December 8, 2015. Dad woke up at 2:30 A.M. and wanted to get ready for dialysis. Fortunately for Michell, she was able to convince him to stay in bed until 4:00 A.M. Unfortunately, the commotion in Dad’s room woke me and I couldn’t go back to sleep. After tossing and turning, I finally got up at 3:15 A.M.
As I was walking to my office with my first cup of coffee, I heard the annoying alarm of the new Kangaroo pump coming from Dad’s room. Unbelievable.
Dad was dressed and ready to go to by 5:25 A.M., and it was a good thing. The HOP arrived at 5:35 A.M. to take him to dialysis. Dad was fortunate that he had a dialysis catheter and not the typical fistula for dialysis. The catheter patients required an RN to get them set up and could enter the clinic as soon as they arrived. Other patients had to remain in the waiting room until their appointed time. When you get picked up at 5:35 A.M. for a 7:00 A.M. chair time, you could have quite a wait before being called.
At the stroke of 8:00 A.M., I called American HomePatient and asked to speak with Holly, the general manager. I explained to her that the Kangaroo pump that Timothy brought us yesterday had started alarming only 12 hours after we started using it. She suspected that the power cord might be the culprit and told me that she would stop by later in the day with a new one.
Dad and Michell returned home from dialysis shortly after 11:30 A.M. After we administered his midday meds and trach care, he was ready for a nap.
Becky called and told us that she had a temporary replacement for Gale. Her name was Joy, and she would start tomorrow. She didn’t say so, but I knew that Michell was relieved that she would not have to stay an additional week. Dad was a challenging patient, and the aides were somewhat sleep deprived at the end of a week with us. Michell and Gale both admitted that they slept a lot for a day or two after they returned home. We were fortunate that they seemed to like all of us.
After lunch, I went to the pharmacy to pick up more Renvela for Dad. By now, the pharmacy clerks at the Scott & White Pharmacy knew me. When the clerk told me what I owed, I felt something like a wave of nausea. Instead of being charged $187, which was what I had paid in September, the bill was $683.20, which was half of the normal retail cost. Seeing my distress, the clerk asked me if Dad was in the donut hole (the gap in Medicare coverage for prescription drugs). When I told her that I didn’t know, she checked his account, and it seemed that he was. I told her that I didn’t want the drug now and would contact his doctor. I sat in the car and texted Sue, the dialysis nurse practitioner, and asked her how badly Dad needed this drug. She said that his phosphorus levels were good and that we could hold off until January, when his new year’s Medicare coverage would start. I went back inside and told the clerk that I would wait until January to pick up his refill.
At 3:30 P.M., Holly from American HomePatient stopped by with another power cord. She looked at our Kangaroo pump and said that it was not a portable model and that if Dad was going to spend most of his time in a wheelchair, he would need a different pump. Obtaining a new pump would require communication with Medicare before she could order a replacement. She told us that we should have the new pump in 5—7 days. With any luck, the confounded beeping would not drive us mad before the replacement pump arrived. I found this situation perplexing. This was the second time that we seemed to have equipment that required Dad to remain in bed. I had had a heated discussion with an order clerk from American HomePatient who told me that Dad was using too much oxygen and that he should remain in bed and use the oxygen concentrator and nebulizer. Now we seemed to have a pump that was supposed to remain on the IV pole by the bed. It was like home care catered to patients who were destined to get worse. The issue with the Kangaroo pump left me baffled because the pump had an internal rechargeable battery. During the day, we moved it from the stationary IV pole and attached it to an IV pole on a wheelchair—an IV pole that was supplied by American HomePatient. Suddenly, after a couple of weeks, suddenly we weren’t using the pump in the manner it was designed. To top it off, it only alarmed when it was plugged in. What’s the point of a rechargeable battery if you can’t unplug it? On the other hand, Holly was very nice, and we now had her direct phone number, and she encouraged us to call her if we had any problems.
At 5:00 P.M., we were all ready for happy hour. After dinner, we played cards, and Dad won again.
December 9. Dad had a great night’s sleep and didn’t wake up until 5:30 A.M. It was changeout day for the aides, and the transition would take longer today because Michell had to orient a new aide. In preparation for her week off, she changed the linens on her bed and gathered her belongings.
My morning of meetings started at 8:00 A.M. During one of my meetings, I heard the doorbell ring and assumed that the new aide, Joy, had arrived. When my meetings ended at 11:00 A.M., I ventured out of the office to meet Joy. When I entered the kitchen, I was surprised to find only my parents and Michell. I was correct in my assumption that Joy had arrived, but evidently, the orientation had not gone well. As Michell was telling her about dialysis, Joy objected to having to stay with Dad. Before Michell got much further in her explanation, Joy asked when she could take breaks. However, the final straw for Michell was when Joy asked if it was OK for her to smoke outdoors. Michell told her that because of the trach and the oxygen, she didn’t think that smoking was allowed at all. A couple of minutes later, Joy walked out the door to her car—presumably to get her belongings. When she didn’t return after a few minutes, Michell noticed that Joy’s car was gone.
When Mom called Becky to tell her about Joy’s short stay, Becky was horrified—for a couple of reasons. Besides the most obvious reason, Joy had told her that she had quit smoking. Becky asked Michell if she could stay an additional day while she tried to find someone else to fill the position. Michell, who was now very protective of Dad, said that she would stay until Becky could find a suitable replacement.
Shortly after Joy departed, Brenda arrived for Dad’s physical therapy session and Kathleen, her supervisor, arrived to observe Dad transfer in and out of the shower. As Kathleen was leaving, she said that she was satisfied with Dad’s progress. However, the first time that Dad showered, she wanted an aide from physical therapy to assist him and show us how to protect the dialysis catheter. Because we had to protect it from any dampness, I was told to purchase some catheter guards to protect the ports. I had emailed some links about different catheter guards to Sue, and she had approved of a couple that I had ordered online. After Kathleen left, Brenda continued with Dad’s physical therapy session. Brenda had him walk 96 feet. She tried to have him complete multiple sets of exercises, but Dad seemed to be experiencing some weakness and could complete only one set.
After Brenda left, Dad took a nap, and I ate lunch with Mom and Michell.
Kristen arrived promptly at 2:00 P.M. for Dad’s swallow therapy session. I was not able to attend this session, but according to Michell, Kristin was very pleased with his progress. She had Michell get Dad some ice to eat during their session. She encouraged us to keep giving him ice and said that nothing would improve swallowing more than swallowing.
After Kristen left, Michell coached Dad through his occupational therapy weight exercises and some of the bed exercises prescribed by the physical therapist. Michell thought that Dad was a little weak this afternoon and didn’t pressure him to do many exercises.
From what I could observe, we had had a good day. I was so pleased with Michell. She had really stepped up and proved herself to be a valuable member of our little team. I was thankful that we found out about Joy while Michell was still here; otherwise, we could have been without an aide.
After dinner, we played cards, and Mom was tonight’s winner. By 8:00 P.M., Dad was in bed and drifting off to sleep.
December 10. At 2:30 A.M., Dad woke up for a few minutes, but then drifted back to sleep. At 4:00 A.M., Michell woke him so that he could get ready for dialysis.
I had a couple of early morning meetings and didn’t see Dad and Michell leave when the HOP arrived. Becky called and said that she had found a replacement aide for Michell, and her name was Katherine. After yesterday’s experience, Mom and I were practically holding our breath while we waited for her to arrive.
Katherine arrived shortly after 9:00 A.M. and Mom and I seemed to click with her immediately. We were also relieved when we learned about her many years of experience. Except for Gale, the aides were certified nurse aides (CNAs). It seemed that Katherine was a certified medical aide (CMA) and had a bit more experience. She had not changed a trach, but she had experience administering trach care and meds. I would still be responsible for organizing the meds, but it was nice to know that she could administer them when I wasn’t available. Gale and Michell had been willing to step up to help me when I had to leave town, but the responsibility caused them some stress.
I drove Katherine to the dialysis center so that Michell could show her around and orient her to the facility, and Michell had a nice surprise for me. She opened Dad’s gym bag and showed me several sample packets of Renvela. Even with the reduced doses that I gave Dad, it wasn’t enough to last until the end of the year, but it would help stabilize his phosphorous levels. I was relieved beyond words. After we got home, Michell showed Katherine around a little more before she left for the week.
My parents had a large angel trumpet plant in their courtyard, and it was in full bloom. Mom had told their neighbors, Jim and Sharon, about the plant and they stopped by to see it during happy hour. Having friends visit made our day feel almost normal.
I showed Katherine how to change the trach dressing and administer the meds. She had suctioned trach patients in the past, and she had no problem changing the trach dressing. I would be leaving tomorrow for a couple of days, and I felt very comfortable having Katherine in the house.
After dinner, we put Katherine to the real test and taught her how to play Oh Hell. She was a quick learner, but Mom won.
December 11. Today was Katherine’s first full day with Dad. At 4:45 A.M., she experienced the alarm of the Kangaroo pump when it ran out of tube feed. She woke up, added a couple of cans of Nepro, and then slept until 6:00 A.M. when Dad woke up.
Dad was still in bed when I entered the bedroom, and I was horrified to see him lying flat on the bed. I couldn’t believe that Michell and I had forgotten to tell Katherine that he had to maintain an angle of at least 30 degrees. Other than the problems of my omissions, she had been great with Dad and had no trouble handling the daily trach care activities.
Janet arrived at 11:00 A.M. for Dad’s occupational therapy session. Janet and Dad loved to verbally spar with each other and I couldn’t help but laugh as I overhead them from my office. As she was leaving, Janet told me that she was happy with his progress. Before Janet got out the door, Stephanie, the nurse, arrived.
When I had changed Dad’s trach, I noticed blood on it, which was unusual. I had taken a picture of it with my iPhone and asked Stephanie to give me her opinion about what might have caused it. She said that she wasn’t sure, but it could have been caused by the trach tube rubbing against the trachea. Because he seemed to be coughing a lot lately, I also asked her to check out his lungs. She seemed to think that he was OK.
By the time that Stephanie left, I had worked about five hours and needed to eat and then drive back to Houston. I was about an hour away from Temple when Katherine called me. It seemed that I had forgotten to show her how the oxygen tanks worked. My transfer of knowledge session with her had been slightly less than perfect.
I was so sleepy on the drive home that I think I fell asleep for a second. I often became drowsy during the last 20 miles of this drive and Stan had suggested that I eat M&Ms to stay awake. I wished that I had some now. When I arrived home, Stan was playing golf with his coworkers. Before he returned home, I left for the Glassell School of Art to work at the student art sale. When I got back home at 8:45 P.M., I finally had some time to visit with Stan and our cats before calling it a day.
Back in Temple, my parents and Katherine maintained their typical schedule. After dinner, they played cards and Dad won, which seemed to happen more often than not.
During my stay in Temple, the seasons had progressed from the early fall and Halloween to the late fall and Thanksgiving, and now we were getting ready for Christmas. I stayed in Houston long enough to get a haircut, run some errands, and pick up some clothes from home that were more suitable for the coming holidays. Stan left Houston for Temple at noon and by 2:00 P.M., approximately 26 hours after I had left my parents’ house, I was back on the road to Temple, where I arrived just in time for happy hour. It was the first time that Stan and I had been together with my parents in a couple of weeks.