October 5, 2015. At 4:00 A.M., Dad was ready to get up. In the past five days, he had progressed to handling most of his personal care. To protect the fragile skin on his shins, Gale would open the cabinet doors under the bathroom sink and place a towel over the sharp edge. Dad would then wheel himself up to the sink to wash his face and brush his teeth. He didn’t like the electric shaver much, but every couple of days he used it to shave. He hadn’t regained all of his manual dexterity, so that discouraged him from using a razor. When he finished cleaning up, he returned to the bedroom, got hooked up to the tube feed and humidified air, and read the newspaper. At the start of Dad’s sixth day home, we felt that we were on the verge of a repeatable routine.
Dad told me that he was having strange dreams. For me, hearing him talk about strange dreams seemed like a major milestone. While he was in the CCH and receiving daily cocktails of antipsychotics, he had had many wild dreams. Unfortunately, he had believed that his dreams were his reality. Now, we were ridding his body of those drugs and he was realizing that his dreams were dreams—it seemed like a turning point.
Two hours later, Dad was ready to lie down and take a nap, which meant that Gale could nap too. I guess being awake all night was starting to take its toll on him. I know that it was taking a toll on me. Shortly before 9:00 A.M., I took a short break from work and administered his morning meds and trach care. In the past few days, my time had improved from 45 minutes to 15 minutes.
For all intents and purposes, Dad’s vital signs were pretty good, but his oxygen saturation had been hovering in the low 90s. I would have preferred something over 95%. In the hospital, the monitors alarmed when his oxygen saturation dropped below 90%. The nurse was due to return today, so I made a note on my iPhone to ask her about it. The nurses weren’t here more than a few minutes during each visit, but they were a lifeline that I had quickly come to rely on.
At 2:00 P.M., Dad had his first physical therapy session. The therapist aide had Dad wheel himself into the bathroom and lock his wheelchair in front of the sink. She then told him to hold onto the sink and stand, which he did, but with assistance. She then had him get back on the bed for some other exercises. To the lay people in the house, it seemed that he had a great session. I hoped that when he harbored thoughts of getting out of bed in the middle of the night, he might remember how difficult it was for him to stand. I could dream.
He was a little tired after his physical therapy session, but he had barely put his head on the pillow for a nap when the doorbell rang. Paula, the home care nurse, stopped by to check his vitals and bed sores and said that he looked great. She didn’t have any concerns about his oxygenation.
After Paula left, Dad napped for about 2-1/2 hours. By the time that he woke up, Mom, Gale, and I had eaten dinner. It had now been a week since I had changed Dad’s trach. I wanted to change it again before bedtime and before Gale ended her week with us. During normal trach care, I’d set up a TV tray next to the bed and lay out the contents of the kit. For the trach change, I grabbed another TV tray and set up the changing kit. I mentally ran through the changing routine a couple of times, took a breath, and got started. After donning the gloves, I attached the trach collar to the new trach, applied the lubricant to the trach, loosened the obturator and told Gale to make sure that I pulled it out after I inserted the trach. Trach tubes are very flexible, and the obturator provides the stiffness necessary to insert the trach. If I didn’t remove the obturator, then Dad couldn’t breathe. Now that the new trach tube was ready, I removed the ties on his trach collar and then removed the trach from his throat, placed it on one of the TV trays, picked up the sterile trach tube, and inserted it. Because I was holding my breath and counting in my head, I knew that I had made the change in less than 8 seconds. Gale reminded me to remove the obturator, and Dad coughed up a huge wad of secretion, which I had been told was a good thing because it meant that the trach tube was properly placed.
Now that the nail-biting part of the process was over, I attached his trach collar, replaced his stoma dressing, and replaced his beloved speaking valve. I wasn’t finished until I had cleaned and repackaged the trach that I had just removed. The cleaning process took me longer here than it had at the CCH. Because Dad had spent so much time off of the humidified air, some of his secretions had accumulated and hardened in his trach, narrowing its diameter, and therefore the diameter of his airway. Besides that, some dry air was getting into his lungs. I had to soak the trach with the dried secretions in saline for 30 minutes before I could easily clean it. In any case, my first solo trach change was history.
Our family has a favorite card game known as Oh Hell, and now that he had his new trach, Dad was ready to play. He hadn’t regained enough dexterity to shuffle or deal the cards, but that didn’t keep him from winning. Maybe it was a coincidence, but it seemed that winning at cards had a positive effect on him. He woke up only a couple of times during the night and tried to get out of bed only once.
October 6. Today was a special day because it was Dad’s 87th birthday. Just two weeks earlier, I had feared that he wouldn’t live to see the day. It was unfortunate that he would have to spend four hours of his birthday in dialysis. I had once envisioned a special cake on his birthday, but we wouldn’t have birthday cake until he could swallow. We had no rigid rules about celebrating birthdays and other events on the day on which they occurred; we could celebrate and have cake anytime.
Dad slept until 5:15 A.M., which seemed like a gift for me. He and Gale ran through their morning routine, and I administered his Midodrine and trach care. The morning seemed to be starting perfectly, and the EMS transport arrived at 6:10 A.M., exactly on time.
The day that Dad was discharged from the CCH, his dialysis catheter was changed out. When he returned to the CCH from the Interventional Radiology (IR) department at Memorial, the nurses and the doctor had had a difficult time stopping the bleeding, and Dr. Anderson eventually cauterized it. For fear of restarting the bleeding, the RNs at the dialysis center had put off changing his dressing. Because it had now been a week since his dressing was last changed, they wanted to change it today.
Dad and Gale returned home from dialysis at noon, which meant that they hadn’t had to wait very long for a ride. Within 15 minutes of their arrival home, I had administered hist trach care and midday meds.
The aides worked seven on and seven off, and we were expecting Gale’s replacement, Amanda. She arrived in the early afternoon, shortly before 2:00 P.M. While Gale oriented her to the house and Dad’s routine and requirements, I noticed that the front of Dad’s shirt was soaked with blood. I called my home care lifeline, and once again, was advised to call 911.
This was the second time in six days that S&W ambulances blared their sirens down our quiet street. The ambulance arrived at the S&W emergency department (ED) with Dad and me at 2:45 P.M. This trip to the ED was not very stressful because we understood the problem and I suspected that he would have his bleeding port repaired by someone in the IR department. I was pleased that during her assessment of Dad, the nurse noted that he was oriented to person, place, and time, an assessment that he had not achieved in more than 10 weeks. The nurse also thought that he appeared to be well nourished. I was so antsy about properly caring for him that I devoured any morsel of positive feedback. The ED doctor stopped by for a moment to introduce herself and quickly introduced us to Dr. Victoria Klovenski, the resident who would oversee Dad’s care.
As I had suspected, Dad had to have his dialysis port fixed in the IR department. This department doesn’t do a big walk-in business and the providers’ time is scheduled in advance, so Dad and I had to cool our jets for about an hour before they could squeeze him into their already-full schedule. Dr. Bradley Dollar, the doctor who changed Dad’s dialysis port just a week earlier, was working in the IR department when Dad arrived. When he had finished with the procedure to repair the port site, he gave me an accusatory look and some attitude when he asked me what had happened to Dad’s port. I assured him that it was Dr. Anderson, at the CCH, not I, who had botched his handiwork. After returning to the ED and Dr. Klovenski, we signed our paperwork, paid our bill, and waited for EMS transport home.
By the time that Dad and I had returned home, it was 7:20 P.M. As Amanda and I were putting Dad to bed, she asked if it was OK for her to take her shower now. I suspect that the look that I gave her perfectly reflected the way that I felt about her request. Hell’s bells, she had been sitting around doing nothing for over five hours. How dirty could a person get? She backed off and told me that just this once she would skip her nighttime shower. She added, “I’m a big girl and I need two showers a day.” Since Dad had returned home, daily showers had become a thing of the past. I looked forward to my Sunday shower and a shower while he was at dialysis. Anything more than that was pure decadence.
Mom, Amanda, and I ate dinner stylishly late and then Amanda watched me administer his nighttime meds and start his tube feed. He had been without any nutrition or liquid since 5:15 A.M. Fortunately, during most of his five hours at the hospital, I was able to get oxygen and an aerosol mist for his trach. I was finished with Dad’s bedtime routine by 8:30 P.M.
Dad didn’t play favorites with the aides and Amada was properly initiated into service. Dad was awake at 9:15 P.M. and 10:15 P.M., and at midnight, he tried to get out of bed. He finally fell asleep at 1:00 A.M., but he woke up at 4:00 A.M., ready to start the day. Amanda wasn’t alone in her fun. Every time he roused her or tried to escape the confines of his bed, he woke me too.
October 7. Amanda had been trying to get Dad cleaned up and ready for the day, but Dad was irritable and kept trying to get out of bed. She eventually prevailed, and I took a short break from work at 8:00 A.M. to administer his morning meds and trach care. Shortly after I was finished, he was resting comfortably in his wheelchair reading the newspaper. Around 10:00 A.M., Dad started getting sleepy, so Amanda helped him back into bed so that he could nap. Amanda took advantage of this respite and snagged herself a 90-minute nap.
I don’t know why, but Mom and I were not bonding with Amanda. We got off on the wrong foot, and couldn’t seem to find the right foot. We didn’t say anything to Amanda because it wasn’t about Mom and me; it was about Dad. Gale called me to see how Dad was doing. She happened to mention that in Amanda’s previous position, she pretty much ruled the house and the schedules. Gale suspected that Amanda might be having a difficult time adjusting to such a demanding position. When it came to aides, I hoped that Amanda was the exception and not Gale.
When Dad woke up at 11:30 A.M., he was ready to wheel himself around the house. He had forgotten many of the details about the house that he had designed and built just 11 years earlier. He was an expert at wheeling himself around corners. The walls of the house were white and there were no signs of wheel marks on the walls or baseboards, except for the places where I tried to help him.
After lunch, our friend, Pastor Don, stopped by to visit with Dad. It was great to see him again. You expect pastors to stop by the hospital, but it is so easy for patients and caregivers to become isolated after the patients return home. Dad was not ambulatory, and although we welcomed these visits, we were hesitant to ask people to come over. Truth be told, we were too busy to think about asking people to stop by.
Shortly before 2:30 P.M., the physical therapist aide arrived to administer Dad’s therapy. She brought with her a 3-inch-high egg-crate cushion sized to fit the seat of his wheelchair, which made sitting in the wheelchair immensely more comfortable. During his session, he spent most of his time doing bed exercises. Dad didn’t think that the exercises provided him with any benefit, and while he followed the therapist’s directions, he made side comments to entertain her.
Although the physical therapy sessions might not have been “doing anything” for him, he was pretty tired when the therapist left. She wasn’t out of the door for more than five minutes and he was sound asleep. I wondered if we could schedule her visits for midnight. Dad woke up from his nap shortly before the nurse arrived at 4:15 P.M. She thought that Dad was progressing pretty well, but that he should see a wound care specialist—something else to add to my to-do list.
After dinner, it was time for Amanda’s most critical test: could she, would she play Oh Hell with the family? At first, she said that she would spend the evening in her room, but Dad persisted, and after a few minutes of orientation, the game was on. I don’t recall who won, but the four of us shared an enjoyable evening.
What was interesting to me was the different relationships that Dad quickly developed with the two aides. Gale, who was in her 40s, was like a pal, and she was a big tease who could dish it out and take it as much as Dad. On the other hand, Dad seemed to take a real interest in Amanda’s future. She was very young, and Dad asked her about her experience and her plans and encouraged her to aim higher. I recall hearing him encourage her to go to nursing school.
In addition to our nighttime routine of trach care and meds, we had another routine of sorts: Dads attempts to get out of bed. On a good night, like tonight, he tried to get out of bed only once. Unlike the nurses at the CCH, we didn’t have the fancy bed alarm but had to rely on squeaky springs to wake us. I had to find a better alarm.