Managing Editor's Note: We learned that Billy is back in the hospital, hobbled by his agonizing GI pain. Share your own story in the comments please. Or send us your submission to [email protected] for review.
By Julie Obradovic
Over the last six years I have been privileged to meet some of the most outstanding human beings on the planet. One of them is a woman I'll call Jane Doe. Jane is a warrior mother in the truest form, a leader in the advocacy community and a parent of a severely affected child. No matter what comes her way, she faces it with grace, dignity, and love. I am lucky to call her a friend.
I have wanted to write about Jane and her son, Billy (not his real name), for a long time. Autism truly is a spectrum, and the severity with which it affects some children is often too casually dismissed. Billy is one of those children who is profoundly affected, now a teenager. Over the years since I have gotten to know Jane, her plight to help him has always hit me hard. I asked her to share a recent traumatic episode with Age of Autism to put a name and face on the children and parents who are fighting this fight everyday. To those of you going through the same thing, this story is also for you. To those of you in a position of power to do something about it, I beg you to do so. This is the reality of Autism for far too many families. Here is the story in Jane's own words....
The Medical Story
Billy is fifteen-years old and nonverbal with a long history of GI disease, immune deficiency, and more recently headaches. When not in pain, he is sweet, engaging and affectionate. He has not been doing very well since the end of September, mostly battling headaches on top of the usual GI issues. For the two weeks prior to this recent hospitalization, the topic of this story, Billy was very edgy, noncompliant, self injurious, and at times aggressive. In the last week before, he became more self injurious and aggressive; I was talking to his DAN physician or the staff almost every day.
Billy had a little congested cough (very unusual for him) in the two weeks prior, and when the cough ended, the aggression/self-injurious behavior increased. He kept biting/gnawing on his upper arms. He wanted me near him, but he wanted to dig his nails into me and scratch me almost constantly. At this point he would not wear clothes, and he would not get off the couch.
Billy has epic constipation (he is suppository dependent), reflux and chronic headaches. I know the behaviors associated with all of those things, and I know how to handle them and relieve his pain. This time I knew he was in pain; I just could not figure out what it was. Then he stopped drinking his elemental formula and water. So by Friday I knew there was no avoiding ER, because he was dehydrating.
We could not even get Billy to the car. He refused to dress and refused to leave the couch, let alone the house. I thought I'd never see anything more frightening than Billly's grand mal seizure in 2006, but this night was worse. The more I talked to him and explained to him that we had to get in the car and get help, the more upset and self injurious he became. He bit up his arms badly, and he gave himself two black eyes in the process.
I had to call 911. It took five paramedics to get him on a gurney, in restraints, and in an ambulance to get to our local hospital. At this point I thought the poor kid had appendicitis or something. I'd never seen him so out of control. The hospital got IV fluids going and ruled out a lot of things. CT scan finally showed that his small and large bowel were full of air, even though he did not look any more distended than usual. Soon after the CT scan, however, his belly grew very large and became very hard.
The local hospital transported us to Children's Memorial in Chicago, which is where we were for five days. Billy was in loose restraints Friday through mid-day Monday. He was just too aggressive and self injurious because of the pain in his belly. Diagnosis was ileus (bowel shut down) due to virus (the cold in the last two weeks).
Since Billy was not vomiting and began passing the air in his belly on his own, the hospital doctors decided not to intervene other than to give IV fluids and a little Tylenol for the pain. So you sit and wait for that air to pass; even with medication on board, it's pretty damn painful. Thankfully, the distention went down, and he seemed more comfortable on Sunday, but then suddenly his belly blew up again and we had to start over. That was pretty disheartening. The doctors at the hospital said that while passing all that air, another pocket of virus can open up in the intestine and cause you to distend again. By mid-day Monday Billy had a soft belly, was much calmer and back to drinking water and elemental formula again. So they took him out of restraints, and on Tuesday they removed his IV.