October 8, 2015. At 1:30 A.M., the Kangaroo pump alarm went off, indicating that the tube feed bag was empty. I got up and went downstairs to Dad’s room and woke Amanda so that she could change the bag. Dad was hard of hearing, so I could understand why he hadn’t heard the alarm, but it was about two feet from Amanda’s bed, loud, and annoying, and I didn’t understand how Amanda could sleep through it. The darn thing woke me through the baby monitor.
About 90 minutes later, Dad was awake and tried to get out of bed. It was dialysis day, so Amanda decided to help him get up and get ready for the day. By 4:00 A.M., they were ready for me to administer the trach care. Dad had plenty of time to read the paper, which usually arrived before 5:00 A.M., while Amanda took her morning shower.
His dialysis session was happily uneventful, with no extra bleeding or trips to the hospital. To top it off, the ambulance was on time for the return trip, and Dad and Amanda arrived back home at 11:35 A.M., which was record time.
The dialysis sessions usually wore out Dad, and it wasn’t unusual for him to take an afternoon nap while we ate lunch. He slept off and on until 3:00 P.M., at which time he wanted to get up because he had company. Our neighbor, Barbara, who was married to Dr. Bob Probe, brought Dad a homemade chocolate cake and some flowers. She seemed surprised when she learned that he wasn’t swallowing yet. We told her that we’d give Dad the flowers and we’d be glad to eat the chocolate cake.
After Barbara left, Amanda convinced Dad to do the exercises that the physical therapist had prescribed.
Dad had been away from the house for 148 days. Fortunately, with the exception of writing an occasional check, Mom and I didn’t have to deal with any financial issues. He had set up their finances so that incoming money automatically went to certain accounts and almost every bill was automatically paid. Now, some of the hospital bills were arriving, and Mom thought that this was a good time to start reorienting Dad to the finances that he had so artfully set up. While they were busy with the finances, I was in the kitchen preparing dinner. While dinner was in the oven, I checked my email and was surprised to see the following message from Becky Crabtree, the owner of One on One Personal Homecare Services:
Amanda called me this afternoon asking that she be replaced. She didn’t think she was a good personality match for this position. I have Dianne scheduled to be there in the morning. She is a fill in and will stay until Gale returns on Tuesday.
I’m sorry things didn’t work out with Amanda. Unfortunately, this happens occasionally. Again I apologize for this change.
Although Dad seemed to like her, I wasn’t enamored with Amanda, and having a new aide would cause multiple interruptions in my work day to train another person. When the doorbell interrupted my pity party, my first thought was that I wasn’t in the mood for company, but I was relieved to see that we had just received a package from Amazon.com. Dad’s padded commode seat cushion had just arrived. The cushion was four inches thick and appeared as if it would have satisfied that princess who had all that trouble with that pea.
When Mom and Dad were finished reviewing their finances, Dad took another short nap while Mom, Amanda, and I ate dinner. Dinner conversation was a bit awkward as we avoided speaking about the elephant in the room.
When I started to administer Dad’s trach care, I encountered a problem with his speaking valve: it wouldn’t come off. When I tried again, Dad exclaimed that I hurt him. I tried one more time before resigning myself to the fact that I would have to change his trach so that I could remove his speaking valve. I couldn’t believe that I had to change out his trach just three days after the last time, but I couldn’t think of any alternative. Besides the fact that I hated changing the trach, I didn’t like changing it when I was so tired. I grabbed the extra TV tray and had Amanda assist me. It was the first time that she had seen a trach tube changed. As much as I hated to perform this little procedure, I felt a tiny bit more confident about doing it now that I had soloed twice.
By 10:15 P.M., Amanda had had her nighttime shower and we had Dad all medded up and in bed. I was exhausted and would need to get up in just a few hours for work. Within minutes of getting myself into bed, Dad was wide awake, telling Amanda that he needed to get up because he had work to do outside. He seemed confused and kept trying to get out of bed. He—and Amanda and I—finally fell asleep around midnight.
October 9. I slept until my iPhone alarm woke me at 3:30 A.M. I listened to the sounds coming through the baby alarm, but all I could hear was the sound of the oxygen concentrator. I dressed in my purple scrubs and headed downstairs to my parents’ office, where I had carved out a place for my computer so that I could work. On my way to the office, I looked into Dad’s room, which was next to the office, and noticed that he and Amanda were both sleeping.
At 5:00 A.M., I heard Dad stirring, so I took a short break from work and administered the trach care and morning meds. Sometimes I liked to go into his room just as he was waking up. He would open his eyes wide and say, “Hi, Mel!” and he always looked like he was glad to see me. When I was finished with Dad, Amanda and I transferred him to the wheelchair, and he wheeled himself into the bathroom to wash his face. Amanda helped him get dressed, and then she assisted him with his daily exercises and hooked him up to the feeding tube and humidified oxygen. About 15 minutes later he asked if he could leave the bedroom. Amanda disconnected his tube feed and oxygen concentrator and hooked him up to the oxygen tank. When he wheeled himself out to the family room, I told him that Amanda had to leave us and that Becky was replacing her with an aide named Dianne. He seemed genuinely sorry to hear that she was leaving. I didn’t tell him that it was Amanda’s idea to leave or that it wasn’t a terrible turn of events for Mom and me.
Shortly before 9:45 A.M., Dianne arrived and she was a bundle of energy. She had several years of experience and was closer in age to Gale than to Amanda. Amanda gave her a quick orientation and then she grabbed her bags and left the house so fast that one might have thought that her suitcase was full of our silver. Within 10 minutes after Amanda’s departure, Dad and Dianne had bonded and he gave her a tour of the house.
Shortly after the home tour, Dad wanted Dianne to take him outside. The weather in central Texas during October is usually very nice, and today we were experiencing Chamber of Commerce weather. Dad had been off of his humidified oxygen and tube feed for a couple of hours. Although I was unsuccessful in getting him to come indoors, he eventually had to come in when the nurse arrived at 11:35 A.M. Then, the nurse probably hadn’t even pulled out of the driveway before Dad was sound asleep. Not only did he sleep through his midday meds, we didn’t seem to disturb him when we changed the sheets on Dianne’s bed. He eventually woke up in time for happy hour. We didn’t play cards tonight, and we started preparing him for bed a little earlier than usual. Dianne was pretty sharp, but because it was her first night, preparing Dad for bed took a little longer than usual. I sat with Dad while Dianne prepared herself for bed.
October 10. I don’t know if he wanted to give the new aide a break or if he had worn himself out the previous day, but Dad did not wake up until 5:30 A.M. In addition, he had slept through the night. Perhaps he was trying to lull Dianne into a false sense of security.
It was Saturday, so I was thrilled to have had the extra sleep. My husband would be arriving soon to visit and to help out with the yard work. When I heard sounds through the baby monitor of Dad and Dianne stirring, I got up, dressed in my scrubs, and went downstairs to his room. I found him in the master bathroom, washing his face and brushing his teeth. When he was finished, I administered his morning meds and trach care. At 6:05 A.M., the phone rang. Back in the day, we might have wondered who in the world be calling us that that hour. Now, we correctly surmised that it was the EMT service from Scott & White, informing us that they would be late.
A few days earlier, the EMTs had asked us if we could wheel Dad outside where they would then transfer him from the wheelchair to the gurney. Our house had some twists and turns that were difficult for the EMTs to traverse with the gurney. Each time that they entered the house with the gurney, they had some close calls with walls and artwork. We weren’t sure if Dad could make the transfers, but we were willing to give their suggestion a try. The EMTs provided him with ample support (some could lift him) and he was able to make the transfers without too much trouble. Most dialysis patients are often weak after dialysis, so the return trip transfers from the gurney to the wheelchair were a bit difficult and required more assistance from the EMTs.
As it turned out, the EMTs were on time, and Dianne wheeled Dad outside and watched as the EMTs transferred him from the wheelchair to the gurney. Dad and Dianne arrived at the dialysis center at 6:45 A.M. and by 7:00 A.M., he was receiving dialysis treatment. Dad slept for the first 15 minutes, but after he woke up, he and Dianne chatted for the remainder of his four-hour session. During Dianne’s orientation, Amanda hadn’t mentioned how to secure an ambulance for the return trip at 11:00 A.M. Truth be told, Gale had never mentioned to me what she did, so I had no clue. About 10 minutes before the end of his session, Dianne asked the nurse who had to call for the ambulance. The nurse placed the call for her. I didn’t know if that was the normal procedure, but it worked for Dianne. The ambulance arrived at 11:15 A.M., and they were home by noon.
Dad was pretty weak, and the transfer from the gurney to the wheelchair was a bit more awkward than usual. He was tired and agreed to go to bed so that we could resume his humidified air and tube feed. Before Mom, Dianne, Stan, and I ate lunch, I administered his midday meds, during which time he fell asleep and didn’t wake until almost 4:30 P.M.
I decided that I liked wearing scrubs, but I didn’t like having only one set. Now that I understood the sizing, I accessed my favorite website and ordered three more sets in navy, black, and fuchsia, three of the colors that I saw nurses and therapists wear at Scott & White.
Before I had had the problem with the speaking valve a couple of days ago, I had changed out Dad’s trach on a Monday, which meant that I would need to change it on the following Monday. With work and my short and interrupted nights’ sleep, I was pretty tired during the work week. Although I now felt a bit more confident with the trach change, I’d prefer to have the change-out day fall on a weekend day. With that goal in mind, I changed Dad’s trach again. Because he had spent so much time away from the humidified air, his secretions built up and hardened in his trach, so changing out his trach more often was probably advisable; however, I didn’t want to stay on a two-day cadence for trach changes.
Similar to the two aides who preceded her, Dianne had never witnessed a trach change and was very interested in the process. She also proved to be a good assistant. Shortly after we finished the trach change, the five of us sat on the back patio for an hour to enjoy the beautiful weather. At 6:00 P.M., Dianne took Dad back to his room and we hooked up the humidified oxygen and tube feed. He took a short nap and woke up as Mom, Dianne, Stan, and I were finishing dinner.
After we cleared the table and finished cleaning up the dishes, Dad announced that it was time to play cards. He explained the rules of Oh Hell to Dianne, and it was game on. He tried to keep score, but the loss of manual dexterity prevented his being able to write to his satisfaction, so I took over the score-keeping. The five of us played a long version of the game and then sat around the table talking. At 10:15 P.M., we finally started to prepare Dad for bed. After Dianne helped him into his night clothes and into bed, I administered the trach care and meds. I sat with him until Dianne returned to the room around 11:30 P.M. and then I headed upstairs to bed.
Now that I had changed Dad’s trach three times, I noticed that he seemed to cough more for about 30 minutes afterward. I didn’t know if that was normal, or if perhaps I applied too much lubricant on the trach tube before inserting it into his trachea. I didn’t want to hurt him during the trach change, so I preferred erring on the side of too much lubricant. What amazed me was that he didn’t know what I was doing when I changed the trach, and he said that he didn’t feel anything. I was thankful that he didn’t approach the procedure with the same sense of dread and apprehension that I felt.