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.

Transplant Day 28 and Thanksgiving

I didn’t get to blogging last night. Patrick has had some really good moments, some really difficult moments, and a very busy treatment schedule for the past 2 days. This is the first quiet moment I’ve had. So let me catch you up.

Two nights ago, I emptied Patrick’s ostomy bag and put him to bed. (In case you don’t know, an ostomy or stoma is a place where a surgeon has made a small piece of intestine come out of the skin. It drains into a bag. Patrick needs to have one so they can easily and safely do scopes to watch for rejection for the next year. Eventually, they’ll take it back down and reconnect him.)

Anyway.. I put Patrick to bed a little before midnight. By morning, his ostomy bag was still empty. When his nurse gave him his morning meds, he couldn’t keep them down. And as the day wore on, it seemed his discomfort was growing more and more. But we told the team and the surgeon said get him up and maybe it will wake up.  If not, then call and a resident could come use a small tube to help break up and drain out any small blockage.

Well, 2 p.m. rolled around and still nothing and Patrick’s belly really hurt. We called the resident. She was really hesitant and thought that it was dangerous to put a tube into Patrick’s stoma and new bowel. So she wasn’t going to do it without permission. The fellow (who is over the residents) had been in the hall pulling up chest x-rays during the conversation, so he hadn’t heard the instructions.  It took another hour and a little bit of firm insistence before she finally consented to come do the procedure.

But, once she did. Patrick felt lots better. The nursing staff decided that they would insist that this be done once every 8 hours at least. Because of that, Patrick was much more comfortable for the rest of the afternoon.

All that pain made it so Patrick didn’t feel much like getting up and moving much. Thank goodness for family, though. When Brian’s brother Mark heard that we were going to be here for Thanksgiving, he and his wife immediately started to make plans to come celebrate Thanksgiving with us. They rented a house for the weekend so they’d have a kitchen to cook in. They drove here from Denver, arriving Wednesday night. Then, the night before Thanksgiving, they went and found a grocery store, bought all the food for the meal, and went to work.

So yesterday morning, while Heidi stayed behind and cooked, Mark and his kids came to play. They threw a ball, blew bubbles, put on a mini puppet show. They brought Patrick big smiles, even though he didn’t feel very well. Then, they went to help pack up the food and Patrick took a nap. He slept through dinner, and that was really ok, since he wouldn’t have been eating anyway.

For a Thanksgiving dinner in the hospital, this meal was amazing. As I’ve said before, this hospital is abandoned on weekends and holidays. So we set up dinner on one of the long tables in the cafeteria. We all ate until we were well stuffed.  The kids played in the cafeteria and we rested and talked.

Then I came upstairs so Patrick wouldn’t wake up alone. Good thing, too, as he woke up crying in pain. His nurse got him a hot pack and some pain meds, though, and with his belly a little less full it helped.

Brian came up after his family had left for the evening and with pain medicine on board, Patrick was ready for a walk. We got the nurse to bring in a cart for some portable oxygen. His walking was stiff and clumsy and guarded… But getting up and moving seemed to have helped his lungs. His oxygen saturation was much better for the rest of the evening. That, after a day of restarting respiratory therapy, seemed to make a really big difference.

It was a busy evening, though. Nursing staff is short on a holiday so the nurses were running like crazy. But still, with several antibiotics on the IV pump in the evening, the pumps just beeped and beeped.  Finally, we made it to sleep at midnight. Unfortunately, vitals woke up at 5 and then labs at 5:30 and so we were both exhausted by morning. Therefore, this late post. I’ll start writing about today next and hopefully post after adding a bit more right at bedtime.

Transplant Day 27 and Baby Steps

Well, since I blogged this morning, I don’t have a lot of updates. Patrick’s made steady progress all day. He still needs some oxygen support, but not as much. He slept till noon. He played in his wagon.

It was a good mail day. We got cards from Patrick’s kindergarten, a picture of the Salt Lake Temple from a friend, and a package from Patrick’s therapist and social skills group. Those things came on just on time to lift our spirits. Patrick was confused and sad to wake up in the ICU when he’d expected to go back to his room last night. Brian and I were just tired.

In addition to that, Brian went to Village Inn to pick up a couple of pies I ordered yesterday for Thanksgiving dinner. When I placed the order, they noticed my out of state phone number and asked what brought us to town. Well, when Brian got there to pick up the pies, she came out and explained that she had bought our pies for us. Just the kind of gesture to make the morning after a bad night better.

Patrick had a CT scan this afternoon to look at the current state of his lungs. That scared him and brought some tears… but they let Brian and me hold his hands and we even got some smiles during the test.

It’s been great to see his smiles. I hadn’t noticed how much they had been missing till I saw them come back. He is sore and afraid of being more sore so he hasn’t wanted to walk much. His neck is kinked and he doesn’t want to turn his head. But overall, he’s still feeling and moving better.

After it hurting to talk yesterday, Patrick has stayed with his default method of communication from yesterday. He is waiting for yes/no questions and then answering with sign language. This is better than not talking at all… but I hope his words come back soon.

We were transferred back to the pediatric floor today to a room that is a touch smaller but otherwise a mirror image of our previous room. Since his lungs are still kind of at risk, we are packing smarter this week… keeping things a little more put away and hanging fewer decorations on the walls.  But it is nice to have more space and more quiet at least.

Brian’s brother and his family arrived tonight. They are making Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. It was really fun to see them. Patrick was so content that he fell asleep in his wagon holding Mark’s hand. I don’t quite have the heart to move him back to bed yet.

Thanksgiving

What’s the best thing about Thanksgiving dinner? Not the food, according to Patrick, who really didn’t even want to eat much of anything at either of the family get-togethers we went to. For Patrick, the best part of Thanksgiving dinner was that it put his family all together between the hours of 2 & 4 p.m. This is when Patrick has his break from his TPN, which means that on two consecutive days, Patrick got to run around tube free and play with his very favorite people.

You couldn’t ask for a better holiday treat.

I’ll admit, I enjoyed it, too. It’s different to go to an event and be able to let Patrick play without having to follow behind him watching his tubes.

And the best thing about the entire holiday weekend? Well, according to Patrick, it was having Daddy home for so many days in a row. He didn’t want to let him out of his sight. Friday morning we went to do a little bit of Christmas shopping and when Brian walked away from the cart, Patrick was absolutely heartbroken.

Daddy is, hands down, Patrick’s favorite person in the entire world. And who am I to argue? The two of them are my two favorite people, too.

Spending the holiday with the two of them, free from the hospital, healthy and happy is truely something to be thankful for.

Adoption Reflections: The journey home

I think this will be the last in my adoption reflections series.

Things started to come together quickly once the court granted us full custody of Patrick. The adoption agency put in a petition for something called an “interstate compact” or “ICPC”. Basically, Michigan and Utah had to formally agree on which laws would govern the adoption. Meanwhile, the hospital social worker and discharge planner started working on the bigger question of how exactly we’d get Patrick home.

Patrick’s care needed to be transferred to specialists in Utah. He needed doctors here arranged and home care set up before he could leave the hospital environment. That meant he couldn’t just be discharged from the hospital so we could fly home commercially.

Eventually, it was decided that our best option was a medical flight. It took some juggling, negotiating, and everything short of outright begging to come up with the $20,000 cost of the flight, but eventually between our insurance company, a private donor, and our own savings, we had enough to book the flight.

Two days before Thanksgiving, the ICPC and flight were arranged, Patrick had a bed and a doctor at Primary Children’s hospital. We were coming home!

There wasn’t room for both of us and our month’s worth of luggage on the flight home, so Brian flew home Tuesday evening with the luggage. I stayed behind to take care of Patrick.

We were scheduled to fly out early in the afternoon on Wednesday, but some bad weather put the flight crew behind so it was after midnight before we left. We bundled Patrick up as warmly as possible. Then they strapped him to a stretcher. We went by ambulance to the airport, where a Leer Jet was waiting. We flew at 70,000 feet to stay out of turbulance. Patrick just slept the whole way.

Finally, we landed in Salt Lake and took an ambulance to the hospital, arriving about 4 a.m.

It was so disorienting to be in a new hospital. Nothing was familiar. I was tired and somewhat lightheaded from the long trip.

Brian met us at the hospital, and once we were checked in, took me home to rest. Leaving my baby all alone in an unfamiliar place was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But I knew I had to take care of myself.

After a couple of hours’ sleep, we got up and got ready for Thanksgiving. I finally got to see the nursery Brian and our friends had put together for us. We took hundreds of pictures with us to Thanksgiving dinner. And then, once we were rested and fed, we went back to the hospital – where’d I’d spend most of my days for the next 2 and a half weeks.

For the first time, it was our last name on Patrick’s nametag. We were just the parents, not the “adoptive parents”. Our families got to finally meet him. It would be a couple of weeks more before he left the hospital, but Patrick was home.

This year, he gets to come with us to his first ever Thanksgiving dinner. Two of them in fact! We’ve come a long way to get here. Probably the best journey I’ve ever experienced.