Tag Archives: growing up

Dear Laura

This morning, I got a concerned Facebook message from a woman I’ve never met, but who knows one of my friends and apparently has been following this blog. I haven’t been writing. She was concerned.

To all of you, friends, acquaintances, and family, especially those who have relied on this blog for updates.. can I say I’m sorry? This has been a growing year for me personally and I haven’t been writing because I’ve been busy with a lot of things.

Proof we are still alive.

The short version is this (and I really need to devote a post to this topic)… I went to a doctor in December and learned that 8 years of full-time caregiving and saying “I can’t take more care of myself. I’m taking care of my family” kind of all came together into one disaster for my health. I discovered I had high blood pressure, overweight, out of shape, one seriously messed up knee, and was borderline prediabetic.

This may sound like bad news, but really, for a long time I put myself last. And this was just the nudge I needed to recognize that if I wanted to continue to be the kind of mom I wanted to be, some things needed to change. So I started working with doctors and a physical therapist. I got a gym membership. I started tracking what I ate. I got started meds for blood pressure. I pushed for asthma testing, got diagnosed, and started taking medications to bring that and allergies in control. I discovered kinesiology tape tape. I kept up with regular counseling because this was a serious blow to my ego and I had a month where I tangoed a bit with anxiety and depression. I gave myself tennis elbow. And tendonitis in several other ways as well. I adopted the motto “Pain is temporary. Quitting is forever.”

And after a fair amount of time and effort, I’m happy to say that I’m making some progress. I’ve lost some weight (more still to go) and kept it off. Most of those health issues are considered well managed. I’ve been hiking and biking and swimming and playing on the trampoline with my family in ways I haven’t been able to in a very long time.

But learning to take better care of myself has been a learning curve and it often didn’t leave me much other time.

Meanwhile, though… life went on. And in the short version, here are a few of the highlights.

In spring:

We went to Disneyland. Because we are seriously addicted. It was spring break and far too busy and I’m not sure I’ll ever choose to go during spring break again. Highlight of the trip for Patrick was meeting Doc McStuffins. Though he pointed out to us that she was too big. And couldn’t talk. Highlights for the grownups: We went on a foodie adventure and tried several secret menu options. Mac and Cheese in a breadbowl proved too big for any of us to eat. But the cinnamon roll at the Starbucks inside of California Adventure was delightful! And the World of Color Dessert Party was more than worth it.

We tagged along with Daddy on a business trip to St. George. We surprised Patrick by taking him to visit Pioneer Park, a state park full of Utah’s trademark red rock formations. He was upset the park didn’t have a playground. Then he surprised us by absolutely loving climbing the rocks.

We discovered and signed Patrick up for an adaptive baseball team. In adaptive baseball everyone fields, hits and runs. You can use a tee or they’ll pitch to you until you hit the ball. There are no strikes. There are no outs. You play at least 2 innings per team. More if you’re having fun. Or you can quit early if everyone is cold or tired. Everyone cheers for everyone. It is, perhaps, my favorite form of baseball ever. Patrick loved his uniform and his coaches and his teammates. He hated fielding, but kind of liked tracing letters in the dirt. He tried to learn to throw the ball in fancy ways and ended up with a crazy windup the always landed the ball behind him. He got a little bit better at hitting off the tee. And then, like nothing.. the season was over. We had a great time. And will certainly be back next year.

Patrick wrapped up 2nd grade with a fair amount of success… stronger in reading and finally making progress in math. He had an amazing 1:1 para for the 2nd half of the year when his previous aide got promoted. She brought out the best in him for sure.

In summer:

The bishop went on vacation for a month, leaving Brian in charge. That was a fun adventure. Patrick helped housesit there and also for another neighbor.. and we learned that he is a REALLY good housesitter. He’s not quite tall enough to get all the mail from the mailbox. And he isn’t strong enough to pull a hose around. But…He NEVER forgets that we need to pick up the mail or water the lawn. And he’s not afraid to ask for help. He earned a little bit of money doing it and used it to buy some toy cars and a fidget spinner.

Our ABA provider completely and totally screwed us up. We’d assumed that Patrick could get into their treatment center for summer services, then were told he couldn’t, then were told he could. And then, after a lot of back and forth and spotty service for the first month of summer, finally provided us with the right medical forms. Only to read them over and decide they didn’t want that liability. So I ended up with a lot of unexpected 1 on 1 time with Patrick. We got a museum pass and did our usual tour of museums and zoos, etc. We played with kiwi crates. We worked in dollar store workbooks. We practiced some educational computer games a lot. We got through, but it was a pretty messy and disorganized start.

I signed Patrick up for adaptive swim lessons. With no central line, this is now a possibility, and Patrick really needed somewhere to go and some help with his fear of water. His mom really needed a way to keep exercising and a minute of respite. Thankfully, he had an amazing teacher who was totally fine with me swimming laps while she taught him. And he got brave enough by the end of the summer to float, dunk his head under the water, blow bubbles.. and he was working on learning how to move his arms to swim.

Also, as a summer highlight… we bought a pass to the local amusement park, Lagoon, and Patrick and I spent several days up there over the summer. They would totally burn him out. We’d leave with him starving. He’d down an entire Arby’s kids meal on the drive home and then fall asleep for hours. He loves the rollercoaster, the small ones. He loved riding kid rides without me. He loves bumper cars. Or any cars really.

Our motto of the summer was “I can do it myself” and Patrick did make some great progress in learning to heat up simple foods in the microwave, get the mail, water the lawn, play in the neighborhood, fold his own laundry, clean up after himself, write more neatly and on and on. He grew a lot!

Oh, and one other summer highlight. Thanks to our awesome respite provider who is a teacher and had extra time because it was summer, Brian and I took a weekend getaway to San Diego. Just because. We slept in every morning. Played tourist and foodies. Even pulled of tickets to a baseball game. 3rd row on the 3rd base line.

And then, in fall:

Patrick survived his first overnight camping trip. There was some ice, but officially we didn’t hit freezing.

Patrick started 3rd grade. He’s now the old kid in his class. I think the 2nd oldest by 3 days, if I remember right. They had a bunch of 1st graders start this year. Half the class is tiny. Half the class is big like Patrick. He’s not used to being the big kid and the first couple of weeks he would just reach a breaking point shortly after school, yell, throw, and then collapse in tears at the frustration of having to hold it together and watch out for the little ones.

First Day of 3rd grade

His amazing aide got a great job offer a week before school started. That didn’t really help things. The first week, I tagged along and helped at lunch at the school. (And especially the first day when they had a class full of brand new kids and an eclipse viewing party to try to pull off safely.) By the 2nd week ,they had hired a new aide. And she’s really been kind of amazing for him. She’s older that his other paras have been. Which is kind of nice in that she’s not as afraid of getting in trouble for advocating for him. She’s really been quite kind and attentive and helpful. And she has really taken to the task of helping his eating. She asked for a menu of what he could purchase at lunch and has him buying and eating boxed ham and turkey sandwiches on wheat bread. He ate a whole banana for him a couple of days ago! This is perfectly timed as a summer of swimming caused some weight loss and the dietitian wasn’t exactly happy with me for it.

Also, I started a new role as PTA treasurer. This has been a much bigger and busier job than I imagined. But it’s also been good for me in a new world of not always putting myself last. I mentioned to Patrick’s teacher that I used to do bookkeeping. She looked at me and and said, “You used to do a lot of things.” And she’s right. I did. I had a lot of years single and then more years married without kids. And I did a lot of things. Now that Patrick’s health is better, it’s fun to be doing some of those things again.

A favorite way to spend an afternoon. Lining up cars & watching TV

I’ve kind of dived in full-time as a volunteer. PTA (which is settling down now that we are past the start of the year a little.) Still volunteering with reading groups. Primary music in the children’s sunday school at church. And in this past month, I’ve been asked to be Patrick’s cub scout leader. That’s another thing that happened this fall. Patrick earned his wolf rank. So he moved into the bear den a month early with me. We’ve done neighborhood cleanup with garden tools, woodworking, and pocket knives so far. Wednesdays are crazy. But I love being a scout.

Patrick’s settling in at school. Reading 100 words a minute. That’s not counting the random words he’s picked up from his scripture study. Like abominations (pronounced “abominable nations” by him.)

I threw a fit and got all new ABA providers and that has helped a great deal. I feel like he’s making progress on most of our goals there.  He wrapped up an OT session and is diving into PT again with focus on learning how to throw, catch, bounce and dribble a ball. So far, his schoolwork is almost all review and far too easy. And he’s really becoming quite grown up and and helpful around home. I love hearing his thoughts.

Anxiety has been bad for him of late. He started stuttering over the summer when he’s nervous about what he’s saying. So far everyone tells me not to worry and he’ll outgrow it. His fear of rims without hubcaps has reached a peak and I sometimes have a hard time helping him be brave enough to walk past school buses at the end of the day.

I’m hoping it’s just the start of school and the difficult memories fall weather can bring.

We’re headed for his 3rd annual post-transplant checkup in a few weeks and I’ll try to update on that soon.

And in the meantime… well of course we had to go back to Disneyland last week. This time’s highlight? Brian went to Disney Institute, a leadership training workshop.. for work. We got to stay in the Grand California hotel. Which mean walking out of our hotel straight into either downtown Disney or California Adventure. It was a treat to just return to the room if we forgot something or were tired. Also, as Patrick just discovered a love for the Toy Story movies, and since Brian was travelling ahead, we sent a Buzz and a Woody doll ahead with daddy that were waiting in the room when we arrived. Patrick had a happy little Toy Story binge in Disneyland.

Patrick has entered a new phase for rides. While he still loves his roller coasters and the Small World.. he also discovered the storybook rides. Peter Pan. Mr Toad’s Wild Ride. Pinocchio. That he couldn’t stand before. We discovered this at the end of our last day, alas. But it means some different experiences next time I’m sure. Also of note, we made him ride Splash Mountain. (He loves the log flume at the park near home.) That was a little scary. But we all survived.

Anyway, dear Laura… and our other family, friends and followers who have wondered where we went this past year and what we were doing.. that is what is happening. I haven’t been this busy since before we adopted Patrick. I’m not used to it. I’m used to surviving and being trapped in a hospital or at home by health issues. I’m not used to meeting deadlines and being places when I promise. I’m used to having to always cancel plans, not making and keeping them.

Hopefully I’ll get better at this with time. But for now, just know that we are ok. And if I’m not finding time to sit down and write, it means that we’re not quarantined, not in a waiting room, not hospitalized. We’re out and living. And we’re not very efficient at it yet.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Transplant day 349 and the one-year follow-up

We just got back from Omaha again. It was a short trip. Barely more than 48 hours. In some ways very routine and unexciting. In others, very eventful.

About a month ago, I remembered to ask Patrick’s transplant team if he was supposed to have a one-year follow-up appointment. They said yes.. and then I asked if it really had to happen right on the transplant anniversary. After all, remember, Patrick’s transplant happened both on his birthday and on Halloween. We didn’t really want to spent October 31st at a doctor’s appointment.

They said it didn’t matter, and so we decided to take advantage of Patrick’s fall break. We checked him out of school on Wednesday at lunch and hopped on a plane to Nebraska.

He was crazy excited this time. Or may anxious. I can’t decide. He was happy about the idea of seeing his nurses and couldn’t seem to let it go. We tried to explain that this was just a checkup. But he didn’t settle down until after the appointment. I think because then he knew it was all ok.

Wednesday night, because Patrick was bouncing off the walls, we checked into our hotel but then headed down to the riverwalk to try to burn off some of his nervous energy with a stroll along the Missouri. It was really dark. And it took a really long time for Patrick to settle down. But eventually, he did. And it made him tired enough to sleep pretty well that night.

The next morning, it was cold. Especially for us, coming from Utah’s record-breakingly warm fall. We tried to go to a playground but got too cold. So then we went for a drive just because. We decided we were hungry and Patrick asked for chicken nuggets. So we drove to McDonalds and Patrick discovered McNuggets. I discovered that Sweet and Sour Sauce is made with peaches and so there really are no Patrick allergy-friendly dips available and we settled for ketchup.

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Finally, it was time for the appointment. Patrick hadn’t finished lunch so we brought it along and as the team came in, Patrick was munching on french fries. He then decided he was still hungry, and we added on a lunchable.

The appointment was mostly routine. They recorded his vital signs and growth, went over his medications, asked if anything big had changed. Then the surgoen joined us and looked Patrick over. He said Patrick looked great. He said to go ahead and discontinue one of his antibiotics. And we talked about when and how to decrease his immunosuppression one more level. Then I asked some questions I had. Patrick played with the doctor and his cell phone. And then they went on their way.

Posing with some statues at the zoo

Posing with some statues at the zoo

The dietitian came in to talk to us next and we decided to go ahead and stop Patrick’s tube feeds and see if he can keep up with his nutrition orally. That doesn’t mean that for sure this will work. It means a really focused effort to make sure he’s eating and drinking enough. But it also means some new comfort and freedom for him.

Not doing tube feeds means having to figure out some other things. Like teaching him to take a chewable multivitamin instead of giving a liquid. It also means that we have to figure out a way to give him 1 teaspoon of baking soda in divided doses throughout the day. Right now, that can go along with his meds in his g-tube. But one day, they’d like a goal of him not needing anything by g-tube. They’d even like to remove his g-tube. And so eventually we’ll need to find a way to get him to take baking soda in food.

A few weeks ago, the hospital’s PR department called and asked if we would be willing to let a news crew come to Patrick’s appointment. So there was a cameraman there filming the whole time. (Well, except when the dietitian came in. She is camera shy.) And then we went and did interviews afterwards. It’s so hard to capture this big story in just a few words. I hope we did it justice. We tried taking them upstairs for Patrick to visit with some nurses. That just ended up being really awkward. Oh well. One day, the story will air and I’ll share it here. We hope it gets people talking about organ donation. And maybe express our thanks to Patrick’s donor’s family and also the amazing medical team who got him this far.

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Couldn’t resist this photo op.. given that these two missed wearing their matching minion costumes last Halloween.

We stopped tube feeds that same night. Patrick was really restless in his sleep, too. I don’t know if that was because of the missing tubes. Or if it was because I snore. Or because he discovered how truly heavenly comfy sleeping in down pillows is and spent the whole night trying to figure out if he wanted to sleep in the down pillow more or sleep snuggling with me more. I finally told him I didn’t mind him sleeping on the pillow. He said, “You won’t get mad?” And I said, “No. It’s a soft, soft pillow” and he snuggled down and went to sleep. He’s asked for a down pillow for his bed at home.

After the appointment, we had 24 hours before our flight home. So we did our best to find some family fun. We went to the zoo both days. The first, Patrick wanted to just play outside. We got jumbo pretzels that we ended up sharing with some very demanding peacocks.

 

And we let Patrick play on the zoo’s playgrounds that we’ve mostly shied away from in the past year. Then, we went to find dinner in Omaha’s shopping district called Old Market. We ended up at a family italian restaurant called Spaghetti Works where Patrick got to experience his first salad bar. He ordered grilled cheese, which turned out to be a very disappointing sandwich made of two pieces of cheesy garlic bread stuck together. So instead, he ate my spaghetti.

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The next morning, we packed up, ate breakfast, did laundry. Finally, we had to check out and so we went back to the zoo. Brian splurged a bit and bought all-day ride passes and instead of looking for animals, we spent the day riding stuff. We rode their steam-powered train. (Makes all other zoo trains seems like a huge disappointment.) We rode the carousel. We rode the “ski-fari”, in other words, one of those ski-lifts made amusement park ride.

The ride passes included admission to the stingray encounter which actually turned out to be awesome! They have trained their stingrays to take a piece of fish from the back of your hand with a certain command. And therefore, because they know this command, if you put your hand in the water they right way, they’ll swim over and put their mouth over your hand and suck. They call it a kiss. Also, because guests feed them, the stingrays will come to guests looking for foods. So instead of gathering hoping to snag a quick touch, you have stingrays coming up and reaching out with their fins to get your attention. It was really cool.

It took us all day to figure out how the zoo tram worked and we happened to go exactly opposite the most efficient way. However, that did earn us nice walks through the aviary and lemur island exhibit, which we didn’t do much of in the winter. And then we had a nice long ride to end our day at the zoo.

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We went back to Old Market for lunch. Brian remembered that I’d heard of and really wanted to try a restaurant/bakery called Wheatfields. They have a reputation for being really allergy conscious. We caught them 5 minutes before close so we made a hurried lunch decision. But it was delicious, nonetheless. I ordered Patrick his first cream soup. (New option without a dairy allergy.) He had the creamy chicken and rice. Ok. We both did. I ate about half of it because it was huge. But he did great with it, which gives me courage to try more. If you have a great cream soup recipe, sent it my way.

And then, we caught the flight home.

I am super, duper proud of Patrick who made it the entire trip in underwear and without any accidents.

In fact, I’m just extremely proud of Patrick. He discovered this old video on his tablet taken a couple of years ago. It’s of him and me playing at the table. Nothing much. But I can see so many changes.

Patrick’s speech has come SO far in the past year. In the video, he is licking and spitting out fruit snacks and asking me what happens if he swallows. Now he is eating full meals. In the video I’m telling him not to drink too much water so he won’t make himself sick. Now the only concern is if he’s drinking enough. He’s still himself. Dramatic. Adventurous. But without the limitations.

He has come SO far.

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First grade

 

Well, Patrick’s been in first grade for 3 weeks now. I love seeing him becoming comfortable at school. He loves his teacher. He has been matched with a very good aide. He’s making friends in his class. I think the work is just challenging enough. So far, things are going well.

It wasn’t our smoothest start. When the official first day of school in the district rolled around and Patrick didn’t go because they weren’t ready, I took it harder than I expected. Not only was I beyond tired at that point, but I felt a little left behind. We did our best to make sure that Patrick didn’t know the difference. And thank goodness his respite provider was trying to pick up extra hours before leaving for school because she came and kept him company that few extra days.

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Back to school shopping - breakfast date a Dunkin Donuts

Back to school shopping – breakfast date a Dunkin Donuts

I also decided that if you can’t be in school when everyone else is, you might as well take advantage of it. Patrick Make-a-Wish trip came with free passes to several amusement parks for a year from the date of his trip. Including one near home. So I hinted, maybe even begged, Brian to take the afternoon off of work and we went to play at Lagoon.

We did it kind of spontaneously so we surprised Patrick with it. I don’t think he knew that we had roller coasters close to home. He could have stayed all day. In fact, used to Disneyland 3-day-passes, he was a little confused when we left and didn’t come back the next day.

He was a little skittish after trying the regular “white” roller coaster.. a good old fashioned wooden rollercoaster. So kiddie-land was his cup of tea. Especially when he got to “drive a car” all by himself. I think he’d have stayed on that one ride all day. We stayed till we got tired and cold from being wet from the water rides.

 

And eventually, Monday morning did come and Patrick got to go back to school. I spent most of the first couple of days going back and forth training the school staff. They were very nervous about lunch and potty and g-tube medications and allergies. So I’d come back at lunch and for mini training sessions. And I think I eventually helped them see that what we were asking is new but not really hard. And, honestly, not really necessary most of the time.

I think Patrick’s doing pretty darn well at school. We all wondered how he’d take being away from home for 7 hours a day. That is probably the hardest thing. He comes home exhausted every day. He had been used to a mandatory afternoon rest time and he’s not getting that right now.

He’s also starving when he gets home to me. I think he’s doing pretty well eating away from me for the first time. But sometimes the temptation of friends and recess is great and he hurries through lunch. Thankfully, his education plan includes snack times and a water bottle at his desk and he’s doing ok with those things. But I’m not surprised that he’s lost a little bit of weight since school started and I’m not certain that we’re going to make the goal of 100% oral eating this month. (It’s hard when we are 95% there!)

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On Patrick’s 3rd day of school, some kids dropped a box labeled “bomb” on the front porch. The school put the kids in lockdown and the school was swarmed with emergency vehicles. Everyone was ok. I watched from across the street at my grandpa’s.

But we’re starting to get a routine regardless. Patrick’s school starts late so there is time for me to make sure he gets a good breakfast at home before we leave. If we’re really on point, we even get to the school with a little time for him to play on the playground. Then we visit the potty and then take Patrick to computer lab. Because of the breakfast in the classroom program, I drop Patrick off there so he misses that extra allergy risk.

After school, Patrick expects me to be waiting with a piece of string cheese. We are finding that letting him have a single small portion of dairy once a day seems to be the right balance and he’s in love with string cheese. Then we drive home and he gets to snack and play and rest however he chooses. Lately, his preference is to play in the yard with his ride-on car and bike and hope that the little boy across the street will come join him. But some days he’s tired and so we snuggle up on the beanbag in the basement and watch TV.

After dinner, we buckle down and do his homework. We’re trying to figure out the right balance between making him practice writing and making sure he doesn’t get frustrated. Dyspraxia, or motor impairment from Patrick’s brain injury, makes writing frustrating sometimes. Especially when he’s tired. But with a mix of stamps and tracing we usually make it through.

So far, he’s putting up with math better than I’m used to. They’re working on writing numbers and counting right now. Basically, he’s working in the math book he started but didn’t get a chance to finish last year. This is good. I’m wishing I’d realized I had access to that when we were in Nebraska because it gives a better foundation.. But at least he’s getting it now.

They’ve put Patrick the medium level reading group at school. He’s still got some to make up from kindergarten there, too. But he has a real knack for it. He is reading me little sight word/rebus readers every night right now without any hesitation. And he aced his last spelling test.

One day Patrick asked me if he could draw logos. I said sure, thinking it was fun to pretend. So he drew me the Jeep logo.

One day Patrick asked me if he could draw logos. I said sure, thinking it was fun to pretend. So he drew me the Jeep logo.

The biggest struggle right now is the potty at school. Because Patrick knows how to push through being uncomfortable, he seems to be having little problem with the idea of holding it for the entire school day. At first, he was just making it till his aide left at 2. But I put him leakier pull-ups. One accident and he started waiting for me to come at 3:30.

I started praying for a solution and the Lord sent a very interesting solution. A stomach bug.

We went to Denver for Brian’s nephew’s baptism. And on the 2nd night there, Patrick woke up at 1:30 a.m. and asked me to take him to the potty. Note: Patrick has historically had pretty big anxiety about unfamiliar potties. So that really surprised me.

The next day, that kind of became the story of the day. Trips to the potty. Lots and lots of trips to the potty. My knees were sore from all the trips up and down stairs and kneeling on the floor.

We were pretty worried about this. Diarrhea is a REALLY bad thing for intestinal transplant patients. It can mean rapid dehydration. It can mean developmental setbacks. And it can be a sign of rejection.

We should have been comforted that Patrick ran no fevers. At first we were. I was pretty certain that his upset stomach was a side effect of my letting him try both whipped cream and sour cream in the same day. But to the transplant team, no fevers made the odds of rejection higher. His symptoms lasted almost a week before improving and we had lots of conversations with his wonderful GI here as well as the transplant team in Nebraska. Thankfully, his labwork stayed stable. And I’m pretty proud of our ability to keep up with hydration using pedialyte through his g-tube.

Then, a few days in, I came down with the bug too. Who knew I’d ever be grateful for catching illnesses from my son. But it tells us when something is contagious and not malignant. And so far, I think it means that he gets to miss the opportunity of a sedated biopsy.

Patrick missed a couple of days of school because of being sick. But at least for me, he started using the potty there. And if he at least will go when I drop him off and pick him up, that’s one hour less of him just trying not to go. He’s gone for other teachers, too. Just not his aide.

He doesn't get much rest, but when he does, he crashes these days.

He doesn’t get much rest, but when he does, he crashes these days.

As for me… well, I don’t think I have the hang of things personally yet. I’m struggling to figure out how to work in appointments with school. Patrick’s had two half-days missed to go to appointments and subsequent make-up work. Plus make-up work for sick days. I’m grateful that his teacher sends the work home so that he doesn’t fall behind. But he’s not so much of a fan of the extra homework.

I’m not sure quite what to do with myself during the day, either. The first couple of days. I did nothing. Binged on Netflix. Ate foods that I wouldn’t make with Patrick home. (That first lunch that I didn’t have to consider Patrick’s food was a strange feeling.)

Did I mention we bought our hockey season tickets this month? We moved our seats to the nosebleeds for Patrick.

Did I mention we bought our hockey season tickets this month? We moved our seats to the nosebleeds for Patrick.

I’m doing some better quality scripture study for the first time in a while. I’ve even got a study notebook that I’m writing in. I’ll admit, though that I tried going back to traditional paper scriptures and I’m too hooked on the features of electronic study on my phone or tablet. It’s too nice to follow a footnote with a link or search a thought on the internet and find more information on it. Plus, I’m building a pretty nice little electronic annotation library of my own. (Seriously, look into the LDS Gospel Library App sometime. It’s got so much more in it than just fitting the whole Bible, Book of Mormon, and sunday school and institute manuals in your pocket.)

Some days I’m diligent and work on cleaning. I still feel wholly in over my head there. We have deep cleaning projects left from the summer before transplant. But I’m doing my best to chip away at it.  I’m doing much better keeping up on the regular cleaning and the yard work. I’ve cleaned out a few cupboards. Cataloged surplus medical supplies to donate. Canned tomatoes. Practiced the piano. Gone for walks. Finished a book. Filed medical bills and spent a lot of time on the phone making sure the last of what’s left from this spring is squared away.

A lot of my days have still been devoted to taking care of Patrick so I haven’t really scratched the surface of what I dreamed of doing with this time.

But today – well, today I decided it was time to update the blog. I’ve put it off too long. And when I get behind, it’s always harder to write. Because I know the post will end up long like this.

I dream of a schedule where I have blogging day and laundry day and volunteer at the school day and regular exercise and study and visits with family. Maybe someday.

Oh yeah.. and last week…

Blogging has been on my to do list for a couple of days. But when I sat down to write last night, I was so full of the thoughts and worries of that 48 hour period that I forgot there were other events last week that I’d meant to write about.

We had a couple of appointment last week. We finally got back in to see Patrick’s psychologist yesterday. Can I tell you how amazing she is? When Patrick’s insurance case manager called me to tell me about a new Autism clinic that she’d seen open at the University of Utah THE SAME DAY THAT SHE CALLED I was pretty speculative. Especially since we have never been big fans of the diagnosis of autism for Patrick. Spectrum diagnoses are tricky and, while time and learning have convinced me that Patrick does have struggles that fit into the definition of autism, his presentation is so atypical that I don’t feel like the diagnosis serves him well. Well, unless you are dealing with someone who really does understand autism spectrum disorders. Which the people at this clinic really do. And for all that I don’t willingly introduce Patrick as autistic, we have found the autism clinic to be a tremendous help for us. I’ve been anxious to get him back.

When Patrick met “Dr. Joo-la” and her “piggies” (guinea pigs) there was an instant connection. I could see that he clicked with her and listened to what she said to him.As icing on the cake, she also saw that with the responsibilities of being his caregiver, I wasn’t going to have a chance to go seek other help for myself. She told me in the first meeting that if we sometimes needed to spend sessions talking about and taking care of me, too, that she considered that an important part of taking care of Patrick.

This last visit, I took her up on that. First of all, she spent a lot of the session reassuring me that Patrick really HAS made great progress. I’ve said before that it doesn’t seem like he is as plagued by constant sensory seeking as he was before. She pointed that out, too. Saying he seemed more focused, more grown up. Of course, his exploding language skills are an amazing step.

She reminded me not to be overwhelmed by after-school meltdowns. Pointed out that we had the same problems last fall, too. And she helped me brainstorm ways to make coming home from school perhaps a little better.

She also reminded me not to feel guilty about not being able to do all my heart says I should be providing for Patrick. She’s been following this blog, so I know that she was aware when she told me that she knew that a lot of days, we are just still surviving the day. She encouraged me to embrace summer school as respite time for me and NOT to try to spend it doing things for him or feeling like I need to save them from problem behaviors. I really need to call and see if it’s an option for me to swim in the mornings while he’s at school. If not, at the least there is a track at the high school on the same campus and I can walk.

And then she reminded me that I need help and tried to help me work up the courage to go and tell some of the people in my support system that I’m feeling lonely and overwhelmed and could use some company, if not some help. I don’t seem to be very good at that. (Does this count?)

Anyway – we talked about some other strategies for summer, for respite, for behavior, etc. We talked about bringing him back to their social skills group. (Which I’m very pleased to have found works well this summer.) We played with the piggies and Patrick tried to trade our bird Max for one. And then we made some return appointments.

That was the happy appointment of the week. The next day, I took Patrick to his allergist and I’m afraid it didn’t go as smoothly.

I learned two important lessons. 1) Don’t schedule appointments immediately following school. Patrick needs time to unwind first. 2) Don’t go to the allergist alone.

Because of his ADHD and sensory processing disorder, Patrick doesn’t do well in new environments and Patrick’s allergist just moved to a big, beautiful new facility. I’m very excited about this because he’s no longer sharing space with a regular healthcare clinic and there’s less risk of catching a virus there. But for Patrick, new spaces have to be explored thoroughly with doors banged, containers emptied, equipment disassembled. It’s a disaster. Also, because of a lifetime of doctor’s visits, Patrick doesn’t like it when I talk to a doctor about him and will do just about anything to get me to stop.

This day was particularly bad. I’d managed to get a tired Patrick to nap the day before, but insomnia kicked in that night and he was up till 12, getting just 6 hours of sleep.

The end result is that Patrick threw all of the flashcards, snacks, magazines, and tissues on the floor. Then ended up having to sit in a chair with all other furniture moved away from him. And then he screamed for most of the rest of the appointment.

I have to give props to Patrick’s allergist, Dr. Gleich. He still smiles, talks to Patrick like Donald Duck, tells me that I have my hands full but am doing a good job being patient, and just gets us through the appointment as productively as possible. He is a very good man.

So while I tried to keep as much calm as possible, Patrick’s allergist and I tried to talk through how transplant might change the strategy for his allergies. Obviously, the ability and need to eat are a significant step. And I wanted to talk about how to safely explore what he can have.. and just how safe it is to be dabbling in some of Patrick’s milder allergies while he is on immune suppressants that are making it so he doesn’t have many reactions.

I wish Patrick had been feeling better so we could have covered more ground. We reviewed Patrick’s last test results. The gist of them is that Patrick’s test results show him allergic to a lot of foods that he tolerates, at least to some degree. We still need to stay far away from cashews, pistachios, peanuts, and unbaked eggs with caution for other foods we’ve seen cause a reaction. He said to keep encouraging Patrick to eat eggs as an ingredient in baked foods as that mild exposure is believed to help kids outgrow allergies. He gave blessing to my efforts in allowing Patrick traces of milk, in extreme moderation. (Goldfish crackers, for example.) He actually was surprised that I was still being cautious about butter and regular cheese, but I pointed out that we see reactions to those foods.

He also took care to warn me of just how serious it is that Patrick’s spleen was removed, leaving him without a major defense against illness. He wanted me to be sure that, for any fever, I know I need to go straight to Primary Children’s. Some things don’t change.

And then, because we weren’t getting much further with Patrick screaming in the corner, we decided to not try additional testing that day. Instead, he asked me to bring Patrick back in July or August for repeat blood and scratch testing. In the meantime, we are supposed to explore and even push a little bit, with epi pen and benadryl nearby, and keep a log of what we discover about Patrick’s tolerances for certain foods.

I find that the further we get down this road the more obscure my question are. Neither Patrick’s allergist nor his transplant team really know how food allergies and immune suppression will affect each other. I don’t want to compromise Patrick’s new gut with a lot of foods he’s allergic to. (Food allergies can cause a sort of rashlike reaction and ulcers in the intestine). But I also don’t want to limit his nutrition and ability to wean off of tube feeds if that’s not necessary. I find myself wishing that I knew of an allergist somewhere who has an interest in transplant and immune suppression. I’m not sure such a person even exists.

Anyway – Patrick was asleep in the car 5 minutes after we left the appointment. Next time, I’ll try to allow time for a rest after school. Next time I’ll try not to go alone.

And maybe over the next couple of months we can figure out a schedule that lets Patrick outgrow naps, like he’s trying to do, without spending afternoons and evenings too tired and grumpy to function.

One other appointment this week, feeding therapy. Inspired by Patrick’s interest at a memorial day barbecue, I decided to work on hot dogs this week. I’m pleased to report success. So long as you cut the hot dog in half so he can fit it in his mouth. And watch him and remind him to take small bites. And maybe let him decide he’s done with the bun. Still, a victory in time for summer for a kid who doesn’t like his burgers grilled.

And speaking of burgers, I’m trying to figure out how to translate Patrick’s love of certain fast foods into a working menu at home. I’ve got him eating ham on english muffins a-la Burger King breakfast sandwich. And we’re working on thin sliced roast beef on hamburger buns as a tribute to Arby’s.

I do have one lingering worry. I’ve realized that if they do decide that Patrick can continue on to first grade next year, that means eating lunch at school. And right now, I mostly have taught him to eat warm foods. He does great with fast food, mac and vegan-cheese, pasta in red sauce, hot dogs, cooked veggies, soups, chicken nuggets and french fries. And this is exactly the sort of food that will be being served in the cafeteria. Except, well, that an elementary school cafeteria is not an allergy-safe place. I can’t expect them to watch for cross-contamination.

So I’ll be packing lunches. But I think one of the conversations we need to have in this week’s school planning meeting is whether or it’s an option to heat up food for Patrick in a staff microwave. (It’s already non-negotiable for me that he’ll need an adult to sit with him in the cafeteria.)

And Patrick’s feeding therapist and I did some brainstorming on cold foods that he might be able to eat if we work with him over the summer.

I’ve decided that we will for sure be frequenting the lunch park at the school next door again this summer. But this time, with the hope and goal of being able to figure out lunches that will work to send with Patrick to school next year. Last year, I was able to follow their menu and pack matching foods 80% of the time. But if those things can’t be warmed up at the school, then we may just have to work on being ok with eating the food you had packed for you, even when it isn’t the same as everyone else’s.

One other item of note from this last week. A family moved in across the street from us while we were in Nebraska. They have a little boy Patrick’s same age. We’ve talked about but not found a way to get them together to play. Until this week.. when this boy came and asked if Patrick could play.

This was a growing experience for this mom. I am trying VERY hard to stop being a helicopter parent now that Patrick doesn’t have IV’s to monitor. But it meant that both of us were a bit thrown by a same-age playmate. I’m not sure Patrick knew quite what to do with him. In many ways, he is like his peers. But in many ways, he still has a lot of growing to do. They drew on the sidewalk with chalk a bit, tried out all of Patrick’s ride-on toys. Then they went across the street and played in his yard, too.

I was doing my best to stay looking busy but also keep an eye on them. And to let Patrick build this relationship on his own without my coaching. Mostly they drove Patrick’s ride-on car up and down the street.

When I picked Patrick up for dinner, he was enjoying a snack of animal cracker. I was grateful they were safe, and I decided that next time I send him to play I need to make sure they know he has allergies.

It’s been a full week. I sometimes think my head might explode trying to hold all of this and have a normal life, too.

Goodbye to kindergarten and the beginning of change

Today was Patrick’s last day of kindergarten. It was over almost as soon as it began. I think it finally sunk into him this morning what I was saying because he was very worried as he got ready. Worried about missing his friends and worried about there not even being familiar teachers in summer school. To help with a little closure, I did a quick google search and found some printable thank you notes he could color for his teacher and aide. And then we were off.

I don’t know much about his day, except that he came out laden with gifts. His special education teacher came out with him at the end, too, which I thought was very thoughtful of her. He was given the “jolly rancher” award for always being so happy. And we had to linger a little bit at the park by the school to let him finish a popsicle he’d been given. Then, we met Brian downtown where we went out to lunch to celebrate the occasion.

It hardly seems real, except that getting Patrick needs several bags of supplies and safe snacks for school and all of that is in my kitchen now.

The last day of kindergarten represents the kickoff of a very big transition week for us. In less than a week, Patrick will have his broviac line removed. I am counting down the end of a week’s worth of those supplies in amazement and a bit of fear.

I’ve had some horrible dreams this week. I dreamed that Brian was on TPN, only it wasn’t available and his blood sugar was crashing. I dreamed I had a line that needed changed to a port and I felt so helpless and out of control trying to convince the nurses in the hospital to follow the pre-op directions I’d been given about my medications. It made me realize just how Patrick must feel, which was kind of crushing. Then I dreamed that Patrick was in surgery for his line but 5 hours had passed. That is really REALLY bad for that kind of procedure and brought back some horrible memories. Have I mentioned that it’s common for patients and caregivers dealing with this chronic illness, especially transplant, to suffer from a form of PTSD?

I’m just trying to push forward and take care of what needs to be done to get ready for what’s coming in the next couple of weeks. It is hard to keep them in the right order when new things keep needing my attention.

For example, yesterday I dropped Patrick off at school and ran to Walmart. The goal was to pick up a fruit for dinner and some entertainment for the plane ride to Nebraska. But as I headed to the checkout, my cell phone rang. It was the district nurse calling to give me a heads up that a group of district nurses had met to review the medical needs of students for the upcoming school year. And they had determined that Patrick no longer requires full-time nursing at school.

This is great news. He’ll still have an aide to help him with his many needs during the day. But it’s kind of bad news, too. It means that he no longer has to attend the medical hub school that he’s attending. And they wanted me to tell them where I want him to attend next year.

That’s not exactly a simple question. The school next to our house is quite small and not really given a lot of resources. Sending Patrick there would be very complicated and require bringing in a small army of people to work with him. I think we’ll be asking for an exception to be granted and for him to be able to continue at Whittier, at least for one more year.

It also means that I need to add making a list of care that an aide needs to be able to provide to Patrick, independent of a nurse. By Wednesday, when we’ll meet to also work on revising his IEP to get him through till the next IEP meeting.

In addition to that, Monday Patrick and I will meet with Patrick’s favorite Child Life specialist to help to teach him about having a port. On Tuesday, he’ll have his end of year kindergarten assessment. I’ve got to get orders for supplies for Patrick’s port ordered and delivered before we leave, and prescription refills ordered before we leave.

And in the midst of all of this, our church responsibilities have us pretty busy this weekend. Especially for Brian.

This is just the beginning for this summer and I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around all of it.

But at least one thing is under our belt. Patrick’s a kindergarten alum. Now if we can just get him caught up a bit over the summer and make the right school plans for next year.

I’m also coming to the realization that summer is coming and that, in the past, I’ve been an amazing mom in the summer with lots of plans for fun and education. I am nowhere near that prepared this year. I am just trying to get through the next couple of weeks. But my mind is starting to hatch some plans and I hope I can make some of our traditional summer magic.

Transplant Day 180 and School

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This picture was taken 6 months ago at Pumpkin and Mustache Day in Patrick’s kindergarten class. I didn’t know it then, but the Halloween parade and party the next day would also be his last day of school.

6 months ago, I tucked him into bed and then I went and wrapped up his birthday presents and I went to bed, but before I fell asleep my phone rang and our lives changed forever.

I dare say, at least as far as I can judge right now, for the better.

Today, I had an IEP meeting with Patrick’s school. Can I tell you what an amazing school he is in? They were completely behind me asking for a slow transition back into regular school. In fact, they were good with just about everything I asked them to consider. This meeting was amazing!

Here’s the gist of things. There is a month left of school and Patrick’s immune suppression goals have been adjusted down because it’s been long enough since transplant to try. And the transplant team said that about this time we ought to consider starting to ease him back into the normal life that they did the transplant to hopefully give to him.

So, after a very thorough discussion today, the decision was made to start letting Patrick attend school for an hour each school day. He’ll attend the last hour of every day. He’ll spend the first half of that time working with a special education teacher to help him to make up as much ground as possible. And then he’ll spend the last half of the day with his kindergarten class so that he can work on relearning the classroom routine and social skills. Also, once a week, I’ll bring him in a little early so that he can spend time in occupational therapy as well rebuilding his strength, working on writing and other fine motor skills, practicing eating, and so forth.

Because he’ll only be in school part time, he’ll also still qualify to work with his in-home teacher.

And, when the school year is done, he’ll take a short break, and then get to participate in the extended school year (or summer school) program this year at another medical school that is actually even a bit closer to our home.

The mood in this meeting was so positive. I genuinely believe that this team is happy that Patrick gets to come back to school and eager to help him succeed in every way that they can. How many people come out of an IEP meeting saying that?

That doesn’t mean that his IEP meetings aren’t still intense. There is a lot to coordinate and I am constantly amazed at the efficiency with which they run these meetings. (Also, with their stamina to do so many back to back to back at this time of year. They had already done several that morning with several more to go.) We made plans for how to drop Patrick off and what to do if classmates are sick and an aide to be with him in the classroom and what physical activities he can participate in and what to do when he needs to stay home and how to make sure that he gets the absolute most bang for the buck out of his hour a day at school.

For the rest of this school year, they’ll be reimplementing the amazing IEP that they wrote for him the week of his transplant. Then we will reconvene in a month to figure out where he is on his goals and what the best plan for school next fall will be.

The most amazing part? I thought we’d be waiting a week or two more for medication changes but the team in Nebraska says that because he kept swinging too high, they brought his dose down and he’s already there. That doesn’t mean he’s not immunocompromised. But this is about the best it’s gonna get for a while and so we might as well let him live.

We are taking the next few days as a family to celebrate Patrick’s 6 month transplantiversary and half-birthday (because, face it, transplant is an awesome birthday gift but a sucky birthday party.)

And then on Monday, Patrick starts school.

I’m trying to wrap my mind around gathering all of the supplies, emergency plans, paperwork and other little details I need to have ready by Monday at 10:45 a.m. I’m hoping this is as good of an idea as it sounds. That he has the strength. That he can stay healthy.

It’s strange to think that a month ago, I answered a phone call and our lives stopped and reset.

And now, 6 months later..to the day.. we’re trying to kickstart life again.

Patrick is bouncing off the walls excited.

Transplant Day 102 and Snow boots

I was almost going to put off writing one more day. Then I thought, “Well maybe I’ll send a short update out just so people know we are ok.” Then I pulled up the blog and realized I haven’t written in almost a week. So I’m going to try my best to post a quick blog. I am very VERY sleepy so this may not be my best.

Things are good here. Patrick’s belly finally has been seeming settled. On Sunday I turned up Patrick’s feed rate without it making him sick overnight.. a first since he got sick and a sign that he might finally have beaten the virus. However, the diaper I changed just as I put Patrick back to bed has me questioning my confidence in that notion and we’ll see what the night brings.

We’ve been working on finding our rhythm again this week. I mixed up the routine a bit this discharge. I realized that it wasn’t worth the struggle of trying to do so many things outside of the room. It just means more exposure for Patrick. And more time spent tracking him down when he wanders or telling him to stay out of things and more bad feelings between us.

He was so happy to be back at the Ronald McDonald House. So happy to be able to play without rules with his choice of toys. The first couple of days he didn’t want to leave the room. So I started making formula here in the room instead of in the kitchen. And I started drawing up his morning meds at night and putting them in the cooler I keep in the room so I don’t have to go get them in the morning. And we don’t go out as much. And we are both cool with that.

Patrick trying on my new hat and scarf.

Patrick trying on my new hat and scarf.

But we have had some fun, regardless. Friday, Child Life at the hospital arranged for a mini carnival and haircuts to be held at the same time. So we went over and got Patrick and myself much needed haircuts. And while it was my turn, Patrick got to go into the room next door and play. Then, he got to pick carnival prizes. Only he didn’t just pick for himself. He got gifts for Brian and me, too. He picked me out a bottle of lotion which, really, is the first time I think I’ve ever had him pick a gift for me and struck me as very thoughtful. He picked hoop earrings for Brian, but then noticed a Rubix cube and changed his mind. For himself, a book light that we use every night to read his picture scripture stories.

Saturday, we got together with a friend that Patrick made here at the hospital. They are staying in the Leid, a hotel attached to the hospital. His grandma and I have been watching for a chance to get them together. So on Saturday, I invited them to come play in the snow. We had a foot of snow, but it was 45 degrees and starting to melt.

So, in the morning, Patrick and I ran out to Shopko and bought some snowboots and waterproof gloves on clearance. We also picked up some snow dye bottles. And then we had a McDonalds happy meal together. (The little boy is here doing the intensive feeding therapy program so we thought that eating together might be good peer support for both boys.) Then we went out and played in the snow for several hours. We built a snowman. Patrick’s friend then said we needed a snow elephant, so we built that, too. I dug a box out of the recycling bin and we helped the boys sled on a little hill and they laughed and laughed. We made snow angels. We threw snow at each other, but not snowballs because our perfect packing snow made killer snowballs. A family in the house from Tennessee kind of timidly came out to play, too. I think the moms had as much fun as the kids.

And then, by the end of the day the color had all run off our snowman because of the heat and by the end of the next day, he was just a little pile of snow.

Another treat is that Patrick can take baths again. Since transplant, baths have been very limited and often forbidden. With an ostomy, they were possible but had to be short. After takedown, he had an open incision for almost a month. In the hospital, I only do sponge baths. So to be able to put him in the tub and let him play is a treat for both of us. He’s had a few 1 hour baths. One morning, I just put all the towels in the room on the floor to catch the spills and splashed and let him go.

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So much has changed for Patrick. It will be a lot to get used to when he comes back. He is eating like crazy these days. I’ve started to let him have snacks to just graze on. I put the in the disposable coffee cups that the house provides. So he munches on cheerios while we drive. I have cheerios in my seats. Who knew I’d be happy for that little milestone one day?

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On Sunday evening, I packed him a cup of veggie straws and we went for a drive. He finished his cup after 10 minutes and asked to go back home for more. I didn’t oblige. Instead, we went to drive across the “Mormon Bridge” just cuz we’d heard about it. Then, as I was driving back, I noticed signs for the “Lewis and Clark Monument” outside of Council Bluffs, Iowa. So, we went over there. Arrived just as the sun was setting, reflecting in the Missouri River. Being in a state park, on a hill overlooking the city.. felt a bit like home. Patrick was just happy to wear his snowboots and stomp in snow and mud.

Patrick also snacked on Cheerios all through our Primary lesson this week. We were looking for a room to do this in and found the Sunday house staff member resting on the couch in the room we usually use because her back was out. Patrick just snuggled up next to her and watched her show and ate Cheerios. Then, when her show ended, I told him it was time to do his lesson. So he asked her to join us. She obliged and it was very sweet, and kind of nice to get to have someone else listening as we talked about Jesus and his resurrection and atonement. She even sang along with us. Patrick tried to make her say the prayer, but I persuaded him to teach her about how we pray and let her listen just this one time.

Anyway – I was saying… so much has changed for Patrick. He is growing up in so many ways.

He eats. Kind of all the time. It’s still new and most of what he eats is like what you’d feed a toddler still learning to eat. But he has discovered a love for ham and cheese sandwiches. He chews up and swallows the bread and cheese, but spits out the ham. The first time he did this, I was stunned. When a few days later I offered another sandwich, he said “Mmm. Yum!!” I think he just needs time to go through the developmental stages of eating. I haven’t taken him back to feeding therapy yet because I wanted to give him a week to get better and see what the doctors said in clinic this week. But we are moving the right direction.

He has realized that dirty diapers don’t feel good. Now, he knew this before, but his stool was very different before. It was all liquid and either had to be changed right away or absorbed completely into the diaper. This is different. So we get up and change him during the night if he goes. And he’s learned to go back to sleep after. (A HUGE step for him.) And when we someday can keep a routine long enough, I think we’ll be ready to start exploring potty training again because I think he finally has some control over that.

Meanwhile, this means I am very sleepy. It’s kind of like I have a newborn again. Formula has to be refilled every 4 hours because Patrick’s bags only hold that much. A bigger bag could be put on ice and not need this attention, but then Patrick would have to wear a bigger backpack. He has one, but he prefers the little backpack that doesn’t get in his way when he sits down. Between changing diapers and refilling formula, I am up every 3-4 hours during the night. This is why I don’t blog. I am so sleepy I crash when Patrick crashes. And since naps can mean insomnia, we don’t always make that up during the day.

Taking the snowy way because he has snow boots

Taking the snowy way because he has snow boots

He still chews on everything, but he’s given up paci’s. Ok, I’ll be honest. He tried to cave on that today. He found his pacifiers and asked for them back today. But I reminded him he had chosen to be a big boy and didn’t need them anymore. Then I grabbed the sewing kit and cut the paci’s out of his wubbanubs and sewed their mouths back closed. He was sad. He said he wasn’t a big boy. He was a girl. So he could have paci’s. So I grabbed a chewy tube and sewed it onto the hand of his monkey and told him that he was a big boy and his monkey could help him have chewies instead. This kind of worked and he is happily sleeping with his friends again tonight.

Patrick has also made tremendous leaps in language. His first/second person confusion is pretty well gone. And he talking more and about more grown up things. The other day, we had a really off day. We tried to nap and it failed and Patrick had a chip on his shoulder all day, and after fighting about nap, I did, too. Nothing clicked. He kept pushing boundaries. I kept falling for it and snapping at him. Finally, we got to the room in the evening and I sat down and just cried and told him I didn’t like fighting with him anymore.  He gave me a big hug. He told me, “I’m a tech.” This is the title of the medical assistants who check vitals at the hospital. I don’t know why this exemplified the most compassionate person he could be at that moment, but I understood that was exactly what he was offering. Then, he got up and got my Kindle and brought it to me and said. “Mom. Look at your Kindle. It calm you.” And you know what, he was right? We sat on the bed and I read my kindle and he played with his tablet and we were calm.

He is still in love with reading. I wish we were making faster gains. It’s really hard when school is only 1 hour a day, 3 days a week and we rarely make it a week without missing at least one day. But I’m trying. On Monday, I pulled out Patrick’s stack of sight word readers and my laptop and I told him that for every book he’d read to me, I’d let him play one game on SesameStreet.org. This strategy actually worked really well. Not only did we practice reading, but we played some educational games. Then, when he wanted more mommy school, I pulled out a little game we have with letters on dice and we built words to and then changed their first letters to find rhyming words. It was one of my better mommy school sessions.

Patrick often pulls out this bike and rides while I do the laundry

Patrick often pulls out this bike and rides while I do the laundry

 

And today, we just stayed in the room and cleaned out Patrick’s toys. It helped him remember what he had here so he wanted to play here more. It helped me organize some of what was overflowing. And it gave us a step in the right direction for daddy to come back tomorrow.

Brian has had a doozy of a trip home. He had meetings with a group from out of town last week and a couple of days in, one of them came down with a cold. Well, Brian caught it. And it took him down. He had to take a couple of sick days. When he was still running fevers after a few days, he actually ended up at the doctor where he was diagnosed with bronchitis and given antibiotics and a cough suppressant. But that didn’t mean rest for him. We decided that a last step to really cleaning up the house was replacing the carpet in our bedroom. So, still sick, he moved all of the furniture out of our room so that could be done Monday morning. Then, also Monday morning, discovered that he had a nail in his tire. Had to put on a tire and take it to be repaired.

He is a lot better, but his cough is still lingering so I get to try to reach Patrick’s team tomorrow to figure out if that means that Daddy shouldn’t be around. And then we have to figure out if that means postponing his trip or finding him somewhere else to sleep or wearing a mask all the time or what. This is another new thing for us. Navigating a contagious world with an immune suppressed family member.

It has led me to research into contagious period for certain illnesses. Someday, I’ll summarize that into a handy guide of “how long to stay away if you have been or might be getting sick.” For tonight, this was a handy little document. http://www.bccdc.ca/NR/rdonlyres/8061A728-C969-4F38-9082-B0296EF2A128/0/Epid_GF_childhood_quickguide_may_09.pdf Especially given that Utah is experiencing outbreaks of a few vaccine preventable diseases right now. I’m biting my tongue and trying not to blog about how scared I am coming back to this absolutely ridiculous problem. It’ll probably come out one of these days when I have time, though.

Anyway – I think I’m about out of stories worth telling. Well, maybe just one more. First of all, we survived a very long weekend of no dinner groups at the Ronald McDonald House. I miss the friendly group of families that was here over Christmas. The current group has a more every-family-for-himself attitude that I think has grown out of the panic of cold and flu season. Regardless, knowing that norovirus can be spread in food, I decided we’d better just cook for ourselves. I started to brainstorm dinner with Patrick the other night and he said, “I have a great idea! Let’s have chicken! Like at the hospital.” Well, I’d had KFC one night and apparently he liked it. But KFC was out of chicken and literally locked their doors that night. Odd. So we ended up getting a rotisserie chicken instead and I think we did pretty darn well with instant mashed potatoes and gravy made out of Patrick’s chicken broth. Patrick ate a ton and we were both happy.

Patrick and the Omaha Lancers Hockey Team

Patrick and the Omaha Lancers Hockey Team

But tonight, dinner groups are back. And we started out with a great one. The Omaha Lancers, a junior league hockey team. Not knowing they were coming, Patrick decided to wear his Avs (hockey) sweater today. So he gave us away early as hockey fans. And I’m sure he made and impression and won them over. He traced the player numbers on every team member’s jersey.. then spelled out the letters of their names. They made him pancakes and ham and toast, all current favorites, which of course won him over, too.

Ok. I am out of stories and really should get some sleep.

 

 

Transplant Day 82 and golden tickets

 

Daddy is back!! Brian got back into town Saturday evening. Patrick couldn’t have been happier. And we’ve stayed busy all weekend.

Mostly, we’ve been busy cooking. If December is the most charitable month that they see at the Ronald McDonald House, January is its leanest. This week only had a couple of dinner groups scheduled. But there are a lot of donated turkeys and hams left over from the Christmas season. So last week, after having pretty good success last week making a ham and having the rest of the house help make side dishes, they offered us a turkey.

Sunday, we Brian helped get a turkey in the oven, and let’s be honest, did more than me watching it to make sure it came out ok. And then yesterday, we went shopping and got ingredients for Brian to cook pasta for the whole house, too. I’m wondering if he’s frustrated with having cooked large meals for large groups of people his first two nights here.

But the food was really AMAZING. And right now, there are only a handful of families living in the house who don’t have kids at the hospital and so if someone is going to be cooking, it is going to be us. It feels good to know we’re helping other people with something that we knew makes such a big difference. And we like the company for dinner, too.

Grocery shopping was just one of our adventures yesterday, though. Because yesterday was a holiday, Brian suggested that we treat it like one. So we went to the zoo. It has been beautiful here the past few days. 50 degrees or better. And so the zoo, of course, was crowded on a day off of school. However, it also meant that there were a lot of animals outside which made for a fun and different zoo experience. We got to see bears and rhinos, which have been inside on our last few trips to the zoo. And since we have been going often, we didn’t feel like we were missing out on some of the more crowded indoor exhibits.

And then, since going to the zoo wore him out, Patrick came back and even willingly took a nap.

Today Brian had to work again. He goes to the computer room down the hall where he can video conference and code. We meet for lunch and then he’s off at dinner time.

Meanwhile, Patrick and I went to feeding therapy this morning. Today, we took some lunch meat ham and the goal was to get Patrick to swallow some of it. It actually worked and Patrick is really excited about wrapping cheese in ham now. He swallowed some ham sandwich, too.

Then, we went grocery shopping. Patrick’s been anxious to go back to the store with kid sized shopping carts. So we went today to pick up some of his staples and to let him spend his tooth fairy money.

That’s right, Patrick lost his second tooth this week. I have been worried. It was loose, but an adult tooth had grown in behind and it still wasn’t coming out. Well, he’s fallen in love with his electric toothbrush and brushing his teeth. And a couple of nights ago, he brushed that loose tooth right out. It took some hunting and sweeping to find the tooth, but we did find it. And it only took a little convincing to persuade him that brushing his teeth wouldn’t knock them all out.

The other new thing this past few days is that there is another kindergarten age girl in the house right now. Her mom has been trying her best to keep her caught up with school work. We decided to try to combine forces. So while we wait for dinner each night, I bring down some of our mommy school things and they study together. They both are staying and working longer this way.

In other news, Patrick’s ostomy incision finally healed enough to not need to pack it with gauze anymore. Just cleaning it and covering it with a bandaid. And that means he can shower. He’s not too excited, but I feel like he gets so much cleaner that way than sponge baths.

Tonight is the first we’ve tried going without a nap since Daddy got into town and I’m questioning my choice. Patrick has been very grumpy. But it’s a tricky tradeoff between sleeping at night and being nice during the day. And I haven’t found a balance that makes him feel good enough to ignore the side effects of his medications. He’s either too sleepy or not sleepy enough and either way he is usually either angry or bouncing off the walls.

I keep thinking that we are going to finally get a routine and get past this. Sometimes I think that we just need to hang on and get home and then things will get better.

But in church this week, they said something that really struck a chord and I’m trying to put it into practice. The speaker reminded me that always waiting for something next to be happy doesn’t usually result in being happy. It just means always waiting. As Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught:

So many people today are waiting for their own golden ticket—the ticket that they believe holds the key to the happiness they have always dreamed about. . .

There is nothing wrong with righteous yearnings—we hope and seek after things that are “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.”4 The problem comes when we put our happiness on hold as we wait for some future event—our golden ticket—to appear. . .

The happiest people I know are not those who find their golden ticket; they are those who, while in pursuit of worthy goals, discover and treasure the beauty and sweetness of the everyday moments. They are the ones who, thread by daily thread, weave a tapestry of gratitude and wonder throughout their lives. These are they who are truly happy.

Read the full text of this amazing talk here.

So today, when I feel homesick, I’m checking myself and trying to be grateful and productive and happy in the moment I have been given.

Transplant Day 75 and eating

If I had to pick a word to describe the current focus of our days it would be: food. Patrick has always enjoyed food, but also seemed to know that it didn’t sit right with him to eat much, and so he always reigned himself in pretty well. But now that he has his “new belly,” Patrick has a renewed and kind of voracious interest in food.

Yesterday, we started our outpatient time with morning appointments. We got up early to be ready for Patrick’s morning nurse visit and blood draw. (We do this twice a week to check his nutrition and medication levels.) This is a pretty big feat right now. Instead of being able to put Patrick in a tub while I get things ready, right now he needs a sponge bath and the dressing on his ostomy incision changed.

We had an 11 a.m. appointment with an occupational therapist who also does feeding therapy. I needed to call to confirm that the plan really was to see her, because of some confusion as we went out the door on Friday.. and when that call was done, our time was pretty short. Patrick likes to start his day by sitting down and chewing up a couple of slices of ham. He eats for about an hour. And we didn’t have an hour.

So I tried to sweeten the deal. I promised him we could eat out. I’d take him to McDonalds for pancakes. (Note: this was previously one of our favorite mommy/son dates.) Nope. Patrick threw what I think was the first all-out tantrum I’ve ever seen from him. He wanted his ham.

Once he calmed down, we went to McDonald’s anyway. I talked them into giving me some of the ham from the McMuffin sandwich in place of the sausage in the Big Breakfast. He had both ham and pancakes, plus some powerade (which was a splurge).. and he forgave me.

The appointment was interesting. He was all over the place which made it kind of hard to work with him. She did some testing of his fine motor and attention skills, then we talked about food. She explained that she uses a sensory program designed to help kids become brave enough to touch, taste, smell and otherwise explore food. I told her we might already be past that. But we decided to give it a try to see if it would help. And we set up bi-weekly appointments for the next month. (This is terrifying to me. It will burn through Patrick’s therapy visits in no time at all.)

Anyway – once the appoint was done, we came back to the Ronald McDonald House for lunch. This time, soup. Chicken broth is one of Patrick’s biggest go-to foods. He eats at least a cup a day. And he dips at least 4 rolls of slices of bread in it while he eats it. This also can take up to an hour.

Patrick happily came back to the room to play for a little bit in the afternoon, giving me time to get a few phone calls made. (Working on setting up some respite care that we have qualified for once we get home… I’m going to need to hire someone to do this and finding the right person seems like a very intimidating idea. But we’ll get there.)

Then, it was time for school. Patrick did great this time! Would you believe that his teacher can tell him specific letters to write and, although sloppy, Patrick is making the right shapes for them? They also worked on reading a book and some counting and sorting activities. I think it was our best school day here yet.

After school, we had snack time. Thinking that Patrick needs to go back a little bit in food demands and start where babies start learning to eat, I’ve been trying out different big-kid flavored purees. I introduced him to guacamole and he actually really loved it, so we have some for snack every day. And when we ran out and he still wanted to eat, I grabbed the next in the “new foods” category and pulled out a jar of SoyNut butter.

Patrick’s allergic to peanuts and therefore peanut butter, but insisted this week that all kids need peanut butter. So when we found a good allergy-safe department at a grocery store this week I picked up a jar of low-sugar soynut butter. That sounds pretty unappetizing, but I actually liked it better than the Sunbutter (sunflower seed butter) that we tried last week. The taste is pretty similar. And he really liked it.

In fact, after exploring dipping teddy grahams in it for a while, I mentioned that my family has always liked peanut butter filled celery. Well, Patrick wanted to try and I happened to have some celery. Not only did he enjoy licking the soynut butter out of the celery, but then decided to try out taking bites of the celery and chewing it up, too. This is kind of huge from an oral motor skills standpoint.

We ended snack as the dinner group started to arrive to cook dinner. Patrick loves being the welcoming committee for the house and made friends quickly. But we didn’t stay in their way too long. One of the women from church who came and sat with Patrick last week came again last night to play with him. I was feeling caught up enough to stay and get to know her a bit while we played. She brought walkie talkies, which Patrick loved. (And it kind of helped because when he’d sneak away, I could ask him where he was or call him back. I kind of found myself wishing I still had them again today.) Patrick laughed for the whole hour she was here. He really needed that. So did I. And we were excited to find we share a love of hockey. And then she left and we went to dinner.

For dinner, we are a bit at the mercy of what the dinner groups choose to make for us. I’ll make Patrick alternatives but am trying to teach him to try different things that are served to him. Well, last night he just wanted the ham that I’d shorted him for breakfast. After much negotiation, we agreed that if he’d try the spaghetti they’d made, I’d let him have ham. He took two bites and then settled in with his ham.

But of course, just as we started clearing up plates, he asked for spaghetti again and sat down and licked the sauce off of a whole bowl.

We stayed up a little late last night talking to Daddy because it had been too many days and we really missed talking. We didn’t have committments this morning so I figured we could afford to sleep in.

I accidentally woke Patrick sneaking away to go to the potty this morning instead of snuggling with him. So we got up anyway. He really kind of needed a bath anyway, so I went and set up his sponge bath.

But, just as I got him naked, even taking the dressing off of his incision, the fire alarm rang. Talk about bad timing. There we were trying to get a dressing and diaper and clothes while they were banging doors telling everyone they really did need to get out.

By the time we got downstairs, I could see a group that was maybe from the house being led away somewhere far across the parking lot. But I was in PJ’s and Patrick was in an assortment of fleece I’d thrown on him and we were wrapped in blankets and if I was wrong about them, then I’d be crossing the parking lot carrying him (it was so loud he couldn’t settle down to walk) in the cold for nothing. I had grabbed my cell phone, but not my keys so we couldn’t get in the car. I looked up and saw a fire truck approaching and decided that was the better place to go wait.

We walked around front and the firemen came over and brought Patrick stickers and offered him the chance to look in their fire trucks. (He said thanks, but no thanks.) And then, once they had cleared the building, they let us go wait inside. It turned out that some water had leaked and set off the alarm somehow. I really hope they found and fixed it so we don’t have to evacuate every time that room showers. But if we do, I learned a little more about what to bring along and where to go.

The morning schedule was all thrown off. I gave the really time-sensitive medicines, but left some of the others for later. I properly changed Patrick’s surgical dressing and his central line dressing, too. I showered and we got dressed. And then today, because right now 80% of the families staying here have someone staying at the hospital and the house was quieter than usual, we did a laundry morning. We washed the dirty clothes plus most of the linens.

We came back to the room and used some index cards to make a letter and word wall. As Patrick is introduced to new sight words, we’ll add them to the wall under the corresponding first letter. He loves going over and reading me his wall.

Then, Patrick needed out of the house, so I decided we’d take an outing to the dollar store. He carefully considered all the things he could buy and chose a jumbo calculator. I picked up some new scissors for him and some bingo daubers to use in place of do-a-dot markers in some mommy school work.

Then, we decided to go check out the grocery store in the same parking lot. (We actually drove a ways to go to the dollar store.) The store was a big win. They had kid-sized shopping carts which is one of Patrick’s favorite activities. They also had all of his biggest needs.. ham and chicken broth and single serve guacamole and rolls.

The late night and early morning left Patrick in need of a nap. (Because otherwise, he was just being naughty… especially in that he kept sneaking away from me and going to visit people on other floors of the house.) He slept till 6, when I woke up for dinner where he ate his first choice, chicken broth, and then some guacamole (also known as mokily-mokily) because he “loves it so much”. And now we are staying up late watching Blues Clues because going to bed on time is pointless when he naps late.

Tomorrow, I hope that we will actually succeed in sleeping in. And then we’ll eat some more old favorites and new foods and have a little bit of school, too.