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