Medical PTSD…Gratitude?

On the evenings I am not working Kevin and I put our son John to bed together. It is always filled with laughing, hugs and kisses. John takes a dose of melatonin every night right before bed that allows him to relax enough to fall asleep on his own. He is a happy boy, especially when he is home.

Daddy takes him into the bathroom for P and teeth cleaning while I go into the bedroom and set up the night light and sheets. Some nights I chase him into the bed pinching his little butt while he laughs and swats my hands away. He throws himself into the bed laughing hysterically, so much so his lips turn blue.

“Johnny stop laughing so hard, your lips are blue, breathe!” as Kevin and I look at each other nodding our heads with the look of “Wow, can you believe this kid”.

Kevin and I lay in the bed with John between us. We laugh at the silliness of John and usually mention how handsome or grown up he looks. Tonight, we mentioned how straight his teeth are and how beautiful his smile is. He has Kevin’s teeth, I had braces.

We say the Our Father Prayer with Kevin’s hand across us both. Tonight, Kevin was rubbing my back. John took Kevin’s hand and moved it away and began rubbing my back himself. We all laughed and kissed good night.

Sobriety brought me here….I am forever grateful for these moments that I do not rush and adore so much.

However, sometimes my mind goes to a dark place. For literally a second, my mind imagines the space between Kevin and I in that bed empty, without John. It gives me a knot in my stomach with a weakness I cannot explain. I shake it off quickly.

Death is something I think of a lot. I don’t do it on purpose. My mind just goes there. Sometimes I wonder if it’s my brain preparing me for the “what ifs”. But, my smarter brain tells me not to think of the ‘what ifs’ and to live in the present. I am not sure how to make these thoughts stop. I feel like it’s a symptom of medical PTSD, from all the years of watching him almost die or struggle to breathe.

I just don’t know how to make it stop…

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Keep me posted

This afternoon John has a doctor’s appointment with his pulmonary doctor, Dr. Lestrud. He was been following John for 12 years now, since John was born. Our relationship hasn’t always been sunshine and daisies. We have learned having and keeping a doctor is hard, like any relationship.

Back in the day when John was on the vent, oxygen, feeding tube and 13 medications 3X a day I would call Dr. Lestrud my “bad boyfriend”. I needed him in my life, but I wish I didn’t. He never listened to me and doesn’t call me back until I start crying.

It took a few mistakes and steps back for him to start hearing my suggestions. I vividly remember talking to him on the phone one afternoon crying because John was home sick and not improving. I was upset that it took so long for him to call me back. I was upset that the medication he was using wasn’t helping and that he wouldn’t prescribe a steroid to help him. We talked for about 15 minutes, I stopped crying, he apologized for making me feel unimportant and we agreed on a plan moving forward. Which if I remember correctly worked out well. I rarely cried when I called him but this time I had reached a limit. I believe he knew that and took action to make the situation a little easier for us.

Ironically, his wife, who is his 2nd wife, was a nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) and took care of John at some point. They have 4 kids together, he has 4 other kids from his first marriage. I often wondered if he was this apologetic as a husband as he was with me that day. But, that would be getting too personal with the doctor.

I’m not saying I was always right. He needed to trust me so he can treat my son and I needed to trust him. There is a balance between what is medically right and what I want. Conversations need to be had, respectfully. I don’t know what medications he needs. But, Dr. Lestrud doesn’t know either unless I can articulate what is happening to John in medical terms, with less emotions. Mom’s with chronically ill kids get a crash course in medical jargon and pick it up quickly.

Over the years I have learned to take the emotion out of my communications. It’s not always easy and I didn’t always do it well. But, I did learn that when I can articulate our needs without crying, name calling or being passive aggressive we get better results. This applies in advocating for education, medical and social needs.

When John first came home from the hospital he was going to at least 5 appointments a month. Every appointment I thought there was going to be some great revelation or milestone. Most cases I was disappointed. Most appointments were the usual nurse’s check in (weigh, temp and blood pressure), sit in the room for almost an hour because they over book, see the doctor for 15 minutes and schedule the next appointment for 3-6 months later.  Eventually we were told to come back in 6 months and that seemed like a milestone. 6month!!! You mean not 3 months???  Yeah!!

Today, we are going to see Dr. Lestrud after 3 months to talk about his oxygen needs. I still think something amazing will come out of this, but deep down the little committee in my head is saying “STOP IT, you know it will be a meet and greet and a “keep me posted on his progress at home” visit.” That’s what I get for knowing my son so well, for advocating for him so well all these years. I get a “keep us posted” from the doctor. (Smile) That sentence seriously gave me butterflies, yes that’s me patting myself on the back, after 12 years. Yes, I am patting myself on the back.

Slow and steady is how we roll

Dr. Lestrud explained what a good wean looks like and we set a plan. Wean the liters from 4 to 3 and see how it goes.  We both agreed we want him to start school in September with or without the oxygen.

Go home and “keep me posted”

ilovebowling
I just wanna bowl!!!!

10 fingers & 10 toes

January 4, 2008 journal entry

Before my son was born all I wanted were ten fingers and ten toes
I asked God to send me the most special child he knows
I never thought about all the rest…
I wanted him to play like little boys do with his tonka toys
Batman shoes, spider webs and blues clues
I wasn’t expecting what was to come
Quickly I learned, with tears in my eyes, what I needed to know
Your child will be broken and slow
Slow to breath, slow to learn, slow to walk, slow to talk
But, not too slow to love
I learned patience and trust in God, I learned about pride and worries
He gave me the beauty of his smile and the love from his heart
I seen his fear, courage and strength through his tears
I was blessed with the miracle of a child
Before my son was born all I wanted were ten fingers and ten toes
I got what I asked for, the most special child God Knows…

April 2005 on ECMO: extracorporeal membrane oxygenation 

Johnny Born

http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1818617-overview

 

“I’m glad I got cancer”

I rarely hear woman say “I wanna be just like my mom someday”.  We hear boys say they want to be just like their dads when they grow up, why don’t woman say it more? Such different relationships…

Today, I yelled at John. You might think I don’t yell a lot, maybe it was just today? No, I yell all the time. I think my normal talking voice in this house is yelling. I cannot have a conversation without talking over John and his technology devices going off so I scream “Turn it down” mid-sentence and keep going. Newcomers to the Murphy household are usually shell shocked and wondering how I can even have a conversation and retain anything we talked about.

Anyway, I started off talking about mothers. I spent years praying to not be anything like my mom. Now I wish I was like her. She was a mother that had a lot against her. She raised four very different kids in a mostly unhappy marriage as a stay at home mom. After her divorce she went out to work as a bartender, later getting a job with the Chicago School system doing janitorial work. Her relationships with her kids were strained because we were little assholes. Except for my older brother Teddy, he was and is non-judgmental and empathetic. I know he was towards our mother, not so much with others. Even though I believe he really is but tries to play it off like he isn’t. He is generous and is always helping people. A friend of his went to prison and Teddy was the only one who kept in touch with him, sent him gifts, money, etc.  When I asked him why he even bothered he said, “Why not, the guys got nothing else going for him”. When that friend got out of prison, less than 3 months later he died of a heart attack. I think about how that poor man died when his life was getting ready to change for the better and how grateful he was for Teddy’s correspondence all those years.

My mom was diagnosis with brain cancer when Johnny was a baby. I was devastated and so was Teddy. Even today I feel these overwhelming waves of guilt in me for the absence in my mother’s life for so many years, it was intentional absence. I was so mean and judgmental. Unfortunately, it took an illness for me to have any empathy for her at all. She had cancer for 6 years before she passed, we had an amazing 6 years filled with great memories. I would hop on a plane every 3-6 months to visit her in Ireland where she lived to spend a few weeks with her. Teddy and I would take turns going, sometimes going together. Mom told my cousin Mikey one day, “I’m happy I got cancer. I don’t think I would have known how much everyone loves me”.

When he told me that my heart was broken for all the lost years. All the years she wanted to talk to me and I wouldn’t. All the years I didn’t even know why I was mad at her other than other family member’s influences. That day I vowed to live a life where there was no question about love. People I love know I love them because I tell them when I see them. Even if they think it’s strange, I say it. Last weekend, we went to John’s ECMO reunion to celebrate his survival. We have kept in touch with all those folks for over 12yrs. Danny, the ECMO specialist that cared for John, is a friend we see rarely but still considered a friend because of his role in our lives. As I was leaving I told Danny “I love you, see you next year”. He said he loves me back, but I didn’t’ expect that. I truly love him for his role in my son’s life, his survival.

When the feeling rises, I say it. On the other hand, people I dislike usually know it, too. Not because I tell them. Because I create boundary’s that keep them at a distance. For example, my sister and I haven’t seen or talked to each other since Dad died. I do not like her, how she treats her family or how she treats other people. I don’t want to judge her, condemn her or save her, so I create the boundaries. Some people need to save themselves and my role in their life may be only to watch me from afar or not.

I remember mom yelling at us when we were kids. Once she chased me around the front room with a broom and almost made contact. I probably said something disrespectful.

I hate that I yell at John. Sometimes I can’t help it. I always apologize to him without the “but”. I remind myself that I am teaching him how to be treated. We make mistakes, we make amends, we forgive, we pray and we live in gratitude. Thank God for the ability to take time outs, restart our day and thank god for LOVE!

At the end of the night he has never turned away a hug or kiss, for that I am grateful. At the end of the night he knows I love him!

The Hubs: 2017 Edition

My hubs…

Some days I refer to him as my BFF, others not so much. If you are going to have a child like John, the trifecta of disabilities (CDH, Epilepsy & Autism), you better like who you live with because you will be spending a lot of time with them.

Some days we are all we have. No one is inviting us over to BBQ’s and people surely aren’t bringing their kids over to play with my son. At the end of the day he is the only person I can vent to, tell how I feel or just sit in silence with. It’s comfortable, its safe, somedays it’s hard and somedays it’s just perfect.

We separated for two years in 2012 (I think, maybe 2011). That separation is what saved our relationship. Before we separated I was almost 2 years sober, he was an active alcoholic. He left me telling me that I was doing great things and he was holding me back. I made sure he knew that was a great excuse but it’s really because he’s too scared to grow with me.

The first year we lived under the same roof, the second year he moved out into his own condo a few blocks away. I started dating in the second year. Nothing great to talk about. It’s amazing how many men my age live in their mom’s basement apartment, hate their ex’s and just are so lost in who they are. I had literally no success, obviously. I eventually just focused on me and building a business.

During those two years Kevin always treated me well. He treated me better while we were separated then he ever did while we were together. He stopped by the house every night to see his son, he fixed what needed to be fixed, he cooked, cleaned and was an amazing example for who a father should be, except for the part about sticking around in a marriage.

John became ill in 2014 with the flu. He ended up in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of Children’s Memorial for one month. At that time, we didn’t know if John was going to survive. They were using words that would prepare us for incubation and what happens if he didn’t start breathing on his own. After about 3 weeks John turned the corner. He started sitting up, breathing and laughing. We were amazed and so grateful for everyone involved in saving our son. It wasn’t the first time and wouldn’t be the last.

During those 4 weeks Kevin and I were carpooling to avoid the $15.00 a day parking fee at the hospital garage. He would drive over after work texting me when he arrived and I would go down and take his truck home while he went up with John. Some days we would go home together, clean up and head back to the hospital. We would sit and chat about John’s past and how strong he is. We gave each other huge praises for keeping him alive. We talked about the good times and the hard times. During this time I was in the process of opening up my shop. Kevin was right there helping with the build out, getting permits, supplies and contracts. He was amazing.  I asked him one day on the way back to the hospital, “Why are you being so good to me? We are not together anymore, you can just move on”. He said, “This is for all of us. Just because we aren’t together doesn’t mean we aren’t a family”.

Kevin is a man of few words but sometimes he amazes me with the words he speaks.

I know he struggles with his own demons, I have seen them. But, he really has the best intentions for his family.

Today, I can’t imagine being with any other man. When I am angry at him I imagine what it would be like. I let my crazy mind travel into places, imagining myself with another man or running away by myself to a deserted island. The scenarios I create in my mind always end with me thinking Kevin would treat me kinder. Or Kevin wouldn’t judge me like that, Kevin would have made it all OK.

Every Sunday morning he brings me breakfast in bed. Every night he tucks his son in to bed. Every day he tells me he loves me. He is humble. He is kind. These are the things I need to remember when times get tough.

#GoodNightSweetWorld

Home after 1 Month in the ICU

Home – 4/4/17

John arrived home this afternoon around 3pm. The hours leading up to his arrival were filled with anxiety. I was home pending the arrival of his medical equipment; oxygen concentrator, pulse oximeter and oxygen tanks. Ivan, the delivery man for Life Tech, called in the morning to let me know he would be there at 2pm with everything we needed. He explained he was coming from downtown. Then, I would drive the portables down to the hospital, downtown, to transport John home. I spent the morning cleaning the house and stocking the fridge just feeling excited and scared about John’s arrival. Around 1:30pm Kevin called and said Ivan is delivering the portable tanks to the hospital at 2pm so Kevin can be discharged. I was happy to hear he was being discharged but sad that I wouldn’t get to say goodbye to all the amazing folks that supported us the entire month. Kevin called at 2pm, he’s on the road. The oxygen tank John has only holds an hour and half. In the meantime, the supply company’s dispatcher called me to say they won’t be delivering the equipment for 2 more hours. I panicked letting them know John cannot go without oxygen or he destats, we need it here at 3pm. After about 15 minutes the dispatcher called me back letting me know they have rerouted home and he will be on time. Hallijewah!!

All this panic and stress reminds me of the medical supplier days when John was vented and trached. Dealing with the discrepancies, deliveries, always late and nurses! It was such a stressful time and I am sure that was one reason why I self-medicated with alcohol most evenings.

Today, John is home. Everyone is congratulating us and telling us how blessed we are. But, I can’t seem to be happy. I feel like we have taken such a large step back. I want to believe he will recover from this but am fearful he won’t. The idea of going through this again makes me sad. I really don’t know if I want to cry or laugh.

I am following my happy clown of a son around with 25ft long oxygen tubing attached to a portable oxygen concentrator. The concentrator is a large heavy gray box on wheels that has a rhythm of oxygen pulsing through it. He went downstairs to play Wii bowling and constantly had to be told to put his mask back on. On the way back upstairs he barely made it up having to stop and take a break half way through. We figured out how to give him a Neb which seems to bring back his pink color and he decides he wants to go upstairs to use the computer. After the 10 minutes of rearranging everything upstairs he wants to go back down. I accredit all this movement to spending so much time in the hospital he just needs to move move move.

I am happy he’s home. I am happy that I do not need to drive 10 miles every day to see him. I am happy that he is breathing better and that the doctors trust me enough to let me go home with oxygen. I am sad that it has to be this way. Someone posted on my Facebook “Now you can get back to normal”, whatever normal is. This isn’t normal for anyone. But it is our normal for today.  Another person said “He looks so good and healthy”. I guess that’s relative? If occasional blue lips look healthy? I admit, as much of an open book I am, I do not always let people see all the bad. I share a lot of the good stuff, the corners turned, the leaps and bounds, the miracles. I understand why people say he looks great. He really does look great. But, they didn’t see him 30 minutes earlier destating to the 40’s while his entire head turned blue.

I am not sure what I am trying to get across here. I feel like I am justifying why I am so unhappy or sad about where John is medically. Even though he has come far in the last month, it’s not where he was before this all started.

My life practices tell me to be grateful. We always have something to be grateful for. There are times when I am writing my gratitude email thinking, “I wonder if they think I am being sarcastic?”. I am grateful for oxygen, for portable tanks, for hospital staff and that we finally got some fresh air today. My gratitude list sets the bar low as far as gratitude goes. Others are grateful for their vacation homes, for having an extra day off to take care of business, for their families and so on. Maybe I should shoot higher with my gratitude but I don’t want to. I feel myself resenting my gratitude’s – is that even possible?

Meanwhile, as I write my son is shouting “Namaste!” over and over again. My friend Tori and I use that as a bad word a while back. He is trying to make me happy by using good words. He knows that makes me laugh.

I am so grateful for this broken child that has so much love and laugher in his heart and that he wants to share that with me.

“Is he Autistic?”

Autistic

“Is he autistic? Is a question I get a lot. It is usually paired with a soft sad look and tilted head. These people have no idea how wonderful it is to have a child like John. Another autism mom wouldn’t even ask that question. They would just start sharing stories with me that I usually can relate to, like normal moms.

“That’s what they say. But, I’d be autistic too if I spent 8 years on a vent” Is usually my response. It really depends on the day with how I respond.  Some days I don’t want to deal with the follow up questions, “Why was he on a vent for 8yrs” “what was wrong with him, he looks fine”. Some days I do respond this way just so I can explain him out of his autism. Meanwhile, he sits chanting my name and pounding on something nearby.

In the ICU he is always autistic. I must answer for him, even though I don’t always need to. I must help him with toileting, dressing, eating and so on. Just as I do at home. But, when they start talking about sending him to the floor instead of discharging us from the ICU, that is when I say it, “he is autistic”.  I argue that he has to adapt to the change in environment again, get to know the nurses that will already be jumpy around him because of his medical history and how all that change will just be too hard on him. “Please please please discharge us from the ICU, you know me, I can handle this at home.” Is usually my last line.

Being discharged from the ICU versus the floor usually means we go home a day or two earlier.  It’s just one of the tricks of the trade that we learned in the last 12 years. Like when he was a baby he had MRSA colonized in his trach. Every time we went to the ER it was the first thing we mentioned. It meant we got a private room in the ER. MRSA is very dangerous if active and having him in the general population was not safe for others. We definitely took advantage of that. Having our own room meant quicker service and getting home or admitted sooner. Now that John is no longer MRSA we don’t enjoy that benefit when we go to the ER.

This hospital stay I am not even sure I want to argue about going to the floor. I just want out of this room. I’m thinking the floor might be the next stage in our life, a stage we may need to get used to. He is older, stronger and less critical medically. The ICU beds are full, they need the beds for others. As I write this we are here over 3 weeks. 4 children have passed away, one I know of from the flu. I can’t help but think that could be John. I need to get away from this energy that makes me feel sad and grateful at the same time. It’s like I am being pulled apart from both sides of my body, the pain goes right down the middle of my chest, the sadness lingers in my heart and the happiness is always on the edge trying not to show too much. I’m watching mothers and fathers leave here without their babies. Its emotionally and physically draining. I am so grateful that I do not know their pain. I am so grateful that I have my son with me.

Now If he would just eat his damn hot dog and stop chanting my name “Barbi, Barbi, barbi, barbi,  barbi…. I don’t want hot dog”. Thank God he’s alive!