Getting ready for summer

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.

This week’s normal

I think for the next little while, we’ll be building our normal week by week. Some things are routine. A lot is just made up. Most of the time, it feels like we’re flying by the seat of our pants, but every once in a while, we strike gold and I know that I got being a mom right that day. I wish more days were like that.

Patrick’s doing well back at school. Waiting to go in the morning is really hard. He gets up excited to go to school and then we try to fill the mornings. When we have our act together, we will do something before we leave. Work on homework. Visit the library. I’ve learned it helps to go early enough to let him get some wiggles out before school so we usually try to get 15 minutes to half an hour at the park that’s next to the school.

Where I spend the mornings when Patrick is in school

Where I spend the mornings when Patrick is in school

I’m enjoying a brief little bit of respite while Patrick is at school. One of this teachers pointed out a quiet little walking track near the school. So I drop Patrick off and then go walking. You know that mom who stays in her exercise clothes all day long? Shops in yoga pants? Picks up her kid with a messy ponytail and no makeup? Unshowered. Long into the afternoon? Yeah.. I’m that mom right now. But it is SO NICE to be able to exercise and this is the way I am doing it.

After walking, I’ll sit down in the far corner of this beautiful little grassy, shady park where i walk and read my scriptures. I love that the ladybugs are my study buddies.

An hour goes pretty quickly. But it is very nice to have this little bit of time for quiet reflection. Especially because, as happy as it makes him, going back to school has been hard for Patrick.

IMG_20150512_185432

I was thinking that somehow transplant had magically relieved him of his sensory processing disorder. No. It turns out that it was just being able to be home and unstructured. Keeping it together enough to follow the rules and sit still and be attentive at school takes enough of Patrick’s energy that, even though it’s only one hour, when I pick him up he is wound up like you wouldn’t believe. It takes a good hour for him to settle down again.

His temper is hot again – fueled by steroids that I’d hoped might not be necessary in this high of doses by now. And we spend a lot more time trying to cool down when angry.

The days that are golden we manage to fit in something magical like an hour of practicing reading early reader books at the library or sitting down together to practice writing or have lunch at the park. Patrick’s quickly taking to the idea of kids meals and is trying just about any sandwich I deliver packaged in that form. He devoured an Arby’s roast beef sandwich, though at home he has sworn up and down to me that sliced roast beef is “too brown.”

At least once a week, we try to stay late after school at the park. One or more of the kids from class will stay after school to play. His classmates really do love him and try to include him. I heard one boy tell a friend, “I can’t leave Patrick to play with you. He has been away and is lonely. You can play with us. But I want to play with Patrick.” Big words and big heart from a kindergartener.

My mother's day flowers

My mother’s day flowers

We have enjoyed a brief break from the rain and that’s had us spending afternoons outside. I asked Brian for flowers for the garden for mother’s day. He spoiled me by taking me to the greenhouse and letting me pick out flowers to my heart’s desire. So I’ve been planting all week. Patrick still struggles with this because he’s not supposed to garden in this first year and feels left out of an activity he loved. So we try to do it in small portions.

However, it did get him outside and, though he protested a lot the first day, after that he started asking me if I’d go plant flowers so he could play in the yard.

Speaking of Mother’s day.. I had such a peaceful day. Weekend, actually. Brian spoiled me all weekend, taking me out for breakfast and dinner at favorite restaurants on Saturday, and then cooking for me on Sunday. We opted to stay home, which made for a quiet and peaceful day.

I was invited to speak in church that day. That’s a nervewracking assignment for a woman who has a history of infertility and adoption and raising a child with chronic, terminal illness. Womanhood and motherhood have NOT gone the way I expected and I used to cry through and try to avoid church on mother’s day.

However, spending my walking time in the week before mother’s day studying messages about womanhood and motherhood and God’s love really can help to build up your sense of self-worth. After all that we have been through this past year, I’ve wiped away most of my expectations. Without expectations, it is hard to be disappointed. Instead, I spent most of the day just feeling grateful. Grateful for the lessons I’ve learned. Grateful for another year with Patrick. Grateful for relative peace.

IMG_20150512_182657

I needed that little recharge. Because not every day is full of peace and gratitude. Not every day do I get motherhood golden. I’m still learning to juggle time and responsibility, fostering independence and giving loving attention.

The end of this week ended up tricky. Wednesday night, late, I got a message from Patrick’s teacher saying a stomach bug was working its way through the classroom. Brian and I talked about it and decided to give Patrick a choice of whether he wanted to wear a mask and gloves and go to class or check out early with me.

The first day, he opted to check out early. We had a golden mommy day that day where I made up for missed school time by working with him on reading.

The next day, he chose to wear his mask. That day didn’t go as smoothly. He came home riled up and didn’t want to nap and decided to avoid it by being extra naughty so I’d need to stop him and/or put him in time out. A rainstorm came in that night and I can’t help but wonder if the change in barometer hurts him and he just doesn’t know how to express it. I mean, I ache from tiny little injuries. He had his whole digestive system removed and replaced.

IMG_20150512_190027

And so we go. Day by day. Week by week. Making this up as we go along.

I told a friend on Sunday that it feels somewhat as if my life was erased when Patrick got his transplant. We’re trying to piece it back together a little at a time. I’m trying to get the most important things back in first. There is a sort of peace in that simplicity. Some days I get the parts in wrong and the gears get jammed. Other days, they fit and we work like a well-oiled machine. Most days, a little of both happens.

Hope you’ve enjoyed pictures from one of our well-oiled days. We surprised Patrick with a trip to member’s night at the zoo. He’s been asking since Brian and I went on our last date if we’d take him on a playdate, too. When we pulled into the zoo parking lot, his face lit up. Bonus that the summer dinosaur display was already up.

IMG_20150512_185432

IMG_20150504_104602

Kindergarten Take 2

Yesterday, Patrick went back to school. As I said before, to help protect him and ease the transition, he’s only going to attend school part-time for the rest of this school year.

So, yesterday we headed out about 10 a.m. We stopped at the grocery store on our way to get snacks for the classroom. (Since they are instructed not to feed him anything not parent-provided or approved.) Then, since we’d had a little mishap with Patrick’s g-tube coming disconnected during the night and feeding his stuffed animals instead of him, we swung by McDonalds to get him some french fries to tide him over.

Finally, it was time to go into school. We checked in at the office. Because he’ll arrive late every day, we will check in every day. And then we headed over to the resource classroom.

His special education teacher had a little Patrick height banner in the door welcoming him back to school. It was fairly adorable and made him feel really special. While he worked with her, I sat down with his new aide to give her a little crash course on his needs.

Then, we headed over to the classroom. As we walked down the hall, a little voice shouted out, “That’s Patrick!” Followed by a little chorus of excited friends announcing “Patrick’s back!’

We were a touch earlier to Patrick’s class than he’d been expected and so we waited at the door while they cleaned up centers. All the while, little friends would sneak away to come hug him and welcome him back. Patrick was dying to go help clean up, but was obedient and waited.

Finally, they gathered at the rug and I sat down to tell them about where Patrick had been. I explained that the doctors had found a new belly for Patrick. That he’d had a transplant, which means that they took the old belly out and put in a new one. One voice chimed in, “I bet that hurt!” And I answered honestly that it did hurt. A lot! Then, I explained that Patrick doesn’t need his IV tubes anymore and is learning to eat and he told them how excited he is to be back at school with them.

We talked about washing hands and being careful about germs. Patrick’s best friend asked if having a cough meant they couldn’t sit together. So we talked about catching your coughs in your elbow.

The feeling in the room was pure excitement. I am so glad that Patrick was able to go back to this class that has so willingly accepted him and embraced him for who he is.

I left Patrick and went to talk to the school nurses and to clean out the supplies that Patrick doesn’t need anymore. And then, before I knew it, it was time to go. And hour is going to go very quickly.

Patrick’s first preschool teacher was waiting to greet him as he came out of school.

This is going to be a different phase for us. Patrick was so excited when he got home that it took a long time to get him settled to nap. When he got up, there was barely time to get dinner made.  And then, because he napped late and because he was excited, he didn’t sleep again until almost midnight last night.

Short school days at a school far from home means that it doesn’t make sense for me to come home while he’s in class. I’m planning to use that time to start walking and hopefully get myself in shape a little bit.

But, it also means a minimum of an hour and a half of what used to be my most productive time of day that I don’t have anymore. And it’s going to take some adjustment for all of us to learn to get things done with this new schedule.

Tuesday especially are going to be difficult. My own version of Monday. Because they start with a nurse visit, then school, the Patrick’s home hospital teacher will still come in the afternoon.

But we’ll get there. It’s only a month of school and I can tell you, by the joy in Patrick’s face when he got up this morning, that it is worth trying to make it work. At least, if we can keep him healthy enough.

IMG_20150502_200540

6 months

It is amazing to me to consider how far Patrick has come in the past 6 months. How much our lives have been changed in the last 6 months.

We decided to celebrate Patrick’s transplantiversary and half-birthday in grand fashion. After all, a transplant is an awesome birthday gift but a really sucky birthday party. Patrick deserved a party.

Right before transplant, Brian won a weekend getaway at a work party. So we finally redeemed that trip this weekend. Brian took Thursday and Friday off of work and we drove up to Bear Lake. Patrick was excited about the trip but very confused that our vacation didn’t include a plane. Let’s face it, we often fly off somewhere and THEN drive 3 hours or more once we get there. So a 3 hour drive, while that was a pretty big trip for me at his age, was a pretty small thing for him.

I still can’t get used to packing without TPN. I was able to pack all we needed with each of us only needing a small carry-on bag. I did, however, have two big bags of food that I took with us. Because Patrick is a hungry little monster and having food always available is kind of important. We knew that it was off-season in Bear Lake and we weren’t sure what food options we’d find for him. And besides, it was fun to have lots of snacks.

Patrick doesn't believe in sleeping in the car. But sometimes, he just can't help himself.

Patrick doesn’t believe in sleeping in the car. But sometimes, he just can’t help himself.

The trip was a much-needed dose of rest and family fun. We drove up Thursday afternoon and arrived in the early evening. They were still working on cleaning our room when we got there, so we opted to go for a drive. We ended up in Montpelier, ID for dinner at a little pizza joint. They were kind enough to make Patrick a little cheeseless personal pizza.

I love seeing finished plates that look almost like what other kids leave behind.

I love seeing finished plates that look almost like what other kids leave behind.

It always takes time to get Patrick settled in a new place. Hotel rooms are especially problematic. But we did succeed in finally getting him settled down. We stayed in the family suite so we could have a bathtub and a fridge. That meant, however, that instead of a bunkbed, Patrick had a fold-out couch. Have I mentioned Patrick won’t fall asleep away from home without me? Yeah, my back was pretty sore come morning. Getting too old for fold-out couches.

The next morning, Brian had planned a big surprise for Patrick. After a pancake breakfast, we went to a vacation rental shop and picked up a 4-seater ATV. Patrick has been jokingly asking me if we could drive our car up the side of a mountain for a while now. I think he was surprised to find out that it was actually possible. My thrill-seeking, rough-and-tumble, car-loving boy could barely wipe the smile off his face. He laughed his head off through all of the roughest parts of the path. Finally, we ended up off-roading in some snow and decided we were all tired. So we headed back down, stopped in a meadow for a snack, and then Patrick voted it was time to be done with the mountain.

IMG_0024 IMG_20150501_094621 IMG_0027

We ended up stopping and letting him just play with the vehicle for a while before returning it. And then, because we had time and because the vehicle was muddy, ended up driving it over to a car wash.

Patrick is a big Bob the Builder fan right now. So he was really excited to find himself up in rural country where there were also lots of construction vehicles. We had a great time spotting the real versions of diggers and cranes and dump trucks.

He was a little less enthused about visiting the lake. I didn’t think to bring him a camera along. (I need to remember he wants to be a photographer). And he wanted his dad’s. Eventually, though, we showed him the fun of throwing rocks in the lake and then he was sold.

IMG_20150501_182159 IMG_20150501_182003

Inbetween outings, we hung out in our hotel room. Amazingly, after the first night, Patrick settled down and was happy to be there so we got the chance to watch a movie together while he played. We also explored a couple of local cafes and I was really proud of Patrick for trying food everywhere we ate. I was also very impressed that they restaurants were all so willing to help us invent Patrick-friendly foods from the items on their menus.

IMG_20150501_173511

And then, Saturday morning, when Patrick got up he told me that he loved our hotel and didn’t want to go home.

But we had to go home anyway. And, as with any vacation, once we made it home we were all just happy to be here.

Saturday evening, we let Patrick pick his birthday dinner. He threw me a loop by asking for chicken soup and grilled cheese. (With an egg allergy, we can’t just open a can for this.) Thank goodness Daddy was up for the job.

IMG_20150502_183609

And after dinner, we had birthday cupcakes. We sang Patrick happy unbirthday and he blew out his candle before I could explain making a wish.

Enough wishes have been granted this year for our family anyway. 6 years. And 6 months.

IMG_20150502_203251

Transplant Day 180 and School

IMG_20141029_105223-blur

This picture was taken 6 months ago at Pumpkin and Mustache Day in Patrick’s kindergarten class. I didn’t know it then, but the Halloween parade and party the next day would also be his last day of school.

6 months ago, I tucked him into bed and then I went and wrapped up his birthday presents and I went to bed, but before I fell asleep my phone rang and our lives changed forever.

I dare say, at least as far as I can judge right now, for the better.

Today, I had an IEP meeting with Patrick’s school. Can I tell you what an amazing school he is in? They were completely behind me asking for a slow transition back into regular school. In fact, they were good with just about everything I asked them to consider. This meeting was amazing!

Here’s the gist of things. There is a month left of school and Patrick’s immune suppression goals have been adjusted down because it’s been long enough since transplant to try. And the transplant team said that about this time we ought to consider starting to ease him back into the normal life that they did the transplant to hopefully give to him.

So, after a very thorough discussion today, the decision was made to start letting Patrick attend school for an hour each school day. He’ll attend the last hour of every day. He’ll spend the first half of that time working with a special education teacher to help him to make up as much ground as possible. And then he’ll spend the last half of the day with his kindergarten class so that he can work on relearning the classroom routine and social skills. Also, once a week, I’ll bring him in a little early so that he can spend time in occupational therapy as well rebuilding his strength, working on writing and other fine motor skills, practicing eating, and so forth.

Because he’ll only be in school part time, he’ll also still qualify to work with his in-home teacher.

And, when the school year is done, he’ll take a short break, and then get to participate in the extended school year (or summer school) program this year at another medical school that is actually even a bit closer to our home.

The mood in this meeting was so positive. I genuinely believe that this team is happy that Patrick gets to come back to school and eager to help him succeed in every way that they can. How many people come out of an IEP meeting saying that?

That doesn’t mean that his IEP meetings aren’t still intense. There is a lot to coordinate and I am constantly amazed at the efficiency with which they run these meetings. (Also, with their stamina to do so many back to back to back at this time of year. They had already done several that morning with several more to go.) We made plans for how to drop Patrick off and what to do if classmates are sick and an aide to be with him in the classroom and what physical activities he can participate in and what to do when he needs to stay home and how to make sure that he gets the absolute most bang for the buck out of his hour a day at school.

For the rest of this school year, they’ll be reimplementing the amazing IEP that they wrote for him the week of his transplant. Then we will reconvene in a month to figure out where he is on his goals and what the best plan for school next fall will be.

The most amazing part? I thought we’d be waiting a week or two more for medication changes but the team in Nebraska says that because he kept swinging too high, they brought his dose down and he’s already there. That doesn’t mean he’s not immunocompromised. But this is about the best it’s gonna get for a while and so we might as well let him live.

We are taking the next few days as a family to celebrate Patrick’s 6 month transplantiversary and half-birthday (because, face it, transplant is an awesome birthday gift but a sucky birthday party.)

And then on Monday, Patrick starts school.

I’m trying to wrap my mind around gathering all of the supplies, emergency plans, paperwork and other little details I need to have ready by Monday at 10:45 a.m. I’m hoping this is as good of an idea as it sounds. That he has the strength. That he can stay healthy.

It’s strange to think that a month ago, I answered a phone call and our lives stopped and reset.

And now, 6 months later..to the day.. we’re trying to kickstart life again.

Patrick is bouncing off the walls excited.

Transplant Day 176 and Please Stop Chasing My Rainbows

IMG_20150405_142221

Two weeks ago, my youngest brother got married. Brian and Patrick didn’t stay long, partly to protect Patrick’s immune system and partly because Patrick gets horribly bored at long wedding receptions. But I stayed behind at the reception. It was wonderful to catch up with family and friends that I only see when big events bring us together.

It was also a little strange to discover that so many of you read my blog, even though we haven’t talked in ages.

And there was something said to me by one of the women I’ve known and respected forever that’s been sitting a little funny with me that I’d like to address. She said how glad she was that we were home, especially as my blog had made it sound like we were living in “less desirable” circumstances.

This struck me funny because, although I really struggled with the loss of comforts of home at the Ronald McDonald House and the awkwardness of living in close quarters with other families day in and day out.. my memories of the Ronald McDonald House are overall very fond memories and I’m afraid I didn’t do the place and the people justice in what I wrote.

Patrick and Ronald last December

Patrick and Ronald last December

This week, a video was shared on Facebook of one of the families that we got to know while we were there who hold a very special place in my heart. They were there seeking the same miracle central line placement Patrick had needed to be listed for transplant and that mom and I bonded in a way few can over shared trauma. I don’t think to can understand how terrifying and desperate that end-of-the-road, hail mary, do or (literally) die situation really is. The video talked about how wonderful her son was doing and about how the Ronald McDonald House had helped her family. I thought it was good news and I wanted to rejoice.

The next day I learned that the video had, in fact, been shared in tribute. Instead of good news, the worst had happened. Lost central line access had put her son at the top of the transplant list. In the short time since we’d left the house, he’d received “the” call and gone for transplant. But something went wrong in surgery and he never woke up. He passed away this week.

We made a very calculated choice to stay at the Ronald McDonald House. Yes, there were financial benefits and proximity benefits. Yes, there were difficulties and uncomfortable parts, too. But we knew that being there meant the ability to share our journey with other people who’d get it.

I can’t describe the connection we have to the other families who lived long-term with us in that house. I learned how to be a transplant mom from them. We helped each other in every way we could. Cooking together. Doing each other’s laundry. Crying together. Celebrating together. They are part of my heart and having them now spread across the country facing these trials without being close to lean on each other for daily support is hard.

IMG_20150424_121644

The truth is that doing this at home would have been much MUCH harder. During all those months away, the people who loved us back home would often say, “We wish you were here at home so we could take care of you.” It happened so often that I almost expected to have to set up a visitation schedule to slow the flow of friends and family through our front door.

But the reality is that coming home has been very lonely. Because we can’t go out, we probably see less of the people we love here at home than we ever did before. I don’t want to sound ungrateful. A lot of you have caught us in the halls at church to express your love and many of you have offered help in the way of meals or help cleaning. But it is easy to forget that left at home is a very social 6 year old. I often feel like Brian and I are his only friends. And finding the balance between taking care of my own responsibilities and making sure he has time every day where he is shown how very loved and important he is has proven to be a challenge.

Besides that, it is hard to imagine the kind of life we live unless you experience it. Everything we do has to take into consideration how and by whom Patrick will be taken care of. We don’t just go to work or to dinner or to church. We can’t just call up a friend and say “let’s get together.” We skip most extracurricular events. We don’t get to be apart for school. And when Brian travels this summer, I will be the only wife staying home.

When we DO catch you in the halls or on the street somewhere, we are having a conversation that we know is going to be very brief and so we know there is a choice between trying to take time to answer questions about Patrick and sharing our lives honestly and sincerely wanting to spend time hearing about and catching up with YOU. We don’t want every adult conversation we have to be consumed with medical updates, and so we may skim or skip over details. One friend accused me of trying to hide how I’m really struggling. I’m not trying to hide anything. I just don’t want to waste our conversation.

You won’t read as often about the things that made me cry on this blog right now. We have a different set of frustrations here at home. I don’t want to put in print the experiences where someone I love might have innocently hurt my feelings. I know that hurt feelings have much more blame in the person feeling them. I’ve learned over the years that people are trying to say things that are supportive and helpful and if I look between the lines I see and hear and feel love.

Because soil contains bacteria, gardening requires mask, gloves, and overclothes. Patrick still thinks it is worth it to help.

Because soil contains bacteria, gardening requires mask, gloves, and overclothes. Patrick still thinks it is worth it to help.

But there is one thing I have encountered a few times that I’d like to talk about because it is hurting and I don’t think you know.

I’d like to ask you to stop trying to find my silver linings and rainbows.

There was a marvelous sermon given in LDS General Conference a year ago. If you’re facing hard times, and let’s face it, who isn’t?, I highly recommend that you read this talk in its entirely. You’ll find it here. In it, President Dieter F. Uctdorf said:

We sometimes think that being grateful is what we do after our problems are solved, but how terribly shortsighted that is. How much of life do we miss by waiting to see the rainbow before thanking God that there is rain?

It took me a lot of years of hard trials to learn that happiness is not something that comes to us after trials have passed. Happiness comes from learning to be grateful for our blessings right now. It comes from learning to see God’s hand in our lives. Right. Now.

That doesn’t mean that if you are struggling, if you are mourning, if you are going through hard times right now that you are ungrateful, unfaithful, or unhappy.

It has been a hard couple of weeks. We took a gamble and took Patrick out a little more than usual two weeks ago and he got sick. Being sick made him frustrated and moody. It meant even more limitations for him, which made him angry. We had a week of daily appointments.. appointments we shouldn’t miss and so we gloved and masked and we still went, which only made him feel worse. In the times inbetween, Patrick expressed his anger by acting out against the only people he had to vent to, his parents. Steroid fueled kindergarten anger is hard to deal with. Add to that the sleepiness caused by antihistimines and the insomnia caused by prograf and a stuffy nose? And monitoring his oxygen saturation periodically while he slept to be sure he was still doing ok. And, well.. you can imagine.

Thankfully, his prograf levels were accidentally low when he got sick and he was able to fight off the illness without needing medical intervention. But just as he got better, Brian caught the cold. He was down for the weekend, and then I got sick, too. Remember, we all spent the winter in fairly sterile settings and so none of us has immunity against this year’s viruses. Well, on the heels of a stressful week with Patrick, my body was fairly weak. I have spent the last few days fairly sick.

And it has rained most of the week. So we have been stuck inside more than usual. And, as Patrick has felt better, his body’s sensory system has been craving movement, so this was not a good week for that.

IMG_20150422_154210

If you asked me this week how Patrick is doing, I probably would have told you about those things. Because that is what has happened this week and it helps me to talk about my struggles.

That’s the rain in our lives right now. And friends are there to talk about the rainy times, too, right?

However, right now when someone asks me how Patrick is and I mention that we’ve been stir crazy, missing school, easily sick, wondering why we are struggling to hard to set up playdates, lonely, etc., I can almost predict the response. The person I’m talking to will ask me how much longer things will be this way. They’ll point out that Patrick’s almost 6 months post transplant and wonder when his medications will change and his medical team will allow him back in public. They’ll try to show me the end in sight.

I know you mean this well. You don’t like to see us struggling and you hope that relief is coming soon. You want to point out that there’s a rainbow just around the corner or a silver lining in the clouds.

But right now, that isn’t what I need. I need someone to walk with me in the rain. I need you to help remember how much I love my raincoat and umbrella. I need us to look together at how rain makes the earth clean and helps the flowers grow.

In other words, I need you to listen to me about my struggles and maybe try to help me figure out how to get through what needs done this day and this week. And maybe to listen about the good things too.

Because a lot of good things happened in the past 2 weeks. We got set up with Primary Children’s liver transplant team so that now, we have a transplant coordinator who checks Patrick’s labwork and calls me to see how he’s doing and I don’t have to bug his very devoted doctor with every little question and play intermediary with the transplant team in Nebraska.

We also saw Patrick’s rehabilitationist and neurologist this week. They both assured me that, while Patrick’s cerebral palsy and other symptoms of his brain injury aren’t gone, it hasn’t been made worse by all he’s gone through lately. He doesn’t want to wear a brace right now and getting to physical therapy would be difficult. And they both assured me that, given all we have gone through recently, it’s ok for that to be on the back burner right now. They’ll keep watching for trouble. Someday we’ll get back to working on strengthening and stretching and improving his gait so he can run and climb. But for now, I shouldn’t feel guilty for not doing more about it.

Also this week, Patrick and I went to a teacher supply store and bought some math manipulatives. We managed to hold 1-2 hour study sessions every day without major tantrums. Patrick counted and added the new pattern blocks without getting upset with himself or me. And his teacher was really impressed when she came by the progress Patrick has made in reading, writing, and math.

I taught Patrick to ride his scooter. We laid in the grass and watched the clouds.

IMG_20150424_122825

But I might not get to telling you about those good things that happened right now if you ask me about Patrick’s current struggles, and I answer honestly, and then we spend our brief conversation time talking about what things might be like when the rain stops. I promise, I may be wet and soggy and tired.. but I don’t so much mind the rain. And let’s face it, we’ve got a pretty rainy forecast ahead of us.

Our trials don’t mean that we need all of our responsibilities taken away. Yes, it may take more coordination for me to participate now than it was before I was a mother. But it is also healing to do normal things. I got to go to a youth activity and teach teenagers how to do data entry on vital records used for geneology this week. I had to get a babysitter, make special arrangements for dinner, and work around Patrick’s school schedule. But it felt good to be out among people and sharing my talents. It is nice to be included. I’d like to see you. I might have to suggest a less crowded venue for an outing or we might have our conversation interrupted two dozen times by my 6 year old. My life is messy right now. But I’d like to share it with my friends.

You might even learn something I haven’t posted in this blog. There is a lot I don’t write about.

Good things are on the horizon. Patrick’s 6 months transplant anniversary is coming up this week. A lot of things will hopefully change for the good. We are talking about when and how to go back to school and church. We also know that it isn’t going to be easy for Patrick, who has always struggled with routine and crowds and sitting still, to come back to them after such a long break. So we’ll need to take it slow and it might not seem to go well for a while.

I know that chronic disability is hard to wrap your mind around. Everyone likes happy endings. We like resolution. We pray for and believe in miracles. We don’t like people we love to struggle with hard things for years and decades and lifetimes. And I know that when you think of transplant you think of it as healing, a cure, and end to struggling. And so watching this be a long recovery and lifelong challenge goes against all of that. God promised joy in this life. But He didn’t promise us a life free of sorrow. Quite the opposite, in fact. He promised to refine us, and refining takes fire.

But I promise, it’s ok. We are ok with it. We can be happy in the rain.  But rain is best when you’ve got someone to splash in the puddles and share an umbrella with us. I promise, I’ll listen about your storms, too.

I told my friend that there were hard things at the Ronald McDonald House that I sometimes miss it. I miss being surrounded by people who were all facing the same struggles and so able to mourn together. I miss those friends who made the best of hard times with me.

But I think I miss it most because I didn’t feel like I needed to sugar-coat my trials. Because often it isn’t until I say things out loud and see the look of pity on someone’s face that I even realize that it might be pitiable.

President Uchtdorf again:

We can choose to be grateful, no matter what.

This type of gratitude transcends whatever is happening around us. It surpasses disappointment, discouragement, and despair. It blooms just as beautifully in the icy landscape of winter as it does in the pleasant warmth of summer.

When we are grateful to God in our circumstances, we can experience gentle peace in the midst of tribulation. In grief, we can still lift up our hearts in praise. In pain, we can glory in Christ’s Atonement. In the cold of bitter sorrow, we can experience the closeness and warmth of heaven’s embrace.

———————————–

My friend who lost her son this week is raising funds to help cover his funeral expenses. His fundraising page can be found at: http://www.youcaring.com/memorial-fundraiser/jalen-boyce-s-medical-memorial-fund/342215#.VTg_itc1flc.facebook

Kindergarten – untraditionally

It’s a quiet snowy afternoon and seems like time for an update. This is a busy week comparatively for us. With spring break over, Patrick’s back to a regular schedule with his home hospital school. In this district, they have assigned him a teacher for 2 hours a week. She comes one day a week on Tuesday afternoon and stays and works for 2 hours.

When I heard that schedule I was actually really upset. We had 3 hours a week scheduled as 3 one-hour sessions when we were in Nebraska. Patrick rarely stayed on task for the whole hour. We often didn’t get all 3 sessions in. And I really wondered if this schedule could possibly work.

I would never have expected how well this would work. Ms. Emily is a special education teacher in a “behavioral” classroom in another elementary school in the district. That means that it’s no longer just me with strategies to keep Patrick on task. His teacher is really good at finding a balance between pushing him to do hard things and finding ways to turn breaks into educational opportunities or “teaching play.” It’s teaching Patrick to ask for a break when he feels overwhelmed or frustrated and that is a skill that will go a long way for him.

I really worried about the long sessions, but she’s good at keeping a variety. Patrick earns the chance to play educational games on her iPad when when he completes more challenging work and that seems to make the time pass. (And gives us moments where she stops and teaches me ways to work on the same skills at home.)

I think the best thing, though, is that she is bringing me tools that actually are helping me to make good use of the time I spend teaching Patrick. Not that I wasn’t doing my best before. Thank goodness for the resources of the internet or Patrick would have been much further behind. But there is something to be said for materials prepared by a professional educator for your child’s needs.

For example, she brought me a stack of sight word flashcards. They are printed on goldenrod yellow paper which she says is the color our minds learn best reading from. Patrick was pretty resistant to these when she first used them to try to test his knowledge. But she started to plant the idea of sounding out words to him and pointed out a few sight words that he could use that skill on. Patrick and I sat down that week to run through the cards and before I knew it, Patrick was figuring out words by sounding them out, and asking me for more cards to work with.

He is practicing with about 20 sight words cards right now, most of which he’s mastered at a glance. As he gets good at these, we just add a few more in at a time and soon he’ll have that whole stack memorized. She added to that showing me how to use some touch prompts on his arm to help him sound out and blend words together and he’s really starting to be good at reading most any CVC word, new or not.

In the same session, she gave me a stack of worksheets that she’d cut out of a handwriting notebook. And two plastic page protectors. I really doubted this one… but as it turns out, Patrick is totally in love with this particular workbook. I looked online to just get a copy of it and it’s about $100 off the shelf. Basically, it’s pages where he practices tracing numbers. But it has just the right mix of activities that catches his interest. Trace a number 6 times and then practice drawing that many pictures of a totally simple object for a kid to draw, for example. Who knew Patrick would love drawing suns and balloons and candy canes? And on the other side? We practice counting and patterning. I really need to make it to a teaching supply store and get some tanagrams and counters to match the workbook.. But he doesn’t seem notice they’re missing so far.

This work has been reinforced by another little bonus this school district threw in. To honor Patrick’s IEP, they send an occupational therapist out to work with him for 20 minutes a week. 20 minute, again, sounds like nothing. I feel bad for the therapist who devotes 2 times as much driving as she spends teaching. But her support in handwriting and other fine motor activities has taught us a few helpful things like labeling the lines on Patrick’s page with sky, flowers and grass that help him fit his writing within the lines. And because the therapist comes from the school he used to attend, she brings along familiar things that he worked with before that really make him happy and willing to work.

The grand sum total of this is that instead of spending time hunting for curriculum for Patrick, I’m given tools to work with and all the time that I can fit in for school work is spent working and Patrick’s making good gains.

The more I see how things are being done right here, the more convinced I am that things were done very, very wrongly by Omaha Public Schools. Patrick’s teacher was a sweetheart who really meant well. But I’m certain that several of the rules governing special education were broken. I can tell you I certainly will do things differently if I ever have to work with that school district again.

The upside is that things are good here. It’s still a struggle. Patrick is a little bit TV addicted right now and he isn’t always happy when I pull him away to work. But only at first. He’s always happy once we get started.

And we especially struggle on the days that Patrick doesn’t feel as well. We finally finished the 2 week course of antibiotics. It is so nice to only have to get up to refill formula, not to wake up and stay awake to try to give antibiotics. It took a few days to get Patrick past the insomnia that giving him Benadryl every time he woke up was causing. But finally, the family is getting a little better sleep and that helps all of us do better.

Sadly, though, allergy season hit just as Patrick came off of the Benadryl. He had some hayfever symptoms those first couple of days. Or at least, that’s what we thought was going on. Two evenings ago, Patrick started to sound stuffy, too. By yesterday morning, he was sounding pretty congested. Of course, there was also this massive wind-storm that came through and I thought that was to blame. Then, overnight, it snowed. 6 inches. It has snowed all day today. And Patrick isn’t breathing better with the air cleared out.

We had an appointment with his GI and an intro appointment with the liver transplant clinic today, too. I took him, masked. And his doctor thinks this is likely a virus.. so far, he doesn’t think it’s anything overly concerning. (Though I guess we are watching in case his immune suppression causes a latent virus in his body to get worse. But they don’t think that’s it. It’s more likely he caught something over the weekend when we splurged a bit to spend time with family.) Anyway – so far, we are just supposed to keep a watchful eye. Patrick isn’t horribly sick or getting worse. He’s not running fevers. His oxygenation isn’t the best while he sleeps, but humidifiers seem to help with that. And he sounds pretty cute when his little voice gets croaky and cuts out.

Otherwise, it was a productive appointment. It is actually kind of comforting to know that Patrick’s been assigned a transplant nurse coordinator here in town who can get us a doctor quickly is Patrick needed things. They’ll also be watching Patrick’s weekly labs and making phone calls to doctors, the Nebraska transplant team, and us if anything looks off.

Dr. Jackson and I talked about getting orders in place for Patrick to be able to go back to school part-time. He needs to write a letter summarizing what Patrick’s medical and nursing needs will be as he goes back to school. So we talked about my goals and how what he wrote could help with those. He said would recommend for nursing support for Patrick because, as he put it, a multivisceral transplant makes him “one of the most complex patients in the valley.” I wonder how the district will interpret this. I’ve been trying to get an appointment to talk about and plan for Patrick to transition back to school and need this doctor’s letter first because the district trying to figure out what services he needs to attend school and where he’ll go that those can be offered.

Anyway – in brief summary, this is what the school year is looking at right now at our house.

With a lot of Bob the Builder in the background. Patrick rediscovered Bob the Builder this week. He is thrilled to find that he already owns Bob the Builder toys. He doesn’t remember this was his favorite show when he was 2.

I’m trying to figure out how to make Bob the Builder do math. Surely that would increase the incentive and willingness to work at it. Patrick hates math because counting is boring. (And hard in the midst of his ADHD and brain injury.)

Oh, P.S. As I cleaned off my car this morning, I was pretty sure that that much snow overnight would have shut down Nebraska school. Kudos to Utahns for being hard-core in all sorts of weather.

11084146_10205291419739019_2553449177981107504_o

April and some Easter reflections

Happy April! Don’t you just love April? It is teeming with new life. The trees are in blossom. The tulips opened this weekend. There are little green shoots poking up out of the soil in all of the gardens around my yard. There are birds nesting in the eaves of my house. (No, that’s not necessarily a good thing.)

1504477_10205291419339009_2742751005105265570_o

 

April and spring also bring us Easter. A celebration of Christ’s victory over death. And spring surrounds us with reminders of the Lord’s power to bring forth life. To turn what appears dead and gone into glorious beauty. It as if all of nature is shouting the promise of renewed life.

April is also national Donate Life month. This year, with our family’s transplant journey fresh in my mind, I can’t help but see lessons about Easter and Christ’s atonement in it. I thought perhaps I would share some of those thoughts with you.

10959067_10205291418178980_4858016517781502729_o

Restoration

In the Book of Mormon, a prophet named Alma describes the resurrection in these terms.

The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame.  – Book of Mormon, Alma 40:23

I used to say that I looked forward to the resurrection because Patrick and I were going to have a week-long feast. With a perfect body, I want him to be able to taste every wonderful thing that he has missed experiencing in this life.  I never imagined that to be even remotely possible in this life.

And yet, since transplant, Patrick is getting to do just that. He is finally able to begin to experience some of those things. It is incomplete. Allergies and diet restrictions and motor deficits from his brain injury still limit him. And we will still need to have our feast.

Transplant is not a perfect restoration. In fact, an x-ray or ultrasound of Patrick’s belly would reveal an anatomy that looks more like a jury-rigged mess. But it is the closest approximation that I know of in this life.  Transplant takes what is broken or missing and puts things back to their “proper” frame.

And seeing what a transformation this human attempt at restoration can bring, I look forward with joyful anticipation to a day when not even a hair is missing, let alone major organs. When everything is made right. When little eyes can focus to read without effort. When words don’t get stuck in formation. When little legs can run without weakness. When everything is made whole and perfect again.

11038805_10205291419419011_7400958990948046707_o

Resurrection

There is one part of transplant that I have a hard time understanding. When Patrick was 9 months old, his heart stopped. In essence, he died in my arms. For 2 weeks afterwards, we came back to our house every night not knowing if he would survive. I was destroyed. I had not understood until that time the literal physical ache of grief that accompanies the loss of a child.

Yet somehow, in the midst of that grief, another family found in the midst of that grief the compassion to give the gift of life to mine. Before transplant, Patrick was terminal. We didn’t talk about how very real that possibility was because we didn’t want it to get in the way of his living the life he had. But we knew. We had made plans and were preparing to one day have to let him go.

With transplant came something different. A hope of a full and long life. A gift that rose out of the grief of loss and death. And, in a very real way, Patrick’s donor also lives on in him.

Again, from the prophet Alma:

And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. – Book of Mormon, Alma 7:12

10873342_10205291418378985_7018292058258984922_o

Our Savior voluntarily laid down his life. He suffered pain and sorrow so great he bled from every pore. He hung and he suffered and he died. For us. His mother and his friends wept as they watched him die. They laid him in a tomb and they went home mourning. They wondered how and if they would be able to go on. And all of it. For us.

And on the third day, the returned to find the tomb empty. Because Jesus had risen. For us. He overcame death. And because he rose, we will rise. And death is not forever. Loss and sorrow and separation need not last forever. Because of Him.

I see in transplant a whisper of this promise. It is possible to conquer death. And I know that Christ has conquered death and that my son, if he dies, will live again. And so will his donor.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? – 1 Corinthians 15:55

11080026_10205291418218981_6526148991939076530_o

Weakness

If you are a medical nerd like me with an interest in transplant, I highly recommend that you sometime read the autobiography of Thomas Starzl, the inventor of transplant. It is called The Puzzle People and it is fascinating to read the journey, the determination, the trial and constant failure that led to this amazing medical breakthrough. It was an amazing confirmation to me that God inspires science and discovery and he leads human beings to be able to master the eternal laws that govern the world we live in.

I’ve learned that in science there are also important eternal lessons. And in transplant, there is an important lesson taught about weakness.

You see, in his early experiments, Dr. Starzl found that he had mastered the surgical technique of transplantation. And yet he struggled as recipients rejected the life-saving organs because they were foreign and seen by the immune system as a threat.

Transplantation did not move from the realm of science fiction into medical science until Dr. Starzl discovered how to use immunosuppression to weaken the body’s defenses enough to accept the transplanted organ. Transplant of larger, more complex organs wasn’t possible until the discovery of a drug called FK506, better known as Prograf, that could weaken the body’s natural immune response enough to protect the transplanted graft. The reason that intestinal transplant is so new and so rare is that the intestine is so large and so intertwined with the body’s immune system that it took such a high degree of immunosuppressive therapy.

In layman’s terms, in order for the body to accept a change as large as transplant, it first had to be made weak. Weak enough to be susceptible to infection and illness.

For the week following transplant, Patrick stayed in the ICU so that he could be given a drug that completely wiped out his immune system. It removed it so completely that they then prescribed him a year of antibiotics, antivirals, and isolation in order to try to protect him. All of his defenses were removed. Because that is the only way to prevent his body from immediately rejecting the gift he had been given.

The apostle Paul wrote about an unnamed affliction that plagued him for years. He frequently prayed and asked for this “thorn in his side” to be removed. And yet, it never was. After much time and certainly much struggle, he recorded the Lord’s response to his pleas.

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Sometimes, the Lord gives us strength through weakness. Sometimes he leaves us with a thorn in our side, with prayers that seem unanswered, with trials that seem neverending. He does it because sometimes the only way for us to be prepared to receive His gifts.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:5-6

Christ atoned for the sins of the world, taking upon him every sin and sorrow and transgression. But what good is that gift if we, thinking our own defenses are strong enough, reject His grace. Sometimes, it takes weakness first for God to work the change in us that will make us strong. Not all healing is painless.

11084146_10205291419739019_2553449177981107504_o

I am so grateful for Jesus Christ. For His resurrection. For His atonement. For His grace and for His love. I know He lives.

I see reminders of His gifts and His promise of life all around me. In the tulips and the tree blossoms. In tender shoots in garden beds. In the sparrows. And especially in my son.

We are doing well. Patrick’s responded well to the antibiotics he was started on last week. His liver numbers are normal again. We are still giving IV antibiotics. Therefore we are sleepy. But we are happy. And we are healthy. We had a great Easter full of bunnies and feasting and magnificent sermons. This life is not always easy, but it is good. We are blessed.

Transplant Day 149 and how liver enzymes meant a weekend in the hospital

Hello from “The Hotel on the Hill.” If you are new to our blog, this is the nickname for Primary Children’s Hospital which is situated in the foothills of the Wasatch mountains on the edge of the Salt Lake Valley.

We have been here since yesterday afternoon. Here’s why.

A few weeks ago, Patrick’s nurse checked his temperature when he came to draw his morning labwork and it was a little high. Later that day, his labwork showed elevated liver enzymes and a slightly higher white count. These two signs together usually mean an illness and we thought that maybe Patrick had a bit of a stomach bug. The numbers stayed high for a couple of days, then went back down. We called Nebraska Medicine and they said they would check some viral studies to see if something was brewing. No one seemed too concerned.

For the past several weeks, this pattern has repeated itself. Once or twice a week, Patrick’s temperature has gone up. His liver enzymes go up. Sometimes his white count goes up. Sometimes it doesn’t. And Patrick never got sick. And no one ever seemed really worried.

Well, this Tuesday, when they checked Patrick’s labs, his liver enzymes were up by almost 100 points. His white count was normal this time. His temperature was 99.7. He was acting fine. But they also finally got around to those viral studies which showed no concern for the viruses they suspected might be to blame. Also, Patrick’s prograf level was a touch high and the transplant team decided to drop his dose by half.

I texted Patrick’s local doctor, Dr. Jackson, to let him know about the change and that night he called me.  He suggested that the one other thing we hadn’t checked for was infection in Patrick’s central line.. maybe some small amount of bacteria seeded there. So the next morning Patrick’s home nurse came by and drew cultures and repeated liver enzymes and prograf levels. The liver tests came back pretty early. The enzymes that had been high were the same, but another marker was now up, too.  And Saturday morning, as we were getting ready for the day, we got a call from the GI fellow on call who said that Patrick had tested positive for a line infection.

image

Well, Patrick was still feeling fine. So we asked if we could still take him to the Make-a-Wish easter egg hunt we had gotten him up early for. Then I called Dr. Jackson to figure out how exactly to proceed. We talked about starting treatment at home, but Patrick needed some vancomycin.. a drug we have a love/hate relationship with because it clears infections, but Patrick’s pretty allergic to. It gives him a rash, so he has to have benadryl. It also makes his belly quite sick and we didn’t know how a new gut would take it.

So, we made a plan to bring Patrick inpatient for the weekend while we start antibiotics and figure out what comes next.

Because he is still so soon after transplant, we are making our first stay in the cancer/transplant unit, or immune compromised unit. (ICS). At first, I was worried they might kick us out after we went through all the work to make an infection-risk-minimal admission. They don’t accept transplant patients after the initial immune suppression and they didn’t know us and thought maybe someone was sneaking us in. But once they heard “5 months since transplant” it was ok.

image

They are experts with central lines here, which is nice. They don’t do g-tubes or ethanol locks often, though. Apparently only short gut and related GI diagnoses get the full gammut like we do. So there’s still some teaching to do.

The nice thing is that they keep the rooms super duper clean and, really, the nursing staff here is in general a little more experienced.  The techs are really on the ball making sure things are cleaned up, diapers charted, extra food collected, teeth brushes, baths given, etc. There are things in this unit that I would have killed for in Nebraska. Like washing machines down the hall. (Last night Patrick had a diaper leak and they just showed me to the washing machines so I could clean it up.) And bathtubs. Patrick was very excited to take a bath here this morning. And needleless hubs with scrub caps and a policy of scrubbing the hub for a full 15 seconds and then letting it dry.

The room is smaller, but these rooms feel like home. And the parent bed is comfy. And the view is spectacular. And the cafeteria is just downstairs and still serves most of our comfort foods, even though they’ve just remodeled.

So it’s different, but it’s home.

This has been a very long week. We are all very tired. Monday night, my cell phone rebooted and wouldn’t load its operating system afterwards. Brian plugged away at it every chance he got, but there was no fixing the problem. So I had a few panicked days where I could see abnormal labs but couldn’t text as I normally do to communicate with Patrick’s medical team. Thankfully, Google has amazing customer service and pulled off a warranty exchange before Friday.

Tuesday night, I started to get an ache at the back of my throat. I hoped it was allergies, but was pretty sure it was a cold. I woke up sure I was sick. So I masked and gloved up, stripped and washed all my bedding, did as much laundry as possible, clorox wiped everything in sight and just tried to muddle through with as little exposure to Patrick as possible. It took round the clock mask-wearing, lots of handwashing, lots of running outside or to another room to sneeze or cough of blow my nose, and lots of picnic lunches (so I could eat without breathing near him) to get through the week. Thank goodness family was in town visiting. Two nights in a row, Brian took Patrick to dinner with his family, leaving me home to rest, clean, eat, and breathe mask-free.

image

I was still sick and masked yesterday when we came up here. I was almost afraid they wouldnt’ let us into this unit with me sick… but I’m following the same precautions the rest of the staff here does so it turns out it was ok.

Thank goodness I am better today, though. My ears are so tender from wearing a mask all day and night that I can barely stand to wear my glasses and putting a mask on this morning to walk Patrick to the playroom almost made me cry.

It hasn’t been a better week for Brian, either. Coming home from work and taking Patrick away immediately is not easy for him. And he has some some busy weeks, preparing for some organizational changes heading his way.

So we were beyond grateful yesterday morning when Patrick’s doctor asked if we’d like to wait and come into the hospital at 1:00. We had promised and easter egg hunt and we had a great time. Make a Wish throws a great party and no one looks twice at you wearing masks and gloves and not eating any candy. Patrick was so very excited to meet the Easter Bunny. We got his face painted. We had a great time in line with the clown making balloon animals. (Have I mentioned Patrick loves clowns?)  The egg hunt was only mildly interesting to him. He gets tired walking still and so running around hunting eggs wasn’t the most exciting idea.

image

The eggs were filled with candy and Patrick was a bit disappointed. But we knew we were headed to the hospital and were feeling generous and Brian had a coupon. So, we offered to let Patrick trade his candy for a prize and we headed to the Disney store.

We talked briefly about heading home and doing our chores but opted for some family fun time instead. We started at the Disney store where Patrick picked out a Mickey Mouse train set. Then we went to a built-to-order pizza restaurant and let Patrick design a cheeseless pizza. He loved it and scarfed it down and packed up his leftovers to go.

We left the mall and went for a walk around Temple Square. If you’ve never seen the gardens at Temple Square around the time of LDS conference you should, Especially in spring. They are amazing! Tulips and fountains and pansies and flowering trees raining white petals everywhere.
image

Patrick did what all little boys do… walked the borders of every fountain and ran away and climbed up into the bronze statues.

And then, it was time to come up to the hospital.

And it was strange being admitted to a new place that is different but familiar. We had an ok night. Patrick didn’t nap on schedule. Not a surprise. But after they gave him benadryl at 5, his eyelids got droopy.

I turned on a broadcast of the LDS Women’s Conference right after Brian left to go get things cleaned up and packed up at home. They started off with a video presentation of a song that Patrick knows from church, The Family is of God. View the video here. Knowing he loves these things, I pulled him up on my lap to watch. He snuggled right down and his eyelids started to droop. The song ended and I told him to stay cuddled and I’d get him a show on his tablet. Well, his tablet was slow and before I had a show loaded, he was asleep. He slept on my lap for 2 hours. I got to bask in a quiet evening of gospel and sisterhood and uplifting messages about the importance of motherhood and womanhood and family. The entire conference is available to watch, read, or listen to here. Largest women’s conference in the world. Totally worthwhile and inspiring if you have time.

image

And then, he woke up was very mellow the rest of the evening. We watched movies, played with syringes, cuddled on the bed. At 11, he seemed tired enough finally to sleep so I turned out the lights and he was out in 5 minutes. He slept all night except for diaper changes and woke up with the sun. (Much to my chagrin).

Rounds came early this morning. They said that he had immediately responded to antibiotics and his liver numbers were already trending down. No cultures have grown out, though, from the labs drawn right before antibiotics were started and we can’t quite explain it. The doctor suggested that another option for the off liver numbers being bacteria from Patrick’s gut gettiing into his liver through the gastric bypass created at transplant. I guess we’ll explore that more.

But the long story short is that Patrick seems to be responding well to treatment and shouldn’t be hospitalized long. And we’ll have more conversations about the cause of the problem and the fate of his line in the future.

It’s been a quiet Sunday. Patrick is so much calmer in the hospital now. I don’t know if that’s from practice being in the hospital and entertaining himself alone or because his sensory processing disorder is less of a problem since transplant or because his nurse last night started giving him all the used syringes and passed along in report to continue doing so and he has like 30 of them now, plus extensions to connect them to and that always keeps him happy. But he’s quiet and once we’d all had a nap we were all happier.

That was a lot of story to tell. I really should blog more often so you don’t have as much back story to read through. Oh well.

“Do you know deep in your heart that your Heavenly Father loves you and desires you and those you love to be with Him? Just as Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ are perfect, their hopes for us are perfect. Their plan for us is perfect, and Their promises are sure.” – Carole M Stephens, Relief Society General Presidency, LDS General Women’s Conference, October 2015

 

A transplant recipient’s guide to Omaha on a budget

I never blogged about our “vacation” days in Omaha. See, insurance pays for Patrick and one parent to travel for care.. but if daddy comes, too, then we worry about airfare costs and sometimes that means staying a few days. We were  beyond bored of our usual Omaha/Ronald McDonald House activities. So Brian declared that we should make it a vacation and try to find new things.

Sometimes circumstances lead you to discover things you might not try otherwise. Like today I had roasted red pepper hummus, veggies, saltines minis and chicken nuggets for lunch.. something i may not have ever planned for lunch if not for short gut and oral aversion and food allergies. But back to travel. Brian did his homework and here are a few discoveries.

Old Market

One of the things that you may not guess about our family because I’m not exactly fit is that we are a fitbit family. Especially on vacation. Brian loves to walk. I love to walk with my family. And so we walk. So of course, when we arrived in Omaha, after unpacking and dinner, we went out for a walk. We heard often about a place called Old Market when we were living in the city. But it was brutal winter and bitter cold for walking and we were too poor and immunocompromised for eating out. So we didn’t go.

Visiting Old Market was high on our list going back. It’s a pretty nifty few blocks of downtown Omaha. Lots of dining, some shopping, and on every other street corner, a musician. Not the creepy of musician begging on the street that you aren’t sure if you should cross the street. Just honest to goodness musicians with their instrument cases in front of them. A drum line. A girl in a flowy white skirt hula-hooping to her friend’s music.

Patrick was in his adaptive stroller and we learned that the combination of cobblestone roads and staircases made this the trickier way to explore the street. (Most businesses had ramps on one side, but few had them on both.) But it was a fun adventure nonetheless. Maybe someday we’ll have time and money and healthy immune systems and we’ll find a place to eat there. A few caught my eye.

http://www.oldmarket.com/

Henry Doorley Zoo

Omaha boasts one of the world’s  best zoos and, though we visit every trip, we never feel we have seen it all. It changes with seasons and because the habitats are so real, the animals in view are always changing, too. We spent Thursday morning there in beautiful weather on their spring break, so crowds were bigger and we stuck to more outdoor exhibits, caught the seal training, walked around the rhinos.

http://www.omahazoo.com/

 Lewis and Clark Monument

Right before returning home in February, Patrick and I went for a drive. On a whim, I followed some historical markers and we ended up driving to a historic monument in the bluffs above Council Bluffs, Iowa. My little Utah heart that grew up looking down on the Salt Lake Valley from various vistas leapt for joy to find an overlook of Omaha. And I knew I needed to bring Brian back.

So, Thursday evening, when we had just enough time for a drive after dinner, I directed Brian up to the monument. His reaction was almost the same as mine. And of course, Patrick did what he did last time. He started exploring. He noticed a set of stairs and a little trail going off to the side of the monument. We resolved to come back and explore that trail. Because we grew up in the Utah mountains and that is what people who grew up exploring mountains do.

The next day, we packed a crazy little dinner of ham sandwiches and pringles and jell-o cups and we headed out in the late afternoon to explore. We set our watches and checked our fitbits to know how far we’d gone. And we started walking.

We walked around this sometimes steep, often narrow and overgrown but clear train that followed the edge of the bluff. And then we got to where we could see the trail led down into the subdivision at the bottom of the hill. And we turned around and we went back thinking that it was nice, but a bit of a bust.

On the way back, we learned that the actual destination was DOWN the bluff. Down a nice steep incline by the railroad tracks, at the base is a spring. So if you ever want to go hiking there and you don’t mind really steep trails, so explore. It was a bit too much for us with Patrick and my asthma that hates hills. At least this trip. But do go. Especially if you can go in early spring. That was the perfect weather for a hike.

We picnicked overlooking the city. Patrick ate most of his ham sandwich. As much as most other kids would have.

http://lewisandclarktrail.com/section1/iowacities/CouncilBluffs/monumentpark.htm

Strategic Air and Space Museum

Of course, morning were still nippy so we didn’t want to hike in the mornings. Instead, we took a field trip out to Ashland, NE to visit the Strategic Air and Space Museum.

My father-in-law is an engineer. He loves planes. My husband grew up loving planes. This is one he’s wanted to explore for a long time. And it was awesome to let him take his son and share that same love of planes.

The museum has two hangars full of planes, mostly old military planes. Brian can name most models by sight. His eyes light up as he tells me stories of what they were used for. Patrick loved peeking in cockpits and engines and playing with the flight training demo. Though he’ll tell you we didn’t let him ride in any planes because we didn’t have quarters to put in the little ride on planes they had. (You know, the kind you find in front of grocery stores.)

After spending the whole morning in the museum, we bought a parachute toy in the gift shop and Patrick and Brian took turns trying to get it to fly off in the wind on the front lawn.

Then, we went and found the entrance to the state park next door. Didn’t go in, but bookmarked it for next time. We took a little drive through Ashland itself because we love small towns and were hungry. Then we took country roads back into Omaha. Again, hoping to find a quaint little place to eat. But we ended up at Five Guys instead. After several days of eating kids meal hamburgers (Yes, you read that right. Patrick, started eating burgers this trip.) this was one burger Patrick had no interest in at all. Kids and their tastes.

http://www.sasmuseum.com/

Donut Stop

Have I ever mentioned that finding little bakeries is a favorite foodie activity of ours on vacation? Donut and cupcake shops hold a special regard for us, especially. So when Brian found an all-night donut shop in Omaha, he knew we needed to go. After our hike above Council Bluffs, we took a meandering drive to our room through that city. And, along the way, Brian declared we were in the right neighborhood for donuts.

I can’t really capture the essence of this place in words. It was NOT the seattle donut shops we have frequented. It opens in the evening and stays open all night till morning. The stop itself has two big display cases full of a decadent assortment of donuts. And behind the case, two little old ladies frosting trays full of donuts more for the night. Our order was rung up on an old fashioned cash register that popped up our totals on numbered tiles and dinged when the drawer opened. The walls were adorned with pictures and souvenirs from Hawaii and an abundance of pictures of cats.

It was one of the most quaint and unique bakeries I’ve ever been into. We all think the donuts were amazing. Especially Patrick, who suckered me into letting him have his cake donut with pink strawberry frosting on it, even though I knew his belly might complain later.

I’m sure we’ll be back.

http://www.yelp.com/biz/donut-stop-omaha

IMG_20150312_204755

Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge

Saturday morning, we drove through the traffic of a St. Patrick’s Day parade. We needed a less busy place to spend the morning and Brian needed some more steps. There is a bridge that crosses the Missouri River from Omaha to Council Bluffs. There is also a park on either side, both of which are worth a visit on their own. But our goal this morning was to walk across the bridge.

So, we grabbed some Taco Bell. (Waffle of the waffle taco was another hit for Patrick.) Then we bundled up against the Nebraska wind, put Patrick in his stroller and away we went. It was one of the colder days we experienced there so Patrick ended up wearing Brian’s hoodie.

It was fun and peaceful to be out for a walk above a river. Even if Patrick was in a grumpy mood and didn’t want us to hold hands or push his stroller one-handed or do any other number of things that made him feel out of control. After a week of walking, I knew I needed to do more walking when we got home. I was sore and tired. But it was fun.

And when we got to the Iowa side, we walked down in their park to the riverfront and let Patrick out to run for a little bit before heading back.

http://omaha.net/places/bob-kerrey-pedestrian-bridge

IMG_20150314_105952

Pizza in the park

For lunch, we met some friends at a park. It was one of the most perfect weather Saturdays of the year. The kids (with help from dads) played on the playground. And for lunch, we grabbed some pizza from one of our favorite unique-to-the-area pizza places, Mama’s Pizza. I highly recommend the chicken club pizza.

http://www.mamaspizzaomaha.com/

Pioneer Courage Park

Saturday, after enjoying an amazing roast pork dinner provided by volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House, we checked out of our room and moved to a hotel. We wanted breakfast and a smooth checkout since we needed to leave for the airport around 6 a.m. on Sunday.

We went to a hotel in downtown Omaha and, of course, after checking in went out for a walk. We walked past the ball park and arena and a mural that I don’t know how I didn’t notice was there until just this trip. The end destination was a place called “Pioneer Courage Park.”

The original address we were aiming for was a different sculpture park that we really need to go and see on another trip. But we found our actual destination almost by accident and were so glad to make it there.

Omaha was kind of a gateway for pioneers settling the American west. Especially Mormons. And many people know to travel back and visit Winter Quarters and the Mormon Trail Center. (https://www.lds.org/locations/mormon-trail-center-at-historic-winter-quarters). However, I think I’m going to add this park to my list of recommendations to those interested in that history.

This is an enormous bronze sculpture of a pioneer wagon train. Yes, a train. Several wagons. It is HUGE! You look across the street and there is a herd of buffalo across the street. As I understand it, go a little further and you’ll also find a flock of geese. Anyway, I have never seen the varied stories of the pioneers that settled the American West so completely and emotionally depicted all in one place. This sculpture was amazing.

And Patrick got to chase a bunny rabbit in the dark and jump off of slabs of rock. So we all had fun.

http://www.visitomaha.com/listings/First-National-s-Spirit-of-Nebraska-s-Wilderness-and-Pioneer-Courage-Park/57322/0/#.VRHXnI54rV0

We got back to the hotel and Patrick was greeted by the desk clerk with a gift bag full of toys. As we checked in, she asked what brought us to Omaha. She didn’t expect “transplant followup” as an answer. And she went out of her way to add some extra love to his day. People are amazing.

So – There you have it. How to vacation/staycation on a dime while immune compromised in Omaha, Nebraska. It was fun to come back to the Ronald McDonald House each day and tell the staff about where we’d been or where we were going and hear the interest in their voices about the places we were discovering that they hadn’t even been to themselves. It felt so good to be doing something DIFFERENT while we were there. Making some memories of our own choosing there. Kind of claiming the city for our own.