Coming Home for Christmas
We started our first post-retirement trip on September 24, 2021, with the knowledge that we didn’t have a set end date. The plan was to travel for as long as we wanted and come back whenever it made sense to do so. We were traveling by van in the United States. This lack of need for a return flight gave us the flexibility we do not have when traveling internationally. A few weeks ago we decided that we wanted to come back home for Christmas. We planned to come back in the week leading up to Christmas. However, last Wednesday, December 15 we decided that we had seen what we wanted and that it was time to head home for Christmas.
Our last Florida tourist stop was at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Then we shopped at a couple of thrift stores and started the drive north. On the way, we decided to drive later since the kids were doing well in the car. Additionally, we wanted to get north of Atlanta at night. We didn’t have to deal with city traffic in the morning time. On Thursday, December 16 our plan was to do a couple of tourist stops and drive some more. Our plan at that time was to finish the drive on Friday.
The Land Between the Lakes
Our first planned stop was The Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky. Given the recent tornadoes, the park visitor center had been closed until that morning. It sounds like we were the first visitors to the Elk and Bison prairie as well. They were not sure if the entry machine was working or not. The visitor center gave us a crisp $5 bill to put in since the machine is very picky. Plus the credit card part was not working due to the storm. Luckily the cash option did work so we could go and see the animals!
For the most part, we had amazing weather for our drive home. The exception to this was the last 30 minutes driving to the Elk and Bison Prairie, while we were there, and the 30 minutes after we left. During that time we experienced heavy rain and wind. On the upside, the Elk and Bison didn’t care so we got to see them and with most of the herd right by the road. Also luckily Verity woke up from her nap in time to see most of the big herds by the road. Despite the weather, it was an amazing stop that both us and the kids loved!
Our Last Stop at the Arch
Back on the road, our second planned, and last stop of the trip, was the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. By this point, it was about 8:15 pm. We had thought we would just do a drive-by viewing for this. However, the parking lot was free access at this point in the night (normally $8). Plus Kyra was so excited when she saw it on the drive there that we knew we had to walk up to it. What ended up being really cool was that at this time we were the only people at the arch. Kyra loved that it was shaped like a rainbow. She also saw a rat on the walk up the stairs which she thinks is cool because she loves animals so much. The Arch was a very cool and fun last stop, so Brock was happy that Becky talked him into going!
Do We Drive Back?
At this point, we had a decision to make. It was about 5 hours to get home. Earlier in the day, we had scheduled Kyra’s 1st COVID vaccine shot for the next day. The latest appointment we could get was 2:40 pm. So we knew we wanted to get within 3 hours of Dubuque, IA. What we decided was that if we could get the kids to fall asleep in the car we would drive through the night. And if not we would stop at a hotel. The kids both got to sleep around 9:30 and 10 pm. So we decided to drive all the way back to Becky’s Grandma Janann’s house.
We arrived at the house just before 2 am on Friday, December 17. Interestingly, the kids both woke up in the last 30 minutes of the drive. We were able to get what we needed out of the car and then all get to sleep. It was a short night of sleep for Becky and Brock. But it was also nice not to have a 3rd day of driving, since that could have been difficult for the kids.
It’s Reunion Time!
Friday was a busy reunion day. We all had a great time hanging out with Janann in the morning and early afternoon. The kids put puzzles together with Janann, put up the Christmas tree, played with toys, and relaxed. After Kyra’s COVID shot (which she did great getting), we met with Tom, Lisa, Collin, and Ellyn at the mall in the play area. It was so amazing to see them again! Brock especially loved the huge hug he got from Collin as soon as he got out of the car! The kids played together like in old times, it was so relaxing. We also got dinner at HuHot which was great since it had been over 2 years since we had eaten there.
After that, we had another reunion. This time with our friend and former daycare provider Nicole and her two kids Blake and Charlie. Blake and Kyra are such good friends, they have known each other since they were one. They had both made crafts for each other which was fun to see. Nicole commented about how much more Verity is talking from when she last saw her. We stayed at Nicole’s house overnight, which was great. In the morning, we had a great breakfast and cinnamon rolls.
Saturday included another shot and more reunions. This time it was Becky’s COVID booster shot and groceries at the Asbury HyVee. Then we went on to Brock’s parents, Bill and Sheri, in Boscobel, WI. The kids were so excited to see NaNa, PaPa, and the kitties (although they are all grown cats now). The kids also loved seeing Thad, John & Shelby. It was great to see John playing with the kids in the living room.
We did a Christmas tradition, decorating Christmas cookies, which was a lot of fun! Kyra also really enjoyed putting a puzzle together with NaNa and PaPa. The kids were able to go out to the garage to spend time with two of the cats which made them happy. They love feeding, playing with, and petting the cats. Our plan was to stay 2 nights and then leave to go to Matt & Rachelle Waterman’s house. This is where we are living when we are “back home” or in this case home for Christmas.
Brock Needs Surgery
The Pain Starts
Sunday night Brock started getting pain in his abdomen. While he was mostly able to sleep through the night he did wake up several times. By Monday morning the pain had increased a lot. Brock tried walking, using a heating pad and other measures. He wasn’t sure if it was some bad food or some other stomach ailment. Alas, by 4:30 pm the pain, exhaustion, nausea, and chills/sweats were terrible. So we called the clinic’s 24-hour nurse line for advice. They strongly encouraged going to acute care right away.
So Becky and Brock quickly got ready and headed to Dubuque, IA (about 1 hour away). At the time we assumed we would be back that night. So we grabbed some of what we needed but could have been more prepared. On the drive down we talked about this being the first time in nearly 3 months that we did not have kids. Shout out of thanks to Sheri and Bill for watching the kids overnight. It would turn out to be an eventful “date night”…
Getting to Acute Care
By 6:20 pm we were at Acute Care in Dubuque, IA. Sometime around 6:45 pm, we got to see the Doctor, and after doing an exam he told us he thought Brock had appendicitis. During the exam, Brock was in so much pain that he had involuntary tears while getting up from the exam table. Thankfully, the doctor got him a pain shot that helped to take the edge of the pain in about 20 minutes. He also had Brock take an anti-nausea medication so they could do the CT scan. After getting a urine sample and doing a blood draw Brock was off to get the CT scan. At this point, he was in a wheelchair. He was too weak to walk across from Medical Associates Acute Care to the Mercy One hospital.
The first step was to drink a large cup of liquid prep from 7:45 to 8:30 pm. Then we were told his scan would start at 8:45 pm. On most days this liquid would have been unpleasant, but Brock actually welcomed it. For the whole day, the only food he had been able to keep down was one Saltine cracker at around 2 pm. Also, he had been so nauseous that he hadn’t drunk much either. With the pain pill now taking some effect, Brock also started to get some appetite back. But obviously, he couldn’t eat so at least the drink was something. Anyway, 8:45 pm came and went. Eventually, we were told that 3 other people had come in through the ER and were now ahead of us. Finally, around 10 pm Brock got his CT scan.
After another hour’s wait, we got a call from the doctor. The news was that the CT scan confirmed that Brock had appendicitis. He stated that Brock would be having surgery either that night or in the morning. It would depend on the on-call surgeon’s availability and opinion. We were told that they would be having the surgeon visit us in the CT waiting room. We had been in that room since 7:45 pm on our own (it closes at 8 pm technically). But by midnight we still hadn’t seen the surgeon.
Meeting the Surgeon…eventually
Shortly after midnight we were moved to the ER and told again the surgeon would be in soon. So to give a little background by this point we were getting quite antsy. This is in part because Brock’s father Bill had his appendix rupture earlier in his life. It required 7 days of hospitalization and was a story that Brock thought of as soon as he heard appendicitis.
Around 1 am on Tuesday, December 21 we finally saw the surgeon. He said the appendix was very inflamed and recommended surgery as soon as they could be ready. Our other option was to take medicines to reduce the size of the appendix. This option was thought to work 80% of the time. However, it only treats this instance. Surgery is still often required for people in the future. The main downside of the surgery was a complication because of Brock’s pre-existing conditions. If his colon was inflamed as well as the appendix then they would abort the surgery and not remove the appendix. The surgeon felt like the CT scan showed no colon inflammation. However, he would only know for sure during surgery.
Surgery it is
We opted for surgery and were hopeful that he would be able to have it done successfully. We also talked with the surgeon about another problem Brock was having. It was a procedure normally be done at an office visit that is very painful. At first, the surgeon didn’t want to do this since it would give Brock two very painful things to recover from. But we talked about why we thought it made sense. The surgeon agreed to handle that while Brock was under anesthesia as well.
Now things finally started to move fast and by 2 am Brock was being operated on. Just before 3 am Brock was in the recovery room (and really wanting food). The doctor talked to Becky and shared that they were able to successfully do both procedures. Brock no longer had an appendix! By 4 pm he was in the hospital room with Becky and was finally able to get some food and drink (applesauce and sprite). Shortly after that, he was asleep again.
Leaving the Hospital
By 9 am Brock had been out of bed several times, displayed bowel functions, and walked without assistance. Thus he has hit all requirements to be released to go home. For some reason, the surgeon didn’t stop by during his morning rounds. The RN said that we could either wait to see the surgeon at noon or go home now. We chose to go home now, once we got the pain killer prescription. We wanted to go as soon as possible, so we could get home to the kids and rest more fully outside the hospital. However, that wasn’t how the day was going to go.
By 12:30 we still were no closer to leaving the hospital so we started calling around. We found out that the surgeon was off-site until 1 pm. Despite our best efforts to push along the process, we didn’t leave the hospital until 2:30 pm, which was disappointing. But at least we had the pain meds and Becky had run errands during the wait time.
Getting Back Home
The car ride back was ok, since Brock got a pain pill not too long before leaving. Once back it was great to see the kids. Brock’s nephew John had not felt well, so he didn’t attend school. Instead, he came out and helped Sheri with the Kyra and Verity, which was great. He helped with all the diapers and everything else. Sheri said he was a huge help and the kids loved spending the day with him.
Brock laid down when getting back, then had dinner, and then took a nap. After the nap, he was able to get a shower which helped him to feel a little fresher. On the upside, he was able to put Verity down for her nap which he was happy about. All the items that he had been given did a number on his stomach. Brock was up until around 11 pm before he felt well enough to go to bed for the night. But overall he had a good night of sleep despite having a lot of pain to manage.
First Day Back
The first full day back was December 22. Brock has been in and out of bed. He is generally managing the pain but does have sometimes that he has to breathe through it. He has to be very careful how he moves and can’t lift much of anything. The pain meds are also giving him some hallucinations when he tries to rest. Therefore he stopped taking the pain meds in the afternoon. He just went to Aleve and Tylenol instead. But this morning (12/23) we are hoping to get a new pain med for him to try.
The pain is the worst at the site of where the incisions are (so on his left side), not where they took the appendix out. He also has a lot of pain from his second procedure. This is likely to linger longer than the appendix surgery pain. He has a follow-up with the surgeon on January 3, 2022, and has several restrictions on him until that time. Overall, he is happy to be on this side of the operation and back home.
Family Support, and Health Update
Brock is happy to have such a loving and supporting wife. She did a great job feeding me in the first few hours where it was hard to move. Becky was awesome during the whole process despite her not getting much rest. Another cool thing that happened was that Kyra made 2 amazing cards for Brock. She spent a lot of time writing and designing these cards and Brock loved them!
Future Travel Plans
The question we get from everyone is when and where is next! We plan to enjoy the holidays and Becky and Brock’s birthdays (both next week). Then at some point, we will figure it out from there. Now we also must allow time for Brock to recover and we are also waiting for Kyra’s 2nd COVID shot.
We don’t have any dates or places to go picked out. That said we do have a new Lonely Planet travel guide ordered so we can do some research on one possibility. We will be going somewhere at some point. But we have some things we need to do that we were not able to finish before we left on the last trip. We still have a few items we are going to try to sell. Additionally, we need to take some time to fully invest the money we have from the sale of our house and other items.
We also have a lot of video and blog content from the trip that we would like to edit and post online. Make sure to subscribe to our YouTube Channel! But most importantly we want to:
- Spend time with the people back at home that we care about
- Spend time together as a family
- World schooling Kyra
- Teaching Verity the basics (she can already count to 13, and knows some colors now)
We are looking forward to relaxing at home for now. When we feel like it, we will hit the road again. It could be sooner or later. As we shared in the “what retirement means to us” post, we love having this life and time flexibility.
Brock & Becky Waterman
Written: 12/22/2021; Updated 1/17/2022