Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Emergency Surgeries: A Family Tradition

Seeing as how my blog readership consists almost exclusively of family members and very close friends, most of you are already aware of what’s transpired over the last 24 hours. The story actually begins roughly two weeks ago. Edison and Peter, within an hour of each other, both got sick and vomited a couple of times within a 20-minute window. They then seemed completely normal and remained as such for three to four days. Then, once again, within a 20-minute window, they would vomit once or twice. They then returned to normalcy and repeated the process a few days later. It was very strange to us, but we assumed things would improve.

Peter finally stopped vomiting, but Eddie took a turn for the worse. On Saturday, he actually seemed full-blown sick. Rather than puking a couple of times over a 20-minute timeframe, he vomited periodically throughout the day. He seemed ill, too. After vomiting, he did not return to his normal self, but remained still on the couch, not wanting to say or do much. Saturday night was especially vomitous. Sunday, too, he puked a few times throughout the day and didn’t seem well. Finally, on Monday, Edison seemed normal and healthy again. He ate plenty and played around. At dinner, he ate very little and seemed tired, but not too horrible. By 11 p.m., he vomited once again.

On Tuesday, Eddie was again lethargic and lacked an appetite. He did not vomit, and he drank various things throughout the day, but he clearly didn’t feel well. He also started complaining about pain on the right side of his abdomen. By the late afternoon, he was experiencing mild fevers. The pain in his abdomen seemed to be getting worse. We were quite concerned about this. Although Eddie said it only hurt when he would move, it reminded me all too much of my experience with diverticulitis. Of course, with his pain being on the opposite side of the abdomen than mine, I suspected appendicitis. That was my only guess, and thus my only real fear.

I took Edison to an “Urgent Care” facility around 8 p.m. After being seen, the physician too suggested appendicitis. However, I would have to take Edison to the ER of the hospital to find out for sure. Only they would have the means of giving Edison a CT scan, which would be needed to make an accurate diagnosis. And so, I took Eddie to the emergency room. It was the best emergency room experience I have ever had, in part because the time spent at the hospital-affiliated Urgent Care counted toward our wait time at the ER. I don’t know precisely how long it took, but I’d guess that within 30 minutes or less, Edison and I were being guided to a hospital room to await further testing.

Eddie was such a trooper. Over the next several hours, they would subject him to an examination almost identical to what I underwent back in late September / early October. It saddened me greatly when I learned that Edison’s CT scan would require, like mine, an enema that would have to be held in. I didn’t know if a four-year-old was capable of such a feat. The enema was the worst part of my experience, and I dreaded putting him through that. Amazingly, he handled it far, far better than I did. He didn’t cry or let out even a single moan, the entire time. He did so well that I feared he must not have held the fluid in his bowels after all. I worried that he must have released it, and that his releasing of the pressure explained why he performed so commendably. I especially worried about this when, after the CT scan was over, Edison failed to empty his bowels when told he could do so. Surely that meant he no longer had the fluid in his system! But he must have, because the CT scan images turned out well enough for them to diagnose him. The nurses (doctors? technicians?) at the CT scan told me afterward that children often perform better than adults and somewhat commonly don’t empty their bowels once the CT scan is complete. One of the women theorized, in not so many words, that this is because children are more recently potty trained and thus better able to resist the urge to go whenever they want. She further speculated that this is because children assume they’ll get in trouble if they don’t hold it in. I doubt this last comment would apply to Edison’s mindset, but it was her theory.

It really wasn’t that long after the CT scan that the doctor came to Edison’s room and told me that his problem was indeed appendicitis. That meant surgery was guaranteed, as no other treatment is possible. Eddie is quite aware of what surgery is; at home, he sometimes uses my electric nose hair trimmer to play surgeon. He’ll administer anesthesia and everything. So, knowing that surgery entails cutting someone’s body open, Edison was initially quite alarmed by hearing that he would require surgery. This was news I had been dreading for that very reason. But I was again incredibly impressed when he quickly calmed down about it. I reminded him that he would receive “medicine” that would make him fall asleep and ensure he couldn’t feel or hear or see anything during the surgery, and he stopped fretting. I asked him if he could be brave about it, and he nodded sincerely.

The doctor that diagnosed the appendicitis told me that the surgeon would be coming to talk to me “in about an hour,” and that the surgery would need to be performed that night. The surgeon didn’t show up until two or three hours after that, but I was then assured that the surgery would take place before dawn. It was probably 4:30 a.m. or so when they started wheeling Edison in his bed toward the surgery area of the hospital. We were taken to a waiting room, introduced to the anesthesiologist, and told it would happen very soon. A short while later, they told us there had been a delay because another emergency surgery (more emergency than ours) had come up. Edison was sleeping soundly at this point, and I fell asleep too. At 6:30 a.m., they awoke us and said it was time.

The sad thing at this point is that Edison was kind of out of it, so he was rather distraught as they wheeled him away. I had a very brief second to lean in and tell him that it was time, that (as I had discussed with him earlier) I would not be with him when they made him fall asleep, but that I would be in a nearby room and see him as soon as possible after the surgery was over. I don’t know how much he processed my words at that moment. He was crying and didn’t seem completely happy to be getting wheeled away. That was rather heartbreaking. I was taken to the surgery wait room, not sure how long it would take. I was told the surgery would take about an hour, but I wasn’t sure how much prep time still remained. I didn’t plan on seeing anybody too terribly soon.

To my great surprise, the operating surgeon came into the waiting room at 7:30 and told me that everything was done. The surgery had gone well. When they opened Edison up, they learned that the appendix had actually perforated, but an abscess had grown over the rupture. It was a little unclear, but I got the impression that the abscess, in this case, had been helpful, though an abscess itself is not a good thing and can cause problems. They told me that Edison would have a stomach drain (or something like that) still coming out of him, designed to extract any excess fluids from that area of his body. That helps ensure that an infection doesn’t occur and another abscess form. There’s a 30% chance of such an abscess forming after the surgery, but you won’t be able to tell for 5-7 days because the patients show improvement for several days regardless. So, in a week from now, if Edison seems to be getting sick again, that’s not a good sign. I’m very hopeful that that won’t occur.

It hasn’t been a fun 24 hours. On the other hand, I’m glad things went so quickly. I found that my anxiety peaked whenever I had down time and could do little more than reflect on the situation and whatever negative repercussions (both hypothetical and actual) lie ahead. It’s been special to me that I’ve been the one to be here with Eddie through all of this. I’ve been amazed by his bravery and kindness through it all. When they first took him down for surgery, they gave him a puppy Beanie Baby to keep. He asked me a moment later if I could ask for another puppy, so we could take one home to Peter, so Peter wouldn’t feel sad not to have one of his own. What a sweet thought in the midst of everything.

I’m writing this blog entry from the hospital bed adjacent to Edison’s own. I’ll be staying with him tonight, and we’ll probably be here until Friday morning. Melanie visited earlier today, and I went home and slept for a couple of hours while she was here. Now I’m back and we’ll probably repeat the process tomorrow. Edison has been sleeping soundly for a couple of hours now, which is wonderful. He’s very tender in his abdomen, which makes it hard for him to move around, but he’s done impressively even so. He’s done well with walking around, which will help his stomach “come back to life,” they say. He’s on a liquid diet for now, but if things continue to go well, he’ll probably get some crackers or something like that tomorrow. Within another day or so, he should be able to eat like normal. Or so I understand.

I’m sure there are a million details I have overlooked that, if I thought about them, I’d be tempted to cram into the end here, just to capture them all. But that’s OK. No need for that. I’ll write them for myself later. To conclude, I’ll just say that the last six months have been unbelievable. Three of the people in my family of five have ended up in the emergency room, and two of them have had emergency surgeries. I’m really hoping this won’t turn into a fad. Then again, maybe it already has.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Excerpt from an Unpublished Manuscript

Quentin was 24, a young professional earning more than his keep at Walton & Hestfield, a job he had secured thanks to a debt Quentin’s father owed to Quentin’s uncle. Quentin’s résumé placed him well beneath the scores of other job applicants salivating at the prospect of joining the prestigious firm located where else but at the corner of Lexington and Vine, the heart of the city. Quentin’s uncle had pulled some strings, flexed his networking muscles, and ensured that the unqualified Quentin received a job offer from the executives whom the uncle regularly humiliated on the Havenshire Country Club golf course (the nicer of the two courses, of course). Quentin was oblivious to his underqualification. He was much too optimistic, much too kindhearted and trusting, to realize people ever acted in ways that betrayed their true opinions of him. Quentin’s naivety gave him an innocent kind of confidence that, so long as one never learned just how dimwitted Quentin could be, made him quite charming. This and his equally unassuming brand of handsomeness—the best kind of handsomeness, really—explained his surprising, though always short-lived, success with the ladies. There was a tendency for single women, upon meeting Quentin, to view him as a kind of modern-day prince in appropriately khaki-fied armor. A good three or four dates could pass before a woman realized that Quentin’s aloofness was not the manifestation of boyish charm but of a sincere lack of mental capabilities. Usually, one or two attempts at deep conversation would solidify the woman’s suspicions, and she would suddenly find herself too busy to meet Quentin for dinner, to see that movie with him, to return his phone calls, or in some cases, to come back from the restroom to her loudly masticating date. Fortunately, Quentin’s genuine good faith in others had spared him a lot of hurt feelings over the years. He rarely, if ever, begrudged these women, assuming that each and every time they said “something has come up,” by golly, they meant it. In the world of romance, Quentin was like a well-aged man who always carries an umbrella, no matter the forecast and regardless of the amount of blue in the sky. He expected the unexpected, and as such, he regarded the sudden shifts in the amorous weather as no big deal, and more importantly, as nobody’s fault.

July 17th marked the 18-month anniversary of Quentin’s daily train ride to work. He failed to notice this, but rode the train in an exceptionally jubilant mood that morning nonetheless. Quentin enjoyed his daily commute. Taking cues from his fellow passengers, Quentin had decided after his first week at Walton & Hestfield that the time spent on the train each morning should be passed either reading the morning paper or playing Sudoku. Quentin hadn’t so much as touched a newspaper since 2001, when as a freshman in high school, he was required to report on current events for his social science class. The weekly assignment had bored him extensively, and he now felt an adamant aversion to reading newspapers voluntarily. He opted for Sudoku, bought himself a thick little book of over 500 Sudoku puzzles at the local newsstand, and attempted to master the game over the next three weeks. Try as he might, Quentin eventually gave up on the game, finding it impossible to make the numbers in each three-by-three square add up to 9. On the 11th day of playing the game, he experienced momentary elation at the realization that plugging negative numbers into some of the squares might just be the secret to conquering the game. Sadly, Quentin successfully solved only one Sudoku puzzle, even after this grand discovery. (The winning game involved placing the value “n+1” in the upper left hand corner of the square, a move Quentin thought ingenious but was never able successfully to replicate.)

Waving the proverbial white flag at publishers of Sudoku puzzles everywhere, Quentin decided he would spend his morning commutes immersed in the puzzle game that had absorbed so much of his time as a kid—Mad Libs. Not being the brightest bushel in the shed (as Quentin sometimes said of others), Quentin was flustered by Mad Libs that required much more of his grammatical and syntactical prowess than the supplying of simple nouns and adjectives. He was particularly annoyed at the frequent demand for verbs ending in –ing, a seemingly unreasonable demand given that the commonest verbs in the English language—“run,” “eat,” and “swim,” for example—do not end in –ing. As a youth, Quentin beamed with pride whenever he thought of new –ing verbs—“bring,” “sing,” “spring,” “swing”—which he jotted down in a spiral notebook and kept hidden underneath his bed lest someone else reap the benefits of his work. The list scarcely made it to half a dozen words, and Quentin wasn’t even sure if “ching” counted. It wasn’t long before Quentin’s go-to list of verbs ending in –ing felt overused. Still, he felt resigned to use them, even as the words so often failed to make sense within the context of the stories they were meant to complement. Quentin chalked it up to the fact that Mad Libs thrive on being zany.

As an adult, Quentin felt obligated to take Mad Libs to the next level. In the most recent two weeks, Quentin had started timing his games, giving himself no longer than two minutes to fill in every blank on a given Mad Lib page. This put a great deal of pressure on Quentin’s brain, but he took pleasure in the adrenaline that seeped into his veins as a result. He also found that many of the Mad Libs turned out all the funnier because of the frantic pace with which he completed them. This was not so much because Quentin’s sense of humor and creativity were elevated during the timed games, but because the time constraints caused him to be sloppy. Quentin snorted when he once discovered that he had written “cringe” for a verb ending in –ing, and he laughed out loud when he saw moments later that he had written “sleeping” as a verb ending in –ing on the very same page. He was doubly delighted by the latter gaffe, since “sleeping” was clearly not the kind of verb ending in –ing that the writers of Mad Libs were seeking (it was, after all and properly speaking, a derivative of “sleep,” which does not end in –ing), and yet somehow, the word actually made sense within the context of the story! It was one of the first times this had happened for Quentin. (He made a mental note to send a letter to the publishers of Mad Libs recounting this tale of irony.)

On this morning’s commute, Quentin’s good spirits lasted just until the train passed Summoner’s Park, at which point Quentin turned the page to a particularly brutal game of Mad Libs and felt his enthusiasm dissipate like passed gas. Why, the whole page asked for no more nouns and adjectives than three and four, respectively. Other than that, the game insisted on quite a few verbs and adverbs, plus one name of a person in the room. Being on a train rather than in a room, Quentin was unsure of how to respond to the latter request. He ate up a good 30 seconds wondering if he should jot down his own name, the only name of anyone in the vicinity that he knew. He did eventually scribble “Quentin” onto the two-inch black line, but he felt he was bending the rules in doing so. He promised himself he would read the Mad Lib again once he was officially in a room if it turned out that his not being in a room made the story incoherent. Continuing on, Quentin sweated and strained to finish the puzzle. With 15 seconds to go, Quentin still had one verb ending in –ing and one adverb needing to be filled. Furiously tapping his feet and chewing on his bottom lip, Quentin racked his brain. 10 seconds remaining! “Sting!” his brain shouted at him, and Quentin’s eyes went wide. His shaking right hand manipulated the ballpoint pen across one of the empty lines. His gaze then fell to the lone void remaining at the bottom of the page. “C’mon, adverb! Adverb, adverb, adverb!” Quentin thought to himself.

Five seconds remaining!

Quentin wiped the sweat from his brow, his curly chestnut hair quickly becoming matted against his moist forehead. “Adverb! Like an adjective verb!” Quentin continued to prod himself.

Four seconds!

Nothing was coming to mind! Quentin groaned. The other passengers on the train glanced over at him in curiosity. Guttural moans were typically reserved for the sleeping and inebriated vagabonds who frequented the train. Only rarely were such bellows proffered by the business class, and typically that was just before the groaning individual made sick. Those nearest to Quentin scooted ever so slightly away from him, though he was too immersed his game to notice their impromptu, synchronous emigration.

Three seconds!

“I need an adverb! I need an adverb!” Quentin’s mind screamed at itself, but to no avail. His brain continued to give him the silent treatment.

Two seconds!

The consternation was too much. Quentin leaped from his seat and turned to his fellow passengers. Instinctually, the huddled mass of commuters looked up at him in rapt attention. Grabbing onto a handrail and steadying himself, Quentin cleared his throat and, with one second remaining, blurted aloud:

“I need an adverb! Quickly!”

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wooing in the 21st Century


The introductory ethics course in which I’m a TA recently had an exam. As one of the students was leaving the exam, he hurriedly tossed a folded-up sheet of paper toward a female student sitting a few rows in front of where he had been sitting. Instead of dropping onto the female student’s desk, however, the folded-up sheet of paper fell back behind the male student and landed smack dab in the middle of the floor. The female student glanced up, looking genuinely uncertain of what had just happened, while the male student, presumably realizing that things had not gone according to plan—particularly as I was staring right at him—held my gaze and kept walking, as if nothing had happened. He left the room, and I let him go.

Naturally, my first thought was that the male student was attempting to help the female student cheat. I assumed that the folded-up sheet of paper would include an answer to one or more of the test questions. My only confusion was that the female student didn’t appear to anticipate receiving the piece of paper, nor did she seem at all concerned about the paper lying less than two feet from her desk. She did not appear desirous to get it into her hands, nor did she appear anxious that I might come forward and pick up the piece of paper. I went forward and picked up the piece of paper.

What I discovered was not an attempt at cheating at all … unless, perhaps, the male student is already in a committed relationship. Instead, the note was nothing more than the male student’s attempt at expressing terms of endearment to a girl who had smitten him. I felt kind of guilty keeping the note, but I didn’t feel it was appropriate for me to deliver it, being in a position of authority and all. (It seems to cross a boundary.) And yet I hate to see a love letter go to waste. And so, I’ll now share it with you. Here is a scan of the very note I picked up:

Regrettably, the female student may never know this about herself. And who knows, she may have looked at herself in the mirror that very morning and wondered if she fit this description, and wondered if any guy was ever going to think this of her or tell her this. For all I know, the male student could have been her soul mate, and this note could have been the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Who says romance is dead?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Disney Pictures

As promised, I now present pictures from our recent trip to Disney World. The first half comes from day one, when we visited Disney’s Magic Kingdom. The second half is from day two, when we visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Melanie already posted most of these on her blog, but I’ll be filling in a few more details about the trip as I discuss the photos, so hopefully that’s worth something.

Edison and Peter were both pretty excited about riding a shuttle. At first, Edison thought we were joking about taking a shuttle, because he was thinking of a space shuttle. When we explained that it was like a bus, he became very excited about it. As we talked about whether to shuttle or not, Edison was a strong advocate for the position that we should indeed take the shuttle. He won.

You’ll also notice in the above picture that Edison and Peter are wearing jackets. Yes, it was rather chilly on that first day, at least in the morning and evening. We wore the jackets for at least a few hours, I think, before it became too warm.

This is the one and only photo I’ll share that was taken from inside the Magic Kingdom park. The others that we took within the park are near duplicates of this one, so there isn’t anything else worth sharing. If you’ve seen Melanie’s blog, note that this photo is slightly different from the one she shared. Peter’s face is obscured in this one, which isn’t cute, but I feel the photo has strengths that the one Melanie shared did not. For instance, notice the man just behind Edison’s left shoulder. He has provided us with photographic proof that Creegan’s bowels are working just fine nowadays.

This is Eddie and Peter, having just departed the monorail (still visible on the left side of the photo) after our return to Epcot. We had to wait just outside of Epcot for our return shuttle to the hotel. With plenty of time to spare, we hung around and snapped some pictures. The sun was setting and turned the sky into a lovely shade of purple, not quite captured by this photo, but close. Edison and Peter both loved the “big ball.” I myself thought the ball looked a lot cooler in real life than it ever has in photos. It’s a lot sleeker than you’d think—very shiny and metallic.

My date to Disney World. She’s married and has kids, but hey, so do I. As you can see, Creegan eventually passed out from his own stench. We probably should have taken diapers to Orlando, but we knew any time spent changing diapers meant less time on rides. I think we made the right choice. You can change diapers any day of the week, but you can’t always ride Aladdin’s magic carpets, am I right?

For being such a spirited pirate, Eddie was deathly afraid of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and refused to let us go on it. We tried to stuff him into a rentable locker so the rest of us could go on the ride, but he didn’t quite fit. What a killjoy. Fortunately, as we waited for the shuttle back to our hotel after our first day at Disney World, the woman working in the nearby “Bus Information” booth found our boys charming, called them over, and gave them both a free pirate hat. So, we did have some pirate-oriented fun for the day. And, as a bonus, I’m thinking that if Edison and Peter grow up and pirate Disney movies for a living, we’ll only have Disney to blame. I can just imagine Eddie and Peter’s defense lawyer whipping out these pirate hats as exhibit A. Oh, the egg on the Disney executives’ faces! Why, Daisy Duck herself couldn’t poop out that much egg in a lifetime!

Here begins day two, with this picture being snapped at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. More specifically, it was taken aboard the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride, about 20 seconds before the ride came to an end. I like the blurred background, showing just how wild a ride it was. (Well, mildly wild, at least for a few seconds, here and there.) We were seated directly behind the driver of the jeep, which gave us the advantage of having a nearly unobstructed view out the front windshield, as well as to our sides. I don’t know if being up front and seeing so well in front of us made it better or worse for Peter, who was a bit scared on this ride. It could get quite bumpy, and sometimes we did go kind of fast. I’m fairly certain this is the only ride that Peter asked to get off of, and he did so repeatedly. Poor guy. All in all, he handled it quite well, considering how much he wanted to be done with it. I think he may have cried for a few seconds at some point, but otherwise, he was just tense. Brave little fella.

Just as Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is the center of the Magic Kingdom, the Tree of Life is the center of Animal Kingdom. You probably cannot tell from this photograph alone just how impressive this fake tree is. It’s 50 feet wide and 14 stories tall, with animals intricately carved all around the trunk. (You might want to click on the picture and view it at a larger size in order to better appreciate it.) This photo was taken from almost directly beneath the tree, so you don’t see the details nearly as well as you could otherwise. The It’s Tough to be a Bug! 3-D movie that concluded our visit to Animal Kingdom is shown in a theater located underneath the tree, purposely designed to feel as though you are inside the root of the tree (like you yourself are a bug). I snapped this picture just after watching the movie.

I snapped this photo less than one minute after taking the previous picture. It was getting dark quickly at this point, so it’s rather difficult to see that the Tree of Life is right behind the three kids that suddenly stuck their faces in front of my camera as I was taking pictures. I basically had to lie down on the ground to get this shot. The effort doesn’t show, so I have to mention it. Why? Because I think I deserve recognition whenever I do anything that requires more than sitting, standing, or walking, that’s why.

Show’s over! Thanks for watching!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Animal Kingdom

In my previous entry, I discussed the first day of our family vacation to Disney World. We visited the Magic Kingdom, but it was less than magical. Day two was much better, in large part because we decided not to return to Magic Kingdom and instead to visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The benefits of visiting Animal Kingdom were numerous. First, the crowds were drastically smaller than at Magic Kingdom. Second, getting to Animal Kingdom involved a much simpler transportation process. Rather than shuttling to Epcot, taking the monorail to the transportation and parking center, and then taking a ferryboat to Magic Kingdom, all of which took an exorbitant amount of time, we could just shuttle to Epcot and then hop on a bus straight to Animal Kingdom. Knowing it would be so much simpler, we opted again to use the shuttle. It worked out beautifully. After getting to Epcot, we headed over to a relatively short line for the Animal Kingdom bus, and within a few minutes, were on our way to Animal Kingdom. Whereas it took a full two-and-a-half hours to get inside the Magic Kingdom once we boarded the shuttle on Monday, we entered the gates of Animal Kingdom approximately one hour after boarding the same shuttle on Tuesday. Beautiful.

Seconds after walking into Animal Kingdom, I knew I preferred it to Magic Kingdom, transportation issues aside. The density of the crowd was less than half of what it was at Magic Kingdom. You could walk around without lewdly pressing into complete strangers. It was much shadier, with lots of plant life. And overall, it was more educational and museum-like, which I liked. Our first destination was the part of Animal Kingdom dubbed Dinoland, U.S.A. Eddie and Peter both like dinosaurs, so we assumed it would be a hit. In the end, we didn’t do much that was dinosaur related, but I think Eddie and Peter had the most fun they had had on the trip yet. We started off at a playland area that is designed to look like an excavation site. True, you can find a playland at your local McDonald’s and skip a trip to Disney World, but we didn’t mind spending some time there. It’s something kids love, so why not?

After playing in the playland for a while and then spending some time digging up bones in a sandpit, we headed to a nearby auditorium to watch the live-action, condensed, 30-minute, musical version of Finding Nemo. It was actually quite impressive, and I think the kids were quite taken in by the imagery of it all. Edison got a little nervous when some actors came running through the crowd with some giant jellyfish attached to poles, making it look as though the jellyfish were swimming around over our heads, but his fear was quickly dissipated when Melanie assured him they were fake.

After watching the show, we took toward the part of Animal Kingdom dubbed Asia. Eddie and Peter (and, admittedly, Melanie and I) enjoyed stopping and watching the “Expedition Everest” roller coaster. Melanie really wanted to go on it, but seeing as how she’d have to go on it alone, she didn’t. Admittedly, I’m glad I didn’t have to take care of all three kids by myself for however long the wait would have been, but I wish Melanie had been able to try some of the things that interested her. (Someday, honey!) We moseyed through Asia and wound up in Africa, where we had some traditional African cuisine—cheeseburgers, a turkey sandwich on focaccia, potato chips, lemonade, a chocolate shake, and a Diet Coke. We then went on the coolest ride we had yet been on (in my opinion), the Kilimanjaro Safaris. Melanie took Edison on an emergency bathroom trip right when we were almost to the front of line (not that we knew that), so I ended up standing there awkwardly with Creegan and Peter as a bajillion people pressed past me and I tried to keep my place at the very front of the line. Fortunately, Melanie and Edison didn’t take too terribly long. We then boarded a jeep and drove around in the “wild,” looking at zebras, lions, ostriches, warthogs, giraffes, alligators, rhinos, and the like. There were no barriers whatsoever between us and many of the animals. In fact, one of the rhinos was so close that Edison probably could have touched it had he put his arm out. It was cool. I regret not snapping some pictures before the ride was basically over, but it was often very bumpy and I consciously decided not to try taking out the camera. I eventually did take out the camera, but then the driver announced that the ride was over. Poop.

From Africa, we traveled via train (choo-choo style, not a monorail or anything—the train was so desolate that we got a large train car all to ourselves!) to a place called Rafiki’s Planet Watch area. They had a petting zoo we wanted to see, but it ended up being quite lame. I don’t know if they didn’t have all the animals available that they normally do, but it was very underwhelming. There were about a dozen goats huddled together, and that was about it. Those were the only animals you could actually get to, and they spent a good deal of time in an area where you couldn’t reach them, on what appeared to be a playland of their own. We didn’t stay there very long. We then went into a museum and spent some time in there. It wasn’t anything special, but it was fun for a few minutes. Edison and Peter enjoyed looking at the various bugs and snakes, and they even got to pet a lizard, which was cool. We then stopped for another cool treat (a strawberry popsicle and a frozen banana) before heading back to the train.

Once aboard the train, they announced that it was going on 6 p.m., and that as such, most of Animal Kingdom would be closed. Only a few select areas of the park would remain open until 8 p.m. We hadn’t expected this, so we weren’t sure what to do. We had planned on going to see the 8-minute, 3-D movie called It’s Tough to be a Bug!, but this didn’t technically fall into the list of areas and attractions that were staying open late. Even so, we knew we had to pass by the auditorium showing the movie in order to exit the park, so we headed that way. We figured that, if nothing else, we could return to Dinoland for a few minutes, since it was one of the areas staying open late. Well, serendipitously enough, as we were walking past the bug movie, an usher (or whatever) was standing out front and telling people that they could head right in for a show that was about to start, no waiting necessary. “Perfect!” we thought, and headed right in. There ended up being more of a wait for the movie to begin than we had been led to believe, but we were basically in front of the line. After several minutes, we filed into the theater and donned our glasses. Sadly, it went a bit downhill from there. The movie was rather loud and intense, so Peter and Eddie, neither of whom wanted to wear their glasses (at least not for long), were a bit terrified by it. Melanie hated it too, not only because it ended up being nothing more than a hectic assault on the senses (you get sprayed with water, a stench is filtered through the air when a stink bug farts onscreen, animatronic spiders drop down from the ceiling, air blows in your face when things pop out at you from the screen, the bottom of your seat wiggles when bugs are supposed to be crawling underneath you, etc.), but because she felt so powerless to help Peter. (Peter was sitting on the opposite side of Melanie than I was, so I couldn’t really get to him. Plus, Edison was in between Melanie and me.) As for myself, I would have enjoyed it were I not essentially immune to 3-D. I’ve written about this in the past (see here), but I wasn’t able to overcome it this time. I was never really able to focus on the 3-D images. They were all blurry, which makes the whole experience rather pointless. Still, I guess it’s fair to say that I enjoyed it more than anyone else in my family.

Once the movie was over, it was time to head out and bus back to Epcot so we could get on the shuttle back to our hotel. Our timing was much more perfect this time around, so we didn’t have to wait too terribly long for the bus or for the shuttle. It was nice. And the whole experience overall was quite nice. In the end, I suppose we didn’t see a lot more than we did at Magic Kingdom, but it was a much calmer experience, and we didn’t have to fight so hard to accomplish what we did. It was a much more leisurely experience all around.

We’ve still got two days left on our tickets, so we’ll be returning to Disney World sometime within the next four to eight weeks. As I said in my last entry, we will return to Magic Kingdom and hope to hit some of the things we missed, though I’m semi-reluctant about that. As for the other day left on our tickets, we currently plan to check out Epcot. I’m actually really excited about Epcot. From what I’ve seen online, I think it could easily prove to be my favorite park. Pretty much every attraction they have is something I am interested in seeing. Part of me fears that once I see Epcot, I’ll wish we had another day to visit it, that I won’t have time to see everything I want to see there in just one day. Then I’ll feel even sadder about how disappointed we were with our first day at the Magic Kingdom. But oh well. Not much I can do about that, I suppose. The next time I post, I plan on putting up some pictures, which in turn will allow me to share a few more details about the trip. Until then….

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Happiest Living Hell on Earth

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

It was a Disney World family vacation.

For a short while now, Melanie and I have been discussing the possibility of going on a family vacation to Disney World. As Florida residents, we’re eligible for discounts that make such a grand vacation relatively feasible. This is especially true given that Peter and Creegan are still young enough to get into the Disney World parks for free. With this week being spring break, we had considered booking a hotel and going down for a few days, but we never quite committed to the plan because, among other things, we weren’t sure how reliable our van would be. As last week drew to a close and spring break officially began (for me, that would have been last Thursday at about 2 p.m.), we continued batting the idea around, changing our mind about 1,000 times over a two-day period. Things were slightly complicated by the fact that some good friends of ours wanted us to go down with them sometime next month. We wanted to buy a four-day pass to Disney World (where each of the four days can be used at any point between now and the end of May), but we weren’t sure if we should try to drive down there more than once or if we should just try to cram it all into one super vacation. The former option would make it easier to fit in with school and spread out the fun, but it would ultimately cost more for gas and hotels. The latter option would be cheaper, but perhaps more grueling physically and psychologically, plus difficult to arrange with school.

Early on Saturday evening, Melanie and I had decided that we would try to go down only once, and that we would wait until next month so we could go with our friends. We gave up on the idea of driving down to Orlando on Monday or Tuesday, as we had been considering. Then, quite late on Saturday night, Melanie and I got about as spontaneous as we’ve ever been and decided that not only would we still go this week, but we would leave the very next day, on Sunday afternoon. We had never considered leaving that early in the week, but quite simply, we had been wanting to do something fun during spring break and we figured why not just do it. So we did. The next day, just after 4 p.m., we took off for Orlando, telling Eddie and Peter only a few hours before that we were going on vacation. It was quite fun.

The fun lasted up until about the time we actually got to Disney World on Monday morning. As Melanie so graciously and frequently reminds me, attitude plays a big role in how positively or negatively one’s experiences are. But let me tell you, it was hard to enjoy that first day at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. We stayed at a hotel located just two miles (literally) from Disney World, a hotel that offered a complimentary shuttle to the park. (This was a huge perk, we thought, given that parking at Disney World is $14 per day.) We took the 10:05 a.m. shuttle that picked us up right in front of our hotel. It would be two-and-a-half hours before we were actually inside the Magic Kingdom. Why? Well, as it turns out, the shuttle only takes you to Epcot, from which you must utilize the complimentary Disney transportation systems to work your way to Magic Kingdom (or to any of the other Disney parks). That sounds all well and good, but it was an incredibly laborious experience. First, after departing our shuttle, we had to walk quite a ways to get to the actual entrance to Epcot. Then we had to wait in an incredibly long line to have our bags searched. Then we had to wait in line for the monorail, which takes you not to the Magic Kingdom itself, but to the parking and transportation center. Once you get to the parking and transportation center, you must either take another monorail (which has another huge line) or take a ferryboat to get to the Magic Kingdom. Getting off of the first monorail, there were about a million people milling around. You couldn’t tell which way to go. You could see signs above the monorail and ferryboat loading areas, but you had no clue what lines were going to get you to those things. Nobody was standing around guiding people. It was pandemonium, as far as I could tell. We wanted to try the ferryboats, just to have a change of pace. We tried moving away from the line that seemed to be directly in front of the monorail boarding system. But, as we moved further and further down the line, it didn’t seem like there was ever a new line. It all seemed to be one massive group. We didn’t know what we were doing, but fortunately for us, we somehow ended up back in the line, further up than we probably were supposed to be. We kind of just blended into it. I don’t feel that guilty about it, because the line was totally disorganized and tons of people kept ending up ahead of you that weren’t originally ahead of you. Rather than being a single-file line, the line was about ten people wide, so you couldn’t tell who was with whom and where they were going, exactly. Gaps would open up several feet to your right and a few feet ahead of you, and suddenly someone from a mile back behind you in line would fill that void. It was quite chaotic.

In the end, we thought we had fallen back into the original line that we had been trying to avoid, which we originally thought was for the monorail. It ended up being for the ferryboat (which made us happy, I guess), but it was as long or longer waiting for the ferryboat as it ever was waiting to go on a ride at the Magic Kingdom itself. Once we actually got on the ferryboat and to the Magic Kingdom’s main entrance, we had to go through another line for a repeat bag search. Then we had to go get in line at the ticket will call office, to pick up the passes we had ordered online. By the time we had those tickets and had officially passed through the turnstiles at the Magic Kingdom’s main entrance, it was after 12:30 p.m.

Let the fun begin? No, not quite. We knew we wanted to hit Adventureland first, but we had barely gotten into the park and walked a few feet before we were abruptly stopped and told we had to wait for a parade. We had to stand there for about ten minutes while a collection of dancers and half a dozen or so familiar Disney characters on floats went by. We weren’t really interested in the parade, so it felt like nothing more than yet another delay. As it would turn out, the non-stop parades would prove one of our worst enemies on the trip, hindering our progression through the park at several points. In fact, between the time we officially entered the Magic Kingdom (approximately 12:35 p.m.) and the time we boarded the complimentary shuttle back to the hotel (7:45 p.m.), we enjoyed a total of five attractions. Only three of those were rides, and one of the non-rides (the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House) we didn’t even have to wait in line for. Is that obscene or what? I think so.

Admittedly, the poor use of our time was partially our own fault. Then again, there was no way to know we were doing things stupidly. You have to go through all the craziness of visiting Disney World before you learn how to do it much better. By then, it’s too late to gain back the hours that were arguably wasted. For one thing, you’ve got to avoid going back and forth. We were trying to be smart when, for instance, we grabbed a “Fast Pass” ticket for the Jungle Cruise ride. Fast Pass tickets give you a pre-printed one-hour window during which you can return to the respective ride and board it almost immediately, without waiting in line. It worked great, except that we basically spent the time between getting the Fast Pass ticket and actually riding the ride (over 90 minutes later) walking across the park and back without doing a dang thing other than eating a $4.29 corn dog. (We passed on the $3, one-ounce bag of potato chips. No joke.) After eating lunch, we thought we’d pass the time by heading to the Haunted Mansion. On our way there … whoops, it’s another parade! Road closed! Oh good, this nice Disney employee is guiding us into the closed-off area and telling us to go ahead. Wait, what’s this? Now another Disney employee is mad at us and telling us we’ve got to get out of the road we were just directed into. He points us over to the other side of the road, onto a sidewalk that is packed with people eagerly awaiting the parade. We can hardly get through them, what with a baby stroller and all. The Disney employee has to yell at people to move for us, and even then, there is barely room at the back of the crowd of spectators for a single-file (at best) line of people to walk in one direction. People are indeed walking, but not in the direction we’re trying to go. Thankfully, after a few minutes of trying to push our stroller upstream, we are directed to a closed sidewalk along with a person in a wheelchair. We bypass a massive amount of people this way, but it doesn’t get us terribly far. We see that the Haunted Mansion wait time is 40 minutes. I’m tempted, and Edison is convinced he wants to go in it, but I’m also 99.9% certain he’ll back out at the last moment. I don’t want to invest 40 minutes into that. So, we decide to work our way to Fantasyland and see about doing the Peter Pan ride. Unfortunately, this requires a little bit of backtracking, too. When we get to the Peter Pan ride, the wait time is an hour. At this point, we only have a few minutes before we can use our Fast Pass for the Jungle Cruise (way back in the Adventureland area of the park). We decide to grab a Fast Pass for the Peter Pan ride, since it is offered. We don’t notice until the Fast Pass tickets print that the return time is 9:20 p.m. Um, never mind. Scratch Peter Pan off the list. Let’s go back to the Jungle Cruise.

Way too long later, we are back at the Jungle Cruise ride. We get onto it fairly quickly, which is really, really nice. The ride doesn’t last long and is a bit different from what I remember as a kid. They have changed it, and it doesn’t seem much worth the time, really. We decide to make our way to Tomorrowland, which we still haven’t visited. Finally, we have some decent fun. We wait in line to go on the Astro Orbiter, which is basically flying rockets that you can make go up and down. Peter goes with me and is a bit freaked out. (The centrifugal force makes you feel like your rocket is about to tip over.) I try to calm him by pretending we’re birds. Melanie, Creegan, and Eddie are in the rocket in front of us. Eddie, too, doesn’t want to make the rocket go up and down, but after the ride is done, he hails it as his favorite activity of the day. Both boys may have been hesitant about making the rockets go up and down because of an earlier experience that day, on Aladdin’s magic carpet ride. The two rides are similar, in that you basically fly around in circles and can make your vehicle go up and down. Eddie made the magic carpet go up and down a few times, but it was more abrupt than expected and it freaked both him and (even more so) Peter out.

What have I left out? Oh, we visited a Monsters, Inc. show, which was basically stand-up comedy performed by cartoon monsters on-screen. It wasn’t exactly a movie, because they would actually put people from the audience up on a big screen and have the on-screen cartoon monsters interact with them a bit. Clearly, people were backstage with a microphone and making up some of the stuff on the spot as they talked to the people in the audience. But it was still a cartoon, not people in costumes or anything. It was mildly entertaining, though probably not the most exciting thing for Edison and Peter. Eddie laughed a few times, though I think he was laughing more because he could tell a joke was told than because he understood the joke.

At that point, we thought we had better start heading back to the monorail so we could work our way back to the shuttle pick-up area. We had no idea how long it would take going back the other way, so we ended up back a lot earlier than we needed to be, unfortunately. Still, I don’t know that we would have had much time for anything else. As the day progressed, the wait times seemed to increase at each ride. I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t go on any rides that involve watching stuff, like the Peter Pan ride, Pirates of the Caribbean (which Eddie refused to go on because he was certain it would be terrifying), the Haunted Mansion, or even It’s a Small World. Those types of rides are what stand out in my memory from visiting Disneyland as a kid. The good news (or is it?) is that we plan to return to the Magic Kingdom next month. We’ll do things much better next time, including shelling out the $14 to park at the park ourselves. I’m sure this will be hectic, too, but at least we won’t have to work around shuttle schedules. We’ll also have a good idea of exactly what we want to do, and we’ll head straight to it, starting on the opposite side of the park than we did this time around. I’m hopeful that it can be a much, much better experience.

Later, I’ll write about our second full day in Orlando, during which we spent the day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. That was a much nicer experience. I’ll also post some pictures, though we kept with tradition and hardly took any photographs.