I Know.

As a caregiver to a child with intense and profound special needs, I know that my voice is relevant in this space because of my experiences.

I know that I sigh deeply when people who have no experience with autism offer suggestions on behavior modification.

I know that I want to throttle well meaning folks when they say to “hire help” when there is very little help to be hired or the available help comes at a hefty price tag that a family of ten can not easily afford.

I know that I want to scream when people suggest that we “take him with us – he’ll be fine” knowing he won’t be fine and will instead holler “ALL DONE!” until we agree to leave.

I know that it broke my heart as we tried different medications to thwart the aggressive behavior that resulted after the abrupt ending to Luke’s school year.

I know that it drives me bonkers when my experience with Luke is compared to raising a toddler. No, it’s not the same. A two year old kicking and screaming – kind of cute. A fifteen year old violently thrashing and screaming, not so cute.

I know that my heart often races as passive guilt is heaped upon my already heavy shoulders when we decline an invitation because of finances or weariness or just plain lack of giddy up.

I know that the gossip whispered about time spent away from my children – frequent getaways in order to be a somewhat sane mother who is able to do this exhausting endeavor day after day, hurts.

I know that I could weep every time I think about Luke’s future, my future, – fearful of what opportunities or resources await or don’t await us after 18.

I know what it’s like to be a caregiver of a teenage son with profound and complex and difficult needs. I know that my voice matters. My vulnerability matters. My experience matters as I speak into this space.

I hope and pray that my voice will be a part of many voices that will create change that is desperately needed in America.

However –

I do not know what it’s like to be black and so I will quiet my voice, quiet my judgmental thoughts, quiet my preconceived ideas and opinions, and I will listen. I will listen to the voices of wisdom who can teach me. I will listen to their experiences and their stories, and I will learn.

This is know.

To learn more about how you can help caregivers please visit www.thelucasproject.org

A Holy Shift

I descended the stairs, immediately irritated by what was awaiting me with each scream originating from my 15-year-old son. Great, I muttered as the uninvited stench rose to greet my nose. Luke, my son with profound special needs, required yet another diaper change – a chore that was becoming increasingly able to grate my very last nerve over the past few weeks as his father recovered from shoulder surgery – a recovery period that did not allow for diaper changes.

I opened the door slightly and held my breath. The third of the day so far. My least favorite job in the whole world.

I did what was necessary – cleaned my big 15-year-old man child, and as I prepared to leave, he reached for my face, met my eyes and sang in his sweet jumbled way,

Oh God you are my God, and I will ever praise you.

Continue reading “A Holy Shift”

WHAT HAPPENS?

I spent an intense morning with Luke at the eye doctor. Honestly, we’ve been frequenting doctor’s offices most days. Yesterday was PT for Ryan my husband, today, eye doctor for Luke, tomorrow and Friday PT for Ryan, Saturday, family doctor for a new wheelchair for Luke…

This is life for special needs families.

I made this appointment months ago – before Ryan had committed to his new surgery date in Feb – before when the original date was Jan 6 but then Luke was still in PICU & so we rearranged our schedules.

Today – 8:30 a.m. Feb 25, 2020. 5 days post op for Luke’s father who usually joins me on these exhausting excursions because it’s hard. But Ryan couldn’t join today with his arm in a brace, and I bribed my oldest daughter Mya to help. Bribed her with the promise of Starbucks. She agreed because that’s the kind of person she is. A lover of people and a lover of hot chocolate.

At 15 years old, Luke hates almost everything out of his ordinary – “GO TO SCHOOL!” was heard loud and clear – repeatedly- during our time spent in the serene waiting room added with the ants in his pants which resulted in a loud “GO WALK!” to the cacophony of chaos as mothers quickly shielded their children from his outstretched, unstable movements which threatened to grab or lick or stumble headfirst into their small toddler’s bosom.

What happens?

I asked myself – my blood pressure rising and heart palpitations quickening with each high pitched scream as Mya and I stared at each other with helpless looks as we tried to wrangle our big man child back into his stroller.

What happens when he becomes too big, and I can no longer physically restrain him?

What happens when he can’t go out in public because he might cause harm to another person?

What happens when my mental stability is hinging on instability?

What happens when his iPad isn’t interesting to him anymore?

What happens if he needs a diaper change and there’s nowhere to change him?

We were able to calm his anxious soul today quite by accident. The nurse played classical music from a contraption with green blinking lights (price tag probably $5000) to get an idea of vision capacity. He loved it and relaxed. I asked if we could keep playing the song on repeat for the remainder of the visit. She agreed & patted his knee “it’s ok buddy, it’ll be ok.” She was looking at me.

It’s okay is what happens. Mercy happens. Compassion happens. Occasionally someone really sees us – that’s what happens. Hot chocolate and strong coffee happens.

Moment by moment as we “just keep livin”

That’s what happens.

Luke Update – Caring for Special Needs After ICU

Today marks two weeks since Luke came home after being in the hospital for nearly a month.

To Recap – 

Luke had a shunt placed at 3 days old, and it became infected when he was one.  He had surgery and proceeded to be problem free for 14 years.  A miracle, really, until this past December when he got off the bus one Friday afternoon and couldn’t walk.  Literally sat down in the middle of the road.  Ryan and I reasoned that the symptom was attributed with the discomfort of his new braces; however, that night he wouldn’t eat and the next morning he wouldn’t either.  Luke ALWAYS eats. We brought him to ER where it was discovered that his shunt was broken.  He underwent surgery a few days later, was discharged, and we came home after a week; thankful that everything in our chaotic life was somewhat in order again.

Luke appeared to rebound quickly: walking again, eating, and singing so instead of canceling my speaking engagements, I headed to Michigan the following week and shared my story and encouraged communities to help special needs families.

I arrived home, we enjoyed the holiday together, Christmas night we feasted on our traditional prime rib dinner, and Luke wouldn’t eat. The next morning, he couldn’t walk.  We returned to ER where it was discovered that his new shunt was infected.  This was an “OH GOD!” moment because the revelation entailed a much more intense surgery and recovery period to first remove the infected shunt, strong continuous sedation to ensure that Luke wouldn’t mess with anything, strong antibiotics to clear the infection out of his body, and then another surgery to place a new – hopefully infection free – shunt back in.

Three weeks of absolute exhaustion – head down, “get er done” kind of life. Mya and I managed the fort at home, I visited Luke during the days, Ryan worked when he could because we did have bills to pay, and then spent every night beside Luke.

When Luke was discharged two weeks ago, I spent the majority of the first week in bed with his baby monitor beside me.  I got up to make food for the kids, do a load of laundry, and check email, but I primarily binged on Netflix and good books like The Body Keeps the Score and Small Fry (links below).  The trauma had finally caught up with me.  Ryan continued to move, slowly, but never felt rested or quite right.  We still don’t – really.  We’re so damn tired.  We compare it to the aftermath when our first spouses passed away in 2010 as we napped almost daily for over a year – our bodies and minds completely spent.  Trauma affects people in the strangest ways:  all I want to do is sleep, my joints ache – hips, knees, legs – bound so tight from stress, so tightly I’ve been moving like I’m 80 not 42.  About a week ago, in an effort to reduce my Advil consumption, I discovered a natural combination of Gaba, willow bark (2 for natural pain relief), Tumeric (4-6 for inflammation) and magnesium calm (2 at night for sleep) that has been a very effective nighttime cocktail, and I dance a lot with the kids – shaking off the stress like a wild animal after being pursued as prey. I haven’t been able to convince Ryan to join our dance parties – not yet, at least 😊 I’ve tried to take really good care of myself and go slowly – difficult for a type A, Enneagram 1 who thrives on changing the world, but right now, my focus has been on changing me so that I can function for my world – my husband and kids.

Luke is getting there.  He had a week remaining of detox meds when we arrived home so he’s been drug free for a week now; however, we still notice occasional tremors. He’s resting most days in his bed with music or his Ipad, he’s eating really well – back to normal – and his walking is improving daily but could take a while to be back to baseline.  Today he walked unassisted to his chair – which is huge! During surgery the doctor had to remove the infected tube that ran from his head down to the base of his abdomen – a tube which had been there for 14 years – so yes, his core strength has been greatly compromised. The doctor informed us that we’ll be much more in the clear (infection wise) at the 6 week marker.  Honestly, I don’t think I’ll even begin to exhale until we reach 6 weeks.  Hope feels very fickle right now, and I’m not trusting it at all. I know I have to let some of these walls of protection fall, but it is hard. We’ve done everything we can possibly do as Luke’s parents – hydrogen peroxide on his wounds, feeding him healthy foods full of hidden nutrition, Vit D drops, Vit C, Gaba to keep him calm, magnesium to help him sleep, washing his blankie and bed constantly, we’ve done it all but at the end of the day, this is a child with profound special needs who can’t be reasoned with, and if he’s interested in playing with his wounds with his grimy fingers (he also puts his fingers in his mouth all the time) he’s going to do it.  Every meal, as he sits in his feeding chair, I look at the scar on his head and envision tiny little angels scrubbing away all the germs with tiny little sponges, and I pray, protect my boy from infection and protect our family from any more trauma and then I say –

“But you are God, and I am not.  Thy will be done.”

Thank you for checking in on us. Links for any of the products I mentioned are below.

(Jess Ronne is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.)

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Just keep livin.