Tag Archives: enteral feeding

Transplant Day 1,214 and Tonsils

This is a bit of a catch up post and it may be long. I write today from Patrick’s bedroom. He is lying in bed watching Cars 3 running a Powerade drip into his g-tube on day 5 post tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy.

Patient Zero

How did we get here? Well let’s rewind to the day before Christmas break when I noticed that I had a fever and a horrible neck ache. It likely started with me, though it was Christmas break and I never did get diagnosed with anything more than a virus causing crazy swollen lymph nodes.

The Onset

Mid-January, Patrick got sick. We thought at first it was a cold. He had an ear ache and I took him in to urgent care to be checked with me for an ear infection where we were told it was just one of many viruses, no ear infection. But he got sicker and sicker and on the 3rd day when he refused to eat and I looked and saw the size of his tonsils all covered with white spots, I took him to the pediatrician. She ran a strep test, which came back negative. And we were told again to just go home and wait out the virus.

Sometimes I’m good with that answer. Especially with a kid who’s immune suppressed. But sometimes the mommy spidey sense goes a little crazy. (Ok, ok. It’s actually the extra guidance mothers sometimes get through the Holy Ghost when their children need help.. but we call it mother’s intuition.) Anyway, this time I didn’t feel settled with that answer. So I texted Patrick’s GI and told him what was going on and asked if he had any concerns from a transplant perspective. He called me back almost immediately and told me that he wanted to know what was making Patrick sick so we could stay ahead if it was one of the big viruses that are dangerous for transplant patients.

Diagnosis

So the next morning at 7 a.m. Patrick and I headed up to the hospital’s outpatient clinics where Patrick’s doctor met us and arranged for labwork, an exam, and a viral panel. It was a long morning with a couple of hours of tests. And then we headed home. By evening, all of the preliminary viral tests had come back negative. Despite the brutal flu season, Patrick didn’t have Influenza, RSV, or any of the other circulating respiratory viruses. The doctor said good news. I felt even more at a loss.

Meanwhile, Patrick just kept getting sicker and sicker. We camped out in the basement and I had to start using his g-tube to keep him fed and hydrated. He was miserable. I was exhausted. And I just kept checking for lab results because as the day went on, I became more and more convinced that with everything else ruled out, that Patrick must have the Epstein Barr Virus (EBV), commonly known as Mono.

Sure enough around 4 p.m. the results for that test came back positive. I texted the doctor and said “what’s next?”

Some history

I’m going to take a break in the story here to make a confession. Part of the transplant workup is a very long afternoon where you sit in the room with a transplant nurse and they explain to you in detail all of the risks associated with transplant. You’re aware of a few of them. Of course the risks of surgery. And rejection. Susceptibility to illness. But there is so, so, so much more that comes with immune suppression and transplant. Activity restrictions. Diet restrictions. And perhaps the worst is something called Post-Transplant Lymphoproliferative Disorder (PTLD).

PTLD is caused when a patient who didn’t have EBV before transplant. When they catch this virus the first time while immune suppressed, it can cause the lymphatic system to go a bit crazy. It involves into a form of cancer called lymphoma. So, yeah, transplant can lead to cancer.

And the day that sat us down and talked to us about all of these restrictions and risks, especially this one, we were so overwhelmed by the understanding that the treatment called transplant was much more of a trading in of problems than the cure all the happy ending stories on TV had showed us.. we were so overwhelmed that we couldn’t even stand to talk to anyone that day.

3 years later in another evaluation, we knew this information was coming. But it was still hard to hear and even harder to talk about. So, well, we didn’t. We just warned you that transplant wasn’t a cure.

PTLD workup

Returning to the current story.. I talked to Dr. Jackson in the early evening and he reminded to me that more than my immediate concerns about having a kid with mono, we needed to be thinking about PTLD. I thought we’d set up testing within the next couple of days. But when he called back just after we put an exhausted, sick Patrick to bed to stay he wanted us to come in to be admitted the hospital right away, we were a little caught off guard.

And so we advocated for the value of rest and protection from other illnesses and Dr. Jackson consented to try to set something up outpatient.

But at 5 a.m. he texted and said that admission was the best way to make sure Patrick got in for a CT scan right away. They needed a CT scan of his entire body to check to see if there were signs of PTLD. And he said to prepare to stay for an emergency tonsillectomy.

So that’s what we did. Headed in prepared for the worst and hoping for the best.

Patrick did amazing in CT. We thought he might need to be sedated to hold still. But then decided that he is most cooperative when he’s helped to understand what is going on an given a chance to cooperate. When he feels in control. We got lucky in that we were able to get Patrick’s favorite child life specialist there right on time to go down for the scan with us. And though he was nervous, he was very brave and still.

In the end, the CT scan came back negative for PTLD. (Though it did describe in pretty amazing detail the way that Patrick’s vascular anatomy has changed as a result of his lost central venous access.) So they treated him with an IV antibiotic for a raging ear infection they discovered when he came in. And we got to go home.

Getting better

Patrick actually did get better pretty amazingly from the EBV. His immune suppression is pretty low right now because he’s had no issues with rejection. And so the virus mostly ran its course in a couple of weeks. The blood tests went from virus counts in the tens of thousands to “unquantifable” low levels.  Patrick’s appetite and energy came back. And the doctors agreed that Patrick had had just an acute case of EBV and had fought it off.

However, his tonsils stayed big. Not just a little enlarged. So big that they were touching each other big. So large I couldn’t understand how he could swallow big.

And, well, EBV is a tricky little virus. I’ve learned a lot about it over the past month. And one of the things I’ve learned that there’s a family of viruses that stays forever in our DNA. Chicken Pox, herpes, and EBV. That’s why you only catch them once. That’s why they are sometimes reactivated when we are stressed. (Shingles, cold sores, “mono makes you tired for months!).

And because EBV lives mostly in the tonsils, their not getting smaller was a problem both clinically and because it meant a long-term greater risk of PTLD.

Meeting with ENT

So we scheduled an appointment with an Ear, Nose & Throat doctor who took one look and said there was no doubt. Patrick’s tonsils were huge and even without transplant concerns, they needed to come out.

We didn’t spend the visit discussing the need for tonsillectomy. We spent it talking about the problem of pain control when ibuprofen wasn’t allowed. Because that’s one of those lifetime commitments you make with transplant.

Tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy

So Patrick had his surgery on Thursday. We were told 30-45 minutes for the procedure. That’s what I expected, too. I’ve sat in lots of surgery waiting rooms watching ENT doctors go in and out every 30 minutes as they reported about placing ear tubes and taking out tonsils. I often wished I could be one of those parents whose concerns were as brief and uncomplicated as those parents. I felt a bit arrogant at times that I was the one who knew the waiting room attendant by name. Who came to stay there.

So it was strange to be in that “simple procedure” role. Except that, of course, we weren’t.

The doctor came out after a little more than an hour to finally tell us that the procedure was done. That the tonsils really were huge enough to need to come out and that the adenoids were even bigger. That Patrick was doing well, but there had been some “oozing” that had made the procedure a little more complicated. And that he’d be awake soon.

And then an hour later, when they still didn’t call me back to the PACU, despite our insistence that Patrick needed us there when he woke up of he’d be combative and inconsolable, the phone finally rang for us. It was an OR nurse who explained that Patrick had continued with “oozy” bleeding and they’d spent all that time trying to get it stopped.

So we waited some more and the doctor finally came back out to say that things were finally settled. And he thankfully hadn’t needed a transfusion. In all, the procedure took 2 and a half hours. We were at Patrick’s side to help wake him, and then moved to post-op.

Observation

Patrick was what they call a status A-11. Meaning he wasn’t admitted but he wasn’t discharged. He had 23 hours that he could stay for observation without having to involve the insurance companies for authorization. So we spent the night in Post-Op Recovery.

Patrick was really inconsolable as he first woke up. He just cried and whimpered and wouldn’t talk. Would barely open his eyes. Finally, I left the room to go to the bathroom and as I listened, I realized he wasn’t as much in pain as he was just angry. So I tried a crazy approach where I came in and told him to stop pouting. Then tried to distract him. I made him start taking sips of water despite protest then pointed out that it helped more than it hurt.

It amazingly worked. His anesthesia wore off. His pain meds kicked in. And he woke up sore but pretty happy. We ordered dinner and he wanted some. And soon he’d eaten 3 yogurt cups and drunk some Kids Boost. But the anesthesia made him nauseous and he couldn’t keep much down.

The night was rough. We turned on the movie channel and let it play all night and would doze off and wake again. Eventually as the anesthesia wore off his pain overwhelmed his hunger and he stopped eating. He’d fall asleep but the swelling in his airway made it so his oxygen levels would fall and the monitors would alarm and wake him again. Or he’d start coughing. And his temperature started to creep up very slowly.

But we made it through the night. Post-Op was so very quiet. Our nurse was great. And by morning, I thought we were in pretty good shape. I even though we might beat the odds and go home at 23 hours after all.

And more observation

When ENT came to check in, they decided they’d like to take a little more time to observe. So they moved us to a big comfy room in the surgical unit. And we watched. And what we saw wasn’t exactly comforting.

Not having ibuprofen was proving to be problematic. See, ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory and inflammation is a big issue with tonsillectomy. It can cause fevers. It can cause airway narrowing. And of course, there’s the problem of finding a balance with pain control when you have to use an opiod.

It took the whole day and night to get a handle on using the g-tube to keep him hydrated and his gut moving, to figure out how to help his cough and keep his saturation up. And to make sure the fever wasn’t getting worse.

They did a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia. But did advise us that with that long of a procedure, Patrick’s lungs would need help to refill the air sacs.

Home again

But after a second night, we finally reached a stable baseline and headed home. The first day home Patrick was just exhausted. He fell asleep anytime he held still. Wherever he was. They warned us day 3 is the most painful and, well, it was.

Yesterday, he started to perk up a little after a good night sleep. I finally was able to convince him to start sipping some water. And he even ate a little bit of macaroni and cheese. Which wore him out.

But he started to play and tease a little bit. It was good to see his smile back. And our bird, Max, followed him everywhere he went.

He fell asleep by 5 p.m. But that’s good as his cough has gotten worse again overnight. But his pain is a little less, he’s more awake. And before I finished this post, he happily though tentatively ate some KFC mac and cheese for lunch.

This recovery is a slow process. And unfortunately, Patrick’s having to do it the hard way. As caregiver, I am very tired. Sleep, food, and personal care have been hard to come by.

But we’re getting there. And it’s only supposed to last 7-10 days.

And on the other side, my son is acting completely loving and smitten with us, instead of his usual independence seeking self. I’m going to soak up every minute of a cuddly loving boy who just wants to be with me. Because soon he’s going to really be too big to hold on my lap for half an hour.

I hope to post more updates. But remember, as always with this blog. Usually the times I’m quietest are the times that are calm. If I’m not writing, it probably means that we’re busy and happy.

Feeding Tube Awareness Week

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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.

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From November to February

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.

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One of Patrick’s favorite activities.. tracing letters. Best done hanging off of something.

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.

The idea at first was to give protein shakes by g-tube. Problems is, Patrick thinks it's super fun to drink from a syringe. So most "boluses" end up given like this.

The idea at first was to give protein shakes by g-tube. Problems is, Patrick thinks it’s super fun to drink from a syringe. So most “boluses” end up given like this.

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.

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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.

Transplant day 349 and the one-year follow-up

We just got back from Omaha again. It was a short trip. Barely more than 48 hours. In some ways very routine and unexciting. In others, very eventful.

About a month ago, I remembered to ask Patrick’s transplant team if he was supposed to have a one-year follow-up appointment. They said yes.. and then I asked if it really had to happen right on the transplant anniversary. After all, remember, Patrick’s transplant happened both on his birthday and on Halloween. We didn’t really want to spent October 31st at a doctor’s appointment.

They said it didn’t matter, and so we decided to take advantage of Patrick’s fall break. We checked him out of school on Wednesday at lunch and hopped on a plane to Nebraska.

He was crazy excited this time. Or may anxious. I can’t decide. He was happy about the idea of seeing his nurses and couldn’t seem to let it go. We tried to explain that this was just a checkup. But he didn’t settle down until after the appointment. I think because then he knew it was all ok.

Wednesday night, because Patrick was bouncing off the walls, we checked into our hotel but then headed down to the riverwalk to try to burn off some of his nervous energy with a stroll along the Missouri. It was really dark. And it took a really long time for Patrick to settle down. But eventually, he did. And it made him tired enough to sleep pretty well that night.

The next morning, it was cold. Especially for us, coming from Utah’s record-breakingly warm fall. We tried to go to a playground but got too cold. So then we went for a drive just because. We decided we were hungry and Patrick asked for chicken nuggets. So we drove to McDonalds and Patrick discovered McNuggets. I discovered that Sweet and Sour Sauce is made with peaches and so there really are no Patrick allergy-friendly dips available and we settled for ketchup.

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Finally, it was time for the appointment. Patrick hadn’t finished lunch so we brought it along and as the team came in, Patrick was munching on french fries. He then decided he was still hungry, and we added on a lunchable.

The appointment was mostly routine. They recorded his vital signs and growth, went over his medications, asked if anything big had changed. Then the surgoen joined us and looked Patrick over. He said Patrick looked great. He said to go ahead and discontinue one of his antibiotics. And we talked about when and how to decrease his immunosuppression one more level. Then I asked some questions I had. Patrick played with the doctor and his cell phone. And then they went on their way.

Posing with some statues at the zoo

Posing with some statues at the zoo

The dietitian came in to talk to us next and we decided to go ahead and stop Patrick’s tube feeds and see if he can keep up with his nutrition orally. That doesn’t mean that for sure this will work. It means a really focused effort to make sure he’s eating and drinking enough. But it also means some new comfort and freedom for him.

Not doing tube feeds means having to figure out some other things. Like teaching him to take a chewable multivitamin instead of giving a liquid. It also means that we have to figure out a way to give him 1 teaspoon of baking soda in divided doses throughout the day. Right now, that can go along with his meds in his g-tube. But one day, they’d like a goal of him not needing anything by g-tube. They’d even like to remove his g-tube. And so eventually we’ll need to find a way to get him to take baking soda in food.

A few weeks ago, the hospital’s PR department called and asked if we would be willing to let a news crew come to Patrick’s appointment. So there was a cameraman there filming the whole time. (Well, except when the dietitian came in. She is camera shy.) And then we went and did interviews afterwards. It’s so hard to capture this big story in just a few words. I hope we did it justice. We tried taking them upstairs for Patrick to visit with some nurses. That just ended up being really awkward. Oh well. One day, the story will air and I’ll share it here. We hope it gets people talking about organ donation. And maybe express our thanks to Patrick’s donor’s family and also the amazing medical team who got him this far.

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Couldn’t resist this photo op.. given that these two missed wearing their matching minion costumes last Halloween.

We stopped tube feeds that same night. Patrick was really restless in his sleep, too. I don’t know if that was because of the missing tubes. Or if it was because I snore. Or because he discovered how truly heavenly comfy sleeping in down pillows is and spent the whole night trying to figure out if he wanted to sleep in the down pillow more or sleep snuggling with me more. I finally told him I didn’t mind him sleeping on the pillow. He said, “You won’t get mad?” And I said, “No. It’s a soft, soft pillow” and he snuggled down and went to sleep. He’s asked for a down pillow for his bed at home.

After the appointment, we had 24 hours before our flight home. So we did our best to find some family fun. We went to the zoo both days. The first, Patrick wanted to just play outside. We got jumbo pretzels that we ended up sharing with some very demanding peacocks.

 

And we let Patrick play on the zoo’s playgrounds that we’ve mostly shied away from in the past year. Then, we went to find dinner in Omaha’s shopping district called Old Market. We ended up at a family italian restaurant called Spaghetti Works where Patrick got to experience his first salad bar. He ordered grilled cheese, which turned out to be a very disappointing sandwich made of two pieces of cheesy garlic bread stuck together. So instead, he ate my spaghetti.

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The next morning, we packed up, ate breakfast, did laundry. Finally, we had to check out and so we went back to the zoo. Brian splurged a bit and bought all-day ride passes and instead of looking for animals, we spent the day riding stuff. We rode their steam-powered train. (Makes all other zoo trains seems like a huge disappointment.) We rode the carousel. We rode the “ski-fari”, in other words, one of those ski-lifts made amusement park ride.

The ride passes included admission to the stingray encounter which actually turned out to be awesome! They have trained their stingrays to take a piece of fish from the back of your hand with a certain command. And therefore, because they know this command, if you put your hand in the water they right way, they’ll swim over and put their mouth over your hand and suck. They call it a kiss. Also, because guests feed them, the stingrays will come to guests looking for foods. So instead of gathering hoping to snag a quick touch, you have stingrays coming up and reaching out with their fins to get your attention. It was really cool.

It took us all day to figure out how the zoo tram worked and we happened to go exactly opposite the most efficient way. However, that did earn us nice walks through the aviary and lemur island exhibit, which we didn’t do much of in the winter. And then we had a nice long ride to end our day at the zoo.

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We went back to Old Market for lunch. Brian remembered that I’d heard of and really wanted to try a restaurant/bakery called Wheatfields. They have a reputation for being really allergy conscious. We caught them 5 minutes before close so we made a hurried lunch decision. But it was delicious, nonetheless. I ordered Patrick his first cream soup. (New option without a dairy allergy.) He had the creamy chicken and rice. Ok. We both did. I ate about half of it because it was huge. But he did great with it, which gives me courage to try more. If you have a great cream soup recipe, sent it my way.

And then, we caught the flight home.

I am super, duper proud of Patrick who made it the entire trip in underwear and without any accidents.

In fact, I’m just extremely proud of Patrick. He discovered this old video on his tablet taken a couple of years ago. It’s of him and me playing at the table. Nothing much. But I can see so many changes.

Patrick’s speech has come SO far in the past year. In the video, he is licking and spitting out fruit snacks and asking me what happens if he swallows. Now he is eating full meals. In the video I’m telling him not to drink too much water so he won’t make himself sick. Now the only concern is if he’s drinking enough. He’s still himself. Dramatic. Adventurous. But without the limitations.

He has come SO far.

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Lots of appointments and planning a new normal

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

Therapy

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

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

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

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

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

Evaluation

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

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

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

Transplant follow-up appointment & diet changes

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

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

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

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

Allergies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing a school

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am overwhelmed and scared. A LOT.

We are going to register tomorrow regardless.

Transplant Day 132 and a follow-up visit in Nebraska

I am writing from the window seat of a room in the Omaha Ronald McDonald House. Today marked 1 month since they told us that he could go home to Utah. And so, today, he had a follow up visit to see how things are going.

It’s been an interesting few days. First of all, can I say how much it broke my poor little brain to try to pack for this trip? Travelling with TPN was hard. It took lots of big luggage and days of coordinating Fedex deliveries and special planning and packing for airport screening. In the past, I brought every suitcase we own packed to the 50 lb limit and also have at least 4 boxes shipped. This time, well, what I needed to bring was not iV supplies. It was formula. And food. I had to pack snacks.

i got everything gathered to put into suitcases and I looked around and I had too many suitcases. And the problem flustered me so much that I had to just go to bed and sleep on it. I had nightmares about not being properly packed. Then, I got up in the morning and I filled the extra space in one suitcase with pillows and blankets and I decided that we didn’t really need one bag as a diaper bag and another one to carry my electronics and medicines. And none of the bags weighed over 40 pounds. And it was all ok.

In fact, it was easier to get to the airport. Brian had flown in and out of this city enough times to know which flights would be fuller and have a busier airport and did a great time picking us a slow time in the airport. Patrick and I donned masked. (I wore one so Patrick wouldn’t feel so alone).. and i gave him a new pair of touch screen capable gloves. And we strode into the airport not struggling under the weight of overfilled bags.

Brian also had applied for TSA precheck status which meant screening for him and Patrick went much more easily. I still had to go through a regular line which felt, well… very strange. To leave them and go off on my own. But things were simpler. Patrick’s many medications had to be checked in the mass spectrometer.. but that is so much simpler than checking a cooler of IV fluids that they still were done by the time I got to them. They’d have beaten me had they not decided to let Patrick be screened in his wheelchair/stroller.

The flight was difficult. Patrick really has a hard time not playing with the window shade and keeping his feet off of the feet in front of him. Under normal circumstances, you can redirect this. But his steroids make it very hard to change Patrick’s mind once an idea enters them and we had a few stretches where I just had to hold onto him to keep him from hitting the seats around us until he settled down. It wasn’t all that way, though. He ordered himself a “diet water” from the flight attendant and had a happy snack time and we played with stickers and some mommy school games I’d laminated and brought along. Patrick’s desire to learn still overpowers most other things. And thankfully, the flight was only 2 hours anyway.

We rented a van and drove to the Ronald McDonald House. It was strange to be back and feel so at home here. Before out of state clinic visits were big adventures in new places. Now, well.. this is just a second home. Patrick, in fact, loves pointing out that we are coming home when we come back to the Ronald McDonald House each time we do. He is very mad at me that we are not restocking the fridge with his favorite foods and are eating out instead.

However, I like him eating out. He figured out he likes hamburgers last week and I love seeing him eat half of a hamburger plus some fries when we get him a kids meal.

We are aiming for a more vacation-like trip. Last night we went out and explored a shopping district called Old Market that we heard about but didn’t brave in the cold. It’s kind of a cool atmosphere. Like a toned down Pikes Market in Seattle, but with fewer people. And well patrolled by police. They allow street musicians, but not others begging on the corner.. so you could enjoy that ambiance of that little addition. It is warm here and nice to be out.

We did stop at the store for a few snacks and staples (and some sugar-free soynut butter that I haven’t been able to find in Salt Lake). And we stayed up snacking while waiting for meds time, even though Patrick was far too tired and overexcited about being here.

Today’s been a really nice day. In the 70’s, so we have been able to be out in short sleeves. We have never caught nice weather in Omaha before. We got up with the sun, as Patrick always does.. and made it out to go to the zoo early. We really love this zoo and find something new each time. This time it was the otters that caught his fancy. He didn’t like the sea lion training, though we did. And he was tired and wanted to go back to the room early, but we didn’t let him.

I’ve been tired today. At midnight last night, as I refilled Patrick’s formula feeds, I noticed that I’d left the charger for his feeding pump home. And I tossed and turned worrying about it all night. Trying to think who I could borrow from and what it would take to get homecare set up again in this city for just a few days. It was top priority this morning. It wasn’t hard to fix. I made a call to our homecare company who said that they often will lend chargers to people in a similar situation. So I called Children’s Home Health, the company we used while we were here, and explained the situation. They said no problem and to come pick up a pump. I signed a form saying we’d pay if it wasn’t returned and they gave me an envelope to return it in since they won’t have open offices the day we leave. And that was that. Easy peasy and why did I worry so much?

Oh well..

Patrick’s clinic appointment was this afternoon. That was also easy peasy. We checked in and there was some confusion about insurance now that we are more than 3 months after transplant.. but they voted in the end to leave that for the financial folks to sort out. We weighed Patrick in and he’s gained again.. and even 22 kilos, or almost 50 pounds.

The doctor we saw today was the surgeon who did Patrick’s transplant, Dr. Grant. This made me very happy. Not only does she, literally, know him inside out but we really seem to click as far as philosophy of care. She said that he was doing remarkably well and to keep on this same path. They were happy to hear he was eating and the dietitian adjusted his feeds again so that he’ll have 8 hours without tubes in a day… I had to promise to keep him drinking in that time so he stays hydrated.

Dr. Grant asked what we were doing about school. We confessed that we hadn’t dared send him back yet and were setting up home school instead. She actually seemed pleased with this answer.. she kept saying “It’s only been 4 months.” Pointing out that it’s easy to overlook how new this all is because he doesn’t have an ostomy or a feeding tube in his nose as most kids do this short time after. She started out recommending summer school or back to school in fall.. then conceded that maybe sending him back sometime after spring break so he can finish this year with his same friends and teacher would be a good idea.

After his physical exam, she pointed out some stitches we could have removed next time he’s sedated. And she said that she doesn’t think he still needs any physical restrictions. Monkey bars here he comes.

And then she said the words we’d dreaded. “So what do we do with this central line?” I decided to just speak my mind. I told her that we were ok with him not needing a line, but worried removing the one he has given how hard it was to put in and the chance of losing that access. I said this once before to another surgeon and was told I was being overly conservative. But Dr. Grant suggested just what I had imagined as the best solution in my mind: A port. This is a central line but one that stays under the skin except when it’s needed. There’s a small disk that can be accessed with a needle.

The nice thing about it is that it isn’t as prone to infection as a broviac line. It won’t need a dressing and he’ll be able to bathe and swim and get dirty.  Also, it means that Patrick’s labs will be easier to draw and less painful, since they can numb the site. The disadvantage is that it’s still a central line and runs a risk of infection and needs careful monitoring for fevers.

We made a plan to come back after the end of the school year and have them change Patrick’s broviac line for a port. We’ll leave that for a little while longer till we know it’s safe, and then remove it.

We won’t need to come back to Nebraska until then. Oh, and labs can now be once a week.

So overall.. still good news.

And now it is on with our mini-vacation. We have had a snack and a nap and are now headed over to the hospital for movie night.. then back here where some nice church ladies are cooking us a turkey dinner.

I don’t want to delay the fun, so pictures will have to come in a later post.

Transplant Day 65 and things are moving

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It is amazing, when dealing with problems of the intestine, how often we have prayed for bowel movements. We are ecstatic to announce that Patrick’s gut woke up yesterday afternoon. It seems that things are working very well so far. Patrick’s immediate reaction was to ask me if it meant he could have a bowl of soup. After a nap (giving us time to call the nurse practitioner for approval) we consented.

Life is easier with Patrick able to eat. He was really heartbroken without food so we were eating out in the hall. Now, as long as he has his bowl of soup first so his belly isn’t empty, Patrick is content letting us eat in front of him.

The plan moving forward is this. Today, they took the drain tube off of his g-tube (stomach) to see if he could make it the day without feeling sick. They also allowed him clear liquids all day. We are lucky Patrick is loving chicken broth. Tomorrow, they’ll restart his tube feeds and start weaning him back off of TPN.

It’s been a month since his lungs needed drained because of his formula, so it’s time to try the other formula, elecare, again. He needs more balanced nutrition. This could mean he needs to go slower starting feeds so that we are being really careful about not repeating that performance again. I’d guess we still have a few days here.

Sadly, though, that means that Brian will be leaving us in the hospital again. He flies home on Monday morning. I can’t believe that much time has passed. But at least he’s leaving us with things moving forward.

Today’s been a quiet day. Patrick has been kind of grumpy and contrary feeling all day. I’m not sure exactly why. I suspect it is that we have tried to go light on his pain medicine. He’s only getting tylenol right now. The other medicine controls pain well, but also slows down the gut. Patrick’s also been quite tired. Hopefully we can succeed in getting him a good night’s sleep tonight. He’s been kind of restless and jumpy and sleeps so glued to me that I can’t move all night.