow.

So, I’m just vacuuming away and then I’m hit with a dark cloud of doom and despair. I don’t want to die in a hospital. I’ve been there enough lonely nights to know that despite my best attempts at a positive attitude, hospitals suck. It’s not your home. You can’t sleep. You’re supposed to eat in the same place where various gross procedures have happened. And where you sleep. Or don’t sleep. Don’t mind that pee bag or drain bag of blood. Just eat your d-i-s-g-u-s-t-i-n-g food so we know that you’re not holding out on us. Are your guts working? Why would you not want to get up and use the bathroom repeatedly, the one you’re sharing with that kind lady next door? I mean, next curtain. Way different than a door. No thanks. I would rather die of brain cancer at home.

You, see, tonight I can be light-hearted about my perhaps, hopefully, overreaction to some knots on my head. But, what causes me to go there? A hazard of hospital work? Seeing too much. A roledex of sad experiences. Am I the only one who thinks how painful it will be to die too soon? Sometimes, I just can’t visualize myself being old, like in my nineties. I guess I need to put it on my to do list: “visualize yourself getting grayish white hair and being a spunky, happy old woman.”  Probably with dentures. Who can fathom leaving behind your most precious loved ones to navigate this crazy world without you? I’m not scared about dying or even, Heaven, but I’m so damn scared about the hurt, the disbelief, and the lack of answers for my husband and little boys. My boys still need their mom. One day I asked one of my five year olds how long he would need me. His response, “til I die.” Obviously. He can’t imagine a world without his mom. Nor should he have to. Damn brain cancer. And every other type of cancer. And every other type of unexpected death that makes good people die too young.

Now, I’m not talking about my own, self and Internet diagnosed cancer. I’m talking about the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, who should not have endured the pain they did. Death too soon. And left this world early. Leaving young children to wonder, question, fear, and feel like the ground they unknowingly trusted their whole life just disappeared. From underneath their tiny little stinky feet. Wondering if they did something. Or could have done something different to keep their Dad alive. Or Mom. Or brother. Or sister.

I attended a grief conference last spring where we were learning how to help the littlest survivors in their journey with the death of a loved one. A woman stood up and told the story of her own father’s death. She was four years old and her dad began having an allergic reaction to something, causing him to have difficulty breathing. They called for an ambulance. While waiting for the ambulance, her father asked her, begged her through labored breathing to play “that song on the piano he liked.” She was scared. She didn’t want to play the song. She just couldn’t. Tragically, her father was taken away and he died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Heart drops. Feels empty. So deeply saddening. She was an adult in her fifties, perhaps, telling this story to hundreds of people. Nobody, growing up, ever told her that her father’s death was not her fault. Through tears and a shaky voice, this woman stated that even as an adult, she couldn’t help but think, “maybe if I would have just played that song on the piano, he wouldn’t have died.” She went to a grief counselor who helped her. And she, in turn, is choosing to help others.

I can’t get the scripture, “be still and know that I am God” out of my head this past week. I’ve been feeling edgy, and like I’m supposed to be somewhere different, doing something different. I have a three year old boy who calls my name. Repeatedly. Then pulls on my pants. Then, he will climb up into my lap and grab my face and forcefully turn, and hold my face with his big little hands until I’m looking directly at him. Only him. He wants my full attention. And then he asks me or tells me something that he deems uber important. And I listen and respond. So, I’ve been feeling God nudging me, or maybe tapping on my shoulder. Whispering my name, I think. I just want Him to grab my face. Tell me what I should do. What’s your plan? I will respond. I just need a quick one to one huddle. Bring it in, stack it up with God. But, I’m not God. So, I put this enormous amount of faith and trust in him. Be. Still. Stop vacuuming. Stop thinking. Or over thinking. Be present in your life today. Right now. In this moment. Go snuggle those boys and get them to bed.


*Awkward post-doctor appointment update from Vada Sultenfuss:
I went to the doctor and have a sinus infection and the bumpy lumps on my head are sebaceous cysts. See disgusting definition below. At least they are not epidermoid cysts. Really?! Don’t use the term “pasty” ever. Or cheesy when describing a medical condition.

Oh, man. Clean carpets, and a good cry out. I am awkwardly and embarassingly thankful.

Have you ever thought you were dying of something that you, in fact, were not? I can’t be the only one. Admit it. Come on.
Yuck alert.
Sebaceous cysts are small lumps or bumps just under the skin.(NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH BRAIN TUMORS, Amelia) To be more specific, they are closed sacs that contain sebum, an oily, odorless substance. Sebaceous cysts are often inaccurately conflated with epidermoid cysts, which can be differentiated by the fact that they contain keratin — a “pasty” or “cheesy” looking protein that often has a foul odor.



Talking can be so hard some days. Don’t get me started on finishing my sentences. I sure can drive my husband crazy with that one. Yeah, yeah, how unromantic, we don’t finish each other’s sentences. I guess it’s hard to be a mind reader. Why is it so difficult for people to understand what I am saying? I don’t even know what I’m trying to say or I would have already said it. Not half-said it. You do me a “favorite,” as one of my boys would say, and go ahead and finish my thought for me. Is that too much to ask out of a good honest conversation? At least it is an effective way for me to know who is listening when I am talking. As opposed to just awkwardly nodding or saying, “yeah.” The English language can be so challenging, with all of it’s words.

So, I may have said “ejaculated” instead of “ejected.” A few times without realizing it today at work. Seriously. Shut it, Freud. Both words start and end with the same letters. There’s just a few different letters in between. And they have slightly different meanings. Now, I know I am no lawyer, partially because I was deterred from the profession as a child. I never had good come backs on the spot growing up. Oh, if you could have heard the ones I thought of hours later though. They were killer. I would have had the jury convinced. The jury of my younger siblings, that is. My emotions would get fired up and somehow that section of my brain that helps with language would just take a nap or something. Snap out of it. Horrible timing. It would, eventually wake up, just after I was laying in my bed that night replaying the argument. Dang it. That would have been awesome if I would have said that. Maybe. Or maybe I couldn’t really trust my brain after all.

Then, there was that time I tried to tell a sweet girl in Mexico that she could have some crayons. And she started crying. A little slip up in the espanol. After a little translation from my better Spanish-speaking sis, I learned that I told her “I’m  going to take your crayons.” Lo siento mucho, sweet girl. My bad.

Hey, wait. I did help a man from France one time in the airport. An announcement came over the intercom speaker,  “If anyone speaks French, please come to Gate blah, blah.” I wasn’t about to go. Nope. Not happening. All of my teammates began prodding me. I guess I had told one too many of them that I was “fluent” in French. A slight exaggeration, although, I did take four years in high school. Great. My big mouth getting me into trouble again. “Alright. Alright. I’ll go see how I most likely can(not) help the French man.” I head over and the flight attendant needs me to explain to him that his bags will meet him in Nashville. I think I actually translated that, but in hindsight, maybe not. He proceeded to sit next to me, sweating profusely the whole flight, through his white button down shirt, asking me to come to Paris. What? “Merci. Merci….”And telling me he wanted to buy me a lot of presents. I could have killed my teammates as they laughed the whole flight or maybe just listened to the music in their headphones. And I’ve still never gone to Paris to use my French. I heard they don’t even like Americans.

I can’t even remember where I was going with this post. I’m sorry. Lo siento. Je regret. What was I even trying to say? A whole lot of nothing, really. Better luck next time, I guess. Just when  I get talking down, I will probably start tripping up the steps. It’s the talking and the walking at the same time. Mad skills. Now that’s my goal. High hopes.  A girl can dream.



There are scars you don’t see. While watching my kids play on the playground, every step I took was painful and a reminder of my body s-l-o-w-l-y recovering. I had a complication with surgery, resulting in an abscess forming under my midline incision. The surgeon had to literally cut my stomach open, right before my unphased-by-the-small-dose-of-morphine eyes. I got to go home from the hospital to recover. I had to learn to pack gauze down inside my abdomen. Two times a day. With three young children. It was gross. Messy. And weird. My incision had to heal from the inside out. Oh, the irony. The problem with having a hidden wound that affects your movements, your attitude, and your overall existence is that people don’t see it. Out of sight, out of mind. They don’t know that beneath your clothes lies an open, awful reminder of your fraility and the vulnerabilities brought on by an ugly disease. A disease you didn’t choose to have.

Standing in the park that day, the thought occurred to me that we are all walking around with wounds. Some fresh, new, others still healing, and some old. But they’re still there. Scars. Physical, the ones you see and can touch. They may lie underneath, or be right there, for all to see. They may fade with time but they remain a reminder of weakness and strength, at the same time. And there are the emotional scars, the heart scars. Feeling alone. Relationships gone wrong. The pain of missing someone so badly. All that you want do is sleep but you can’t. Because they’re gone. Or experiencing someone else’s agony so closely and hurting so deeply that the pain lingers. And changes you.

This world can be so overwhelmingly beautiful. And yet, it can be so damn hard. People can be unkind, impatient, and uncompassionate. They don’t pause to notice. Your eyes. Your disposition. How slowly you are walking. Or how fast. Maybe you’ve become a master in hiding your pain from others. What if we thought more about the person that we just encountered? Or are about to meet? We purposely changed the way we looked at, talked to or even thought about her? I have experienced how insanely impactful a kind word or a genuine conversation can be in these types of difficult, suffocating moments. Moments where putting one foot in front of the next is daunting. Moments where all you can do is fight back the burning tears, trying not to blink, until you make it to your car. Or the bathroom. Or through your front door. They are moments when you just… Can’t…….Breathe.

I have had plenty of days where I felt like if I could just stick a “FRAGILE: handle, talk to, look at with care” sticker on my chest, then people could know that it is one of those excruciatingly tough days. It would act as a visible sign for people to know to smile more, tread lightly, be kind. And please be patient with me. I think we all have these type of days. And the thing is, we all have these beautiful complicated minds. Equipped with a powerful imagination. Maybe we can try and envision a “fragile” sticker on every person we meet. Even if, or especially when they are grouchy, rude or unkind. We could try and think less about ourselves and more about the person right there in front of us. We hold the power to make an impact on one another. In that feel really good, life-altering awesome kind of way. So, we can rest assured that yes, in fact, this life is filled with beautiful people. And you are one of them.

The mall carousel

imageThe mall carousel workers laid down the law today. My older boys no longer think it’s cool to ride the creepy horse, panda, kangaroo creatures. They want the seated spinning (heinous)addition to the pleasant carousel ride. I asked if I could NOT ride on the spinning thing with my kids. I could just stand right next to it, ready to rescue them in the event of a horrible spinning catastrophe. I didn’t get all over-dramatic and go into my long history with motion sickness. Perhaps I should have. After several failed negotiations, with the apathetic carousel employees, I determined that I have done much harder things in my life. (In hindsight, I puked after many of them.)

I would just close my eyes and take deep breaths and envision myself somewhere, anywhere else. Preferably somewhere not spinning. The old outsmart-my-own brain trick. Midway through the loud and awful kids bop song and the double spinning sensation, that of the carousel and my boys’ dynamic psychotic spinning thing efforts, my purse flew off. Onto the ground. Under one of the creepy horse mermaid creatures. My purse was, big surprise, not zipped up. I was forced to open my eyes. There, splayed on the ground, lay my purse contents. Keys. Wallet. Coins. Glove. Action figures. And random other long lost useless items.

With my eyes open, and my failing attempts at guided imagery interrupted, all of the sudden, I started getting hot. And not hot from the sun on the beach in my head. Bad sign. Hyper salivating. I could feel the puke in the starting blocks. Wondering how much longer this torturous ride could last, my youngest boy requests to hold my hand. Oh, man. He’s scared. You can hear it in his voice. The urgency. I reach for his hand and decide I will just throw up in my purse. Nope. I can’t. Oh yeah, it’s on the ground. Spinning around on the ground. I tell my boys in a “don’t ask why” voice that they have GOT to stop spinning this thing. And I grab the wheel and tell them, I guess somewhat threaten them, that I’m going to throw up.

Finally…the spinning stops. I slowly rise, as to not create more motion to fuel my puking sensation. I want to glare at that spinning vomit inducer. One of the carousel police officers/employees, helps pick up every important and random thing that has fallen out of my purse. How kind. She hands me objects that I, literally, have no clue what they are. Is that even mine? I want to throw up and shut that carousel down, just to prove a point. I know that plan will just backfire when my boys retell the story over and over until I die. So, we just exit the carousel, and I find a seat fast. I didn’t throw up. I win. Sort of. Mind over matter, baby.

I would like to be one of those convicted people who swears we will never go ride that carousel again. I don’t really swear. And I know in a desperate attempt to get out of the house, we will go there again. Next time with their father. The hero. I’m pretty sure that’s who they inherited the obsessive spinning sensation gene from anyway.

Something’s Burning

Yep. In my heart. In my head. And, most days, in my oven. I have a hard time watching English muffins broil. You know when you watch something or stare at someone, it promotes stage fright. Under performance. I typically like to go brush my teeth or grab something upstairs while my food burns, I mean cooks, in the oven. And, then it hits me, and I usually say it outloud, most times, calmly. Let’s face it, when something happens on a routine basis, it’s not that big of a deal. What’s that smell? “Something’s burning.” Again.

There it is, my blog name. I like to multi-task. Keeps things exciting. You can have a pretty wondrous feeling of getting a lot of stuff started. A lot of pots boiling. A lot of things in the oven. However, no matter how many loads of laundry that I need to fold and put away, I sometimes get to thinking and I get this feeling like, “I have to get these thoughts down right now.” Before I forget them. That’s why I started writing. I would be up late thinking about things that happened during the day. My thoughts bounced around in my head and they wouldn’t get tired. I found a way to help them chill out. Write them down. Get them out.

I started to let my husband listen to me read some of my stuff. Then, I shared it with my sisters, mom, aunt, friends. I’m a bit of a sharer. An extrovert most days of the week. I think we have so much to learn from each other. This only happens if we allow others in. I would like to have people over for dinner, hang outs, and fun, but people are so busy nowadays. I just like to use that word “nowadays” to make myself feel really old. I would love to sit down and listen and share with you in person these same thoughts and stories. That would be ideal. Why do we all have to work, live far away, or just be soooo busy? In person, my three year old would be grabbing my face, interupting me, and then I would need to go get him a drink or something. Then, I would come back. “What were we talking about again?”

So, you can read my uninterrupted thoughts here. If you don’t get annoyed or frustrated. As a good friend put it, I write like I talk. And that can sometimes be tricky to follow. Especially when I have had too much caffeine. Hopefully, we can have some interrupted talks in person someday soon. Thanks for reading. I like you a lot.