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.”
Hi there! I’m typing to you from a laptop that is sticky with starburst fingerprints. It’s been quite the day. We’ll call it “February isn’t over yet.”
If you deal with chronic illness, especially in a child, you know that February is something to be greatly feared. Sure, I bet when you think of cold and flu season, you probably think of, oh, say December when everyone’s sharing colds around as they visit each other for the holidays. February is much, much worse. February is respiratory illness wonderland. it’s when the hospitals fill up to overflowing and they start putting beds in the broom closets.
According to Facebook’s memories, Patrick has been sick and often hospitalized pretty much every February of his life.
I wasn’t sure how we’d managed it. The children at Patrick’s school are walking around looking like death. Everyone we know has been sick. And yet, our immunocompromised superhero has been healthy.
Well… had been healthy.
This morning, Patrick did something he’s never done before. He told me, “Mom, I think I have a cold.”
Please note, this doesn’t mean he’s never had a cold. He’s had lots of cold. Doozies of colds. He’s been admitted to the hospital over many, many colds. But because of that exact fear. Being sent to the hospital… he doesn’t admit to being sick.
I was super proud of him.
And I decided to listen to him. Patrick really isn’t very sick. If he hadn’t said anything, you might not even know for sure anything is up. He is so good at pushing forward through things. But he’s been extra sleepy. A little grumpy. Restless. And has had a bit of a cough. Today, we added on an adorable nasal-y voice.
But, really sick or not, Patrick already had a checkup scheduled at the hospital at noon. And so he was going to attend less than 2 hours of school anyway. Which means no credit for the school day at all. And so – we kept him home.
One thing that all these years of medical surprises has taught me is how to throw all my plans to the wind and dive into super parent mode. I did pretty darn awesome today, if i do say so myself.
Because he wasn’t crazy sick. And because he LOVES schoolwork more than just about anything. And because yesterday we tried resting and watching TV which only led to a very restless child… I told Patrick he could stay home but only if we did school at home.
I let him take a longer bath and while he was in the tub I e-mailed his teacher to ask for a list of spelling words. I roped off Howie’s office, since he was working from home today, which is a huge temptation for them both. And then, while he played with toys for a bit, I hopped onto Teachers Pay Teachers and downloaded some freebie homework sheets for him. Some math. Some reading. A cut and paste word family page. AWESOME stuff! It is so much easier going and getting him relevant homework when I’m not trying to pull my own curriculum out of thin air.
And then, after doing a few pages of work, I pulled out the chromebook and i logged him into the websites that he works in during computer lab at school and set him to work. We had a blissful half hour where he worked independently! Then we went to the backyard and had “recess” and talked about what to do next.
Patrick voted that he wanted to eat lunch in the hospital cafeteria. Don’t fault us for unusual comforts developed over the years.
So we packed up early and drove off to the hospital. We started out in the outpatient building’s cafeteria but alas, they had a menu that was more fancy than comfort food… hospitals do that sometimes so the staff won’t get bored of what they eat. But thank goodness the main hospital cafeteria still peddles good old comfort food fare. We got Patrick a bowl of macaroni and cheese while I grabbed some deli-case sushi. (Again, don’t mock our comforts). Then we picked up two rice krispie treats and a carton of milk and booked it back to the outpatient building for his appointment.
We checked in, weighed in, checked vitals, and then set up lunch in the exam room. A family tradition.
The checkup went well. Our experiment in g-tube boluses of carnation instant breakfast has paid off in some weight gain. And, though they were a little disappointed to hear that his diet isn’t currently all oral, his doctor pointed out that “that’s why he still has a g-tube after all.” and the dietitian agreed that it might help train his stomach to want food at the times we’re giving him these extra feeds and that’s good. We talked about some longer term strategy.
And then Patrick talked his doctor into drawing him a picture of a monkey as a “prize.”
This appointment went remarkably quickly as far as GI visits go. We can sometimes be there hours. This time we were done by 1.
And so, not wanting to referee “don’t bug dad at work” time too much longer, I offered Patrick a field trip.
He’s been working on the astronomy-with-a-cute-name belt buckle in cub scouts, so we stopped at the planetarium to help him with that requirement. It was a madhouse. There were at least 2 school field trips there. But Patrick seemed relieved to run wild with the other children. And I still managed to point out and describe the planets to him, and telescopes, and other astronomy stuff. Then we stopped in the gift shop and let him pick out a bookmark/ruler with the planets on it. And amazingly, he was reciting some of the names back to me. He is very offended that Pluto isn’t on his bookmark, even though I tried to explain dwarf planets. Aren’t we all.
Anyway… home again and this time convinced him to take a nap.
He woke right on time for me to tuck him into my bed to watch Blues Clues while I threw together dinner and tidied up the house before our next appointment.
A nurse came this afternoon to officially admit Patrick for respite nursing through the Utah Medically Complex Children’s Waiver. This is on top of the other respite we already have and feels a bit splurgy. But it’s required for him to participate in the waiver. And it’s required that it be done by a nurse. So we are doing it.
Patrick was a total flirt with the admitting nurse and she played along beautifully. Meanwhile, I did my best to communicate a clear medical picture. You know you’re a medical parent when you know which diagnosis needs to be listed in each system. And when you provide a list of medications in writing so they don’t give a copy back to you.
Anyway… that done, I cooked dinner and Patrick played with the chromebook. Don’t tell him that we bought this thing largely for him. Because you can’t tell him it’s his. He wants it. But that means he wants there to be no rules about it. And besides, I like to blog here.
While dinner cooked I managed to convince Patrick to do one math worksheet. And then after we ate, we sat down and had him practice writing out his spelling words. I told his teacher I didn’t think he was being challenged and now he had 5 words again this week. Usually, that would be just right. Today though, he wasn’t feeling great and he wasn’t happy to do so much writing.
Bedtime finally came and he got exhausted quickly. We scrapped our Family Night plans and just worked together for a quick bedtime. Complete with antihistimines (he’s not allowed any other cold meds) and vaporub and a humidifier. He was asleep in minutes.
I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Howie and I are for sure also coming down with something. And i’m not sure Patrick will be up for school tomorrow. But it’s labwork morning so we’ll be up bright and early regardless. Doesn’t hurt to see how being sick is affecting his body. And we’ll go from there.
If I don’t post soon, you can probably assume that Patrick slowly got better and needed lots of my attention, and then one day he was better and I looked around and realized just how much else I neglected while in super mom mode. Anyway – usually on this blog no news is good news.
Valentine’s weekend represents a lot of milestones for our family. Two days ago, we celebrated the seven years since we took Patrick to the temple to be sealed to our family. Three years ago, we took Patrick to Nebraska to have him evaluated for a transplant there. It meant moving to a better program, but leaving a lot of comfort behind. A completely foreign city, a huge hospital, and no one we knew. And then one year ago, we arrived home with Patrick after he’d received his transplant, evidence of a miraculous recovery.
And then yesterday we added one more. Yesterday, Brian (also known as Howie, if you are ever confused by my mixing names in this blog post) was called to be a counselor in our bishopric.
A bit of explanation for those less familiar with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The “Mormon” church has a lay ministry. That means that we don’t have professional clergy. At all. Some full-time. But none are formally trained. And none are paid. Instead, we are all trained as a part of “bringing up” in the church and we all take turns. Every 5 or more years, a new bishop is called. His service is voluntarily and in addition to his regular job, but no less real in its demands. He is a pastor to his congregation. Leader, comforter, judge, and friend. And he is helped in his work by two counselors. Brian was just made a counselor. (And in order to serve in that assignment he was also ordained a high priest.)
But this blog isn’t about Brian or about bishoprics. It’s about our family and our journey together. And so I’m going to share some reflections I’ve had as we prepared for this new assignment. (See, even though the news was only announced yesterday, we’ve known for a few weeks and I’ve had some time to think.)
A phrase came to my mind a few days ago. “Whom the Lord calls, He qualifies.”
And so I’ve been thinking about the calling I’ve been pursuing for the past seven and a half years. My calling as Patrick’s mother.
Seven and a half years ago, I took that a phone call, my life changed. But I don’t think you could say that the Emily who answered that call about a boy who needed a family was qualified to be a special needs mom, a short gut mom, a TPN mom, a transplant mom, an autism and ADHD mom, a feeding therapy mom, a food allergy mom. I had tried to prepare to be a mother. I had often wondered if I hadn’t been given the chance yet because I wasn’t really prepared to even be a mother. (I wasn’t so very wise then, was I?)
Some people say that special children are only given to special parents. And I don’t think that is true. At all. I’ve watched hundreds of moms in the support group I run learn about their children’s diagnosis and realize that they don’t have even the beginning knowledge required to do what is required of them.
I certainly wasn’t equipped. I was impatient. I was just learning how to handle my anxiety. I had panic attacks when schedules changed. (Umm, drop everything and run to the ER? What?) I was absolutely phobic of doctors and hospitals and especially surgical procedures.
When I took Patrick for his transplant evaluation, I had learned a lot and was a seasoned medical mom. But I couldn’t have imagined what that experience would be like. The pain he’d be in. The effect his medications would have on his moods. The trauma we’d both have to learn to live with. And though I knew being far from home and without my husband would be hard, I couldn’t have prepared for it.
When we brought a “new” Patrick home, I wasn’t prepared for the growing and changing that would happen this year. The sheer weight of trying to learn a whole new way of life. A new gut in many ways opened doors to a new him and needed a new kind of mom.
I wasn’t qualified for any of these things when I started them. But I was willing. I was teachable. And I trusted that the call came from the Lord.
I have received a lot of on-the-job training. I have had solutions to problems come to my mind with such clarity and perfection that I know they can only have come from a knowing Heavenly Father through the Holy Ghost. I have shed lots of tears when I didn’t feel I was measuring up. And then I’ve gotten up and kept trying.
I have learned to rely heavily on friends and family and neighbors, on experts willing to take the time to teach me, on other parents who started out as strangers but became friends.
And I’ve learned that truly, whom the Lord calls, He qualifies.
He does it. Through His grace. If we let Him.
Special children aren’t given to special people. Ordinary people become parents to special children all the time. Ordinary people are faced with all kinds of devastating trials every day. Ordinary people step up and do impossible things every day.
There is a saying that floats around a lot. “The Lord won’t give you more than you can handle.” That isn’t quite right. Here’s what the scriptures really say:
There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. 1 Corinthians 10: 13
In other words, “The Lord won’t give you more than you can handle without also giving you a way to handle it.” He uses trials to make us better. To make us more like him. He takes ordinary, willing people and makes them into special people. Or, in simpler words, “Whom the Lord calls, he qualifies.”
P.S. Don’t take this as bragging. I still consider myself far more ordinary than special. But I digress…
Here we are. Another Valentine’s weekend. Another big change. I don’t know quite yet how Patrick and I are going to fare with Brian even busier. I’m sure sacrament meetings are about to be really interesting. And bedtimes.
I am sure that my humble, determined-to-serve husband is feeling a bit overwhelmed by this new calling. I’m also certain that he will do a marvelous job and that the people of our church are going to be really blessed by having him on their side.
And I’m going to do my best to keep up. That’s what I’ve been doing the whole time I’ve known him.
Brian loves to go for walks. When we were newlyweds and lived downtown, he would decide to walk to the city center. That wasn’t a short walk. And with his longer stride, I had to take an awful lot of steps to keep up with his pace. He has taught me quite literally what it means to “lengthen your stride.”
That’s what it is like having him for a best friend and husband. He’s always challenged me to quicken my step, lengthen my stride, and do a little better.
Once each February, a week is dedicated to helping raise awareness about tube feeding. I feel like the past 7 years of our lives have been a walking tube feeding awareness ad. If you haven’t picked up on the fact that you can lead a full and happy life while being tube fed, then you haven’t been paying attention. And so I try not to get too vocal during this week.
However, this week, just on time for tube feeding awareness week, Patrick has started to require supplemental feeding. And so I’m going to take a minute anyway to explain what a frustrating blessing a feeding tube can be.
Since last October, we’ve been trialing having Patrick eat 100% of his calories. And he has lost weight ever since. At first it was really rapid. That wasn’t a surprise. He wasn’t used to eating that much and we dropped a lot of calories and hydration very suddenly. We’d fattened him up and he had room to learn.
He really did a marvelous job picking it up. In a couple of weeks he figured out how to drink enough to stay hydrated. And he picked up meal and snack times pretty well. But he just kept losing. We’ve added more snacks. We’ve added more butter and fats to every meal. We started giving him milk at every meal. We added protein shakes.
But months later, he is still losing, even after “doing everything” that his dietitians could think of to recommend.
There just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day for Patrick’s belly to take in enough food. He gets full and uncomfortable and doesn’t want to push more food.
Eating is such an emotional thing. It’s social. It’s bonding. It combines smells and tastes with memories. But what if your memories of food weren’t positive? What if for years eating made you sick? Was always high stress? What if you were expected to dive in suddenly at a level of eating skill than other kids took 7 years to master? And what if the stakes were so high that everyone was watching to see if you did it? And when you felt completely stuffed, you were always being told “just one more bite”?
Patrick was losing weight. And I found that I was pushing too hard. Worrying too much about making sure Patrick got enough calories and then getting really upset when he didn’t eat what was put in front of him. And that pressure was actually causing us to lose ground. Making Patrick not like foods he’d once loved.
So we’ve turned again to the feeding tube. Just a little. A week ago Brian suggested that maybe we should start giving some carnation instant breakfast first thing in the morning when he wakes and last thing before bed. We know it helps his belly wake up. And it would give him extra calories.
The first day that we did it and he wasn’t hungry for breakfast after. I had a good cry about losing breakfast. Losing progress. Not fully achieving the miracle. But Howie convinced me to give it time. And now I see that, this way he’s getting the same morning calories. Plus he’s hungry for a snack and to eat his lunch at school.. something we’d struggled with. In other words, Patrick seems to be better off this way. And maybe I was looking the wrong way at miracles.
I’m finding myself humbled and grateful for medical technology that can help him yet again. I am remembering that just because all struggles aren’t gone, it doesn’t mean a miracle hasn’t happened. Not all healing means perfect health.
Do you know that tube feeding is so new, even in the United States, that Patrick’s GI doctor was the first to place a g-tube (stomach instead of nasal feeding tube) at his our children’s hospital? That it’s so new that there are countries where the technology is only still just being taught?
We take it for granted. This ability to feed patients who otherwise couldn’t eat enough. I’ve even heard people say it’s weird, gross, unnatural. But really, it’s amazing! Minimally invasive. In fact, I often wish every child could have a button. That I could have one myself. I know hundreds of families with feeding tubes. I can count on one hand those who weren’t immensely grateful for them. Who didn’t feel that they exponentially improved their child’s quality of life.
Hopefully, we’ll only need this little bit of help for a while longer. Just enough to take the “Please eat so you won’t die” sort of pressure off of learning to eat. Please note, “Please eat so you don’t need a feeding tube” doesn’t work. Patrick knows from experience that being fed through a tube is exceptionally convenient and comfortable. Fed is fed. And it’s so stress-free he sees no reason to avoid it. I mean, seriously, if you could just keep doing the things you love without having to stop to eat or drink, wouldn’t you choose that too sometimes?
However, we are finding it’s possible to take a bit of the hunger/starvation edge off of learning to eat this way. Just enough feeding to help his belly move. Just enough calories to help him grow but let him be hungry. And hopefully soon, Patrick’s love of food will help him overcome some of his fears. And he’ll need less and less of the help.
But in the meantime, isn’t is wonderful that we don’t have to do it without help?
Tubies of the world unite. Or some other catchy social media phrase meaning tube feeding is awesome.
Somewhere along the past few years, my husband became a scouter. Ok. To be honest, Brian is an Eagle Scout. But he wasn’t really into the whole scouting as an adult thing. And then he was called to the Stake Young Men’s Presidency, and then as the President. In the Mormon faith, that means that he oversaw the program for boys age 12-18 in several congregations in our area. A large part of that work is a partnership with the Boy Scouts of America.
So, because he wanted to do the job well, he attended the trainings and round tables and other events he was supposed to be at. And, over the past few years, Brian went from reluctant scout leader to a bit of a scouter.
A couple of weeks ago, we went to the District Award of Merit banquet. Brian had earned some awards for his work and training as district commissioner and they were being presented there. He was presented his commissioner’s key and arrowhead and then I settled in thinking we’d enjoy watching others recognized for years of service with District Award of Merit. And then, as they started reading a bio, Brian nudged me. They were describing him. We were both quite surprised. He was touched to have been considered. And I’ll admit, that I was quite proud of my husband.
Well, it turns out he needed to go pick up a couple of patches for the commissioner awards so the next Saturday found us at the scout shop. And, with Patrick turning 8 and the blue and gold cub scout banquet coming up, I figured we’d let Patrick come inside so we could start to talk up cub scouts a bit.
Well, right as you walked in, there was a cardboard cutout of a cub scout in uniform. Patrick’s eyes got big. He didn’t know boys could have uniforms. And so I took him and showed him the real thing and he was practically drooling.
On the way out the door, Brian pointed out a flyer for a Tiger Cub’s Den. Tiger Cubs are 7-year-old cub scouts. The LDS church’s scouting program starts with wolves at 8. But if you want, you can pay your own dues and find a den and start early. Well, that got us talking and we decided that Patrick would really benefit from the chance to start scouts with a little bit more of the structure that’s available with Tigers. Parents invited. Simpler goals. And a little more organized of leaders. Not to mention the benefits of socializing with other boys his age, setting goals outside of school and survival, etc.
In short, we decided it was time to introduce Patrick to scouts.
Well, one morning I had some time, so I called Scout Headquarters and asked if there was a Tiger Cubs den near me. They surprised me by not recommending the den I’d heard about near us, but instead one about 20 minutes away. I don’t know if they just got their directions confused or if it was inspiration. But they gave me a name and a number.
So I called, and found myself speaking to a cubmaster who had a couple of special needs boys of her own who sounded more than willing to include Patrick. The schedule was right. They were kind of far from home but not too far from his school. I couldn’t have asked for picked better myself had I been given choices.
And so, back to the scout shop we went. Patrick was OVER THE MOON about buying his uniform. From Saturday to Wednesday he said several times a day, “I can’t wait till Wednesday!”
Wednesday came and we came home, did homework, ate dinner early, and headed out to den meeting. I think Patrick did ok. He participated in most of what they did. Wandered only when he didn’t understand the story being read. He earned an art beltloop.
Thursday, he carried his Tiger book around all day. He’s working on learning to read the scout oath. It’s kind of adorable.
And then Friday was the blue and gold banquet. We arrived late because we had attended the Provo City Center Temple openhouse. (More explanation later.) But on time for Patrick to be “knighted,” build a cottonball and tongue depressor catapault, and pull a sword from a stone. Again, he is so excited to be a part of scouts.
He keeps mixing up the name. He calls is “Scub couts” or “Tiger clubs.” But really that’s not bad considering he didn’t even know it existed until two weeks ago.
It’s going to be a bit of a commitment. We only have about 6 months to help him earn his Bobcat and Tiger. We get to drive in peak rush hour every Wednesday evening. We’ll be working on family goals in addition to what they do in meetings. But it is time for it.
It’s time for a little bit more of being a boy and a little bit less of being a transplant patient. Some of that living he went through so much to be able to do.
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.