There’s a saying in medicine: “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.” In other words, the most common answer is usually the correct one. This is good advice when googling your symptoms as well.
But what do you do when it is a zebra?
The last day of February each year is National Rare Disease Day. (Thus encompassing leap day — a rare date for a rare day.) It’s a day to bring together people with rare diseases.
A disease is considered rare when it affects fewer than 1 in 2,000 people. That can be pretty isolating. It means that you may be the only person anyone’s ever heard of with a condition. It may mean there’s not a doctor in your state or in your town familiar with your disease. It may mean treatments that work for others won’t work for you. (But that doesn’t mean you won’t regularly be offered miracle cures by strangers who know nothing about your disease.)
There are 300 million people worldwide with rare diseases. Alone we are rare. Together we are many.
Patrick is rare. Gastroschisis affects 1 in just under 2,000 babies each year. However, Patrick experienced a complication so rare that I can’t find statistics about it. His bowel died, leaving him with Short Gut Syndrome. Short Gut itself only affects 30 of every million people. Only just about 100 intestine transplants are performed each year. Fewer than that are multivisceral. By the numbers, he’s rare.
I’ve been feeling his uniqueness in other ways this month. Especially at school.
Patrick attends a very unique school, one designed for children with special needs, particularly those with autism. Although Patrick checks all the boxes for an autism and ADHD diagnosis, his diagnosis is not as simple as that. Patrick’s intellectual, memory, and sensory issues come largely from a brain injury he sustained during a cardiac arrest caused by a central line infection when he was a baby. That means that, while many of the things that help autistics help him, there are differences in the help he needs. Also, although he has anxiety, his anxiety isn’t founded in ordinary fears, but in the complex medical trauma that he experienced as a young child.
There is a reason we don’t domesticate zebras. They are in many ways quite like horses. Zebras eat almost the same things as horses. (Almost, but not exactly.) They behave in many of the same ways. But zebras are not the same as horses. And the differences are more than just the stripes.
Zebras are smaller but are very strong. They are not strong in the same ways that horses are; their bodies are not made for riders or for carrying burdens. They don’t run as fast as horses. They have evolved to survive as prey. They are skittish and easily startled, quick and agile, known for a bite and a strong kick. Zebras can be sassy, stubborn, smart, and sensitive.
Zebra keepers know that they need to spend extra time building trust. These animals don’t trust easily. Handlers need to be consistent and gentle. They make sure to feed their zebra personally so that it sees where the food comes from and develops trust. Patient handlers are rewarded with an extremely faithful bond.
But you won’t get there if you treat your zebra like a horse – or even like its closer cousin the donkey.
And this is where my frustration lies this month. I’ve heard teachers say that January and February are when most of the teaching happens in a school year. I don’t know if that’s the reason, but every year in January and February, it seems, we end up talking to teachers about the same thing. Patrick falls behind in these months. And I find myself explaining that he can’t be asked to do the same things as the other students if he’s only offered the same supports they are. His issues with motor skills, memory, spatial reasoning, attention, vision, and math require more.
So we end up talking about IEP accommodations, whether there is sufficient staffing, whether he is too dependent, what is attention seeking or escape, whether staff understands his needs and accommodations, how to help them understand, whether he should have to ask for accommodation so receive them. And all of that leads to the question of whether or not he belongs in the classes he is in. Every few years, this one included, I get a bonus IEP team meeting out of it.
This year is better than some because I know that his teachers actually care and are genuinely trying to find ways to help. At least this year I’m not having to start by trying to convince them that his needs are real. But there is a reason people don’t ride zebras. And there is a reason we are always talking about where we can make compromises.
Next year, Patrick moves into 9th grade. For him, that means moving into high school. And that has opened a whole new set of issues. Demands will be higher. Classes will be harder. It’s getting more and more painful to keep Patrick in grade-level classes without grade-level skills. Because classes are for credit, there are limits to modifications. And he likely will never have the executive skills and memory to handle it alone. The question is if we can find a way to give him enough help to handle it at all. And if doing so is worth it for what he’d get out of it.
So now we are talking about whether or not he should pursue a diploma. Whether he would benefit from some time in a functional skills class. What he will do after high school and what, if any classes, they offer that can help prepare him. And although I’ve known for a long time that Patrick wouldn’t likely get a traditional diploma, or go to college, or have many job options, my heart is having a hard time catching up with my head.
Patrick is a normal teenager in so many ways. He loves his friends. He’s girl crazy. He listens to his music too loud and wastes hours on YouTube. He’s obsessed with cars and can’t wait to own his own. At school with his handful of friends is the one place where I think he truly feels like he belongs and is accepted as himself. His advisory teacher is a keeper in both senses of the word.
Except that, even with a sense of belonging, Patrick doesn’t understand what’s going on a lot of the time and sometimes sits lost and without help for an entire class period. And the question is whether that’s actual belonging. (For Patrick, maybe?)
So here’s to Rare Disease Day, a day dedicated to belonging, even when you are rare.
They say that zebra’s stripes make it harder for a predator to pick an individual out. When many zebras stand together, their uniqueness combined protects the group.
That’s not actually true. Recent research shows the stripes protect against tsetse flies, who are so confused by the pattern that they abandon their attack and fly away. That’s probably more representative of how things work with rare disease zebras. We confuse everyone so much that they flee.
But I like the image of the herd of zebras standing together. So I’m going to stick with it.
I began writing this post last March. And then a pandemic happened and circumstances changed and I abandoned it. But I think the discussion is just as relevant now, if not more so. So I’m going to attempt to dust it off and finish writing it. Here’s how I began…
There is a fairly well-known image that is used in discussions about equality. The picture shows 3 children of different heights trying to watch a baseball game over a fence. In the first frame, each child has a crate to stand on, but only the two tallest children can see over the fence. This frame is labelled “Equality.” In the second frame, the tallest child has given his crate to the shortest child. Now all the children can see. The image is labeled “Equity.”
Over the years the image has circulated, the quality of the graphics, the labels on the message, the symbols have been debated, and the interpretations have been varied. Below is a common one used in education and discussions. The 3rd frame is often labeled “inclusion” and represents the systemic barriers being removed.
It seems that I have been having a LOT of conversations lately about how to include Patrick. Since the start of the (2019-2020) year, we’ve had a lot of new transitions. And that means we’re trying to figure out how to fit into a lot of new settings.
The biggest one has been over the subject of P.E.
Here’s what happened. One of my best friends at Patrick’s school was also working part-time as the elementary school P.E. paraprofessional. (a.k.a non-credentialed teacher.)
One day, she called me up FUMING about what was going on at the school. Apparently, they were having trouble with some students choosing not to participate during P.E. and other “specials” classes. The principal had told the teachers that they needed to give a grade for the class, and since it was a pass/fail class, they were looking at giving failing grades to students who refused to participate.
Enter Patrick. Patrick has a combination of disabilities that prevent him from participating fully in a regular P.E. class. He has cerebral palsy that makes it difficult to control the muscles, particularly those in his legs, especially when running. He has visual tracking problems from his brain injury that make it very difficult for him to follow a ball. He has trouble with motor planning, meaning the ability to think through the steps of a motor process that, for others, wouldn’t be consciously broken down. He has serious ADHD that make it hard for him to focus in a chaotic environment. He has working memory impairments, or in other words, problems with his short term memory that mean he can suddenly forget what he is supposed to be doing. And, to top it off, his transplant puts him at exceptional risk of injury from a fall or a blow to the abdomen and he is required to be excluded from contact sports. (Dodgeball, anyone?)
Patrick’s IEP provides for “adaptive P.E. services,” meaning that instead of being required to pass a regular P.E. class, he gets to work with a special P.E. teacher who adapts P.E. to his abilities and works on specific goals.
The problem is this.. Patrick is in a mainstream classroom. And the schedule of that classroom includes the class going to P.E. while the teacher used that time as prep time in the class. And, even though I knew he couldn’t really play, I didn’t see much harm in allowing him to go to P.E. because that’s what his classmates were doing.
But apparently, what was happening was that Patrick, unable to do what the rest of his class was doing, would try to visit with the adults. His para would tell him he needed to go play, and because he couldn’t, he wouldn’t. He’d just sit on the side and patiently watch.
So, when they started talking about who should receive a failing grade for not participating, Patrick’s name made the list.
My friend was furious because she knew this was wrong. Let’s be honest. No one would have been talking about failing a kid in a wheelchair for not doing P.E. We’d had multiple conversations about what he should and should not be doing as she’d made her lesson plans. So she went to an administrator, who pulled the IEP, marched it into the principal’s office, and demanded that he intervene.
Patrick didn’t fail P.E. But it made some of the staff who work with him angry about how “unfair” that was to the other students who saw him not playing.
But it made me aware that I had not done enough in setting clear expectations for P.E. with the school. Enter advocate mom. I called for a special IEP meeting to get clear adaptations written.
Now, Patrick attends an exceptional school. So when I went into the meeting saying that I needed them to make a plan specifically to allow Patrick to be excluded from the P.E. requirement, they insisted instead that they needed to write a plan for him to be included instead.
Plan A. that they wrote didn’t work. Plan A was to require the paras to lead alternative activity for the students (yes, multiple) who could not do the regular P.E. activity and were sitting out. The argued that they kids who were choosing not to participate would choose the easier activity instead. (In hindsight, I disagree with this opinion. Why not allow mainstream students to sometimes do adapted activities? That’s inclusive, right?)
On to Plan B. My friend, because she knew us personally and cared enough to see the individual, started go over her lesson plans with me at our weekly breakfasts. We’d decide what Patrick could do that was related to her plan. Sometimes, that was giving him a special role in a game. (Basket holder, line judge, etc.) Other times that was giving him a simplified version of the activity. (While the other kids shoot hoops, Patrick will practice passing with the help of an adult.) I dropped in on class unannounced and helped to model what this would be like for the staff that was there.
Plan B is what worked.
And it got me thinking a lot more about inclusion.
In children’s Sunday School, we run through scenarios regularly about how to Choose the Right. And a common example is “There’s a new kid” or “There’s a kid others don’t like” or “There’s a kid who isn’t good at a game” … anyway.. there’s a kid, and the other kids don’t want to let them play or let them eat lunch with them or whatever. What do you do?
The answer is, you let them play anyway. Right?
But is it inclusion if it stops there? Is it enough to “let them” attend? Was it enough that Patrick was sitting in P.E. on the stage alone? He didn’t mind. He didn’t want to play. If you asked him to get up and do what the other kids were doing, he’d give a polite “nah.” He was fine, right? He was welcome.
But is that inclusion?
Look again at the picture at the top of the page. The short kid is invited to watch the baseball game. He’s even given a box. It’s totally fair.
Or is it? Is it more fair to give him the box the tall kid is standing on? That way at least he can see. But the tall kid doesn’t get a box that way. Isn’t it more fair for every kid to get a box?
The thing is, adaptation isn’t fair. But it’s at least a start.
One of the things I love about distance learning is that I’m in charge of the school day, so Patrick actually gets all of his accommodations. We use a Kindle with OpenDyslexic font for reading. He can use special manipulatives or a calculator or Google Home to help with math. And he’s getting very good at using Google Read and Write and other adaptive technology.
Adaptations level the playing field so that physical limitations don’t get in the way of him reaching his potential. In P.E., adaptations were changes to game rules, simplified activities, or special equipment. Patrick’s school spends a lot of time teaching him to advocate for his accommodations. One way we as a society can be more inclusive would be to not push back against allowing these when they are justified.
But inclusion CAN be more than that. Because true inclusion sometimes means being willing to change the rules for everyone.
Think, for example, of food allergies. If someone has a life-threatening food allergy, adaptation would say that you allow that person to bring their own food to lunch, instead of eating what everyone else is eating. But if others at the table are eating the allergen, inviting and allowing differences is still not enough. Allergens can be spread by touch, and so we have nut-free classrooms and even nut-free schools. That’s the only way, literally, than a child can safely come to the table.
If done right, inclusion benefits more than just the person with the most apparent need. But it takes some creativity.
Here’s an example. I taught a Sunday school class for 3 year olds. We had one student who every week hid under the table. We had another student who always wanted to remove her shoes. Yes, we could have said that the rules required that everyone sit on their chairs and wear their shoes. And everyone would have learned the rules. But a couple would have spent so much energy on that lesson that there’d have been no time to talk about Christ. So what did we do? We put away the chairs and we sat on the floor. Everyone was allowed to have their shoes off if they wanted. And kids under the table could see the pictures. The only rule was that they had to allow other kids to have a turn under the table, too. Because ALL 3 year olds are sensory creatures and the adaptation that one needed benefited them all.
But inclusion also means being willing to let go of traditional ways of doing things sometimes. And I think that’s the hardest part.
Sometimes, when I get to speak to a group of Patrick’s peers about inclusion, I read them the book “Can I play too?” by “Mo Willems.” Here’s a read along if you don’t know the story:
I like this story because it really captures in a lot of ways what it’s like to try to play when you have a disability or other difference. 1) We don’t always know how to make it work when we start trying to play. 2) A lot of times, what we try fails. 3) After enough failures, the person with the difference will decide they are causing too much trouble and withdraw. 4) Some of the best solutions are the ones people might never have considered.
This is why I love adaptive sports. Because they remove the primary obstacle to inclusion: winning. They also toss out several rules. I remember attending one adaptive baseball game where a player wanted a hit. So they threw him 27 pitches. 27 misses, and then he knocked it out of the park!! And the crowd went wild as he ran his home run.
This is the picture where the wooden fence has been replaced by a chain link. Where there isn’t an obstacle that gives some an advantage over others. This is what people are referring to when they talk about systemic problems.
For Patrick, being graded on participation a typical P.E. class was a systemic problem.
2020 made us acutely aware of so many other systemic problems. The inequalities revealed in our healthcare system, in our justice system, and so many more all came to the surface in violent and devastating ways. And I think a lot of us feel absolutely helpless in the face of systems that we don’t have any idea how to change.
Because, let’s be honest. Inclusion isn’t always possible. Not all sports can be adaptive. Not all diets can be nut-free. You can’t just say you want a system with more social programs when those programs don’t yet exist. We need to be challenged by school or sports to grow, and that means pushing people to their limits.
You also can’t force inclusion. Another thing that 2020 has shown us is that mandates are met with opposition. That opposition comes because broad mandates create new systemic problems that make people feel overlooked.
The thing is that MOST of us really are trying our best. Most of us do care about doing what is right. And what most of us crave most deeply is to feel seen and valued. Especially for our best efforts, even when they are inadequate.
Columnist David Brooks put it this way:
“Many of our society’s great problems flow from people not feeling seen and known.”
David Brooks, “Finding the Road to Character,” October 2019
He went on to say that a trait we all have to get better at is “the trait of seeing each other deeply and being deeply seen.”
Inclusion doesn’t happen by pulling one group out of the shadows and pushing another into it. This is one of the great risks of today’s cancel culture.
It may be an unpopular idea, but I’m not sure that systems CAN be fixed from the top down. Instead, I think that if we want to see our society change in a significant way, it’s going to need to be something that happens on a much more intimate level.
Here’s another great quote:
I believe the change we seek in ourselves and in he groups we belong to will come less by activism and more by actively trying every day to understand one another.
Sharon Eubank, “By Union of Feeling We Obtain Power with God”, October 2020
To be honest, when large-scale changes have been made to try to include Patrick, the result has almost always been awkwardness that made us ALL pull back. Plan A where they ran a whole separate P.E. section for him would have made everyone feel uncomfortable.
But Plan B worked precisely because it was personal, thoughtful, and simple.
We simply need to start seeing each other.
I think we also need to extend each other more grace. If mortality is a school, then we are all going to make mistakes as we learn. We will all sometimes be on the giving side of some hurts. We would benefit from being as quick to grant forgiveness as we are eager to receive it.
On Valentine’s Day this year, I knew that traditional Valentine’s parties were going to leave out every student who was learning from home. As PTO president, I had some power to try to make things better. So, in addition to providing usual support for valentine’s parties, I spent several hours creating virtual valentine’s exchanges, online games and other activities that could be played with the students both in class and those connecting digitally from home.
Patrick’s sweet teacher went out of her way to buy craft supplies so that the class could make each other valentines. And she instructed the class to remember the kids at home and make them for them, too.
But that left home learners entirely on the outside. they were remembered, but not included. And, I’ll admit, after all my effort, I was hurt to still be literally on the outside looking in.
Some attempts at inclusion are a BIG miss.
But that doesn’t change the fact that he has a teacher who very truly cares about him. Who stays late sometimes just to visit with him after the other students have gone. Carrying that hurt would only hurt me. The slight wasn’t intentional.
Where am I going with all this? I’m not sure I exactly know.
I do hope, though, that if I make our experience seen that it will help as we all try to do better at seeing each other. We have too much anonymity in our society. It’s easy to get caught up in “us” and “them” when you speak generally.
But the more you get to know people as individuals, the more natural it is to try to love and take care of each other. What is that quote? “people are hard to hate close up. Move in.”
In other words, we do start with that sunday school answer. We notice the people sitting on the sidelines and we invite them. But it goes a bit deeper than just inviting. We get to know them.
And then we consider each other’s needs. And we make ourselves open to different ways of doing things. We try. If we fail, we forgive and we try again.
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.
This blog has been quiet for a while. It takes time and work to get settled into a new home, school, and life. Honestly, for the first several months I was just unpacking and painting and decorating in every moment I could get. It’s been a year and a half and that job still feels less than half done, though I’m sure it’s not that bad.
That first summer, we unpacked what was necessary and otherwise I tried to focus on having summer. In this neighborhood, there are “summer recreation” classes at the park in the summer. On the days we didn’t have class, we had therapy. We decided to shift some of his goals towards life skills and so our therapy sessions went to the grocery store where Patrick practiced not running into me with the cart and walking as slow as the other shoppers.
At the end of June, Brian and I had the amazing opportunity to visit Rome, Milan and Paris together. I can’t tell you how amazing it was to get to visit the Vatican Museums, the cathedrals, the Louvre, the Duomo. To just soak up all of that early renaissance art. To see the evidence of the reawakening after the dark ages and apostasy, as people’s hearts began to turn again to their Maker and their Savior. We also learned to make real pizza dough (with a lot of help), spent 3 hours being taught about mosaic and micromosaic art from the family who maintains the amazing mosaics at St. Peter’s Basillica and other masterpieces around Italy.
That was perhaps my favorite experience. Another was visiting the construction site of the Latter-Day Saint Temple in Rome. It was humbling to walk where early apostles had walked, and then to stand on land dedicated by living apostles for the same work. Brian ran into a family that he knew from his mission there and we ended up spending hours learning about the symbolism and architecture in the temple. (Such as marble replicas of the statues of the apostles made from marble from the same quarry that Michelangelo used for his sacred sculpture, Pieta, for example.)
After several days in Rome, we took a train to Milan to catch up with a friend of Brian’s who was living there. And then we flew to Paris where we spent a day before flying home. We were so exhausted that we went to bed while the sun was up that day.
I returned home just on time for July 4th while Brian went on to work in Ukraine. Patrick and I celebrated the 4th by immersing ourselves in parades, fireworks, and all of the other things our new neighborhood had to offer.
The rest of our summer was a little surreal. We had moved from such busy responsibilities and lives. But we weren’t busy yet, except with unpacking. I spent most summer evenings sitting in the window or in the front yard reading the entire Harry Potter series while Patrick rode bikes in the front yard with the neighborhood kids. We were really blessed that first year to have a lot of kids his age available to play with just outside the front yard.
July and August went quickly and soon, Patrick was in school. Moving Patrick to this school and moving to be close to it was worth all of the sacrifice it took to get him here. His teacher this year was amazing! I walked out of our first IEP meeting just stunned. I’d known that Patrick’s IEP was weak and even more weakly honored. Honestly, we all had a good laugh at just how terrible it was. Then, they went through and fixed it. Made goals that really would make a difference for Patrick. Offered enough support to actually make those goals work.
And then, for the reset of the year, they actually worked on those goals. I’ve known for years that Patrick’s strength was reading and spelling and was frustrated to know that he wasn’t being taught even what would have been basically offered in kindergarten and first grade about phonics. I did all I could to make up for it at home, but since his evenings were filled with laborious and frustrating homework that could take 3 hours or more, there just wasn’t opportunity for me to do so.
Well, this year, Patrick actually gained a grade level in reading. For the first time since kindergarten. And his self-esteem just soared. He also came home excitedly talking about things he’d learned in science or social skills.
Math is still his hardest subject and he’s missing some foundations, but although a lot was over his head, he understood place value and basic fractions. And, at the least, he was excited to try instead of frustrated by the same things over and over again.
Also, amazingly, he made friends. In fact, he made a best friend. Who, although he moved from the school mid-year, we have been able to spend a lot of time with this summer. And it’s been thrilling to see him with another child who shares his obsession with cars and just enjoys his company.
While Patrick was at school, I unpacked, painted, went to the temple, went out to breakfasts and lunches with new and old friends, read the Book of Mormon, and then started an intense study of the New Testament. I volunteered in his class teaching music every other week. And I helped his teacher, or at least tried to help his teacher, turn her ideas for fun projects and field trips and class parties into reality. I dressed as a witch and made a witches brew for Halloween, for example. I also got involved with the PTO the school tried to start this year. And by the end of the school year, had somewhat accidentally stepped into a leadership role there. I’ll be co-president this year with another mom who’s become a great friend and hope I’m not in over my head.
Also, I spent a good part of the school year being sick. Or taking care of Patrick while he was sick. The treatment for my Rheumatoid Arthritis is immune suppression. And I had completely underestimated how having both mother and son with weak immune systems could affect the family. Patrick and I took turns catching things and giving them to each other. I have never experienced illness like this before in my life.
I’m happy to report that the RA is not as severe as it was before I started treatment. It’s rare for me to have knees so unsteady I can’t walk or hands so swollen that I can’t straighten my fingers. But it also isn’t entirely gone. And the busy year and change in routine means I am not as strong as I was when I moved here. One of my goals in this coming year is daily exercise and hopefully some strengthening so that I can walk 2 miles without pain again.
This disease has been a different kind of trial for me as I learn to keep going when I hurt or am sick. I am trying to learn not to complain and not to quit. But to rest when needed. And it’s a hard lesson in patience.
At least, I have a great example in my son. And a very supportive husband.
Speaking of Brian, his responsibilities at work have just continued to grow. He heads 5 teams now. He’s been put in charge of fraud prevention, in addition to development and management duties. And that’s pushing him into the field of security more and more. And honestly, I don’t know how he could have kept up with both this intense level of responsibility at work and continued in the bishopric (meaning one of two assistants to the lay bishop in our local congregation).
He’s currently working as both cub scout committee chair and scout committee chair, as well as building scheduler. So he’s busy, but a different kind of busy.
I taught the 4 year old Sunday School class for a year, and have recently changed from that responsibility to being in charge of the Compassionate Service committee at church. Basically, that means that I help coordinate meal trains when someone is sick, has a baby, or is otherwise struggling. I terribly spending Sundays with the sweet little children. However, it is wonderful to be able to turn my years of trials into a chance to serve others. I owe an unpayable debt of gratitude for all of the times we have been ministered to.
In spring we did a consultation with Shriner’s Hospital for a second opinion on his cerebral palsy. Ultimately, we decided that any treatment would be far too traumatic to be beneficial for him. And that we should just find ways to let him play.
So, we signed him up for an adaptive soccer team, which proves to be much more productive than physical therapy for keeping him active. He had a great time! We can’t wait for it to come back in fall.
Shriner’s also helped us to trade his little training wheels for big “fat wheels” adaptive wheels on his bike, which has helped him gain confidence in riding. And we’re working on helping him get brave enough to go around the block.
It’s summer again. We’ve spent the past few months at summer rec in the park. His best friend’s mom and I signed the boys up for summer rec classes together and so we’d see them at class and then get together to play once a week or so.
Patrick also asked for swimming lessons, so we’ve had private lessons once a week at the pool near home. It’s slow progress, but he’s slowly getting over his fear. I’m also hoping this is helping to strengthen him. Though right now, he needs a whole day to recover after a half hour swimming.
Brian’s Ukraine trip was in spring this year. So we’ve had several family vacations this summer. A family reunion in Montana. Patrick’s aunt bought him a fishing pole and sparked a love of fishing in him. (Although he’s currently fishing without a hook and I don’t know how he’ll react when there are actual fish involved.)
Not long after, we decided to take our first family tent camping trip. Patrick did amazingly! Slept happily in the tent both nights. Complained about the idea of roasting hot dogs on the first, and then devoured several.
And just a few weeks ago, we took a spontaneous trip to Disneyland because we’d heard that crowds were smaller than average for summer. They were. It was hot, but a lot of fun!
We don’t have may medical updates. We celebrated the 4th anniversary of Patrick’s transplant and the 10th anniversary of his cardiac arrest this year. Patrick has outgrown his allergy to peanuts entirely. He is still allergic to eggs, but as long as they are cooked, he does ok with them. The worst reaction we have noticed is a fine rash when he eats mayo-based products. We’re hoping that with increased exposure, those reactions will get less and less until they’re not a concern anymore. Tree nuts, however. Patrick’s reaction to tree nuts is still in the scary range. So we carry epi and avoid cashews, pistachios, and all their family. It’s August again and back to school is just around the corner. I’m nervous as always about him being in a new class. But I’ve heard great things about the new teacher.
We’ve had some great blessings over this past year. I’ll be honest, though. Picking up and moving our family was a little tough. It’s taken time to make friends, find routines, and feel like we were at home. It’s made us grow in good ways.
An example. Or maybe a metaphor. Our new house is in an area with a very high water table and, as a result, basements are not very deep here. And all of the homes have long entry stairways. Add to that high ceilings that are popular in newer homes and there are a LOT more stairs in my house now than before.
A lot of people questioned whether this was a smart choice for someone who was just diagnosed arthritis. But there’s been an unexpected blessing in it. Doing more and longer flights of stairs every day has strengthened my knees.
Moving has made me stronger in other ways, too. It took me out of my comfort zone. It took Patrick out of HIS comfort zone, which was especially hard for him. We have been incredibly blessed by this new home. Sometimes because it made things easier. And sometimes because it made things harder.
It’s been a good year, and really a good summer. And I’m excited for the opportunities that fall brings as we’re starting to find our rhythm in this new place.
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.
This morning, I got a concerned Facebook message from a woman I’ve never met, but who knows one of my friends and apparently has been following this blog. I haven’t been writing. She was concerned.
To all of you, friends, acquaintances, and family, especially those who have relied on this blog for updates.. can I say I’m sorry? This has been a growing year for me personally and I haven’t been writing because I’ve been busy with a lot of things.
The short version is this (and I really need to devote a post to this topic)… I went to a doctor in December and learned that 8 years of full-time caregiving and saying “I can’t take more care of myself. I’m taking care of my family” kind of all came together into one disaster for my health. I discovered I had high blood pressure, overweight, out of shape, one seriously messed up knee, and was borderline prediabetic.
This may sound like bad news, but really, for a long time I put myself last. And this was just the nudge I needed to recognize that if I wanted to continue to be the kind of mom I wanted to be, some things needed to change. So I started working with doctors and a physical therapist. I got a gym membership. I started tracking what I ate. I got started meds for blood pressure. I pushed for asthma testing, got diagnosed, and started taking medications to bring that and allergies in control. I discovered kinesiology tape tape. I kept up with regular counseling because this was a serious blow to my ego and I had a month where I tangoed a bit with anxiety and depression. I gave myself tennis elbow. And tendonitis in several other ways as well. I adopted the motto “Pain is temporary. Quitting is forever.”
And after a fair amount of time and effort, I’m happy to say that I’m making some progress. I’ve lost some weight (more still to go) and kept it off. Most of those health issues are considered well managed. I’ve been hiking and biking and swimming and playing on the trampoline with my family in ways I haven’t been able to in a very long time.
But learning to take better care of myself has been a learning curve and it often didn’t leave me much other time.
Meanwhile, though… life went on. And in the short version, here are a few of the highlights.
We went to Disneyland. Because we are seriously addicted. It was spring break and far too busy and I’m not sure I’ll ever choose to go during spring break again. Highlight of the trip for Patrick was meeting Doc McStuffins. Though he pointed out to us that she was too big. And couldn’t talk. Highlights for the grownups: We went on a foodie adventure and tried several secret menu options. Mac and Cheese in a breadbowl proved too big for any of us to eat. But the cinnamon roll at the Starbucks inside of California Adventure was delightful! And the World of Color Dessert Party was more than worth it.
We tagged along with Daddy on a business trip to St. George. We surprised Patrick by taking him to visit Pioneer Park, a state park full of Utah’s trademark red rock formations. He was upset the park didn’t have a playground. Then he surprised us by absolutely loving climbing the rocks.
We discovered and signed Patrick up for an adaptive baseball team. In adaptive baseball everyone fields, hits and runs. You can use a tee or they’ll pitch to you until you hit the ball. There are no strikes. There are no outs. You play at least 2 innings per team. More if you’re having fun. Or you can quit early if everyone is cold or tired. Everyone cheers for everyone. It is, perhaps, my favorite form of baseball ever. Patrick loved his uniform and his coaches and his teammates. He hated fielding, but kind of liked tracing letters in the dirt. He tried to learn to throw the ball in fancy ways and ended up with a crazy windup the always landed the ball behind him. He got a little bit better at hitting off the tee. And then, like nothing.. the season was over. We had a great time. And will certainly be back next year.
Patrick wrapped up 2nd grade with a fair amount of success… stronger in reading and finally making progress in math. He had an amazing 1:1 para for the 2nd half of the year when his previous aide got promoted. She brought out the best in him for sure.
The bishop went on vacation for a month, leaving Brian in charge. That was a fun adventure. Patrick helped housesit there and also for another neighbor.. and we learned that he is a REALLY good housesitter. He’s not quite tall enough to get all the mail from the mailbox. And he isn’t strong enough to pull a hose around. But…He NEVER forgets that we need to pick up the mail or water the lawn. And he’s not afraid to ask for help. He earned a little bit of money doing it and used it to buy some toy cars and a fidget spinner.
Our ABA provider completely and totally screwed us up. We’d assumed that Patrick could get into their treatment center for summer services, then were told he couldn’t, then were told he could. And then, after a lot of back and forth and spotty service for the first month of summer, finally provided us with the right medical forms. Only to read them over and decide they didn’t want that liability. So I ended up with a lot of unexpected 1 on 1 time with Patrick. We got a museum pass and did our usual tour of museums and zoos, etc. We played with kiwi crates. We worked in dollar store workbooks. We practiced some educational computer games a lot. We got through, but it was a pretty messy and disorganized start.
I signed Patrick up for adaptive swim lessons. With no central line, this is now a possibility, and Patrick really needed somewhere to go and some help with his fear of water. His mom really needed a way to keep exercising and a minute of respite. Thankfully, he had an amazing teacher who was totally fine with me swimming laps while she taught him. And he got brave enough by the end of the summer to float, dunk his head under the water, blow bubbles.. and he was working on learning how to move his arms to swim.
Also, as a summer highlight… we bought a pass to the local amusement park, Lagoon, and Patrick and I spent several days up there over the summer. They would totally burn him out. We’d leave with him starving. He’d down an entire Arby’s kids meal on the drive home and then fall asleep for hours. He loves the rollercoaster, the small ones. He loved riding kid rides without me. He loves bumper cars. Or any cars really.
Our motto of the summer was “I can do it myself” and Patrick did make some great progress in learning to heat up simple foods in the microwave, get the mail, water the lawn, play in the neighborhood, fold his own laundry, clean up after himself, write more neatly and on and on. He grew a lot!
Oh, and one other summer highlight. Thanks to our awesome respite provider who is a teacher and had extra time because it was summer, Brian and I took a weekend getaway to San Diego. Just because. We slept in every morning. Played tourist and foodies. Even pulled of tickets to a baseball game. 3rd row on the 3rd base line.
And then, in fall:
Patrick started 3rd grade. He’s now the old kid in his class. I think the 2nd oldest by 3 days, if I remember right. They had a bunch of 1st graders start this year. Half the class is tiny. Half the class is big like Patrick. He’s not used to being the big kid and the first couple of weeks he would just reach a breaking point shortly after school, yell, throw, and then collapse in tears at the frustration of having to hold it together and watch out for the little ones.
His amazing aide got a great job offer a week before school started. That didn’t really help things. The first week, I tagged along and helped at lunch at the school. (And especially the first day when they had a class full of brand new kids and an eclipse viewing party to try to pull off safely.) By the 2nd week ,they had hired a new aide. And she’s really been kind of amazing for him. She’s older that his other paras have been. Which is kind of nice in that she’s not as afraid of getting in trouble for advocating for him. She’s really been quite kind and attentive and helpful. And she has really taken to the task of helping his eating. She asked for a menu of what he could purchase at lunch and has him buying and eating boxed ham and turkey sandwiches on wheat bread. He ate a whole banana for him a couple of days ago! This is perfectly timed as a summer of swimming caused some weight loss and the dietitian wasn’t exactly happy with me for it.
Also, I started a new role as PTA treasurer. This has been a much bigger and busier job than I imagined. But it’s also been good for me in a new world of not always putting myself last. I mentioned to Patrick’s teacher that I used to do bookkeeping. She looked at me and and said, “You used to do a lot of things.” And she’s right. I did. I had a lot of years single and then more years married without kids. And I did a lot of things. Now that Patrick’s health is better, it’s fun to be doing some of those things again.
I’ve kind of dived in full-time as a volunteer. PTA (which is settling down now that we are past the start of the year a little.) Still volunteering with reading groups. Primary music in the children’s sunday school at church. And in this past month, I’ve been asked to be Patrick’s cub scout leader. That’s another thing that happened this fall. Patrick earned his wolf rank. So he moved into the bear den a month early with me. We’ve done neighborhood cleanup with garden tools, woodworking, and pocket knives so far. Wednesdays are crazy. But I love being a scout.
Patrick’s settling in at school. Reading 100 words a minute. That’s not counting the random words he’s picked up from his scripture study. Like abominations (pronounced “abominable nations” by him.)
I threw a fit and got all new ABA providers and that has helped a great deal. I feel like he’s making progress on most of our goals there. He wrapped up an OT session and is diving into PT again with focus on learning how to throw, catch, bounce and dribble a ball. So far, his schoolwork is almost all review and far too easy. And he’s really becoming quite grown up and and helpful around home. I love hearing his thoughts.
Anxiety has been bad for him of late. He started stuttering over the summer when he’s nervous about what he’s saying. So far everyone tells me not to worry and he’ll outgrow it. His fear of rims without hubcaps has reached a peak and I sometimes have a hard time helping him be brave enough to walk past school buses at the end of the day.
I’m hoping it’s just the start of school and the difficult memories fall weather can bring.
We’re headed for his 3rd annual post-transplant checkup in a few weeks and I’ll try to update on that soon.
And in the meantime… well of course we had to go back to Disneyland last week. This time’s highlight? Brian went to Disney Institute, a leadership training workshop.. for work. We got to stay in the Grand California hotel. Which mean walking out of our hotel straight into either downtown Disney or California Adventure. It was a treat to just return to the room if we forgot something or were tired. Also, as Patrick just discovered a love for the Toy Story movies, and since Brian was travelling ahead, we sent a Buzz and a Woody doll ahead with daddy that were waiting in the room when we arrived. Patrick had a happy little Toy Story binge in Disneyland.
Patrick has entered a new phase for rides. While he still loves his roller coasters and the Small World.. he also discovered the storybook rides. Peter Pan. Mr Toad’s Wild Ride. Pinocchio. That he couldn’t stand before. We discovered this at the end of our last day, alas. But it means some different experiences next time I’m sure. Also of note, we made him ride Splash Mountain. (He loves the log flume at the park near home.) That was a little scary. But we all survived.
Anyway, dear Laura… and our other family, friends and followers who have wondered where we went this past year and what we were doing.. that is what is happening. I haven’t been this busy since before we adopted Patrick. I’m not used to it. I’m used to surviving and being trapped in a hospital or at home by health issues. I’m not used to meeting deadlines and being places when I promise. I’m used to having to always cancel plans, not making and keeping them.
Hopefully I’ll get better at this with time. But for now, just know that we are ok. And if I’m not finding time to sit down and write, it means that we’re not quarantined, not in a waiting room, not hospitalized. We’re out and living. And we’re not very efficient at it yet.
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.
On the first day of March, I sat in the 3rd grade classroom where I volunteer and I listened to the teacher, Mrs. H., explain to the children that March is either lion or lamb. I had been thinking it, too. We all have heard it. “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” We made crafts about it in school. Only Mrs. H. proposed a different idea. Whichever way comes March comes in, it goes out the opposite way. And that particular first day of March, despite a cold wind, was overall quite warm and sunny. She told the children to watch and see if March would go out like a lion.
I saw a lot of lions and lambs in the last few weeks of March this year. The spring equinox was early this year, and so also was Easter. For school schedules, that meant that spring break came earlier than usual this year, too. In some ways, it was just on time for our family.
March started out a little harder for Patrick. And very busy with work and other responsibilities for Brian. Our lemon of a Jeep misbehaved one too many times for our taste. Actually, its radiator literally blew up, revealing another potentially time-consuming and costly repair. And so we decided it was time to buy a new car. That’s great news. And a lot of fun.
Unless… you happen to have an uncontrollable obsession with cars. Shopping for, purchasing, and then adjusting to a new car proved exceptionally difficult for Patrick and led to him being unable to concentrate at home or even at school.
Brian’s work got especially busy right around that time, too. He crammed a business trip, some off-site planning meetings, and 3 middle of the night system upgrades into a period of about 2 weeks. All while fighting a monster of a cold.
And so when spring break rolled around, I think we all found ourselves more than grateful for the opportunity to escape. Brian saw the long school break on the schedule and decided to treat our family to a vacation. And, as we really only know how to really relax in one place, off to Disneyland we went.
It was a great trip, honestly. With the newfound attention-span Patrick’s medications have given him, he’s started to enjoy feature-length movies of late. And his favorite of all is Cars. He recognizes scenes in the movie from his trips to Disneyland (instead of the other way around, which is priceless.) And so was extremely excited to get to visit Radiator Springs, eat in Flo’s Diner, dance with Luigi’s cousins, and meet all of his friends in person.
We crammed as many rides into our trip as possible. We splurged on a character dining dinner the night we arrived. Patrick loved having mac & cheese pizza, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, an a bowl of M&M’s while being visited by his favorite characters. Pluto even let him feed him. As a bonus, we then skipped meeting characters this time around, allowing time for extra rides instead. We stayed in a hotel with a pool and went swimming as a family for the first time since Patrick had his line removed. We watched firework on our walk back to the hotel every night. We didn’t sleep enough at night, but enjoyed early mornings in the park. It was a fun trip.
We came home on Saturday afternoon to give ourselves time to get ready for Easter the next morning.
Oh, what a time for the message of Easter for me. While we were in Disneyland, two babies were born in my family. I have a new niece and nephew. Born just a day apart. So before Patrick returned to school, we went and met the new babies.
He doted on them. Patrick loves babies. He kept asking me if he could bring them home. He hugged them too tight. He kissed them. And he promised them he’d be their friend forever. Oh, how he made my heart ache to let there be a baby in our house.
And, oh how he reminded me that it is anything but possible right now. In all his loving attention, he has no idea how strong he is, how fragile they are. And he just can’t understand that they can’t get up and play or eat or talk the way other people can. So thank goodness for baby cousins right now. Because we need babies in our life, even when we can’t have them in our home.
So in the mornings, I kissed and cuddled babies. In stark contrast, in the evening, I said goodbye to a dear friend.
One of the wonderful things about my church is an organization called the Relief Society. Everwhere the church is, the women of the church are gathered together in this organization. And it doesn’t matter how different you may be in age, background, culture, or wealth.. you are sisters. The neighborhood I live in was built new just long ago that many of the people who built the homes originally are reaching the ends of their lives. And so you’d think I’d get used to having to say goodbye to these sisters from time to time.
But sometimes they work their way into your hearts a little more. This friend and I loved many of the same things, despite differences in age. She was a teacher and invited me to translate in her classroom. She was a musician and loved to invite me to sing, and then push my abilities with difficult songs. She was one of Patrick’s biggest fans. And although I’ve known for a couple of months that she had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and that her death was quite merciful, still I think this is one goodbye that will stick with me for a while.
Especially because of timing. In the week after Easter, I greeted two new babies and attended a funeral. In fact, the day of the funeral, I spent the afternoon with Patrick at the 10th birthday party of a classmate. What an interesting sampling of milestones. To see the bookends of life so close together has made me think about the volumes inbetween them.
When I was in high school, we had to memorize a soliloquy from Macbeth. With his castle under attack and everything falling around him, Macbeth receives word that his wife has died. And his reply:
“She should have died hereafter; There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle.”
I’m not sure exactly why this pessimistic eulogy has been in my mind. Except the knowledge that it is so wrong. Because life is brief, but so much more than “signifying nothing” as Macbeth lamented. In fact, a funeral reminds us that it is, in fact, all the little nothings, all the everyday things. all the tomorrow and yesterdays and todays full of mostly mundane things that add up to what matters.
Because death isn’t the end. It’s not a period. It’s a comma.
Easter celebrates that fact. Because Christ came. Because of his sacrifice. Because he died, and then after 3 days was resurrected, we all will live again.
There is something wonderful to hope for.
However, I feel that being a full-time caregiver is so perfectly captured, though, in the words “tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps forth in this petty pace from day to day.”
I’ve been struggling a bit this month. I have been feeling lost. Invisible. Mundane. I don’t have the hang of this new life. I have more time, but not complete freedom. I’m not fighting for survival every day, but there is still a lot of resistance in our lives.
Every day certain things must be done. I clean the house and do laundry and do the dishes. I sweep the crumbs of Patrick’s snacks. I put the toys back in the toybox. I shop and plan and make dinners. I prepare medications by measuring, cutting, crushing, and mixing, and then make sure they are given on schedule. I help with homework. I encourage reading. I dress and undress my son. I remind Patrick how to wash his hair. I bring in the mail. I clean off the kitchen table. Over and over again. Only to need to do it again the next day. Or the next hour. I’ve been kept just a little too busy to dare make time for myself but had just enough free time to fret over it.
I’m struggling to get the courage to take time for myself. I’m so used to abandoning what I need to do to take care of Patrick that even though I have a little bit of time, I am timid about branching out. I don’t trust that I’ll be able to finish what I start. And that then I’ll be upset. The problem is that this is kind of a lonely way to approach life. I’m trying to reach out and reestablish relationships that got pushed aside when I didn’t have time to do anything more than survive each day. But that takes courage, too. And although I may sometimes choose to be outgoing, deep down I’m pretty shy.
But, like you, like most of us, I know the best I can do is get up and try again each morning.
We often compared the life we led with Patrick before transplant to a rollercoaster. Thrilling highs and followed by quick plummets. I’d learned to live with that kind of thrill ride. You just hang on tight.
But in Disneyland this last trip, Patrick discovered a new favorite roller coaster: Goofy’s sky school. Instead of fast ups and downs, this ride is a much more gradual descent. Instead, of hills, it’s full of sharp turns that knock the breath out of you. The track is obscured so you don’t always see it coming. Sometimes that’s what this new version of life feels like. It’s been a year since Patrick’s last hospital admission. That is ASTOUNDING to me! It’s been a year since we had to drop everything because he was suddenly fighting to survive.
Let me tell you a bit about what the ride is like these days. It’s gentler, for sure, but it’s no “It’s a Small World” cruise.
Patrick’s been struggling with behavior at home and at school. And every note home or call home has left me feeling helpless because, unlike problems with his health that had prescribed medical solutions, this isn’t straight forward. They turn to me for answers and I don’t have them.
He’s doing ok. We’ve been experimenting with changes in his medication and the changes are helping. He is doing better. But the transition has been tricky. And I don’t know if it’s been that, or illness, or hayfever, or growing, or something else but he has been tired and grumpy and not himself. Medicine is more practice than science and when it comes to brain injury, that’s especially frustrating.
We increased his dose of clonidine to see if we could help afternoons go better, and he started to need a nap every day. He hates naps. But he can’t function sometimes without one. I even had to check him out of school and bring him home to nap last week.
We’ve talked to his psychiatrist and adjusted that dosing and talked about trying some other things. It seems to be helping. But it still feels helpless.
We had a good scare right before spring break. Patrick was knocked off of the playground at school and landed flat on his stomach. It left a bruise where his g-tube hit and so I had to squeeze in an emergency visit with his GI to check to make sure that his graft wasn’t at risk. That’s a possibility with any injury to his abdomen.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that out of the blue, his oral aversions have gotten worse. He won’t take his vitamins anymore in the morning. I crush them and mix them in yogurt so they are easier to eat. He sticks his tongue out to block them going in. Or holds them in his mouth and doesn’t swallow. It’s miserable to watch. But they aren’t optional. They’re mandatory. And so we start many days with me pleading with him to do something that he thinks is torture.
He sprained his ankle at the birthday party. He tried climbing onto a bunkbed and fell off. Patrick’s never really had this kind of injury. With his cerebral palsy, he was especially unsteady limping. He also isn’t used to regular illnesses or injuries still, so he was extremely afraid. Asking him to do what little might help.. Elevation, ice, rest. That only scared him more. He needed extra help getting around, getting dressed, bathing, etc. Thank goodness it was conference weekend so it was ok for him to stay home. He’s spent a few days inside at recess at school. But thankfully he’s healing. He’s limping, but can jump and run and stomp while limping.
I’m grateful to have had a couple of weeks of bookends. A couple of weeks of being shown things to make me think about what I’m putting inbetween. And a reminder that there are often many volumes in our life. We’re put away the one called “Ultra Short Bowel Syndrome” and are nearly done with another called “Transplant Recovery” but this latest volume of “First grade” has certainly had some unexpected plot twists.
I’m sometimes tempted to pen, like Shakespeare, that tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow just keep creeping at their petty pace. But that feeling is only a page in the story.
I heard a talk this weekend that’s helping my sentiments for tomorrow. It was shared in the semiannual general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints this weekend. The speaker was Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, an apostle and a gifted teacher. Here’s a brief summary.
First, he shared this image that kind of sums up how I sometimes feel when I’m headed to bed and thinking about what I need to do the next day.
Then, he gave this counsel about how to proceed.
“If in the days ahead you see not only limitations in those around you but also find elements in your own life that don’t yet measure up… please don’t be cast down in spirit and don’t give up….”
“Please remember tomorrow, and all the days after that, that the Lord blesses those who want to improve, who accept the need for commandments and try to keep them, who cherish Christlike virtues and strive to the best of their ability to acquire them. If you stumble in that pursuit, so does everyone; the Savior is there to help you keep going. . . ”
And then, in contrast to the pessimistic message of Macbeth, Elder Holland gave this beautiful description of the potential for tomorrow.
“If we give our heart to God, if we love the Lord Jesus Christ, if we do the best we can to live the gospel, then tomorrow—and every other day—is ultimately going to be magnificent, even if we don’t always recognize it as such. Why? Because our Heavenly Father wants it to be! He wants to bless us. A rewarding, abundant, and eternal life is the very object of His merciful plan for His children!”
Did you read that? Tomorrow=magnificent. Even if we don’t always recognize it as such.
I’ve got a long way to go. I have a lot to learn about patience. And a lot to learn about humility. I’m finding those lessons are taught in the long, flat, tedious prairies. Not on the peaks.
It snowed the last two days of March. I had to scrape ice off of my car on the last day of spring break. Mrs. H was right. March came in like a lamb and went out like a lion.
It wasn’t an easy month. And April has started out with it’s own measure of sound and fury. We have more milestones: another funeral and a wedding ahead this week. And will still start each and every day with a yucky vitamin.
But I’m trying remember Elder Holland’s words:
“So keep loving. Keep trying. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever.”
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.
“Scripture says, ‘Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good.’This doesn’t mean all things are good, but for the meek and faithful, things—both positive and negative—work together for good, and the timing is the Lord’s.” – Neall F. Marriott, Yielding Our Hearts to God
I thought that having Patrick back in school would open up much more free time for things like blogging than it has. However, life is just as busy now as it was before. If not more.
At first it wasn’t. At first, I kind of wandered aimlessly through the days that Patrick was away. I didn’t recognize at first what was happening. I was watching an awful lot of Netflix and I was trying to catch up on things around the house. But I was pretty darn tired and pretty darn disorganized and wasn’t getting through nearly as much as I hoped I would each day. Looking back, I realize that I needed a chance to just reclaim my life a little bit after being a full-time caregiver for a year. I also had to trust that I had enough control over my own life to dare try to do more than these things.
Looking back, it took a lot to teach myself to slow down after transplant. To be ok with days spent sitting in a hospital room or in the Ronald McDonald House just taking care of Patrick. And now that I have the ability to do more, it took a lot to teach myself again that it was ok to NOT just pass the day with as little on my personal to-do list as possible.
That isn’t to say that I’m back to working on my personal to-do list. No, Patrick still commands my schedule right now.
A couple of weeks ago, we went to Parent Teacher Conferences at the school. Patrick is doing great with school overall. I’ve never seen him so well-behaved and engaged in a class. He is making friends. He sits in his seat and he raises his hand. He is making progress in reading, in math (where it turns out that going back and teaching the fundamentals is helping him to be less frustrated), and even in writing despite his severely limited fine motor skills.
However, his qualms about the school bathroom were just getting worse. He went from holding it all day to having accidents. Every day. And then to beginning to have accidents on the weekend at home because he forgot that he was wearing underwear and supposed to make it to the potty.
So, at parent teacher conference, I told the teacher I’d like to take away his pull-ups. However, the district has made the very sucky decision to save money by making special education class sizes almost as big as regular classes. There are 16 kids now in the class that was 9 students when Patrick joined it. Only instead of 16 typical kids, these are 16 kids with learning disabilities and behavioral and medical needs that have to be attended to. I can’t even imagine trying to manage 16 IEP’s. Thanks Granite School District.
And the message I was getting about potty training was: we’d love to help, but what can we do? We can’t afford to send adults out of the classroom.
And so, if I was going to ask to take pull-ups away, I also needed to offer help. Ok. You’re right. I’m under no legal obligation to help. But if I want to do this the right way, to have Patrick succeed, etc.. then I do.
So, for the past 2 weeks I have been meeting Patrick and his class immediately following their lunch recess to help to take Patrick to the potty. At first it went great. Patrick tried when I helped him and, even though it took a lot for him to get the courage, even went with his aide in the room (and me holding his hand.) I set up a super awesome “potty steps” reward system where I put pictures of each of the steps of going to the bathroom on a pill box and put rewards inside for him to earn.
Meanwhile, I helped in the classroom a little. I assisted at recess so lunches could happen on a field trip day. I organized a bookshelf. I helped some kids who stayed in from recess to finish up homework.
The second week, though, I think he figured out that I’d end up staying longer if I was still waiting to help take him to the bathroom. And so he waits longer to go. He waits until a moment where his aide is either gone or busy so I end up taking him alone. And so now we’re reinventing things again. It’s very frustrating. There was one particular day where I kind of just sat in the corner and waited for him for several hours. Finally recess rolled around and he still wouldn’t go so I didn’t go with him. I went and sat at the office and waited. And tears started to come and I had to step outside to calm down. He didn’t go at school that day at all. I ended up putting him back in a pull-up and leaving.
But as I sat in my car reading my scriptures, I ended up reading about patience in weakness. And I realized that that is what this is. Just weakness. Just a human struggle. Just and example of the purpose of mortality. And a temporary one at that. And the Savior’s love kind of healed my heart and gave me a great big dose of long-suffering to go along with this struggle. And we’re still at it.
There are some good things about this plan. It’s snapped me out of my Netflix daze. I only have 3 hours in the morning to get things done before I have to eat lunch and get to the school. So I’m actually working in my time at home instead of puttering around. Also, because I’m trying to leave the school by 2:30 most days even though school isn’t over till 3:30, it has given me a dedicated hour for scripture study and for a daily walk. Both of these goals are easier when I know what time of day I’m doing them. Sure, once weather gets bad, it won’t be as pleasant to leave the school and go find a spot to walk and read.. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
Seeing this is going to be a long-term process, I asked and asked if I could be more useful at the school. And starting next week, I’m going to start helping with a reading group in a different classroom. This frees me up so I’m not hovering over Patrick but keeps me nearby for the daily “do you need to go yet?” standoff.
I hope someday that Patrick will forgive me for blogging about it.
I’ve mentioned before that I have started to go to therapy. And we’ve been talking a lot lately about PTSD. Our whole family struggles with this to some degree.
The thing about living with a trauma is that words can’t capture it for anyone else. But it becomes a part of who you are on a very deep level. I know that there are some people who don’t like to hear me say that Patrick’s transplant was traumatic. How can a miracle be traumatic? But in a very real way, it was.
One little phone call. We left home. We left friends and family. We left work and school. We left everything routine in our lives. We lived for months under constant threat, never knowing what new life-threatening medical issue might arise. Patrick suffered intense ongoing pain. For a child, that is impossible to comprehend. As a parent, that is one of the worst experiences you can live through. It was temporary.. but that doesn’t diminish how hard it was.
And transplant was only the worst of it. We’ve been living with a miniaturized version of it for years.
Facebook has launched a new “memories” feature that shows me, daily, my previous posts from the past 6 years. For two weeks in September, my daily “memories” were of Patrick in the hospital recovering from surgeries or fighting off infections or praying we’d get one more central line in. No wonder I was an anxious, depressed basket case at the start of September. My body has been taught to brace for a fight when that month rolls around.
I’ve also been working this past few weeks on Patrick’s annual birthday video. I sift through a year’s worth of photos and try to pick the ones that tell the story of his last year best.
Last year, I was 6 months late completing this project as I couldn’t stand to look at pictures of the life that we had left behind when we went for transplant. I had to wait till we were starting to see hints of that life coming back.
But this time around. Oh golly. Looking at these pictures has brought back a flood of memories that I had, quite literally, blocked from my memory. Your mind does that. It compartmentalizes the hard stuff so you only pull it out and look at it when you need it.
I have found myself for the past 2 weeks waking up in the middle of the night with vivid memories of the months following transplant. At first, just our hotel room. The carpet. The sink. Then I could remember the ICU. It really shook me. To remember how afraid I was. How much pain Patrick was in. But as I’ve worked, I have also remembered the amazing support we received from friends and family and strangers alike. The feelings of love. And the sweet comfort from the Holy Ghost telling us this was all in God’s plan and would be ok. And it’s brought me peace again.
I’ll apologize now. When I publish this video. It’s long because I didn’t know what parts of the story to leave out. And it makes me cry every time I look at it.
Anyway – all of this. Where am I going with it? Well, it’s much easier to be patient with Patrick when I look back and realize what he’s come through this year. Not just offering it as an excuse as I started out doing.. but genuinely seeing what he’s been through.
In just one year, he’s learned to walk again. He has learned to eat for the first time. He has learned to go to the potty. He has learned to read. He has learned to do basic math. He has learned to speak in clear sentences. He has learned how to strike up a conversation with an adult (usually about their car). He has learned to not be afraid in the water. He has learned to live without a line. How to drink enough water in the day. He is learning how to be safe while being independent, how to play with other children in the front yard, how to play in a different room than me. He has learned how to wash his own hair and get out of the tub when he is done bathing. If he’s a little bit shy and a little bit afraid doing only one of those new things without his mommy (who he was with 24/7 for most of the past year).. that’s really pretty darn good. And he is really pretty darn amazing.
One other thing. Patrick had a doctor cancel an appointment a month ago when she had to go for an emergency appendectomy. It hadn’t occurred to him before that grown-ups might have had surgeries too. In fact, he’s discovering that many grown-ups have been through surgeries. So if he strikes up a conversation by asking you where you had your surgery, know that he is trying to put his experience into context with other people. Trying to find some common ground with his very uncommon experience.
The conversation usually goes like this: “Where you have your surgery?” You answer with whatever general body part and little more explanation required. He might ask “Did it hurt? Did you cry?” You probably will say it hurt. Then he might tell you, “Mommy have hers in her belly button.” I had a laproscopy to diagnose and treat my endometriosis. You give some affirmation. Eventually he’ll say. “I have my surgery on my WHOLE body.” I usually answer with something like, “Yes you did. You were brave and it helped to make you strong.” Something like that.
In another variant, he might tell you it’s ok to be different. To be mad. To be sad. To talk about your feelings. To be missing teeth. (He’s got two missing and a third wiggy right now.) To be a different color. To be bald. To be “indopted.” And he might tell you it’s ok to eat mac and cheese in the bathtub. That’s all a reference to a book by Todd Parr that he’s been reading about why it’s ok to be different. Just laugh along. It’s also ok to have a pet worm.