It’s the beginning of a new era for the Hoopes Family. Our lives are filled with packing, cleaning and painting right now. Why? Well, because as of Monday, we own a new house. It’s about 20 minutes north of here in a quiet little neighborhood.
I can’t remember if, when I was writing about Patrick’s tonsils, I also wrote about his name having come up in the lottery for a special needs charter school. I was so buried in tonsillectomy recovery with my husband out of town that all I could think to do that week was complete the required paperwork.
Well, things settled down a bit and we decided we’d better figure out what needed to be done to know if we wanted Patrick to attend that school. I’ll be honest, my first impression was that I didn’t want to give up all of the great things I had going on right then and didn’t see any reason at all to move.
BUT I did follow through by setting up some school tours and meetings with the school principal. And, well, given the length of the drive (and the added complication of having to use the freeway for the commute,) I decided to look around the neighborhood in case Patrick did great at the school and we wanted to consider living closer.
Well, from that moment on, we just couldn’t seem to leave the investigation alone. A house caught our eye, we looked it up. Found flaws. Then another appeared. I couldn’t stop thinking about it so I drove out to see it. It wasn’t right. Nor was another. And we didn’t really think we were house shopping. Just getting to know the neighborhood.
Until… Brian spotted one nearby but NOT in the neighborhood we were looking at. We did a walk through and as we talked about it we could see so many great things for Patrick’s future in that house. A quieter neighborhood, proximity to parks, proximity to a great school, space for a bedroom downstairs and away from us when he gets older.. and the list went on and on. As we talked, I was filled with this sense of total peace.
So before we found an answer about the school and just 2 weeks after even discussing the possibility of moving, we put an offer on a house.
The rest has fallen into place very quickly. Through a ton of quick work, we cleaned up our house, did some staging, held and open house. And found a buyer. In fact, not just a buyer but one we’re really excited about selling the house to so we don’t feel quite as guilty for leaving. The financing came through in record time. The sale came through without a hitch.
And so by the end of this week, we’ll be moving. I’m not ready. It’s gone SO fast! And I’ve got just this week (one Brian’s working evenings in, even) to repaint the entire basement, finish packing, be present during Patrick’s last 2 weeks of school, tie up loose ends with PTA and church.. and be ready for the movers to come on Monday.
I am exhausted and I hurt everywhere. And there is so much still to do.
That brings me to another new thing in our family. Mostly, another new thing for me. Remember that post a few months back where I said that I just kept developing tendonitis everywhere as I tried to get in shape? And did I mention as I wrote about Patrick having EBV that we think I had it too?
I know I didn’t mention that at the end of November one morning I woke up and I just couldn’t walk. My knees were swollen and unsteady and it felt like I was ice skating. It took about 4 weeks to finally get to the point of doing cortisone injections which restored function pretty immediately. Except that things weren’t quite right. Not in my knees. Or my wrists or my elbows.
Well I finally got enough of a moment of quiet to go to the doctor who said, no, none of that is normal results of going from inactive to active. She ordered several blood tests looking for autoimmune diseases and other things.
And, well, one came back positive.
As it turns out, I have rheumatoid arthritis.
Our theory is that it was kind of there latently.. but when I started to exercise it brought it to the surface. And then, when I got sick (possibly with EBV) it triggered the auto-immune response.
RA is a lifelong, chronic illness with some pretty scary possible outcomes if left untreated.
The good news is, it’s one of the ones they are having success in treating. And we caught this quite early, we think.
So with immune suppressants, my new doctor thinks that he’ll be able to put the disease into remission and really minimize it’s effects.
It’s scary. The drug I am on is some very serious stuff. I’m now scheduled to have labs and follow up visits as often as Patrick is. This is a HUGE life change.
On the other hand, I’ve only given myself just one shot of the new medicine and it gave me 3 wonderful days with very little pain. The doctor said that in about 3 weeks it may be built up enough in my system to be considered remission. And it’s great to know that this hasn’t been all in my head, or because I was out of shape, or wimpy, or bad at taking care of myself.
And I’m thankfully so very busy with the move that I can’t really think too much about it right now.
It’s been such a whirlwind that it’s kept me, in part, from thinking too much about all the things that we’re leaving behind. I did lie awake fretting about that a lot at first. We really do have a beautiful home with wonderful neighbors. I’m going to miss my kitchen, my gardens, just being in the neighborhood of my family.. and most of all, I’m going to really miss my friends.
The only thing getting us through is this amazing peace that I feel whenever I drive out to our new home. The Lord is providing that in ample doses. And I know it’s where Patrick and we belong.
We just got back from Omaha again. It was a short trip. Barely more than 48 hours. In some ways very routine and unexciting. In others, very eventful.
About a month ago, I remembered to ask Patrick’s transplant team if he was supposed to have a one-year follow-up appointment. They said yes.. and then I asked if it really had to happen right on the transplant anniversary. After all, remember, Patrick’s transplant happened both on his birthday and on Halloween. We didn’t really want to spent October 31st at a doctor’s appointment.
They said it didn’t matter, and so we decided to take advantage of Patrick’s fall break. We checked him out of school on Wednesday at lunch and hopped on a plane to Nebraska.
He was crazy excited this time. Or may anxious. I can’t decide. He was happy about the idea of seeing his nurses and couldn’t seem to let it go. We tried to explain that this was just a checkup. But he didn’t settle down until after the appointment. I think because then he knew it was all ok.
Wednesday night, because Patrick was bouncing off the walls, we checked into our hotel but then headed down to the riverwalk to try to burn off some of his nervous energy with a stroll along the Missouri. It was really dark. And it took a really long time for Patrick to settle down. But eventually, he did. And it made him tired enough to sleep pretty well that night.
The next morning, it was cold. Especially for us, coming from Utah’s record-breakingly warm fall. We tried to go to a playground but got too cold. So then we went for a drive just because. We decided we were hungry and Patrick asked for chicken nuggets. So we drove to McDonalds and Patrick discovered McNuggets. I discovered that Sweet and Sour Sauce is made with peaches and so there really are no Patrick allergy-friendly dips available and we settled for ketchup.
Finally, it was time for the appointment. Patrick hadn’t finished lunch so we brought it along and as the team came in, Patrick was munching on french fries. He then decided he was still hungry, and we added on a lunchable.
The appointment was mostly routine. They recorded his vital signs and growth, went over his medications, asked if anything big had changed. Then the surgoen joined us and looked Patrick over. He said Patrick looked great. He said to go ahead and discontinue one of his antibiotics. And we talked about when and how to decrease his immunosuppression one more level. Then I asked some questions I had. Patrick played with the doctor and his cell phone. And then they went on their way.
The dietitian came in to talk to us next and we decided to go ahead and stop Patrick’s tube feeds and see if he can keep up with his nutrition orally. That doesn’t mean that for sure this will work. It means a really focused effort to make sure he’s eating and drinking enough. But it also means some new comfort and freedom for him.
Not doing tube feeds means having to figure out some other things. Like teaching him to take a chewable multivitamin instead of giving a liquid. It also means that we have to figure out a way to give him 1 teaspoon of baking soda in divided doses throughout the day. Right now, that can go along with his meds in his g-tube. But one day, they’d like a goal of him not needing anything by g-tube. They’d even like to remove his g-tube. And so eventually we’ll need to find a way to get him to take baking soda in food.
A few weeks ago, the hospital’s PR department called and asked if we would be willing to let a news crew come to Patrick’s appointment. So there was a cameraman there filming the whole time. (Well, except when the dietitian came in. She is camera shy.) And then we went and did interviews afterwards. It’s so hard to capture this big story in just a few words. I hope we did it justice. We tried taking them upstairs for Patrick to visit with some nurses. That just ended up being really awkward. Oh well. One day, the story will air and I’ll share it here. We hope it gets people talking about organ donation. And maybe express our thanks to Patrick’s donor’s family and also the amazing medical team who got him this far.
We stopped tube feeds that same night. Patrick was really restless in his sleep, too. I don’t know if that was because of the missing tubes. Or if it was because I snore. Or because he discovered how truly heavenly comfy sleeping in down pillows is and spent the whole night trying to figure out if he wanted to sleep in the down pillow more or sleep snuggling with me more. I finally told him I didn’t mind him sleeping on the pillow. He said, “You won’t get mad?” And I said, “No. It’s a soft, soft pillow” and he snuggled down and went to sleep. He’s asked for a down pillow for his bed at home.
After the appointment, we had 24 hours before our flight home. So we did our best to find some family fun. We went to the zoo both days. The first, Patrick wanted to just play outside. We got jumbo pretzels that we ended up sharing with some very demanding peacocks.
And we let Patrick play on the zoo’s playgrounds that we’ve mostly shied away from in the past year. Then, we went to find dinner in Omaha’s shopping district called Old Market. We ended up at a family italian restaurant called Spaghetti Works where Patrick got to experience his first salad bar. He ordered grilled cheese, which turned out to be a very disappointing sandwich made of two pieces of cheesy garlic bread stuck together. So instead, he ate my spaghetti.
The next morning, we packed up, ate breakfast, did laundry. Finally, we had to check out and so we went back to the zoo. Brian splurged a bit and bought all-day ride passes and instead of looking for animals, we spent the day riding stuff. We rode their steam-powered train. (Makes all other zoo trains seems like a huge disappointment.) We rode the carousel. We rode the “ski-fari”, in other words, one of those ski-lifts made amusement park ride.
The ride passes included admission to the stingray encounter which actually turned out to be awesome! They have trained their stingrays to take a piece of fish from the back of your hand with a certain command. And therefore, because they know this command, if you put your hand in the water they right way, they’ll swim over and put their mouth over your hand and suck. They call it a kiss. Also, because guests feed them, the stingrays will come to guests looking for foods. So instead of gathering hoping to snag a quick touch, you have stingrays coming up and reaching out with their fins to get your attention. It was really cool.
It took us all day to figure out how the zoo tram worked and we happened to go exactly opposite the most efficient way. However, that did earn us nice walks through the aviary and lemur island exhibit, which we didn’t do much of in the winter. And then we had a nice long ride to end our day at the zoo.
We went back to Old Market for lunch. Brian remembered that I’d heard of and really wanted to try a restaurant/bakery called Wheatfields. They have a reputation for being really allergy conscious. We caught them 5 minutes before close so we made a hurried lunch decision. But it was delicious, nonetheless. I ordered Patrick his first cream soup. (New option without a dairy allergy.) He had the creamy chicken and rice. Ok. We both did. I ate about half of it because it was huge. But he did great with it, which gives me courage to try more. If you have a great cream soup recipe, sent it my way.
And then, we caught the flight home.
I am super, duper proud of Patrick who made it the entire trip in underwear and without any accidents.
In fact, I’m just extremely proud of Patrick. He discovered this old video on his tablet taken a couple of years ago. It’s of him and me playing at the table. Nothing much. But I can see so many changes.
Patrick’s speech has come SO far in the past year. In the video, he is licking and spitting out fruit snacks and asking me what happens if he swallows. Now he is eating full meals. In the video I’m telling him not to drink too much water so he won’t make himself sick. Now the only concern is if he’s drinking enough. He’s still himself. Dramatic. Adventurous. But without the limitations.
As usual, summer has been very busy. Brian survived the Youth Conference pioneer trek (they did a one week recreation of the handcart pioneers that helped to settle Utah). Getting last details like their trek booklets and video slideshow kind of ate up all of my attention before and after. And Brian was swamped with getting everything ready both to prepare and clean up from trek, as well as getting work responsibilities squared away. Of course, this coincided with my amazing respite provider being sick for two weeks in a row and I barely held it together, honestly.
As a nice treat, though, my sister came and helped Patrick to bed one night so that I could drive up and visit my husband on the trail. That was a little bit of payoff, despite all of the craziness. Brian was called on to speak to the youth that night. He talked about the women’s pull, when the boys and men leave the carts and the women pull them up the steepest part of the trail in memory of the many pioneer women who crossed the plains without husband because they were divided by circumstance or death. As he talked, I saw a little bit of how it must be for him to watch me struggle right now with my current demands. How helpless he must feel watching me. I’ve been so focused on my own battle that I haven’t really seen things through his eyes that way before.
While Brian was away for youth conference, we celebrated Patrick’s “miracle day.” The 6 year anniversary of when Patrick, basically, died in my arms.. but didn’t leave us. I am still in awe of where we are now considering what happened then. I decided that I’d just scrap all responsibility that day and just focus on Patrick that day. It was swimming day at school, which means I got to go play in the pool. We left there and went out to Arby’s for lunch. (Arby’s has generously donated summer lunches to kids this year and so Patrick and I have been regulars this year.) While there, I asked Patrick what he’d like to do to celebrate and he chose the zoo. And, as we finished at the zoo, I decided to go follow a lead from the morning. The lifeguard at the school pool overheard me saying how hard it is for a transplant patient to find a pool clean enough to swim in. He gave me suggestions of a therapy pool that might be willing to sneak us in during a water aerobics class for a private swim session. In the end, that’s exactly what happened and Patrick and I enjoyed a full hour of having the shallow end all to ourselves. We came home exhausted, ate a quick dinner, and then went to bed early. A perfect way to spend the day.
Patrick’s last day of summer school was a week later and that’s why you haven’t heard much from me. I can’t quite put into words what it is to spend all day every day trying to supervise, teach, potty train, clean up after, and keep nurturing a little boy with this many needs day in and day out.
I’m trying to make the best of summer and shake the guilt of the mom who formerly had amazing mommy school themes planned for every day but now just makes it through the day. Patrick gets up at 6:34 every day. We go immediately to the bath. Patrick’s discovered laying down in the tub and so he has decided to learn to wash his own hair. This means that I can’t just put him in the tub and do things until I’m ready to get him out. He takes care of himself and gets out. Most often. Sometimes I catch him with dry hair and have to send him back to wash it.
We sometimes take lazy mornings where the only goal is making sure he makes it to the potty every time he needs to and that he eats a good breakfast. (He’s discovered cereal now with soy milk and that’s leading to better breakfasts.) Some days, we take some time for playing and learning. I let mommy school slide for a bit and it certainly isn’t organized and awesome, but Patrick started to miss his schoolwork about a week into this stretch of summer break and started to get out his writing books and practicing his letters every day, or grabbing his sight word readers and practicing with me.
Potty training is going well. Patrick has had several all underwear days, even using the bathroom away from home. But sometimes he forgets and sometimes he gets stage fright.
He’ll get restless midday and so we take lunches at the park. We gave up on the location by our house because there were never kids his age there. We now bounce around between different parks, going most often to the one near our home with a shaded play structure. It’s nice to give him the chance to move and interact with other kids. And we’re pretty used to eating the lunches I pack now. Of course, Patrick’s gotten a bit fixated on corn dogs in vegan ranch dressing and picks that most often. But build your own pizza kits, hot dogs, pasta salad, chicken nuggets, and hummus are regular favorites.
A lot of our time is also spent practicing time outs, too. Patrick’s been angry again lately. I talked to his psychologist about it and she pointed out that he’s got a lot of new skills (language, potty, eating) and a lot of new independence now that he doesn’t need feeding tubes. And she thinks that he’s trying to figure out his boundaries again. So we worked out a behavior plan with 3 very careful worded warnings and then consequences when he’s out of control in time out.
I tried starting this behavior plan on the Pioneer Day weekend and it made for a very LONG weekend as Patrick fought back against the new rules and consequences. I don’t think we’ve got things quite right yet.
Just when we were making ground, he caught a cold. Amazingly, it only lasted a few days and went away without many problems. But we had to start all over again once he was better.
We’ve also been continuing to go to social skills group at the autism clinic and Patrick’s attention seems to be getting better the more we go. Plus, I get a pretty fun little show watching a bunch of autistic 4-7 year olds practice circle time and social skills through a two-sided mirror. I’m the old-pro parent there with a bunch of brand new, doe-eyed new parents who are terrified of the diagnosis. I just sit there knowingly, quietly watching. They see behaviors that are confusing and scary to them. I just see autism and know that with a little practice and help, that won’t be a big deal. I know there is a lot more parents can survive and learn to do than they realize, and much more potential in children, too. I also see how Patrick doesn’t act exactly like the other kids in the group and remember why I don’t often use that label to try to explain his needs. But the group helps, regardless, and provides some entertainment for me, too. Especially when the kids come play with their reflections.
With a little bit more time back, we’ve snagged some family time this July. We got our bikes in good riding condition and went to the Jordan River Parkway. I went once. Brian has been taking Patrick back. Brian and I even squeezed in a couple of dates. We went to a movie last night and realized that we aren’t ready for that much leisure time yet. It just felt wasteful to sit in a theater doing nothing and we couldn’t quite comprehend people having time to be regular movie goers. (Not that it’s wrong. Feeling like leisure activities are frivolous is a pretty common side effect of the kind of extreme trials we’ve faces this year.) We also took a morning and went out to breakfast and to the driving range. That didn’t feel quite as frivolous and it was fun to see all those skills we learned in golf lessons coming back. I’ve lost less than I expected. We went to the zoo a few times. Brian had a company party at Boondocks so we went drove go carts, played bumper boats and arcade games, and introduced Patrick to bowling. With a ramp and bumpers, he actually did pretty good at it. Especially in a total overstimulating environment and with a cold.
That’s the long and short version of most of July in a nutshell. I think I’m gonna wrap up this sort of travel log sort of blog post right now. There are some other big things that happened in the past couple of weeks, but I think they deserve a post of their own.
I think for the next little while, we’ll be building our normal week by week. Some things are routine. A lot is just made up. Most of the time, it feels like we’re flying by the seat of our pants, but every once in a while, we strike gold and I know that I got being a mom right that day. I wish more days were like that.
Patrick’s doing well back at school. Waiting to go in the morning is really hard. He gets up excited to go to school and then we try to fill the mornings. When we have our act together, we will do something before we leave. Work on homework. Visit the library. I’ve learned it helps to go early enough to let him get some wiggles out before school so we usually try to get 15 minutes to half an hour at the park that’s next to the school.
I’m enjoying a brief little bit of respite while Patrick is at school. One of this teachers pointed out a quiet little walking track near the school. So I drop Patrick off and then go walking. You know that mom who stays in her exercise clothes all day long? Shops in yoga pants? Picks up her kid with a messy ponytail and no makeup? Unshowered. Long into the afternoon? Yeah.. I’m that mom right now. But it is SO NICE to be able to exercise and this is the way I am doing it.
After walking, I’ll sit down in the far corner of this beautiful little grassy, shady park where i walk and read my scriptures. I love that the ladybugs are my study buddies.
An hour goes pretty quickly. But it is very nice to have this little bit of time for quiet reflection. Especially because, as happy as it makes him, going back to school has been hard for Patrick.
I was thinking that somehow transplant had magically relieved him of his sensory processing disorder. No. It turns out that it was just being able to be home and unstructured. Keeping it together enough to follow the rules and sit still and be attentive at school takes enough of Patrick’s energy that, even though it’s only one hour, when I pick him up he is wound up like you wouldn’t believe. It takes a good hour for him to settle down again.
His temper is hot again – fueled by steroids that I’d hoped might not be necessary in this high of doses by now. And we spend a lot more time trying to cool down when angry.
The days that are golden we manage to fit in something magical like an hour of practicing reading early reader books at the library or sitting down together to practice writing or have lunch at the park. Patrick’s quickly taking to the idea of kids meals and is trying just about any sandwich I deliver packaged in that form. He devoured an Arby’s roast beef sandwich, though at home he has sworn up and down to me that sliced roast beef is “too brown.”
At least once a week, we try to stay late after school at the park. One or more of the kids from class will stay after school to play. His classmates really do love him and try to include him. I heard one boy tell a friend, “I can’t leave Patrick to play with you. He has been away and is lonely. You can play with us. But I want to play with Patrick.” Big words and big heart from a kindergartener.
We have enjoyed a brief break from the rain and that’s had us spending afternoons outside. I asked Brian for flowers for the garden for mother’s day. He spoiled me by taking me to the greenhouse and letting me pick out flowers to my heart’s desire. So I’ve been planting all week. Patrick still struggles with this because he’s not supposed to garden in this first year and feels left out of an activity he loved. So we try to do it in small portions.
However, it did get him outside and, though he protested a lot the first day, after that he started asking me if I’d go plant flowers so he could play in the yard.
Speaking of Mother’s day.. I had such a peaceful day. Weekend, actually. Brian spoiled me all weekend, taking me out for breakfast and dinner at favorite restaurants on Saturday, and then cooking for me on Sunday. We opted to stay home, which made for a quiet and peaceful day.
I was invited to speak in church that day. That’s a nervewracking assignment for a woman who has a history of infertility and adoption and raising a child with chronic, terminal illness. Womanhood and motherhood have NOT gone the way I expected and I used to cry through and try to avoid church on mother’s day.
However, spending my walking time in the week before mother’s day studying messages about womanhood and motherhood and God’s love really can help to build up your sense of self-worth. After all that we have been through this past year, I’ve wiped away most of my expectations. Without expectations, it is hard to be disappointed. Instead, I spent most of the day just feeling grateful. Grateful for the lessons I’ve learned. Grateful for another year with Patrick. Grateful for relative peace.
I needed that little recharge. Because not every day is full of peace and gratitude. Not every day do I get motherhood golden. I’m still learning to juggle time and responsibility, fostering independence and giving loving attention.
The end of this week ended up tricky. Wednesday night, late, I got a message from Patrick’s teacher saying a stomach bug was working its way through the classroom. Brian and I talked about it and decided to give Patrick a choice of whether he wanted to wear a mask and gloves and go to class or check out early with me.
The first day, he opted to check out early. We had a golden mommy day that day where I made up for missed school time by working with him on reading.
The next day, he chose to wear his mask. That day didn’t go as smoothly. He came home riled up and didn’t want to nap and decided to avoid it by being extra naughty so I’d need to stop him and/or put him in time out. A rainstorm came in that night and I can’t help but wonder if the change in barometer hurts him and he just doesn’t know how to express it. I mean, I ache from tiny little injuries. He had his whole digestive system removed and replaced.
And so we go. Day by day. Week by week. Making this up as we go along.
I told a friend on Sunday that it feels somewhat as if my life was erased when Patrick got his transplant. We’re trying to piece it back together a little at a time. I’m trying to get the most important things back in first. There is a sort of peace in that simplicity. Some days I get the parts in wrong and the gears get jammed. Other days, they fit and we work like a well-oiled machine. Most days, a little of both happens.
Hope you’ve enjoyed pictures from one of our well-oiled days. We surprised Patrick with a trip to member’s night at the zoo. He’s been asking since Brian and I went on our last date if we’d take him on a playdate, too. When we pulled into the zoo parking lot, his face lit up. Bonus that the summer dinosaur display was already up.
It is amazing to me to consider how far Patrick has come in the past 6 months. How much our lives have been changed in the last 6 months.
We decided to celebrate Patrick’s transplantiversary and half-birthday in grand fashion. After all, a transplant is an awesome birthday gift but a really sucky birthday party. Patrick deserved a party.
Right before transplant, Brian won a weekend getaway at a work party. So we finally redeemed that trip this weekend. Brian took Thursday and Friday off of work and we drove up to Bear Lake. Patrick was excited about the trip but very confused that our vacation didn’t include a plane. Let’s face it, we often fly off somewhere and THEN drive 3 hours or more once we get there. So a 3 hour drive, while that was a pretty big trip for me at his age, was a pretty small thing for him.
I still can’t get used to packing without TPN. I was able to pack all we needed with each of us only needing a small carry-on bag. I did, however, have two big bags of food that I took with us. Because Patrick is a hungry little monster and having food always available is kind of important. We knew that it was off-season in Bear Lake and we weren’t sure what food options we’d find for him. And besides, it was fun to have lots of snacks.
The trip was a much-needed dose of rest and family fun. We drove up Thursday afternoon and arrived in the early evening. They were still working on cleaning our room when we got there, so we opted to go for a drive. We ended up in Montpelier, ID for dinner at a little pizza joint. They were kind enough to make Patrick a little cheeseless personal pizza.
It always takes time to get Patrick settled in a new place. Hotel rooms are especially problematic. But we did succeed in finally getting him settled down. We stayed in the family suite so we could have a bathtub and a fridge. That meant, however, that instead of a bunkbed, Patrick had a fold-out couch. Have I mentioned Patrick won’t fall asleep away from home without me? Yeah, my back was pretty sore come morning. Getting too old for fold-out couches.
The next morning, Brian had planned a big surprise for Patrick. After a pancake breakfast, we went to a vacation rental shop and picked up a 4-seater ATV. Patrick has been jokingly asking me if we could drive our car up the side of a mountain for a while now. I think he was surprised to find out that it was actually possible. My thrill-seeking, rough-and-tumble, car-loving boy could barely wipe the smile off his face. He laughed his head off through all of the roughest parts of the path. Finally, we ended up off-roading in some snow and decided we were all tired. So we headed back down, stopped in a meadow for a snack, and then Patrick voted it was time to be done with the mountain.
We ended up stopping and letting him just play with the vehicle for a while before returning it. And then, because we had time and because the vehicle was muddy, ended up driving it over to a car wash.
Patrick is a big Bob the Builder fan right now. So he was really excited to find himself up in rural country where there were also lots of construction vehicles. We had a great time spotting the real versions of diggers and cranes and dump trucks.
He was a little less enthused about visiting the lake. I didn’t think to bring him a camera along. (I need to remember he wants to be a photographer). And he wanted his dad’s. Eventually, though, we showed him the fun of throwing rocks in the lake and then he was sold.
Inbetween outings, we hung out in our hotel room. Amazingly, after the first night, Patrick settled down and was happy to be there so we got the chance to watch a movie together while he played. We also explored a couple of local cafes and I was really proud of Patrick for trying food everywhere we ate. I was also very impressed that they restaurants were all so willing to help us invent Patrick-friendly foods from the items on their menus.
And then, Saturday morning, when Patrick got up he told me that he loved our hotel and didn’t want to go home.
But we had to go home anyway. And, as with any vacation, once we made it home we were all just happy to be here.
Saturday evening, we let Patrick pick his birthday dinner. He threw me a loop by asking for chicken soup and grilled cheese. (With an egg allergy, we can’t just open a can for this.) Thank goodness Daddy was up for the job.
And after dinner, we had birthday cupcakes. We sang Patrick happy unbirthday and he blew out his candle before I could explain making a wish.
Enough wishes have been granted this year for our family anyway. 6 years. And 6 months.
I never blogged about our “vacation” days in Omaha. See, insurance pays for Patrick and one parent to travel for care.. but if daddy comes, too, then we worry about airfare costs and sometimes that means staying a few days. We were beyond bored of our usual Omaha/Ronald McDonald House activities. So Brian declared that we should make it a vacation and try to find new things.
Sometimes circumstances lead you to discover things you might not try otherwise. Like today I had roasted red pepper hummus, veggies, saltines minis and chicken nuggets for lunch.. something i may not have ever planned for lunch if not for short gut and oral aversion and food allergies. But back to travel. Brian did his homework and here are a few discoveries.
One of the things that you may not guess about our family because I’m not exactly fit is that we are a fitbit family. Especially on vacation. Brian loves to walk. I love to walk with my family. And so we walk. So of course, when we arrived in Omaha, after unpacking and dinner, we went out for a walk. We heard often about a place called Old Market when we were living in the city. But it was brutal winter and bitter cold for walking and we were too poor and immunocompromised for eating out. So we didn’t go.
Visiting Old Market was high on our list going back. It’s a pretty nifty few blocks of downtown Omaha. Lots of dining, some shopping, and on every other street corner, a musician. Not the creepy of musician begging on the street that you aren’t sure if you should cross the street. Just honest to goodness musicians with their instrument cases in front of them. A drum line. A girl in a flowy white skirt hula-hooping to her friend’s music.
Patrick was in his adaptive stroller and we learned that the combination of cobblestone roads and staircases made this the trickier way to explore the street. (Most businesses had ramps on one side, but few had them on both.) But it was a fun adventure nonetheless. Maybe someday we’ll have time and money and healthy immune systems and we’ll find a place to eat there. A few caught my eye.
Omaha boasts one of the world’s best zoos and, though we visit every trip, we never feel we have seen it all. It changes with seasons and because the habitats are so real, the animals in view are always changing, too. We spent Thursday morning there in beautiful weather on their spring break, so crowds were bigger and we stuck to more outdoor exhibits, caught the seal training, walked around the rhinos.
Right before returning home in February, Patrick and I went for a drive. On a whim, I followed some historical markers and we ended up driving to a historic monument in the bluffs above Council Bluffs, Iowa. My little Utah heart that grew up looking down on the Salt Lake Valley from various vistas leapt for joy to find an overlook of Omaha. And I knew I needed to bring Brian back.
So, Thursday evening, when we had just enough time for a drive after dinner, I directed Brian up to the monument. His reaction was almost the same as mine. And of course, Patrick did what he did last time. He started exploring. He noticed a set of stairs and a little trail going off to the side of the monument. We resolved to come back and explore that trail. Because we grew up in the Utah mountains and that is what people who grew up exploring mountains do.
The next day, we packed a crazy little dinner of ham sandwiches and pringles and jell-o cups and we headed out in the late afternoon to explore. We set our watches and checked our fitbits to know how far we’d gone. And we started walking.
We walked around this sometimes steep, often narrow and overgrown but clear train that followed the edge of the bluff. And then we got to where we could see the trail led down into the subdivision at the bottom of the hill. And we turned around and we went back thinking that it was nice, but a bit of a bust.
On the way back, we learned that the actual destination was DOWN the bluff. Down a nice steep incline by the railroad tracks, at the base is a spring. So if you ever want to go hiking there and you don’t mind really steep trails, so explore. It was a bit too much for us with Patrick and my asthma that hates hills. At least this trip. But do go. Especially if you can go in early spring. That was the perfect weather for a hike.
We picnicked overlooking the city. Patrick ate most of his ham sandwich. As much as most other kids would have.
Of course, morning were still nippy so we didn’t want to hike in the mornings. Instead, we took a field trip out to Ashland, NE to visit the Strategic Air and Space Museum.
My father-in-law is an engineer. He loves planes. My husband grew up loving planes. This is one he’s wanted to explore for a long time. And it was awesome to let him take his son and share that same love of planes.
The museum has two hangars full of planes, mostly old military planes. Brian can name most models by sight. His eyes light up as he tells me stories of what they were used for. Patrick loved peeking in cockpits and engines and playing with the flight training demo. Though he’ll tell you we didn’t let him ride in any planes because we didn’t have quarters to put in the little ride on planes they had. (You know, the kind you find in front of grocery stores.)
After spending the whole morning in the museum, we bought a parachute toy in the gift shop and Patrick and Brian took turns trying to get it to fly off in the wind on the front lawn.
Then, we went and found the entrance to the state park next door. Didn’t go in, but bookmarked it for next time. We took a little drive through Ashland itself because we love small towns and were hungry. Then we took country roads back into Omaha. Again, hoping to find a quaint little place to eat. But we ended up at Five Guys instead. After several days of eating kids meal hamburgers (Yes, you read that right. Patrick, started eating burgers this trip.) this was one burger Patrick had no interest in at all. Kids and their tastes.
Have I ever mentioned that finding little bakeries is a favorite foodie activity of ours on vacation? Donut and cupcake shops hold a special regard for us, especially. So when Brian found an all-night donut shop in Omaha, he knew we needed to go. After our hike above Council Bluffs, we took a meandering drive to our room through that city. And, along the way, Brian declared we were in the right neighborhood for donuts.
I can’t really capture the essence of this place in words. It was NOT the seattle donut shops we have frequented. It opens in the evening and stays open all night till morning. The stop itself has two big display cases full of a decadent assortment of donuts. And behind the case, two little old ladies frosting trays full of donuts more for the night. Our order was rung up on an old fashioned cash register that popped up our totals on numbered tiles and dinged when the drawer opened. The walls were adorned with pictures and souvenirs from Hawaii and an abundance of pictures of cats.
It was one of the most quaint and unique bakeries I’ve ever been into. We all think the donuts were amazing. Especially Patrick, who suckered me into letting him have his cake donut with pink strawberry frosting on it, even though I knew his belly might complain later.
Saturday morning, we drove through the traffic of a St. Patrick’s Day parade. We needed a less busy place to spend the morning and Brian needed some more steps. There is a bridge that crosses the Missouri River from Omaha to Council Bluffs. There is also a park on either side, both of which are worth a visit on their own. But our goal this morning was to walk across the bridge.
So, we grabbed some Taco Bell. (Waffle of the waffle taco was another hit for Patrick.) Then we bundled up against the Nebraska wind, put Patrick in his stroller and away we went. It was one of the colder days we experienced there so Patrick ended up wearing Brian’s hoodie.
It was fun and peaceful to be out for a walk above a river. Even if Patrick was in a grumpy mood and didn’t want us to hold hands or push his stroller one-handed or do any other number of things that made him feel out of control. After a week of walking, I knew I needed to do more walking when we got home. I was sore and tired. But it was fun.
And when we got to the Iowa side, we walked down in their park to the riverfront and let Patrick out to run for a little bit before heading back.
For lunch, we met some friends at a park. It was one of the most perfect weather Saturdays of the year. The kids (with help from dads) played on the playground. And for lunch, we grabbed some pizza from one of our favorite unique-to-the-area pizza places, Mama’s Pizza. I highly recommend the chicken club pizza.
Saturday, after enjoying an amazing roast pork dinner provided by volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House, we checked out of our room and moved to a hotel. We wanted breakfast and a smooth checkout since we needed to leave for the airport around 6 a.m. on Sunday.
We went to a hotel in downtown Omaha and, of course, after checking in went out for a walk. We walked past the ball park and arena and a mural that I don’t know how I didn’t notice was there until just this trip. The end destination was a place called “Pioneer Courage Park.”
The original address we were aiming for was a different sculpture park that we really need to go and see on another trip. But we found our actual destination almost by accident and were so glad to make it there.
This is an enormous bronze sculpture of a pioneer wagon train. Yes, a train. Several wagons. It is HUGE! You look across the street and there is a herd of buffalo across the street. As I understand it, go a little further and you’ll also find a flock of geese. Anyway, I have never seen the varied stories of the pioneers that settled the American West so completely and emotionally depicted all in one place. This sculpture was amazing.
And Patrick got to chase a bunny rabbit in the dark and jump off of slabs of rock. So we all had fun.
We got back to the hotel and Patrick was greeted by the desk clerk with a gift bag full of toys. As we checked in, she asked what brought us to Omaha. She didn’t expect “transplant followup” as an answer. And she went out of her way to add some extra love to his day. People are amazing.
So – There you have it. How to vacation/staycation on a dime while immune compromised in Omaha, Nebraska. It was fun to come back to the Ronald McDonald House each day and tell the staff about where we’d been or where we were going and hear the interest in their voices about the places we were discovering that they hadn’t even been to themselves. It felt so good to be doing something DIFFERENT while we were there. Making some memories of our own choosing there. Kind of claiming the city for our own.
I’ve been saying for days that I needed to blog. But it’s been a doozy of a start to a week. I’ll take my pictures from last week, which was much funner, and tell those stories in the captions.
Sunday, Brian made a comment to me as I got home from church about how many diapers he had changed for Patrick while I was gone. I thought, “Oh, we’ve had a lot of that lately” and didn’t really listen. It was a busy day. I’d been at church for 3 hours and we had decided to stay home that day and invite some friends over for dinner last minute. So while Brian was turning out a roast and roasted potatoes, I was throwing some bread in the breadmaker and trying to get Patrick to nap. And, well, I didn’t think of it again.
Until the next morning when Patrick’s nurse checked his temperature while I ran upstairs to grab some supplies to draw labs. I came downstairs to him telling me, “He doesn’t have a fever, but his temperature is a bit high. You might keep an eye on that.”
But Patrick wasn’t complaining. He just needed a lot of diapers changed. And we’d just changed his formula to be a little more concentrated so it would run over less time and I thought that was all that was up.
When it was naptime, though, I checked Patrick’s temperature. To do this, we always check ours first to be sure the timpanic (ear) thermometer is working. And, well, Patrick’s temperature was still 99.6. But mine was 100.4.
All through naptime, Patrick’s and my bellies gurgled and talked to each other. By evening, I was feeling pretty darn sick. Apparently stomach bugs know how to get past our germophobic defenses.
Knowing Patrick had been feeling a bit stir crazy, and also knowing it wasn’t wise to go out, I’d embraced Dr. Seuss’s birthday wholeheartedly with books and themed activities for mommy school. I’d promised Patrick a dinner of green eggs (jello eggs) and ham. So, sick or not, I threw on a pair of gloves and still got dinner on the table and prayed that was enough to protect anyone who needed it.
The night was rough, but at least I was already up to be able to watch to be sure Patrick was ok. By morning, I was a bit better, though exhausted. Patrick’s temperature was down. His Monday labs had shown elevated liver enzymes.. an early sign of illness.. and there were some small hints of dehydration. I saw this online on Monday, but because Patrick’s prograf levels were late posting, I didn’t get to talk to his doctor until the middle of the day Tuesday. We decided that if he wasn’t seeming sick, that we’d wait and check labs again on Thursday.
At 11:45 a.m. an alarm went off reminding me that Patrick’s new feeding therapist was due to come. Oops. I probably should have cancelled. But knowing that I was taking super precautions to protect Patrick and that stomach bugs aren’t airborne, we opted to go ahead.
Amazingly, Patrick was a rockstar for feeding therapy. He ate, including swallowing, a few slices of lunch ham. And half of a soynut butter sandwich. Then he asked for hummus and carrots.. practiced biting and chewing the raw carrots (though still not ready to swallow those.)
Sure, it made his belly pretty unhappy. But Patrick only knows unhappy bellies and so he didn’t mind. And after she left, when I made myself a bowl of Progresso beef stew, he decided he wanted to join me in eating that, too.
Yesterday, I finally was feeling better. Patrick got up in the morning just bouncing off the walls, though. He asked me if we could “do move our bodies,” our Mommy school code for getting gross motor exercise in every day. And then he asked if it was exercise class day at the library.
And knowing that he really, really needed to get out, we chanced it and went to Mommy and Me exercise time at the library. The teacher there has seen us through 2 summers. I made sure we arrived early so I could explain what he’d been through and she was super careful with him. He did pretty darn well, actually. Better participating than I’ve ever seen from him there. But about 15 minutes in, he was too tired to go on.
That was ok. We went and picked books. I let him get his first library card. And we went home.
It snowed Tuesday. Patrick was so excited to play in it. Only his 2nd chance this winter. So on Tuesday, sick as we were, we went out and shovelled walks. Wednesday, he was thrilled the snow wasn’t gone. He declared we were making a snowman. And a snow elephant. And a snow gorilla. He went to sleep talking about it.
And I woke him while it was still warm. The snow was all crunchy from melting and refreezing and not at all right for snowman making. This got me off the hook for the other creations. But we did manage a little snowman. And because I had carrots to give it a nose, Patrick was more than happy.
Today we both were finally feeling better. Patrick got up a little too early, but it meant we were ready for labs. I was going to blog first thing, but the internet was down. So we dived into mommy school instead. The theme of the week has been fairy tales and today we learned about The Gingerbread Man. Patrick is a little miffed that the main character of the story got eaten. He has a lot to learn about fairy tales. It was a good theme, though. I was able to squeeze a little more math in that usual.
Patrick is really, really mad at the idea of addition. He doesn’t like the extra symbols. He HATES the word “equals” (or as he says it, “eekso”). But today, by using teddy grahams that he was allowed to eat as we did the math, he played along a little bit better. Plus, I said “1 plus 2 makes” instead of “equals” and that helped.
I’m trying to be patient waiting to get Patrick a teacher. Not that I can guarantee that it will even make a difference for him. I just worry that I am not making ground on helping him catch up after all he missed this year. I really wish sometimes I could send him back to class. I admire moms who homeschool and are able to make that work in a consistent routine. Today was a good day. Patrick gave me an hour and a half before he got restless and asked to outside and I declared “recess” and let him go play in the remnants of snow.
I was hoping better looking diapers would have meant also better looking labs. But Patrick’s labwork this afternoon still showed elevated liver enzymes, dehydration creeping upwards, and an elevated white count. I called Patrick’s transplant team and asked if we should change his formula recipe and they opted to add back in some extra fluid for the weekend. I am sad he needs it, but at least I won’t be as worried about dehydration. Patrick’s been doing great drinking water and powerade and eating popsicles, but I was still worried.
Meanwhile, as long as Patrick is still looking and feeling happy, we will just keep an eye out. They might do some blood tests for a few viruses on Monday. But hopefully, things will get back to normal.
Tonight was one of those nights where things just felt comfortable and happy at home. Our bird, Max, was in a really cheerful mood.. simply playing. Patrick snuggled up in my lap to play tonight. Max climbed up, too and let Patrick pet him. (This is a HUGE compliment from Max, who is fairly bitey.) Brian was in his chair playing with a new geek gadget. And everything was right with the world for a little bit.
People have asked if we have a new normal yet. Some days I feel like we have found a rhythm. But so far, nothing sticks for more than a couple of days. We are still figuring it out. And as long as there are looming follow-up appointments and the hope of Patrick starting school just around the corner and little medical enigmas lurking… Well, it’s hard to imagine we’ll be settled for a while yet.
I was almost going to put off writing one more day. Then I thought, “Well maybe I’ll send a short update out just so people know we are ok.” Then I pulled up the blog and realized I haven’t written in almost a week. So I’m going to try my best to post a quick blog. I am very VERY sleepy so this may not be my best.
Things are good here. Patrick’s belly finally has been seeming settled. On Sunday I turned up Patrick’s feed rate without it making him sick overnight.. a first since he got sick and a sign that he might finally have beaten the virus. However, the diaper I changed just as I put Patrick back to bed has me questioning my confidence in that notion and we’ll see what the night brings.
We’ve been working on finding our rhythm again this week. I mixed up the routine a bit this discharge. I realized that it wasn’t worth the struggle of trying to do so many things outside of the room. It just means more exposure for Patrick. And more time spent tracking him down when he wanders or telling him to stay out of things and more bad feelings between us.
He was so happy to be back at the Ronald McDonald House. So happy to be able to play without rules with his choice of toys. The first couple of days he didn’t want to leave the room. So I started making formula here in the room instead of in the kitchen. And I started drawing up his morning meds at night and putting them in the cooler I keep in the room so I don’t have to go get them in the morning. And we don’t go out as much. And we are both cool with that.
But we have had some fun, regardless. Friday, Child Life at the hospital arranged for a mini carnival and haircuts to be held at the same time. So we went over and got Patrick and myself much needed haircuts. And while it was my turn, Patrick got to go into the room next door and play. Then, he got to pick carnival prizes. Only he didn’t just pick for himself. He got gifts for Brian and me, too. He picked me out a bottle of lotion which, really, is the first time I think I’ve ever had him pick a gift for me and struck me as very thoughtful. He picked hoop earrings for Brian, but then noticed a Rubix cube and changed his mind. For himself, a book light that we use every night to read his picture scripture stories.
Saturday, we got together with a friend that Patrick made here at the hospital. They are staying in the Leid, a hotel attached to the hospital. His grandma and I have been watching for a chance to get them together. So on Saturday, I invited them to come play in the snow. We had a foot of snow, but it was 45 degrees and starting to melt.
So, in the morning, Patrick and I ran out to Shopko and bought some snowboots and waterproof gloves on clearance. We also picked up some snow dye bottles. And then we had a McDonalds happy meal together. (The little boy is here doing the intensive feeding therapy program so we thought that eating together might be good peer support for both boys.) Then we went out and played in the snow for several hours. We built a snowman. Patrick’s friend then said we needed a snow elephant, so we built that, too. I dug a box out of the recycling bin and we helped the boys sled on a little hill and they laughed and laughed. We made snow angels. We threw snow at each other, but not snowballs because our perfect packing snow made killer snowballs. A family in the house from Tennessee kind of timidly came out to play, too. I think the moms had as much fun as the kids.
And then, by the end of the day the color had all run off our snowman because of the heat and by the end of the next day, he was just a little pile of snow.
Another treat is that Patrick can take baths again. Since transplant, baths have been very limited and often forbidden. With an ostomy, they were possible but had to be short. After takedown, he had an open incision for almost a month. In the hospital, I only do sponge baths. So to be able to put him in the tub and let him play is a treat for both of us. He’s had a few 1 hour baths. One morning, I just put all the towels in the room on the floor to catch the spills and splashed and let him go.
So much has changed for Patrick. It will be a lot to get used to when he comes back. He is eating like crazy these days. I’ve started to let him have snacks to just graze on. I put the in the disposable coffee cups that the house provides. So he munches on cheerios while we drive. I have cheerios in my seats. Who knew I’d be happy for that little milestone one day?
On Sunday evening, I packed him a cup of veggie straws and we went for a drive. He finished his cup after 10 minutes and asked to go back home for more. I didn’t oblige. Instead, we went to drive across the “Mormon Bridge” just cuz we’d heard about it. Then, as I was driving back, I noticed signs for the “Lewis and Clark Monument” outside of Council Bluffs, Iowa. So, we went over there. Arrived just as the sun was setting, reflecting in the Missouri River. Being in a state park, on a hill overlooking the city.. felt a bit like home. Patrick was just happy to wear his snowboots and stomp in snow and mud.
Patrick also snacked on Cheerios all through our Primary lesson this week. We were looking for a room to do this in and found the Sunday house staff member resting on the couch in the room we usually use because her back was out. Patrick just snuggled up next to her and watched her show and ate Cheerios. Then, when her show ended, I told him it was time to do his lesson. So he asked her to join us. She obliged and it was very sweet, and kind of nice to get to have someone else listening as we talked about Jesus and his resurrection and atonement. She even sang along with us. Patrick tried to make her say the prayer, but I persuaded him to teach her about how we pray and let her listen just this one time.
Anyway – I was saying… so much has changed for Patrick. He is growing up in so many ways.
He eats. Kind of all the time. It’s still new and most of what he eats is like what you’d feed a toddler still learning to eat. But he has discovered a love for ham and cheese sandwiches. He chews up and swallows the bread and cheese, but spits out the ham. The first time he did this, I was stunned. When a few days later I offered another sandwich, he said “Mmm. Yum!!” I think he just needs time to go through the developmental stages of eating. I haven’t taken him back to feeding therapy yet because I wanted to give him a week to get better and see what the doctors said in clinic this week. But we are moving the right direction.
He has realized that dirty diapers don’t feel good. Now, he knew this before, but his stool was very different before. It was all liquid and either had to be changed right away or absorbed completely into the diaper. This is different. So we get up and change him during the night if he goes. And he’s learned to go back to sleep after. (A HUGE step for him.) And when we someday can keep a routine long enough, I think we’ll be ready to start exploring potty training again because I think he finally has some control over that.
Meanwhile, this means I am very sleepy. It’s kind of like I have a newborn again. Formula has to be refilled every 4 hours because Patrick’s bags only hold that much. A bigger bag could be put on ice and not need this attention, but then Patrick would have to wear a bigger backpack. He has one, but he prefers the little backpack that doesn’t get in his way when he sits down. Between changing diapers and refilling formula, I am up every 3-4 hours during the night. This is why I don’t blog. I am so sleepy I crash when Patrick crashes. And since naps can mean insomnia, we don’t always make that up during the day.
He still chews on everything, but he’s given up paci’s. Ok, I’ll be honest. He tried to cave on that today. He found his pacifiers and asked for them back today. But I reminded him he had chosen to be a big boy and didn’t need them anymore. Then I grabbed the sewing kit and cut the paci’s out of his wubbanubs and sewed their mouths back closed. He was sad. He said he wasn’t a big boy. He was a girl. So he could have paci’s. So I grabbed a chewy tube and sewed it onto the hand of his monkey and told him that he was a big boy and his monkey could help him have chewies instead. This kind of worked and he is happily sleeping with his friends again tonight.
Patrick has also made tremendous leaps in language. His first/second person confusion is pretty well gone. And he talking more and about more grown up things. The other day, we had a really off day. We tried to nap and it failed and Patrick had a chip on his shoulder all day, and after fighting about nap, I did, too. Nothing clicked. He kept pushing boundaries. I kept falling for it and snapping at him. Finally, we got to the room in the evening and I sat down and just cried and told him I didn’t like fighting with him anymore. He gave me a big hug. He told me, “I’m a tech.” This is the title of the medical assistants who check vitals at the hospital. I don’t know why this exemplified the most compassionate person he could be at that moment, but I understood that was exactly what he was offering. Then, he got up and got my Kindle and brought it to me and said. “Mom. Look at your Kindle. It calm you.” And you know what, he was right? We sat on the bed and I read my kindle and he played with his tablet and we were calm.
He is still in love with reading. I wish we were making faster gains. It’s really hard when school is only 1 hour a day, 3 days a week and we rarely make it a week without missing at least one day. But I’m trying. On Monday, I pulled out Patrick’s stack of sight word readers and my laptop and I told him that for every book he’d read to me, I’d let him play one game on SesameStreet.org. This strategy actually worked really well. Not only did we practice reading, but we played some educational games. Then, when he wanted more mommy school, I pulled out a little game we have with letters on dice and we built words to and then changed their first letters to find rhyming words. It was one of my better mommy school sessions.
And today, we just stayed in the room and cleaned out Patrick’s toys. It helped him remember what he had here so he wanted to play here more. It helped me organize some of what was overflowing. And it gave us a step in the right direction for daddy to come back tomorrow.
Brian has had a doozy of a trip home. He had meetings with a group from out of town last week and a couple of days in, one of them came down with a cold. Well, Brian caught it. And it took him down. He had to take a couple of sick days. When he was still running fevers after a few days, he actually ended up at the doctor where he was diagnosed with bronchitis and given antibiotics and a cough suppressant. But that didn’t mean rest for him. We decided that a last step to really cleaning up the house was replacing the carpet in our bedroom. So, still sick, he moved all of the furniture out of our room so that could be done Monday morning. Then, also Monday morning, discovered that he had a nail in his tire. Had to put on a tire and take it to be repaired.
He is a lot better, but his cough is still lingering so I get to try to reach Patrick’s team tomorrow to figure out if that means that Daddy shouldn’t be around. And then we have to figure out if that means postponing his trip or finding him somewhere else to sleep or wearing a mask all the time or what. This is another new thing for us. Navigating a contagious world with an immune suppressed family member.
It has led me to research into contagious period for certain illnesses. Someday, I’ll summarize that into a handy guide of “how long to stay away if you have been or might be getting sick.” For tonight, this was a handy little document. http://www.bccdc.ca/NR/rdonlyres/8061A728-C969-4F38-9082-B0296EF2A128/0/Epid_GF_childhood_quickguide_may_09.pdf Especially given that Utah is experiencing outbreaks of a few vaccine preventable diseases right now. I’m biting my tongue and trying not to blog about how scared I am coming back to this absolutely ridiculous problem. It’ll probably come out one of these days when I have time, though.
Anyway – I think I’m about out of stories worth telling. Well, maybe just one more. First of all, we survived a very long weekend of no dinner groups at the Ronald McDonald House. I miss the friendly group of families that was here over Christmas. The current group has a more every-family-for-himself attitude that I think has grown out of the panic of cold and flu season. Regardless, knowing that norovirus can be spread in food, I decided we’d better just cook for ourselves. I started to brainstorm dinner with Patrick the other night and he said, “I have a great idea! Let’s have chicken! Like at the hospital.” Well, I’d had KFC one night and apparently he liked it. But KFC was out of chicken and literally locked their doors that night. Odd. So we ended up getting a rotisserie chicken instead and I think we did pretty darn well with instant mashed potatoes and gravy made out of Patrick’s chicken broth. Patrick ate a ton and we were both happy.
But tonight, dinner groups are back. And we started out with a great one. The Omaha Lancers, a junior league hockey team. Not knowing they were coming, Patrick decided to wear his Avs (hockey) sweater today. So he gave us away early as hockey fans. And I’m sure he made and impression and won them over. He traced the player numbers on every team member’s jersey.. then spelled out the letters of their names. They made him pancakes and ham and toast, all current favorites, which of course won him over, too.
Ok. I am out of stories and really should get some sleep.
We had a very unique, but very amazing Christmas day this year.
It all started with a little bit of excitement. Every night sometime between 2 and 4 a.m. I have to get up to refill the formula in Patrick’s feeding bag. So at 3:30 I was up and it seemed to go really smoothly and I stuffed the little stocking that Patrick had hung on the IV pole by his bed. And then I went into the bathroom and the pump started to alarm.
Well, I got there quick enough that it didn’t wake Patrick and I fixed the kinked tubing. And then I noticed a very distinct smell. The smell of Patrick’s ostomy bag leaking. I felt around the pouch and it was definitely starting to come off. That usually would mean waking him to change the bag. But I looked around a room full of presents that Santa had already brought and I knew that if I woke him, we’d be having Christmas right then.
Now, my previous history of early Christmas mornings aside, I also knew that Patrick would not have time for a nap in the rest of the day without missing out on some big fun things. So I took a risky chance. I crawled in bed with him, wrapped him in a towel, secured the bag the best I could, and slept next to him. I knew we’d be starting the day off with a big mess and that we’d have to work hard to keep it from making his skin sore. But it seemed the best choice for a good Christmas day.
I had nightmares about ostomy bags the rest of the night and at 6:30, when Patrick started to stir a little, decided I’d waited long enough and let him wake up. I explained he was wet and needed to go right to the bath. He wasn’t so sure, but I didn’t give him a choice.
We got him cleaned up pretty quickly and changed into his spare Christmas morning pajamas. (We learned long ago that we need two pair of special Christmas PJ’s.) We asked him if he thought Santa would have come and he said no. Somehow, he’d missed all the presents on the way through.
But when he did see them, that’s all he wanted.
We let him start with his little stocking. That was simple stuff. A Dora doll, some hot wheels cars, some silly putty. Then Brian pulled out the big stockings.
I’ll confess. I was pretty worried about Christmas stockings this year. I could not figure out how to go about getting that part of Christmas ready when Patrick needed to be with me and time in stores was limited. Heck, we tried to buy stockings once and had to leave the store without. So when a package from Brian’s work showed up full of gifts, including stockings, I was relieved.
Patrick’s stocking was huge. It took half an hour to go through. Of course, that was the tip of the iceberg for Christmas morning. Between family, friends, DDM, and gifts donated through the hospital and the Ronald McDonald House, we were very well taken care of this Christmas. When I look back at myself a month ago, lying awake in the hospital in tears and unable to sleep not being able to imagine how we could possibly pull together Christmas this year and contrast that with the abundant and generous outpouring that we received I am humbled and grateful.
A phrase from a verse in Malachi kept running through my head. Malachi 3:10:
“prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”
Indeed – it took most of today to make space to put away Patrick’s many gifts and there is a small collection in the corner of the “too much” that we will probably pass on to other children.
After opening gifts in our room, we let Patrick pick a couple of toys and we headed down to the kitchen to take care of meds and formula. It was fun to see children pop in and out with Christmas presents and smiles on their faces.
Finally, 10:30 rolled around and Santa was due to arrive. Christmas with Santa in the Ronald McDonald House is going to stay forever in my memory. Each family had a pile of presents with our names on them. Most were simple, some were astoundingly generous. Santa went around the room telling the kids about how he’d picked certain things just for them and which gifts were most popular. I’ll never forget the tears in the eyes of one mom whose family had arrived for emergency surgery just a couple of days before who really did think they’d be missing Christmas this year.
And then, after presents, we gathered for Christmas brunch. The Hilton had sent a gourmet meal over with roast beef and turkey and potatoes and stuffing and the yummiest green bean casserole on the planet and about 20 different desserts.
We ate well and then had to reign ourselves in because we knew we had other plans.
In fact, right after brunch, I went up to the room to pack our things to go for the rest of the day. A couple of my very close friends from college married and live two hours away in Iowa. And they invited us out for Christmas dinner. So, we took a drive yesterday. It was fun to see country life in Iowa. And it was amazing to spend some time with friends.
Drue and Rachel have to be two of my favorite people on the planet. They’ve been through a lot in their 13 years of marriage. And now seem so happy and in their element. Both grew up in smaller towns and so it is natural that they’ve settled down in bigger small town in Iowa with 5 acres of land and a historic house they bought for $1 and moved to the lot.
While they finished up making dinner, (smoked leg of lamb and homemade gravy and Idaho mashed potatoes!!) their daughter, Julie, took Patrick out to the chicken coop and he came back with his shoes all muddy.. So then he had to play around in stocking feet all the rest of the evening, which he loved. And they gave him a real metal slinky and showed him how to use it on the stairs, and he loved that, too. And mostly, he was tired because we gave up naps to try to get him to sleep at night and he might not really be ready for that.
BUT he made it and we had a lovely dinner and played Catch Phrase afterwards and reminisced and caught up. And we got to see the stars (something I hate that Patrick misses having to always be in the city so he is close to medical care and clean.) And then we drove back and Patrick managed to stay awake the whole way, which mean he would sleep.
But we ended the day almost as excitingly as it started because one of the bottles of formula opened and spilled in the cooler and so we had to make a new batch of formula and clean up the sticky mess. So we got to bed a bit late and then Patrick woke up at 3 and insisted I come sleep in his bed. So my dreams of an early bedtime and a then sleeping in till 9 were both dashed, but it was still a wonderful Christmas.
And today was mostly quiet with a trip to Costco (then a trip back to the room to replace the feeding button that Patrick accidentally pulled out as he got out of the car. That was traumatic and he talked about it all day.).. Then we took another trip to Costco where we actually bought the totes and batteries we went for. And we spent the day resting and cleaning and playing with new toys. And today we DID make it to bed on time. And maybe tomorrow we’ll even sleep in.
I will never, EVER forget this Christmas. This season brings out the best in us. We are kinder, more generous, more Christlike. And as I read the Christmas story with Patrick this month, I could relate more with the story of Mary and Joseph far from home, staying in a stable of all places as their baby was born. But Heavenly Father knew where they were. And He sent angels to tell ordinary, humble working men – shepherds. And then those shepherds went and it was through those ordinary people that the Lord sent the message that He remembered and He knew what was happening and was was going to happen.
And we, through the ordinary people, have seen the hand of the Lord this Christmas.
Some of you are reading this. I need to say thank you. You may think that what you have done was something small. But this Christmas was anything but small for us. So thank you.
Oh what a difference a good night’s sleep makes. Patrick slept 10 hours last night. Which means I got a good 8 hours with only my routine fill-the-feeding-bag interruptions. We all felt so much better.
We’d have slept longer, but today was lab day. That’s ok. We needed to get up and get moving to fit in all we hoped to do.
One of our favorite Christmas traditions since before we had kids is to visit the zoo on Christmas Eve. People don’t think of the zoo on this day. They have other things to do. Therefore, it’s quiet and uncrowded. You can take all the time you want. Animals behave differently when it’s a little cold, too.. so you get to see a different side of the exhibits in many cases.
And guess what? Omaha is home to one of the world’s best zoos: the Henry Doorly Zoo. And so of course, as soon as we finished the morning meds and formula mixing (complete with me forgetting to vent my bottle after shaking it so the baking soda made it explode all over the kitchen) we headed off the zoo.
Well, with a stop at Taco Bell for breakfast. Patrick willingly took bites of an entire hash brown this morning. That is a HUGE deal.
Anyway – we got to the zoo and discovered it was bitter cold. Thank goodness this zoo was also designed by people who live here in Nebraska where the humidity makes all weather feel extreme. Most of the exhibits are indoors. So we hurried into the Lied Jungle where we warmed up in a rainforest climate. Patrick had a great time running around here and elsewhere in the zoo.. but he would get tired and try to get us to carry him and then we were grateful for his stroller/wheelchair. He’s still got a ways to go recovering.
We had a lot of fun this morning. There are lots of babies at the zoo right now and we got to get up close views of several of them. Patrick and Brian had a great time playing with one of the gorillas. We saw an extremely rare white lion cub. And then, we were tired. So we headed out… but not before acting on the idea to turn one of the very generous cash gifts we received this week into a membership to the zoo so Patrick can come back as often as he wants while we are here. The zoo in off-peak hours is an approved immune-suppressed activity.
Anyway – after the zoo we came back for lunch and some quiet time in the room. Then Brian and Patrick started some laundry while I went to the store for a few last-minute things. (Including stocking stuffers. I opted not to get stockings after some filled ones showed up in a package from DDM. But then Patrick got another stocking from a friend that he was allowed to have early. He told me yesterday Santa was going to fill it back up again… On a sidenote, I’m glad Patrick knows now what stockings are for as the first few times he saw them, he asked if he could wear them.) Then, Brian took Patrick off for a walk to let me wrap the last couple of presents in the room.
Dinner tonight was catered pasta. An amazing family took the time off this evening to arrange that on a night that Ronald McDonald House doesn’t always see people willing to give up the time to provide us a meal.
We spent the evening working on crafts with the rest of the house. Wendy and Kate went all-out with clay ornaments and ice-cream-cone Christmas trees tonight. It was a lot of fun to see everyone’s families arriving tonight to spend the holiday with them. The mood of the house was pretty light and happy today.
Patrick, for the first time I can remember, is genuinely excited for Santa to come. He just kept showing me that only the white ring was left on his advent chain. And then he’d skip and run down the halls.
We followed some other traditions tonight: opened Christmas presents. He was so excited by the minion pajamas Grandma sent that he decided to go into the bathroom and dress himself. (We asked him why in the bathroom. He said “A dunno” (a common phrase right now) and away he went. Then he stayed and drew on the mirror with the dry erase markers I use to chart fluids there for another 15 minutes.
We opened another traditional package – a Christmas book that we share with his birth parents. This year I picked “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” which seemed a bit over his head, but I thought appropriate for the year.
Except the no presents thing. Patrick had a little trouble setting down to sleep at first, but when he was sleep he was out cold. So Brian got out the presents that were hidden under the bed. This room is overflowing with presents from the hospital, from family, from friends, from co-workers. And I know there are more outside of this room, too.
And so, that was our Christmas eve. Different. Simpler. Uncluttered. Very few last-minute preparations. No hours spent on a fancy meal. A later bedtime than I’d usually allow. And lots of new friends.
Thanks to the kindness and generosity of others – this year is different, but not nearly as hard as I thought it would be as I laid awake in the hospital worrying about it a month ago.
Right now, my biggest worries are where we are going to put all these gifts once they are opened.. and how to convince Patrick to take a bath and put on clean pajamas (yes, that’s a short gut Christmas tradition) before diving into the pile of presents that are in the room he’s waking up in.