Sunday, March 2, 2014

Tanner Larsen

Now that I have completed my posts about the bishops in my life, I can return to the chaotic ramblings of my history. As you may have noticed by now, I do not do to well in sequentially presenting events in my life. That is why I chose to use this blog. I feel this blogging medium is a forum that is open to the chronological as well as the immediate posts.

To that end, I am now including a post about an experience I had with a young, sick boy named Tanner Larsen. First, let me provide you some background.

David and Tricia Larsen moved into our ward about five years ago. They had been living in California and doing well in their jobs and in their relationship with each other but were deeply discouraged because they were unable to have children. After years of trying, they finally decided to adopt and were blessed with an infant girl whom they named Brinley.

In the few years after their adoption, in-vitro technology improved and the Larsen’s connected with a lab that had a high rate of success in live-birth babies. They went through the program and were able to create dozens of viable embryos. To increase the chances of at least one live birth, the doctors implanted three embryos. All three embryos seemed to flourish.

When the Larsen’s arrived in the ward Tricia was pregnant with triplets. Soon after they arrived, one of the three embryos lost viability. But they knew the risks and were still pleased at the prospect of having twins. Then came the bad news.

With an extremely low percentage of embryos grown in this lab there is a chance of chromosomal anomalies that would likely result in the death of the baby just before or soon after birth. If the child survived the first few months, it would suffer serious birth defects including blindness, deafness, and severe learning disabilities.

While the doctors were closely monitoring the development of the babies, they detected that one or both of them had this rare anomaly. David and Tricia were devastated. They had waited so long to be able to have children and had come so far. Yet within days the lost a fetus and then heard the news that neither of the remaining twins may survive.

I don’t think there is anyway life can prepare you for this. There is no manual to help you through the roller coaster of these types of emotions. But Dave and Tricia adapted quickly and prepared themselves from the worst while hoping for the best.

In early December Tricia gave birth to twin boys, Tyler and Tanner. They both survived birth and, when we arrived on the scene, they both looked like very healthy and normal babies.  But, as the months progressed, it became obvious that Tanner had serious issues.

There is not space on this blog to explain the 35 major surgeries or the numerous life-threatening illnesses poor Tanner endured. His head is so scarred and misshapen from all the different brain surgeries. But somehow he survived. He learned to walk. He learned to talk, well, he learned three words, “Hi”, “Bye”, and “Go”. His progress, though painful to watch, was a miracle to behold.

Recently, Tanner was diagnosed with a serve seizure issue. He would have hundreds of seizure a day which made his life and his parent’s life impossible. The doctors decided the only course of action was to perform a corpus colostomy where they split the hemispheres of his brain. This required yet another major brain surgery for the poor little boy.

As was usual, the ward pitched in to care for Brinley and Tyler while Dave a Tricia stayed with Tanner and to stay with Tanner when Dave and Tricia needed to attend to things at home. Karen and I took a shift at Primary Children’s to sit with Tanner for three hours. This was extremely hard for me. But it was even more difficult for Tanner.

This poor boy had tubes all over his body. They had a tight gauze hood on his head to keep him from pulling out his shunt. To make matters worse we had to keep his head below a line on an IV pole so that his brain fluid could drain properly. I will be honest, that was the longest three hours of my life.

He finally came home from the hospital and the family prepared to move to New Hampshire where Dave had found a job. While Dave was gone Tanner developed a fever and began vomiting repeatedly. Tricia was afraid that yet another infection had grown in Tanner’s body and that it would result once again surgery to repair his brain shunt. Not only would this negatively impact their plans to move, it would be yet another brain surgery for Tanner.

As I was called to be their home teacher, I was alerted to this most recent emergency. Because I was already in the Salt Lake Valley, I arranged to meet Tricia and Tanner at Primary Children’s’ ER. Following is an e-mail I wrote about this experience.

I wanted to share with you a rare positive experience I had with Tanner Larsen. I do this not to sound heroic, for I am not at all a hero, but simply to provide each of you a glimpse of the miracle of this small boy that I have not had up to this point.

I have felt uneasy about being around Tanner as a result of a long-standing fear I have had to associate with the disabled that still plagues me to this day. I have been envious of Bonnie and Martin's first experience at Primary Children's when they had an enjoyable time tending Tanner. When Karen and I went it was a less than positive experience. Perhaps it was my fault. I went to our shift very apprehensive so I may have muddied the waters some when I arrived.

Yesterday I went to the ER to sit with Tricia and Tanner. I have had a habit of going to the hospital to visit ward members but for the most part I do not look forward to such visits. Unlike President Monson, who is at his best visiting the sick, I tend to visit having an exit strategy for I never know if my visit is a help or a hindrance. This is exactly how I felt driving up to Primary Children's yesterday. It is one thing to volunteer to go that is easy. It is an entirely different matter to actually be there having no idea what to do to help.

When I arrived, Tanner and Tricia were sitting in the lobby. This is a most depressing lobby as it is filled with children in varying degrees of sickness. Many were throwing up. Some were semi-unconscious. Most were looking scared or just lethargic. No one wanted to be there, but who really ever wants to be in the ER?

Then there was Tanner....

He was dressed in a blue T-shirt and green scrub pants. He looked neither lethargic nor scared and he was totally conscious. Tricia had to hold tightly to one of his arms to keep him from roaming around. He was yelling his usual Hi and Bye to all who would listen – not even caring if anyone listened. Tricia looked exhausted and concerned about the possibility of having to admit Tanner and trying to determine how that would impact their pending move. The stress Tricia bears on a daily bases is, to me, unfathomable.

I sat next to her as we chatted. Again, I was struggling to find any positive thing I could contribute, but I noticed that what she needed most was adult conversation. Talking to Tanner for any amount of time can be a challenge. After chatting for a while, I took the risk to pick up Tanner to see if he would respond to me. As soon I a picked he up he completely relaxed and his anxious demeanor evaporated.

Tricia explained that he reacts better to men and showed me her arms that are scarred from Tanner's constant pinching. I was wearing long sleeves so I was confident Tanner would be less than successful at pinching my arms. I carried him for about 10 minutes around the ER trying to get him to look at the paintings or to touch the colorful wall, anything to keep him distracted.

Seeing an opportunity, Tricia's asked if she could run out to her car to get something. Tanner was still calm and I figured I could handle her absence, so she left. About a minute after she left, the charge nurse called Tanner's name and said his room was ready. Now I had a bit of a dilemma. I did not want to lose that room to another sick child. But I was neither parent nor guardian. I was just a guy holding a sick child. I tried to explain my case to the nurse and she simply said: "Follow me!" So I followed her.

Now I am in room 12 of the ER with Tanner and I have no idea how to let Tricia know where I was or how long she would be gone. Tanner was not concerned at all. So, I took this alone time to see if I could communicate with him. Each time he said hi, I would say bye. Whenever he said bye, I would say hi. Then he would make the biggest grin and laugh. We did this for 20 minutes and each time he laughed as though it was the first time we played the game. This basic level of communicating would become key later on.

After about five minutes in room 12, I stepped out into the hallway with Tanner and saw Tricia looking in the window of the door. She returned from the car just minutes after I was called back to the room and sat there for a while figuring that I was taking Tanner for a walk. As the minutes went by, she got concerned and deiced to look for me. Evidently the nurses did not tell her that we were in room 12. But, she found us.

We are in room 12 for about two hours with nurses and doctors coming in and out. They explained that they need to draw blood and insert an IV. I had a feeling this was not going to be a pleasant experience for Tanner as I knew it would not be for me. Finally the nurses came in with their implements of torture and it took them 15 minutes to prepare the hypos and medicine destined for Tanner. It seems the medical profession is really in no rush.

Tricia mentioned that she hated having to restrain him as Tanner tends to associate pain with her. This may be why he pinches her and bangs her with this head—especially in hospitals. So, since I won't have a long-term relationship with Tanner, me being the bad guy seemed a fair trade. When the nurses were ready to work on Tanner, Tricia left the room to make some calls. Now I was in charge of keeping this poor boy still as they injected the IV and drew his blood.

Tanner's demeanor changed has we restrained him. I could tell he was scared. His eyes welled up with tears and he looked at me and said, in a very timid voice, "hi." I looked at him and said "bye." With this he gave me a big toothy grin and we played the Hi/Bye game for the 15 minutes it took to draw the blood and clean the IV tube. He never cried. He never screamed. He never resisted against my restraint. We just laughed together.

That was my one positive Tanner experience. He will likely never remember this event. But that doesn't matter. For the first time since I have known Tanner, and Karen and I were at the hospital the day he was born, I finally had a chance to feel like a contributor. I made him laugh so that he could forget the pain. That was enough.

I still envy those who have contributed positively far more than I have. But I will forever cherish that night in the ER playing the Hi/Bye game with Tanner.

1 comment:

  1. Just read this again and was very touched by it! He still loves to play the hi/bye game! Thank you for being such a wonderful home teacher when we needed it most! Tanner is doing remarkably well. He is still a daily challenge, but his doctors and therapists in Boston are amazed at his progress.