Physiology for a Five-Year-Old

My grandson Hasan wanted to spend the night with me, so I picked him up on my way home from work. We played on the computer,  constructed a model car together, watched a little television,  brushed our teeth and put on our pajamas. Then he asked me, “What color is our brain?”

“Pink,” I said.

“What color is a very young brain?”


“What color is a very old brain?”

“Pink,” I said, “I’ll show you.” I dug out my beautifully illustrated atlas of anatomy and flipped to the section on the nervous system. I showed him the pink brain, with its packed convolutions, and I showed him where the spinal cord enters the lower part of the brain. Then I ran my fingers down his spinal cord. He stared.

“How do the five senses work?” he asked.

I flipped to the eye picture and told him about how light enters the pupil and how the optic nerve is connected to the brain.

“How do we hear?” he asked.

I flipped to the ear pictures, and showed him the inner anatomy of the ear, which conveniently looks like musical instruments (if you apply a little imagination).

“How does burping work?”

To the digestive system…

“How does the pee pee get made?”

To the kidneys, ureters and bladder pages…

“The poopies?” Back to the digestive system…

“How does our hair get white when we get old?”

To the section on aging…He stared at the drawings of people at various ages,  their hair becoming white and their flesh becoming  loose. He wanted to know where each of his family members stood in the lineup.

We sat with that book for nearly an hour, he asking questions and  me flipping the pages to show him pictorial answers.

Finally I saw his eyelids droop, so we went to bed. I was relieved he hadn’t asked me about death.

He turned from side to side, unable to fall asleep in spite that he was tired and it was nearly midnight.

“I can’t fall asleep,” he said. “I want my mommy!” He became agitated and I wasn’t able to help him recover his usual good mood. I  had to phone his mommy, waking her,  and ask her to unlock the door for us. I took him home, feeling sorry that he had suddenly felt so unhappy.

Next morning, he phoned me early and said, “Grandma! Don’t tell me anything more about the body at night time. I just get so confused! I get sooooo confused!”

Caught in the Betrayal of Fate

Monday, July 19, 2010
Caught in the Betrayal of Fate

My daughter’s doctor called her and her husband to come in for an immediate appointment regarding a prenatal test that indicated something could be wrong with the new baby. She’s at the end of her first trimester. I asked,”If the next tests indicate something wrong, what will you do?”

She replied, in tears, “What can we do? We believe in God, we have to accept what He sends us. What? Are we going to kill a baby?”

When I asked her husband the same question, privately, he gave an entirely different response.

Here I am,  in dead center, as usual, able to understand and agree with both of them.

As a family, we’ve already trod the moral high road. We’ve paid our dues for admission to the tower of special needs, and we’d rather not do it again.

My third daughter has Down Syndrome. Though I did not give birth to her (all my kids are originally “stepkids”)  I know what it feels like to be betrayed by fate, to relish the thought of the arrival of another child, and to be kicked in the heart when that child appears with special needs. Believe me, I know, but my story is another story. The point is that I know how she and her husband feel, and I  understand the moral implications of either decision.

Whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is a decision that one can never fully evaluate before the fact. One will never know how the future would have unfolded had the decision been made the opposite way. Therefore, one is caught in  a double betrayal of fate.

I honestly do not know what Islam says about terminating a pregnancy during the first trimester, but I don’t really care, astaghfirullah.
Religion is only one of many factors that will have a bearing upon the outcome of this situation. The best outcome would be that the test was a false positive, and that the baby is perfectly normal.

Life is hard enough under ordinary circumstances. Are we required to hang an additional ball and chain around our necks while we have the means to prevent such a fastening? Oh, yes, I’ve heard about the blessings in raising a child with special needs; I’ve acquired some of them myself, but if I had it to do over, I’d rather pass on this particular blessing.

Nevertheless, if my daughter bares a child with “special needs” (what a euphemism!)  I’ll have to fasten my seat belt on that particular roller coaster all over again. I’ll do it, and I’ll shut up about it. I’m prepared, and I’ll help her.



Alhumdullilah! My surgery was successful, as expected. Twenty-four hours later, I am much better, with very little pain, and able to type!

Just before administering anesthetic, the anesthesiologist will ask the patient to imagine him/herself in a relaxing, happy setting. My doctor told me the reason for this, and it’s not simply to make a little joke before surgery. According to my anesthesiologist, there is an approximate thirty-second window between wakefulness and full anesthetic stupor. The mental state of the patient during this very short time can help determine whether the patient has a smooth or a rocky post-anesthetic recovery.  All patients have some degree of anxiety before surgery, but if they can conjure up a happy image just before konking out, they’ll wake up more easily and feel better during the immediate post-op recovery.

So, in the OR, my doctor said to me, “Now is the time I want you to think of a lovely place, a place in which you are happy and comfortable. Everything went all right. We’re finished. You are awake now.”

I was confused. I picked up the blanket with my left hand and was amazed to see my right forearm all bandaged nearly to the elbow!

I perceived his statements back to back, as if no time passed between them. In fact, the surgery took the exact forty-five minutes my surgeon had predicted.  I felt great. In fact, I missed the little day dream I had prepared for myself, that of being at my daughter’s house, playing with my little grandchild. I hope I at least said, “Bismillah.”

Medical science does not know how anesthesia works at the molecular level. It’s more about consciousness than neurology. The topic has been bothering me all day.

Anesthesia is not like sleep.  From sleep, you wake up knowing that some time has passed.  You wake up feeling differently than you did upon going to sleep. You may remember a dream, or at least the sense that you did dream.

From anesthesia, you wake up before you know you’ve been gone. What happens? Where does consciousness go? The answers that suggest themselves are disturbing for someone like me, of little faith, and in need of proof.