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.

 

 

 

See Me Too – A Caregiver’s Plea

Dear mama with normal children,

Normal? Typical?
What’s politically correct you might wonder?
As do I and –
What is normal anyway?
Honestly, I’m not sure because I’m tired.
And I don’t spend my free time on political jargon
And I definitely don’t sleep well
And most of my waking hours I’m caring for someone else
Or finding resources that will hopefully make our life a little bit easier someday.
Someday – a day that feels more and more like a unicorn lately.
You see, I’m a special needs mama to a 15 year old son.
And no, it’s not politically correct to call myself that
Because I am more than just special needs
Or so they say
But am I?
Because a pretty high percentage of my life revolves around my child and what we can or can’t do because of his limitations.
I often see you and your beautiful typical functioning children out and about in the world, and I’m envious.
Yes, I said that out loud.
And I’m not supposed to say those words because I have my miracle baby.
The child the experts said would never live
So there’s always guilt attached
To my envy. Continue reading “See Me Too – A Caregiver’s Plea”

Why You Should Care About Children with Special Needs

It can be difficult to understand the complexities of raising a special needs child if this calling is not part of your daily reality. I get it. I never gave these children nor their caretakers a second thought before I had a handicapped child. It’s hard to empathize with a situation without experience.

My goal in writing – in books, on the blog, and on social media – is to tell stories that portray all of the aspects of raising a special needs child – the demanding, the taxing, the beautiful, and the joy.

There is undoubtedly a blessing. These kids are closer to Heaven than we will ever be with their innocence and child-like faith. They teach us invaluable lessons about the nature of our heavenly father’s love and care for his children. They model joy, perseverance, and faith in quantities us “normal” folk can only dream about BUT –

Raising a special needs child is a massively exhausting undertaking as well.

A few weeks ago a friend’s 8 year old daughter unexpectedly passed away. This little girl was never supposed to survive; however, these kids often have a way of proving the experts wrong. I recently asked her mama if the new ease of life was haunting because when you live in special needs world, there are rarely moments of ease. It’s like being in a combat zone. You’re always mentally anticipating your child’s next basic needs – hunger, pain, angst, smell, what, where, when, why – all the time. These kids often don’t grow up and become independent so there is no end in sight which can feel overwhelming.

One of my greatest goals with The Lucas Project – a non-profit organization to assist special needs families in rural Tennessee – is to educate people on why they should care – even if it’s not a part of their daily reality.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40

These children are the least of the least of the least of these. They often have the mental and emotional capacity of an infant. They are usually physically unable to care for themselves without continual assistance, and without the loving intervention of caretakers, these children could not survive.

I would admonish you to care about these kids and their families because you don’t have to care, and that’s a blessing.

Special needs may not be a part of your daily reality, but it is a reality for 6.7 million children (nces.ed.gov) and often includes:

Bathing a grown child

Feeding – either by utensil or tube feeding – often restrained in a special chair.

Diapering a thirteen year old

Wondering at times if one day you’ll be diapering a thirty year old.

Restraining a teenager who has become aggressive due to puberty.

Entering the local ER in the middle of the night to play a guessing game for the next 24 hours as you try to determine the cause of angst in your non-verbal child.

Declining an invitation for a fun event because there is no one to watch your child, and he or she would cause disruptions and outbursts.

Attempting to distract a child who is frustrated and banging his head against his crib.

Sleeping with a baby monitor beside your head for 18 + years

Getting up multiple times in the middle of the night to administer meds, tubes or breathing equipment or to make sure your child is still alive.

Spending the majority of your free time in a doctor or therapist’s office.

Not being alone with your spouse in years because there is no one you trust to care for your child in your absence.

Suffering extreme pain and popping Advil like it’s candy because your child has grown too large for you to comfortably handle, and the strain is taking a toll on your aging body.

You should care about caretakers who experience stress, anxiety, exhaustion, and depression on a regular basis but don’t have the funds nor the time to address the problem, and in rural environments, lacking in professionals to even help address the problem!

You should care if you live where resources are plentiful because there are people who live in rural communities where resources are sorely lacking.

You should care if your children are healthy because there are parents who manage a child’s chronic illness every day of their lives.

You should care because we are all a part of this grand body known as humanity, and we have a moral obligation to care for one another, especially the least of these, like our lives depend upon it – because they do.

Please consider a donation to The Lucas Project so that we can all begin caring or check out http://www.thelucasproject.org to learn more.

 

Just keep livin.