Category Archives: Allergies

“So what can he eat?”

The other day, Patrick asked his dad for a snack. Brian sent him to me and I heard him say, “She’s your dietitian.”

Yup. That’s what it feels like. All day long, every day, I keep a tally in my head of what Patrick’s eaten. What his reactions have been. What nutrients he might still need. What exposure he’s had to challenging foods vs. preferred foods. And all day long, because Patrick is hungry and asks for food all day long, I am planning what he can eat.

In some ways it’s getting easier. Outgrowing his milk allergy is a really big deal that has opened up a ton of possibilities. If Patrick could live on string cheese, he totally would. In other ways, it’s just gotten more complicated.

Last week, I took Patrick back to his allergist. We’d communicated through his assistant and he’d called me at home to go over allergy test results. But in the end, things were still confusing. So he said to experiment for a month and then come in and he’d help me figure out the results.

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He printed out two copies of the test results. And then we sat down and went through them food by food, comparing the blood test with the skin test and them my own personal experience.

Towards the end of the conversation, he said something about like this. “Patrick is really allergic to a lot of foods. With these numbers, I’d probably tell most patients to avoid them. But Patrick is different. There are two considerations for him: how does he react to allergens? and how does he react because of his transplant? And so we can’t just say he can’t eat any of the foods he is allergic to. For whatever reason, he seems to tolerate a lot of his allergens when they are cooked. So you will keep cooking foods for him with the foods he’s allergic to. And you’ll be very cautious. And you’ll figure out what he can actually eat.”

So in summary. Dear world.. I am very sorry that we are misrepresenting the severity of food allergies in some regards. Really, VERY truly there are people who must entirely all forms of the foods they are allergic to. There are some foods that we still avoid 100%. But if there is some confusion about why Patrick is still eating some things that I have mentioned as an allergy, the simple answer is that if he didn’t, he’d be being fed elemental formula through a tube for the rest of his life. So we are making d0 with a cautious diet.

That said, if you are one of the handful of people still trying to make a sincere effort to cook and/or serve food to include Patrick.. let me give you a rundown of his current diet.

Because of intestinal transplant . . . 

Patrick is on a low sugar diet. This isn’t like a diabetic’s low sugar diet where his blood sugar will swing one way or the other or where carbohydrates need to be avoided. Sugar and some other sweeteners are not easy to digest and sugar can cause Patrick’s gut to not absorb, costing him both nutrition and hydration. In general, I look for 12g or less of sugar on the label. We mostly avoid fruit and fruit juices. And, although Patrick isn’t allergic to cow’s milk anymore, milk is 12g of sugar so I allow him to only drink this in my presence and in small quantities right now.

Also, because transplant didn’t give Patrick the 2/3 of colon that he is missing, he can eat fibrous veggies, but he won’t absorb them. His GI compares this to eating sticks and leaves. Therefore, since these foods are also hard to learn to chew, I haven’t put a lot of effort into teaching him to eat these foods. He loves the softer ones: squash with skins cut off, cooked carrots, mushrooms, cooked onions. We are working on green beans, soft and french style are easiest. He does not like peppers. Patrick is mildly allergic to lettuce, however, and doesn’t digest it at all so I only let him have it when he’s feeling quite left out and insistent. Salads are discouraged.

Because of medication reaction, Patrick isn’t allowed grapefruit. Grapefruit is in fresca. And other fruit drinks. Not that he should have much of those, but watch labels.

As far as allergies go…

Patrick has outgrown his dairy allergy. And if he could have his way, he’d be enjoying an all-dairy diet. He especially loves cheese, though he isn’t a fan of sharp cheddar. He would happily eat sour cream by the spoonful. He eats milk on his cereal. He is getting better with yogurt. I’m still reading labels to pick varieties that are less than 12g of sugar. And we’re doing greek yogurt when possible because it has more protein. His favorite flavor is blueberry.

Yogurt can be tricky, though, because despite not eating much fruit, Patrick does have allergies to it. Patrick is allergic to peaches, oranges, and strawberries. Orange is especially high. Mostly, it’s easy to avoid these as he generally can’t have fruit. I do sometimes give in and let him nibble on a strawberry. In my presence. With benadryl on hand. Also, did you know sweet and sour sauce is made of peaches? We also avoid apricots and mangos because they are similar fruit families. Just FYI.

Eggs are scoring an off the charts 11.7 in the blood test reaction. This number is PHENOMENAL. A 4 or a 6 is considered pretty significant. Therefore, we do our best to keep Patrick away from anything with concentrated egg. Scrambled eggs, crepes, egg noodles, mayonnaise, ranch dressing, tartar sauce, dijon mustard. Be advised that we discovered the vegan brand Just Mayo over the summer, though, and Patrick does eat a lot of “mayo” recipes made from this. He also eats at least a cup of vegan ranch dressing throughout the week. It’s his preferred dip. And he’ll ask for it away from home. The simple answer to this is that he can have only mom’s recipe. He shouldn’t have food cooked on a grill or pan that also cooked eggs.

Nuts are still causing a tremendous reaction in skin tests. Especially cashew and pistachio. And nuts are processed all together in factories. Therefore, we are a nut-free household. We don’t allow them in the door and ask you wash and brush teeth before contact with Patrick if you’ve been around these foods. Peanuts are scoring lower but still high. Therefore, we use sunbutter not peanut butter. And we do still watch out on ingredient labels for “manufactured with peanuts” warnings.

Oats are a pretty low scoring allergy and we’ve opted, based on previous reactions, to avoid them completely in Patrick’s diet. We don’t see a traditional allergic reaction. But they really do upset his stomach. Mostly, you only have to watch out for oats in breakfast food, but really read the labels on cereal.

Corn is also quite high with a significant skin reaction. We have a hard time making heads of tails of this. Corn is so hard to entirely avoid. Therefore, we do entirely almost entirely avoid corn chips, corn tortillas, corn bread, and plain corn. I do let him choose to eat corn dogs as I see little consequence. He sometimes chooses on his own to remove the breading. You might catch me taking mercy on Patrick and letting him splurge on Doritos, Cheetos or corn on the cob. Like oats, Patrick’s reaction is stomach upset and these foods are so yummy and ingrained into our culture that sometimes he and I have a talk about the consequence he’ll pay for eating these foods and then I’ll let him choose. As a rule, leave this kind of spoiling to me. I’m keeping track of what else he’s had in the day and if he can afford the consequences.

Tomatoes also caught me off guard a bit. We tested because I’d seen Patrick react to some spaghetti sauces. But he is usually fine with ketchup. Our best guess that is that the difference is how long the tomatoes are processed. So, when I serve pasta at home, I try to cook the sauce at least several hours. And he seems ok with pizza sauce. Perhaps because it’s baked again before serving? In general, Patrick avoid tomatoes on his own. He’ll choose olive oil over tomato sauce. He’ll choose vegan ranch over ketchup and ranch on his pizza over tomato sauce. I really need to do some exploration into the ingredients of alfredo sauce and I need to let him try besciamella now that he’s allowed milk. But when he has no other option, tomato is another food where I explain the consequences and let him choose. Please know, you can give him ketchup with confidence.

Soy was a surprise to us. Almost. I knew soy milk upset Patrick’s belly which is why we tested for it. But Patrick was eating a lot of other soy foods when we were avoiding dairy. This is a fairly low allergy, but still enough that I see a difference. So we are trying to transition from margarine (still a no no) to butter. (I am finding a big learning curve here.) Patrick’s accepted that it’s ok to eat dairy cheeses but will still check and be nervous about other foods that used to require substitutions. We aren’t avoiding soy all-together. It’s in so many foods. And his score was only a 1. If it’s cooked, like soy sauce or in crackers or whatever, it’s absolutely ok. But if it’s possible to skip it, we do. He had a reaction to canned cream of chicken soup the one time I tried it. Soy is my best guess as to why.

Finally, there’s these crazy little positive results for wheat and barley.  I said, “Barley, no big deal.” Really, I only eat barley like once a year in soup. But wheat? Well, here’s how that conversation went. The allergist said, “He’s allergic to wheat.” And I said, “His diet is over 50% wheat.” He said, “Well, maybe that’s because the wheat is baked.” And I said, “Well, what does unbaked wheat look like?” Him, “Flour. But he wouldn’t like to eat that anyway.” So I said, “So can he bake?” He said, “Of course. Just keep an eye on him.” Me, “And the rest?” Him, “Let him eat wheat.” In other words, don’t feed him gruel. And if you’re baking with him, keep an eye out for inhaled reactions. Otherwise, let the kid eat all the wheat he wants. As long as it’s highly processed. White bread, not whole grain. Since his gut won’t digest whole wheats anyway. That’s a transplant/short gut thing.

So what can he eat . . . 

Patrick’s very best foods are still meat and potatoes. He’s making good progress with oral aversions. But he still has a hard time chewing “grown up” meats, though. So I’m talking about chicken nuggets, hot dogs, corn dogs, lunch meat, fast food hamburger (because it’s super duper soft, unlike what I make, apparently), really tender meats like roast, bacon (because bacon’s good enough that he learned that one). We’re working on canned chicken. We are working on the other meats. It’s slow. But we’ll get there.

Patrick thinks mashed potatoes and gravy are manna sent from heaven. I can’t sort out why he tolerates some gravies better than others. Soy maybe? Or corn starch? I dunno. But I used packaged gravies for him at home and he does great and loves them all. Yes, it is ok to make mashed potatoes with milk now. But not margarine. Plan on Patrick eating at least a cup and a half on his own.

Other potatoes are also really, really good for him because they slow his gut down so he absorbs the whole meal better when he eats them. Plus, they are easy to eat.. Roast potatoes, Potato chips. Tater tots. French fries. The oil which most of us would avoid provides calories for him. Someday we’ll worry about avoiding oils. Right now, we are packing calories.

He’s a big fan of pasta salads. Tossed with olive oil and either italian or ranch seasonings (again, not ranch dressing or real mayo.) I make a big pasta salad every week and he eats it throughout the week until it’s gone. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese has been tested with great results. I make him the old recipe with half a stick of butter in it because, again, I’m packing calories. He really likes to slurp spaghetti noodles and those are always eggless, FYI.

He loves string cheese. He thinks cheese pizza is wonderful, though he’s gaining a taste for ham and mushroom, bacon and vegan ranch, and pepperoni, too. Choose “light” on the sauce if that’s an option. We discovered totinos this week and he would eat it at every meal.

He still loves soups. Progresso’s beef soups are egg-free. They have tomato but it seems processed enough to be ok. Also, the noodles in campbell’s brand shaped chicken noodle soups (goldfish, disney characters, etc.) are also processed enough that they are ok, despite the egg warning on the label. He had his first cream soup this weekend and devoured it. He loves grilled cheese and saltine crackers with soup.

He really enjoys stir fry with rice noodles. Especially if you put zucchini, mushrooms, and onions in it. He’s getting better at eating rice and rice-a-roni.

Other favorite foods include hummus, ham and cheese on their own or in sandwiches, as lunchables, etc., goldfish crackers, cheez-its, and veggie thin crackers, pretzels, chips, rice krispie treats, little smokies, pancakes and waffles, popcorn, cake, donuts, cookies, guacamole (but check the label), Arby’s roast beef sandwiches and curly fries, sunbutter, bananas, apples (though he’s still learning to chew them, black beans, refried beans. We are working on fish sticks, salmon, and other fish.

He wants capri sun, but can only have the low-sugar waters like Roaring Waters. He wants anything other food that is restricted extra exactly because it is restricted. He will do almost anything to earn a tootsie roll or starburst so those, since candy is very restricted, must follow very specific rules. He can have powerade zero and gatorade’s g3, but is kind of tired of them and mostly chooses to drink water.

And dislikes? Well, he doesn’t like stuffing. He doesn’t like peppers. He doesn’t like crust on his bread or skins on anything. He isn’t a big fan of melons. He’s undecided about biting cucumbers. He only sometimes likes pickles. He doesn’t much like foods that are hard to chew. And otherwise, he follows most of the same rules of “gross” that other kids his age abide by.

We went over some of this with the transplant surgeon last week and he said, “Butter, cheese bacon, potatoes. He’s got what he needs to gain weight.” So, although I know this goes against what most people would call an ideal diet, it will work for now while we work towards better.

This summary is long. But I hope it helps. At least to explain what’s going through my head when mealtime rolls around. As I’m trying to turn this list into at least 1600 calories consumed every day.

Outgrowing allergies and other updates

I reread what I wrote last night and realized that I got tired and stopped short of finishing telling you about our day. I didn’t tell you anything about speech therapy.

After being away for 9 months, we finally decided it was time to go back to speech therapy. We only just barely arrived on time, because we were coming from the meeting with the school. Thank goodness my sister had tagged along to help with Patrick or he would never have done so well.

But he DID do well. His therapist hasn’t seen him in a really long time and it was fun to see her reaction to his progress. Because speech is one place where Patrick’s progress is simply amazing. Being able to find car keys like a french pig finds truffles, Patrick found his therapist’s key on his therapist’s desk, brought it to her and asked “Do you drive a Volvo?” She laughed and said that he’d graduated speech therapy.

No, seriously though. He’s come a long way but is still struggling with things like pronunciation and verb tenses and sentence and word structure. She started doing some testing yesterday. It was amazing to see how far his receptive (listening) language has come. He flew through that test with all kinds of new words. Amazing how 9 months of netflix can expand your vocabulary.

The expressive language, though.. the one where he had to say what he saw in pictures. That wasn’t flying colors. And it kind of demonstrated what I have been seeing. Patrick knows words. But recalling them to say that, that is hard. It’s part of why he is always asking everyone their name.

We had a good talk about attention and ADHD and attention and steroids. His therapist said she has seen steroids really affect attention before. And that lack of attention causes trouble with memory. It all kind of fit. Not that I know what to do about it. But it fit.

So that was that. Now we just have to get insurance to agree to pay for speech therapy again.

In other big news, I got a call from Patrick’s allergist this morning. (After missing the appointment, they had him call me.) He went through the blood test and scratch test results pretty thoroughly.. figuring out what is safe to try and what wasn’t. He told me to be very careful with some newly diagnosed allergies: soy and tomato especially. And he also gave permission to try some cow’s milk with Patrick because all the tests indicate Patrick may have outgrown that allergy.

When I offered Patrick a piece of cow’s milk cheese, he was quite fearful. It took half an hour to convince him it was ok to take a small bite. He nibbled a couple more and then, after a few minutes when he saw he was still safe, he grabbed that piece of cheese and gobbled it down. No reaction. So, later in the day, I gave Patrick a piece of string cheese. He really loved that. He asked for another later on. And then he tried to get to eat only string cheese for dinner.

I nixed that plan but did try some pasta with cream of chicken soup in the recipe. Fail. He got spots on his face. No worse reaction. But too many ingredients. I can’t tell you if it was the dairy or the soy or something else. But we’ll need to be more careful before we try that again.

What a tricky balance. Introducing Patrick cautiously to foods to find out how he’ll react. And then, on the other hand, trying to make sure that he’s eating as many calories as possible.

We cut Patrick’s tube feeds in half last night. Now, he’s only getting about 200 calories over 4 hours. I think it will work. I think he can eat the target 1800-2000 calories easily. But not if I cook him dinner and discover I made him something unsafe. Tonight I ended up making a whole extra dinner for him. And yet, I still don’t think he ate his full calories.

if Patrick can maintain or gain weight, the goal is to switch to all oral food next month. Knock on wood. This wasn’t the greatest way to start today.

Today was kind of hard all around, though. And not just because my hot pad slipped and I burned my thumb cooking fish sticks. That just set me back.

But knowing that school had started. Seeing the school next door bustling with life. And everyone’s first day of school pictures on Facebook, and Patrick asking to play with friends who are no longer home. And then us.. just trying to find the right balance of work and entertainment to get us through yet another day at home. I’ve been doing this for almost 9 months now. I am exhausted. And it’s driving through the middle of nowhere and finally spotting a town and needing the restroom and then discovering that the restroom where you are is out of order and you’ll have to go across the street. Holding on those last moments when you thought you’d made it to the finish line, but the finish line moved. It’s hard.

I look around me and I see so many things that have been just waiting. Waiting for me to have time and free hands. But that’s not the time right now for me. And with needing to be a part of training, it might not even really happen for a while.

At least the day ended well. Patrick raised his start to the ceiling of the Make-a-Wish building tonight. Family and friends came. We took a tour and we ate some cake and we visited. Patrick was exhausted and crazed.

But it was a moving moment to see his star go up with the others after all. Even if he did do the fastest ever.

I’d add pictures but they are on Brian’s phone and my battery is dying so I’m going to post now.

 

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.

Lots of appointments and planning a new normal

School starts on August 19th. My goal in this month prior to school is to help Patrick work up to a school year normal.

Therapy

That means a few things. First, it means restarting outpatient therapy. I took Patrick back to his occupational therapist a month ago. She was so excited to have him back and eager to start working with him on writing and an learning to manage his sensory processing disorder with a new “sensory diet.” (Since transplant, Patrick’s not nearly as controlled by his sensory seeking behaviors. But that doesn’t mean they’ve gone away. However, he’s a lot more tired so the big physical play that used to help focus wears him out fast now.)

The bad news, though, is that Primary Children’s lost a couple of therapists this summer. They have hired a bunch of new ones. But that means that the veterans are very busy with the transition. Patrick’s beloved therapist just doesn’t have time in her schedule to do the weekly therapist that Patrick seems to need right now. However, she’s been shadowed by another therapist in the couple of visits we went to. And so we transferred care, at least temporarily, to a new occupational therapist.

We also agreed to move back to the Taylorsville Clinic. (I have had some bad experiences with the office staff at that clinic and had decided not to keep going there.) Because it shares space with an instacare, Patrick has to wear a mask on the way in and can’t wait in the waiting room. However, it’s closer to home, has a bigger, cleaner gym.  And we were able to basically pick our time on their lightest day.

Our first session went pretty well. His therapist picked up on all the tools we use to keep Patrick on track: a clear schedule, verbal cues, deep breathing, etc. and I think he was calmer for her than has been his usual. The other nice thing is that I think we can pull off going to therapy at 8 a.m. on Mondays to let him get ready for the week at school.

I’ve scheduled evaluations so he can restart speech and physical therapies, too. And he’ll have his last home health feeding therapy session this week.

Evaluation

Also, to get ready for school, we started a new neuropsychological evaluation. Patrick was SO young last time he was tested. And we know that having a healthy gut has changed a lot of things for him. His sensory processing, focus, and other quirkiness is actually a lot less since transplant, even though he’s having a hard time with sitting still, speaking quietly, and controlling his temper. It seemed like a good time to get a new look at his abilities.

So we did an intake interview and in the first few weeks of school, Patrick will be pulled out for 3 half days so I can take him for some testing. Hopefully it helps.

As I mentioned before, we’re working on a behavior plan, too, with his psychologist.. hoping to have him used to a specific set of consequences and rewards that they can use in class. He always does best in class away from me, anyway.

Transplant follow-up appointment & diet changes

We saw Patrick’s GI, Dr. J this week. It was a long appointment. For one thing, I needed Dr. J to sign all new orders for school again. It’s getting smaller each time, though. This time around was only 8 signatures and 6 pages. Compared to 20 the first year, that’s big improvement.

Patrick weighed in at 24 kilos. That’s just under 53 pounds, and up 3 pounds in the past 3 weeks. They had a new dietitian this time and she pointed out that since Patrick’s eating meats (even if they are just hot dogs, hamburgers and lunch meat) he might be eating enough protein to not need as much formula at night. Dr. J was really concerned about Patrick’s 96% BMI and rapid weight gain. He said we need to get Patrick on a regular meal and snack schedule. And he said we should consider doing less “feeding while he is unconscious.”

So, I ran this all past the dietitian in Nebraska. And she made another reduction in Patrick’s formula feeding. I’m supposed to be keeping a log of everything he eats for the next 3 days so she can evaluate what he’s getting and we can start talking about a plan for all oral eating.

I’m not sure if this means needing to add other foods to his diet. Patrick doesn’t really absorb vegetables well. (Dr. J. says they are “just wood” anyway if you don’t have a colon to break them down in.) He can’t eat fruits. So he’ll need vitamin supplements at least.

Allergies

We also saw Patrick’s allergist, Dr. G, today. For years, every time we went to the allergist, he’d say that we’d need to do a whole new workup after transplant when Patrick was ready to eat. Well, Patrick seems to be more than willing to eat. And so it’s important to figure out what exactly he is allergic to. This is kind of tricky with immune suppression because the same drugs that suppress Patrick’s immune system also suppress his allergic reactions. This is good news. But it means that we don’t really know what the potential for allergies is.

So that was today’s goal. Figure out what Patrick might be allergic to. Allergist appointments are always long. Like, crazy long. We were there three and a half hours today. For an hour, we updated Patrick’s medical chart and gave history to a resident. (Which, in summer especially, is a bit like training a new resident.) And then Patrick’s allergist came in and went over possible allergens. I went through a list of things we could test for an highlighted the things I think Patrick might be allergic to. Then the doctor highlighted the things he thought from past test results Patrick might be allergic to. Plus other foods that he thought it would be good for Patrick to try to eat. We tested for just under 40 possible allergens in all. That was all that would fit on his back.

Some of the results were predictable. Cashews and pistachios, off the chart. Eggs still in a big danger zone. Oats were much higher than expected. And I highlighted peaches, oranges, and strawberries because I’ve had my suspicions. They were very surprised when some of those rare things came up positive. We had other positives for foods that rarely to never cause reactions, like tomatoes and wheat. These could be just because they are a big part of Patrick’s diet and not that he can’t safely eat them. Really, all testing done so far, we don’t know almost as much as we did going it.

Nuts, both tree nuts and peanuts, are still a HUGE no for Patrick. We are still a nut-free house, for sure. So are eggs, peaches, corn, oats. However, he tested negative for cow’s milk, which was a very big surprise. (You can outgrow milk allergies but a year ago, Patrick wasn’t anywhere close to that.)

So the next step is to do a blood test. That will test for a different type of reaction. If the negatives in the scratch test match up with negatives in the blood test, we’ll do a food challenge. (For example, offer Patrick cheese.) If positives match up with positives, then we’ll talk about a strategy to keep Patrick safe but eating as much as possible. They will not be likely to stop him from eating foods that he is currently eating without reactions. He might have become desensitized and we wouldn’t want to reverse that by taking something back out of his diet. But time and testing and trial and error will decide. And if the results conflict, meaning if one is positive and one negative, we’ll probably test again.

This is sounding confusing as I’m writing it. It doesn’t change much of what we have been doing. Just helps us try to figure out how to help Patrick eat as much as possible and keep him safe. Meanwhile, we refilled his epi and got correct dosing on his antihistimines and requested a new letter for school. And we got things started.

Patrick was a champion. It was a long appointment and he was very scared. And yet, he was very patient and helpful. He crashed in exhaustion on the way home.

Choosing a school

Enough medical updates though. I have other news. We also have been planning for school by talking to the school district. I had a meeting yesterday with a couple of district representatives (I was being transitioned from one representative to another because of some restructuring). The goal of the meeting was to finally pick a school placement for Patrick. And I did finally make a decision.

Everyone who has spent time working with Patrick: his home hospital teacher, his summer school teacher, his psychologist and group therapy leader.. they all say that he needs to be in a higher functioning self-contained classroom this year. In a regular class, he’d walk all over the teacher and never get anything done. In a low functioning class, he’d gravitate to the classroom staff and not make friends or learn to work independently. And in either, he’d get bored and then get naughty.

But, as I’ve written before, I was uncomfortable with the classroom that he’d go to by default because of our address. Well, a little over a week ago I got brave enough to ask if there were any other classrooms like that one in other schools. Since, after all, I drive Patrick to school anyway.

It turns out, there are several. And the closest to my home happens to be in the town where I grew up. Across the street from my grandpa’s house. And 5 minutes away from Patrick’s therapy office.

All of a sudden, things seemed to fall into place. The class is indoors. It has fewer students. The teacher has a pretty good reputation. And, even though it’s far from home, that family connection will make it feel like Patrick isn’t going to school far away. It isn’t farther from the other school. And it’s in a place I know. I know the neighborhood. If he made friends and wanted to play after school, I could do that. Grandparents, aunts and uncles all live nearby to help respond when he’s sick. Patrick could even, in theory, choose to walk to his grandpa’s instead of me picking him up. Eventually. Once we’re sure he will actually go there when given a chance.

The district folks seemed to think they’d even be open and excited to have me volunteer in the school. (They have a high hispanic population. It sounds like I can use my talents to help.)

I’m a nervous wreck still. All of a sudden being away from Patrick from 9 to 3:45 every day after all this time together sounds terrifying. I wonder if he’ll make friends. I worry because I don’t know ANY of the staff here. Losing my district rep means that EVERYONE will be brand new to me. And I don’t know what writing an IEP and trying to request accommodations is going to be like. And I’m coming in with a very long wish list that I expect them to take care of.

Also, unlike some other places I’ve looked at… this is a very normal school. No big special needs programs. Just two small little special needs units.

And – I still have to make plans for safe lunch AND breakfast in the classroom. Though with only a handful of students, that should be more doable.

To make things worse, I didn’t bother looking up a school calendar until last week. Our district starts the same week of the year every year and I made plans for that. Only THIS YEAR they decided to change things and start a week early. Which means that instead of having a full week to make plans with a new school like I thought, I’ll have just 2 days. 2 days! To give medical training. To make an allergy plan. To make a behavior plan. To orient a whole new team to our family.

I am overwhelmed and scared. A LOT.

We are going to register tomorrow regardless.

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.

Transplant Day 110 and Home

Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration. – Charles Dickens

I am blogging tonight from my own bed. Patrick is in his bed playing instead of sleeping. Brian is at the computer in his office. We have been home since Saturday. It feels good.

I’ve learned a lot about home in the past several months. I have learned that the essence of home: the part that’s made of love and family and faith and shared joys and struggles… that part is fairly portable. For we made homes out of a variety of hospital rooms and out of a small, overcrowded room at the Ronald McDonald House. Brian commented that coming back to our house wasn’t home. Home was where we were, and when it would come back to us every couple of weeks, it really did feel like it was home to be all together.

But there is something about us all being beneath our roof own homemade home together that is very comfortable. It is nice to not share walls with anyone. To not share a fridge or a kitchen or a dinner unless we choose to. It’s nice to let Patrick leave me and not worry about where he has gone.

Picking up and moving on under 24 hours notice is, well, stressful and crazy and very disorienting. After my last post, I had a horrible time sleeping. I’d wake up for something little and then lie awake for an hour thinking of all that needed to be done for us to go. None of us slept well. And when Patrick was up early, we just got up and got to work. We had accumulated a lot of stuff over the 3 and a half months in Nebraska and packing it up in an order that would make some sense and be accessible during the trip home was no small task.

We rented a mini van to bring it all home in. Brian called it “the more comfortable version of a U-Haul.” With stow and go seating, he just put the seats flat. And we filled it. And entire mini van.

We tried to steal some goodbyes. Patrick’s teacher came over and brought some gifts and read one last book with him. We met up with the friend from church who helped to organize all the offers of help and meals and such that came from them for a playdate. (Patrick pulled out his g-tube by accident and I very cooly popped it back in right at the park.)

And then, I got THE phone call saying that everything was supposedly in order and we could go.

So we finished loading the van and cleaning out the fridge and we checked out of our room and we started driving.

We went about a third of the way the first night.. crossing most of Nebraska. Patrick did a lot better than I expected. We packed the back seat with pillows and blankets so he couldn’t lose his toys and I passed him snacks as we went along. I put on my bluetooth headset so I’d be able to answer calls hands-free and turned on an Audible book and we just drove and drove. It took me some time to figure out how to manage cruise control while following but eventually got the hang of it.

We checked into a hotel in Sidney Nebraska around 9 p.m. We made a mad scramble to get Patrick’s medications and formula somewhat on schedule. Then we went next door the Perkins for dinner. It was the only restaurant in town open that late and a game had just let out so they were busy and Patrick was barely staying awake.. But he really wanted his ham and potatoes and toughed it out.

And then we crashed and the big comfy hotel beds just felt SO GOOD!

Patrick was up early again the next day and so we got up, too, and got bathed and dressed and meds done and then grabbed some breakfast. Right after the 9:00 meds were given, we hopped back in our cars and drove again. I finished one book and started another. We convinced Patrick to go ahead and take a nap.

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I missed the sign saying we’d entered Utah. I was too busy trying to catch up to Brian after some slow trucks and a steep canyon had separated us a bit. And then, as I caught him, I started to notice that I recognized what we were passing. We were almost home. And having to stop to go to the bathroom in Park City about killed me because I knew how close we were.

We arrived home about 7 p.m. on Saturday evening to find yellow ribbons tied to the trees (that made me cry.) The house had been scrubbed clean by friends that morning. There was dinner waiting in the fridge and balloons in Patrick’s room.

Patrick was thrilled to be home. He immediately emptied his toy box. Everything looked exciting and wonderful to him. And to me. Though, I’ll admit, I was a bit frustrated to find that I couldn’t remember where I keep things in my kitchen.

It felt so good to lay down in my own bed and go to sleep.

That is one of the most often asked questions I’ve been getting. Did it feel good to sleep in your own bed? Well, yes.. it felt good to fall asleep there. But sleep didn’t come easy.

See – Patrick hadn’t fallen asleep alone in 3 and a half months. When I kissed him goodnight and walked out of the room, he started to scream. He got more and more panicked and angry. He said it was too dark. Patrick has NEVER been afraid of the dark. But I guess that is the byproduct of all of the trauma that he has been through recently. PTSD is VERY common in patients who have undergone a major medical ordeal like transplant.

I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t fit in Patrick’s bed. And I didn’t think he’s sleep with his lights on. So I said a silent prayer. And then I went in. I sat down next to him and told him I knew he was scared to sleep alone. I offered to help him say a prayer. He fell apart sobbing. It was heartbreaking.

I let him settle down and then told him I was going to walk away for just a minute and I’d leave a small lamp on for him. Then I’d come back. I still didn’t know what to do.

But when I went back, I got him up and held him on my lap. I read him a book. I told him we could leave the lamp on. I went out to my car and got the hot pack bear that he’d slept with in Nebraska on cold nights and warmed it up. Then I told the bear to take care of him and help him be brave. And I kissed him goodnight. And he snuggled down and was asleep within minute.

And I said a little prayer of gratitude for patience and wisdom.

And then I went and slept in my bed which felt great. But at 2:30, when I filled Patrick’s formula and changed his diaper, I somehow moved my back the wrong way.

After months of sleeping on too-soft mattresses, my back wasn’t so sure what to think of a nice normal firm mattress. And I couldn’t sleep in my bed anymore.

So no, I didn’t get a really great night’s sleep in my bed the first night. I ended up sleeping on the couch until 5, when Patrick woke up scared and I went and picked him up and we slept in the recliner in his room together instead.

Things have gotten better, though. Patrick still needs to sleep with “Louie bear” (named after Patrick’s ostomy.. long story) and with the light on. Sunday night, he only screamed and cried for about 15 minutes. Last night, he slept without tears. And tonight.. he sat up and played in bed just like he used to do.

And my back only hurt for a couple of nights and then got used to being in my bed again.

Sunday I went to church. It was VERY strange to be back. I knew I’d get lots of welcome from lots of friends and was a little hesitant about the attention. But I was happy to see them and it was ok. I told Brian I didn’t know where to go during the sunday school hour. I wasn’t sure I wanted the spotlight of going to the adult class.

He reminded me that Primary (children’s sunday school, where I am the music leader, but an assistant music leader has been leading each week)…still didn’t have anyone to play the piano. I voted for that. And I actually had a really great time. This is, after all, my favorite job in the church. And I didn’t have any of the responsibility.. Just the fun.

We had visitors for most of the afternoon.. my parents, my sister. Then, we went out to Brian’s parents. His mom had made us dinner. Ham and potatoes, special for Patrick. I remembered that I hadn’t heard anything about labs the next day and ended up making some phone calls to peacemeal something together.

Patrick’s nurse did come Monday morning. We slept in a bit and were barely ready on time. It took some time to update Patrick’s chart with all the new meds.

Because Monday was President’s Day, Brian didn’t have to work. We went out for breakfast.. I have missed Kneader’s french toast so much. It was yummy, though we established that their staff is either unwilling or incapable of making toast without butter for Patrick. Oh well.

Brian’s body was screaming that he needed a down day. So he took the job of supervising Patrick, who was still nostalgically exploring all of his toys. Meanwhile, I dove into Patrick’s room. We no longer need the drawers and drawers of IV supplies that we were using to give Patrick TPN. However, he does have a lot of new medications that we get 3 months of at a time. And he needs tube feeding supplies.

I worked all day, listening to Audible as I worked. And 3 boxes and a giant garbage bag later, I’d cleaned out the old supplies and moved in the new stuff.

That’s how the past few days have gone. Patrick and I try to get out part of the day to let him ride his bike or drive his car. The weather is like spring here right now… crazy coming from bitter cold Omaha… and so we only wear light sweaters outside.

But the rest of the day, I mostly clean. A friend came over and helped me clean out Patrick’s closet and his cupboard of craft and homeschool stuff in the kitchen. Today, I went through all of his toys and pulled out the old and broken stuff to make room for new. I filled both of our garbage cans. I have piles of boxes in the basement to donate. And I am maybe a little over halfway done with moving back in.

This is moving out of order. Usually, you clean out when you move out. You don’t move out, buy all that you want, then move back in and have to clean to make room for it.

Thankfully, being home means being surrounded by friends and family and help and meals just keep coming. I haven’t made an entree yet. And that has given me time to work.

I’ve also spent some time working on the business side of moving back home. There are claims to cover the cost of transportation to sort out. And there is getting homecare set up here. For some reason, that still isn’t done and I hope they figure it out before I run out of ethanol locks on Friday. (Thankfully, I received our month’s shipment of all the rest of our supplies right before we left Nebraska and that means no time crunch.) There are follow up appointments with doctors. Patrick’s GI, Dr. Jackson, has been great about being available to help us transition back. And figuring out how and when to go back to therapy. And e-mailing Patrick’s school so they can start working on all that it will require to get him back there when the time comes, which might involve hiring even.

It’s been a full week. But it is so, so good to be home. The stress is just what needs done and trying to keep Patrick entertained. Not the stress of being alone, but not alone.

I love the Ronald McDonald House. What would we have done without them? But there is nothing like being just here as our family and not needing to worry about anyone else. About knowing that we can pick up the phone and just call if we need something. About knowing where things are in the grocery store and what they should cost. And not getting lost trying to get to or from places.

I don’t want to let this blog drop and I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to it. I don’t think well when I’m cluttered and all these boxes and suitcases have me feeling very cluttered.

But I know this journey is still just beginning.

Not only that, but I still have some things I’ve learned to tell you all about. Next time. Tonight, I’m gonna go snuggle up in my bed and go to sleep.

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Transplant Day 75 and eating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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