“This year, your brother Jack will be two years from being twice as old as your sister Jen. The sum of Jack’s age and three times Jen’s age is 66. How old is Jen?”
If you’re like me, your palms are sweating and you’re contemplating a trip to the medicine cabinet to treat an inevitable headache.
The combination of the words story and problem is enough to make me cringe. It’s just not right to muddy a story with math. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t have anything against math. In fact, I enjoyed math until I took college calculus. The problem lies in mixing the subjectivity of the art of language with the objective nature of mathematics.
But despite my best efforts to steer clear of story problems, one has been mocking me for the last year and three months.
“My daughter has a hemoglobin level well below normal. She has already had two transfusions and gobs of blood drawn and tests run. If a diagnosis isn’t determined, how many more transfusions and needle pokes will she need?”
The turning point for solving the above riddle occurred with the administration of an osmotic fragility test. And what exactly is that, you ask? Well, without turning this column into a medical journal, it is a blood test that determines how fragile an individual’s red blood cells are.
And, as it turns out, my daughter’s red blood cells are very fragile. So fragile, in fact, that it has a specific name. That’s right. We have a diagnosis. Finally.
My 2-year-old has spherocytosis. She is the one in 2,000 to 5,000 people diagnosed with fragile red blood cells that are spherical rather than donut shaped. Donut-shaped blood cells live 120 days as they circulate the body. In comparison, my toddler’s blood cells last 21-28 days before getting caught and killed in the spleen.
It sounds scary, but, according to our hematologist, spherocytosis is relatively common. And treatable. With surgery.
I’m not a huge fan of sending my darling little girl into the operating room for a splenectomy. But I’m also not a fan of making her have routine transfusions. At least without her spleen, she will be able to live a normal life—with the addition of a couple immunizations every five years, and a penicillin prescription.
But even so, I’m scared. Yes, we have been thorough in questioning anyone with a connection to our daughter—her pediatrician, her hematologist, her surgeon. After more than a year of dealing with doctors and specialists, we’re good at being thorough.
That doesn’t make it easy. We feel good about the logic behind the surgery. When it comes down to it, we know that a successful surgery equals a healthier little girl.
It’s the subjectivity—the faith—that is difficult. It’s easy to say it’s not fair—and it’s not. It’s easy to be angry—and I’ve been there. What’s not easy—not logical—is to be thankful. To look at this disease and this surgery and remember to trust. And to place our daughter in the knowing hands of her Creator.
Our comfort lies in remembering the words of Isaiah 43:2: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
And as for story problems, ours is slowly being solved. And I’m tired of sweaty palms and headaches. So, I’ll leave it up to you to determine Jen’s age.