Tag Archives: Ronald McDonald House

Transplant Day 132 and a follow-up visit in Nebraska

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh well..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So overall.. still good news.

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

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

Transplant Day 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 82 and golden tickets

 

Daddy is back!! Brian got back into town Saturday evening. Patrick couldn’t have been happier. And we’ve stayed busy all weekend.

Mostly, we’ve been busy cooking. If December is the most charitable month that they see at the Ronald McDonald House, January is its leanest. This week only had a couple of dinner groups scheduled. But there are a lot of donated turkeys and hams left over from the Christmas season. So last week, after having pretty good success last week making a ham and having the rest of the house help make side dishes, they offered us a turkey.

Sunday, we Brian helped get a turkey in the oven, and let’s be honest, did more than me watching it to make sure it came out ok. And then yesterday, we went shopping and got ingredients for Brian to cook pasta for the whole house, too. I’m wondering if he’s frustrated with having cooked large meals for large groups of people his first two nights here.

But the food was really AMAZING. And right now, there are only a handful of families living in the house who don’t have kids at the hospital and so if someone is going to be cooking, it is going to be us. It feels good to know we’re helping other people with something that we knew makes such a big difference. And we like the company for dinner, too.

Grocery shopping was just one of our adventures yesterday, though. Because yesterday was a holiday, Brian suggested that we treat it like one. So we went to the zoo. It has been beautiful here the past few days. 50 degrees or better. And so the zoo, of course, was crowded on a day off of school. However, it also meant that there were a lot of animals outside which made for a fun and different zoo experience. We got to see bears and rhinos, which have been inside on our last few trips to the zoo. And since we have been going often, we didn’t feel like we were missing out on some of the more crowded indoor exhibits.

And then, since going to the zoo wore him out, Patrick came back and even willingly took a nap.

Today Brian had to work again. He goes to the computer room down the hall where he can video conference and code. We meet for lunch and then he’s off at dinner time.

Meanwhile, Patrick and I went to feeding therapy this morning. Today, we took some lunch meat ham and the goal was to get Patrick to swallow some of it. It actually worked and Patrick is really excited about wrapping cheese in ham now. He swallowed some ham sandwich, too.

Then, we went grocery shopping. Patrick’s been anxious to go back to the store with kid sized shopping carts. So we went today to pick up some of his staples and to let him spend his tooth fairy money.

That’s right, Patrick lost his second tooth this week. I have been worried. It was loose, but an adult tooth had grown in behind and it still wasn’t coming out. Well, he’s fallen in love with his electric toothbrush and brushing his teeth. And a couple of nights ago, he brushed that loose tooth right out. It took some hunting and sweeping to find the tooth, but we did find it. And it only took a little convincing to persuade him that brushing his teeth wouldn’t knock them all out.

The other new thing this past few days is that there is another kindergarten age girl in the house right now. Her mom has been trying her best to keep her caught up with school work. We decided to try to combine forces. So while we wait for dinner each night, I bring down some of our mommy school things and they study together. They both are staying and working longer this way.

In other news, Patrick’s ostomy incision finally healed enough to not need to pack it with gauze anymore. Just cleaning it and covering it with a bandaid. And that means he can shower. He’s not too excited, but I feel like he gets so much cleaner that way than sponge baths.

Tonight is the first we’ve tried going without a nap since Daddy got into town and I’m questioning my choice. Patrick has been very grumpy. But it’s a tricky tradeoff between sleeping at night and being nice during the day. And I haven’t found a balance that makes him feel good enough to ignore the side effects of his medications. He’s either too sleepy or not sleepy enough and either way he is usually either angry or bouncing off the walls.

I keep thinking that we are going to finally get a routine and get past this. Sometimes I think that we just need to hang on and get home and then things will get better.

But in church this week, they said something that really struck a chord and I’m trying to put it into practice. The speaker reminded me that always waiting for something next to be happy doesn’t usually result in being happy. It just means always waiting. As Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught:

So many people today are waiting for their own golden ticket—the ticket that they believe holds the key to the happiness they have always dreamed about. . .

There is nothing wrong with righteous yearnings—we hope and seek after things that are “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.”4 The problem comes when we put our happiness on hold as we wait for some future event—our golden ticket—to appear. . .

The happiest people I know are not those who find their golden ticket; they are those who, while in pursuit of worthy goals, discover and treasure the beauty and sweetness of the everyday moments. They are the ones who, thread by daily thread, weave a tapestry of gratitude and wonder throughout their lives. These are they who are truly happy.

Read the full text of this amazing talk here.

So today, when I feel homesick, I’m checking myself and trying to be grateful and productive and happy in the moment I have been given.

Transplant Day 75 and eating

If I had to pick a word to describe the current focus of our days it would be: food. Patrick has always enjoyed food, but also seemed to know that it didn’t sit right with him to eat much, and so he always reigned himself in pretty well. But now that he has his “new belly,” Patrick has a renewed and kind of voracious interest in food.

Yesterday, we started our outpatient time with morning appointments. We got up early to be ready for Patrick’s morning nurse visit and blood draw. (We do this twice a week to check his nutrition and medication levels.) This is a pretty big feat right now. Instead of being able to put Patrick in a tub while I get things ready, right now he needs a sponge bath and the dressing on his ostomy incision changed.

We had an 11 a.m. appointment with an occupational therapist who also does feeding therapy. I needed to call to confirm that the plan really was to see her, because of some confusion as we went out the door on Friday.. and when that call was done, our time was pretty short. Patrick likes to start his day by sitting down and chewing up a couple of slices of ham. He eats for about an hour. And we didn’t have an hour.

So I tried to sweeten the deal. I promised him we could eat out. I’d take him to McDonalds for pancakes. (Note: this was previously one of our favorite mommy/son dates.) Nope. Patrick threw what I think was the first all-out tantrum I’ve ever seen from him. He wanted his ham.

Once he calmed down, we went to McDonald’s anyway. I talked them into giving me some of the ham from the McMuffin sandwich in place of the sausage in the Big Breakfast. He had both ham and pancakes, plus some powerade (which was a splurge).. and he forgave me.

The appointment was interesting. He was all over the place which made it kind of hard to work with him. She did some testing of his fine motor and attention skills, then we talked about food. She explained that she uses a sensory program designed to help kids become brave enough to touch, taste, smell and otherwise explore food. I told her we might already be past that. But we decided to give it a try to see if it would help. And we set up bi-weekly appointments for the next month. (This is terrifying to me. It will burn through Patrick’s therapy visits in no time at all.)

Anyway – once the appoint was done, we came back to the Ronald McDonald House for lunch. This time, soup. Chicken broth is one of Patrick’s biggest go-to foods. He eats at least a cup a day. And he dips at least 4 rolls of slices of bread in it while he eats it. This also can take up to an hour.

Patrick happily came back to the room to play for a little bit in the afternoon, giving me time to get a few phone calls made. (Working on setting up some respite care that we have qualified for once we get home… I’m going to need to hire someone to do this and finding the right person seems like a very intimidating idea. But we’ll get there.)

Then, it was time for school. Patrick did great this time! Would you believe that his teacher can tell him specific letters to write and, although sloppy, Patrick is making the right shapes for them? They also worked on reading a book and some counting and sorting activities. I think it was our best school day here yet.

After school, we had snack time. Thinking that Patrick needs to go back a little bit in food demands and start where babies start learning to eat, I’ve been trying out different big-kid flavored purees. I introduced him to guacamole and he actually really loved it, so we have some for snack every day. And when we ran out and he still wanted to eat, I grabbed the next in the “new foods” category and pulled out a jar of SoyNut butter.

Patrick’s allergic to peanuts and therefore peanut butter, but insisted this week that all kids need peanut butter. So when we found a good allergy-safe department at a grocery store this week I picked up a jar of low-sugar soynut butter. That sounds pretty unappetizing, but I actually liked it better than the Sunbutter (sunflower seed butter) that we tried last week. The taste is pretty similar. And he really liked it.

In fact, after exploring dipping teddy grahams in it for a while, I mentioned that my family has always liked peanut butter filled celery. Well, Patrick wanted to try and I happened to have some celery. Not only did he enjoy licking the soynut butter out of the celery, but then decided to try out taking bites of the celery and chewing it up, too. This is kind of huge from an oral motor skills standpoint.

We ended snack as the dinner group started to arrive to cook dinner. Patrick loves being the welcoming committee for the house and made friends quickly. But we didn’t stay in their way too long. One of the women from church who came and sat with Patrick last week came again last night to play with him. I was feeling caught up enough to stay and get to know her a bit while we played. She brought walkie talkies, which Patrick loved. (And it kind of helped because when he’d sneak away, I could ask him where he was or call him back. I kind of found myself wishing I still had them again today.) Patrick laughed for the whole hour she was here. He really needed that. So did I. And we were excited to find we share a love of hockey. And then she left and we went to dinner.

For dinner, we are a bit at the mercy of what the dinner groups choose to make for us. I’ll make Patrick alternatives but am trying to teach him to try different things that are served to him. Well, last night he just wanted the ham that I’d shorted him for breakfast. After much negotiation, we agreed that if he’d try the spaghetti they’d made, I’d let him have ham. He took two bites and then settled in with his ham.

But of course, just as we started clearing up plates, he asked for spaghetti again and sat down and licked the sauce off of a whole bowl.

We stayed up a little late last night talking to Daddy because it had been too many days and we really missed talking. We didn’t have committments this morning so I figured we could afford to sleep in.

I accidentally woke Patrick sneaking away to go to the potty this morning instead of snuggling with him. So we got up anyway. He really kind of needed a bath anyway, so I went and set up his sponge bath.

But, just as I got him naked, even taking the dressing off of his incision, the fire alarm rang. Talk about bad timing. There we were trying to get a dressing and diaper and clothes while they were banging doors telling everyone they really did need to get out.

By the time we got downstairs, I could see a group that was maybe from the house being led away somewhere far across the parking lot. But I was in PJ’s and Patrick was in an assortment of fleece I’d thrown on him and we were wrapped in blankets and if I was wrong about them, then I’d be crossing the parking lot carrying him (it was so loud he couldn’t settle down to walk) in the cold for nothing. I had grabbed my cell phone, but not my keys so we couldn’t get in the car. I looked up and saw a fire truck approaching and decided that was the better place to go wait.

We walked around front and the firemen came over and brought Patrick stickers and offered him the chance to look in their fire trucks. (He said thanks, but no thanks.) And then, once they had cleared the building, they let us go wait inside. It turned out that some water had leaked and set off the alarm somehow. I really hope they found and fixed it so we don’t have to evacuate every time that room showers. But if we do, I learned a little more about what to bring along and where to go.

The morning schedule was all thrown off. I gave the really time-sensitive medicines, but left some of the others for later. I properly changed Patrick’s surgical dressing and his central line dressing, too. I showered and we got dressed. And then today, because right now 80% of the families staying here have someone staying at the hospital and the house was quieter than usual, we did a laundry morning. We washed the dirty clothes plus most of the linens.

We came back to the room and used some index cards to make a letter and word wall. As Patrick is introduced to new sight words, we’ll add them to the wall under the corresponding first letter. He loves going over and reading me his wall.

Then, Patrick needed out of the house, so I decided we’d take an outing to the dollar store. He carefully considered all the things he could buy and chose a jumbo calculator. I picked up some new scissors for him and some bingo daubers to use in place of do-a-dot markers in some mommy school work.

Then, we decided to go check out the grocery store in the same parking lot. (We actually drove a ways to go to the dollar store.) The store was a big win. They had kid-sized shopping carts which is one of Patrick’s favorite activities. They also had all of his biggest needs.. ham and chicken broth and single serve guacamole and rolls.

The late night and early morning left Patrick in need of a nap. (Because otherwise, he was just being naughty… especially in that he kept sneaking away from me and going to visit people on other floors of the house.) He slept till 6, when I woke up for dinner where he ate his first choice, chicken broth, and then some guacamole (also known as mokily-mokily) because he “loves it so much”. And now we are staying up late watching Blues Clues because going to bed on time is pointless when he naps late.

Tomorrow, I hope that we will actually succeed in sleeping in. And then we’ll eat some more old favorites and new foods and have a little bit of school, too.

Transplant Day 72 and Discharge Again

I just tucked Patrick into his bed at the Ronald McDonald House. Tonight, at least for part of the night, I will sleep in a bed by myself. The spot on my arm where Patrick likes to snuggle all night that is beginning to be deeply bruised is very grateful for this development.

It’s been a busy couple of days. Yesterday, I got up early and started begging often for them to find a volunteer to come sit with Patrick so I could fix the battery problem with my car. It took till afternoon, though, to find someone. So I was a nervous wreck all morning.

Finally, I explained to Patrick why I was acting frustrated and suggested maybe I should pray to calm down. Well, the next thing I knew, Patrick folded his arms, bowed his head, and said a little prayer that a “vodateer” (volunteer) would come so I could fix my battery. Not 10 minutes later, one walked in.

So then I made a mad rush to get it done. I called my insurance policy’s roadside assistance. (Thanks to my mom for pointing out that I might have that service on my policy.) They sent “Rescue Rangers” to come give me a jump start. Because I was in a parking garage, the guy showed up in just a regular sedan. (Tow trucks don’t fit in this garage.) And when he hopped out with a jump starter, I was pretty doubtful. But his was better than mine and the car started right away.

I drove to AutoZone and told them I thought my battery needed replacing. He grabbed his tester, but one look at the battery told him that it was gone. (I kind of knew that.) So he sold me a new one, then installed it, cleaned up all the corrosion, oiled my screws, and checked my other fluids. I expected the help putting in the battery, but not to that level.

With the car now happily starting despite frigid temperatures, I drove back to the Ronald McDonald House to get Patrick’s feeding pump so he’d be ready for discharge.

He had a pretty good night, as far as hospital nights go. And this morning, we slept in and laid around in bed being lazy. But eventually they came to clean his room and check his vitals and look him over.

Rounds were a little bit late. That actually helped a bit because it made the rest of the day seem to go faster. They confirmed our plan from yesterday that he could leave the hospital today.

A couple of hours later, they had a problem with Patrick’s feeding bag and I suggested that we just switch to his home pump. From that point forward, I couldn’t get him to stop running and running away. He was so happy to be free. (And feeling so much better.)

While they worked on getting orders, Patrick and I went for walks, ate soup, played in the playroom. It got late enough in the day that I called Patrick’s school teacher to tell him we wouldn’t make it back to the Ronald McDonald House and ask him to come to the hospital instead. And just as we were wrapping up with school, they came to say they were ready for discharge.

We left the hospital about 3:30 and stopped at Jimmy John’s so we’d have some food for dinner. (Patrick loves Jimmy John’s bread and with his new appetite, happily dipped and entire 2 foot long day old loaf in bread and sucked the broth out of it.)

Getting settled here again was more work than I wanted. It takes time to unpack, do laundry, put away a month of medical supplies, etc. But eventually, I got it all done and we wandered downstairs for a late dinner. Patrick is so happy to get to walk away from me a bit and to visit with his friends here. That felt really REALLY nice.

The new formula is easier to make, which I’m especially happy about. Doing meds again was much more second nature. And we even managed to change the dressing on Patrick’s incision with minimal fuss. I got him into bed by 10 and asleep before 10:30.

I’ll admit, it was kind of sad to come back here. When we were here last, we were still in that post-Christmas happy state. Brian was here. It was lonely coming back and knowing we need to put away Christmas is kind of hard. I’d leave it up, but really this room is tiny and with all the new toys, I need to get the Christmas decorations out of here.

Here are some pictures from this hospital stay. I wasn’t really great about uploading them so they cover a few days.

Transplant Day 56 and Christmas Day

We had a very unique, but very amazing Christmas day this year.

It all started with a little bit of excitement. Every night sometime between 2 and 4 a.m. I have to get up to refill the formula in Patrick’s feeding bag. So at 3:30 I was up and it seemed to go really smoothly and I stuffed the little stocking that Patrick had hung on the IV pole by his bed. And then I went into the bathroom and the pump started to alarm.

Well, I got there quick enough that it didn’t wake Patrick and I fixed the kinked tubing. And then I noticed a very distinct smell. The smell of Patrick’s ostomy bag leaking. I felt around the pouch and it was definitely starting to come off. That usually would mean waking him to change the bag. But I looked around a room full of presents that Santa had already brought and I knew that if I woke him, we’d be having Christmas right then.

Now, my previous history of early Christmas mornings aside, I also knew that Patrick would not have time for a nap in the rest of the day without missing out on some big fun things. So I took a risky chance. I crawled in bed with him, wrapped him in a towel, secured the bag the best I could, and slept next to him. I knew we’d be starting the day off with a big mess and that we’d have to work hard to keep it from making his skin sore. But it seemed the best choice for a good Christmas day.

I had nightmares about ostomy bags the rest of the night and at 6:30, when Patrick started to stir a little, decided I’d waited long enough and let him wake up. I explained he was wet and needed to go right to the bath. He wasn’t so sure, but I didn’t give him a choice.

We got him cleaned up pretty quickly and changed into his spare Christmas morning pajamas. (We learned long ago that we need two pair of special Christmas PJ’s.) We asked him if he thought Santa would have come and he said no. Somehow, he’d missed all the presents on the way through.

But when he did see them, that’s all he wanted.

We let him start with his little stocking. That was simple stuff. A Dora doll, some hot wheels cars, some silly putty. Then Brian pulled out the big stockings.

I’ll confess. I was pretty worried about Christmas stockings this year. I could not figure out how to go about getting that part of Christmas ready when Patrick needed to be with me and time in stores was limited. Heck, we tried to buy stockings once and had to leave the store without. So when a package from Brian’s work showed up full of gifts, including stockings, I was relieved.

Patrick’s stocking was huge. It took half an hour to go through. Of course, that was the tip of the iceberg for Christmas morning. Between family, friends, DDM, and  gifts donated through the hospital and  the Ronald McDonald House, we were very well taken care of this Christmas. When I look back at myself a month ago, lying awake in the hospital in tears and unable to sleep not being able to imagine how we could possibly pull together Christmas this year and contrast that with the abundant and generous outpouring that we received I am humbled and grateful.

A phrase from a verse in Malachi kept running through my head.  Malachi 3:10:

“prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”

Indeed – it took most of today to make space to put away Patrick’s many gifts and there is a small collection in the corner of the “too much” that we will probably pass on to other children.

After opening gifts in our room, we let Patrick pick a couple of toys and we headed down to the kitchen to take care of meds and formula. It was fun to see children pop in and out with Christmas presents and smiles on their faces.

Finally, 10:30 rolled around and Santa was due to arrive. Christmas with Santa in the Ronald McDonald House is going to stay forever in my memory. Each family had a pile of presents with our names on them. Most were simple, some were astoundingly generous. Santa went around the room telling the kids about how he’d picked certain things just for them and which gifts were most popular.  I’ll never forget the tears in the eyes of one mom whose family had arrived for emergency surgery just a couple of days before who really did think they’d be missing Christmas this year.

And then, after presents, we gathered for Christmas brunch. The Hilton had sent a gourmet meal over with roast beef and turkey and potatoes and stuffing and the yummiest green bean casserole on the planet and about 20 different desserts.

We ate well and then had to reign ourselves in because we knew we had other plans.

In fact, right after brunch, I went up to the room to pack our things to go for the rest of the day. A couple of my very close friends from college married and live two hours away in Iowa. And they invited us out for Christmas dinner. So, we took a drive yesterday. It was fun to see country life in Iowa. And it was amazing to spend some time with friends.

Drue and Rachel have to be two of my favorite people on the planet. They’ve been through a lot in their 13 years of marriage. And now seem so happy and in their element. Both grew up in smaller towns and so it is natural that they’ve settled down in bigger small town in Iowa with 5 acres of land and a historic house they bought for $1 and moved to the lot.

While they finished up making dinner, (smoked leg of lamb and homemade gravy and Idaho mashed potatoes!!) their daughter, Julie, took Patrick out to the chicken coop and he came back with his shoes all muddy.. So then he had to play around in stocking feet all the rest of the evening, which he loved. And they gave him a real metal slinky and showed him how to use it on the stairs, and he loved that, too. And mostly, he was tired because we gave up naps to try to get him to sleep at night and he might not really be ready for that.

BUT he made it and we had a lovely dinner and played Catch Phrase afterwards and reminisced and caught up. And we got to see the stars (something I hate that Patrick misses having to always be in the city so he is close to medical care and clean.) And then we drove back and Patrick managed to stay awake the whole way, which mean he would sleep.

But we ended the day almost as excitingly as it started because one of the bottles of formula opened and spilled in the cooler and so we had to make a new batch of formula and clean up the sticky mess. So we got to bed a bit late and then Patrick woke up at 3 and insisted I come sleep in his bed. So my dreams of an early bedtime and a then sleeping in till 9 were both dashed, but it was still a wonderful Christmas.

And today was mostly quiet with a trip to Costco (then a trip back to the room to replace the feeding button that Patrick accidentally pulled out as he got out of the car. That was traumatic and he talked about it all day.).. Then we took another trip to Costco where we actually bought the totes and batteries we went for. And we spent the day resting and cleaning and playing with new toys. And today we DID make it to bed on time. And maybe tomorrow we’ll even sleep in.

I will never, EVER forget this Christmas. This season brings out the best in us. We are kinder, more generous, more Christlike. And as I read the Christmas story with Patrick this month, I could relate more with the story of Mary and Joseph far from home, staying in a stable of all places as their baby was born. But Heavenly Father knew where they were. And He sent angels to tell ordinary, humble working men – shepherds. And then those shepherds went and it was through those ordinary people that the Lord sent the message that He remembered and He knew what was happening and was was going to happen.

And we, through the ordinary people, have seen the hand of the Lord this Christmas.

Some of you are reading this. I need to say thank you. You may think that what you have done was something small. But this Christmas was anything but small for us. So thank you.

Transplant days 53-54, insomnia, and Christmas carols

Photo Brian took while we were singing Christmas carols. Notice that when Patrick is tired he can't stop moving, hence all the pictures are motion blurred from this day.

Photo Brian took while we were singing Christmas carols. Notice that when Patrick is tired he can’t stop moving, hence all the pictures are motion blurred from this day.

Last night was a tough mix for us. Patrick slept the best he has in a week. Brian and I did not. As I put Patrick down, I noticed that there was some blood in his ostomy bag. An intestinal bleed could mean scary things for him.. But we also knew that it was Sunday night and not the most efficient time in the hospital. So we decided to wait and watch. And within an hour and a half the bleeding had stopped.

But for me, that meant setting the alarm clock every 2 hours during the night to make sure it didn’t come back. If that weren’t enough of a loss of sleep, at 4 a.m. Brian got up to go to the bathroom. Patrick woke up and insisted someone needed to lay with him. As much as I love the sweet little boy cuddles, Patrick hogs the bed.

We did finally all get to sleep, but unfortunately, Patrick had labs due this morning so when the alarm went off, I could only snooze it a couple of times before having to wake us all up.

After labs, we left Brian in the room and Patrick and I went downstairs to get him his meds and make his formula. The formula especially is quite a production to make. This morning, though, more than usual. While I was still working on it, the front doorbell of the house rang. I was the only one downstairs, so when it rang a couple more times, I went to answer. Turns out the girl from the office had locked herself out with a couple of people bringing by donations.

Well, Patrick sometimes bebops over and lets people in if they wait long enough. So he went and let them in. It turned out to be a family from a montessori school coming by to drop off some donations. They were waiting for the rest of the class, though, so they came in to wait. Then the bell rang again and this time it was people coming to put that night’s dinner into crockpots.

So here I am, in the kitchen trying to mix up Patrick’s 2.5 gallons of crazy complicated formula with people buzzing all around me making dinner. (And me telling them where to find everything.) And I look up and notice that there’s a little boy Patrick’s age that came over with the Montessori group looking bored but trying to be good. So I grabbed Patrick and went over and introduced him and got them a game to play together.

Eventually, the rest of the Montessori class arrived and they took some pictures together (and with Patrick.) And then my phone rang and it was the transplant team returning my call. And when I came back, Patrick had somehow gotten them to give him one of the gift bags that they’d brought along. As it happens, it was filled with Sesame Street themed things that we now find invaluable.. an Elmo bread crust cutter-offer and a couple of dry erase number and shape writing workbooks. (These happen to be the two fine motor practice things that i didn’t have in dry erase form.)

P.S. the doctors said that the apparent blood in the output was likely an anomaly and not to worry about it unless it came back.

We came back to the room to find Brian on a work call so I made a hurried effort to get Patrick his mommy-school readers printed for the week so we could get out of the way. We went downstairs and spent an hour doing mommy school. I could tell Patrick was tired then. He was happiest just snuggled up doing educational games on my computer.

And as the day wore on, he got more and more tired.

At dinner, we got to eat the chili that had smelled so amazing in the house all day. Then we tried going for a drive to look at Christmas lights. But I got us lost. And Patrick fell asleep. It was kind of a bust.

— picking up this post a couple of days later—

Patrick falling asleep wasn’t the greatest of things for him. He was still exhausted enough to be totally irrational. When he’s tired, the steroids kind of take over and all rational thought shuts off. We were all already tired, but nothing we could do would convince him to sleep. Brian and I went the rounds with him until 2 a.m. when Brian had him downstairs in time out for screaming in the middle of the night. I decided we needed to just find a way for the grown-ups to sleep so I drew up morning meds so we wouldn’t have to go out of the room for them. And then suggested we just turn on the TV for him.

Well, when Patrick saw the room, he decided he was ready to lay down again and went to sleep without much more fight. We slept till a little after 9 when giving morning meds was enough to wake Patrick.

It was kind of a rough morning. I don’t do well when I’m tired. I cry a lot.

But once we got past the morning, we were able to lay down and rest a little and that helped us reset. (Not sleep… just rest. We received several dozen.. maybe even 100.. homemade Christmas cards this week from a middle school, a primary, and Brian’s work so we sat down and read all of those.)

I called the team back one more time because Patrick’s output had been black looking during the night. They came back again and said his labs looked good and he didn’t seem to be feeling bad and that maybe it was the food he was eating. As in, the dyes in the food he was eating.. (That night instead of letting him have a cup of soup at dinner, I served him ham instead of soup. Sure enough, no funny colors.)

After dinner, though, we had something I’ve been looking forward to ever since I started playing the piano here. Our Christmas sing-along.  I spent the quiet moments in the day typing up and printing lyrics to several Christmas songs. We gathered up those of us in the house who’ll get together to do things like this. Plus, the sister missionaries came over. They had offered to come visit and that happened to be the only day that they could come.. and the best day for us to do the sing-along. I figured more voices could only help.

It was a lot of fun to gather around the piano and sing. Everyone was a great sport. We sang everything on my list, and then when we needed to fill some time before our next activity, we took requests. I hope everyone got to sing or hear their favorite.

Then everyone visited for a while and then went upstairs to work on a craft that one of the House employees had put together for us. Patrick and I really kind of enjoyed that while Brian drew up meds.

And then, Patrick laid down in bed and was asleep in about 10 minutes. I think I wasn’t far behind. Looking like we are going to need to explore a new phase in Patrick’s life. Giving up naps.

It is amazing to see how much this has made him grow up. Have I mentioned he also weaned himself from pacifiers? After 6 years and not knowing how he’d ever quit them… the hospital experience was enough to just make him not like them. I offered them back a few days after we got to the Ronald McDonald House. He tried them but didn’t like them. So I sat down and explained that kids grow up and then they are big kids and grownups and don’t like paci’s anymore. He thought about it and then said, “Me too, mom.” He was done. I told him that as soon as I get a chance, I’ll remove the pacifiers from his wubbanub friends and he’s great with that idea.

And that has nothing to do with anything except that I hadn’t told you. So that’s a summary of the hardest 2 days of the week. Next post, Christmas Eve.