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…


I can’t deny…

Six years ago I was asked to write about the positive aspects of raising a child with complex medical issues. This is the article I wrote that was published on an online magazine called Complex Child.

Looking back at this article reminds me of how far John has come. Day to day life can get me wrapped up in rushing, taking on too much and wishing John was doing better medically. I get wrapped up in the future instead of living in the present. I literally give myself anxiety thinking of scenarios that can happen if things were different. Things that probably will never happen consume my thoughts during the day.

Before I seen this on my memories news feed via Facebook I was talking to a friend about how negative my thoughts have been. Re-reading this was a blessing. A reminder telling me to STOP, breathe and smell the flowers right in front of me. Find the gratitude in the life I have today, full of oxygen tanks, bowling, Chuck E Cheese and all beef kosher hot dogs. Find the gratitude in the people around me today. The teacher that never gave up on him, the lunch lady that showed up to his birthday party and the students that sent him cards at the hospital! Be grateful for the party invites even if we can’t go, the friends that call to check in even if I can’t answer and our chosen family.

I cannot Deny  Autism, Chronic Lung Disease or Epilepsy. It will always be a part of our lives, but I will not let it control my thoughts!

What a great way to restart my week!


What’s Next?

It’s been an autistic kind of day…

This morning John refused to talk to me unless we used the walkie-talkies. I enjoy when he does this because it encourages him to use proper sentences and good words. He keeps the volume so low on the walk-talkies that we can’t hear each other. However, we are standing right in front of each other. I believe the sound of the voice through the walkie-talkie causes a sensory issue so he keeps the volume low.

On the way out the door an older man walking a huge old German Shepard was walking by. John started chanting “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck…” over and over again. The man stopped and looked at us shocked. I quickly looked at him and said, “I’m sorry, he’s autistic, he’s just nervous”. The man gently said, “I can leave”. I said, “NO, we see you all the time, its ok. He has to be Ok”. All while John was chanting “Fuck”. The man said to John, “Hey John, this is my dog Jake”. John stops chanting and looks in their direction and says, “Jake, like Jake and the Neverland Pirates. Jake, Captain Hook, Mr. Smee, Sharky, Izzy and Skully.” The man responds, “Oh Skully, yeah I like X-Files, too”.  Next run in with Old man and Jake should go a little smoother.

We went to the last day of camp’s talent show at Indy Park. John is so well behaved at Indy it literally has me stumped. I have no clue why. Maybe because he loves it there so much. We spent an hour there listening to the team, greeting everyone and sitting watching the show. It was the quietest he has been all year so I really took advantage of talking to other adults without interruption. It was amazing!

As we were leaving it took everything in me not to cry before we got to the car. John loves this place but cannot attend because of his medical needs. They do not provide nurses and I can’t stay with him. I was sad because Special Olympics starts in September and he will not be there. I was sad because he is missing out on so many things that he loves, where he feels the most comfortable with the friends that make him feel normal and loved.

When we arrived home I let him eat “black” popcorn, didn’t feed him dinner and sat my depressed ass on the sofa. I was emotionally drained from having a good ugly cry in the car on the way home. John asked to go downstairs to play Wii. I was all for it, but didn’t follow him. I wanted to see if he could do it himself this time. He has seen me do it a million times.

I waited…I got lost in my phone…I waited a little more….got lost in my phone a little more and then popped up thinking he was way too quiet. Ill head down to see what’s up.

Scene: Our basement is small so the doors are pocket doors that slide into the wall. The bathroom door was half open with oxygen tubing trailing out. The smell of shit was in the air. I slowly peek in to find a few balls of shit on the floor, a little on the wall, all soaking in a pool of pee with his jeans and underwear laying on the floor soaked. John is sitting on the toilet humming and chanting “what’s next, Mommy?”, the question he has been asking all fucking day, while splashing his feet in the pee.

I managed to get it cleaned up while he sat on the toilet. I was amazed that he didn’t move off the toilet. I think he knew this wasn’t right and just wanted to sit there till it was gone. Kind of like what I want to do when I do something wrong….maybe it will just disappear?

All cleaned up, he jumps on the couch to play his Wii asking “what’s next?”  The bathroom is probably cleaner then when we first bought the house, BONUS!

My character defects like to creep in unintentionally. One of them is impatience and anger. Today, it didn’t’ happen. I only felt sadness. I feel like that is emotional progress…feel the feelings, walk through the fear, and keep the faith….

All day I have been listing off in my head the autistic quality’s that my son has.

The repetitive asking

The swearing

The need for a schedule

The lack of understanding of danger

He is intellectually disabled

He is beautiful, smart and so loving

Whats next blog

This is the face I love every day. It’s the face after the storm, after the hardship and after the madness. It’s the face of love and gratitude. He puts his head on my shoulder while patting my back saying “Gracias, mommy”. While we are just sitting there, after the storm. He puts on a hardy laugh while saying “I love you mommy”, just to see us laugh, after the storm. At bed, he asks one more time “What’s next?”, tonight the answer was “Tomorrow is Saturday, Chuckie Cheese because you earned it!”. He responds. “I earned it!” while his 12 year old body wiggles so hard with excitement.


And tomorrow we will do it again…

Are we breathing?

When John became sick this past year I knew our summer would be spent at home. At the time, I was sad and depressed thinking about all the things Johnny will be missing out on. He won’t be able to attend Summer Camp, missing piano lessons, no more swimming and trips to Chuck E Cheese and McDonald’s for french fries would be limited. As his mom I want more for him. I want him to be able to experience life and enjoy his youth, make friends, play  sports, be happy…

Fast forward three months later, here we are at home adjusting. John and I have been stalking his camp, meeting them on field trips and being a part of the group that he loves so much. We went to the movies, the beach and bowling. I hired a girl to help out so I can run errands, get pedicures and work. She is a music teacher with the Chicago School System. John loves her and she has quickly learned how John works.

Every morning, John and I sit at the kitchen table and eat breakfast, we chat, sing and talk about the weather. Seriously, John is obsessed with the weather and asks every morning about it.

Every afternoon, we do something or nothing. We go bowling, stalk his camp or we sit home and watch TV. This afternoon I came upstairs to write while John watched TV, but we both have our walkie-talkies to keep each other posted on what’s happening in our part of the house.

Three months ago I thought my world was coming to a screeching halt of boredom and sadness. Today, I get to relax with my lil man, sing and write. Far from boredom!

John’s life has a way of slowing my life down and reminding me what is important.

  • Taking time to talk in the mornings
  • Friends and family that take the time to check in on us or visit
  • Living in the present, not worrying about the future
  • Love, without it we have nothing
  • Breathing

Yes, breathing. Part of our routine is also checking his oxygen levels during the day. Its what we say every day, “Take a deep breath John, bring those levels up. Breathe”. It’s what I remind myself to do every day when I am stressed, “Breathe Barbie, everything will work out”. So far, every thing has always worked out…

Chillin with Boss


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”

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



Summer fun is not so fun…

Today is Saturday. I am a business owner on top of a multitude of other titles. On the days I am not going into the shop I always check in with the video cameras to make sure someone showed up for their shift. Today, no one showed up to open the shop. So after getting a text saying she asked someone else to cover her shift but never told me so I could change the schedule, I had to pack up John and head over to the shop to open. This is where I start wondering why I thought I could be a business owner and John’s mom and contemplate closing shop and then slap myself out of it.

John doesn’t like to just get up and go. There is a process, a plan, a schedule that needs to be followed. Today, we were supposed to go to Rosemont at 2:30 for the Special Olympics Ice cream social. Next, home for water balloons. Next, Irish fest. We were not supposed to go to Josi’s at 12:15pm or any time during the day. After throwing his clothes and shoes on, driving to the shop he was pretty pissed.

When we got out of the car he tried throwing his oxygen tank at me. A guy riding his bike passed slowed down to watch. When we started walking to the door he tried pulling the tubing off. An elder man stopped to ask if I needed help. Once we got to the door I knew I needed to literally shove him into the store with tank, lock the door and dart to turn off the alarm. If John heard that alarm our day would be ruined. So that is what I did unannounced to John. John didn’t appreciate the shove but with a shocked look went to sit down at the nearest chair, thank God!!!

Once the alarm was off and doors locked I worked on opening the store while John sat on the chair chanting and screaming at me. “Mom, mom, mom, Get over here right now, I said get over here!” Over and over again. Apparently, I say that to him a lot.

A customer came to the door so I opened warning them that the shop just opened and product isn’t ready for about 5 minutes. I apologized and continued to get the shop ready while John continued chanting his chant. Meanwhile, I was texting everyone trying to get them to come in or friends to watch John, there is no way I can sit here all day with John and tend to customers.

Finally, the newest girl hired said she could make it. Two girls have been suspended and don’t start back till Monday so I didn’t even ask them. One girl was at a baby shower. I fired the girl that didn’t come in. It was the easiest fire ever since she was literally a backup, ironically that couldn’t back us up. I just took her off the schedule and told the team they can no longer use her as a backup. Didn’t even tell her.

When the girl finally showed up I took my phone and sat down next to John at the table he was chanting at. It took all of my strength to not cry. I sat there staring at John, he stared back at me finally saying nothing. I took a deep breath and started chanting to myself “God help me, god help me, god help me”, while holding back tears with my back to the audience at the counter.

Since the last night shift didn’t let me know we were out of strawberries, blueberries, donuts and a bulb was out; it was off to Target.

It had to be Target, because that is the only store John will go to without a fight. I’m just glad all the items I needed were at Target. Mission accomplished, dropped off at the shop and home we go!

On the way home he sat in the back seat the quietest I have ever seen him. So quiet I had to ask if he was ok. His beautiful face just looks over at me with a smile and says “I’m ok mommy, stop asking, I’m ok”.  That his new thing, telling me to stop asking even if I only asked once. Was this the calm before the storm? In my head I am trying to figure out how to keep him this calm….

Cancel Rosemont

Cancel the Irish fest

He’s way off his game.

Home – FINALLY – Kevin comes home early to relieve me so I can go to jewel for dinner, pet store for food and hardware store for a fly swatter! Ahhh…a break for me!

He has his water balloons… all is right with HIS world. Until daddy tell him only 5, not 10. I’m outta here….

I managed not to cry in public, only in my car…

I can’t wait to go to bed….it’s only 4:30pm….

People are texting me asking where we are….no show again.

I’m watching all the other mom-entrepreneurs take their kids to work and be good at it #SmallBizMom…no go here.

#Feeling Sad



I tell this story to heal, not for sympathy….I need to heal and others can heal from reading, hopefully. Sharing our experience, our strength and our hope is how we heal. #Healing

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