Friday, June 27, 2008

Understanding the Netherlands' marijuana policy

As a US green-card holder from the Netherlands I'm often asked to explain the (very) liberal Dutch policies on various topics like euthanasia, abortion, prostitution and the use of marijuana. Today I found a good article on explaining the latter...


Peace... ;-)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Immigration reform for the USA

I know this post might spark some controversy among citizens and permanent residents, but being a permanent resident myself (Niels),I still feel that in order to tackle the illegal immigration we need to look at two key issues:

• What is causing the illegal immigration
• What can we do to prevent this

The first one is actually a two-fold answer in my mind. First, the reason why there is such a massive influx in people is the difference in socio-economic levels between either side of the fence. There is not much you can do about that that will have a short or mid-term impact on the (illegal) immigration. The other reason is the MASSIVE wait-list for visas for immigrants from Mexico. It can take up to 15 years before your (approved!!!) petition is eligible for an actual visa. Since there is a cap on the amount of visas issued and the demand FAR outreaches the supply you see this extreme waiting times. That is the root-cause of the whole issue. Whatever happened to the phrase on the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Any artificial barrier (whether it is a physical wall or a 15-year paperwork process) is not going to have the desired effect. That is trying to deal with the issues whereas this needs a fix on the root problem.

So how do we prevent illegal immigration, what can we do to prevent it? Here is my idea for a major step forward. I'm not saying it solves it completely, but you'll most likely reduce the problem significantly. If you would have a system where an immigrant can petition for a visa and either be granted (read: issued) or denied within a reasonable amount of time (I'd say about 12 months) at a cost far less than the current human traffickers charge you'll see a dramatic reduction in the illegal crossing of this nations borders.

Why would you consider such a program? There is so much work available for them (yes, even in this state of the economy) that the current cap is unrealistic. Consider that if all illegal immigrants would simply stop working it would have a major paralyzing effect on the already fragile US economy. That is pretty much a fact. Just imagine that if the US census bureau estimates there are about 12 million illegal immigrants in the USA, so even if only 10% of them would work you'd have 1.2 million people on strike… Not even the UAW can match that… Therefore any politician that wants to rid the USA of illegal immigration is talking pure politics since they all know that it's entirely unfeasible and even undesirable to do so.

Then there is the additional issue that for the legal immigrants there is a large demand for seasonal workers that cannot be filled due to the way that the system works. You can only apply for seasonable visas a maximum of 90 days in advance. The 'season' runs from October to September, but in reality within 1 to 2 DAYS the (capped) amount of visas available for those seasonal workers is depleted. So any industry that needs workers from February on (and I'm not talking about the IT industry here…) can never use those seasonal workers - and since the existing workforce finds those jobs like crab fishing, fruit harvesting, etc… undesirable - the only solution is to use the 'undocumented' workforce.

However, if - for political reasons only - you create those artificial barriers around immigration that have no regards for the existing situation and the economical and demographical supply and demand you'll never create a feasible solution and all you'll get is political populism and history gives us a very clear answer on the outcome of that: it doesn't work (and that is the 'softest' description available…)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy 1st Father's Day to Niels

In honor of his first Father's Day...

Happy Father's Day!

(He's gonna be such a good daddy!!)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Happy Anniversary, Dad and Carole!

This day in 1986 Elmer Abbas (aka American Dad) married Carole Schulke. Happy 22th anniversary!


Here in the States the term 'Cheeseheads' applies to group of fanatic (American) Football fans that support the Green Bay Packers, from Green Bay, Wisconsin. The reason for the nickname is the massive amount of dairy farmers in that state.

As a tie-in with the previous post you can see that Green Bay fans aren't the only ones called cheeseheads. The same term applies to the Dutch. Ask any German what their nickname for the Dutch is and they will tell you 'Kasekopf' a.k.a. 'Cheesehead'. Since Holland is known for it's cheese it is not entirely surprising.

Funny story from my side is that the first time I got interested in (American) Football was after I bought a rain coat of the Packers back in Holland. I started looking for that team and lo and behold they actually won the Super Bowl that year. Being from Holland, my wife having lived in Green Bay (and actually worked for the Packers) and having a good friend living there I guess I'm one of the few that can claim to be a 'real' cheesehead!!!

Don't worry, American Mom, we still like the Vikes too....

Hup, Holland, Hup! / Go team Orange!

Yesterday the Dutch national soccer team scored their second win in as many games and have secured a spot in the Euro 2008 Quarter Finals. On Tuesday we beat the current World Champs Italy in a good game with 3-0 and yesterday we played the runner-up France and as the ESPN commentator put it '.. it's a Dutch oven and the French are toast!' : 4-1 Holland.

On ESPN Soccernet the comments range from 'a Dutch of Class' to 'Dutch Destroyers'. I have to say that I like what I see. Yesterday after worked I watched the game vs. 'Les Blues' and watched the 2nd goal a couple times since we have that awesome contraption called an HD-DVR... So in full HD glory I saw an absolutly brilliant play by Ruud van Nistelrooy keeping the ball in-play AND pass it to Arjan Robben in a spectacular fashion to see Arjen go for the goal-line, deliver a perfect cross-pass and have Robin van Persie finish the job. But that wasn't the most important goal of the game. That one was all Arjan Robben...

In the 71th minute Thierry Henry from the French scored a beautiful goal to bring the French back to 2-1. Hope again for 'Les Blues'. Henry felt good... until only 35 seconds(!!) later Arjen Robben got the ball, dribbled towards the goal line and from an absolutely impossible angle restored the 2-goal cushion. From the TV-shots it looked like the wind got knocked out of Thierry Henry as he looked-on in complete disbelief.

Well, these kind of things are precisely the combination of skill and luck you need to do well in any international soccer tournament, and so far this year they seem to be coming together for 'Oranje'.

Oh, as part of Jen's on-going assimilation into Dutch-hood, she watched part of the game with me and learned a new word, through an awesome site called 'Dutch Word of the day': 'Oranjekoorts', meaning 'Orange-fever' after the color of our national team. The whole of Holland (ok: the Netherlands) have that now as everywhere you go in Holland you'll encounter things in the Orange color, from beer to hats to whatever you can think of and a few things you probably wouldn't... ;-)

On to the Quarters! Click here for an explanation on: Hup, Holland, Hup!!

Watching the game and then a concert in the PSV stadium in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.

Baby's first outfit!

Niels and I saw this onesie on Cafepress when we were pregnant the first time. We didn't order it at the time (which turned out to be a good thing!), and promised ourselves that we would order it when we finally made it to the second trimester!

Well, this week is week 14--officially trimester two!--so baby de Jong finally has something to wear.

Isn't it cute!?!

Now we just need to find some good NFL gear since he or she will arrive just in time for the playoffs!!!

Don't Mess with the Zofran!

Today is my ninth day on the Zofran pump...and, because it's me, you know it's been an adventure!

Matria Home Health Care came by last Thursday with the pump. It's an 8: by 4" contraption that holds the syringe of Zofran. The nurse was hear for almost 2 hours the first time, showing me how to put in the infusion set (like a IV) and change the syringes. I have a whole book of instructions for the pump, as well as helpful information about Hyperemesis Gravidarum (extreme morning sickness). Each syringe gives me about 20 hours of medicine, about a ml/hour. The idea is that by having it constantly, I won't be sick.

The first time I put the infusion set in, it was put in too high. It's supposed to go in your stomach or legs, but since it's a little hard for me to see what I'm doing, I put it in just below my rib. BIG MISTAKE! The medicine couldn't absorb fast enough so instead it just pooled under the skin and made a rock hard red spot about 6" x 2"! It was extremely painful. I had an OB appointment the next morning at 8am and I came in bawling from pain. It felt like a broken rib and I couldn't bend or move without shooting pain. The nurse moved it but because the meds were pooled there, I didn't have any relief. I called Matria when I got home and they told me to stay in bed with a heating pad on it to break things up. I was in bed for two day until I could finally sit up without tears!

Before the pump, I was throwing up a few times a day. With the pump, I'm only throwing up every two days (though hopefully it will diminish soon!). The whole thing is awkward. It comes with a little fanny pack (high fashion!), though I usually just lay it next to me while I'm home. I've learned the hard way that I need to always be aware of where it is, because having the infusion set pulled out of your skin is NOT a sensation I wish to repeat!

The most assuring thing about the pump is that every morning I have to call in to Matria for a check in. They ask about my weight, ketone results (I do a little test every day to measure my ketone levels. In pregnancy, ketones are bad, they let me know that I'm not getting enough nutrition), what I ate, how much I threw up, how much I dry heaved, how often I was nauseous, etc. It's a bit much, but it's good to know that there's a daily record of my progress.

Yesterday brought a new adventure when my pump broke. It had a full syringe and yet was insistent (with a high pitched beep every 60 seconds) that it was empty. We tried all the tricks in the book, but ultimately, Matria delivered a new pump. One cool thing about that, both the nurse who came yesterday, and the regular nurse who came the day before, are both Family who attend our same Gathering place. So now I know I'm in good hands even when we go to Dad's house!

The best part of the pump is that I've actually had a few good days (which I hadn't had since Memorial Weekend) where I've been able to go out and be social. For the most part, I've been staying pretty close to home (and bathroom!) I would love to be off it, but I'm told that it can be weeks or months. Before they even start to wean me off, I have to: 1) stop throwing up, 2) stop losing weight and 3) be eating regular foods in regular amounts. After being down 13 pounds, I'm holding steady between -11 and -12, which seems to be a major victory to me, but I'm still in a cycle of eat real food one day and be sick the next, so I've been pretty cautious about what I try.

Niels and I still planning to go on our anniversary cruise to Alaska August 9, so my goal is to be off it by then. My OB said she would write my permission note if I can be back to regular Zofran by then. It's good to have goals!

So, my spirits are back up again. We have goals and best of all, baby DJ is getting lots of attention. I have heard his heart beat several times in the last few weeks and am well assured that despite all the grief Mommy is getting, he or she is doing great!

Looking forward to giving you all an update about my boring pregnancy...6 weeks til the BIG ultrasound...where we find out if baby is a boy or a girl!!!


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Very Happy End to a Very Scary Night

I'm very happy to report that I'm back home!

The last week has been the most brutal yet for the pregnancy, with trips to the ER last Sunday (the 25th) and again on Wednesday (the 28th) for complications from the pregnancy. I continue to fight food aversions and nausea, usually throwing up 3-4 times a day. For the last week, I've been getting by on water, flavor ice and jello. With the weight loss and lack of good food, I've been getting more and more dehydrated and exhausted. I could tell my body was getting weaker and my head injury symptoms were starting to take over. Niels has helped me to see that when my body reaches a certain physical stress point, it starts to shut down: I don't make memories (not such a bad thing) and it gets harder for me to communicate. At worst, to hear Niels describe it, I go into a near catatonic state where I am unaware and unresponsive to my surroundings. From my perspective, I simply shut out everything around me and my body uses all its energy to focus on breathing and balance.

Saturday night, Niels and I were looking forward to a party a friend was having for all the spring birthdays. Tony always has the best parties, and I've felt bad that we've had to cancel pretty much every social possibility for the last six weeks, so I really wanted to go. Friday was a particular bad day, I even threw up blood at one point. So I spend most of the day in bed. My doctors were thinking that I developed a cold from all the irritation in my throat from vomiting and was stuck in a cycle of cough, vomit, pass out from exhaustion. Saturday I was feeling a little better, so we were able to go to the party and I felt almost normal for the first time in weeks. I even had some cheese, chips and ice cream! Sunday morning after church, I was sick again and listless. I was able to sleep for a few hours and woke up feeling much better. I made the ill-advised decision to take Niels out for dinner to an all-you-can-eat-buffet. A good idea for him because the poor guy has had to fend for himself an awful lot lately, but not such a good choice for me. I didn't eat much at dinner and was starting to feel sick, so we decided to walk around a bit to try to settle my stomach and get some semblance of exercise.

I barely made it home before I was in the bathroom with one of my violent spells. When I first had my head injury, I got to the point where my body simply rejected all food and assumed it was all meant to be thrown up. In the process, my breathing would get cut off and I would start to hyperventilate. Poor Niels thought I was going to be able to sleep so he was downstairs and couldn't hear me screaming and crying, but Bailey did and we're quite sure we've traumatized her. I called him on the phone and he came up to help me. This time, even after emptying my stomach, I still couldn't get air and felt like I was going to pass out. Niels and I debated calling the doctor because at $150 a pop, we're not all that keen on going to the ER every few days when it doesn't seem to make any lasting difference. But I was pretty shaken up this time and forced the issue. Niels talked to the doctor when he called back because I was back in the bathroom and the doctor could hear how I was doing. Of course, he told Niels to bring me to the ER.

I pretty much went into my special place on the way to the ER, so this next part is from what Niels told me. The doctor had called the ER so when we got there, we were brought to triage right away. I don't remember any of that or how long we waited. Apparently I wasn't aware of where we were either. The first I remember is being in the ER room with Niels when the same doctor we saw on Wednesday came in and woke me up. I was afraid she would think I was a wussy pregnant woman who couldn't just deal with it. But they hooked me up to an IV to hydrate me and also gave me some breathing treatments which helped me get a lot more air. The vampire/phlebotomist took about a gallon on my blood and the doctor ran a couple of tests, including an EEG and a spiral CT of my chest. The nurses kept coming in to check on me and said the tests were in and the doctor should be in soon. It seemed like we waited forever for results. We figured everything was okay and were impatient to get back home because by this time, it was nearly midnight, ushering in Niels' birthday, his first as a married man, and our first together as he was in Canada with his groomsmen last year.

When the doctor came back she didn't have her annoyed look anymore. She was all serious. She said that the CT showed what looked like a blood clot on my lung (a pulmonary embolism, or PE) and that I would be admitted to the ICU! We're really glad we didn't really understand then what it was because we later learned it's the #1 cause of death in pregnant women! After that I was a rock star with about a billion people working on me. I had little metal stickers all over me so they could monitor my heart, breathing, vitals, oxygen levels, etc. They started an IV of blood thinner (Heparin) and put me on oxygen. We were admitted around midnight.

When we got upstairs to the ICU we mentioned that it was now Niels birthday and that as newlyweds we had never spend a night apart. The wonderful staff up there put us in a private room and managed to find a chair that converted into a twin bed so Niels could stay with me. By this time, I had three IVs going (Heparin, saline to hydrate me, and Zofran for nausea). I really didn't sleep much because there was a constant parade of people coming in to check my vitals, take my blood, change my IV's and otherwise poke and prod me. Plus, of course, I had tubes everywhere, had to keep my arms straight and couldn't get on my side. (I'm all caught up on my informercials now). And of course, in the few moments when I was left alone to sleep, pregnant woman that I am, I had to go to the bathroom. This, of course, was a major production because, first of all because I had a bright yellow wristband that said "Fall Risk" due to my previous head injuries. Secondly, I was on limited mobility. I wasn't allowed out of bed without permission and assistance. (I later learned that this is because movement can cause the clot to move to heart or brain and be fatal). So, every time I had to pee, I had to use the call button and wait for nurse to come and unhook me from my bed and wheel the IV stand to the bathroom. And of course, they wanted to measure everything that came out as well. So much for privacy!

Fortunately, Niels can sleep through anything, so I was comforted by the sight of him sleeping. The nurses teased me about how he would ever wake up with the baby. We had lights on, made all sorts of noise, and one point, the phlebotomist bumped him...nothing...he was out cold! He finally got up around 5:30 to call his car pool buddy and also went home to let Bailey out, get my meds and few things, and call in to work. While he was gone, I had my first and only episode of the day, which really freaked the nurses out because vomiting causes all sorts of internal movement! When he got back around 8:30, I sang happy birthday to him and told him that his gift was that I got us a deluxe accommodations at a really nice hotel with very attentive customer service!

The pulmonary doctor came in around 10 with wonderful news! He looked at the CT, and after conferring with another doctor, said he didn't think it was a blood clot after all! I forgot the term he used, but he thought it was more of a shadow. Still, because of my clotting disorder (I've been on baby aspirin since our genetic testing), previous miscarriages and pregnancy, I was still at high risk. Also, there was something they didn't like about my blood results so they weren't ready to clear me yet. They took a few more vials of blood to retest and scheduled a ultrasound for my legs to check for clots, since most clots start there and work themselves up, as well as an ultrasound for the baby! They also wanted me to eat something, though I was on a clear liquid diet so my sumptious choices were limited to broth, jello, juice, popsicles, coffee and tea. I tried to smuggle in a piece of cake for Niels, but no luck. I also tried to get down to the gift store for a birthday card (Slacker wife INTENDED to get that while he was at work), but that got nixed too. So I told him his present was my presence and a day off from work. He's an easy going guy and said that was just fine. The OB came in around 11:30 and asked a million questions and explained more of the game plan for the day. Best of all he said that if all my tests come out well, we might be able to go home in the evening. When they first admitted me, they said it would be at least two days, maybe longer. So our new goal was 24 hours.

We've learned to bring our cards wherever we go so we were able to get a few games on Gin 13 in, in between potty breaks, IV checks and blood draws. At 2, I got my legs checked. It looked just like a regular ultrasound, so it brought back some memories of seeing an empty uterus after our miscarriages. But, I knew there would be no babies in my legs so everything was okay. After that it was back to my room to enjoy my delicious lunch and then off to ultrasound to see the baby. Again, truly the highlight! Because it was an "emergency" ultrasound, we couldn't get pictures, again, but they sonographer did turn the screen so we could see the baby. He/She now looks like a little gummy bear. She/He is on the side with little legs and arms sticking out in front. I almost cried when I saw the heartbeat because I was so relieved. The heart is now developed enough that you can see all four chambers. The heartrate was 167, exactly the same as a week ago. Whew! We got to see the baby move around a bit, but DJ wasn't as active as last week. Probably just as tired as mommy! The BEST part is that despite (or perhaps, because) of how sick I've been, the baby's age was dated to be 12 weeks 4 days (average of 3 scans) instead of the 11 weeks 6 days based on our previous dating ultrasound at seven weeks. This puts the baby right back to our original due day of December 11, which is right on track with my calcuations from ovulation. Best of all, I mean I'm five days closer to second trimester. HAPPY HAPPY DAY!!! So, with my probable C-section being scheduled the Friday prior to my due day, it looks like we will avoid a Christmas baby and welcome DJ on Sinterklaas Day (Dutch Christmas). Poor kid. We agreed that seeing our baby was a good birthday present for Niels and I was off the hook.

We got back from the Ultrasound feeling very relieved and grateful. We truly believe that the prayers sent up on our behalf made all the difference. Who knows that I didn't really have a blot clot (I was a textbook case) and that the prayers were used to change the results? We are very happy (as was our staff) that we did come in to the ER and we are thrilled that the baby is doing well. At 5:30 or so, we got our stack of discharge papers and new round of prescriptions. At this point, the doctors are saying that in one of my vomiting fits, I inhaled some stomach acid which infected my lungs so I have some meds to neutralize my stomach acid and some more to help with the inflammation. I also have an inhaler and Robitussen DM for the cough. The doctor said it was probably a good thing that I got the infection from the previous work because the meds I'm taking for that have also probably started healing the infection in my lungs. Today I have my 12 week OB appointment, which they said to keep, and I have to call the pulmonary doctor and see him throughout the pregnancy for lung checks as a precaution. Finally, we were able to leave a little after 6!

We stopped at Target to visit our new best friend, the pharmacist, who after just a week, already knows us by name. I took Niels' wallet and sent him away so I could find the perfect card, which I did, and get a Snickers bar (he was famished, and it's his favorite candy bar). I was still wearing my hospital bracelets, including the "Fall Risk" one as I bent down to write on the card. I think I gave a few people around me a scare. At the time, I thought it was because of the most impressive bruises on my arms, but later realized it was probably because they thought I fell and couldn't get up. But, I was able to assure everyone I was fine, didn't need to go back to the hospital, and was simply trying to be a good wife and sign a card for my amazing husband.

Pharmacy now depleted, we went home. Bailey was over the moon to see us, though I still seem to freak her out. We cuddled with her and were able to take a short nap before our friends Rach and Chris arrived with dinner and dessert. We were winding down around 10 when Bailey started getting sick and made a mess all over the several places...which a couple of us discovered by stepping in it! So we realized that all is back to normal chaos at the de Jong house and our dog likely needs puppy counseling!

Many, MANY thanks to those who helped us out, especially the Lipfords and Busches for their help with Bailey and meals. Thanks to all the friends and family who called to check on us (or attempted to visit us!). And most of all, thanks for your prayers which changed a potentially life threatening situation into a very reassuring time for our little one.

With lots of love and appreciation,
Jen & Niels

Here I am shortly after arriving home. This picture actually doesn't do justice to the bruises on my arms. Trust me, they are quite impressive! Note the yellow "Fall Risk" bracelet. It's the fashion statement of the season. And that beer gut look I've got going on is actually my growing baby bump!

Monday, June 2, 2008