Tag Archives: childhood illnesses

Summer vacation

Tomorrow marks 3 weeks since Patrick’s last day of school. For most people, summer vacation is in full swing. For us, we’re finally starting to get our bearings. It’s been an unusual start to summer.

Things seemed smooth enough. I spent that first weekend after school ended gathering myself to start a tradition Patrick and I are calling “Mommy School.” Between therapies, Patrick has a LOT of “homework”. He’s supposed to spend 10 minutes every day doing eye exercises. He’s supposed to be practicing writing and cutting and and gluing and using a keyboard. We’re supposed to be strengthening his core, working on activities that use both sides of his body evenly, and encouraging him to cross midline. He’s supposed to be practicing telling me stories in various verb tenses, using articles, and correcting his use of pronouns. Plus working on vocabulary building, sorting skills, categorization skills, social skills, attention skills and on and on. All of this to help keep him progressing on his current trajectory which, discouraging as I may find it, is approximately two years behind most of his peers.

Except, it seems, when it comes to the alphabet. Patrick has the alphabet down pat and tested in the top 25% of his preschool class.

Our first day of Mommy School. Learning the shapes of letters by building them from playdough.

Our first day of Mommy School. Learning the shapes of letters by building them from playdough.

A practical life mommy school lesson on how to sweep.

A practical life mommy school lesson on how to sweep.

And so, this summer we introduced “Mommy School.” We’re doing an abbreviated letter of the day curriculum, since letters are what Patrick loves. Every week is assigned two letters and every day a word that starts with that letter. Then I go out and scrounge up books, worksheets, crafts, activities and field trips on that theme.

Teddy Bears

B is for Bears, and a teddy bear picnic.

The first day of Mommy School went GREAT! Until, that is, Patrick developed a fever. The next day of summer break was spent cuddling a sick, feverish kid in a chair. He had a cold and we were grateful to be able to stay home sick like other children. By Thursday, Patrick had mustered the energy to play on his own again. But, by then, I was sick.

Patrick sees 3 therapists on a regular basis in the summer. It's hard work, but fun too. Patrick's reward for a good hour of work in physical therapy is the chance to climb the rock wall.

Patrick sees 3 therapists on a regular basis in the summer. It’s hard work, but fun too. Patrick’s reward for a good hour of work in physical therapy is the chance to climb the rock wall.

In occupational therapy, Patrick gets to take sensory breaks in the gym. Diving in the ball pool is a favorite exercise.

In occupational therapy, Patrick gets to take sensory breaks in the gym. Diving in the ball pool is a favorite exercise.

Our second week of summer break, Patrick and I were finally starting to be healthy again. But Brian wasn’t. And it didn’t matter if we were healthy or not because on Saturday of that week, my little sister was getting married in my backyard. So, I declared “C is for Camping” and we pitched a tent in the living room. Amazingly, this both occupied Patrick and kept the room clean while he binged on movies and we scrambled to finish last minute details on the house and yard.

I meant to pitch a tent outdoors, but it rained all that day, so we brought it inside. It worked so well we kept it a second day, too.

I meant to pitch a tent outdoors, but it rained all that day, so we brought it inside. It worked so well we kept it a second day, too.

We also sneaked in a couple of outings.. a family night at Red Butte Garden and a field trip with friends to the Natural History Museum. (I picked up a free month-long museum pass at the local library just so we wouldn’t have excuses to just stay home and work.) Besides, in order to get Patrick to let us work, we let him watch his birthday movies on endless loop, which left us all craving some family adventures.

Patrick loved the children's garden best, especially hopping on stepping stones across the fish pond.

Patrick loved the children’s garden best, especially hopping on stepping stones across the fish pond.

The best part of our trip to the Natural History Museum was not the dinosaur bones. It was the chance to be there with other friends who know exactly what living with Short Gut is like.

The best part of our trip to the Natural History Museum was not the dinosaur bones. It was the chance to be there with other friends who know exactly what living with Short Gut is like.

The wedding went smoother than expected, though playing hostess and trying to keep Patrick from completely melting down about how his house was filled with children who were not sharing his toys with him kept me busy enough that I didn’t manage to take a single picture.

I was too busy to take pictures, but there were lots of cameras there. I snagged this one off my mom's Facebook page.

I was too busy to take pictures, but there were lots of cameras there. I snagged this one off my mom’s Facebook page.

My sister was a beautiful bride and the happy couple truly looked happy and in love. Patrick eventually settled down with Grandma who let him fetch endless cups of water from the refreshment table and pour them all over himself and her and all went well enough.

Except that it turns out that maybe the bug that had Brian sick isn’t the one that had Patrick sick as I ran a fever all night.

So, Sunday we took a sick day and we stayed and home and did absolutely nothing except that Brian cooked us a delicious roast. The day was delightful and refreshing. Perfect after two frantic weeks.

Yesterday, I put together a week’s worth of Mommy School worksheets, made a chore chart, got Patrick’s TPN labs drawn and kind of regrouped. Then, in the late afternoon, I changed Patrick’s central line dressing and discovered that, much to my dismay, what had once been a tiny little hole in the clotted side of the line had grown big enough that I was worried it would pull off. But it was after hours and I wanted the head of the IV team to be involved in choices about the repair.

So today, we spent our kind of restart to summer day exactly as summer days seem to go for us.

Over breakfast, I made a bunch of phone calls to people at the hospital trying to find the best way to get the line repaired. Eventually, I sat down and had a little cry because I wasn’t getting in touch with the people I wanted and I knew we’d have to go to the E.R.

Then, Howie gave me a pep talk and a hug and a kiss. Then he talked to Patrick and helped him to gather the courage to get his line repaired. (He was terrified that it was going to hurt when they cut the broken part off of his line.) We headed up to the E.R. where our timing really was perfect. We didn’t wait at all for them to start working. Patrick’s line is a different brand than our hospital stocks because it was placed in Nebraska, so that complicated things and the repair took about an hour and looks a bit sloppy. But it will do for a clotted line.

And then, when all was done, we headed off to the Children’s Museum for a couple of hours. We managed to get there at a nice slow time on a nice slow day. Patrick actually got to enjoy exploring the museum and would have happily stayed there all day. His favorite spots were the Bob the Builder exhibit, the gas station, and the pretend E.R.

Builder Patrick

I didn't know they'd built on a pretend E.R. with the life flight display. Patrick found a little girl willing to play the patient and had a great time

I didn’t know they’d built on a pretend E.R. with the life flight display. Patrick found a little girl willing to play the patient and had a great time

Eventually, we had to go because I was parked in a 2 hour parking space and, honestly, we both needed a rest. So we stopped in at daddy’s office to pick up the leftovers from a lunch he’d cooked for them today. And then we came home and convinced Patrick to nap by 4.

Which brings us to right now. Brian just walked in the door to a quiet, clean house and me blogging and said, “Now that’s a sight I don’t see very often.” ¬†Here’s to maybe a little bit more of this? Perhaps a few prayers for this line to hold out through the summer and grant us a little bit of peace ..and maybe even health?

Outpatient

Last entry, I wrote about Patrick coming down with a common childhood illness and how much more complicated that is for him.

Well, as predicted, this illness definitely had it’s impact. The day after that blog entry, Patrick started throwing up. As it turns out, herpangina, better known as Hand, Foot and Mouth is caused by a series of viruses that live in the intestines. Symptoms indicate that Patrick’s was caused by one called “enterovirus.” As a result, Patrick started to lose so much fluid by g-tube that I was having a hard time keeping up replacing the fluid.

By the time Brian got home from work, he was pale and weak, running a fever, and we were worried. I put a call into Patrick’s GI to ask if they wanted to check blood cultures. By the time they called back to talk about putting in those orders, we’d changed our minds and asked if he could just come in for a night of observation. The night went well and Patrick was obviously feeling better with no additional treatment and by morning, we were asking to go back home. (Especially since we’d barely gotten any sleep.)

By early afternoon, we had been officially discharged when we discovered another problem. When I went to connect the TPN, one of Patrick’s lumen’s wouldn’t flush at all. I tried a few times without success. But we were sleepy and his nurse timid. We’ve unclotted lines lots of times at home. He still had one working lumen, so I said “let’s go.” On the way home, I made calls to get the anticlotting agent sent to me.

All night long I tried to work it, getting up every couple of hours to try again. It just didn’t work. By morning, I knew it was a lost cause for my efforts. But by this time Brian was also sick, I hadn’t slept in 2 nights, and Patrick needed rest. So I made phone calls instead of running in. Eventually, we made arrangements to go in to have the hospital staff try to unclot the line. We arrived around 8 p.m., (we asked to wait until we’d at least had Brian’s birthday dinner with his parents)… And the nurse tried all the things I’d tried. Finally, at midnight, we declared it a lost cause and they sent us home.

Patrick’s doctor called the next day to tell me that, as we suspected, Patrick would need a new line. And we went on, finally feeling a bit better, with celebrating Brian’s birthday. We took Brian shopping for a few big wishes, then went out to dinner. That was all the energy any of us had.

I talked to surgery the next day to make arrangements for the new line to be placed. Since Patrick still had sores in his throat and his surgeon was out of town anyway, we scheduled it a week away on Tuesday.

That was a week ago today. The surgery went well. We checked Patrick in at 6 a.m. then talked to the nurses, surgeon and anesthesiologist who’d take care of him. The anesthesiologist said what we all know, “He looks a lot better in person than on paper.” Still, even minor surgeries can be major for Patrick so we didn’t really relax until his surgeon came and told us all was well.

The only complication was that Patrick was bleeding fairly easily. But that seemed to be under control. We came home and I sent Brian off on a business trip to DC the next morning.

His occupational therapist came the next morning as I was trying to find an assistant for the day-after-surgery dressing changes. Since we’ve been specifically trying to help him with those, she volunteered to help. All went smoothly and we were playing with her after when I noticed that I could see blood on the new dressings.

I peeked under his shirt to find that the old line site had bled since the change so much that it had soaked the dressing and was now soaking into his shirt. So his OT made a quick departure as I called the hospital who suggested I change the dressing again and apply pressure. It worked and he went to sleep.

But, come 6 p.m. the same problem came back. I called the surgeon on call this time and got the same instructions. They worked again, but I realized that Patrick needed to be helped to be a little less active until things healed.

Lucky for him, we’d bought a zoo pass the weekend before, so I packed him up and went to the zoo where he’d be strapped down in the stroller for the morning. It worked and we had a great time looking at the animals (I think the zoo deserves a separate post)… He only scratched off his dressing once while we were there, and I was able to get a new one on without any bleeding at all! And I managed to keep the IV tubing away from the stroller wheels until we were exiting, when they got tangled so badly they broke, but fortunately I pulled off a quick tubing change without any incident and we made it home safely and ready to nap.

He seems to be healing just fine from the surgery now… and his sore throat is gone. His tummy even was better for a couple of days. He’s back to losing a ton of fluid again this week which means either the enterovirus is still there… or he’s been exposed to something else… which is possible.

It’s work sometimes to keep Patrick outpatient, but as my next posts will show, it gives him the chance to experience the joys of life, which makes it worth all my work.

Sorry this entry is so long! Between Patrick, Brian and myself being sick at various times and me “playing Florence Nightengale” as Patrick’s case manager put it, this is the first chance I’ve had to catch up stories. I thought I’d start with the medical first so I can follow with tales of fun later.

Childhood Illnesses

In the pre-transplant world, it’s good for Patrick to be building immunity. So, Brian and I have not been overprotective. Even common childhood illnesses can mean extra work with Patrick, though.

Yesterday morning, Patrick wasn’t as interested in breakfast as usual. (Not that he ever eats a lot, but breakfast is the meal he eats best.) Then he opened his mouth wide and I spotted the culprit. His tonsils were bright red and covered with little bumps.

Great. So the first question is “Is this a normal childhood thing? Or is this a complication of Short Gut?” A childhood illness we might be able to keep at home under mom’s care. However, a complication such as acid erosion or varices could mean something much more serious. Where to start?

First, call dad so he’s not caught off guard by a frantic call later. Second, call the pediatrician.

Patrick’s got one of the best pediatricians I know. However, if she’s not around, then finding the right backup doctor can be tricky. Patrick’s not a simple kid so even simple illnesses take some creative treatment. So yesterday, since Patrick’s doctor and her residents were all booked up, the scheduler did some digging and found me a pediatrician in another office.

At noon it was pouring rain. At 12:30 Patrick finally conceded that he needed a nap and fell asleep. At 12:45 I juggled a sleeping Patrick, diaper bag, medical history, and me out the door and into the car. There ought to be awards for moving a sleeping child without waking him – especially in pouring rain. We just made our appointment at 1.

Miraculously, the scheduler had found me a pediatrician with other Short Gut patients. (This is an especial miracle, since she relayed the message to the doctor that Patrick was medically complex because he had “Short Duct Syndrome”.) She put me at ease that what I’d seen was most likely the result of a virus that’s going around our area right now. Then we spent 10 minutes trying to get Patrick to open his mouth wide enough for her to see.

Sure enough, Patrick has Herpangina, a virus caused sore throat with blisters and sores on the throat. There’s no treatment for it, other than to try to relieve symptoms with soft foods. It’ll last about a week.

Of course, childhood illnesses aren’t simple when you’re sick enough to need a transplant.. no matter how healthy you look on the outside.

The bug has upset Patrick’s tummy that doesn’t have enough gut to absorb extra fluid with.. and too much stasis to even pass it through. So about 2, Patrick spit up for the first time. I drained 2 cups of fluid in 10 minutes from his stomach. He seemed to be feeling better eating french fries at a fast food restaurant last night… Until, of course, he ate one two many and it all came back, plus another several cups.

I never dreamed I’d be in a situation where my kid throwing up all over in a restaurant would be, first, not a surprise and second, not a disaster. It was a mess! But I knew it just meant it was time to go home and rest his tummy. Drain first, french fries second.

I’ve been running extra fluids all day to keep up with what he’s losing as I vent his tummy to prevent future episodes. And, I’ve been watching the thermometer.

See, if this illness follow it’s normal course, then Patrick will probably get a fever, too. If it gets high enough, we’ll probably start asking those questions I hate. “Do we call?” “Does he need cultures?” “Do we go to the hospital?” I hate to make him go sit cooped up in a hospital room for a little sore throat virus. But sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry.

In the meantime, though, Patrick is being completely endearing and adorable today. He climbs up in my lap and moans his best pitiful moan. Then he grins and snuggles down. It took a conscious effort to not just sit and hold him while he slept today. How can you be frustrated by someone who’s so cute and patient when they’re sick?

Who needs sleep?

There’s a song by the Barenaked Ladies called “Who needs sleep?” Here’s a line from that song: “With all life has to offer, there’s so much to be enjoyed. But the pleasures of insomia are ones I can’t avoid.”

If you’ve been waiting for an update on the concert, I need to apologize. See, Patrick’s been having a hard time sleeping this week. It seems every few nights something goes wrong and wakes him up. First it was diaper rash. (When his prescription strength creams fail him, the result is massive skin breakdown that makes me want to cry just looking at it.) Then, I accidentally turned off his TPN pump and had to monitor glucose and hydration in the middle of the night. And my little happy-go-lucky optimist responds to these discomforts by trying to cheerfully play through them. So instead of being up crying, he’s up jumping and playing until I pinpoint the cause of discomfort and get him settled.

So – my good intentions of writing earlier in the week were thwarted by extreme exhaustion. And then a series of coincidences landed us in the hospital for about 36 hours.. not helping sleep, but helping to remind me not to procrastinate.

Here’s a rundown of the other events of the week.

Wednesday, Patrick had an appointment with his GI, Dr. Jackson.¬† Patrick’s central line was a bit slow to heal this time around and was a bit weepy even 2 weeks after placement. So I asked the doctor to look just to make sure there was no infection there. Since we were looking for infection, he checked his temperature and it was 99.3. So – Patrick and I hung around for an extra couple hours in the hospital. Dr. Jackson came in and we took off his central line dressing so he could examine it up close and take a culture of any fluid that was there. It looked healthy, just healing, so I went ahead and put the dressing back on. Then we went down to the lab and had blood cultures drawn. Those cultures were all negative.

That night, I got that getting sick tickle in my throat and started to run low-grade fevers.. kind of like when you get a flu shot. Never sick, but not quite right. Since the cultures were clean, I said “Ok, he has a virus, too” and didn’t think more of it.

Friday, Brian came home early from work and since we’d all missed a lot of sleep, we all laid down for a nap. I got Patrick up to put on his afternoon TPN around 4. Only when I tried to draw ethanol out of his line, I just got air. Tried again, got air again. Finally, 3 syringes full of air later, I looked and found a hole in Patrick’s central line.

So away to the E.R. we went. They’ve implemented a new policy that sent us to the Rapid Treatment Unit (RTU) for the repair which, by the way, is WAY preferrable to the E.R. Many fewer bugs and much quicker, more attentive care. The RTU is set up to give basic medical care that takes 24 hours or less.

Well, part of any admission is to check a temperature and Patrick’s read about 100. They rechecked it rectally and it came up 99.8, so we could justify not automatically being admitted. I explained the viral symptoms, but they decided to check cultures anyway. Then they repaired the line and sent us on our way.

The next day, Patrick woke up feeling great! No fevers. So since it was memorial day weekend, we packed up and headed out to Tabiona – a small town in Eastern Utah – for a family reunion. He loved the car ride.. playing in the back seat, singing with the radio, napping, and even trying to figure out how to whistle. Had a great day with cousins, aunts and uncles.

That evening, we got home to find two messages on our answering machine. The blood cultures they’d drawn were showing a staph infection.

Now, in case you haven’t noticed this, I’ve spent a lot of time learning from infectious disease over the past year. And one thing they’ve taught me is that 1 in every 20 positive cultures is a “contaminant”.. that is, something that grew in the culture that didn’t come from the blood sample taken. And staph, although it lives on all of our skin and can get into central lines, usually isn’t one you pick up at home. It’s most often contracted in the ICU. Every positive “staph” culture Patrick has ever had has been a contaminant.

So – I called the doctor and made my case that Patrick wasn’t sick and that this was likely a contaminant. We decided to recheck the cultures on Sunday.

Well, Monday morning rolled around. For once, we were planning to be home for Brian’s day off and had a big to-do list.. And at 8 a.m. the phone rang. Sunday’s culture was positive for staph, too. Patrick’s still healthy, but we’d better go in.

So, just to be safe, that’s what we did. We got there at 9:30. Because it was a holiday, things took longer than usual.. but by early afternoon they’d drawn a new set of blood cultures and by 4:00 p.m. had started some antibiotics. Meanwhile, Patrick’s nurses got to run to try to take care of all of his basic daily needs.. a slow process when doctors have to write for them and pharmacy has to fill them before it can happen.

A quick soapbox moment. One of the most frustrating things about going into the hospital is how difficult it is to maintain the same quality of care and quality of life as at home. There are so many more steps, so many more people, and so many more lawsuit-prevention policies that it is exponentially more difficult to accomplish the same things that I do at home in the midst of daily life. In a short 36 hour stay, I think the nurses had to call the pharmacy at least 10 times about administration questions, late medications, and my ever-hated argument about whether or not they’ll let Patrick have his home TPN. (I usually lose this battle and they hang something with sugar, water and electrolytes but none of the good vitamins, minerals, and fats that he’s used to.) They started him out on a super high dose of antibiotics. (I won’t let that happen again. I’ve seen it done 3 times now with the same result and I’ll speak up next time.) And they accidentally ran his TPN at a 5% of it’s prescribed rate for the night. ( Thankfully, this only resulted in a grumpy, sleepless night as Patrick got hungrier and thirstier. They caught it in the morning and there was no other harm done.) I can’t really fault the nurses here. They work their tails off trying to get everything right within Patrick’s first 24 hours. The fact of the matter is that he’s a complex kid who has a lot of special care. For me it’s routine.. but in the hospital, it’s the exception. In fact, there are some things that require special permission every time because it doesn’t match hospital policy. Still, it’s frustrating to me to have to work so much harder to maintain the status quo. I much prefer to just do it myself at home. Ok. Getting off my soapbox now.

Yesterday morning, Dr. Jackson came on service. I ran into him at the nurse’s desk looking up info to find out why Patrick was in the hospital. We talked about the 4 sets of blood cultures that had been drawn. By then, the cultures drawn in the hospital Monday were still negative for infection. Looking back, it was looking more and more likely that we’d had two contaminants in a row. So Dr. Jackson said the words that we love him for saying so often: “I think you can do this at home. Would you like to go home?”

He helped sort out a few more questions and then set the wheels in motion for us to go home. Because they’d started Patrick on an extremely high dose of antibiotic, we had to stay till 4 to have them check his blood one more time to make sure that he’d been able to get it back out of his system. Brian got off work and up to the hospital by 5:30 p.m. and we made it home shortly after that.

Patrick will be on antibiotics for the next 2 days at least and then they’ll check cultures again to make sure that he doesn’t have a real infection. And then hopefully things can go back to our at-home normal again for a while.

Whatever happens, we’re resolved to made better use of this time at home. Procrastination isn’t really an option when you can’t tell where you’ll be hour to hour. I would hate to get the transplant call and leave my house in the condition it’s in right now.

And – I’ll be getting that blog entry about the concert up hopefully before the end of the day tomorrow.

Oh – the best news of all? With us healthy and at home, Patrick slept a blissful 11 hours last night! Which meant mom and dad got some sleep for once, too.

RSV and other adventures

This post is a follow-up on last week’s rant. It turns out that Patrick’s low-grade fevers were caused by RSV, a highly dangerous respiratory bug. He probably picked it up while he was trying to taste every piece of furniture in his hospital room the week before.

He was discharged to home before noon.. less than 24 hours after he was admitted. They sent us home with orders to visit the outpatient respiratory clinic as often as needed and boy have we been glad to have that resource! I think we caught this bug the first day… The symptoms didn’t really hit till Friday. Friday morning when he woke up he was working hard to breathe and my best efforts with steam and a bulb syringe wouldn’t budge things so I took him in. The respiratory therapist described the secretions as “glue”. He said that is was possible that Patrick was needing extra fluids, since I couldn’t give him drinks to keep him hydrated. So I stopped and asked for a prescription for some extra fluids.

The next night, he hardly slept! Finally at 3 a.m. I put the fluids on and he finally started to be able to clear his airway and went to sleep. When we took him in again his oxygen saturations weren’t in the dangerous zone, but they had dropped significantly.

That was the worst of it, though.. Patrick is actually doing much better these last couple of days. I think we finally have him rehydrated and he’s breathing much more easily now. We haven’t had to take him in for help in a couple of days now. I think that other than the long contagoius period and resulting quarantine, he’s on his way back to normal.

As for our car – well, it turned out to need $4000 in repairs. This is NOT what we wanted to hear in January, the month where we pay all of our out-of-pocket medical for the year.. We ended up approving the repairs, but have also decided that it’s time to sell that car and drive something more affordable to repair. And maybe once that car’s sold and our tax return comes back and things are a bit more stable, we can revisit the idea of having a practical car for me to drive in Seattle while leaving Brian with a practical car to drive here.

None of this excitement has done much to hinder Patrick, though. Despite being sick and grumpy and working to breathe, he is still growing up more and more every day. A week ago, I took a load of laundry downstairs. When I came upstairs I discovered Patrick halfway across the kitchen floor. He had dragged his IV pumps in their backpack by the tubing a good 4 feet trying to follow me downstairs. The next day we invented a safer way for him to get around.

Now when Patrick’s playing on the floor he wears a safety harness connected to a little cart that his backpack sits in. This way, he can get around the house without as high of a risk of ripping his central line out. He’s enjoying exploring how far he can go, and getting faster all the time! The funniest thing is how much he loves being under furniture. I’m amazed at all the places I find him. (And have to subsequently save him from.. because he gets his tubes and harness tied all around the furniture legs).

He also spent most of his last hospitalization improving his standing skills and he now dares stand himself up to some furniture and can walk around a big holding on… especially in his crib.