I’m starting to face the fact that most of the time I choose to live somewhat in a state of denial regarding the situation we live with every day. Our son will never get better, he will not be cured, and eventually he will succumb to the complications of Leigh’s Disease. This is our reality, the reality we don’t really talk about that much – a reality that most days we just can’t bear to face. Our sweet little cherub will one day leave us behind. Living in denial is easy to do really, when we are so busy monitoring his status on so many fronts every hour, it can be exhausting just trying to keep up with that.
Most days, denial is really just more about SURVIVAL. We just try to get to the next hour, the next mealtime, or even the next day. If I could stop long enough to absorb everything that’s happening, it could overwhelm me to the point of never leaving my bed. I know most of the time we say Braden is “fine”, but sometimes there’s no good way to explain just how he is, or to really be able to find the words. Most days he is just “complicated”. We honestly have passed the days of being “fine”. There’s just no good way to explain everything we look at every minute of every day to explain our “complicated”. So I thought I could provide some insight by just sharing what happens on some of our “typical” days…
10 pm Braden didn’t pee 3x today, so we have to catheterize him again before we hit the sack. I wonder how many more times we will have to do this before his body gets with the program. Should we add meds to help him go? When should I call the doctor to discuss – at what point do I need to escalate this with him because it’s perhaps a bigger issue going on?
12 am Pulse-ox goes off. His oxygen saturation dropped. Suctioned, cough assist, back to normal. That’s weird; he usually doesn’t do this anymore. I wonder if he has a respiratory infection coming on.
1:30 am Pulse-ox goes off. He pulled off the sensor and it wasn’t reading right.
3:15 am Pulse-ox goes off again. Braden had a seizure, his heart rate alarmed this time. Calmed him down and went back to bed.
5:05 am Pulse-ox goes off again. Braden having another seizure, high heart rate alarm. Hmm… I wonder if we need to change his meds again.
6:02 am Pulse-ox goes off again. The sensor wasn’t reading strong enough to hold a read. Might as well get up and start his breathing treatments.
6:30 am We go to feed him, but notice his tummy seems a little tight. I guess we will give this bottle since it has most of his daily meds, and will monitor the situation. We may end up skipping the 10 & adjusting the rest of the feed schedule.
6:45 am Another loose bowel movement and another change of the bed. Wondering if we need to call the doc about multiple loose stools. He throws a hot flash and we add a cool towel to his face to bring his temp down. Hate that we have to leave for work, will monitor the situation via phone/text.
8:15 am Call to compound pharmacy, meds didn’t arrive.
8:20 am Call to reschedule a missed appointment.
8:25 am Call to insurance to find out why they didn’t pay a claim that has been sent to collections by the provider. Grrrrrr. Had to call back twice because they told me it wasn’t processed right by the provider. So after 5 total phone calls, I can only “hope” that this has been resolved. This only took an hour out of my life.
10:30 am Home nurse calls to say his heart rate stayed raised, so we give Tylenol to help with possible pain from teething or urinary tract trauma, hard to say what the cause is.
12:50 pm Nurse texts to say he finally went pee on his own. Had another bowel movement that went everywhere.
1:15 pm PCA (Personal Care Attendant) agency calls to say tonight’s PCA can’t show up. Great. We did have plans tonight after work to get a work-out in with a friend and Brad had a meeting too. Now we will have to shuffle schedule with husband and one of us will have to miss something. Again.
2:45 pm Call to nurse. He seems huffy or in pain. We try more Tylenol. No fever, just the hot flashes.
5:00 pm Trying to decide if we should delay this feeding, his tummy is a bit tight. Maybe we will just give half now, and try again in another hour with more.
6:15 pm His heart rate spikes again. Too late to call a doctor’s office. We try to reposition, try oragel in case it’s teething pain. After about 35 minutes, he finally calms down again.
7:30 pm Started breathing treatments early because he got really “junky” and kept dropping sats. After multiple attempts with breathing treatments and cough assist we get up some yucky mucous plugs. Whew. Had to hang up 3 times on friends during this “episode”.
9:00 pm Put B to bed, feed him one last time. Decide we need to cath Braden, he hasn’t peed since just after noon today. Boo. This time was tough, took me about 12 good attempts to get through his false tract to the right place. Frustrating. Required lots of patience and near tears to get it. OK, now maybe we can try to get his bottles made for the next few days, it takes about 45 minutes – then try to get to bed myself.
10:45 pm Lights out, TV off.
11:05 pm Pulse-ox alarm. Oh joy. Here we go again.
So this is simply a representation of what most days consist of. We are constantly monitoring multiple systems – any of which could require a call to the doctor or a trip to the hospital at any moment. Imagine a life where you NEVER, EVER get to fully relax, because you have this other human being relying on you for everything. Remember what it was like to have a newborn? “New parent” adrenaline, never sleeping, wondering what every little sound meant or if the baby was getting sick or developing right… this is our life. EVERY SINGLE DAY. We are mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted, and we never get to relax or “catch up”. We can’t, we don’t have that luxury.
At this point you might be thinking, “Wow – I know other families raising special needs children. I never really understood everything they face, on a daily basis. I knew about the occasional (or frequent) trips to the hospital, but I didn’t realize how adrenaline-ridden and anxiety-filled just an average day could be for them. How can I possibly help ease that burden?”
For every family, these answers may be different. But some ideas include taking care of household things that need to be done, that sometimes families like us can fall behind on, because of our constant juggling act. Things like cleaning the house (bathrooms, vacuuming/sweeping/mopping the floors, dusting, doing the windows, and even spring cleaning items like cleaning fans, windows, baseboards, etc) changing the air/water filter, mowing the lawn, doing laundry, taking prepared meals, going grocery shopping, cleaning the gutters, power-washing the driveway/patio…. All of these would be so helpful, and at times are really just a “luxury” to be able to get to all of them. The biggest gift of all? BABYSIT. It’s a rare occasion for us to get to have a “date night”, and trust me, with an 80% divorce rate among special needs parents, we need all the help we can get to keep the relationship strong. We don’t get to do that when all our focus is on our child. Send gift certificates for dinner, movies, massages, hair appointments, or other entertainment – all of these are pure luxury items as we don’t often have the funds to spend on ourselves because our medical bills and non-covered expenses like supplements, medications and medical supplies can be pretty steep.
We need your notes of encouragement and your hugs of support. We need you to show love for our special needs child and embrace them for who they are. These are sometimes just the thing we needed to adjust our attitude and attack another day of unending advocacy work on behalf of our kid. And most of all, we need prayer. Prayers to find physical strength to keep up with the demanding need of our child. Prayers to find mental strength to keep fighting the insurance companies, educators, service providers, legislators and auxiliary care givers to keep everyone doing the things that are best for our child. And emotional strength to overcome the depression that comes with a constant grieving process, to overcome the negativity of society or even the medical community that wants to place limits on your child, to overcome the constant roller-coaster of emotions that go along with the ever-changing status of your child’s health, and to overcome the anxiety that follows the adrenaline high’s.
When you see our patience wearing thin enough to match the soles on our feet trying to keep up with this juggling act (that there are no classes for), maybe just take an extra moment in your day to reach out and make a kind gesture. The non-monetary ones mean just as much as the others. Come over and do the dirty dishes in my sink – I’ll place you on a friend pedestal for life, and probably cry as I hug you for doing something nice. It all means the world to us, when most of the world is afraid of us/our children.
So this really long post all just to tell you we appreciate the anything and everything you do for us along our journey. We know it’s hard to know what to say, when there really are no words that tell a parent’s heart that everything will be OK, when we know that Braden’s life expectancy grows smaller as the years pass and the medical complications increase. When his time has come to be with the rest of God’s angels, we know this loss is one we will never get over. But we do hope that the lives that will be touched by Braden’s story of FIGHT, and the stories that will be told of our precious son – that these memories will sooner than later turn our sad into glad, and our sorrow into appreciation and gratefulness for the time we have been given.