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Sunday, December 7, 2008

On Eating and Its Consequences

That does sound a bit like an 18th-century tome, doesn't it, except that the 18th-century tract's title would have been followed by a colon and the following:

"a discourse concerning the first-hand exploration of the evidence of digestion, or lack thereof, and the malfortunate outcomes for the teeth of a young girl, witnessed at first hand by an explorer through the world of Hallie, recently yet tentatively among those who chews her food and will perhaps thereby avoid the moral and other consequences of sleeping with her bottle."

Yeah, that about sums it up. Gotta love those early modern titles: while long-winded they capture the essence of the thing and let the reader know precisely what's in those moldy binders before he or she mistakenly grabs the book off the shelf thinking, perhaps, that it's some excellent mystery.

Except for, of course, it is: no one really knows where this consequences-of-prematurity thing ends.

OK--where to start, now that you know the subject?

Well, I guess I'll begin with the family meeting/conference call that happened at the ped's office on Wednesday. It really wasn't quite the whole team. It was me, Sharon, and Ami (Hallie's intrepid nanny who is as invested in this as we are), our ped (who is great---and I'm not just saying this because he knows we blog), and our GI fellow, who called into the ped's office. Not able to make it was Allergy (which was too bad) and we didn't invite pulmo (though we may be seeing some exercise-induced asthma issues with Hal, but I'll raise that at our appointment in two weeks) and eyes and ENT were not really relevant. I would have liked Allergy's opinion about a repeat scope, but we'll have to get that later on. Right now, our chief goal is to rule out some other stuff so that we can figure out to what Hallie is really allergic and what just makes her tummy uncomfortable for other reasons.

The good news from that meeting is that we can take serious weight loss off the table. Hallie weighed in at 29 lbs (1320 grams), which is only a half ounce gain since early-mid September, but, given that she's been sick and, given that this still puts her at above 50% on the weight curve for her actual age, we're less concerned that we were a week ago about this. She has also gotten a bunch taller---we did not measure her length (she gets that done at GI next week), but we know from the way her pants are fitting (as in, she doesn't drag three inches on the floor) that she's getting pretty tall. This makes her seem skinnier.

So, with major nutritional concerns off the table for now, we can talk about the really serious stuff. In my mind, the biggest question is why her motility is so delayed and what we can do about this. It is typical for a person to void about 90% of their stomach's content in an hour, and we know from the last motility scan that Hallie had about an 80% residual at an hour (for informational purposes, this is formally called a milk scan---where they strap you down on a table after you drink some barium-laced formula and then they chart how quickly your tummy empties; the scan also picks up big reflux events, but the gold standard for reflux is a pH probe, which we've never had done and do not ever want to have done). We know from empirical evidence (undigested food coming up three or even four hours later) that Hallie's motility is still impaired. Sadly, a bag or two of time stamped vomit will not suffice for the GI as 'evidence', so we will have to try to do another scan to confirm this. This shall not be any fun, given that Hallie doesn't easily get strapped to anything these days (more on this later) and we need to find a radiologist willing to experiment with the as-yet unpatented 'seated milk scan.' We can definitely keep Hallie in a chair for an hour and distract her properly, but lying back on a cold steel table is something that elicits memories of a. RSV shots b. ng tubes and upper GIs and c. quite possibly some NICU trauma in our girl. We firmly believe that toddlers have memories (and Hallie's seems prodigious--she remembers people and associations; she knows about twenty books and more episodes of Sesame Street---can even remember what letter of the day goes with what episodes---and Signing Time by heart and we are not looking to traumatize our kiddo further. More on this later, too). Anyway, so we'll try to do the scan and see if it works, and if it doesn't, we are not going to push it.

One reason we are doing this is to see if Hallie will qualify for an FDA waiver to use cisapride, a very good motility drug that has very bad cardiac consequences for a small subset of people who have Long QT syndrome (a cardiac arrhythmia). She would have to do a cardiac workup (EKGs etc) but it could very well be worth it if this drugs helps empty her stomach more quickly. She is very severely volume limited and very gassy and we believe very uncomfortable and has developed some negative associations with food because of this.

We will also treat her empirically for bacterial overgrowth in case that is part of the problem. This involves flagyl, a heavy duty antibiotic, and we're a bit concerned that Hallie will not take to it well (she has a history of not tolerating antibiotics) but we'll try.

And we're still trying to get someone to answer whether we can safely add digestive enzymes to her food just to see whether that makes a difference. I need to rephrase this into a simple 'yes or no' question and try to get the GI to come out for or against them next time I see them (on the 19th).

If we rule out motility, or figure out how better to treat it, we may be able to isolate what sets Hallie off food-wise more effectively. I suspect she'll be okay on fruits and that more protein rich foods will still be more of a problem, but at least we'll have more variety in her diet.

Speaking of diet, the other thing we talked about with the ped and GI was how to get Hallie to eat more willingly. Here I need to explain: Hallie VERY willingly eats 'safe' purees until she is full (often gets less in than she needs to gain, but not to maintain her weight). The problem is that she has never made the leap to self-feeding or dealing well with texture. We know that she can chew---she does this with her sticks and fries---but it is a lot of work and she tires quickly. We think this is because she has poor muscle tone in her mouth (no doubt about this one; this has also impacted speech production and as her speech gets stronger, so does her chewing, and vice versa). We also think her swallow is a bit off--she gulps with every bite to clear her mouth and it cannot be fun to do that. We are not sure if the gulping is related to some sort of inflammation but we know that it's not structural and that her paralyzed vocal cord is not the culprit (though it probably doesn't help things much).

The not self-feeding and not eating textured foods is one of the big things that keeps her from being a 'typical' toddler. She is eating at the stage of a 9-10 month old, not a 30 month old. And she requires a lot of help from us and eating becomes a full time job both for whoever feeds her and for Hallie herself. Toddlers don't like to sit still, so this reinforces the negative associations that Hallie has with food and fuels her eating aversions. Not to mention that it makes it hard for us to ever leave the house.

Our GI rather unhelpfully suggested to us (YET AGAIN) that we tube Hallie. Uh, no, we don't think so. Number one: who the heck tubes a kid who is at the 50th percentile for weight and demonstrates that she can gain well? Number two: tubes are massively contraindicated for DGE, and we are not doing a GJ tube. Number three: she is not delayed on most of her milestones, is making fabulous speech gains right now (she has numerous two to four word phrases at this point and hundreds of individual words and signs). So, no, not unless you can convince us that there is some reason other than convenience to do this. This is major surgery and most likely will gain us very little and lose us much in the process.

We explained all this to the doctors, though I still don't think they completely comprehended that Hallie is not classically averse to food---as long as she likes it, or she knows it's not making her sick, she willingly tries food (once she begins to realize that she doesn't feel well on a particular food, she will reject it. We see this as self-preservation and not as a feeding aversion). She will play with her food, as a couple of the pictures below amply demonstrate). And her vomiting is less frequently at meal time than after a meal---when she is stuffed and feeling nauseous. So some of the classic approaches to feeding therapy won't work for Hal. The question is: what will?

Our ped wants us to play around with letting her feed herself and control things more. We've been doing that for the past couple of days, and, while Hallie's made great advances in terms of texture, this process means that she is eating very little food (and we're having trouble letting go of calorie counting) and the process itself is very messy.

First, the texture advances: Hallie actually ate about a third of a whole pear yesterday. I cut some slices up for her into 'stick' shapes (and peeled them) and she ate four or five quite happily and then signed and called out for "more." We were thrilled and surprised since, other than requesting potato sticks or french fries, Hallie has never actually asked for more of anything (other than her bottle, which is mostly for comfort). So I cut up some more and she ate most of those too. She ate more at lunch. And then at dinner she ate about 15 fries (50 calories, plus some more for oil).

Hallie also expressed a lot of interest in feeding herself purees, but can't quite manage a spoon terribly effectively yet. She begins by dipping her spoon into the puree (either prunes--homemade--or jarred baby food pears and apples) and then gets frustrated and figures out that it is easier to eat this (and her cheese/yogurt mix) by hand. She thinks it's a blast, but she gets a whole lot more on herself than in herself.

Here are two of our favorite shots from the 'be your food' series:

Note to self: prunes does not make a very effective hair gel.

So, we're going to continue to let Hallie control things more and play around with solid textures and do a weight check in about ten days to see what she's lost. We are hoping that more eating of solids will yield more capacity to eat solids quickly (a big issue for Hallie is how slow it goes; she hates to be in the high chair for too long and who can blame her?). If we can get her to add more solid goat cheese (goat mozzarella) to her diet, we'll be able to get her caloric intake a bit higher too. Ditto with french fries. Our goal is a whole serving (which is still only 110 calories, plus oil).

It's taking a huge amount of self-control on our part not to run and feed her a jar or ten of food to make up for things, but as long as she's not dehydrated or losing weight too quickly, we've got to keep trying. And if, in the end, we can't do this ourselves, we will need some intensive feeding support (but it has to be the right kind, which is not going to be easy to find).

Speaking of professionals that one doesn't trust, behold the pediatric dentist. With some trepidation and foreboding, we took Hallie to the dentist for the first time yesterday (about a year late, even if we account for her prematurity). The guy we saw is reputed by a lot of parents to be the best pediatric dentist in town, but we beg to differ. First, the waiting room at 8am on a Saturday was chock full of people. We were a bit surprised to see so many parents (fewer kids, because the places discourages parents from coming back into the treatment area) at such an early hour. We waited our turn and finally went back to the dental zone. The dental hygienist was nice enough, but Hallie wasn't thrilled (she has lots of issues around people touching her mouth. Gee, with repeated intubations over the first 9.5 weeks of her life, a lot of scopes and OG tubes, do you think she's got a reason for this?

You will note in the photo below that only one of us is smiling:

The dentist then came into the room and had a look-see. He spent about five minutes with Hallie (and we suspect even less with her medical form, which was filled out by me, and required much more than the standard one line or two provided for details). He noted severe decay, including nerve involvement, on the molars (one required capping) and pretty extensive enamel decay on a few other teeth (I'm not sure how many because he was really not specific. There were kids in six or seven dental stations, one dentist, a few hygienists, and no real time to spend per anyone child. Truth is, it felt like a factory with a couple of toddler- and child-friendly murals and games in the waiting room). His verdict: give her a whiff of nitrous oxide, strap her to a 'papoose board' (he did not appreciate my analogy of said device to a strait jacket), cap one tooth, bond a few others, send her home. When we expressed concern about the emotional trauma, and how this might adversely impact her already fragile mouth-related stuff, he said 'she's young; she won't remember it.' (Reminds me of all those idiots who treated premature neonates without any pain killers because they thought neonates don't experience pain. Not true at all). As I said, Hallie remembers everything and is a very bright little girl. So we asked about alternatives. His reply: dental surgery with intubation and general anesthesia. Now we might go this route, but not with him, and we need to explore the middle of this spectrum: what about versed? what about other forms of 'twilight sleep'-ish drugs (like the ones Sharon got for the IVF and FET transfers; she really has no memory of these events at all). His answer: no go.

Our answer: no go to him.

So, if you are reading this and are in the Philly area and have a recommendation for a GENTLE pediatric dentist, please email me at abbyschrad at earthlink DOT net. We will be talking/calling around to other dentists, and particularly those who specialize in special needs kids and doing it pronto. We want to help Hallie and making her mouth stop hurting so much will probably go far in this direction (getting her to brush also will, we hope...Amy can do this, we cannot. Amy must train Hallie to brush for us. Not sure how this will go down).

Anyway, that was all a little disappointing. It's only after the fact that we figure out what kinds of questions we need to ask before we schedule appointments with new types of specialists. But better to do this, even if we have to pay out of pocket for second consults, than to traumatize our kiddo. This experience also just reinforces the sense that we have that we cannot ask the parents of typical kids for recommendations; they simply don't know our situation. It's not that we are pickier than your average parent (well, okay, we are pretty picky) but also that we are dealing with a special set of circumstances. And that's okay--we need to meet and treat Hallie where she is. And in the process, we really do find some of the best professionals out there, so it's not all bad, right?

The other thing that this all confirms for us is that mommy instinct rules. (in the interest of gender and relational equity: daddy and caregiver instinct rules, too!)

What else, before I draw this huge tome that resembles the 18th-century tract in terms of length as well as title, to a close? Speech gains: amazing. Hallie has an avid interest in counting everything but her favorite thing to count is her toes. She likes to pull off her socks at diaper changes and count them and count them after her bath and before bed at night. Lately, she has not only been saying "one-two-three-four-FIVE!" but following this up with "FIVE TOES!" She has also been approaching Sharon with the following phrase "read book mommy please!". I think this counts as a real sentence! Woo hoo! She has been asking for increasingly sophisticated things by their name, resorting to her "I want some that, PLEASE!" only when she cannot name it. Not everything is clear, and sometimes we have to guess (figuring out that she was saying "Signing Time!" and not "Rachel" for her favorite show took a bit of work but I managed to do it---especially with the help of her addition of a fairly good approximate of the title in ASL). But words and phrases are coming in fast and strong and we are thrilled.

The other milestone reached this week is that Hallie has figured out how to put on her own socks. She is thrilled by this. So she can handle socks and shoes at this point; she is working on shirts and pants but tends to mix the two up a bit. She'll get there. She always does.

And speaking of getting there: her cold is clearing (still coughing some, still a bit congested, still on Albuterol) and the vomiting has abated a lot. So we've clocked in 160 days without vomit in this house this year, so far. Never mind that caloric intake is down (the two do go hand in hand, alas!)

And finally, as if that is not enough, Sharon hit 31 weeks yesterday (and her 38th birthday today). The ped, who had forgotten that Sharon is pregnant and that he is the one who referred us to our OB, just thought she had put on some weight...but of course said nothing because he has a wife and three daughters and they have trained him well. It's kind of nice to know that Sharon does not at all resemble a full-term pregnant lady, which is what she looked like at 22 weeks with the twins. So our fingers are still crossed, but things are looking more and more like she will go to term or close to term. And we are grateful for this.

OK--if you survived this update, you are a courageous reader indeed. I will try to be more timely next time!


Sarah said...

-> YAY for progress with eating!!!!! *happy dance*

-> The only reason I could see y'all needing a tube is if you have to switch to Elecare or Neocate and she totally completely absolutely refused to drink it or something extreme like that. otherwise, why on earth do a tube? silly GI. ;)

-> I bet the spoon thing will get better with practice!!! I know Sydney did. Although she still sometimes holds the spoon in one hand, picks up the food, places it on the spoon, puts the spoon in her mouth...LOL

-> For the antibiotics, try finding some really good probiotics too. I might have already mentioned this before, but when Sydney was last on heavy duty abx they REALLY helped her. The kind I got were infant ones at Whole Foods in the refrigerated case in the self care/vitamins/etc section. They were powdered so they mixed up invisibly too. I know others on PBM get probiotics from Walgreens or CVS or whatever that also work really well.

-> I cannot BELIEVE that dentist. >:-o

I hope you find a good dentist soon....

Oh, I wanted to mention...I've heard some good things about the feeding program at the University of Richmond. One of our feeding therapists here was telling me that some of the families who used Vanderbilt went there and some liked it. I think others found it too intense but obviously everyone's comfort level is going to be different. Anyway, just thought I'd mention that in case it helps. I don't know anything about it beyond what she said though...and I know they're a bit of a drive for y'all.

Anne said...

Happy birthday Sharon!

As the the pediatric dentist, I say you and I strap his backside into the papoose board, root around in his mouth for an hour or so with some sharp instruments and see how he likes it.

Debbie said...

I'm so sorry you ran into one of those kind of pediatric dentists, but congratulate you and turning him down. I've been researching this for months, mostly in the area of dental mill type clinics on my website,

Good luck to you!

Laura said...

i think the biggest challenge is to let go. i know it has been for us.
now i have to confess that we have yet to take daniel to a dentist mainly because after i interviewed my kids "pediatric" dentist about daniel's issues and then a month later argued with him about the pain my daughter shouldn't be feeling while he was doing a filling, i decided that he was cluesless of what a special needs child needs. i have found a pedi dentist that does specialize in dealing with kids with special needs but i am procrastinating on calling. i rationalize the fact this kid constantly bathes his mouth drinking water from sun up to sun down we should be okay. i know, bad mommy! still like you all that we have gained i fear will be lost by one traumatic teeth cleaning. daniel literally freaked when he heard the suction when he would come to his sisters' orthodontist visits. a lot of nicu developmental specialists believe our kids do have memory of their nicu trauma and i know they do just as you do. i say run from this dentist and start looking for one who specializes in special needs.
okay now let the girl get messy!
ps email me. i cant find your address and want to send a holiday card from hallie's left coast cyber preemie buddy.

23wktwinsmommy said...

Sending hugs your way! I take advantage of how easy it is to feed the kids. I hope you find answers and Hallie's eating improves soon!

Jennifer said...

Gosh that's alot to deal with.

We're making our trip to the dentist in the spring when we can finally afford dental insurance... I'm hoping for good news since she brushes her teeth every day, but our family history of teeth trouble is vast so I won't be surprised if something negative turns up.

Speaking of 18th century - talk about barbaric dentistry is on a whole... with everything my mom went through this summer with a bad root canal turned bone infection turned 2 surgery to irrigate turned 6 weeks on IV antibiotics I can't understand how dentistry is still so barbaric!

The Microblogologist said...

I will be very interested if you get the waiver on cisapride, I wanted to go on it for my issues since reglan helped me a LOT but the side effects eventually became worse than the motility issue (it made me beyond exhausted and I slept most of the time, hard to do course and lab work in that state). I was so excited to find a drug that is supposed to be just as good if not better and so disappointed they pulled it! I think they should put it back on the market but with the warning that certain individuals should not go on it and of course recommend monitoring the heart while on it. There are meds with way worse potential side effects on the market. My doc said I might be able to get it from Canada but I'm leery of such things.

Given how delicate her system is I would be careful with antibiotics and think Sarah's advice about probiotics is a good idea. You want the intestines to be full of beneficial bacteria, of course if they are full of the bad stuff you want to get rid of it but establishing a healthy flora is very important.

I've had crappy dentists but that one is beyond insane! While I doubt she will remember the specifics in the long term traumatic events like that can definitely remain in the subconscious and effect how she views the world and reacts to such things later in life. I hope you find a dentist that can help her and not cause more harm than good.

I am so glad that there has been some progress for her =). Congrats on the pregnancy milestone and happy birthday to Sharon.


Anonymous said...

I lost 13 lbs in only two weeks by obeying this one easy rule

BusyLizzyMom said...

Too bad you are not near us we have an amazing dentist who really understood our concerns and Elizabeth enjoys going. Elizabeth still has poor muscle tone in her mouth and has only just began to drink out of a cup, chewing still needs prompts and she cannot chew hard textures. Her oral motor skills have develped very slowly but are coming along. We do lots of blowing activities, chewing on bite toys and teaching her how to lick.
It is so nice to hear that her language is coming along, I remember how frightened you were as she was not talking. As you are finding out there is always some preemie related thing that continues to cause us to worry, the white hair I have gotten these past couple of years is becoming uncontrollable.
Hopefully the cisapride will work and help her tummy.

The Microblogologist said...

I typed out an answer to your question here and then windows decided to update and restart when I left the room to talk to the sibling for a minute! I ended up writing it out in my recent modge podge blog post (

Hope it helps,