My definition of a bad day was evolving

On Saturday, May 23, 2015, I arrived back in Temple from Houston around 5:30 P.M. I’d been gone for less than 48 hours, but it seemed much longer and I felt like I had been in another world. Upon my return I learned that Dad had received two units of blood. His hemoglobin levels had been dropping and the doctors didn’t know why. They suspected that he might be bleeding from the colon and they began prepping him for a colonoscopy and endoscopy for the following day—Sunday.

These procedures are performed in the clinic, which is adjacent to the hospital. During normal working hours getting to the clinic is an easy, albeit long, walk through a series of hallways and elevators. On Sunday, most of the hallways are closed and locked. Fortunately, the transportation personnel let us accompany my father through the back hallways of the hospital to the clinic. Unfortunately, when the procedures were over, we had to find our own way out. I was reminded of the movie, “The Poseidon Adventure.” Pastor Don stopped by the hospital and was able to locate us. He was with us when we received the happy news that the results of Dad’s test were negative.Dad’s temperature had been hovering between 94 and 95 degrees for several days. When he was returned to his room from the clinic, they wrapped him in a Bair Hugger to help raise his temperature. The hospital rooms are kept pretty cold and Mom, Stan, and I were wishing we could each have one. When we left the hospital for the day, we were tired, but felt optimistic that Dad would be coming home in a few days. He had now been in the hospital for 18 days, a good 8 days longer than he had expected. According to the nurses, he was also a bit agitated about being in the hospital and wanted to “get out of this place.”

thermometerThose hopes were dashed at 10:00 P.M. when I was awakened by a phone call from his PA, Rob. Rob told me that they thought that Dad needed closer monitoring because they have been unable to raise his temperature. He neglected to mention that he needed closer monitoring because they were also concerned about sepsis, but maybe he thought I knew. The phone call also woke Stan, who heard my side of the conversation. When I ended the call, I told him that I couldn’t see the point in waking my mother. She was still recovering from a stroke and this news would only ruin her much-needed sleep.

Monday, May 25, was Memorial Day, so Stan was still with me and my mother in Temple. Mom had had a good night’s sleep and I now had the unenviable task of telling her that Dad was back in ICU. We didn’t know it at the time, but a couple of days earlier, my father’s blood tests started showing rising levels of creatinine, indicating a slow decline in renal function. A nephrologist was called in for an initial consultation, and he encouraged Dad to drink more water. From this visit, we inferred that my father was in control of his fate (or his kidneys’ fate).

The weather was deteriorating and Stan wanted to leave Temple before the storms hit. When he left at 2:00 P.M., lightning constantly lit up the sky, and Mom and I spent about 20 minutes in their safe room during the tornado warnings. At the hospital, all of the patients with window rooms, which included Dad, were moved to interior rooms.

When Mom and I returned to the hospital after dinner, Dad was sitting in a chair, but seemed to be in a deep sleep. I tried for an hour to wake him and finally called in his nurse, “Nighttime Natalie.” When he was in CTICU, he had often been assigned one Natalie during the day and another Natalie during the night shift. In her sweet voice, Nighttime Natalie shook my father’s shoulder several times, saying, “Mr. Locke, honey; wake up.” She eventually called in the charge nurse—Ursula from Transylvania. Even Ursula’s booming voice could not rouse him. She finally called in all the male nurses and techs on the floor to lift him out of his chair and put him back to bed. One of the male nurses tried to wake him by pressing down and twisting on his chest scar. Fortunately, my father didn’t feel the pain.

The staff was very concerned that he had suffered a stroke, and they notified the on-call resident, who ordered a CT scan and an EEG. While waiting for the two technicians to arrive, Dad woke up and tried to talk to us, but he was unintelligible. Before we left the hospital for home we learned that the CT scan and EEG showed no sign of stroke or other brain damage.

When we left the hospital I told Mom that because every other day seemed to be bad, tomorrow had to be a better day.

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