Tag Archives: homebound school

Transplant day 215 and the School Placement Meeting

I find I procrastinate blogging when I am having a hard time processing something emotionally. I’m finding this subject hard to write about. This past week hard to write about. And I was kind of relieved by a brief outage in the blog that made it so I couldn’t write. But if I don’t get this down soon, then I won’t get past it to the things you want to know about. So here goes.

I’m behind in blogging and, given how much has happened, have decided to do some belated day-by-day catch-up. So in this post, you’ll be travelling back with me to June 3. The day of Patrick’s school transition meeting.

Actually, let’s back up to the day before it. On June 2, I took Patrick for his end-of-year kindergarten assessment. We got delayed leaving because it was also lab day and so we arrived with breakfast still in hand because we’d just made it. That’s ok. Patrick tests better when he’s eating.

I sat in the corner and read scriptures on my phone and half-listened. I actually feel like the test was pretty representative and that he did pretty well. It also pointed out to me how much he still struggles. He aced letters and letter sounds, starting sounds of words, and read a few sight words. When asked to write words, well, first he is only identifying parts of words. Second, writing is one of those things that his brain injury makes hard. His teacher pushed him to write starting sounds, which I was pleased with. And he showed her that he still knows pretty well. He struggled a bit with sounding out words, too. His speech delays get in the way there sometimes. But I thought he did pretty well, for him. He counted to 26, though he almost forgot 16. He counted 20 objects. And then he avoided the other math questions.

It felt like a pretty good representation of his abilities as I listened. And when it was done, his teacher kind of talked through the results with me. As expected, he’s better with literacy than math and writing is a big obstacle. She told me that she was worried that he was not going to do well in a writing-focused first grade classroom and I started to fear that I might need to think differently about what I was going to ask for in the placement meeting the next day.

Like I wrote before, the week before the nurse had given me a heads up that Patrick no longer qualifies for medical hub services and so he’d need a special exception to attend Whittier. That was my preference, though I wondered if there might be other better options I didn’t know about. I knew I didn’t think he wouldn’t do well in a typical first grade classroom in a school without support.  He is so far behind the rest of the kids in his kindergarten class after this year.

So, Wednesday morning rolled around. We were combining getting ready for our trip to Nebraska that evening with getting ready for this meeting. Brian tried to sneak in a work call and it seemed that we were going to be quite late. How we managed to find time to still go pick up Dunkin’ Donuts I don’t know. But I do know that I was on the brink of a panic attack when I’d imagined doing that and then didn’t think we could. I’m not so good with change.

Anyway, we dropped Patrick with my mom and then met with the team. At first, we went over Patrick’s current abilities. Strengths and weaknesses. Learning style. Kind of went around the table and his teachers and therapists talked about what he’d accomplished in the past month and where he still needs to go.

And then it was time to let the district representative go over placement options. She offered 3: 1) Repeating kindergarten, 2) A regular first-grade classroom with an aide, and 3) a self-contained classroom called a functional academic classroom.

We’ve talked about repeating kindergarten for quite some time now. When we got home from Nebraska, it seemed inevitable. But Patrick has made a lot of progress and he’s already one of the oldest in his class and this just didn’t seem like the right choice for him.

Then the principal explained why she didn’t think a regular classroom with an aide was a good placement choice. (Please note: the principal at Whittier is one of the kindest, most concerned administrators I’ve ever met. So when she shared this, it was full of empathy and a sincere thought in Patrick’s best interest.) She expressed concern that Patrick would get frustrated with being so far behind his peers. That he’d need a lot of pull-out time. And that having an aide hovering would feel limiting and restrictive to him. Patrick’s teacher had pointed out to me that he often stopped and tried to get her to give him answers or help in his test because he is so used to it.

Then they told us about the functional academic classroom. How it provided a smaller class size and lots more adult support so they can accommodate different learning styles. How the school is closer to our home. How it used to be a medical hub, too, so the environment there is accepting and inclusive. How amazing the teacher is. How they have often sent students there to see them thrive. How some of the IEP team also works there so we would have some familiar faces willing to advocate for him.

We also talked about placement at the school by our house. They gave me lots of pros to that, as well, but I knew it wasn’t right. That he’s not ready for that.

I knew as they talked about the other classroom that they were describing what will probably be the best place for him to learn. They reassured me that being pulled out in a self-contained classroom doesn’t have to be a long-term thing. That he might only need a couple of years to make up for what he’s missed.

But then, I started to imagine Patrick and the little friends in his classroom who have loved him so sincerely. How their faces light up when they see him. How they hold hands on the playground. And I started to cry. I HATE that I cry. But, as much as I know that academically this classroom will help him, I don’t want to see him lose that acceptance and friendship. And it is a total leap of faith. (One I am having a hard time making.) to believe that starting all over again in a new school isn’t going to set him back socially. Especially if he isn’t in a regular classroom. All the inclusive activities in the world aren’t the same as being in the same class.

And besides – it means giving up the amazing people at the school Patrick’s been attending. The familiar faces. The rockstar IEP team. The sensory room and PT gym. And my little oasis next door where I’ve been walking and studying and praying while he’s in school.

So – the meeting ran a bit longer because once I had tears on my face, they were trying to comfort and reassure me. Which made me feel stupid because I know my reaction is emotional. The logical part of my brain knows what’s best here. I’m already thinking of that as his new school. But I’ve got to find a way to make sure that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed to send him there. And make sure that my fears don’t rub off on him.

And once the meeting was over, we sent Brian off to a meeting at work and I went and finished packing for Nebraska. And I was completely distracted all afternoon.  And we were up till 2 a.m. for reasons I’ll describe in the next post.

And I’ve stalled writing this blog post because I still feel conflicted and unresolved. And a bit guilty that I didn’t pull off more of a miracle keeping him up with his class. But here it is. And I’m gonna post this and start another right away.

 

Kindergarten – untraditionally

It’s a quiet snowy afternoon and seems like time for an update. This is a busy week comparatively for us. With spring break over, Patrick’s back to a regular schedule with his home hospital school. In this district, they have assigned him a teacher for 2 hours a week. She comes one day a week on Tuesday afternoon and stays and works for 2 hours.

When I heard that schedule I was actually really upset. We had 3 hours a week scheduled as 3 one-hour sessions when we were in Nebraska. Patrick rarely stayed on task for the whole hour. We often didn’t get all 3 sessions in. And I really wondered if this schedule could possibly work.

I would never have expected how well this would work. Ms. Emily is a special education teacher in a “behavioral” classroom in another elementary school in the district. That means that it’s no longer just me with strategies to keep Patrick on task. His teacher is really good at finding a balance between pushing him to do hard things and finding ways to turn breaks into educational opportunities or “teaching play.” It’s teaching Patrick to ask for a break when he feels overwhelmed or frustrated and that is a skill that will go a long way for him.

I really worried about the long sessions, but she’s good at keeping a variety. Patrick earns the chance to play educational games on her iPad when when he completes more challenging work and that seems to make the time pass. (And gives us moments where she stops and teaches me ways to work on the same skills at home.)

I think the best thing, though, is that she is bringing me tools that actually are helping me to make good use of the time I spend teaching Patrick. Not that I wasn’t doing my best before. Thank goodness for the resources of the internet or Patrick would have been much further behind. But there is something to be said for materials prepared by a professional educator for your child’s needs.

For example, she brought me a stack of sight word flashcards. They are printed on goldenrod yellow paper which she says is the color our minds learn best reading from. Patrick was pretty resistant to these when she first used them to try to test his knowledge. But she started to plant the idea of sounding out words to him and pointed out a few sight words that he could use that skill on. Patrick and I sat down that week to run through the cards and before I knew it, Patrick was figuring out words by sounding them out, and asking me for more cards to work with.

He is practicing with about 20 sight words cards right now, most of which he’s mastered at a glance. As he gets good at these, we just add a few more in at a time and soon he’ll have that whole stack memorized. She added to that showing me how to use some touch prompts on his arm to help him sound out and blend words together and he’s really starting to be good at reading most any CVC word, new or not.

In the same session, she gave me a stack of worksheets that she’d cut out of a handwriting notebook. And two plastic page protectors. I really doubted this one… but as it turns out, Patrick is totally in love with this particular workbook. I looked online to just get a copy of it and it’s about $100 off the shelf. Basically, it’s pages where he practices tracing numbers. But it has just the right mix of activities that catches his interest. Trace a number 6 times and then practice drawing that many pictures of a totally simple object for a kid to draw, for example. Who knew Patrick would love drawing suns and balloons and candy canes? And on the other side? We practice counting and patterning. I really need to make it to a teaching supply store and get some tanagrams and counters to match the workbook.. But he doesn’t seem notice they’re missing so far.

This work has been reinforced by another little bonus this school district threw in. To honor Patrick’s IEP, they send an occupational therapist out to work with him for 20 minutes a week. 20 minute, again, sounds like nothing. I feel bad for the therapist who devotes 2 times as much driving as she spends teaching. But her support in handwriting and other fine motor activities has taught us a few helpful things like labeling the lines on Patrick’s page with sky, flowers and grass that help him fit his writing within the lines. And because the therapist comes from the school he used to attend, she brings along familiar things that he worked with before that really make him happy and willing to work.

The grand sum total of this is that instead of spending time hunting for curriculum for Patrick, I’m given tools to work with and all the time that I can fit in for school work is spent working and Patrick’s making good gains.

The more I see how things are being done right here, the more convinced I am that things were done very, very wrongly by Omaha Public Schools. Patrick’s teacher was a sweetheart who really meant well. But I’m certain that several of the rules governing special education were broken. I can tell you I certainly will do things differently if I ever have to work with that school district again.

The upside is that things are good here. It’s still a struggle. Patrick is a little bit TV addicted right now and he isn’t always happy when I pull him away to work. But only at first. He’s always happy once we get started.

And we especially struggle on the days that Patrick doesn’t feel as well. We finally finished the 2 week course of antibiotics. It is so nice to only have to get up to refill formula, not to wake up and stay awake to try to give antibiotics. It took a few days to get Patrick past the insomnia that giving him Benadryl every time he woke up was causing. But finally, the family is getting a little better sleep and that helps all of us do better.

Sadly, though, allergy season hit just as Patrick came off of the Benadryl. He had some hayfever symptoms those first couple of days. Or at least, that’s what we thought was going on. Two evenings ago, Patrick started to sound stuffy, too. By yesterday morning, he was sounding pretty congested. Of course, there was also this massive wind-storm that came through and I thought that was to blame. Then, overnight, it snowed. 6 inches. It has snowed all day today. And Patrick isn’t breathing better with the air cleared out.

We had an appointment with his GI and an intro appointment with the liver transplant clinic today, too. I took him, masked. And his doctor thinks this is likely a virus.. so far, he doesn’t think it’s anything overly concerning. (Though I guess we are watching in case his immune suppression causes a latent virus in his body to get worse. But they don’t think that’s it. It’s more likely he caught something over the weekend when we splurged a bit to spend time with family.) Anyway – so far, we are just supposed to keep a watchful eye. Patrick isn’t horribly sick or getting worse. He’s not running fevers. His oxygenation isn’t the best while he sleeps, but humidifiers seem to help with that. And he sounds pretty cute when his little voice gets croaky and cuts out.

Otherwise, it was a productive appointment. It is actually kind of comforting to know that Patrick’s been assigned a transplant nurse coordinator here in town who can get us a doctor quickly is Patrick needed things. They’ll also be watching Patrick’s weekly labs and making phone calls to doctors, the Nebraska transplant team, and us if anything looks off.

Dr. Jackson and I talked about getting orders in place for Patrick to be able to go back to school part-time. He needs to write a letter summarizing what Patrick’s medical and nursing needs will be as he goes back to school. So we talked about my goals and how what he wrote could help with those. He said would recommend for nursing support for Patrick because, as he put it, a multivisceral transplant makes him “one of the most complex patients in the valley.” I wonder how the district will interpret this. I’ve been trying to get an appointment to talk about and plan for Patrick to transition back to school and need this doctor’s letter first because the district trying to figure out what services he needs to attend school and where he’ll go that those can be offered.

Anyway – in brief summary, this is what the school year is looking at right now at our house.

With a lot of Bob the Builder in the background. Patrick rediscovered Bob the Builder this week. He is thrilled to find that he already owns Bob the Builder toys. He doesn’t remember this was his favorite show when he was 2.

I’m trying to figure out how to make Bob the Builder do math. Surely that would increase the incentive and willingness to work at it. Patrick hates math because counting is boring. (And hard in the midst of his ADHD and brain injury.)

Oh, P.S. As I cleaned off my car this morning, I was pretty sure that that much snow overnight would have shut down Nebraska school. Kudos to Utahns for being hard-core in all sorts of weather.

Transplant Day 102 and Snow boots

I was almost going to put off writing one more day. Then I thought, “Well maybe I’ll send a short update out just so people know we are ok.” Then I pulled up the blog and realized I haven’t written in almost a week. So I’m going to try my best to post a quick blog. I am very VERY sleepy so this may not be my best.

Things are good here. Patrick’s belly finally has been seeming settled. On Sunday I turned up Patrick’s feed rate without it making him sick overnight.. a first since he got sick and a sign that he might finally have beaten the virus. However, the diaper I changed just as I put Patrick back to bed has me questioning my confidence in that notion and we’ll see what the night brings.

We’ve been working on finding our rhythm again this week. I mixed up the routine a bit this discharge. I realized that it wasn’t worth the struggle of trying to do so many things outside of the room. It just means more exposure for Patrick. And more time spent tracking him down when he wanders or telling him to stay out of things and more bad feelings between us.

He was so happy to be back at the Ronald McDonald House. So happy to be able to play without rules with his choice of toys. The first couple of days he didn’t want to leave the room. So I started making formula here in the room instead of in the kitchen. And I started drawing up his morning meds at night and putting them in the cooler I keep in the room so I don’t have to go get them in the morning. And we don’t go out as much. And we are both cool with that.

Patrick trying on my new hat and scarf.

Patrick trying on my new hat and scarf.

But we have had some fun, regardless. Friday, Child Life at the hospital arranged for a mini carnival and haircuts to be held at the same time. So we went over and got Patrick and myself much needed haircuts. And while it was my turn, Patrick got to go into the room next door and play. Then, he got to pick carnival prizes. Only he didn’t just pick for himself. He got gifts for Brian and me, too. He picked me out a bottle of lotion which, really, is the first time I think I’ve ever had him pick a gift for me and struck me as very thoughtful. He picked hoop earrings for Brian, but then noticed a Rubix cube and changed his mind. For himself, a book light that we use every night to read his picture scripture stories.

Saturday, we got together with a friend that Patrick made here at the hospital. They are staying in the Leid, a hotel attached to the hospital. His grandma and I have been watching for a chance to get them together. So on Saturday, I invited them to come play in the snow. We had a foot of snow, but it was 45 degrees and starting to melt.

So, in the morning, Patrick and I ran out to Shopko and bought some snowboots and waterproof gloves on clearance. We also picked up some snow dye bottles. And then we had a McDonalds happy meal together. (The little boy is here doing the intensive feeding therapy program so we thought that eating together might be good peer support for both boys.) Then we went out and played in the snow for several hours. We built a snowman. Patrick’s friend then said we needed a snow elephant, so we built that, too. I dug a box out of the recycling bin and we helped the boys sled on a little hill and they laughed and laughed. We made snow angels. We threw snow at each other, but not snowballs because our perfect packing snow made killer snowballs. A family in the house from Tennessee kind of timidly came out to play, too. I think the moms had as much fun as the kids.

And then, by the end of the day the color had all run off our snowman because of the heat and by the end of the next day, he was just a little pile of snow.

Another treat is that Patrick can take baths again. Since transplant, baths have been very limited and often forbidden. With an ostomy, they were possible but had to be short. After takedown, he had an open incision for almost a month. In the hospital, I only do sponge baths. So to be able to put him in the tub and let him play is a treat for both of us. He’s had a few 1 hour baths. One morning, I just put all the towels in the room on the floor to catch the spills and splashed and let him go.

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So much has changed for Patrick. It will be a lot to get used to when he comes back. He is eating like crazy these days. I’ve started to let him have snacks to just graze on. I put the in the disposable coffee cups that the house provides. So he munches on cheerios while we drive. I have cheerios in my seats. Who knew I’d be happy for that little milestone one day?

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On Sunday evening, I packed him a cup of veggie straws and we went for a drive. He finished his cup after 10 minutes and asked to go back home for more. I didn’t oblige. Instead, we went to drive across the “Mormon Bridge” just cuz we’d heard about it. Then, as I was driving back, I noticed signs for the “Lewis and Clark Monument” outside of Council Bluffs, Iowa. So, we went over there. Arrived just as the sun was setting, reflecting in the Missouri River. Being in a state park, on a hill overlooking the city.. felt a bit like home. Patrick was just happy to wear his snowboots and stomp in snow and mud.

Patrick also snacked on Cheerios all through our Primary lesson this week. We were looking for a room to do this in and found the Sunday house staff member resting on the couch in the room we usually use because her back was out. Patrick just snuggled up next to her and watched her show and ate Cheerios. Then, when her show ended, I told him it was time to do his lesson. So he asked her to join us. She obliged and it was very sweet, and kind of nice to get to have someone else listening as we talked about Jesus and his resurrection and atonement. She even sang along with us. Patrick tried to make her say the prayer, but I persuaded him to teach her about how we pray and let her listen just this one time.

Anyway – I was saying… so much has changed for Patrick. He is growing up in so many ways.

He eats. Kind of all the time. It’s still new and most of what he eats is like what you’d feed a toddler still learning to eat. But he has discovered a love for ham and cheese sandwiches. He chews up and swallows the bread and cheese, but spits out the ham. The first time he did this, I was stunned. When a few days later I offered another sandwich, he said “Mmm. Yum!!” I think he just needs time to go through the developmental stages of eating. I haven’t taken him back to feeding therapy yet because I wanted to give him a week to get better and see what the doctors said in clinic this week. But we are moving the right direction.

He has realized that dirty diapers don’t feel good. Now, he knew this before, but his stool was very different before. It was all liquid and either had to be changed right away or absorbed completely into the diaper. This is different. So we get up and change him during the night if he goes. And he’s learned to go back to sleep after. (A HUGE step for him.) And when we someday can keep a routine long enough, I think we’ll be ready to start exploring potty training again because I think he finally has some control over that.

Meanwhile, this means I am very sleepy. It’s kind of like I have a newborn again. Formula has to be refilled every 4 hours because Patrick’s bags only hold that much. A bigger bag could be put on ice and not need this attention, but then Patrick would have to wear a bigger backpack. He has one, but he prefers the little backpack that doesn’t get in his way when he sits down. Between changing diapers and refilling formula, I am up every 3-4 hours during the night. This is why I don’t blog. I am so sleepy I crash when Patrick crashes. And since naps can mean insomnia, we don’t always make that up during the day.

Taking the snowy way because he has snow boots

Taking the snowy way because he has snow boots

He still chews on everything, but he’s given up paci’s. Ok, I’ll be honest. He tried to cave on that today. He found his pacifiers and asked for them back today. But I reminded him he had chosen to be a big boy and didn’t need them anymore. Then I grabbed the sewing kit and cut the paci’s out of his wubbanubs and sewed their mouths back closed. He was sad. He said he wasn’t a big boy. He was a girl. So he could have paci’s. So I grabbed a chewy tube and sewed it onto the hand of his monkey and told him that he was a big boy and his monkey could help him have chewies instead. This kind of worked and he is happily sleeping with his friends again tonight.

Patrick has also made tremendous leaps in language. His first/second person confusion is pretty well gone. And he talking more and about more grown up things. The other day, we had a really off day. We tried to nap and it failed and Patrick had a chip on his shoulder all day, and after fighting about nap, I did, too. Nothing clicked. He kept pushing boundaries. I kept falling for it and snapping at him. Finally, we got to the room in the evening and I sat down and just cried and told him I didn’t like fighting with him anymore.  He gave me a big hug. He told me, “I’m a tech.” This is the title of the medical assistants who check vitals at the hospital. I don’t know why this exemplified the most compassionate person he could be at that moment, but I understood that was exactly what he was offering. Then, he got up and got my Kindle and brought it to me and said. “Mom. Look at your Kindle. It calm you.” And you know what, he was right? We sat on the bed and I read my kindle and he played with his tablet and we were calm.

He is still in love with reading. I wish we were making faster gains. It’s really hard when school is only 1 hour a day, 3 days a week and we rarely make it a week without missing at least one day. But I’m trying. On Monday, I pulled out Patrick’s stack of sight word readers and my laptop and I told him that for every book he’d read to me, I’d let him play one game on SesameStreet.org. This strategy actually worked really well. Not only did we practice reading, but we played some educational games. Then, when he wanted more mommy school, I pulled out a little game we have with letters on dice and we built words to and then changed their first letters to find rhyming words. It was one of my better mommy school sessions.

Patrick often pulls out this bike and rides while I do the laundry

Patrick often pulls out this bike and rides while I do the laundry

 

And today, we just stayed in the room and cleaned out Patrick’s toys. It helped him remember what he had here so he wanted to play here more. It helped me organize some of what was overflowing. And it gave us a step in the right direction for daddy to come back tomorrow.

Brian has had a doozy of a trip home. He had meetings with a group from out of town last week and a couple of days in, one of them came down with a cold. Well, Brian caught it. And it took him down. He had to take a couple of sick days. When he was still running fevers after a few days, he actually ended up at the doctor where he was diagnosed with bronchitis and given antibiotics and a cough suppressant. But that didn’t mean rest for him. We decided that a last step to really cleaning up the house was replacing the carpet in our bedroom. So, still sick, he moved all of the furniture out of our room so that could be done Monday morning. Then, also Monday morning, discovered that he had a nail in his tire. Had to put on a tire and take it to be repaired.

He is a lot better, but his cough is still lingering so I get to try to reach Patrick’s team tomorrow to figure out if that means that Daddy shouldn’t be around. And then we have to figure out if that means postponing his trip or finding him somewhere else to sleep or wearing a mask all the time or what. This is another new thing for us. Navigating a contagious world with an immune suppressed family member.

It has led me to research into contagious period for certain illnesses. Someday, I’ll summarize that into a handy guide of “how long to stay away if you have been or might be getting sick.” For tonight, this was a handy little document. http://www.bccdc.ca/NR/rdonlyres/8061A728-C969-4F38-9082-B0296EF2A128/0/Epid_GF_childhood_quickguide_may_09.pdf Especially given that Utah is experiencing outbreaks of a few vaccine preventable diseases right now. I’m biting my tongue and trying not to blog about how scared I am coming back to this absolutely ridiculous problem. It’ll probably come out one of these days when I have time, though.

Anyway – I think I’m about out of stories worth telling. Well, maybe just one more. First of all, we survived a very long weekend of no dinner groups at the Ronald McDonald House. I miss the friendly group of families that was here over Christmas. The current group has a more every-family-for-himself attitude that I think has grown out of the panic of cold and flu season. Regardless, knowing that norovirus can be spread in food, I decided we’d better just cook for ourselves. I started to brainstorm dinner with Patrick the other night and he said, “I have a great idea! Let’s have chicken! Like at the hospital.” Well, I’d had KFC one night and apparently he liked it. But KFC was out of chicken and literally locked their doors that night. Odd. So we ended up getting a rotisserie chicken instead and I think we did pretty darn well with instant mashed potatoes and gravy made out of Patrick’s chicken broth. Patrick ate a ton and we were both happy.

Patrick and the Omaha Lancers Hockey Team

Patrick and the Omaha Lancers Hockey Team

But tonight, dinner groups are back. And we started out with a great one. The Omaha Lancers, a junior league hockey team. Not knowing they were coming, Patrick decided to wear his Avs (hockey) sweater today. So he gave us away early as hockey fans. And I’m sure he made and impression and won them over. He traced the player numbers on every team member’s jersey.. then spelled out the letters of their names. They made him pancakes and ham and toast, all current favorites, which of course won him over, too.

Ok. I am out of stories and really should get some sleep.

 

 

Transplant Day 70 and real-life angels

God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. – Spencer W. Kimball

Brian flew home Monday. I was kind of worried how this would play out as the last time he left while Patrick was still inpatient, I found myself feeling in well over my head trying to juggle caring for Patrick and trying to piece together little things for myself like food and clothing and bathing.

However, instead, I’ve found the last couple of days almost relaxing. An important lesson I’m learning here is to let people help me with little things so I can be free for the bigger things. For example, Monday morning a hospital volunteer knocked on the door just as I finished dressing Patrick to ask if I needed a break.  So, she came in and played with Patrick while I took a shower, did my makeup (a rare luxury), made the bed, and cleaned up the room.

This week has been full of volunteer angels. From church, I find women I barely know (have met a few times or not at all) providing meals or coming and sitting with Patrick so that I can go back to the Ronald McDonald House to eat or shower or do other things. There is an after-holiday lull in charitable donations and so fewer meals are offered at the beginning of January than throughout the rest of the year. So, one evening while a lady from the Relief Society (church women’s organization) was introducing Patrick to the joys of a fart machine, I hurried back and made up a week’s worth of taco meat so I’d be ready for days I either couldn’t get away or nights where dinner wouldn’t be waiting.

This has been a blessing I can’t put into words. I am not unhappy that in our first month here, we ate such carefully portioned meals, a-la Hormel no refrigeration required microwave dinners, that I lost several pounds. But sometimes it was hard to be patient with Patrick and happy with this 24/7 mom/caregiver role I’m living because I was hungry. But right now, I am anything but hungry. I have to think to not end up being fed dinner twice. I haven’t even touched the supply of meals I bought right before Brian left because there has always been another one there someone has made for me.

But beyond food, this has given me the chance to keep up on laundry (with a little bit of help from a friend willing to fold and slip into my room my clothes if I can just get them to the dryer) and to stay showered and in fresh clothes (which I find goes a VERY long way to my general sense of well-being), and sane. I get an hour or two here and there and in it I try to be as productive as possible. I probably look like a mad-woman flying through the Ronald McDonald House when I go there.

Patrick is happier with this help, too. Someone appears offering help and he shoos me away to “the House’ so he can play. Patrick needs people. He loves when someone comes and he has someone new to play with.  He really loves the volunteers who come help Child Life with activities. We had an awesome time the other day flying airplanes with the ROTC. Right now, Patrick is one of just a handful of kids old enough to play with, so they are especially excited to see him, too.

It helps so much to have people. Tonight, I got a call from a woman from church who is quickly growing on me, saying that she had some time and could she come play with Patrick so I can get out. I almost felt like I was taking advantage because I’ve been so well taken care of, but I’ve sworn to myself to accept help when offered. So she came and I almost didn’t even leave because it’s -3 with a wind chill of some other horrid number and everything is closed here as a result. But I remembered that Patrick’s been running a touch low on diaper cream and I had one more jar of his preferred kind at the house, so I went to go.

But, when I got to my car, it just wouldn’t start. I’d turn the key and it sounded almost like it was sighing. I had a jump starter in the trunk, but even that didn’t help. It just showed me my battery’s power dropping from 60% to 40% to unreadable.

So I came back in and I bought diaper cream at the outpatient pharmacy instead. Then I called Brian and I called my dad to assess the symptoms. And then i came back to the room feeling a bit beyond alone and helpless. Only I wasn’t alone. There was this sweet angel from the ward making playdough P’s with Patrick on the floor. And she listened to me talk through my problem and she offered all the help she could think of. And then she just talked for a while which is something I am REALLY missing here… talking to grownups and especially friends of my own faith.

And things felt lighter going to bed. In fact, Patrick and I stayed awake and giggled and talked for a while. Sometimes, he and I get playing a little more like it’s a sleepover. And last night he told me that when he grows up he wants to be a firefighter and put water on things. And that when I grow up I want to be a doctor… not like the ones in the hospital, but like the toy one in his Duplo block set that he got yesterday.

Which reminds me of another super nice thing that strangers did for us. Right before Brian left town, he discovered a couple of Christmas presents hidden under the bed that we’d overlooked on Christmas morning. Well, they couldn’t have been more perfectly planned if we’d done it on purpose.

When we got married in December, I was really sad that the wedding and honeymoon took up most of the Christmas season for us. So we decided to extend our family’s Christmas holiday like they do in Europe. There, the 12 days of Christmas actually start on Christmas day and are counted forward until January 6th, also known as Epiphany. Or, in Italy where Brian was a missionary, it’s called Befana.

So, we have celebrated Befana. We leave out our shoes and a good witch fills them with little gifts. After Patrick went to sleep Monday night, I snuck down to the C store and picked up some treats for my shoes, then I put the newly found presents and some chips and a book into Patrick’s. And when he woke in the morning, we had our own little holiday. And he got a couple of fleece sweaters that have been perfect for these bitter cold days. And he got some duplo blocks that have proven to be great entertainment, too.

General Patrick update.. Tonight, they turned off his TPN again, hanging some IV fluids to keep him hydrated. He will reach full enteral (through the belly) feeds on Elecare Jr. tomorrow late afternoon. They will check some labwork in the morning and we’ll start talking about discharge again. (Which means that I will also be making some phone calls in the morning to see if my insurance’s emergency roadside service can help me fix the battery issue so we have a way to leave here.)

Patrick feels great. I’ve learned to change the dressing on his surgical incision and will need to still do that for a few weeks. He is not a big fan of the job, but has gotten so he doesn’t cry the whole time.

We spend our days mostly playing. Today, they got the playroom ready for patients to play in. It is still missing locks on the toy cabinets, so you have to have help and permission to play there and have to keep the door closed while there. But that just meant that Patrick had to have 3 hours straight playing there instead today. And the room all to himself.

While he played, I downloaded more of his homeschool materials and the hospital teacher helped me print some readers. A “cold day” made it so Patrick missed his post-holiday return to school this week.. again. He’s only had 4 actual “school days” since we got here. I just learned a couple of the ladies from church homeschool and I am getting ready to pounce and pick their brains to figure out how to make my mommy school efforts even better.

We’ve been working on just one more goal here. A few days ago, Patrick was complaining that his left leg and ankle hurt. This isn’t the first he’s complained of it, so I asked for a physical therapy consult. She came seeming ready to assure me my concerns were over something normal that would pass. She watched him walk and stand on tiptoes and squat. And as we worked, she shifted from telling me that his hip looked weak but would get better to a genuine concern about what she was seeing. This is somehow maybe related to his cerebral palsy and we don’t know if it’s really a new problem or just one made worse by recovery.

She gave me some exercises to try to get Patrick to do.. lifting his legs to the side and walking on his heels. Because of his dyspraxia (motor planning troubles), this seems really, really hard for him as he’s never tried to move that way before. At first, he just wouldn’t. But I’ve figured out that I can turn it into a game of silly walking mother-may-I or a “can you do this?” challenge and he’ll play along.

Nevertheless, my plan of doing occupational and feeding therapy only with my limited visits while he’s outpatient is kind of disintegrating. If this problem doesn’t go away before we leave here, we’ll need to do some follow-up therapy. And I really need to find the number and call and get that scheduled.

I think Patrick feels more in control of himself here at the hospital. Maybe because the rules and routine are more predictable. Maybe because he’s spent more time here. Maybe just because his medication levels have been steady while he is here. Maybe because it’s not Christmas anymore. Maybe it’s because he can order ham and chicken broth for every meal. Or because my attention is less divided and all of the ways he acts out are him trying to have my undivided attention. I don’t know for sure, but I’ve also been using the extra time I have with helpers here trying to pull together some picture schedule and behavior reminder resources so going back to the Ronald McDonald House can maybe feel less chaotic.

Regardless, I can see that our time here is special and important. And I am beyond grateful for the helpers who have let me use this time well instead of just trying to survive each day.

 

Transplant Day 48 and some Christmas Cheer

It’s been a busy couple of days. Without labs in the morning, I’ve been trying to work on a little bit of a better sleep schedule.  I don’t know that we’re getting more sleep, but at least we haven’t been up till midnight.

Yesterday we didn’t have labs and Patrick actually slept till 8 a.m. Then we took our sweet time getting ready and out of the room, which is always nice. It usually means I get some cleaning done.

Because Patrick had slept so late, I decided to try out skipping nap.  That meant I needed to keep him entertained for the day instead. I stole a little bit of internet time in the morning while he played in the playroom and I downloaded the new homeschool curriculum I want to use for “mommy school.” (I’m using Reading the Alphabet, if you are curious.) Then we came upstairs and I printed out a little reader to practice with and a reader.

Patrick was so excited to do mommy school. I think he’s feeling as bored and stir crazy as I am. He mastered his book in about 5 minutes. The series I’m using is a sight words preprimer series.. So pretty basic stuff. Just sight words mixed with pictures that he should be able to decipher. This is what he was using in school before transplant so it seemed like a good place to pick up. It’s probably a slower paced curriculum than he’d be getting in a typical classroom, but i figure that anything is better than 3 or less hours a week and the pace seems to match his learning style. Once he had mastered his book, we did a little bit of writing practice with the word of the week, (“a”) and the letter of the week (“Tt”).. and then we took his book to practice reading to other people. Both he and they love this method of practicing reading. I have the feeling that taking his books to the office staff to practice is going to be pretty par for the course.

After a little bit of resting/cleaning time in our room, we got ready for the evening’s excitement. Last night was the hospital’s annual pediatrics Christmas party. A company called Renaissance financials hosts this every year for the inpatient and outpatient pediatric patients. That means that you don’t have to be in the hospital to be invited. They know there are a lot of us here who’ve traveled quite some way and will be here long-term.

The party started with a magician. It’s amazing to me to see Patrick old enough to appreciate these things. He laughed and was awed by the tricks. He really wanted to be a helper, but didn’t raise his hand to say so.

After the magic show, we found our tables and worked on making jingle bell necklaces, marshmellow snowmen, and gingerbread houses made out of graham crackers and take out boxes. We were joined there by one of the employees helping to host the party.

That kind of made this the perfect blend of holiday party for me. It had all of the kid-friendly elements that I’m used to from a school or church party. But there were employees and their wives there for their annual company Christmas party, too.. All dressed up. It kind of helped soothe the part of me that is really missing corporate Christmas dinners.

We had a dinner of pizza and breadsticks. Patrick enjoyed some crust and declared the julienned carrots from my salad “perfect.”

And then, they made us all sing Christmas carols. They top this off with a tradition where each of the 12 dinner tables has to make up and action to do to their assigned day of the 12 Days of Christmas. I hope our 5 golden rings had enough flair.

Then, the night was topped off with a visit from Santa Claus himself. They came and called the kids up for their turns one by one so there was no line or crush. Each kid got some personal time with Santa. Patrick took his to open the present that Santa had brought him.. A big noisy 3-wheeled motorcycle that races across the room when you push a button.

Patrick’s attention was gone pretty quickly after his visit with Santa. We snuck out as things started to wind down and ran to the store to get a few things to make some little gifts for the many people we have gotten to know here. (I’m making angel ornaments out of ribbon, a paperclip, and a bead.) Patrick thinks Michaels is the best store ever.. specially since they had little shopping baskets with a handle he could pull like a rolling suitcase.

And then we came back to the house where all the kids were playing with the toys Santa brought. It reminded me of Christmas morning… which makes me really look forward to Christmas. We have lived with these kids for a couple of weeks now and they are getting to be friends. It was fun to see them sharing toys with each other.. racing around shooting each other with nerf guns and taking turns with the remote control car.

It was especially needed last night as one of the families staying in the house lost their son last night. It is hard to put into words the way that a loss like that hurts in a community like this. We understand more deeply than anyone can the pain of that loss and just want to take it away.

Today has been a pretty low-key kind of day. I got Patrick to sleep last night by 10, but that meant he was wide awake and happy at 6:30. He chose to play on his bed for an hour, though, and when he was ready to go was pretty good downstairs.

The grandparents of the boy who passed away stayed here last night and Patrick has been particularly attached to them all day.. Cuddling up with both of them and playing charmer. He really has a way of knowing what people need sometimes.

Then, when he did leave them, Patrick went to visit his friends in the office. He has made this a bit of a morning tradition. I don’t think they mind much. House rules say they are supposed to give us our space.. but if we go visit them, that is ok. Patrick likes to go visit.

Over lunch, Tyson, the 18 year old transplant recipient, took Patrick downstairs to play in the playroom while I showed his mom how to make homemade frosting and how to roll out and cut sugar cookies. (It’s funny how this is something I have just taken for granted knowing how to do. After a lifetime of baking with mom and grandma, going to church activities, doing crafts, and learning other homemaking skills.. I guess I kind of assume that most people have some experience with these things. But they have been wowed by my skills here and it’s kind of a strange feeling. The things you discover when you leave the Mormon belt.)

I got a call this afternoon from hospital social work asking me to come pick up Christmas gifts. While we were still inpatient, they came and asked if one of the hospital departments could adopt us for Christmas.. given how far we are from home and knowing what our co-pays were going to be. We tried to decline and offer this to someone else, but they insisted that we fit the bill to help. So, we made a simple list for them.

What I picked up today was not simple. My trunk is full. And there was a gift card included too that kind of blew me away.

Anyway – once we finished that outing, Patrick asked to try to play at a park. We went, but he got too cold too fast again. So we came back to the house and let him play in the playroom while I paid some bills and then pulled out my new Christmas music books and played on the piano. This is another thing that I kind of have taken for granted in the past. People who play the piano are limited back home, but there’s a few of us in every neighborhood at least. Here, though.. some of the staff say they have never seen this piano used to play actual music. I am so excited to try a sing along.

Next was dinner. One of the drawbacks of the Ronald McDonald House at Christmas time is that all the dinner groups very well-meaningly try to bring in a festive holiday meal. You don’t want to know how many hams have been served here this week. Patrick is loving it, though. Ham and potatoes is one of his favorite meals and he will happily eat it over and over again. It just makes me smile and remember my missionary days when we’d be fed at member houses and we’d see food seasons. I wonder what food season comes after Christmas.

Then, I ended up letting Patrick stay up just a bit late because we decorated cookies tonight. It was so much fun and I was really grateful for Wendy, a mom and friend in the house, and all of the resources and work she put into getting Christmas cookies into the house.  The kids had a great time. Patrick loved it and, yes, I let him splurge and have some frosting tonight. (He’s supposed to be on a no concentrated sugar diet at least until things get a little more stable.)

Our word of the day was “angels”. We read about how angels appeared to sing about Christ’s birth. And then for good measure, I pulled out my YouTube video and watched this awesome video… a record breaker for multitudes of angels in a live Nativity, and heart-touching to boot.

And now Patrick’s finally made it to sleep. I’m thrilled he is asleep before 11 again.. But every night I have grand intentions of getting up and getting to work once he is asleep. I have a couple of presents to wrap and the room needs cleaning and the laundry needs put away. Especially since we have labs tomorrow. But I can barely keep my eyes open. So I’ll be settling on finishing up this post, hunting down an internet connection so I can post it.. and then going off to bed.

 

Transplant Day 26 and Atelectasis

Atelectasis: the collapse of part or (much less commonly) all of the lung.

Last night was one of the hardest we’ve had here. Patrick’s fever reached 104. And he was really struggling to breathe. Anytime he’d lay down, his oxygen saturation dropped. Anytime he sat up, he coughed violently. Finally, at 1 a.m. his nurse put him on oxygen and as long as we slept with the bed up and me helping to support him sitting up as he slept, he was able to rest.

At 5:45 a.m. radiology came to take a chest x-ray. It showed that Patrick’s pleural effusion had about doubled in size. It also showed that both lungs had “atelectasis.” In other words, his lungs were partially collapsed because of pressure.

When the team came around, they said that he needed them to help get the fluid out. If the fluid was from a pneumonia or infection, they could culture it and give the right antibiotics. If not, then they could from there start looking for other explanations for his fevers. The effusion itself can cause fever.

But he’d need sedation and that meant he’d need to have his feeds shut off for 6 hours. And that meant the earliest time would be evening.

Getting him up was rough, but once he was up, he seemed to do better. To help with the lung collapse, we played games that made him take deep breaths. We used birthday blowers to knock down towers of cups. We blew bubbles. We played with whistles. This kept him doing as good as possible, but as the day wore on, he needed more and more oxygen. I just tried to keep him happy sitting up, playing games, coloring.

His new homebound school teacher Mr. Chambers. came this afternoon. Patrick was dead tired and had figured out that sign language was easier than talking. So, this isn’t exactly how I figured Patrick’s first day of school in Omaha would look. But – it was the first step and that’s what matters. We’ll have an IEP written by the end of the week and dive in with 3 one-hour school sessions a week. Mr Chambers is very nice and very compassionate, too.

Also, Home Health came to deliver Patrick’s enteral feeding pump, get signatures, and give us any training we needed. We’ve used this pump before, but it’s been a long time and we weren’t using it all the time before.. So I figured a refresher course was in order. This pump is tiny and lightweight and Patrick will have no trouble at all moving and playing while wearing it in a backpack. It’s purpose is to do a drip feed of formula into his stomach all day long until he is able to eat enough calories on his own.

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At this point in my blogging, from yesterday got interrupted. It is now Wednesday morning and I’m going to fill you in on the rest of what happened last night.

About 4 p.m. yesterday, we heard from Patrick’s nurse than Interventional Radiology’s schedule was full and they were putting Patrick onto his schedule for 10:30 a.m. today. Thank goodness for our awesome nurse Debb who was worried about Patrick’s continual decline. She made a lot of noise and I think is part of why things are better right now instead of just starting right now.

A little later in the afternoon, the nurse practitioner came to check in on Patrick before going home and tell us the plan to wait till morning. We said, “What if things keep getting worse overnight?” She answered that if there were an acute emergency, they’d take him down sooner. So Brian asked what constituted an acute emergency. The answer: Needing 2-3 liters of oxygen. So we pointed out that he was already on 2 liters of oxygen and desatting when he tried to sleep. She countered, “but at least he’s resting comfortably.” And I said, “No.. he’s so uncomfortable he’s been lying there trying to sleep and is resting because he’s exhausted from the effort.” She left the room rather quickly at that point. Half an hour she came back to say that they were working on setting up the procedure as soon as possible.

That was at 6 p.m. They took him down at 8 p.m. Because things were happening quickly, we got to give the same general history a few times to a few different residents. But eventually, the anesthesiologist came over to explain that, with his lungs already stressed, they thought it safest to intubate him for the procedure.

And then we kissed him goodbye and they said it was a quick procedure and we’d see him soon.

The procedure actually was pretty quick. With general anesthesia, an hour and a half is really fast… and that’s about how long it took for the doctor who performed the procedure to come tell us that things had gone well. They removed about 250 cc’s (or a quarter of a liter) of milky white fluid from the sac around his lung. That doesn’t sound like a ton, until you imagine Patrick’s tiny body carrying around 8 ounces of liquid in his lung. Then it sounds like a lot. They let us see the x-rays last night. His right lung had been entirely collapsed.

She said they’d call us back soon. But then we just waited. And waited. And we finished our show. And I started a blog. And then a chaplain came looking for someone to visit. And it before we knew it an hour had passed.

(A side story about the chaplain. After visiting for a while, she asked if she could pray with us. She said the prayer and closed “In Jesus’ name.” Then after saying “Amen” she blushed and said, “I didn’t think to ask if you were Mormon.” We said that yes, we are. Then she tried to apologize for praying in Jesus’ name. So we had a minute to stop and explain that we do, in fact believe in Christ and pray in His name and that her prayer perfectly fit our method of praying… And then that’s when the doctor came.)

Back to the story – the interventional radiologist came back to tell us that they weren’t having success taking out Patrick’s breathing tube. His lungs were too weak and needed extra time to recover before they’d work properly. He was making significant progress and she was sure he’d be ok before long. But, to be safe and give him time to recover,  she told us they’d keep him intubated till morning.

We were joined by a nurse manager who explained that in the hurry to get Patrick into the ICU, they’d put him into an adult room but that they were moving him to a pediatric room in under an hour and that they’d like us to wait till then to come back. We started to say, “OK. That gives us time to go clean up and move his things,” when we looked up to see one of the techs from the pediatric floor coming with a cart of things from Patrick’s room.

This kind of the last straw.. The idea that they couldn’t even wait for us to have time to get an update from his doctors before they were packing up and moving out his things. While we cleaned up, there was someone from housekeeping waiting because he’d been called to come clean the room and hospital policy requires that they respond within 5 minutes of the page. We don’t mind so much that they tried to help clean up and move the things… as the fact that he wasn’t even settled in the PICU before they had done it.

On our way out the door with the mountain of things that Patrick has accumulated during our stay, the nurse manager from the PICU came to find us to tell us that they had extubated Patrick. Ok, THIS was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Patrick was awake and we were downstairs cleaning his room and unable to go be by his side. She might have said something about “this is just how things go.” And we might have given her an earful about compassion. We are a little less angry this morning. But it’s going to be hard to bring ourselves to try to make Patrick’s next room feel homey again because it caused such a problem when he needed to move.

Anyway – with the fluid off of his lungs Patrick has been doing much better. He his heart rate is down, meaning his pain is going away. He is weaning off of oxygen. He is catching up on his very much needed sleep.  His fevers are gone. His lungs are a little bit crackly, but that will probably get better once he wakes up and starts moving and breathing again.

They are still waiting for lab results about the fluid that was drained. However, right now the working theory is that he had developed a chylothorax. “A chylothorax is a type of pleural effusion. It results from lymphatic fluid (chyle) accumulating in the pleural cavity due to either disruption or obstruction of the thoracic duct.”

I asked the team to teach me this morning what it means. What it means is this… Patrick’s transplant required cutting his lymphatic system. While it heals, it might become “leaky.” When they switched him to Elecare instead of Vivonex formula, they changed the type of fatty acid he was getting. And those fatty acids go through the lymphatic system and if the system is leaking, the fats can get trapped in places like the lungs.

Most transplant kids go through this. Patrick just got it worse than others because they switched his formula over so early.

They’ll go back to Vivonex formula. They will restart feeds slowly. They’ll watch closely to see if the problem comes back. And we’ll go from there.

It means more time in the hospital for him. But, hopefully before long they’ll get him back out of the PICU and onto the pediatric floor.