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.

A Glimpse – I Choose Hard.

“You and Ryan seem so calm”

A phrase I often heard when Luke was in PICU for almost 4 weeks this past December and into January.  We probably appeared calm because we’ve experienced the worst case scenario. Someone died on our watch in 2010. We’ve waded through the depths of hell and survived; not only survived, but found immense joy on the other side of our grief but that’s not the only reason.

What most people can’t understand is how difficult normal Luke is at 15 years old. Baseline Luke is hard. The restlessness, constant high-pitched screams, puberty, incontinence, the inability to verbalize what he wants or even understand what he desires makes it exhausting to raise this unique individual, but we do it. We go through the motions and thank God for giving us a child who has taught us numerous lessons through his fragile life. But it’s still hard.

As Luke lay quietly sedated in PICU, I was given a glimpse, A glimpse much like Nicholas Cage experienced in the beloved movie, Family Man. A 25 day glimpse of a different life.  Not a life in ICU with beeping machines and lifesaving equipment; instead, a life at home; away from the beeping machines; a life I returned to after Ryan relieved me at the hospital; a life with the other kids. A life where I awoke to the rising of the sun and not to my 15 year old screaming over the baby monitor. A life where I had the freedom to run to the grocery store for milk and not worry about who would stay with Luke; a life where I didn’t have to constantly decipher what my non-verbal child wanted, and a life void of diapers and wheel chairs and walls smeared with food from wherever he ate his last meal.

An easier life. A life of peace or more peace than I was used to. A life of occasional silence. A life without Luke.

Struggle has a way of forcing beauty to the surface. The pink cactus, planted in a dry parched land – sinking its roots deeply into the brittle soil; willing its way to the surface – beyond the menacing thorns the bright pink petals unfold in majestic glory as the soul reaches for the sun.

The hard, holy treasures of life. Dull glittering nuggets that contain what really matters – unearthed through trauma and agonizing moans and breaths that can’t be released and heartache that brings a mama to her knees as she begs God to intervene and heal her son.

I wrestled with the Almighty for days as Luke lay in ICU. Weeping, moaning, begging – my thoughts scary, laced with guilt There’s peace, it’s quiet; my heart isn’t racing, I slept all night…

In the garden, beside the cords and tubes and beeping machines, sweat dripping from my brow, pleading –

Father, grant me the strength to endure the hard, screaming, physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining cup you have asked of me to drink.  Please spare my son. I choose him. I choose the difficult path you have called of me.  I choose life. Give me grace and strength to walk the road. Crucify every desire for prideful control. May I serve the least of these in your kingdom, and may I serve them joyfully.  Yet not my will, but yours be done. Luke 22

This is my road, my journey, and this is the way I must walk. I choose the narrow, parched path where only the pink petals bloom; the path lined with thorns and littered with dull and dirty nuggets – nuggets masking a priceless treasure beneath the smut and the grim and the walls smeared with food. I choose hard and holy.  I choose Luke again and again and again.

Just keep livin.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

A Day in the Life of a Special Needs Caretaker – Questions Answered

A few weeks ago I posted a documentary called Life of Luke which detailed the day in the life of our son Lucas who has special needs or more specifically, it detailed a day in the life of a special need’s caretaker, yours truly.  This short video has received over 900 views on YouTube and has led to insightful discussions and questions in regard to what it’s like raising Luke.  I’ve mentioned before, I LOVE diving into this topic – especially when it’s done in a respectful and life-giving way.  There are difficulties and challenges associated with raising a child like Luke, as there are with any child and there always will be! – but if our challenges can lead to awareness and resources for families like mine, then I’ll continue to write and post about the realities of our life.

This documentary helped open the eyes of many individuals including a few who said, “Jess, I had no idea that you needed special equipment for your child.  It just never crossed my mind.” As these comments and questions poured in, I decided that it would be helpful to answer them on the blog.  Today’s post will address the different types of equipment we have for Luke and how we obtain it.

First, we have used a wonderful company called Independence on Wheels for the majority of our adaptive equipment needs here in Tennessee.  I love working with this company as they come to me, they fill out all of the paper work, and they make the referral calls – which as any parent of a special need’s child knows, is huge.  I think I’ve spent a third of my life filling out paperwork for Luke. No joke.

Our most recent piece of equipment obtained through this company is the car seat. This was a life changer.  When we lived in rural Tennessee, I would drive about 30 minutes to and from Luke’s school.  Luke didn’t enjoy this long car ride and would often scream.  One day, he was bored and figured out how to wiggle his way out of the seat belt and found his way to the front of the van while I was driving! This was disastrous and led to multiple detours of pulling over to the side of the road and trying to wrangle him into his seat belt once again in a way where he couldn’t escape. I called the company, they arrived within the week, and we ordered the car seat which took a couple of months to secure. He can not get out of this – praise Jesus.

We also utilize a stroller/wheelchair for Luke which was absolutely necessary when he was younger, but he’s not real interested in it anymore as his walking continues to improve. It is still a necessary convenience when he needs to be restrained because we can’t walk with him forever despite his insistence for it.

The Rifton activity chair which he doesn’t really associate with activities but more so with food.  We are currently looking for a chair (that doesn’t cost thousands of dollars) that he would keep him safe (so probably a restraint), allow for some independence, and one that he might learn to associate with activities rather than eating. The Rifton chair is manufactured in a similar way as a large high chair. There’s a strap to use if necessary but we haven’t had to utilize it as the tray keeps him in place and he’s happy as the food continues coming his way.

His bed – which in all honestly, looks a little bit like a jail but came highly recommended from the company Independence on Wheels.  This bed has been great as the double doors swing open wide enough for him to come and go as he pleases and can serve as a giant changing table for clothes, shoes, etc. We paid extra for the foam cushions that attached (past tense) all the way around the bed on the inside via Velcro strips – well, that was their original purpose; however, Luke managed to rip them off one morning, and we found him buried beneath the pile. We improvised and ran them along the outside of the bed for additional safety purposes. This bed offers a cozy, compact environment for Luke which he finds comfort in along with an easy clean mattress made out of vinyl.  Again, it is void of sheets, pillows, and extra blankets because Luke will have none of that nonsense.  He will rip them off and throw it out faster than you can put it in there.  I don’t claim to understand all the musings that occur in this child’s brain.

Finally, his braces. He is fitted for a new pair every year or two, and they have assisted greatly in his ability to walk.

That’s it. In the next few weeks I’ll give you a sneak peak into a surprise we’ve been planning and answer the question, “Does Luke Play?” or, maybe I’ll let Luke answer that question with a live demonstration.

Just Keep Livin!