Category Archives: Cerebral Palsy

It’s great to be 8!

On Monday, Patrick will be celebrating his 8th birthday. 8! 8 whole years! And 2 whole years since his transplant!

I’m working hard to pulling together his birthday video. We’ve had a big and busy fall so it’s going to be a little late this year. But it’s just astounding to see how he has grown in the past year. In every way.

The year after transplant, Patrick’s body was shocked and he didn’t grow. But this year we can barely keep up with his clothes. We upgraded him from the only bed he’s ever known, one of those crib-bed combos, because he had gotten too tall for it. His clothes are a medium now and he’s in that awkward size 13 shoe that’s right between little and big kid styles. He is just inches below my shoulder now. And honestly, sometimes I turn around and am surprised to see that he is still small because he feels so big.

He’s grown a lot in spirit, too. For the time being, we have hit upon the perfect mix of medications for his ADHD that keeps him calm and focused while still letting him be his boisterous self. (His psychiatrist warns me he will outgrow these doses soon, but for now they are working.) That has given him the opportunity to grow in a lot of other ways. To sit still and listen and understand. To have his own ideas of how to do things and then to stand up for them. He is becoming more helpful, more responsible, more patient.

IMG_20160222_175617

He is still the amazingly compassionate child we have always known who is endlessly concerned for the happiness of others. He is the first to give a hug when someone cries. He remembers others’ needs he heard of throughout the day in his prayers. He can tell you all about each of his classmates favorites. And he sees the best in even those who sometimes seem the most different.

IMG_20160719_130551

With glasses helping his vision, Patrick has grown into a voracious bookworm. He reads all the time. Bedtime reading time is non-negotiable and he’s often found on his bed looking at books. His reading fluency is growing by leaps and bounds. He reads everything to me. And is pretty darn good at spelling. His handwriting is really getting better which is very impressive in light of the fact that he is right-handed and his brain injury has left his right side fairly weak and uncoordinated. He doesn’t like math. But if he forgets to protest because he doesn’t like it, he’s even getting the hang of addition.

IMG_20160910_164955

We bought a trampoline last spring and Patrick can often be found in the backyard jumping. He went from not jumping evenly with both feet to starting to do jumping tricks. One of our favorite summer passtimes was to go into the backyard and alternate between jumping until he was too tired and reading Dick and Jane. He’s discovering joys we didn’t think possible like bike-riding and swimming.

IMG_20160721_190559

He earned his Tiger Cub Rank last month and most of the available beltloops. He’s excited to move on to Wolves and we hope he’ll be as happy and welcome in his new den as he was in the one we left. He had a wonderful experience at scout camp this summer. Patrick loves scouting and I love what it teaches about being a good boy and growing into a good man.  He is really trying to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent… and HUNGRY.

IMG_20160831_193316

We went to a Patrick’s annual follow-up appointment with his transplant team last week. They were so happy with what they saw in him. The first thing the surgeon said was “well he has changed since we last sawl him,” commenting on how tall and grown-up Patrick seems now. While Patrick sat on Dr. Mercer’s lap and took pictures on his cell phone, we reviewed his diet, growth and medications. With everything going so well, Dr. Mercer decided that Patrick may not still need steroids to prevent rejection. They gave us instructions on how to gradually wean him off of them and the acid controller that they have made necessary for him, too.

He gave him the all-clear for sports. (Adaptive baseball here we come, we hope?) And we decided it’s time to start planning to remove Patrick’s port. With things so stable, they think that he can soon only need labs 4 times a year. That makes the port not worth the risks. Still need to talk to the doctors here about how to go about that.

 

With so much growth, we faced a big choice for Patrick this year. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 8 is the age at which children are generally considered old enough (accountable) to be baptized. We believe that younger children are innocent and unable to sin and repent, therefore baptism is not required for them. Most 8 year olds are able to understand enough about the gospel, baptism, promises, and repentance (if not more) to be able to decide if they want to be baptized. Living in Utah, where the church is so prevalent, 8th birthdays are a really big rite of passage.

So we have been watching. And studying. And praying. And finally a few weeks ago we met with our Bishop to talk about baptism. By that interview, the answer was fairly simple. We decided that Patrick is still not at the same level as most 8-year-olds. Right now, he is still innocent. And so, for the time being, he will not be baptized.

For those of you wondering about the doctrinal implications of this, the Book of Mormon teaches:

Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them;

To be clear, Patrick has a very strong love for Heavenly Father and Jesus. Just this morning he refused to get out of the car because I’d forgotten to say a morning prayer and he wanted one. He wants to be baptized. And we believe that in a few years, he’ll be ready to understand and make that choice.

For those with logistical questions: Because we believe Patrick will someday be able to be baptized, we are not doing any replacement baptism celebrations. Those things can wait a couple of years so he can appreciate them. For the first time in his life, something can wait. He has years ahead of him so this is ok.

I’m going to throw in a separate bonus post about this decision, but in light of an 8th birthday, I thought at least this much should be answered for now.

Instead of 8th birthday traditions, we are going to do something that Patrick has rarely experienced in his life. We are going to have a plain old ordinary birthday. With terminal illness, then transplant, birthdays have always been a bit unusual. This year, Patrick’s school is celebrating Halloween today and not next week so he won’t have to share except for trick-or-treating. It’s a long weekend. We’ll have cake and present with family at Sunday dinners. We’ll go to an amusement park on Saturday so he can ride rollercoasters and drive cars. We’ll send treats to school We’ll decorate with a banner and balloons. I’ll make him his choice of dinners. And we’ll have cupcakes and sing to him and open presents. Just us. Just boring. It will be wonderful.

IMG_20160707_100018 (1)

Because he is wonderful. And we have been blessed with a little bit of ordinary. And for Patrick, ordinary deserves to be celebrated.

8 years, buddy! I am so proud of the boy you are becoming.

March, or in other words, take that MacBeth

On the first day of March, I sat in the 3rd grade classroom where I volunteer and I listened to the teacher, Mrs. H., explain to the children that March is either lion or lamb. I had been thinking it, too. We all have heard it. “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” We made crafts about it in school. Only Mrs. H. proposed a different idea. Whichever way comes March comes in, it goes out the opposite way. And that particular first day of March, despite a cold wind, was overall quite warm and sunny. She told the children to watch and see if March would go out like a lion.

I saw a lot of lions and lambs in the last few weeks of March this year. The spring equinox was early this year, and so also was Easter. For school schedules, that meant that spring break came earlier than usual this year, too.  In some ways, it was just on time for our family.

IMG_20160316_190336

March started out a little harder for Patrick. And very busy with work and other responsibilities for Brian. Our lemon of a Jeep misbehaved one too many times for our taste. Actually, its radiator literally blew up, revealing another potentially time-consuming and costly repair. And so we decided it was time to buy a new car. That’s great news. And a lot of fun.

Unless… you happen to have an uncontrollable obsession with cars. Shopping for, purchasing, and then adjusting to a new car proved exceptionally difficult for Patrick and led to him being unable to concentrate at home or even at school.

Brian’s work got especially busy right around that time, too. He crammed a business trip, some off-site planning meetings, and 3 middle of the night system upgrades into a period of about 2 weeks. All while fighting a monster of a cold.

Bike riding around Willow Pond

Bike riding around Willow Pond

And so when spring break rolled around, I think we all found ourselves more than grateful for the opportunity to escape. Brian saw the long school break on the schedule and decided to treat our family to a vacation. And, as we really only know how to really relax in one place, off to Disneyland we went.

It was a great trip, honestly. With the newfound attention-span Patrick’s medications have given him, he’s started to enjoy feature-length movies of late. And his favorite of all is Cars. He recognizes scenes in the movie from his trips to Disneyland (instead of the other way around, which is priceless.) And so was extremely excited to get to visit Radiator Springs, eat in Flo’s Diner, dance with Luigi’s cousins, and meet all of his friends in person.

We crammed as many rides into our trip as possible. We splurged on a character dining dinner the night we arrived. Patrick loved having mac & cheese pizza, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, an a bowl of M&M’s while being visited by his favorite characters. Pluto even let him feed him. As a bonus, we then skipped meeting characters this time around, allowing time for extra rides instead. We stayed in a hotel with a pool and went swimming as a family for the first time since Patrick had his line removed. We watched firework on our walk back to the hotel every night. We didn’t sleep enough at night, but enjoyed early mornings in the park. It was a fun trip.

We came home on Saturday afternoon to give ourselves time to get ready for Easter the next morning.

Oh, what a time for the message of Easter for me. While we were in Disneyland, two babies were born in my family. I have a new niece and nephew. Born just a day apart. So before Patrick returned to school, we went and met the new babies.

He doted on them. Patrick loves babies. He kept asking me if he could bring them home. He hugged them too tight. He kissed them. And he promised them he’d be their friend forever. Oh, how he made my heart ache to let there be a baby in our house.

And, oh how he reminded me that it is anything but possible right now. In all his loving attention, he has no idea how strong he is, how fragile they are. And he just can’t understand that they can’t get up and play or eat or talk the way other people can. So thank goodness for baby cousins right now. Because we need babies in our life, even when we can’t have them in our home.

IMG_20160328_150415

So in the mornings, I kissed and cuddled babies. In stark contrast, in the evening, I said goodbye to a dear friend.

One of the wonderful things about my church is an organization called the Relief Society. Everwhere the church is, the women of the church are gathered together in this organization. And it doesn’t matter how different you may be in age, background, culture, or wealth.. you are sisters. The neighborhood I live in was built new just long ago that many of the people who built the homes originally are reaching the ends of their lives. And so you’d think I’d get used to having to say goodbye to these sisters from time to time.

But sometimes they work their way into your hearts a little more. This friend and I loved many of the same things, despite differences in age. She was a teacher and invited me to translate in her classroom. She was a musician and loved to invite me to sing, and then push my abilities with difficult songs. She was one of Patrick’s biggest fans. And although I’ve known for a couple of months that she had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and that her death was quite merciful, still I think this is one goodbye that will stick with me for a while.

Especially because of timing. In the week after Easter, I greeted two new babies and attended a funeral. In fact, the day of the funeral, I spent the afternoon with Patrick at the 10th birthday party of a classmate. What an interesting sampling of milestones. To see the bookends of life so close together has made me think about the volumes inbetween them.

When I was in high school, we had to memorize a soliloquy from Macbeth. With his castle under attack and everything falling around him, Macbeth receives word that his wife has died. And his reply:

“She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle.”

I’m not sure exactly why this pessimistic eulogy has been in my mind. Except the knowledge that it is so wrong. Because life is brief, but so much more than “signifying nothing” as Macbeth lamented. In fact, a funeral reminds us that it is, in fact, all the little nothings, all the everyday things. all the tomorrow and yesterdays and todays full of mostly mundane things that add up to what matters.

Because death isn’t the end. It’s not a period. It’s a comma.

Easter celebrates that fact. Because Christ came. Because of his sacrifice. Because he died, and then after 3 days was resurrected, we all will live again.

There is something wonderful to hope for.

However, I feel that being a full-time caregiver is so perfectly captured, though, in the words “tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps forth in this petty pace from day to day.”

I’ve been struggling a bit this month. I have been feeling lost. Invisible. Mundane. I don’t have the hang of this new life. I have more time, but not complete freedom. I’m not fighting for survival every day, but there is still a lot of resistance in our lives.

Every day certain things must be done. I clean the house and do laundry and do the dishes. I sweep the crumbs of Patrick’s snacks. I put the toys back in the toybox. I shop and plan and make dinners. I prepare medications by measuring, cutting, crushing, and mixing, and then make sure they are given on schedule. I help with homework. I encourage reading. I dress and undress my son. I remind Patrick how to wash his hair. I bring in the mail. I clean off the kitchen table. Over and over again. Only to need to do it again the next day. Or the next hour.  I’ve been kept just a little too busy to dare make time for myself but had just enough free time to fret over it.

I’m struggling to get the courage to take time for myself. I’m so used to abandoning what I need to do to take care of Patrick that even though I have a little bit of time, I am timid about branching out. I don’t trust that I’ll be able to finish what I start. And that then I’ll be upset. The problem is that this is kind of a lonely way to approach life. I’m trying to reach out and reestablish relationships that got pushed aside when I didn’t have time to do anything more than survive each day. But that takes courage, too. And although I may sometimes choose to be outgoing, deep down I’m pretty shy.

But, like you, like most of us, I know the best I can do is get up and try again each morning.

We often compared the life we led with Patrick before transplant to a rollercoaster. Thrilling highs and followed by quick plummets. I’d learned to live with that kind of thrill ride. You just hang on tight.

IMG_2269

But in Disneyland this last trip, Patrick discovered a new favorite roller coaster: Goofy’s sky school. Instead of fast ups and downs, this ride is a much more gradual descent. Instead, of hills, it’s full of sharp turns that knock the breath out of you. The track is obscured so you don’t always see it coming. Sometimes that’s what this new version of life feels like.

It’s been a year since Patrick’s last hospital admission. That is ASTOUNDING to me! It’s been a year since we had to drop everything because he was suddenly fighting to survive.

Let me tell you a bit about what the ride is like these days. It’s gentler, for sure, but it’s no “It’s a Small World” cruise.

IMG_20160304_083323

Geared up for a snowshoeing field trip at school. Couldn’t ever get him to look at the camera with eyes open.


Patrick’s been struggling with behavior at home and at school. And every note home or call home has left me feeling helpless because, unlike problems with his health that had prescribed medical solutions, this isn’t straight forward. They turn to me for answers and I don’t have them.

He’s doing ok. We’ve been experimenting with changes in his medication and the changes are helping. He is doing better. But the transition has been tricky. And I don’t know if it’s been that, or illness, or hayfever, or growing, or something else but he has been tired and grumpy and not himself. Medicine is more practice than science and when it comes to brain injury, that’s especially frustrating.

We increased his dose of clonidine to see if we could help afternoons go better, and he started to need a nap every day. He hates naps. But he can’t function sometimes without one. I even had to check him out of school and bring him home to nap last week.

We’ve talked to his psychiatrist and adjusted that dosing and talked about trying some other things. It seems to be helping. But it still feels helpless.

With time to kill between doctor's appointments, Patrick and I stopped in at the museum at Fort Douglas

With time to kill between doctor’s appointments, Patrick and I stopped in at the museum at Fort Douglas

We had a good scare right before spring break. Patrick was knocked off of the playground at school and landed flat on his stomach. It left a bruise where his g-tube hit and so I had to squeeze in an emergency visit with his GI to check to make sure that his graft wasn’t at risk. That’s a possibility with any injury to his abdomen.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that out of the blue, his oral aversions have gotten worse. He won’t take his vitamins anymore in the morning. I crush them and mix them in yogurt so they are easier to eat. He sticks his tongue out to block them going in. Or holds them in his mouth and doesn’t swallow. It’s miserable to watch. But they aren’t optional. They’re mandatory. And so we start many days with me pleading with him to do something that he thinks is torture.

He sprained his ankle at the birthday party. He tried climbing onto a bunkbed and fell off. Patrick’s never really had this kind of injury. With his cerebral palsy, he was especially unsteady limping. He also isn’t used to regular illnesses or injuries still, so he was extremely afraid. Asking him to do what little might help.. Elevation, ice, rest. That only scared him more. He needed extra help getting around, getting dressed, bathing, etc. Thank goodness it was conference weekend so it was ok for him to stay home. He’s spent a few days inside at recess at school. But thankfully he’s healing. He’s limping, but can jump and run and stomp while limping.

Breakfast in the waiting room at the Eccles Outpatient Building

Breakfast in the waiting room at the Eccles Outpatient Building

I’m grateful to have had a couple of weeks of bookends. A couple of weeks of being shown things to make me think about what I’m putting inbetween. And a reminder that there are often many volumes in our life. We’re put away the one called “Ultra Short Bowel Syndrome” and are nearly done with another called “Transplant Recovery” but this latest volume of “First grade” has certainly had some unexpected plot twists.

I’m sometimes tempted to pen, like Shakespeare, that tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow just keep creeping at their petty pace. But that feeling is only a page in the story.

I heard a talk this weekend that’s helping my sentiments for tomorrow. It was shared in the semiannual general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints this weekend. The speaker was Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, an apostle and a gifted teacher.

Here’s a brief summary.

First, he shared this image that kind of sums up how I sometimes feel when I’m headed to bed and thinking about what I need to do the next day.

Dino-Us-Tomorrow

Then, he gave this counsel about how to proceed.

“If in the days ahead you see not only limitations in those around you but also find elements in your own life that don’t yet measure up… please don’t be cast down in spirit and don’t give up….”

“Please remember tomorrow, and all the days after that, that the Lord blesses those who want to improve, who accept the need for commandments and try to keep them, who cherish Christlike virtues and strive to the best of their ability to acquire them. If you stumble in that pursuit, so does everyone; the Savior is there to help you keep going. . . ”

And then, in contrast to the pessimistic message of Macbeth, Elder Holland gave this beautiful description of the potential for tomorrow.

“If we give our heart to God, if we love the Lord Jesus Christ, if we do the best we can to live the gospel, then tomorrow—and every other day—is ultimately going to be magnificent, even if we don’t always recognize it as such. Why? Because our Heavenly Father wants it to be! He wants to bless us. A rewarding, abundant, and eternal life is the very object of His merciful plan for His children!”

Did you read that? Tomorrow=magnificent. Even if we don’t always recognize it as such.

I’ve got a long way to go. I have a lot to learn about patience. And a lot to learn about humility. I’m finding those lessons are taught in the long, flat, tedious prairies. Not on the peaks.

It snowed the last two days of March. I had to scrape ice off of my car on the last day of spring break. Mrs. H was right. March came in like a lamb and went out like a lion.

It wasn’t an easy month. And April has started out with it’s own measure of sound and fury. We have more milestones: another funeral and a wedding ahead this week. And will still start each and every day with a yucky vitamin.

Snow on spring break of course means a kids meal at Arby's in your PJ's

Snow on spring break of course means a kids meal at Arby’s in your PJ’s

But I’m trying remember Elder Holland’s words:

“So keep loving. Keep trying. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever.”

P.S. If you haven’t read or better yet watched Elder Holland’s talk, you really should. It will make you feel happy because it is true.  Here’s a link: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2016/04/tomorrow-the-lord-will-do-wonders-among-you?lang=eng

Transplant Day 176 and Please Stop Chasing My Rainbows

IMG_20150405_142221

Two weeks ago, my youngest brother got married. Brian and Patrick didn’t stay long, partly to protect Patrick’s immune system and partly because Patrick gets horribly bored at long wedding receptions. But I stayed behind at the reception. It was wonderful to catch up with family and friends that I only see when big events bring us together.

It was also a little strange to discover that so many of you read my blog, even though we haven’t talked in ages.

And there was something said to me by one of the women I’ve known and respected forever that’s been sitting a little funny with me that I’d like to address. She said how glad she was that we were home, especially as my blog had made it sound like we were living in “less desirable” circumstances.

This struck me funny because, although I really struggled with the loss of comforts of home at the Ronald McDonald House and the awkwardness of living in close quarters with other families day in and day out.. my memories of the Ronald McDonald House are overall very fond memories and I’m afraid I didn’t do the place and the people justice in what I wrote.

Patrick and Ronald last December

Patrick and Ronald last December

This week, a video was shared on Facebook of one of the families that we got to know while we were there who hold a very special place in my heart. They were there seeking the same miracle central line placement Patrick had needed to be listed for transplant and that mom and I bonded in a way few can over shared trauma. I don’t think to can understand how terrifying and desperate that end-of-the-road, hail mary, do or (literally) die situation really is. The video talked about how wonderful her son was doing and about how the Ronald McDonald House had helped her family. I thought it was good news and I wanted to rejoice.

The next day I learned that the video had, in fact, been shared in tribute. Instead of good news, the worst had happened. Lost central line access had put her son at the top of the transplant list. In the short time since we’d left the house, he’d received “the” call and gone for transplant. But something went wrong in surgery and he never woke up. He passed away this week.

We made a very calculated choice to stay at the Ronald McDonald House. Yes, there were financial benefits and proximity benefits. Yes, there were difficulties and uncomfortable parts, too. But we knew that being there meant the ability to share our journey with other people who’d get it.

I can’t describe the connection we have to the other families who lived long-term with us in that house. I learned how to be a transplant mom from them. We helped each other in every way we could. Cooking together. Doing each other’s laundry. Crying together. Celebrating together. They are part of my heart and having them now spread across the country facing these trials without being close to lean on each other for daily support is hard.

IMG_20150424_121644

The truth is that doing this at home would have been much MUCH harder. During all those months away, the people who loved us back home would often say, “We wish you were here at home so we could take care of you.” It happened so often that I almost expected to have to set up a visitation schedule to slow the flow of friends and family through our front door.

But the reality is that coming home has been very lonely. Because we can’t go out, we probably see less of the people we love here at home than we ever did before. I don’t want to sound ungrateful. A lot of you have caught us in the halls at church to express your love and many of you have offered help in the way of meals or help cleaning. But it is easy to forget that left at home is a very social 6 year old. I often feel like Brian and I are his only friends. And finding the balance between taking care of my own responsibilities and making sure he has time every day where he is shown how very loved and important he is has proven to be a challenge.

Besides that, it is hard to imagine the kind of life we live unless you experience it. Everything we do has to take into consideration how and by whom Patrick will be taken care of. We don’t just go to work or to dinner or to church. We can’t just call up a friend and say “let’s get together.” We skip most extracurricular events. We don’t get to be apart for school. And when Brian travels this summer, I will be the only wife staying home.

When we DO catch you in the halls or on the street somewhere, we are having a conversation that we know is going to be very brief and so we know there is a choice between trying to take time to answer questions about Patrick and sharing our lives honestly and sincerely wanting to spend time hearing about and catching up with YOU. We don’t want every adult conversation we have to be consumed with medical updates, and so we may skim or skip over details. One friend accused me of trying to hide how I’m really struggling. I’m not trying to hide anything. I just don’t want to waste our conversation.

You won’t read as often about the things that made me cry on this blog right now. We have a different set of frustrations here at home. I don’t want to put in print the experiences where someone I love might have innocently hurt my feelings. I know that hurt feelings have much more blame in the person feeling them. I’ve learned over the years that people are trying to say things that are supportive and helpful and if I look between the lines I see and hear and feel love.

Because soil contains bacteria, gardening requires mask, gloves, and overclothes. Patrick still thinks it is worth it to help.

Because soil contains bacteria, gardening requires mask, gloves, and overclothes. Patrick still thinks it is worth it to help.

But there is one thing I have encountered a few times that I’d like to talk about because it is hurting and I don’t think you know.

I’d like to ask you to stop trying to find my silver linings and rainbows.

There was a marvelous sermon given in LDS General Conference a year ago. If you’re facing hard times, and let’s face it, who isn’t?, I highly recommend that you read this talk in its entirely. You’ll find it here. In it, President Dieter F. Uctdorf said:

We sometimes think that being grateful is what we do after our problems are solved, but how terribly shortsighted that is. How much of life do we miss by waiting to see the rainbow before thanking God that there is rain?

It took me a lot of years of hard trials to learn that happiness is not something that comes to us after trials have passed. Happiness comes from learning to be grateful for our blessings right now. It comes from learning to see God’s hand in our lives. Right. Now.

That doesn’t mean that if you are struggling, if you are mourning, if you are going through hard times right now that you are ungrateful, unfaithful, or unhappy.

It has been a hard couple of weeks. We took a gamble and took Patrick out a little more than usual two weeks ago and he got sick. Being sick made him frustrated and moody. It meant even more limitations for him, which made him angry. We had a week of daily appointments.. appointments we shouldn’t miss and so we gloved and masked and we still went, which only made him feel worse. In the times inbetween, Patrick expressed his anger by acting out against the only people he had to vent to, his parents. Steroid fueled kindergarten anger is hard to deal with. Add to that the sleepiness caused by antihistimines and the insomnia caused by prograf and a stuffy nose? And monitoring his oxygen saturation periodically while he slept to be sure he was still doing ok. And, well.. you can imagine.

Thankfully, his prograf levels were accidentally low when he got sick and he was able to fight off the illness without needing medical intervention. But just as he got better, Brian caught the cold. He was down for the weekend, and then I got sick, too. Remember, we all spent the winter in fairly sterile settings and so none of us has immunity against this year’s viruses. Well, on the heels of a stressful week with Patrick, my body was fairly weak. I have spent the last few days fairly sick.

And it has rained most of the week. So we have been stuck inside more than usual. And, as Patrick has felt better, his body’s sensory system has been craving movement, so this was not a good week for that.

IMG_20150422_154210

If you asked me this week how Patrick is doing, I probably would have told you about those things. Because that is what has happened this week and it helps me to talk about my struggles.

That’s the rain in our lives right now. And friends are there to talk about the rainy times, too, right?

However, right now when someone asks me how Patrick is and I mention that we’ve been stir crazy, missing school, easily sick, wondering why we are struggling to hard to set up playdates, lonely, etc., I can almost predict the response. The person I’m talking to will ask me how much longer things will be this way. They’ll point out that Patrick’s almost 6 months post transplant and wonder when his medications will change and his medical team will allow him back in public. They’ll try to show me the end in sight.

I know you mean this well. You don’t like to see us struggling and you hope that relief is coming soon. You want to point out that there’s a rainbow just around the corner or a silver lining in the clouds.

But right now, that isn’t what I need. I need someone to walk with me in the rain. I need you to help remember how much I love my raincoat and umbrella. I need us to look together at how rain makes the earth clean and helps the flowers grow.

In other words, I need you to listen to me about my struggles and maybe try to help me figure out how to get through what needs done this day and this week. And maybe to listen about the good things too.

Because a lot of good things happened in the past 2 weeks. We got set up with Primary Children’s liver transplant team so that now, we have a transplant coordinator who checks Patrick’s labwork and calls me to see how he’s doing and I don’t have to bug his very devoted doctor with every little question and play intermediary with the transplant team in Nebraska.

We also saw Patrick’s rehabilitationist and neurologist this week. They both assured me that, while Patrick’s cerebral palsy and other symptoms of his brain injury aren’t gone, it hasn’t been made worse by all he’s gone through lately. He doesn’t want to wear a brace right now and getting to physical therapy would be difficult. And they both assured me that, given all we have gone through recently, it’s ok for that to be on the back burner right now. They’ll keep watching for trouble. Someday we’ll get back to working on strengthening and stretching and improving his gait so he can run and climb. But for now, I shouldn’t feel guilty for not doing more about it.

Also this week, Patrick and I went to a teacher supply store and bought some math manipulatives. We managed to hold 1-2 hour study sessions every day without major tantrums. Patrick counted and added the new pattern blocks without getting upset with himself or me. And his teacher was really impressed when she came by the progress Patrick has made in reading, writing, and math.

I taught Patrick to ride his scooter. We laid in the grass and watched the clouds.

IMG_20150424_122825

But I might not get to telling you about those good things that happened right now if you ask me about Patrick’s current struggles, and I answer honestly, and then we spend our brief conversation time talking about what things might be like when the rain stops. I promise, I may be wet and soggy and tired.. but I don’t so much mind the rain. And let’s face it, we’ve got a pretty rainy forecast ahead of us.

Our trials don’t mean that we need all of our responsibilities taken away. Yes, it may take more coordination for me to participate now than it was before I was a mother. But it is also healing to do normal things. I got to go to a youth activity and teach teenagers how to do data entry on vital records used for geneology this week. I had to get a babysitter, make special arrangements for dinner, and work around Patrick’s school schedule. But it felt good to be out among people and sharing my talents. It is nice to be included. I’d like to see you. I might have to suggest a less crowded venue for an outing or we might have our conversation interrupted two dozen times by my 6 year old. My life is messy right now. But I’d like to share it with my friends.

You might even learn something I haven’t posted in this blog. There is a lot I don’t write about.

Good things are on the horizon. Patrick’s 6 months transplant anniversary is coming up this week. A lot of things will hopefully change for the good. We are talking about when and how to go back to school and church. We also know that it isn’t going to be easy for Patrick, who has always struggled with routine and crowds and sitting still, to come back to them after such a long break. So we’ll need to take it slow and it might not seem to go well for a while.

I know that chronic disability is hard to wrap your mind around. Everyone likes happy endings. We like resolution. We pray for and believe in miracles. We don’t like people we love to struggle with hard things for years and decades and lifetimes. And I know that when you think of transplant you think of it as healing, a cure, and end to struggling. And so watching this be a long recovery and lifelong challenge goes against all of that. God promised joy in this life. But He didn’t promise us a life free of sorrow. Quite the opposite, in fact. He promised to refine us, and refining takes fire.

But I promise, it’s ok. We are ok with it. We can be happy in the rain.  But rain is best when you’ve got someone to splash in the puddles and share an umbrella with us. I promise, I’ll listen about your storms, too.

I told my friend that there were hard things at the Ronald McDonald House that I sometimes miss it. I miss being surrounded by people who were all facing the same struggles and so able to mourn together. I miss those friends who made the best of hard times with me.

But I think I miss it most because I didn’t feel like I needed to sugar-coat my trials. Because often it isn’t until I say things out loud and see the look of pity on someone’s face that I even realize that it might be pitiable.

President Uchtdorf again:

We can choose to be grateful, no matter what.

This type of gratitude transcends whatever is happening around us. It surpasses disappointment, discouragement, and despair. It blooms just as beautifully in the icy landscape of winter as it does in the pleasant warmth of summer.

When we are grateful to God in our circumstances, we can experience gentle peace in the midst of tribulation. In grief, we can still lift up our hearts in praise. In pain, we can glory in Christ’s Atonement. In the cold of bitter sorrow, we can experience the closeness and warmth of heaven’s embrace.

———————————–

My friend who lost her son this week is raising funds to help cover his funeral expenses. His fundraising page can be found at: http://www.youcaring.com/memorial-fundraiser/jalen-boyce-s-medical-memorial-fund/342215#.VTg_itc1flc.facebook

April and some Easter reflections

Happy April! Don’t you just love April? It is teeming with new life. The trees are in blossom. The tulips opened this weekend. There are little green shoots poking up out of the soil in all of the gardens around my yard. There are birds nesting in the eaves of my house. (No, that’s not necessarily a good thing.)

1504477_10205291419339009_2742751005105265570_o

 

April and spring also bring us Easter. A celebration of Christ’s victory over death. And spring surrounds us with reminders of the Lord’s power to bring forth life. To turn what appears dead and gone into glorious beauty. It as if all of nature is shouting the promise of renewed life.

April is also national Donate Life month. This year, with our family’s transplant journey fresh in my mind, I can’t help but see lessons about Easter and Christ’s atonement in it. I thought perhaps I would share some of those thoughts with you.

10959067_10205291418178980_4858016517781502729_o

Restoration

In the Book of Mormon, a prophet named Alma describes the resurrection in these terms.

The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame.  – Book of Mormon, Alma 40:23

I used to say that I looked forward to the resurrection because Patrick and I were going to have a week-long feast. With a perfect body, I want him to be able to taste every wonderful thing that he has missed experiencing in this life.  I never imagined that to be even remotely possible in this life.

And yet, since transplant, Patrick is getting to do just that. He is finally able to begin to experience some of those things. It is incomplete. Allergies and diet restrictions and motor deficits from his brain injury still limit him. And we will still need to have our feast.

Transplant is not a perfect restoration. In fact, an x-ray or ultrasound of Patrick’s belly would reveal an anatomy that looks more like a jury-rigged mess. But it is the closest approximation that I know of in this life.  Transplant takes what is broken or missing and puts things back to their “proper” frame.

And seeing what a transformation this human attempt at restoration can bring, I look forward with joyful anticipation to a day when not even a hair is missing, let alone major organs. When everything is made right. When little eyes can focus to read without effort. When words don’t get stuck in formation. When little legs can run without weakness. When everything is made whole and perfect again.

11038805_10205291419419011_7400958990948046707_o

Resurrection

There is one part of transplant that I have a hard time understanding. When Patrick was 9 months old, his heart stopped. In essence, he died in my arms. For 2 weeks afterwards, we came back to our house every night not knowing if he would survive. I was destroyed. I had not understood until that time the literal physical ache of grief that accompanies the loss of a child.

Yet somehow, in the midst of that grief, another family found in the midst of that grief the compassion to give the gift of life to mine. Before transplant, Patrick was terminal. We didn’t talk about how very real that possibility was because we didn’t want it to get in the way of his living the life he had. But we knew. We had made plans and were preparing to one day have to let him go.

With transplant came something different. A hope of a full and long life. A gift that rose out of the grief of loss and death. And, in a very real way, Patrick’s donor also lives on in him.

Again, from the prophet Alma:

And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. – Book of Mormon, Alma 7:12

10873342_10205291418378985_7018292058258984922_o

Our Savior voluntarily laid down his life. He suffered pain and sorrow so great he bled from every pore. He hung and he suffered and he died. For us. His mother and his friends wept as they watched him die. They laid him in a tomb and they went home mourning. They wondered how and if they would be able to go on. And all of it. For us.

And on the third day, the returned to find the tomb empty. Because Jesus had risen. For us. He overcame death. And because he rose, we will rise. And death is not forever. Loss and sorrow and separation need not last forever. Because of Him.

I see in transplant a whisper of this promise. It is possible to conquer death. And I know that Christ has conquered death and that my son, if he dies, will live again. And so will his donor.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? – 1 Corinthians 15:55

11080026_10205291418218981_6526148991939076530_o

Weakness

If you are a medical nerd like me with an interest in transplant, I highly recommend that you sometime read the autobiography of Thomas Starzl, the inventor of transplant. It is called The Puzzle People and it is fascinating to read the journey, the determination, the trial and constant failure that led to this amazing medical breakthrough. It was an amazing confirmation to me that God inspires science and discovery and he leads human beings to be able to master the eternal laws that govern the world we live in.

I’ve learned that in science there are also important eternal lessons. And in transplant, there is an important lesson taught about weakness.

You see, in his early experiments, Dr. Starzl found that he had mastered the surgical technique of transplantation. And yet he struggled as recipients rejected the life-saving organs because they were foreign and seen by the immune system as a threat.

Transplantation did not move from the realm of science fiction into medical science until Dr. Starzl discovered how to use immunosuppression to weaken the body’s defenses enough to accept the transplanted organ. Transplant of larger, more complex organs wasn’t possible until the discovery of a drug called FK506, better known as Prograf, that could weaken the body’s natural immune response enough to protect the transplanted graft. The reason that intestinal transplant is so new and so rare is that the intestine is so large and so intertwined with the body’s immune system that it took such a high degree of immunosuppressive therapy.

In layman’s terms, in order for the body to accept a change as large as transplant, it first had to be made weak. Weak enough to be susceptible to infection and illness.

For the week following transplant, Patrick stayed in the ICU so that he could be given a drug that completely wiped out his immune system. It removed it so completely that they then prescribed him a year of antibiotics, antivirals, and isolation in order to try to protect him. All of his defenses were removed. Because that is the only way to prevent his body from immediately rejecting the gift he had been given.

The apostle Paul wrote about an unnamed affliction that plagued him for years. He frequently prayed and asked for this “thorn in his side” to be removed. And yet, it never was. After much time and certainly much struggle, he recorded the Lord’s response to his pleas.

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Sometimes, the Lord gives us strength through weakness. Sometimes he leaves us with a thorn in our side, with prayers that seem unanswered, with trials that seem neverending. He does it because sometimes the only way for us to be prepared to receive His gifts.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:5-6

Christ atoned for the sins of the world, taking upon him every sin and sorrow and transgression. But what good is that gift if we, thinking our own defenses are strong enough, reject His grace. Sometimes, it takes weakness first for God to work the change in us that will make us strong. Not all healing is painless.

11084146_10205291419739019_2553449177981107504_o

I am so grateful for Jesus Christ. For His resurrection. For His atonement. For His grace and for His love. I know He lives.

I see reminders of His gifts and His promise of life all around me. In the tulips and the tree blossoms. In tender shoots in garden beds. In the sparrows. And especially in my son.

We are doing well. Patrick’s responded well to the antibiotics he was started on last week. His liver numbers are normal again. We are still giving IV antibiotics. Therefore we are sleepy. But we are happy. And we are healthy. We had a great Easter full of bunnies and feasting and magnificent sermons. This life is not always easy, but it is good. We are blessed.

Transplant Day 70 and real-life angels

God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. – Spencer W. Kimball

Brian flew home Monday. I was kind of worried how this would play out as the last time he left while Patrick was still inpatient, I found myself feeling in well over my head trying to juggle caring for Patrick and trying to piece together little things for myself like food and clothing and bathing.

However, instead, I’ve found the last couple of days almost relaxing. An important lesson I’m learning here is to let people help me with little things so I can be free for the bigger things. For example, Monday morning a hospital volunteer knocked on the door just as I finished dressing Patrick to ask if I needed a break.  So, she came in and played with Patrick while I took a shower, did my makeup (a rare luxury), made the bed, and cleaned up the room.

This week has been full of volunteer angels. From church, I find women I barely know (have met a few times or not at all) providing meals or coming and sitting with Patrick so that I can go back to the Ronald McDonald House to eat or shower or do other things. There is an after-holiday lull in charitable donations and so fewer meals are offered at the beginning of January than throughout the rest of the year. So, one evening while a lady from the Relief Society (church women’s organization) was introducing Patrick to the joys of a fart machine, I hurried back and made up a week’s worth of taco meat so I’d be ready for days I either couldn’t get away or nights where dinner wouldn’t be waiting.

This has been a blessing I can’t put into words. I am not unhappy that in our first month here, we ate such carefully portioned meals, a-la Hormel no refrigeration required microwave dinners, that I lost several pounds. But sometimes it was hard to be patient with Patrick and happy with this 24/7 mom/caregiver role I’m living because I was hungry. But right now, I am anything but hungry. I have to think to not end up being fed dinner twice. I haven’t even touched the supply of meals I bought right before Brian left because there has always been another one there someone has made for me.

But beyond food, this has given me the chance to keep up on laundry (with a little bit of help from a friend willing to fold and slip into my room my clothes if I can just get them to the dryer) and to stay showered and in fresh clothes (which I find goes a VERY long way to my general sense of well-being), and sane. I get an hour or two here and there and in it I try to be as productive as possible. I probably look like a mad-woman flying through the Ronald McDonald House when I go there.

Patrick is happier with this help, too. Someone appears offering help and he shoos me away to “the House’ so he can play. Patrick needs people. He loves when someone comes and he has someone new to play with.  He really loves the volunteers who come help Child Life with activities. We had an awesome time the other day flying airplanes with the ROTC. Right now, Patrick is one of just a handful of kids old enough to play with, so they are especially excited to see him, too.

It helps so much to have people. Tonight, I got a call from a woman from church who is quickly growing on me, saying that she had some time and could she come play with Patrick so I can get out. I almost felt like I was taking advantage because I’ve been so well taken care of, but I’ve sworn to myself to accept help when offered. So she came and I almost didn’t even leave because it’s -3 with a wind chill of some other horrid number and everything is closed here as a result. But I remembered that Patrick’s been running a touch low on diaper cream and I had one more jar of his preferred kind at the house, so I went to go.

But, when I got to my car, it just wouldn’t start. I’d turn the key and it sounded almost like it was sighing. I had a jump starter in the trunk, but even that didn’t help. It just showed me my battery’s power dropping from 60% to 40% to unreadable.

So I came back in and I bought diaper cream at the outpatient pharmacy instead. Then I called Brian and I called my dad to assess the symptoms. And then i came back to the room feeling a bit beyond alone and helpless. Only I wasn’t alone. There was this sweet angel from the ward making playdough P’s with Patrick on the floor. And she listened to me talk through my problem and she offered all the help she could think of. And then she just talked for a while which is something I am REALLY missing here… talking to grownups and especially friends of my own faith.

And things felt lighter going to bed. In fact, Patrick and I stayed awake and giggled and talked for a while. Sometimes, he and I get playing a little more like it’s a sleepover. And last night he told me that when he grows up he wants to be a firefighter and put water on things. And that when I grow up I want to be a doctor… not like the ones in the hospital, but like the toy one in his Duplo block set that he got yesterday.

Which reminds me of another super nice thing that strangers did for us. Right before Brian left town, he discovered a couple of Christmas presents hidden under the bed that we’d overlooked on Christmas morning. Well, they couldn’t have been more perfectly planned if we’d done it on purpose.

When we got married in December, I was really sad that the wedding and honeymoon took up most of the Christmas season for us. So we decided to extend our family’s Christmas holiday like they do in Europe. There, the 12 days of Christmas actually start on Christmas day and are counted forward until January 6th, also known as Epiphany. Or, in Italy where Brian was a missionary, it’s called Befana.

So, we have celebrated Befana. We leave out our shoes and a good witch fills them with little gifts. After Patrick went to sleep Monday night, I snuck down to the C store and picked up some treats for my shoes, then I put the newly found presents and some chips and a book into Patrick’s. And when he woke in the morning, we had our own little holiday. And he got a couple of fleece sweaters that have been perfect for these bitter cold days. And he got some duplo blocks that have proven to be great entertainment, too.

General Patrick update.. Tonight, they turned off his TPN again, hanging some IV fluids to keep him hydrated. He will reach full enteral (through the belly) feeds on Elecare Jr. tomorrow late afternoon. They will check some labwork in the morning and we’ll start talking about discharge again. (Which means that I will also be making some phone calls in the morning to see if my insurance’s emergency roadside service can help me fix the battery issue so we have a way to leave here.)

Patrick feels great. I’ve learned to change the dressing on his surgical incision and will need to still do that for a few weeks. He is not a big fan of the job, but has gotten so he doesn’t cry the whole time.

We spend our days mostly playing. Today, they got the playroom ready for patients to play in. It is still missing locks on the toy cabinets, so you have to have help and permission to play there and have to keep the door closed while there. But that just meant that Patrick had to have 3 hours straight playing there instead today. And the room all to himself.

While he played, I downloaded more of his homeschool materials and the hospital teacher helped me print some readers. A “cold day” made it so Patrick missed his post-holiday return to school this week.. again. He’s only had 4 actual “school days” since we got here. I just learned a couple of the ladies from church homeschool and I am getting ready to pounce and pick their brains to figure out how to make my mommy school efforts even better.

We’ve been working on just one more goal here. A few days ago, Patrick was complaining that his left leg and ankle hurt. This isn’t the first he’s complained of it, so I asked for a physical therapy consult. She came seeming ready to assure me my concerns were over something normal that would pass. She watched him walk and stand on tiptoes and squat. And as we worked, she shifted from telling me that his hip looked weak but would get better to a genuine concern about what she was seeing. This is somehow maybe related to his cerebral palsy and we don’t know if it’s really a new problem or just one made worse by recovery.

She gave me some exercises to try to get Patrick to do.. lifting his legs to the side and walking on his heels. Because of his dyspraxia (motor planning troubles), this seems really, really hard for him as he’s never tried to move that way before. At first, he just wouldn’t. But I’ve figured out that I can turn it into a game of silly walking mother-may-I or a “can you do this?” challenge and he’ll play along.

Nevertheless, my plan of doing occupational and feeding therapy only with my limited visits while he’s outpatient is kind of disintegrating. If this problem doesn’t go away before we leave here, we’ll need to do some follow-up therapy. And I really need to find the number and call and get that scheduled.

I think Patrick feels more in control of himself here at the hospital. Maybe because the rules and routine are more predictable. Maybe because he’s spent more time here. Maybe just because his medication levels have been steady while he is here. Maybe because it’s not Christmas anymore. Maybe it’s because he can order ham and chicken broth for every meal. Or because my attention is less divided and all of the ways he acts out are him trying to have my undivided attention. I don’t know for sure, but I’ve also been using the extra time I have with helpers here trying to pull together some picture schedule and behavior reminder resources so going back to the Ronald McDonald House can maybe feel less chaotic.

Regardless, I can see that our time here is special and important. And I am beyond grateful for the helpers who have let me use this time well instead of just trying to survive each day.

 

Transplant Day 46 and Physical Therapy

IMG_20141215_154535

Today was a busy day. I knew we’d need to be up early to start out with labs, but last night was another night where Patrick didn’t make it to sleep till midnight. So when he snuggled up next to me and fell back asleep this morning, I didn’t really have the heart to wake him.

At 8, as my alarm was going off after the 3rd snooze, I decided we were going to have to bite the bullet and get up. I could tell that sometime during the night Patrick’s ostomy bag had come loose. Thank goodness I’ve got a good drain system set up so it didn’t make a mess that woke us earlier. But it did mean that we had to start off with a bag change right away.

Patrick wasn’t so sure of me when I put him in the tub without waterproofing his bag.. But it actually worked very well to make it come off quite easily and changing the bag went very smoothly. But we were really pressed for time so when the phone rang to tell me they were showing his nurse up, he was still quite naked and wrapped in bath towels.

We hurried to get a diaper on and wrapped him up in a blanket and the nurse was able to draw his labs. Meanwhile, my phone rang and it was the pharmacy. It’s been one week since discharge. Time for a new shipment of supplies.

When we got through all of that, it was already 9 a.m. I begged Patrick to stay on the bed and watch Blues Clues and let me run downstairs for his medicines alone so it could be faster. He agreed and we were able to get all of his medicines given on time. But in the meantime, he was a lot happier in the room watching TV than he usually is trying to entertain himself while I do up meds in the morning. In fact, he happily stayed and played and watched TV for another hour and a half.

That gave me time to clean up the room a bit and to set up the printer that my mom and dad bought me for my birthday. (I knew I’d want to do Mommy School here so that was one of my first wishes.)

Finally, I was hungry and he needed formula made so it would have time to chill before starting the new batch running and we had to give in and leave the room. Besides, Patrick needed me to buy him new socks. So we went downstairs and got ready and went to Target.

Let me tell you about why Patrick needed new socks as it brings you to the next part of our day. If you are new to our story, you may not know that Patrick has an anoxic brain injury and cerebral palsy. When he was 8 months old, his heart stopped because of an infection and some medication they were using to treat it. It took over 15 minutes of CPR to revive him. The result is that the ends of all of the blood vessels in his brain were deprived of some oxygen. That accounts for a lot of his behaviors and most of his developmental delays and learning disabilities.

When you hear the phrase “cerebral palsy” you probably imagine someone with a very severe case whose body is contorted with muscle spasms: someone who can’t eat, can’t talk, can’t walk, etc. That is what you imagine because that is the presentation that you can’t ignore so you ask about it. But what cerebral palsy really means is that at birth or shortly thereafter, the brain was starved for oxygen, leaving the patient with a “palsy” or lack of control of the muscles of the arms or legs or more. The signal from the brain to these limbs gets confused or altered somewhere along the way causing unexpected movements, often causing the muscles to spasm.

Well, over the past week, I have seen Patrick’s hip and foot of his right foot turning inward. He is becoming more clumsy and having  a harder time controlling those muscles. I started making him wear his walking brace for half to all of the day. (Enter the need for new, longer socks that would prevent rubbing from the brace against his leg.) We’ve been doing stretching, too, and those muscles are much tighter than they have been in years.

Today after shopping and a short nap, I took Patrick for a physical therapy evaluation in the hospital’s outpatient clinic. I wanted to evaluate his recovery and I was especially worried about this problem with his gait.

The news was good. First of all, Patrick is a “rockstar” from the physical therapy standpoint. His incision is better healed, his movement is better, his pain level is less, and his energy is more than most patients at this point. He is really doing remarkably well.

The therapist said that she thinks that the spasticity in his leg is likely a combination of problems: the trauma of transplant, the effect of new medications, the exhaustion of recovery. In other words, she said that it’s probably something that he’s feeling all over, we just are seeing it more in his leg because that is where he is weakest. She said that for every 1 day in the hospital, we should expect 2 days for his body to recover. Considering that he spent 39 days in the hospital, it will be a few months before he is back to full strength.

The prescription is simple. Keep doing all of the exercises we were working on at home for leg strengthening like climbing stairs, squatting and tiptoes, bike riding, jumping. But, for the next little while, have him wear his brace so that while his nerves and muscles are relearning and recovering, we are training his body to move the right way. Patrick is not amused by this prescription. He keeps asking me to let him take his boot off because he feels like it’s in his way.

The therapist said that she is seeing such progress in the area of gross motor skills that, given our insurance policy’s very limited therapy visits, that she feels like physical therapy would not be her focus right now. She recommended instead that we take advantage of the opportunity to work with an occupational therapist who specializes in feeding in kids post-transplant while we are here.

She also said to allow him lots of rest. And I think that I realized today that doing so may require a little more keeping him in our room. When we hit our room, all of the sensory overload caused by the rest of the house melts away. He is happy watching TV and doing crafts. Tonight it finally clicked for him that the tote in the corner is a toybox and that he is allowed to go get those toys out and play with them.

I don’t know for sure. We’ll need to find a balance so he gets social time, too. We both need it. But we both were much happier with some quiet, one-on-one free play time in the room.

We had another special treat tonight. One of the men from our church who helps bring the sacrament has talked for a while about inviting us over for dinner. Well, tonight, we got the chance. That was really such a treat! Patrick had a great time playing with their two little ones (ages 3 and almost 5). I spend some time with some other adults about my age whom I have a lot in common with. And just take a break from all of this medical stuff for a while. But also, without a ton of explanation. He has been visiting for a while now. He was also the anesthesiologist on Patrick’s case the night of transplant. So they know the story and some of the things they should expect. It was good to just be normal for a little while.

We were both sad to see the evening come to a close. But it was bedtime and we needed to unwind to go to sleep here, too. Setting up my printer meant I also set up a place my laptop can sit next to the TV, so we were able to turn on one of the new DVD’s that Brian’s parents sent him. We watched Curious George’s Christmas while I cleaned up the room, prepared feeds, drew up medications, and got Patrick into his pajamas.

He made it to sleep by 10:30 tonight which isn’t the greatest, but is better than midnight. He also is starting to prefer to go to sleep in his bed on his own. He won’t admit that. He would love for me to lay with him. But he has started to do his usual putting himself to sleep routine if I’ll just lay with him for a bit, then tell him it’s time for met o kiss him goodnight. I kiss him and go lay in my bed until he falls asleep. Then I get up and try to get done whatever was waiting for him to rest.

Tonight while I waited, I decided to poke around Pinterest for kindergarten homeschooling ideas as Patrick’s teacher was still sick today and an hour a week of school is certainly not getting him the education he needs or that his little mind is craving. I am thrilled to say that I stumbled across a curriculum that looks like it will pick up exactly where he left off at school and that really fits his learning style. It even has little printable readers. (I’m trying to decide if I print them or see if it’s possible to throw them into an e-reader format to save on printing). I’m excited to grab a little bit of playroom time tomorrow morning so I can get it downloaded and start working on it.

One last bit of news, then I have to post this and get to bed. My eyes are drooping. Patrick’s transplant coordinator called this afternoon. The great news is that his prograf level is finally in range. Just barely, but it’s there. That’s the first time in a week. That means no medication adjustment. It also means that we get to switch to twice weekly labs. And THAT means that we can sleep in in the morning if we’re tired. At least till meds are due at 9.

However.. you probably wont’ get to read this until then because I am just plain too sleepy to go hunt down an internet connection until morning.

Summer vacation

Tomorrow marks 3 weeks since Patrick’s last day of school. For most people, summer vacation is in full swing. For us, we’re finally starting to get our bearings. It’s been an unusual start to summer.

Things seemed smooth enough. I spent that first weekend after school ended gathering myself to start a tradition Patrick and I are calling “Mommy School.” Between therapies, Patrick has a LOT of “homework”. He’s supposed to spend 10 minutes every day doing eye exercises. He’s supposed to be practicing writing and cutting and and gluing and using a keyboard. We’re supposed to be strengthening his core, working on activities that use both sides of his body evenly, and encouraging him to cross midline. He’s supposed to be practicing telling me stories in various verb tenses, using articles, and correcting his use of pronouns. Plus working on vocabulary building, sorting skills, categorization skills, social skills, attention skills and on and on. All of this to help keep him progressing on his current trajectory which, discouraging as I may find it, is approximately two years behind most of his peers.

Except, it seems, when it comes to the alphabet. Patrick has the alphabet down pat and tested in the top 25% of his preschool class.

Our first day of Mommy School. Learning the shapes of letters by building them from playdough.

Our first day of Mommy School. Learning the shapes of letters by building them from playdough.

A practical life mommy school lesson on how to sweep.

A practical life mommy school lesson on how to sweep.

And so, this summer we introduced “Mommy School.” We’re doing an abbreviated letter of the day curriculum, since letters are what Patrick loves. Every week is assigned two letters and every day a word that starts with that letter. Then I go out and scrounge up books, worksheets, crafts, activities and field trips on that theme.

Teddy Bears

B is for Bears, and a teddy bear picnic.

The first day of Mommy School went GREAT! Until, that is, Patrick developed a fever. The next day of summer break was spent cuddling a sick, feverish kid in a chair. He had a cold and we were grateful to be able to stay home sick like other children. By Thursday, Patrick had mustered the energy to play on his own again. But, by then, I was sick.

Patrick sees 3 therapists on a regular basis in the summer. It's hard work, but fun too. Patrick's reward for a good hour of work in physical therapy is the chance to climb the rock wall.

Patrick sees 3 therapists on a regular basis in the summer. It’s hard work, but fun too. Patrick’s reward for a good hour of work in physical therapy is the chance to climb the rock wall.

In occupational therapy, Patrick gets to take sensory breaks in the gym. Diving in the ball pool is a favorite exercise.

In occupational therapy, Patrick gets to take sensory breaks in the gym. Diving in the ball pool is a favorite exercise.

Our second week of summer break, Patrick and I were finally starting to be healthy again. But Brian wasn’t. And it didn’t matter if we were healthy or not because on Saturday of that week, my little sister was getting married in my backyard. So, I declared “C is for Camping” and we pitched a tent in the living room. Amazingly, this both occupied Patrick and kept the room clean while he binged on movies and we scrambled to finish last minute details on the house and yard.

I meant to pitch a tent outdoors, but it rained all that day, so we brought it inside. It worked so well we kept it a second day, too.

I meant to pitch a tent outdoors, but it rained all that day, so we brought it inside. It worked so well we kept it a second day, too.

We also sneaked in a couple of outings.. a family night at Red Butte Garden and a field trip with friends to the Natural History Museum. (I picked up a free month-long museum pass at the local library just so we wouldn’t have excuses to just stay home and work.) Besides, in order to get Patrick to let us work, we let him watch his birthday movies on endless loop, which left us all craving some family adventures.

Patrick loved the children's garden best, especially hopping on stepping stones across the fish pond.

Patrick loved the children’s garden best, especially hopping on stepping stones across the fish pond.

The best part of our trip to the Natural History Museum was not the dinosaur bones. It was the chance to be there with other friends who know exactly what living with Short Gut is like.

The best part of our trip to the Natural History Museum was not the dinosaur bones. It was the chance to be there with other friends who know exactly what living with Short Gut is like.

The wedding went smoother than expected, though playing hostess and trying to keep Patrick from completely melting down about how his house was filled with children who were not sharing his toys with him kept me busy enough that I didn’t manage to take a single picture.

I was too busy to take pictures, but there were lots of cameras there. I snagged this one off my mom's Facebook page.

I was too busy to take pictures, but there were lots of cameras there. I snagged this one off my mom’s Facebook page.

My sister was a beautiful bride and the happy couple truly looked happy and in love. Patrick eventually settled down with Grandma who let him fetch endless cups of water from the refreshment table and pour them all over himself and her and all went well enough.

Except that it turns out that maybe the bug that had Brian sick isn’t the one that had Patrick sick as I ran a fever all night.

So, Sunday we took a sick day and we stayed and home and did absolutely nothing except that Brian cooked us a delicious roast. The day was delightful and refreshing. Perfect after two frantic weeks.

Yesterday, I put together a week’s worth of Mommy School worksheets, made a chore chart, got Patrick’s TPN labs drawn and kind of regrouped. Then, in the late afternoon, I changed Patrick’s central line dressing and discovered that, much to my dismay, what had once been a tiny little hole in the clotted side of the line had grown big enough that I was worried it would pull off. But it was after hours and I wanted the head of the IV team to be involved in choices about the repair.

So today, we spent our kind of restart to summer day exactly as summer days seem to go for us.

Over breakfast, I made a bunch of phone calls to people at the hospital trying to find the best way to get the line repaired. Eventually, I sat down and had a little cry because I wasn’t getting in touch with the people I wanted and I knew we’d have to go to the E.R.

Then, Howie gave me a pep talk and a hug and a kiss. Then he talked to Patrick and helped him to gather the courage to get his line repaired. (He was terrified that it was going to hurt when they cut the broken part off of his line.) We headed up to the E.R. where our timing really was perfect. We didn’t wait at all for them to start working. Patrick’s line is a different brand than our hospital stocks because it was placed in Nebraska, so that complicated things and the repair took about an hour and looks a bit sloppy. But it will do for a clotted line.

And then, when all was done, we headed off to the Children’s Museum for a couple of hours. We managed to get there at a nice slow time on a nice slow day. Patrick actually got to enjoy exploring the museum and would have happily stayed there all day. His favorite spots were the Bob the Builder exhibit, the gas station, and the pretend E.R.

Builder Patrick

I didn't know they'd built on a pretend E.R. with the life flight display. Patrick found a little girl willing to play the patient and had a great time

I didn’t know they’d built on a pretend E.R. with the life flight display. Patrick found a little girl willing to play the patient and had a great time

Eventually, we had to go because I was parked in a 2 hour parking space and, honestly, we both needed a rest. So we stopped in at daddy’s office to pick up the leftovers from a lunch he’d cooked for them today. And then we came home and convinced Patrick to nap by 4.

Which brings us to right now. Brian just walked in the door to a quiet, clean house and me blogging and said, “Now that’s a sight I don’t see very often.”  Here’s to maybe a little bit more of this? Perhaps a few prayers for this line to hold out through the summer and grant us a little bit of peace ..and maybe even health?

We have bacteria species, and a plan to try to stay at home

From our hospital stay 2 weeks ago: Playing with another family from our support group. Daddies are awesome!

From our hospital stay 2 weeks ago: Playing with another family from our support group. Daddies are awesome!

We’ve been home for a couple of days now. By Sunday evening, Patrick was feeling 100 times better. He started talking and playing again. We went to the playroom and raced cars down their giant car ramps. His cousins came to visit and while we waited for them, he was playing around in the lobby by walking every silly way he could think of, including with his eyes covered.

But the night shift rolled around and, yet again, they didn’t send up his melatonin on time. And the pumps didn’t like running TPN, lipids, and antibiotics all at once. And he didn’t get to sleep till 11. And then he woke up vomiting (because his g-tube had to be clamped because the medications had been late).. not once, but twice. Only the melatonin had come up by then and so he couldn’t wake up all the way and it was well, just sad..

From two weeks ago: Pushing Daddy in a wheelchair as a form of occupational therapy. Heavy work=happier child

From two weeks ago: Pushing Daddy in a wheelchair as a form of occupational therapy. Heavy work=happier child

And by morning, I was fed up. It’s time to go home when hospital routine is making him feel sicker instead of better. So I asked them if we could finish up care at home. And they agreed. (With some cautions, but agreed.)

And so we came home and the antibiotic thankfully was due just once a day.. and so we all got to visit with Brian’s family who has been in town visiting, and then we got to go to bed and sleep at night. First time in 3 weeks that I didn’t have to be up at midnight for antibiotics.

And we’ve all been feeling much better.

One of the joys of our July hospital stay was the discovery that because we have a Physical Therapy goal to learn to ride a tricycle, if the doctors order physical therapy for Patrick, he's allowed to borrow a bike. He learned to ride a tricycle during that hospital stay.

One of the joys of our July hospital stay was the discovery that because we have a Physical Therapy goal to learn to ride a tricycle, if the doctors order physical therapy for Patrick, he’s allowed to borrow a bike. He learned to ride a tricycle during that hospital stay.

Well, except for Patrick this morning. Again today, naughty behavior has been emerging. And the nausea, which never completely went away, seems to be getting worse. And I was really beginning to worry.

And then the phone rang. It was Patrick’s pharmacist. AT LAST they have species on the bacteria. Our two best-friend bacterias… Klebsiella Oxytoca and Citrobacter. The drug-resistant bacteria that have set up shop in Patrick’s gut. Only this time, the Klebsiella is no longer susceptible to Rocefen, the antibiotic that I threw a fit to get them to put Patrick on. It’s mutated some and that drug won’t work anymore.

One of the best ways to pass time when you don't feel well in the hospital is doing crafts. This past week, Patrick discovered glitter glue and puff paint. Our lives will never be the same.

One of the best ways to pass time when you don’t feel well in the hospital is doing crafts. This past week, Patrick discovered glitter glue and puff paint. Our lives will never be the same.

IMG_0655

So tonight, they’ll be sending me a new antibiotic called ertapenem. And they’ll be sending a nurse to keep and eye on Patrick during his first dose.

And hopefully by tomorrow, he’ll be feeling better.

Primary Children's Hospital has it's own LDS branch (congregation of the Mormon church) and every Sunday, volunteers will bring primary lessons and longs to any kid who wants them. Here's Patrick enjoying singing time.

Primary Children’s Hospital has it’s own LDS branch (congregation of the Mormon church) and every Sunday, volunteers will bring primary lessons and longs to any kid who wants them. Here’s Patrick enjoying singing time.

But I’m still happy that we’re home. Because at least he’s sleeping through the night. And I can keep a better routine so he doesn’t feel as sick. The good news is that this new medicine can still be given just twice a day and we can all still get some sleep. I certainly trust that things will work more smoothly with our GI writing orders instead of an intern, and our home care pharmacy and home nurse helping provide his care. No missed or forgotten doses of medications. And there is still a tiny chance that I can catch up on dishes and laundry. And feed us something other than cafeteria food. I think we are all happier at home. Even if Patrick does miss visits from Child Life with fun new toys to play with.

IMG_0662

One of Patrick’s favorite people in the whole world: Jo from child life. She is the sunshine of every hospital stay.

 

Baby steps

I mentioned a while back that we were taking Patrick to see a doctor who specialized in rehabilitation and development. It’s about time I write about it.

The appointment went a lot more positively than I’d expected. I went in half expecting for her to see the muscle tone in Patrick’s foot and decide it was time for dramatic action. Patrick’s physical therapist had suggested botox injections and casting, and I was afraid that that was the next step.

I was so nervous, in fact, that I had Brian come along with me. That wasn’t the sort of decision I wanted to make alone. And he was kind enough to take the whole day off, which was an extra special treat.

They make you feel out a history every time you go into this office, including a list of everything that’s changed in the last 6 months since you were seen. This can be quite the task to list everything and I often just write blanket statements like “typical to short gut” so I don’t have to fill in all the hospitalizations, diet changes, etc.

The good thing about this form, though, is that it gives the doctor an idea of where to start, so she came in and right away said, “So why do you think he’s having problems with his foot?” We stripped Patrick down so she could see his muscles as he walked and then we had him walk back and forth between us. We also talked about the developmental lag I’ve seen on his right side versus his left. She watched the way he hold his hands when relaxed. She stretched his muscles to see how they move.

In the end, we didn’t decide anything new… but she confirmed a lot of things I’ve suspected. Basically, it looks as though there was some degree of brain damage caused by Patrick’s cardiac arrest. This isn’t a surprise. They did CPR for 15 minutes, which means that for 15 minutes, he didn’t have a good supply of oxygen to his brain. In fact, everyone’s always amazed at just how well he IS doing in spite of that.

This doctor, even telling me that there seems to have been damage, still calls him a miracle and says that he is far, far healthier than his medical history would predict.

The official diagnosis she gave is “dystonia”… which basically means “irregular muscle tone.” In layman’s terms, it means that his brain sends the message to move the muscle, but the message gets garbled somewhere along the way. The message the foot get tells the muscles to flex harder than they should or in the wrong direction. The faster he tries to go, the more the signal gets confused and the more unpredictable the movements.

She said to just keep working with him. She said that these muscle tone issues could vary in how much they affect him as he grows and the muscles relax or get tighter. In the future, they might still recommend injections of botox into the muscles to weaken them so he can have better control of them. But that’s not for now.

For now, we’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing. We’ll keep a brace on his foot and we’ll do stretches every morning and night. We’ll keep encouraging him to walk wherever he goes and we’ll hope that, like the rest of his right side movements, he’ll get better with practice so that you don’t even notice a difference unless you know what you’re watching for.

It’s a relief to have my suspicions confirmed and plan of action approved. For the past year I’ve been telling therapists that I suspected something was wrong. It’s only been since we started working on walking with his newest PT that it’s been clear that something actually was wrong.

It’s discouraging, though, too to know that he’s going to have this battle ahead of him. He’s young enough that his brain is very “plastic”, very adaptable and it is possible for him to overcome most of the effects of this… But it’s going to require a lot more effort from him and from me to learn to do those basic things.

Still, he’s making amazing progress with his “boot”. He spent 15 minutes yesterday walking 6 feet between his therapist and myself. Then, he spent most of the evening walking across my mother’s living room. He lets go when he’s playing next to furniture. He refuses to have two hands held while he walks. He is getting faster and steadier and braver. He’ll be walking in no time.

This Boot is Made for Walkin’

It’s been a few weeks now since Patrick got his brace, or as we call it, his “boot.” His therapist used this word the day she fitted him, and Patrick took to it. He sees me with his brace in hand and starts reaching and begging, “boo, boo, boo!”

It was hard getting used to the brace. For the first week, even an hour of wear had him grumpy, tired, and irritable. Daily stretches were the worst, as they worked the muscles that were already sore. I just kept pushing through knowing that things were supposed to get better with time.

The other awkward new adjustment was shoes. Patrick currently wears a size 5 1/2 .But, the brace measures a 7 1/2 in length, and when you allow for the bulky straps on the side, it takes an 8 to get over the brace. Obviously a size 8 shoe is too long for his foot and this difference made him seem a bit lopsided while he was getting used to it.

I really want to get over to Nordstrom, who have a “mismatched shoes” program and employees who are actually trained to help fit shoes, instead of just measure feet. Shopping for a spare shoe at Payless the day we picked up Patrick’s brace was frustrating and traumatic. I’ll forever pity the poor teenage associate tasked to wait on us.

But I digress.

Patrick has since made a wonderful adjustment to the brace. He even knows how to help me more easily get it on, if he’s not distracted with something else.

It helps. No longer does his little foot betray him at random, popping up or turning in and making him fall.  He doesn’t veer into the wall every 5th step while walking halls in therapy any more. (It takes more like 40 steps.)

He’s getting brave enough to walk more and more. He takes several steps between his daddy and me (or other adults he trusts.) He forgets sometimes that he doesn’t want me to see him stand, and lets go to play with a toy. I’ve even caught him walking along the edge of the couch without holding on – just reaching out and touching every few steps to assure he’s got his balance.

 

 

There is still improvement to be made. At least once an hour his heel still pops up inside the brace – quite a feat, considering how much there is holding it down. Only then it gets stuck. I’ve learned that if he’s crying and begging for my help, it’s probably his foot.

His foot does still turn in a bit, too.. or I should say that his leg does from the hip.

We’re meeting with his rehabilitationalist today to talk about whether or not we need to take more action than just the brace.

But for now, my little munchkin is happily practicing walking. We walk everywhere. I’ve learned to allow extra time for such adventures. For example, we spent an hour picking up 3 items in the grocery store so that he could push the cart. We arrive, when possible, 15 minutes or more early to appointments so that he can hold my hand and walk inside. And we take walks around the yard and neighborhood.

These last take the most time because for the first time, Patrick can explore the things he’s been looking at for 2 years on his walks so we have to stop often to let him touch the fences and flowers and rocks along the way. I don’t mind. He’s earned it.