The Unexpected Beach Bum

If you have been following me on any sort of social media, you’d know that my family took our large vacation we typically do every other year, to Hilton Head Island, SC. We were able to celebrate Greyson turning 6 years old, even though he fell asleep before we could sing “Happy Birthday” to him. Hilton Head was ALWAYS my Mom’s happy place, so the thought of going without her was enough for me to not want to go on vacation. My Mom was the matriarch of the SmJoMaZaMi (Smith, Joline, Martin, Zawisa and Milligan) family, so making the 12-hour drive and spending a week together, would absolutely feel different and empty. My Mother knew that she wasn’t going to make it on this vacation, despite pushing all of us to book the vacation much earlier than we typically do, but she wanted us to have a relaxing week together. Well played, Mom.

Up until the night before we left for our trip, I was not excited. I am always so excited to go to the beach, as it is the only place I go where I can feel completely at ease with the world. This was a foreign feeling to me during this trip. Even driving down I-95, I had to fight off the sadness and lack of joy to be going to the beach. In my 32 years of existence, I have NEVER EVER felt sad leaving my house, to venture out on a trip to Hilton Head. We left fairly early in the morning (around 2:30 am), in hopes that the kids would sleep until breakfast. Yeah right! Turns out, the kids were so thrown off course, they stayed up until 11 am. I am literally blind when trying to drive in the dark, so Derek ended up driving until the sun came up, about 5 or 6 hours through Virginia. I knew he was tired, so we switched off. Up until this point, I was feeling so run down and exhausted, I had a hard time keeping my eyes open and focused. After about an hour or so of me complaining about how tired I was, Derek agreed to take over driving again, much to his dismay. I slept immediately after, until we were close to Hilton Head. I couldn’t stay awake. The only other time I have ever felt so drained of energy, was when I had mono back in college.

13 hours later, we were finally in Hilton Head. Crossing over the bridge onto the island, I must admit that I did find some spark of excitement through my exhaustion. Stepping into the condo we rented for the week, I saw the amazing view of the Atlantic Ocean, and my heart immediately dropped. The view was worth every dollar spent and every hour stuck in traffic, it was so beautiful. I had planned prior to arriving, what things inside the condo needed to be moved, hidden, blocked and secured. Judging from the photos listed on the VRBO website, I knew exactly what was needed to make sure the owner’s property wasn’t destroyed by Greyson. Things that I never really thought about until I had a child with special needs- remodeling to avoid disasters. I purchased security bars to secure the patio doors, because I knew he would try to jump if he had a chance to. Luckily, we made it through the week with no issues and only a small plastic trash can broken! Images below are the plans I texted to Derek, to avoid serious injury or damage. I will be doing this in the future for any rentals/vacation places we will attend, it really helped ease some anxiety about the trip.

Our first full day of vacation was filled with lots of uncertainties. We were unsure of how Greyson would react to the ocean and pool, how he was going to tolerate being on the sand, if he could keep his swim vest and flip flops on, and how thrown off he would be by having a new routine for only a week. Turns out, we really didn’t have to panic about much at all- Greyson LOVED the water! He spent hours sitting on the beach, right where the water comes up to the shore. He liked being crashed into by waves, and loved splashing around. Derek was able to sit with him and enjoyed spending time with him on the beach. When Greyson would get fussy or irritable, we would bring him up to the pool or up to the condo to take a nap. This typically recharged him for spending the rest of the day at the pool.

Greyson and Daddy sitting in the waves

Our trip was going fantastic. On Tuesday evening, we went to one of my Mom’s favorite restaurants on the island- Hudson’s. The deck vibe right on the water of the marshland and boats coming in the dock directly after their daily catches, is truly beautiful. When Derek and I went to Hudson’s on our honeymoon, we sat outside and watched the dolphins swim around the water. Though we didn’t see any this time, we did take Roslynn with us and she had a fun time having dinner with just us three.

Enjoying her juice while we wait for dinner

Wednesday was filled with more beach and pool fun, but I was starting to feel super wiped out again. By the time Thursday rolled around, we had planned on just going to the pool for awhile, since I was exhausted, sunburnt and began feeling feverish. The rest of my extended family went out to Hudson’s that evening for their family meals, but Greyson and I decided taking a nap on the couch for 4 hours sounded better than anything else. By the time I woke up from the nap, I could barely move. I was in physical pain, so so so tired and felt horrible. I have serious sinus/immune system issues, so I chalked all of this up to another sinus infection. My sister, Sarah was out with her fiancé, conveniently at a Barnes and Noble right next to a Walgreens. I asked her to pickup a COVID test for me, just to be safe, though I fully anticipated it being negative. Two and a half years into this pandemic, with a compromised immune system, two school-aged kids who bring home germs, and I managed to avoid COVID, luckily. Unfortunately, this time I wasn’t not so lucky.

It finally caught me

As soon as I tested positive for COVID, I immediately notified the rest of the family that I was vacationing with, our on a mask, secluded myself to the master bedroom/bath and pushed through the next 12 hours. When I woke up, I felt even worse. I had ALL of the symptoms: no smell, no taste, fever, body aches, extreme fatigue, horrible headache, runny nose and terrible cough. I lost my voice by the second day from coughing so much and I felt like I had mono and the flu, combined. We made the tough decision to leave early from our vacation. It sucked, yes, but if I was going to have severe symptoms, I needed to be in Pennsylvania where my primary doc is, and closer to home if I needed to go to a hospital. Since having a kid with special needs, I have a good idea of where hospitals are, what insurance will and won’t cover out of state/network and being prepared for anything to happen- all because we never know if or when Greyson will need immediate medical attention.

We packed up the car, the kids and cleaned the condo quickly and were off the island by 11 AM, about 48 hrs earlier than planned. I’m SO happy we left and came home early! By the time we hit North Carolina, I was already having chest/rib cage pain and was having a hard time breathing and staying awake for long periods of time. Let me just give a “shout out” to my hubby, who sucked it up and drove pretty much the entire way to and from the beach. I don’t know what I would’ve done without him! I figured that it would be smart to notify my primary doc, Dr. Miller, to make her aware of my positive test and symptoms. She has been my doctor since 2013, so I absolutely adore her and she truly cares about my overall health. Because of being immunocompromised, Dr. Miller sent an anti-viral medicine, Paxlovid to a 24-hour pharmacy, so we could pick it up as soon as we were back in Lancaster county.

The trip overall was so great, minus the COVID. Sadly, by Friday evening, Derek was starting to show very minor symptoms and I knew the Martin’s were going into quarantine mode for the next week or so. The next day, I was completely exhausted and my cough was getting worse. By lunchtime, I was having a really hard time breathing and was in communication with my doctor regarding going to the ER. Luckily I had my inhalers from my last round of respiratory infections, so they helped immensely. Derek was still experiencing extreme fatigue, body aches/chills, fever and cough and Roslynn began with a cough, too. Covid in a household is truly like dominos- once one falls, they all do. Sadly, I was the first to fall.

My symptoms continued for the next week or so, with breathing still extremely difficult. I had a CT scan scheduled that week for my sinuses, and ended up cancelling due to still testing positive. By then, both kids had minor coughs, low grade fevers and runny noses, and tested positive for covid. We spent the previous week at the beach together, and now we were spending another 7-10 days together with zero help and zero breaks. I was essentially couch-bound due to my cough and fever, but the kids both turned the corner by mid-week. I finally tested negative a few days later, with much relief to me since I had a CT scan I had to get to early the following week. Yes, it sucks that we all had covid and that we were nearly bedbound for over 7 days, but the hardest part of covid in the Martin house, was the fact that Greyson’s in-home therapy sessions needed to be postponed until we all tested negative. Eventually, the kids and I were in the clear, but Derek began with a case of rebound covid. Apparently this is common for patients after they use the anti-viral medications, which Derek and I both had. He took another 2-3 days off and fell into another covid coma for the next two days. Luckily, we all pulled through and made it out to September!

Life lessons learned at the beach were to ALWAYS do research on any place you are staying. Ask for updated photos of the place to look for safety concerns, map out all rest stops (if traveling by car), find the nearest hospital wherever we are staying and buy the extra insurance through VRBO or AirBnB if you’re staying in someone else’s house. May be a few extra dollars, but it truly gave us the peace of mind we needed to survive the week away. Check out more photos from our trip below!

“It’s Just Another Genetic Mutation”

Before the 🦷 came out!

Back in March, we took the kids for their first dental checkup of 2022. At the time, we knew Greyson had a single cavity on the bottom right side of his mouth, but due to his behavior in the office, he was scheduled to have his cavity filled at CHOP in an operating room. After waiting for what felt like forever, Greyson was finally set to have his dental procedure on July 13th. We went into the procedure knowing that he had the one cavity, but had our suspicions about his front left tooth, which was injured in a fall last summer. The plan was for the team to go in after he was sedated, fill the cavity, do a thorough cleaning and check-up, and to get some X-rays, since the images the team got in office, weren’t so great due to Greyson’s behaviors. The entire procedure would last about 30-45 minutes, no problems, in and out quickly.

We left our home around 6:30 am for an 8 am check in, in Philadelphia. The traffic wasn’t too bad surprisingly, but finding a parking spot in the parking garage was a nightmare. Lots of construction in an already highly congested area, made for the WORST as soon as we got into University City. We did the ever so familiar process for checking in, going up to the surgical unit, sitting and waiting for his name to be called, then going back to his patient room. We ended up waiting around a bit in the room. It seemed like the unit was extremely busy and apparently it was mostly dental surgeries/procedures that were being done that day. I was already fairly exhausted after waking up at 4 am, so as soon as we got to a room, I was ready for a nap. We went through the motions of meeting with the nurses, doctors and anesthesiologist (who remembered me from Greyson’s VNS surgery in February-LOL), then waited for the team to bring in the Versed to be administered. We typically have great results with Versed, having used it several times before his other surgical procedures and MRI/CT scans, but this time, the medication didn’t work. This particular medicine is done via nasal spray and is usually fast-acting, but this time, Greyson was still extremely hyperactive and aggressive, even on his way back to the Operating Room.

Looking like a big boy waiting for his name to be called

Derek and I waited in the parent waiting area, where we were anticipating the procedure to be quick and fairly painless, however; after about an hour into the procedure, the lead doctor came out to speak with us. Pulling us aside into a private consult room, the doctor proceeded to tell us that Greyson’s teeth needed a LOT more TLC than initially thought. He not only had the large cavity on his bottom right side, but also several other cavities in between teeth throughout his mouth. He also required two crowns, several caps and multiple cavities to be filled. The icing on the top of the dental sundae, was that he had a genetic mutation, which caused him to have three top front teeth, rather than two. What’s another genetic mutation to add to his already too-long diagnosis listing…..

The doctor stated that the main front two teeth needed to come out, one because there was no room left for them since his additional tooth was already pushing down in through the roof of his mouth. WOOF. Luckily because every other child in the state of Pennsylvania was getting oral surgery done that day, there was an oral surgeon on the premises who was willing to surgically remove Greyson’s third tooth. The doctor showed us X-rays of the tooth and stated it had an abnormally very long root, which was another reason why it needed to be pulled. We agreed with the surgeons that we wanted this to be a one-time thing, so he wouldn’t need to be put under anesthesia again, which they agreed was a good idea. The surgery ended up lasting about 3 hours total, giving me time for a nap for about 45 minutes or so. When his surgery was finally over, the doctors gave us Greyson’s extra tooth (with the long root), and his other one front tooth, for us to keep. It was kinda weird to see how long the extra tooth was, in comparison to his other teeth, but very interesting. He took his good ol’ time coming out of his anesthesia, but once he was up, he was ready to go. Literally, taking off monitors, trying to pull out the IV, etc.

Post surgery

We got in the car and began the drive home. Traffic was a lot heavier getting out of Philadelphia, which surprised me because we were in the middle of the day. We were re-routed through several different areas on the Schuylkill, but finally got back onto the PA turnpike and headed home. His mouth is still healing, but he is sporting a LOT of silver in his mouth, and looks silly with no front teeth. Funny enough, his sister also has two front teeth missing, too- except hers just fell out to make room for the adult teeth coming in.

His front left tooth (on the right) and his extra tooth (left) with the extremely long root
Still a bit drowsy from the procedure on the next day

Since the dental procedure, Greyson has been doing much better eating certain foods and is more willing to eat things that he normally would not have even touched. This is the final week of his ESY (extended school year) services, which means that he will be off from a school setting until he goes back to school, for first grade at the end of August. I am eager to see how he will react once he gets back to the regular, predictable schedule of his normal school days. I for one will be extremely happy that he will be in school again for full days, and that his staff absolutely adore him.

Roslynn is completing her last week of summer school, which was an optional program Derek and I decided to enroll her in, so she could continue her education over the summer. She had previous help in school with her reading and math skills, so we wanted to make sure that she had the concepts and skills fresh in her mind for the next school year, and second grade. She has spent this summer playing outside, playing with her brother and friends, and she attends summer camp every other week for the month of July and first week of August. I have tried to spend as much time as possible with her, doing fun Mom and daughter stuff, since we don’t get much time together alone over the school year. We most recently did a dinner theatre show of “The Little Mermaid” at the Dutch Apple Theatre, which we both really enjoyed! It’s hard to believe that she is going into second grade, and that there are only a few short weeks left in the summer- it always flies by so quickly.

After the show!
Getting Ice Cream at the new Fox Meadows

Our family is taking our first post-Covid vacation in August, and I am absolutely terrified of how Greyson will be while we are in a new setting. I have researched all sorts of safety things, ways to keep him occupied in the car for 12+ hours, and what types of accommodations we needed at the house we are staying at. I’m looking forward to late nights out on the balcony, watching/listening to the ocean, and am hoping to find some time to relax and enjoy the week. My family always takes a large family vacation every other year, so this has been long overdue with COVID and my mom’s illness. I am still finding it hard to believe that she will not be on the trip with us (physically at least). The beach was my Mom’s happy place, much like it is mine. It will be weird heading to the beach and not having her there to make fun of me for not going in the ocean past my ankles (sharks, duh), and laughing at me because I hide from the sun (gingers do not like sunlight). I do look forward to relaxing on the beach with the salt water smell in the air, a pina colada in one hand, and a book in the other. This is all hoping that Greyson will be okay in the ocean/pool, if we all survive the car ride there. Fingers crossed!

South Carolina ❤️
Greyson’s ready to pack up for the beach!

Lucky #7

The past four months have been a complete blur. Truthfully, 2022 in general has been a giant blur. I’ll probably paraphrase much of my life in this post, due to the fact that I can barely remember much that has happened. I will acknowlege that I basically lose my memory when I am stressed, or am in a difficult situation. I definitely think 2022 knocks that one out of the park.

As I wrote about in my previous post, Greyson was recovering well from his VNS implant surgery, and all was going fairly well at first. We noticed he had a lot of vocal stims that almost always happened when the device was actively running. We also noticed that the device also makes him extremely aggressive about a minute or so before the device is on. The first few times we had to swipe the magnet over his VNS, he seemed to respond very well to the intervention. The VNS has appropriately reacted to the seizures, haulting many within one or two swipes. We did two or three in person updates/adjustments with the Neurologist, and the rest of the VNS increases were done remotely, while Greyson was at school.

After about his third or fourth VNS update, Greyson stopped responding to the magnet during seizures. We went from one or two swipes, to four or five and still needing to use rescue medication. One particular seizure at school required all of the above, plus another dose of diastat. When this happened, I made the decision to change either the VNS settings or his medications. Because we were so far along with the VNS settings, we opted to stop his Epidiolex (the CBD based medication) and restart another trial of Onfi. Since weening Greyson off the Epidiolex, he has made a huge improvement on his seizures, not having a grandmal in a few weeks! The only downside to stopping the Epidiolex, is now he doesn’t have much of an appetite. As always though, once he stops having seizures, he doesn’t eat anything. When he’s having daily seizures, he eats everything. We truly can’t win with this kiddo!

Greyson was finally assigned a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) in mid-April, and we have been SO blessed with such a wonderful team of behavior specialists for him. Our team lead was able to change Greyson’s approved hours, so we have a LOT more coverage over the summer, including when he is at ESY (extended school year) in July. Right now, there are two ladies splitting Greyson’s hours, one main member and an intern. We are doing roughly about 25 hours of behavior interventions with him this summer, more in July once he starts the school program in the mornings.

Roslynn also begins her summer school program at the end of this month. She didn’t fail 1st grade or anything like that, but we had the option of doing a summer program for her, to maintain her skills she has learned over the school year. Luckily her program is virtual, so when Greyson is in person doing his program, I can take her to the local Library and other places to do activities together that we wouldn’t typically get to do.

The conclusion of 1st grade, went out with a bang for Roslynn. We ended up at our local Urgent Care, the evening before the last day of school. She and Greyson were playing in the basement, and Greyson knocked one of our framed photos off the wall. The frame broke and at the same time, Roslynn kneeled down onto the broken frame, slicing a nice hole in her right knee. It wasn’t a huge injury, but enough to require two stitches to close her up. I was making dinner at the time, so I didn’t see the injury actually happen, but she was fairly calm and collected, especially when I told her I was taking her for stitches. She did get fairly dramatic at the Urgent Care, telling the doctor that she was “going to die” in the exam room, and that the doctor was “going to chop her leg off”. At one point, she also stated she couldn’t walk and needed a wheelchair to get out to the car. The doctor stated we were most likely the last patient of the day, and that Roslynn was her favorite person she saw all week. Roslynn did great, taking the numbing agent as a boss, and even watching the doctor stitch up her own leg. I guess it made for a good story on the last day of school.

I am now officially an “as needed” staff at work, so I can focus much of my time this summer on the kids. I went from about 20-25 hours weekly, down to about 10. A big cut, but when you factor in what childcare costs now-a-days, plus hiring a private nurse for G, it really is well worth it. I will go back to part-time in September, and have a similar schedule to what I had previously been working up until now. The best of it all, is that I can sit out on the deck and work on stuff while the kids play in the yard or in the sandbox. I’m also using this time to prepare Greyson for our trip in August. Finding a good form of communication for him, will allow us to have a more successful vacation, hopefully without any injuries or broken items. I am an obsessive planner, so you KNOW I already have a pinterest board of ideas for traveling with a special needs child. Hoping the vacation is more relaxing than work, since we will have zero behavioral help for him during the trip.

Most recently, we celebrated Roslynn’s 7th birthday with friends and family. Sadly, the rain forced many people inside, when we were planning that most of the party would happen outside, but it was a great party regardless. We had a local ice cream truck rented out for our guests to enjoy, rather than doing the traditional cake and ice cream. We did an ice cream themed party, which was a nice theme to kick off summer with. After some spills and a potentially dangerous pinata, the party was a huge success. The ice cream truck was a hit with many guests enjoying the surprise, and we even had some of the neighbors join in on the truck, basically to make up for the fact that we blocked off the entire culdesac with cars and a huge truck. All is forgiven with ice cream in my opinion. My mom would have been so impressed with how far Roslynn has come in a year. She would’ve also loved the rainbow sherbert that the truck offered. I hope that as Roslynn continues to celebrate more birthdays, she will continue with her fun, loving and gentle personality, and will continue to make all of her family, present and passed, proud.

V(NS) Day

Up on the 10th floor of CHOP. I’m terrified of heights lol

Another early morning trip to Philadelphia on Friday, brought us face-to-face with the surgeon who will be performing Greyson’s VNS implant procedure. Dr. Kennedy is a CHOP neurosurgeon who has performed this procedure hundreds of times. I’m confident that we are in very good hands and that Greyson will (hopefully) benefit from the device. Our initial consult was on Wednesday with the nurse who is responsible for activating the device, and she explained to me the device, how it exactly works, and how Greyson may benefit from the procedure. 1 out of every 3 patients have some success with managing seizures with the device. Though its not a 99.9% chance it will definitely work, Derek and I figured it is certainly something worth trying. After going through so many medications, we think this is the best decision to move forward. I just hope that 2 is a lucky number because his procedure is scheduled for 2/22/22.

He looks so big to me. Wahhhhh stop growing!

The really cool thing about this device, is that it comes with a “magic wand”, that we can wave over Greyson’s chest if we feel like he’s going to have a seizure, or if he is actually seizing. Once we wave the wand over his device, it will activate and send a shock wave up to his vagus nerve, in his neck. That nerve then is responsible for telling the brain to calm the f down and stop sending epileptic waves to the brain. Kinda cool. The only thing that isn’t kinda cool, is that it takes the device about 3-4 months to be fully functional, and we have to take him into the neurologist’s office in Lancaster every 6 weeks until it is functioning at the appropriate level. We decided to get the procedure as soon as possible, so he was healed and (hopefully) adjusted well to the device before we go on our trip this summer.

Another downside to the device is that if the implant doesn’t work how we want it to work for Greyson (which it is common), we would have to wait several years before trying another surgical route. Dr. Kennedy explained that they don’t like to open up a child’s skull until the skull is fully matured and finished growing. We are really hopeful that this will work in our benefit.

Leaving Philadelphia on Friday to come home, it was so strange. I typically call my Mom once we are on I-76, to discuss the appointment and to get her opinion about what the doctors recommend. While pulling onto the turnpike, I realized that I couldn’t call my Mom and that she is gone. My emotions have been all over recently, and now to have this on top of it all, I am over 2022 already! I have been working hard on keeping myself distracted (otherwise I cry a LOT) by renovating old furniture. I have sold my first two projects, a vanity and a kitchen island and am SO excited to start working on my next project, a kitchen table. While this did start as a hobby, it truly has helped me cope with losing my Mom and all that is happening with G. Going back to work in the mental health field, while trying to cope with severe loss and grief, has been no easy task. The first week or so back, I was able to help out with insurance tasks, so I didn’t have to take any phone calls about individuals seeking therapy. First day back on the phones, I did get a pair of siblings who were seeking therapy to cope with the fact that their mother has terminal cancer. Even talking to the one sibling, I completely lost it.

Excuse the ugliness but this was after the call I took

I am not a cry-er. I honestly have cried more this month than I have in my 32 years of existence. I just never imagined losing my amazing Mother so young in life. By far the hardest part is having to discuss her passing with Roslynn, who now knows exactly what is going on. I am okay talking with her, but the random times when she gets tears in her eyes and says she “misses Nana”, are the hardest for me. Roslynn and my Mom were two days apart, both Geminis and I am a firm believer that is why they were so close. Two (not so old) souls who shared their love for music, family, card games and vintage barbies. And luckily, Greyson is blissfully unaware. At least I think he is. Regardless of our loss, I am happy that Roslynn has continued to push through first grade and continues to improve with each month that passes. I know my Mom would have been so proud of her and would have loved to listen to her read “Hop on Pop” to Greyson, as she does often before bed.

Comments from Roslynn’s report card. So proud of her!

Dearly Beloved,

We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.

Prince

I fully embrace this quote. There are so many that I could write down that I relate to at this moment, but for now, I am getting through this life. Each day of chaos brings a new tomorrow, and though I am living in a complete blur at the moment, I am trying to find the positives in it all. Though I have had phone calls from his school almost daily due to seizures, a positive is that Greyson has not had to go to an emergency room in about a month or so. Small wins, right? For now, I will continue to push through life, accept the school’s phone calls, and use my new hobby as my coping mechanism. My Mom would have really liked my love for vintage furniture and chalk paint.