Tag Archives: Mayo Clinic

Nurses with Popsicles

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Transitioning into the Francis Building wasn’t easy, but it was the smoothest bumpy road we’ve ridden. The Mayo Clinic’s St. Mary’s Hospital has everything a girl could want. Disney movies on demand, Mac ‘n Cheese and nurses to accommodate. Without the incredibly attentive support staff, I don’t believe the EEG would’ve been successful, but would have instead fallen into the discarded pile of our failed EEG attempts.

I held my breath when the EEG techs unwrapped her head to attach and verify the leads. I was certain they wouldn’t get her head wrapped again. Savannah wasn’t pleased, but astoundingly, she let them probe her head and re-glue what needed to be done. Although, I think it helped that one of the techs knew Larry, the giant stuffed cucumber laying in Savannah’s bed. It’s always good to have a friend in common.

Then we got down to business and changed from the horrible hospital gown into a very stylish, very comfortable, very hot pink swimsuit. What else would a fashionista wear for a hospital stay?

With A Bug’s Life on the hospital tv, Mickey Mouse Christmas on our portable DVD player, Larry and friends in bed and comfortably dressed, there was only on thing missing. Mac ‘n Cheese.

I felt a bit foolish when ordering the food. (Yes, St. Mary’s has room service. You are given a menu when shown your room.) My first order was for Mac ‘n Cheese and two orders of French fries. I’m sure I looked like the conscientious mother. What the voice-waitress didn’t know what that the fries were also for her bored brother, who had been a trooper on the sidelines for the day.

Shortly after the food arrived, so did the giggles. I can’t say I’m happy about the food I let her eat during our stay (2 helpings of Mac ‘n Cheese, two sugar cookies, fries, a chicken sandwich, angel food cake and a muffin). I’m not sure if it was to keep her compliant or out of guilt from the circumstances, but twenty-four hours of gluttony is minor compared to a lifetime of having those EEG results.

St. Mary’s staff was amazing. Within the first few hours, two EEG doctors visited to be certain I knew what to expect and that the goal was to get the EEG. They would do whatever they needed to keep Savannah happy and compliant and all nurses had been made aware of this. An extra nurse was assigned to Savannah as a “sitter.” The sitter could be either in our room or right outside the door, it was my preference, in case an episode hit.

Which it did.

Savannah decided it was time to leave. Of course, we couldn’t. Hence, the episode. It started as anger, then a melt down, then I pressed the panic button. I was wrapped in the EEG cables with Savannah trying to push me to the door, but actually pushing me into the bed and floor, screaming and crying all the while. The nurse, again I wish I could remember his name – Mike, maybe – came rushing in. He calmed her while I unraveled me, then he placed her on the bed, which had been padded in anticipation. We both talked to her, but she screamed and cried and continued to beat her head against the padding. Once she realized the padding was secure, she began to punch at Mike, but he took it and continued to talk to her, no more fazed than if a feather had drifted into him. Then she found the part of the bed that had not been padded. She leapt for it head first, but Mike’s hand was already there, waiting to catch her forehead. I handed him a pillow, and he caught her head with it each time she lunged. Over and over with her barbaric yell, he never flinched. After roughly ten minutes, she left her head on the pillow. Her eyes filled with water that trickled down her nose and cheeks. He continued to cradle her head until the sniffles had passed, and she had regained herself.

Everything after that moment was surprisingly easy. Child Life came in with crafts tailored to her preference and ability. Favorite Disney and Pixar cartoons ran back to back. There were sticker crafts and coloring pages and puzzles and selfies with Larry, until she finally drifted to sleep.

The sitter came in and watched over Savannah so I could sleep. I figured I wouldn’t be able to sleep, especially with a stranger sitting in the room. But maybe that’s why it was so easy. I honestly couldn’t stay awake. It may have been the strenuous drive there. It may have been the stress of the day. It may have been the knowledge that I was off duty. If Savannah woke screaming or laughing at three in the morning, there was someone to take care of it. I may have easily slept just because I could.

Of course Savannah decided to sleep an unusually typical eight hours. She woke sweetly and giggly. There were a few tears when she realized the leads were still on, but they were quickly alleviated with cuddles. We ordered muffins for breakfast (yes St. Mary’s room service even has gluten-free muffins!) and played educational matching games. The moment Savannah became anxious to leave, the nurse answered her request for a red Popsicle, and the morning continued smoothly. Nurses with Popsicles are awesome.

Savannah had just started her red Popsicle when the doctors arrived. Both EEG doctors came in for the results. They were thorough and addressed every concern, yet it didn’t take them long to deliver the news: The EEG was normal. There were no seizures haunting her dreams, and the episode had nothing to do with brain activity. Her EKG was also normal. The irregularity was confirmed as a reaction to the sedation.

Savannah looked good.

I could feel the huge sigh of relieve escape, but despair quickly filled the space. It was another non-answer.

Our Thursday appointment with Dr. R had been moved up to that afternoon. We were released by 10:00am with instructions to return at 1:00pm to meet with the great medical detective and discover which path was next.


Smoking Caterpillars, Vanishing Cats and Humming Girls

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My daughter is so brave.
We entered the Mayo Clinic’s St. Mary’s hospital early Monday morning. We rode the shuttle from the hotel with a suitcase, a purse of toys, an iPad and a giant stuffed cucumber. We were admitted and taken back, past the oil-painted nuns,up the east elevators and to the prepping room in Joseph. She was anxious and edgy, but we made it through the waiting. She did try to escape a few times, but we made it.

She has had two other MRI’s, both with sedation, but I doubt she remembers them or if she does, I doubt she correlated those experiences with this one. I wonder what she thought as we forced her to change clothes and refused her her red shoes with polka dots. I made promises to stay with her until she was asleep and to be there when she wakes, but how comforting does she find that? I told her they were going to help her take a nap with medicine that would give her wonderful dreams like Alice in Wonderland with smoking caterpillars and vanishing cats, but she only anxiously hummed as she was wheeled down the chilled labyrinth corridors. Not having eaten, she begged me for dum dums and red apples, and I promised her all of those as soon as she woke from her nap, never knowing if there were red apples at hospital.

St. Mary’s was incredibly accommodating, allowing me back during sedation. They cooed over her iPad case and polka dotted shoes (which they decided to let her wear). She resisted the mask but once on, quickly breathed her way into a deep sleep.

We were told to expect to wait three to four hours, but after getting a pager and eating lunch and moving rooms, after two pages to the desk for phone calls from nurses and finding the monitor to watch her progress and borrowing a joke from the jar with her brother, it took no time at all.

She was restless but mostly drowsy. The sedation hung heavy around her, clinging to her flesh. Moments after I told her I was there, she surcommbed to the drugs and drifted back into the fog. Her head was bandaged, an attempt to protect the EEG leads. I knew they would be there but wasn’t prepared for how terribly tragic it would actually look. Her entire head was bandaged, her lips pale and trembling, her skin frigid to touch. On occasion, one eye would part and aimlessly roam the room before shutting again, only to let the other eye repeat the action a few minutes later.

She continued to kick the heated blankets off, but her body trembled mercilessly. “Her temperature was down to 35 (95 Fahrenheit) when they brought her out, so we’re trying to keep the blankets on her,” a nurse informed me.

Not only had her temperature dropped unexpectedly low, but so had her heart rate. With all of her sedations, there has never been a complication. I remained perfectly calm, as I held her hand and spoke with the nurses, but my heart thudded against my sternum. A cardiologist was called in. He had already come by a few times to check on her, and continued to monitor her by phone. One thing I have learned about the Mayo, there is never time for a patient to want. Phone calls and texts are made as soon as a need arrives, expected or not. Even though her heart rate was increasing (it was up to 50 by the time I arrived), the beat was irregular. By the time the decision was made for an EKG, Savannah was awake and irritated. She tugged at her finger monitor, grasped at her I.V. and clawed at her bandaged head, fighting to sit up with an animalistic whine.

It was a nursing student from Indiana, interning at Mayo, who had the brilliant idea to fetch an iPad. I wish I was better with names. I wish I could thank her properly. I wish I could give her the credit she’s due. I can, however, be thankful that Savannah’s MRI occurred during her ten weeks with Mayo.

Drowsily, Savannah pushed the nursing student out of the way and began to rummage through the apps. She fussed and hummed and distractedly swatted at the EKG tech, like a bothersome bug, but she sat through the EKG focused on an app, except for the occasional disgruntled look.

With her finger monitor removed, a team of nurses and the iPad still on her lap, we headed up the elevators, back through the labyrinth, down to Francis and our new room for the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. She had done it. Savannah had made it through the MRI, not fully understanding, at least I don’t believe she fully understood, it was just the beginning.


Too Much To Wait For

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Tomorrow’s the day.
We are tucked in our beds. Savannah’s suitcase has been re-packed with EEG-friendly clothes. We have reached the food prohibition time. Now, I am waiting for her to fall asleep so I can hide the snacks and water and everyday clothes. Then I can pull out the toys I’ve snuck along, just for a hospital surprise, in the hopes she’ll play with them.
The rational part of me wishes she would go to sleep. Midnight has passed, my body is tired, and the shuttle leaves bright and early. The realist part of me knows that even if Savannah was asleep and the food was hidden and the toys were packed, I would still be lying here awake. I would be waiting for tomorrow. Waiting for the shuttle, the anesthesiologist, the insurance approval.
There’s too much to wait for to sleep.


Tornadoes in her Mind

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The final results of last year’s Mayo Clinic tests, cumulatively over 500 degenerative possibilities, came back negative December 28th. There it sat in our mailbox like some generic Christmas card. Typed up, mass produced, a statement of facts all combined to carry the wishes and blessings we hoped for.

As wonderful as the news was, it left a gaping hole of what was next? For six months I had lived with the fear my child was dying, waiting for the why and the when, clinging to every moment and feeling guilty for the times when I didn’t. Now what?

It does seem to be the pattern. Every test, every doctor, every hope ending in a new beginning. A new quest. A new start down a different road that is yet to be found.

Our next path is to retrace an old one. We are headed back to the Mayo Clinic for yet another MRI and EEG in the doubtful hope that this EEG will be successful. It will be our third. The first was inconclusive but didn’t show signs of seizures. Four years later, Vanderbilt re-visited the EEG. They wanted an overnight EEG. After an hour and a half, Savannah woke mid-panic attack, swiping the leads from her head in one swoop of her tiny arm. She proceeded in full panic form to rattle the metal railing and toss the nightstand across the room. We were kindly escorted out at 1:00am. We were assured that enough data was gathered to rule out seizures.

Seizures were an early concern. Spontaneous loss of skills is commonly the result of brain trauma or seizures. But we haven’t found either.

A few months after the Christmas news sunk in, I met with Dr. S and spoke with Dr. T. Dr S was stunned by the negative test results. “That can’t be,” he responded. “I’ve seen this child for years. I’ve seen the regression.” I bounced Dr R’s idea of revisiting the EEG for forty-eight hours. I can’t imagine forty-eight hours of leads and wires when Vanderbilt couldn’t accomplish two hours of it. Dr. S made the point, “It’s like chasing tornadoes. You can see the devastation after a tornado but its hard to pin-point exactly where a tornado will hit beforehand, making it near impossible to catch.” We may not have seen or caught the tornado in her mind, but we can see the devastation. We have to at least attempt to catch the tornado and the longer the leads are on, the better the chance.

Dr T informed me that there are certain types of seizures that exhibit in violent and aggressive outbursts, and seizure hallucinations present differently than regular hallucinations and would not have been noticed at her time in the Vanderbilt Psych Unit. More options. More hope. More needles to grasp at in the hay.

But I have to know.

There was an ancient belief that to name something was to claim power over it. That’s what I need. I need to name this demon that strives to steal my daughter from me. I need to know the medicines, the therapies, the daily life modifications are what they need to be. I need to know what life will look like for her 20 years from now and how to make those decisions. I need to know there will be a 20 years from now.

So we are headed back to Mayo. Back to Minnesota and beautiful countryside and incredible food. We are headed back to the beginning.


Too Many Miles

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Joseph and I were driving down the street, on our way to CVS, then to pick up Savannah, then to horseback riding, then to occupational therapy. It was an incredibly busy, typical Wednesday. Savannah had allowed me about four hours of sleep, and so I had picked up a toxic 20 ounce vice if classic Coke, hoping the sugar rush and caffeine might keep me awake. Besides, I was fighting off the back-to-school muck Savannah had brought home and knew the carbonated water would soothe the sandpaper coating my throat.

As we hurried down the road toward CVS, I opened the coke, releasing a sticky caffeinated geiser. It spewed over me, drenching the driver’s seat, morphing the steering wheel into a sticky mess. Joseph stared at me wide-eyed. I looked at him, his large eyes waiting for my reaction, uncertain and stunned by the carbonation that still trickled down the bottle, over my fingers, staining my thigh. I couldn’t help but laugh. Joseph began to laugh, forcing me to laugh harder and him to laugh harder, and it cyclically continued.

Since then, I’ve been reminded of our Mayo visit. Somehow, in Minnesota, every meal I managed to spill something. I don’t know if it had to do with the fact that Minnesota has amazing food or the fact I was suffocating in apprehension or just that I was food-clumsy, but every meal created more mid-west laundry.

Our Minnesota week was hard. The air was filled with the fear of what we might find. We carried the burden of entertaining the kids in a hotel room that was much too small. We lived surrounded by needles and tests and sterilization. We also lived surrounded by doctors, waiters, and strangers who were full of compassion and respect. We held the blessing of new friends and fellow patients and magic book-men. We breathed in the knowledge of some of the world’s greatest specialists.

We were trapped in a great freedom.

It is impossibly hard to be miles away from the only people searching for your answers. And yet all there is to do, is wait. Wait and take selfish advantage of every moment. The dual mitochondrial genome analysis takes six to eight weeks. I thought it was difficult to wait the few weeks for the NPC, now there are weeks more to wait. The tests can’t even be run at Mayo and have been sent off to Baylor. There’s nothing else to be done. Still, even though it’s only waiting, even though the tests aren’t even there, it’s too many miles away.


Deep Breaths of Laughter

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This next week is the moment of truth. In theory, this next week will bring us the test results for NPC. It means I will have to register my Skype account.

It all seems so far away. As much as I didn’t want to leave the Mayo Clinic, it now seems distant. It seems like a hazy dream from another life. A few weeks ago, John was giving Savannah a piggyback. They rounded the banister at the bottom of the stairs. For a moment, a brief moment, they paused. Savannah looked at me. Her smile was massive and her laughter vivacious. The words flittered through my mind before I could stop them. “This is not the smile of a dying child. It is not the laugh of one. It can’t be.” By the time the words had left me, John and Savannah had vanished up the stairs.

Two test results have come in that open wider the possibility that we are not looking at NCP. If the NCP test comes back negative, then Mayo-grown DNA will be sent to Baylor for advanced mitochondrial testing. The various types of mitochondrial diseases are expansive.

While test results were flooding in negative, we were settling back into normalcy: church, speech camp, sprinklers. We’ve played and fought and tickled. Normal family life. The difference is in the hugs. I hug her more. I hug her tighter. I inhale deeper. I want to breathe her in. I want to keep her inside me: her breath, her scent, her skin, her laughter.

It took two weeks for me to find the nerve to download Skype to my phone. Now that time has run out, I will have to create an account and wait for Dr. R’s message to set up a time to virtually meet and receive what news she brings.


Defining Desirable

The trip home was eventful. It was full of rainstorms and random traffic and carsickness and hotel rooms with a very relaxed definition of clean. It even consisted of a brief adventure involving a rogue Magellan giving false directions down mythical streets before abandoning us in its death, leaving us lost in South Chicago.

But all of that is really inconsequential. As much as I love my old mountains, as much as I love being immersed in trees, as much as I love raising my children proper and Southern, I couldn’t help longing for Minnesota. I wanted to be minutes away from some of the best doctors in the world. I wanted the call to meet with Dr R instead of the text to Skype, when an answer is found. I wanted to be as close as possible to the people exasperating every possibility for my daughter. I knew they were searching, even with us back home, but I wanted to be near them as they searched. Even if they brought only the worst possible news, there is a comfort the Mayo Clinic brings. There is comfort at having six tests scheduled and performed the day the doctor decides it’s needed. There is comfort that every doctor you see has already talked to every other doctor you’ve seen. There is comfort in the competency the drips from the walls and the chairs and the light fixtures. I know our local team is wonderful. I have no complaints. But at Mayo, when the results come back: today, tomorrow, next month, six months from now, I know action will be taken the day of or, if there is a snag, the day after. At home, our local team will have to find the specialist, research or talk with Dr R to find our course of action and then have to find where it can be done. Mayo has the specialists; they have the knowledge; they have the equipment and are ready for anything. And that is what we are waiting for . . . Anything.

The Mayo Clinic has this wonderful portal and App. Now that it is set up, I can log in on my phone and view all lab results as they come in, review notes from our visit, and message Savannah’s team. If we were there, I could refill prescriptions with that App, and it would send me reminders of appointments the doctors set up, including which building and tower. Now, when something definite comes up, Dr R will message me through the Mayo App and set up a time to Skype. (And the App is free. Free is always good.)

I’ve made a habit, or obsession, of checking Savannah’s labs daily. There’s no telling when something may come in. Yesterday, it did. There, amid a list of results, it stared back at me:

NMDA-R Ab CBA, Serum
Negative desirable.

Define desirable. I suppose for most people, it’s wonderful news that they don’t have a horrid disease causing their body to attack their brain, leading to memory lapses and psychosis. Most people don’t put their hope in a neurological illness that presents itself as a demon possession. But when it’s the best hope your child has. . . When you have to choose between a neurological demonic possession with a 70% recovery rate or a myriad of disorders that will slowly continue to strip your child away until all the glitter is gone, I find the Demon more desirable. It was one piercing blow straight through me, leaving behind a hole in my center where the future began to leak out, whistling and hissing like the life of a lost, rogue, deflating balloon.

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