December 4, 2015. I left my home in Houston at 5:30 A.M. en route to my parents’ home. In Temple, at just about the same time, Dad was waking up, and Michell was administering his morning meds and trach care. Dad was in a good mood and was in the kitchen eating ice chips when I arrived at my parents’ house at 8:15 A.M.
Shortly after I arrived, I set up my laptop in my parents’ office. As I was logging on to work, Michell was assisting Dad as he walked 68 steps with his walker. I then heard her coach him through all of his physical, occupational, and speech therapy exercises.
After his workout, he wanted to rest for a few minutes, but within a few moments of his lying down, the nurse arrived at 10:45 A.M. Because this was the first time that this nurse had seen Dad, she gave him a thorough assessment and did not leave until 12:45 P.M.
After the nurse left, Dad had Michell prepare a cup of ice chips for him, and then he told me that we needed to talk. It seemed that during the 22 hours that I was away, he and Mom had made some decisions that affected me. In a nutshell, they wanted me to work from my bedroom upstairs so that Dad could use his computer. I balked at this idea, saying that I wasn’t going to spend my sleeping and waking hours in that room. My father had just purchased his Windows 8 HP computer before his surgery and had not bonded with it. I didn’t believe that after a six-month absence he would be ready to use it without some assistance from me. Also, because so many of my work meetings were online, I would prefer to hardwire my laptop to the modem, which was in the office, instead of working over Wi-Fi. We agreed to wait a little longer before I moved out of their office. I told him that I wouldn’t have any problem with them using Mom’s computer while I was working. Back in Houston, I worked in a cube environment. A little noise would not distract me.
I couldn’t believe how well Dad seemed to have rebounded following his debilitating bout of CDiff. He seemed to be feeling great and had Michell coach him through the second round of all of his exercises.
By 4:00 P.M., Dad was ready for a nap. Michell woke him almost an hour later, just before 5:00 P.M., when I logged off from work.
On most weekends, Stan drove to Temple to spend one or two days with us. Today, he flew to Detroit to spend a few days with his sister and her family. While the four of us in Temple were playing cards, I received a text from Stan stating that he had arrived safely in Detroit.
By 7:30 P.M., Dad had finished beating us at Oh Hell, and Michell and I started getting him ready for bed. Before his hospitalization, I had not realized how fast Dad could fall asleep. Tonight, like most nights, he was asleep before we left the room.
His sleep was short-lived, though, and he woke up at midnight, certain that it was time to get up. After Michell assured him that it was barely Saturday, he asked her to wake him at 3:30 A.M. for dialysis.
December 5. As instructed, Michell woke Dad at 3:30 A.M., and he was raring to get the day started. At 5:45 A.M., he was ready and waiting for the HOP. When the bus hadn’t arrived by 6:15 A.M., I called their dispatch office to check on the status of the bus. The dispatcher said that they were running late. Fifteen minutes later, I called them again and was told that the bus was en route and would arrive soon.
HOP paratransit patrons had an assigned bus to and from their destinations, but the aides were getting a bit more assertive, especially Michell. The trip home after dialysis was more successful than the morning ride because Michell was able to snag a ride on another bus. When they arrived at the house, I was a little assertive myself and insisted that Dad spend some time in his room hooked up to the oxygen concentrator and nebulizer. The nebulizer provided the moisture to his throat and lungs, which he needed after almost breathing dry air for almost seven hours. Also, we were running low on oxygen tanks, so I needed him to spend some time breathing the oxygen created from the concentrator.
During my lunch break, Mom and I went to HEB, the local grocery store, to purchase a little sacrificial poinsettia for my art. Before the week was up, I would cut it apart and use it to create a lumen print.
After logging off from work, I finally got around to changing Dad’s trach. What a fiasco. First, I put the trach collar on upside down. Fortunately, I hadn’t removed the old trach from his stoma. Michell helped me to correctly reattach the trach collar, but after pulling out the old trach, the Velcro from that trach collar got caught on the new trach collar. In most cases, I have the aides stand by for moral support. Today, I was grateful that Michell was there to provide actual assistance. If I had had this much trouble during my training, the respiratory therapist would not have cleared me to take care of Dad. Usually, I could switch out the trachs in less than 10 seconds. Today, I required twice that time. The old trach was a bit of a challenge to clean because it contained some hardened secretions, most likely caused by so much time spent breathing from the oxygen tanks. Although we kept the trach bibs wet, they did not provide nearly as much moisture as the nebulizer.
Dad didn’t do any exercises today because he was a little weak after his dialysis session. However, he spent a lot of time zipping around the house in his wheelchair.
We played cards again after dinner, and Dad trounced us. As we were administering his meds and trach care, Michell and I pleaded with him to sleep all night and wake up only for biological purposes.
December 6. Thankfully, Dad, and by extension, Michell and I, slept in until 6:30 A.M. Mom also had a good night’s sleep, so everyone was feeling refreshed and perky. By 8:00 A.M., Dad was dressed and ready for the day.
Mom and I left for church at 10:15 A.M. While at church, I gave several bundles of biscotti to many of the people who had prayed for Dad’s recovery and who had been the angels on our shoulders during the past few months. In appreciation of their pastoral care, I also presented the three pastors with lumen prints of fig leaves. During the summer months, their sermons had worked their way through the book of Genesis, so fig leaves seemed appropriate.
Shortly after Mom and I left for church, Michell coached Dad through his swallow, occupational, and physical therapy exercises. Before they were finished, Dad also walked another 68 feet with his walker.
Dad took a long nap during the afternoon and woke up at 3:00 P.M. The rest of the day was pretty quiet without Stan. It was a nice day outside, and the leaves were practically leaping off of the trees. I spent some time outdoors in the nice weather sweeping a few thousand leaves off of the driveway.
When Dad woke up from his nap, he wanted to put up Christmas lights. We had already pulled out boxes of Christmas lights to decorate the house. In other years, Dad would have used the step ladder to put up some of the lights, but step ladders were out of the question for him this year. Fortunately, Michell was a little over 6’ tall with an arm span to match. Under Dad’s direction, she and I started putting up some of the lights. We weren’t able to finish before happy hour and would try to finish tomorrow.
We had an early dinner, and by 7:45 P.M., Michell had beaten us at cards. Within 30 minutes, we had finished administering Dad’s meds and trach care, and he was sleeping. It had been a good day, and I hoped that I could start the work week after a good night’s sleep.
December 7. The day got off to a bad start when, at 2:00 A.M., the Kangaroo pump started alarming. Only a couple of things caused the pump to alarm. Usually, the danged thing woke me in the middle of the night when the bag was empty. It amazed me that it would wake me but not an aide who was sleeping right next to it. The pump would also alarm when the battery was low and needed a power source. After hearing the alarm sound off every 10 minutes for 30 minutes, I got up and went downstairs to find out why the pump was keeping me awake.
Evidently, each time that the pump alarmed, a message indicated that the battery was low, but the pump was plugged into the electrical outlet. Michell kept pressing the Continue button, which paused the alarm for 10 minutes. We couldn’t figure out what caused the problem, and so the madness continued. The high-pitched sound did not affect Dad, and he slept like a baby throughout the entire ordeal. At 3:00 A.M., we turned off the pump and Michell and I went back to bed. I didn’t get much sleep before my iPhone alarm woke me at 3:30 A.M. I was glad that I had prepared the coffee pot before I went to bed. I wasn’t able to do much more than push the start button.
At 8:00 A.M. sharp, I called American HomePatient and told them that I wanted a new pump. Timothy said that he’d deliver a new pump to us later in the morning. Just when I thought that the day couldn’t get any worse, Gale called to tell me that she would not be returning on Wednesday and she wasn’t sure if she’d ever return. Evidently, her sister-in-law, who had been ill, had taken a turn for the worse and would be starting hospice tomorrow. Not surprisingly, Gale’s family wanted her to care for her sister-in-law during this difficult time. I felt terrible on a couple of fronts. Of course, I felt bad for Gale’s family, but this turn of events put us in a bind. I suspected that Becky, the owner of One on One Personal Home Care Services, would have a difficult time replacing Gale this close to the holidays. Gale had also been on the rotation to work during Christmas.
While I tried to work, the tired Michell coached my well-rested father through his swallow and occupational therapy exercises. As bad as this day seemed to be going for Michell and me, Dad seemed to be having a great day, in spite of the fact that he had not received any nutrition since 3:00 A.M. When Brenda arrived at 12:15 P.M. for Dad’s physical therapy session, Dad wowed her with how well he was walking and by the way in which he executed his shower transfer.
Within a few minutes of Brenda’s departure, Tracy, the nurse, arrived. She said that Dad’s vitals were good and that he was in great shape. She was barely out of the house when Dad enlisted Michell to finish hanging the lights. I didn’t like him to ask the aides to do chores, but Michell was thrilled at the prospect of going outside.
While Michell and Dad were outside, the American HomePatient van arrived and Timothy delivered Dad’s new pump. Dad had now been off of the Nepro for the better part of 12 hours.
I texted Sue, the nurse practitioner at the dialysis center, and told her that I needed her to order a Modified Barium Swallow Study (MBSS) for Dad and that we were running very low on Renvela. Renvela was an expensive drug, and I had been administering less than the prescribed dosage. I had been monitoring Dad’s lab results to ensure that I was giving him enough to keep his phosphorous levels at the right level. Sue later called to tell me that she had ordered a refill of Renvela for Dad and that his MBSS was scheduled for Thursday, December 17, 10 days from today. I told her that I didn’t want Dad to have the swallow test on a dialysis day and asked if she could call the radiology department and change the date to December 18.
Since my call from Gale earlier today, it seemed like we had an elephant in the room, or perhaps in the house. During our game of Oh Hell, I asked Michell if she had heard from Becky today. Michell said that Becky had called her and had asked if she could extend her stay for another week while she looked for an aide to replace Gale. Michell said that she had told Becky that she’d stay longer if Becky could not find anybody to replace Gale, but that she hoped that she could.
Up until this time, Dad wasn’t aware of the situation with Gale, which had made him the most cheerful person in the house. Dad had finished beating us at cards by 7:45 P.M. and I had finished administering his meds and trach care by 8:15 P.M.