September 8, 2015. Before Mom arrived at the CCH, Stacy, Dad’s nurse, informed the physical therapist that the doctor didn’t want Dad to receive physical therapy today because of his hypotension. Dad’s blood pressure had been low since his dialysis session yesterday. Dad’s WBC count was still within the normal range, although in four days it had inched upward from 6.9 to 9.2. The assumption was that as long as his WBC count was within the normal range, his hypotension was not caused by an infection.
When Mom arrived, Dad was in good spirits and they had a nice visit before she had to leave for a couple of appointments with her own doctors. She met today’s attending physician, Dr. Carl Boethel, and had time for only a brief visit with him before she had to leave. She learned that the results of Dad’s blood cultures had come back negative. We never really understood the significance of the blood cultures, but we always welcomed negative results.
During the weekend, Mom, Stan, and I had tried to brainstorm some alternative solutions for Dad’s diminishing Medicare coverage. It finally dawned on us that Dad was a veteran of the Korean War, and the VA hospital was located between my parents’ home and church. Instead of fighting the practically impossible odds of getting him admitted into the SNiF before his benefits expired, we thought that we’d see if we could get him transferred to the VA hospital. On the day that we had left Memorial, I had overheard a conversation about a patient being transferred from Memorial to the VA hospital. I recalled thinking that I hadn’t thought that the VA hospital was an option. If transferring from Memorial to the VA hospital was an option, we hoped that transferring from the CCH to the VA hospital was also an option. When Mom arrived at the CCH, she told the receptionist that she needed to speak with Marty, but Marty was home taking care of a sick child.
When she returned from her appointments with the neurologist and dermatologist, Mom asked Dad if he had met with the physical therapist. When he said that he had not seen her, Mom intercepted the therapist when she exited from the adjacent room. It was then that Mom learned about the doctor’s orders to suspend therapy for the day. Mom and I were very concerned about Dad’s weakened condition and Mom was not happy that he had remained in the bed all day. Both of my parents wanted Dad to get out of bed and onto the chair. Mom tried to get the nurses to move him to the chair, but to no avail. The fact that he had been restrained since Mom left for her doctor’s appointment didn’t help their mood either.
Mom undid Dad’s restraints a couple of times during the remainder of the day so that he could use the Yankauer, but he had a difficult time handling it and tore it apart.
As if he knew that he was needed, at 4:00 P.M. Pastor Don called Mom to see if he could stop by for a visit. He arrived at 4:45 P.M. and the three of them had a nice visit. Visits from men outside of the medical industry seemed to have a calming effect on Dad and diminished his delirium during the visit.
With all the drama surrounding Dad, it would be easy to forget about Mom’s issues. In addition to her recent stroke, she had also been battling bouts of skin cancer. I was pleased when I learned that she received gold stars from her dermatologist and neurologist.
September 9. Today was my wedding anniversary and I was at home in Houston with Stan. At the CCH, Dad woke up disoriented, and when he arrived at dialysis, Suzanne, his dialysis nurse, thought that he seemed very confused. Statistically, it wasn’t much different, but his WBC count had ticked up by the smallest amount. Although his WBC count was still within the normal range, I was apprehensive about the trend. It seemed that I was the only one who was concerned, and I was 160 miles from the action.
Mom was able to spend a few minutes talking with Dr. Whitney Prince, today’s attending physician. She told Mom that Dad was scheduled to receive the PEG tube tomorrow.
After Mom left for the day, Andrea, Dad’s night nurse, found him with his legs hanging out of the bed, which was practically his default position. The way that he kept sliding down the bed, you’d think that he slept on silk sheets. Other than that little intervention with Andrea, Dad slept through the night without any drama.
September 10. Because of his scheduled PEG placement today, Dad was NPO when the morning shift started. While Dad was waiting for his transfer to Memorial for the procedure, Marty told my parents that she had faxed his clinical records to the Marlandwood West nursing facility. According to Marty, they told her that because Dad was taking antibiotics, they could not accept him. She also said that the dialysis center would prefer that he require less suctioning before they would accept him. The hand restraints were also a blocker. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make Dad understand the problems that he caused with his repeated attempts to get out of bed. He now had only 22 days of hospitalization Medicare coverage. We hoped that the VA hospital would turn out to be a viable option.
At 10:30 A.M. the Scott & White paramedics arrived and transported Dad to the Interventional Radiology (IR) department at Memorial. It seemed that he didn’t have a set time on the IR schedule and Dad had to bide his time until 1:15 P.M., which was when they prepped him for the procedure. The procedure went well, and he finally returned to his room at the CCH at 3:40 P.M. My mother was told that he still had to use the nasal tube for another 24 hours, and then he should be able to start using the PEG.
Mom stayed at the CCH for a short time after Dad returned before she went home for the evening.
September 11. At 3:30 A.M., Andrea, Dad’s night nurse, discovered that Dad had disconnected the tube from his new PEG. She didn’t notice any visible damage to his abdomen as a result of his handiwork, and she reconnected the tube. He eventually went back to sleep and slept until his nurse woke him for dialysis. Suzanne, the dialysis nurse, noticed that he had thick white secretions, and although his WBC count was still within normal range, in two days it had inched up to 9.9 from 9.3. In the period of a couple of weeks, his WBC count had increased from 6.5 to 9.9. I understood that I had to look at the whole person and should not concentrate on the numbers, and blah, blah, blah, but the trend of these lab results made me a little nervous.
Dr. Whitney returned today as the attending physician and she stopped by to assess Dad during dialysis.
When Mom arrived, she noticed that Dad was tightly restrained to his bed. When she asked why, she was told that Dad kept trying to pull out his trach. Dad’s speech was slurred and Mom could barely understand him. His oxygen saturation had been low, so his speaking valve was removed, which made communicating with him even more difficult. Speaking valves block a small amount of air intake, so if he wasn’t getting enough oxygen, removing the speaking valve could solve the problem.
Jennifer arrived in the late afternoon for his physical therapy session. At first, Dad said that he didn’t want physical therapy today, but Mom persevered and he participated. Once he got started, he seemed to enjoy the session. After he performed the bed exercises, he was able to sit on the edge of the bed and move around on the bed and swing his legs. Before Jennifer left, she and the nurse put Dad in the Stryker cardiac chair and he slept in the chair for about an hour, with his hands restrained to the chair.
Mom was a little frustrated with the day. According to the whiteboard in Dad’s room, he was supposed to have the nasal feeding tube removed today, but John, Dad’s nurse, was hesitant to remove it. Finally, at 4:00 P.M he started the tube feed through the PEG, but he still didn’t remove the nasal feeding tube. Mom had also wanted to talk with Marty about having Dad transferred to the VA hospital. Unfortunately, Marty didn’t come to work today so Mom would have to wait until Monday to talk with her. At 4:45 P.M., Mom found John and told him that she was leaving for the day.
I had left Houston after work and arrived at my parents’ home in time for an update on Dad and a much-needed glass of wine before dinner.
September 12. Mom and I arrived at the CCH at 8:00 A.M. Dad was still restrained and his call button was on the floor. John, Dad’s nurse, told us that his heart rate had been elevated to 135 and he became tachycardic. After they gave him some vasopressors, his heart rate returned to a more normal 68.
John said that Dad had had a good night, but when I asked him about the restraints, he said that Dad had tried again to decannulate himself, so the restraints had to remain.
When the new attending physician, Dr. Veronica Brito, stopped by for a pre-round check, we asked her about the restraints and the possibility of getting Dad into the Stryker chair. We had never met this doctor, but she told us that she was on the regular rotation with the CCH. Because of vacations and some shift changes, we had missed seeing her during Dad’s earlier stay at the CCH. She told us that the nurses didn’t think that Dad was strong enough to get in the chair. I was annoyed and she and I had an intense discussion about exercise, restraints, and dialysis. I told her that we wanted a plan to get him off of the restraints and that it was one of the issues that was keeping him here. She said that he had other problems that were keeping him here–like his dialysis. I told her that the dialysis wasn’t keeping him here and that primary thing keeping him from West was the restraints. She said that he was still very sick and that we had to respect his health. I told her that at Memorial, it seemed very important for him to get in the chair every day, even if three nurses had to drag him to it. I told her that I couldn’t understand why getting out of bed didn’t seem important at the CCH.
At 10:30 A.M., I was surprised when John and Hector, an aide, moved Dad from the bed to the Stryker chair. John said that he didn’t think that Dad should go outside where he couldn’t be monitored by the nurses. Mom and I wanted to see how Dad fared in the chair this morning, and if Dad’s vitals remained within a good range, maybe we could take him outside this afternoon. Shortly before we left for lunch, a nurse stopped by and finally removed Dad’s nasal feeding tube.
When Mom and I returned after lunch, Dad was in the Stryker chair and John and Hector prepared him for our cardiac chair road trip. His invasive devices had to be unhooked from the wall and attached to mobile-equivalent devices. Mom manned the oxygen tank and I drove the chair. We weren’t permitted to go outside, but we explored every hallway in the building. We chatted a lot, although I couldn’t understand most of what he said. He said that he was glad that I was there because he said that I was his tiger, compared to Mom, who he said was more like a kitten. Statements like that proved how little he knew about Mom’s role and daily battles on his behalf. If we could ever get him out of this place, I’d have to address some of his misperceptions.
Mom and I left the CCH at 4:45 P.M. and Stan arrived at the house shortly after we returned to the house. This was another one of his short trips in which he would take care of the yard, sit with Dad while we were at church, and then return home. We told Stan about the day and the new attending physician. Although we had had an intense discussion with her, she seemed to listen to us. All in all, it had been a pretty good day.
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