Slipping back into Hell

July 23, 2015. Dr. Anderson called me at 5:30 A.M. and told me that they still were unable to raise Dad’s blood pressure. His EKG had changed and the doctor suspected that Dad had suffered a heart attack. The doctor wanted to know how aggressive we wanted to be in his treatment. They were limited with what they could do at the CCH, and if they kept doing what they were doing, Dad would die in one to two hours. They might be able to help him at the main hospital (Memorial), but with his age and current situation, Dr. Anderson recommended that we think about how much more we should so. I woke Mom to confer with her, and she wanted to do everything possible. I called Dr. Anderson back with our decision, and he said that Dad would be at Memorial in about an hour. Considering that he projected one to two hours for my father to live, the hour-long trip to the other hospital made me a little nervous.

hell2When I got off the telephone with Dr. Anderson, I texted Pastor Don and my husband about Dad’s situation. Mom and I got dressed and headed to Memorial. We didn’t know where to go, so we headed to what we knew: the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit (CTICU) nurses station in the north tower of the hospital. We arrived at 5:50 A.M., and it occurred to me that we arrived at the same time on May 6 for Dad’s original surgery. We asked the CTICU nurses about Dad’s whereabouts, but either he had not arrived, or he was not yet in their system.

While at the CTICU nurses station, we saw a couple of nurses and respiratory therapists that we knew, and they showed us to the Medical ICU (MICU) waiting room in the south tower. While we were waiting, personnel from the day shift started arriving. As Kelli, one of the charge nurses from CTICU, walked through, she was startled to see us. We quickly apprised her of Dad’s condition, and she hurried off to see what she could learn about his whereabouts.

At 8:00 A.M., we were still sitting in the MICU waiting room, waiting to learn more about Dad’s condition and see him. We saw Jordan, a PA, and Dr. Sai, both of whom said that they would check on Dad and get back to us. When we were finally called to Dad’s room, we were met by Dr. Sanchez, who was the presiding physician that week. He said that Dad was stable, but his condition was grave and the doctor didn’t think that Dad would survive. He said that they would know more in 48 hours. I was so anxious for anything positive, the fact that he even mentioned a time beyond today seemed like good news.

hell2bEvidently, when Dad arrived from the CCH, he was on three vasopressors and his MAP was in the 40s, which is way below minimum. Now, he was receiving more than the maximum dosage of five vasopressors to keep his blood pressure at a MAP of 65, which is a minimum level. When asked by Dr. Sanchez about the extent to which we would go, we said that we wanted to do everything possible, stopping short of restarting his heart, should it stop.

Our first couple of hours in Dad’s room were like a tragic welcome-home event. Addison, one of Dad’s speech therapists, stopped by to say “hello.” Adan from the CCH had called her and told her about Dad’s episode. Dr. Velazco, another of the physicians who rotates through the ICU, stopped by. He still wore scrubs from surgery and was very upset about Dad. Occasionally, we were asked to leave Dad’s room, and during those times I kept encountering nurses and therapists from his earlier stay at Memorial. They were all shocked and generous with their supporting hugs.

After Dr. Sanchez and his entourage left, we got to know Tina and Andrea, the two nurses assigned to Dad. I really liked them and the way in which they cared for Dad. For all intents and purposes, the doctors had told us that Dad was a lost cause, but you wouldn’t know it from these two women. I also came to depend on Charis, a resident who was assigned to Dad. Lynette, the case manager, was also very attentive and told us to contact her if we needed anything. I suspect that she thought that Mom and I would need her assistance when Dad died.

hell2cThroughout Dad’s stay in the Scott & White system, I had developed a steely resolve to stay positive and to keep my parents positive. The last six hours had severely cracked my armor. When Charis first entered the room to talk with us about Dad and how the doctors were expecting his death, I sort of lost it. While fighting back tears, I started telling her that what I was feeling was like Orpheus watching Eurydice slipping back into Hell. The only light moment of the day came when my mother commented about the startled look on Charis’ face when I interjected Greek mythology into her briefing.

As the day progressed, Dad’s condition seemed to worsen. The doctors continued to administer broad-spectrum antibiotics. Only 24 hours earlier, his WBC count was 5.6. It was now approaching 13 and he was non-responsive to pain. In addition, he had developed septic shock, severe acidosis, and his liver was in shock. The doctors thought that putting him back on dialysis might help with the acidotic condition. Shortly before noon, Carlos, the dialysis nurse, arrived and started the eight-hour dialysis session. Dad’s blood pressure dropped, so they stopped removing fluid.

Around 12:30 P.M., Dad seemed to recognize me. I took that opportunity to tell him that I had purchased an indoor skydiving session for my husband for his birthday. He made a face, which seemed like the response that I would have expected from him. Around 1:00 P.M., Andrea was able to get him to squeeze her hand. She also touched some gauze to his eyes to see if he would react. Bases on his responses, Andrea thought that, neurologically, he was doing better. He had not reacted to any type of stimuli, including pain, when he was admitted.

hell2dWhen Mom and I went to lunch, we stopped by the CCH to pick up Dad’s belongings and flowers. Live flowers are not allowed in the ICU at Memorial. When we returned to Memorial around 2:30 P.M., he was wrapped in a Bair Hugger (heating blanket). His core temperature was now too low, partly because of the dialysis, and they needed to raise it.

During the remainder of the day, a variety of therapists and specialists stopped by to take blood and administer trach care and oral care.

As news of my father’s return spread through the ICU, more nurses stopped by his room. One unexpected visitor was Peggy, a hospital employee who monitored central (PICC) lines. She stopped by the room because she recognized us. We chatted a few minutes, and Mom and I quickly learned that she was not a fan of the CCH. She encouraged us to contact Patient Relations about the CCH and our experiences there.

Mom and I went back to the house for a late dinner break and didn’t return to the hospital until 8:00 P.M. We didn’t plan to stay long, but felt that we needed to meet his night nurse, Rebecca. Dad was off dialysis and his blood pressure was up, but it dropped sharply when Rebecca tried to start weaning him off of the vasopressors. She decided that she would probably keep the levels the same during the remainder of her shift, which would end at 7:00 A.M. When I asked her about the results of his ABG tests earlier that day, she said that his pH levels were still “out of whack,” which was disappointing news. We had hoped that the dialysis treatment would have improved his acidotic condition. Before Mom and I left for the night, we visited with Charlie, the respiratory therapist, while he administered trach care and an oral treatment. We stayed until about 8:30 P.M.

I don’t recall what we did when we returned home, but after the day that we had just endured, I suspect that a glass of wine was involved.

2 thoughts on “Slipping back into Hell

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