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Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Dear Josie,

Post-Traumatic Teacher Stress Disorder.  I've decided it's a thing. 

Today was the "ABI" lab.  Students were to compute their Ankle Brachial Index.  That is, the test used to measure the severity of peripheral artery disease.   Basically, they had to find their ankle pulse. 

I'm sure it's simple enough for most, but for me this lab requires a pep talk.  The mental (or actual) shot of whiskey the night before and a healthy glass of wine the night after.

Why?  Because in order to determine one's ankle brachial index, the use of a fetal Doppler is necessary.

This means that today, there were roughly twenty four students searching their ankle pulse, and roughly twenty four static sounds resonating between my classroom walls, which suddenly seemed very small.

Let's be clear, I hate that sound.  I hate that sound more than any other sound that could potentially exist.  Ever. 

It's the sound that is there when a heartbeat isn't. When I hear this sound I see the tension in her face as she searches for you, for any proof of you, and she finds this sound instead.  It's the sound of fear and hope and anticipation and confirmation.  It's the sound that plays louder in my nightmares than any other. 

During the pregnancy after you died, my fetal Doppler basically served as a limb.  I felt paralyzed without it.   Every morning it was the first thing I'd reach for; the last sound in my ears every night.  In my third trimester it was my Doppler and me every hour, before and after every meal.   Just in case an impromptu blood sugar spike had caused a problem.  Just in case he had left me since breakfast.

If I wasn't using it I was missing it.  There were times I'd be driving and it would feel like too long, so I'd pull over, recline the seat and search as cars passed me on the shoulder.  No place felt safe and no occasion was exempt.  At the SHARE Angel Ball where your father and I attended as honorary ambassadors, roughly 25% of my time was spent in the bathroom stall.  Just listening.  That Doppler went everywhere with me, in work totes next to graded papers and stuffed into hoodie pockets and bulging from the shiniest of clutches.  To weddings and movie theaters and doctors appointments.  Towards the end I would lay back and the nurse would ask me where, and I would point to the spot I had heard him moments before, in the parking lot. 

When my Doppler began to break due to overuse, I emailed the manufacturer and attempted to explain (in the calmest way possible) why I needed another.  Their response was prompt and logical, asking if I'd tried turning it off and then on again, and if I needed new batteries but that ultimately,  I would need to ship mine first in order to obtain another. This meant 8-10 days with no Doppler.  Upon reading said response I called your father.  Then I sat down on the sidewalk outside the post office, and cried for twenty minutes. 

At my very last appointment prior to the induction, my doctor noticed a rash.  The skin on the lower right side of my abdomen was peeling, actually PEELING from over exposure to the gel and its static-y counterpart.   And all we could do was laugh.  Laugh and cry, and agree that it was time. 

This limb of mine was the first thing to go after your brother was born.  How I'd relished in the release its amputation would bring; how I'd envisioned smashing it "Office Space" style and then burning its remains.  Realistically, this encounter looked more like a stoic mic drop.  On an otherwise normal afternoon, I found myself staring into our kitchen trash can.  After a few minutes I let go of the cold white plastic with one hand, holding tightly to my baby with the other. 

As far as me and Dopplers go, things will always be complicated.  It was the Doppler that told me, for certain, you were dead.  It was the Doppler that told me every day and often every hour, that your brother wasn't.  I will always feel a tightening in its presence, but it will always hold the potential for the sweetest of sounds. 

Imagine my surprise this week, when a student had trouble finding her partner's pulse and asked for help.  I didn't cry or hyperventilate or run out of the room.  Calmly I sat next to her, demonstrated the proper angling, the proper gel-age, finding mine in less than five seconds. 

Because although I struggle with many, many things since you died,  I will slay a fetal Doppler all day.   




  1. Go you, Nora the Doppler slayer! I already have a love hate thing with mine going on. Didn't use it in any of my pregnancies before because I was so blissfully ignorant of why one might bring comfort (and despair).

  2. You describe the feelings associated with the Doppler so well. The relief. The terror. Kudos to you for being able to use them in your class. It sounds like you do a lot of fun projects with your students even at the possible mental health expense of yourself! xoxo