I believe I mentioned to before that a reporter came to Patrick’s one-year transplant follow-up. He actually did a really amazing job of putting the story together and of capturing our feelings of gratitude. Here’s the link if you missed it.
Because we were out of town, I didn’t do a proper share of this video in this blog. So, if you missed it, here is Patrick’s traditional birthday video. Creating this video was a very emotional journey for me. Looking back at Patrick’s transplant journey, some images and memories that I hadn’t revisted in nearly a year was… well…. hard. I shed an awful lot of tears. Especially as we tried to capture our feelings of gratitude for the amazing gift that this year has been.
It’s long this year. It was just too hard to leave anything out of the story. So plan for 20 minutes and bring your tissues.
Nebraska Medicine’s scheduling is horrible for coming in from out-of-state for procedures. They don’t have their schedules far enough in advance and so we always end up booking after flights are already mostly full and expensive. Therefore, we left for Nebraska at 8 p.m. the night before Patrick’s procedure.
Well, technically, we left at 6 because security can take so long for us that we always allow 2 hours. This time, we all got precheck and, without IV fluids, were through security in 5 minutes without opening a single bag. Different.
Patrick was supposed to start fasting at midnight, so we put his feeds on in the afternoon and were encouraging him to eat so he would be less hungry. Also different.
We grabbed some Wendy’s. He scarfed down a hamburger and most of his fries. Then he and his Daddy went and watched the plane and trucks outside the window.
We boarded and things seemed to be going ok. Then, as we started to taxi onto the runway, the pilot came on and announced that there was a huge storm coming in and we couldn’t take off till it passed. So, we sat. I was so grateful we’d pushed Patrick for a nap. We sat for an hour. And he played with the sticker book I’d bought him and ate snacks and was ok.
Our gung-ho pilot got word they were taking off the other direction and seemed to jump the line by taxing right down the runway. Next thing we knew, we were first for take-off. And as soon as he got the all-clear, away we went.
We landed late. 1 a.m. Brian hurried to the rental car counter while I got the luggage. Arriving late meant no Emerald Club skip-the-counter-just-pick-a-car-and-go service. No. Instead, Brian was at the back of a very long line. He was still waiting when we got our luggage. To his credit, the guy at the counter was trying to hurry everyone along happily by giving them all sports car upgrades.
He offered us a Dodge Charger. We were not pleased. We asked for our minivan. He turned and offered us a GMC Yukon. Not a minivan. Chevy Suburban? Not a minivan. Let me see if I can find any minivan keys in here. I chimed in and pointed out that we needed to carry all of the luggage we had with us, plus Patrick’s wheelchair. He assured us the Yukon could do that. We conceded. I was glad Patrick’s no longer on TPN and therefore requires 2 fewer suitcases. Otherwise, we would not have fit. Despite lack of storage, the car was huge. Brian did not have fun driving it. But Patrick was sold. He thinks GMC’s giant SUV’s are awesome.
We got to the hotel a little before 1. Brian did his best to distract Patrick and I tried to pull off the world’s fastest getting ready for bed. Patrick was too excited to sleep.
We made it to sleep somewhere after 2. I didn’t sleep well. For the 2nd night in a row. The night before, I’d been up worrying about the port placement. Now, waiting for the port, I was up all night worrying about which school Patrick should go to. Plus, our room had a streetlight right outside the window.
At least it was bright enough that Patrick didn’t notice that the sun had come up. He slept till after Brian was in the shower. Then we got up, hurriedly got ready, and were on our way. I stopped and grabbed some fruit and muffins from the hotel breakfast on the way through.
Check-in was uneventful. Patrick was very nervous and therefore acting very angry and non-compliant. He threw his toys and yelled and wrote on things with his markers. Meanwhile, Brian and I did our best to relay all of the right information to the right people. When we got to the waiting room, I was quite proud to feel that I’d actually covered it all.
When the anesthesia resident came to put Patrick to sleep, she asked Patrick for his line to give versed (superhero medicine, because it makes you happy and brave). She said, “Don’t worry, I just want to pull your line out.” Wrong words. Patrick freaked. He didn’t want his line out. We recovered.
She gave him the medicine and he got all groggy and limp. But he wouldn’t lay down. She asked him if he could feel the medicine working. If it was making him happy. Through slurred speech, he said “No, I want some more.” She gave him more. Not because he asked. But because he was still sitting up and shouldn’t have been able to.
Our friend, Devin, who is an anesthesia resident had come up to visit, too and he walked with us to take him to the interventional radiology room. Normally, we aren’t invited that far. Except when Patrick was headed into transplant and needed a line. It was actually kind of nice.
Then, we went and waited. Brian worked. I played on facebook. Brian napped. We waited. Things went just about the amount of time we expected. Except the doctor didn’t come give us an update after the status board said Patrick was in recovery. Soon, they called us to recovery.
Patrick was doing ok, but not happy. He was nauseous. We haven’t ever done anesthesia fasting without TPN. And it’s been years since we did it without his belly to downdrain. He was feeling nauseous.
But Devin had come back to check on him. And he immediately started ordering meds to make him more comfortable. They worked pretty well and Patrick went back to sleep.
Finally, Patrick woke up enough to want me to hold him. They brought me a chair and we snuggled down while he slept off the anesthesia and the short night. He still seemed a touch nauseous, but when he woke up enough to realize that he was allowed to go, he was up. He willingly drank the cup of water the offered to prove he felt ok, got dressed, and asked for a wheelchair.
We weren’t even out of the parking lot when he started throwing up. But once his belly was empty and we were out of the car, he was ok.
Going to the hotel actually worked for rest. Their wonderful cable package included Disney Jr. and Nick Jr. so he had an ample supply of his favorite shows. He rested. Brian and I took turns napping. We were exhausted.
Eventually, he started asking for food. I offered him some saltine minis and he did great with those. I had thought we’d run to a store and get him soup. But I didn’t expect him to feel so badly. So, when he wanted to get up and move, we walked down to the hotel’s little shop to see what they had. We settled on a microwave mac n cheese.. sans cheese. And Patrick won the heart of the employee there so well that she wouldn’t let me pay her.
We also visited the hotel gym and used their balance ball and step to work off a little bit of sensory energy.
They were able to get a port in. I was excited to see that they’d used a Bard Power Port. If you know anything about lines, you know that’s a good one. He is very, very bruised. And he was really freaked out to not have a line.
He still is. Both sore. And afraid.
We did rest as per tradition. We drove to the Lincoln Children’s Zoo in the morning. (That hour drive is a great chance for him to nap.) Then, we visited Omaha’s Henry Doorley Zoo in the evening. Inbetween, we did a mad scramble to find me a skirt to turn my grubby vacation/recovery clothes into something dressy so I could to go a devotional with some church friends in Nebraska. It was actually very amazing to find such personalized messages when I was a visitor and far from home. And we topped the night off with donuts.
Then, we flew home Saturday. Before leaving, we made Patrick change his dressing for bandaids, which really upset him. But we needed to be sure his incisions looked ok.
It was a long flight home. Patrick was dead tired and didn’t want to sleep. So he did naughty things to make us respond so we’d help him stay awake.
Patrick having a hard time with this transition from Broviac to port. He has gotten angry and tearful the past two days because, now that it’s been a week, he really shouldn’t be covering the incisions to bathe anymore. Patrick has used a “bath sticker” (aquaguard) to bathe since he was 9 months old. He doesn’t understand me taking this away from him. He also won’t hug me tight. I understand the bruising and swelling last up to a month.
I’m just remembering that I was asked for a more clear explanation of this procedure. Patrick has had a double lumen broviac line. A broviac line is a tunneled central venous catheter. There is an IV in a major vessel, then the line is run under the skin to help prevent infection and hangs out of the skin. It has to be covered with a dressing and is kept clean and dry. It has two claves on the end so you can access the bloodstream without a needle. Double lumen means two tubes in the same line. It also means double the risk of infection. You maintain a broviac line by cleaning and flushing it 2 or more times a day.
A port is also a central line, an IV to the heart. But the catheter ends under the skin. There’s a little disc at the end with a rubber-like top that you can insert a needle into to access it. When you need access, you have to scrub the skin till it’s sterile, then use a special needle to get to the bloodstream. Because the disc in one place, you can numb it before so you feel pressure but not pain with access. It can be locked with high dose heparin so you only have to flush it once a month. When not accessed, no other dressings are needed.
Patrick isn’t using his line. We’d have had it removed entirely except for the risk of his veins closing leaving no place for future central lines. A port carries significantly lower risk of infection. It also means a more normal quality of life.
We knew giving up this part of himself would be hard for Patrick. The Monday before the procedure, I took him up to our hospital where his child life specialist let him play with “Chester Chest”, a medical teaching model, and several other sample ports and supplies. We talked about how we could still give medicines and draw labs.
Patrick tried negotiating his way into keeping his line several times in the next days. One day I asked him what he was worried about, and he wanted to know how I’d get to his blood. It was nice to refer back to the teaching with child life and let him answer for himself, “I will have a port.”
I still look around for ethanol locks when I give Patrick’s meds. And I’ll feel as strange as he does the first time he’s allowed to immerse his chest without waterproofing. This has always been a part of him and it’s different to not need it. Good. But different.
It is disorienting to realize that next week is kindergarten’s last week of school. We only just started and it’s almost over again. I feel really bad to be just gearing up while teachers are working to try to take care of the mountain of things that need to be done for the end of the year, I’m here trying to squeeze every last drop out of the few weeks that we have available to us.
I am amazed at all that they ARE doing for him, though. For example, I noticed that Patrick’s class was at recess every day when we arrived. So I asked and they revised his IEP to allow him to go to recess with his friends every day. He is in HEAVEN getting that extra time with his friends. And I understand that he is doing better in class, too, as a result.
Also, I’ve been working all week with his special education teacher on getting the forms completed for him to be able to participate in Extended School Year (a.k.a. summer school). They hold 3-day weeks on 4 weeks during the summer. He’ll attend in the morning. The goal is to keep up the momentum that has just started again.
They did offer one amazing thing that I hadn’t even imagined as a possibility. There is a therapy pool at the school. And, because by the time summer school starts he won’t have a broviac line, Patrick’s doctors have given him the ok to work in the pool. It feels like this little piece of normal… my son being able to be in the pool during the summer. Even if it came about in the most abnormal possible way.
Speaking of doctors, we had a follow-up with Patrick’s GI this week. His dietitian came in, too. It’s the first time we’ve seen her since transplant. I wondered if she was amazed to watch him eat a kids meal while we talked. His growth charts look amazing. I think it’s the first time I’ve really looked at one post-transplant. He’s growing at a normal rate. He’s in the 50th percentile.
They ordered some labs to check to make sure that his vitamin levels and overall nutrition are still good as he’s learning to eat on his own, but doesn’t exactly have a traditional balanced diet yet.
Also this week, or maybe the end of last week, I talked to the team in Nebraska about Patrick’s next follow-up with them. We scheduled an appointment in June to replace his central line with a port. (This is why he’ll be allowed to swim, by the way. No more external central line.) We will be going out the first week of June and it will be an outpatient procedure.
I thought we’d have clinic, too, but it sounds like they feel we’re doing a great job communicating by phone and don’t need the extra visit.
So it sounds like we have a game plan for our summer. At least the start of it. Patrick’s last day of school is the last Friday in March. June 1, he’ll have end-of-year testing. June 3, we’ll meet with the school to make plans for next fall. That night, we’ll get on a plane and fly to Nebraska. The next morning, he gets his port and we come home that weekend.
The next week, Brian leaves on a business trip to Norway. And the week after that, Patrick will go to his first day of summer school. He’ll have two weeks on, then off for the July holidays. Then back again. Brian has a pioneer trek with the youth in July and another international business trip in August. And before we know it, it will be time to come back to school.
I’m trying to pull together some materials to keep working on mommy school in the down-days. I’ve let Patrick develop some lazy at-home habits this month but, really, we have a lot of ground to cover over the summer. Hoping that the extra respite time while he’s at school will give me a breath of energy to keep up with all the rest.
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?
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.
Today was a hard day for Patrick. It seemed to start out ok. His nurse overnight did a great job keeping him comfortable. At 6 he was well rested and talkative, though a little sad. His nose was itchy and when he rubbed it, the cannula in his nose rubbed just enough to make it bleed. His oxygen saturation was low, so we had to suction his nose, too, which is pretty awful for him. But, with Daddy cuddling, all was good for a few hours. Until they wanted him up to walk. That hurt.
When he got to the chair (about 2 feet away), he was sore and tired, but in good enough spirits that he dared work himself down into his favorite snuggly sleep position. That’s when the trouble started. Snuggling down made his oxygen saturation dip even lower. Soon, his nurse came back to suction his nose, really thoroughly this time. He was hysterical. And, it didn’t help.
So they decided to call for a chest x-ray and his nurse had him walk back to his bed for it. He was already sore from fighting the suction and walking was agony. But when he was done walking, he still had to sit up straight on the bed and have an x-ray taken. And I had to step out of the room while they did it.
Unfortunately, that x-ray showed that Patrick has gunk in his lungs and fluid buildup around his lungs. (They run a ton of extra fluid in the first couple of days after a transplant to make sure the veins stay open and happy so the graft will take… All that fluid has been just sitting in Patrick’s tissues and he was rather plump and sore this morning.)
They’d already started him on a medication to help him get rid of the fluid. They decided to order some medicine to help him cough. Patrick is refusing to cough. So they gave something IV and then brought a mask to administer a breathing treatment with.
That was the end. Patrick didn’t want a mask on his face. (I’m sure he’s seen enough of them in the OR.) He toughed it out the first few 10 second tries I did for him… But then he decided to fight… And when I tried to help hold him because he was fighting… Well, he lost it. Kicking, screaming, squirming, fighting with all his strength. This is amazing considering how little strength he has. But it surely left him worn out.
The breathing treatment didn’t work. They had to increase his oxygen several times to get things stable. Patrick was spent. He just sat there, not moving, not talking. I finally told the doctor that this wasn’t like him. We were going backward if he’d lost his words again.
They listened. They let him rest. They added some pain medications. They ordered a different kind of breathing treatment that just gently massages his sides to break up the junk in his lungs. And he has done better. He’s seeming calm. He’s slept a bit. His vital signs look a little bit better. And I’ve learned my lesson about letting them push him. Patrick is not one to be pushed. Challenged, yes.. But not compelled. I won’t let tomorrow go this way.
The hardest thing about the day is how just plain sad Patrick was. Because it was Monday, we had a parade of people in and out all day introducing themselves: social work, ostomy team. nurse coordinators, child life, and on, and on. And all the while Patrick just sat there looking like he wanted to cry but with a firm determination he wasn’t going to cry in front of anyone. And anytime I tried to talk to him about it, either his oxygen saturation would drop or someone new would come in.
He’s figured out he has an ostomy. (Where the intestine is brought outside the abdomen in one spot and drains into a bag.) He needs this so they can monitor for rejection for a year. I’m sure he’s confused. But anytime I’d try to help explain, there was one more person. Always trying to cheer him up. Some days, you don’t want to be cheered up. Some days you need to cry.
I think the treatment plan is better now. I’ll spend the night in the room tonight to keep an eye on things and to help him feel comforted. Tomorrow is another day. (And hopefully a good one, as tomorrow Brian goes home to get what Patrick and I need to stay here for a while and I’m gonna be on my own.)
We did have some good things in the day. Brian made it to Walmart which means we have food and socks (only I packed socks in the hurry to leave) and slippers for Patrick and some other needs. We got a lot of answers to questions we’ve had from the people who came by and called. I got time to get some of the e-mails and phone calls taken care of to tie up loose ends at home.
And in a very special bright spot, Patrick received 35 e-cards today. How amazing it was to read words of encouragement and support from friends and family and also from people we have never before met. I’ll admit, that is what got me through the moment today when my heart was breaking.