A Bad Dream

The other night, I had a dream that I had not retained until I saw a patch of ‘beach’ by the side of the Albert Dock in Liverpool where I was visiting with family.  I had not given the dream a second thought until I saw the dark brown, muddy stretch below me, and then the memory of the dream hit me like a punch in the gut.

In the dream I was driving my car, a Volkswagen Tiguan 4×4, along a country lane, parallel to an expanse of water.  On the other side of the water I remember seeing some people that I know.  One was my best friend; she was waiting for me to arrive.  The car was full, although I cannot remember who all of the passengers were.  As I passed round a corner at the foot of a hill, I spotted my friend and also saw there was patch of beach by the side of the road.  It was almost like a lay-by, and seemed like a pretty good place to stop and park up.  I drove the car onto the patch of what had looked like sand, but as soon as the four wheels of my car touched down the ground gave way beneath us and the car began to sink rapidly.  

I don’t remember exactly what happened over the next few minutes, but I do remember rushing into action to get the passengers out of the car before it was too late. One by one I pulled them from the car and got them to the side of the road.  I freed the last person, and lay back on the roadside, wet and exhausted, but filled with relief that I had managed to get us all out.  I watched the car disappear beneath the surface of the water, and then a wave of sickness came over me.  Freya was still strapped into her car seat…

And that is all I can remember.  That, and the total feeling of wretchedness as the realisation hit me that I had let my little girl slip away from me.  Even as I recount the dream here on these pages, I cannot stop the tears.  The knots in my stomach, and the heat of bile rising to my throat return to me, almost as real as the dream itself.  What does it mean?

Having shown a particular interest in dreams over the years, I reckon I could hazard a pretty good guess at the meaning of this one.  Or meanings; I think there are a few things going on, that I can interpret even just from this snippet that remains with me.

I am scared of losing Freya.  That’s an obvious one if you’ve followed Freya’s Story.  Not just the kind of fear we all have for our children and our futures though.  A nail-biting, sleep-stealing, catastrophic-thinking kind of fear.  It’s a kind of fear that I reserve just for Freya, because I know that she stared down Death and beat him, a defeat that has left me looking over my shoulder ever since.  Have you ever seen the movie, Final Destination (and 2, and 3, and…..)?  The idea that you can’t cheat Death is one that occupies my thoughts a lot.  Booking our first holiday abroad with Freya should have filled me with excitement, but I have developed anxiety about the flight.  11 hours.  Plenty of time for something to go terribly wrong.  My husband says that the length of the flight is irrelevant, that most problems occur on take-off or landing, but whilst that might be true of an incident, that logic doesn’t hold up for all scenarios. Like a child becoming sick on the plane, for example.  I just have to keep trying to focus on the holiday, and the wonderful time that we will have before I return to work after a 2-year career break.  And that brings me to my next theory.

I am losing Freya.  Not completely, I know.  But when I return to work I will be losing one of my favourite pastimes – spending time with my lovely little girl.  She’s the best company! She makes me smile and laugh, and she makes my heart feel full to bursting.  I can almost hear the sanctimommies telling me that I should be grateful that I have my daughter, that I shouldn’t be so insensitive to others who are less fortunate.  But you know what? I am grateful.  I am and will be grateful for Freya, for all three of my children, every day of my life.  I don’t take anything for granted anymore, nothing.  That doesn’t mean I am some kind of perfect parent.  Trust me, I still lose my shit from time to time.  Making sure I appreciate what I have doesn’t mean that I have to live a flawless life, it means I have to live a normal one.  That said,  I cannot help but feel the impending sadness and the sense that I am losing something very precious.  Indeed, I am losing the most precious thing of all; time.

Maybe that is why I had the dream now?  Because time, in terms of my time with Freya, it is running out. Again, not completely, and yes I know that I will still have the time when I am not working.  But we all know that when you work around children, you are most likely grabbing stolen moments between them sleeping and eating, and the quality time has to wait for the weekends.  Although I am sure that returning to work will bring some benefits to family life (not least the money!), it’s still hard for me to imagine dropping Freya off anywhere and just walking away.  We’ve not really done that at all in the last 2 years.  Time to get some practice in I think, or the pair of us are going to be a nightmare!  I know I’ll find a way to make it work, just like I did working full time around the other two children.  In the meantime I will keep my fingers crossed that I am able to get a balance, and perhaps not be required to work a full 5 days every week.  Until April though, I just need to make sure that I don’t let any of the time go to waste.  I don’t want to be sat at work thinking about all the things I should have done.  Time to start working down that list.

According to dreambible.com, dreams involving a car sinking in water “represents feelings of uncertainty as you attempt to take control of a situation.  Decision making abilities that are being overpowered by negative emotions or problems that are too big to control.” Being actively involved in raising awareness of Kawasaki Disease is something that gives me a lot of hope, pride, and purpose.  It has added meaning to Freya’s diagnosis, knowing that she didn’t go through what she did in vain.  But it comes with a price, albeit a tab that I am more than willing to pick up.  It comes with a great deal of sadness, frustration, fear and despondency.  I expose myself to information and personal stories, sometimes good, often not so good.  Whilst many of those stories spur me on to continue doing whatever I can to ensure that none of our children suffered at the hands of KD for nothing, they do affect me deeply.  Some recent stories, as well as things that are on the horizon for Freya, have made me thoughtful about the future.  I am apprehensive about many things, in fact I shared a blog post about those worries just recently.  I worry a lot about time.  About how much of it we have, about how much of it Freya has.  Thankfully, I have this voice in my head that tells me to stop being so damned melancholy, and reminds me that I cannot live the rest of my life waiting for something bad to happen.  That would be the most tragic waste of whatever time we have, for anyone, not just us.

I have often dreamed of water during periods of great emotional stress in my life.  When I suffered with post-natal depression after the birth of my first child, over 12 years ago, I had many vivid dreams.  I remembered them all, or else I woke in a panic and wrote them down in a book I kept by the side of my bed. Those dreams involved me drowning, or my daughter drowning, sometimes able to prevent a tragedy, but often not.  At times when I was under considerable pressure at work, I would often dream about natural disasters involving water; huge Tsunami’s that swept away everything and everyone that was special to me.  Generally speaking those dreams have occurred when I have felt overwhelmed, either by physical pressure or emotional stresses.  Or at times when I have felt like I am unable to keep my head above water but nobody is there to help keep me afloat.  I think that is the case here – I have so many things that I would like to achieve, but very little time left in which to achieve it.  On top of that I have no idea what position I will be taking when I return to work, or what hours or days I will be working, so maybe as April draws nearer there is some anxious anticipation building.

Edreaminterpretation.org tells me that dreaming of an object sinking “may suggest that we are about to lose something we value”, and boy are they right on the money with that one.

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An Uncertain Future

I guess we all have one of those don’t we – not many of us know what lies ahead of us.  Some know what might be in their path, but nobody knows exactly how or when those things will happen. That’s why it is important to live life, not take things for granted, and do your very best to be the best you can be. And all the other clichés about living life to the full that might seem flippant, but are actually really true.

But how many people lose sleep worrying about what might lie ahead in our futures? People with anxiety, sure.  Anxiety makes you worry about almost everything.  I imagine the majority of people think about their future, but worrying about what might happen next year, in five years, in twenty years… I don’t think that is common.  Amongst the rare disease community uncertain futures are a given.  Many people living with rare diseases don’t have a diagnosis for their ailments and spend years searching for answers and fighting for treatment.  Some have a diagnosis, even treatment, but have no idea how their lives might take shape with the disease they are living with.  Kawasaki Disease is one of those.

Take Freya.  I think most people think that she is okay now.  She had this disease that made her really sick, but she got treatment and now she is at home living a ‘normal’ life and looks perfectly healthy, like any other kid her age.  And in the most part that would be true, except for the ‘normal’ part.  You see, if you weren’t already aware from my previous blog posts, Freya was one of the 6% of children with Kawasaki Disease who sustained damage to her heart despite treatment.  The disease causes inflammation of the small to medium arteries throughout the child’s body, and if treated quickly enough heart damage can be prevented.  In those cases where treatment is delayed, due to misdiagnosis (or a lack of diagnosis altogether) Kawasaki Disease is allowed to continue on its destructive path and cause damage that may never be reversed.  Once an aneurysm forms, the child’s heart will never be ‘normal’ again, even if the coronary arteries remodel and aneurysms regress to within otherwise normal parameters.  This leads to complications throughout the child’s life and into adulthood, which is why long-term care and life-long follow up are so vitally important.

The good news in Freya’s case is that her arteries have remodelled quite dramatically from when she was at her most sick.  There are no obvious aneurysms any more, and the arteries that had expanded to over 5 times the normal size for a baby of her age, have now regressed to what would be considered normal in a child that hadn’t been touched by heart disease.  The bad news is that the extent of the remodelling has her Cardiologist feeling a bit anxious.  They are concerned with what might be causing the narrowing of her arteries, and whether that narrowing might continue to progress until Freya’s arteries are too narrow to allow the flow of blood.  When blood can’t get around your heart, that’s when a heart attack occurs.  Sure, Freya takes aspirin every day to try and help keep the blood flowing, but nothing can get through an occluded artery.

That said, do I think that she is at immediate or short-term risk of a heart attack? Hesitantly I say ‘No’.  I say it hesitantly because whilst I have this pretty good feeling that Freya might just be some kind of miracle success story, my experience with this disease is not to let your guard down.  Complacency has no place where this disease is concerned.  Let’s say that I hope that she is not at immediate risk.  We will find out more in the Autumn when Freya will undergo the cardiac catheter angiogram that she was meant to be having last year.  It has been delayed to allow her more time to grow, so that she might be stronger to outweigh some of the risks associated with the procedure.  The rapid remodelling of her arteries has led me in the meantime to insist that Freya receives regular follow up between now and then so that we don’t miss something while we wait.  An echocardiogram won’t show what is happening with the arterial walls, but you can see the diameter of the arteries (up to a point – an echo can only see about 3mm into the artery) so you can get a view of whether they are continuing to narrow.

So what are my fears for Freya’s future?  

Of course I am anxious about the angiogram, but I’ll worry about that more when the time comes around.  I am confident in the ability of the intervention cardiologist, and am happy that it is a relatively low risk procedure.  I’m not too excited about her going under a general anaesthetic – I’ve seen that once before and it felt like I was watching my baby die.  I would prefer never to see that again, but that’s the reality and I will always be there by her side when she goes to sleep, no matter how hard I find it.

I am anxious about what is going on in that heart.  I’d love to have a window to look through so we could check in on it every now and again.  We assume from outward appearances and general health that nothing too sinister is going on, but the fact is we just don’t know.  I’ve read many stories from other KD parents who have experienced dramatic turns of events with their children, resulting in the need for heart surgery.  Sadly, some children have lost their lives to this disease – mostly those that were not diagnosed in time, or at all, but often because the changes in their hearts happened quickly and in spite of regular follow up and treatment.  Nothing is promised.  Do I spend every day worrying that Freya will have a heart attack? No.  Does my heart leap into my throat when I wake in the night and can’t hear her breathing on the baby monitor? Every time.

I am worried about what the angiogram might find, and whether there is any likelihood of Freya needing surgery in the future – around 80% of children who suffer giant coronary aneurysms will require intervention later in life, whether it be a stent or bypass surgery, for example.

I am worried about whether Freya’s diet is sufficiently ‘heart-healthy’ to protect her heart from disease.

I think about when Freya might decide to have children of her own.  Seems like a long way off to be worrying about it, but the truth is that she will most likely need to have a cardiologist involved in her ante-natal care.  There have been cases of heart attacks during labour where the mother had KD in childhood – there’s a whole medical paper dedicated to this subject (yes, I have a copy!).  I even worry about whether I will still be here when she enters that stage in her life and whether she will remember that she needs to consider her medical history.

And this one you might think of as really strange, but I worry about them telling me everything is ok, and that she can stop the medication and live a normal life, with KD firmly in her past.  You would think that should be something I would hope for, and be pleased about.  But, first of all, I will never forget the words of Professor Jane Burns, World Leading Kawasaki Disease specialist, that once a child’s heart has been damaged by KD it is never considered healed, or normal again.  So if  a doctor tells me everything is normal, and tries to send us on our way, then I will be putting up a pretty big fight!  Freya, and all the other children like her, need to be monitored for the rest of their lives.  Rady Children’s Hospital recommend obtaining a CT calcium score 10 years post-diagnosis to help identify and prevent further complications, for example.  It may just be a check-up once a year to make sure there have been no changes over time, but it is the peace of mind that we all need to ensure that there are no hidden issues lurking that might cause a serious problem later on.  Complacency is a killer.

“Oh Jo, you’re so dramatic!” I hear you say.  But you need to understand that I read stories, comments and messages every single day from someone who has been touched by Kawasaki Disease and suffered terrible consequences and devastating loss.  Every time I feel like I will never make a difference where KD is concerned, I remind myself of those stories, or I stumble across a new member of the Kawasaki community and the fire in my belly is reignited.  It is one such story that got me thinking again about the future, and reminded me that although I can hope for positive change in Freya’s condition, I must never allow my own complacency, or that of the medical profession, to create a false sense of security.  The story is that of Lisa Connelly. Her sister Amy has given me permission to share it in the hope that it might help to raise awareness of this disease and the devastating consequences when we get it wrong.

Lisa Connelly was diagnosed with Kawasaki Disease at the age of three.  By age five she had been given the all clear, following an angiogram that showed no persistent damage to her coronary arteries.  I can only imagine the elation of the family as they put KD firmly in the past, and watched Lisa to grow and live a normal, heathy life.  She was very active growing up, and was an avid runner.  She had a beautiful son, Levi, and was very much loved by her family and friends.  Described as “the kind of person you want to be like”, she had a heart of gold and was the first to come to your aid if you were in need.

Out of the blue, on the 25th November 2015, 37-year old Lisa had symptoms of a heart attack. The hospital performed an echocardiogram and Lisa underwent a stress test, both of which cleared her of any issues. Four days later, on November 29th 2015, Lisa passed away as a result of a massive heart attack.

The pathology report on Lisa’s heart showed that her coronary arteries had muscle cell tissue build up on the arterial walls, which caused restriction of blood flow to her heart, thus causing a heart attack.  The family had no idea that Lisa would ever have to deal with Kawasaki disease again, and even after the heart attack they did not consider it might be linked to an illness that she had when she was a child.

Since Lisa’s passing, her sister Amy has done everything she can to raise funds and awareness to prevent another tragedy like this.  Professor Jane Burns has said that conducting a CT calcium test earlier in Lisa’s life may have prevented further complications from occurring.  It was from a Facebook post sharing a medical paper which discusses the importance of a CT Calcium Score that I found Amy, and I am honoured that she has allowed me to share her family’s story in my blog.

Amy said:

“My sister was truly a beautiful light in this world. My sister had a great smile and loved to see others smile. She helped so many people while she was living and we know she continues to help even today.  Our hope is that somehow she helps in the research efforts of KD. So, my prayer is that your blog post reaches someone that takes the information and gets the proper treatment they need to live a long, healthy and hopefully happy life. We’re making beauty from ashes…My mom and dad’s grief has been almost unbearable this past year. And the hardest part for my mom is that the cause of the heart attack was from KD.” 

As well as raising awareness of the devastating consequences of this disease, Lisa’s family have made sure that her legacy lives on, and donated some of her heart tissue samples to Dr. Jane Burns and Dr. Anne Rowley, leading KD experts in the US. Lisa’s organs have also helped to save the lives of four people, and the family are in touch with the gentleman who received her liver.

I know how important it has been to me to make sure that Freya didn’t suffer this awful disease in vain.  We still have our daughter here with us, and thanks to the awareness that Amy is continuing to raise about the potential long-term and hidden consequences of Kawasaki Disease, we can hope that Freya will long outlive us.  I don’t know if I would have had the strength to fight had the unimaginable happened in the Summer of 2015.  As we were starting to get our lives back on track that year, a family was being torn apart by the loss of a truly beautiful person.  I join Amy in their hope that this story might reinforce the need to ensure that Kawasaki Disease survivors are given appropriate attention from the medical profession throughout their lives, and shines a bright light on the insidious nature of Kawasaki Disease.

Writing this, I felt my heart break all over again.  This is Lisa.

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On why I might once have been angry…

I had a conversation recently with a Paediatrician at our local hospital, who whilst discussing a current medical issue brought up that he was concerned that he had heard that I was angry at the hospital for failing to diagnose my daughter when she became sick in the early Summer of 2015.  He mentioned that I had taken my folder with me to our last visit, and that the staff had commented that I was very angry at the time.  I am not sure when he was referring to, as our recent visit when I took the file was actually a positive experience, and I was impressed by the communication between the three hospitals involved in Freya’s care.  Yes, I took my folder with me, but I take it with me everywhere.  That folder contains the letters from every clinic appointment Freya has had in the last 18 months – Rheumatology, Cardiology, Immunology.  I take it everywhere with me in case a medical professional needed to see the history, and actually it was useful because the hospital hadn’t been copied in on the letters and took copies from me while we were there.

The fact that the doctor brought it up has been niggling me for a little while, so I thought I would try and capture why in this blog post and try to explain why a parent might act in a certain way when their child has been critically ill.

When Freya became sick in May 2015, she was immediately admitted to hospital and her condition very quickly deteriorated.  Within hours of being admitted, she went into septic shock. When the first doctor who saw her decline started to take action, I felt like she was in good hands.  They moved swiftly but calmly as they got her into the High Dependency Unit to administer fluid resuscitation.  I remember the Consultant giving out instructions to the doctor and the nurses in the room, and they responded quickly, without any alarm.  I could feel the tension in the room, and I watched through the bars at the end of the cot in quiet disbelief at what was happening in front of my eyes.  But I watched in awe, not really knowing what they were doing, but feeling that it was right, whatever it was.

For 6 days, Freya was treated with a number of antibiotics.  The main suspect was meningitis, but she was too sick and weak to have a lumbar puncture to diagnose it.  During that first week, Freya displayed a fever that would not abate with the usual paracetamol and ibuprofen combination.  She had sore, red, cracked lips – with hindsight that was a symptom of Kawasaki Disease, but it was attributed to dehydration at that time.  She developed a rash all over her body, but in the first week that would disappear almost as quickly as it came.  Her hands and feet looked puffy and swollen, another symptom of Kawasaki Disease, but with KD being so far from everyone’s minds with her being such a tiny baby, it was put down to swelling at the cannula sites.  Numerous blood tests were taken in an attempt to identify whatever it was that was making Freya so sick, but nothing except the common cold virus (Rhinovirus) would show up in that first week.  That wasn’t enough to make my little girl so very poorly.  A lumbar puncture on day 6 would be inconclusive – elevated white blood cells, but no definitive sign of meningitis.  Perhaps the cocktail of different antibiotics delivered intravenously in that week had dealt with it? So why wasn’t she getting any better?

Apart from one locum doctor who visited Freya in the HDU and suggested we stop all the medication rather than find a new cannula site (I know, right?!), every nurse and doctor that took care of Freya in our local hospital was fantastic.  Not only did they take care of Freya, but they took time to take care of me too.  They treated Freya as if she were one of their own children, and they showed an interest in me, listened to me and showed me nothing but respect.  Some of the faces I can’t even remember, but there are a few that stand out and are etched in my memory, even if I can’t remember all their names.  There were moments too, that I’ll not forget. The time that one of the senior nurses removed all of the equipment from the room so that we could allow my other children to visit without frightening them, that was a highlight.

I hope that the nursing staff know how much I appreciated how they took care of Freya.  If I had any complaints at all they were tiny – it bothered me that the syringe packaging was sometimes left at the end of Freya’s cot.  It didn’t cause anyone any harm, just paper and plastic, but it made me feel bad because her cot wasn’t a dustbin.  The time the heart monitor failed in the night and they replaced it, but left the broken one at the foot of the cot; it was my baby’s bed, and although she took up very little room in it, I didn’t want those things left discarded like it didn’t matter.  And that’s it really, my only criticism.  And I know it might sound petty to share, but I hope that any nurses reading might think about how such a small oversight even when they’re obviously run off their feet, could make a new mother feel when she has too much time to think.

Even though the first hospital failed to reach a confirmed diagnosis, I do not feel anger towards them.  It is easy for me to sit here now and say that Freya’s symptoms were clearly indicative of Kawasaki Disease, but hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing, and I don’t know that they could have done anything differently.  In fact the Paediatrician said that he could understand my anger had Freya been diagnosed within hours of her transfer to the children’s hospital, but it took them a further week to diagnose her, so it was clearly not an easy undertaking.  I said that they had looked for KD on the first day in the new hospital and he said that was right, because it was he who had suggested that was what they should look for.  And now it makes sense why when they told us they were moving Freya, that they mentioned a heart scan.  I thought it was just a routine thing, but clearly they had a suspicion that needed to be confirmed outside of their own local facilities.  And that’s probably my one and only criticism of the doctors of our local hospital –  I wish they had told me what they were considering.  The problem is I never really asked them what they were looking for.  I was naive.  I thought they could just take her blood, plug the results in and hey presto! technology would have the answer.  So I let them do their work, and didn’t ask a thing.  The only question I wanted answering was one that I didn’t have the courage to ask.  I gave that task to my husband; is she going to die?

Had the doctors mentioned Kawasaki Disease, would it have changed anything? Well, you know that is a question that has haunted me since Freya’s diagnosis.  My instincts tell me that I would have read about the disease and asked more questions.  I would have asked the most important question of all, “Why isn’t it Kawasaki Disease?” And when they told me she didn’t have some of the symptoms I would have cried, “Yes! Yes she does, see?!”  They would have reached a diagnosis and given Freya the treatment on day 8, not day 13 when the damage had already been done.  We would have left the hospital, emotionally bruised, but with a child that had been very ill but was now well.  And we would have gone back to our normal lives…

The reality isn’t quite so straightforward.  Would I really have come to the conclusion that the doctors couldn’t, simply by reading what I could find on Google? I have heard of cases that have been diagnosed entirely because of the parent’s knowledge.  Would I have done that? Or would I have read about this obscure disease with it’s stupid motorbike name, laughed and moved on?  I guess even if I had helped them to reach a conclusion, even if they had managed to give her the treatment within that magic 10-day window, Freya was in the category with the highest risk of heart damage – a neonate, female, displaying severe symptoms which we now believe was KDSS.  When she finally got the treatment, she was resistant to both doses, and needed much more aggressive treatment to finally halt the path of the disease.  Maybe she was biologically destined to be one of the unlucky ones?

That said, I wish the doctors had told me about Kawasaki Disease.  It might not have come as so much of a shock when it was finally diagnosed, I might have been better prepared.  The Children’s Hospital decided not to mention it too – had they told me that was what they were looking for when they did the first echocardiogram on day 9 which showed them a reasonably healthy heart (a small murmur) and led them to rule it out as a prime suspect, perhaps I would have reminded them of the symptoms they hadn’t seen for themselves the previous week when we were at the local hospital?  And perhaps I would have had more respect for the doctors in the first week had I known that they suspected it first, but weren’t in a position to confirm it.  That’s why they moved Freya.  They wanted the Children’s Hospital to confirm or deny their hunch.  The Children’s Hospital did an echo and the results lead them to turn their investigations elsewhere.

I felt angry about that for a long time, in fact I’m not sure if a part of me is still angry.  I was initially angry at the local hospital for not getting it in that first week. Let’s face it, when we finally got the diagnosis and learned that Freya’s heart had sustained permanent damage, we were angry at the whole bloody world.  Now I know that the local hospital had KD on their radar, I feel less angry.  I only wished they’d told me.  So how do I feel about the Children’s Hospital?

Much like my experience locally, I met some really fantastic nurses during our stay.  In fact in all three hospitals (Freya would be moved to a Cardiac Unit in another hospital upon diagnosis) we met some of kindest, most caring people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.  I guess that’s why they do the job that they do.  It was a much busier hospital, so there was less time for chit-chat and the nurses seemed run off their feet moving from patient to patient to carry out observations and deliver medication. We were in a private room with Freya so were quite out of the way, which was isolating at times.  There were a couple of issues with medication – an oversight that meant she nearly didn’t get the second half of the drug that was meant to be saving her life and was only pointed out by me when I awoke to see there was no IV going in; that was a big one.  A lot of the time I felt like we were more of a number than we had felt at the previous hospital, but I’ll play Devil’s advocate that they were just so busy.  The majority of the nursing staff were wonderful, especially with Freya, which is what matters.  The nurses that came to talk to me in the night when I lay there crying on the foldaway bed, those that rocked Freya to sleep when I didn’t have the energy or the heart, they’re the ones that have stayed with me since our ordeal.  The actions of the nurse who accompanied us on a transfer to the cardiac unit when the ambulance didn’t arrive to return us until well after her shift will never be forgotten.  She saw it as her absolute duty to care for Freya and made arrangements to ensure that Freya’s medication and observations were carried out in that delay.  She had finished her shift hours before and had her own child to get back to, but all she could think about was keeping Freya safe – it distressed and frustrated her that she was unable to care for her patient, and she did something about it.

The Doctor’s at the Children’s Hospital were always around, either popping in to check on Freya, discuss possibilities.  They always seemed to be busy looking at the files, searching for answers and I don’t doubt that they lost many winks of sleep trying to work out why this beautiful little girl wasn’t getting any better.  I didn’t know until way after her diagnosis that KD had been considered and ruled out.  I wish they had told me at the start.  But again, maybe it wouldn’t have changed anything.  I would like to ask them now why they didn’t think it could be KD, and not just because the first echo was clear – you can’t diagnose KD from an echo.  They believed that Freya’s only symptoms were the fever and a rash.  I believe that her cracked, red lips and the swollen hands and feet were also symptoms – enough symptoms to confirm a diagnosis.  Had they understood more about the disease, might they have also known that whilst KD is very uncommon in young babies, young babies are more likely to suffer from Kawasaki Disease Shock Syndrome? Had they considered that, might they have realised that whilst thrombocytopenia (low platelet count) is not a common symptom in KD (in fact is is usually very high), it is a characteristic of KDSS?  Might they have looked back over the previous week and seen that everything about her was synonymous with a KDSS diagnosis?

Perhaps my expectations of them are too high – they cannot possibly know every single childhood ailment in detail.  There are over 7000 rare diseases in this world and KD is just one of them.  Some doctors won’t ever have seen a case in their career.  They spend most of their career dealing with ‘horses’ and are not on the look out for the odd zebra that might turn up.  Is it only hindsight that allows me to see now what they couldn’t then?  I do know that they have learned from Freya, that she has taught them a lot about the disease.  I do know that they are less likely to make the same ‘mistakes’ again.  Again, I just wish they had told me what they were looking for, and why it couldn’t be Kawasaki Disease.  Because when they ruled it out, for whatever reason, no matter how unusual Freya was, they got it wrong.  They got it wrong, and I will never know if that decision was responsible for the damage that KD did to her little heart.  I cannot change the past, though, and so I have to be thankful for the doctor who came to see her when the rash appeared on day 12 and suggested she be sent for another echo.  That echo showed the damage that confirmed it had to be Kawasaki Disease.  That doctor may just be responsible for saving Freya’s life.

So let me get back to the point of me writing this blog.  I guess I wanted people to understand that I may well have been angry at times, but that my anger does not mean that I do not appreciate everything that all those medical professionals did and have continued to do in taking care of my daughter.  At the time I wanted someone to blame for breaking Freya’s heart. And mine.  I was angry at life.  I was angry at a God that I’m not even sure I believe in.  I know now that no amount of anger or blame was going to change anything, but it is one of the stages of grief.  I could not believe that I had taken my perfectly healthy child to hospital with what looked like a virus, and took her home with a heart condition.  That had to be someone’s fault, didn’t it?  Who knows.  Nothing is going to change.

Do I think that a diagnosis might have been reached sooner? Yes, I do.  Do I wish that they had asked me what I thought, told me about Kawasaki Disease and asked me if I could think of anything that they might have missed? Absolutely.  Do I consider myself lucky that Freya fell ill on a Sunday at 7 weeks old and was therefore too much of a risk to leave to chance? That I didn’t have to face countless appointments with GP’s who might have sent us home with the usual ‘virus’ diagnosis? Yes, yes, and yes – when Freya went into shock, she was absolutely in the right place; what if that had happened at home?  Do I thank my lucky stars that regardless of all that anger and confusion, regardless of whether it was ‘too late’ or not, that the right doctor walked in at the right moment on the right day and helped them to reach the right decision? Yes, a million times yes.

I have found peace with that part of our journey now.  I am just grateful that Freya was strong enough to fight, and that she is here, bold and bright and beautiful.  I used to refer to her as ‘damaged’, ‘broken’.  I don’t see her that way anymore.  The hidden faults within her heart are no longer what defines her for me.  And whilst I can’t change the path that we have been down, I can make a difference to the future of Kawasaki Disease by sharing our experience and never giving up when it comes to raising awareness.

I hope you will continue to support us.

www.bluemama.co.uk          www.facebook.com/freyasstory              Or Tweet @freya_story 

Then and now…

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Freya and The Fairy

One Spring morning,
When Freya was two,
She wandered the garden
For something to do.

While she was looking
At flowers and bees,
She saw something unusual
Amongst the trees.
She decided to look
A bit closer to see
What could be down there?
My! What could it be?!

Young Freya looked down
At the tree stump below
And guess what she spied?
A door, ever so low,
With a tiny gold handle
And a snowbell to ring
She couldn’t help wonder
Who on Earth lived within!

She wanted to knock,
But her hands were too big
So she looked all around her
And picked up a twig.
Gently she used it
To tap on the door,
So surprised when it opened
She fell to the floor!

And what do you think
Stood in front of her eyes?
A tiny young fairy,
Oh! What a surprise!
The fairy looked frightened
To see the huge child,
But she began to feel calmer
Went the girl-giant smiled.

“Hello! I am Freya,
And I live in this house.
I am sorry I scared you,
I was quiet as a mouse.
I discovered your door,
And was excited to see
If there was someone inside
Who’d be friends with me.”

The fairy flew up
Into Freya’s kind hands
And said, “I’d be so happy
If we could be friends.
But the Queen might chastise me
For talking to strangers;
She’ll be worried my new friend
Might put me in danger.”

“Oh no!” exclaimed Freya,
“I would never hurt you.
You can be my little secret,
And I’ll be yours too.”

And so from that day
In the garden they met,
Every bright morning
(Unless it was wet).
Under cover of trees,
They’d sit in the flowers,
Where if mum didn’t call
They’d have chatted for hours.

As the days passed,
The two became close,
As they sat on soft pillows
Made of daisy and rose.
They developed a friendship
That they never betrayed –
Friends they were then,
And friends they remained.

Joanne McBride / 28th November 2016

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Why I Keep Banging the Drum

There’s so much I want to say, I don’t even know where to start.  I guess I am writing this post today to try to help people to understand why I have been banging a metaphorical drum for Kawasaki Disease for more than a year now, and why I am unlikely to stop banging any time soon.  Perhaps if I could make you all understand why, you might forgive me when my blogs and posts pop up in your social media feeds, and maybe you might even help support me along the way.

Kawasaki Disease is a rare, childhood illness with no known cause and no diagnostic test.  Without a known cause, it is impossible to prevent children from being struck by the disease or come up with a test that will confirm a diagnosis within the ‘magic’ timescale for effective treatment.  The disease causes inflammation of all the blood vessels (veins, arteries and capillaries that carry blood through the body’s tissue and organs).  It is believed that there is a population that have a genetic susceptibility to the disease, and within that susceptible population there is another subset where heart damage is more likely to occur. In 25% of cases, the disease reaches a child’s heart and causes irreversible damage.  With treatment, currently high dose aspirin and a product called immunoglobulin, the inflammation can be stopped in its tracks, reducing the impact on the child’s heart, but that is considered most effective if the treatment is administered within 10 days.  And therein lies one of the biggest problems for our children – with many medical professionals having never heard of Kawasaki Disease, it is often diagnosed too late.  Sometimes not at all.  And even when it is, in some countries immunoglobulin is either not available, or just too darned expensive, so many kids go untreated.   

The symptoms of the disease present themselves like many other childhood illnesses, which poses another problem and leads to misdiagnosis in many cases.  Add that to the fact that not all of the symptoms appear at once, and sometimes not at all, and you can see why this is one that doctors are often getting wrong.  Freya was in hospital for 13 days before she received a diagnosis.  She was treated for sepsis and suspected meningitis, underwent countless blood tests and other invasive diagnostic tests, while the doctors scratched their heads and waited for the test results to confirm something.  While they watched and waited, the disease was taking its hold on Freya’s tiny body (she was 7 weeks old), and by the time we reached day 13 it had already taken hold of her heart.

When the coronary arteries become involved, the inflammation can cause areas of the artery to balloon out – that is called an aneurysm.  There are different kinds, but I don’t want to bore you too much with the science.  Coronary aneurysms do not generally occur  (if at all) in children.  They are usually the result of heart disease caused by a build up of fat, cholesterol and other things not usually associated with young children.  In the best case scenario, the aneurysms will reduce over time, and the arteries may even appear normal.  It is worth noting, however, that these arteries will never in fact be normal, and the child will be subject to long-term monitoring and/or medication in order to prevent further complications.  The most dangerous risk associated with coronary aneurysms is rupture, where the wall of the artery cannot take any more stress and bursts –  game over.  Other risks include blood clots, which can lead to heart attack, and narrowing of the arteries as a result of built up layers of blood or scar tissue.  In both cases, narrowing restricts the flow of blood to the heart, which can also cause a heart attack.  Girls who have sustained coronary aneurysms as a result of KD  will have to be monitored by a Cardiologist through pregnancy and childbirth – just one example of how this disease affects the future of a child who has suffered.  Approximately 75% of cases where the heart has become involved will go on to require intervention in later life – a stent, bypass, or a transplant for example.  Kawasaki Disease is indeed the gift that keeps on giving.

Why do I need to tell you that?  To be honest, I don’t think any amount of words could help me to get across the impact Kawasaki Disease has had on my life. I need you to know that this disease exists.  I need you to know the symptoms so you might recognise them in your own child if they become ill (http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Kawasaki-disease/Pages/Introduction.aspx).  I need you to appreciate that until the cause is found we cannot protect the world’s children from the disease.  I need you to know that this disease is crafty and insidious – in the same way that it creeps into the child’s life, it remains there, barely seen and in many cases sticks around for life.  These children, children like Freya, do not outwardly wear the scars of Kawasaki Disease.  On the outside they look like any other kid.  They laugh, run, play, act up, and mostly they look the picture of health.  I am glad of that, but if I am honest I also find it frustrating, because if Freya looked a bit more like a victim, was weak and fragile and vulnerable, we might get more support in our fight against Kawasaki Disease.  

There are research teams dedicated to finding the cause of the disease, and changing the future of KD forever.  But research costs money.  Doesn’t everything?! But before you switch off because you think I am about to make a plea for your hard-earned cash, let me tell you that this post isn’t about asking you for money.  There are organisations in the world that have the means to change the future of all disease, KD included.  I know that unless you have been personally touched by critical illness, you are unlikely to feel the intense pressure I feel to be part of that change in the world.  I know that there are over 6000 rare diseases in the world, and that Kawasaki Disease is just one of those; why should that be more important than the others? It isn’t more important generally, I get that, but it is more important to me and the millions of parents who have watched this disease change their child forever.  I have contact with parents and grandparents whose own lives were changed forever by Kawasaki Disease when it took the lives of their children.

I am sat here crying with sheer frustration that I cannot change this.  I’m not talking about reversing the clocks for Freya; I can’t change the past.  I’m talking about making enough of a difference to the landscape for KD that it cannot be allowed to take the life of another child because it went unchecked and unnoticed.  When I think about how many more children will suffer as Freya did I feel suffocated, the bile rises up from my stomach like gnarled hands that clench my throat from the inside.

And that is why I share Freya’s Story.  I first started the blog as a hand-written journal whilst we were in the hospital last Summer.  It kept me sane, helped me to remember the details that would help me secure the best possible care for Freya.  It was at times my way of looking forward to an uncertain future, to a time when Freya would read all about adventures she would most likely forget.  At times, I thought she would never get to read it, that she wouldn’t make it.  Her story means that more people know about the disease than they did before.  It has offered hope to parents, and provided information to help others be an advocate for their child.  It has provided parents with an outlet; someone who understands how this feels.  At best, it inspired a gentleman to donate £75,000 to the research program, and Freya’s own birthday party raised £8000 thanks to the huge community spirit that enveloped us at that time.

All of these are reasons why I keep banging the drum, and will continue to do so.  I am sorry if you get frustrated with me clogging up your newsfeed.  I hope you don’t.  I hope you can see that the reason I feel so compelled to put so much effort into raising awareness and supporting the fundraising campaigns, is because if I can’t turn this into something positive, if I can’t make a difference, then this happened to us for nothing.  Nothing.  That just isn’t an option for me.

I have already seen how much of a difference we can make just by sharing our story and raising awareness – the £83,000 raised in Freya’s name is worth double that due to the Macklin Foundation Challenge Grant.  That grant will see a cash injection of $5 million into the research effort, provided we raise half that amount.  That could be enough to solve the mystery of Kawasaki Disease.  Dr Tomisaku Kawasaki is the Japanese paediatrician who first discovered Kawasaki Disease in the late 1960’s.  He is now 90 years old, but is dedicated to the belief that the mystery might be unravelled in his lifetime.  I sure would like to see it solved in mine.  He has written to the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (https://chanzuckerberg.com) asking for consideration as part of their $3 billion pledge to rid the world of all disease.  

So here comes the ask….

There is a petition to accompany Dr Kawasaki’s letter, and we’ve got until the 15th November 2016 to get as many signatures on that petition as possible to add some weight to the request.  I would really like all of my friends to sign the petition and share with their friends.  If you don’t want to sign it yourself, please just share the link so that others can be given the choice to do so, it would mean so much.  It takes just a few minutes to sign – open the link, fill in a few details, and hey presto! it’s done.  You won’t get a load of emails in your inbox either – just the one confirming receipt of your signature.  I have 500 friends on Facebook.  If I could get each and every one of them to sign, and they did the same, that could amount to 250,000 signatures on that petition.  For me, it feels like so much could be achieved from so little – you can read the case being put forward, and sign the petition here:

https://www.gopetition.com/petitions/kdresearch.html

You may remember me making a similar request to sign a petition last year.  That petition was started by the UK Kawasaki Disease Support Group as a means to raise awareness of the disease. Your support in that meant so much.  I cannot tell you how much faith I have in this petition from Dr Kawasaki – it literally has the potential to make a real difference in the world, and I for one am proud to say that I might be a tiny part of that.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  (Margaret Mead)

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P.S. I mentioned earlier that I wasn’t going to ask for money.  For the purpose of this post that is true, but please know that medical research is grossly under-funded and relies heavily on philanthropy.  So I will continue to do what I can to raise money for the KD Research Collaboration, and will share the information so that you might too if you feel so inclined.  You can donate via the KD Foundation website (US) here – http://www.kdfoundation.org, or via UK charity COSMIC directly or via their fundraising page, below:

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/charity-web/charity/displayCharityCampaignPage.action?charityCampaignUrl=KawasakiDiseaseResearch

 

If you love somebody, let them go…?

Dear Freya 

I hadn’t realised just how much I love sharing my life with you until just now. I have a pretty bad chest infection, and I’ve been told to rest as much as possible, and that if I haven’t improved in the next couple of days I may have to be admitted to hospital. So to avoid the latter, I have pretty much been holed up in my bed since 7pm on Monday evening (it’s now Wednesday).

I started to miss you yesterday. Miss your smell, and your beautiful eyes, and your constant babble and chatter. Jeez, I’ve even begun to miss The Little Mermaid! Lying here I feel bereft of the things that I usually take for granted, of the things that I often find tiresome if I’m honest. 

A moment ago you quietly whispered “mama” from your cot. You didn’t need to cry or shout because you know that I am always there for you, and I’ll come when you call me. Your daddy came to get you, and you popped into my room for a minute before he took you down for some lunch. And in the seconds after you left, the tears came spilling out of my face like big fat raindrops. 

Yes, I guess I’m feeling a bit sorry for myself being under the weather and all. But it’s more than that. When you softly called “mama” I was catapulted into a future where you awake in someone else’s care, calling my name into a space where it will not be heard, not by me. And it made me wonder how on Earth I am going to be able to part from you in 6 months’ time when I am due to return to work and pick up where I left off two years before. Two years. It’s a long time to get used to being around somebody, and I must say that I never considered how I would feel at the end of it all when I extended my leave. 

Right now I can’t even think about what I am going to do, so I swat those thoughts away like a pesky fly and try to use the strength I have to will myself back to health so I can propel myself back into our daily, humdrum routine. To think that last week this Groundhog Day kind of life was becoming wearing! That I felt hard done to for not being able to escape it sometimes! And here I am, escaping all of the things that are part of being a wife and mother, and it’s killing me that there’s a load of washing to go on, no food in the fridge, and that the 58,000th viewing of The Little Mermaid is taking place downstairs without me. 

I can honestly say that I have never felt the wrench of an impending return to work like I do now. After two periods of maternity leave, I went back without question to a career that I had not allowed myself to miss, but had been looking forward to returning to by the end of a year. But things with you have been different. Perhaps because you are most definitely my last. Maybe because I am older now, wiser. Possibly because what we went through together last year created a bond that goes beyond emotion; like chemistry. Maybe just because you are like sunshine on a cloudy day. 

So I will rest. I’ll ask for help and accept it with gratitude and grace. I’ll not let this develop into anything nastier than it already is, because I cannot be removed from you. These last couple of days have given me a tiny taste of life ‘without’ you, and a sense of urgency over how we make the next 6-months worth the pain I know I will feel at the end of it. 

I was always so level headed about childcare before you. Now I cannot picture myself dropping you at someone else’s door. What have you done to me, sweet, funny, determined little Freya? I am undone.

Forgotten Fears

It seems like such a long time ago that I ever really felt afraid for you, but today I find myself reunited with feelings I hoped would never feature in my life again.  Looking at you, no-one would understand what there could be to worry about – you are a ‘picture of health’ as they say.  Those rosy cheeks and that sparkle in your blue, blue eyes betray what lies beneath.

For the last year, we have taken the news from every cardiology follow-up as fantastic steps towards you being a miracle in the making.  Each appointment showed further reduction in the aneurysms in your heart, and we celebrated every little move towards what we thought was your recovery from this awful disease.  And then, little by little, the reality dawned that the likelihood that your heart was magically repairing itself from the damage that had been done was slim, if near impossible.  My mind is filled with a constant echo of statements and warnings; babies diagnosed under 6-months are at increased risk of coronary stenosis, 75% of children with giant aneurysms will require intervention later in life, an angiogram will show us if there is any sign of stenosis, look out for signs of angina… the list goes on.

Something shifted this weekend following the receipt of the letter from your last Cardiology appointment.  At that appointment the Cardiologist measured your coronaries with an echocardiogram.  I noticed the figures 0.18 at the bottom of the screen – that is 1.8mm.  The cardiologist said “About the same [as last time]” and I remember thinking, “No, that’s smaller still…”  That said, the outcome was still the same, and your Cardiologist continued to urge us to proceed with the advised angiogram.  In the time since that appointment I had some e-mail exchange with a reputable Cardiologist in the Kawasaki world which gave me some comfort, and I have also spoken with the Cardiac Nurses who have agreed to make an appointment for me to meet with the consultant who will perform the angiogram to ensure I am completely comfortable with what you will go through when the time comes.  And then at the end of last week the letter came.  Encouragingly, your Doctor has discussed your case with a Paediatric Cardiologist in London, whose name I immediately recognised as one of the speakers at the KD Symposium in London earlier this year.  I was pleased that your doctor had taken this step, and it restored my faith a little.   Well a lot, really.  The letter also gave a better explanation than I received verbally at your appointment, and I now understand that an angiogram is really the only solution because of your size.  Although I still feel some degree of trepidation about the procedure, I have reconciled myself to the idea that this really is necessary for us to understand how this disease will continue to affect you in your future.

It was niggling me that the measurement was described as ‘the same’ at your appointment, but my memory was telling me something different. So I fished out your medical file (yes, I have a very organised file that is getting pretty thick now!) to have a look through the previous letters.  I was right – the previous appointment recorded a measurement for your left coronary artery (LCA) as 2.7mm.  So rather than being ‘the same’, the artery has actually remodelled by almost another millimetre, which is a reduction of a third of the size that it was just three months prior!  I don’t know if you can work out where my thoughts are going with this, but let me tell you, it has got me really concerned.

My initial concern is obviously the speed of remodelling.  OK, so we don’t know what is causing that – could it be layers of blood clot (thrombus) that is causing a narrowing of the arteries, or scar tissue forming on the artery wall as the aneurysms repair?  Since your KD journey began, I have plotted the measurements on a graph since the beginning (this will come as no surprise to those that know me personally!).  It’s been a bit hit and miss, because not all the measurements are documented in the letters (sometimes we get all three – left, right, and left anterior descending) sometimes only some, sometimes none.  And I haven’t always managed to jot the numbers down from the bottom of the screen during the appointments.  But one measurement that I have been able to capture consistently is that of your LCA, which was the most severely affected by Kawasaki Disease.

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What the graph shows me is that your LCA is now 65% more narrow than it was at it’s worst, and the pattern of remodelling has been as follows:-June (diagnosis) to July 2015             15% reduction

July to August 2015                               32% reduction

August to September 2015                 10% increase (anomaly?)

September to November 2015           6% reduction

November ’15 to May 2016                 13% reduction

May to September 2016                       33% reduction

Now I’m not statistician, but these numbers have got me worrying about the rate of remodelling.  How long it could be before that 1.8mm results in 100% stenosis?  And if your arteries become completely occluded, preventing the blood from flowing through your heart, there is no other outcome but a heart attack.  Is that even possible?!  I can’t even…

So now I’m thinking all sorts – why didn’t the Cardiologist mention this difference at the last appointment? Is she not as worried as me?  She said the measurements were the same, but they clearly are not.  And if you are now on a waiting list for months before the investigation can be carried out, I am worried that you could suffer a heart attack before we get the chance to understand what is going on. I mean, can that happen? What is the likelihood?  It’s possible, but is it probable? 

I’ve left a message with the Cardiac Nurses – I really need to speak to them to air my concerns and get some answers. I feel, whether logical or not, that we are just waiting for your heart to fail.  And what just dawned on me last night as I was over-thinking this whole situation is that we have never considered when the worst could happen.  We were told to look out for signs of angina – the only sign we were made aware of was if you were to suddenly stop playing for example.  But last night as I marvelled at this amazing little girl who sleeps through the night, always has, the thought entered my head; what if it happens when you are asleep…?  I mean, if I were a statistician I would be able to calculate the probability of a heart attack happening at a certain point.  You sleep between 14 and 17 hours per day!  That means that you are asleep for up to 70% of any given day…

So now I have a new fear, and I cannot shake it. It kept me awake last night and brought tears silently streaming as I lay there struggling to get to sleep.  It caused me to jump out of bed on more than one occasion to check the monitor was switched on, and it meant that I woke this morning with that old feeling of dread until I heard the first murmur from your room.  When you were diagnosed with KD and we were told that your heart was significantly damaged by the disease, I feared every day that I would wake to find you taken from us.  I was so afraid of finding you gone that I was frozen to the bed until I heard even just the slightest movement from the baby monitor.  Every bit of me wanted to get out of bed and check you were breathing, but I just couldn’t physically move because the fear kept me pinned down.  How would I know? I mean are there any signs? You often cry out in your sleep, maybe just once, and then you drift back off to sleep.  Is that what it would be like? If you were sleeping, and me and Daddy were fast asleep, would there be anything to hear?

I have read that the signs of heart failure in a child could include the following:-

  • excessive sweating
  • extreme tiredness and fatigue
  • poor feeding
  • rapid heartbeat
  • rapid breathing
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • a blue tinge to the skin

Would you let us know about any of those if you were sleeping? Would we hear? Would we know you were in trouble?  You think about emergency procedures in the event of a heart attack – call 999, get an ambulance, perform CPR… But if it happened in your sleep and we didn’t know, you could be left for hours before we realised, and by then it would be too late.

I wish I didn’t have such a vivid imagination. My mind plays out these scenes like a movie in my head, and I can’t shake it.  I have ‘seen’ it – the moment I find you gone.  I have ‘felt’ how I didn’t want to live anymore in a world without you in it.  I am angry at the world, angry at this insidious disease that crept up on you and broke your heart.  And I am afraid beyond words of what might be around the corner.  All parents worry about the fate of their children.  Hopefully most see the death of their child as an unlikely threat, and it features just for a nanosecond of each day.  To know that there is a possibility (regardless of the probability) of losing your child is a feeling I cannot describe adequately to anyone who hasn’t experienced something similar.  It’s like standing on the edge of a cliff, a dark and indeterminate cavern beneath, knowing that just one breath of wind could change the course of your life forever.  Sometimes I can barely breathe for fear that the slightest movement could unbalance me.

You have many people rooting for you – hoping, wishing, praying.  Some believe you are going to change the KD history books.  Others say you are a fighter, an inspiration and a miracle.  I’m too superstitious to believe in any of that for fear of jinxing your progress.  There are some that have so much faith in God that they ‘know’ you will be ok.  I worry that if there is a God his plan could be for the world to learn from a tragedy – your tragedy.  I just don’t know anymore, Peanut.  All I know is that right now I find myself out of control yet again at the hands of this disease.  I am still in utter disbelief when I consider the events of the last year, and often think about bundling you in the car and running far, far away from all this.  Pretend it never happened.  But there isn’t just you to think about, and I have responsibilities and relationships to consider.  And sometimes, no matter how hard it is, I just have to accept that I am indeed a grown up.

I don’t want to be a grown up anymore 😦 

 

A (rainy) Day in the Life of

When I was working, I often used to think about stay at home mums and wonder what on Earth they did all day.  I imagined it was countless coffee mornings and baby yoga sessions, and although I thought it could be quite a dull existence, I often envied those mums who got to spend all their time with their children.  Now I am one of those mums – well, for a time anyway.  I am not a forever SAHM, but I am on a career break following a year off on maternity leave, and am now 17 months into a 2-year break from my job.  And in my new role I have gained more than enough experience to know exactly what SAHM’s do all day, and it varies from minute to minute and day to day.

Mostly I consider myself lucky. Lucky to have my daughter here to share the time with (see previous blogs tagged Kawasaki Disease if you are not familiar with my daughter’s story), and to be able to share so many precious times with her.  It’s also nice to be able to take the other children to school, and to be here when they come home, cook a meal, do ‘normal’ family stuff.  One of the huge positives for me is that I pretty much always have a clean and tidy house, and I have never been on top of the laundry so much in my entire life to date!  Boring, I know, but I have a child who sleeps for three hours in the day so I have to keep myself occupied (although I will confess, I have been known to spray some polish into the air and watch a movie or two!).

Yesterday was a pretty nothing kind of day.  The weather forecast suggested it would rain  so I had already decided it would be an indoors day (much to my annoyance, given that we spent all last week on house arrest with my youngest whilst she battled chicken pox, hand, foot and mouth, or both!) Oh, joy!

So, here is what this SAHM did all day yesterday…

07:01     Text oldest daughter “What time do you get up?”

07:05     Text received “Now”.  Well that’s that sorted! The parental heaven that is a 12-      year old that can quite easily manage herself in the mornings.

07:10     Screaming of the house alarm! Eldest has remembered to let the dog out, but has forgotten to unset the house alarm before opening the back door.  Again.  For the millionth time since we got the puppy!   Baby stirs, lay as stiff as a board with teeth clenched, hoping for the chance to hit the snooze button!

07:40    Wake middle child (cue “I don’t want to get up!”, “I’m still tired!”, “I hate school!” or any combination of the three).  Manage to cajole him out of bed to get dressed (again to complaints that this isn’t the order he likes to do things in – he prefers to eat breakfast in his pyjamas, aka pants, but I want him organised as soon as possible!).  Go downstairs, feed the dog, make breakfast for the awkward one and prepare packed lunch.

08:00    Wake baby up.  She greets me as always with a huge cheeky smile – the only one of the family who seems to be happy to be awake! But then she did go to sleep 14 hours ago so I guess she’s all done with sleep!  In the interests of being organised, today I get her dressed before breakfast and vow to be extra careful with the Weetabix!

08:30    Leave for the school run.  Although it’s only just under a mile and a half we drive, because quite frankly we would have to be up far too early to get there on foot with my son.  In my defence, I do sometimes leave the car at school and walk home, returning on foot at pick-up time to get some daily exercise, but only on dry days or when I can be bothered!

09:00    Get home from the school run and make a cup of tea.  I made a decision yesterday that Freya needed more stimulation, and vowed to spend at least an hour per day in some kind of valuable developmental pursuit.  Got the painting stuff out and proceeded to paint at the kitchen table (or in Freya’s case, ON the kitchen table!).  Good job this stuff is washable!  She was bored after about 30 minutes – ok, ok, so it was me who was bored! I think she would have painted all day long if I had let her! But she’d managed to paint about 5 masterpieces using mainly her hands and the wrong end of a paintbrush, so I figured that was enough.   Took photographs of said masterpieces and posted on Instagram to show world just how good I am at this mummy stuff (I’ve got to love Social Media for allowing me to share all these perfect, wonderful moments.  Not sure the world is ready for the screaming banshee selfie!)

09:30    Bribe youngest with a biscuit to allow some sofa time and a bit of The Wright Stuff. Email Immunologist to ask for advice regarding the postponement of Freya’s MMR vaccination.

09:40    Check e-mail.  No reply. Eat half a packet of Rich Tea biscuits with a cup of coffee.  I don’t even like Rich Tea biscuits!

10:00    Check e-mail.  No reply. Anyone would think this doctor is busy….

10:20    Google “What to do with a toddler all day long.” Roll eyes at Netmums.

10:30    On first sign of tiredness, make up small bottle of milk (I know it’s a bad habit that I need to stop!) and put Freya in her cot for a nap.

10:42   Check e-mail.  Still no reply.  Consider phoning the hospital but decide to leave it until tomorrow. Very reasonable of me, I thought.

11:00    Through the baby monitor – “Mummyyyyyyyyyy”.  Half an hour isn’t enough for a nap, so I speak into the monitor, “Go to sleep!”.  And she does.  For another two hours!

11:10    Google “What to do all day when your toddler sleeps for hours”.  Limited resources available on this topic.  Eventually give up before I risk finding something I should be doing.

11:30    Settle down on the sofa with the puppy on my lap, and watch daytime TV – namely This Morning (got to love a bit of Phil and Holly) and Loose Women.  Check Facebook (ok, I don’t think this was the first time I did that, but you can make the assumption that I check  it every 5 minutes and save me writing every time down!).

13:00    A boring and uneventful day is broken up by a momentous happening – the postman arrives with mail!! Ooh yay! Excitement! Except for the fact that the mail seems to be a rock in an envelope and makes such a thud that it wakes the baby up.  Damned postman!  And to add insult to injury it is a Jojo Maman Bebe catalogue, sent by a company who clearly have no idea how skint this SAHM is!  

13:05    Discard catalogue in bin, and get baby up.  Change nappy (as with checking FB, please note this isn’t the first, or last, nappy change of the day).

What to make for lunch….

13:10   Decide to make omelette for lunch.  Whatever I make it will end up being a race against time to catch it before it hits the floor and the eagerly awaiting puppy.  I make sure she sees me cutting the cheese (“eeeese”, her favourite) and ham, (“am”, another favourite) in the vain hope that this might make the eating of the finished article more likely.  At the last moment before pouring the mixture into the frying pan I am struck with the notion that Freya may be more likely to eat the omelette if it is presented in a novel way.  Out come the pastry cutters; a star, a circle and a car.  She is sure to eat omelette if it comes in quirky shapes, right? Well, don’t bother trying it at home.  The mixture leaked out from underneath the cutters and by the time I had prized the cooked omelette out from the metal objects I was faced with nothing more than a heap of omelette.  I served up the omelette (“Urgh” <chuck>) with some sticks of red pepper (“Urgh” <chuck>), some cucumber slices (“Urgh” <chuck>),  and four little squares of cheese (“Mmmm eeeeese!”). On the third scream of “DOWN!!!” I took my little angel out of her highchair proud in the knowledge that after all that effort, the darling ate four fingernail-sized pieces of cheese.  Groan!

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14:00    Determined not to be put off by the epic fail of lunch, start to prepare vegetables for batch cooking of spaghetti bolognaise/cottage pie.  Cut vegetables with one leg firmly planted against the drawers to discourage attention-seeking daughter from removing all kitchen utensils and feeding them to the dog.

14:30    Chastise baby for pulling books from the bookcase and tearing yet another cover.  How is it that the bookcase has survived two children, and I now find myself blessed with a destroyer of one of my most prized possessions? Baby looks sorry, so I forgive her.

14:35    Chastise baby for pulling books from the bookcase and tearing yet another cover.  Replace books and repeat 58million times.

15:15    Bundle daughter into car and drive to school to pick up middle child.  He’s had a good day (“100%” – my son provides his evaluation of the school day in terms of percentages).  Remember one of my favourite movies – Rain Man.

15:40    Chatting with a mum outside the school gates ends in tears when Freya’s ‘unkind hands’ scratch the face of the little boy who is trying to be nice.  Make swift exit.  Must send mum a message when I get home to apologise for toddler’s assault.

15:55    “Can I play on Minecraft?” Most uttered sentence in middle child’s vocabulary.

16:00   Text mum to apologise for toddler’s assault.

16:30    Dish up lovingly prepared spaghetti bolognaise.  Wonder how much will end up on the floor. “Not again!” (Son’s affectionate response to being served pasta).  Surprised when youngest wolfs down an entire bowl of pasta and half a dozen pieces of bread.  Remember lunch.  Consider skipping lunch in future…

17:00    Clear away dishes.  Make tea for mother-in-law.  Sit and drink tea safe in the knowledge that there is now a second pair of adult hands in the house! Chastise baby for pulling books from the bookcase and tearing yet another cover….

17:30    Bath baby, pyjamas on, milk.

18:00    Put baby to bed.  Aaaaaand relax.

After that things are pretty easy.  Another hour before middle child is off to bed.  Dinner.  Eldest takes herself off to bed at some point during the evening.  Watch Cold Feet.  Go to bed.

And that’s about it.  In fairness, I try to avoid days like these, but with money fast running out I don’t have many options on rainy days.  Being a SAHM is a constant mix of emotions.  I’m lucky and glad, and lonely and sad all at once.  I would not change the opportunity I have to stay at home with my daughter, and I am lucky that she likes to have a long nap in the daytime, leaving me some free time to do whatever I choose.  Problem is, I get so bored of my own company whilst she is sleeping and it often makes me feel a bit miserable.  Right now, the house is silent but for the hum of the baby monitor beside me;  Freya’s nap was a little late today on account of us making it out of the house this morning for a visit to the local wildlife park.  In about 10 minutes I will have to wake her up to take her on the school run.

Today was a different kind of day, with a lovely (if wet) trip to Yorkshire Wildlife Park for a couple of hours this morning. The weather forecast was wrong though, and we got completely drenched.  Freya seemed freaked out by the rain dripping on her, and as a result I had to carry her around the entire Park! As an annual pass holder, entrance was free – result! Except for the amazing sweet shop on the way out where I spent more than the ticket price on Pick ‘n’ Mix and nougat! Doh!

With Autumn approaching, and Winter just around the corner, I need to have a serious think about how we are going to spend our days.  And I need something to pass the time whilst my daughter sleeps every day.  All suggestions welcome!

Virtual Company (or why I spend so much time on Social Media)

I am often criticised for how much time I spend on Social Media, Facebook mainly.  It’s like it should be something to be embarrassed or ashamed of, and I really ought to “get out more” or “get back to work” because apparently I have “too much time on [my] hands”.  But as I sit here in the second hour of my daughter’s three hour nap, with an empty laundry basket and a clean and tidy house, I can’t help but ask the question, “What else should I be doing?”  Today I’m completely stumped.  I am slowly developing cabin fever after four days at home with two unwell children (one went back to school today, but the other is on house arrest on account of some currently unconfirmed, but most likely contagious spots), and I have literally lost any motivation to get up off my backside and do something other than play 10:10 on my iPhone whilst watching Loose Women.  So I spend a large chunk of the day, whilst my little one is sleeping, with my phone in my hand and my butt firmly planted on the sofa, and that’s when I start to yearn for company and I’ll take whatever kind I can get, even the virtual kind.

You see, I’m a really sociable person.  I thrive in the company of other people (yes, the real-life human kind) and I LOVE to talk.  I have never been that good in my own company; I could never do a sponsored silence.  I’m one of those people who finds it difficult to stay quiet in situations when you really should.  I just about managed it in the Sistine Chapel (well, let’s face it, you’ve got to have some respect in there), but put me in a quiet place for too long and you’ll find me starting to fidget.  I’ve been known to giggle at a funeral (don’t judge me – it’s nerves, not disrespect).  

So what does someone like me do when I’ve got something to say, but there’s no-one here to listen?  Simple.  I tell the virtual world through Social Media.

Take yesterday for example.  My daughter had her phone confiscated at school and I received a call to tell me that it is the school’s policy for an adult to collect it.  I’ll not bore you with all the details, but let’s just say that the ridiculous policy really annoyed me – partly because I was home with two poorly children, partly because it meant my daughter would have to come home from school with no means of contacting me if she was unsafe. I was spitting feathers over the stupidity of the policy and needed to let it out.  Alas, there was no-one to let it out to, but if I didn’t get the chance to vent I would literally drive myself crazy with anger all day long.  When you let stuff like that out, you get the chance to have your feelings validated by others who share your views.  You also get the opportunity to  hear opposing views which provide some balance to your own take on the situation and help to calm things down.  So, in the absence of real-life human friends (not generally, just this week while we are on house arrest, lol!) I took to Facebook.  I immediately felt better after spilling out my rather long rant about the situation, and when the comments started to come in support of my rant, I felt better still.  So where’s the harm in that?  Or would it be preferable that this SAHM just kept her thoughts and feelings to herself in the silence of her own company until eventually drowning in a pit of misery….?

I also share a lot of pictures

Yes, I do.  And I’m sorry if you get bored of seeing pictures of my little girl clogging up your Facebook feed.  I don’t get the chance to share my little girl with many people (see above, on mostly being holed up indoors as she sleeps the day away) and Social Media is my way of sharing her with the world. And when I say ‘world’ I really mean it, because through our experiences with a rare childhood disease diagnosed last year, my daughter has connected us to people from across the globe.  Sharing her pictures has helped us to raise awareness of the disease, educate and support parents going through the same struggle, and inspire huge amounts of money for research, and because of that I will never be ashamed.  I have shared everything from shocking photographs of my daughter when she was sick (not for sympathy or self-gratification, but to show people just how awful the disease can be for a child) to beautifully filtered shots of her sniffing a daisy.  Those pictures show how far she has come, and I am grateful to have her here with us every day.  So whether it be Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, I am going to keep on sharing the photos that make me cry and those that make me smile.   I make no apology for not featuring as many pictures of the other two kids – it isn’t because I love them any less, it’s just that they’re at school all day and when they are around there is very little time for taking pictures!  Warning: you are likely to see as many pictures of the puppy as you do of my little one.

I go through periods of celebrity-hounding

I am not ashamed to admit it! If you follow @freya_story at all you will see that I go through phases of hammering different celebrities with requests to share my tweets aimed at broadening awareness of Kawasaki Disease.  I’ve had some success – Anthony Minghella, Miriam Stoppard, David Bull, Fay Ripley, Chloe Sims – but not even a fraction of the success I hope for.  I am targeted in my approach, choosing to follow people with medical links or with children of their own and might therefore empathise with our situation enough to share.  It’s not about the personal pat on the back, feeling like you have somehow connected with fame, it’s about audience reach.  If I could stand on a mountain with a megaphone to ensure that everyone in the world had heard of the disease, I would.  I don’t want another child to suffer because of ignorance.

I spend a lot of time in Facebook Group discussions

I follow a lot of Facebook groups connected with Freya’s illness.  Through those groups I have learned a lot, gained a lot of support, and been in a position to provide information and support to other parents in our position.  I have developed relationships with people with a common interest, who truly understand the pain my family has felt in the last year. I have built a strong network of support for my daughter – support that has helped me through the experience.  It is a good feeling knowing that there are so many people that care about her and are interested in her journey.

There was a time when I was active in all the groups pretty much 24/7.  It was a blessing and a curse.  My FB newsfeed was constantly streaming with stories about a new diagnosis or a new fear.  For a little while, when I was receiving counselling, I came away from all the groups.  Not because I didn’t care, but because I needed to focus on getting stronger which was difficult when I was constantly surrounded by sadness.  Now I am following those groups again (I never left them, just reduced their appearance in my feed) I feel more able to provide support where I think it is helpful.  I no longer feel the need to put my twopenneth into every post, choosing rather to scan the comments to make sure the questions or concerns have been answered.  If someone else has shared my thoughts, then that’s good enough for me.

I know that my involvement in these groups has helped people, and as long as I can be useful I will continue to be involved.  The balance that I have now is much more healthy, although clearly this week I have had a lot more time on my hands for such pursuits!

I get a lot of messages

Because I reached out to share Freya’s Story, we have become connected to the world of Kawasaki Disease.  I have received messages from many people across the world, from Hong Kong to Spain, Australia, the US and Pakistan.  Mainly mothers who have wanted to share their experiences, send good wishes for Freya, or who just need someone who understands to listen to their fears.  I am one of those people who believes that whilst I have the ability to help, I have the will.  I could not turn my back on someone who could benefit from talking to me, no matter how little I might help in the scheme of things.  And I’ve already told you, I LOVE to talk, so I guess it’s a win-win!

I blog

I don’t write so much these days, and I’m still working out what it is that I want to do  with that going forward.  My blog began as Bluemama – somewhere to share honest, candid experiences about motherhood.  With Freya becoming sick shortly after she was born, the blog very soon became focussed on her.  If you have followed Freya’s Story you will know that it started with a journal that I kept during the 6 weeks that she spent in hospital in the Summer of 2015, and I have continued to post updates, share information and occasionally blog about our experiences with the disease.  Blogs relating to Kawasaki Disease are always tagged as Freya’s Story and are shared on the FS Facebook page (www.facebook.com/freyasstory) and/or Twitter (@freya_story).  Mostly everything else is shared on the Bluemama page, which is the least active of the accounts.  Random stuff, like when I get the urge to write a poem, just stays on here.

I love writing – it’s another way for me to get all the thoughts and feelings out of my head. It’s great when someone shares a post, or is touched enough by it to make a comment, but mostly it just feels good to get it out.

And that’s about it.  Yes, I do spend a lot of time looking at my phone; enough to worry sometimes about how much damage that might be doing to my brain! But it’s rarely in some idle pursuit (with the exception of sleepless nights when I get a bit obsessed with 10:10!)  When the baby’s spots have all cleared up, no doubt I will make it back out into the outside world.  But while she is sleeping from 11am until 2pm every day, and the washing and ironing is all done, and I’m sitting in a clean and tidy house (and even if none of that were true) I am going to wholeheartedly and unapologetically embrace my virtual friends 🙂

A Day of Ups and Downs…

…or that time the Cardiologist ruined our day

Dear Freya

What a day we had yesterday! The time had come around for your cardiology follow-up appointment in Leeds.  I can’t believe it has been three months already since the last one! At that appointment, your doctor told us that they want to perform an angiogram to get a closer look at your heart to understand what is causing the rapid remodelling of your coronary arteries.  I bought us three months’ breathing space little Peanut, but it just flew so quick, and here we are again.

Your appointment wasn’t until 15:40pm.  I figured we could sit around at home all day agonising about the impending appointment, or we could make a day of it.  So Daddy dropped us off near the train station, and we hopped on a train to Leeds at around 10am, not before sharing a cinnamon swirl from the coffee shop on the platform.  You were such a good girl on the train.  We managed to get a seat with space for the pram (very unusual! We usually have to resort to standing room only, even if we manage to get into the wheelchair carriage because often ignorant, able bodied people sit in those seats).  It isn’t a long journey to Leeds, so it felt like we were there in no time.  Luckily a nice gentleman helped me to get the pram off the train, and we were on our way!

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I thought we would have a little ‘mooch’ around the shops for a bit, then grab some lunch before your appointment.  I had arranged to meet with a friend – a fellow Kawamum – and her little boy.  You remember Tom – we meet for playdates sometimes.  Well he had an appointment at the hospital just after yours, so we thought it would be nice to catch up.  We went directly to the Trinity Centre – there is a ladies shop there called Mango that I like very much (despite being told by a young girl on holiday once that she found it a “bit mumsy” – ouch!!).  As we were heading towards the lifts, a woman with a clipboard and a gentleman with a video camera approached us.  The lady said that they were filming a TV commercial (I think for the Trinity Centre), that they were looking for certain types of people, and I was exactly what they were looking for.  She asked if I would be interested in leaving my details, and I said “Go on then!”  So she wrote my name, my age and my number on a card and I had to hold it for the cameraman whilst he recorded and took some stills.  The shoot is on the 13th September – I said I would have you with me, and they were happy for you to come too.  So we just wait now, and see.  I really don’t mind which way it goes – it was nice to be stopped and asked, and it was fun saying yes.

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We wandered along to Mango where I had a browse through the clothes – you moaned as soon as you saw what kind of shop it was, so I bribed you with a biscuit.  You were great while I tried on a few things, and I walked out with a bit of a dent in the bank balance (oops! Those savings are not going to last me much longer on this career break!)  From there we headed down to Harvey Nicholls (don’t judge me! It was only because I know they have a MAC counter and I wanted to buy a specific lipstick).  I picked up a few things, and joined the Harvey Nicholls Rewards club – don’t think I’ll be earning many points in there, haha!   All the while, you were chattering away in your pram, shouting “Hiya!” at everyone who passed by (we need to have a word about stranger danger soon).  Outside the sun was shining – that was a turn up for the books, as the forecast had suggested rain all day.

From the shops, we took a walk down to the bar where your cousin works.  She’s just graduated from University this year, and is now out in the big wide world.  She was pleased to see you – it was very quiet in the bar.  We ordered some lunch, and your cousin joined us while we ate.

Shortly after that I got a call from my friend, the Kawamum; she had arrived, so we walked to Millennium Square to meet her.  You and Tom had a lovely time watching the waterfall and running around the square chasing the pigeons.  I chatted to his mum about the latest with you two, and before I knew it your Daddy was on the phone – he had arrived at the hospital, it was time to go.

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When we arrived at the hospital, we were immediately sent for an ECG – that’s normal, don’t worry! We always get that out of the way first.  Problem is you hadn’t had a sleep earlier in the day because you refuse to sleep anywhere but in your cot, so you were a bit grouchy by the time we went in.  The lady tried to put the stickers on you, but you weren’t having any of it.  You were crying, and screaming, and pulling the stickers off.  Another lady came into the room who was really surprised by your reaction, as she has done lots of your ECG’s in the past and you have always been such a good girl.  We managed to calm you down in my arms, and the lady attached the wires to the stickers (not technical terms, I know!), but no sooner had we tried to lay you down again were you crying and screaming and ripping the wires off.  They decided that you were too distraught now to continue; they didn’t want to put you off for life, but also the reading from your heart would not have ben a normal one with you so worked up.  I was worried about us missing something, but they reassured me that the echocardiogram would show up anything we needed to see. I hoped you would be more settled for that.

We went back to the waiting room and you were called in to be weighed and measured.  As soon as you walked into the room you started crying and screaming again.  You have been weighed in there so many times in your little life – it’s just a room with a table, a changing mat and some weighing scales.  But for some reason, yesterday it seemed much more sinister to you, and you were just too tired to take it.  We did managed to get you weighed and measured though, as you were able to stand up on the big girl scales instead of having to lie down on the table.  We went back out to the waiting room where we were told that the cardiologist was running a bit late, so you played for a while until we were called.  A baby was crying in the corner, and you looked ever so concerned and kept saying “Ahhh”.  And in the next breath you were pulling the steering wheel off the push along car and driving it into the wall.  You are a monkey!

Your doctor finally called us in, and we went into her room.  We updated her with your current aspirin dosage and told her that you have been displaying some unusual behaviour.  Specifically, you have started randomly lying down on the floor after some activity and just staying there staring for a while before we give you a nudge and you get up.  That might not sound particularly alarming, but the cardiologist had told us to look out for signs of angina, and when we asked her what they would be, this was the only symptom she could describe for a child as young as you who is not able to verbalise any pain they might be feeling.  We then went on to do the echo.  Because of your reaction to the ECG I had sent Daddy down to the shop to get something that might bribe you to lie still and let the consultant do her work.  He returned with chocolate buttons, which we slipped into your mouth one by one until she was finished!  You need to know that your brother and sister didn’t get chocolate until they were at least 5 years old, so I apologise in advance for any resentment that might build up over the coming years! 

The Cardiologist seemed pretty pleased with what she could see on the echo.  I noticed that the smallest measurement of your coronary arteries was now 1.8mm. The doctor said that it was about the same as last time.  I think they have actually shrunk a little further than before, but we are talking in fractions of mm so I guess it’s neither here nor there.  Once she had finished, there was a pause.  And then she looked at me and said “I want to do the angiogram.” Just like that.  I don’t know what I was expecting really – she had made her point clear at the last appointment, so why did I expect it to change?  Hope, I guess.  I told her that I have recently met with a world leading KD specialist from the US and attended a KD Symposium in London with esteemed professionals from the Kawasaki world.  I mentioned that a number of professionals had advised me that a cardiac catheter angiogram was not the most suitable procedure as it is invasive, and that there are other procedures that would be more appropriate for Freya, namely a CT angiogram.  Our doctor disagrees.  She feels that the resolution from a CT angiogram is not sufficient to show us what she is looking for – evidence of thrombus (layering of clotted blood inside the arteries) or stenosis (build up of scar tissue).  She dismissed some of the advice I have been given by the KD specialists because “they are not Cardiologists”, which is fair enough if not a little short-sighted.

After a few questions, I asked “Do we have a choice?” And her reply came as a shock.  She said that her advice is to perform a cardiac catheter angiogram, that it is the standard protocol for the hospital in relation to the aftercare of KD children, and that if I do not trust her advice then she would have real difficulty in continuing to be responsible for Freya’s care, giving her no option but to refer us to another hospital.  Wow! My way or the highway! And that’s where we are today – sent away with a decision to make.  And it feels like Hobson’s Choice.  Either we go ahead with the advice we have been given, against the advice of professionals who have seen more cases of this disease than our doctor will ever see, or start all over again with an unknown quantity – better the devil you know? Or is the grass greener?  I have no idea what we should do.  All I know is that I have seen this in my nightmares.  I have watched you go to sleep, left you in the hands of a surgeon, and waited.  And I have heard the words, “We are very sorry Mrs McBride, but the catheter caused a spasm in the coronary arteries, triggering a heart attack, and we sadly lost your daughter.”

I know in the scheme of things, this procedure is pretty insignificant to a cardiac unit.  The  little babies in the waiting room with that telltale scar down the centre of their chests is enough to give you some perspective over that.  But you are my baby, and I am scared.    Depending on how the procedure goes, you will be under general anaesthesia for at least an hour.  They will insert a thin tube (catheter) into your groin (most likely entry point, although this can differ) and feed it up into your heart to release contrast dye which will help them to see the insides of your coronary arteries.  That’s a pretty big deal for me and it doesn’t come without risks.

As I write this, I feel sick in my stomach, and my eyes are pooling with tears.  I cannot believe that we are going to have to hand you over to a surgeon again, watch you go to sleep again, and put our trust in strangers to get this right again.  Your last experience was deemed as necessary without alternative (you had a bone marrow aspiration to test your cells for Leukaemia before your diagnosis with Kawasaki Disease).  Although it was traumatic for us, we felt confident that it was necessary.  I don’t know why, but I just can’t seem to shake this gut feeling that this procedure is wrong.  Maybe I am just scared.  Who wouldn’t be.

All I can hope is that you are reading this, and laughing at how silly I was to be so worried.  “Jeez,mum! I’ve had twenty of these things now! I can’t believe you were so stressed that first time around!”  

We need to get a closer look to see what’s going on in there sweetpea. I just wish there was another way.

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