For almost ten years I’ve called Evelyn a friend but I suppose acquaintance would be more accurate. Walking past her desk every morning on my way to my own our talks would range from 15 second hellos to 20 minute complaint sessions about the Red Sox. She even took these photos, as we passed her desk on the day Liam was discharged from the NICU. (I wrote about that day and these photos here.)
For ten years I’ve called Evelynn a friend. After yesterday, and what she and her family did for Liam, I feel like I should call her family, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to thank her enough.
“Hey Eric, have you taken Liam to get his picture taken with Santa yet this year ?” She asked, the beginning of last week, as I made my way into the office.
“Hmmm, No. Actually Liam hasn’t ever met Santa Claus yet, we just can’t wait in a germy line of kids at the mall or anything. Someday though, and he’s almost 6 years old now so soon I hope.” I explained, but Evelynn asks about Liam every day. She knows the deal.
“PERFECT!!” She shouted ” what are you doing next Saturday? You have to come to my sister’s house.” She picked up the phone in front of her and held a finger up to make sure I didn’t walk away. “Yeah, it’s me, what time on Saturday? Liam is going to come….. Liam!, that kid I was telling you about. His family is going to come on Saturday. Ok. I’ll let him know.” She hung up the phone and that was that. On my way into work on a monday morning I somehow had made plans to go to someone from work’s sister’s house for dinner on Saturday night. And I still wasn’t exactly sure why.
Evelynn had to explain.
If we came to her sister’s house on Saturday night, Liam would finally get to meet Santa.
Evelynn’s sister’s family had had her own children’s pictures taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus at a local restaurant from when they were infants until they were in college. With all the kids home for the holiday this year they had hoped to continue the tradition with a picture of their nearly adult children but the restaurant now closed leaving them without a place for Santa to see them this year. Until Evelynn’s sister had run into Mrs. Claus somewhere shopping. Mrs. Claus explained that Santa would be happy to stop by her house to take the picture, and a date was set. Plans were made.
Santa was coming, and by Evelynn’s thoughtfulness, and her entire family’s boundless generosity, it turned into one of the most magical evenings of my life.
We arrived a little early, and after getting Liam’s chair up the portable ramp we travel with, introductions were made. Introductions made so warm and comfortable that we were instantly set at an ease of familiarity among a group of strangers and one acquaintance. No one asked about Liam’s chair, or his syndrome, or his wheelchair, but each and every one of them pinched his cheeks, and said hello, and told him how handsome he was. A house filled with relatives and lifelong friends who instantly treated us as one of their own.
And when they all heard that Liam had never before met Santa Claus, the entire party seemed to change from a oppurtunity for them to relive old family traditions to a celebration of their part in starting a new one for us.
And then Santa arrived and met Liam.
Along with Mrs. Claus and their elf helper Tiny, Santa was able to stay for about 45 minutes. He sat, holding Liam’s hand and whispering in his ear for easily 35 of them. Concerned that we were monopolizing Santa’s time too much, many in the room with their own camera’s firing away and with joyful happy tears in their eyes waved away my concern telling us and Liam to take as much time as we wanted. They would ultimately get their own pictures taken but their patience and interest in being a part of Liam’s first exposure to Santa was truly a testament to the power of the Christmas Spirit as hokey and Charlie Brown Christmas as that may sound.
Liam had slept for almost 22 hours that day. A rough end to the week with seizures induced a medicine change on friday night which wiped him right out for most of Saturday. Most but not all, for when St. Nick was whispering in his ear and holding his hand, Liam was wide-eyed and alert, engaged in communication and tugging for dear life on Santa’s beard with his free hand. Liam won’t tell me what they talked about. He won’t even tell me if Santa told him if he’s on the nice list or not. Whatever Santa had to say to Liam will always stay between them. I like that.
After Santa had to leave and get back to his busy week-before-Christmas schedule, we stayed and we ate dinner and we got to know everyone a little better. When they found out that Liam’s birthday is the day after Christmas the whole group of our new friends sang Happy Birthday to him. We left happy and to invitations for future plans including a repeat holiday visit next year if possible, and as we made our way out the front door and down the ramp the first snow of the season here started sticking to the ground.
It was downright magical.
The magic of friendship, the magic of a kind and open-hearted family, and the magic of Liam’s positivity and love.
But, I think most of all, it was the magic of Santa.
It’s been a long week. Karin had surgery and was in the hospital for almost four days. To add to that stress her experience was beyond awful. While I didn’t blog or write during the stay I did tweet. Below is the link to a storify story I put together using the tweets I sent during her stay and the instagram photos I posted included in the timeline. Please have a look. It’s multiple pages and storify can take a little while to load but I’ve already written the details in these tweets and I don’t have the energy to figure out how to imbed the story into a wordpress post. If anyone does let me know and I’ll repost.
I’ve got frustrations with school posts left to post, and I’ve yet to recap our trip to the zoo to meet Anton, and over the next few days Liam will be transitioning from his trusty LTV-900 ventilator to a newer, lighter, quieter and more computer driven TRILOGY vent ( you may be surprised to learn that the quieter part of that is what is giving me anxiety as we have been living our lives to the rhythm of Liam’s breath for five years, I’m afraid of not hearing that, especially at night). In other words, I’ve got so much more to post but if you’ll endulge me, this one will be one last post about my trip to Philadelphia last week to speak at the Bayada Pediatrics 2014 directors forum.
This morning, they were kind enough to send a video of my speech that one of the forum participants took on his cell phone (Thanks Will!). After mentioning any of my past presentations here or on Twitter, many of you are kind enough to say that you wish you could have been there to see it, nd since this is exactly the type of thing I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to do that never would have happened without this blog I made sure to ask permission to post it here when I heard that someone had filmed it.
A few notes..
1. I doubt that I’ll ever post in such detail about any of my future speeches, but this one is different. My past events have been at the hospital where I work, and while they have all been well recieved, I was asked to do each of them by people who knew me before Liam was even born. This event was born solely from someone seeing me speak and wanting me to be a part of their own program. No one has ever flown my anywhere before. This was the event where I decided to stop waiting for people to call me a writer, a speaker, or an advocate but to start introducing myself as one. A big distinction, and I’m not looking back.
2. Sadly, the screens I was presenting in front of were just too big and awesome. Karin often jokes with me when I get stressed about writing these things that I could read probably the phone book while standing in front of huge pictures of Liam and the audience wouldn’t care since he’s so adorable, and she’s right. It’s a format I’ve used in all of my presentations. This 20 minute presentation includes almost 50 slides. My slides are not your typical powerpoint bullet points but are stand alone pictures of Liam projected as large as possible to help tell his story. Due to the size of the room and screens, the video catches a few of these images but is mostly just me talking. Hardly the exciting part of seeing me present.
3. I thought about trying to edit this video to a split screen to add the images alongside, or to lay the audio over the slideshow but ultimately I decided against it. First of all, the job is done. I spent my time writing, and travelling and giving the thing. To spend more time working on it now would take me away from the next thing. Second of all, if you want to see the whole show, you’ll just have to have your local children’s hospital or nursing company, or other group, ask me to come speak. While sharing, writing, speaking and advocating are all things I have done /would do/ and will do for free in some cases, I’m learning that what I can provide by way of our story does have value and if more of the support of my family comes from consulting and speaking than it does from being a foodservice manager I would be a fool not to pursue those avenues.
4. I really would like to take this time to thank Bayada Pediatrics (the pediatric arm of Bayada Home Health Care) for asking me to present to your first ever Directors Forum for office directors from all over the country. They thought of everything by way of accommodations and logistics so that the only part of the whole trip that I was responsible for was the content of my speech. Everyone that I met was supportive and helpful, and seemed genuinely excited for me to be there speaking to them. Everyone was so nice in fact, that the night before I worried that maybe having the middle ten minutes of my speech being a list of my complaints about home nursing, might be too negative for this crowd. Thankfully, it was exactly what the program organizers were hoping for, as they had explained at breakfast before the meeting, setting my mind at ease.
I was surprised to learn that many of the office directors have not previously been home nurses, (not sure why I assumed that though, I manage a team of supervisors responsible for nutrition and special diets but am by no means, a dietitian or nutritionist.) These are the directors and managers from the office, and although I had to leave for the airport quickly after presenting, the participants I did talk with seemed to appreciate our story.
All in all I was impressed with the excitement and positivity I saw from the company charged with keeping my kid safe.
( It won’t get them off the hook the next time I have to call the office in anger though. )
4.It’s about twenty minutes long, but if you’ve got that to spare and you feel like listening to me complain about home nursing but then sing the praises of three nurses, here you go…
This morning I woke up in a fancy convention center hotel room about a half hour north of Philadelphia after flying there yesterday. A few hours later I gave a speech to a national meeting of more than a hundred pediatric nursing directors for the home nursing company that provides Liam’s nursing. The entire time I was there I was treated like some kind of celebrity. Initially afraid that my speech seemed to focus too much on the negative aspects of home nursing, my speech was very well received and gave me even more reassurance that Liam’s story, our story, has value.
It was pretty awesome.
Still wasn’t the most awesome part of the last 48 hours though.
That distinction goes to visiting Liam at school yesterday morning, a few hours before my flight out of town, to see him use his walker again for the first time in almost four months. Kiddo exceeded everyone’s expectations.
You have never seen true determination until you have witnessed Liam walking down a hallway.
Before we could even strap him into the walker those legs started pumping and he chased me and his mom down the hallway about 50 feet.
I’m pretty proud of my speech, and the fact that I was even asked to address a national meeting of nursing company professionals, but seeing Liam walk again so well after fearing a big regression over the summer is cooler than anything I could have done the past few days.
It’s not even close.
The morning after the events of my last post Karin and I still didn’t know what was going with Liam’s first day of school and whether or not he would be afforded the orientation process that all the other incoming kindergartners were having. I had been hoping that after hearing the messages I had left the day before I would have recieved a call early in the morning but when I didn’t hear anything by 9am I knew that wouldn’t be the case. So Karin and I went to the school to park ourselves in front of the principal’s office until we could speak with her about our concerns. The school pre-k program social worker (poor thing) didn’t have any idea what she was in for when she walked by and waved hello.
“Can we talk somewhere, right now?” I asked.
Anyone who knows Karin and I knows that we are not confrontational people, but when it comes to the full throated advocacy for our son and his needs we will be as confrontational as we need to be, and we have a lot of practice. The medical field has trained us well with, daily rounds in the intensive care unit, family meetings, and the lifelong coordination of multiple specialists Karin and I have more practice than most at setting expectations with the professionals in charge of Liam’s care. We have to.
Liam’s life depends on it.
The meeting was tense. Tension brought on entirely by my anger at the situation and the fact that I am a big, loud oaf when I’m angry. There of course was no violence or inappropriate language, but I could tell by the look on her face and by the taps on my leg by my wife that I may have gotten louder and louder as I listed my grievances. I really didn’t want to start Liam’s school career being the angry dad but it was necessary. After Karin and I laid out our case for why changing Liam’s school schedule at the very last possible moment, and denying him the chance at the orientation process offered to the other incoming kindergartners was unreasonable, unfair and quite possibly illegal, the school social worker brought the principal over immediately and helped to facilitate a quick meeting. The principal, while understandably busy given that it was the first day of school met with us quickly. It was a shorter meeting than I had expected but that is to the principal’s credit. Understanding that we were angry even though she didn’t yet understand why, she accepted that a series of mistakes were made on their end and instead focused on what she could do to make it right.
Liam’s orientation was scheduled for 10:00 am the following day.
A few times a month Karin or myself (mostly Karin) will discuss treatment options with Liam’s neurologist over the phone. Explaining symptoms, relaying changes in medicine doses, what to watch for to see if they’re working, and what to do if they aren’t. Just as often, Karin or myself (mostly Karin) will speak to our pulmonogist over the phone to discuss breath volumes, peak inspiratory pressures, and overnight oxygen settings. Misunderstandings and mis-communications over the phone are luxuries that the Olson family cannot afford. We take notes, we ask questions, we make sure we understand what is expected of us and of Liam. It is a relationship that we have built by open and honest communication. A relationship that we need to have with Liam’s educators as well.
Friday morning Liam was able to meet with his teacher, the principal, two of his therapists, and the superintendent of schools for a tour. He was able to see the lift that the school department is still working to get operational, but also to check out the alternate route that he’ll have to use in the meantime. It isn’t ideal but they’re trying, I think they know now that I won’t let them forget about it. The orientation, from what I hear since I was at work, I wish I could have been there, was great. Liam was able to meet the first and second graders that will be in his class with him this year. The principal and his teacher explicitly discussed with Karin what the most effective means of communicating with each of them will be moving forward and they even thought of some things that will help Liam’s nurse do his job easier at the school.
They really are trying.
I don’t believe for a second that someone intentionally or maliciously decided to deny something from my child or his classmates. It is, after all, reasonable to change Liam’s first day since there are first and second graders in his classroom, and that way they can begin their daily routine a week earlier. But the time to make that decision was three months ago so that those same kids can have their orientation process and the expectation can be communicated in plenty of time. Three months ago when they could think through all of the issues it may or may not create for the portion of the student population that even the slightest change might effect in ways that people not living this life may not realize. Three months ago, NOT the day before. No one meant for this to be unfair but it was, and it’s my job to point that out to them. And I don’t feel bad for pointing that out to all of you as well while it was happening.
I had no problem writing about all the wonderful parts of Liam’s interactions with the school system in our town thus far. His first steps, his making friends, his wonderful penmanship, and even the first time he got in trouble.
It’s why I also had no problem writing about their mistakes when they let us down.
72 hours ago I had little hope for a positive and exciting first day of school celebration, but the actions of the school in the days following, showing us that they really are trying to supply everything they can for his education, as complicated as that is, have turned me back around.
We’re excited about Wednesday again, and while I don’t think I have anything to say I’m sorry for, I do have to say thank you.
It wasn’t supposed to begin this way.
It was supposed to be a momentous occasion when the boy who wasn’t supposed to make it to his first birthday made it to his first day of kindergarten.
When I was a kid not everyone attended pre-school or a pre-k program. Kindergarten was the first day of school. THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL. For everyone.
This boy of mine who was so early for the day of his birth and so very “late” for so many things after that (first steps, first tooth, heck his first poop was after 43 days) was going to be on time for one major thing in his life. To do something at five and half years old that every other five-and-a-half-year old was doing.
The first day of kindergarten. At five years old with all of the other 5 year olds. On the same day as everyone else.
Now he’ll have to start school a week late. They robbed us of that milestone.
It began, as so many of these things do, with a phone call. A call from the principal last week to let us know that the lift that was being installed to bring Liam’s wheelchair up and down the short stairway to the gymnasium and music room wasn’t going to be ready for the first day of school. Liam would still have access to those rooms but would have to leave the building and re-enter through another door to get there until the lift installation was completed. She explained that she understood how this was not ideal and that it was a priority to be fixed and that making Liam go outside was unacceptable. She also told Karin ‘come to my office next week on orientation day and I’ll show you his classroom and the lift and the doors he’ll have to use to go in and out.’. Remember that last bit. It’ll come into play later.
So yeah, it’s a huge pain and it isn’t fair to Liam to ask him to go outside to get to his classes when it rains, or it gets cold (it is New England) but let’s face it, we are going to have to work with these people for years and years, and throwing a fit about it doesn’t do us any favors yet. So we remained calm and decided that we would set our own personal deadline for them and that if we didn’t see any progress two weeks into the school year we would pursue the matter further. Besides, the fact that the principal called us to talk to us about it two weeks before school even started made us happy that at least they were communicating with us well.
Or I guess they were.
It wasn’t supposed to begin this way.
I didn’t want to begin my son’s first day of school as the angry, demanding parent of the kid who needs some special attention and accommodations. If you start at a ten there’s nowhere to go for when the big problems come up . To build a reputation as a reasonable and understanding parent who understands the challenges that educating a child like Liam can present. By starting the school year with this many big problems they are robbing me the opportunity to build that reputation.
We were supposed to be celebrating Liam’s first day of school.
It wasn’t supposed to begin this way.
Tomorrow is orientation day. I know this because I am looking at the letter that the school department sent to us in May. It was the last time we received anything from the school department that mentions the start of school. And I quote…
This year Kindergarten begins on Wednesday, September 10th; however, on Thursday, September 4th, we will have a “Welcome” meeting at 10:00am, where you and your child will be invited to meet the principal and teachers, visit the kindergarten classrooms, and discuss the expectations of kindergarten for your child. In addition, while there, we require that you schedule a 30 minute appointment so that the teachers can administer a short screening test. Appointments can be scheduled Thursday, September 4th in the afternoon, or anytime (9-3) on Friday, September 5th or Monday, September 8th. There is no school on Tuesday, September 9th.
Well that was the last communication we received about the start of school until the phone call today. It’s always the damn phone.
This time it was Liam’s teacher. Knowing that in our IEP we discussed a modified schedule (going in late) to start the year she had called to discuss what time Liam would be coming to school. During a frustrating conversation trying to decifer what the best time for the class would be (during a classroom or activity change so as not to disrupt things more than we already are) the teacher and Karin settled on 11:00am. Which was when the teacher then explained that she’d see him in class for his first day of school tomorrow.
No, no, no tomorrow is orientation day. Our “Welcome” meeting. The letter is on the fridge. The dates are circled on the calendar. The 10th is the first day of school. I used a vacation day from work for it. We called in favors to get nursing coverage because our nurse needed the 10th off for an important obligation. We were augmenting Liam’s sleep and seizure med schedule to prepare. We scheduled doctors appointments for this week. We were doing everything we could possibly do to make sure that Liam doesn’t miss the first day of school, including planning on bringing him in at the normal time on the 10th and seeing how he did with a full day on his first day. The 10th was the first day of school. Tomorrow is orientation day.
“Well not for the special education kids. The inclusive classroom first day of school is tomorrow.”
And that is how the school department decided to communicate to us that Liam’s class was different from all the other kids. Liam’s class didn’t get any communication. Liam’s class didn’t get to have a’ “Welcome” meeting with their teacher and principal to discuss the expectations of kindergarten for our child’. Liam’s class didn’t get to fully prepare themselves for the first day of school. Instead we got about 20 hours of notice.
Karin explained that we have friends whose children are in the same class and also expected to begin school on the 10th, including one particular child who would benefit greatly from seeing his classroom before the start of the school year. The teacher seemed put off not by the news of this huge
miscommunication complete and total lack of communication with families that need it most, but by the fact that she was now going to have to call all of the incoming kindergartener’s families to let them know about the change as well. Sure enough our friends got their own call letting them know that their child’s first day of school was not next week but was in fact tomorrow.
It wasn’t supposed to begin this way.
At Liam’s pre-kindergarten check-up yesterday his pediatrician reminded us of a conversation we had when Liam was only months old about realistic expectations of his life and whether or not he would survive his first year and how remarkable it was that he was about to start kindergarten. None of this changes that. Liam is remarkable. He is remarkable enough that his family deserves to get the communication to adequately provide for his education. I know this BECAUSE EVERY CHILD AND THEIR FAMILY DESERVES THAT!
I don’t want Liam to be treated special. I don’t want us to be treated special. I just wanted us to be treated the same as everyone else. To be told what is going on. To have the same chance to discuss expectations that every incoming kindergartener’s family who does not need the services of special education got to enjoy.
It wasn’t supposed to begin this way.
I’ve called the principal three times since then. Three times since Karin found out that not only are we now not ready for Liam to attend the first day of kindergarten, but that I won’t get to enjoy the celebration of the milestone with him unless we wait and make him miss the first week of school, and that the stress and phone calls of ensuring competent and qualified nursing care was all for nothing, and that we wouldn’t be afforded the chance to see Liam’s classroom before hand. or at least I tried to. the number seems to be for the whole school, which doesn’t really matter since no one ever answered it. I called her once immediately after I found out. The call went straight to voice mail. Realizing that it might still be the end of everyone’s lunch hour I waited an hour to call back.This time, I politely but sternly explained that I find this level of communication unacceptable, I reminded whoever answered that voicemail that less than a week ago the principal told my wife that they would see each other and have time to meet on orientation day giving us no indication that it was actually the first day of classes and that Liam was expected to attend, I explained that I expected a call back.
I didn’t get one.
I called the pre-k program Liam attended last year which is in the same school building as Liam’s kindergarten class and asked if they could help me get in touch with the principal and they gave me the same number that I was already calling.
I called again an hour and a half later, and left another message asking if we should even attend the orientation. I asked if we were going to be given a oppurtunity to see the classroom and the lift before sending Liam into school. I asked if perhaps the teacher had been mistaken because again, we had just spoken with the principal last week and she gave us no indication of this being the first day of school, and the letter we received from the city explicitly told us this was not the first day of school. I explained that it was very important that I get a return call answering those questions for me.
I’m still waiting by my phone.
So not only did this entire problem begin with a lack of communication but apparently my child’s school believes that the remedy to the problem they created is to provide even less communication.
It wasn’t supposed to begin this way.
Maybe I set my expectations too high. I’ve heard so many of my friends who have children with special needs complain about the battles they’ve had to have to advocate for the services and attention that their children need. Based on the amazing job done by the staff of Liam’s pre-K program (IN THE SAME BUILDING AS WHERE HE IS GOING THIS YEAR) I naively thought that wouldn’t be the case for us.
“Not in our school!” I used to say to anyone who would listen. “The school department has bent over backwards to try to get Liam the things he needs!” I used to say.
I guess I’m the fool.
And in one afternoon, I have lost all of my faith in the teacher responsible for my child’s education for the next three years, and the principal who supervises her, that they will communicate, needs, issues, safety concerns to us regarding Liam’s education. They have their work cut out for them trying to earn it back. Miscommunications happen. Maybe the city didn’t mail out the letters they meant to for the few families of incoming kindergarteners in the inclusive special education program. But then to add insult to injury you refuse to return three phone calls about it? Not about some event in a few days or weeks but refuse to return phone calls regarding something as momentous as a first day of school and happening as quickly as less than 16 hours away, and you don’t return the call?
A simple phone call back was all I was asking for. To know what was going on with my child’s education.
I realize that posting this here may put my relationship with Liam’s educators in jeopardy. I’m ok with that. I use this blog to highlight the wonderful parts of parenting Liam, and believe me it is mostly wonderful, but even if the principal calls back at 8am tomorrow and is all apologies, I will not feel guilty about being angry about today and I will not feel bad about sharing it. Because along with all the fun stories about the zoo and road trips to Jersey A great deal of our time is spent in frustrating beurocratic loops of phone calls and excuses with insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, medical equipment companies and state agencies. Now I’ll have to add schools to that list.
I’ll share it because while I was calling the principal three times today Karin was calling Liam’s durable medical equipment company for about the 6th time about the filters for Liam’s vent that they have on back order that should have been changed out of his vent three weeks ago, and the pulse oximeter probes that are supposed to be changed every week but we haven’t been shipped any new ones in four weeks. That was after she called the state about their problem with the handicapped placard form for Liam’s van and the medical insurance company that denies everything on the first submission (unless it’s something we need a denial letter for so another agency will pick it up THEN of course they drag their feet on denying things).
Frustrating situations like this are the pressure for which we need the support.
Besides, Liam’s first day of school wasn’t supposed to begin this way.
I’ll tell you one thing though, his first day of home schooling will begin exactly as it’s meant to.
And at this point, it may just be next month.