October 17, 2015. I had hoped that we could have slept until 4:00 A.M., but shortly after 1:00 A.M., I was awakened by Dad’s coughing. I listened for a couple of minutes and then decided to check on him. Although we placed the Yankauer wand and suctioning machine near him, he seldom used them during the night. I woke Gale when I turned on the lights with the dimmer switch and opened the trach care kit. His secretions weren’t as thick as I had thought and I was able to return to my room in just a few minutes, and Dad and Gale went back to sleep.
Gale and Dad were awake at 4:15 A.M., but Dad was tired and wasn’t ready to get out of bed until 5:00 A.M. They had their dialysis preparation routine down cold and didn’t need the extra 45 minutes. Dad was ready to leave before the scheduled departure time of 6:10 A.M.
The nurses were ready for Dad when he arrived, so his dialysis session started at 6:30 A.M. Two hours later, his systolic blood pressure dropped below 100, and Gale administered the Midodrine via Dad’s G-tube. Unless the ambulance arrived late, it was great when the dialysis session started and ended early. Fortunately, Dad and Gale didn’t have to wait long, and they were back home by 11:30 A.M. Gale reconnected his humidified air and tube feed and I prepared his midday meds. He was pretty tired and napped for the next three hours.
When Dad woke up, he and Gale sat outside on the patio. He wanted to compose some lists, but his impaired dexterity still prevented him from writing. Gale was always willing to sit outside with Dad and talk, and she happily agreed to act as his stenographer while he dictated. When Mom and I were ready for happy hour, Dad said that he was tired and returned to his room, where he stayed until we played cards at 6:30 P.M. All that sleeping today seemed to pay off for him, and he beat us again at cards.
I was tired and was glad to start preparing Dad for bed at 8:30 P.M. By 9:15 P.M., he was in bed and had received his nighttime meds, and Gale had returned to the bedroom after her own nighttime preparations. Stan was on call and could not come to Temple this weekend. Before crashing for the night, I called him and we talked about our very different days.
Dad slept well for about 90 minutes, and then he began to be restless and have periodic coughing spells. His coughing and restlessness woke Gale but was not loud enough to wake me.
October 18. At 1:00 A.M., Dad’s coughing finally woke me. I listened for a minute or two before Gale paged me through the baby monitor. Gale suspected that he needed suctioning, and she was correct. He required a lot of suctioning, which surprised me because he hadn’t required much suctioning when he went to bed. Shortly before 2:00 A.M., I was finished with him, had cleaned up after myself, and had returned to my bedroom. I dozed on and off for a couple of hours but heard him coughing again at 4:00 A.M. As tired as I was, I knew that sleep was impossible. I got out of bed, dressed in my scrubs, and returned to Dad’s room.
Dad was in a bad mood and his attitude toward me was a little pissy and juvenile, and had the roles been reversed, he would have reprimanded me for my behavior. He straightened up somewhat when Gale, the good cop, returned to the room. She helped Dad out of bed and into the wheelchair, and he wheeled himself into the bathroom and coughed up some more of his secretions. A couple of minutes later, he said that he was tired and he had Gale help him back into bed where she connected his humidified oxygen and tube feed. Gale and I both used the opportunity to get a bit more sleep.
When he woke a couple of hours later, he was in a much better mood. Because Dad could not take anything by mouth, all of his meds were crushed, mixed with water, drawn into a large syringe, and inserted into his G-tube, directly into his stomach. When I reached for the Y extension line that connected the G-tube with the tube feed line and provided the input valves to the G-tube, a loose end came up in my hand. I didn’t know how long that it had been disconnected from the G-tube, but Dad and the bed were a sticky mess. It was as if we had thrown a couple of milkshakes in bed with him.
I tried to reinsert the Y extension into the G-tube, but it wouldn’t stay. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I had Gale give it a try, but she also struck out. We plugged the G-tube, turned off the Kangaroo pump, and proceeded to clean up Dad and the bed. I wasn’t sure what to do about the G-tube, so I called Home Care. It was Sunday, so the after-hours operator had to contact the on-call nurse. The on-call nurse called a few minutes later and said that she would come by so that she could lay eyes on Dad; however, she would not arrive for at least a couple of hours.
Instead of waiting around the house for a couple of hours, Mom and I decided to go to church. As we were leaving the church, Gale called and said that the nurse had just left and that she had noticed something that we had overlooked: the tip of the Y extension had broken off inside of the G-tube. Gale said that the nurse added that she “had never seen anything like this,” one of the worst phrases in the English language. Her advice to us: call 911 and take Dad to the hospital.
Shortly after Dad’s return home from the CCH a few weeks earlier, Gale and I were careful about the way in which we handled the Y extension because we didn’t know how long the tubing or connectors would last. Just a few days ago, we had asked the nurse if she could acquire more of them for us. Fortunately, she was able to find one and it was still in its packaging. I planned to bring it with me to the hospital later today and was determined that we would not come home until it was securely inserted in Dad’s G-tube.
On the way home from church, Mom and I stopped by the pharmacy to pick up a refill of Midodrine. We had only two pills left and Dad needed four on Tuesday. While at the pharmacy, we learned that we could not get a refill until Tuesday. This was not a 24-hour pharmacy, so there was no way to get the pills before dialysis. Correction: there was no way to get the pills before dialysis and have them covered by Medicare. After a no-win discussion, we paid $30 for two pills.
When Mom and I returned home from the pharmacy, I changed into my favorite navy blue scrubs. The hospital was a dirty and germy place and I didn’t want to wear my street clothes. Although I rode in the ambulance with Dad, passengers are not permitted to enter the emergency department with the patient. I had to stand in line with the walk-in patients and then have someone direct me to him. When I found Dad, he was being triaged and questioned by the nurses, and I heard him say that they would have to talk with his daughter. The resident was Dr. Victoria Klovenski, who had been the resident when Dad visited the ER on October 6.
As I explained the problem, Dr. Klovenski enlisted the assistance of a medical student. This case was a little out of the ordinary and presented them with a problem-solving exercise that they never experienced in medical school. After gathering a variety of EENT implements, they tried a couple of times to pull out the tip, but couldn’t get a grip on it. The student finally tried pushing it into the G-tube with some sharp implement. When it became apparent that this approach wouldn’t work, he pulled for all he was worth to retrieve the implement that was now firmly impaled in the tip, and in so doing, pulled out the broken tip. The puffed up young medical student said, “I just have to say that I feel a little proud.” You would have thought that he had discovered the cure for cancer. It was a lighthearted scene, and I suspected that cases like this one were a nice diversion from tending to accident and gunshot victims. Before we left, Dr. Klovenski asked me why I thought that Dad had a G-tube because he really had a J-tube. I told her that I didn’t know the difference, but that the doctors at the CCH had told me that it was the former. I made a mental note to resolve this conflict.
In addition to the lightheartedness of the visit, this trip to the hospital felt different for me too. From the moment that I arrived, everyone seemed to listen to what I had to say. I felt as if my IQ had suddenly increased. While Dad and I were waiting for the ambulance to take us home, one of the staff members asked me where I worked, and then it dawned on me. I had worn my navy scrubs: the color worn by RNs. Mom always told me to dress for success. I guess first impressions are important.
The entire trip to the hospital, beginning with the ambulance ride from home and back took less than two hours, which was like an emergency-room miracle. When we returned home shortly after 3:00 P.M., Dad was in a great mood and he and Gale chatted while I set up my TV trays for the weekly trach change. Other than the 10 seconds of terror surrounding the actual removal and replacement of the trach, the change was uneventful and didn’t interfere with our 5:00 P.M. happy hour.
Dad returned to the bedroom to nap while we ate dinner. He was still groggy when I went to his room to tell him that we were ready to play cards. While he was resting, I decided to administer his nighttime meds. By the time that I was finished, he was awake and ready to play cards, but tonight his naps failed him and I was the big winner of Oh Hell.
October 19. I woke up at 3:45 A.M. when my iPhone alarm went off. I quickly donned my scrubs and started the coffee maker. As I went to my parents’ office to start my work week, I peeked into the master bedroom and noticed that its residents were sleeping.
Shortly before 8:00 A.M., I was returning to my office with my third cup of coffee and noticed that Gale and Dad were stirring. After finishing my coffee, I returned to the bedroom and administered Dad’s morning meds and trach care, and then returned to work.
I had a busy morning at my virtual place of work and saw Dad during trips to the kitchen for coffee. At 10:00 A.M. I was in the kitchen when I heard the wheelchair moving at a pretty quick clip down the hallway. I had reached the point where I could sense Dad’s mood and the way that he felt by the speed at which he piloted the wheelchair. As he rounded the corner towards the kitchen, he looked great. Gale said what we all thought: he looked like one sharp-dressed man, and Dad said that he felt good.
Shortly after noon, Brenda arrived for Dad’s physical therapy session. I took a short break from work and called American HomePatient. Mom had asked me if we could get rid of the six cases of supplies in our front hallway. I had told her that I would see what we could arrange. All of American HomePatient’s services were tied to Medicare and I had no idea how they handled returns. When I explained to the service representative that the trach care sets that they had sent us were very small, she was surprised because the correct size had been ordered. When I told her that the trach tubes were FR-8, she said that they were for infants and that she would place a pickup order and send us the correct items.
While I had her on the phone, I told her that I also needed to order some Corpak Y Extensions to connect the tube feed tubing to the G-tube. She told me that she could not provide this item without an order from Dad’s primary care physician. I told her to forget it and that I would just buy them myself. She proceeded to lecture me about how I couldn’t just walk into a Walgreens and buy these supplies. During our call, I had my iPad sitting next to me, which I reached for during my lecture. She required a couple of minutes to complete her paperwork for the exchange order. Before our call had ended, I had placed an order with Amazon.com for two packs of 5 extensions for a grand total of $21.92. I was sleep deprived and cranky and was becoming weary of the steady drumbeat of things that required a PCP. No wonder the providers at the CCH were so skeptical about our ability to take care of Dad. The system seemed to be designed for you to fail. How people who lacked our resources were able to manage everything and navigate the confounding system was a mystery to me.
After Brenda left, Dad napped for a couple of hours, but he was ready to go outdoors to the patio at 2:30 P.M. I hated that he was off of his humidified air for a couple of hours, but the weather was beautiful. Mom and I joined him and Gale on the patio for happy hour.
While Gale, Mom, and I ate dinner, Dad returned to his room for some much-needed humidified air. After dinner, our good day continued with a spirited game of Oh Hell, and Mom was tonight’s winner. We tried to get Dad to bed early on the nights before dialysis, and by 8:30 P.M., we were finished with our nightly rituals and he was sleeping. I hoped that Dad’s very good day would be followed by a very good night.