Tag Archives: brain injury

Since last I wrote..

This blog has been quiet for a while. It takes time and work to get settled into a new home, school, and life. Honestly, for the first several months I was just unpacking and painting and decorating in every moment I could get. It’s been a year and a half and that job still feels less than half done, though I’m sure it’s not that bad.

That first summer, we unpacked what was necessary and otherwise I tried to focus on having summer. In this neighborhood, there are “summer recreation” classes at the park in the summer. On the days we didn’t have class, we had therapy. We decided to shift some of his goals towards life skills and so our therapy sessions went to the grocery store where Patrick practiced not running into me with the cart and walking as slow as the other shoppers.

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At the end of June, Brian and I had the amazing opportunity to visit Rome, Milan and Paris together. I can’t tell you how amazing it was to get to visit the Vatican Museums, the cathedrals, the Louvre, the Duomo. To just soak up all of that early renaissance art. To see the evidence of the reawakening after the dark ages and apostasy, as people’s hearts began to turn again to their Maker and their Savior. We also learned to make real pizza dough (with a lot of help), spent 3 hours being taught about mosaic and micromosaic art from the family who maintains the amazing mosaics at St. Peter’s Basillica and other masterpieces around Italy.

That was perhaps my favorite experience. Another was visiting the construction site of the Latter-Day Saint Temple in Rome. It was humbling to walk where early apostles had walked, and then to stand on land dedicated by living apostles for the same work. Brian ran into a family that he knew from his mission there and we ended up spending hours learning about the symbolism and architecture in the temple. (Such as marble replicas of the statues of the apostles made from marble from the same quarry that Michelangelo used for his sacred sculpture, Pieta, for example.)

After several days in Rome, we took a train to Milan to catch up with a friend of Brian’s who was living there. And then we flew to Paris where we spent a day before flying home. We were so exhausted that we went to bed while the sun was up that day.

I returned home just on time for July 4th while Brian went on to work in Ukraine. Patrick and I celebrated the 4th by immersing ourselves in parades, fireworks, and all of the other things our new neighborhood had to offer.

The rest of our summer was a little surreal. We had moved from such busy responsibilities and lives. But we weren’t busy yet, except with unpacking. I spent most summer evenings sitting in the window or in the front yard reading the entire Harry Potter series while Patrick rode bikes in the front yard with the neighborhood kids. We were really blessed that first year to have a lot of kids his age available to play with just outside the front yard.

July and August went quickly and soon, Patrick was in school. Moving Patrick to this school and moving to be close to it was worth all of the sacrifice it took to get him here. His teacher this year was amazing! I walked out of our first IEP meeting just stunned. I’d known that Patrick’s IEP was weak and even more weakly honored. Honestly, we all had a good laugh at just how terrible it was. Then, they went through and fixed it. Made goals that really would make a difference for Patrick. Offered enough support to actually make those goals work.

And then, for the reset of the year, they actually worked on those goals. I’ve known for years that Patrick’s strength was reading and spelling and was frustrated to know that he wasn’t being taught even what would have been basically offered in kindergarten and first grade about phonics. I did all I could to make up for it at home, but since his evenings were filled with laborious and frustrating homework that could take 3 hours or more, there just wasn’t opportunity for me to do so.

Well, this year, Patrick actually gained a grade level in reading. For the first time since kindergarten. And his self-esteem just soared. He also came home excitedly talking about things he’d learned in science or social skills.

Math is still his hardest subject and he’s missing some foundations, but although a lot was over his head, he understood place value and basic fractions. And, at the least, he was excited to try instead of frustrated by the same things over and over again.

Also, amazingly, he made friends. In fact, he made a best friend. Who, although he moved from the school mid-year, we have been able to spend a lot of time with this summer. And it’s been thrilling to see him with another child who shares his obsession with cars and just enjoys his company.

While Patrick was at school, I unpacked, painted, went to the temple, went out to breakfasts and lunches with new and old friends, read the Book of Mormon, and then started an intense study of the New Testament. I volunteered in his class teaching music every other week. And I helped his teacher, or at least tried to help his teacher, turn her ideas for fun projects and field trips and class parties into reality. I dressed as a witch and made a witches brew for Halloween, for example. I also got involved with the PTO the school tried to start this year. And by the end of the school year, had somewhat accidentally stepped into a leadership role there. I’ll be co-president this year with another mom who’s become a great friend and hope I’m not in over my head.

Also, I spent a good part of the school year being sick. Or taking care of Patrick while he was sick. The treatment for my Rheumatoid Arthritis is immune suppression. And I had completely underestimated how having both mother and son with weak immune systems could affect the family. Patrick and I took turns catching things and giving them to each other. I have never experienced illness like this before in my life.

I’m happy to report that the RA is not as severe as it was before I started treatment. It’s rare for me to have knees so unsteady I can’t walk or hands so swollen that I can’t straighten my fingers. But it also isn’t entirely gone. And the busy year and change in routine means I am not as strong as I was when I moved here. One of my goals in this coming year is daily exercise and hopefully some strengthening so that I can walk 2 miles without pain again.

This disease has been a different kind of trial for me as I learn to keep going when I hurt or am sick. I am trying to learn not to complain and not to quit. But to rest when needed. And it’s a hard lesson in patience.

At least, I have a great example in my son. And a very supportive husband.

Speaking of Brian, his responsibilities at work have just continued to grow. He heads 5 teams now. He’s been put in charge of fraud prevention, in addition to development and management duties. And that’s pushing him into the field of security more and more. And honestly, I don’t know how he could have kept up with both this intense level of responsibility at work and continued in the bishopric (meaning one of two assistants to the lay bishop in our local congregation).

He’s currently working as both cub scout committee chair and scout committee chair, as well as building scheduler. So he’s busy, but a different kind of busy.

I taught the 4 year old Sunday School class for a year, and have recently changed from that responsibility to being in charge of the Compassionate Service committee at church. Basically, that means that I help coordinate meal trains when someone is sick, has a baby, or is otherwise struggling. I terribly spending Sundays with the sweet little children. However, it is wonderful to be able to turn my years of trials into a chance to serve others. I owe an unpayable debt of gratitude for all of the times we have been ministered to.

In spring we did a consultation with Shriner’s Hospital for a second opinion on his cerebral palsy. Ultimately, we decided that any treatment would be far too traumatic to be beneficial for him. And that we should just find ways to let him play.

So, we signed him up for an adaptive soccer team, which proves to be much more productive than physical therapy for keeping him active. He had a great time! We can’t wait for it to come back in fall.

Shriner’s also helped us to trade his little training wheels for big “fat wheels” adaptive wheels on his bike, which has helped him gain confidence in riding. And we’re working on helping him get brave enough to go around the block.

It’s summer again. We’ve spent the past few months at summer rec in the park. His best friend’s mom and I signed the boys up for summer rec classes together and so we’d see them at class and then get together to play once a week or so.

Patrick also asked for swimming lessons, so we’ve had private lessons once a week at the pool near home. It’s slow progress, but he’s slowly getting over his fear. I’m also hoping this is helping to strengthen him. Though right now, he needs a whole day to recover after a half hour swimming.

Brian’s Ukraine trip was in spring this year. So we’ve had several family vacations this summer. A family reunion in Montana. Patrick’s aunt bought him a fishing pole and sparked a love of fishing in him. (Although he’s currently fishing without a hook and I don’t know how he’ll react when there are actual fish involved.)

Not long after, we decided to take our first family tent camping trip. Patrick did amazingly! Slept happily in the tent both nights. Complained about the idea of roasting hot dogs on the first, and then devoured several.

And just a few weeks ago, we took a spontaneous trip to Disneyland because we’d heard that crowds were smaller than average for summer. They were. It was hot, but a lot of fun!


We don’t have may medical updates. We celebrated the 4th anniversary of Patrick’s transplant and the 10th anniversary of his cardiac arrest this year. Patrick has outgrown his allergy to peanuts entirely. He is still allergic to eggs, but as long as they are cooked, he does ok with them. The worst reaction we have noticed is a fine rash when he eats mayo-based products. We’re hoping that with increased exposure, those reactions will get less and less until they’re not a concern anymore. Tree nuts, however. Patrick’s reaction to tree nuts is still in the scary range. So we carry epi and avoid cashews, pistachios, and all their family.
It’s August again and back to school is just around the corner. I’m nervous as always about him being in a new class. But I’ve heard great things about the new teacher.

We’ve had some great blessings over this past year. I’ll be honest, though. Picking up and moving our family was a little tough. It’s taken time to make friends, find routines, and feel like we were at home. It’s made us grow in good ways.

An example. Or maybe a metaphor. Our new house is in an area with a very high water table and, as a result, basements are not very deep here. And all of the homes have long entry stairways. Add to that high ceilings that are popular in newer homes and there are a LOT more stairs in my house now than before.

A lot of people questioned whether this was a smart choice for someone who was just diagnosed arthritis. But there’s been an unexpected blessing in it. Doing more and longer flights of stairs every day has strengthened my knees.

Moving has made me stronger in other ways, too. It took me out of my comfort zone. It took Patrick out of HIS comfort zone, which was especially hard for him. We have been incredibly blessed by this new home. Sometimes because it made things easier. And sometimes because it made things harder.

It’s been a good year, and really a good summer. And I’m excited for the opportunities that fall brings as we’re starting to find our rhythm in this new place.

It’s great to be 8!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Another IEP meeting behind us.

I feel like a huge weight has been taken off of my chest. Although we have always been very blessed with a caring and cooperative IEP time, hammering out an IEP that meets Patrick’s many needs is no small feat. And this year, with everyone on the IEP team, except the classroom teacher, being brand new to us, I was especially worried.

So I got dressed in my best “I’m competent” clothes, a change from my usual “I’m a special needs mom and you’re lucky I am dressed” wardrobe. I even put on makeup and did my hair. I packed a bag of toys for Patrick and brought along a stack of supporting documents for me. I stopped at the store and picked up some new puzzles for Patrick, even. Then went to Dunkin’ Donuts for goodies since the meeting was at lunch time and I wondered how at least the classroom teacher was going to manage to eat.

Then, as I was sitting waiting for Brian to meet me, I noticed that I’d mixed up my brand new jeans with an old pair of jeans with a hole in the crotch that I’d worn gardening last week. And I crossed my legs and shook it off because I couldn’t let that throw me today.

It seemed like this year’s IEP was all the more important than years past. Before, we were just making goals to help move forward his academic and developmental progress. This time we were dealing with new and worsening behavior problems as Patrick has become aware of his limitations. He wants with all his heart to fit in and make friends, and he just doesn’t have the skills and savvy to do it right. And so he’s taken to hitting, kicking, and pulling hair when he feels frustrated instead.

I had a feeling stress was building. But, I’ll be honest, I’ve been surprised and quite devastated that things got this hard this fast.

As the school year ended last year, I knew that impulsivity was getting to be more of a problem the more Patrick could do things for himself, but still couldn’t be independent. I asked his neurologist for help and he referred me to an amazing program designed to help children with developmental delays and behavioral issues.

But when I started down that path, insurance informed me that the program was through a non-contracted provider. They are a non-profit and we could maybe have made things work, but it was going to cost us more out of pocket than I expected. And, to make matters worse, their wait list was months long… all summer long in fact… just to get an evaluation.

My sweet insurance case manager felt so bad delivering this news that within a day, she’d called around and found a neuropsychologist who they contracted with who could squeeze Patrick in for some developmental testing. I had to fill out a mountain of paperwork. The questionnaire was over 50 pages long. Plus provide a medical/developmental history. (Another 50 pages at least). Then, Brian and I went in for an interview where we talked about all of the things that concerned us about Patrick’s development and behavior. Then it was Patrick’s turn. 4 hours of alternating standardized testing and play therapy and observation. In the end, we got a 25 page write up describing our child. His strengths. His weaknesses. His learning style.

In the end, Patrick was diagnosed as having many physical and cognitive delays stemming from his brain injury. (No surprise there.) And with ADHD. (Also no surprise, though really nice to give it a name we can work with.) The evaluation also included testing for autism and the doctor and Patrick’s therapists and I had a long drawn out series of conversations in which we discussed the way that Patrick’s brain injury sometimes makes him act like he is autistic (sensory processing disorder, social difficulty, quirky little obsessions).. but in the end decided that that diagnosis would only cloud and confuse things for him as it doesn’t exactly fit.

Armed with new diagnoses and 25 pages about how to help Patrick learn (with very specific examples of areas to teach him in), we supposedly had all the makings of a rockstar IEP.

Hence my anxiety over the past month in trying to get things just right. I’ve been e-mailing and talking to Patrick’s new special education teacher (this is an extra teacher who works with him in a regular classroom). I have felt like the super duper stubborn bad guy with my list of unreasonable demands. I really wondered if they were starting to hate me.

But today’s meeting was yet another IEP success. I feel like Patrick’s got a group of very astute and caring team of people working with him. And, in the end, they found a way to give Patrick just about everything we were asking for for him. In fact, a little bit more, even. Like a motor aid to help him in PE. And picture schedule cards for each type of activity in the class. And a more supportive chair for work table time. The occupational therapist offered to work with him on a sensory diet (meaning physical activities to meet his sensory needs throughout the day), which is virtually unheard of in IEP’s in Utah. And the speech therapist offered to build Patrick social stories with him as the main character on her iPad. And, as icing on the cake, they have a written behavioral plan in place for Patrick and are calling in a psychologist to consult and help Patrick learn to control his temper in class.

Of course, the trick now is finding practical ways to make it all work together.. But it is such a relief to feel like we’ve got our feet pointed in the right direction again.

And a big relief to be done with a crazy month of trying to see all the doctors and all the therapists and gather recommendations and write firm but kind “parent advocate” style e-mails that say what they need to, but then have to be trimmed down because, face it, I’m verbose. It will be a relief to be done rehearsing arguments about the IEP in my head all the time.

At least till next fall. Or maybe spring. Or maybe earlier, if things aren’t going quite as they should.

The Orange Rhino Challenge and a whole lot of stars

2013-10-03

Patrick loves school! He is so happy to be back. He is making new friends at a record pace, as well as happily meeting and playing with his old friends before and after school.

But, he’s also been really struggling since school started. At first, the reports were a few here and there coming from the classroom. Then one day, the special education came out to meet me and talk about the problem. Patrick has been growing increasingly aggressive. He’s not picking fights per say, but when he gets mad or feels ignored, he has been using his hands and feet to express his anger. And it’s been getting worse, spilling over into therapy and playdates and church and home.

I loved the conversation with the special ed teacher. (Note, this isn’t the regular classroom teacher. This is a teacher who visits the class a few times a week and, like everyone else, is new this year.) She said she’d heard that Patrick hadn’t had these problems last year in school and asked me if he’d been under any stress at home. I explained that during the first week of school, Patrick had had major, life-threatening medical issues and had needed to travel out of state for surgery. She said, “Well, I know about that. But other than that….” Yeah. She didn’t get it.

Then she asked me what helps at home. I tried to explain sensory processing disorder and how he needs a physical outlet for his energy or he can’t sit still, gets in trouble, gets embarrassed, gets mad, and hits. She told me he gets a regular sensory time once a day. Yeah. She didn’t get that either.

I left the conversation with two clear impressions. 1) Patrick was struggling at school and 2) I was going to need to come up with some answers to help him and/or a better way to communicate with the plan-makers at school because we weren’t going to make much progress otherwise.

I put a lot of thinking and reading and talking and praying into the problem over the next couple of weeks. And I watched as things got worse and worse. It was pretty clear to me that Patrick has been responding to the stress of having his life turned completely upside down… and then having to start school. Not only that, but school twice as many days a week as usual, and in a class that is much younger and more chaotic than last year. He’s feeling overwhelmed and he doesn’t have the words to express his feelings or stand up for himself. So, he’s doing the only thing he can figure out to do. He’s fighting back physically.

And then I remembered something I encountered a while back. An amazing woman who made a goal not to yell at her kids for a whole year, 365 days..  She blogged about the experience and is still blogging and running a Facebook support group to help other parent learn to discipline without yelling, too.

She calls the project The Orange Rhino challenge.

And I realized that I can’t expect Patrick to learn to deal with and express his anger and frustration and overall exhaustion with his situation in healthy ways if I haven’t learned to control my own temper.

But I just couldn’t seem to get there.

And then, a few days ago, I took Patrick to a checkup with his neurologist. We discussed the results of his recent neuropsychological evaluation (a topic that I swear one day I’ll tell you more about, but in a nutshell Patrick was diagnosed with several learning challenges, as well as ADHD) and how to help him learn to work through his attention issues at school, and he offered to have me talk to the department social worker about resources.

That conversation was a lot about how to create a behavioral plan in Patrick’s upcoming IEP. But one thing that stood out was that he suggested using a reward system to encourage the behavior we wanted instead of just punishing “naughty” behavior.

And I just couldn’t get the thought out of my head. Finally, it came to me. And yesterday, Patrick and I had a talk and made a deal. We both need to learn to be gentle when we feel angry. So, any time one of us is going through a hard time and feels mad and chooses to use soft hands and soft words instead, we get a sticker.

I stuck a sheet of foil star stickers in my pocket and away we went.

It was a rough start, with a tantrum first thing in the morning when he failed to earn a sticker by hitting when he didn’t want to take a bath. I thought maybe I was in over my head. But soon, we had our groove.

I took him to school with 3 stars on his head, gave a sheet of stickers to his teachers, and hoped for the best. I picked him up after school to find a dozen more stickers on his head. He was so proud of himself! His teachers reported an improvement, too.

So why am I telling you all this? Well, part of the plan of success with the Orange Rhino challenge is to tell people what you’re doing so that, if you’re feeling weak, you can call out for help. I’m two days in… we’ve had a few almost tantrums from both of us, but we’ve made it so far. It’s easier because we’re doing it together.

My goal isn’t necessarily a year of no yelling. But it is to earn as many sparkly star stickers as I possibly can each and every day.

To know more about the Orange Rhino Challenge, here’s a website: http://theorangerhino.com/

 

 

Recovering at home


I’m happy to announce some tremendous news! Patrick made a miraculous and quick recovery after my last post. The day after my last post, after much fasting and prayer by friends, family, and even people we don’t know, we walked into the ICU to find Patrick smiling and playing in his crib. He turned his head, saw Brian and me, and smiled. Over the next couple of days he continued to make steady improvement.

They gave him some steroids which helped reduce the swelling in his throat and his breathing became much less labored. Ear, nose & throat came and looked at his upper airway and determined that his vocal chords were ok and that, although he had swelling below them, that there wasn’t any evidence of scarring or other permanent damage. The only limitation that they placed on him was that he not be reintubated except for life-saving procedures for the next 6 weeks.

Neurology also came by several times in that day and watched as he progressed, began interacting with me, focusing his eyes, moving his arms and hands more normally… and in the end decided that there didn’t seem to be any evidence of a problem there that would merit further attention.

Next, they scheduled for him to go back to Special Procedures and to have another PICC line placed. Because his antifungal medications aren’t compatible with TPN, he needs two points of access. Amazingly, they were able to get a double lumen PICC placed. This means that there are essentially two tubes wrapped into one and placed in the same vein… instead of having a line in each arm. With that in place, they removed all of the other lines in his body.

The PICC made him sore, but by Thursday that was their primary complaint and they decided to transfer him out of the ICU into the infant unit.

Also Thursday he had a swallow study done. This means that they mixed contrast into apple sauce and put some him a bottle and had me feed it to him while they watched it go down his throat on floroscope. Having fasted or been fed by G-tube for 2 weeks, Patrick thought this was heaven and was furious when it was done. The end result was that he swallows perfectly… pretty amazing for a kid who is barely allowed to eat.

That confirmed, they started giving him bottles again. However, his gut had gone unused so long that it’s still working on recovering. We started out with just 2.5 cc’s every 3 hours…that’s about 1/4 tsp.

Saturday night Patrick’s PICC line got tugged and the vein started to swell. He woke up in the middle of the night and really didn’t sleep the rest of the night. We worried that it might need to be replaced again… but with some rest and elevation and heat, it slowly started to show signs of recovery.

Finally, Monday his electrolytes, stool output, feeds, and PICC line were all stable enough and at noon that day we were able to bring him home.

You should have seen how big his eyes got when we pulled into the garage! I was all grins and giggles when we walked into the house. As per tradition, once we got business squared away, Patrick and I curled up in my bed and went right to sleep. He slept till 5:30, completely peaceful.

We’ve been home for a few days now and are finally getting back into the swing of things. Family and friends have been great – bringing in meals and coming to sit with him during the day so that I can get things caught up around the house. He’s having a hard time getting used to sleeping through the night again. He doesn’t like being on his back since spending so much time in a bed. And I’m having a very hard time getting used to caring for a double lumen picc. But we are slowly moving forward and today, for the first time, has felt like routine again.

He needs to be seen ASAP in Seattle so that they can determine if he can be put back as status 1 on the intestinal transplant list. They are also looking at possibly listing him for a liver-intestine transplant, as well… since the problems with his spleen could be evidence of scarring in his liver. We have a trip planned from Wednesday through Friday next week… with appointments most of the day Wednesday. This will be my first time travelling alone with Patrick. It’ll be a process, I’m sure… But hopefully well worth the effort. If nothing else, it’ll be good practice for me.

It’s hard to believe that just weeks ago we were sure we’d lost our little boy. He has so much light and life in his spirit right now. He’s pretty weak still and we’re working on getting him back to eating what he had been eating before… And both of us have to get used to that line in his arm. But things in this house are calm and happy. It’s so good to be together… and so good to be home!