Outgrowing allergies and other updates

I reread what I wrote last night and realized that I got tired and stopped short of finishing telling you about our day. I didn’t tell you anything about speech therapy.

After being away for 9 months, we finally decided it was time to go back to speech therapy. We only just barely arrived on time, because we were coming from the meeting with the school. Thank goodness my sister had tagged along to help with Patrick or he would never have done so well.

But he DID do well. His therapist hasn’t seen him in a really long time and it was fun to see her reaction to his progress. Because speech is one place where Patrick’s progress is simply amazing. Being able to find car keys like a french pig finds truffles, Patrick found his therapist’s key on his therapist’s desk, brought it to her and asked “Do you drive a Volvo?” She laughed and said that he’d graduated speech therapy.

No, seriously though. He’s come a long way but is still struggling with things like pronunciation and verb tenses and sentence and word structure. She started doing some testing yesterday. It was amazing to see how far his receptive (listening) language has come. He flew through that test with all kinds of new words. Amazing how 9 months of netflix can expand your vocabulary.

The expressive language, though.. the one where he had to say what he saw in pictures. That wasn’t flying colors. And it kind of demonstrated what I have been seeing. Patrick knows words. But recalling them to say that, that is hard. It’s part of why he is always asking everyone their name.

We had a good talk about attention and ADHD and attention and steroids. His therapist said she has seen steroids really affect attention before. And that lack of attention causes trouble with memory. It all kind of fit. Not that I know what to do about it. But it fit.

So that was that. Now we just have to get insurance to agree to pay for speech therapy again.

In other big news, I got a call from Patrick’s allergist this morning. (After missing the appointment, they had him call me.) He went through the blood test and scratch test results pretty thoroughly.. figuring out what is safe to try and what wasn’t. He told me to be very careful with some newly diagnosed allergies: soy and tomato especially. And he also gave permission to try some cow’s milk with Patrick because all the tests indicate Patrick may have outgrown that allergy.

When I offered Patrick a piece of cow’s milk cheese, he was quite fearful. It took half an hour to convince him it was ok to take a small bite. He nibbled a couple more and then, after a few minutes when he saw he was still safe, he grabbed that piece of cheese and gobbled it down. No reaction. So, later in the day, I gave Patrick a piece of string cheese. He really loved that. He asked for another later on. And then he tried to get to eat only string cheese for dinner.

I nixed that plan but did try some pasta with cream of chicken soup in the recipe. Fail. He got spots on his face. No worse reaction. But too many ingredients. I can’t tell you if it was the dairy or the soy or something else. But we’ll need to be more careful before we try that again.

What a tricky balance. Introducing Patrick cautiously to foods to find out how he’ll react. And then, on the other hand, trying to make sure that he’s eating as many calories as possible.

We cut Patrick’s tube feeds in half last night. Now, he’s only getting about 200 calories over 4 hours. I think it will work. I think he can eat the target 1800-2000 calories easily. But not if I cook him dinner and discover I made him something unsafe. Tonight I ended up making a whole extra dinner for him. And yet, I still don’t think he ate his full calories.

if Patrick can maintain or gain weight, the goal is to switch to all oral food next month. Knock on wood. This wasn’t the greatest way to start today.

Today was kind of hard all around, though. And not just because my hot pad slipped and I burned my thumb cooking fish sticks. That just set me back.

But knowing that school had started. Seeing the school next door bustling with life. And everyone’s first day of school pictures on Facebook, and Patrick asking to play with friends who are no longer home. And then us.. just trying to find the right balance of work and entertainment to get us through yet another day at home. I’ve been doing this for almost 9 months now. I am exhausted. And it’s driving through the middle of nowhere and finally spotting a town and needing the restroom and then discovering that the restroom where you are is out of order and you’ll have to go across the street. Holding on those last moments when you thought you’d made it to the finish line, but the finish line moved. It’s hard.

I look around me and I see so many things that have been just waiting. Waiting for me to have time and free hands. But that’s not the time right now for me. And with needing to be a part of training, it might not even really happen for a while.

At least the day ended well. Patrick raised his start to the ceiling of the Make-a-Wish building tonight. Family and friends came. We took a tour and we ate some cake and we visited. Patrick was exhausted and crazed.

But it was a moving moment to see his star go up with the others after all. Even if he did do the fastest ever.

I’d add pictures but they are on Brian’s phone and my battery is dying so I’m going to post now.

 

Transplant Day 290 and the Back to School Meeting

Today was insane. Brian and I woke up before Patrick, a rare occasion, and were lying in bed talking (we’ve missed each other) when the power went out. And then, a few minutes later we heard sirens. And, well, we hoped it wasn’t but we suspected that a car accident had knocked out the power. We live in a quiet neighborhood, but it’s near some busy streets. And this morning, somehow a traffic accident took down two power poles. Across the street form each other. The power was out all day.

Not the smoothest start, but we pushed on. It was a big and busy day and I needed to make the most of it. So, after sending Daddy off to work, Patrick and I got ready to go do a little more shopping. We still needed some things for school to start. And then we hurried home to meet my sister.

i ended up with 3 big things scheduled today. An allergist appointment, a school meeting, and a speech evaluation. My sister Marcy agreed to tag along for the day to help keep Patrick happy while I did the talking that needed to be done. Patrick doesn’t like us to talk about him.

Well, we got to the allergist and went to check in and they couldn’t find the appointment. Finally they looked it up and told me that it wasn’t until the following day. I explained that I had come at the time told to me and that I couldn’t come the next day because Patrick was in school. They tried to find a way to fit us in.. but with other meetings we couldn’t swing it.

I was disappointed because i really want help sorting out these new allergy test results. They revealed new allergies. They also hint that Patrick might be outgrowing his milk allergy. And I don’t know what comes next. But it had to wait for another day.

We went and grabbed lunch and then headed to a park. Patrick was seeming restless. But we sat down to eat only to discover that Arby’s had put cheese on Patrick’s roast beef sandwich. And with no answers from the allergist, I had to pick out the pieces he could eat. Frustrating.

Anyway – Patrick made a friend and the time at the park was fun enough. And then we went off to meet with the school.

I can’t really describe what school meetings for Patrick look like. This one was packed. We had the teacher, OT, PT, principal, nurse, district special education liason, and two other very big district big wigs over special accommodations in the school. Plus Patrick, me and Marcy.

As I mentioned before, I had talked to Patrick’s teacher and nurse the week before. The teacher and I talked at length about medical accommodations. She was very worried because Patrick needs extra supervision at recess, lunch, and especially with the potty and she just doesn’t have enough adults in her classroom to help with that. Especially since they added 5 kids to the class since last I’d heard. I told her I’d been promised extra help and she asked me how far I was willing to go to make that happen. I started writing e-mails that day. And I got promises that the district would send help to the meeting. (Enter the district big wigs.)

When I talked to the nurse, again, when we started talking about medical needs he said that it sounded like we didn’t have enough support. I told him that we had been promised extra help from an aide and I didn’t know how to make that happen. I gave him some names that I had of people who had made decision and promises. And he said he’d make some calls.

Yesterday morning, I got a call from the district nurse who was helping with Patrick’s school transition. She explained to met that, in fact, she had helped request an aide for Patrick and told me the language to use to make sure that one was provided. And she promised to call around and find specifics.

And so today we sat down and i started to go over Patrick’s needs and I brought up the concern that there wasn’t enough support in the classroom… and the district special resources person told the principal that they had 22 extra aide hours per week for Patrick. Her response was a mix of frustration and relief. Glad for the resources but not so much for needing to produce this extra employee for school to start the next morning.  I can’t blame her for being upset. I’m upset that it took a meeting when I’ve been asking about it for a month. But I’m also partly to blame for taking so long to choose a school.

We went over medical needs. The nurse was really outspoken and trying his best to help. We talked about where Patrick should sit and lunch. (End of the table with friends with safe lunches next to him.) We decided we needed to set a time to train the classroom staff. Only with school starting, he didn’t think we could fit that in right away.  We decided to let Patrick come 10 minutes late to school and miss breakfast. I explained that hands have to be washed with soap and water, not just hand sanitizer which created a fuss about the bathrooms always being out of soap. I offered to provide soap for the classroom. And the district rep jumped in and said I couldn’t do that and promised to remedy the situation.

We talked about potty training. That was one of the teacher’s biggest worries. I don’t blame her. It’s a huge time commitment. Especially with Patrick. I guess there are two kids potty training which makes things even more complicated. Also, the private bathroom I was excited about turns out to be in the school’s “sick room.” I was SO grateful when someone else spoke up and said that wouldn’t work. Not sure that we actually ended up with a resolution, though. They talked about making the school move the sick room. They talked about offering to install a changing table in the bathrooms that are being remodeled, too. We decided to let Patrick wear pull-ups to school while we work it out.

We planned to hold a new IEP meeting in October, once they’ve had a month to get to know Patrick. And we talked about including or re-including some new things at that time like restarting physical therapy and calling in the augmentative team to look at some assistive technology for writing.

And then, after we talked about everything that needs to be done.. the idea was thrown out that Patrick maybe would be better off if he didn’t start school tomorrow. I didn’t know if i was relieved or crushed by that idea. Really, they aren’t ready. Really, I’m not ready. I have felt like I have been only halfway there this year. Not put together. Not giving him time to transition after all the craziness of travel. And so a few more days will let me make his backpack and his lunchbox cute and medical friendly. It will let me train the staff. It will let them try to hire help. It might give me time to figure out this new allergy questions. And to get Patrick back into a routine with eating and potty. It will let Patrick and I have a few more days at home to say goodbye to each other. And to really get him ready for the idea of school.

But I’m kind of sad. It feels kind of like when you’re on a road trip and you finally make it to a rest stop only to find out that the bathroom is closed and you’re gonna have to cross the street to the gas station. It’s only a little further, but it’s the longest, hardest part of the wait. I look around and see so many things that have just been waiting for me to get to them. And they will need to keep waiting.

I feel really bad for Patrick, too. On Sunday, all the other kids will be talking about starting school. And he will have been left a home. Again. He will miss the craziness of the first day of school. But he’ll have missed the specialness of it, too. He’ll be the different kid. The one who came late. The new kid. Again.

They asked if I’d like to come teach the kids about his allergies and immune suppression. I told them about the presentation I gave last year at the start of kindergarten. And I could see they liked the idea. So on Friday afternoon, I’ll be going in to introduce Patrick to his class. And then afterwards, we’ll meet and go over a behavior plan and schedule.

And then Monday morning, he’ll start school. I’ll stay and help the nurse train the teachers. And I’ll maybe stay to help a little more than that if they don’t have another aide by then.

And I know it’ll be good.

I think I’m just a little bit mourning normal. I want back to school to be exciting and happy. This just feels complicated.

But maybe having a few more days to regroup will accomplish that. And meanwhile, we have one last week with the girl who’s been doing Patrick’s respite. And we have a few sweet days where all the kids are in school and we might be able to sneak off and do something awesome without a crowd.

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.

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Lots of appointments and planning a new normal

School starts on August 19th. My goal in this month prior to school is to help Patrick work up to a school year normal.

Therapy

That means a few things. First, it means restarting outpatient therapy. I took Patrick back to his occupational therapist a month ago. She was so excited to have him back and eager to start working with him on writing and an learning to manage his sensory processing disorder with a new “sensory diet.” (Since transplant, Patrick’s not nearly as controlled by his sensory seeking behaviors. But that doesn’t mean they’ve gone away. However, he’s a lot more tired so the big physical play that used to help focus wears him out fast now.)

The bad news, though, is that Primary Children’s lost a couple of therapists this summer. They have hired a bunch of new ones. But that means that the veterans are very busy with the transition. Patrick’s beloved therapist just doesn’t have time in her schedule to do the weekly therapist that Patrick seems to need right now. However, she’s been shadowed by another therapist in the couple of visits we went to. And so we transferred care, at least temporarily, to a new occupational therapist.

We also agreed to move back to the Taylorsville Clinic. (I have had some bad experiences with the office staff at that clinic and had decided not to keep going there.) Because it shares space with an instacare, Patrick has to wear a mask on the way in and can’t wait in the waiting room. However, it’s closer to home, has a bigger, cleaner gym.  And we were able to basically pick our time on their lightest day.

Our first session went pretty well. His therapist picked up on all the tools we use to keep Patrick on track: a clear schedule, verbal cues, deep breathing, etc. and I think he was calmer for her than has been his usual. The other nice thing is that I think we can pull off going to therapy at 8 a.m. on Mondays to let him get ready for the week at school.

I’ve scheduled evaluations so he can restart speech and physical therapies, too. And he’ll have his last home health feeding therapy session this week.

Evaluation

Also, to get ready for school, we started a new neuropsychological evaluation. Patrick was SO young last time he was tested. And we know that having a healthy gut has changed a lot of things for him. His sensory processing, focus, and other quirkiness is actually a lot less since transplant, even though he’s having a hard time with sitting still, speaking quietly, and controlling his temper. It seemed like a good time to get a new look at his abilities.

So we did an intake interview and in the first few weeks of school, Patrick will be pulled out for 3 half days so I can take him for some testing. Hopefully it helps.

As I mentioned before, we’re working on a behavior plan, too, with his psychologist.. hoping to have him used to a specific set of consequences and rewards that they can use in class. He always does best in class away from me, anyway.

Transplant follow-up appointment & diet changes

We saw Patrick’s GI, Dr. J this week. It was a long appointment. For one thing, I needed Dr. J to sign all new orders for school again. It’s getting smaller each time, though. This time around was only 8 signatures and 6 pages. Compared to 20 the first year, that’s big improvement.

Patrick weighed in at 24 kilos. That’s just under 53 pounds, and up 3 pounds in the past 3 weeks. They had a new dietitian this time and she pointed out that since Patrick’s eating meats (even if they are just hot dogs, hamburgers and lunch meat) he might be eating enough protein to not need as much formula at night. Dr. J was really concerned about Patrick’s 96% BMI and rapid weight gain. He said we need to get Patrick on a regular meal and snack schedule. And he said we should consider doing less “feeding while he is unconscious.”

So, I ran this all past the dietitian in Nebraska. And she made another reduction in Patrick’s formula feeding. I’m supposed to be keeping a log of everything he eats for the next 3 days so she can evaluate what he’s getting and we can start talking about a plan for all oral eating.

I’m not sure if this means needing to add other foods to his diet. Patrick doesn’t really absorb vegetables well. (Dr. J. says they are “just wood” anyway if you don’t have a colon to break them down in.) He can’t eat fruits. So he’ll need vitamin supplements at least.

Allergies

We also saw Patrick’s allergist, Dr. G, today. For years, every time we went to the allergist, he’d say that we’d need to do a whole new workup after transplant when Patrick was ready to eat. Well, Patrick seems to be more than willing to eat. And so it’s important to figure out what exactly he is allergic to. This is kind of tricky with immune suppression because the same drugs that suppress Patrick’s immune system also suppress his allergic reactions. This is good news. But it means that we don’t really know what the potential for allergies is.

So that was today’s goal. Figure out what Patrick might be allergic to. Allergist appointments are always long. Like, crazy long. We were there three and a half hours today. For an hour, we updated Patrick’s medical chart and gave history to a resident. (Which, in summer especially, is a bit like training a new resident.) And then Patrick’s allergist came in and went over possible allergens. I went through a list of things we could test for an highlighted the things I think Patrick might be allergic to. Then the doctor highlighted the things he thought from past test results Patrick might be allergic to. Plus other foods that he thought it would be good for Patrick to try to eat. We tested for just under 40 possible allergens in all. That was all that would fit on his back.

Some of the results were predictable. Cashews and pistachios, off the chart. Eggs still in a big danger zone. Oats were much higher than expected. And I highlighted peaches, oranges, and strawberries because I’ve had my suspicions. They were very surprised when some of those rare things came up positive. We had other positives for foods that rarely to never cause reactions, like tomatoes and wheat. These could be just because they are a big part of Patrick’s diet and not that he can’t safely eat them. Really, all testing done so far, we don’t know almost as much as we did going it.

Nuts, both tree nuts and peanuts, are still a HUGE no for Patrick. We are still a nut-free house, for sure. So are eggs, peaches, corn, oats. However, he tested negative for cow’s milk, which was a very big surprise. (You can outgrow milk allergies but a year ago, Patrick wasn’t anywhere close to that.)

So the next step is to do a blood test. That will test for a different type of reaction. If the negatives in the scratch test match up with negatives in the blood test, we’ll do a food challenge. (For example, offer Patrick cheese.) If positives match up with positives, then we’ll talk about a strategy to keep Patrick safe but eating as much as possible. They will not be likely to stop him from eating foods that he is currently eating without reactions. He might have become desensitized and we wouldn’t want to reverse that by taking something back out of his diet. But time and testing and trial and error will decide. And if the results conflict, meaning if one is positive and one negative, we’ll probably test again.

This is sounding confusing as I’m writing it. It doesn’t change much of what we have been doing. Just helps us try to figure out how to help Patrick eat as much as possible and keep him safe. Meanwhile, we refilled his epi and got correct dosing on his antihistimines and requested a new letter for school. And we got things started.

Patrick was a champion. It was a long appointment and he was very scared. And yet, he was very patient and helpful. He crashed in exhaustion on the way home.

Choosing a school

Enough medical updates though. I have other news. We also have been planning for school by talking to the school district. I had a meeting yesterday with a couple of district representatives (I was being transitioned from one representative to another because of some restructuring). The goal of the meeting was to finally pick a school placement for Patrick. And I did finally make a decision.

Everyone who has spent time working with Patrick: his home hospital teacher, his summer school teacher, his psychologist and group therapy leader.. they all say that he needs to be in a higher functioning self-contained classroom this year. In a regular class, he’d walk all over the teacher and never get anything done. In a low functioning class, he’d gravitate to the classroom staff and not make friends or learn to work independently. And in either, he’d get bored and then get naughty.

But, as I’ve written before, I was uncomfortable with the classroom that he’d go to by default because of our address. Well, a little over a week ago I got brave enough to ask if there were any other classrooms like that one in other schools. Since, after all, I drive Patrick to school anyway.

It turns out, there are several. And the closest to my home happens to be in the town where I grew up. Across the street from my grandpa’s house. And 5 minutes away from Patrick’s therapy office.

All of a sudden, things seemed to fall into place. The class is indoors. It has fewer students. The teacher has a pretty good reputation. And, even though it’s far from home, that family connection will make it feel like Patrick isn’t going to school far away. It isn’t farther from the other school. And it’s in a place I know. I know the neighborhood. If he made friends and wanted to play after school, I could do that. Grandparents, aunts and uncles all live nearby to help respond when he’s sick. Patrick could even, in theory, choose to walk to his grandpa’s instead of me picking him up. Eventually. Once we’re sure he will actually go there when given a chance.

The district folks seemed to think they’d even be open and excited to have me volunteer in the school. (They have a high hispanic population. It sounds like I can use my talents to help.)

I’m a nervous wreck still. All of a sudden being away from Patrick from 9 to 3:45 every day after all this time together sounds terrifying. I wonder if he’ll make friends. I worry because I don’t know ANY of the staff here. Losing my district rep means that EVERYONE will be brand new to me. And I don’t know what writing an IEP and trying to request accommodations is going to be like. And I’m coming in with a very long wish list that I expect them to take care of.

Also, unlike some other places I’ve looked at… this is a very normal school. No big special needs programs. Just two small little special needs units.

And – I still have to make plans for safe lunch AND breakfast in the classroom. Though with only a handful of students, that should be more doable.

To make things worse, I didn’t bother looking up a school calendar until last week. Our district starts the same week of the year every year and I made plans for that. Only THIS YEAR they decided to change things and start a week early. Which means that instead of having a full week to make plans with a new school like I thought, I’ll have just 2 days. 2 days! To give medical training. To make an allergy plan. To make a behavior plan. To orient a whole new team to our family.

I am overwhelmed and scared. A LOT.

We are going to register tomorrow regardless.

“What I did this summer” or in other words, a brief summary of the month of July

As usual, summer has been very busy. Brian survived the Youth Conference pioneer trek (they did a one week recreation of the handcart pioneers that helped to settle Utah). Getting last details like their trek booklets and video slideshow kind of ate up all of my attention before and after. And Brian was swamped with getting everything ready both to prepare and clean up from trek, as well as getting work responsibilities squared away. Of course, this coincided with my amazing respite provider being sick for two weeks in a row and I barely held it together, honestly.

As a nice treat, though, my sister came and helped Patrick to bed one night so that I could drive up and visit my husband on the trail. That was a little bit of payoff, despite all of the craziness. Brian was called on to speak to the youth that night. He talked about the women’s pull, when the boys and men leave the carts and the women pull them up the steepest part of the trail in memory of the many pioneer women who crossed the plains without husband because they were divided by circumstance or death. As he talked, I saw a little bit of how it must be for him to watch me struggle right now with my current demands. How helpless he must feel watching me. I’ve been so focused on my own battle that I haven’t really seen things through his eyes that way before.

While Brian was away for youth conference, we celebrated Patrick’s “miracle day.” The 6 year anniversary of when Patrick, basically, died in my arms.. but didn’t leave us. I am still in awe of where we are now considering what happened then. I decided that I’d just scrap all responsibility that day and just focus on Patrick that day. It was swimming day at school, which means I got to go play in the pool. We left there and went out to Arby’s for lunch. (Arby’s has generously donated summer lunches to kids this year and so Patrick and I have been regulars this year.) While there, I asked Patrick what he’d like to do to celebrate and he chose the zoo. And, as we finished at the zoo, I decided to go follow a lead from the morning. The lifeguard at the school pool overheard me saying how hard it is for a transplant patient to find a pool clean enough to swim in. He gave me suggestions of a therapy pool that might be willing to sneak us in during a water aerobics class for a private swim session. In the end, that’s exactly what happened and Patrick and I enjoyed a full hour of having the shallow end all to ourselves. We came home exhausted, ate a quick dinner, and then went to bed early. A perfect way to spend the day.

Patrick’s last day of summer school was a week later and that’s why you haven’t heard much from me. I can’t quite put into words what it is to spend all day every day trying to supervise, teach, potty train, clean up after, and keep nurturing a little boy with this many needs day in and day out.

I’m trying to make the best of summer and shake the guilt of the mom who formerly had amazing mommy school themes planned for every day but now just makes it through the day. Patrick gets up at 6:34 every day. We go immediately to the bath. Patrick’s discovered laying down in the tub and so he has decided to learn to wash his own hair. This means that I can’t just put him in the tub and do things until I’m ready to get him out. He takes care of himself and gets out. Most often. Sometimes I catch him with dry hair and have to send him back to wash it.

We sometimes take lazy mornings where the only goal is making sure he makes it to the potty every time he needs to and that he eats a good breakfast. (He’s discovered cereal now with soy milk and that’s leading to better breakfasts.) Some days, we take some time for playing and learning. I let mommy school slide for a bit and it certainly isn’t organized and awesome, but Patrick started to miss his schoolwork about a week into this stretch of summer break and started to get out his writing books and practicing his letters every day, or grabbing his sight word readers and practicing with me.

Potty training is going well. Patrick has had several all underwear days, even using the bathroom away from home. But sometimes he forgets and sometimes he gets stage fright.

We accomplished Patrick's first away from home potty success when I offered to buy him this car ONLY if he used the potty in Walmart. We went back 3 times until he finally did it.

We accomplished Patrick’s first away from home potty success when I offered to buy him this car ONLY if he used the potty in Walmart. We went back 3 times until he finally did it.

He’ll get restless midday and so we take lunches at the park. We gave up on the location by our house because there were never kids his age there. We now bounce around between different parks, going most often to the one near our home with a shaded play structure. It’s nice to give him the chance to move and interact with other kids. And we’re pretty used to eating the lunches I pack now. Of course, Patrick’s gotten a bit fixated on corn dogs in vegan ranch dressing and picks that most often. But build your own pizza kits, hot dogs, pasta salad, chicken nuggets, and hummus are regular favorites.

A lot of our time is also spent practicing time outs, too. Patrick’s been angry again lately. I talked to his psychologist about it and she pointed out that he’s got a lot of new skills (language, potty, eating) and a lot of new independence now that he doesn’t need feeding tubes. And she thinks that he’s trying to figure out his boundaries again. So we worked out a behavior plan with 3 very careful worded warnings and then consequences when he’s out of control in time out.

I tried starting this behavior plan on the Pioneer Day weekend and it made for a very LONG weekend as Patrick fought back against the new rules and consequences. I don’t think we’ve got things quite right yet.

Just when we were making ground, he caught a cold. Amazingly, it only lasted a few days and went away without many problems. But we had to start all over again once he was better.

We’ve also been continuing to go to social skills group at the autism clinic and Patrick’s attention seems to be getting better the more we go. Plus, I get a pretty fun little show watching a bunch of autistic 4-7 year olds practice circle time and social skills through a two-sided mirror. I’m the old-pro parent there with a bunch of brand new, doe-eyed new parents who are terrified of the diagnosis. I just sit there knowingly, quietly watching. They see behaviors that are confusing and scary to them. I just see autism and know that with a little practice and help, that won’t be a big deal. I know there is a lot more parents can survive and learn to do than they realize, and much more potential in children, too. I also see how Patrick doesn’t act exactly like the other kids in the group and remember why I don’t often use that label to try to explain his needs. But the group helps, regardless, and provides some entertainment for me, too. Especially when the kids come play with their reflections.

With a little bit more time back, we’ve snagged some family time this July. We got our bikes in good riding condition and went to the Jordan River Parkway. I went once. Brian has been taking Patrick back. Brian and I even squeezed in a couple of dates. We went to a movie last night and realized that we aren’t ready for that much leisure time yet. It just felt wasteful to sit in a theater doing nothing and we couldn’t quite comprehend people having time to be regular movie goers. (Not that it’s wrong. Feeling like leisure activities are frivolous is a pretty common side effect of the kind of extreme trials we’ve faces this year.) We also took a morning and went out to breakfast and to the driving range. That didn’t feel quite as frivolous and it was fun to see all those skills we learned in golf lessons coming back. I’ve lost less than I expected. We went to the zoo a few times. Brian had a company party at Boondocks so we went drove go carts, played bumper boats and arcade games, and introduced Patrick to bowling. With a ramp and bumpers, he actually did pretty good at it. Especially in a total overstimulating environment and with a cold.

That’s the long and short version of most of July in a nutshell. I think I’m gonna wrap up this sort of travel log sort of blog post right now. There are some other big things that happened in the past couple of weeks, but I think they deserve a post of their own.

Mini summer

So extended school year isn’t really a very full-time summer school option. It’s 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off. So for the past week, Patrick’s been having a mini summer vacation.

We started off it grand fashion. He has really done well in his new summer school classroom. The kids are much more on his level and I feel like he’s making good progress there. The education is focused on maintaining and, at least in the realms of social skills and keeping a routine, it’s going a long way.

The last day before the break, Patrick had his first turn in the school swimming pool. They invited me to come help, just because he has so little experience in the pool. I’m so glad they did! When I got there, he was already dressed for the pool and waiting for me. I’m used to a little boy who is very cautious in the water. I guess he was watching out for his line, because Patrick was NOT afraid. At all. He was extremely brave. I helped him float and worked on teaching him to hold his breath or blow out if his face got in the water. We got him a floating vest and at one point, I turned my back, and he decided to go on his own. I’ll never erase the memory of him laughing as he rolled over and over again in the water.. trying not to inhale.

I’ve been in a better summer mood this week. I finally made Patrick’s 6th birthday video, 6 months late, as a father’s day gift for Brian. You can view it here. I’ve put it off because it was too hard to look at the life we’d left behind when Patrick went for transplant while he was still recovering. I thought I was in a better place. I was. It was therapeutic. It was also still hard. It made me miss last year’s summer school adventures. It made me miss him having friends. And it made me miss the days before steroids where disappointments didn’t lead to big temper tantrums, leaving me fearful of doing some things. I actually had nightmares all the time I was working on the video.

But, with it done, I was ready to dive in and make this a good summer, too. I’m still not as organized and awesome as Mommy school. But we’ve done some good things. We had a picnic at Red Butte Garden. We took a cousin and visited the children’s museum. (Called and asked for suggestions of a less-crowded time to visit and enjoyed being there without fighting a crowd.) We’ve toured a few different libraries.  We finally started collecting brag badges. We mixed up our lunch routine and went to Liberty Park where we started out just eating hot dogs, but stumbled across their wading fountains and ended up staying 3 hours just because.

It was triple-digit heat all last week so I decided that, with the success in the school pool, it would be a good time to get out the backyard swimming pool. This went better than I expected. First, the neighbor’s 10-year-old who often comes to play and help me with Patrick, helped me fill up the pool and taught Patrick how to play in it. I tried putting sunscreen on my own back with spray sunscreen. I haven’t been that burned in years.

The next day, we invited the boy across the street to come play. This was much more on Patrick’s level of play and they had a great time together. This little boy only just barely became a big brother, so there was lots of coaching for both of them about how to play together. But they had successful pool noodle sword-fighting, basketball, water fighting, and general splashing. In the end, I had to call it done because it was well past lunchtime, but neither boy wanted to be done.

Patrick actually spent the rest of that day in the pool, too. He is loving being uninhibited in the water. I love being able to share something I love so much with him.

Alas, though, nothing is perfect. I accidentally pulled Patrick’s g-tube out the day before his first time swimming and it bled a little. We have had off and on g-tube infections since and I’m sure that it’s from spending so much time in the water. Thank goodness it’s supposed to be a cooler, rainy week so I can get away with taking a few days off to let it heal.

The other big event of a summer break is that I decided it was time to work on potty training. I took Patrick to K-mart and let him pick out a pair of big boy underwear the last day of summer school. The next day, I woke up with a migraine, but he was excited to wear them. So we plunged ahead.

He made it through all 5 pairs of underwear in 2 hours, trying his best to “hold it” in between small accidents. I gave him lots of goldfish crackers and praise and did my best to keep things fun and happy. But he was still discouraged. The session ended puddles and a frustrated little boy. I’m pleased to report his mommy stayed calm and positive.

The next day, when I pulled out his underwear, he cried and threw a tantrum that he didn’t want them. But I reminded him it was only for the morning and that there were prizes waiting. After several tries, he finally went in the potty and earned the water gun I’ve been dangling as a carrot for months. The light went on and the next day, he made it several times, staying dry for half the day.

We took the weekend off, and then started again on Monday. I think he’s actually getting the hang of this. We still aren’t accident free and today is the first day I’m trying underwear all day. I don’t know how it will go to have them trying to potty train when he goes back to school next week. I still haven’t tried using a potty away from home. We might need the next long break to solidify what he’s learned. But so far, things are going better than I expected. Now if only I can convince him that this is the better option for him.

(Note: I know this is a long gap without pictures. But I am trying to not post pictures my son will find embarrassing someday when his girlfriend finds this old blog.)

We had a simple 4th of July. The evening was spent at a barbecue with my family. We’d decided to not push Patrick’s limits this year by participating in my family’s huge fireworks. Turns out, that was a convenient choice as it started to rain right after we ate. We left in a downpour but made it home with just a little sprinkling, so we decided to go ahead with our smaller fireworks. (We bought a small pack of fireworks, plus a couple of fountains specifically labeled “silent” so he wouldn’t be scared by the noise.) Who’d have expected, after years of miserable 4th’s and Patrick terrified of fireworks that, on this smaller scale, Patrick would be in love with fireworks. We had to stop and go inside for half an hour because of rain, but when it let up we went out and lit more. He was very upset when he found out we only bought enough for one night.

The rest of the day was simple. Brian hosted a barbecue for his team at work Monday so we spent most of the weekend deep cleaning the house and prettying up the yard. It feels really good to finally have cleaned up some of those messy corners and piles that have been haunting me for being undone since we got home in February. And I caught a clearance sale at the greenhouse down the street. So I got 3 healthy cucumber plants and two basil for free, some adorable patio pumpkins, eggplants, and yellow zucchini as well as a 3 pack of bell peppers for virtually nothing.

Isn't this tiny eggplant adorable? And the flowers are so pretty!

Isn’t this tiny eggplant adorable? And the flowers are so pretty!

Then, we went back later for some miniature sunflowers to fill in the front bed where our irises grow in spring. Brian wanted to plant giant sunflowers from seed earlier this year. We planted a seed in a family home evening lesson about faith. They are as tall as me now. So tying in little sunflowers in the front yard seemed the perfect touch. I’m in love with my sunflowers this year.

I also happened to listen again to this wonderful sermon this week, which only made me more in love with them. The Lord is My Light by Elder Quentin L. Cook, apostle

One of the remarkable characteristics of young wild sunflowers, in addition to growing in soil that is not hospitable, is how the young flower bud follows the sun across the sky. In doing so, it receives life-sustaining energy before bursting forth in its glorious yellow color.

Like the young sunflower, when we follow the Savior of the world, the Son of God, we flourish and become glorious despite the many terrible circumstances that surround us. He truly is our light and life.

We’re plugging away. The stress of having Patrick will me full-time when paired with the Brian’s very busy summer planning handcart pioneer trek reenactment for the teenagers in our church has me running a little ragged. I’ll be honest, when paired with facing my feelings about what we’ve lost, I’ve had more trouble with anxiety and depression lately. So  looking to sunflowers as a symbol and reminder of life-sustaining faith and hope, even in the midst of a week where popular voices are calling it old-fashioned, hypocritical, and even bigoted to believe in Christ.. that is helping to lift me up. My sunflower plants really do turn and follow the sun all day. I see them every time I come and go from my house. And each time I do, I remember that it is worth following light, even before flowers bloom.  That little seed of faith we planted is as tall as I am and growing more, so long as it follows the light.

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One more week of summer awesomeness ahead. This week, we’ll resume our mommy school studies, try to earn a brag badge a day, wear underwear all day, and try to get daddy ready for Trek.

Summer school and still planning for first grade

Well, as I mentioned in my last post, Patrick has started the extended school year program. Extended school year is a funny thing in our neck of the woods. I don’t know if it works like this everywhere, but Utah has such large families and our school district is one of the most established and biggest in the state so they are very efficient in what they do.. that, well, here you don’t get extended school year in your IEP unless you have a really darn good reason for it. I’ve tried in years past and was told that it really is reserved for children whose disabilities are so severe that they wouldn’t make much progress elsewhere.

I didn’t even imagine what that meant until this last week when I dropped Patrick off in his class. Patrick was placed in the amazing medical school in our district for the summer because he is still so newly post-transplant. Unlike the school that he’s been attending which serves children with medical needs but also the local community, Hartvigsen is a dedicated medical school for the district’s most severely disabled students. What an undertaking!

There are at least a dozen buses that bring students to this school. Their teachers and aides meet them and bring them to class. There may be fewer than a dozen crazy parents like me dropping their children off at school. (I prefer to do this anyway, but really had no choice if transplant medications were going to be given exactly as ordered and on time.) I was instructed to walk Patrick into his classroom. His teacher was excitedly waiting.

It’s possible he was the only student added to that class for the summer. He was also the only student who was verbal and not in a wheelchair.

I took a deep breath, a leap of faith, and kissed him goodbye.

Meanwhile, I headed over to the office for a meeting I’d scheduled with the district representative to talk about my concerns for his placement in 1st grade. The buses were late, so my meeting was late. And I got to sit and watch the students and teachers some into the school. And I saw Patrick come meet the office staff. He was very happy.

Now, about the meeting.. I know in my heart that he’s too behind right now to be comfortable just starting in a 1st grade class. But I also have just felt unsettled about the class they proposed putting him into.

So – we talked about it. She was amazing to listen to my concerns and express solutions. I told her that I am incredibly worried about him not being challenged if he’s only taught the goals that we come up with for an IEP. That he often surprises us by mastering things beyond the skills we think he’s stuck on. Sure, he’s struggling writing his name, for example, but I discovered that he can write about 60% of the rest of the alphabet with reasonable approximation.

I’m also very worried about him socially. I know that he behaves best, learns best, participates best and is happiest when he has friends. And so I’m worried that placing him in a class where he doesn’t have typical peers to socialize with.

And as I expressed these concerns, the woman I was meeting with mentioned that she wondered if he’d do better in a different self-contained classroom. They’d suggested that he be placed in a lower functioning classroom because of low IQ test scores. However, she said, there was another class where the students were closer to normal functioning, the class followed more of a typical class schedule, etc. She tried to describe the difference to me, and then offered to take me to tour the schools and classrooms (albeit without teachers or students) in a couple of days.

Tuesday, I had a much delayed appointment with the oral surgeon who helps keep me from grinding my teeth to bits and causing crippling migraines. So Wednesday was the next day I could. Meanwhile, Tuesday I happened into a couple of conversations that proved good reconnaissance on this issue.

For one thing, Patrick’s home hospital teacher, who he has clicked so well with and learned so well from, called to check in. When I mentioned the choice of classrooms, she didn’t falter. She said that hands down, the first placement we had been offered was too low-functioning for Patrick’s abilities. She offered to call around to some of her contacts in the district and then get back to me. And she did.. giving me some names and some specific behavioral strategies that she thought I should have put into Patrick’s IEP to help him. She hinted that she thought he should get into a typical classroom as quickly as possible, too, which made me falter a bit in my thinking.

Then, that evening, I had the chance to talk to a friend of mine whose son with autism is just finishing his 6th grade year in the higher of the two programs we had talked about. She only had good things to say about his experience at the school and we had a really good conversation about transitions and self-contained classrooms. It helped a ton.

I went into Wednesday morning pretty confident about what I wanted. We toured the lower classrooms first. The school was beautiful. I loved the layout of the classrooms. It’s only 5 minutes from home. And as we stood there, I told her that I was hearing from the teacher who has had the best results with Patrick that she didn’t think he belonged there.

Then we drove out to the other school. The one that sounded like the best fit. It was a long drive and kind of hidden in the middle of a windy-road subdivision. I didn’t love the classroom. At the second school, the self-contained classrooms are in portable classrooms, a.k.a. relocatables. The room seemed run down and bare. I could imagine Patrick cowering at the sound of rain on the roof. The classroom had steep aluminum steps and the nearest bathroom is inside the school building and I could just imagine Patrick having to go up and down them in the snow to go to the bathroom every couple of hours. The custodian was very helpful, answering questions about where the kids line up, where the buses arrive, and even the morning routine. He pointed out that they have a breakfast program where all the kids eat a district-provided lunch at their desks. Most parents would be thrilled. With food allergies and oral aversion and new transplant, I’ve been worried sick about lunch. Two meals at school, and one in the classroom, really bothered me.

I’d mention concerns, and my guide would do her best to offer accommodations they could offer to make things work. And I found myself saying, well, we’ll have to do this or that and make it work.

Still as we were leaving, my district representative asked me if I wanted to just start planning for Patrick to attend the more advanced classroom in the second school.. and I told her I needed to talk to my husband and Patrick’s therapist and get back to her.

I think I know that Patrick needs a higher functioning classroom.  But I so wish that I could have him closer to home in a beautiful classroom in a school that used to be the medical hub so they are wonderful at medical inclusion. And I don’t know for sure what to do about these worries. Or if I can really do anything in the middle of summer.

They tell me we can move him if we pick one school and it doesn’t work. I hate the idea of him being continually bounced around.

Meanwhile, after a week in his extended school year classroom at Hartvigsen, the principal called my helpful district representative and asked me if I’d consider moving him into a higher functioning classroom. And when I picked Patrick up Wednesday, they brought me all of his school medical supplies again. He’ll be moving to a new classroom at the school immediately next door to Hartvigsen called Plymouth Elementary. They have one class there. It has 7 students of all grades. But I’ve seen them. (They were waiting for a late bus while I was waiting for my meeting Monday) and he will fit in better there. And learn better there. He keeps asking me if his new friends will have wheelchairs. And he’ll still get to swim on Wednesdays.

Peg wall

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.

 

 

Pre-op. Notice, too big and too angry to want mommy to lay with him.

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.