The battle lines were being drawn between caution and freedom

October 11, 2015. It was close to 12:30 A.M. and we had been asleep for less than an hour when Dad started coughing. After 90 minutes of his intermittent hard coughing, Dianne convinced him to use the Yankauer wand attached to the suction machine to remove some of his own secretions. Within a few minutes after using the wand, Dad was sleeping. Dianne also went back to sleep, but at 4:15 A.M., something woke her. To her horror, Dad was on his knees on the floor. He needed to use the bathroom and for some reason, he thought that he could get there by himself. In a panic, Dianne paged me through the baby monitor.  The anxiousness in her voice propelled me out of bed and down the stairs. The two of us tried for a few minutes, but we could not get him off of the floor and back into the bed. Fortunately, my husband was in town. I called for Stan through the baby monitor, and the three of us were able to get Dad off of the floor. At 4:50 A.M. we finally had him back in the bed. Once again, he was lucky that he hadn’t hurt himself. I could only suppose that when he woke up at night he couldn’t remember that he couldn’t walk or that he was hooked up to two devices. Depending on how he might fall, he could put a strain on his trach and decannulate himself or pull out his G-tube. Just the thought of such things happening gave me the heebie-jeebies.

I woke up again at 6:45 A.M. and woke Dianne and Dad. Dianne and I assisted Dad into his wheelchair and he wheeled himself into the master bathroom to wash his face, brush his teeth, and shave. Dianne gave him a sponge bath and helped him get dressed. He might have needed a few days to reacclimate himself to his house, but after 148 days in a hospital gown, he knew what he wanted to wear and told her where to find it. When he was all shiny and dressed, I stopped by his room and administered his trach care and morning meds. When I was finished, Dianne and I reattached his humidified oxygen and tube feed.

After breakfast, Mom shooed Dad out of the master bath and I went upstairs, and the two of us got ready for church. As we drove to church, I updated Mom on the activities of the previous night. We both enjoyed our respite at church and then returned home to an empty house, although there were two cars in the garage and three cars parked out back.

It was another beautiful day and shortly after Mom and I had left for church, Dad told Dianne that he wanted to go outside. She pushed him outside and she helped him navigate his wheelchair over the entire backyard. My parents’ house sits on an acre lot, so Dad had a lot to show her. After being out in the sun for 40 minutes, they moved to the patio and sat in the shade. Under the best of circumstances, spraying the trach bib provided only a modicum of moisture. Although Diane did her best to keep Dad’s trach bib wet with the spray bottle of sterilized water, the outside air was very dry, so he was breathing in a lot of dry air. After finding them on the patio, I became a little agitated that he had been off of the humidified air for a couple of hours. After a bit of foot-tapping from me, Dad agreed to come back inside.

Just a short time later, Dad said that he needed to go to the workshop in the garage to find a tool for Stan. It was 99 degrees outside and still dry. After he had spent 10 minutes in the workshop with Stan, I insisted that he go to his room for humidified air and nutrition. I kept pestering him to come inside, but he was uncooperative and became angry at my repeated attempts to get him back indoors. I was exasperated. I tried to explain that any time that he spent outdoors was time that he breathed dry air into his lungs and deprived his body of nutrition, yet I was the bad guy.

Finally, at 4:15 P.M. we finally got him back in bed and hooked up to his essential lines, and he quickly drifted off to sleep. Before Dad closed his eyes, Stan came to his room to say goodbye. Stan was returning to Houston but would come back next weekend.

Dad slept until 6:00 P.M., at which time we had happy hour. Sometimes he would sit and talk with us during happy hour, but today he spent most of the time wheeling himself around the house. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it would be to not be able to sip a drink or eat my favorite foods, and sometimes it seemed that the denial of one of life’s pleasures depressed him. When Mom announced that dinner was ready, Dad wheeled himself back to his room. Dianne trailed after him and helped him back into bed and attached him to the tube feed and humidified air.

By 7:00 P.M., we had the dining room table cleared and the dishes in the dishwasher. We helped Dad back into his wheelchair and we played another cutthroat game of Oh Hell.

Tomorrow would be a work day for me, so I was glad when we started getting Dad ready for bed at 8:45 P.M. Truth be told, it was still past my bedtime. Dianne helped Dad get ready for bed and I administered the nighttime meds and trach care.  After I left the room, Dianne coached Dad through his exercises prescribed by the physical therapist.

He had had a full and busy day, and he fell asleep as soon as he finished his exercises. His coughing briefly woke him up at 11:00 P.M.

October 12. Dad slept pretty well until 1:00 A.M., at which time he started coughing again. Again, Dianne convinced him to use the Yankauer wand and suction machine to clear out some of his secretions. He didn’t sleep much afterward and was very restless. I could hear his coughing and gurgly breathing through the baby monitor, and at 3:00 A.M., I got up, donned my scrubs, and suctioned secretions from his trach. When I was finished, Dad assumed that it was time to get up. I explained to him that it was Monday and that he didn’t need to get up early for dialysis, and he agreed to go back to sleep.

After I cleaned up the trach-cleaning supplies, I went to my parents’ office and logged on to work. For about three hours, I was the only one who was awake. Although I was on Skype almost nonstop, my talking didn’t disturb Dianne or Dad. In addition to Dad being hard of hearing, the oxygen generator was noisy and blocked all sound outside of the master bedroom. My mother was sleeping in a room on the opposite side of the house. I could crash cymbals and not wake up anybody.

At 6:30 A.M., the residents of the master suite started stirring. Dianne unplugged Dad from the oxygen and the Kangaroo pump and helped him into his wheelchair. Once he was situated, he could wheel himself into the master bath and wash up and shave. Before helping him get dressed, Dianne checked his blood pressure and oxygen saturation. His blood pressure was good, but his oxygen saturation was still hovering in the low 90s. I administered his morning meds and trach care and went back to work.

While Dianne got ready for the day and ate breakfast, Dad sat in his room, received humidified air and nutrition, and read the newspaper. At 9:00 A.M., he was ready to go outside and have Dianne help him with some yard work. When he said he wanted her help, he meant that he would tell her what to do. I told him that our aides were not here to do his yard work. Dianne interrupted, insisting that she would love to go outside and do some light yard work. I shook my head and headed back to work while Dianne wheeled Dad outdoors.

Dad and Dianne stayed outside for about an hour, at which time I urged them to come back inside for air and nutrition. I couldn’t decide whether I was starting to feel like a broken record or a nag. Dad grudgingly came back indoors and let Dianne reattach him to his humidified air and tube feed. He fell asleep and slept until 11:30 A.M. We were expecting the nurse this afternoon and I wanted to be sure to administer his trach care and change his dressing before she arrived. When I reached to pull off the speaking valve, it wouldn’t budge. I. Could. Not. Believe. It. It was déjà vu all over again. My only consolation was that the nurse would be here soon. I decided to hold off on changing the trach until she arrived; perhaps she might have better luck removing it.

Like an answer my prayers, the nurse was able to remove the speaking valve, and without any muss or fuss. Before she left, she gave me some tips for handling the speaking valve. As the nurse was walking out to her car, the physical therapist aide entered the driveway. Dianne watched the physical therapy session so that she’d be able to assist Dad with his daily exercises. Shortly after the therapist left, Dianne and Dad went back outside. After about 15 minutes, I was pestering them to come back indoors. Dad agreed and Dianne hooked him back up to his air and tube feed.

At 5:10 P.M., I was finished working for the day and was ready for our happy hour. At that moment, Dad and Dianne went back outside for 10 minutes. I couldn’t believe how much time he was spending outdoors. Mom, Dianne, and I were ready for dinner by 6:30 P.M., which enabled Dad to spend some time on the humidified oxygen and tube feed.

After dinner, we played another rip-roaring game of Oh Hell. Although the game can be challenging, it’s even more challenging when you don’t deal the cards correctly—something that seemed to happen often with Dad’s impaired dexterity. Dianne and I started getting him ready for bed at 8:45 P.M. After Dianne helped him to get ready for bed, I administered his nighttime meds and trach care and sat with him while Dianne prepared herself for bed. At 9:15 P.M., I finally dragged myself upstairs to bed, called Stan, set my alarm for 3:30 A.M., and fell asleep.

October 13. With the exception of a little coughing around 12:30 A.M., Dad slept through the night until I woke him and Dianne at 4:20 A.M. As I returned to work, they resumed their morning routine in preparation for dialysis. When they were finished, Dianne dashed to the kitchen to grab a quick bite of breakfast and I returned to the master bedroom and administered Dad’s Midodrine and trach care. The Scott & White ambulance arrived about 15 minutes early, but Dad was ready. Dianne drove her car and followed the ambulance to the dialysis center. The good thing about being picked up at 6:00 A.M. is that, if you’re lucky, your dialysis session will start earlier, which is what happened today.

The aides at One on One Personal Care switched out on Tuesdays, which was a little difficult logistically with Dad’s dialysis. Gale arrived at the dialysis center at 10:30 A.M. and found Dianne and Dad just as Dad’s session was ending. Dianne drove back to the house, picked up her belongings and paycheck, and drove to her next assignment. The aides worked every other week and rest during the alternate weeks. To accommodate our dire predicament, she sacrificed three days of her week off. Gale stayed with Dad until he was picked up by the ambulance and then drove to our house.

Dianne, Dad, and Gale at the dialysis center

It was good to see Gale again. She looked refreshed but confessed that she had been dog tired when she left us a week earlier. During her first night home, when her husband got out of bed to use the bathroom, she bolted up in bed and said, “Where do you think you’re going?” It took her a couple of days home to wind down.

Gale marveled at the change in Dad and said that he seemed much stronger in just one week. A week earlier, it took considerable effort from the two of us to transfer him from the bed to his wheelchair or to the bedside commode. Now she could transfer him with only a little assistance from me.

Dad spent most of the day resting, which meant that he had a few uninterrupted hours of humidified air and nutrition. At 5:00 P.M., we got him up for happy hour and then he returned to his room while Mom, Gale, and I ate dinner. Although she hadn’t won a game yet, Gale was now a pro at Oh Hell. Dad still had a difficult time dealing cards and our cardinal rule was to always count our cards before starting to play a hand.

We breezed through our nighttime routine. After Gale helped Dad get ready for bed, I administered his meds and trach care while Gale got herself ready for bed. When she returned to the room at 8:45 P.M., I retired to my bedroom, set my alarm, called Stan, and hoped for another few hours of uninterrupted sleep.

We quickly drifted back into our routine. Dad and Gale were both kidders, and they resumed their friendly banter.

I couldn’t believe the difference in this day and Gale’s first day with us. I was still constantly on pins and needles and worried that something could go wrong at any minute, but at least we acted like we knew what we were doing.


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