July 30, 2015. Mom and I arrived to the hospital shortly before 8:00 A.M. When I asked Katrina, the nurse, about the results of his early-morning lab work, she told me that EPIC, the medical records system, was down, and that they didn’t draw blood this morning. It was amazing how the hospital seemed to operate in slow motion without the computer system. Nothing escaped being logged into the computer, so, with no computer access, when tests were requested, someone had to physically carry the orders, and then the specimens, to the lab.
Dr. Pan, the nephrology resident, stopped by to tell us that Dad would receive dialysis again today. They removed slightly more than two liters from him yesterday during dialysis, but Dr. Pan said that he still had some edema. He also told me that tomorrow Dr. George would replace Dr. Issac as the nephrologist.
Because of Dad’s pH imbalance, low blood pressure, and whacked-out blood gases, he had been sporting an arterial line (a-line) since he aspirated at the CCH eight days earlier. The doctor wanted to remove the a-line, but only if similar blood pressure readings were obtained from the blood pressure cuff. Katrina ran a test and it seemed as if the results were the same. With these results, they might pull the a-line later today, as long as they were through taking ABG tests.
While Mom and I were holding Dad’s hands, he became slightly agitated. I told him that until he could talk, he’d have to tell us that he loved us by squeezing our hands. Right away, he squeezed our hands. It was really the first time that we had had two-way communication with him. Dad then seemed to become confused and scared. I held his hand and tried to explain that he was back at the Memorial hospital.
Dr. Brett Anderson, one of the residents, stopped by to tell us that Dad would go to radiology this morning at 9:00 A.M. for the MRI. Dad was hooked up to a roomfull of equipment, so transporting him to the radiology department would be an ordeal. In preparation for the move, Mary, the respiratory therapist, arrived with a portable ventilator. We remembered each other from Dad’s earlier stay in the north tower.
While the nurse was prepping Dad for the move, and the transportation tech was tapping her foot, Holly from the speech pathology department stopped by to say hello and check on Dad. The transportation tech and nurse finally transported Dad and his paraphernalia at 9:15 A.M.
Shortly after Dad left, Pastor Don stopped by and stayed for about 30 minutes. Before he left, he said a much-needed prayer for Dad. Dad was returned to his room at 10:30 A.M. He seemed to tolerate the MRI pretty well.
Around noon, Katrina noticed that Dad’s feeding tube was clogged. She tried to unclog it but was not successful. Pulling out the tube woke him, but only for a couple of minutes. The process of inserting a new tube, having it x-rayed, and then having the x-ray reviewed would take some time. It seemed like a good time to take a lunch break. Mom returned to the hospital at 1:15 P.M. Because I needed to work, I stayed home for the remainder of the afternoon.
Shortly after Mom returned to Dad’s room, Dr. Burkholder, the neurologist, stopped by to give her the results of Dad’s MRI. In a nutshell, Dad’s prognosis remained guarded because of his myriad medical issues, but the doctor didn’t see any neurological limitation to Dad’s recovery. He did add that the degree of low blood pressure that Dad had sustained would most likely impact Dad’s neurologic recovery. He concluded his meeting with Mom by telling her that although Dad didn’t seem to have any permanent damage, he might not return to his baseline state in terms of intelligence. I wasn’t really sure what they knew about his baseline intelligence, so I wasn’t sure how to process that remark.
Before Mom left the hospital at 4:15 P.M., Dad had another EKG. Mom and I returned to the hospital at 6:40 P.M. I noticed that Dad had a new feeding tube, but it wasn’t bridled. I hated the bridle, but without it, I feared that Dad would pull out the tube.
I noticed that his Levophed dosage had been increased slightly, but was pleased to see that the oxygen setting on the ventilator had been reduced to 40%, which meant that he didn’t need as much oxygen support.
At 7:15 P.M., we heard that the EPIC system was back online. You could hear a subdued cheer from the nurses throughout the unit. Shortly after hearing that all was right with the world again, we met Jennifer, Dad’s night nurse.
Dad’s MAP (blood pressure) had been hovering around the low 60s, so Jennifer increased his Levophed dosage a couple of times. At 8:05 P.M., his blood pressure dropped again and this time she increased the dosage significantly. I heard her call pharmacy to see about adding another vasopressor.
While the respiratory therapist was administering oral care, Jennifer told us that she was adding another vasopressor to help control Dad’s blood pressure because he was now receiving more than the maximum dosage of Levophed. After she added the second vasopressor, she decreased the dosage of the Levophed. This day had been tedious and Mom and I were exhausted. We left for the night at 8:40 P.M., shortly after the respiratory therapist left.
July 31. Another Friday; another new set of attending physicians. Mom and I arrived at the hospital at 7:45 A.M. According to his nurse, Shannon, blood was not drawn this morning. When I asked her about his night and his status, she said that he was still on two vasopressors, but Jennifer had been able to reduce the dosage slightly. She said that Dad would open his eyes, but his eyes would not follow her hand and he wouldn’t respond to commands.
We met this week’s attending nephrologist, Dr. George. Mom wasn’t thrilled with her because she sounded too negative about Dad’s situation. Dad didn’t have much swelling today, but he was still somewhat acidosic, and dialysis could help. Dr. George’s visit was followed by Michelle, the dietitian. She wasn’t pleased with Dad’s nutritional intake and recommended that his Nepro volume be increased to 45 ml/hour.
Dad seemed to be in a bit of distress. I thought that he sounded gurgly, so we had Shannon call the respiratory therapist, Holly. While she was there, Holly repositioned Dad’s trach tube, adjusted the pressure on the ventilator, and suctioned his trach a little.
Wynn, our friend who works in the chaplain’s office, arrived for a short visit around 9:15 A.M. While she was here, we heard a loud bang outside the window that sounded like scaffolding breaking. Since Dad’s initial admission in May, the hospital had been in the process of removing an expensive copper façade and replacing it with ugly siding. As they progressed, the workmen covered up the patient windows, which made the rooms gloomy. We didn’t hear profanity from outside, so we assumed that no one was hurt.
Shortly after 10:00 A.M., we met Dr. Edgar Jimenez, this week’s attending physician. He said that they were going to change Dad’s antibiotic to something stronger to battle the strong bug that Dad had in his lungs. He then proceeded to tell us that Dad’s situation was grave, and that he had no more than a 10% chance of survival. As Mom and I stood to the side of Dad’s bed, holding on to each other, I told the doctor that when I was 14, the doctors told my parents that I would die from peritonitis, and that two months ago, the doctors had told me that my mother might never talk again. I told him that we’d overcome worse odds, and that 10% sounded pretty good to us. He looked at us for a moment and then to his entourage, and said, “OK; they’re a strong family,” and they left the room. Truth be told, my knees were wobbly and I felt a little nauseated.
Mom and I had heard about Dad’s 90% mortality prediction since his arrival some 10 days earlier. Much later, I learned that they used something called the Apache IV mortality scoring system, and Dad had scored poorly.
When Dad was transferred from the CCH to Memorial, his flowers could not come with him. Cut flowers and plants are not permitted in the ICU. I had been thinking about it for a couple of days, and I was now determined to brighten up Dad’s room. After lunch, I cleaned the vase that had held his sunflower arrangement, took it back to Precious Memories, and asked if they could recreate the arrangement with silk flowers. The florist helped me to find the perfect flowers, and they made an outstanding replica of the original arrangement. The bouquet raised a couple of eyebrows, but the charge nurse assured me that artificial flowers were permitted, although they had never seen them before in the ICU.
Shortly before his dialysis was over, Dad’s blood pressure started falling, and his MAP dropped to 54. The nurse increased his vasopressors, and as soon as dialysis was over, his MAP spiked to 118. Shannon finally got his blood pressure stabilized, and moments later, Dr. Fernandez arrived. Dad had had a femoral a-line in his left arm for quite a while. Instead of removing the a-line as originally planned, the doctor wanted to start a new a-line in his right arm so that they could remove the current one from his left arm. This type of procedure required a sterile environment, which meant that Mom and I went to the ICU waiting room. We sat in the waiting room for an hour before the doctor was finished. When Mom and I returned to Dad’s room, it was a bloody mess. Doctors make the messes and the nurses clean up after them. Dad still had the left a-line, but Shannon removed it after she made some sense out of the chaos in Dad’s room.
Mom and I drove in separate cars, and she went home immediately after the procedure. I stayed around for a few minutes more, and left at 5:30 P.M. When I got home, Mom and I picked some fruit and vegetables from their garden and fruit trees, one of the few normal activities in our lives.
I had been posting some updates about Dad’s condition on Facebook, but Dad’s condition was so volatile that the posts had become few and far between. During dinner, Earline, a dear family friend of some 60+ years called to get a more recent update about Dad. After the day that we had had, Earline couldn’t have timed her call any better.
Mom and I arrived back at the hospital at 7:25 P.M. I had prayed for it, and my prayers came true: Tyler I and Tyler II (the nurse and respiratory therapist) were assigned to Dad. Mom and I were overjoyed and I was so relieved to see him that I had to hug Tyler as soon as we entered Dad’s room. We stayed until 8:30 P.M., and left the hospital knowing that Dad was in good hands for another night.