Transplant day 2,434: Explaining why

“A child born to another woman calls me mommy. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege are not lost on me.”

Have you seen that meme? It captures my feelings towards birthmothers in general, and Patrick’s birthparents in particularly so perfectly. I feel it to the core of my being.

It also only captures a fraction of the unrepayable debt of gratitude that I owe as a mother.

Another child was lost young in an accident, and that family chose in the face of unimaginable loss to give a piece of the life of their child to mine through organ donation. That is tragedy so vast and privilege so profound I struggle to comprehend it.

The pandemic has pushed this truth to the forefront of our awareness. “Patrick’s a transplant recipient” is a phrase we say so often it sometimes loses meaning. It tells you he has health problems that require extra accommodations. It may even tell you his health is fragile or that he’s been through a lot of trauma.

But in our house, lately, we’ve had a lot of discussion about what transplant actually IS. See, Patrick received his transplant the day he turned 6. He was too young and had far too little language and understanding to know what was happening to him then. But there’s nothing like a pandemic to provide time for questions and answers.

Patrick has some fairly distinct memories of his recovery. The staples itched. The stitches were blue. But many of the memories are fading. (“Mom, what’s an ostomy?”) He’s twelve and a half, more than double his age at transplant. Early childhood memories fade and our minds protect us from trauma. He remembers feelings, but very few details.

This week, he found a memento of transplant: a pillow in the shape of a liver with the hospital logo emblazoned on it that was signed by many of the ICU staff. Patrick loved writing and names, so it was a way he connected and found peace.

I can’t put faces to most of the names anymore. But as we talked, I pointed out how many of them had written their specialty and that could tell us who they were. Nurses helped with pain and meds and dressings and keeping him comfortable. Respiratory therapy would come to make him take deep breaths and refill his lungs, since it hurt too much to breathe, let alone willingly cough. And child life made sure he had toys and volunteer visitors fun activities and the occasional magic moment.

Respiratory therapy
Up walking on day 4 post transplant

One of the signatures was from the physical therapist. She’s one of the only faces I clearly remember. I told him how she came every day to help him learn to walk again and how, at first, that was very hard because it was so painful. (I also told him about how much he loved her because she would hide Blues Clues in the halls for him to find.)

That led to talking about his scars.

Patrick had a vertical incision that ran the length of his abdomen that was closed with staples and, as a result, he has a very impressive scar. We talked about what he remembered about how that looked and felt. Then he turned his attention to other scars. He has all kinds: from big to small, from straight to round and some that are curvy. Some are surgical, some from his birth defect, and others from accidental injuries. And he made me help him inspect his entire body and tell him how each one got there. Sadly, there really is a scar and a story for almost every appendage.

“Why” has been a big topic of conversation lately. We’ve had to answer a lot of “Why’s” about the COVID precautions we are taking. And a lot of why’s about other people who are not longer taking them. And in the middle of one of those “why” we still wear masks when others don’t, it occurred to me that Patrick knew “transplant” as part of his identity, but didn’t understand what the word meant.

I’ve been thinking that, since we moved and so much time has passed, many of our friends, colleagues, classmates and fellow congregants don’t know the why and how either. So, since we’re already opening the emotional pandora’s box by explaining these things to Patrick, I thought maybe I’d tell you what I’ve been telling him.

Let me take you on a tour of his scars.

(Just a heads up, Patrick is very private about his scars and doesn’t like to talk about what he’s been through.)

First, there’s the short little horizontal one that runs to the right of his belly button. This one’s from his gastroschisis. Gastroschisis is a birth defect where the abdominal wall doesn’t close and the intestines develop outside of the body. This was the start of his troubles. Patrick had complicated gastroschisis. The intestines twisted and died. He was born with a small hole in his belly. The surgeons did a quick exploratory surgery where they found that his entire small intestine and most of his large intestine were missing. They placed some drain tubes (since his intestine was too short and too narrow to reconnect) and closed the hole surgically. They also placed a PICC (peripherally inserted central venous catheter) to give him nutrition by IV as his digestive system was completely non-functional.

A few weeks later, those drains weren’t working. So they pulled the end of his duodenum to the skin’s surface in an ostomy (which means a hole in your body that accesses an organ) and placed a feeding tube in his belly. (That tube is still there, used for meds, not food.)

After his 2nd surgery, age 17 days

We were granted guardianship and flew him from Michigan to Utah by air ambulance. A short time later, he developed his first central line infection while still in the NICU. He has a scar on the back of his right heel where a busy nurse missed that the IV antibiotic being given there had caused the vein to burst. This caused a nasty IV infiltration wound. He also earned his first broviac line scar. (Broviac lines are also central lines, they run to the heart.. but they go in a tunnel through the chest. Patrick’s chest and neck have several pock-mark looking scars from broviac lines.)

The next 5 years were spent waiting for transplant. Beginning in July of his first year and continuing for the next year, he seemed to have constant sepsis. We’d clear one infection, and two weeks later be back in the E.R. with another. It was terrifying, especially when yeast started to grow inside his body. Yeast is sticky and difficult to kill. The antifungals used to treat it are harsh. Eventually, their toll was too much for his little body and his heart stopped.

This left scars you can’t see in the form of an anoxic brain injury, but also a new little one in his thigh from a femoral arterial line. It also left some emotional scars for all of us. We were fortunate that, because the amazing team at the hospital that day performed such excellent CPR, he was revived and has such minor damage. Still I know what it is to have my child stop breathing in my arms. And I know what it is to have arms ache for a baby that isn’t there. We live with the effects of that day constantly.

In the ICU after cardiac arrest

At 9 months old, Patrick’s first transplant team said they didn’t want him to have an ostomy anymore. So a surgeon here in Utah connected his duodenum (the segment between stomach and small intestine) to his large intestine. That incision was a small vertical one next to his belly button. It left his belly looking like a star and we lovingly called him our star-bellied sneech.

Playing in a hospital crib after reanastamosis

Over the next 5 years, he had lots of lines, another surgery, a couple of liver biopsies, and significant scarring inside his major blood vessels from his chronic need for total parenteral nutrition and the accompany central lines. His veins became so scarred that we though he might lose access to IV nutrition and starve, but the interventional radiology team in Nebraska managed to restore access through a very risky procedure than passed a needle tipped catheter up his femoral vein, through his heart and out his jugular.

He had IV pumps in a backpack that he took with him everywhere he went that provided him with nutrition in the form of TPN and lipids. Not having an intestine meant a chronic diarrhea and vomiting, too, so we had one more pump for IV hydration fluids, and the occasional extra pump running broad spectrum IV antibiotics. We carried a diaper bag full of saline and heparin syringes and emergency kits, along with an epi pen (he had several serious food allergies) everywhere we went. We were pros at swapping out broken IV tubing, performing sterile dressing changes, and clearing air in line issues in the dark without waking the child the tubing was attached to. I knew every creaky spot in the floor and could dance through the room without a sound, kind of like a master criminal weaving through security system lasers.

First day of Kingergarten, with his TPN pumps in the backpack

We kept our GI and the emergency room on speed dial. We knew every member of the resident class at Primary Children’s spanning several years. (They made a point to come visit us when they knew we were there.) And I spent more time talking to our infusion pharmacist and insurance case manager than most of my friends.

Meanwhile, Patrick grew up, went on many adventures, attended preschool, started kindergarten, and was granted a wish.

Patrick’s wish was to visit Give Kids the World Village and Disney World in Orlando

At last, Patrick received his transplant. He not only needed an intestine, but also a liver due to damage from the IV nutrition, and since the vasculature is all one package, that came with a new pancreas, too. Remembering how HUGE an intestine is, it might make more sense to know that they also removed his spleen to make space along withhis gall bladder because that way they don’t have to worry about gall stones later. They also did a gastric bypass to help food move into the new anatomy of the gut.

As I explained to Patrick this week, they pretty much just took everything out so it was empty inside, and then put in the new organs and sewed all the parts back together. And that is a LOT of parts when you consider all the blood vessels, nerve endings and splicing back together his lymphatic system.

A couple of hours after transplant

Transplant left the biggest scars: the long one down his tummy with the frankenstein-like staple marks and the one the size of a silver dollar where he had an ostomy for biopsy purposes.

That brings me back to the “why” questions. Because transplant and the journey to get there are why we do most of what we do.

So here’s a question we get a lot.Why are transplant patients more at risk that other people? Doesn’t a transplant cure them?

This answer was one they drilled into us. When you’re being considered for transplant, they sit down with your family and they go over all the risks and precautions that you’ll be living with after the procedure. You also commit to a lot of things to protect the graft like avoiding contact sports, not swimming in rivers and lakes, and being careful about diet.

And then of course, there are the meds. To keep the body from identifying the transplanted organs as a threat, transplant patients must take immune suppressants. Twice a day, every day. For the rest of your life. These have to stay at a constant level in the body.

At first, immune suppressants have to be at a pretty high dose. Eventually, as the body gets used to the new organs, that dose can be reduced. However, since Patrick received 3 organs (including the second largest organ in the human body) his minimum dose is still high compared to, for example, a kidney transplant patient.

Still, with a lower dose, Patrick has been able to live a pretty normal life. He could attend school, except when there was an outbreak of illness in the classroom. (His IEP provides for home learning under these conditions.) He could go to church and play adaptive sports and ride roller coasters. Granted, he and I spend pretty much from November to February sick every year because he catches everything he’s exposed to. Transplant patients get sicker and stay sicker longer, but eventually, he gets over most bugs.

A COVID-style road trip to Mr. Rushmore

But COVID… it’s a different type of virus. It sends the body’s immune system into hyperdrive. That’s what makes it so deadly. Can you imagine the effect of that in a transplant patient?

I wondered if perhaps it was my imagination inflating the risks at first. However, a few months back as they were just about to approve the pediatric Pfizer vaccine, I had the opportunity to join a webinar where researchers shared their current data about COVID, the COVID vaccines, and transplant patients. And some of their numbers were rather concerning.

First, they found that although the general population has a better than 99% chance of surviving the virus, among transplant patients, the death rate is 10%. Those odds are scary.

Even more concerningly, Johns Hopkins, in the absence of data from preliminary studies into vaccines, did a study where they measured the antibody response of transplant patients. As the researcher said in his presentation, they discovered that “we have a problem.” Only around 40% of transplant patients had any detectable antibodies following a first dose of any of the vaccines. After the second dose, only 56% did. They also found that there was a high rate of patients who resumed normal activities after they were “fully vaccinated” who went on to contract the virus.

You know when they say that most people who are vaccinated don’t catch the virus, don’t pass it on to others, and certainly don’t need hospitalization or die? Well, guess who that small percentage who do are? Yup, the people with compromised immune systems.

So EVERY communication I have with Patrick’s transplant team or GI doctor ends with a reminder. “Act like he’s not vaccinated.” “Keep following precautions.” “There’s still risk.” Just this week, Patrick’s GI ended an e-mail about lab results with “don’t let down your guard.”

6th grade was all online, supervised by Max

The thing is, everyone is ready to be done with the pandemic. WE are ready to be done with the pandemic. In fact, the more our community lets down their guard, the harder it becomes for us.

But cases are rising across the world, across the country, and definitely in the state where we live. Vaccination rates are low here and children, though not at risk of severe disease, are still carriers. Add to it that the Delta (now Delta+) variant is more contagious and more deadly. Despite our best wishes, statistics show that the virus is no longer in decline where we live.

Our alternate field trip to the bird rescue with an awesome duckling named Vinnie

We made a commitment years ago. We made it when we adopted him, again when we listed him for transplant, and again when we accepted the offered organs. We promised that we would follow the medicine, keep the protocols, and make the sacrifices to keep him alive.

Patrick’s life is a miracle. Many times over. And that miracle has been contributed to by so many people. His birth family, the NICU teams, his nurses, and pharmacists, the surgeons and infectious disease doctors and interventional radiologists and IV team who responded to emergency after emergency. The nurse who performed CPR and the code team who helped to revive him. The therapists who taught him to walk and talk and write. The family and friends and strangers who helped raise money for his transplant expenses. And most of all, the family who trusted their memory of their child to the future of mine.

In coming to understand transplant, Patrick’s come to know that he has an organ donor. The other night, he was asking me about “the other kid.” Health privacy means we don’t know a lot. But often, when I’m tempted to take some risk, Patrick’s donor and his family cross my mind. I can’t bring myself to take chances with such a sacred gift. Especially when there are so many waiting for donors who will not live to be matched.

We live with a miracle every day. But faith without works, as James wrote, is dead. So we are doing our best to do our part and be patient until we get the all clear from the miracle workers we’ve grown to trust to keep Patrick safe. Some of them are like family, so when they say wait, we listen.

Masking up for physical therapy at Shriner’s

We are hopefully trusting in the promise of vaccines. I was able to enroll Patrick in that same Johns Hopkins vaccine antibody study for kids and we’re watching to see signs of his body reponding to the shot. (With caution, as every doctor emphasizes to us that antibodies do not mean he can’t get sick.)

We are cautiously beginning to dip our toes in. We are visiting with fully vaccinated (and still reasonably cautious) family. I’ve invested in KN95 masks that fit Patrick and am letting him go to in-person physical therapy and occasional uncrowded places in off-peak hours, like the library.

We really want to begin to allow loved ones back into our world and are anxiously waiting for approval of vaccines for younger children.

We want to see you again. Right now, we’re limited contact to vaccinated people. So help us out. Get the shot. Wear your mask indoors and in crowds and around us. Avoid risky behaviors.

Be especially careful with your children. Not only can they spread COVID, but there’s an out of season cold and flu season happening as we come out of quarantine and their risk of catching another illness is higher right now. Please stay home if you have any signs of illness! (Even when we were really counting on you.)

This is an awkward time right now. For everyone. But especially for us. With the political climate and the need for extra caution, we sometimes have to turn down invitations or even walk away when risk is too high. If one of these awkward moments happens with you, please know that we don’t mean to cause offense. We’re not trying to make you feel guilty or sway your choices. (Though we really want you to be safe.) It’s just, with all other precautions taken away, we are needing to be a lot more careful.

We appreciate your patience, your love, your caution, your efforts to keep us included and show us we are remembered. We are eager to be with you again. And we are THRILLED that vaccination has brought some of your back into our lives in person. Patrick’s very best days are when we can say “So-and-so has had their shot. Let’s go do something together!” Hoping for much, much more of that soon.

Some thoughts on pruning and patience

I just spent the morning cutting the blooms off of the flowers in my garden. It always looks like a bit of a tragedy. But today it is raining and next week our state will be facing record heat again as a record heat wave and drought covers the western US. If my plants are going to survive, they need to be spending their energy on developing roots and leaves, not flowers.

It’s taken me time to learn this lesson. When I was a little girl, my parents bought trees for our park strip. They gave one to each child. And, man, I love that tree! I tended it every day. I’d even sit under it and read to it because I’d heard that plants grew better when you talked to it. And then one day, my parents pruned it! I was devastated! I cried all evening. I thought I’d never forgive them for making my beautiful tree look so weak and spindly.

Gardener’s know, though, sometimes for plants to grow, they need cutting. (Especially petunias. If you’ve ever known someone with marvelously bushy petunias, you can bet that that gardener regularly trims their plants. Where you cut one stem, two will grow.)

One of the reasons I garden is that while I work, I get glimpses into the methods of the Master Gardener.

As I look at my life, I can see the pruning moments. Times when I couldn’t understand why I was being trimmed back. Times when it seemed so unfair that my one beautiful little blossom that I’d worked so hard to grow would be cut off. I see now things I couldn’t see then about how I was being helped to grow into something grander than would have been possible without the pruning.

Infertility, for example. I thought I had been thoroughly abandoned by the Lord. How was it that everyone else could so easily make a baby and I couldn’t? Was it because the Lord didn’t trust me? Or that I was somehow lacking? Or was it just that He didn’t care? How could my prayers go unanswered. All I wanted was something beautiful.

But had I not had the experiences of infertility, I would never have been prepared for the more beautiful gift of motherhood I’ve been given. Had I not learned to face my anxiety over doctors, could I really have been up for a life in a hospital? Had I not learned to trust in the Lord’s timing, would we have been able to wait six years for the right transplant donor? And had I not learned to that prayers are often answered in ways we didn’t ask, could I have ever made it through the nights that were carried only by prayer?

A Facebook memory this morning reminded me of the struggle it was to take Patrick on his first vacation. He’d been through infection after infection and in the week prior to our scheduled Yellowstone trip had broken his central line twice, requiring ER visits for repair. A prudent nurse knew about our scheduled vacation and pulled strings to send an emergency repair kit with me and train me on how to do the repair during our second ER visit. Thank goodness she did, because just as we crossed the border into Idaho, the line broke again. We ended up at Eastern Idaho Regional Hospital where they could not find anyone qualified to repair the line. In the end, they gave me a nurse, a room, and sterile supplies and I repaired that line myself before we continued on our way to Yellowstone.

Things haven’t come easy for us, and early pruning gave me strength, flexibility and a healthy dose of righteous submission.

COVID has been another period of pruning. Not just for myself, but for the world. So many of those beautiful traditions and even basic comforts were cut and cast aside. We were left with pretty much just our roots. Home, family, faith.

I’ve been alternately inspired and heartbroken watching the world respond to pruning, having experienced so much myself.

Some have really grown stronger in this time. Staying at home gave us time not just to improve our baking and gardening skills, but also to deepen our roots by spending time as families, developing habits of individual worship, tending to the needs of others, and improving talents and characters.

Others have stayed focused on what they weren’t willing to miss, putting proms and parties as first priority, fretting about what they or their children might be missing. Resisting cutting and seeming to try to glue blossoms back onto flowers

I’ve done this at moments in my life, too. It isn’t easy to let go of dreams, traditions, and those milestone moments. I get it! One of the most difficult things about being a parent to a child with special needs is mourning so many lost milestones. We’ve missed or experienced significant delays in first words, first steps, first friendships, attending kindergarten, primary programs, parades, sleepovers, scout camps. We celebrated most holidays in his first year or two of his life in the hospital. The pioneer day fireworks are beautiful, but not the same, from the patio of Primary Children’s Hospital. And every missed milestone has come with tears. It’s ok to grieve unattained wishes. Some are harder to let go than others. (Missing baptism and priesthood ordination, even though I know that Christ’s atonement covers those who are not accountable and promises them salvation, took me a long, long time to accept and I still am caught by unexpected feelings of loss from time to time.)

But the reason I’m posting is that I worry, as the world reopens, that we’ll rush a return to normal so quick that we’ll lose the gifts we’ve gained over this past year.

In my herb garden, I have to take extra care in favorable weather. Once the cool of spring passes and the warms and sunshine of summer arrives cilantro, basil, and other herbs have a tendency to bolt. The very weather that helps them thrive can cause the overeager plants to grow too quickly, rushing to produce flowers. The problem is, once an herb has bolted, it isn’t much good as an herb anymore. There is no choice but to let it go to seed and start again with a new plant.

The solution? Pruning. During the summer months, herbs need to be regularly cut back so that they don’t blossom. The result is healthy, bushy plants with deep roots, strong leaf systems (and since the flavor is in the leaves, better flavor and harvests for the gardeners.)

I see the world hurrying to make up for what was missed and to put aside (a bit prematurely, perhaps) the precautions and lessons of the last year and a half.

As life reopens, I’m trying not to bolt. Patrick’s 2 weeks post vaccination with some hints that he might be protected by it. It’s too early to say, but we have enough confidence that we’re beginning to spend time with vaccinated family and friends. But I’m trying not to hurry. Not just for the protection that being slow and cautious offers, but because I don’t want to lose the blessings we’ve gained by having all the excess trimmed out of my life.

This isn’t easy. I am SO tired of being at home and so frustrated watching as the world reopens to others how it is closing to us.

I worry that if I don’t keep up with regular pruning, that the master gardener might have some more dramatic cutting back to do.

One other thought.. My pruning this morning included giving a very dramatic “haircut” to a very healthy lily. This lily has enjoyed a privileged place next to a sprinkler. It is thriving there, but unfortunately, it has grown so large that it is blocking the water and preventing it from reaching other plants. Sometimes we’re cut back and it seems unfair because it has nothing to do with our own needs. Sometimes, we need to be cut back to allow room for others to grow.

Anyway – those were my thoughts as I was gardening in the rain this morning.

Being the 1% in a pandemic

At the end of last February, my family was in Disneyland. If you haven’t noticed from this blog, we’re pretty addicted. And Patrick can only safely be in crowds when they aren’t really crowds. So, when our tax return came in, we seized the opportunity to skip school and visit one of our favorite places.

I remember so clearly, sitting in LAX waiting for our flight home, watching news reports about this new Coronavirus that was plaguing cruise ships and had just been detected in the first U.S. case of community spread in Washington state. Seeing people flying in masks. And beginning to realize that may, just maybe, this virus wasn’t contained.

For the past year, I’ve had the thought several times that I should maybe write a blog post describing what it’s like to be a transplant family in the midst of a pandemic. I’m finding myself with a bit of time on a Sunday afternoon, so I’m going to give it a shot.

I remember going out to breakfast last year with one of my friends and her telling me that I was her barometer.. the person she was watching to know when it was time to panic. “Coronavirus” wasn’t a new word to me. I’ve spent the past 6 years following virus trends on the Germwatch website from our local children’s hospital and I knew that, for most people, Coronavirus was a common cold. I also knew that children especially seemed to do OK with this new virus. Still, nothing is simple with a child as complex as ours. So I reached out to Patrick’s transplant team in Nebraska and his team here in Utah and asked them to tell me how I’d know if we reached a moment where I needed to pull Patrick from school.

After all, his IEP has a specific provision that says that during cases of viral outbreaks, he was to be transitioned to a virtual connection to school.

On March 13, I got an e-mail from the transplant nurse coordinator “recommending our patients do not attend school for the next couple of weeks.” It was a Friday afternoon. I e-mailed Patrick’s teacher to let her know we’d be checking him out and need to figure out how he could participate in class remotely. Less than an hour later, in a press conference, Utah’s governor announced a soft closure of schools for the next week. Cleaning out his locker and saying goodbye to his friends was hard.

Unlike most of our friends, this wasn’t our first experience with quarantine school. Setting Patrick up for school just required pulling out tools I already had. I cleaned off a desk in the basement, gathered school materials, and set up a picture schedule.

I thought we were ready. Until an earthquake hit the morning that our distance learning classes were supposed to start. My emergency instincts kicked in. I can pack an emergency go bag in 15 minutes flat. It’s a matter of survival, and I’ve packed a lot of emergency go bags. But trying to think through packing a bag for dual emergencies of pandemic (that was supposed to keep us inside) and earthquakes (which might force us outside) was an overwhelming idea. And I had to try to accomplish this while trying to stay calm for a child who was terrified by the frequent aftershocks. I was so grateful that morning for video classes where Patrick could connect with his friends and talk about what had happened.

At the beginning of the pandemic, half of the voices were reciting “this is no worse than a cold” while the other half urged us to “flatten the curve.” In other words, to do everything we could to limit the spread so that hospitals would not be overwhelmed and our unprepared medical system and supply stores depleted.

I’d seen overcrowded hospitals first-hand already. Waited hours in emergency rooms because they couldn’t find a bed on the floor and then ended up assigned to the surgical unit or some other unusual corner of the hospital because it was where they could find space, and just being grateful that we weren’t in a windowless storage closet turned hospital room like some patients. And that was in just an average flu season. The idea of 1% or more of the population needing hospital care at once, I knew, was a very real and serious danger.

I also was keeping tabs on the pandemic on the website used to track national drug shortages. We learned to follow this site to keep track of shortages in TPN ingredients. It was terrifying to see basics such as normal saline, antibiotics, and albuterol appear on the list as critically low. I saw families in the support group I run trying to figure out how to handle dressing changes when masks and sterile gloves were nowhere to be found. And heard first-hand of nurse friends using a single surgical mask for an entire shift. We’d been hospitalized on precautions before. That idea alone was frightening. The stories out of Italy and New York on the news were terrifying. But the inside picture showed that the impacts were reaching us, even if the virus outbreak was not. I started a hashtag within the medical advocacy community. #sharethehealth .. begging healthy people not to hoard supplies that our families relied on for day to day survival.

We felt shortages in other places, too. I stopped at a grocery store to pick up a prescription on that March afternoon as I brought Patrick home from school. People were panic shopping. Shelves were emptied. And the interruptions in supply chain that came from everyone leaving the workplace and coming home were felt for months.

It was terrifying at first for all of us. But there was also a tremendous sense of community. Out of shared uncertainty came shared sacrifice. We were unified and united during those first weeks, even months.

But as weeks dragged into months, life had to go on. At first, we’d stop in to less frequented stores to look for staples, odds and ends you couldn’t get other ways. But as stores shortened hours and crowds competed for supplies, we couldn’t afford the exposure of our full grocery shopping trips anymore. So we learned to buy groceries online. Early on, the demand was so high that you had to place your orders days in advance. And then you crossed your fingers and hoped that the store would have some of what you needed. Checking over our grocery order and seeing what was missing or substituted was one of the biggest heartbreaks of my week. We lived a lot out of our food storage that spring.

And then there was the challenge of figuring out how to get other things we needed without going into a store. Easter especially took creativity to pull off. Gradually, businesses started offering curbside service. But for some things, I’d simply have to call the store and beg for someone to take my order on the phone and bring it out to me at my car.

We left home so rarely that any excuse to get out was a treat. One week, we all went to pick up groceries at Walmart. This outing could take an hour or more, as the demand for curbside was so high. That hot afternoon, we sat in our car with the air conditioner on. And then, when the groceries were loaded, Brian tried to start the car. The battery was dead. We begged the person next to us for a jump start, but that didn’t work. There we were, in the parking lot of a store that sold batteries, trying to decide if it was worth the risk to go in. Eventually, we decided the safest option was if Brian walked to an auto parts store in the same parking lot. There, he bought a battery and tools, changed the battery, and we made it home.

One of the hardest parts of being the family of an immune compromised child in this past year has been learning to forgive other people’s thoughtlessness. Too many people repeat “only 1% will die” or “only those with weak immune systems.” Well, yup. That’s our son. “This is no worse than the flu.” Well, he spent 2 weeks in the hospital with intestinal bleeding from norovirus. His tonsils had to be removed because of the risk of developing lymphoma when he had mono. And after his last immunizations, he’d had to spend a week at home because his body didn’t have enough white cells to protect him should he develop a cold. Having a liver, intestine and pancreas transplanted requires a high level of immune suppression, even at the lowest dose. And on top of that, his spleen was removed as part of that surgery, leaving him with even fewer defenses.

Distance learning was intense. In the mornings, we’d have online groups with Patrick’s class. There was only one girl in Patrick’s reading and math groups and our families got really close working together. In the afternoon, we’d come upstairs and doing science and social skills groups. Patrick’s teacher was amazing in finding ways to connect with the students. And in between groups, we’d complete work offline. I learned several new tricks during this time. Discovered online manipulatives. Mastered Google Meet and Google Classroom. It was a lot of work for me as a mom. But it was SO much better than any quarantine school we’d ever experienced before, that I was mostly just grateful. Especially because it kept Patrick from feeling alone.

The stress of suddenly losing all my supports (respite care, school, therapy and everyone else who had been sharing my load with me) and suddenly switching to a full-time job as teacher by day and a full-time role as playmate at night took its toll. Stress combined with my own immune suppression led to a case of shingles. Thankfully, because I’d been vaccinated when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and started on immune suppression, it was mild.. a few weeks of pain and a lingering numb spot next to my ribs.

By Memorial Day, people were tired of quarantine and risked family get-togethers. And cases started to rise. We knew that eventually, life would have to reopen. Being a republican state, Utah’s legislature rushed and pressured the state into reopening much more quickly than their own plans suggested was safe. People took this as a sign that things were safe, even though nothing had changed. Still despite the rising cases that resulted, we tried to be enthusiastic for our friends who were able to take advantage of the discovery that the virus didn’t spread much outside. But I’ll never forget Patrick sitting at the window, watching our neighbors host a party with several other families.

Our family eventually got used to the routine of all of us being at home together. Yeast shortages and an abundance of time led me to finally learn how to make sourdough. My grandma was famous for her sourdough and I’m grateful and proud that I was able to master this skill. Also, shortages of food prompted Brian to help me expand my garden and learning about canning. We’d already wanted to do this, and pulling it off in a pandemic without being able to go into stores and nurseries was a bit of a feat. To make things harder, everyone was gardening, too. Still, I’ve always found tending a garden to be healing for my soul. And fresh tomatoes and other vegetables in summer made it worth the effort.

We were lucky as far as friends go, though. Patrick’s best friends were also being careful. And they were eager and willing to stay connected. So we discovered how to do video playdates on Facebook messenger and Google Meet. I found a website where you could upload your own gameboard and recreated a few of Patrick’s favorite games so he could play with friends and family. And we started reading Flat Stanley and mailing our own Stanley around the country.

Early in the pandemic, while cases were low, our extended family rented a house together in Colorado near Mesa Verde. I’m so grateful that they were willing to take the precautions to help make that trip safe because it was so good to spend time with them after so much time apart. We didn’t know how long it would be before we could be in person again.

In July, we decided to skip the noise of fireworks on Pioneer Day and take advantage of relatively low transmission in Wyoming. So we took a road trip up to Mount Rushmore. Most of the trip we were easily able to stay away from other people. We ate in fast food parking lots with all the others because dining rooms were closed. We strategically planned gas and potty stops for less crowded stations. By then, wearing masks got fewer odd looks, at least, even if they mostly weren’t worn in rural areas. Mount Rushmore was so crowded we basically ran in, took a few pictures and ran out, but overall it was a happy distanced trip far from other people. Except the hotels.Being around others in the hotels was nervewracking. Some were obviously clean, others more doubtfully so. Staff wore masks under noses or not at all. I brought cleansers with us and we recleaned the rooms and slept on our own pillows. Thankfully, we only spent the nights there. And in the day, we got to see some beautiful parts of God’s creations that were so close to home, yet we’d never explored.

We are no strangers to masks. Patrick wore masks every time he went in public for the first 6 months after transplant. Gloves, too, that we’d take off and wash when he got home. I started sewing us masks before it was the cool thing to do, as I saw families trying to figure out how to extend the life of their masks for dressing changes.

I read dozens of articles and studies looking for the best patterns and materials and finally settled on 800 count sheets as an interior layer and quilting cotton as an exterior layer. This was based on a study done in England as a sort of pandemic planning that compared different materials. Interestingly, that study hypothesized that the two biggest struggles in widespread mask adoption during a pandemic would be 1) comfort and 2) understanding how to wear a mask properly. It was interesting to see that play out in real life. Especially as a certain viral video hoax convinced so many people that wearing a mask would increase their CO2 and cause them to infect themselves with their own bacteria.

It took a few versions for me to figure it out, but eventually I managed some contoured masks with t-shirt yarn strings that went around your head and were adjusted with a pony bead at the back. They are still our most comfortable and most often worn.

But really, we rarely have to wear masks because we are around other people so rarely. There is some comfort in knowing that there is no grey area for you. Fully quarantining in some ways is easier than the decisions others have to make about risk.

Like returning to school. There was no question there. Patrick would join cohort Z, the all online learning option at his school.

But at a school primarily for children with special needs, most of the students chose to attend in person. It’s the best way for most to get the services they need.

And so, Patrick logs in each morning to a live video stream of his regular classroom. His one friend from spring is also at home and they are still in all their groups together. Our families work together on making learning a success and I’m grateful for their friendship and help.

He has an awesome teacher who does so well making sure that the kids who are online know that she cares and that they are a part of the class. We have our awkward moments. At first, we spent a good part of the time looking at the ceiling of the classroom because they’d forget to adjust the camera after tilting it to talk to us.

But, overall, as far as education goes, this may be one of Patrick’s best years ever. 1) He can adapt his learning to his own pace. He’s with the class, but if we need to take some extra time to finish something or take a break, we can. 2) I am entirely in charge of his IEP goals. It didn’t start out this way. The teacher would send us work. But as he and I were working 1:1 on these goals, my teaching training kicked in and I asked to pick the curriculum. I sent the teacher a copy of the book I wanted to use for math and she gave her blessing. Eventually, I took over all the goals. We just report data back and ask for guidance if we’re stuck. 3) We have enough time in the morning. With meds to give and other things, getting to in-person school on time has been a monumental feat. But we are rarely ever late to class online. If we do happen to be running late, he can just eat at the desk. 4) Patrick always has all the accommodations he needs. I know exactly what he’s doing. And especially with math, that he has to learn in a very unique way, I can pull out whatever manipulatives help. Even make some of my own. No more reminding teachers over and over again that they aren’t following the IEP. 5) We don’t have to fight to figure out inclusion. This deserves an entire post of its own. But long story short, P.E. and recess have long been problems for Patrick. But now our P.E. is guided by an amazing adaptive P.E. teacher and done 1:1 or when he feels up to it. 6) He can eat! And eat. And eat. Getting Patrick to take care of himself physically at school has long been a battle. But at home, he snacks when he needs it. He goes to the bathroom when he needs it. He has gone up 3 shoe sizes in the past year! Gained 16 pounds. He is just 5 inches shorter than me now.

There are some things that I can’t wait to end in this pandemic. But the lessons we’ve learned about education are things I’ll never let go. I hope that no healthy but at-risk child ever has to put up with 2 hours a week of “home hospital” education like we had to do after transplant. We know better now.

Another thing I hope never goes back to the way it was is Sunday. Don’t get me wrong, I miss worshiping in person and desperately miss fellowship with my friends. BUT because our church has a lay ministry, meaning most worthy men are ordained to the priesthood, when churches needed to close, we were given permission to have the priesthood-holders in our home (in this case, my husband) perform the ordinance of the sacrament for us.

About a year before the pandemic, our church switched to a home-centered church-supported model for some of our Sunday School lessons. They provided curriculum, but parents were to teach it at home. Well, that has been a life saver. In fact, being able to customize gospel lessons to Patrick’s way of learning. His gospel knowledge, comfort in the scriptures, and faith have been visibly growing, even if it’s still fairly young and innocent compared to others his age.

And to have Sundays be simply a day of rest, worship, and time together is precious.

As cases began to spike, church leaders directed that sacrament meeting be made available via webcast. At first, we were sad to give up the entirely self-paced Sunday we’d gotten used to. But being able to hear news of our ward and listen to talk and see faces, even if we aren’t seen, has been wonderful. Again, this is one of those things I hope doesn’t soon disappear. As we went months without being able to attend church after transplant, I was often envious of those whose wards had decided to make their meeting available to them via broadcast. It’s a little strange to know that others are attending in person every 2 to 3 weeks. But I know we’re not ready to be there yet, and we’re grateful to connect in the way we can. Similarly, being able to join in Sunday classes via Zoom has been great. (I just wish we weren’t always hurried off by Zoom’s 40 minute timeline.)

Another favorite part of Sundays is family chats. My grandfather is 95 and lives alone. My parents also both have medical conditions that put them at high risk. So the weekly Sunday dinners we’ve known all my life weren’t an option. But I worried about Grandpa and others being alone without regular connections. We started chatting on Sundays and I’ve been able to spend more time talking with my siblings than I have in years.

Holidays have been different. Much more low key. We pretty much skipped Halloween. We focused on Patrick’s birthday instead. We rented a whole movie theater for the three of us just to see a movie. We had a video birthday party with his friends. They played Kahoot and chatted. We bought the candy we wanted for ourselves, put a sign on the door, and hid in the basement from trick-or-treaters. Honestly, it was so nice not to have the birthday rushed through so we could get to the trick-or-treating that, quite honestly, just stressed Patrick and me out.

On Thanksgiving, we hosted jackbox games with our families. And for Christmas, we did gift exchanges and cookie exchanges over video. We had a delightful 2 day road trip getaway to go view the Christmas Star (convergence of Mars and Jupiter) at Goblin Valley in some of the darkest sky country in the country.

Christmas Day has always been hurried for us. Too busy rushing between different families. Spending the day at home playing with toys with a few video chats with family was SUCH a treat.

Reinventing traditions has taken some creativity, but has had such great rewards.

That’s another odd thing about being the 1% during a pandemic. I watch so many people worrying about what they’re missing. They can’t imagine letting go of traditions. They fret about their teenagers missing dances and socials. Their kids missing extracurricular activities. When schools don’t offer them, they create them on their own, despite the risks.

And it makes me sad.. because what they don’t see is that in trying not to miss the old things, they are missing so much else, too.

People hate the phrase “the new normal.” I think because it was thrust on them when they weren’t seeking it. The first time I heard that phrase was at a women’s conference when I was struggling with infertility. I was trying to resolve the gap between my hopes and my reality. And I attended a talk by a couple where the husband had had some sudden, severe health challenges. The wife told her someone had told her to stop trying to make the old normal happen, and to learn to embrace and look for the joy in her new normal. That was a lightbulb moment for me.

When I was getting ready to bring Patrick home from the hospital for the first time, the NICU attending sat down with me for, basically, a pep talk. He warned me that things were not going to feel right. That I was going to think I was failing most of the time. And that I’d at least once be sure I’d killed my son, even though I hadn’t. He told me that finding a new normal takes time. At least a month. And that I needed to grant myself grace while that happened.

I found that timeline to be very true. With every hospitalization, every medical change, every setback or triumph, we’d have to figure out a new routine and a new normal. And depending on the extremity of the change, it could take anywhere from 2 weeks to months before normal came. But it took the longest when I resisted the change.

I’ve spent most of my adult life adjusting to new normals. The Lord loves to reset my life on a moment’s notice. So this isn’t all that unfamiliar for me.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t mourn for the old normal. Let’s be honest, my life ended on March 14. My hobbies, my friendships, my space, my time. Everything I’d built was erased and I got to rebuild it from foundations up with my faith, my family, and my home as the beginning stones. So I miss time with my friends. And I miss having the house to myself. And going out to lunch. And Disneyland. And wandering the produce section of the grocery store. And hearing about my son’s day when I pick him up after school.

One of the hardest parts of this pandemic has been learning to offer grace and forgiveness to those who are actively fighting against “the new normal.” I cringe at social media shares of risky choices and neighborhood parties. It’s hard when that holding on to old things or trying not to miss out sometimes directly affects me. Like when we have to avoid the park on a walk because of the soccer game there with maskless crowds undistanced. Or the time I waited an hour at a restaurant for my curbside order to be brought out because there was a crowd inside and the manager thought he had to keep the line moving and so he didn’t serve anyone not inside the store.

The anger in online communication has been among the worst. And it’s taken me time to learn not to get caught up in it. It’s difficult to bite your tongue when your life for 12 years has been based on trusting the medical profession, understanding epidemiology, following protocols to prevent infectious disease, and reading and interpreting studies. There is really nothing about this pandemic or any of the suggested precautions that is new or surprising to me. This is the same science we’ve known for Patrick’s whole life. Except the human element. I have been surprised by the propaganda, the politics, and the destructive power of the share button. And it sometimes takes conscious effort to keep the real person in mind instead of replying to an online persona. I want to correct misinformation. I want to rage at the lies. But mostly, these are people I love. And only love gets people to listen anyway.

It’s easy to feel unseen, unheard, and unremembered when you are the 1% that’s considered an acceptable loss. Especially when it means you are at home, literally unseen and unheard.

But there have been some miraculous moments of our being seen, too. Like the neighbor who showed up on my doorstep one night with raspberries because I told her I missed them and was having a hard time buying them. Or the amazing group of women who flashmobbed me for my birthday. It’s the texts checking in. The picking up odd items for me while at the store.

(Sidenote: Did you know there are things that stores won’t sell to you online? Toy diecast cars was one. Little Debbie holiday treats, for some reason. And just about every high demand item like hand soap, clorox wipes and toilet paper for a while. I’ve had to learn which stores allow which hard to find items. And we’ve had to give up some other things we used to never live without.)

Being seen is little things. It’s a months long running Marco Polo conversation with one of my best friends (who is also sheltering at home with her 1% son.) And it’s those who still invite and allow me to serve with my talents.

It’s been a privilege to continue to serve as compassionate service leader. Welcoming babies and comforting others through sickness and loss almost entirely through text and phone calls. Helping families who lost someone to this virus has been poignant and sacred. (There’s a red ribbon tied around the trees in my front yard in memory of a neighbor taken by the virus that I don’t know I’ll choose to take down myself.)

I’ve loved continuing to serve as PTO president. I was going to call it off the first year, until I realized that I was the one with the budget for teacher appreciation and the end of year celebrations. I was also the one with experience adapting traditions to crazy health restrictions. So I ended up hosting a week-long game show for our teachers. And I bought gifts and decorations for an end of year reverse parade.

Sometimes I feel like a puppet master running PTO meetings by Google Meet and then giving other commands by text message and sending other parents to do the work I can’t do myself. It’s taken creativity to reinvent school traditions this year. But it’s been a wonderful chance to enjoy and celebrate the now and I hope my efforts have others as we learn a different way to do things.

There have been other hard moments in this year. Not directly from the pandemic, but made harder by it. Rioting and civil unrest. And a windstorm that brought hurricane force winds rarely seen in Utah.

Between the trauma of being woken by an earthquake in March and then a night lying awake listening to that windstorm, Patrick has become pretty skittish about sleep, especially in the morning. He wakes in the morning and lies awake waiting for day to come. I finally taught him how to read a clock, and convinced him he should try to sleep if he wakes before 6.

But most days, since he doesn’t understand time, he lies there and waits for the clock to change. Sometimes for hours. And he’s in my room at 6:04 telling me it’s morning. To survive, we taught him how to serve himself cereal or yogurt or cottage cheese so we could sleep a little longer. Growth comes in unexpected ways.

Finally, an end is in sight for this pandemic. Almost. There are vaccines available. I was nervous at first about their quick development. Until, that is, an infectious disease doctor I trust explained out how the sheer volume of people affected by a pandemic had helped them complete trials faster than usual. No corners were cut, there just were enough people for trials. He also pointed out that the technology had been being developed for years and just needed an application.

Still, we have to wait our turn in line. And unfortunately, there are no pediatric studies complete. So the person in our house who needs the vaccine most, Patrick, may not be able to get it until fall.

There are variants that might be resistant. And no one knows if vaccinated people can spread the virus as can happen with other vaccines.

And with the degree of vaccine hesitancy or outright misinformation, I’m not sure that there will be enough herd immunity available to protect him without being vaccinated himself.

I remember last March reading about the Spanish Flu. I’d downloaded a book thinking “This was a major historical event, and I know nothing about it.” So when I finally was ready to face it, I read that book. And I read historical accounts. That pandemic lasted for 2 years. It looks likely that this one will, too.

So we’ll keep doing what we’re doing. Keeping safe, but not waiting. Being patient, but living the life we have.

There are things we have learned we can do without. I used think that we needed to keep Patrick in therapies as much as possible to help make up for the effects of his brain injury. But when those were cancelled, and I started to put in a full school day with him, it suddenly seemed cruel to make him leave school and still do hours of therapy. After years of attending therapy with him, there is a lot I can do for him naturally in his day anyway.

We learned, however, that we did need other support. The sudden change in activity made the effects of cerebral palsy in his legs so much more severe. Especially in the midst of a growth spurt. Thank goodness for a video consultation with his physical therapist and a dedicated adaptive P.E. teacher, we were able to help me find ways to stretch and strengthen so he could walk more easily again. It helped, but when the weather is warmer, we have a lot of strengthening to do for him and for me. We just don’t get to move enough.

My family is closer than we have ever been. Unlike other trials, we’ve spent this one together, not apart, and it’s brought us close. And despite the outright disasters (multiple) of this past year, we have discovered so many other wonderful things.

I hope we never lose the lessons of family and slowing down.I hope to carry lessons I’ve learned on with me. I hope we don’t resume old habits of ignoring sickness or ignoring those in need around us. That we remember what we’ve learned about staying connected.

One basic principle we computer nerds know.. Sometimes it’s best to just wipe out a computer or a device and rebuild it from scratch. Get rid of the unneeded processes that are bogging the system down. I think that’s kind of what we’re doing now.

If you’ve made it to the end of this long, rambling post.. well, either you’re probably related to me or this pandemic has left you with extra time that you’re trying to fill. Mostly, I’ve written this for myself. To remember what happened this year. And because, as a blogger detailing our transplant journey, it’s worth acknowledging the very unusual experience that it is to be a transplant family during a pandemic.

Whenever I get fatigued by his long, long trial I remind myself that we have been gifted many miracles in Patrick. It is a gift to have him with us at all. He died in my arms and was brought back. He was saved from sepsis more times than I can count. We received another gift in his being made nearly whole by transplant. And I don’t take for granted the gift of his donor who, in a way, lives on in him.

I can be patient and grateful in protecting those gifts. I can be inconvenienced by staying in my comfortable home. We’ve survived things this hard and harder and been sustained.

It is a privilege to be rare, to be the 1%, or even less than 1%. And hopefully what we know from our rare journey can help others. The world has been thrust into our unusual life.

We’ll see if I have more time moving forward to keep up on blogging what it is to be 1% in a pandemic. I have nothing but time, but with distance learning, I also have never had less time. But if you made it to the end here, thanks for listening.

I’d normally pack a post with pictures and maybe someday I’ll go back and do that. But for now, here’s a link to Patrick’s 12th birthday video. That’ll catch you up on pictures till Halloween at least.

Some big changes

It’s the beginning of a new era for the Hoopes Family. Our lives are filled with packing, cleaning and painting right now. Why? Well, because as of Monday, we own a new house. It’s about 20 minutes north of here in a quiet little neighborhood.

I can’t remember if, when I was writing about Patrick’s tonsils, I also wrote about his name having come up in the lottery for a special needs charter school. I was so buried in tonsillectomy recovery with my husband out of town that all I could think to do that week was complete the required paperwork.

Well, things settled down a bit and we decided we’d better figure out what needed to be done to know if we wanted Patrick to attend that school. I’ll be honest, my first impression was that I didn’t want to give up all of the great things I had going on right then and didn’t see any reason at all to move.

BUT I did follow through by setting up some school tours and meetings with the school principal. And, well, given the length of the drive (and the added complication of having to use the freeway for the commute,) I decided to look around the neighborhood in case Patrick did great at the school and we wanted to consider living closer.

Well, from that moment on, we just couldn’t seem to leave the investigation alone. A house caught our eye, we looked it up. Found flaws. Then another appeared. I couldn’t stop thinking about it so I drove out to see it. It wasn’t right. Nor was another. And we didn’t really think we were house shopping. Just getting to know the neighborhood.

Until… Brian spotted one nearby but NOT in the neighborhood we were looking at. We did a walk through and as we talked about it we could see so many great things for Patrick’s future in that house. A quieter neighborhood, proximity to parks, proximity to a great school, space for a bedroom downstairs and away from us when he gets older.. and the list went on and on. As we talked, I was filled with this sense of total peace.

So before we found an answer about the school and just 2 weeks after even discussing the possibility of moving, we put an offer on a house.

IMG_20180428_095501.jpg

The rest has fallen into place very quickly. Through a ton of quick work, we cleaned up our house, did some staging, held and open house. And found a buyer. In fact, not just a buyer but one we’re really excited about selling the house to so we don’t feel quite as guilty for leaving. The financing came through in record time. The sale came through without a hitch.

IMG_20180515_184458.jpg

And so by the end of this week, we’ll be moving. I’m not ready. It’s gone SO fast! And I’ve got just this week (one Brian’s working evenings in, even) to repaint the entire basement, finish packing, be present during Patrick’s last 2 weeks of school, tie up loose ends with PTA and church.. and be ready for the movers to come on Monday.

 

I am exhausted and I hurt everywhere. And there is so much still to do.IMG_20180515_192417.jpg

That brings me to another new thing in our family. Mostly, another new thing for me. Remember that post a few months back where I said that I just kept developing tendonitis everywhere as I tried to get in shape? And did I mention as I wrote about Patrick having EBV that we think I had it too?

I know I didn’t mention that at the end of November one morning I woke up and I just couldn’t walk. My knees were swollen and unsteady and it felt like I was ice skating. It took about 4 weeks to finally get to the point of doing cortisone injections which restored function pretty immediately. Except that things weren’t quite right. Not in my knees. Or my wrists or my elbows.

Well I finally got enough of a moment of quiet to go to the doctor who said, no, none of that is normal results of going from inactive to active. She ordered several blood tests looking for autoimmune diseases and other things.

And, well, one came back positive.

As it turns out, I have rheumatoid arthritis.

Our theory is that it was kind of there latently.. but when I started to exercise it brought it to the surface. And then, when I got sick (possibly with EBV) it triggered the auto-immune response.

RA is a lifelong, chronic illness with some pretty scary possible outcomes if left untreated.

The good news is, it’s one of the ones they are having success in treating. And we caught this quite early, we think.

So with immune suppressants, my new doctor thinks that he’ll be able to put the disease into remission and really minimize it’s effects.

It’s scary. The drug I am on is some very serious stuff. I’m now scheduled to have labs and follow up visits as often as Patrick is. This is a HUGE life change.

On the other hand, I’ve only given myself just one shot of the new medicine and it gave me 3 wonderful days with very little pain. The doctor said that in about 3 weeks it may be built up enough in my system to be considered remission. And it’s great to know that this hasn’t been all in my head, or because I was out of shape, or wimpy, or bad at taking care of myself.

And I’m thankfully so very busy with the move that I can’t really think too much about it right now.

It’s been such a whirlwind that it’s kept me, in part, from thinking too much about all the things that we’re leaving behind. I did lie awake fretting about that a lot at first. We really do have a beautiful home with wonderful neighbors. I’m going to miss my kitchen, my gardens, just being in the neighborhood of my family.. and most of all, I’m going to really miss my friends.

The only thing getting us through is this amazing peace that I feel whenever I drive out to our new home. The Lord is providing that in ample doses. And I know it’s where Patrick and we belong.

It’s great to be 8!

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

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

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

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

IMG_20160222_175617

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

IMG_20160719_130551

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

IMG_20160910_164955

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

IMG_20160721_190559

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

IMG_20160831_193316

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_20160707_100018 (1)

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

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

From November to February

It’s been 3 months since I last wrote. 3 months since Patrick’s one-year transplant anniversary. 3 very busy, full and blessed months. And I have kept meaning to write but it was all just going by so quickly, so busily, so trying-to-keep-us-moving-forwardly that I haven’t. Since I’m catching you up, this could be a long one.

This time last year, Patrick was finally showing improvements after a very terrifying battle with “the stomach flu,” also known as norovirus.. something I will never take for granted again. And I wasn’t telling any of you, but the doctors in their morning rounds were talking about how, if Patrick was able to start to tolerate feeds again, they didn’t have any transplant-related reasons for keeping him in Nebraska. We didn’t believe them. We didn’t even dare hope it. And yet, two weeks later on Valentine’s weekend, they sent us home.

In the three and a half months between Halloween and Valentine’s Day, Patrick made such amazing strides. He proved to us that miracles do happen.

And this year, he has done it again. He has come SO far in the past 3 and a half months.

November was challenging. We had a wonderful birthday trip to Disneyland that I have great intentions of sharing with you later. We started out sentimental about transplant. But honestly, after about half a day of the celebration we were ready to start celebrating not where we’d been but where we were going. And so, celebrating his birthday was extra sweet and the beginning of some amazing new things.

IMG_20151107_163015
One of Patrick’s favorite activities.. tracing letters. Best done hanging off of something.

When we left on the trip, Patrick was struggling with the transition to school and with potty training especially. I was spending my afternoons at the school trying to find a way to help him through his anxiety. That was a theme of November. Visiting the school and trying to help him to not be afraid and to mediate a peace between him and his aide as they were locked in a battle of wills over the issue.

And then, like that, he succeeded. And we threw a bit of a party for him. We literally danced right then and there. And then another day I was late and when I got there, he didn’t need me after all and I snuck away without him knowing I’d come. And slowly I was able to slip away.

However, with that battle of wills over, Patrick shifted his battle to be more directed at his aide. We started to have big behavioral problems with him at school. One morning, Patrick was avoiding getting ready for school and then he broke down and he cried. He crawled up in my lap and he told me how discourage he was there. And I didn’t know how to help him and I cried, too.

And after two miserable weeks, Patrick’s monthly bloodwork revealed that his Prograf levels were sky high. No wonder he wasn’t happy! He was always grumpy and angry and uncooperative when his levels were so high. So we adjusted the dose and the next day he was back to himself again.

And I did some research and some talking to doctors and some praying and realized that when we’d discontinued Patrick’s tube feeds at the beginning of November, he’d started to take his evening meds on an empty stomach.

It was a big ah-hah! So at an appointment with his GI, where we already were talking about how to push more calories because he was starting to lose weight, we decided to give Patrick a glass of Carnation Instant Breakfast, a.k.a. “chocolate milk” at bedtime. And his levels came back down and you could tell he was feeling better.

The idea at first was to give protein shakes by g-tube. Problems is, Patrick thinks it's super fun to drink from a syringe. So most "boluses" end up given like this.
The idea at first was to give protein shakes by g-tube. Problems is, Patrick thinks it’s super fun to drink from a syringe. So most “boluses” end up given like this.

Well, except that he had gotten into a habit of butting heads with his aide. I started having the teacher send home reports of Patrick’s behavior each day. With meds right, most days were better. But we still had some iffy days. And I started bribing Patrick with vanilla tootsie rolls to stay out of trouble at school.

I don’t know if that was why. She doesn’t say it was. But at Christmas break, Patrick’s aide quit and a new aide was hired. The new girl working with Patrick is young, but has a gentler touch and they seem to be getting along. Patrick has gotten a tootsie roll every day since she started. And since they have no potty training history, that problem is a distant memory.

In fact, we’ve shifted from regular accidents to waiting to let Patrick go to the bathroom. We were terrified that dairy was going to be bad for Patrick’s gut. It can be for other intestinal transplant patients. We were really told he’d never be allowed milk. But instead, since adding cheese (Patrick’s absolute favorite food to the exclusion of all other foods), Patrick’s gut has adapted better than we ever imagined.

It’s been a little bit of a difficult transition for Patrick. To go from chronic diarrhea to not. To have his belly feel full in the mornings. He wasn’t much of a breakfast eater before. But now some days it takes a lot of coaxing and imagination and bribery to get him to eat and allow his belly to wake up in the morning. He still does not love going to the potty. And we are often late in the morning as a result.

The biggest problem with this new problem is that it isn’t good for Patrick to refuse to eat. He has lost weight constantly since tube feeds were stopped. At first, it was a lot. He lost very quickly. We’ve been adding calories everywhere we can. Extra butter. Lots of cheese. (Lots, and lots…like 10-servings-a-day-lots). Switching to whole milk which is offered with every meal and also at bedtime. Allowing him to snack from the moment he comes home until an hour before dinner and then to snack again till bedtime, when I offer a “second dinner” if he wants it. I’ve tried “bolusing” extra calories when he refuses to eat. That means, using a syringe and gravity to give milk through the g-tube. But some days his belly is so full that it literally won’t flow in.

Some of the problem is oral aversion. With so many hours a day at school, I can’t really afford using dinners too much to teach Patrick to eat new foods and his repertoire of safe, familiar foods is very limited.

But some of the problem is just anatomy. I’m not sure we can afford to fit many more calories into his waking hours. If he doesn’t at least maintain his weight this month, we may have to go back to some tube feeding.

But that is the medical news. It’s what is turning my hairs grey and giving me wrinkles. But it’s only part of the story.

We had a wonderful Christmas. I feel so blessed to have had a quiet Christmas at home. We bought Patrick his first two-wheeler bike. He took to it immediately and, even with snow on the ground EVERY DAY since the week before Christmas, he has been riding it regularly. We took him out once or twice a day during Christmas break. Because he’s big enough for a 20 inch wheel, you have to jog to keep up with him. (Once we lose the ice, I’ll start riding along-side instead.)

But after a couple of weeks, he fell. It took a couple of times that he was terrified and refusing to ride before we realized that one training wheel was slightly loose and he didn’t feel as steady. So daddy tightened up the training wheel and we told him that he just needed his helmet and he’d feel brave again. That helmet is working like Dumbo’s feather. With it, though he’s not quite as fearless as he was at first, he’s back to flying around the neighborhood everytime the sidewalks are clear enough.

Another big thing that happened in December is that we got Patrick into a psychiatrist. Patrick’s been seeing a psychologist for a few years now. But a psychologist can’t write prescriptions. So, after much discussion and after seeing that Patrick was becoming medically stable enough, we decided it was time to try medication for his ADHD again. Stimulants like ritalin still aren’t an option. Not with their major side effect being appetite suppression. But his doctor suggested a drug called “Clonidine” for impulse control. It’s also used to treat high blood pressure, drug withdrawal, and anxiety. And the transplant team felt that it was an absolutely safe choice to start with. So Patrick’s therapist called a colleague and told him exactly what she wanted him to prescribe.

In December we started giving Patrick a “crumb” of clonidine before and after school. The change was profound. He started to be able to sit through some of church. He started to be able to stay focused on a game or toy that interested him. He calmed down at school. He didn’t have to be reminded to pay attention to his homework. The difference was night and day.

IMG_20151207_191825

Of course, it also decreased his blood pressure which made him so tired that he started to fall asleep by 6 p.m. So we had to adjust dosing times a little bit. Now he takes one quarter pill in the morning when he’s well-rested and it carries him through the school day. When I pick him up, he’s starting to get a bit “bouncy” and we let him stay that way. Afternoons are free play time in our house now so that he doesn’t get in trouble for the extra trouble with impulse control as easily. And then at dinner, he takes his second pill. It makes it so he can get through his homework in half an hour instead of 1 or 2 hours or more. And then he starts to get sleepy just on time for bed. And as long as he takes a nap to catch up on sleep on Saturday, this mostly work ok.

Feeling calmer, Patrick’s finally able to get back into more of the kid things that he has loved to do but couldn’t stick with before.

Our church schedule changed from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. to 9 a.m. to noon. Since this is his very best time of day, and because he’s not distracted by being hungry, he’s able to go to his primary (children’s sunday school) class with an adult helper. (Who is amazing for him.) And then instead of hanging out at the back of the room oblivious to what is going on, he’s sitting with his class and much more engaged in learning.

They gave a challenge to the kids to memorize a verse of scripture last month. So I put a key portion of it on a piece of paper and he read it every day until he could recite it by memory. Then last week, he stood up and recited it in front of the other kids. He was SO proud of himself!

His reading is coming along. So is math. They’ve been teaching him how to use touch math for addition and he’s catching on and starting to believe me when I tell him, “You can be really good at math.” His writing is improving enough that he is handwriting most of his assignments. This can still be frustrating for him sometimes. And he still has a ways to go. But it’s getting better.

With his focus so much better, though, I can see how much memory still gets in his way. He really truly just forgets things. Especially names. PLEASE BE KIND if he asks you your name, even though he’s known you for his entire life and should be able to remember it. I’m beginning to believe that this is a trait of his brain injury. He still misses numbers when he’s counting. He still gets stumped on words I know he knows when he’s reading. And I think it’s a problem with recall that he can’t help.

That makes it all the more amazing that he’s succeeding at memorizing scripture. We’ve picked two more to work on this month. There are some very amazing and specific promises related to scripture study. Especially study of the Book of Mormon. And I have seen that EVERY time that we have used scripture to help Patrick work on a goal that we believe might be impossible because of his injury, I have seen him meet and exceed those goals. Those promises from the Lord are real and can work miracles.

Anyway – I have a lot more to catch you up on. And we have a lot of new milestones ahead of us this month. And so I’m going to end this lengthy post here for now with the hope that I’ll be able to fill in more later.

We are grateful to those of you who have helped us through these last few months. It is not easy to learn to eat, potty, read, write, add, attend school, attend church, make friends, control your temper, and pay attention all at once. I know I couldn’t teach it all myself. So thanks to those who’ve been there to help. And to listen and offer counsel when I’ve been discouraged.

Thanks to transplant, we have a lot of living and learning ahead of us. More than we hoped could be possible. And this has been a big growing season for us as we’ve come to realize that there is a path that lies ahead, and we have begun to try to learn to navigate it.

This parenthood thing.. it’s a lot harder than I ever imagined. It’s forcing me to become a better person than I knew I needed to become.

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.

“What I did this summer” or in other words, a brief summary of the month of July

As usual, summer has been very busy. Brian survived the Youth Conference pioneer trek (they did a one week recreation of the handcart pioneers that helped to settle Utah). Getting last details like their trek booklets and video slideshow kind of ate up all of my attention before and after. And Brian was swamped with getting everything ready both to prepare and clean up from trek, as well as getting work responsibilities squared away. Of course, this coincided with my amazing respite provider being sick for two weeks in a row and I barely held it together, honestly.

As a nice treat, though, my sister came and helped Patrick to bed one night so that I could drive up and visit my husband on the trail. That was a little bit of payoff, despite all of the craziness. Brian was called on to speak to the youth that night. He talked about the women’s pull, when the boys and men leave the carts and the women pull them up the steepest part of the trail in memory of the many pioneer women who crossed the plains without husband because they were divided by circumstance or death. As he talked, I saw a little bit of how it must be for him to watch me struggle right now with my current demands. How helpless he must feel watching me. I’ve been so focused on my own battle that I haven’t really seen things through his eyes that way before.

While Brian was away for youth conference, we celebrated Patrick’s “miracle day.” The 6 year anniversary of when Patrick, basically, died in my arms.. but didn’t leave us. I am still in awe of where we are now considering what happened then. I decided that I’d just scrap all responsibility that day and just focus on Patrick that day. It was swimming day at school, which means I got to go play in the pool. We left there and went out to Arby’s for lunch. (Arby’s has generously donated summer lunches to kids this year and so Patrick and I have been regulars this year.) While there, I asked Patrick what he’d like to do to celebrate and he chose the zoo. And, as we finished at the zoo, I decided to go follow a lead from the morning. The lifeguard at the school pool overheard me saying how hard it is for a transplant patient to find a pool clean enough to swim in. He gave me suggestions of a therapy pool that might be willing to sneak us in during a water aerobics class for a private swim session. In the end, that’s exactly what happened and Patrick and I enjoyed a full hour of having the shallow end all to ourselves. We came home exhausted, ate a quick dinner, and then went to bed early. A perfect way to spend the day.

Patrick’s last day of summer school was a week later and that’s why you haven’t heard much from me. I can’t quite put into words what it is to spend all day every day trying to supervise, teach, potty train, clean up after, and keep nurturing a little boy with this many needs day in and day out.

I’m trying to make the best of summer and shake the guilt of the mom who formerly had amazing mommy school themes planned for every day but now just makes it through the day. Patrick gets up at 6:34 every day. We go immediately to the bath. Patrick’s discovered laying down in the tub and so he has decided to learn to wash his own hair. This means that I can’t just put him in the tub and do things until I’m ready to get him out. He takes care of himself and gets out. Most often. Sometimes I catch him with dry hair and have to send him back to wash it.

We sometimes take lazy mornings where the only goal is making sure he makes it to the potty every time he needs to and that he eats a good breakfast. (He’s discovered cereal now with soy milk and that’s leading to better breakfasts.) Some days, we take some time for playing and learning. I let mommy school slide for a bit and it certainly isn’t organized and awesome, but Patrick started to miss his schoolwork about a week into this stretch of summer break and started to get out his writing books and practicing his letters every day, or grabbing his sight word readers and practicing with me.

Potty training is going well. Patrick has had several all underwear days, even using the bathroom away from home. But sometimes he forgets and sometimes he gets stage fright.

We accomplished Patrick's first away from home potty success when I offered to buy him this car ONLY if he used the potty in Walmart. We went back 3 times until he finally did it.
We accomplished Patrick’s first away from home potty success when I offered to buy him this car ONLY if he used the potty in Walmart. We went back 3 times until he finally did it.

He’ll get restless midday and so we take lunches at the park. We gave up on the location by our house because there were never kids his age there. We now bounce around between different parks, going most often to the one near our home with a shaded play structure. It’s nice to give him the chance to move and interact with other kids. And we’re pretty used to eating the lunches I pack now. Of course, Patrick’s gotten a bit fixated on corn dogs in vegan ranch dressing and picks that most often. But build your own pizza kits, hot dogs, pasta salad, chicken nuggets, and hummus are regular favorites.

A lot of our time is also spent practicing time outs, too. Patrick’s been angry again lately. I talked to his psychologist about it and she pointed out that he’s got a lot of new skills (language, potty, eating) and a lot of new independence now that he doesn’t need feeding tubes. And she thinks that he’s trying to figure out his boundaries again. So we worked out a behavior plan with 3 very careful worded warnings and then consequences when he’s out of control in time out.

I tried starting this behavior plan on the Pioneer Day weekend and it made for a very LONG weekend as Patrick fought back against the new rules and consequences. I don’t think we’ve got things quite right yet.

Just when we were making ground, he caught a cold. Amazingly, it only lasted a few days and went away without many problems. But we had to start all over again once he was better.

We’ve also been continuing to go to social skills group at the autism clinic and Patrick’s attention seems to be getting better the more we go. Plus, I get a pretty fun little show watching a bunch of autistic 4-7 year olds practice circle time and social skills through a two-sided mirror. I’m the old-pro parent there with a bunch of brand new, doe-eyed new parents who are terrified of the diagnosis. I just sit there knowingly, quietly watching. They see behaviors that are confusing and scary to them. I just see autism and know that with a little practice and help, that won’t be a big deal. I know there is a lot more parents can survive and learn to do than they realize, and much more potential in children, too. I also see how Patrick doesn’t act exactly like the other kids in the group and remember why I don’t often use that label to try to explain his needs. But the group helps, regardless, and provides some entertainment for me, too. Especially when the kids come play with their reflections.

With a little bit more time back, we’ve snagged some family time this July. We got our bikes in good riding condition and went to the Jordan River Parkway. I went once. Brian has been taking Patrick back. Brian and I even squeezed in a couple of dates. We went to a movie last night and realized that we aren’t ready for that much leisure time yet. It just felt wasteful to sit in a theater doing nothing and we couldn’t quite comprehend people having time to be regular movie goers. (Not that it’s wrong. Feeling like leisure activities are frivolous is a pretty common side effect of the kind of extreme trials we’ve faces this year.) We also took a morning and went out to breakfast and to the driving range. That didn’t feel quite as frivolous and it was fun to see all those skills we learned in golf lessons coming back. I’ve lost less than I expected. We went to the zoo a few times. Brian had a company party at Boondocks so we went drove go carts, played bumper boats and arcade games, and introduced Patrick to bowling. With a ramp and bumpers, he actually did pretty good at it. Especially in a total overstimulating environment and with a cold.

That’s the long and short version of most of July in a nutshell. I think I’m gonna wrap up this sort of travel log sort of blog post right now. There are some other big things that happened in the past couple of weeks, but I think they deserve a post of their own.

Mini summer

So extended school year isn’t really a very full-time summer school option. It’s 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off. So for the past week, Patrick’s been having a mini summer vacation.

We started off it grand fashion. He has really done well in his new summer school classroom. The kids are much more on his level and I feel like he’s making good progress there. The education is focused on maintaining and, at least in the realms of social skills and keeping a routine, it’s going a long way.

The last day before the break, Patrick had his first turn in the school swimming pool. They invited me to come help, just because he has so little experience in the pool. I’m so glad they did! When I got there, he was already dressed for the pool and waiting for me. I’m used to a little boy who is very cautious in the water. I guess he was watching out for his line, because Patrick was NOT afraid. At all. He was extremely brave. I helped him float and worked on teaching him to hold his breath or blow out if his face got in the water. We got him a floating vest and at one point, I turned my back, and he decided to go on his own. I’ll never erase the memory of him laughing as he rolled over and over again in the water.. trying not to inhale.

I’ve been in a better summer mood this week. I finally made Patrick’s 6th birthday video, 6 months late, as a father’s day gift for Brian. You can view it here. I’ve put it off because it was too hard to look at the life we’d left behind when Patrick went for transplant while he was still recovering. I thought I was in a better place. I was. It was therapeutic. It was also still hard. It made me miss last year’s summer school adventures. It made me miss him having friends. And it made me miss the days before steroids where disappointments didn’t lead to big temper tantrums, leaving me fearful of doing some things. I actually had nightmares all the time I was working on the video.

But, with it done, I was ready to dive in and make this a good summer, too. I’m still not as organized and awesome as Mommy school. But we’ve done some good things. We had a picnic at Red Butte Garden. We took a cousin and visited the children’s museum. (Called and asked for suggestions of a less-crowded time to visit and enjoyed being there without fighting a crowd.) We’ve toured a few different libraries.  We finally started collecting brag badges. We mixed up our lunch routine and went to Liberty Park where we started out just eating hot dogs, but stumbled across their wading fountains and ended up staying 3 hours just because.

It was triple-digit heat all last week so I decided that, with the success in the school pool, it would be a good time to get out the backyard swimming pool. This went better than I expected. First, the neighbor’s 10-year-old who often comes to play and help me with Patrick, helped me fill up the pool and taught Patrick how to play in it. I tried putting sunscreen on my own back with spray sunscreen. I haven’t been that burned in years.

The next day, we invited the boy across the street to come play. This was much more on Patrick’s level of play and they had a great time together. This little boy only just barely became a big brother, so there was lots of coaching for both of them about how to play together. But they had successful pool noodle sword-fighting, basketball, water fighting, and general splashing. In the end, I had to call it done because it was well past lunchtime, but neither boy wanted to be done.

Patrick actually spent the rest of that day in the pool, too. He is loving being uninhibited in the water. I love being able to share something I love so much with him.

Alas, though, nothing is perfect. I accidentally pulled Patrick’s g-tube out the day before his first time swimming and it bled a little. We have had off and on g-tube infections since and I’m sure that it’s from spending so much time in the water. Thank goodness it’s supposed to be a cooler, rainy week so I can get away with taking a few days off to let it heal.

The other big event of a summer break is that I decided it was time to work on potty training. I took Patrick to K-mart and let him pick out a pair of big boy underwear the last day of summer school. The next day, I woke up with a migraine, but he was excited to wear them. So we plunged ahead.

He made it through all 5 pairs of underwear in 2 hours, trying his best to “hold it” in between small accidents. I gave him lots of goldfish crackers and praise and did my best to keep things fun and happy. But he was still discouraged. The session ended puddles and a frustrated little boy. I’m pleased to report his mommy stayed calm and positive.

The next day, when I pulled out his underwear, he cried and threw a tantrum that he didn’t want them. But I reminded him it was only for the morning and that there were prizes waiting. After several tries, he finally went in the potty and earned the water gun I’ve been dangling as a carrot for months. The light went on and the next day, he made it several times, staying dry for half the day.

We took the weekend off, and then started again on Monday. I think he’s actually getting the hang of this. We still aren’t accident free and today is the first day I’m trying underwear all day. I don’t know how it will go to have them trying to potty train when he goes back to school next week. I still haven’t tried using a potty away from home. We might need the next long break to solidify what he’s learned. But so far, things are going better than I expected. Now if only I can convince him that this is the better option for him.

(Note: I know this is a long gap without pictures. But I am trying to not post pictures my son will find embarrassing someday when his girlfriend finds this old blog.)

We had a simple 4th of July. The evening was spent at a barbecue with my family. We’d decided to not push Patrick’s limits this year by participating in my family’s huge fireworks. Turns out, that was a convenient choice as it started to rain right after we ate. We left in a downpour but made it home with just a little sprinkling, so we decided to go ahead with our smaller fireworks. (We bought a small pack of fireworks, plus a couple of fountains specifically labeled “silent” so he wouldn’t be scared by the noise.) Who’d have expected, after years of miserable 4th’s and Patrick terrified of fireworks that, on this smaller scale, Patrick would be in love with fireworks. We had to stop and go inside for half an hour because of rain, but when it let up we went out and lit more. He was very upset when he found out we only bought enough for one night.

The rest of the day was simple. Brian hosted a barbecue for his team at work Monday so we spent most of the weekend deep cleaning the house and prettying up the yard. It feels really good to finally have cleaned up some of those messy corners and piles that have been haunting me for being undone since we got home in February. And I caught a clearance sale at the greenhouse down the street. So I got 3 healthy cucumber plants and two basil for free, some adorable patio pumpkins, eggplants, and yellow zucchini as well as a 3 pack of bell peppers for virtually nothing.

Isn't this tiny eggplant adorable? And the flowers are so pretty!
Isn’t this tiny eggplant adorable? And the flowers are so pretty!

Then, we went back later for some miniature sunflowers to fill in the front bed where our irises grow in spring. Brian wanted to plant giant sunflowers from seed earlier this year. We planted a seed in a family home evening lesson about faith. They are as tall as me now. So tying in little sunflowers in the front yard seemed the perfect touch. I’m in love with my sunflowers this year.

I also happened to listen again to this wonderful sermon this week, which only made me more in love with them. The Lord is My Light by Elder Quentin L. Cook, apostle

One of the remarkable characteristics of young wild sunflowers, in addition to growing in soil that is not hospitable, is how the young flower bud follows the sun across the sky. In doing so, it receives life-sustaining energy before bursting forth in its glorious yellow color.

Like the young sunflower, when we follow the Savior of the world, the Son of God, we flourish and become glorious despite the many terrible circumstances that surround us. He truly is our light and life.

We’re plugging away. The stress of having Patrick will me full-time when paired with the Brian’s very busy summer planning handcart pioneer trek reenactment for the teenagers in our church has me running a little ragged. I’ll be honest, when paired with facing my feelings about what we’ve lost, I’ve had more trouble with anxiety and depression lately. So  looking to sunflowers as a symbol and reminder of life-sustaining faith and hope, even in the midst of a week where popular voices are calling it old-fashioned, hypocritical, and even bigoted to believe in Christ.. that is helping to lift me up. My sunflower plants really do turn and follow the sun all day. I see them every time I come and go from my house. And each time I do, I remember that it is worth following light, even before flowers bloom.  That little seed of faith we planted is as tall as I am and growing more, so long as it follows the light.

IMG_20150703_185812

One more week of summer awesomeness ahead. This week, we’ll resume our mommy school studies, try to earn a brag badge a day, wear underwear all day, and try to get daddy ready for Trek.

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.