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Brief update: Other than a brief 24-hour fever (up to 103.5) this past Thursday, I have been fever-free for nearly two full weeks. Further, there have been no fevers since stopping the antibiotics last night (Saturday)! If I can make it through the next 12 hours sans fever, I will be released Monday afternoon. Monday marks 30 days since I was admitted and brings my total time spent inpatient since mid-August up to 95 days. There have been no real strides made and the doctors have reiterated that I will be back. But we’re trying to make the most of the good days I have and want to celebrate them out of the hospital as much as possible.  Thank you for your continued support, prayers, and love.  

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Like most across this country, I spent my time this past long weekend focused on the multitude of blessings in my life. These marathon hospital stays are survived only through the kindness of the people in my life. It is difficult to know how to appropriately thank you all for what you have done for us. You have inspired and humbled me.

I am incredibly thankful that my body has protected my mind against the effects of the recent medical hell and prevented me from remembering a large portion of the worst. I am thankful that the parts that I remember are mostly filled with good and love and family and friends. And I am thankful that my family and friends fill me in on all the life that I miss while incoherent. Thank you to the family members who leave messages and send numerous texts of love. Just pure love. Thank you so much for all the cards we have received. Your words fill us with warmth and remind us how much we’re loved.

Thank you to all my younger friends who work endlessly on the artwork that adorns my hospital walls. Thank you for the e-mailed iPad drawings and the goodnight videos. Thank you for my school pictures and the drawings which constitute my wallpaper. I get questions and admiration all day. And each little glance from the corner of my eye brings a smile to my face.

Thank you to all our visitors. Despite the fact that I sleep through roughly 2/3 of all visits, you keep coming back. You bring your joy, your stories of the outside world, your smiles, and your laughter. All those good things that help to ensure that the medicine used inside the hospital will actually be effective. Thank you for playing the latest strategy games with us for hours on end. Until security reminds us that we are, in fact, in a hospital. Thank you for spending your lunch hour with me. For stopping in after your own appointments in the area. For bringing me fuzzy socks and solitaire games. Thank you for talking about the latest movies and the book you read last month. Thank you for reminding me that life goes on.

Thank you to the family and friends that help to remind us that time is still passing while we’re still impatiently inpatient. Seasons change and holidays still happen. But thank you for making sure we’re still a part of the passage of time. Thank you to my mom who helped us decorate pumpkins and my room for Halloween. Just days after I had pulled a Halloween stunt that nearly took my life. Thank you to my mito sisters for spreading out the Thanksgiving love and for being thankful with us for three consecutive days.

Thank you to the Bush/Dalton/Mahoney household (aka our “Massachusetts family”) for allowing me and Keith to stay for the four days between major hospitalizations. Thank you for sharing the giggles and smiles of my dear little munchkins. Thank you for the love and the tears. Thank you for being our family when our family is so far away. Thank you Sarah for braiding my hair while I was in the MICU and bringing some beauty to White 9 with your Physics equations all over the white boards. Thank you Liz for crossing multiple state lines to bring some holiday cheer and sending me balloons to keep me company when you are unable. Thank you Stef for holding my hand through it all – even while I hated you deeply as the 108.6 fever made me the most obstinate human being in existence.

We are so moved by the actions of our loved ones. But some of the most moving blessings have come from people I hardly know – or don’t even know at all. From people I have only met in passing. Or from people who know of me solely through common friends or family members.

Over the summer, Keith and I travelled 5 hours to upstate New York to attend the Mighty Matthew Benefit. Matthew and I gathered quite an audience of his school friends and we fielded questions about mitochondrial disease and life with our “tubies.” Matthew told one of these friends that I was very sick and in the hospital for a long time. When Matthew came to visit again, he brought with him a get well letter from his friend included with a school photo. It brings tears to my eyes to know that Matthew is so well connected with so many kind and genuine children in his youth. And to know that those 45 minutes resonated with this child and his life was changed by learning more about mitochondrial disease. Thank you to this young man for your kindness and concern. And a huge thank you to his parents for raising such a proper and considerate young gentleman. It’s so reassuring and touching to that see children like Nate are in this world, making it a better place.

About ten years ago, a young girl named Brittany contacted me. She was a good friend of my very close cousin and had recently been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. As I was dealing with my own chronic medical issues, my cousin passed on my contact information, and Brittany and I helped each other through a particularly difficult time in both of our respective lives. It helped both of us to have another young girl dealing with health issues. Although we lost contact over the next few years, my cousin contacted me to let me know that Brittany had lost her life in a car accident. Her death radiated throughout her community. I am reminded yearly of the love she left in this world as my cousin’s family participates in an annual run in her honor. This year, I felt her love even closer as her uncle, Geb B., completed his first Iron Man competition with my name written next to Brittany’s on his sleeve. I feel so honored and loved to have a place next to Brittany’s. Thank you.

My mom has made the 3000-mile trek from her home in California to our Boston-based hospital twice since September. The second time she came she noticed that I bring my own pillowcases from home during each stay. A combination of allergies and homesickness inspired this tradition. In order to keep my sanity, I make sure that my pillowcases are the most vibrant and happy ones that I can find. Shortly after that visit, my mom put a call out to the long list of family and friends who have been following our story and this Thanksgiving, we celebrated with the blessings of nearly two dozen different families who sent the most vibrant and unique pillowcases that they could find. In addition, my aunt sent a beautiful ribbon quilt and a family friend crocheted a bright and happy blanket.

I just don’t know if I can say it enough. Thank you. Thank you to everyone. You are all so amazing. Thank you, thank you, thank you. To those who have called. To those who have visited. To those who have sent letters, e-mails, and care-packages. To those who have sent their prayers and positive thoughts. To those who have placed us on prayer lists. To those who have spread my story and the need for awareness about mitochondrial disease. To all those who have shown such compassion and care. Thank YOU.

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One year ago, I posted on Digestive Tract Paralysis (DTP) for the G-PACT-sponsored DTP Awareness Week. As a treat, I’m reposting with the permission of my featured guest stars.

Unfortunately for me, a lot has changed in the last twelve months. Due to my worsening DTP, I became severely malnourished and the damage done to my GI system appears irreversible.  I had a GJ-tube inserted in December 2012 which has proven unsuccessful in treating my DTP.  The medications (that you’ll read about below) that once worked to “control” my dysmotility have since failed.  My motility specialist says I am likely to be TPN-dependent for the remainder of my life.  Furthermore, most of my medication has been transferred to intravenous (IV) form as I have severe malabsorption to anything given enterally (through the GI tract).  But yet, this has given me such an improved quality of life. I have more energy and less pain. My days aren’t spent worrying about getting in enough calories to sustain life.  And I can still do almost everything I could do before our various interventions. Actually, I can probably do more.

So, without further ado, I would open a window into life with Digestive Tract Paralysis. Thanks for reading!

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August 22-29 is Digestive Tract Paralysis (DTP) Awareness Week.

Because I live with DTP, I thought I’d share a little about DTP, my story, and the stories of some friends.

I have what’s called “gastroparesis.” That’s gastro– (meaning stomach) and –paresis (meaning paralysis). I also have intestinal dysmotility which has resulted in chronic intestinal psuedo-obstruction (CIP or CIPO). And that’s chronic (meaning long-term), intestinal (meaning relating to the small intestines and colon), pseudo- (meaning false), and obstruction (a blockage). Both issues are common with many types of mito.

 

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April is Autism Awareness Month. Although Autism has been getting good press, many still don’t realize it’s a spectrum. Language skills, social skills, and development can vary. And autism can strike anywhere, regardless of ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic status.

So I have a treat for you. One of my favorite mommies and bloggers agreed to write a “guest blog” about her experience with her daughter. You can follow her story more closely at Living Life with a Side of Autism. Thank you, Jen!

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She sat in the hallway. Alone. In a blue, plastic chair. She was told she wasn’t welcome. She couldn’t behave like that.

She was 3. Non-verbal. At school.

This was life for my daughter before we got her Autism diagnosis. She was treated like the bad kid in class, and every day I received what amounted to a verbal lashing from her teacher. There were exasperated sighs and advice on how to better discipline. I felt like a failure. I had messed up my kid. I was reminded of that each day at 11:30am, when I trudged into the school to drag out my screaming first born. Or maybe at 11:45 after she had stopped having a tantrum in the classroom because she couldn’t put on her jacket, yet had no words to ask for help. Not that it mattered. She was still the bad kid, words or not.

A lot of children are diagnosed with Autism around 2 1/2 or 3. Katie, however, wasn’t diagnosed until the month she turned 6. We went through years of evaluations and diagnosis after diagnosis, none of which really fit. First, we were told Katie had low self esteem. Then we were told it was ADHD. Then, that she was probably bi-polar. None of this explained her extreme language delay or social deficits, however. We were told everything from she just was choosing not to speak, to she just had a strong personality. No one took all of her symptoms and put them together. We were just given a different explanation for each concern we had.

Over the years, I have moved from being the mother who just sat there and nodded her head in agreement, to the mother who does her own research and fights for her child. When Katie went from preschool to Kindergarten, things really went downhill. Fast. She was having a lot of meltdowns at school, and eventually began hitting other students. I was tired of being told my child was just a discipline problem with a speech delay. I lived with her and knew there was more to it than that. I saw her rigid behavior. I saw her inability to transition and inflexibility when it came to change. I saw her not making any friends, not knowing how to play with her toys, and becoming more and more physically aggressive at home. I saw her unable to participate in childhood activities, such as dance, and soccer, and gymnastics. She would either meltdown or be off on her own. I saw how overwhelmed she became around large groups. How going to the busy store guaranteed us a meltdown. How she had severe anxiety over the smallest thing. How she had irrational fears. No, my daughter wasn’t spinning in circle or flapping her arms, but were those the only things that defined Autism?

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Note: I wrote this blog nearly a month ago and am just now getting around to posting it because a good friend has been asking for it for ages and I thought she could use a small pick-me-up. This one’s for you, Liz…

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Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here

This winter has been one full of challenges, stresses, adaptation, loss, learning, sickness, and love. Yes, love. Without it, I’m not sure I would’ve come out as relatively unscathed on this end.

This winter, New England received more snow than it had in years. It was blizzard after blizzard. It was cold and unrelenting. Even worse, my body appeared to be taking lessons.

One thing that I’ve always prided myself on is being able to rise from just about anything and everything stronger and smiling. After December, I was petering on the edge, still smiling, but straining and struggling not to lose myself. But after the second month of medical hell, I wasn’t sure that I wasn’t going to rise.

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I’d like to introduce my good friend Matthew. Matthew is a happy 6-1/2-year-old who loves singing, dancing, and drawing. For my birthday, he drew me a beautiful card:

Matthew's Card

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While inpatient with mitochondrial disease, you’re often an enigma. Most of the health professionals have either never heard of this disease or might vaguely remember it being mentioned back in medical school. And those who have heard of it often have misconceptions (e.g. “all people with mito have some sort of mental delays/retardation” or “mito only affects infants and toddlers”). That’s why I make each and every admission a chance to educate about mitochondrial disease.

Because it’s a complex disease and involves “difficult” vocabulary, it’s easier to describe with analogies. Usually we use the “my batteries don’t work efficiently” analogy, but there are so many other ways to look at the disease. Recently, Chuck Mohan, the CEO of the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, made an extensive list of other ways to describe mitochondrial disease. Because it might just help one new person understand it, I’m going to share his list here:

Mitochondrial Disease is like:

  • Replacing your car battery with two Double “A” Energizers and wondering why it won’t start. But your car still looks pretty good, that is until it begins to rust from inactivity.
  • Trying to supply the electrical requirements of Los Angeles (pop. 3.7 million) with the one electrical plant in Ranchester Wyoming (pop. 701).
  • Swimming against Olympian, 8 Gold Medal winner, Michael Phelps, and you’re pool is filled with molasses.
  • That dream you have where you are trying to run away from danger but you just can’t move? Yep, that’s mitochondrial disease.
  • The way you feel after running a 50 yard dash compared to the way you feel after running a 50 yard dash with a 50 pound knapsack on your back.
  • The way you feel after working an 18 hour day or 18 days without a day off. Well, if you had a mitochondrial disease you’d probably feel that way after breakfast.
  • Buying a perfectly good Volkswagen Beetle with a 110 horsepower engine. It’s a great looking car and it runs terrific. Now take out a ring, gum up the valves, add some sugar to the gas tank and put in an old head gasket. The car still looks great but now it will only generate about 50 horsepower. That will get the Volkswagen around the flat streets of Kansas on a spring day, but now load it up with 3 of your hefty friends, or more if they’ll fit, with a trunk full of luggage and take it to the hills of Western Pennsylvania on a 90’ day. It won’t make it! But it still looks great!

For more from Chuck Mohan, go to umdfblog.com.

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[This is the fourth and final part of my No Longer Starving series, a belated editorial for Feeding Tube Awareness Week. As I noted before, life got in the way during the actual awareness week so I’m raising awareness on my own schedule.]

Phew! Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve made it through the world of tubies! I gave you an update on my own situation, a small glossary of terms commonly used in the tubie world, and an overview on types of tubies (and the corresponding who, what, where, when, and why of each). And now I’m to the most important part: the impact. The “so what?” So how is life with a tubie different? Well, everything is different, but nothing has really changed. Confusing? Obviously, as a person, I haven’t changed, but how I interact with the world has. Some days that change seems insurmountable, but on other days, it doesn’t make a dent. Most days, however, it’s somewhere in between.

I know I’m not the only one who feels like this. And maybe it changes, becomes less (or possibly more?) difficult as the years pass. I don’t know. I’m not there yet. But I do know that the good that comes with it (at least in my case) far outweighs the bad.

Because this series has been full of my words (and I know listening to the same person drone on can get old), I wanted to share the words of my friends who have been so helpful with this process. I asked them what they want people to know about feeding tubes and the people who have them.  Here are some of the responses:

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