Sunday, July 15, 2018

Quarter Patrol

(Using their money to buy ice cream)
Parents. We do a lot of things for our kids because we love them. Many of these things are gross in nature. That has been part of my job since July 1st. I have been on poop patrol with my 4-year-old, checking every bowel movement for a quarter. Yes, you read that right a quarter. That Sunday evening the girls were playing with their Uncle. He gave them some money for the ice cream truck. They were quite excited. My 4-year-old was rough housing with him, a favorite past time of hers, when she slipped the quarter into her mouth, unbeknownst to all around. I was brushing my 2-year old’s teeth when my 4-year-old came running into the bathroom making a choking, gagging sound. I held her over the sink as she sputtered out, “I swallowed money!” My brother yelled for my husband who raced upstairs, ready to spring into action. It’s nice having “911” living with you. It was all over quickly. She stopped gagging before my husband could get up the stairs and just looked at us.
I asked her what happened and she told us she accidentally swallowed money. I asked her which one and she replied, “I think a quarter.” I went to the room where she was playing and saw two dimes and a nickel in the room. The quarter was missing. Oh, why couldn’t she have swallowed the dime?! She told us she put it in her mouth because she wanted to jump on her Uncle and spit it out on him. I guess in her mind it sounded like a good thing to do. Take away the choking risk of putting anything in your mouth, money is exceptionally dirty.
I called my Doctor’s after-hours line and at first, they wanted her to come in right away but after consulting with a Pediatric Gastroenterologist they told me it was fine to wait until morning since she was acting perfectly normal. It was nice to avoid the ER. The next day we took her in for an x-Ray and clear as day, you could see the quarter right in her belly. They were hoping it would pass on its own so told me to check all of her stools for the next week and contact them the following Monday if it hadn’t passed. That night I had her sleep on a mattress in our floor. It wasn’t needed but I didn’t know what to expect so I preferred to have her nearby in case she started vomiting. Every day I checked for the quarter, hoping to find it and every day I was left empty handed. Talk about a dirty job.
(Playing at the park after the 2nd x-ray to avoid sitting in traffic)
The next Monday I contacted her Doctor and they ordered up another x-ray. They took one x-ray and I saw it right away, still sitting in her stomach. My Doctor referred me to a Pediatric Gastroenterologist and we met with him in Seattle that Thursday. By now he told us, the chances of it coming out on its own were slim so we might as well get it out of there. It’s not an emergency but the longer we leave it in there the more likely she may start getting other mild symptoms, like heartburn and a stomach ache due to it sitting in there causing mild inflammation. We scheduled her endoscopy for the following Tuesday, July 17th. Since she is only 4 years old they do general anesthesia as there is a risk with their breathing when taking it out. She will need a breathing tube during the very straightforward endoscopy and retrieval of the quarter. I wish she didn’t have to have anesthesia as the jury’s still out on how it affects children’s brains and development later on. But she’s an otherwise very healthy child and most of the research I read is for children under the age of 3. She’ll be 5 in August and she’s in the 98% and 97% for height and weight for her age so bigger than most 4-year old’s.
(Big kid for her age)
I am still on poop patrol, hoping to find this quarter so we can cancel our 5:30am appointment in Seattle but I’m glad all this “crap” (literally) will be over with Tuesday. I am very thankful this whole situation wasn’t worse. She could have choked on the quarter warranting Levi to use his firefighting/EMT training at home. It could have been stuck and needed emergency removal. It’s just an inconvenience for now. A story to tell when she’s older. She definitely learned her lesson. Yes, she has been told on countless occasions not to put things in her mouth that aren’t food. But if you know my 4-year-old, she’s the type that tends to learn things the hard way no matter how many times she’s been told. She tells me she wishes she had never put it in her mouth and that she doesn’t like it being in there. The Doctor told her she could have her quarter back, to which she replied, “It’s actually my sister’s.” She put her money safely in her bank and “ate” her sister’s. The lesson I’ve learned from all this is pay this kid in dollar bills! 😊

Monday, March 5, 2018

Gradual Change

(I'm not looking forward to the sixteen days of liquid but at least ice cream counts as a liquid!)
                 Every few years I get an upper endoscopy. I have a condition called Achalasia (which basically means my esophagus does not swallow). My esophagus doesn’t work properly to get the food I eat down and my sphincter to my stomach doesn’t cooperate to let it in. My esophagus muscles are too weak and my sphincter muscle is too strong. It’s annoying but something I have learned to live with. I have to check on the condition of my esophagus every few years to check for cancer and other abnormalities that can come as a result of this issue. I had an endoscopy at the end of 2017, this time with a Botox injection to see if that would help relax the sphincter. Everything in my esophagus came back “normal,” but my Doctor’s exact words were, “Your esophagus looks terrible.” I wasn’t surprised. Years ago, back in 2008, I had a surgery called a Heller Myotomy to help let food get into my stomach. That surgery was incomplete, so it didn’t work. The surgeon didn’t quite cut far enough to help relax the sphincter. It’s not a simple procedure in terms of knowing how far to cut. If you cut too much, that is bad, and if you don’t cut enough, that is bad too. With the Heller Myotomy they cut through your side and abdominal muscles, to cut the sphincter. It is not a fun surgery. The recovery from that was long and pretty painful. Not something I would want to do again.
                In 2014, after moving to an area where there are actually doctor’s who specialize in this, I was told I would need another surgery. A new technology came out in a different country in 2008 (right about the time I had my Heller Myotomy) called POEM (per oral endoscopic myotomy). Instead of cutting through your side they go into your sphincter via the inside of the esophagus. Pretty amazing advancement. From what I hear, the surgery is less painful (3-4 days of pain) and only one night in the hospital (verse a few). However, with my past experience and not wanting to be a guinea pig since very few people had done the POEM procedure who also had a previous myotomy. I decided to wait. I was coping just fine. The surgeon I had consulted told me he really thought he could help me. He was surprised by how bad my swallowing was. During a barium swallow test the tech told me it was the worst barium swallow he had seen! They typically have you swallow and watch for a couple minutes but they had to have me do two different barium tests, one where they waited over 10 minutes to see if the stuff would go down, and it didn’t. I thanked the surgeon and went on my way. I decided to go the route of expanding our family, which 9 months later, included Eve. I figured I would take care of myself later. I was managing things just fine.
                Back to current times. After meeting with the head of gastroenterology at Swedish and then consulting with my thoracic surgeon who works with the gastroenterologist they both made it pretty clear I shouldn’t wait any more. They told me if I waited much longer I wouldn’t be a candidate for the POEM procedure and the next option would be to remove the last few inches of my esophagus. All the years of gradual change had stretched and ballooned out the lower part of my esophagus that the Doctors aren’t sure if the POEM procedure will fix that but they are optimistic (60-70% odds they gave me) that it will work. They are hoping my esophagus will shrink down some on its own if it doesn’t have to work so hard against the tight sphincter.
I knew my esophagus was stretched I just didn’t realize how bad it had gotten. That’s the tricky thing with gradual change. Maybe if I could go back in time and feel what it was like when I ate food 10 years ago it might be a no brainer that things have gotten way worse. But when it’s a gradual change, you adapt, and it easily becomes the new normal. This can be apparent in so many other avenues in life, not just with health. Spiritual health is one that comes to mind. New believers are often very passionate and on fire for the Lord, but as time goes on things can easily creep in that divert your attention away. Maybe you used to spend an hour a day in worship and prayer. Maybe you served more. And for whatever reason the time spent in prayer gradually got shorter. The days spent serving others became less. More life obligations crept in and became the new normal. Maybe you noticed at first. Maybe you told yourself it was just a season. But as time passed it wasn’t just a season, it was the new normal. A new normal your younger self wouldn’t recognize. The good news is just as you slipped out of your old normal you can work your way back in. It may be hard and even painful at times. It might feel unnatural at first and can even seem overwhelming to bring yourself back on the path from which you strayed. So, start small. You don’t have to change overnight. It took time to get where you are at and it will take time to get you where you want to be. Don’t go it alone. Surround yourself with others who may in your eyes, be where you want to be spiritually. And pray.  
I probably would not have gone the route of looking into surgical options again if I was not surrounded by people who encouraged me to seek treatment. People who knew what I was experiencing was not normal or even close to what my normal used to be. I just couldn’t see it. My husband saw it. The nights I am up in pain are becoming more frequent and longer lasting.  These “episodes” as I call them, start with minor pain, which usually leads to my being up all night, and ends with several bouts of vomiting. I originally thought it was heartburn but soon realized this was something different. The Doctors told me it is probably two things, food rotting in my esophagus which makes it inflamed, and my esophagus going into spasm. On the nights I have these episodes I am so miserable, usually for 24-48 hours. During these moments I pray to God to take the pain away and vow to go to a Doctor to see what can be done. Then the episode passes and I am back dealing with my “normal” achalasia and I again think I can manage this. Which is why I am glad I am not going through this alone. I have people to call me out on my stubbornness and encourage change. It’s funny how many things I was trying to let get in the way of doing this surgery, yet every time I tried, God seemed to keep directing me to where I am at now. Deep down, I don’t want the surgery, but I also know I really need to give it a try. As the date gets closer I am finding less and less excuses to try and get me out of it and am accepting the change I have in store. I have surrounded myself with experts in the field, I have a husband who will see me through this, and two awesome girls to remind me the reason I am putting myself through some pain and discomfort. I have faith that no matter the result I will no longer be sitting still, letting my esophagus choose my life path. At least I am taking back control. Yes, this is a subtle analogy to your spiritual journey as well. Surround yourself with those who know God’s word, have a support system, and have faith. So much can be accomplished if you bring it to God in prayer. You don’t know what the future holds. I can guarantee you it won’t be easy, but whichever path you choose, neither will be easy. That’s just life.
                After my endoscopy in November the Doctor prescribed me nitroglycerin (yes, the stuff they use to make dynamite). I was so afraid to take it due to the side effects I read about (mainly the nitro headache and chance of passing out). I was supposed to take it when the esophageal pain started. I had one night where I had an episode but I was too afraid to take it since Levi was on shift and I didn’t want to try it alone for the first time. A few weeks later I had another episode. I waited and waited and waited. Finally, around 4 am when I was about to start the vomiting that happens with my episodes, I woke Levi and told him I was taking the nitro. I had the pill sitting on my lap for over 20 minutes before I finally decided to take it. I took it. Then immediately sprinted to the bathroom and vomited. Apparently, it opened up my sphincter and everything came out. I think I had waited too long to take it, when my symptoms were already too severe, but the good news is I didn’t get a headache and I didn’t pass out. It was small but taking that nitro pill for me was a little leap of faith.
(Little device to measure my ph)
                Now I am at a point where surgery is not something to put aside. My youngest is almost 2.5 years old. I think I’ve waited far longer than I should to take care of this. I had one more endoscopy about a month ago where they did a Bravo study to measure the PH in my esophagus over 48 hours. This would determine whether or not I needed a fundoplication instead of just doing a straight POEM procedure. Basically, if you are opening up the sphincter, you are increasing your chance of having acid come back into the esophagus. If I was already having acid in my esophagus my surgeon would recommend to have the fundoplication at the same time. My results from my Bravo study showed that I had very minimal acid in my esophagus (.3% of the time I believe) and that included some puking due to the Versed and Fentanyl I was given to do the procedure. I don’t do well with opioids.
                Now I’m just waiting. My surgery is scheduled, it will happen this month. I have to be on a liquid diet for 2 days prior and 14 days after surgery. Sixteen days in a row of only consuming liquids. I’m not looking forward to the pain and the actual surgery but I think I’m looking forward to the diet after even less. If you have any great smoothie recipes, or liquid soups, I’m all ears. I know it is not a guarantee that this will fix my problem, and there are risks with the procedure, but sitting around and letting change gradually take me to a point of no return with my esophagus seems far worse. So, here’s to not sliding into a state of comfort and instead getting back to a new normal.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Everything and Nothing

It’s been a long time since my last blog post, I have two very cute reasons why that is the case. The past month felt exceptionally long for me. It was a period of time where I am living as “the hunter’s widow.” Basically, between hunting and work I think I saw Levi maybe four or five days from the beginning of October-November 8th. He had training, then shift work, followed by deer season, back on shift, back to hunt for deer, back on shift, elk season, etc.
(Levi hunting)
You get the idea. When I thought about doing a blog update with what’s going on, I stopped and thought, and really had no idea. I can’t remember anything these days. Everything is a fog. Nothing seems worth writing about, we just go through the same routine day in and out with outings here and there but as a stay at home mom nothing seems that exciting for people to read about. I mean at the end of the day, there’s this strange phenomenon where I’m exhausted and yet if I were to put down on paper what I “accomplished” for the day it looks like nothing. How is it I feel so busy throughout the day and yet it doesn’t seem like I get much done? The kitchen could still use some more cleaning, there are still little toys strewn about, I still have laundry to fold, and wash, and fold…when was the last time I cleaned the bathrooms? Washed the sheets? The list goes on and on.
                And here is a perfect example of why I am busy and tired at the end of the day when it looks like nothing happened. Today the girls ran into my room at 7:30am. Eve comes to my bed and asks to come up. I pick her up for a snuggle only to soon realize her diaper had a major pee leak over the night and she is soaked, and now I am damp. I take her and change her, then strip her bed and get to washing her mattress protector, as that will be needed for nap later. After starting the laundry, I make them oatmeal with blueberries and as an extra fun treat today, sprinkles! The girls are itching to do some painting after breakfast. I clean up the kitchen and happily set out some paper for them to “finger paint.” I say “finger paint” because it soon turned into so much more than that. It started on their fingers and for Lily became a whole-body painting experience. I tried to stop her early on but she was too quick and once she was a mess I figured a little more wouldn’t hurt so let her enjoy herself.  Eve followed suit with painting her feet but was relatively clean by comparison. When they finished it took somewhere between 30 minutes to an hour to get everything cleaned and the kids bathed. I went downstairs to continue cleaning the paint in the kitchen.

        The girls were playing together nicely upstairs while I finished cleaning. Eve took off her diaper, put her potty seat on the big toilet, and went pee. I went upstairs to help her wipe and reward her with two chocolate chips. Lily gets two as well for being a good cheerleader. Eve screams, “I want to be naked!” I figure she’s been doing a good job with going in the potty and since she just went she shouldn’t have any accidents. Then the laundry chimes and I head downstairs to switch it out. After switching the laundry, I head upstairs and go in Eve’s room to put some things away. Suddenly Eve comes running out of Lily’s room and stops and stares at me. I know that look. That is the look of a kid who had an accident. “Did you have an accident?” I ask. She looks at me and runs away to hide. I go into Lily’s room and gasp. She didn’t have a pee accident. She had a huge poop accident. I grab some toilet paper to pick up the huge logs and call Eve back to be wiped. Finally, I am able to convince her to come out of hiding and get wiped. I head downstairs for the carpet cleaner vacuum (boy has that been a useful purchase) and get to work. When that’s finished the kids are telling me they are starving. I tell them to play a little bit while I empty the vacuum.
                While downstairs, I go to the deep freeze, grab a frozen pizza, and start the oven. That’s going to be lunch. Which gave me 18 minutes to get this written. I just heard the oven beep. And that’s what’s been happening up until noon. So, it took over 4 hours of work to get the house looking like it did when we woke up. And that’s why at the end of the day everything and nothing has been accomplished.