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Weight on Todd's Shoulders Is Too Much for His Stomach

By Lonnae O'Neal Parker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Twelfth in a series chronicling the Larches of New Orleans as they rebuild their lives in the Washington area.

He had been feeling sick for a while, but it didn't get bad until the day he brought his newborn son to his in-laws' house from the hospital.

Todd Larche had been coasting on the rush of adrenaline and anticipation from the day he had fled New Orleans for Silver Spring after Hurricane Katrina until the birth of Todd Jr. last Tuesday. He spent three nights at Washington Hospital Center with his wife, Michele, and then the baby. And whenever he had to vomit, he'd turn on the shower to hide the sounds of his retching.

Michele, a doctor, knew something was wrong. Todd had had ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, gastric reflux before. He has been getting sick about twice a year for nearly 10 years, winding up in the emergency room more than half a dozen times. He became sick last August around their 5-year-old daughter's birthday, and they had to cancel her party.

Now he was vomiting again. "I heard him in the bathroom, but he kept assuring me, 'It's different this time, it's different this time,' " Michele says.

And it was different. This time it was worse.

Thursday afternoon, after Michele and the baby were settled, Todd and his brother-in-law, Ronald Wallace, went to their favorite watering hole for a celebratory drink. In New Orleans, Todd was mostly a beer man, but since the hurricane, since the flood, since losing his house and finding his dog dead, since losing his teaching job and going on public assistance, since sleeping three to a bed, four to a room and worrying, constantly worrying, about what comes next and what in the world they're going to do, well, he sometimes added a shot of Crown Royal to his Miller Lite routine. He had started smoking again and quit eating, dropping from about 240 pounds to 201 pounds in a month and a half.

At the bar, Todd took one sip, then just made it to the bathroom before throwing up. He went back to the bar and didn't drink a thing, but threw up again. He and Ronald left, and Todd alternately slept and vomited the rest of that night. Then all day Friday. He moved into the room his mother-in-law was staying in and let her sleep with Michele so he wouldn't disturb his wife, Todd Jr. and daughter Kristen. He sat in his underwear, wrapped in a blanket, and threw up in a garbage can next to the bed.

Michele fussed. Because Todd knows his system is weak and he didn't take care of himself. Because he ran out of his gastrointestinal medication two weeks ago but didn't say anything because it's not covered by insurance. Because "it's not our house" and he was making so much noise.

"It's bad enough they are letting us stay here and we're going to have a baby crying through the night. I was like, 'Gol-ly, you're going to wake up Ronald and Cassandra,' " Michele says, sounding overwhelmed. Sounding sleep-deprived. Sounding like she's just been trying to keep her head above water and doesn't know if she can stand for anything else to happen.

By Saturday morning, all Todd could do was dry-heave, so his sister-in-law drove him to the emergency room at Holy Cross Hospital. His blood pressure was up and doctors were concerned about the strain that dehydration was putting on his kidneys and heart. For the first time, he was admitted to the hospital.

After two days of food and fluids, Todd looked rested, despite the IV sticking out of his hand and the ridge of his collarbone visible from the top of his hospital gown. But the worry was still there. "I just prayed to God He wouldn't have me going through this right now," he said. "Michele is so close to slipping into postpartum blues her own self."

He sighed deeply. "She's under so much pressure," he said, propped up in his hospital bed.

Todd vows to change his routine. He knows his bad habits helped make him sick and didn't give him back a single second of home.

"I'm thinking about my child," he says. "I think about Kristen and here's a brand-new baby and he's a nomad. He's been born into a family of nomads.

"I really do feel like the lost tribe of Israel right now," he says.

Yesterday Todd was discharged with instructions to eat more, drink less, take better care. The doctors had no instructions for all the things he can't control, for how to rebuild his life.

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