Tag Archives: travel

Transplant day 349 and the one-year follow-up

We just got back from Omaha again. It was a short trip. Barely more than 48 hours. In some ways very routine and unexciting. In others, very eventful.

About a month ago, I remembered to ask Patrick’s transplant team if he was supposed to have a one-year follow-up appointment. They said yes.. and then I asked if it really had to happen right on the transplant anniversary. After all, remember, Patrick’s transplant happened both on his birthday and on Halloween. We didn’t really want to spent October 31st at a doctor’s appointment.

They said it didn’t matter, and so we decided to take advantage of Patrick’s fall break. We checked him out of school on Wednesday at lunch and hopped on a plane to Nebraska.

He was crazy excited this time. Or may anxious. I can’t decide. He was happy about the idea of seeing his nurses and couldn’t seem to let it go. We tried to explain that this was just a checkup. But he didn’t settle down until after the appointment. I think because then he knew it was all ok.

Wednesday night, because Patrick was bouncing off the walls, we checked into our hotel but then headed down to the riverwalk to try to burn off some of his nervous energy with a stroll along the Missouri. It was really dark. And it took a really long time for Patrick to settle down. But eventually, he did. And it made him tired enough to sleep pretty well that night.

The next morning, it was cold. Especially for us, coming from Utah’s record-breakingly warm fall. We tried to go to a playground but got too cold. So then we went for a drive just because. We decided we were hungry and Patrick asked for chicken nuggets. So we drove to McDonalds and Patrick discovered McNuggets. I discovered that Sweet and Sour Sauce is made with peaches and so there really are no Patrick allergy-friendly dips available and we settled for ketchup.

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Finally, it was time for the appointment. Patrick hadn’t finished lunch so we brought it along and as the team came in, Patrick was munching on french fries. He then decided he was still hungry, and we added on a lunchable.

The appointment was mostly routine. They recorded his vital signs and growth, went over his medications, asked if anything big had changed. Then the surgoen joined us and looked Patrick over. He said Patrick looked great. He said to go ahead and discontinue one of his antibiotics. And we talked about when and how to decrease his immunosuppression one more level. Then I asked some questions I had. Patrick played with the doctor and his cell phone. And then they went on their way.

Posing with some statues at the zoo

Posing with some statues at the zoo

The dietitian came in to talk to us next and we decided to go ahead and stop Patrick’s tube feeds and see if he can keep up with his nutrition orally. That doesn’t mean that for sure this will work. It means a really focused effort to make sure he’s eating and drinking enough. But it also means some new comfort and freedom for him.

Not doing tube feeds means having to figure out some other things. Like teaching him to take a chewable multivitamin instead of giving a liquid. It also means that we have to figure out a way to give him 1 teaspoon of baking soda in divided doses throughout the day. Right now, that can go along with his meds in his g-tube. But one day, they’d like a goal of him not needing anything by g-tube. They’d even like to remove his g-tube. And so eventually we’ll need to find a way to get him to take baking soda in food.

A few weeks ago, the hospital’s PR department called and asked if we would be willing to let a news crew come to Patrick’s appointment. So there was a cameraman there filming the whole time. (Well, except when the dietitian came in. She is camera shy.) And then we went and did interviews afterwards. It’s so hard to capture this big story in just a few words. I hope we did it justice. We tried taking them upstairs for Patrick to visit with some nurses. That just ended up being really awkward. Oh well. One day, the story will air and I’ll share it here. We hope it gets people talking about organ donation. And maybe express our thanks to Patrick’s donor’s family and also the amazing medical team who got him this far.

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Couldn’t resist this photo op.. given that these two missed wearing their matching minion costumes last Halloween.

We stopped tube feeds that same night. Patrick was really restless in his sleep, too. I don’t know if that was because of the missing tubes. Or if it was because I snore. Or because he discovered how truly heavenly comfy sleeping in down pillows is and spent the whole night trying to figure out if he wanted to sleep in the down pillow more or sleep snuggling with me more. I finally told him I didn’t mind him sleeping on the pillow. He said, “You won’t get mad?” And I said, “No. It’s a soft, soft pillow” and he snuggled down and went to sleep. He’s asked for a down pillow for his bed at home.

After the appointment, we had 24 hours before our flight home. So we did our best to find some family fun. We went to the zoo both days. The first, Patrick wanted to just play outside. We got jumbo pretzels that we ended up sharing with some very demanding peacocks.

 

And we let Patrick play on the zoo’s playgrounds that we’ve mostly shied away from in the past year. Then, we went to find dinner in Omaha’s shopping district called Old Market. We ended up at a family italian restaurant called Spaghetti Works where Patrick got to experience his first salad bar. He ordered grilled cheese, which turned out to be a very disappointing sandwich made of two pieces of cheesy garlic bread stuck together. So instead, he ate my spaghetti.

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The next morning, we packed up, ate breakfast, did laundry. Finally, we had to check out and so we went back to the zoo. Brian splurged a bit and bought all-day ride passes and instead of looking for animals, we spent the day riding stuff. We rode their steam-powered train. (Makes all other zoo trains seems like a huge disappointment.) We rode the carousel. We rode the “ski-fari”, in other words, one of those ski-lifts made amusement park ride.

The ride passes included admission to the stingray encounter which actually turned out to be awesome! They have trained their stingrays to take a piece of fish from the back of your hand with a certain command. And therefore, because they know this command, if you put your hand in the water they right way, they’ll swim over and put their mouth over your hand and suck. They call it a kiss. Also, because guests feed them, the stingrays will come to guests looking for foods. So instead of gathering hoping to snag a quick touch, you have stingrays coming up and reaching out with their fins to get your attention. It was really cool.

It took us all day to figure out how the zoo tram worked and we happened to go exactly opposite the most efficient way. However, that did earn us nice walks through the aviary and lemur island exhibit, which we didn’t do much of in the winter. And then we had a nice long ride to end our day at the zoo.

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We went back to Old Market for lunch. Brian remembered that I’d heard of and really wanted to try a restaurant/bakery called Wheatfields. They have a reputation for being really allergy conscious. We caught them 5 minutes before close so we made a hurried lunch decision. But it was delicious, nonetheless. I ordered Patrick his first cream soup. (New option without a dairy allergy.) He had the creamy chicken and rice. Ok. We both did. I ate about half of it because it was huge. But he did great with it, which gives me courage to try more. If you have a great cream soup recipe, sent it my way.

And then, we caught the flight home.

I am super, duper proud of Patrick who made it the entire trip in underwear and without any accidents.

In fact, I’m just extremely proud of Patrick. He discovered this old video on his tablet taken a couple of years ago. It’s of him and me playing at the table. Nothing much. But I can see so many changes.

Patrick’s speech has come SO far in the past year. In the video, he is licking and spitting out fruit snacks and asking me what happens if he swallows. Now he is eating full meals. In the video I’m telling him not to drink too much water so he won’t make himself sick. Now the only concern is if he’s drinking enough. He’s still himself. Dramatic. Adventurous. But without the limitations.

He has come SO far.

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If you’re wondering why I’ve been acting a little crazy…

What an overwhelming two weeks I have had. If you’ve happened across me you may have found me forgetful, worried, tearful, distracted, jumpy, uncertain, self-consumed or any other manifestation of anxious. I live with anxiety. It’s been part of who I am for a long time. When we were undergoing fertility treatments, it kind of consumed me. Therapy helped teach me to live with it. And now? Well, it’s been a very stressful two weeks and anxiety has been thread running throughout all of it.

It is no surprise that this has been a hard stretch. I’ve been saying for a long time that my goal for August was just to survive.

Brian went to Europe (Ukraine and Poland) for work for 10 days. Wives were invited and I couldn’t go and that hit a lot harder as he got on a plane and left than it usually does when he has to travel. Also, this was one of those real long-haul trips. A long one. And a busy one so that most of our chances to talk to one another were stole little moments when one or the other of us should have been doing something else, like sleeping.  And there is no real cure for a linguist and lover of travel and culture to stay at home while her best friend sees the world without her.

It was also one of those really busy times here at home. As I mentioned in my last post, we have been working with Patrick’s allergist, GI, and dietitian to try to switch him to oral eating instead of enteral (through a g-tube) feeding. I kept a 3 day chart of Patrick’s diet and learned that he’s eating just under 1600 calories a day. The goal is 1800-2000 and therefore, a few more bites at each meal and he may just be there. The log showed that he needs to get more protein into his diet, which sounds challenging since he’s still struggling with typical meats. But I introduced him to fish while Brian was away. (Brian doesn’t like fish). And to fish sticks. And he loved them. And, out of the blue, Patrick started actually eating roast which gives me hope that if I can just get the meat tender enough, he might be able to eat it. Meanwhile, I we are supposed to be encouraging him to eat the proteins he likes like soy cheese and hummus and lunch meat. (I have taken to buying a few of those little buddig lunch meat packets and sometimes just handing one of those to him to snack on.) Knowing he’s a touch allergic to soy, I switched to sunbutter, which was received with lots of pleased “mmm” sounds.

But the mission that really turned me into a basket case this past little while has been trying to make plans for Patrick to go to school. I had the chance to talk to his classroom teacher and also to the school nurse. And the vibe I got from both was worrisome. They both seemed totally great at their jobs. And they both seemed to feel completely in over their heads with Patrick. In fact, both asked me why exactly Patrick wasn’t in the medical hub when it was obvious that he has such big medical needs.

I had long conversations and I wrote long e-mails and I did everything I could to make people talk and work behind the scenes. But I couldn’t do what was really the most needed until today.. I couldn’t meet with the school. I miscalculated. Brian offered to send me to visit one of my dearest friends, Lindy, who lives in Seattle. Her family housed us through I don’t know how many checkups at Seattle Children’s while Patrick was waiting for transplant there. And when we moved our listing to Nebraska, Seattle became too far to travel. I haven’t visited in 2 years. And so, since he was going to be away for a long time and since we didn’t swing a family vacation this year, he offered to send me out to visit.

I wasn’t sure as I was getting ready to go that this was a wise choice, this travelling alone with Patrick when my husband was gone and I had to pack and get us there on our own. It didn’t go well. The day before we left I was anxiety personified. And I went to bed wondering if I’d completely lost my mind.

Thank goodness it was a visit to a friend who helps me piece my sanity back together. It was good to catch up. And it deserves its own post. But as usual, Lindy helped me to talk and work through some of my struggles. And Patrick basked in the love of this amazing family.

And then we came back home and dived into madness again. I didn’t even get to unpack for like 36 hours, things were so busy.

Yesterday I tried to juggle back to school shopping and phone calls and e-mails with Patrick’s medical team and cleaning the house and unpacking and making quality time with my son who is about to leave me during the day. And there weren’t enough hours in the day. And Brian was going to be home in a couple of hours.

And then… Brian’s plane got delayed. And I kept working. And the flight kept getting pushed back. And I started to feel guilty because I started to wonder if my prayers for there to be enough hours in the day were resulting in airport delays. But I just kept at it and soon enough had been done. Patrick was in bed. And my amazing respite worker had come over on no notice to sit with him so that I could go bring Brian home.

And I’ve decided this post is getting too long and so I’m gonna wrap it up with just this thought because today deserves its own whole post too. But here’s the thing…

I’m recognizing that I’ve been just getting by for a very long time. Almost a year. And now that school is on the horizon, I’m trying to piece my life and sanity back together. I’ve started to go back to therapy. And I’ve started to recognize that to let go of this crushing anxiety I’ve been carrying, I have to stop just shoving it down deeper inside.

When you’re just surviving, that’s what you do. You put it down deep as far as you can so you don’t have to look at it and you just carry it with you while you move on. Like when you are at the store and they hand you a receipt and you don’t have really anywhere to put it so you tuck it into your purse. And before you know it your purse is all filled up with wadded up papers and wrappers and odds and ends of spilled things. And you just keep carrying them around because it takes effort to get things back out and look at them and figure out what to keep and what to throw out. That’s where I am. I’ve got all these things tucked down because I didn’t have anywhere to put them. And I’m hoping that I can get them back out and let some of them go.

So you might see me a little bit weaker for a while. It’s ok. That means I’m trying to work through some things. Anxiety is part of who I am. I’m pretty good at squaring my shoulders and pushing forward. But when I get a second to be myself, I’m going to need to work some things out. And it might look messy while I get through it.

Daddy in Norway

A couple of months ago, Brian came home and told me that the business associate that was visiting from Oslo had surprised him with an offer he didn’t think he could accept. Because the internet is a global enterprise, you shouldn’t be surprised (though you probably haven’t thought of it) to learn that web companies sometimes do business with other companies overseas. This particular one was holding a conference near their headquarters in Oslo, Norway. Brian was invited.

You may not know about me, because I live so deeply in the special needs mom world, that I was a student of linguistics in college. That I love other cultures. That I taught English as a Second Language. That until we became parents that we were travelling as often as occasion allowed. No. If my husband was invited to visit a new place in Europe, I wasn’t going to say no.

I did tell him that I couldn’t promise that I wouldn’t be jealous and/or that I wouldn’t have a hard time holding it together while he was away. But I did promise I would try.

So, last Tuesday as I was dealing with a fire at home, Brian hopped on a plane to Norway, with a connection in Amsterdam. He spent the first part of his week in the conference being shmoozed by the hosting company, with a little bit of touring Oslo in the meantime. Then, he headed off with the friend who’d invited him to a cabin in the Norwegian forest where he biked, boated, and even walked barefoot through a forest so moss-covered that it was as if the forest was carpeted.

I make it a policy to not stay home and sulk if I can help it. A great deal of time and energy was spent working on taking care of our little house fire.

Thank goodness reinforcements also came on time to help with that. With summer starting, the neighbor girl who is doing respite for me started. She worked 3 days last week and it was life-saving. As an added bonus, the neighbor’s 10 year old called and came over a couple of times during the week to play with Patrick. He adores her and it really helps me. Then there was the amazing friend of mine who came to my house after getting her own boys up and ready for the day to help me get Patrick and myself up and ready by 8 a.m. so that we were keeping in habit between Nebraska and the start of summer school. I swear I only showered that week because of her help.

Two other friends worked together to bring in a meal Tuesday night and that, combined with leftovers of a frozen lasagna and spaghetti I’d made Sunday, made up most of what Patrick and I ate that week. I think the most complicated other cooking I did was some vegan macaroni and cheese from a box.

I’ve become aware of a tendency between Patrick and myself to build upon each other’s negativity. If I am in a bad mood and criticize him, then he becomes more defiant and naughty, and I in turn get more strict. So I decided that, as we kicked of summer, we needed a way to encourage more positive speak. I’d read an idea of putting warm fuzzies in a jar when children are caught being good. But I didn’t have any pom poms. What I did have was a bag of rainbow colored foam popsicle sticks. Cut in half, they created a very durable, easy to handle “ticket”. Sunday night, while I was waiting for Brian to see why the internet was out, I slapped some labels on an old gelato jar and a formula can. One for me, one for him. And now, I carry a pocket full of tickets. When I catch Patrick doing something especially kind of helpful, when he obeys when he doesn’t want to, when he gets control of his temper when he is feeling out of control, etc. he gets a ticket. They easily move from my pocket to his. And once or twice a day we empty his pocket into the jar. When the jar gets full, he earns a reward. At first, I was offering kids meals. Now, we’ve opened that up to a dollar at the dollar store, too, since we are filling the jar more than once a week.

Anyway – this has helped the mood in our house. It also gave us a great excuse for an outing.

Wednesday is “library day” in our house. So, once the cable was fixed Wednesday, with Patrick’s jar full, I decided we had earned an outing. I checked out museum passes for the month of June. I thought we’d start with what had been his least favorite museum before, the Leonardo. And then we could go over and visit the city library.

Well, it turns out that the exhibits at the Leonardo have changed a bit and Patrick has grown up a lot. He is a little bit of an engineer at heart, taking after his father and grandfathers in wanting to know how things work. And he couldn’t get enough of the hands-on engineering exhibits at the Leonardo. He wasn’t as much in love with the arts side of things. But, when I thought he’d seen it all and suggested we go, he announced, “No! I love to be here!” And we went and did them all again. We arrived at 3:30. We stayed till 5. That is a long time at one thing for Patrick.

When we left the museum, I considered moving my car, since it was in 2 hour parking.. but instead let Patrick lead up up the stairs on the outside of the library. You can climb to the roof of the Salt Lake City Library by a long circular set of stairs on the outside. Of course, Patrick did. And then, after playing on the roof, we rode downstairs in the glass-walled elevators to the children’s section. Patrick was enchanted.

The children’s section has a hole fort-like reading corner. We picked out books and went to read. Then Patrick needed a diaper and I remembered my car, now 10 minutes past time to move it. We went outside with the intention of moving the car.. but getting outside reminded us both we were hungry and Patrick voted to go to dinner.

He’d chosen Arby’s for dinner and a downtown location felt just fancy enough. I knew we needed to do some grocery shopping, too, and while we were eating I remembered that the downtown Smith’s location as a fairly large allergy section that I’d never explored. So we went grocery shopping. Patrick was beat! But they had goldfish crackers on sale. (We’re using them to give him small amounts of dairy exposure to try to help reduce that allergy… plus he loves them.) And, as I went looking for vegan mayo, I discovered a new product called “Just Ranch” that happened to be on clearance. It was an entirely vegan ranch dressing. And next to it was “Just Coleslaw Dressing,” though they were out of “Just Mayo.” We picked up a few, headed to the car, and made it home, snacking on goldfish while we drove, just on time to go to get by 8.

Friday, we tried to meet some support group friends at the park. I’d picked an adaptive playground I love because I find them easier not just for wheelchairs, but also for kiddos with TPN or tube feeds in tow. Alas, we ended up there alone. Short gut means hectic schedules and I often end up planning get togethers that only I attend. But we stayed to play, anyway. We’d made up some chicken salad with the Just Coleslaw dressing and Patrick devoured it. (Yay!) Being an adaptive playground means it was full of special needs kids and their special moms. So when the phone rang and it was Patrick’s summer school teacher calling to learn about him before the next week, some sweet special moms just took him in with their own so I could talk.

Saturday, we decided to try out another museum pass. This time to the Museum of Natural History. I’d opted to spend the morning working in the yard before it got too hot. And it was crowded in the afternoon, which made it harder for Patrick to focus. But we still spent a couple of happy hours and I think he got a chance to explore and play with everything that suits his abilities.

Sunday, we attempted a little more church than usual. Patrick did really well in Sacrament meeting. He set up his toys on the floor and happily entertained himself past our goal of the first talk. It took effort me to stick to my resolution to not overload him and leave once we’d met the goal.

We went home, ate lunch, and talked to Daddy.

That afternoon, I took Patrick back for Primary. His first attempt since transplant. He was tired by then. And overwhelmed by the new place. He said the opening prayer, except he didn’t. They’d whisper ideas of things he might say in his ear, and he’s just say “no.” But he got to talk in the microphone, which made him happy.

Then, he ran wild around the room for the remainder of singing time. (Different to go observe instead of leading.) And then I took him home.

I’ll write more about Monday. Maybe tomorrow. The short version is that he started school, I started working with a district representative to talk about his 1st grade placement, and then we went and brought Daddy home from the airport. That night, I cooked my first real (not restaurant, frozen, boxes or reheated) meal in 2 weeks. And we were all ready to crash by 9.

Transplant Day 219, a fire and the cable guy

The Sunday after we got home from Nebraska was busy. Patrick was definitely still feeling stressed and sore. His primary (children’s sunday school) lesson at home was a total bust and ended abruptly with him getting out of control and then him asking his teacher to end early. He was so out of sorts that Brian just kept him home from church. And most of the rest of the day was spent just kind of trying to just help keep him calm and happy.

So, when Brian was away at church meetings in the evening and Patrick got restless, we went to visit family. And when I got home and the internet was out, I decided to just let it be till the expert got home to check it out. Usually, our server just needs rebooted.

This time, however, the problem was much bigger. Brian went looking for problems when the server and modem seemed ok. He didn’t expect to discover the cable box mounted on the house to be missing.

That’s right. Missing.

While Patrick and I were gone that evening, our cable box caught fire, fell off the house, and melted on the ground. It singed our siding. It melted a sprinkler. And then it burned out. Thank goodness.

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I know now what happened, but that night couldn’t imagine how a cable signal box (a.k.a. pedestal) could simply self-ignite. There were burned cables hanging. And I was freaked.

I called Comcast, but got a call center who knows where. There is apparently nothing in the customer service script about what to do in the case of fire. And with the fire out and it being 10 at night, it didn’t seem right to call 911. So I made an appointment for the next day at 1. Then, I made an appeal for someone to come earlier and that somehow made them erase the appointment. Only they didn’t say so.

So the next day, I stayed home and waited for the cable company. When they didn’t come, I started calling. I called 4 times. They had a 12 year old phone number in their records. They kept failing to remove that number from their records. They were having a supervisor call me. Or a special ticket created. Or a field research supervisor. No one called back. No one came. Lesson learned – if you have a problem with a cable box fire, report your service is out. That is the fastest and most efficient way to get help. Don’t mention the fire. They don’t have a solution available for that.

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Anyway – meanwhile Brian was supposed to fly to Norway the next day for work. So here we were, trying to get ready for him to leave town. No phone (we use VoIP). No internet. No streaming video. (A problem for Patrick.) And me spending all day on the phone trying to get someone sent out.

Tuesday morning, I finally got the fire department to come and look at the damage. They explained that the fault was likely an ungrounded power meter. With our house not grounded, a surge of electricity had used the cable line as a ground.

And without any resolution, I put Brian on a plane to Europe.

That evening, I got an electrician here. He confirmed that our house had somehow lost its neutral and used the cable line as a ground, causing the box to overheat and burn. He also quoted me the cost of grounding the house. A day without power, a building permit and inspection.. and a hefty dollar price tag, too. I told him I’d get back to him when my husband landed so I could talk to him about the budget.

Wednesday, a friend who had previously worked for Comcast intervened on my behalf. I’d finally gotten a Friday appointment to come investigate the outage. My friend got someone to come out and fix the cable. He replaced the box and ran new cable from the pole, since the existing cable had been melted inside.

Thursday, I got a sprinkler guy here to replace the melted head so I could turn my sprinklers back on. With highs in the 90’s, I wasn’t keeping up with watering.

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And finally yesterday, we had the electrician come to replace the meter. The work went smoothly. There was a breakdown of communication between the building inspector and the power company and it was nearly bedtime before we got power back on.

It felt like an especially big burden to take on by myself while my husband was out of town. I am so grateful for friends and family who stepped in to help out with charging, shared wifi, advice, phone calls, referrals, keeping Patrick entertained and other help. I really did feel in over my head. Especially trying to keep Patrick safely away from the downed lines and the workmen all week and juggling his needs with the time required to make phone calls and get things fixed.

Patrick is still mad at me that I haven’t washed the scorch marks off the wall yet. But there are definitely more important things, and safer things, than getting up on a ladder with him “helping” to do that job.

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Meanwhile, you may have noticed that the blog was down. Sorry about that. When Comcast restored service, they reset our IP. They aren’t big fans of hosting your own websites on a home internet account. So it took getting the professional, Brian, back home to get things up and running again.

 

 

Transplant Day 216-218 and the Port

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.

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.

Patrick’s Getting a Transplant – Day 1 (and a half)

Last night, as Brian and I were turning off the lights to go to sleep, my cell phone rang in my hand. I looked at the caller ID and my heart skipped a beat. It was the transplant team. It was 10:30 p.m. It took me 2 rings to get the courage to answer.

Patrick’s transplant coordinator asked how his health had been, and then she told me that she was calling because they had received an offer for donor organs for Patrick.

I thought I’d be excited when this call came. I was not. I wanted to shout “NO” and hang up the phone. Patrick has been having a very good year. His health has been good. He is loving kindergarten and for the first time has had friends his age. I’d just helped to a Halloween party in his class. It was a hit and he’d had a great time. We’ve gotten in to one of the best mental health programs in the state and were making good progress with his attention and behavior. We’d been trying a medication for his ADHD and it was a hard adjustment, but it seemed to be helping. He’s been learning to read. And I just planned his birthday cake and finished wrapping his presents.

Did I want to change any of that!? NO!

But at the same time, we know a very hard truth. Patrick has been defying odds as he lives with a terminal illness. There is a reason they let us do a wish trip. Patrick is running out of access. His intestines have been redilating and sooner or later would need surgery again. Patrick has been living on borrowed time.

We have said for 5 years that transplant would come at the right time for Patrick. Why that time happened to be during one of the happiest seasons of his life, I don’t know. BUT it did. And we couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Who knows when it would come again.

Getting ready to go was a chaotic mess. We had bags packed for us, but needed to pack Patrick’s things. We needed to call insurance and the doctors and somehow get to Primary Children’s, then to Life Flight and then to the Nebraska Medical Center. We needed to gather family to say goodbye and get blessings. And we were supposed to do it in 6 hours.

We didn’t do it in 6 hours. I was too confused. The hospital and Life Flight couldn’t agree.. And it took extra time. And it was ok.

 

Patrick's doctor- with us since we got to Utah, almost as much family as physician

Patrick’s doctor- with us since we got to Utah, almost as much family as physician

We got to the hospital a little after midnight. There, we were met by Patrick’s amazing GI who had come in and stayed up just for us. He wrote orders and then saw us off.

We got to the airport and were met by two amazing nurses and a pilot. Patrick had to ride lying on a gurney, but they managed to make it fun enough that, even though we’d woken him 2 hours after he went to bed (on a day he hadn’t napped), he laughed and played and was ok.

The Life Flight and ambulance teams

The Life Flight and ambulance teams

We arrive at the hospital around 6 a.m. and were shown into the PICU. There was some bustle of admission, but things were pretty quiet. Before long, Patrick had snuggled up and fallen asleep. And so did I.

Eventually, they came for some labs. We let him open his birthday present. Then, Child Life came by and asked if he needed a Halloween costume. As I’d left his awesome purple minion costume at home, we borrowed a Buzz Lightyear. It barely fit, but he was happy. And it came just on time, as the Nurse Practioner told us just then to let him up to move around. We made it out just on time to go trick or treating. Each department of the hospital put together mostly non-food goodies. Patrick happily went to each of them saying “Happy Halloween” and being showered with gifts. He came away with quite the haul. We even made the news.

http://launch.newsinc.com/share.html?trackingGroup=69017&siteSection=ndn&videoId=28082677

Trick or treating in a borrowed costume (with accessories)

Trick or treating in a borrowed costume (with accessories)

About 2/3 around the room of trick or treats, we got a call that they wanted Patrick back in the room for a procedure. We made a hurried run back to the room where they explained that they wanted him to go to interventional radiology to try to place another line. That sounded like a request to do the impossible. It turns out it was hard, but possible. Patrick currently has 6 lumens.

Going down early for this meant that Patrick would need to be intubated and sedated earlier than we expected. It wasn’t worth the risk to wake him up again. So I used the little time that we had before sending him down to try to explain to him what would happen. I could tell he didn’t get it. I could tell he was scared.

But it was time to go. So we did all we could to tell him we loved him and help him feel brave, and then we walked him to the procedure room and kissed him goodbye.

 

IMG_2099

He spent the afternoon intubated and asleep. He woke a little once and made a furious fight to take the breathing tube out of his throat. It took several people to keep him safe until they were able to get some more meds to settle him down. Hard, hard moment.

But the rest of the day was peaceful. With him asleep, they were able to get the other catheters and lines in that they will need to be able to monitor and take care of him during and after the surgery.

Finally, around 6 p.m. they came to take him to the O.R. We sat a bit on pins and needles till them, because until the organs arrived here and were inspected, there is always the chance of the transplant not going through.

It’s 9 p.m. now. The last update said that they were finishing putting in the liver and were just about to start putting in the other organs.

It has been a very emotional day. We have shed tears of fear and of hope and of grief and of joy. We have celebrated a birthday and Halloween and then said goodbye to our son for an indefinite amount of time. We have doubted ourselves, and we’ve been given flashes of reminders of faith. We have been touched again and again by the encouraging words of our family and friends and even of strangers.

Once again, we find our lives entirely overturned. I honestly don’t know how we are going to do this. But I am trusting it is going to be ok.

 

I’d like your help with something, if you don’t mind. Patrick’s birthday celebration got cut short when they took him early to place that line. I’d love for him to wake up to a room full of birthday wishes. Would you consider mailing a birthday card or sending an e-card? Mail to:

Patrick Hoopes
Patient Mail
Room # 5349
P.O. Box 6159
Omaha, NE 68106-0159

or you can send an e-card that will be printed and delivered to him http://www.nebraskamed.com/patients/well-wishers