Tag Archives: muscle spasticity

Transplant Day 46 and Physical Therapy

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Today was a busy day. I knew we’d need to be up early to start out with labs, but last night was another night where Patrick didn’t make it to sleep till midnight. So when he snuggled up next to me and fell back asleep this morning, I didn’t really have the heart to wake him.

At 8, as my alarm was going off after the 3rd snooze, I decided we were going to have to bite the bullet and get up. I could tell that sometime during the night Patrick’s ostomy bag had come loose. Thank goodness I’ve got a good drain system set up so it didn’t make a mess that woke us earlier. But it did mean that we had to start off with a bag change right away.

Patrick wasn’t so sure of me when I put him in the tub without waterproofing his bag.. But it actually worked very well to make it come off quite easily and changing the bag went very smoothly. But we were really pressed for time so when the phone rang to tell me they were showing his nurse up, he was still quite naked and wrapped in bath towels.

We hurried to get a diaper on and wrapped him up in a blanket and the nurse was able to draw his labs. Meanwhile, my phone rang and it was the pharmacy. It’s been one week since discharge. Time for a new shipment of supplies.

When we got through all of that, it was already 9 a.m. I begged Patrick to stay on the bed and watch Blues Clues and let me run downstairs for his medicines alone so it could be faster. He agreed and we were able to get all of his medicines given on time. But in the meantime, he was a lot happier in the room watching TV than he usually is trying to entertain himself while I do up meds in the morning. In fact, he happily stayed and played and watched TV for another hour and a half.

That gave me time to clean up the room a bit and to set up the printer that my mom and dad bought me for my birthday. (I knew I’d want to do Mommy School here so that was one of my first wishes.)

Finally, I was hungry and he needed formula made so it would have time to chill before starting the new batch running and we had to give in and leave the room. Besides, Patrick needed me to buy him new socks. So we went downstairs and got ready and went to Target.

Let me tell you about why Patrick needed new socks as it brings you to the next part of our day. If you are new to our story, you may not know that Patrick has an anoxic brain injury and cerebral palsy. When he was 8 months old, his heart stopped because of an infection and some medication they were using to treat it. It took over 15 minutes of CPR to revive him. The result is that the ends of all of the blood vessels in his brain were deprived of some oxygen. That accounts for a lot of his behaviors and most of his developmental delays and learning disabilities.

When you hear the phrase “cerebral palsy” you probably imagine someone with a very severe case whose body is contorted with muscle spasms: someone who can’t eat, can’t talk, can’t walk, etc. That is what you imagine because that is the presentation that you can’t ignore so you ask about it. But what cerebral palsy really means is that at birth or shortly thereafter, the brain was starved for oxygen, leaving the patient with a “palsy” or lack of control of the muscles of the arms or legs or more. The signal from the brain to these limbs gets confused or altered somewhere along the way causing unexpected movements, often causing the muscles to spasm.

Well, over the past week, I have seen Patrick’s hip and foot of his right foot turning inward. He is becoming more clumsy and having  a harder time controlling those muscles. I started making him wear his walking brace for half to all of the day. (Enter the need for new, longer socks that would prevent rubbing from the brace against his leg.) We’ve been doing stretching, too, and those muscles are much tighter than they have been in years.

Today after shopping and a short nap, I took Patrick for a physical therapy evaluation in the hospital’s outpatient clinic. I wanted to evaluate his recovery and I was especially worried about this problem with his gait.

The news was good. First of all, Patrick is a “rockstar” from the physical therapy standpoint. His incision is better healed, his movement is better, his pain level is less, and his energy is more than most patients at this point. He is really doing remarkably well.

The therapist said that she thinks that the spasticity in his leg is likely a combination of problems: the trauma of transplant, the effect of new medications, the exhaustion of recovery. In other words, she said that it’s probably something that he’s feeling all over, we just are seeing it more in his leg because that is where he is weakest. She said that for every 1 day in the hospital, we should expect 2 days for his body to recover. Considering that he spent 39 days in the hospital, it will be a few months before he is back to full strength.

The prescription is simple. Keep doing all of the exercises we were working on at home for leg strengthening like climbing stairs, squatting and tiptoes, bike riding, jumping. But, for the next little while, have him wear his brace so that while his nerves and muscles are relearning and recovering, we are training his body to move the right way. Patrick is not amused by this prescription. He keeps asking me to let him take his boot off because he feels like it’s in his way.

The therapist said that she is seeing such progress in the area of gross motor skills that, given our insurance policy’s very limited therapy visits, that she feels like physical therapy would not be her focus right now. She recommended instead that we take advantage of the opportunity to work with an occupational therapist who specializes in feeding in kids post-transplant while we are here.

She also said to allow him lots of rest. And I think that I realized today that doing so may require a little more keeping him in our room. When we hit our room, all of the sensory overload caused by the rest of the house melts away. He is happy watching TV and doing crafts. Tonight it finally clicked for him that the tote in the corner is a toybox and that he is allowed to go get those toys out and play with them.

I don’t know for sure. We’ll need to find a balance so he gets social time, too. We both need it. But we both were much happier with some quiet, one-on-one free play time in the room.

We had another special treat tonight. One of the men from our church who helps bring the sacrament has talked for a while about inviting us over for dinner. Well, tonight, we got the chance. That was really such a treat! Patrick had a great time playing with their two little ones (ages 3 and almost 5). I spend some time with some other adults about my age whom I have a lot in common with. And just take a break from all of this medical stuff for a while. But also, without a ton of explanation. He has been visiting for a while now. He was also the anesthesiologist on Patrick’s case the night of transplant. So they know the story and some of the things they should expect. It was good to just be normal for a little while.

We were both sad to see the evening come to a close. But it was bedtime and we needed to unwind to go to sleep here, too. Setting up my printer meant I also set up a place my laptop can sit next to the TV, so we were able to turn on one of the new DVD’s that Brian’s parents sent him. We watched Curious George’s Christmas while I cleaned up the room, prepared feeds, drew up medications, and got Patrick into his pajamas.

He made it to sleep by 10:30 tonight which isn’t the greatest, but is better than midnight. He also is starting to prefer to go to sleep in his bed on his own. He won’t admit that. He would love for me to lay with him. But he has started to do his usual putting himself to sleep routine if I’ll just lay with him for a bit, then tell him it’s time for met o kiss him goodnight. I kiss him and go lay in my bed until he falls asleep. Then I get up and try to get done whatever was waiting for him to rest.

Tonight while I waited, I decided to poke around Pinterest for kindergarten homeschooling ideas as Patrick’s teacher was still sick today and an hour a week of school is certainly not getting him the education he needs or that his little mind is craving. I am thrilled to say that I stumbled across a curriculum that looks like it will pick up exactly where he left off at school and that really fits his learning style. It even has little printable readers. (I’m trying to decide if I print them or see if it’s possible to throw them into an e-reader format to save on printing). I’m excited to grab a little bit of playroom time tomorrow morning so I can get it downloaded and start working on it.

One last bit of news, then I have to post this and get to bed. My eyes are drooping. Patrick’s transplant coordinator called this afternoon. The great news is that his prograf level is finally in range. Just barely, but it’s there. That’s the first time in a week. That means no medication adjustment. It also means that we get to switch to twice weekly labs. And THAT means that we can sleep in in the morning if we’re tired. At least till meds are due at 9.

However.. you probably wont’ get to read this until then because I am just plain too sleepy to go hunt down an internet connection until morning.

Baby steps

I mentioned a while back that we were taking Patrick to see a doctor who specialized in rehabilitation and development. It’s about time I write about it.

The appointment went a lot more positively than I’d expected. I went in half expecting for her to see the muscle tone in Patrick’s foot and decide it was time for dramatic action. Patrick’s physical therapist had suggested botox injections and casting, and I was afraid that that was the next step.

I was so nervous, in fact, that I had Brian come along with me. That wasn’t the sort of decision I wanted to make alone. And he was kind enough to take the whole day off, which was an extra special treat.

They make you feel out a history every time you go into this office, including a list of everything that’s changed in the last 6 months since you were seen. This can be quite the task to list everything and I often just write blanket statements like “typical to short gut” so I don’t have to fill in all the hospitalizations, diet changes, etc.

The good thing about this form, though, is that it gives the doctor an idea of where to start, so she came in and right away said, “So why do you think he’s having problems with his foot?” We stripped Patrick down so she could see his muscles as he walked and then we had him walk back and forth between us. We also talked about the developmental lag I’ve seen on his right side versus his left. She watched the way he hold his hands when relaxed. She stretched his muscles to see how they move.

In the end, we didn’t decide anything new… but she confirmed a lot of things I’ve suspected. Basically, it looks as though there was some degree of brain damage caused by Patrick’s cardiac arrest. This isn’t a surprise. They did CPR for 15 minutes, which means that for 15 minutes, he didn’t have a good supply of oxygen to his brain. In fact, everyone’s always amazed at just how well he IS doing in spite of that.

This doctor, even telling me that there seems to have been damage, still calls him a miracle and says that he is far, far healthier than his medical history would predict.

The official diagnosis she gave is “dystonia”… which basically means “irregular muscle tone.” In layman’s terms, it means that his brain sends the message to move the muscle, but the message gets garbled somewhere along the way. The message the foot get tells the muscles to flex harder than they should or in the wrong direction. The faster he tries to go, the more the signal gets confused and the more unpredictable the movements.

She said to just keep working with him. She said that these muscle tone issues could vary in how much they affect him as he grows and the muscles relax or get tighter. In the future, they might still recommend injections of botox into the muscles to weaken them so he can have better control of them. But that’s not for now.

For now, we’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing. We’ll keep a brace on his foot and we’ll do stretches every morning and night. We’ll keep encouraging him to walk wherever he goes and we’ll hope that, like the rest of his right side movements, he’ll get better with practice so that you don’t even notice a difference unless you know what you’re watching for.

It’s a relief to have my suspicions confirmed and plan of action approved. For the past year I’ve been telling therapists that I suspected something was wrong. It’s only been since we started working on walking with his newest PT that it’s been clear that something actually was wrong.

It’s discouraging, though, too to know that he’s going to have this battle ahead of him. He’s young enough that his brain is very “plastic”, very adaptable and it is possible for him to overcome most of the effects of this… But it’s going to require a lot more effort from him and from me to learn to do those basic things.

Still, he’s making amazing progress with his “boot”. He spent 15 minutes yesterday walking 6 feet between his therapist and myself. Then, he spent most of the evening walking across my mother’s living room. He lets go when he’s playing next to furniture. He refuses to have two hands held while he walks. He is getting faster and steadier and braver. He’ll be walking in no time.

Therapy update

Just a quick update, for those who want to know. We saw Patrick’s physical therapist this morning. I was hoping she’d be pleased by what she saw, and she was. This is good news. It means he doesn’t need a brace quite yet.

After a week of twice daily stretches, Patrick is beginning to put his right heel down when he walks. When he’s going slowly and deliberately, he can do it almost every time. When he tries to go fast, it’s back up onto his toe and he starts to trip and veer to the left.

The therapist says this means that it’s almost certainly a matter of tone. For whatever reason, the muscles in that foot are pulled tight. When he thinks and controls it, he’s able to get them to stretch into ways that allow him to walk. When he goes fast, he can’t control it and the foot is pulled up and in.

So for the forseeable future, we’ll keep doing exercises to stretch out the muscles so that he doesn’t have to fight as hard to control them. Kinda like how you stretch out a balloon before you blow into it. The more we stretch, the more flexible the muscles will be.

He still loves walking, though! All day long I wander around putting walking toys in positions so that he can find them and push them across the room. Last night, we went out for a walk around the sidewalks in front of our house. For the first time, I didn’t take a harness to hold on to and he tripped and fell a few times, but most of the time got up and kept walking. Now we’ll just hope he’ll keep trusting me.

And when he does start walking, I’ll probably be sorry that I pushed so hard for this. After all, right now I spend all my time following him around and putting things back that he pulled down or out. Walking just means he’ll be quicker in his path of destruction.

Walking . . . Well, almost

When I started Patrick in heavy duty physical therapy 3 months ago, he was crawling like a wounded soldier.. on his belly with one leg dragging. The goal we set then was for him to be able to stand and walk. Last week, it’s like the little lightbulb flicked on and he’s brave enough to be putting some serious effort into learning to walk.

It started when he found a toddler walker (the medical kind) in the physical therapy office. His therapist pulled it out so he could play with it. Before we knew it, he’d made a successful lap around the hallway in the clinic. When we got home, all he wanted to do was stand and walk around the furniture.

The next day, I weighed down his little cart from Ikea with 10 lbs of flour and away he went.. Walking the cart across the room with me holding onto him by his harness to keep him from falling. Before long, I decided the space was too small, so we went outside. He pushed his little Ikea cart with me holding onto him for balance all the way from my house to the school parking lot behind us.. We sat down and rested after a couple of laps in the parking lot. I thought he’d quit when he saw our house, but no.. he kept going 3 houses the other direction before sitting down to rest, then getting up and trying to take the cart back home. It was at least half an hour of walking and about half a block.

The next night, he saw his cart standing there again, climbed up and pushed it across the room all on his own. The first several tries he leaned too far into it and had to basically run to keep up, but with some practice, he was soon able to control his speed a bit.

He still has a ways to go. His little cart tends to veer to the left and Brian pointed out that he seemed not to be taking as good of steps with his right leg. He walks on his toe and kind of turns his foot inward to take a step.

I pointed this out to his physical therapist yesterday. We talked about some of the possible causes. (Effects of the cardiac arrest, sensory issues, or the scar tissue). I remembered kind of out of the blue being told that the deep wound caused by an IV infiltrating the vein in his ankle when he was a month old could cause problems with walking. (This kind of out-of-the-blue-but-makes-sense memory I sometimes think is the Lord pointing us in the right direction.) In the end, the therapist explained that knowing the cause doesn’t change the treatment.

She did some evaluation exercises and found that he has limited range of motion in the foot, leg and hip. Now I have exercises to do with him at least twice a day to help stretch the muscles. We hope that this will improve things, but if not, she may order a brace for him to wear while he’s learning to walk to help correct the position.

Knowing this as he first starts walking is a HUGE blessing! We can make a minor adjustment now that will help him down the road. This is exactly why I have him in so much therapy right now.. So that we catch these little things that are results of his illness while they’re easy to correct.

This was a good reminder to get this week as I added occupational and music therapy this week and am trying to decide if I proceed with a feeding therapist as well. As if I weren’t already busy. The occupational therapy has made a difference, though, after just one visit. See, we think Patrick might be “sensory seeking”. In other words, he craves big physical input. The therapist has taught me some techniques to use to fulfill that craving, leaving his brain and body free to focus on other things.. Like walking or looking at books or learning new ways to play with toys.

It’s a little thing, but I think I’ve seen improvements. He sat next to me on the bench in church on Sunday and just looked at a book for a good 15 minutes. This is remarkably unwiggly for him.

And so, we keep plugging along.. doing all we can to keep Patrick learning and growing now with every moment he feels well enough to do so. I’d really like him to be walking before his transplant. I think that if he’s not walking when he goes in, that it will take him a long time to get well and strong enough to get back to where he is now. So if we have to walk to the school and back every day to accomplish that goal, that’s what we’ll do. He doesn’t mind the walk, especially now that school’s out so he can walk to the playground and slide on the slide.