First we’ll talk about the good.
Mason is doing great from a occupational therapy standpoint. He uses his fingers and hands appropriately to manipulate things, stacks blocks, does puzzles, passes things hand to hand, etc. With the obvious long-standing limitation that he does these things best when he’s strapped into his wheelchair or something that supports his sitting so he can use both hands and remain balanced.
Urology took a look at Mason’s bladder and kidneys yesterday by ultrasound and they look beautiful. The ditropan (medication to paralyze the bladder) and cathing Mason every 4 hours (8am, 12pm, 4pm, 8pm, 12midnight) is protecting those organs well. No changes here.
Weight gain has finally been accomplished! Mason had not gained any weight in over 6 months, sitting right at 24 lbs. He’s now 24 lbs 11 oz. Slow, but it’s something.
Eating skills are progressing again. After all Mason’s oral aversion issues around the brain surgery fiasco last fall and winter was (5 surgeries in 4 months) he is about where he should be with eating. He uses a fork well, is figuring out a spoon, and finally closes his mouth to take bites about 75% of the time. This shows itself in big ways like Mason actually taking bites of a bagel or other food instead of everything needing cut into bite size bits.
On to the not quite great but also not bad news:
Poop is still a work in progress. We’ve been doing daily cone enemas for a month or so to clean Mason out and keep poop off his butt wound. They work most of the time in combination with his Miralax. We’ve reduced the Miralax drastically over the month to find a balance between soft enough for the enema to work and firm enough that he’s not pooping in between enemas and getting his wound dirty (infection risk). It’s just a balancing game that varies daily based on what Mason has eaten and drank that day.
Wound Update!!! He is healing S.L.O.W.L.Y. He had some dead skin building up around the edges of the wound in calluses so he had debriding yesterday. It sounds nicer than it is. Basically they laid him on his belly and went to work with tweezers and a scalpel to cut off tissue. Mason didn’t feel a thing, of course. As a matter of fact his reaction was to fall asleep for his nap. Yes, I’m serious. They didn’t get all the calluses off but we’ll see how they’re doing in a few weeks. Here’s a picture for those who have asked. We’re to keep changing his bandage with every diaper change and continue limiting his sitting time in things like the booster seat at the table, his wheelchair, etc.
Now we come to the part of the visit I don’t want to think about. The scary part. You see, going in I had a page of questions and concerns. It’s the only way to keep track of everything when seeing so many specialists in one day. On my list was a reminder to let the orthopedic surgeon know Mason’s right foot/ankle and hip have had drastic changes in the last two months. They have always been ‘tight’. The hip is hard to straighten, the foot/ankle is hard to bend into a ‘flat’ position like when you are standing. Which is why I do stretches and physical therapy several times a day with Mason.
In the last two months it hasn’t mattered how diligent I was, we were seeing things regress. We can no longer straighten his leg at the hip completely and cannot get his foot/ankle into a flat or neutral position. That triggers a few problems, including not being able to fit/wear his HKAFO braces for standing, not being able to wear the foot brace at night without bruising, not able to wear any structured shoe, etc.
We saw the physical therapist first. She quickly told me I was right, there was a significant difference, and went to grab a few people. Neurosurgery and orthopedic surgery. WHAT?! Neuro? I knew that was not a good sign.
The neurosurgery nurse asked me just two questions to start:
- Has Mason had a significant growth spurt in the last few months? Yes, he’s gained nearly 2 inches.
- What changes have we seen in his body? The ankle and hip contractures.
Then she said words that hadn’t even been on my radar. “We’ll need to check for a tethered cord.” My heart dropped into the floor. I knew in theory that one day Mason might face that. You see, when your spinal closure is done at birth the cord and nerves may begin to attach or tether to the scar. A spinal cord is not stretchy. Often when a child has a growth spurt their body stretches and the cord does not. That causes neurological symptoms, and very often damages the spinal cord or nerves further.
If Mason’s cord has tethered they will do a surgery where they try to separate the cord and nerves from the scar. In the process there are very real risks that they will cause MORE damage to Mason’s nervous system. In other words, he could come out of surgery with even more paralysis and problems. For example, that hip function he has, the ability to pull up at the hip, could disappear. The weak abdominal and back muscles we already fight to help him sit and balance could be made weaker or completely paralyzed. I just don’t want to think about it.
I’ve gotten comfortable with Mason’s disability. Things like a wheelchair make me happy, they give him independence. I’ve accepted what limitations he has and thrill to watch him push and make the most of what he can do. A tethered cord could make us go through the process all over again with new levels of disability. Loss of function. Three little words that could change everything. Again.
What Comes Next
There is still a possibility that Mason’s cord is not tethered. We may just be facing some leg surgeries to cut tendons, casts, and a lengthening process. If I had to choose I would take that in a heartbeat. Even if his cord is tethered we may end up needing those surgeries too, to stretch out and lengthen things that have pulled tight.
We expect to hear from the neurosurgeon Monday with a plan for a sedated MRI of Mason’s spine. Under general anesthesia they’ll take a series of pictures and compare them to his baseline MRI done earlier. They will look for changes and go from there.
Another scary thing to think about is that a tethered cord can happen again. And again. And again. And each time there is a risk of doing more damage.
In My Head
How does this feel as a mother? Terrifying. Helpless. Angry. Peaceful. Talk about a contradiction! While I want to cry and shake my fist and pound on the doors of Heaven asking ‘why?’, when I look back at Mason’s life so far I have peace. I always remember the very first priesthood blessing I had when we learned Mason would be born with Spina Bifida. Here are my thoughts from the very first post on this blog:
“…the blessing only confirmed in my heart that this is not going to be an easy journey. There was no promise of healing, that the troubles would all go away. Instead I was promised physical health and strength to bear this burden, that it will be used to draw my family closer together, and that God was with me and with my son. I was told this is no accident, God planned this path for our family, and gave this body to my son to accomplish God’s purposes. I know that His plan is the best one, though it is often not the path we would have asked to walk.”
I know none of this is a surprise to God. He’s with Mason and He is with us on this winding, uphill climb. The best part is that He never leaves us to climb alone. We have the God of Heaven and the Savior of the World on our side. He is strong when we are weak. His atonement strengthens us to take one more step. He gives us peace no matter the circumstances and he loves us through our tears, our anger, and our fear. His mercies are new every morning.