Tag Archives: Nebraska

A transplant recipient’s guide to Omaha on a budget

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.

Old Market

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.

http://www.oldmarket.com/

Henry Doorley Zoo

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.

http://www.omahazoo.com/

 Lewis and Clark Monument

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.

http://lewisandclarktrail.com/section1/iowacities/CouncilBluffs/monumentpark.htm

Strategic Air and Space Museum

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.

http://www.sasmuseum.com/

Donut Stop

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.

I’m sure we’ll be back.

http://www.yelp.com/biz/donut-stop-omaha

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Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge

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.

http://omaha.net/places/bob-kerrey-pedestrian-bridge

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Pizza in the park

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.

http://www.mamaspizzaomaha.com/

Pioneer Courage Park

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.

Omaha was kind of a gateway for pioneers settling the American west. Especially Mormons. And many people know to travel back and visit Winter Quarters and the Mormon Trail Center. (https://www.lds.org/locations/mormon-trail-center-at-historic-winter-quarters). However, I think I’m going to add this park to my list of recommendations to those interested in that history.

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.

http://www.visitomaha.com/listings/First-National-s-Spirit-of-Nebraska-s-Wilderness-and-Pioneer-Courage-Park/57322/0/#.VRHXnI54rV0

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.

Transplant day 96 and snow days

A shot of the snow Monday morning after it snowed all day Sunday. Before this, there wasn't any snow on the ground.

A shot of the snow Monday morning after it snowed all day Sunday. Before this, there wasn’t any snow on the ground.

My phone rang at 5:30 this morning. It was a recording from Omaha Public Schools announcing a snow day. This is the second snow day of the week. Church was also cancelled Sunday. It is snowing. A little over a foot has fallen.

I am trying to decide if this is premature. The parking lot of the Ronald McDonald House has snowbanks 10 feet high where the plows piled snow. And on Monday, I barely got my little two-wheel-drive car to go up the hill on a road with minimal plowing. I’m not sure that this is more or worse snow than we get in Utah. But the roads are less safe for it. They are narrow. VERY narrow. With no shoulders or turn lanes and cars parked down both sides. Also, everything is very hilly. So, while I grew up on the edge of a valley and our hills might trap us at home while the rest of the valley could manage to get around. Here, you might encounter 3 very steep streets within a few blocks of each other.

I don’t blame them for keeping the school buses home.

It didn’t affect us much with Patrick inpatient. We just watched the snow out the window. Snow days have fewer volunteers and more staff that got stuck trying to come in and fewer child life activities. But we are cozy and warm and protected from the weather. We have lots of toys and TV and crafts and books.

The less snowy days have provided ample help. We had 3 volunteers come by yesterday, giving me hours to get away and grocery shop and clean and rest. The day before, child life and music therapy and physical therapy filled in because there weren’t volunteers and I got to go back to the house and do laundry and pack clothes for a few more days. With nurses taking care of the medications and diapers and formula if I happened to sleep through those needs at night, I’ve actually had a chance to mostly catch up on my sleep in the past 2 weeks.

And that’s very good news. Because this morning, Patrick’s nurse practitioner came in and said that adding extra fluid to Patrick’s feeds had caught up his hydration and she was going to recommend discharge. It took a bit longer for rounds to come around, and I still wasn’t getting my hopes up too much. The added volume that giving more fluids required had made Patrick’s belly gurgle and dump during the night again and I had just changed 3 diapers back to back so I was pretty sure they weren’t going to let us go.

They came around for rounds and asked about Patrick’s prograf levels and they were borderline high and I was almost entirely positive, especially since it was a snow day, that they’d want to keep him one more day.

But, they said that since Thursday mornings are lab days, that homecare could provide the same care they were providing and so we could go. I settled in for a long wait, as discharge has taken till dinner the last few times. But an hour later, Patrick’s nurse arrived with some patient belongings bags and a cart for me to pack up our things and by 1:00, I was signing discharge papers.

Moving us back in always takes work. For some reason, discharge and the monthly diaper delivery always come together and that takes a good hour to make room for in this tiny room as I clean out and haul out old boxes.

But, we got everything settled in. We found time to work on a valentine’s craft, even. Patrick was obviously exhausted and overstimulated and couldn’t focus on much of anything.. but we made it through the evening ok. The dinner group let him start eating early when they saw us come down for a snack. Patrick was tired enough that he preferred playing in the room today. And so things are unpacked and put away and the formula is mixed up and medications reconstituted and line cared for and teeth brushed and pajamas on and by 9:30 tonight, Patrick was snoring in his bed.

I really should get to sleep. I know I’ll need to change at least two diapers and Patrick’s formula bag still needs refilled every 5 hours or so.

It is good to be out. And as discouraging as this hospital stay was, it seems we actually made some ground. We found the cause for the random bleeding I sometimes saw and treated the ulcers. And we found that Patrick can eat enough food to have reduced his overall tube feed rate by 10%. That isn’t much, but eating 10% of his calories is a big deal considering how little he ate before and how few foods he is used to eating.

The doctors have assured me over and over again that he shouldn’t still be contagious. They even went so far as to clear him to attend child life activities at the hospital, which is definitely a statement that they don’t see him as a risk. His gut, however, still isn’t back to where it was before the virus. That is going to take time and patience and lots and lots of diapering supplies.

Transplant Day 94 and still here

For all that the doctors and I always try to say that we can’t rush dates because you can’t predict what Patrick’s body will do, I sometimes accidentally get myself set on a goal and then am discouraged when we don’t meet that goal.

When Brian left, Patrick was flying through recovery. We pushed them to go up on feeds quickly because his belly was handling them. He was eating well. And we said, “I know you sat that he might needs weeks to get over this because he doesn’t have an immune system. But he feels great. And he’s a miracle. And he’ll shake this quick.”

He did not shake this quick. On Friday night, Patrick’s feeds had reached 70 and he was doing great. Two more increases.. one every 8 hours, and then a day of observation and he could be discharged. They turned up the feed rate at midnight, as the clock kicked over to midnight. At 1:30 I woke up to the sound of Patrick’s tummy churning angrily. And then the diarrhea started. And two diapers later, I called the nurse and said we needed to turn the rate back down.

I was already fried on Friday. I’d planned to ask for a volunteer and go back to the house for some laundry. But Patrick fell asleep at 1:00… and he slept till 5. He’d be woken, ask me to come lie down with him again, and then he’d crash again. I’m pretty sure his prograf level had gotten low enough from being sick that the side effect of insomnia had temporarily worn off. And I didn’t have the heart to wake him. But that meant that when he woke, I had missed the chance to get help to go do laundry. Instead, I tried going and getting change and using the one washing machine I know of on hospital property, in the hotel wing called the lied. I finally got someone to break my $5 bill.. but several trips to the washing machine later, I hadn’t been able to start laundry.

That night, I’d begged Patrick’s nurse to sit with him a little extra after giving meds so I could run back to the house and get clothes. I was literally out of clean ones. And that worked…

But then, here we were… awake during the night with a tummy ache and too many diapers and my pajamas got dirty and I had to try to do laundry again.

Patrick’s belly woke him at 6:30 a.m. so I decided to embrace it. I threw on clothes and hauled my laundry back to the other building and started a load of wash. I stopped in the cafeteria because I was still two quarters short of the change I needed to dry my clothes. Then I came back, hopped in the shower. When I got out, Patrick was out of his bed telling me he needed cleaned up. Oh boy did he. So, hair uncombed and socks off, I put together a sponge bath.

When I finally got that done, I was late moving the laundry to the dryer. So I hurried back, moved laundry.. came back and finished cleaning up the room, talked with Patrick’s morning nurse. Then, I went to pick up my laundry and got back to discover that I had missed rounds.

This was kind of the last straw. I knew when I’d asked for feeds to be turned back down that I was choosing at least one more day till discharge.. But to not even discuss the problem and plans with the team because I had been struggling to take care of myself was frustrating.

I broke down in tears. I sometimes really miss the amenities of a children’s hospital designed for parents to sleep over. I also really miss having people around me that I know well enough to say something like “will you do my laundry?”

Anyway – the result was that the nurse decided to give me a break. She said to take 2 hours and do whatever. Knowing we were committed to the weekend in the hospital, I went to the craft store to get more ways for Patrick to pass the time. You know when you’re trying to plan to keep kids entertained for a road trip? Or trying to keep kids entertained when they are home sick from school? Imagine that magnified by a 2 week hospital stay… every other week.. for 3 months. Patrick has toys. But he is so stir crazy that getting him play with them is a struggle. Crafts are a better bet because they are continually new. And so I’ve built in a craft budget.

I felt better after some time to myself. I even picked up french fries and McDonalds and we had a nice lunch. That evening, a friend from church came and sat with him for one more hour, giving me a chance to go back to the house and clean up some of the messes we left behind there.

And then Saturday night, one of the nicer, bigger rooms became available and Patrick’s nurse came and asked if we wanted to move.

This has made such a huge difference! Honestly, I hadn’t realized how cramped we have felt. Not just in the hospital room… I knew we felt crowded there.. But also at the Ronald McDonald House.

I’ve been asked to describe the living accommodations there. Basically, we have a room that’s a lot like a hotel room. We have two twin beds and a double bed, some big dressers, a closet that is stacked floor to ceiling with medical supplies and luggage. We also have 6 totes along one wall filled with toys for Patrick, mommy school supplies, and other odds and ends. It is a nice room, but cramped when 3 people are in it.

The rest of the house is pretty spacious. They have a triple kitchen that we share. (Triple meaning 3 sinks, stoves, and dishwashers.) Everyone is allotted a shelf in a fridge and a small locker style cabinet to store food in. Because of Patrick’s allergies and not being able to eat food brought in by dinner groups, we actually have two. There is also a wall of bar-sized fridges to keep medical supplies in in this pantry area. The kitchen is very nice with just about any kind of appliance you can imagine, though the pans and knives and other basic supplies are pretty well used and worn out.  Especially since they all have to go through the dishwasher after very use. Not the best thing for non-stick and knives. The dining room is filled with banquet sized tables. There is a sunroom off of the dining room with a TV and smaller tables. There is a large family room and toy room downstairs, a computer room upstairs, and a smaller sitting room at one end of the hall with a table where we do Patrick’s school and church.

There is also a wing of offices for house staff. Patrick is a people person, so we have to limit time in the common areas of the house because when I turn my back, he sneaks away into the offices to play with his favorite staff members. I don’t mind him visiting, but he would spend all day there if he could. House rules say that children must be supervised by parents. They sometimes bend this rule and let him visit or help them clean while I am cooking or making his formula, but mostly he is supposed to be with me. So I spend a lot of time stopping what I’m doing and going back and finding Patrick and bringing him back.

So, strange as it sounds, this big room with two TV’s and lots of floor space and few places to wander actually feels like a nice break. Especially since the nurses and other staff are taking care of all the responsibilities that usually have to divide my attention. (Formula, cleaning up, making food.) Turning the superbowl on one TV while Curious George played on the other TV and eating snacks and doing crafts yesterday evening was really very nice.

I wish I could say we were making better ground. Saturday morning, they turned up Patrick’s feeds back to the rate that had made him sick during the night. In daytime hours, he did ok with this. He even felt well enough to each a couple of pretty decent sized meals. And his diapers all looked good. But when night came, his belly started to churn again. He laid awake with a belly ache. I got up and changed diaper after diaper. The diarrhea was back pretty full force. And I was worried that something new was brewing or that the virus had done some irreparable harm. (Hence the Facebook post asking for prayers, in case I worried any of you.)

When the doctors came for rounds, they said that they didn’t love seeing him stool so much, but that his labs were stable so we are still getting him enough hydration and nutrition so far. So, they didn’t got up that last 10 cc’s that he needs to not be on IV fluids.. but they didn’t turn things down either.

They said that this is just his weakened immune system still fighting the virus. Pay attention to this: the virus Patrick has is a common stomach flu. It lasts 24-48 hours in most people, but is contagious for up to a week after symptoms. I was sick for 36 hours. It’s been a week and a half and Patrick still has at least 2-3 more days of hospitalization ahead of him.. and that isn’t getting him back to where he was before he got sick. That is just getting him healthy enough to not need to be in the hospital.

We are extremely careful about germs in our family anyway.. but will be even more so when we get home. And yes, we will ask you to stay away if you are or have been sick. And we will ask you to wash your hands over and over again.

Anyway – this post is quite long. Long story short.. Patrick’s belly is still getting sicker at night than in the day, but he did a little better last night. Odds are good they will try to turn up his feeds one more time today. Odds are good this will make his belly sick again for another couple of days. At least. They tell me this can take transplant patients down for weeks or even months.

We are ok. Honestly, I’d prefer to be at the hospital right now instead of the Ronald McDonald House. Yes, it is exhausting to try to keep myself fed and dressed. But, it’s nice to have the help while Patrick’s belly is so unsettled. It’s kind of nice to be a little alone. And it’s Monday. Which means there will be more help here today. The ward brings food on weekends and comes and gives me breaks as they can. Nurses and volunteers and child life do their best to get me breaks, too. (If I just stop being tough and ask.) So I can just take care of Patrick and me.

Oh – one other thing… I got to see a real Nebraska snowstorm. Church was cancelled yesterday. Schools are closed today. I hear the roads are pretty slick. Curious to go compare this to what I’m used to in Utah. I’m learning things are colder and wetter here.. which usually means more ice. And their roads are so much narrower that I kind of get why things shut down for weather here.

So I’ve been pretending that we’re all snuggled into a warm cozy room for a winter day here. Put aside the reason we’re here, and it’s not too bad.

 

Transplant Day 55 and Christmas Eve

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.

How the Hoopes Family does bedrest

In addition to the 3 hours of totally immobilized bedrest, Patrick’s doctor ordered that he stick to light activity for the next couple of days just to be sure that none of the little holes they put into major veins started bleeding. Patrick does not do bedrest.

So instead, this is what we did to keep him as still as possible.

Nebraska State Capital

Nebraska State Capital

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First, we went out to breakfast. Then, we got in our car and we drove, taking the longest scenic route Google maps would provide, to Lincoln, Nebraska, the state capital. We stopped and walked around the capital building.

And then we visited the Lincoln Children’s Zoo, which is, in essence a big petting zoo.

He showed us his best frog face.

He showed us his best frog face.

He experienced a hedgehog's quills.

He experienced a hedgehog’s quills.

He petted a cow.

He petted a cow.

Patrick got to ride a pony named Tinkerbell.

Patrick got to ride a pony named Tinkerbell.

We also fed goats, petted a llama, watched the penguins feeding, rode the zoo train, shared snacks with a peacock, and of course, fed ice cream cones filled with feed to camels.

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This is the wrong way to feed a camel an ice cream cone. Brian is pouring feed down the little pipe holder they gave him. The camel didn't mind much.

Put an ice cream cone on a pipe, hold it out, and the camel grabs it.

Then, we drove back taking the fastest route we could find so Patrick wouldn’t fall asleep in the car. And when we got back to the Ronald McDonald House, we snuggled down and napped until dinner time.

When we woke up, Patrick took advantage of the first break from tubes he’d been allowed in a week and played on the house playground. He didn’t mind that it was almost 100 degrees and over 80% humidity.

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And then we went for a stroll on the riverwalk.

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Not a bad day of recovery by any account. The next day we spent flying home. Booking last minute meant having to book Patrick’s first layover. A shame because he squeezed in his nap on the short flight and was exhausted and overstimulated through the second. But we finally made it home safe and sound Sunday evening.