Tag Archives: transplant

Transplant Day 804 and Look Ma. No lines!

**Composed yesterday in the surgery waiting room**

This is a good news post. But I’m finding myself so very out of practice at writing updates in the surgery waiting room that I am having a little bit of a hard time getting started.

At 7:30 this morning, we kissed a very drugged and giddy Patrick goodbye at the O.R. doors. He is having his port removed today. We haven’t needed it in a while. We left him with a central line because this his veins are so scarred that putting in a new line will certainly be difficult. This port has been so much healthier than any other central line he’s had before. And it saved him trauma with labwork. We didn’t feel any rush to get rid of a line

But this summer Patrick’s bloodwork started to come back so stable and consistent that his decided to switch labs to every other month, the port became more effort and risk than benefit. (They have to be flushed every 30 days regardless of if they were used.) We knew we’d need to have a talk about removing the line soon.

Last October, we took Patrick for his annual transplant checkup. When we raised asked the doctor if we should be considering taking the port out, he was surprised to find it was even still there. There was no question that it was time. Soon… But of course, we still took our time.

We allowed time for the doctors here to talk to the folks in Nebraska and know what would be involved in removing a direct superior vena cava line. We tried to wait for the end of cold an flu season.

But also at Patrick’s follow-up in October, the doctors decided to stop Patrick’s prednisolone, which was a major part of his immune suppression. Within two weeks, he started to have a severe pain in his side. After about a week, a small bump finally formed. And when we took him on a rollercoaster ride, that bump burst revealing a small abscess.

For some reason, one of the dissolvable stitches in Patrick’s ostomy scar never dissolved. It just stayed there as long as his immune system was heavily suppressed. But as soon as the prednisone was gone, his body started to rebel against a foreign body. He’s had a recurring abcess for several months now. Just a little pimple that would rise and fall. But it hurt like crazy. And that’s what finally got us here.

So here we are. An hour after Patrick went back, the surgeon was back out to report that all had gone well. He’ll have a little bit of an open wound where the abscess was an a pretty sore area on his chest until the space where the port was heals.  But overall, this should be pretty easy.

We’ve taken the port for granted for the past year or so. That makes this transition a little bit simpler. But the simple realization that Patrick has IV line for the first time in his life is a little bit disorienting.. miraculous.. scary.. comforting.. umfamiliar.. splendiferous!

Now not every fever could mean sepsis. Now he’ll have to have labs drawn from the shoddy veins in his arms. Now we won’t have to wake up early once a month to apply numbing cream before the port is accessed. Now we may not have numbing cream at all. Now he won’t have to protect his chest to play. Now it matters more if he eats and drinks. Now we won’t have to worry if a clot is forming. Now he may not automatically qualify for nursing. Now there’s one less thing that makes him different from other kids.

But really, it’s about time. Because I keep forgetting that it’s time to access his port. And I keep forgetting to tell doctors he even has one. He really didn’t need it anymore.

I’ll leave you with the words of a song that Patrick is singing or making me sing at least once an hour right now.


“I feel better, so much better
Thank you doc for taking all the ouchies away.
I didn’t feel so good till you fixed me like I knew you would
And I feel better. So much better now.”

Whom the Lord Calls

IMG_20160121_192838

Valentine’s weekend represents a lot of milestones for our family. Two days ago, we celebrated the seven years since we took Patrick to the temple to be sealed to our family. Three years ago, we took Patrick to Nebraska to have him evaluated for a transplant there. It meant moving to a better program, but leaving a lot of comfort behind. A completely foreign city, a huge hospital, and no one we knew. And then one year ago, we arrived home with Patrick after he’d received his transplant, evidence of a miraculous recovery.

And then yesterday we added one more. Yesterday, Brian (also known as Howie, if you are ever confused by my mixing names in this blog post) was called to be a counselor in our bishopric.

A bit of explanation for those less familiar with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The “Mormon” church has a lay ministry. That means that we don’t have professional clergy. At all. Some full-time. But none are formally trained. And none are paid. Instead, we are all trained as a part of “bringing up” in the church and we all take turns. Every 5 or more years, a new bishop is called. His service is voluntarily and in addition to his regular job, but no less real in its demands. He is a pastor to his congregation. Leader, comforter, judge, and friend. And he is helped in his work by two counselors. Brian was just made a counselor. (And in order to serve in that assignment he was also ordained a high priest.)

But this blog isn’t about Brian or about bishoprics. It’s about our family and our journey together. And so I’m going to share some reflections I’ve had as we prepared for this new assignment. (See, even though the news was only announced yesterday, we’ve known for a few weeks and I’ve had some time to think.)

A phrase came to my mind a few days ago. “Whom the Lord calls, He qualifies.”

And so I’ve been thinking about the calling I’ve been pursuing for the past seven and a half years. My calling as Patrick’s mother.

Seven and a half years ago,  I took that a phone call, my life changed. But I don’t think you could say that the Emily who answered that call about a boy who needed a family was qualified to be a special needs mom, a short gut mom, a TPN mom, a transplant mom, an autism and ADHD mom, a feeding therapy mom, a food allergy mom. I had tried to prepare to be a mother. I had often wondered if I hadn’t been given the chance yet because I wasn’t really prepared to even be a mother. (I wasn’t so very wise then, was I?)

Patrick on His sealing day.

Patrick on His sealing day.

Some people say that special children are only given to special parents. And I don’t think that is true. At all. I’ve watched hundreds of moms in the support group I run learn about their children’s diagnosis and realize that they don’t have even the beginning knowledge required to do what is required of them.

I certainly wasn’t equipped. I was impatient. I was just learning how to handle my anxiety. I had panic attacks when schedules changed. (Umm, drop everything and run to the ER? What?) I was absolutely phobic of doctors and hospitals and especially surgical procedures.

When I took Patrick for his transplant evaluation, I had learned a lot and was a seasoned medical mom. But I couldn’t have imagined what that experience would be like. The pain he’d be in. The effect his medications would have on his moods. The trauma we’d both have to learn to live with. And though I knew being far from home and without my husband would be hard, I couldn’t have prepared for it.

Patrick and his dad in x-ray at his transplant evaluation

Patrick and his dad in x-ray at his transplant evaluation

When we brought a “new” Patrick home, I wasn’t prepared for the growing and changing that would happen this year. The sheer weight of trying to learn a whole new way of life. A new gut in many ways opened doors to a new him and needed a new kind of mom.

I wasn’t qualified for any of these things when I started them. But I was willing. I was teachable. And I trusted that the call came from the Lord.

I have received a lot of on-the-job training. I have had solutions to problems come to my mind with such clarity and perfection that I know they can only have come from a knowing Heavenly Father through the Holy Ghost. I have shed lots of tears when I didn’t feel I was measuring up. And then I’ve gotten up and kept trying.

I have learned to rely heavily on friends and family and neighbors, on experts willing to take the time to teach me, on other parents who started out as strangers but became friends.

And I’ve learned that truly, whom the Lord calls, He qualifies.

He does it. Through His grace. If we let Him.

Special children aren’t given to special people. Ordinary people become parents to special children all the time. Ordinary people are faced with all kinds of devastating trials every day. Ordinary people step up and do impossible things every day.

There is a saying that floats around a lot. “The Lord won’t give you more than you can handle.”  That isn’t quite right. Here’s what the scriptures really say:

There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.  1 Corinthians 10: 13

In other words, “The Lord won’t give you more than you can handle without also giving you a way to handle it.” He uses trials to make us better. To make us more like him. He takes ordinary, willing people and makes them into special people. Or, in simpler words, “Whom the Lord calls, he qualifies.”

P.S. Don’t take this as bragging. I still consider myself far more ordinary than special. But I digress…

IMG_0133

Here we are. Another Valentine’s weekend. Another big change. I don’t know quite yet how Patrick and I are going to fare with Brian even busier. I’m sure sacrament meetings are about to be really interesting. And bedtimes.

I am sure that my humble, determined-to-serve husband is feeling a bit overwhelmed by this new calling. I’m also certain that he will do a marvelous job and that the people of our church are going to be really blessed by having him on their side.

And I’m going to do my best to keep up. That’s what I’ve been doing the whole time I’ve known him.

Brian loves to go for walks. When we were newlyweds and lived downtown, he would decide to walk to the city center. That wasn’t a short walk. And with his longer stride, I had to take an awful lot of steps to keep up with his pace. He has taught me quite literally what it means to “lengthen your stride.”

That’s what it is like having him for a best friend and husband. He’s always challenged me to quicken my step, lengthen my stride, and do a little better.

I’m ordinary. And short-legged. But I’m trying.

And whom the Lord calls….

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.

IMG_20151015_122642

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.

IMG_20151016_111133

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.

IMG_20151015_182928

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.

IMG_20151016_112902 IMG_20151016_113147

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.

IMG_20151014_192354

If you’re wondering why I’ve been acting a little crazy…

What an overwhelming two weeks I have had. If you’ve happened across me you may have found me forgetful, worried, tearful, distracted, jumpy, uncertain, self-consumed or any other manifestation of anxious. I live with anxiety. It’s been part of who I am for a long time. When we were undergoing fertility treatments, it kind of consumed me. Therapy helped teach me to live with it. And now? Well, it’s been a very stressful two weeks and anxiety has been thread running throughout all of it.

It is no surprise that this has been a hard stretch. I’ve been saying for a long time that my goal for August was just to survive.

Brian went to Europe (Ukraine and Poland) for work for 10 days. Wives were invited and I couldn’t go and that hit a lot harder as he got on a plane and left than it usually does when he has to travel. Also, this was one of those real long-haul trips. A long one. And a busy one so that most of our chances to talk to one another were stole little moments when one or the other of us should have been doing something else, like sleeping.  And there is no real cure for a linguist and lover of travel and culture to stay at home while her best friend sees the world without her.

It was also one of those really busy times here at home. As I mentioned in my last post, we have been working with Patrick’s allergist, GI, and dietitian to try to switch him to oral eating instead of enteral (through a g-tube) feeding. I kept a 3 day chart of Patrick’s diet and learned that he’s eating just under 1600 calories a day. The goal is 1800-2000 and therefore, a few more bites at each meal and he may just be there. The log showed that he needs to get more protein into his diet, which sounds challenging since he’s still struggling with typical meats. But I introduced him to fish while Brian was away. (Brian doesn’t like fish). And to fish sticks. And he loved them. And, out of the blue, Patrick started actually eating roast which gives me hope that if I can just get the meat tender enough, he might be able to eat it. Meanwhile, I we are supposed to be encouraging him to eat the proteins he likes like soy cheese and hummus and lunch meat. (I have taken to buying a few of those little buddig lunch meat packets and sometimes just handing one of those to him to snack on.) Knowing he’s a touch allergic to soy, I switched to sunbutter, which was received with lots of pleased “mmm” sounds.

But the mission that really turned me into a basket case this past little while has been trying to make plans for Patrick to go to school. I had the chance to talk to his classroom teacher and also to the school nurse. And the vibe I got from both was worrisome. They both seemed totally great at their jobs. And they both seemed to feel completely in over their heads with Patrick. In fact, both asked me why exactly Patrick wasn’t in the medical hub when it was obvious that he has such big medical needs.

I had long conversations and I wrote long e-mails and I did everything I could to make people talk and work behind the scenes. But I couldn’t do what was really the most needed until today.. I couldn’t meet with the school. I miscalculated. Brian offered to send me to visit one of my dearest friends, Lindy, who lives in Seattle. Her family housed us through I don’t know how many checkups at Seattle Children’s while Patrick was waiting for transplant there. And when we moved our listing to Nebraska, Seattle became too far to travel. I haven’t visited in 2 years. And so, since he was going to be away for a long time and since we didn’t swing a family vacation this year, he offered to send me out to visit.

I wasn’t sure as I was getting ready to go that this was a wise choice, this travelling alone with Patrick when my husband was gone and I had to pack and get us there on our own. It didn’t go well. The day before we left I was anxiety personified. And I went to bed wondering if I’d completely lost my mind.

Thank goodness it was a visit to a friend who helps me piece my sanity back together. It was good to catch up. And it deserves its own post. But as usual, Lindy helped me to talk and work through some of my struggles. And Patrick basked in the love of this amazing family.

And then we came back home and dived into madness again. I didn’t even get to unpack for like 36 hours, things were so busy.

Yesterday I tried to juggle back to school shopping and phone calls and e-mails with Patrick’s medical team and cleaning the house and unpacking and making quality time with my son who is about to leave me during the day. And there weren’t enough hours in the day. And Brian was going to be home in a couple of hours.

And then… Brian’s plane got delayed. And I kept working. And the flight kept getting pushed back. And I started to feel guilty because I started to wonder if my prayers for there to be enough hours in the day were resulting in airport delays. But I just kept at it and soon enough had been done. Patrick was in bed. And my amazing respite worker had come over on no notice to sit with him so that I could go bring Brian home.

And I’ve decided this post is getting too long and so I’m gonna wrap it up with just this thought because today deserves its own whole post too. But here’s the thing…

I’m recognizing that I’ve been just getting by for a very long time. Almost a year. And now that school is on the horizon, I’m trying to piece my life and sanity back together. I’ve started to go back to therapy. And I’ve started to recognize that to let go of this crushing anxiety I’ve been carrying, I have to stop just shoving it down deeper inside.

When you’re just surviving, that’s what you do. You put it down deep as far as you can so you don’t have to look at it and you just carry it with you while you move on. Like when you are at the store and they hand you a receipt and you don’t have really anywhere to put it so you tuck it into your purse. And before you know it your purse is all filled up with wadded up papers and wrappers and odds and ends of spilled things. And you just keep carrying them around because it takes effort to get things back out and look at them and figure out what to keep and what to throw out. That’s where I am. I’ve got all these things tucked down because I didn’t have anywhere to put them. And I’m hoping that I can get them back out and let some of them go.

So you might see me a little bit weaker for a while. It’s ok. That means I’m trying to work through some things. Anxiety is part of who I am. I’m pretty good at squaring my shoulders and pushing forward. But when I get a second to be myself, I’m going to need to work some things out. And it might look messy while I get through it.

Transplant Day 216-218 and the Port

Nebraska Medicine’s scheduling is horrible for coming in from out-of-state for procedures. They don’t have their schedules far enough in advance and so we always end up booking after flights are already mostly full and expensive. Therefore, we left for Nebraska at 8 p.m. the night before Patrick’s procedure.

Well, technically, we left at 6 because security can take so long for us that we always allow 2 hours. This time, we all got precheck and, without IV fluids, were through security in 5 minutes without opening a single bag. Different.

Patrick was supposed to start fasting at midnight, so we put his feeds on in the afternoon and were encouraging him to eat so he would be less hungry. Also different.

We grabbed some Wendy’s. He scarfed down a hamburger and most of his fries. Then he and his Daddy went and watched the plane and trucks outside the window.

We boarded and things seemed to be going ok. Then, as we started to taxi onto the runway, the pilot came on and announced that there was a huge storm coming in and we couldn’t take off till it passed. So, we sat. I was so grateful we’d pushed Patrick for a nap. We sat for an hour. And he played with the sticker book I’d bought him and ate snacks and was ok.

Our gung-ho pilot got word they were taking off the other direction and seemed to jump the line by taxing right down the runway. Next thing we knew, we were first for take-off. And as soon as he got the all-clear, away we went.

We landed late. 1 a.m. Brian hurried to the rental car counter while I got the luggage. Arriving late meant no Emerald Club skip-the-counter-just-pick-a-car-and-go service. No. Instead, Brian was at the back of a very long line. He was still waiting when we got our luggage. To his credit, the guy at the counter was trying to hurry everyone along happily by giving them all sports car upgrades.

He offered us a Dodge Charger. We were not pleased. We asked for our minivan. He turned and offered us a GMC Yukon. Not a minivan. Chevy Suburban? Not a minivan. Let me see if I can find any minivan keys in here. I chimed in and pointed out that we needed to carry all of the luggage we had with us, plus Patrick’s wheelchair. He assured us the Yukon could do that. We conceded. I was glad Patrick’s no longer on TPN and therefore requires 2 fewer suitcases. Otherwise, we would not have fit. Despite lack of storage, the car was huge. Brian did not have fun driving it. But Patrick was sold. He thinks GMC’s giant SUV’s are awesome.

We got to the hotel a little before 1. Brian did his best to distract Patrick and I tried to pull off the world’s fastest getting ready for bed. Patrick was too excited to sleep.

We made it to sleep somewhere after 2. I didn’t sleep well. For the 2nd night in a row. The night before, I’d been up worrying about the port placement. Now, waiting for the port, I was up all night worrying about which school Patrick should go to. Plus, our room had a streetlight right outside the window.

At least it was bright enough that Patrick didn’t notice that the sun had come up. He slept till after Brian was in the shower. Then we got up, hurriedly got ready, and were on our way. I stopped and grabbed some fruit and muffins from the hotel breakfast on the way through.

Check-in was uneventful. Patrick was very nervous and therefore acting very angry and non-compliant. He threw his toys and yelled and wrote on things with his markers. Meanwhile, Brian and I did our best to relay all of the right information to the right people. When we got to the waiting room, I was quite proud to feel that I’d actually covered it all.

When the anesthesia resident came to put Patrick to sleep, she asked Patrick for his line to give versed (superhero medicine, because it makes you happy and brave). She said, “Don’t worry, I just want to pull your line out.” Wrong words. Patrick freaked. He didn’t want his line out. We recovered.

She gave him the medicine and he got all groggy and limp. But he wouldn’t lay down. She asked him if he could feel the medicine working. If it was making him happy. Through slurred speech, he said “No, I want some more.” She gave him more. Not because he asked. But because he was still sitting up and shouldn’t have been able to.

Our friend, Devin, who is an anesthesia resident had come up to visit, too and he walked with us to take him to the interventional radiology room. Normally, we aren’t invited that far. Except when Patrick was headed into transplant and needed a line. It was actually kind of nice.

Then, we went and waited. Brian worked. I played on facebook. Brian napped. We waited. Things went just about the amount of time we expected. Except the doctor didn’t come give us an update after the status board said Patrick was in recovery. Soon, they called us to recovery.

Patrick was doing ok, but not happy. He was nauseous. We haven’t ever done anesthesia fasting without TPN. And it’s been years since we did it without his belly to downdrain. He was feeling nauseous.

But Devin had come back to check on him. And he immediately started ordering meds to make him more comfortable. They worked pretty well and Patrick went back to sleep.

Finally, Patrick woke up enough to want me to hold him. They brought me a chair and we snuggled down while he slept off the anesthesia and the short night. He still seemed a touch nauseous, but when he woke up enough to realize that he was allowed to go, he was up. He willingly drank the cup of water the offered to prove he felt ok, got dressed, and asked for a wheelchair.

We weren’t even out of the parking lot when he started throwing up. But once his belly was empty and we were out of the car, he was ok.

Going to the hotel actually worked for rest. Their wonderful cable package included Disney Jr. and Nick Jr. so he had an ample supply of his favorite shows. He rested. Brian and I took turns napping. We were exhausted.

Eventually, he started asking for food. I offered him some saltine minis and he did great with those. I had thought we’d run to a store and get him soup. But I didn’t expect him to feel so badly. So, when he wanted to get up and move, we walked down to the hotel’s little shop to see what they had. We settled on a microwave mac n cheese.. sans cheese. And Patrick won the heart of the employee there so well that she wouldn’t let me pay her.

We also visited the hotel gym and used their balance ball and step to work off a little bit of sensory energy.

They were able to get a port in. I was excited to see that they’d used a Bard Power Port. If you know anything about lines, you know that’s a good one. He is very, very bruised. And he was really freaked out to not have a line.

He still is. Both sore. And afraid.

We did rest as per tradition. We drove to the Lincoln Children’s Zoo in the morning. (That hour drive is a great chance for him to nap.) Then, we visited Omaha’s Henry Doorley Zoo in the evening. Inbetween, we did a mad scramble to find me a skirt to turn my grubby vacation/recovery clothes into something dressy so I could to go a devotional with some church friends in Nebraska. It was actually very amazing to find such personalized messages when I was a visitor and far from home. And we topped the night off with donuts.

Then, we flew home Saturday. Before leaving, we made Patrick change his dressing for bandaids, which really upset him. But we needed to be sure his incisions looked ok.

It was a long flight home. Patrick was dead tired and didn’t want to sleep. So he did naughty things to make us respond so we’d help him stay awake.

Patrick having a hard time with this transition from Broviac to port. He has gotten angry and tearful the past two days because, now that it’s been a week, he really shouldn’t be covering the incisions to bathe anymore. Patrick has used a “bath sticker” (aquaguard) to bathe since he was 9 months old. He doesn’t understand me taking this away from him. He also won’t hug me tight. I understand the bruising and swelling last up to a month.

I’m just remembering that I was asked for a more clear explanation of this procedure. Patrick has had a double lumen broviac line. A broviac line is a tunneled central venous catheter. There is an IV in a major vessel, then the line is run under the skin to help prevent infection and hangs out of the skin. It has to be covered with a dressing and is kept clean and dry. It has two claves on the end so you can access the bloodstream without a needle. Double lumen means two tubes in the same line. It also means double the risk of infection. You maintain a broviac line by cleaning and flushing it 2 or more times a day.

A port is also a  central line, an IV to the heart. But the catheter ends under the skin. There’s a little disc at the end with a rubber-like top that you can insert a needle into to access it. When you need access, you have to scrub the skin till it’s sterile, then use a special needle to get to the bloodstream. Because the disc in one place, you can numb it before so you feel pressure but not pain with access. It can be locked with high dose heparin so you only have to flush it once a month. When not accessed, no other dressings are needed.

Patrick isn’t using his line. We’d have had it removed entirely except for the risk of his veins closing leaving no place for future central lines. A port carries significantly lower risk of infection. It also means a more normal quality of life.

We knew giving up this part of himself would be hard for Patrick. The Monday before the procedure, I took him up to our hospital where his child life specialist let him play with “Chester Chest”, a medical teaching model, and several other sample ports and supplies. We talked about how we could still give medicines and draw labs.

Patrick tried negotiating his way into keeping his line several times in the next days. One day I asked him what he was worried about, and he wanted to know how I’d get to his blood. It was nice to refer back to the teaching with child life and let him answer for himself, “I will have a port.”

I still look around for ethanol locks when I give Patrick’s meds. And I’ll feel as strange as he does the first time he’s allowed to immerse his chest without waterproofing. This has always been a part of him and it’s different to not need it. Good. But different.

Transplant day 215 and the School Placement Meeting

I find I procrastinate blogging when I am having a hard time processing something emotionally. I’m finding this subject hard to write about. This past week hard to write about. And I was kind of relieved by a brief outage in the blog that made it so I couldn’t write. But if I don’t get this down soon, then I won’t get past it to the things you want to know about. So here goes.

I’m behind in blogging and, given how much has happened, have decided to do some belated day-by-day catch-up. So in this post, you’ll be travelling back with me to June 3. The day of Patrick’s school transition meeting.

Actually, let’s back up to the day before it. On June 2, I took Patrick for his end-of-year kindergarten assessment. We got delayed leaving because it was also lab day and so we arrived with breakfast still in hand because we’d just made it. That’s ok. Patrick tests better when he’s eating.

I sat in the corner and read scriptures on my phone and half-listened. I actually feel like the test was pretty representative and that he did pretty well. It also pointed out to me how much he still struggles. He aced letters and letter sounds, starting sounds of words, and read a few sight words. When asked to write words, well, first he is only identifying parts of words. Second, writing is one of those things that his brain injury makes hard. His teacher pushed him to write starting sounds, which I was pleased with. And he showed her that he still knows pretty well. He struggled a bit with sounding out words, too. His speech delays get in the way there sometimes. But I thought he did pretty well, for him. He counted to 26, though he almost forgot 16. He counted 20 objects. And then he avoided the other math questions.

It felt like a pretty good representation of his abilities as I listened. And when it was done, his teacher kind of talked through the results with me. As expected, he’s better with literacy than math and writing is a big obstacle. She told me that she was worried that he was not going to do well in a writing-focused first grade classroom and I started to fear that I might need to think differently about what I was going to ask for in the placement meeting the next day.

Like I wrote before, the week before the nurse had given me a heads up that Patrick no longer qualifies for medical hub services and so he’d need a special exception to attend Whittier. That was my preference, though I wondered if there might be other better options I didn’t know about. I knew I didn’t think he wouldn’t do well in a typical first grade classroom in a school without support.  He is so far behind the rest of the kids in his kindergarten class after this year.

So, Wednesday morning rolled around. We were combining getting ready for our trip to Nebraska that evening with getting ready for this meeting. Brian tried to sneak in a work call and it seemed that we were going to be quite late. How we managed to find time to still go pick up Dunkin’ Donuts I don’t know. But I do know that I was on the brink of a panic attack when I’d imagined doing that and then didn’t think we could. I’m not so good with change.

Anyway, we dropped Patrick with my mom and then met with the team. At first, we went over Patrick’s current abilities. Strengths and weaknesses. Learning style. Kind of went around the table and his teachers and therapists talked about what he’d accomplished in the past month and where he still needs to go.

And then it was time to let the district representative go over placement options. She offered 3: 1) Repeating kindergarten, 2) A regular first-grade classroom with an aide, and 3) a self-contained classroom called a functional academic classroom.

We’ve talked about repeating kindergarten for quite some time now. When we got home from Nebraska, it seemed inevitable. But Patrick has made a lot of progress and he’s already one of the oldest in his class and this just didn’t seem like the right choice for him.

Then the principal explained why she didn’t think a regular classroom with an aide was a good placement choice. (Please note: the principal at Whittier is one of the kindest, most concerned administrators I’ve ever met. So when she shared this, it was full of empathy and a sincere thought in Patrick’s best interest.) She expressed concern that Patrick would get frustrated with being so far behind his peers. That he’d need a lot of pull-out time. And that having an aide hovering would feel limiting and restrictive to him. Patrick’s teacher had pointed out to me that he often stopped and tried to get her to give him answers or help in his test because he is so used to it.

Then they told us about the functional academic classroom. How it provided a smaller class size and lots more adult support so they can accommodate different learning styles. How the school is closer to our home. How it used to be a medical hub, too, so the environment there is accepting and inclusive. How amazing the teacher is. How they have often sent students there to see them thrive. How some of the IEP team also works there so we would have some familiar faces willing to advocate for him.

We also talked about placement at the school by our house. They gave me lots of pros to that, as well, but I knew it wasn’t right. That he’s not ready for that.

I knew as they talked about the other classroom that they were describing what will probably be the best place for him to learn. They reassured me that being pulled out in a self-contained classroom doesn’t have to be a long-term thing. That he might only need a couple of years to make up for what he’s missed.

But then, I started to imagine Patrick and the little friends in his classroom who have loved him so sincerely. How their faces light up when they see him. How they hold hands on the playground. And I started to cry. I HATE that I cry. But, as much as I know that academically this classroom will help him, I don’t want to see him lose that acceptance and friendship. And it is a total leap of faith. (One I am having a hard time making.) to believe that starting all over again in a new school isn’t going to set him back socially. Especially if he isn’t in a regular classroom. All the inclusive activities in the world aren’t the same as being in the same class.

And besides – it means giving up the amazing people at the school Patrick’s been attending. The familiar faces. The rockstar IEP team. The sensory room and PT gym. And my little oasis next door where I’ve been walking and studying and praying while he’s in school.

So – the meeting ran a bit longer because once I had tears on my face, they were trying to comfort and reassure me. Which made me feel stupid because I know my reaction is emotional. The logical part of my brain knows what’s best here. I’m already thinking of that as his new school. But I’ve got to find a way to make sure that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed to send him there. And make sure that my fears don’t rub off on him.

And once the meeting was over, we sent Brian off to a meeting at work and I went and finished packing for Nebraska. And I was completely distracted all afternoon.  And we were up till 2 a.m. for reasons I’ll describe in the next post.

And I’ve stalled writing this blog post because I still feel conflicted and unresolved. And a bit guilty that I didn’t pull off more of a miracle keeping him up with his class. But here it is. And I’m gonna post this and start another right away.

 

Transplant Day 180 and School

IMG_20141029_105223-blur

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

IMG_20150405_142221

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

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

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

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

Patrick and Ronald last December

Patrick and Ronald last December

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

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

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

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

IMG_20150424_121644

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_20150422_154210

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_20150424_122825

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Uchtdorf again:

We can choose to be grateful, no matter what.

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

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

———————————–

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

April and some Easter reflections

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

1504477_10205291419339009_2742751005105265570_o

 

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

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

10959067_10205291418178980_4858016517781502729_o

Restoration

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

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

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

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

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

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

11038805_10205291419419011_7400958990948046707_o

Resurrection

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

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

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

Again, from the prophet Alma:

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

10873342_10205291418378985_7018292058258984922_o

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

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

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

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

11080026_10205291418218981_6526148991939076530_o

Weakness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11084146_10205291419739019_2553449177981107504_o

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

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

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

Transplant Day 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.

IMG_20150205_080724

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?

IMG_20150207_104849

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.