July 2018 Update

Time for a Zack update.  I’m tired, so I don’t know how fun this will be to read.

For the past few weeks, Zack’s belly has been hurting.  While Jim was away Zack had two episodes of pretty intense pain that were fairly short in duration.  He was having his usual lack of output during the day along with a swollen stoma and prolapse thrown in to the mix.  Adding to the fun was a lump that randomly appears next to his belly button.

This face is Zack’s pain face.  It kills me.

The lump…sometimes it is on the right, sometimes on the left….

Additionally, Zack has been suffering from some pretty intense anxiety.  He is worried about dying at night.  The worry is so great that it keeps him from falling to sleep.  Seeing him so scared and being unable to calm him is pretty hard.

Last week Zack had a hard day with belly pain, distension and lack of output.  He thought he needed to be hooked up to his feeds because he was soooo hungry.  Turns out he actually had a belly ache.  Once we attached him to his feeds, he began crying in pain. Jim and I felt he was OK and got him ready for bed and then things went a bit wonky.  Zack was so upset about dying, convinced he was low sodium and worried about his belly that he actually asked us to take him to Walter Reed.  Zack NEVER asks to go to the hospital.  Jim and I were still not positive he needed to go but, because Zack is almost always right, off we went at 11:30 at night to the ER.

Zack did well until the staff began discussing getting blood for labs and then angry badger made an impressive return.  Jim says angry wolverine is a more accurate description.  Jim needed to restrain him.  The staff discussed giving him ketamine or ativan to calm him down.  I left the room because it was too upsetting to see him like that.  The staff and doctor were so incredibly kind and tried really hard to help Z feel more comfortable.  After about 45 minutes of fighting, Zack was able to calm himself down and no ketamine or ativan were needed.  He was then able to ask the nurse if she could use a butterfly needle to get his labs and even helped her find the best vein.  All labs and x-rays came back within normal limits.

The doctor said that his belly symptoms were consistent with an intermittent obstruction.  These happen to him most days, but this one was particularly painful and his belly was distended making it a bit more intense than our average day.  As soon as his output started back up he felt much better.  Also typical for him.  So basically, more of the same crazy we have every day with some major anxiety added on top for fun.

The next day, Zack’s GI doctor and I spoke.  We know that Zack has narrowing near his jejunum and another 20 cm in from his ostomy.  We know that surgery would probably fix that issue, but not address the underlying issue – which remains unknown.  Given his history and our desire to NOT have more surgery, he came up with a three-part plan to try to help Zack.  The plan is not found in any medical textbook as we are trying to find things that work specifically for Zack’s “unique” body.  The first idea was to try to simulate the relief Zack seems to get with barium by essentially doing a Miralax cleanout once a week.  We are on our second attempt and the reviews are mixed.  Barium seems to give Zack relief for about a month.  The Miralax lasts about a day.

We did not see any improvement the first week.  Zack’s belly hurt the very next day and there was not any real noticeable difference in his output.  We gave Zack his second dose this past Sunday and still did not notice much of a difference.  Zack’s stoma has been just as swollen and his belly still hurts.  However, although his output was still low today, he actually had output.  Zack also asked us to give him more Miralax to help his belly feel better.  So, maybe there is hope?  We will continue this for a few more weeks.

If the Miralax trial does not do the trick, our next step will be to try to stent open his stoma with a red rubber catheter.  Of course, Zack would need some sort of light sedation for that and well……

How would you like that inside your intestines?

Our third option is to do more scopes and get full thickness biopsies to look once again for eosinophils.  If we find those again, we would do a trial of steroids and if we see improvement in his belly, redo the scopes to try to prove the steroids are helping.  There is much more to all of that, but the gist is to try to figure out if we are actually dealing with eosinophilic ganglionitis. Yes, we have been trying to do that for a few years, but were waiting for Zack to be a bit sicker.  He still is not really technically sick enough, but it is time to try.  Isn’t that nice?

In the meantime, Zack’s anxiety has been getting worse.  As I said before, Zack has become so worried about dying that bedtime is just not happening.  Jim and I found ourselves getting upset with Zack and frustrated with our lack of sleep rather than seeing that our child was/is actually really scared.  Today we met with his psychologist and had a telephone consultation with his developmental pediatrician.  Jim and I feel much better after speaking with the two of them and have a new game plan there as well.  Starting tomorrow we will be switching up some meds and adding some new ones.  We are also working on ways to reassure him, working on ways to help him process his thoughts and feelings, and working on ways to help distract him from those moments which are overwhelming.

Zack has also rekindled his love of watching Miracles From Heaven.  It is a movie about a little girl with intestinal issues that are different from Zack, but similar in many ways.  He seems to really like seeing her get an NG tube, a feeding tube and, of course, seeing Dr. Nurko make a cameo apperance.  He wanted to know why God healed her and if He could heal him.  He also started asking me questions tonight about what happens when you die, if you still have a family in heaven and how God heals you in heaven.  While those may seem like heavy questions for an eleven year old, I prefer to see it as a good sign that we may finally be getting to the root of his anxiety.

I have several friends with kids who are chronically ill.  They have reached out to us and I cannot tell you how much that means to us.  While I am sad to learn that their children also suffer from anxiety over medical issues, it is nice to know we are not alone….because in the middle of the night it sure feels lonely.  I hate that kids who are sick struggle with these issues.  AND I am also so grateful that the doctors who care for them take this seriously and are compassionate and kind.

Lest you think all is doom and gloom around here, Zack does have some fun things happening.  His Aunt Carie is in the States for a few weeks and we have some shenanigans planned with her.  Tennis is in full swing (ha!) and Zack has actually been hitting the ball OVER the net this year.

Our neighborhood is full of boys and Zack has been enjoying playing with them and I love watching that.  Captain Awesome is set to start some new training to hopefully learn how to be a support to Zack and Z is thrilled about that.  We have also managed to hit two carnivals this summer.  At the last one, Zack met up with his cousins and that always make him happy.

Zack with Kelsey (in white).  She’s pretty great.

Tonight we made a new summer bucket list and we hope to start marking things off.  High on his list are going to the beach, making slime, going to Hershey Park and playing with Jake.  We still have another month to make all of that happen, right?

Hug your babies!

~ Dawn

 

Fluoroscopy Results

I started typing this post on June 28 (it has taken me forever)…which was the 5th anniversary of the day Zack came home from the hospital after his first two abdominal surgeries.  It is funny to me the things my brain decides are important and need to be stored forever, like this date, and the things it decides are not, like how convert fahrenheit to celsius.  This is not totally random as I just returned from visiting my sister in Egypt where the temperature was 45 ° celsius and all my brain could figure out was that it was over 100 ° fahrenheit.  I’m so totally off topic….

On the anniversary of this occasion, I thought it might be fun to see what Zack looked like on this date five years ago.  Here he is on the drive home from the hospital.

Such a crazy scary time in our lives and the beginning of our journey into medical oddities.  It was fitting then that, on this day five years later, we found ourselves meeting with Zack’s surgeon to talk about his crazy intestines.

If you are following Zack’s story, you will remember that he had a fluoroscopy test done the last day of May.  We got the results from Zack’s GI doctor mid June, but I was away.  Our GI’s advice was to have Zack evaluated by the surgeon for consideration of correcting the narrowing seen on the imaging and to get him back on their radar…and so we did.

Zack’s surgeon and I talked for quite a long time about quite a few things.  He confirmed that there are indeed two areas of narrowing in Zack’s small bowel.  One is very near his stomach and I totally forgot to ask where the other one is.  Strange for me, I know.  For some reason, I was completely freaked out that there was a narrowing by his stomach.  I could not figure out how they would fix that and allow it to heal and still be able to feed Zack.  All that worrying for nothing (I need to quit with the worrying) as the surgeon said it is in a spot that is able to be fixed.  The issue is figuring out what our threshold for fixing it is.  I told him that Jim and I do not want to fix it until we have to and so that is our plan, for now.

One of the things Z’s surgeon said is that the narrowing could be from adhesions.  In all of Zack’s previous surgeries, he has had little to no adhesions.  His surgeons have all been surprised by this given the child has had 10 abdominal surgeries at this point.  However, it would not be surprising if this is the case now.  His surgeon said that the next time Zack is opened up, it is not going to be a little surgery.  I did not ask many questions about that because I did not want to think about it yet.  When your child has wonky things going on, sometimes it is best to try to just deal with today.  If you know me, please stop laughing now.  I realize I am almost certainly the worst at this, but sometimes I CAN actually do it.  Usually when thinking about it overwhelms me.

We also discussed how long it took for the barium to come out of Zack’s ostomy.  Although the radiologist suggested it was slow motility, it was actually showing Zack intermittently obstructing.  Z’s GI here and his surgeon in Boston have said this all along, but now we have proof.  Actually, Jim and I see proof quite often when Z goes 8-9 hours with no output, has belly pain and a distended tummy.  Proof means nothing though when nobody can say why it is happening or what the heck to do about it.  Since it has been resolving on its own, we do not need to do anything…but it is still not normal.

This not normal stuff is what has been bothering me for a long time.  I spoke to his surgeon about when we began this journey and how it was to give his colon a rest with the hope that it would begin to function properly again.  Instead, it stopped functioning altogether.  That was “fine” because a person can live without their colon.  At that time we also knew that his small bowel was functioning properly.

Since that time his small bowel has been having issues. First with the obstructions which were mechanical in nature, so fixable and not expected to be related to bowel function.  Then the prolapsing began and it was intense and severe.  Up to nine inches of intestines out daily from November 2013 until June 2014 with a few weeks breaks with revisions.  Pretty significant prolapsing again after each subsequent surgery until July 2016.  Since that time Zack has “only” had on average 3-4 prolapses a month, but prolapsing intestines are not normal.  Lately (the last few years), he has been having these intermittent obstructions and belly pain.

I went over all of this with his surgeon and told him my fear that his once seemingly normal small bowel is now having issues.  He was sympathetic and agreed that Zack’s small bowel is indeed having issues.  I told him I was worried that what happened with his colon might happen with his small bowel.  He said, “Don’t go home and google this, but that can happen.”  He also said that it would be extremely rare.  I have tried not to think too much about that, but I’m thinking about it right now! We talked about this for a bit and about the fact that there are lots of “heavy hitting things” we have not tried yet up to and including small bowel transplants.  He was in no way suggesting that Zack needs a small bowel transplant, but just the fact that we were talking about small bowel transplants as an extreme option for my child was surreal.

When Zack talked with his surgeon, his surgeon asked me if I felt his speech was less clear.  I told him that I had noticed that since I returned from my trip, but thought it might just have been because I had been away from Zack for a few days.  That got him asking about Zack’s speech, his school year, and a couple of other things.  Then we talked about what genetic testing we have had done so far.  Zack’s surgeon thinks that whatever is going on with Zack is going on cross systems in his body.  His Kennedy Krieger doctor has been saying this all along.  He said that genetic testing has improved a lot in the 6 years since Z’s last test and suggested we do a much more involved test.  We have a referral in for the geneticist to begin that process in the near future.

We also discussed having Zack more closely followed for now.  Those narrowings in his intestines are still problematic.  Both his GI and surgeon want us to bring him in for an urgent fluoroscopy if his pain returns and we have instructions to have a low threshold for waiting to come in for that.  His surgeon will be out of the country next month.  However, he has left instructions that he is to be contacted directly if Zack comes in to the ED.  I am hopeful that will not happen.  We will see him again once he returns at the beginning of August.

Jim and Zack both reported that Z’s belly did pretty well while I was gone.  It hurt quite a bit today. I told Zack that maybe I should go back on vacation so that his belly would stop hurting.  But seriously, we have noticed that Zack has not prolapsed since his fluoroscopy and that his belly pain has been less as well.  I told both doctors that Jim and I have noticed a difference in pain and prolapsing after these tests.  Although it does not make sense, it could be that the barium is opening up a partial obstruction. It is out of the box thinking and clearly I am not a doctor, but somehow he feels better for a short time after having fluoroscopy studies.

Whew.  That is a lot of information.  Thank you for sticking with me through this long and involved post.  Sometimes writing this blog is a great way for me to brain dump all of the things I just learned.  It helps me process them, although whether I process them accurately remains to be seen.  It is immensely helpful to me, however, when I look back on my posts.  I am able to remember details that would have been forever lost in my brain and replaced by random dates and phone numbers and songs from the 80’s.  It also helps keep my family happy and updated and off my back….just kidding…mostly.

I leave you with a few pictures of Zack’s summer so far.  We are looking forward to a relaxing summer of playing outside, days at the pool and quiet intestines!

Zack and his pup.

Brown belt promotion.

Hug your babies!

~Dawn

 

 

Special Olympics 2018

Before I tell you all about Zack’s amazing day, a health update.  This last month has been rough on Zack.  His belly has hurt since his surgery and for no discernible reason.  He has been consuming a LOT of Tylenol and Motrin.  A lot.  The good news is that those medicines help with his pain and he has not needed to be seen for anything stronger.

He will tell you that his g-tube still hurts.  I am sure that is true, but nothing is visibly wrong with it.  Sadly, we think his keloid is growing back and that stinks.  In addition, he prolapsed 4 times last week alone.  Prolapsing hurts and gets in the way of things Zack likes to do.  He does not like that.  Last Friday we had an impromptu neighborhood picnic and he did not want to miss it.  He was in pain in the shower and mad about missing fun, so he took the handheld shower head and pushed his intestines back into his body.  Because why not?  That did not feel super great, so I don’t think he will do that again.  I hope….

All of the belly pain has meant he has not been eating much.  Because Zack’s doctor increased his feeds, he has not been losing weight which is good.  But he is not gaining weight at the moment like we had hoped.  Thank goodness for feeding tubes.

Enough of the medical stuff….

Zack woke up this morning at 6:20 a.m. ready to get on the school bus, which arrives at 8:27.  Why?  Today was the Special Olympics and it is one of Zack’s favorite days of the year.

Getting greeted by cheerleaders.

This year, several of Zack’s classmates and their homeroom teacher came along to be his cheering section.  As usual, they made some awesome signs, offered lots of encouragement, and were super kind to brave the extremely frosty morning. It was 38 balmy degrees and windy as all get out at 9:30 a.m. when they all arrived.

Mrs. Solomon – Zack’s Homeroom Teacher

In addition to Zack’s classmates, Zack had several other people in his cheering section.  Mr. Tozer, his coach, has been helping Zack for the past three years.  He really knows how to motivate Zack to do his best.

Mr. Tozer coaching Zack before his tennis ball throw.

Zack’s grandma and cousin, Kelsey, were there today as well.  Kelsey has such a kind and compassionate heart for Zack.  She also helped me corral him and that is a true gift given the amount of energy Z had today.  Grandma is one of Zack’s biggest supporters and comes to the Special Olympics every year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zack also had his buddy, Dan, there to cheer him on.  I’ve written about Dan before.  This young man truly has a gift with children and especially kids with special needs.  Zack lights up when Dan is around and is always asking when he can see him next. Zack also says that Dan is his best friend because he listens to him and is kind and likes to play Lego. His parents have raised an exceptional young man!
Some other fun pictures:

Zack and his buddy, Jake, getting their tennis throw medals.

Long jump

Zack’s long jump video

Medals

100 Meter Dash

Home with his adoring fans.

And that, my friends, is all the typing these fingers can handle for one day.  Have a wonderful weekend!

Hug your babies!

~ Dawn

 

 

 

Zack, Cap, and Life

Look at these two.  Can you believe the cuteness?  I like posting happy picture likes these on Instagram and Facebook.

A cute young man and his beloved pup, sitting together so nicely on a long car ride.  The pup looks adoringly at the young man. I’ve been instructed to call him this from now on. The young man telling his pup all about his new game….

But here is what the picture leaves out…This week was a tough week for both Zack and Cap.  Let’s begin with Zack.  Christmas vacation officially ended January 2 around here.  After almost two months without a prolapse, I received a call from school that Zack was prolapsing, there was blood and he had belly pain.  Belly pain is not surprising.  Anytime one’s intestines burst forth from one’s body there is bound to be pain.

While we do not know why Zack began prolapsing again, it is not really surprising.  The almost two month break is the real surprise.  Interestingly, this time his prolapse followed a day where Zack had over five hours of no output.  A new hypothesis of mine is that Zack’s belly issues are cyclical in nature.  I realize that I am not a doctor, or a nurse, or medically trained in any way at all.  Since everyone else is stumped, I figure that I have just as much of a chance at being right as they do, right?

For the rest of the week, Zack had periods of belly pain.  Over the course of forty-eight hours, we changed Z’s ostomy wafer and bag NINE times.  NINE!  We have heard of mythical people whose wafers last three to five days and we aspire to become like them.  Sadly, Zack’s have historically lasted for just one day.  On rare occasions they last two days and we celebrate.  Really.  Going through a few wafers a day happens more than we would like, but three wafers a day for three days is crazy even for us.

Over the course of those three days, we experienced some crazy things.  Zack’s bag fell off in Jake’s room on the carpet.  After extensive carpet cleaning this remains:

Try not to be jealous.  To be fair, Jake and Zack were in engaged in an energetic dance party.  We are pretty sure that Zack’s bag was accidentally knocked off in all the excitement.  We have lived in our house for six years now.  It was almost time for new carpet anyway.  Almost.

On Saturday night, Zack’s wafer exploded from too much output.  Exploded is misleading.  He had a significant amount of output.  The output ate through the glue that holds his wafer to his skin.  This has happens from time to time. To protect Z’s bed, we keep a plastic mattress cover under Zack’s mattress pad and sheets.

Until now, this has worked pretty well.  Sadly, we did not realize there was a tiny hole in the plastic.  When Zack’s bag exploded, there was over 600 milliliters of output in his bed.  We have no idea how long Zack slept in that mess before he woke up. Stool from an ileostomy is corrosive and can cause damage to the skin in a short amount of time.  Zack’s belly and back were a mess and painful for a day or so, but looking much better now.

Stool trapped under a plastic sheet on a mattress can cause damage to a mattress in a short amount of time as well.  I could add more details to the horror, but let me end this gross story by saying that Zack will be getting a new bed.  He is turning eleven in a few days and outgrowing his twin anyway…at least that is what I am telling myself to feel better about the bed carnage…do not remind me of the carpet…this is getting expensive!

Now, on to the furry one.  Over the past two weeks, this pup has overdosed on ADHD medicine.  He had his stomach pumped, got three doses of activated charcoal and spent the day in the hospital.  Upon returning home, this cute boy was urinating every ten minutes.  Seriously.  Turns out he had some kind of bacterial infection.  He is now finishing a course of antibiotics and doing a lot better, thankfully.

However, the morning of the bed disaster?  Once we got Zack and his room under control, we took Cap out of his kennel to go outside.  We got down the stairs, reached for the leash and that was all she wrote…his bladder was done.  All over the Turkish rug.  That we actually purchased in Turkey.  The one that you cannot just steam clean.  Good thing everyone loves this pup so much.

These pictures of Zack and Cap and their adorableness got me thinking about life and what we/I share with others.  It is easy to share happy pictures.  But everyone has their stuff, everyone.  Ours is chronic illness and an insanely curious puppy.  I love sharing our happy pictures with you, but I also like being real with people. That is one of the reasons I write this blog.  I guess my real update for the month is that we are doing our best to enjoy life.  Trying to find the humor among the literal poop that happens in our day and working hard to keep Zack stable.  Here’s to 2018.  May it be as kind to us as 2017 and may this be the year someone figures out Zack’s intestines.

Hug your babies!

~ Dawn

Update

After my last post, Zack’s doctor and I decided that it would be best to have Zack seen in the clinic.  Over the past two weeks, we have avoided hospitalization three times.  I think I needed the visit for my mental health as much as Zack needed it for his physical health.  One of the things that is hard to understand about living with a child who is chronically ill is that they can be fine one minute and really sick the next.  As a parent, it can become tricky to navigate the areas between when he is not quite himself and when he is needs to be seen.  Trying to determine when to call the doctor, when to stay home and hoping you are not putting him in danger can be emotionally exhausting.  Fortunately for us, this year we have enjoyed a nice respite from the hospital.

At Zack’s visit with the doctor we decided that it was time for Zack to have some imaging done.  We had been discussing doing this for some time.  Given his crazy high output a week prior and three days in a row of limited output (along with a prolapse thrown in to make things even more fun) it was time to be checked.  We tried to get him into radiology that day, but they were completely booked.  That made me a bit sad because the best time to see what is happening is when he feels bad.

The next morning we headed back to Walter Reed for a small bowel follow through. This test requires drinking barium.  Barium is a nasty, chalky white substance that makes Zack literally gag.  After a few swallows and a couple of gagging episodes, we decided that we should try giving it to him through his g-tube.  Have I mentioned how much I love that thing?  Maybe once or twice?

Zack’s small bowel follow through was done using fluoroscopy.  Fluoroscopy allows the radiologist to see how the intestines are moving in real time.  Zack’s intestines moved the barium pretty quickly until a spot near the end.  Then it seemed as though the barium kind of pooled in one spot and took forever to go the last little bit up and out of his stoma.  Evidently this is normal and no issues were found.  That frustrated me, but I should not have been surprised.  Zack has had this test before.  At that time he was really sick and no issues were found.  Zack’s doctor had warned me the day before that we only had a 30% chance of finding something, but still I was hopeful.

The hardest part of the test was hearing Zack ask the radiologist if she had found the problem yet.  He really wanted them to find the reason his belly was hurting.  Zack’s doctor helped put things into perspective.  He said that, though frustrating, not seeing dilated loops of bowel or obvious areas of poorly functioning intestine decreases the likelihood of needing another surgery soon.  That is a good thing!

On Friday Zack was able to attend school.  He did ask for Tylenol for his belly, but otherwise had a seemingly normal day.  Friday night he had a great time playing in the neighborhood.  I’m attaching a video of one of the many reasons I love it here (it may take a few minutes to buffer).  All of the kids were playing lacrosse when this happened:

If this does not give you warm fuzzies about how great kids are today, then I do not know what will.  Thank you to Liam for sharing this video with me.

Saturday was fun as well with a Memorial Day gathering at a friend’s house.  Zack’s stoma was really big that day, but he was running around like a maniac and having such a good time.  Sunday came and he slept until 8:30 a.m.  I had to check and make sure I was not dreaming.  Zack’s output was really high again.  He had a good day, but was exhausted at bedtime.  Falling right to sleep is not a thing that happens often here and he was out before we said prayers.

Early Sunday morning at about 2:30 a.m. (my favorite time of day..) Zack came in to have his bag emptied and was asking for ice water.  When I emptied his bag and saw that he had 600 ml in it, I was a bit worried.  I got an extra dose of CeraLyte in him, gave him an extra Imodium and two sodium chloride pills.  Then he started complaining that his belly hurt and needed to be rubbed.  Soon he was asking for Motrin and just could not settle.  He was acting as though he was going to vomit and just generally freaking me out.  I finally got him to sleep about 3:30 in the morning, but I was not thrilled.

Zack and I had a quiet morning in the basement.  He beat me at MarioKart.  I am pretty sure he cheated…just kidding.  He also spent the morning licking salt from a bowl, eating sodium pills and drinking water….as kids do….right?

See that little bowl of white stuff?  That is salt.  He licks it like candy.  See that white pill?  That is sodium chloride.  He gets 7 a day, in addition to his CeraLyte, and is often still low sodium.  That’s a LOT of sodium!

Jim and I pumped him full of CeraLyte again to help bring his levels back up.  I tell you all of this to illustrate to you that while Zack is “fine”, something is not right.  The test may show that his intestines are not obstructed, but this weird high output, no output thing is unusual.  Do we need to go to the hospital? No.  Do we need to text his doctor? No.  Do we have to watch him?  Yes.  It is hard to relax when things are just not right.

People often remark that Zack looks great.  He does.  It is hard to believe he was not feeling well earlier when they see him running around like a maniac.  It is hard for Jim and I to believe at times as well.  But, that is how it goes with him.  Jim likes to say it will either get better or it won’t.  Profound, I know.  Today we are hoping that Zack will perk up and that the sun will come out so that we can go to the pool.  We have fun things planned for this day.  And that is what we do.  We try to live each day as if everything is alright.. until it isn’t.  Otherwise we might just go crazy.

Update to the update:

Zack did go to the pool.  It was freezing!  His buddies from our neighborhood were there and he was unusually quiet.  His cousin called and invited him to our local fair.  We went.  He had fun and went on rides, but was quiet.  Zack is not quiet.  Thankfully, last night was uneventful.  I sent him off to school today with a kiss and a hug and  fingers crossed that today will be a good day.

Zack and Tom at the fair.

Hug your babies!

~ Dawn

Sickness, Graduation, Fun and Waiting

What a whirlwind this past week has been! Let me start at the beginning.

One week ago, Zachary’s ostomy went crazy in the output department.  A normal ileostomy should produce between 300-500 ml of output a day.  Zack has never fit into that category.  His output usually averages about 1,000 ml out per day.  Last Sunday, for no apparent reason, Zack’s ileostomy had 2,650 ml out and our boy was illin’…..a word meaning feeling pretty darn sick.  Previous to this, Zack’s highest recorded output was 2,300 ml while he was in the PICU.

Zachary was so sick that HE asked to be taken to the hospital for an IV.  Yeah.  He never asks to go to the hospital and asking for an IV?  Well, that has only happened one time before three years ago when he had a small bowel obstruction.  Obviously, I wanted to take him to the hospital right away.  Jim, being the man of reason in this situation, thought we should wait a bit and try to manage at home.  I agreed, with the stipulation that we text his doctor.  His doctor advised us to have a low threshold for taking him in, to bring him in for labs in the morning if we decided not to come in, and gave us instructions on how to rescue dose Zack with CeraLyte.

This is the part of my story where I sing the praises of Zack’s g-tube. His g-tube is a permanent tube that goes directly into his stomach and allows us to administer medications as well as formula.  The idea of a permanent feeding tube in Zack’s stomach took some getting used to, but now I cannot imagine his life without it.  I actually wish we would have gotten one sooner.  This little invention allows us to manage a lot of things at home that once would have landed Zack in the hospital. It is a wonderful invention and I am so very thankful that he has one.

Back to my story….later that evening our guy said that he really thought he should go to the hospital. Again, I was all for that.  Jim thought we should ask our friend, Sarah, to come take a look at Zack and take his vitals first.  His heart rate was elevated, but his blood pressure was OK-ish.   Sarah advised that if we wanted to stay home we would need to check on him every few hours over night.  Jim really did not want to go to the hospital and have Zack admitted when he was OK-ish, so we stayed home and monitored Zack.

As much as I hate to admit it, that was probably the right call.  Zack was a bit more lively in the morning, but still not great.  Zachary’s lab work that morning showed that he was low in sodium and chloride and had signs of dehydration.  All of that WITH his g-tube.  Happily, his output slowed down and his doctor talked me off the ledge.  I was really not comfortable with how sick Zack had been the day before.  We were getting ready to head to Texas and I was worried about getting his sodium levels back up before our flight.  His doctor said that while IV fluids would bring his levels up in a much more controlled way (and quicker), being that his output was back to a reasonable level we could bring his levels back up at home with his CeraLyte.

Jim and I believed that Zack had a 24 hour bug and that he was fine.  We flew to Texas on Thursday and Zack was a dream on the plane.  He sat quietly and did not fidget.  That should have been our first clue that something was amiss.  We arrived in Houston to spend the night with family.  Zack spent the afternoon playing with his cousins and having a terrific time.  Overnight he developed a fever and woke burning up.  But he had output and we knew his belly was OK and we needed to get to Austin for Drew’s graduation at The University of Texas.

Texas cousins.  We call them M3 – Mason, McCain and Morgan.

When we arrived in Austin, our boy was still burning up.  Not only that, his appetite was non-existent, his head hurt and his output was crazy.  When we are at home, Jim and I measure Zack’s output with a urinal.  I refuse to travel by plane with that nasty thing and we have gotten pretty good at estimating.  We knew his output was high, but we were prepared with the appropriate amount of CeraLyte.  Zack continued to have a pretty high fever for a bit over 48 hours.

The morning of graduation Zack woke moaning and really feeling bad.  Jim and I were concerned that we might need to take him in to be seen.  The second time in one week!  We dosed him with Motrin, had Jim’s brother and wife sit with him while we went to the Master’s Convocation in the morning (thanks David and Sylvia) and started looking into which hospitals were close to us.  We made a plan for what we were going to do when we got back to the hotel and who would miss the commencement ceremony that evening.

As luck would have it, one of Zack’s nurses from Walter Reed lives in Austin.  We were able to talk to him about what was happening with Zack and he told us which hospital would be best for Zack.  When we returned to the hotel, Zack was a bit perkier.  He still had a good fever, still was not feeling great, but no longer moaning.  His fever continued through the day and he did a lot of resting on me.  However, we decided with some Motrin and snuggles that we would chance graduation.  It was outdoors and we would not be infecting anyone with his germs.  Zack’s output was crazy again, but we continued with lots of CeraLyte and hoped things would calm down.

Can you see Zack under there?  He was freezing and had a headache and generally just felt bad.  This is how he spent most of graduation day.

On Sunday morning, Zack’s output was still high, but his fever was gone.  We started feeling much better about the situation.  We had a fun lunch visiting with Drew and Lindsey and our dear friend, Chris.  Chris was a nurse at Walter Reed and one of the best we know.  He took care of Zack at his sickest and we are forever grateful.  We were so excited to see him!  Zack had not eaten that day, but we knew he had formula overnight and were not too concerned.

Here he is at lunch with Chris.  He looks great, right?  Perfectly healthy.  Who knew….

After lunch, Zack wanted to be carried.  We had put a new wafer on before lunch and there was nothing in his bag.  Not one little drop. He said his belly was hurting.  All things which tell us things are not going well.  We went back to Drew’s school and walked around.  Every time we tried to have Zack walk, he sat down on the ground and said his belly hurt.  Still no output.  Jim and I once again started to be concerned.  How did this child go from so much output to absolutely nothing?  Was he obstructed?  We really think he was.  His behavior fit perfectly with an obstruction.  It took over 6 hours for his output to start back up.  Once it did, the flood gates opened and Zack was really hungry and his energy returned.

Yesterday it was time to fly back home.  Zack had a normal amount of output overnight.  His fever was gone.  However, he woke up congested and with bloodshot eyes and a headache.  Once we got one the plane, Zack’s output once again stopped.  Once again, in the late afternoon Zack perked up.  His output started back up and he was ready to go.  Until dinner..when he said he did not want to drink too much because his brain was telling him that his belly hurt.

We got home, had a shower, got into our own beds and Zack said he felt better.  He once again had a normal(ish) night.  There was a little output.  We were happy.  When he got up he seemed OK, so we decided to send him to school.  We knew he did not eat his normal breakfast.  He told us he was full.  However, he ran to the bus and told everyone he felt awesome.  And then the phone rang….it was the school nurse.  Zack had a belly ache and was asking for Tylenol.  She gave that to him and sent him on his way.  The phone rang again about thirty minutes later.  Zack was prolapsing a bit and still did not feel well and was acting unwell and even missed recess.  I brought him home and here we sit.

Jim and I believe that last Sunday was the beginning of whatever crazy is going on now.  When Zack gets sick, his ileostomy has higher than normal output. What has caused him not to have output these past few days is still a mystery.  It has happened before and we have attributed it to positional obstruction. It used to happen a lot during the school day.  But this is a bit different in that.  On Saturday, Zack was walking around one moment and then the next he was very unwell.  We are hoping that it is still related to his virus and not a physical obstruction.  There is nothing we can do about it at the moment besides wait and see.  If you know me at all, you know that this makes me crazier than normal.

The good news is that we are home and close to our normal doctors.  If anything happens, we feel much more comfortable with the care available here than in Texas where nobody knows his story.  Zack has said he will let me know if he needs to go to the hospital and Jim and I are on alert.  Still, the only thing we can really do is wait and see…..

As I wrap up this post, I want to share some pictures of a big event in the life of our family.  Drew graduated on Saturday with a Master of Aerospace Engineering degree from the University of Texas at Austin.  Even though Zack was sick, we were still able to enjoy the weekend celebrating Drew with family and friends.  Drew has worked extremely hard for many years pursuing his dream.  Jim and I are so proud of him and very thankful to everyone who has had a part in mentoring, teaching and loving our son.  I am also grateful that we were able learn about the great history behind the Longhorn traditions.  We have never seen such spectacular graduation ceremony before.  It was a mix of a parade, a concert and Disney fireworks and something I will always remember….and I finally learned the words to “The Eyes of Texas” and how to properly “Hook ‘Em!”

Before Commencement

Drew and his girlfriend, Lindsey.  Aren’t they cute?

After the Masters Convocation in the morning.

Last picture.  I promise.  This makes me happy because it was the moment we first saw Drew and Lindsey.  I think it captures how happy Drew was/is to be D.O.N.E. with school…for now…

Hug your babies!

~ Dawn

Vacation and Boston

Oh vacation, how I have missed you so.  Our family had a great time visiting family in Connecticut, playing in Bar Harbor, Maine and exploring Boston between doctor appointments.  Here are some of our highlights:

Boating in Connecticut.  Zack’s first time on a fishing/lobster boat and he loved it!  He was a man of many questions and is forever bonded with Captain Don.

IMG_20160813_231343_01Zack helping Captain Don drive the boat.

IMG_20160813_162355656Jake and Jim could get used to Zack doing all the work.

IMG_6164Zack and his shark.  Not bad for a first fishing trip!

IMG_20160813_220526112_TOPThe Co-Captains relaxing after a hard day on the water.

Exploring Acadia National Park.  I am not sure how we have so few pictures of this.  Here are Jim and Zack on top of Cadillac Mountain trying to pick up one of the islands in the harbor.IMG_6152

Bar Harbor adventures.  Jim, Zack and I took a 4 hour sea kayaking tour.  See those islands in the picture above?  We paddled to the third and took a break.  Then we went around the third and back into shore.  We saw some porpoises and bald eagles.  Happily, we did not see any of the sharks that also inhabit the harbor because that would have freaked me out.

IMG_6118 IMG_6110We rode the carriage trails in Acadia National Park on bikes.  We ate popovers at Jordan Pond, frolicked on Sand Beach, drove around the entire island and shopped and ate and had a grand old time.  Zack and I also went on a date on Diver Ed’s boat.  Diver Ed scuba dives into the harbor and videos the ocean floor as he goes.  The video is broadcast on board.  Then he comes up with some of the creatures he finds down there and the kids get to touch them all before releasing them back to the ocean.  Zack was so enthralled with the whole thing until the touching part.  He finally worked up the nerve to touch a few things.  Can you tell how hard it was for him to do it?

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After a week of fun, we headed to Boston to see Zack’s doctors.  First we met with Zack’s surgeon.  It was strange to see her in a new hospital, but she was as awesome as ever.

While Zack is currently doing better than he has in years, we still have some concerns.  You may have noticed that I have been talking about how his stoma has been swelling which constricts his output during the day and then goes back to normal when he rests.  His surgeon and doctor here both feel he is prolapsing internally.  One thought is that where his stoma was stitched down internally actually worked this time, but his intestines before that point internally are still trying to get out.  We think they are getting stuck at that point, cutting off the flow.  Thankfully things have been resolving well so far, but it is not supposed to be happening.  We have a plan in place now for IF things go wonky.

Today we met with one of the leading pediatric motility experts in the nation.  He asked us lots of questions.  He said that Zack’s case is interesting because there is a lot going on that does not make sense….yet.  He is hopeful he can figure out what is happening with Zack.  He did say that just because Zack’s small intestine manometry test was normal does not mean his small intestine is functioning normally, just that things are being pushed through.  We talked about Zack’s biopsies that showed eosinophilic ganglionitis, the possibility of autoimmune issues and other things, but he wants to review all biopsy slides, testing, fluoroscopies, manometries, CT Scans…basically everything that has already been done…for himself before giving his opinion.  Jim and I appreciate that and think it is a good idea.  Of course, Zack’s files from both Cincinnati and Walter Reed are so incredibly large that it will take some time for him to get through it all.

The doctor said that there are several drugs we can try to help slow down Zack’s output.  He wanted to talk to his surgeon about a few things first, so we do not have a plan for that yet either.  Even though we left without a plan, Jim and I felt that he was very thorough and we really appreciate that he wants to understand why Zack’s body is behaving this way.  Why does he have secretory diarrhea?  Why doesn’t his colon work?  Is there also a problem with his small bowel?  All questions his other doctors have asked before and have not been able to answer.  Somehow I feel good about his method of investigation and have hope that perhaps he will be able to narrow things down a bit more.  It is good to have hope.

While we were in Boston we were able to connect with some of dear friends that we had not seen since 2011.  We spent a great day at their home catching up.  Why do we wait so long to do these things?  Oh yeah…intestines.  We were also able to see a friend from our time in Minot.  Her daughter has been in the PICU since DECEMBER!  December people!  I am happy to say that her daughter is getting close to getting out of the PICU and to finally going home.  It is amazing to see her faith and strength.  It was a blessing to me to be able to spend the evening with her.

So there you have it, an exceptionally long update.  We are so thankful for our vacation and our time in Boston.  We are thankful that we had a fun time as a family.  We are happy that we were able to come to Boston for a non-urgent visit.  We are happy to have scoped out the area, found a hotel close to the hospital and to know we have friends close by.  While we did not have time to see all of our friends here, we know we will be back! Until then…

IMG_6104Hug your babies!

~ Dawn

Surgery #9 – I’ll Be Home For Christmas…

Ah….the ever-changing plans of Mr. Zack Penrod.  After planning to be gone for Christmas, packing all of our gifts, arranging hotels and wrapping our minds around celebrating in a new place, we are back home.  I have to say, there really is no place like home.  Our beds are cozier, the food is better, we have more space and we can lounge around all day in our pajamas (well, we could…). 

Zack has been feeling OK since his discharge.  He did not feel great on our ride home.  He looked sick and his stomach was hurting.  When we stopped for lunch, he asked Jim to carry him and he barely touched his food.  It was his first day off of pain medicine and fluids so this is not really surprising.  We may also have forgotten to pack Tylenol….not that we would have done that after all this time.  Sigh.  Poor Zack.

When we got home, Zack’s friends were outside and gave him a cheerful welcome home.  Zack managed to stay outside for about two minutes before declaring he was cold and tired – it was 62 degrees.  He has been sleeping sitting up (his belly pain position) since we got home. Luckily for Z, we actually have pain medicine at home AND give it to him when necessary.

Yesterday was a little better.  We finally made it to Sports Clips for a much-needed haircut.  In between turning pale and not being hungry, he had several bursts of energy that were so amazing his brothers declared themselves in time-out to escape the craziness.

We are working on figuring out this new mucous fistula.  Unfortunately, it sits at the bottom of his abdominal incision right where the waistband of his pants hits his belly.  His surgeon said she put it there to cut down on the prolapsing risk.  Another thing that might prolapse?  Awesome.

Our biggest issue at the moment is keeping up with his crazy output.  We have to start giving him bolus fluid doses through his g-tube to keep up with his losses.  He currently has his dehydrated look going on, but we feel confident we can handle it here at home.

We also had our first visit from Zack’s new Home Care nurse.  His PICC line dressing needs to be changed once a week.  Since it is a sterile procedure, I am not qualified to do it by myself – thank goodness.  I am sure I could learn.  I have been told that some families do it themselves.  I am just grateful that someone else is doing it for him as I do not feel comfortable messing with a line that ends right near his heart.  I would much rather have someone take over that responsibility!

Now that we are home, this family of mine actually expects our Christmas traditions to happen.  You know, the food part.  Trying to pull together all of the things we do for Christmas would be pretty hard, so we took a poll and picked some of our favorite things.  Today we will make two Christmas goodies, have our normal Christmas Eve fondue before church and homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast on Christmas morning…or candy from our stockings. Come on!  You know this happens!

Our awesome next door neighbors have invited us to share their Christmas dinner with them.  I am not sure who is more grateful for the invitation, me or my guys.  Thank goodness for friends who see our weary faces and extend kindness.

Do not let our lack of energy fool you, though.  The Penrod family is counting our blessings this Christmas.  We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love so many have shown us. I get teary even thinking about it.  Santa coming to visit Zack on the fire truck, classmates cheering for Zack, friends giving Zack encouragement, invitations to dinner, packages and cards arriving at the hospital, doctors and nurses working hard to get us home for Christmas, all of these blessings….we are so thankful.

So while Zack may not back to normal, he is incredibly happy to be home and counting the hours until the “jolly old guy” arrives.  He wants to be allowed to sing tonight at church because, “Ms. Judy is counting on me to be there to sing to all the people about baby Jesus!”  And that, my friends, is the real joy of Christmas.  The birth of Jesus.  I am so thankful that we are home and that Zack will get to sing tonight and share his joy with others.  May we all have such childlike faith!

Merry Christmas!

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~ Dawn

 

Surgery #9

Today was a long day.  Zack had to check-in this morning at 6:30 for surgery at 8;00.  I am very happy to say Zack was very brave and very strong and very cooperative.  It is a big deal and we are very proud of him.

When we met with Zack’s surgeon this morning she told us that she had been thinking about her plan and wanted to make a few changes.  I will tell you about a few, but I want to wait to tell you about all of them to see how things go over the next few days.

Zack’s surgery was called a rectosigmoidectomy transanal approach.  The name is a little misleading (to me) because he already had his sigmoid colon removed.  The doctor decided instead of opening Zack’s belly, she was going to go in through his bottom.  Doesn’t that sound fun?  We were told that going through the bottom would be less invasive, less painful and that he would recover faster.

During the surgery, Zack’s old anastomosis was revised.  The surgeon said his staples were scattered all over the place and that she could see why he was complaining that they hurt.  We do not know why the staples did not hold like they were supposed to, but she spent a long time removing them.  We even got some to keep as a souvenir.  Some people collect coins, I guess we collect intestinal staples.  Zack’s surgeon took out about five inches of his colon and then stitched the two ends together to form his new anastomosis.

Zack’s stoma had started prolapsing again, so the plan was to revise it and tack it down during this surgery.  When Z’s surgeon got in there she found that it was still partially tacked down and had a bit of an odd twist.  Given those two things, she decided that it was best just to leave it alone.  She then made Zack’s mucous fistula at the bottom of his scar line.  A mucous fistula is an opening in his belly where part of his colon is brought up to the surface so we can access it when needed.  That was interesting to me because his previous mucous fistulas were next to his ileostomy and pouched in his bag.  We will see how this one works.

Zack’s g-tube was changed out and his granulation tissue was removed again.  His new button is a lower profile one that Z’s surgeon prefers more than his Mic-Key button. At the very end of the surgery, Zack had a PICC line placed.  He will need to have his blood drawn weekly for a bit and his veins are starting to revolt.  I do not know how long he will have it, possibly until his next surgery.

We met with the surgeon when she was done in the OR and discussed many things.  I will write about them another day when my eyeballs are not stinging and Zack feels better.  We have a tentative plan that I actually understand and that Jim and I are comfortable with.

Some friends were waiting with us in the waiting room and could tell I was getting anxious.  I know just how long it usually takes from when we meet with the surgeon until we are called back to see Zack.  Today it was taking an exceptionally long time and making me a bit nervous.  It turns out that they were having a hard time controlling Zack’s pain.  He had Dilaudid, Morphine, Valium and Robaxin and was still not comfortable.  He had/has a PCA and was pushing it every few minutes.  The pain team finally came and worked their magic, but it still took about five hours for Zack to start feeling a bit better.  He is now sleeping well. We will see how he does in a few minutes when I try to sleep.

There you have it.  That is all I have.  I am sure that when I read this tomorrow I will wish I had spent more time thinking about what I wrote, but my eyelids are done.  I leave you tonight with a picture of Zack’s teachers.  They all got together to send Zack some love.  It made me smile!

SuperZack

Oh!  One last thing…for those of you who wanted the link to ecards for Zack:

http://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/patients/resources/ecard/

Zack is in location A, the Burnet Campus, room 439.

Hug your babies!

~ Dawn

Manometry Day

It has been a crazy few days for Zack.  Yesterday was so busy and LONG that I did not have a chance to write an update.  Now I have so much to say that I am pretty sure I’ll forget lots of important things and equally sure I’ll ramble.  Forgive me, please.

Yesterday began bright and early with manometry testing. All was fine until the introduction of medication.  After about an hour of testing, the manometry team put an antibiotic (erythromycin) into his IV which caused him to become flushed and feel sick.  The medication is used to stimulate the small bowel.  After another hour, Zack was allowed to eat pancakes and boy was he a happy child!  He ate them so fast he gave himself a stomach ache, but I think he thought it was worth it.

The test continued for another hour or so and then the nurse added another medication to Zack’s IV.  I do not remember the name of it, but Zack felt a lot of discomfort.  We were told it was also for the small bowel.  I am not sure if the first drug did not produce the waves they were looking for or if it is standard procedure.  Zack has never had it before.

At long last it was time for the large intestine medication to be given.  Zack’s colon did not respond how they had hoped, so they administered another dose. The medication causes lots of cramping.  Zack was not a happy camper.

Sadly, during the administration of this last dose, Zachary’s stoma prolapsed.  We knew it was only a matter of time, but really?  At least we were in the hospital.  The strange part was that Zack was on his back in bed.  It was not as large as some of his other prolapses, but it would not reduce on its own.  Seven hours later and several attempts at reducing it by the surgery Fellow, that pesky stoma finally went back in…..and then there was quite an outpouring of “stuff” from the stoma. Try not to think too much about that.  Let’s just say that our nurse last night deserves a serious raise.

We also met with the GI team on service to discuss a number of tests they wanted to perform.  They checked Zack for viruses, parasites, cystic fibrosis, malabsorption issues, nutritional status and a number of other blood work type things.  Because some of the things they were testing for were potentially contagious, Zack was placed in isolation.  That was fine yesterday when he felt bad, but today it was hard as Z felt pretty well and wanted to go to the playroom.  It is the highlight of the hospital after all.

Because Zack has had “Angry Badger” issues, we met with a pediatric psychologist to discuss the situation.  Her assessment was that Zack is suffering from medical trauma and could benefit from counseling.  That was fun to hear, but not really surprising.  One good thing that came out of her evaluation is that he is “a well adjusted child in all other areas” and only has anxiety regarding medical procedures.  It was actually one of the best parts for me of being here.  She gave us some great tips and we started trying to incorporate them right away.

At five o’clock this morning Zack needed to have labs drawn. His IV was not drawing back so he had to have a needle stick.  Five o’clock in the morning and needles are usually a recipe for disaster, but I am happy to say that Zack held it together and did a great job.  He was still scared, but was able to work through it with breathing and distraction and talking and a wee bit of crying.  He did so well that his nurse gave him a Lego police truck.  Talk about positive reinforcement!  So positive in fact that he has been awake ever since….

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Around lunch time, Zack’s GI here in Cincinnati came in to discuss the manometry results.  We learned that Zack’s colon had no propogating waves at all until right above the anastomosis site.  That means his colon does not function from the beginning of the large intestine until right above where he was reconnected. It begins to function above the anastomosis for a very little bit and then stops again until it reaches his rectum which functions well.

We also learned that his high output is a result of secretory diarrhea.  I am not sure if I completely understand this yet, but for some reason his intestines secrete too much fluid.  The doctors are trying to get a handle on this because it needs to be under control before we do anything else.  That meant more blood work, a change in formula and antibiotics. Because his IV would not draw blood today a new IV had to be placed.  Despite his great effort this morning, this new IV was just too much for him to handle today. The Vascular Access Team decided that since his IV still worked in his left arm they would leave it in place and put a new one in his right arm to be used for blood draws.  They were wonderful in granting Zack’s request to leave his hands free for playing Wii.  His tests for infectious things came back negative, so he was finally allowed to head back to the playroom.  Behold the two IV wonder:

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The last person we met with today was the dietician.  We were thrilled to learn that Zack is now in the 30th percentile for weight!  Everyone seemed pleased overall with his growth and would like to see him bulk up even more before his next surgery….and there will be more surgery.

We expect that Zack will be discharged tomorrow.  Zack is counting on it, so I hope nothing else happens.  The GI on service this week is not super comfortable with Zack leaving with his prolapsing issues, but Jim and I feel like we have done this for so long we can handle it.  The only hesitation I have is how long it took Zack’s stoma to go back in last night, but if that were to happen here or in Maryland we would do the same things and home is always the better place to be.

We believe Zack will be having a colectomy (removing most of his colon) in the next few weeks.  Zack’s surgeon is currently in China so we have not made any concrete decisions regarding which surgery to perform. We do know that she is planning to add Zack to her schedule the week after Thanksgiving.  That is really soon!

Whew.  I hope I covered everything.  Time is almost up here in the playroom.  That is my signal to get off this thing and say good night.  Fingers crossed that we can bust out of here tomorrow.

Hug your babies!

~ Dawn