Category Archives: Recovery

Lots of appointments and planning a new normal

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

Therapy

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

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

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

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

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

Evaluation

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

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

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

Transplant follow-up appointment & diet changes

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

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

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

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

Allergies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing a school

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am overwhelmed and scared. A LOT.

We are going to register tomorrow regardless.

Oh yeah.. and last week…

Blogging has been on my to do list for a couple of days. But when I sat down to write last night, I was so full of the thoughts and worries of that 48 hour period that I forgot there were other events last week that I’d meant to write about.

We had a couple of appointment last week. We finally got back in to see Patrick’s psychologist yesterday. Can I tell you how amazing she is? When Patrick’s insurance case manager called me to tell me about a new Autism clinic that she’d seen open at the University of Utah THE SAME DAY THAT SHE CALLED I was pretty speculative. Especially since we have never been big fans of the diagnosis of autism for Patrick. Spectrum diagnoses are tricky and, while time and learning have convinced me that Patrick does have struggles that fit into the definition of autism, his presentation is so atypical that I don’t feel like the diagnosis serves him well. Well, unless you are dealing with someone who really does understand autism spectrum disorders. Which the people at this clinic really do. And for all that I don’t willingly introduce Patrick as autistic, we have found the autism clinic to be a tremendous help for us. I’ve been anxious to get him back.

When Patrick met “Dr. Joo-la” and her “piggies” (guinea pigs) there was an instant connection. I could see that he clicked with her and listened to what she said to him.As icing on the cake, she also saw that with the responsibilities of being his caregiver, I wasn’t going to have a chance to go seek other help for myself. She told me in the first meeting that if we sometimes needed to spend sessions talking about and taking care of me, too, that she considered that an important part of taking care of Patrick.

This last visit, I took her up on that. First of all, she spent a lot of the session reassuring me that Patrick really HAS made great progress. I’ve said before that it doesn’t seem like he is as plagued by constant sensory seeking as he was before. She pointed that out, too. Saying he seemed more focused, more grown up. Of course, his exploding language skills are an amazing step.

She reminded me not to be overwhelmed by after-school meltdowns. Pointed out that we had the same problems last fall, too. And she helped me brainstorm ways to make coming home from school perhaps a little better.

She also reminded me not to feel guilty about not being able to do all my heart says I should be providing for Patrick. She’s been following this blog, so I know that she was aware when she told me that she knew that a lot of days, we are just still surviving the day. She encouraged me to embrace summer school as respite time for me and NOT to try to spend it doing things for him or feeling like I need to save them from problem behaviors. I really need to call and see if it’s an option for me to swim in the mornings while he’s at school. If not, at the least there is a track at the high school on the same campus and I can walk.

And then she reminded me that I need help and tried to help me work up the courage to go and tell some of the people in my support system that I’m feeling lonely and overwhelmed and could use some company, if not some help. I don’t seem to be very good at that. (Does this count?)

Anyway – we talked about some other strategies for summer, for respite, for behavior, etc. We talked about bringing him back to their social skills group. (Which I’m very pleased to have found works well this summer.) We played with the piggies and Patrick tried to trade our bird Max for one. And then we made some return appointments.

That was the happy appointment of the week. The next day, I took Patrick to his allergist and I’m afraid it didn’t go as smoothly.

I learned two important lessons. 1) Don’t schedule appointments immediately following school. Patrick needs time to unwind first. 2) Don’t go to the allergist alone.

Because of his ADHD and sensory processing disorder, Patrick doesn’t do well in new environments and Patrick’s allergist just moved to a big, beautiful new facility. I’m very excited about this because he’s no longer sharing space with a regular healthcare clinic and there’s less risk of catching a virus there. But for Patrick, new spaces have to be explored thoroughly with doors banged, containers emptied, equipment disassembled. It’s a disaster. Also, because of a lifetime of doctor’s visits, Patrick doesn’t like it when I talk to a doctor about him and will do just about anything to get me to stop.

This day was particularly bad. I’d managed to get a tired Patrick to nap the day before, but insomnia kicked in that night and he was up till 12, getting just 6 hours of sleep.

The end result is that Patrick threw all of the flashcards, snacks, magazines, and tissues on the floor. Then ended up having to sit in a chair with all other furniture moved away from him. And then he screamed for most of the rest of the appointment.

I have to give props to Patrick’s allergist, Dr. Gleich. He still smiles, talks to Patrick like Donald Duck, tells me that I have my hands full but am doing a good job being patient, and just gets us through the appointment as productively as possible. He is a very good man.

So while I tried to keep as much calm as possible, Patrick’s allergist and I tried to talk through how transplant might change the strategy for his allergies. Obviously, the ability and need to eat are a significant step. And I wanted to talk about how to safely explore what he can have.. and just how safe it is to be dabbling in some of Patrick’s milder allergies while he is on immune suppressants that are making it so he doesn’t have many reactions.

I wish Patrick had been feeling better so we could have covered more ground. We reviewed Patrick’s last test results. The gist of them is that Patrick’s test results show him allergic to a lot of foods that he tolerates, at least to some degree. We still need to stay far away from cashews, pistachios, peanuts, and unbaked eggs with caution for other foods we’ve seen cause a reaction. He said to keep encouraging Patrick to eat eggs as an ingredient in baked foods as that mild exposure is believed to help kids outgrow allergies. He gave blessing to my efforts in allowing Patrick traces of milk, in extreme moderation. (Goldfish crackers, for example.) He actually was surprised that I was still being cautious about butter and regular cheese, but I pointed out that we see reactions to those foods.

He also took care to warn me of just how serious it is that Patrick’s spleen was removed, leaving him without a major defense against illness. He wanted me to be sure that, for any fever, I know I need to go straight to Primary Children’s. Some things don’t change.

And then, because we weren’t getting much further with Patrick screaming in the corner, we decided to not try additional testing that day. Instead, he asked me to bring Patrick back in July or August for repeat blood and scratch testing. In the meantime, we are supposed to explore and even push a little bit, with epi pen and benadryl nearby, and keep a log of what we discover about Patrick’s tolerances for certain foods.

I find that the further we get down this road the more obscure my question are. Neither Patrick’s allergist nor his transplant team really know how food allergies and immune suppression will affect each other. I don’t want to compromise Patrick’s new gut with a lot of foods he’s allergic to. (Food allergies can cause a sort of rashlike reaction and ulcers in the intestine). But I also don’t want to limit his nutrition and ability to wean off of tube feeds if that’s not necessary. I find myself wishing that I knew of an allergist somewhere who has an interest in transplant and immune suppression. I’m not sure such a person even exists.

Anyway – Patrick was asleep in the car 5 minutes after we left the appointment. Next time, I’ll try to allow time for a rest after school. Next time I’ll try not to go alone.

And maybe over the next couple of months we can figure out a schedule that lets Patrick outgrow naps, like he’s trying to do, without spending afternoons and evenings too tired and grumpy to function.

One other appointment this week, feeding therapy. Inspired by Patrick’s interest at a memorial day barbecue, I decided to work on hot dogs this week. I’m pleased to report success. So long as you cut the hot dog in half so he can fit it in his mouth. And watch him and remind him to take small bites. And maybe let him decide he’s done with the bun. Still, a victory in time for summer for a kid who doesn’t like his burgers grilled.

And speaking of burgers, I’m trying to figure out how to translate Patrick’s love of certain fast foods into a working menu at home. I’ve got him eating ham on english muffins a-la Burger King breakfast sandwich. And we’re working on thin sliced roast beef on hamburger buns as a tribute to Arby’s.

I do have one lingering worry. I’ve realized that if they do decide that Patrick can continue on to first grade next year, that means eating lunch at school. And right now, I mostly have taught him to eat warm foods. He does great with fast food, mac and vegan-cheese, pasta in red sauce, hot dogs, cooked veggies, soups, chicken nuggets and french fries. And this is exactly the sort of food that will be being served in the cafeteria. Except, well, that an elementary school cafeteria is not an allergy-safe place. I can’t expect them to watch for cross-contamination.

So I’ll be packing lunches. But I think one of the conversations we need to have in this week’s school planning meeting is whether or it’s an option to heat up food for Patrick in a staff microwave. (It’s already non-negotiable for me that he’ll need an adult to sit with him in the cafeteria.)

And Patrick’s feeding therapist and I did some brainstorming on cold foods that he might be able to eat if we work with him over the summer.

I’ve decided that we will for sure be frequenting the lunch park at the school next door again this summer. But this time, with the hope and goal of being able to figure out lunches that will work to send with Patrick to school next year. Last year, I was able to follow their menu and pack matching foods 80% of the time. But if those things can’t be warmed up at the school, then we may just have to work on being ok with eating the food you had packed for you, even when it isn’t the same as everyone else’s.

One other item of note from this last week. A family moved in across the street from us while we were in Nebraska. They have a little boy Patrick’s same age. We’ve talked about but not found a way to get them together to play. Until this week.. when this boy came and asked if Patrick could play.

This was a growing experience for this mom. I am trying VERY hard to stop being a helicopter parent now that Patrick doesn’t have IV’s to monitor. But it meant that both of us were a bit thrown by a same-age playmate. I’m not sure Patrick knew quite what to do with him. In many ways, he is like his peers. But in many ways, he still has a lot of growing to do. They drew on the sidewalk with chalk a bit, tried out all of Patrick’s ride-on toys. Then they went across the street and played in his yard, too.

I was doing my best to stay looking busy but also keep an eye on them. And to let Patrick build this relationship on his own without my coaching. Mostly they drove Patrick’s ride-on car up and down the street.

When I picked Patrick up for dinner, he was enjoying a snack of animal cracker. I was grateful they were safe, and I decided that next time I send him to play I need to make sure they know he has allergies.

It’s been a full week. I sometimes think my head might explode trying to hold all of this and have a normal life, too.

Goodbye to kindergarten and the beginning of change

Today was Patrick’s last day of kindergarten. It was over almost as soon as it began. I think it finally sunk into him this morning what I was saying because he was very worried as he got ready. Worried about missing his friends and worried about there not even being familiar teachers in summer school. To help with a little closure, I did a quick google search and found some printable thank you notes he could color for his teacher and aide. And then we were off.

I don’t know much about his day, except that he came out laden with gifts. His special education teacher came out with him at the end, too, which I thought was very thoughtful of her. He was given the “jolly rancher” award for always being so happy. And we had to linger a little bit at the park by the school to let him finish a popsicle he’d been given. Then, we met Brian downtown where we went out to lunch to celebrate the occasion.

It hardly seems real, except that getting Patrick needs several bags of supplies and safe snacks for school and all of that is in my kitchen now.

The last day of kindergarten represents the kickoff of a very big transition week for us. In less than a week, Patrick will have his broviac line removed. I am counting down the end of a week’s worth of those supplies in amazement and a bit of fear.

I’ve had some horrible dreams this week. I dreamed that Brian was on TPN, only it wasn’t available and his blood sugar was crashing. I dreamed I had a line that needed changed to a port and I felt so helpless and out of control trying to convince the nurses in the hospital to follow the pre-op directions I’d been given about my medications. It made me realize just how Patrick must feel, which was kind of crushing. Then I dreamed that Patrick was in surgery for his line but 5 hours had passed. That is really REALLY bad for that kind of procedure and brought back some horrible memories. Have I mentioned that it’s common for patients and caregivers dealing with this chronic illness, especially transplant, to suffer from a form of PTSD?

I’m just trying to push forward and take care of what needs to be done to get ready for what’s coming in the next couple of weeks. It is hard to keep them in the right order when new things keep needing my attention.

For example, yesterday I dropped Patrick off at school and ran to Walmart. The goal was to pick up a fruit for dinner and some entertainment for the plane ride to Nebraska. But as I headed to the checkout, my cell phone rang. It was the district nurse calling to give me a heads up that a group of district nurses had met to review the medical needs of students for the upcoming school year. And they had determined that Patrick no longer requires full-time nursing at school.

This is great news. He’ll still have an aide to help him with his many needs during the day. But it’s kind of bad news, too. It means that he no longer has to attend the medical hub school that he’s attending. And they wanted me to tell them where I want him to attend next year.

That’s not exactly a simple question. The school next to our house is quite small and not really given a lot of resources. Sending Patrick there would be very complicated and require bringing in a small army of people to work with him. I think we’ll be asking for an exception to be granted and for him to be able to continue at Whittier, at least for one more year.

It also means that I need to add making a list of care that an aide needs to be able to provide to Patrick, independent of a nurse. By Wednesday, when we’ll meet to also work on revising his IEP to get him through till the next IEP meeting.

In addition to that, Monday Patrick and I will meet with Patrick’s favorite Child Life specialist to help to teach him about having a port. On Tuesday, he’ll have his end of year kindergarten assessment. I’ve got to get orders for supplies for Patrick’s port ordered and delivered before we leave, and prescription refills ordered before we leave.

And in the midst of all of this, our church responsibilities have us pretty busy this weekend. Especially for Brian.

This is just the beginning for this summer and I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around all of it.

But at least one thing is under our belt. Patrick’s a kindergarten alum. Now if we can just get him caught up a bit over the summer and make the right school plans for next year.

I’m also coming to the realization that summer is coming and that, in the past, I’ve been an amazing mom in the summer with lots of plans for fun and education. I am nowhere near that prepared this year. I am just trying to get through the next couple of weeks. But my mind is starting to hatch some plans and I hope I can make some of our traditional summer magic.

Getting ready for summer

It is disorienting to realize that next week is kindergarten’s last week of school. We only just started and it’s almost over again. I feel really bad to be just gearing up while teachers are working to try to take care of the mountain of things that need to be done for the end of the year, I’m here trying to squeeze every last drop out of the few weeks that we have available to us.

I am amazed at all that they ARE doing for him, though. For example, I noticed that Patrick’s class was at recess every day when we arrived. So I asked and they revised his IEP to allow him to go to recess with his friends every day. He is in HEAVEN getting that extra time with his friends. And I understand that he is doing better in class, too, as a result.

Also, I’ve been working all week with his special education teacher on getting the forms completed for him to be able to participate in Extended School Year (a.k.a. summer school). They hold 3-day weeks on 4 weeks during the summer. He’ll attend in the morning. The goal is to keep up the momentum that has just started again.

They did offer one amazing thing that I hadn’t even imagined as a possibility. There is a therapy pool at the school. And, because by the time summer school starts he won’t have a broviac line, Patrick’s doctors have given him the ok to work in the pool. It feels like this little piece of normal… my son being able to be in the pool during the summer. Even if it came about in the most abnormal possible way.

Speaking of doctors, we had a follow-up with Patrick’s GI this week. His dietitian came in, too. It’s the first time we’ve seen her since transplant. I wondered if she was amazed to watch him eat a kids meal while we talked. His growth charts look amazing. I think it’s the first time I’ve really looked at one post-transplant. He’s growing at a normal rate. He’s in the 50th percentile.

They ordered some labs to check to make sure that his vitamin levels and overall nutrition are still good as he’s learning to eat on his own, but doesn’t exactly have a traditional balanced diet yet.

Also this week, or maybe the end of last week, I talked to the team in Nebraska about Patrick’s next follow-up with them. We scheduled an appointment in June to replace his central line with a port. (This is why he’ll be allowed to swim, by the way. No more external central line.) We will be going out the first week of June and it will be an outpatient procedure.

I thought we’d have clinic, too, but it sounds like they feel we’re doing a great job communicating by phone and don’t need the extra visit.

So it sounds like we have a game plan for our summer. At least the start of it. Patrick’s last day of school is the last Friday in March. June 1, he’ll have end-of-year testing. June 3, we’ll meet with the school to make plans for next fall. That night, we’ll get on a plane and fly to Nebraska. The next morning, he gets his port and we come home that weekend.

The next week, Brian leaves on a business trip to Norway. And the week after that, Patrick will go to his first day of summer school. He’ll have two weeks on, then off for the July holidays. Then back again. Brian has a pioneer trek with the youth in July and another international business trip in August. And before we know it, it will be time to come back to school.

I’m trying to pull together some materials to keep working on mommy school in the down-days. I’ve let Patrick develop some lazy at-home habits this month but, really, we have a lot of ground to cover over the summer. Hoping that the extra respite time while he’s at school will give me a breath of energy to keep up with all the rest.

6 months

It is amazing to me to consider how far Patrick has come in the past 6 months. How much our lives have been changed in the last 6 months.

We decided to celebrate Patrick’s transplantiversary and half-birthday in grand fashion. After all, a transplant is an awesome birthday gift but a really sucky birthday party. Patrick deserved a party.

Right before transplant, Brian won a weekend getaway at a work party. So we finally redeemed that trip this weekend. Brian took Thursday and Friday off of work and we drove up to Bear Lake. Patrick was excited about the trip but very confused that our vacation didn’t include a plane. Let’s face it, we often fly off somewhere and THEN drive 3 hours or more once we get there. So a 3 hour drive, while that was a pretty big trip for me at his age, was a pretty small thing for him.

I still can’t get used to packing without TPN. I was able to pack all we needed with each of us only needing a small carry-on bag. I did, however, have two big bags of food that I took with us. Because Patrick is a hungry little monster and having food always available is kind of important. We knew that it was off-season in Bear Lake and we weren’t sure what food options we’d find for him. And besides, it was fun to have lots of snacks.

Patrick doesn't believe in sleeping in the car. But sometimes, he just can't help himself.

Patrick doesn’t believe in sleeping in the car. But sometimes, he just can’t help himself.

The trip was a much-needed dose of rest and family fun. We drove up Thursday afternoon and arrived in the early evening. They were still working on cleaning our room when we got there, so we opted to go for a drive. We ended up in Montpelier, ID for dinner at a little pizza joint. They were kind enough to make Patrick a little cheeseless personal pizza.

I love seeing finished plates that look almost like what other kids leave behind.

I love seeing finished plates that look almost like what other kids leave behind.

It always takes time to get Patrick settled in a new place. Hotel rooms are especially problematic. But we did succeed in finally getting him settled down. We stayed in the family suite so we could have a bathtub and a fridge. That meant, however, that instead of a bunkbed, Patrick had a fold-out couch. Have I mentioned Patrick won’t fall asleep away from home without me? Yeah, my back was pretty sore come morning. Getting too old for fold-out couches.

The next morning, Brian had planned a big surprise for Patrick. After a pancake breakfast, we went to a vacation rental shop and picked up a 4-seater ATV. Patrick has been jokingly asking me if we could drive our car up the side of a mountain for a while now. I think he was surprised to find out that it was actually possible. My thrill-seeking, rough-and-tumble, car-loving boy could barely wipe the smile off his face. He laughed his head off through all of the roughest parts of the path. Finally, we ended up off-roading in some snow and decided we were all tired. So we headed back down, stopped in a meadow for a snack, and then Patrick voted it was time to be done with the mountain.

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We ended up stopping and letting him just play with the vehicle for a while before returning it. And then, because we had time and because the vehicle was muddy, ended up driving it over to a car wash.

Patrick is a big Bob the Builder fan right now. So he was really excited to find himself up in rural country where there were also lots of construction vehicles. We had a great time spotting the real versions of diggers and cranes and dump trucks.

He was a little less enthused about visiting the lake. I didn’t think to bring him a camera along. (I need to remember he wants to be a photographer). And he wanted his dad’s. Eventually, though, we showed him the fun of throwing rocks in the lake and then he was sold.

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Inbetween outings, we hung out in our hotel room. Amazingly, after the first night, Patrick settled down and was happy to be there so we got the chance to watch a movie together while he played. We also explored a couple of local cafes and I was really proud of Patrick for trying food everywhere we ate. I was also very impressed that they restaurants were all so willing to help us invent Patrick-friendly foods from the items on their menus.

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And then, Saturday morning, when Patrick got up he told me that he loved our hotel and didn’t want to go home.

But we had to go home anyway. And, as with any vacation, once we made it home we were all just happy to be here.

Saturday evening, we let Patrick pick his birthday dinner. He threw me a loop by asking for chicken soup and grilled cheese. (With an egg allergy, we can’t just open a can for this.) Thank goodness Daddy was up for the job.

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And after dinner, we had birthday cupcakes. We sang Patrick happy unbirthday and he blew out his candle before I could explain making a wish.

Enough wishes have been granted this year for our family anyway. 6 years. And 6 months.

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Transplant Day 180 and School

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This picture was taken 6 months ago at Pumpkin and Mustache Day in Patrick’s kindergarten class. I didn’t know it then, but the Halloween parade and party the next day would also be his last day of school.

6 months ago, I tucked him into bed and then I went and wrapped up his birthday presents and I went to bed, but before I fell asleep my phone rang and our lives changed forever.

I dare say, at least as far as I can judge right now, for the better.

Today, I had an IEP meeting with Patrick’s school. Can I tell you what an amazing school he is in? They were completely behind me asking for a slow transition back into regular school. In fact, they were good with just about everything I asked them to consider. This meeting was amazing!

Here’s the gist of things. There is a month left of school and Patrick’s immune suppression goals have been adjusted down because it’s been long enough since transplant to try. And the transplant team said that about this time we ought to consider starting to ease him back into the normal life that they did the transplant to hopefully give to him.

So, after a very thorough discussion today, the decision was made to start letting Patrick attend school for an hour each school day. He’ll attend the last hour of every day. He’ll spend the first half of that time working with a special education teacher to help him to make up as much ground as possible. And then he’ll spend the last half of the day with his kindergarten class so that he can work on relearning the classroom routine and social skills. Also, once a week, I’ll bring him in a little early so that he can spend time in occupational therapy as well rebuilding his strength, working on writing and other fine motor skills, practicing eating, and so forth.

Because he’ll only be in school part time, he’ll also still qualify to work with his in-home teacher.

And, when the school year is done, he’ll take a short break, and then get to participate in the extended school year (or summer school) program this year at another medical school that is actually even a bit closer to our home.

The mood in this meeting was so positive. I genuinely believe that this team is happy that Patrick gets to come back to school and eager to help him succeed in every way that they can. How many people come out of an IEP meeting saying that?

That doesn’t mean that his IEP meetings aren’t still intense. There is a lot to coordinate and I am constantly amazed at the efficiency with which they run these meetings. (Also, with their stamina to do so many back to back to back at this time of year. They had already done several that morning with several more to go.) We made plans for how to drop Patrick off and what to do if classmates are sick and an aide to be with him in the classroom and what physical activities he can participate in and what to do when he needs to stay home and how to make sure that he gets the absolute most bang for the buck out of his hour a day at school.

For the rest of this school year, they’ll be reimplementing the amazing IEP that they wrote for him the week of his transplant. Then we will reconvene in a month to figure out where he is on his goals and what the best plan for school next fall will be.

The most amazing part? I thought we’d be waiting a week or two more for medication changes but the team in Nebraska says that because he kept swinging too high, they brought his dose down and he’s already there. That doesn’t mean he’s not immunocompromised. But this is about the best it’s gonna get for a while and so we might as well let him live.

We are taking the next few days as a family to celebrate Patrick’s 6 month transplantiversary and half-birthday (because, face it, transplant is an awesome birthday gift but a sucky birthday party.)

And then on Monday, Patrick starts school.

I’m trying to wrap my mind around gathering all of the supplies, emergency plans, paperwork and other little details I need to have ready by Monday at 10:45 a.m. I’m hoping this is as good of an idea as it sounds. That he has the strength. That he can stay healthy.

It’s strange to think that a month ago, I answered a phone call and our lives stopped and reset.

And now, 6 months later..to the day.. we’re trying to kickstart life again.

Patrick is bouncing off the walls excited.

Transplant Day 176 and Please Stop Chasing My Rainbows

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Two weeks ago, my youngest brother got married. Brian and Patrick didn’t stay long, partly to protect Patrick’s immune system and partly because Patrick gets horribly bored at long wedding receptions. But I stayed behind at the reception. It was wonderful to catch up with family and friends that I only see when big events bring us together.

It was also a little strange to discover that so many of you read my blog, even though we haven’t talked in ages.

And there was something said to me by one of the women I’ve known and respected forever that’s been sitting a little funny with me that I’d like to address. She said how glad she was that we were home, especially as my blog had made it sound like we were living in “less desirable” circumstances.

This struck me funny because, although I really struggled with the loss of comforts of home at the Ronald McDonald House and the awkwardness of living in close quarters with other families day in and day out.. my memories of the Ronald McDonald House are overall very fond memories and I’m afraid I didn’t do the place and the people justice in what I wrote.

Patrick and Ronald last December

Patrick and Ronald last December

This week, a video was shared on Facebook of one of the families that we got to know while we were there who hold a very special place in my heart. They were there seeking the same miracle central line placement Patrick had needed to be listed for transplant and that mom and I bonded in a way few can over shared trauma. I don’t think to can understand how terrifying and desperate that end-of-the-road, hail mary, do or (literally) die situation really is. The video talked about how wonderful her son was doing and about how the Ronald McDonald House had helped her family. I thought it was good news and I wanted to rejoice.

The next day I learned that the video had, in fact, been shared in tribute. Instead of good news, the worst had happened. Lost central line access had put her son at the top of the transplant list. In the short time since we’d left the house, he’d received “the” call and gone for transplant. But something went wrong in surgery and he never woke up. He passed away this week.

We made a very calculated choice to stay at the Ronald McDonald House. Yes, there were financial benefits and proximity benefits. Yes, there were difficulties and uncomfortable parts, too. But we knew that being there meant the ability to share our journey with other people who’d get it.

I can’t describe the connection we have to the other families who lived long-term with us in that house. I learned how to be a transplant mom from them. We helped each other in every way we could. Cooking together. Doing each other’s laundry. Crying together. Celebrating together. They are part of my heart and having them now spread across the country facing these trials without being close to lean on each other for daily support is hard.

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The truth is that doing this at home would have been much MUCH harder. During all those months away, the people who loved us back home would often say, “We wish you were here at home so we could take care of you.” It happened so often that I almost expected to have to set up a visitation schedule to slow the flow of friends and family through our front door.

But the reality is that coming home has been very lonely. Because we can’t go out, we probably see less of the people we love here at home than we ever did before. I don’t want to sound ungrateful. A lot of you have caught us in the halls at church to express your love and many of you have offered help in the way of meals or help cleaning. But it is easy to forget that left at home is a very social 6 year old. I often feel like Brian and I are his only friends. And finding the balance between taking care of my own responsibilities and making sure he has time every day where he is shown how very loved and important he is has proven to be a challenge.

Besides that, it is hard to imagine the kind of life we live unless you experience it. Everything we do has to take into consideration how and by whom Patrick will be taken care of. We don’t just go to work or to dinner or to church. We can’t just call up a friend and say “let’s get together.” We skip most extracurricular events. We don’t get to be apart for school. And when Brian travels this summer, I will be the only wife staying home.

When we DO catch you in the halls or on the street somewhere, we are having a conversation that we know is going to be very brief and so we know there is a choice between trying to take time to answer questions about Patrick and sharing our lives honestly and sincerely wanting to spend time hearing about and catching up with YOU. We don’t want every adult conversation we have to be consumed with medical updates, and so we may skim or skip over details. One friend accused me of trying to hide how I’m really struggling. I’m not trying to hide anything. I just don’t want to waste our conversation.

You won’t read as often about the things that made me cry on this blog right now. We have a different set of frustrations here at home. I don’t want to put in print the experiences where someone I love might have innocently hurt my feelings. I know that hurt feelings have much more blame in the person feeling them. I’ve learned over the years that people are trying to say things that are supportive and helpful and if I look between the lines I see and hear and feel love.

Because soil contains bacteria, gardening requires mask, gloves, and overclothes. Patrick still thinks it is worth it to help.

Because soil contains bacteria, gardening requires mask, gloves, and overclothes. Patrick still thinks it is worth it to help.

But there is one thing I have encountered a few times that I’d like to talk about because it is hurting and I don’t think you know.

I’d like to ask you to stop trying to find my silver linings and rainbows.

There was a marvelous sermon given in LDS General Conference a year ago. If you’re facing hard times, and let’s face it, who isn’t?, I highly recommend that you read this talk in its entirely. You’ll find it here. In it, President Dieter F. Uctdorf said:

We sometimes think that being grateful is what we do after our problems are solved, but how terribly shortsighted that is. How much of life do we miss by waiting to see the rainbow before thanking God that there is rain?

It took me a lot of years of hard trials to learn that happiness is not something that comes to us after trials have passed. Happiness comes from learning to be grateful for our blessings right now. It comes from learning to see God’s hand in our lives. Right. Now.

That doesn’t mean that if you are struggling, if you are mourning, if you are going through hard times right now that you are ungrateful, unfaithful, or unhappy.

It has been a hard couple of weeks. We took a gamble and took Patrick out a little more than usual two weeks ago and he got sick. Being sick made him frustrated and moody. It meant even more limitations for him, which made him angry. We had a week of daily appointments.. appointments we shouldn’t miss and so we gloved and masked and we still went, which only made him feel worse. In the times inbetween, Patrick expressed his anger by acting out against the only people he had to vent to, his parents. Steroid fueled kindergarten anger is hard to deal with. Add to that the sleepiness caused by antihistimines and the insomnia caused by prograf and a stuffy nose? And monitoring his oxygen saturation periodically while he slept to be sure he was still doing ok. And, well.. you can imagine.

Thankfully, his prograf levels were accidentally low when he got sick and he was able to fight off the illness without needing medical intervention. But just as he got better, Brian caught the cold. He was down for the weekend, and then I got sick, too. Remember, we all spent the winter in fairly sterile settings and so none of us has immunity against this year’s viruses. Well, on the heels of a stressful week with Patrick, my body was fairly weak. I have spent the last few days fairly sick.

And it has rained most of the week. So we have been stuck inside more than usual. And, as Patrick has felt better, his body’s sensory system has been craving movement, so this was not a good week for that.

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If you asked me this week how Patrick is doing, I probably would have told you about those things. Because that is what has happened this week and it helps me to talk about my struggles.

That’s the rain in our lives right now. And friends are there to talk about the rainy times, too, right?

However, right now when someone asks me how Patrick is and I mention that we’ve been stir crazy, missing school, easily sick, wondering why we are struggling to hard to set up playdates, lonely, etc., I can almost predict the response. The person I’m talking to will ask me how much longer things will be this way. They’ll point out that Patrick’s almost 6 months post transplant and wonder when his medications will change and his medical team will allow him back in public. They’ll try to show me the end in sight.

I know you mean this well. You don’t like to see us struggling and you hope that relief is coming soon. You want to point out that there’s a rainbow just around the corner or a silver lining in the clouds.

But right now, that isn’t what I need. I need someone to walk with me in the rain. I need you to help remember how much I love my raincoat and umbrella. I need us to look together at how rain makes the earth clean and helps the flowers grow.

In other words, I need you to listen to me about my struggles and maybe try to help me figure out how to get through what needs done this day and this week. And maybe to listen about the good things too.

Because a lot of good things happened in the past 2 weeks. We got set up with Primary Children’s liver transplant team so that now, we have a transplant coordinator who checks Patrick’s labwork and calls me to see how he’s doing and I don’t have to bug his very devoted doctor with every little question and play intermediary with the transplant team in Nebraska.

We also saw Patrick’s rehabilitationist and neurologist this week. They both assured me that, while Patrick’s cerebral palsy and other symptoms of his brain injury aren’t gone, it hasn’t been made worse by all he’s gone through lately. He doesn’t want to wear a brace right now and getting to physical therapy would be difficult. And they both assured me that, given all we have gone through recently, it’s ok for that to be on the back burner right now. They’ll keep watching for trouble. Someday we’ll get back to working on strengthening and stretching and improving his gait so he can run and climb. But for now, I shouldn’t feel guilty for not doing more about it.

Also this week, Patrick and I went to a teacher supply store and bought some math manipulatives. We managed to hold 1-2 hour study sessions every day without major tantrums. Patrick counted and added the new pattern blocks without getting upset with himself or me. And his teacher was really impressed when she came by the progress Patrick has made in reading, writing, and math.

I taught Patrick to ride his scooter. We laid in the grass and watched the clouds.

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But I might not get to telling you about those good things that happened right now if you ask me about Patrick’s current struggles, and I answer honestly, and then we spend our brief conversation time talking about what things might be like when the rain stops. I promise, I may be wet and soggy and tired.. but I don’t so much mind the rain. And let’s face it, we’ve got a pretty rainy forecast ahead of us.

Our trials don’t mean that we need all of our responsibilities taken away. Yes, it may take more coordination for me to participate now than it was before I was a mother. But it is also healing to do normal things. I got to go to a youth activity and teach teenagers how to do data entry on vital records used for geneology this week. I had to get a babysitter, make special arrangements for dinner, and work around Patrick’s school schedule. But it felt good to be out among people and sharing my talents. It is nice to be included. I’d like to see you. I might have to suggest a less crowded venue for an outing or we might have our conversation interrupted two dozen times by my 6 year old. My life is messy right now. But I’d like to share it with my friends.

You might even learn something I haven’t posted in this blog. There is a lot I don’t write about.

Good things are on the horizon. Patrick’s 6 months transplant anniversary is coming up this week. A lot of things will hopefully change for the good. We are talking about when and how to go back to school and church. We also know that it isn’t going to be easy for Patrick, who has always struggled with routine and crowds and sitting still, to come back to them after such a long break. So we’ll need to take it slow and it might not seem to go well for a while.

I know that chronic disability is hard to wrap your mind around. Everyone likes happy endings. We like resolution. We pray for and believe in miracles. We don’t like people we love to struggle with hard things for years and decades and lifetimes. And I know that when you think of transplant you think of it as healing, a cure, and end to struggling. And so watching this be a long recovery and lifelong challenge goes against all of that. God promised joy in this life. But He didn’t promise us a life free of sorrow. Quite the opposite, in fact. He promised to refine us, and refining takes fire.

But I promise, it’s ok. We are ok with it. We can be happy in the rain.  But rain is best when you’ve got someone to splash in the puddles and share an umbrella with us. I promise, I’ll listen about your storms, too.

I told my friend that there were hard things at the Ronald McDonald House that I sometimes miss it. I miss being surrounded by people who were all facing the same struggles and so able to mourn together. I miss those friends who made the best of hard times with me.

But I think I miss it most because I didn’t feel like I needed to sugar-coat my trials. Because often it isn’t until I say things out loud and see the look of pity on someone’s face that I even realize that it might be pitiable.

President Uchtdorf again:

We can choose to be grateful, no matter what.

This type of gratitude transcends whatever is happening around us. It surpasses disappointment, discouragement, and despair. It blooms just as beautifully in the icy landscape of winter as it does in the pleasant warmth of summer.

When we are grateful to God in our circumstances, we can experience gentle peace in the midst of tribulation. In grief, we can still lift up our hearts in praise. In pain, we can glory in Christ’s Atonement. In the cold of bitter sorrow, we can experience the closeness and warmth of heaven’s embrace.

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My friend who lost her son this week is raising funds to help cover his funeral expenses. His fundraising page can be found at: http://www.youcaring.com/memorial-fundraiser/jalen-boyce-s-medical-memorial-fund/342215#.VTg_itc1flc.facebook