Tag Archives: hospital stay

Breaking the curse

Reaching today feels like something of a landmark moment. We’ve had our fingers crossed that we’d get to yesterday’s date without so much as a hiccup to stand in our way and we’ve not only reached it unscathed, but have surpassed it with no sign of looking back. Saturday was December 3rd and we were all feeling more than a little nervous about it. The date might not ring any bells with you, but in our household, hitting midnight on the 3rd at home felt like a huge achievement. For the last two years, that date has signalled the start of a hospital admission for M and we were desperate that history wouldn’t repeat itself for the 3rd year in a row. Of course, in both 2014 and 2015 we knew that the admissions were planned and it was just a case of waiting for a bed to be available for him, but nothing prepared us for the unlikely scene of déjà vu when the phone-call came summoning us to London once again, exactly one year to the day of the previous one.

There was no reason to think it would happen again, not least because there are no further admissions planned at GOSH and we had already told our local hospital that we wouldn’t even consider a December admission this year, but the fears of our “December 3rd curse” were there anyway. I’d like to say that the weekend passed without event, which is really what we would have preferred, but as ever in the 7Y2D household that isn’t quite the case. There have been unplanned hospital visits and unexpected procedures discussed for family members other than M over the last week, and the implications of those are still being mulled over as decisions have to be made and soon. However, most importantly, today is December 5th; M and G are at school, Mike and I are at work and that’s just the way it should be.

preview

Now we can start to enjoy Christmas!

Advertisements

NEAW 2016 – All over for another year

With a blog post a day for the last 7 days as well as daily mini fact updates via my FB page, you’d think that I’d be glad that the EGID awareness week has finally drawn to a close. There is, I admit, a certain relief that the busyness of the week is over and I can at long last pause and take a breath, but just as EGID is a constant presence in M’s life, so raising awareness of it will continue to be an important part of our family’s life. A good friend and fellow EGID Mum has asked me to share her reflections of last week, which I am delighted to do as, as she says in her final line, “Knowledge is important this week and every week.”

13246175_10153457684031123_7113882376126390076_o

National Eosinophil Awareness Week 2016,

A time to share personal experiences,

Taking time to tell others what it’s like to live with or care for someone with an Eosinophilic Gastrointestinal Disorder (EGID)

Inviting those who have never heard of EGIDs to find out more,

One way to help raise awareness,

Not for self but for others as we are,

All in this together, the EGID community, so,

Let me tell you a little bit about what it’s like to be the mum of a child with EGID.

 

Elevated levels of eosinophils in the gastrointestinal tract are often disorder indicators,

Often this will mean that there will be pain and possibly inflammation,

Sometimes this will mean that there is a need to exclude foods; sometimes many, sometimes all,

Ige or non-IgE mediated food allergies may also be present, but not always!

Naso-gastric tubes and elemental nutrition may be the only way to manage symptoms,

Often the only option for many is a feeding tube as the body struggles with food proteins,

Pain, discomfort, nausea, altered bowel habits are just a few of the symptoms,

Hospital visits, hospital stays, invasive tests, medications and restricted diets become a part of life,

Illness can be socially restrictive; days, weeks or months may be lost to ‘flares’,

Life can be difficult for those diagnosed with EGIDs.

 

Awareness aids understanding of EGIDs,

Watching what you eat, if you are able to eat, is central to managing symptoms,

Avoiding known triggers, being a food detective, scrutinising labels, are also key skills that need to be developed,

Research is important; finding a cure and raising awareness of what it’s like to live with an EGID,

Education is also key to raising awareness and understanding of the impact of EGIDs,

Networks are central to enabling those with EGIDs to feel supported by those who understand

Eating … when food is the issue, is an issue …,

Support from others; a community of people who understand what it’s like when someone is diagnosed with an EGID is so important,

Societal understanding though will help those with EGIDs to engage more with their communities.

 

We hope for a future where the disorders are better understood, when we don’t have to fight to be heard,

Enabling those with an EGID to share their experiences with others can help this,

Eventually we hope for a cure or better ways to manage the disorders,

Knowledge is important this week and every week; please take a moment to read some of the stories shared by those living with EGIDs.

A Wild 10th birthday!

This week I’m planning to take a break from any suggestion of a complicated bake – after 3 sets of birthday “cakes” last week and croissants the week before, I really think I deserve it. IMG_1731I have to confess to keeping it simple on the big day itself as M had huge ambitions for the day of his party and so a cake-stand full of rice krispie treats seemed to fit the bill. I did jazz them up a little by splitting the batch in two and adding chopped apple to one half and crystallised ginger to the other. The birthday boy seemed delighted with my choices and with that success firmly under my belt, I moved on to the next phase of my baking challenges for the week: the party cake!

M has been fascinated by the natural world for as long as I can remember, hence the arrival of Leo in our household just after Christmas. He loves watching wildlife programs on television, reading nature-themed books, be they novels or factual, and appears to absorb the facts he hears in a sponge-like fashion, ready to share at any given opportunity. So when Mike suggested a wildlife party for his birthday, M leapt at the chance and immediately asked if I could make a bearded dragon cake for it. I tentatively agreed, with my usual proviso that I couldn’t guarantee anything before the day itself and he would just have to accept it, no matter the end result. I researched and found a company who would bring a selection of reptiles and insects to our party location and would teach the children about each one as well as allowing them to touch and hold them if they wanted. It wasn’t my idea of a perfect birthday treat, but M was hugely enthusiastic and so I booked the party session, having somewhat madly decided to hold it at our house to make life a little easier.

12670399_10153297404071123_3934501200587725837_nParty booked and themed party favours ordered, next came the matter of the cake. For once I decided to learn from previous experiences and didn’t leave decorating the cake to the last moment as I usually do. The prospect of a 2am finish really didn’t appeal, especially if I was battling with creating the perfect bearded dragon cake topper and so planned to start a week earlier, with the hope of finishing at a much more reasonable time the night before. I found some images on-line and, with “Les Miserables” blaring in the background, carefully copied the individual body parts before attempting to put them together. Given Leo’s rather vivid orange skin tones, I chose to make a bright orange dragon and whilst it might not have been the most realistic coloured one, I was thrilled with my crafted copy. I carefully covered and stored it away from peeking eyes, determined that M would be left guessing until the last possible moment.

Fast forward a week and Saturday afternoon found me whipping up a batch of stone grey coconut oil icing to recreate a rock, having already baked a M-friendly pear and apple cake, which was now sitting on a bed of brown sugar “sand”. With icing, dragon and cake now all ready and waiting to be assembled, I turned to the matter of some un-birthday birthday cupcakes for G. As you may remember, for the second year in a row M was in hospital over G’s birthday and we were unable to celebrate the day with her. Last year we held a joint party for them both and had a lot of fun at their Cluedo-themed extravaganza, but I wanted to do something separate for G this year. Taking advantage of our tradition that each child has a friend at the other’s party, 12790894_10153315764351123_4961913402772457111_nwe decided to hold a small event on Sunday afternoon for G and invited her 2 friends to M’s party in the morning as well as 1 of his to hers in the afternoon. Given it was a very much belated birthday celebration, of course we needed more cake and I decided a batch of cupcakes would hit the mark and decorated them with some rather glamorous silver icing and snowflake patterns for my December baby.

10441207_10153315937021123_5876452706470659349_nSunday dawned with the most glorious weather and an anxious countdown to the party starting by M. The 8 boys and 3 girls spent their time racing around our back garden, bouncing on the trampoline and admiring the varied animals that arrived to entertain. M, of course, held all that he was allowed and G beat her fears to hold the tarantula, despite shaking hands and the occasional tear. The cakes were greatly received and M declared my bearded dragon the “best cake ever!

IMG_1738 IMG_1765

Popcorn Chicken

You might not have realised it, but last week saw the celebration of “National Popcorn Day” in the USA – a day dedicated to “drawing awareness to popcorn and the never-ending amount of fun you can have with it!” Unfortunately, popcorn is currently yet another treat that M cannot enjoy due to a failed food challenge, but a revisit to my Kracklecorn post from last year reminded me of a popular chicken fast food chain and its popcorn chicken nuggets, This dish brings back fond memories of Mike’s grandmother, who loved this treat and of trips to the nearest KFC to pick up a portion or 2 for dinner whenever we were back in Canada and making a visit to see her.

kfc

January has been something of a grey month for M, who has struggled with giving up the foods unsuccessfully reintroduced during his GOSH admission. His health is infinitely better than it was 6 weeks ago, but my plucky 9-year old has found it tough to see eggs, potatoes and bananas disappear back out of his diet after such an intense period of eating them, no matter how ill they made him. Determined to develop a new recipe to cheer him up a little, and inspired by my Canadian recollections, I researched a number of popcorn chicken recipes to see if I could recreate this fast food treat. Despite a continuing absence of safe foods for M, we have been able to successfully expand his repertoire of herbs and spices and I wanted to introduce some quite bold new flavour combinations to tantalise his taste buds. Some of the recipes I found suggested using an Indian spices theme and, as India just happens to be M’s topic for the new school term, this seemed the perfect opportunity to prepare an Indian-style popcorn chicken for dinner.

Thanks to the ever-present box of Nature’s Path Crispy Rice Cereal, the only safe cereal M can eat and actually enjoys, my trusty deep fat fryer and a selection of Indian-esque spices from my kitchen cupboard, I blitzed up a crumb coating, added my chicken 20160106_180748and kept my fingers crossed. The first batch looked delicious and I couldn’t wait to take a sneaky bite or two to…ahem…”taste test” before serving them to my discerning public. The smell wafting through the house worked better than a dinner bell and first one child, and then the other, drifted to the table with washed hands, ready to try dinner. For that first meal, I prepared 2 chicken breasts worth of popcorn and left my youngest bitterly disappointed that there was absolutely not another morsel left for him to consume. Subsequent meals have seen bigger portions prepared and disappear in similarly quick fashion, and I’m delighted to have found another winning recipe for dinner. Mike has also declared my popcorn chicken a huge hit, even though all he’s been able to scrounge has been the sparse crumbs left once G and M have emptied the bowl. They really were “finger lickin’ good!”.

What’s in a word

I’ve long been aware that when it comes to understanding M, it really pays to understand how he interprets and sees the world. As for so many who live with chronic illness, M’s life is coloured by his EGID and multiple food allergies, and his view of “normal” is understandably skewed by his daily experiences. Courtesy of katbiggie.comThe sad reality is that M has been living with the symptoms of EC for so long that he doesn’t always realise when something he’s feeling isn’t usual and we have often discovered a symptom months, or even years after it first started to happen. These problems are frequently something we could have helped resolve sooner and it is never clear just how long M has been coping with it on his own.

My first experience of this was when M had his second set of scopes done 2 years ago. The nurse had started him on Klean-prep via a NG-tube and told M to tell her if he started to have reflux whilst it was pumping into him. Reflux was something we hadn’t struggled with since he was a baby and so he didn’t know what she meant. My explanation that he might feel nauseous or have some sickness come up into his mouth was met by a puzzled look, “…but Mummy, I get sick in my mouth all the time, why do I need to tell her if that happens?” He was genuinely perplexed by this request and I was made suddenly aware that there was an awful lot more going on with him than we really knew about.

Strangely, during our latest GOSH admission, that issue with reflux once again raised its ugly head and yet again, M more or less accepted it as being back in his life without complaint. When we first learned about the reflux, we worked hard to uncover when it was happening most and started him on a daily medicine to help treat the symptoms. We quickly found that it appeared to be triggered when he ate potatoes and raisins and by cutting those from his diet as well as the new medication, the reflux fortunately seemed to ease. The day after we started the potato food challenge in hospital, M complained that he was struggling with some reflux and explained in extremely graphic details to nurses, dietician and registrar what he felt. Whilst they made note of this problem, disappointingly they didn’t do anything to ease the discomfort he was in and delivered that line of “…he just needs to push through this…” that I quickly came to hate. Their dismissive attitude shown so clearly in front of M and obviously picked up on by him despite the illusion of him being absorbed by the TV whilst plugged into his headphones, meant that he stopped mentioning it and the medics assumed that it was a one-off event only.

It wasn’t until they needed to start adding senna to the klean-prep to clear his system that we learned that M had not been 100% open about what was going on. The conversation had turned to whether he would willingly take the senna by mouth or if it was best pushed down his tube, when M casually commented that it didn’t really matter as he would end up tasting it either way. A little gentle prodding by his nurse soon revealed that the reflux had in fact been ongoing since the food challenges began and during that middle week of our stay, he had been experiencing the vile taste of the bowel prep in his mouth on a very regular basis.

This story for me explains why it is so important for the medical teams to understand that every child is an individual and have very different levels of what they can accept and cope with, particularly when it comes to gastro conditions. In M’s case, this means that knowing how to phrase questions and interpret his answers is key to learning more about how he feels, especially when it comes to his coping strategies. For a number of years, Mike and I have repeatedly told our consultant that we firmly believe M lives with a level of pain that he has come to accept as his “normal”. When you see M running around with his friends or experience the whirlwind force of his personality, this can be difficult to believe and the fact that, between my reluctance to allow either child to stay home from school unless they’re dying and M’s determination to be in the midst of everything as much as possible, he has remarkably good school attendance for a child with a chronic illness, is in stark contrast to the picture we’ve tried to paint.

It’s at times like these that the words used with M, and by M, can reveal the most. At one of the many meetings I had with his consultant during our admission, she and I had talked about what the future holds for M. She told me that we might just have to accept that he would need to live with a level of pain that others might consider unacceptable, so that he has a more varied diet to choose from and my words that he already lived with enough pain seemed to fall on deaf ears. It was only when M met with the lovely GOSH gastro psychologist half-way through our stay that he was finally able to talk about how he feels each and every day. Whats-in-a-wordShe quickly established that M differentiates between a “pain” and an “ache”, which meant that unless he was asked the right question, M would proffer surprising answers.

Of course, the truth of the matter is, as we have repeatedly said, M has an almost constant ache in his tummy and bowels that he has just accepted as part of his reality. He doesn’t call that “pain” and, perhaps because of my unwillingness to unnecessarily dope him up on Calpol at the drop of hat, he doesn’t expect to have anything more than a hot water bottle or wheat bag to treat that discomfort. M calls that an “ache” and when asked to rate how that feels, he cheerily announced it was usually around a 4, the level where they would start to offer pain relief on ward. So when he was asked by the nursing team if he was suffering any “pain”, his answer was almost always a no except when he was experiencing a severe tummy cramp – his definition of what a “pain” was. The nurses had been struggling to understand how he could be rating his pain at an 8 or 9 at one point, only to say less than 5 minutes later that he had no pain at all before they’d even had time to give him any pain relief. This insight into the workings of M’s mind was invaluable as it meant that finally we all – doctors, parents and M himself – were singing from the same hymn sheet and receiving accurate feedback from M about how he was feeling; and all because we now understood the power in a word.

Reflections of an admission

strictly-craig

“I think we can all agree that this admission has been a complete disaster”

Mike and I could have been forgiven for expecting to see Craig Revel Horwood in the room, but in fact those were the opening words of M’s consultant at our meeting on day 13 of his admission. A meeting attended by on-call gastro consultants, ward registrars, dietician, nurses and the gastro psychologist and where not one of them disagreed. When those are the words you hear uttered by one of the senior gastro consultants at Great Ormond Street Hospital, you know that things have gone really badly wrong. To say that Mike and I were surprised to hear them offered as the opening gambit is an understatement: we had gone into this meeting prepared for battle, expecting to have to defend our opinion that M’s current deterioration was due to the food challenges, that same discussion I’d been having for the previous 10 days with that same multitude of medics, and without warning they appeared to have come round to our way of thinking.

Since M’s discharge, lots of people have asked about the admission and what happened whilst we were in London. The plan for the original 2-week admission was to trial 4 foods whilst we were there – potato and egg, which we hadn’t done at home – and banana and salmon, which we had, but he had failed previously. The original expectations as discussed and agreed with both his consultant and dietician were that he’d start to show a reaction within 48 hours of starting each food and so the admission was to look like this: 3 days observation to understand his “normal”, 8 days of food challenges – a new food every 2 days whilst continuing with the previous ones – and then 3 days to assess before sending him home. This approach of challenging with 4 foods in 10 days was ambitious to say the least and left no wriggle room for recovery if he failed at any point. Given we are used to spending at least 5 days slowly introducing a new food to M and then expect to take a week, if not longer, to get back to normal, it quickly becomes evident why things didn’t go according to plan.

3 days observation – these happened, but they hadn’t allowed for just how upset M would be by the short-notice of his admission. As I had packed our case having picked him up from school, I could hear him sobbing in the other room and discovered him lying on G’s bed, wrapped in her arms as he cried about missing her birthday and being away from home in the lead up to Christmas. This traumatised him so much that, as for so many people even without gastro issues, his tummy/bowels/digestion were upset and didn’t behave as the “normal” we’d got used to over the last 12 months. This was to later prove a problem as the ward doctors insisted he was constipated on admission and struggled to accept that these new foods were in fact the issue.

8 days of food challenges – we started with potato at a speed and quantity that I just couldn’t comprehend. There was no go-slow and gently increasing his intake here, instead he was allowed to eat “as much as he wants” and after 2 years without potato,12309588_10153139593761123_4933720941134322006_o believe me he went at it with gusto, even eating 6 roast potatoes at one sitting. Within the first 24 hours he started to show reactions to the potato  – severe reflux, tummy aches, a constant need to wee and he started to soil again, something he really struggled with on an emotional level. The ward doctors refused to believe he could be reacting so quickly and their repeated mantra to me soon became “it’ll take 4-6 weeks for him to show a reaction” and “he just needs to push through this“. As each food was introduced, things got worse and worse as he was now completely incontinent, a position we hadn’t found ourselves in for a year. All the signs of his bowel starting to shut down were there as he was weeing for Britain, his appetite was dropping off and his energy levels started to wane and I kept saying that these indicated he was failing the foods, only to be told that it wasn’t possible. They were palpating his tummy twice a day and insistent it felt fine and every conversation ended with “it’ll take 4-6 weeks..yada yada yada…” – by now you get the picture! By day 8, they finally agreed to x-ray and, lo and behold, he was chronically impacted. This x-ray was apparently one of the clearest they’ve ever seen showing it – solid black throughout his colon due to the blockage.

Then came the heated discussions about why this had happened. They were insistent that he must have come into hospital constipated, though how a child who goes every day can be constipated they’ve still to satisfactorily explain to me, and I was equally insistent that he wasn’t. We ended up agreeing to disagree as neither of us could prove it either way, though it has now been noted that should M be admitted again, they will x-ray at the start of the process to make sure we all know the state of his bowel.

3 days assess/discharge11018900_932190456872138_8699359326763992708_obecame 6 days of powerful bowel prep continuously via M’s NG-tube plus additional senna for the last 3 of those as things simply weren’t shifting as hoped. I have honestly never seen him so ill as he was by the end of that week – bent double from the cramps, crying, refusing to move from bed or engage with anyone, lethargic and rating his pain at an 11 or 12. Throughout this time he was expected to continue all 4 foods, just in case his obvious bowel reactions were actually nothing to do with the challenges and they had introduced a daily dose of senna to keep things moving, something we hadn’t needed at all during the 12-months being tube-fed.

We finally came home after a further 5 days of “recovery” time in hospital and decided to stop banana and salmon straight away as well as the daily laxative. Things slowly started to improve and we made the decision to allow him to have egg and potato in small amounts for a few more days over Christmas. However, since the 27th we’ve stopped those too and gone back to just his 5 safe foods – and he has recovered amazingly. No tummy aches or pains, as much energy as we’re used to, back to regularly using the toilet with no issues and much, much happier in himself. The medics would no doubt argue that it’s difficult to pinpoint when things started going wrong, but to me it seems obvious: the introduction of these 4 foods is undoubtedly the root cause of his bowel problems in GOSH.

That’s the truth behind our December admission and yet to many I’ve no doubt it will seem that it all went incredibly well. You see, the one thing that was achieved during our stay was that M’s NG-tube was removed and my little superstar has proved us all wrong by accepting the challenge of drinking his feed head-on and is drinking a much-reduced volume on a daily basis.IMG_0067 M’s consultant was very determined to get the NG-tube out and at times it felt to us that it was her sole focus for the duration of the admission, which was difficult to cope with when we were needing and hoping for so much more. Achieving that has been amazing, but he hasn’t suddenly started eating a “normal” diet, in fact he’s exactly where he was before we went in, and the need for the elemental feed (E028) is still very much there. The flip-side of losing the tube is that M’s EGID, multiple food allergies and limited diet whilst not diminishing in any respect, have once again become hidden, a set of invisible illnesses, and we have all had to adapt our expectations by keeping that knowledge firmly in the front of our minds. That single small step forward simply does not cancel out the many massive steps backwards that happened whilst we were in hospital and doesn’t acknowledge the harsh reality that very little else in his life has actually changed.

Déjà Vu

it-s-like-deja-vu-all-over-again-yogi-berra_designdéjà vu  (noun)
 
  1. a feeling of having already experienced the present situation

Last week, when I penned my blog post marking M’s 1st tubiversary, we were in the midst of a busy week involving Christmas music concerts (G), school Christmas fairs with a choir appearance (M) and my own choir concert; and I was trying hard to avoid an eerie sense of déjà vu that just refused to go away. At the back of my mind I was very conscious that it was one year on from our last GOSH admission and had hanging over me the reality of a long 22 weeks wait for a bed to become available for another one. I can smile about it now, just,  but the stars really were aligned for last week’s outcome: my Mum was abroad again; my choir’s Christmas concert was planned for the Saturday night again; and G’s birthday was fast-approaching again.

So really, when you think about it, I shouldn’t have been surprised that the phone-call actually came when we least expected it. I think I’d been lulled into a false sense of security by the time we got to the Wednesday night. Last year our phone summons came at 1.30pm on the Tuesday afternoon and M and I had to be at GOSH by 11am Wednesday, so with no communication from them at all, other than the information passed on by our dietician that he was now top of the waiting list when Thursday dawned, I thought that was it for another week. I had my Friday planned – pack some birthday presents for G, pick up some bits and pieces for Christmas and pull together the items I’d want to take with me to GOSH when we finally had to head to London; plus some much-needed sorting out in the house to get it ready for G’s godfather and his family to visit for her birthday weekend.

I was, in fact, mid-conversation with a work colleague about what was going on re his admission, when the office phone rang and that was it. The bed was available now and we needed to head to GOSH and Rainforest ward as soon as we practically could. With so little notice, dropping everything to go there and then just wasn’t possible, but fortunately Mike and G were at home as she had an inset day, so were able to speed through a couple of loads of laundry and start pulling out all the essentials for a 2 week hospital stay.7176037017_45f555b6cc_z I started contacting those who needed to know – school, work, his GOSH dietician – and somehow managed to put in another couple of hours at work before heading off to pick M up from school and finish the packing job. The 4 of us eventually set off from home and hit London perfectly in time for the tail-end of rush hour traffic, meaning we finally reached our destination at around 8.30pm.

M and I quickly settled in the bay on Rainforest, not quite the same bed as before, but close and with some old familiar and very welcome friendly faces amongst the nursing staff to help us feel at home. It was almost as if we hadn’t been away, even though it had been 12 months since our last stay. And that was when the real sense of déjà vu hit – we had been here before. It was not just the same situation, the same bed or even the fact that it was the same ward, but on exactly the same day too, something that we could never had anticipated, even though this admission came as no surprise at all.

 

 

That’s what friends are for

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been focusing my blog on new recipes, holiday travels and weekend adventures, but of course, in the background of all that, there have been the ongoing food challenges, unavoidable medical dramas and inevitable hospital appointments that are very much part of our everyday life. Those are the bits that take a little longer to process as we adjust our expectations and plans for the coming months, and understandably are not always the easiest parts to share. However, whilst we’re picking our way through the discussions of our latest appointment, I wanted to share this story with you all.

You see, our most recent GOSH appointment was declared “…the best hospital appointment EVER!..” by M for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with what his consultant or dietician said, discussed or did; and absolutely indexeverything to do with some amazing friends he has met and made since our journey to a diagnosis started over 4 years ago.

We arrived an hour early for our clinic appointment, something that is nothing short of a miracle given the comedy of errors that unfolded as Mike attempted to connect with M and me mid-route as we headed into London by train. Let’s just say that realising your wife and child are not on the train you’ve just boarded and which is now leaving the station, but instead the one that’s just pulling into that self-same station behind you, probably doesn’t rank very highly in Mike’s top ten of successful travel arrangements, but we did eventually meet up and safely got to the hospital with plenty of time to spare! I knew that good friend and fellow EGID Mum, R was also there with her son, A, who has become great buddies with M since we were in GOSH last Christmas and had already tentatively arranged an attempt to meet up if at all possible. As we trundled through to the waiting room, I spotted R across the room and to my delight saw she was chatting with another old FABED friend of M’s and his Mum, L.

These 3 boys were thrilled to all be at clinic together and spent the next couple of hours sharing their electronic devices, playing games and laughing. Being in clinic with 2 good friends helped occupy M’s time and the lengthy wait just flew past as they entertained each other and we parents took the opportunity to do some catching up of our own. All 3 are on extremely restricted diets and represent beautifully the 3 different faces of elemental feeds: A who bravely drinks his daily; M with his NG-tube; and R with his PEG. It was wonderful to see, especially as all 3 were looking fit, well and really no different to other boys of their age. They looked as 3 friends should do: relaxed, happy and comfortable in each other’s presence.developing-friendship-machines-working-word-building-up-concept-construction-black-alphabetic-letters-forming-isolated-31326540

I’ll be honest, as amazing as it was to watch these 3 lads pick up where they had left off, after however long it has been, without missing a beat, it was also heart-wrenching to see them spending time together in the hospital waiting room, knowing that the reason they were there was a chronic illness that has had a long-reaching impact on each of their young lives. But; in that most perfect of moments for them all as they sat united on the waiting room floor, we also realised just how blessed we are to know such amazing people and how important it is for M to believe that he’s not on his own.

How to survive a hospital stay – the Parents Edition

Courtesy of yoast.com

Courtesy of yoast.com

When M was admitted to GOSH for a week for repeat scopes back in October 2013, I turned to the wonderful support network that is FABED and asked for some tips on the essential things I needed to take to get us both through that week.  The resulting list was my parent’s survival guide, a resource I found myself turning to once again before our most recent admission.  However, the one area I didn’t cover in that survival guide was what I did to get through those endless hours, especially when M was otherwise entertained or busy at hospital school and my lovely friend, F pinged me an email all the way from Canada to make this very point.  She had her own set of questions about what I’d got up to whilst M was in GOSH, telling me what I’d missed from my previous posts and I thought I’d share with you all my curiosity-satisfying answers.

Where did you sleep? – I do so hope you didn’t need a hotel

7176037017_45f555b6cc_zNo, no hotel for me, though actually there were times when a hotel room would have been invaluable.  I slept next to M’s bed in a modern version of a medieval torture device: a chair that supposedly converted to a bed, though I think sleeping on a mattress on the floor, or even just the bare floor itself, might have been more comfortable.  There were definitely some mornings when I would have killed for a good night’s sleep or the opportunity for a long soak in a hot bath, but sleeping in “the bay” with 3 other patients including 1 baby meant that my nights were often disturbed.  M’s cubicle contained 1 of the 2 sinks for the 4 beds, which meant that one notable night, I had doctors, nurses and parents trooping through past M’s bed in a steady stream during the early hours as they needed to wash or sanitise hands and access sterile gloves.

The long-term gastro ward is shockingly out-dated and the facilities don’t meet the needs of the patients or their parents.  Unbelievably there is just one bathroom for 16 beds and only 2 other toilet cubicles, so you were constantly having to keep an eye on the bathroom to make sure you could dash in there before it was in use again.  Given this was the location of the height chart too, you can imagine just how in demand that single room was.

What did you eat when you were there? (I can only imagine this expense adding up if you were buying all your own meals)

Courtesy of mirror.co.uk

Courtesy of mirror.co.uk

The expense certainly did add up as I had to provide all food and drink for myself during the admission.  The small kitchen had a fridge which parents were able to keep food in, but I often found myself heading out each day to get some fresh air as well as my meals for the day.  There was also a microwave and crockery and cutlery, so that did make having a hot meal a little easier.  I kept some bread and crackers for breakfast and then would go out to buy sandwiches, ready meals or other snacks for the rest of the day.  There are several supermarkets in the vicinity, so there was reasonable choice, though the largest shop is a Waitrose, which definitely didn’t help with the cost.

I didn’t really eat out too much, though I took G out for meals whilst she and Mike visited and I treated myself to the odd coffee or hot chocolate mid-morning from one of the nearby coffee shops.  I also had a really lovely dinner out with one of my fellow Mums on the ward.  We headed across the road from the hospital to a small Italian restaurant and enjoyed some delicious food, great conversation and a small glass of wine each, whilst the boys were under the watchful care of the nurses!

How did you pass time? – Surely M didn’t need you every second of the day?

The first few days M was reluctant to let me out of his sight for long, especially when he was struggling to cope with the effects of the bowel prep on his system.  He understood that I needed to go out and get something to eat so that I didn’t make myself ill, but I would bring the food back onto the ward to eat at his bedside.  He didn’t necessarily engage with me for most of that time, preferring to be plugged into the TV or playing his tablet or DS, but my presence was very much required.  I took a supply of magazines, books and various puzzle books with me as well as my laptop, so I was able to entertain myself whilst he was absorbed in what he was watching.

teaOnce he started going to school, I spent my time off the hospital ward as much as possible, taking walks in the local area and getting some fresh air or doing the more mundane chores of laundry or tidying up our very small bed area.  I was lucky enough to be able to arrange to meet up with several of the lovely FABED Mums whilst we were there too as their children came in for various appointments or procedures.  It was great to actually meet, sit down and chat with some of these folks who’ve been giving support over the last 4 years and to finally put faces to names.

Did you have opportunities to have ‘a break’?

My only breaks were relatively short ones when M was in school or the evening he went to Scouts.  Some parents lived close enough to be able to go home or even into work during the day, but being over 2 hours away from London made that impossible for me.  The 2 Saturdays when Mike visited, he spent most of his time with M, so G and I could go out and have some quality time together.  We went to a coffee shop for elevenses both weeks, I took her out for lunch the first week and the 3 of us went out for dinner both evenings before they headed home.  We were lucky that there are restaurants nearby that do gluten- and dairy-free food options, so eating out with G proved to be easy to do.  But that was it.  No other breaks for me as it was, all things considered, a relatively short admission and I needed to be advocating M’s needs during our time there, something I just couldn’t take a break from.

How do you stay sane while there?

friendsWho said I did?!  Truthfully, my sanity remained as much in tact as it did thanks to amazing support from family and friends.  The folks who dropped me an email, sent me a text, popped something in the post for M or even arranged for a beautiful bouquet of flowers to turn up completely unexpectedly.  And that’s not even thinking about the wonderful Mums I met on ward, who were all there for varying lengths of stay, for vastly different reasons and who gave me an ear to bend and a shoulder to cry on when I needed them the most.  Believe it or not, we had a lot of fun in the evenings, sitting in the bay, comparing stories, sharing opinions of nurses and consultants, chatting about life and generally putting the world to rights.  Those friendships were made in the hardest of times and the strangest of situations, but are worth more than their weight in gold.  I met amazing parents who are facing much bigger challenges than we have to cope with and yet go about everyday with a smile and a kind word for everyone they meet.  We all had our down days when we needed the support of those around us and I can’t think of a nicer bunch of people to have been through that experience with (Rhys, Lauren, Caroline – you know who you are and thank you!)

7 things to do in hospital when you’re 8 (& 3/4)

Two weeks in hospital is long enough to challenge the sanity of any adult, let alone that of an 8-year-old who is used to being on the go all the time.  As well as his daily visits to the hospital school, M was fortunate enough to have a number of other activities to take part in, which helped wile away the ever-lengthening hours.  I don’t know how many of these same opportunities, or others like them, are available at children’s hospitals across the country, but this is a selection of some of those M chose to do during his stay at GOSH:

Pets as Therapy20141209_131336We were lucky enough to have 3 separate visits from 2 of the amazing “Pets as Therapy” dogs, Molly and Woof.  These charming animals are specially chosen for their gentle manner and make regular visits into hospitals, care homes and special needs schools to bring a great deal of comfort and love to those in the greatest of need.  I wrote a blog post not so long ago about just how much calm and comfort M draws from our cats at home and I saw the same things happening as he was able to pet and cuddle both dogs in his own space in hospital.  G was lucky enough to also have the chance to meet and fuss Molly as she visited on both Saturdays whilst Mike and G were visiting, and both children were encouraged to offer her treats for her patient behaviour when she was with them.

 

ScoutsscoutsThe visit to the 17th Holborn Scouts and Guides at Great Ormond Street Hospital was one of the highlights of M’s last hospital stay in 2013 and since finding out he was due another admission, he had talked of little else.  His biggest disappointment was that he was admitted on a Wednesday as Scouts meet every Tuesday evening and he had to wait a whole week before he could go again. During the evening, they provide a range of different crafts and games which are tailored for the differing ages and needs of the children attending that week and even reward regular attendance, an important boost for those children who are there on long-term admissions.  Sadly, M only managed to make one meeting again this year, but is already asking when he can go to Scouts again!

 

Courtesy of gosh.nhs.uk

Courtesy of gosh.nhs.uk

Saturday Club – Every Saturday afternoon, the activity centre (located next door to the school) is opened to patients and their siblings and friends for a couple of hours of crafts, games and some much-needed time together, away from the constraints of the ward.  On our first Saturday in hospital, M wasn’t keen on venturing too far from his bed, but the arrival of 2 of the Saturday club play volunteers, who engaged him and G in some riotous games of “Extreme Uno” as well as giant snakes and ladders, convinced him to change his mind.  By week 2, both G and M were chomping at the bit to join in the fun and whilst the staff there helped my 2 celebrate G’s 11th birthday with some rather nifty face-painting, an elegant birthday crown and Christmas crafts galore, Mike and I were able to escape for a sneaky 45 minute catch-up over coffee and cake in the hospital restaurant.

 

Courtesy of scholastic.co.uk

Courtesy of scholastic.co.uk

ReadWell book trolley – This was a treat we almost missed during our first week as the trolley came round as we were enjoying the ballet at the Royal Opera House, but thanks to some near-perfect timing, we stepped out of the lift just as the trolley was about to leave the ward.  M was able to choose from the wide selection of books displayed on the trolley and took great pleasure in being able to spend some time before deciding on an author we had not come across before.  To his absolute delight, not only did he have a free choice of books, but he also got to keep the books he picked out and he has enjoyed reading them since we got back home.  M also had the chance to create his own story with one of the ReadWell workers, who came into the school and acted as scribe as he weaved his adventurous tale of aliens visiting earth.

 

20141214_105928Ward Playroom – Whilst this was not the biggest room in the world, it held a vast array of games and activities to entertain the most particular of children.  M played on the Wii, found new board games to master and was able to borrow a DVD player and DVDs to watch over the weekends.  We made Christmas decorations, painted pictures, experimented with creating circuits with a science kit and M even decorated a ceramic money-box as part of his Christmas present to G.  20141214_105916

 

Courtesy of magicfree,net

Courtesy of magicfree,net

Magic – As well as a fleeting hello to the Clown doctors as we passed them in the ward corridor, one afternoon was brightened by the promise of a visiting magician.  M sat enthralled with a small group of his new hospital friends as this talented gentleman performed one awe-inspiring illusion after another.  He invited both children and parents alike to participate in some of the tricks and wowed us with his skills.  He listened as the children asked him questions about what he was doing and even watched M perform a rope trick of his very own.  My Dynamo-wannabee loved every moment of the show and dissected the tricks at length afterwards, trying to work out the secret of how they’d be done.

 

20141219_184138Post – Last, but not least is an activity that had nothing to do with GOSH itself, but everything to do with the amazingly thoughtful family and friends who were determined to bring a little cheer to our dreary corner of the long-term gastro ward.  Messages came from around the world – Canada, Madeira and across the UK – and each was special in its own way.  M received get well cards, postcards, books, stickers, games and other gifts that were guaranteed to entertain him day or night.  We decorated his bed space with the cards and added a Christmasy feel with the decorations that we had made in the playroom.  Knowing that people were thinking of us, loving us and sending us get well wishes and prayers sustained us both during the most difficult moments of the admission and brought some much-needed sunshine on the darkest days.   From the Christmas card from M’s class at school, to 2 pages of messages from Mike’s cousin and her friends and colleagues in Calgary; from cards and presents from our friends at church, to a card from the lovely members of my choir; and the 2 extra-special gifts of Angry Birds Jenga from our fabulous FABED family and signed photos and scrubs for both G and M from Holby City, courtesy of Simon Harper, my man at the BBC; all the mail was gratefully received and enjoyed hugely by us both.

                        20141220_193939