A Severe Pruning

I was appalled when Joan’s mom (with dad’s assistance) removed every wisteria branch from our garden arbor. It had done so well that spring and summer, covering the arch with green leaves, creating shade over that area of the brick walkway. It had taken a few years to grow so well. And now it was gone. Joan was just as upset. But perhaps the master gardener knew what she was doing.

The next year that plant grew back with even greater force and the year after we saw something new – beautiful blooms. I’ve read that it takes eight to twelve years for wisteria plants to bloom. But it is possible to encourage the plant to do so sooner – through a severe pruning. In our case the plant displayed its flowering beauty in half the typical number of years.

A hemispherotomy surgery (see explanation below) is a severe pruning to be sure. The thought of putting Matthew through it was at first repulsive and then terrifying. But he made it through and is well into rehabilitation, but we have a long way to go. We are told that it takes three to six months for full recovery – meaning returning him to the abilities he had before the surgery. Matthew is just six weeks in.

Even so, there is already evidence that Matthew will bloom. He will have cognitive ability for which he did not have potential prior to his “pruning.” With seizures out of the way (we’ve seen none since the surgery), new things are possible. This will take time, which will require corresponding patience on our part.

Everyone loves miracles, especially those that show immediate results. It would be nice if the surgery outcome had looked like the man by the Beautiful Gate who, after a word from Peter, was immediately walking and leaping and praising God. Instead, each new step for Matthew is painfully slow.

I’ve learned a lot from the wisteria experience. Though none of my garden pruning has been that severe, in faith I’ve since taken the shears to many plants and have, over time, seen a lot of fruit as a result. And slowly I’m growing in my confidence that the Master Gardener knows what he is doing and brings much fruit through his pruning work in our lives (see the Gospel of John, chapter 15).

* A hemispherotomy is a type of brain surgery where the two hemispheres of the brain are disconnected. Children who may benefit from this procedure already have long standing weakness on one side of their body; this is due to severe damage to the opposite side of the brain.

In Heaven

Joan’s mom passed away yesterday morning. Joan and her dad were with her at the time. We had just finished singing “It is Well With My Soul” to her and then as dad read to her from the Bible she left us and entered heaven. We miss her already. We cared for her in our home for over seven years, time which passed so quickly.

Here are the arrangements https://www.shiveryfuneralhome.com/obituary/pauline-weaver

Home

Matthew and Joan came home one month (to the day) after his surgery.

Joan and Matthew are eager to leave CHOP

As I was nearing the hospital Joan called me and said “Everyone is waiting. Park the car in (such and such a place – illegally, by the way) and run! They are about to start the “parade.”

I made it in time (totally forgot to wear a mask) for the celebration. He was not walking nearly as well as he had been because he had pulled a muscle that morning, but I was so proud of my boy just the same. What a celebration! The Seashore House Rehab does it right.

The reason for the early discharge is a sad one. As I write this, Joan’s mom is nearly home (her departure is imminent) and is no longer able to have visits. We’ve had some very precious times with her and she has been able to say her good-byes. I’m very thankful for Joan’s instincts regarding the timing of things and her insistence that it was time to leave CHOP.

The days are very full and very emotional. We have moved constantly from palliative care to comforting dad to entertaining family who wish to say good-bye to physical therapy for Matthew to Kari care (which includes trying to fine-tune the ketogenic diet as she has had some breakthrough seizures). It is easy enough to move from task to task (duty demands it). It is not so easy to switch to the appropriate emotion for each activity.

Matthew continues to make progress. Joan was told it would be three to six months from surgery until he is back to where he was prior to the surgery (in areas related to mobility). Cognitively he has progressed beyond where he was previously. And, we’ve seen no seizures.

Matthew needs breaks, especially with the atmosphere of grief from which we try to shield him as much as possible. He knows things are not normal and he has questions about heaven. Yesterday we had a great time at Dutch Wonderland. I was able to maneuver him from the wheelchair for several rides.

Thank you for your prayers!

Homeward Bound

It is really happening. Matthew and I are leaving CHOP tomorrow, May 12!! It was exactly one month ago when we came here.

The staff here will be throwing him a party, which is awesome, but our earlier than expected departure is very much mixed with grief. Over the weekend my mother became weaker. After a lot of prayer, discussions, and seeking wisdom, I asked the rehab doctor if we could go home because Matthew needs to say “good-bye” to Grandma (who is also “homeward bound”) and Grandma definitely needs to see Matthew again. And I want to be there for my mom during her final days on this earth.

Ron says, “Although the hospice nurse says we need not be in a super big rush (though who knows) it would be more therapeutic for everyone to have Joan and Matthew back together with the family. And so we’re going to live the crazy life together rather than separately.”

A lot of strings needed to be pulled on my end, but the staff is fully confident that I will be able to keep his therapy going at home along with outpatient rehab I am getting set up in Lancaster. My sister says I am going from frying pan to fire. And she is right. I have no grandiose thinking that life is going to be easier, but we will be together. I say that a cord of three strands (Ron, me and God together) will be stronger.

Please pray that we can make this all happen and mostly pray for my mom who is very weak, that God will be a constant companion by her side!

Enduring

It is day 23 here and if the doctor’s prediction is accurate we are over halfway through this hospital journey! That makes me smile, but to be honest, it also carries with it anxieties and challenges.

Matthew’s seizures are gone and everyday I am so amazed. I only realize now how many Matthew was having night and day prior to surgery. Yes, that is why the doctors wanted us to consider this major surgery – they knew how many seizures he was having and they also knew it would only grow worse as he aged.

But now I am in the daily grind of helping him overcome what the surgery has taken away. Yes it is a temporary right-sided weakness, and I hang onto that. But in the meantime it is drill after drill forcing those muscles and brain to remember how to engage. I have bruises all over my shins from crashes of his wheelchair and my pour toes have been crushed multiple times as he walks with his clunky brace. But walking he is doing. Upgraded from the strawman in Wizard of Oz to a penguin on a beach – those are Matthew’s terms. And improvement keeps happening, I have been down this road before with Matthew – the kid about whom we were told over and over that he would never walk or talk.

So why the anxieties you ask? Because I know how he could dance, swing on a swing, ride his scooter, run in the rain! And I want it all now and so does he. Today he kept wanting to jump, when I was supposed to be learning how to do gait-belt walking with him. He is not satisfied waddling like a penguin – he wants to fly. So begins the next few weeks of pushing proper training (so he doesn’t injure himself), and enduring watching him also overcome his sadness that his leg and arm don’t quite do what they use to do.

By faith, we push and pray that brain and muscles will all reengage. Trying to lay aside my crying out: “God, it just doesn’t seem fair that we are having to do this all over again!”

My theme verse going into this, “Be strong and resolute, do not fear for the Lord himself marches with you – He will not fail or forsake you” (Deut 31:6). And for all you Bible scholars out there, I know this message was originally meant for Israelites in battle, but I am adopting it right now in my own battle for faith and courage. A few times in the gym and our balcony singing times, I have felt the Spirit’s presence very near me. And an immediate comfort comes over me. I know that is all the prayers hounding heaven on our behalf. Thank you – and Matthew and I will endure!

May Day

Got a chance to squeeze in a quick trip to CHOP.

Who’s happiest here? Really hard to tell (Kari is tuned in and loving it too – just not as expressive).

Don’t we have awesome “kids?”

Brothers – not sure which one appreciates the other one more.

Really hard for me (Ron) to leave these two behind! But Matthew was really tired. Time for us to return to our separate worlds for the moment.

Many have asked about Kari. Happy to report that the infection seems to be gone and the seizures along with it. She is more alert and comfortable again.

Sunshine

Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
It’s not warm when she’s away
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
And she’s always gone too long
Anytime she’s goes away

Wonder this time where she’s gone
Wonder if she’s gone to stay
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
And this house just ain’t no home
Anytime she goes away

And I know, I know, I know, I know… (Bill Withers sings “I know” a total of 26 times before moving to the next stanza)…

So, I find myself singing that song. Not all of it applies. Truth is: It was warm and sunny the other day when I was outside singing it, but metaphorically a lot of it is true. Thankfully, I do know “where she’s gone,” and I don’t “wonder if she’s gone to stay.”

Four more weeks of rehab. That’s how long they’ll be gone. That was the projection made this past Tuesday. So, (drum roll) the tentative discharge date is May 24. There is some sunshine from the light at the end of the tunnel!

In the meantime, trying to make this house a home. Getting some projects done (not just fiddling). And what Joan is doing is super important. I know where she is and why she is there!

I’m including two pictures, to convey a couple of things (besides the fact that you are telling us that you like the pictures). Matthew is working hard and he is enjoying the love showered on him. In OT he made brownies today. On breaks he enjoys gifts he has received (the binoculars are from one of his “buddies” (Travis) at Calvary Church.

Have you noticed how nicely his hair is growing back already?

Many of you have been touched by the roommate story. Here is more from Joan over the last few days (the sunshine Matthew and Joan are bringing)…

Wayne story

I think I scored a homerun today. Before his procedure (and again no parents) he said to me, “Are you Matthew’s mom?”

“YES, we got to adopt him!”

He said, “You adopted him???'”

He kept looking at me and after another minute he said, ‘You the best mom in the world!”

Now mind you, I haven’t always had the best thoughts about Wayne. He is a rough one and apparently the staff have all talked about how these two in this room are about as opposite as you can get! They come for Matthew’s bubbly personality, they run because of Wayne’s cursing and downright meanness.

But Matthew and I keep praying for him and telling him Bible verses and stories. Matthew even tried to play a video game with him – that was a disaster, but it gave me a chance to tell Wayne how good he is and how he could teach Matthew. And Matthew shares some prizes with him and calls him his friend. Wayne said one day, “Man, you don’t even know me and you call me friend??” Today Matthew called him his best friend 😌

* * * * * * *

He just fights them on everything and is so depressed. I am not convinced he is going to do well. He needs to start radiation but I think they thot his rehab would be quick, but Wayne has no motivation. I wish I could help him more, but they are so strict about staying 6ft apart in the room. So I have to encourage with words only. He has been much nicer to Matthew and I and today we heard no swearing. Every time we meet up with him in the gym, we always cheer him on. Matthew always gets so excited for him even though Wayne has been rather nasty towards Matthew but I am hoping we are turning the corner. He didn’t make neg comments today towards Matthew 😊

* * * * * * *

Footnote: Mom has been showing up recently. Joan has had a chance to connect with her and build some bridges to deeper conversation.

PS Compared to one a day, the posts have been getting sparse. Joan and I are both very busy, but Joan told me this evening: You’ve got to keep the posts going. I need the prayers! Thanks again for being part of Team Matthew.

Therapy and More Therapy

Weekend Report…

Joan says she feels like she is a volunteer for Handi*Camp (a ministry in which we served). Her “cabin” has two “campers,” Matthew and his roommate, whose mom has disappeared at the moment. Every other kid in rehab has a parent with them, except for Wayne.

Wayne plays video games when not in therapy. He cries a lot. He is super lonely and hates this place.

By contrast, Matthew watches “Scripture and Song” and comments: “That is a great verse.” He listens to Beethoven, watches Early Childhood Calvary Kids episodes (this week’s was especially great, Joan says), doing a “Spanish With Paul” lesson on YouTube. And through it all has the full attention of his mom to encourage him through a long, tough hospitalization. In Matthew’s mind, CHOP is still an awesome place!

Today…

At 8:15 Joan writes: “It has been nonstop since 5:45 here. I just now got a cup of coffee.” (I won’t list the challenges. Let’s just say Joan has her hands full!)

Wow. I almost feel guilty because, though I awakened different times, I slept in for the first time – until 6:30. Eight hours of sleep feels awesome! Then Joan showed me their schedule for the day…

In response I tell her, “On this end I just thought I’d get out my violin and fiddle most of the day and see how that goes.” (She doesn’t believe me.)

When they told us that Rehab would be intense, I had no idea it would be that intense! Matthew is a trooper. This morning I got to see Matthew in therapy at CHOP for the first time (by video). I share it with you.

I have to tell you that I watch that with mixed emotions. I am super happy that Matthew is making such good progress. At the same time I feel really bad for Matthew. I know how much work he put into walking the first time, and to see him have to learn it again makes me really sad.

Tomorrow is evaluation day. The team gets together and makes a projection for how many weeks of therapy he will need. Originally we were told two to six weeks. We know Matthew has a long way to go, so whether shorter or longer, we want him to have what he needs.

This is Matthew’s first full week. Pray for stamina (for both him and Joan).

The reward for today? Karaoke! (the only thing he has talked about all weekend)

Feeling old!

Hospitalizations and times of crisis aren’t new to us. We’ve had times when Joan was in one hospital with a child and I (Ron) was with another. It was true with Kari and Ryan. It was true when we were foster parents to medically needy children. This experience isn’t quite like that, but it seems close since our home is more akin to a medical facility than ever before. What is exciting to me is to realize that Joan and I are still working together as a team after all these years, perhaps better than ever at that. We each have our roles and we feel that each are at the right place. With regard to this admission, we’ve thought about switching after a period of time – Joan coming here and vice versa. But why do that? Too much of a learning curve midstream (at least for me). If it ain’t broke, let’s not fix it.

Kari seems better to me. She is more alert and not having seizures and becoming more comfortable. Of course I think, “What if these infections repeat themselves?. What then? Being parents to an adult with disabilities is complicated. Others in our position agree that once the child has graduated from pediatrics, there are less options of care. It becomes a hit or miss experience. Fewer doctors seem comfortable tackling Kari’s issues. As Joan is saying more frequently: “We’re kind of out there on our own. We’ve kept her going all these years – we tend to know what she needs and we have to be her advocate or just do what needs to be done.”

Joan’s Report: So after 3 1/2 hrs of morning therapy Matthew got a break in the sunshine on the balcony. In-patients are required to learn about gardening this Spring. This is Matthew’s plot.

He is exhausted from his first full day at the Seashore House, but never did he “push back” or refuse to do the work🙌! Amazing! He is looking forward to rewards. One of these evenings in Rehab they will have karaoke night and that is all Matthew can talk about. He can’t wait to use the microphone. If you know Matthew, you know he is back to normal😊 (at least in that sense). (Insert from Ron: Perhaps you have seen the movie “Radio,” starring Cuba Gooding Jr. I’ve often said that if there is ever a movie about Matthew, it will be called “Microphone!”)

Age 3

I (Joan) am learning the Rehab ropes, but I am grateful for a weekend coming up when we kick back a bit. Praying for rest for us both!

The comment of the day: Matthew was on his last leg with walker use at end of therapy and was having trouble making it back to his chair. “Oh my, I feel like an old lady!” The whole staff erupted in laughter.😁

Really good – not necessarily easy

Last evening at 11:00 Kari had a grand mal seizure. I wasn’t in the room, but I heard and instantly knew what it was. For the last couple days things didn’t seem right. Kari was just as awake, but not as oriented and maybe a little agitated.

For over three weeks Kari hadn’t been having seizures. Why now? Why had the ketogenic diet been working so well, but now seems not to be? What am I doing that is different? I come up with every possibility I can think of.

Don’t know if subconsciously she seemed hot to me… Not sure why I thought to go for the thermometer, but I did (nearly 18 hours after the seizure). And then it all became clear. Probably another UTI (something we had battled for months, starting in April of last year, and thought it was solved). Made some calls and this evening picked up a script at the Pharmacy. Hopefully it does the trick.

I’m not happy about the infection, but I’m happy to know the reason for breakthrough seizures. The diet is probably still working quite well. Chances are, if she hadn’t been on the diet, her seizures would have been tons worse. Kari is, overall (for Kari), in a good place. Doesn’t mean the path is easy.

Same goes for Joan and Matthew. I’ll talk about Matthew first.

Take a look at this shot of Matthew with Dr. Kennedy – yes, the amazing surgeon who ended the epilepsy in Matthew!

Kennedy had just assessed Matthew and determined that he is handling his own cerebral spinal fluid and no shunt revision is needed! Dr. Kennedy was also very happy about how is head is healing. Joan said that he was so happy that he was totally fine with Joan taking all kinds of pictures until she got one right 😊. Joan says, “He is our super surgeon and I think Matthew is his favorite patient!””

Did we mentioned that the big goal of the day was met? Matthew is now in rehab. And that’s good. But it won’t be easy. Matthew has a ton of work ahead of him and it will probably be intense.

As for Joan, she is so glad they are in rehab this quickly. That said, moving is stressful, even within the same hospital – except it isn’t exactly the same hospital, things are different here. Here’s the new address, by the way…

Room 307 Bed 1   Children’s Seashore House    3401 Civic Center Blvd, Philadelphia, PA 19104

Joan feels like hospital psychosis has hit her for the first time. She is so tired of learning new routines, rules, places she can and cannot go and trying to figure out how she gets her own needs met! Lots of info overload right now.

Within 15 minutes of Matthew arriving at Seashore House, he got a roommate – a 7-year-old who seems “a match.” I think Joan means that in a good way. Haha.  

Wayne got the beautiful window side😥. Joan gets the cot and view of hallway! Oh well.

It is the end of the day, Wayne’s mom has left, and Joan is trying to convince Wayne (who is scared to death) that everything is okay and that he should go to sleep.

Rehab at CHOP – the right place to be! And maybe it will be a shorter than anticipated rehab given Matthew’s progress. And all that is good, really good – just might not always be easy.

Please pray that Kari would fully and quickly recover from this (if I’m right) infection.

Pray that Matthew would have the motivation to do all the good, hard work that CHOP has prepared for him to do.

Pray that Joan would be strengthened and quickly oriented to lots of new things related to the rehab.

Pray for me, that I wouldn’t miss anything and would be successful in obtaining the care that my daughter needs.