Tag Archives: NGT

The impact of mental health

In a world that is frighteningly open as people regularly share their location, activities and even the contents of their lunch box via social media, there is still a huge reluctance to linger on anything that hints at emotional instability or mental distress; but the sad truth is that matters of mental health are a huge part of living with a chronic illness and not just for the individual concerned. Today is World Mental Health Day, a day that is seeking to raise awareness of mental health conditions in an open and honest way, to encourage individuals to understand more about how these problems can affect just about anyone at one time or another in their lives and how others can support them. There is a tendency to make light of the language used when referring to mental health issues, after all, how many times have we heard someone say that they’re feeling depressed about having to go back to work after a holiday or the break-up of a particular pop group1-in-6-wmhd, when what they really mean is that such events have saddened or upset them rather than the total immobilisation that comes when you struggle with depression on a daily basis. I am not devaluing the emotions they may be experiencing when those things happen, but are they really akin to the overwhelming nature of depression? I think not.

I don’t speak lightly as I have been dealing with the constant presence of recurring depression since my teenage years. I know what that “black dog” is like and just how much it can impact on your ability to function on a day-to-day basis in the real world. As a teenager living with T1D, I struggled with accepting that this was a reality that was never going to change for me, that the need for regular injections, sensible eating and facing the risk of serious complications was never going to disappear. I didn’t handle it well. Though few of my peers may have realised it at the time, I refused to do what I needed to do to maintain my health, not because I wanted to cause myself problems, but because I couldn’t see a way to live like my friends and not feel isolated by my T1D diagnosis. I know that I was not alone in my reaction to my chronic illness and my family and I owe a great deal to my fantastic consultant who worked hard to help minimise what often felt like insurmountable differences as I went through those troubled years. With time and support, untitledI did eventually come to terms with my diagnosis, though sadly my determination to get my T1D control back on an even keel brought with it an unexpected complication with my eyes, which in turn has led to even more serious implications than I could ever have imagined when I was 13 and feeling very much on my own in a battle against the rest of the outside world.

Move forward a few years and I found myself back in the mental health fight when I was diagnosed with post-natal depression following the difficult pregnancy and early arrival of M. This time I was more open to receiving help and my diagnosis, when it came, proved a huge relief as I didn’t have to actively speak out and ask for that support. Having struggled with counselling as a sole answer to my depression as a teenager, I readily accepted the suggestion from my GP that I be prescribed with low-level anti-depressants for the first few months and am not ashamed to say that those helped me through some very dark times indeed. Anti-depressants are not for everyone, just as much as counselling hasn’t always proved to be a success for me. There should be no stigma attached to needing that medicine to survive the battering of a mental health problem. It is a necessity for some, just as insulin keeps me alive or a feeding tube and elemental feed proved to be what M needed to help him regain better health.

I have learned over the years to identify when I start to feel a little low and my ability to cope with the everyday becomes more of a strain. Mike and my Mum have developed their own sixth sense to pick up when I am beginning to struggle and offer me their unfailing support as I try to find my way back out of the pit. Our 7 year journey to get an initial diagnosis for M and the ongoing challenges in keeping him fit and well have taken their toll and there have been times when tempers are frayed and relationships fractured because of it. 1-in-3-traumatic-event-wmhdThat strong support network of family and friends who are constantly surrounding me is invaluable and the knowledge of what is really important – M and G – keeps me getting out from under the duvet every morning and making my way through each day.

Even more importantly, my own experiences with chronic illness mean that I am well-tuned to the impact that his own diagnosis will have on M. It is a frightening reality to face that your own child might end up fighting the same demons that you did at that age, but it also gives me an insight that lends a level of trust and understanding between M and me that is unlike the relationship he has with anyone else. I can fully empathise when life seems unfair and unjust and he can allow his emotions to pour out because he believes that I get it. We have long been arguing for psychological support for M and finally, thanks to a developing shared care relationship with our local hospital, that seems to be being put in place. Our new gastro consultant has fully acknowledged that the EGID diagnosis will have not only shaped the person M has become, but also had an effect on G and on our family dynamics. He wants to adopt a holistic approach to treating M and the next few weeks will tell if that is a solution that will make a significant difference going forward. I know that recognising the signs of mental stress now are really important when it comes to M’s ongoing mental health, especially as there can be no denying that he already struggles with mood swings, anxiety and feelings of isolation, not just due to his EGID, but also because of his dyslexia and dyspraxia. Early recognition of those symptoms will help us and the medical professionals find a way to put into place coping mechanisms that will serve him, not just now, but into his adulthood too. He already has a good cohort of friends surrounding and looking for him, but they are young, only 10 years old. Just as with any other child as they grow up, he will learn to distinguish those who will stand by him through thick and thin and those who are just there for the fun times. Most importantly to me, 70300is that he doesn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed by the times when he’s not able to cope emotionally, or mentally, or even physically with the pressures that his diagnoses will have on his life, and that he learns to openly acknowledge them; and that he realises that he’s not on his own in that regard.

Likewise, we can’t ignore the reality that having a chronically ill sibling has a massive impact on G and her mental health too. The Young Carers meetings that she has attended over the last few months have covered the areas of anxiety, facing fears and anger management, which are all inextricably tied up with the role of being a young person caring for another. Those sessions have taught her strategies for dealing with her yo-yoing emotions and provide an outlet for them in a safe and understanding environment. She has made stress balls and relaxation jars to bring home and use as she needs. I hope that the proposed psychology appointments at our local will not only look to support M, but also to help G in her own right as well as us as a family. These are all things you don’t want to even consider that your children might ever need to deal with, but there is no escaping the reality of chronic illness and mental health, and we need to accept our responsibility to help them both. That is the key message of today’s World Mental Health Day – that we all have a role to play in supporting those around us as best we possibly can.black-dog-step-on-you

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City Adventures in Lisbon

The first few days of our Portuguese adventures were spent in the capital city, Lisbon, where we enjoyed some great days out in what was a first visit for us, even though we know parts of the Algarve extremely well. For anyone wondering where to go on a family break, Lisbon has a huge variety of choices to suit just about every age and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. We weren’t staying in Old Lisbon itself, but rather in one of its suburbs and it was extremely easy to travel in and out of the main centre by train using their Via Viagem travel card system, something akin to London’s Oyster cards.

My Mum had lent me her Lisbon guide-book before we went, which I had just about had time to skim through and highlight some things which I thought might appeal to us all, given our ages ranged from 10 to somewhere in the 60s, and I knew she had a list of ‘must-sees’ to hand too. Her Berlitz Pocket Guide also proved to be a welcome distraction for an unexpectedly nervous M, who was surprisingly anxious about our 2 hour flight as he hasn’t flown since before having his tube and spent the time studying the guide pinpointing attractions he really wanted to visit whilst we were there. IMG_0957[1]With a list as long as our arm to work our way through, we narrowed down our choices to the top few that appealed the most to us all and set off to see just how much ground we could cover in our 3 full days in the city.

Our main choice for the first day was to jump on to a “Hop-on, hop-off” bus, a firm favourite in our family as a way of exploring a new place as it not only helps orientate ourselves, but also serves as a great way of seeing some sights that we might otherwise not get to visit due to time constraints. We used the familiar City Sightseeing tours as a company we’ve used around the world with great success, but have to say that this time we were left a little disappointed. The bus-stops were poorly signed and we frequently found ourselves walking miles in an attempt to work out exactly where we needed to be to catch the bus back to wherever we next wanted to be. On one occasion, we even gave up completely having spied the bus heading away from us after a good 20 minutes standing in the blazing sun at a marked bus-stop on what we knew had to be the wrong side of the road for the direction we wanted and instead negotiated a great rate with one of the Tuk Tuk drivers, much to the children’s delight.

We took the bus and travelled out to the area of Belém, where M had identified the impressive Torre de Belém as a necessary sightseeing stop. He was particularly intrigued by the stone rhino that graces the base of one of the Tower’s turrets and insisted we explored until we found it whilst the older members of our group held a place in the queue. We waited for well over an hour in the soaring heat and it was just about worth the wait. IMG_0914[1]Both children enjoyed exploring the different levels of the Tower, honing their photography skills amongst the cannons in the artillery as well as in the dungeons and of the stunning panoramic views of the River Tagus from the top. The tower is climbed via a steep spiral staircase and a series of sequenced traffic lights indicated when it was time to climb up, down, or pause for breath in one of the rooms off the main staircase.

Having exhausted all that the Torre de Belém had to offer, my Mum was keen for us to head towards the infamous Padrão dos Descobrimentos, perhaps one of the most well-known sights in Lisbon. Sadly, the monument that depicts a number of important Portuguese historical figures including explorers Magellan and Vasco da Gama, was hidden by scaffolding, but we enjoyed the walk along the river before wearily trekking on to our ever-elusive next bus-stop. Our travels also took us past the impressive Cristo Rei statue – M’s “…like Christ the Redeemer, but not..” – the beautiful Moorish-inspired Campo Pequeno Bullring and the awe-inspiring Águas Livres Aqueduct, all of which give us great reason to visit this beautiful city again.

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Day 6: Educating those around us

With the growth of the internet and the increasing popularity of social media platforms as well as the plethora of blogs out there that cover a multitude of topics, the world has become a lot smaller and it’s easier to spread the word and work towards greater understanding. Our family has become adept at educating those around us about EGID, a necessity when even the medical community struggles to reach a consensus about this rare disease and whether it really exists or is simply part of a much bigger picture. As a quick aside, try living with anyone who is in the midst of an EGID flare and, bigger picture or not, you’ll understand why we will continue to fight for research into this unquestionably chronic and life-impacting illness. T_2384403_orighe same is true when it comes to feeding tubes as sadly misconceptions are rife and the reasons behind a tube can be as complex and individual as there are stars in the sky. Even with children or adults living with the exact same condition, their symptoms and need for additional nutrition can be vastly different.

Of course, those of us who live with the reality of additional nutritional support and tube-feeding often have the best opportunity to educate those around us about it, but we can’t do it on our own. PINNT (Patients on Intravenous & Nasogastric Nutrition Therapy) here in the UK and the Feeding Tube Awareness Foundation in the USA do an amazing job of supporting families going through nutrition therapy, be that newcomers to the world of tube-feeding or those who’ve been doing it for years. They also provide tools and advice that can be effectively used to educate the outside world about the reasons behind this treatment and how to give easy-to-understand answers to the most difficult of questions.

Last year, M made a video for National Eosinophilic Awareness Week, which he used to help teach his classmates and the wider school not just about EGID, but also about his tube and, to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t think of a better way to help educate my community than sharing it once again:

Day 5: But who supports the supporters?

Family on Blackboard-webWhen you are tube-fed, I think it’s only natural to expect the support of your nearest and dearest, especially in the case of the tube-fed child. In a recent interview about her MS diagnosis, actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler from the US TV show “The Sopranos” said that “when one person in the family has a chronic illness, the whole family has it.” and this really resonated with me. M, I hope, has never needed to question the unfailing and unconditional support that Mike and I will give him along every step of his journey, but it’s not just us who have walked that way with him over the last 12 months. Without any say in the matter, G has been dragged along for the ride too and has been a great comfort and support to M when it matters most, arguments and fallings-out aside. I have talked before about the amazing community that surrounds our family, but G has been something of an unsung hero in the story. Over the last few years we have seen her struggle to cope with the reality of having a chronically ill brother, which has manifested itself in behaviour and attitudes that are less than ideal and which need love and understanding in the most testing of times. We work hard to try to give G as much time as we can, but sometimes that can’t be as much as we’d want, especially when going through a particularly tough time with M. Sometimes siblings need more time than the parents can find, so who is it that can help parents support these young supporters?

Many people will have heard of Young Carers projects, but perhaps will not realise how massive and vital a role these groups can play in families dealing with chronic illness. Young carers are defined as “children and young people who often take on practical and/or emotional caring responsibilities that would normally be expected of an adult.” Being a young carer is an isolating experience as the child may be reluctant to discuss their home life with friends at school for fear of bullying and will often feel that they are in a unique situation. imagesYoung Carers groups try to meet on a regular basis to give the youngsters a much-needed break from the day-to-day, the opportunity to meet other young carers who will truly understand the pressures and strains they are under and the chance to have fun and be a child. Depending on the location, and sadly on the funding available, these organisations may offer evening clubs, weekends away, days out and even holidays as well as friendly advice, information and counselling to both the young carer and their family. In our area, there is also a school worker who runs lunchtime clubs at some of the local secondary schools, hold awareness assemblies and will act as an advocate for the child if needed.

Frequently these youngsters don’t identify themselves in the role of a young carer and it came as no surprise to me that G didn’t as I certainly had never really thought about her in terms of being a young carer until fairly recently. Thanks to a well-placed poster, a stray comment at school and some gentle prodding from a fab EGID friend, I contacted our local Young Carers group, filled in their referral document and sent it off with my fingers tightly crossed that something helpful would come from it. With the most amazing coincidental timing, at almost the same time that I was waiting for a reply, G had spotted a poster in the Year 7 canteen, took a photo on her phone and showed it to me, asking if I thought this was something that she could find out more about. Delighted that she was interested in this support and wanting to encourage her to investigate the opportunity under her own steam too, I agreed that she should contact the teacher named and see what further information she would be given from within school. P1000101She and a close friend in a not-too-dissimilar position have since met with this teacher a couple of times and have been given more information about our local young carers group as well as a list of useful contact names and numbers.

We also had a positive response from my referral form and last week G and I met with Hannah, one of the Young Carers team. She was with us for about an hour and talked to G about all things Young Carers. Having established that G understood what was meant by the term “young carer”, Hannah then took the time to explain how G fit into that role and then they discussed at length just how G helps M and the rest of the family and how she feels about it. I stayed in the kitchen the whole time, but switched between sitting at the table with them and carrying on with preparing feeds, meds, packed lunches and dinner in order to give G the chance to open up about her feelings. I reassured her that we wanted her to be 100% honest about the emotional impact that M’s illness has on her and was pleased to hear her being just that. Nothing she said surprised me in the slightest and I found it a relief to see her open to the idea of the Young Carers groups and all they can offer. She is keen to get started as soon as possible and is just waiting for the paperwork to be processed and the invitation to drop onto the doormat Hogwarts-style!

I am fascinated and pleased to see that there is an increasing awareness worldwide of the lasting impact of chronically ill siblings on children and the need to seek ways to effectively support them as they grow up, often in the shadow of the sick child. Last year I became aware of another fantastic project, this time by Australian photographer, Alexandrena Parker and Rare Voices Australia, entitled The Forgotten Ones, which sought to highlight this aspect of the rare disease community and unsung-hero-greport…to celebrate and recognise the unspoken and often forgotten support that siblings provide to loved ones suffering.” This is just one person’s small step to make a difference to these unfailing supporters, but with the help of projects like The Forgotten Ones and Young Carers, we can all help support our sick children and their unsung heroes.

 

*The wonderful charity, Over the Wall, also provides respite camps for sick children, their siblings and their families, either all together or separately. You can find out more here.

Day 4: Development, both physical and emotional

The last 12 months have seen many changes in M. Some were the physical ones we were hoping for – improved health, weight gain and his symptoms disappearing – and some were an unexpected bonus on an emotional level. When I offered to write the article for PINNT, it was important for me to discuss with M whether he was happy for me to talk openly and honestly about our experiences. Both he and G know that I have been writing my blog for the last 3 years and are fully aware that I protect their anonymity throughout my writing. This article was going to be something very different as I would be using our real names and providing photos of M to be included in the magazine. To my surprise, not only did he give me the go-ahead, but he also asked if he could jump on the family writing bandwagon and include his own thoughts about his year with a NG-tube. For me this showed a real development in his attitude about his EGID, one that reflected a maturity I had seen growing since the tube was passed in 2014. From producing his video for National Eosinophilic Awareness week last May to the multiple presentations at his school and now this eagerness to share his opinions, M has started to grow up and slowly come to terms with the reality of his life with a chronic illness. This is what he had to say:

Living on EN – The patient’s perspective (child)

My name is M, I’m 9 years old and this Christmas will have had my NG-tube for a year. My Mum and Dad and my doctor made the decision for me to have a tube because so many foods were having to be taken out of my diet because I have EGID (Eosinophilic Gastro-Intestinal Disease) and multiple food allergies. When I first found out that I was going to have a NG-tube, I felt upset because I didn’t think that the tube was 11009339_10152614451586123_8225188594845865541_ogoing to make me feel better and I was very worried that I would be teased at school about it.

The first 8 weeks were very difficult as I felt angry and had several melt-downs as I got used to my tube. Christmas was tough because I couldn’t eat anything and I missed having turkey, Christmas pudding and mince pies. I was jealous that my friends and family were able to eat as I really enjoyed eating lots of foods. When I had my birthday a couple of months later, my Mum made me a special cake out of polystyrene cakes and decorated it to match my Cluedo-themed party. My friends thought it was brilliant and the best thing is I got to keep the cake!

At school, all of my friends are very supportive, they don’t tease me and now don’t seem to notice it. Some say they have even forgotten what I look like without it! 20150710_111650Last summer, my classmates decided to wear a 2.5kg backpack for the morning so that they could understand exactly what I go through each day. The whole class did it as well as our teacher and the other teaching assistants.

Twelve months on, I feel much better both emotionally and health-wise. During the first few weeks I didn’t feel very sure about how I would cope, but now I feel confident about having it in. I would still prefer not to have it, but I don’t mind it so much. The first few tube changes were hard, but I’ve become an expert and can now have my tube changed in less than 5 minutes – I even take my old tube out myself.

If I had to give some advice to another child about to have a tube, I would say don’t worry because it’s not as bad as you think it will be. You can do practically anything with it and it will help you feel a lot better in the long-run. My tube doesn’t stop me doing anything and in the last year I have continued to play my cello, performed in a dance display and have even been given my first modelling job.

Day 3: Nutrition and teaching the experts

Back in November, I offered my help to PINNT to write an article for a nutritional magazine on the subject of being a parent to a tube-fed child. I wanted to share our experiences of the last 12 months and, upon reading the questions asked, I felt it was a real opportunity to reach out and teach the medical professionals who work with families like ours. The potential impact of this article is huge as the magazine has a UK readership of over 13,000 health professionals and is the only nutrition magazine that reaches across the nutrition profession.

magsIn addition to virtually every practising dietician in the UK, it is mailed directly to all senior gastroenterologists, all nutrition nurse specialists and all nutrition pharmacists, as well as lecturers, industry professionals, consultant dieticians and students.

 For day 3 of Feeding Tube Awareness week, I thought I’d include the transcript of my article here:

When did you first learn that your child would need to be nutritionally supported by enteral nutrition?

After four years of increasing food exclusions and a raft of daily medicines, M was still massively symptomatic from his EC and the decision was taken in November 2014 to move him to an elemental feed. His NG tube was passed in early December.

Reflecting back to this stage in your life, what thoughts and emotions were going through your head?

The possibility of a move to enteral feeding had been on my radar for over a year and I had become increasingly certain that it was the best way to try to ease the ongoing symptoms and pain that he was experiencing. The heartbreak of holding my sobbing child at 3am, with tears streaming down my own face, as I struggled to find the words to bring him the comfort that nothing else could bring at that moment in time, had left me willing to try anything to ease his pain.

It took Mike longer to come to terms with the prospect of feeding M via a tube, but by the time we agreed with his consultant that we needed to give it a go, we both felt that it was the chance to give M and his body some much-needed relief. The short-term plans we’d been following for the past three years had been all well and good, but we now needed a longer-term care plan put into place as we just couldn’t keep limping from one appointment to the next with different problems constantly cropping up and nothing really being resolved. The consultant warned us that the enteral nutrition might not be the answer we were looking for, but we were desperate enough to still want to try it and stubborn enough to believe it would be what M needed.

At the time of your child commencing on enteral nutrition, what support and information where you provided with from health professionals, and did you feel this support and information was enough?

AdviceWe weren’t provided with any information about enteral feeding beforehand from the health professionals involved in M’s care and I found most of our information came from online support groups, such as PINNT and FABED. Disappointingly, we then had very limited support from the hospital as the dietician and consultant were both keen to get him discharged as soon as possible and ignored my concerns that we had no local support from our home hospital. Fortunately the nursing staff helped me fight his corner and made sure that both Mike and I were relatively confident in how to manage his tube and work his feeding pump before we went home. M was discharged just 10 days before Christmas and I was really concerned that we would have difficulties accessing any support over the festive period – it was thanks to the wonderful support group parents, the hospital nursing team (who gave me their direct phone number on the ward) and our community nurse that we not only survived, but managed to enjoy Christmas as a family in our own home.

Since being on enteral nutrition what type of long-term care and support has your child received from hospital/community health professional team?

We have a somewhat complex 3-tiered support system in place:

  • The overall plans for his enteral feeding and the slow re-introductions of food into his diet are managed by his consultant and dietician at Great Ormond Street. I speak to his dietician every 3 weeks to review what’s going on and tweak his care; and we see them both every 3-4 months.
  • His tube changes are done every 6-8 weeks at the CIU (Clinical Investigations Unit) at our local hospital, who have listened to his needs and help make the appointments run as smoothly as possible with the involvement of play therapists to help distract him.20141207_124217
  • Our community nurse has helped provide training as needed and is regularly in touch to help and advise as we need.

It may be a somewhat “clunky” approach, but nearly one year on, it’s close to a well-oiled machine and works for us.

How has having a child being fed via enteral nutrition affected your family unit as a whole (thinking about siblings, time in hospital, holidays, etc.)?

Having a child with a chronic illness affects family dynamics and adding enteral feeding to the mix just meant a few additional, albeit significant tweaks for us. The regular hospital appointments do interrupt our daily routine, so I work hard to make sure that life is as stable and as “normal” as possible the rest of the time. M obviously has to take time off school for his appointments, so I try to make sure that he doesn’t miss more than is necessary. I do worry that G gets side-lined at times as our focus so often has to be on M and managing his feeding needs. 20150208_181917We’ve encouraged her to get involved as much as possible and as much as she wants, and she is now very capable of helping with his feeding pump. She’s recently started horse-riding, which is something M doesn’t do and gives me some time to spend just with her. As for our holidays, in the past we often went abroad, but didn’t feel confident enough to try it this first year with his tube. Instead we went to Cornwall this summer, with our car packed full of all the necessary medical equipment and enjoyed an amazing week away. We’re now feeling much more able to cope and are hoping to go to Portugal next summer.

When thinking about nursery/schooling, have you come up against any barriers or obstacles (if applicable)?

The impact of M’s ever-changing health has been particularly profound over the last couple of years and there is no doubt in my mind that the unfailing support of their school has been a steadying force not just for G and M, but for the family as a whole. They were willing to have M in school as normal within days of coming home from hospital and 5 members of staff were trained on the intricacies of his tube and feeds so that he could take part in every planned activity with confidence. The positive attitude of the teaching and support staff has also rubbed off on the children and his classmates have been brilliant at accepting his tube at face value and now don’t even seem to see it.

How and when did you first hear about PINNT?

I first became aware of PINNT through the EGID support group, FABED, and other parents of children receiving enteral nutrition, who all recommended PINNT as a great source of support. I then had an invitation to our local PINNT group’s next meeting.support

How has PINNT supported you?

Whilst we were waiting for M to be started on enteral nutrition, I researched and read as much as I could about elemental feeding and NG tubes – most of that information was on the PINNT website and explained it in a really accessible way. I love getting the newsletters and reading about people on all forms of enteral feeding. Similarly Mike has found huge reassurance in learning that there are people out there who have not only lived on enteral feeding for years, but have thrived on it and that moving M to it could be a positive step. It helps knowing that we’re not on our own and that there is always somewhere to get advice and support from those living on enteral nutrition whenever we need it.

If there was one piece of advice you could provide other parents with, who have a child commencing on enteral nutrition, what would this be?

When you first hear that your child needs to start on enteral nutrition, it’s almost inevitable that you will feel a great sense of failure and a huge fear about what the months ahead will bring. It’s so important to remember that enteral feeding doesn’t mean you failed your child, but that their health needs mean they need that extra boost to get them through each day. After nearly a year on his NG-tube, M has become the fun-loving, caring and somewhat cheeky little boy we all knew was hiding somewhere inside him. Feeding him via his tube has become second nature to us and it hasn’t stopped him, or the family, doing anything we’ve wanted to. The best news is that we’ve just enjoyed the most “normal” year of our lives ever.

If there was one recommendation that you could make to health professionals, involved in the care of patients on enteral nutrition, in order to improve patient care, what would this be?

I wrote this impassioned plea to medical professionals in my blog earlier this year and feel it encapsulates what I want to say to all healthcare providers:

For most of us, you are our firefighters and the people we are forced to depend on in our darkest moments. We need you to be strong, focussed and the experts that we are not, BUT we also need you to be gentle, compassionate and understand that you are holding the future of our most precious possessions in your hands. Don’t dismiss our concerns, but believe that we know our children best and have an insight or opinion that is just as valid as your professional one. Don’t belittle our emotions, but be empathetic when they overcome us and when we need a shoulder to cry on more than anything else in that moment. Be honest, but in the kindest way, knowing that your words have the power to break us when we least expect it. Most of all, understand that we are constantly living in fear about our children’s health and life and future, so they don’t have to.

 

pancake*I can’t let today’s post pass without a nodding acknowledgement that it is, in fact, Shrove Tuesday; the day when many of us enjoy a pancake or two before the start of Lent. I can’t even remember whether we managed to eat pancakes last year as M had only just started to trial foods after his 8 weeks on E028, but there’s a sneaking recollection that maybe my Mum cooked some for G, whilst the rest of us ignored the day to the best of our ability. I’m excited that this year I will once again be able to cook pancakes for the whole family and, just in case you need an allergy-friendly recipe to cook for your loved one, I’ve got the perfect one here. Enjoy!

 

Day 2: An even more energetic M!

 

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This is one of my favourite images from 2015: our own version of last year’s Feeding Tube Awareness week meme that I adapted using photos of M. Those photos were taken over an 18-months period and by picture 4 you can clearly see the improved colour and fuller cheeks of M’s face now that he was finally getting proper nutrition. After nearly 6 months being fed via his NG-tube, he had gained weight, had improved bowel function and was once again the cheerful, happy-go-lucky child that we had known him to be as a somewhat mischievous toddler.

Over the last 5 years, M’s seemingly unrelenting energy has confounded those surrounding him because M has never given up; has never let his EGID slow him down, even in the darkest moments. He has long since learned the lesson of “grin and bear it” because, quite frankly, the alternatives for him were unthinkable. M is a do-er. yourimageHe loves to run around and be on the go and into everything all of the time. I mean it. M just doesn’t stop, ever. He’s always given 110% to whatever activity he’s doing, even if it meant trying to finish a swimming lesson white as a ghost and with a temperature of 39.5°, or running the magic mile on the first day back at school after a week off vomiting and barely able to move from his bed or the sofa. Whilst you might often find G curled up in a chair or on her bed reading a favourite book, the only time you’re likely to find M doing the same is at 11pm when he’s waiting for me to come to bed before settling down himself, and even then you’re just as likely to find him playing his cello, or perfecting his dance routine, or building with his Lego.

We even managed a trek across Tower Bridge on our travels

We thought we had seen it all, but 2015 showed us just how endless his energy supply could be when he was being fed a balanced, nutritious feed that provided all the calories, vitamins and nutrients his growing body needed. No longer struggling with the anxiety of limited bowel function or working through the relentless chronic pain, M found the energy to achieve so much with his pump pack and feeding tube in place. He walked miles around London on our Shaun the Sheep hunt with no complaint of aching legs; he tackled and beat the challenge of learning to ride his bike unaided; and he continued to participate in the weekly sessions of Stagecoach that he’s loved for years, no longer needing to take regular breaks during the 3 hours training. We’re now 6-weeks into life without a tube once again and none of us knows what the future will bring. His year with the tube might be all that M needs, or we might see the return of it at an as yet undetermined point, but I don’t regret that year, not when I can see the improvements to M’s health and life and energy levels that it brought. His tube was never a barrier to his activity, but rather the boost he needed.

Feeding Tube Awareness Week – Day 1: Choosing to raise awareness

7beb7940ed39bc80ce6cb39710abb740If anyone was going to describe the last decade of my life, the one indisputable conclusion they’d end up reaching is that it’s been anything but boring. Thanks to a pair of children who have thrown more than their fair share of life challenges into the mix, we’ve weathered more storms than I ever believed possible and, for the most-part, we’ve come out the other side still smiling and relatively unscathed. We’ve survived a lot of challenges, met a whole host of amazing people and learned a great deal along the way; and if I had to pick just one lesson that constantly resonates, I’d have to say that we now know to never take things for granted as they can change at the drop of the proverbial hat. Two years ago I wrote about our limited experience with feeding tubes and then, less than a year later, I found myself blogging about my brand new super-tubie. Another year on and the NG-tube has gone for the time-being and the only thing I can say with absolute certainty is that I have no idea if or when it will make a reappearance in M’s life.

The lessons that the last 12 months have taught us all have been huge and I have come to love and hate that feeding tube in equal measure. For the first time in his life, the reality of M’s chronic illness and multiple food allergies was outwardly visible and finally people understood from a glance that there was more to him than initially met the eye. The constant presence of the NG-tube opened up more conversations and opportunities for me than ever before and I’ve been able to share experiences, offer support and educate the wider community about EGID. M and his froggie friendWe all felt the benefits of that visibility to start with and I no longer felt the underlying pressure to defend the true extent of M’s illness and food allergies whilst my outwardly healthy-looking youngster was intent on tearing around practically making a mockery of every problem and pain we said he was suffering.

Of course, the flip-side was that ever-present tube. The one that there was no escaping or avoiding, no matter the event or occasion. Christmas, birthdays, performances and holidays, the tube was M’s constant companion and he became increasingly aware and conscious of the curious glances that were thrown his way by adults and children alike. His wonderful classmates and our village took it in their stride and quickly became so accustomed to it that M was never subjected to a second glance, but the wider world could stare until he disappeared from view. As well as the tube, we had the problems of M’s face reacting to the unavoidable medical tape and it took us several attempts to find a tape that didn’t burn his cheeks. Even when we finally found the best solution for him, at times he was left with red, sore and sensitive skin that only time tube-free could heal.

Looking back, 2015 was a year unlike any other in our family’s life, but I don’t regret a single moment of it. From that difficult decision to place the NG-tube and start M on an elemental diet, we have seen tremendous growth and an improved health that exceeded all our expectations. Most of all, we now have an opportunity to help raise awareness from the standpoint of personal experience and a road well-travelled, something that, believe it or not, I wouldn’t change for the world.

A pain scale for every season

My last blog post about M’s interpretation of his pain and how important it is for his medical team to understand him sparked a series of interesting conversations both on-line and in real life about just how effective pain scales can be for those who suffer from chronic pain. So many shared their own experiences of how their children express their pain and adapt to a new “normal” based on what their average day looks like and the symptoms they assume to be something that everyone has because they’ve never learned any different. What was most fascinating was the array of ideas and examples of the different pain charts out there that were sent to me and I thought I’d share some of them with you:

painG’s godmother shared this pain scale image with me and I love the wording that is attached to it as it sums up to a tee how M has described his levels of pain over the years. From the magical unicorn of no pain at all which happens occasionally, to the breaking point of inconsolable sobbing and unbearable pain that little can ease, I’ve seen M pass through every stage of this chart on all too regular a basis. I doubt the colours, images or facial expressions would appeal overly to him, but it helps to clearly explain how he copes to those who need to know.

charlie_brown_pain_scale-170452A fellow FABED Mum sent me this one saying, “It’s the only one that’s ever worked – I think it’s because apart from the last face, they aren’t very emotional, so she is prepared to admit to them. There is a Lego one, but the emotions depicted on the faces is *extreme* – I think it’s more for a paediatric A&E type thing. So a kid with a normal pain/health experience would probably find it helpful, but the level of distress the pain correlates to isn’t much help for someone who has made this into their normal…I do think these pictorial pain scales are good – pointing is so much easier than talking, to start the process. R finds the words ‘annoying/uncomfortable/miserable/horrible’ very helpful and she even sometimes uses them without prompting.” The recent release of the latest “Peanuts” film will no doubt lend added appeal to this Charlie Brown themed scale.

legoThis third one I discovered through Twitter and was posted up by @2tubies, whose 6-year old son helped make his own pain chart for the school environment with the help of the school SENCo and his Mum. They used Lego figurines to depict how he might be feeling and offered some easy solutions for his symptoms. This solution-based approach is one that I find works well with M and have started using it more and more over the years. I rarely give M the option of staying home from school when he’s feeling unwell, but will instead list out those solutions I think might ease not only his pain, but also the whirlwind of emotions that is so frequently tied into what he’s feeling on a physical level. Whilst he was still being tube-fed, I would always start with the offer to slow down or even stop his pump for a limited amount of time and then followed that up with pain relief or a hot water bottle. My final question has always been what M thinks will help him the most and given he has a clear idea of what I’m suggesting, then we have always been able to find a solution that works for us both. Whilst giving these choices verbally works well at home, I imagine that presenting them in a pictorial fashion would make great sense in the school setting.

Of course, the ideas behind these pain scales can easily be extended to cover other physical and emotional needs that our children may have when outside of the home. When G was younger and dealing with her own health challenges, one of her fantastic teachers introduced the concept of a “magic marble”. We had discussed the use of a password, a word that was random enough to not be misinterpreted as a genuine contribution to a conversation and which would indicate that G needed help, but she was at an age when she was reluctant to vocalise her needs and the use of “rhinoceros” actually stuck out like a sore thumb most of the time. Instead, G kept her marble somewhere safe and easily accessible at all times, be that her pocket, bag, drawer or table, and just needed to give it to her teacher or place it on the teacher’s desk to indicate she needed some support. No other child was aware of the significance behind this marble and consequently didn’t bat an eyelid if they spotted her handing it over, assuming that she’d probably just picked it up and was handing it in. It was an easy way for G to communicate her needs about a sensitive subject and gave her a sense of ownership over a situation that was otherwise lacking her control.

Signal LightAt G’s secondary school, they have included traffic light coloured pages in the back of the pupils’ planners and the children are encouraged to use them by putting the relevant colour facing up on the desk if they need some help during a lesson, but are too worried or nervous to ask. For some children, a “traffic lights” approach using counters or cards can also be effectively used to indicate how they are feeling in any given situation, where red can indicate their sense of losing control or not coping with the environment surrounding them. The opportunity to be tactile with the counters may also help children with sensory issues order their thoughts and be more able to express them when asked. Even if the child is not able to share what’s troubling them, a clear plan of how the teacher or adult in charge should respond to each colour will change that child’s perceptions and experiences away from home. Similarly, M’s school uses a “Fist to 5” approach to their work, where fist indicates a lack of understanding and the need for some help, and 5 means they are confident and happy to carry on on their own.

Whatever the system used, these scales encourage a child to communicate with the outside world about how they are feeling and coping, even when they don’t have the words to express it.

Home or away?

IMG_0746With a trip to London for M’s GOSH appointment an unavoidable part of the Easter holidays, we decided to make the best of it and spend a few days there on our very own mini city-break.  In preparation we spent one Sunday afternoon leafing through the pages of Mike’s “501 Days Out” book, looking for inspiration for what we could do during our stay and  G and M quickly filled a sheet of A4 with their suggestions.  It was left to Mike and me to make the final cut and hone our plans and, despite desperate requests for Legoland Windsor and Chessington World of Adventures, we decided to stick to those attractions within a reasonable distance of where we’d be staying and drew up a list that felt exhausting just looking at it.

where_to_stayThis epic event was our first overnight stay away from home since M had his tube back in December and I drew up thousandshundreds…well one very long list of everything I needed to do in preparation.  My first job, once our trains were booked, was to find somewhere to stay that would meet all of our requirements.  Usually we choose to stay in one of the Premier Inn hotels on the south-side of the Thames, be it near the London Eye or closer to Southwark Cathedral and find them a great base for walking, or using the underground, to almost anywhere we’re intending to visit.  Unfortunately, leaving the actual booking to a little late in the day meant that none of our usual suspects of hotels was available for the 3 nights we were planning to stay and instead I had to search for a suitable alternative.  Whilst browsing frantically looking for a room at the….an….any inn, I came across the option of a serviced apartment and things suddenly started to fall into place.

We chose a one-bed apartment in East Aldgate, not too far from the Tower of London and easy walking distance from the nearest tube station.  The benefits seemed huge:

  • with a separate bedroom and pull-out bed in the living area, G would be able to go to sleep at a reasonable time, whilst M played his usual night-owl games
  • there would be plenty of space to store all of M’s medical gear as well as the supply of safe foods for both him and G that we would take with us
  • having a kitchen meant we could easily prepare M’s feeds, make packed lunches and even cook dinner, thereby covering every possible meal-time option we might face
  • it also meant we would have a fridge to keep cooked meats, cheese for G and M’s feeds in overnight without the need to request one beforehand and then keeping our fingers crossed it would be available when we checked in
  • finally, we would have a quiet place to retreat to when things got too much or the children needed some down time in the middle of the day

So it was an easy decision to get that apartment booked.  The days flew past until finally I had no choice but to tackle the task of packing for our trip.  By the time I had everything I needed for M in the case, plus our supply of safe foods for both G and M, I was beginning to wonder whether I’d have room for any of the clothes the 4 of us would need for 4 days in London.  With some canny packing and careful choices about exactly what was necessary, I just about squeezed everything in and we were ready for our next big adventure.