Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Anyone who knows us knows that we are not a morning family - so you can imagine our terror when we reviewed the schedule and realized we had to report to Admissions at 7:45am. By the time we got all four of us up, dressed, fed and out the door, we were a...tad...late. Luckily, we quickly realized that they pad appointments with plenty of time for just such occasions.
It was mainly a lot of paperwork and the Admissions playroom wasn't open yet, so I was grateful for the bag of toys we brought with us. (For other parents, the Admissions playroom is open to any patient and is FULL of great stuff. The pediatric department also has a playroom, but ophthalmology doesn't, so come prepared.)
After Admissions, we reported to Pediatrics, where they took vital signs and the screaming commenced. This part wasn't painful, of course, but trying to restrain my children is akin to murder. Eventually we were introduced to Dr. Adams, the man in charge of the study and one of the nicest people we have ever met.
He brought us into a small room to do an interview/medical history and then explained more about the study. What impressed us most was his willingness to stop and answer all our questions patiently and completely. In fact, every specialist we've met the past couple of days has been wonderful - patient, knowledgeable, personable. We've talked with many other patients visiting the NIH for various reasons and they've all said the same thing: Wouldn't it be great if all hospitals could be like this? Wouldn't it be amazing if all doctors treated their patients like people instead of the next number in a long line? If only...
One of the most interesting things we learned from Dr. Adams is that researchers are on the verge of making gene therapy for people with albinism a reality. They are working on ways to trigger pigment production in the cells and the treatment may be ready "in the boys' near future." Most likely it will be used for creating pigment in the eyes to reduce photosensitivity and possibly improve vision, although treating the skin may also be a reality for people who have a lot of sun exposure (such as people with albinism in African countries).
Once the treatment is ready, it will be tested on adults first, but he and the ophthalmologist, Dr. Brooks, assured us that it would become available to children soon after. We've heard about this treatment before, but I guess I didn't comprehend how close they truly are to making it happen.
Before breaking for lunch, Dr. Adams sent us down the hall for medical photographs of both boys. A quiet older man met us at the door and led us into a tiny photography studio cluttered with lights and equipment. The whole experience was easy enough, but I found it a little unsettling nonetheless. Something about the combination of flashing lights, a background of graphs and numbers, and the fact that both boys had to stand there in nothing but their underwear made it feel like Glamour Shots meets police mug shots meets autopsy photos. Weird.
At the end, the kind man offered to take a nice family photo in front of a normal background. He even took down our address so he could mail us the result, but somehow I doubt it will be Christmas card worthy. (Not because of his skill level, just the fact that the boys never look at the camera at the same time and we were a little disheveled from a long day.)
After lunch, Dr. Adams applied some numbing cream to the site of the biopsies and finished the interview. Emerson, unfortunately, found a way to smack his head and then - after a good cry - passed out in my arms. Dr. Adams used this rare quiet time to do a brief physical exam, including pulling down his pants to inspect his scrotum. He left to get some paperwork and I leaned over and whispered to a still-sleeping Emerson, "Don't ever let a strange man touch your balls while you're sleeping ever again." Robbie nodded and chimed in, "And that's why you should never join a frat."
When we were done laughing at our own hilarity, we took a few minutes to enjoy the peace and quiet of both boys sleeping (Fionn had nursed himself to sleep during all this). At one point, I whispered to Robbie, "It's so nice when they're quiet like this." And just as I finished my sentence, little Fionn let out a loud fart, sending us both into fits of giggles again. Yes, I'm afraid having two boys has finally corrupted me.
Since Fionn of course woke up first, he and Robbie went with the doctor to another room to do the biopsy. The process involved punching out a tiny circle of skin on the surface of their arms so that those cells could be grown and studied later on. It's definitely the worst part of the entire study, but it's also the most important.
Despite being all the way down the hall and behind two closed doors, I could hear Fionn screaming the entire time. Not from the procedure, mind you, just from being restrained for that long. The actual process should be painless due to the cream, but it's difficult to really know since neither child can talk. God I hope it was painless.
Poor Emerson fell asleep with a bruised head and woke up just as they did his biopsy. The worst part for him was the bandage since he has sensory issues to begin with. I thought his improving speech would help since I could at least explain to him that it would be over soon and we'd get a treat, etc. But along with speech comprehension comes speech expression. After it was all over, he kept looking at his bandage every once in a while and whimpering "Mama, boo boo" over and over again. Do you hear that thumping? It's my heart being used a punching bag.
Robbie and I talked a lot about how hard it has been to put the kids through all the poking and prodding, but what has hit us hardest is the thought that many parents watch their kids go through MUCH worse procedures for MUCH more dire circumstances all the time. How they get through it is beyond my comprehension, truly.
The rest of the night was spent traveling to downtown Bethesda for dinner. We were all grateful for some fresh air and the boys were excited to do the train again. We chose a nice Indian restaurant and then immediately regretted it. We've been desperately clinging to the idea that our family of four is still capable of eating at a nice restaurant, so we keep trying. And by the end of the meal, we have broken a sweat, caused enough of a mess to warrant a 30% tip, and only wolfed down our food in rare spare moments between entertaining both kids and trying to get them to eat something - ANYTHING. As this scene unfolded yet again, I sensed something different in the air...it was our spirits breaking.
Robbie looked at me with exhausted eyes and asked if I was interested in doing the free community dinner at the Children's Inn the next day. We had skipped it the previous night because we wanted to be out on the town. Plus, we felt a little strange taking a charity meal since our kids were being studied, not receiving treatment for some horrible disease. But it was becoming rapidly clear that a night in would be a good idea for everyone, so I replied, "Definitely. What about you?"
He heaved a sigh. "Definitely."
And with that, we bid adieu to the end of an era. Our nice nights out are going to be dinner in, takeout, or cheesy kid-friendly chains for the next three years.
Yes, that era went out...not with a bang, but a whimper.