Tag Archives: immune suppression

February means…

Hi there! I’m typing to you from a laptop that is sticky with starburst fingerprints. It’s been quite the day. We’ll call it “February isn’t over yet.”

If you deal with chronic illness, especially in a child, you know that February is something to be greatly feared. Sure, I bet when you think of cold and flu season, you probably think of, oh, say December when everyone’s sharing colds around as they visit each other for the holidays. February is much, much worse. February is respiratory illness wonderland. it’s when the hospitals fill up to overflowing and they start putting beds in the broom closets.

According to Facebook’s memories, Patrick has been sick and often hospitalized pretty much every February of his life.

I wasn’t sure how we’d managed it. The children at Patrick’s school are walking around looking like death. Everyone we know has been sick. And yet, our immunocompromised superhero has been healthy.

Well… had been healthy.

This morning, Patrick did something he’s never done before. He told me, “Mom, I think I have a cold.”

Please note, this doesn’t mean he’s never had a cold. He’s had lots of cold. Doozies of colds. He’s been admitted to the hospital over many, many colds. But because of that exact fear. Being sent to the hospital… he doesn’t admit to being sick.

I was super proud of him.

And I decided to listen to him. Patrick really isn’t very sick. If he hadn’t said anything, you might not even know for sure anything is up. He is so good at pushing forward through things. But he’s been extra sleepy. A little grumpy. Restless. And has had a bit of a cough. Today, we added on an adorable nasal-y voice.

But, really sick or not, Patrick already had a checkup scheduled at the hospital at noon. And so he was going to attend less than 2 hours of school anyway. Which means no credit for the school day at all. And so – we kept him home.

One thing that all these years of medical surprises has taught me is how to throw all my plans to the wind and dive into super parent mode. I did pretty darn awesome today, if i do say so myself.

Because he wasn’t crazy sick. And because he LOVES schoolwork more than just about anything. And because yesterday we tried resting and watching TV which only led to a very restless child… I told Patrick he could stay home but only if we did school at home.

I let him take a longer bath and while he was in the tub I e-mailed his teacher to ask for a list of spelling words. I roped off Howie’s office, since he was working from home today, which is a huge temptation for them both. And then, while he played with toys for a bit, I hopped onto Teachers Pay Teachers and downloaded some freebie homework sheets for him. Some math. Some reading. A cut and paste word family page. AWESOME stuff! It is so much easier going and getting him relevant homework when I’m not trying to pull my own curriculum out of thin air.

And then, after doing a few pages of work, I pulled out the chromebook and i logged him into the websites that he works in during computer lab at school and set him to work. We had a blissful half hour where he worked independently! Then we went to the backyard and had “recess” and talked about what to do next.

Patrick voted that he wanted to eat lunch in the hospital cafeteria. Don’t fault us for unusual comforts developed over the years.

So we packed up early and drove off to the hospital. We started out in the outpatient building’s cafeteria but alas, they had a menu that was more fancy than comfort food… hospitals do that sometimes so the staff won’t get bored of what they eat. But thank goodness the main hospital cafeteria still peddles good old comfort food fare. We got Patrick a bowl of macaroni and cheese while I grabbed some deli-case sushi. (Again, don’t mock our comforts). Then we picked up two rice krispie treats and a carton of milk and booked it back to the outpatient building for his appointment.

We checked in, weighed in, checked vitals, and then set up lunch in the exam room. A family tradition.

The checkup went well. Our experiment in g-tube boluses of carnation instant breakfast has paid off in some weight gain. And, though they were a little disappointed to hear that his diet isn’t currently all oral, his doctor pointed out that “that’s why he still has a g-tube after all.” and the dietitian agreed that it might help train his stomach to want food at the times we’re giving him these extra feeds and that’s good. We talked about some longer term strategy.

And then Patrick talked his doctor into drawing him a picture of a monkey as a “prize.”

This appointment went remarkably quickly as far as GI visits go. We can sometimes be there hours. This time we were done by 1.

And so, not wanting to referee “don’t bug dad at work” time too much longer, I offered Patrick a field trip.

He’s been working on the astronomy-with-a-cute-name belt buckle in cub scouts, so we stopped at the planetarium to help him with that requirement. It was a madhouse. There were at least 2 school field trips there. But Patrick seemed relieved to run wild with the other children. And I still managed to point out and describe the planets to him, and telescopes, and other astronomy stuff. Then we stopped in the gift shop and let him pick out a bookmark/ruler with the planets on it. And amazingly, he was reciting some of the names back to me. He is very offended that Pluto isn’t on his bookmark, even though I tried to explain dwarf planets. Aren’t we all.

Anyway… home again and this time convinced him to take a nap.

He woke right on time for me to tuck him into my bed to watch Blues Clues while I threw together dinner and tidied up the house before our next appointment.

A nurse came this afternoon to officially admit Patrick for respite nursing through the Utah Medically Complex Children’s Waiver. This is on top of the other respite we already have and feels a bit splurgy. But it’s required for him to participate in the waiver. And it’s required that it be done by a nurse. So we are doing it.

Patrick was a total flirt with the admitting nurse and she played along beautifully. Meanwhile, I did my best to communicate a clear medical picture. You know you’re a medical parent when you know which diagnosis needs to be listed in each system. And when you provide a list of medications in writing so they don’t give a copy back to you.

Anyway… that done, I cooked dinner and Patrick played with the chromebook. Don’t tell him that we bought this thing largely for him. Because you can’t tell him it’s his. He wants it. But that means he wants there to be no rules about it. And besides, I like to blog here.

While dinner cooked I managed to convince Patrick to do one math worksheet. And then after we ate, we sat down and had him practice writing out his spelling words. I told his teacher I didn’t think he was being challenged and now he had 5 words again this week. Usually, that would be just right. Today though, he wasn’t feeling great and he wasn’t happy to do so much writing.

Bedtime finally came and he got exhausted quickly. We scrapped our Family Night plans and just worked together for a quick bedtime. Complete with antihistimines (he’s not allowed any other cold meds) and vaporub and a humidifier. He was asleep in minutes.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Howie and I are for sure also coming down with something. And i’m not sure Patrick will be up for school tomorrow. But it’s labwork morning so we’ll be up bright and early regardless. Doesn’t hurt to see how being sick is affecting his body. And we’ll go from there.

If I don’t post soon, you can probably assume that Patrick slowly got better and needed lots of my attention, and then one day he was better and I looked around and realized just how much else I neglected while in super mom mode. Anyway – usually on this blog no news is good news.

Happy February.

 

p.s. If you want to know just how nasty the cold and flu season is at any moment in Utah, check out this website https://intermountainhealthcare.org/health-information/germwatch/

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.

This week’s normal

I think for the next little while, we’ll be building our normal week by week. Some things are routine. A lot is just made up. Most of the time, it feels like we’re flying by the seat of our pants, but every once in a while, we strike gold and I know that I got being a mom right that day. I wish more days were like that.

Patrick’s doing well back at school. Waiting to go in the morning is really hard. He gets up excited to go to school and then we try to fill the mornings. When we have our act together, we will do something before we leave. Work on homework. Visit the library. I’ve learned it helps to go early enough to let him get some wiggles out before school so we usually try to get 15 minutes to half an hour at the park that’s next to the school.

Where I spend the mornings when Patrick is in school

Where I spend the mornings when Patrick is in school

I’m enjoying a brief little bit of respite while Patrick is at school. One of this teachers pointed out a quiet little walking track near the school. So I drop Patrick off and then go walking. You know that mom who stays in her exercise clothes all day long? Shops in yoga pants? Picks up her kid with a messy ponytail and no makeup? Unshowered. Long into the afternoon? Yeah.. I’m that mom right now. But it is SO NICE to be able to exercise and this is the way I am doing it.

After walking, I’ll sit down in the far corner of this beautiful little grassy, shady park where i walk and read my scriptures. I love that the ladybugs are my study buddies.

An hour goes pretty quickly. But it is very nice to have this little bit of time for quiet reflection. Especially because, as happy as it makes him, going back to school has been hard for Patrick.

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I was thinking that somehow transplant had magically relieved him of his sensory processing disorder. No. It turns out that it was just being able to be home and unstructured. Keeping it together enough to follow the rules and sit still and be attentive at school takes enough of Patrick’s energy that, even though it’s only one hour, when I pick him up he is wound up like you wouldn’t believe. It takes a good hour for him to settle down again.

His temper is hot again – fueled by steroids that I’d hoped might not be necessary in this high of doses by now. And we spend a lot more time trying to cool down when angry.

The days that are golden we manage to fit in something magical like an hour of practicing reading early reader books at the library or sitting down together to practice writing or have lunch at the park. Patrick’s quickly taking to the idea of kids meals and is trying just about any sandwich I deliver packaged in that form. He devoured an Arby’s roast beef sandwich, though at home he has sworn up and down to me that sliced roast beef is “too brown.”

At least once a week, we try to stay late after school at the park. One or more of the kids from class will stay after school to play. His classmates really do love him and try to include him. I heard one boy tell a friend, “I can’t leave Patrick to play with you. He has been away and is lonely. You can play with us. But I want to play with Patrick.” Big words and big heart from a kindergartener.

My mother's day flowers

My mother’s day flowers

We have enjoyed a brief break from the rain and that’s had us spending afternoons outside. I asked Brian for flowers for the garden for mother’s day. He spoiled me by taking me to the greenhouse and letting me pick out flowers to my heart’s desire. So I’ve been planting all week. Patrick still struggles with this because he’s not supposed to garden in this first year and feels left out of an activity he loved. So we try to do it in small portions.

However, it did get him outside and, though he protested a lot the first day, after that he started asking me if I’d go plant flowers so he could play in the yard.

Speaking of Mother’s day.. I had such a peaceful day. Weekend, actually. Brian spoiled me all weekend, taking me out for breakfast and dinner at favorite restaurants on Saturday, and then cooking for me on Sunday. We opted to stay home, which made for a quiet and peaceful day.

I was invited to speak in church that day. That’s a nervewracking assignment for a woman who has a history of infertility and adoption and raising a child with chronic, terminal illness. Womanhood and motherhood have NOT gone the way I expected and I used to cry through and try to avoid church on mother’s day.

However, spending my walking time in the week before mother’s day studying messages about womanhood and motherhood and God’s love really can help to build up your sense of self-worth. After all that we have been through this past year, I’ve wiped away most of my expectations. Without expectations, it is hard to be disappointed. Instead, I spent most of the day just feeling grateful. Grateful for the lessons I’ve learned. Grateful for another year with Patrick. Grateful for relative peace.

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I needed that little recharge. Because not every day is full of peace and gratitude. Not every day do I get motherhood golden. I’m still learning to juggle time and responsibility, fostering independence and giving loving attention.

The end of this week ended up tricky. Wednesday night, late, I got a message from Patrick’s teacher saying a stomach bug was working its way through the classroom. Brian and I talked about it and decided to give Patrick a choice of whether he wanted to wear a mask and gloves and go to class or check out early with me.

The first day, he opted to check out early. We had a golden mommy day that day where I made up for missed school time by working with him on reading.

The next day, he chose to wear his mask. That day didn’t go as smoothly. He came home riled up and didn’t want to nap and decided to avoid it by being extra naughty so I’d need to stop him and/or put him in time out. A rainstorm came in that night and I can’t help but wonder if the change in barometer hurts him and he just doesn’t know how to express it. I mean, I ache from tiny little injuries. He had his whole digestive system removed and replaced.

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And so we go. Day by day. Week by week. Making this up as we go along.

I told a friend on Sunday that it feels somewhat as if my life was erased when Patrick got his transplant. We’re trying to piece it back together a little at a time. I’m trying to get the most important things back in first. There is a sort of peace in that simplicity. Some days I get the parts in wrong and the gears get jammed. Other days, they fit and we work like a well-oiled machine. Most days, a little of both happens.

Hope you’ve enjoyed pictures from one of our well-oiled days. We surprised Patrick with a trip to member’s night at the zoo. He’s been asking since Brian and I went on our last date if we’d take him on a playdate, too. When we pulled into the zoo parking lot, his face lit up. Bonus that the summer dinosaur display was already up.

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Kindergarten Take 2

Yesterday, Patrick went back to school. As I said before, to help protect him and ease the transition, he’s only going to attend school part-time for the rest of this school year.

So, yesterday we headed out about 10 a.m. We stopped at the grocery store on our way to get snacks for the classroom. (Since they are instructed not to feed him anything not parent-provided or approved.) Then, since we’d had a little mishap with Patrick’s g-tube coming disconnected during the night and feeding his stuffed animals instead of him, we swung by McDonalds to get him some french fries to tide him over.

Finally, it was time to go into school. We checked in at the office. Because he’ll arrive late every day, we will check in every day. And then we headed over to the resource classroom.

His special education teacher had a little Patrick height banner in the door welcoming him back to school. It was fairly adorable and made him feel really special. While he worked with her, I sat down with his new aide to give her a little crash course on his needs.

Then, we headed over to the classroom. As we walked down the hall, a little voice shouted out, “That’s Patrick!” Followed by a little chorus of excited friends announcing “Patrick’s back!’

We were a touch earlier to Patrick’s class than he’d been expected and so we waited at the door while they cleaned up centers. All the while, little friends would sneak away to come hug him and welcome him back. Patrick was dying to go help clean up, but was obedient and waited.

Finally, they gathered at the rug and I sat down to tell them about where Patrick had been. I explained that the doctors had found a new belly for Patrick. That he’d had a transplant, which means that they took the old belly out and put in a new one. One voice chimed in, “I bet that hurt!” And I answered honestly that it did hurt. A lot! Then, I explained that Patrick doesn’t need his IV tubes anymore and is learning to eat and he told them how excited he is to be back at school with them.

We talked about washing hands and being careful about germs. Patrick’s best friend asked if having a cough meant they couldn’t sit together. So we talked about catching your coughs in your elbow.

The feeling in the room was pure excitement. I am so glad that Patrick was able to go back to this class that has so willingly accepted him and embraced him for who he is.

I left Patrick and went to talk to the school nurses and to clean out the supplies that Patrick doesn’t need anymore. And then, before I knew it, it was time to go. And hour is going to go very quickly.

Patrick’s first preschool teacher was waiting to greet him as he came out of school.

This is going to be a different phase for us. Patrick was so excited when he got home that it took a long time to get him settled to nap. When he got up, there was barely time to get dinner made.  And then, because he napped late and because he was excited, he didn’t sleep again until almost midnight last night.

Short school days at a school far from home means that it doesn’t make sense for me to come home while he’s in class. I’m planning to use that time to start walking and hopefully get myself in shape a little bit.

But, it also means a minimum of an hour and a half of what used to be my most productive time of day that I don’t have anymore. And it’s going to take some adjustment for all of us to learn to get things done with this new schedule.

Tuesday especially are going to be difficult. My own version of Monday. Because they start with a nurse visit, then school, the Patrick’s home hospital teacher will still come in the afternoon.

But we’ll get there. It’s only a month of school and I can tell you, by the joy in Patrick’s face when he got up this morning, that it is worth trying to make it work. At least, if we can keep him healthy enough.

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 176 and Please Stop Chasing My Rainbows

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Transplant Day 149 and how liver enzymes meant a weekend in the hospital

Hello from “The Hotel on the Hill.” If you are new to our blog, this is the nickname for Primary Children’s Hospital which is situated in the foothills of the Wasatch mountains on the edge of the Salt Lake Valley.

We have been here since yesterday afternoon. Here’s why.

A few weeks ago, Patrick’s nurse checked his temperature when he came to draw his morning labwork and it was a little high. Later that day, his labwork showed elevated liver enzymes and a slightly higher white count. These two signs together usually mean an illness and we thought that maybe Patrick had a bit of a stomach bug. The numbers stayed high for a couple of days, then went back down. We called Nebraska Medicine and they said they would check some viral studies to see if something was brewing. No one seemed too concerned.

For the past several weeks, this pattern has repeated itself. Once or twice a week, Patrick’s temperature has gone up. His liver enzymes go up. Sometimes his white count goes up. Sometimes it doesn’t. And Patrick never got sick. And no one ever seemed really worried.

Well, this Tuesday, when they checked Patrick’s labs, his liver enzymes were up by almost 100 points. His white count was normal this time. His temperature was 99.7. He was acting fine. But they also finally got around to those viral studies which showed no concern for the viruses they suspected might be to blame. Also, Patrick’s prograf level was a touch high and the transplant team decided to drop his dose by half.

I texted Patrick’s local doctor, Dr. Jackson, to let him know about the change and that night he called me.  He suggested that the one other thing we hadn’t checked for was infection in Patrick’s central line.. maybe some small amount of bacteria seeded there. So the next morning Patrick’s home nurse came by and drew cultures and repeated liver enzymes and prograf levels. The liver tests came back pretty early. The enzymes that had been high were the same, but another marker was now up, too.  And Saturday morning, as we were getting ready for the day, we got a call from the GI fellow on call who said that Patrick had tested positive for a line infection.

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Well, Patrick was still feeling fine. So we asked if we could still take him to the Make-a-Wish easter egg hunt we had gotten him up early for. Then I called Dr. Jackson to figure out how exactly to proceed. We talked about starting treatment at home, but Patrick needed some vancomycin.. a drug we have a love/hate relationship with because it clears infections, but Patrick’s pretty allergic to. It gives him a rash, so he has to have benadryl. It also makes his belly quite sick and we didn’t know how a new gut would take it.

So, we made a plan to bring Patrick inpatient for the weekend while we start antibiotics and figure out what comes next.

Because he is still so soon after transplant, we are making our first stay in the cancer/transplant unit, or immune compromised unit. (ICS). At first, I was worried they might kick us out after we went through all the work to make an infection-risk-minimal admission. They don’t accept transplant patients after the initial immune suppression and they didn’t know us and thought maybe someone was sneaking us in. But once they heard “5 months since transplant” it was ok.

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They are experts with central lines here, which is nice. They don’t do g-tubes or ethanol locks often, though. Apparently only short gut and related GI diagnoses get the full gammut like we do. So there’s still some teaching to do.

The nice thing is that they keep the rooms super duper clean and, really, the nursing staff here is in general a little more experienced.  The techs are really on the ball making sure things are cleaned up, diapers charted, extra food collected, teeth brushes, baths given, etc. There are things in this unit that I would have killed for in Nebraska. Like washing machines down the hall. (Last night Patrick had a diaper leak and they just showed me to the washing machines so I could clean it up.) And bathtubs. Patrick was very excited to take a bath here this morning. And needleless hubs with scrub caps and a policy of scrubbing the hub for a full 15 seconds and then letting it dry.

The room is smaller, but these rooms feel like home. And the parent bed is comfy. And the view is spectacular. And the cafeteria is just downstairs and still serves most of our comfort foods, even though they’ve just remodeled.

So it’s different, but it’s home.

This has been a very long week. We are all very tired. Monday night, my cell phone rebooted and wouldn’t load its operating system afterwards. Brian plugged away at it every chance he got, but there was no fixing the problem. So I had a few panicked days where I could see abnormal labs but couldn’t text as I normally do to communicate with Patrick’s medical team. Thankfully, Google has amazing customer service and pulled off a warranty exchange before Friday.

Tuesday night, I started to get an ache at the back of my throat. I hoped it was allergies, but was pretty sure it was a cold. I woke up sure I was sick. So I masked and gloved up, stripped and washed all my bedding, did as much laundry as possible, clorox wiped everything in sight and just tried to muddle through with as little exposure to Patrick as possible. It took round the clock mask-wearing, lots of handwashing, lots of running outside or to another room to sneeze or cough of blow my nose, and lots of picnic lunches (so I could eat without breathing near him) to get through the week. Thank goodness family was in town visiting. Two nights in a row, Brian took Patrick to dinner with his family, leaving me home to rest, clean, eat, and breathe mask-free.

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I was still sick and masked yesterday when we came up here. I was almost afraid they wouldnt’ let us into this unit with me sick… but I’m following the same precautions the rest of the staff here does so it turns out it was ok.

Thank goodness I am better today, though. My ears are so tender from wearing a mask all day and night that I can barely stand to wear my glasses and putting a mask on this morning to walk Patrick to the playroom almost made me cry.

It hasn’t been a better week for Brian, either. Coming home from work and taking Patrick away immediately is not easy for him. And he has some some busy weeks, preparing for some organizational changes heading his way.

So we were beyond grateful yesterday morning when Patrick’s doctor asked if we’d like to wait and come into the hospital at 1:00. We had promised and easter egg hunt and we had a great time. Make a Wish throws a great party and no one looks twice at you wearing masks and gloves and not eating any candy. Patrick was so very excited to meet the Easter Bunny. We got his face painted. We had a great time in line with the clown making balloon animals. (Have I mentioned Patrick loves clowns?)  The egg hunt was only mildly interesting to him. He gets tired walking still and so running around hunting eggs wasn’t the most exciting idea.

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The eggs were filled with candy and Patrick was a bit disappointed. But we knew we were headed to the hospital and were feeling generous and Brian had a coupon. So, we offered to let Patrick trade his candy for a prize and we headed to the Disney store.

We talked briefly about heading home and doing our chores but opted for some family fun time instead. We started at the Disney store where Patrick picked out a Mickey Mouse train set. Then we went to a built-to-order pizza restaurant and let Patrick design a cheeseless pizza. He loved it and scarfed it down and packed up his leftovers to go.

We left the mall and went for a walk around Temple Square. If you’ve never seen the gardens at Temple Square around the time of LDS conference you should, Especially in spring. They are amazing! Tulips and fountains and pansies and flowering trees raining white petals everywhere.
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Patrick did what all little boys do… walked the borders of every fountain and ran away and climbed up into the bronze statues.

And then, it was time to come up to the hospital.

And it was strange being admitted to a new place that is different but familiar. We had an ok night. Patrick didn’t nap on schedule. Not a surprise. But after they gave him benadryl at 5, his eyelids got droopy.

I turned on a broadcast of the LDS Women’s Conference right after Brian left to go get things cleaned up and packed up at home. They started off with a video presentation of a song that Patrick knows from church, The Family is of God. View the video here. Knowing he loves these things, I pulled him up on my lap to watch. He snuggled right down and his eyelids started to droop. The song ended and I told him to stay cuddled and I’d get him a show on his tablet. Well, his tablet was slow and before I had a show loaded, he was asleep. He slept on my lap for 2 hours. I got to bask in a quiet evening of gospel and sisterhood and uplifting messages about the importance of motherhood and womanhood and family. The entire conference is available to watch, read, or listen to here. Largest women’s conference in the world. Totally worthwhile and inspiring if you have time.

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And then, he woke up was very mellow the rest of the evening. We watched movies, played with syringes, cuddled on the bed. At 11, he seemed tired enough finally to sleep so I turned out the lights and he was out in 5 minutes. He slept all night except for diaper changes and woke up with the sun. (Much to my chagrin).

Rounds came early this morning. They said that he had immediately responded to antibiotics and his liver numbers were already trending down. No cultures have grown out, though, from the labs drawn right before antibiotics were started and we can’t quite explain it. The doctor suggested that another option for the off liver numbers being bacteria from Patrick’s gut gettiing into his liver through the gastric bypass created at transplant. I guess we’ll explore that more.

But the long story short is that Patrick seems to be responding well to treatment and shouldn’t be hospitalized long. And we’ll have more conversations about the cause of the problem and the fate of his line in the future.

It’s been a quiet Sunday. Patrick is so much calmer in the hospital now. I don’t know if that’s from practice being in the hospital and entertaining himself alone or because his sensory processing disorder is less of a problem since transplant or because his nurse last night started giving him all the used syringes and passed along in report to continue doing so and he has like 30 of them now, plus extensions to connect them to and that always keeps him happy. But he’s quiet and once we’d all had a nap we were all happier.

That was a lot of story to tell. I really should blog more often so you don’t have as much back story to read through. Oh well.

“Do you know deep in your heart that your Heavenly Father loves you and desires you and those you love to be with Him? Just as Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ are perfect, their hopes for us are perfect. Their plan for us is perfect, and Their promises are sure.” – Carole M Stephens, Relief Society General Presidency, LDS General Women’s Conference, October 2015

 

Transplant Day 132 and a follow-up visit in Nebraska

I am writing from the window seat of a room in the Omaha Ronald McDonald House. Today marked 1 month since they told us that he could go home to Utah. And so, today, he had a follow up visit to see how things are going.

It’s been an interesting few days. First of all, can I say how much it broke my poor little brain to try to pack for this trip? Travelling with TPN was hard. It took lots of big luggage and days of coordinating Fedex deliveries and special planning and packing for airport screening. In the past, I brought every suitcase we own packed to the 50 lb limit and also have at least 4 boxes shipped. This time, well, what I needed to bring was not iV supplies. It was formula. And food. I had to pack snacks.

i got everything gathered to put into suitcases and I looked around and I had too many suitcases. And the problem flustered me so much that I had to just go to bed and sleep on it. I had nightmares about not being properly packed. Then, I got up in the morning and I filled the extra space in one suitcase with pillows and blankets and I decided that we didn’t really need one bag as a diaper bag and another one to carry my electronics and medicines. And none of the bags weighed over 40 pounds. And it was all ok.

In fact, it was easier to get to the airport. Brian had flown in and out of this city enough times to know which flights would be fuller and have a busier airport and did a great time picking us a slow time in the airport. Patrick and I donned masked. (I wore one so Patrick wouldn’t feel so alone).. and i gave him a new pair of touch screen capable gloves. And we strode into the airport not struggling under the weight of overfilled bags.

Brian also had applied for TSA precheck status which meant screening for him and Patrick went much more easily. I still had to go through a regular line which felt, well… very strange. To leave them and go off on my own. But things were simpler. Patrick’s many medications had to be checked in the mass spectrometer.. but that is so much simpler than checking a cooler of IV fluids that they still were done by the time I got to them. They’d have beaten me had they not decided to let Patrick be screened in his wheelchair/stroller.

The flight was difficult. Patrick really has a hard time not playing with the window shade and keeping his feet off of the feet in front of him. Under normal circumstances, you can redirect this. But his steroids make it very hard to change Patrick’s mind once an idea enters them and we had a few stretches where I just had to hold onto him to keep him from hitting the seats around us until he settled down. It wasn’t all that way, though. He ordered himself a “diet water” from the flight attendant and had a happy snack time and we played with stickers and some mommy school games I’d laminated and brought along. Patrick’s desire to learn still overpowers most other things. And thankfully, the flight was only 2 hours anyway.

We rented a van and drove to the Ronald McDonald House. It was strange to be back and feel so at home here. Before out of state clinic visits were big adventures in new places. Now, well.. this is just a second home. Patrick, in fact, loves pointing out that we are coming home when we come back to the Ronald McDonald House each time we do. He is very mad at me that we are not restocking the fridge with his favorite foods and are eating out instead.

However, I like him eating out. He figured out he likes hamburgers last week and I love seeing him eat half of a hamburger plus some fries when we get him a kids meal.

We are aiming for a more vacation-like trip. Last night we went out and explored a shopping district called Old Market that we heard about but didn’t brave in the cold. It’s kind of a cool atmosphere. Like a toned down Pikes Market in Seattle, but with fewer people. And well patrolled by police. They allow street musicians, but not others begging on the corner.. so you could enjoy that ambiance of that little addition. It is warm here and nice to be out.

We did stop at the store for a few snacks and staples (and some sugar-free soynut butter that I haven’t been able to find in Salt Lake). And we stayed up snacking while waiting for meds time, even though Patrick was far too tired and overexcited about being here.

Today’s been a really nice day. In the 70’s, so we have been able to be out in short sleeves. We have never caught nice weather in Omaha before. We got up with the sun, as Patrick always does.. and made it out to go to the zoo early. We really love this zoo and find something new each time. This time it was the otters that caught his fancy. He didn’t like the sea lion training, though we did. And he was tired and wanted to go back to the room early, but we didn’t let him.

I’ve been tired today. At midnight last night, as I refilled Patrick’s formula feeds, I noticed that I’d left the charger for his feeding pump home. And I tossed and turned worrying about it all night. Trying to think who I could borrow from and what it would take to get homecare set up again in this city for just a few days. It was top priority this morning. It wasn’t hard to fix. I made a call to our homecare company who said that they often will lend chargers to people in a similar situation. So I called Children’s Home Health, the company we used while we were here, and explained the situation. They said no problem and to come pick up a pump. I signed a form saying we’d pay if it wasn’t returned and they gave me an envelope to return it in since they won’t have open offices the day we leave. And that was that. Easy peasy and why did I worry so much?

Oh well..

Patrick’s clinic appointment was this afternoon. That was also easy peasy. We checked in and there was some confusion about insurance now that we are more than 3 months after transplant.. but they voted in the end to leave that for the financial folks to sort out. We weighed Patrick in and he’s gained again.. and even 22 kilos, or almost 50 pounds.

The doctor we saw today was the surgeon who did Patrick’s transplant, Dr. Grant. This made me very happy. Not only does she, literally, know him inside out but we really seem to click as far as philosophy of care. She said that he was doing remarkably well and to keep on this same path. They were happy to hear he was eating and the dietitian adjusted his feeds again so that he’ll have 8 hours without tubes in a day… I had to promise to keep him drinking in that time so he stays hydrated.

Dr. Grant asked what we were doing about school. We confessed that we hadn’t dared send him back yet and were setting up home school instead. She actually seemed pleased with this answer.. she kept saying “It’s only been 4 months.” Pointing out that it’s easy to overlook how new this all is because he doesn’t have an ostomy or a feeding tube in his nose as most kids do this short time after. She started out recommending summer school or back to school in fall.. then conceded that maybe sending him back sometime after spring break so he can finish this year with his same friends and teacher would be a good idea.

After his physical exam, she pointed out some stitches we could have removed next time he’s sedated. And she said that she doesn’t think he still needs any physical restrictions. Monkey bars here he comes.

And then she said the words we’d dreaded. “So what do we do with this central line?” I decided to just speak my mind. I told her that we were ok with him not needing a line, but worried removing the one he has given how hard it was to put in and the chance of losing that access. I said this once before to another surgeon and was told I was being overly conservative. But Dr. Grant suggested just what I had imagined as the best solution in my mind: A port. This is a central line but one that stays under the skin except when it’s needed. There’s a small disk that can be accessed with a needle.

The nice thing about it is that it isn’t as prone to infection as a broviac line. It won’t need a dressing and he’ll be able to bathe and swim and get dirty.  Also, it means that Patrick’s labs will be easier to draw and less painful, since they can numb the site. The disadvantage is that it’s still a central line and runs a risk of infection and needs careful monitoring for fevers.

We made a plan to come back after the end of the school year and have them change Patrick’s broviac line for a port. We’ll leave that for a little while longer till we know it’s safe, and then remove it.

We won’t need to come back to Nebraska until then. Oh, and labs can now be once a week.

So overall.. still good news.

And now it is on with our mini-vacation. We have had a snack and a nap and are now headed over to the hospital for movie night.. then back here where some nice church ladies are cooking us a turkey dinner.

I don’t want to delay the fun, so pictures will have to come in a later post.

Transplant day 125 and something is brewing

I’ve been saying for days that I needed to blog. But it’s been a doozy of a start to a week. I’ll take my pictures from last week, which was much funner, and tell those stories in the captions.

A week ago Wednesday, we snuck away to a hockey game. We gave up our usual center ice seats and instead snuck into the upper level where tickets aren't sold. This means we had the section mostly to ourselves.. much safer.

A week ago Wednesday, we snuck away to a hockey game. We gave up our usual center ice seats and instead snuck into the upper level where tickets aren’t sold. This means we had the section mostly to ourselves.. much safer.

Sunday, Brian made a comment to me as I got home from church about how many diapers he had changed for Patrick while I was gone. I thought, “Oh, we’ve had a lot of that lately” and didn’t really listen. It was a busy day. I’d been at church for 3 hours and we had decided to stay home that day and invite some friends over for dinner last minute. So while Brian was turning out a roast and roasted potatoes, I was throwing some bread in the breadmaker and trying to get Patrick to nap. And, well, I didn’t think of it again.

Until the next morning when Patrick’s nurse checked his temperature while I ran upstairs to grab some supplies to draw labs. I came downstairs to him telling me, “He doesn’t have a fever, but his temperature is a bit high. You might keep an eye on that.”

But Patrick wasn’t complaining. He just needed a lot of diapers changed. And we’d just changed his formula to be a little more concentrated so it would run over less time and I thought that was all that was up.

When it was naptime, though, I checked Patrick’s temperature. To do this, we always check ours first to be sure the timpanic (ear) thermometer is working. And, well, Patrick’s temperature was still 99.6. But mine was 100.4.

All through naptime, Patrick’s and my bellies gurgled and talked to each other. By evening, I was feeling pretty darn sick. Apparently stomach bugs know how to get past our germophobic defenses.

 

 

Knowing Patrick had been feeling a bit stir crazy, and also knowing it wasn’t wise to go out, I’d embraced Dr. Seuss’s birthday wholeheartedly with books and themed activities for mommy school. I’d promised Patrick a dinner of green eggs (jello eggs) and ham. So, sick or not, I threw on a pair of gloves and still got dinner on the table and prayed that was enough to protect anyone who needed it.

The night was rough, but at least I was already up to be able to watch to be sure Patrick was ok. By morning, I was a bit better, though exhausted. Patrick’s temperature was down. His Monday labs had shown elevated liver enzymes.. an early sign of illness.. and there were some small hints of dehydration. I saw this online on Monday, but because Patrick’s prograf levels were late posting, I didn’t get to talk to his doctor until the middle of the day Tuesday. We decided that if he wasn’t seeming sick, that we’d wait and check labs again on Thursday.

At 11:45 a.m. an alarm went off reminding me that Patrick’s new feeding therapist was due to come. Oops. I probably should have cancelled. But knowing that I was taking super precautions to protect Patrick and that stomach bugs aren’t airborne, we opted to go ahead.

Patrick grabbed my camera and took pictures of his room for me during the week. He is in love with his license plate collection. Cars+letters. What's not to love? Especially since they are sent to us from friends all over. His nurse brought him the logo off of a car, though and now he thinks he should collect those, too.

Patrick grabbed my camera and took pictures of his room for me during the week. He is in love with his license plate collection. Cars+letters. What’s not to love? Especially since they are sent to us from friends all over. His nurse brought him the logo off of a car, though and now he thinks he should collect those, too.

Amazingly, Patrick was a rockstar for feeding therapy. He ate, including swallowing, a few slices of lunch ham. And half of a soynut butter sandwich. Then he asked for hummus and carrots.. practiced biting and chewing the raw carrots (though still not ready to swallow those.)

Sure, it made his belly pretty unhappy. But Patrick only knows unhappy bellies and so he didn’t mind. And after she left, when I made myself a bowl of Progresso beef stew, he decided he wanted to join me in eating that, too.

Note the pouch in Patrick's mouth. We went shopping that morning and Patrick spotted these pouch baby foods. We had talked about trying purees with his feeding therapist. Patrick had seen his friends with applesauce and decided he wanted these. He had a "smoothie' in his hand for 2 days straight. Then I gave him peas. Now he won't touch them.

Note the pouch in Patrick’s mouth. We went shopping that morning and Patrick spotted these pouch baby foods. We had talked about trying purees with his feeding therapist. Patrick had seen his friends with applesauce and decided he wanted these. He had a “smoothie’ in his hand for 2 days straight. Then I gave him peas. Now he won’t touch them.

Yesterday, I finally was feeling better. Patrick got up in the morning just bouncing off the walls, though. He asked me if we could “do move our bodies,” our Mommy school code for getting gross motor exercise in every day. And then he asked if it was exercise class day at the library.

It was.

And knowing that he really, really needed to get out, we chanced it and went to Mommy and Me exercise time at the library. The teacher there has seen us through 2 summers. I made sure we arrived early so I could explain what he’d been through and she was super careful with him. He did pretty darn well, actually. Better participating than I’ve ever seen from him there. But about 15 minutes in, he was too tired to go on.

That was ok. We went and picked books. I let him get his first library card. And we went home.

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It snowed Tuesday. Patrick was so excited to play in it. Only his 2nd chance this winter. So on Tuesday, sick as we were, we went out and shovelled walks. Wednesday, he was thrilled the snow wasn’t gone. He declared we were making a snowman. And a snow elephant. And a snow gorilla. He went to sleep talking about it.

And I woke him while it was still warm. The snow was all crunchy from melting and refreezing and not at all right for snowman making. This got me off the hook for the other creations. But we did manage a little snowman. And because I had carrots to give it a nose, Patrick was more than happy.

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Today we both were finally feeling better. Patrick got up a little too early, but it meant we were ready for labs. I was going to blog first thing, but the internet was down. So we dived into mommy school instead. The theme of the week has been fairy tales and today we learned about The Gingerbread Man. Patrick is a little miffed that the main character of the story got eaten. He has a lot to learn about fairy tales. It was a good theme, though. I was able to squeeze a little more math in that usual.

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Patrick is really, really mad at the idea of addition. He doesn’t like the extra symbols. He HATES the word “equals” (or as he says it, “eekso”). But today, by using teddy grahams that he was allowed to eat as we did the math, he played along a little bit better. Plus, I said “1 plus 2 makes” instead of “equals” and that helped.

I’m trying to be patient waiting to get Patrick a teacher. Not that I can guarantee that it will even make a difference for him. I just worry that I am not making ground on helping him catch up after all he missed this year. I really wish sometimes I could send him back to class. I admire moms who homeschool and are able to make that work in a consistent routine. Today was a good day. Patrick gave me an hour and a half before he got restless and asked to outside and I declared “recess” and let him go play in the remnants of snow.

I was hoping better looking diapers would have meant also better looking labs. But Patrick’s labwork this afternoon still showed elevated liver enzymes, dehydration creeping upwards, and an elevated white count. I called Patrick’s transplant team and asked if we should change his formula recipe and they opted to add back in some extra fluid for the weekend. I am sad he needs it, but at least I won’t be as worried about dehydration. Patrick’s been doing great drinking water and powerade and eating popsicles, but I was still worried.

Meanwhile, as long as Patrick is still looking and feeling happy, we will just keep an eye out. They might do some blood tests for a few viruses on Monday. But hopefully, things will get back to normal.

Tonight was one of those nights where things just felt comfortable and happy at home. Our bird, Max, was in a really cheerful mood.. simply playing. Patrick snuggled up in my lap to play tonight. Max climbed up, too and let Patrick pet him. (This is a HUGE compliment from Max, who is fairly bitey.) Brian was in his chair playing with a new geek gadget. And everything was right with the world for a little bit.

People have asked if we have a new normal yet. Some days I feel like we have found a rhythm. But so far, nothing sticks for more than a couple of days. We are still figuring it out. And as long as there are looming follow-up appointments and the hope of Patrick starting school just around the corner and little medical enigmas lurking… Well, it’s hard to imagine we’ll be settled for a while yet.

Before this mad, crazy week.. my mom and dad took Patrick for the evening so Brian and I could go on a date. After all we've been through, it was nice to just be laid back. We went bowling, had ice cream for dinner, then went to Home Depot and bought a mailbox.

Before this mad, crazy week.. my mom and dad took Patrick for the evening so Brian and I could go on a date. After all we’ve been through, it was nice to just be laid back. We went bowling, had ice cream for dinner, then went to Home Depot and bought a mailbox.

Transplant Day 114 and settling in

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Patrick and Max rediscovered each other this week. Starting with this moment. Patrick got Max up in the morning and tried whistling for him. Max got it and started singing back.

Whew. It’s been a week that we’ve been home. In some ways, it seems like this week has gone very slowly. In others, it has flown by.

Settling in at home has been a lot of work. For one thing, our vanload of possessions from Nebraska didn’t fit into our new home. I will admit that I had more than one panic attack over the pile of boxes sitting in my living room waiting for me to clean out and make room for their contents. It seemed that no matter how hard I worked, there were always still so many boxes. We finally got the last of them emptied and put away last night. Too bad it took filling another pile of boxes with things to be sorted through and donated or thrown away. At least that pile is in the basement at the moment.

But unpacking, though it took the bulk of my physical effort, was only part of the job this week. I spent a good portion of Tuesday morning sending e-mails and making phone calls. We get some reimbursement for Patrick’s travel home.. just some, but some is better than none and needs to be claimed.

And then there was homecare. It should have been easy to get homecare orders here. But our homecare company wouldn’t accept out of state orders. They had to be rewritten by Patrick’s doctor here. However, those orders got lost somewhere along the way. (And, research turns up, would have been incomplete anyway.) So Thursday morning was devoted to scanning my discharge orders and prescription medication lists, etc. and making phone calls to make sure that medical records actually arrived. Friday, a week after we left Nebraska and our last day of supplies, we finally got a delivery.

Labs with homecare nursing went a bit smoother, but I’m still not convinced that a copy of the results is being routinely faxed to the team in Nebraska.

Other projects included e-mailing Patrick’s school to start working on getting him an education plan, grocery shopping so we weren’t entirely dependent on others to bring us meals, talking to insurance to make sure preauthorizations were all set up, and getting a referral to feeding therapy.

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These two are now inseparable. Now that we don’t have to worry about Max biting TPN tubes, and Patrick is learning not to lock Max in random rooms around the house. Max only has to be caged when he gets bitey.

On Thursday afternoon, the weather was beautiful and Patrick was pretty burned out on watching mom unpack boxes and talk on the phone. So after I made it through the morning business, we decided to take a picnic lunch to the park.

Patrick chose some of his foods. Veggie straws and crackers. I picked more nutritious things, too.. Chips and guacamole, chicken nuggets, and an assortment of dipping sauces to experiment with.

Then, I let Patrick pick a park. He asked for the one next door to his school. We didn’t think about that it was by the school until we were there. Then he wanted to go visit his friends at school. School was just letting out and it was kind of hard to have to say no. Thank goodness one little boy came over to play. He wasn’t a best friend, but he was a familiar friend and then helped ease the pain a little.

So did lunch. Patrick ate and ate and ate. He discovered he likes veggie straws in ketchup, but wasn’t a bit fan of the chicken nuggets. That’s ok. As long as he tastes the new foods, I’m happy right now.

Friday we had our first post-transplant appointment with Patrick’s GI, Dr. Jackson. Have I mentioned how much we love that man? He scheduled us in on a day that his clinic was closed. He spent and hour and half making sure that he learned all he needed to from us and that we had time to ask all of our questions. Patrick is in such good hands.

We talked about making a plan for when Patrick gets sick to allow him to bypass the emergency room as long as his ABC’s (airway, breathing, circulation) are intact. We went over Patrick’s medications and new anatomy and diet. We asked about sending him back to school, and found Dr. Jackson to err on the side of caution where our hearts are more than the team in Nebraska does. (We really want to wait out cold and flu season.) He let Patrick be the doctor and check his heartbeat and eyes and ears as well.

The general gist of things is that Patrick is doing well and Dr. Jackson is committed to helping him continue to do so. And it was nice to be back with a doctor who loves teaching. I now understand why and how some lab results are followed.

One of the very rare moments when Brian got to join us for naptime and Patrick let me out of the bed. Usually, I lay with Patrick and read scriptures through his naps.

One of the very rare moments when Brian got to join us for naptime and Patrick let me out of the bed. Usually, I lay with Patrick and read scriptures through his naps.

And so, here we are. Tomorrow’s plan is to get labs, to change a central line dressing, to try to clean up the pile of boxes in the basement, to make a meal plan, to do some mommy school with Patrick, and to cook dinner (still a novelty for me.)

Oh, and to spend a LOT of time barefoot. I’ve had enough of having to wear shoes and socks to last me a good long time. If it weren’t for labs, I’d maybe even try spending the morning in pajamas.

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One more thought. A lot of people are asking rules for visiting Patrick. I really appreciate the caution about keeping him healthy. Here is what I’ve posted on the front door.

Our son recently received a transplant. Please help us protect his gift of life by keeping germs away.

Please advise us if you have recently had or been exposed to a contagious illness. This might include:

  • Fever
  • Runny Nose
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Rash
  • Pink eye
  • Nausea or dizziness

You may be asked to wash your hands, wear a mask and/or gloves, or reschedule your visit for another day.

Please do not visit if you have an illness or infection treated with antibiotics in the last 48 hours, or if you have been immunized with a live vaccine (Measles a.k.a. MMR, Smallpox, or FluMist) in the past two weeks.  Thank you for being immunized.

In other words..if you are actively sick or think your odds of getting sick are getting high, you might postpone your visit. If you’ve been sick and are feeling better, then ask. Good handwashing is probably good protection the majority of the time.