Tag Archives: nurses

Transplant Day 31 and a Day of Rest

It seems like Patrick turned a corner last night. I wish I could say things are all better. Today, for him, things are still hard. His fevers are gone. He hurts and hurting is making him not want to take deep breaths. Because of that, even though his lungs seem a bit healthier, he’s still requiring oxygen support when he’s awake. (Not always while he’s asleep, which confirms the idea that he’s in pain.)

Therefore, we have seized upon this Sunday as a day of rest.

Of course, it didn’t start out in a very restful note. The fire alarm went off here in the hospital this morning at 5. I wish I could say that’s a small thing, but it’s not. Strobe lights flash in all the halls. They shut all the doors. And this recorded voice repeats, “There is an emergency in the hospital” over and over again. I wish I could say this is a rare thing, but it does go off somewhat regularly. The difference today is that it didn’t stop. After about an hour, they did finally figure out how to shut the voice off. “Mostly.” But at 7 the strobes were still flashing and the doors were still closed and because that somehow affects the security doors in the pediatric units, security was there.

This was enough to get Patrick good and awake for a little bit last night. Not the end of the world.. right before the alarm he was awake needing pain medication anyway. I was really grateful for his nurse last night who, instead of offering sympathetic words, got silly and made Patrick laugh with silly antics and a pillow fight at 5:30 a.m. I learned a lot from that as I saw how much better Patrick felt laughing.

Once Patrick was feeling a bit better, I decided not to force the idea of sleep. I turned on a Blues Clues and told him I was still tired but he could watch or sleep so long as he was quiet. (Last night, because he was hurting, Patrick opted to sleep in his bed alone with me asleep in the recliner, which almost stays reclined, next to him holding his hand.) I went back to sleep and so did he.

Then, about 7 a.m. Brian appeared cuz I guess he’d been awake, too. We did an early morning shift change and I headed off to get ready for church. Since Brian flies home in a few days and it will be a while before I have the chance to attend in person again, we decided that today was a good day for it.

I had the chance to visit with some of the Ronald McDonald House staff while I was waiting for it to be time to go. One of them had been to the temple open house when they built the temple here and we had a good talk about temples and why they are important to us.

I only stayed for sacrament meeting. It was good to be able to sing hymns with a congregation. I met the bishop and the newly called compassionate service leader who went through her own big, long, scary illness and hospitalization a year ago and knew all the right questions to ask.

Then I came back to the hospital where I found that Brian had been trying to help Patrick get up and move around the room, but it hadn’t been going easy. Patrick hurt and getting up just made him need more oxygen. I found him sitting in the recliner and we played playdough together for a little bit.

Then, the men from the ward (congregation) came with the sacrament for Brian and Patrick. Today a 12-year-old deacon came along and Patrick was excited to make him play playdough, too.

After they left, Patrick was looking beyond tired.. so we decided it was time for a nap. Patrick tried to avoid it. First, he stood an extra long time leaning against my shoulder. We discovered that daddy blowing zerbets on his back made Patrick’s heart rate go down and his oxygenation go up. Then, he opted to walk to the mailbox on the playroom. But once we got there without oxygen on, he was tired and I carried him back and put him to bed.

He slept 4 hours. He is only awake now because he needed his diaper changed. But his monitors reveal that the sleep has helped him to feel better.

So it’s been a very quiet Sunday, and a much needed chance to rest. I keep reminding myself that, though much smaller than transplant, yesterday’s procedure was a surgery and it will take a few days for the pain to go away again.

People often comment or ask how it is that we stay hopeful and positive during these hard times. Patrick’s attitude helps a lot. So does the support of the staff here and all of our friends and family.

Today at church one of the hymns reminded me of another way, too, that we are getting through this. Here are the words I sang today that brought a tear to my eye and some comfort to my heart.

I believe in Christ; he stands supreme!
From him I’ll gain my fondest dream;
And while I strive through grief and pain,
His voice is heard: “Ye shall obtain.”
I believe in Christ; so come what may,
With him I’ll stand in that great day
When on this earth he comes again
To rule among the sons of men.

I’ve spent the evening trying to find a good Christmas Advent for Patrick. In years past, I’ve done an activity a day calendar with baking and outings. But many of my activities don’t fit right now and I don’t feel we can plan ahead enough. So I’m looking instead at a symbol of Christ/craft a day idea like The Truth in the Tinsel.  Just gotta figure out if I have the resources to pull it off here.

Because today I was reminded that it is Christ’s atonement that carries us through this. He took upon Him all our pains, both physical and emotional.. not just the pain of sin, but our grief and other sorrows, too. His resurrection means Patrick will one day have a perfect body, free of all this illness and pain. Better than a transplant. Much better. He is the Prince of Peace.

Transplant Day 29 and some gut rest

Well last night was frustrating. The nursing staff was spread thin because of the holiday and it took a lot longer than usual for them to respond to the non-critical things. From 10-11 p.m. one of Patrick’s antibiotics ended and the pump alarm rang and there was no one to shut it off. I silenced it for a while, but Patrick insisted that it was the nurse’s job and my job was just to cuddle and talk to him. How can you argue with that?

Unfortunately, the nurses were trying not to bother him while he slept, so every time Patrick woke, they’d try to come in and do vitals. Problem is, that mean they were in the room half an hour each of those times and we were awake at midnight and 5 and 5:30. (Not complaining about nursing… just stating trouble with sleep that comes with not doing well.) Then, at 6 Patrick’s nurse came to deliver the news that the resident didn’t want to come drain his gut again “unless he’s really uncomfortable.” Well – 10 minutes later, Patrick woke up crying. He said “bucket” and, before I could react, he threw up all over everything.

Yes – uncomfortable. Apparently, with nothing moving out of his gut and feeds still moving in, Patrick’s gut and belly had finally had enough.

So we got him up and changed the bed and gave him a bath and turned on some Blues Clues. And we waited for the doctors to come for rounds.

Rounds were actually kind of a relief today. They talked about different causes for this new problem and tests that could look for those problems. They aren’t thinking rejection at this point.. perhaps some inflammation or something called an ileus where the gut just temporarily stops moving or a mechanical issue with the muscle wall around Patrick’s stoma or a type of irritation called pneumatosis.

Then, Dr. Mercer came into the room to try out draining Patrick’s belly himself. When he saw how little a catheter needed to go in to immediately drain, he was actually really relieved. He said that ruled out a lot of possible problems. It also eliminated the perceived huge risk of draining. He showed Brian then and there and wrote orders that the nursing staff or parents could do that as often as needed.

They also stopped feeds, restarted TPN, put Patrick’s g-tube to suction so he wouldn’t have to throw up any more, switched as many medication as possible to their IV forms, and ordered some tests. The rest of the morning was very busy. Patrick had an x-ray of his abdomen and then later a CT scan to look specifically for pneumatosis or any other narrowings or problems. I guess we did a good job selling the idea of how fun a CT can be because Patrick had already been asking if he’d get to go in the “donut” again. We got comments from the radiology staff and nurse about how comfortable he was doing something that terrifies most other children.

Patrick and daddy in a wheelchair headed to CT

Patrick and daddy in a wheelchair headed to CT

Later today, they’ll come do an ileoscopy (scope through the stoma) and biopsy again.

Hopefully, one of these tests will show us what is going on. It is possible that Patrick’s belly just needs to rest and reset after all of the trauma of last week.

Regardless, with symptoms alleviated, the rest of yesterday was a good day. Without pain, Patrick was feeling up to sitting up and playing more. (In fact, he was more than a little afraid of his bed after all the scary things that had happened there this past few days, so he was doing all he could to get me to let him be in other places.) This means that his lungs have opened up and he was able to wean off of oxygen. His lungs are still recovering and they are trying to get the fluid all the way out of them and the lungs totally reinflating. His oxygen saturation is a little bit low and he sets off alarms when he sleeps, but he quickly rebounds and no one comes running at this point.

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Having family here definitely lifted his spirits, too. He and I were both worn out and frustrated and mad yesterday. It would have been a hard day had just the two of us been trying to be together. But Patrick’s family made him feel like a million bucks. Really, seeing the pride in his eyes when I came back from doing laundry (it was a big laundry day) at having his uncle all to himself was impressive. And seeing him happy and laughing as he played with his cousins was a big treat, too. This little boy needs people and fun.

Brian went with Mark’s family to the zoo in the afternoon and Patrick and I took a much needed nap and some quiet individual play time.. But then they came back and we played in the playroom and went out to a break room to eat dinner.. and then back into the room for another priesthood blessing. (Patrick asked if Mark could help daddy give him one.) Then they gave him some gifts, including a ball that was then used to play monkey in the middle. He laughed and laughed.

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When they left, I let him stay up and watch some of his new Dora DVD while we finished up his care and I got ready for bed.

I’m finishing this blog post up in the morning. Patrick has slept soundly all night. X-ray snuck in at 5:30. (Patrick’s nurse is fairly mad they did because she guards to be sure they don’t wake patients who don’t need it.) Patrick was really upset about it, but then tucked up his arms under my side and went back to sleep. A little later they came to draw labs, saw his bed needed cleaned up, and the same happened.

After such a long and hard week, it is so good to see him comfortable and sleeping peacefully. Hoping that goes a long way towards a better day today.

Patrick’s days are busy right now. He starts the day with labs at 5:30 and a chest x-ray at the latest moment that the nurses will allow to get him sleep but still get the results on time for rounds. He has meds at 7 and at 9, and because he doesn’t feel well, that means running zofram for nausea first. He has 2 antibiotics each given 3 times a day with a benadryl pretreatment before. He has respiratory therapy 3 times a day. He has vitals every 6 hours. And diapers. And stoma care. And a bath. And pain management. And getting up to walk. And trying not to go stir crazy.

It’s been 4 weeks since transplant. One thing we know from this journey.. So much can change in a day, or week, or month. We really appreciate all of the ongoing support and love that you offer Patrick, near or far.

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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.

Getting a line in and back on the transplant list

Sorry to have kept you waiting for updates. As you’ll see from this post, it’s been a crazy few days.

First of all, if you haven’t heard word any other way, the doctors in Nebraska were able to get a new central line into the Superior Vena Cava and Patrick is back on the transplant list. I mean to post updates but didn’t expect them to order bed rest and minimal activity for the next days after the procedure and, well, accomplishing that is kind of a full time job where Patrick is concerned.

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We checked in to pre-op at 5:30 a.m. which is 4:30 a.m. Mountain Time and we were all incredibly sleepy. Pre-op was the usual flurry of activity as we met anesthesiologists and got fluids ordered and labs drawn. (They had an amazing phlebotemist who managed to draw blood without Patrick even crying and on her first attempt.) We met the OR nurse whom Patrick loved so much he said she was “Kinda Jo”, in other words, put him at ease like his favorite child life specialist. He collected teddy bears and various and sundry medical equipment to use on the bears and charmed everyone in sight.

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Loving his warm blankets in pre-op

Then we got the meet the doctor and go over the plan.

The procedure it took to get us there absolutely terrifies me. I order to get around the blockages, they put a guidewire in through Patrick’s femoral vein and ran it up to his heart where they repositioned the veins in order to reach the right ones and get around the clotting and scarring. At least, that’s what I understood. He followed along with x-ray and ultrasound the entire way to make sure things went where they should.

What I really gathered from the description of the procedure is that it was insanely dangerous. As the interventional radiologist was going over the risks with us, I just kind of had to shut off the part of my brain that could process what those risks might mean and remind myself that without it, he had no long-term chance of survival. Instead, I honed in on the fact that he sounded confident in what he was doing and that, well, it just felt right. I couldn’t help but think that THIS was the reason we’d been impressed to transfer Patrick’s care to the University of Nebraska. Because they had doctors who had developed this technique to save access and save lives.

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Knowing how difficult Patrick’s access can be, we all kind of hunkered down expecting them to need hours. So, when we looked up at the status board after just a couple of hours and see that they were closing. Then, sure enough, there was the doctor telling us that everything had gone well and that he had a new line in place.

As we understand it, this is a rare direct superior vena cava line, entering the vein directly after going through soft tissue. (Patrick’s GI is questioning this, so I’m getting a copy of the procedure notes so I can go back over what was done and we can understand it.)

He went ahead and put in another double lumen line for us. Because they stock a different brand, the line they had was rather large, a 9 french, but that could kind of be a good thing. Should be less prone to clotting problems.

He also us that this line is to, under no circumstances, be taken out without his approval. If Patrick gets and infection, if the line breaks, if it clots, whatever… the team at the University of Nebraska needs to get involved. Maybe they will teach the team here how to keep the site open. Or, maybe they will fly us back out again. Whatever happens, they do not want to have to attempt to repeat this procedure. We were told that, next to transplant, this is one of the riskier and more specialized things that they do at their hospital.

Whew!

And by the end of the day, Patrick was back active on the transplant list.

The rest of the day was kind of crazy. Because of the risks of bleeding from that femoral access, Patrick was ordered to 3 hours of total bed rest with that leg completely immobilized. Knowing our child, we quickly agreed to request sedation for that.

At first, the sedation made things a little easier as we scrambled to attached fluids to the new line to keep it open. We also called to ask that his old line be removed while he was sedated (they’d left it in thinking it was still needed, but decided we didn’t need that to be done at home.)… and then scrambling to round up information about the new, different brand of line and repair kits, etc.

Patrick started to wake up just a little and was, well, cuddly. That’s normal for him, but normally I’m also allowed to hold him. This time, he had to stay in bed. So he settled for holding onto my head. For half an hour, he held my head as tightly as he possibly could. (Meanwhile, the doctor came back to pull the old line.)

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Patrick making his teddy bear play tablet while on forced, sedated bed rest

About an hour in, the nurse decided to stop giving him sedation and just let what was in his system and me distract him. So, we played games on the tablet and we checked the blood pressure of the teddy bear and tried out a Nintendo DS. Meanwhile, Brian went back to the Ronald McDonald House to bring back TPN and to try to meet our delivery of medical supplies.

2 hours in, the doctor said that Patrick could sit up in bed and make sure his leg was ok with the extra movement. The post-anesthesia nurse was kind of tired of him tying up the space in PACU I think (they could only keep giving him sedation there) and so she discharged us to their extended care unit.

The extended care nurse acted as though she hadn’t received report from the PACU nurse, though. When we got there, she tried to insist that Patrick needed to stay lying still in bed for another hour because that’s what the orders in the computer said. And so, well, yes, I went a little angry mama bear on her and told her that I would not have agreed to come to her unit had those been the instructions.

And then we spent the next half an hour trying to keep Patrick still sitting up in bed, doing crafts, sipping water, and not chewing on or removing the COMPLETELY inappropriate non-pediatric pulse oximeter on his finger.

And then, I don’t know who talked to her, but the nurse came back in and cheerfully told us we could get Patrick dressed and he could be discharged. Like the nurse who I’d gone crazy on didn’t even exist.

Anyway, we were grateful for the dismissal as we had managed to squeeze in an appointment with one of the transplant surgeons at 1 p.m. and 1 p.m. is when Patrick was supposed to be cleared after 3 hours’ bed rest.

So, we hurried over to the Intestinal Rehab Clinic and checked in for our visit and a little while later, Dr. Langnas joined us. We explained to him our concerns about whether or not waiting for a combined liver/intestine transplant might be increasing Patrick’s wait time. He listened to our concerns and then explained the benefits that he sees for Patrick in the liver listing. Then he promised us a future date where, if Patrick has not received a transplant, he will take our concerns back to the transplant review board for reconsideration.

The rest of the day we spent trying to help keep Patrick down. We went back to the Ronald McDonald house again for a little back and let Patrick play in the playroom. Then, in the interest of some forced holding still, took a drive instead. Patrick heard us mention the temple as a possible destination and voted for that. So, with our bruised and bandaged and druggy little boy, we went and visited the Mormon Trail Center and Winter Quarters Temple grounds. Then came back on time for a yummy lasagna dinner courtesy some generous Ronny House graduates, then went to bed early and exhausted.

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Playing pioneer at the Mormon Trail Center

After tucking Patrick into bed, it hit me just how serious what he’d been through that day and week really was. Another case of him surviving against the odds, an unquestionable miracle. And a VERY close call. I shed a few tears of fear and relief that night, said a prayer of gratitude, and went to bed.

The devil you know vs. the devil you don’t

Patrick and I had the most frustrating of mornings yesterday. Got up as usual and started out happy enough, but then it was time to connect his 8 a.m. antibiotic. I went to withdraw the ethanol lock out of his line and it wouldn’t come. Tried to flush. Wouldn’t budge.

So I grabbed a dose of Cathflo (the super declotting agent for central lines that I am learning I am VERY lucky to be allowed to administer by myself at home.) Worked it into the line, which took me almost half an hour. I left it in for half an hour.. drew back and the line drew back beautifully.

Tried to flush, and nothing. Let go, and the syringe filled with blood.

Not good. I tried several more times and just got the same result. The antibiotic was due. The TPN was running. The two can’t go through the same tube at the same time. And I was stuck.

So I called the hospital and asked for the GI on call, but they wouldn’t give them to me because it was almost 9 a.m. and the GI clinic opened at 9. So I called Patrick’s nurse, and she was stumped. She called the department at the hospital that specialized in central line repairs, and they were stumped.

Finally, Dr. Jackson’s nurse got word I was calling and called me back. And she was stumped.

It really seemed like the blood was flowing backwards in the line.. out instead of in. Which either meant a slipped placement.. or a line broken under the skin.

Both line killers.

So – while they did their research, I did the only thing I could think. I said a prayer. I put one more dose of TPA in the line. I forwarded our home number to my cell phone. Then, I packed Patrick up and we went to mommy-and-me exercise class. Makes sense, right? We needed some normal, and some distraction. And it was his last guaranteed chance to go to class before school.

Halfway through exercise class, as I was sweating and huffing and puffing… in the middle of the popcorn song where we jump all around the room pretending to be popcorn… my phone rang.

It was Dr. Jackson’s nurse telling me that they’d arranged an admission to the Rapid Treatment Unit. The plan was to evaluate the problem, do an x-ray if possible, have the IV team look at things. And then, she said, it didn’t look good.

I hung up and stayed till the end of exercise class. Why not?

Then we came home, I showered, and I packed a suitcase to see us through a one day hospital stay and a likely surgery.

We rushed up the hospital, lugged our way into the RTU, got vitals, met our nurse…

And then tested the line.

And the 2nd dose of TPA had fixed the problem. Best bet? That the clot was working like a stopper that allowed blood to flow in, but not to flush. Kind of the opposite of usual line function. And that it was blood trapped in the line that was flowing back after attempts to flush… Not the line bleeding as it appeared.

We called it a nurse visit. The doctor came to “not” consult with me, so we wouldn’t be billed for the service. He’s seen us struggle to keep this malfunctioning line going for the past 15 months.

I asked him if he’d give up and replace it yet. Knowing the risks of lost access for Patrick.

He shrugged and told me, “It’s the devil you know versus the devil you don’t.”

How often that is true with Short Gut. How often do we weigh the choice between the familiar but uncomfortable present situation and the risk of an uncertain outcome?

The choice about transplant is certainly that kind of a thing.

It takes a lot of faith and prayer and hope and stepping into the darkness to move along this journey.

And a lot of mornings derailed by emergency hospital admissions that leave dirty dishes and dirty laundry and a mountain of other unfinished tasks while we wrestle with uglier demons.

Brian and I have been doing a lot of pondering and praying to know what is the best choice about this troublesome line.

If you’re praying for us, that would be a good thing to pray for. For us to know whether to keep fighting with this line or take the risk of swapping it out in the hopes of fewer infections and clots and frustrating mornings.

Adoption memories

We had Patrick’s g-tube study done. (Great results! Nothing wrong. Just a slightly upward angle that makes positioning the tube tricky.) As part of the history, they asked when the gastrostomy (g-tube hole) was created and I realized last night that I could have answered “exactly two years ago.”

Why do I remember that? Well, because exactly two years ago yesterday, the court officially named us as Patrick’s legal guardians. It was the best birthday present I’ve ever gotten.

A friend of mine has been doing something special this month on her blog. Because it’s national adoption awareness month, she’s been posting daily adoption related posts. She invited me to be a guest blogger and, by coincidence, will be running my post today… a very significant 2 year adoption anniversary for us.

So, I thought I’d share with you what I wrote for her. Here goes:

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Ours is not a typical adoption story, because Patrick is not a typical little boy. His life was meant to be something different, something miraculous, and so it required that it start in a very different and miraculous way.

But my part of the story starts the way a lot of others do. We wanted to have children. When that didn’t happen easily, we involved doctors. For years, we went through the ups and downs of charting and temperature taking, tests and medications. Finally, after several years and a minor surgery, our doctor sat us down for “the talk.” He explained that there were several causes of my infertility. The cards were, essentially, stacked against us. He still felt it very possible that we could have children, but only with major medical intervention. We had some big choices to make.

We talked about it and we prayed about it. And then, that Sunday, as we sat in church, we received a clear answer that it was time for us to stop medical treatments. Our child would come to us through adoption.

With a path finally before us, we moved forward quickly. I’ve never felt so driven to do anything before in my life. In under a month, we completed the application process, training classes, and were mostly done with our home study.

During our home visit, we had a conversation with our case worker that would play a major part in bringing Patrick into our family. She’d looked at our “preferences checklist” and noted that we seemed more open than most to adopting a child with special needs. We explained that we felt that adoption was a faith process. We believe that Heavenly Father puts families together. We knew we’d never turn away a child born to us with medical problems. So, if God was in charge of adoptions, too, then why would we limit His options? We knew Heavenly Father would help us find our child and that, if the child really belonged in our family, race and health wouldn’t stand in the way.

We decided to adopt in June. Our application was approved in September and we hunkered down for a nice long wait. We figured two years, at the least, was the average we’d heard. And still, by the end of October it felt like far too long. My heart ached for a child it knew was missing.

Then, on a very snowy morning the first week of November, my phone rang. It was my case worker. She started out by saying, “There was a little boy born on Halloween in Michigan.” My heart skipped a beat. I grabbed a pen and a piece of paper and started scribbling notes. She told me he was Korean. And then, she went on to tell me that he’d had a birth defect. His intestines had developed on the outside of his abdomen. The doctors were saying he had a life expectancy of 1 to 2 years. They needed to find an adoptive home quickly because doctors wanted to discharge him from the hospital. All she could tell me about his family that his birth mother wanted him to be able to go to the temple to be sealed to a family.

She said she’d send an e-mail with more information and a picture. She encouraged me to talk to Brian and decide if we’d like to be among those families considered to adopt this little boy, and then to call her and let her know.

As soon as I gathered myself, I called Brian. But he wasn’t at his desk. Meanwhile, two e-mails arrived. One was a short paragraph from the baby’s caseworker in Michigan explaining his medical needs and the unconventional and hurried search for parents. In the other were two photographs of a sweet little Korean boy with great big eyes and an IV in his head.

Since Brian wasn’t at his desk, I called the insurance company to find out if this we even had coverage to pay for this kind of medical problem.

That’s how Brian first found out about the offer. While I was on hold with the insurance company, he called back on my cell phone, so he heard me finish the conversation about “preexisting conditions” and “adoption”.

I gave Brian the information and, after a quick moment of thought, he said he’d come right home.

We had a prayer together, then went to the temple – the perfect setting to make decisions about life and death and eternity.

I knew that families are eternal. I knew that mortality is not the end of life. And yet, I was filled with grief. It was as if I’d just been told I was carrying a child with a terminal illness, but he wasn’t even mine yet. And I was scared. I didn’t know if I was ready to leave the life I knew then.. abandon it all, and become mom to a child who would need so much help, and who had such an uncertain future.

Still, when Brian turned to me and said, “I think we should pursue this,” my heart leapt with joy.

So, we called our caseworker and gave her a list of questions we had. And then we went to visit our parents. We felt we should tell them about the offer, because we knew that whatever happened, we were never going to be the same. And we both wanted father’s blessings. We showed them the little boy with the angel eyes and explained that we didn’t know if he was ours.. But from that moment, all of our families were praying for a little boy whom the e-mail called “Patrick.”

That was Wednesday. Thursday, I sent a copy of our profile. Friday afternoon, as I on my lunch break with Brian, our case worker called my cell phone. The birth family had seen our profile and had chosen us to adopt their baby.

Now, we had a choice to make. Because we’d been selected, we could finally start filling in the gaps in the medical information we were getting. And boy, where there gaps! We called the baby’s caseworker, who referred us to the hospital social worker. Finally, we decided we needed to talk to doctors, and we needed to do it face to face.

I called my mom and told her to take my credit card and buy airplane tickets. Then, I went back to work, explained what had happened, and asked for a leave of absence. After that, we went to the adoption agency where we signed pre-placement paperwork required for us see the baby in the hospital.

Friday night, we tried to get ready. We booked a long-term stay hotel room. We faxed legal documents to Michigan. We make a shopping list of nursery items. And we tried to pack.

I packed my bags that night not knowing what exactly I was packing for. We still didn’t know enough to say if we could take care of this baby. We didn’t know if or when he’d be discharged. We didn’t know how long it would take before we’d be given permission to leave the state again.

And yet, Saturday morning as I sat on a plane to Detroit, 10 rows ahead of my husband, I felt a quiet, happy calm. If nothing else, I knew it would be ok.

We met Patrick, his family, and his doctor Saturday night. It wasn’t what we expected. Due to unforeseen problems, things were tense at the hospital when we arrived. We felt like we knew nothing at all about his condition when we heard the doctor’s account. His case was much more severe than we’d understood, but the immediate prognosis was better.

At last, they led us to his room. My first impression was of how small he was. He was SO tiny! Just a little ball with wires and tubes attached. Without them, you’d have never guessed there was anything wrong.

They let me hold him while we talked. He felt so small and fragile.

I thought that the moment I met my baby, or the moment I held him, that I’d know he was mine. But that isn’t what happened for me. There were too many questions, still and I’d have to wait for that confirmation.

Sunday, we arranged to spend the day with Patrick. The nurses were so kind to let us change his diapers and help with other aspects of his care. I sat for hours singing him lullabies and watching monitors and letting him sleep.

When we arrived, the nurses warned us that he had a reputation as a very irritable little boy. There was even a sign on his door warning not to wake him. He was famous for screaming hysterically if his sleep was interrupted. But that’s not the baby I met. He was just a sweet, tiny little boy who wanted to be held.

I remember singing to him: “I am a child of God, and he has sent me here. Has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear.” And my voice choked on the words because I knew that right at that moment, Patrick didn’t have that. I couldn’t imagine how any little boy could go through all he’d need to go through alone.

That night, as we looked at pictures from the day, I came across one that showed just his face with a white background. I knew, when I saw that picture, that I loved him.. and I wanted to keep him.

Monday morning, we held a “family conference.” It was a business day so we finally had been able to confirm that there were doctors to take care of him at our hospital at home. Our insurance confirmed that he’d be covered. Brian needed to hop on a plane to go back to work. (He was running a conference that week.) So, knowing we had the resources to provide for his physical needs, we asked Patrick if he’d like to be a part of our family. I swear, he looked up at Brian and smiled.

The case worker rushed to the hospital and by 1, we’d signed paperwork, and I was on my way to the airport with my husband. I was staying behind to start a whole new life.

The next few weeks in Michigan are among the sweetest of my life. With nothing else to do but hold my new baby and learn to care for him, I virtually lived in the NICU. My mom came for a week and shared with me in Patrick’s first feeding, first bath, and first time wearing real clothes. This time was also some of the hardest I’d experienced as I received a trial by fire as a mom of a child with major health problems. Patrick had his second surgery the day Brian flew back to be with us.

Two weeks after we signed papers, on my birthday, the birth parents appeared in court, and we were named as Patrick’s legal guardians. A week later, we had permission to bring him home. At 4 a.m. Thanksgiving day, Patrick and I arrived at Primary Children’s Hospital by air ambulance. He’d spend the next few weeks there as the doctors here got to know him and made arrangements for us to take care of him at home.

Because of his medical needs, the courts granted an early finalization of his adoption and we were able to take Patrick to the temple to be sealed as a forever family in February when he was just 4 months old.

Patrick just turned 2. He is an active, happy toddler who loves cars and music and Elmo. He is a living miracle! Patrick’s birth defect came with a rare complication. As a result, at birth he was missing over 95% of his small intestine. Without intestine, he doesn’t get nutrition by eating. In fact, eating large amounts puts him at risk for dehydration and bowel obstruction. Instead, he is entirely dependent on a form of IV nutrition called TPN. He has a permanent IV tunneled through his chest, into a vein in his chest or neck that runs to his heart.

The TPN leads to complications like infection and liver disease. In his short 2 years of life he has already struggled with both. Patrick’s doctors warned us before we adopted him that we’d become such regulars in the E.R. that we’d be on a first name basis with the staff. We soon found that to be true not just for the E.R. staff, but also the IV team, the infectious disease team, the PICU team, most of the residents, several of the medical students, and the entire gastroenterology department.

At 9 months old, as a result of infection, Patrick’s heart stopped. The fact that he is alive now is nothing short of a miracle. No doctor who hears his story and then meets him can help but confess that he has beaten the odds in countless ways.

Patrick will eventually need an intestinal transplant. He is already running out of places to put new IV’s and each new infection makes him a little more fragile.

Since they don’t do intestinal transplants where we live, we have chosen to have Patrick listed at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Patrick has been on the waiting list since April of 2009. He is status 1A and will have his transplant is soon as a donor match is found.

People try to tell us sometimes what a tremendous thing we did in adopting Patrick. We don’t really feel it’s something we can take credit for. As we told our caseworker when this all started, Heavenly Father puts families together. He knew Patrick needed us. And what’s more, He knew we needed Patrick.

Raising Patrick has taught us more about life than any other experience. We have learned to rely entirely on the Lord. We have learned to live each moment to it’s fullest. We have learned to lean on one another when things are hard and we to trust in hands of friends and strangers when we felt too weak to stand on our own. And we have learned to love like we didn’t know it was possible to love.

Attempting a vacation… Line by line

Since Patrick came into our family, we’ve made several attempts at a vacation… and all in vain. For a while, I superstitiously didn’t even want to say the word, for fear that it would end up with another infection. It seemed that the bigger the plans, the bigger the catastrophe.

But.. several months ago, when Brian’s parents suggested a trip to Yellowstone with his family, we couldn’t resist the chance to make another attempt. We booked a room, cleaned our house, packed our bags. With each step closer, I just kept waiting for the hammer to drop.

On the 5th, Patrick’s line sprung a pinhole sized leak. It wasn’t even visible.. but the line pulled air when I tried to draw back and sprayed when we flushed it. So we ran up to the hospital to have it repaired. All went smoothly, especially for 5 p.m. on a holiday. We even made it to a family dinner, just a little late.

Patrick with line newly repaired modeling some of the sterile gear required.

The next day, just after I connected the TPN to the repaired side of the tubing, Patrick stepped on the tubing. The glue used to repair a central line takes 3 days to fully cure, and the tug from stepping on it was just enough to undo the repair. It set back my packing several hours, but we ran up to the hospital and got the repair done.  We were still going to make it, darn it!

I stayed up late packing, then the next morning got up at 7 to drive Brian to work. All day long, I worked to get ready and was stunned to find myself actually loading up the car.

Patrick had an appointment with his GI in the afternoon. The plan was we’d go to the appointment, then pick Brian up from his office, and head north to Yellowstone. I was grinning ear to ear as I left the appointment, knowing we were on the road at last. I was so anxious to go that I even did Patrick’s TPN tubing change in the back seat as Brian drove so we’d get out of town before rush hour.

An hour and a half north of Salt Lake we stopped at a rest stop outside of Malad. Patrick needed a diaper change. As I was taking him out of his carseat, his tubing caught on the buckles. The repair came apart, again.

We had to decide what to do next. It was an hour and a half back to Primary Children’s. Or, it was a little more than that to the hospital in Idaho Falls. I’m not sure what possessed us, but we decided we didn’t want to turn back. We’d gone to great lengths to get a spare repair kit to bring with us, just in case. Surely the repair could be done at another hospital.

So, we made the quick but nervous drive to the hospital, arriving around 8 p.m. Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center is one of the best hospitals in Idaho. But it is an adult hospital. Which meant an adult waiting room with scary things like chest pains and seizures, broken bones and more. They were kind and willing to help, but got slammed with these difficult cases all at once, so they asked if we’d mind waiting in the waiting room.

Around 10, they finally invited us back to a room. The doctor came in and we tried to explain what was wrong. He seemed a bit stumped about what we were trying to explain about one lumen of a double lumen line being broken. Finally, Brian spoke up and said, “We have a repair kit and know how to do the repair, but we need some supplies and a sterile environment.. and maybe some help.” The doctor agreed to let us do the repair.

The nurses did their best to gather up the extra supplies that we needed. they were a bit different than what I’d seen used, but I knew how to use them. They also offered a nurse to be my assistant as we worked.

The process of repairing a broken line is a simple one, but must be done just right. First, the people doing the work puts on full sterile gear, including mask, gown, and cap. The line is clamped off so it won’t bleed. Then, the line is sterilized. Using sterile scissors, the broken part of the line is cut off. This cut must be perfectly straight. The repair piece is then connected. It has a tiny metal tube inside you slide into the remaining original line. You test to make sure it flushes and draws without leaking, glue the two pieces together, cover the repair with a protective plastic sleeve, then fill that sleeve with a sterile glue to seal the work. It’s delicate, sterile work.. but not really complicated.

Or so I thought.

It was so strange to be gowning up to do this. I was nervous, but pretty confident. I’d seen this done at least a dozen times.. and twice already this week.

Once I started, though, I got scared. Because the line had been repaired (and trimmed) twice in the week already, it was too short to repair just one side. A double lumen line is made of two tubes encased in one that branch out a couple of inches past the insertion point. I had to cut the line where the two tubes were still one.. meaning we had to shut off the TPN for at least 4 hours from when I finished the repair. That added some pressure.

Repairing this section is harder, too, as there are two little metal tubes to fit into the two sides of the double lumen tube. The work was more delicate and the fit was more essential.

As I worked, I felt like a bumbling idiot. I was guiding the repair. The nurse assisting me had never worked on a line repair before, so she had to follow my instructions. Brian was talking me through it, but had to work to keep Patrick restrained. My first cut was a little crooked and leaked when flushed. The second cut fit. I slid the sleeve on and tried to fill it with glue, only to discover that the glue was slippery! I’d seen nurses struggle with this before, but never imagined that that was the problem. I’d insert the needle into the sleeve to fill it with glue and it would slip out of place. I probably spent 10 minutes or more trying to put the glue in.

Finally, it was done. We tested it, dressed it, taped it down as securly as possible, filled the line with heparin so it wouldn’t clot… And the reality sunk in.

My repair seemed really sloppy and if I’d screwed up, we were hundreds of miles from home or anywhere that knew how to fix my mistake. And Patrick’s TPN was shut off… couldn’t be restored until the line was fixed and the glue dried for at least 4 hours!

I kept my calmest face on as they did a quick discharge… then went to the car, buckled Patrick in, gave him a lollipop to keep his blood sugar up.. then sat down and cried as the impact of what I’d just done sank in.

We drove to Rexburg, arriving around midnight. Brian checked us in and we moved the luggage. Patrick loved the hotel room… a suite, so we’d have a fridge for the TPN. He stayed up playing till about 1, when I finally succeeded in singing him to sleep. Then I said some very urgent prayers for help that my feeble attempt would be good enough, and that I would regain a sense of peace and confidence. Then I fell asleep, too.

I dreamed all night of broken lines and taking lifeflight to Utah because I’d made a mistake. At 2:30 it was supposed to be safe to use the line again. I got up flushed it slowly… no leaks. Then I started the TPN. I sat up for the next half hour and checked again.. still no leaks.

In the morning, we all slept in.. exhausted. I’ve never been so grateful for room darkening curtains in my life! Patrick had slept soundly… no whimpering like he does when TPN isn’t running. I pretty well expected to find him soaked in leaked TPN when I got him up, but the dressing was still dry.

The repair held well and is still holding.

We ate breakfast, packed our bags, and got on the road again. I can’t describe the feeling of relief and joy as I watched a very happy, healthy Patrick walking along behind the luggage cart on the way out of the hotel.

We arrived in West Yellowstone early that afternoon. We’d made it!

I’m afraid the stories from the rest of our trip will have to wait for me to write them down in the morning. Needless to say, it was a wonderful week! I am so grateful to a Heavenly Father who understands the importance of small things like finally taking a family vacation and hears and answers prayers to the effect… who helps and guides and sends the Comforter when needed… Who helps to qualify a sometimes awkward, impulsive and anxious mother, with the help of a calm and constant father, to do unimaginable but necessary things – all for the good of her family and child.

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