December 18, 2015. When I started work at 4:00 A.M., everyone else was still sleeping, and the house was very quiet. A couple of hours later, I heard sounds of people stirring in Dad’s room. When I checked on him, he seemed to be moving slowly. He sounded congested, and he used the suction wand a lot. By 8:00 A.M., his coughing had subsided somewhat, and Michell had him ready for the day. An hour later, she donned her drill-sergeant demeanor and started coaching him through his exercises. She had him walk with the walker throughout the tiled areas of the house and work on his core and leg exercises. During short breaks, she brought him a couple of cups of crushed ice so that he could practice swallowing. I appreciated the way that she kept after him to exercise between therapy sessions. By 10:45 A.M., Dad was exhausted and was ready for a nap.
I had a date in Houston that night with my husband, and I wanted to leave Temple before noon. I logged off from work at 10:30 A.M. and started packing up to leave. After a quick lunch, I was out the door by 11:45 A.M. The traffic was light until I got near Houston, and the trip was relatively hassle-free. I arrived home shortly before 3:00 P.M. and treated myself to a short nap on the couch with my two cats, which meant that I merely catnapped.
In Temple, Stephanie, the home-care nurse, arrived at 12:45 P.M. and said that one of Dad’s lungs “didn’t sound all that clear.” She told Michell and my parents that every couple of hours she wanted Dad to take ten deep breaths and hold the last breath. The nurse said that this exercise would make him cough, and I surmised that it was supposed to help clear his lungs, but I doubted that he did it even once.
Kristen arrived at 2:00 P.M. for Dad’s swallow therapy, and she was pleased with his progress. At the end of the session, Kristen seemed excited about Dad’s upcoming MBSS on Monday and said that she thought he’d do well. I sure hoped so.
Kristen was barely out of the house before Michell had Dad walking the halls with his walker, and she then coached him through a few bed exercises. While he was on the bed, he decided that he might as well take another nap.
While Stan and I enjoyed “A Christmas Story” in Houston at TUTS, Michell and my parents played three-handed Oh Hell, and Michell won.
December 19. Dad and Michell woke up at 4:00 A.M. and started getting ready for dialysis. Dad had slept fairly well, but at 2:30 A.M., Michell had awakened to see Dad getting himself back under the covers after sitting on the side of the bed to use the urinal. He made her crazy whenever he moved around the bed without asking her for assistance.
In Houston, Stan and I slept in until the decadent hour of 6:00 A.M. I allowed myself to laze around the house for another hour or so before going to the grocery store for gas and some items to take back to Temple. Over the past several months, I was lucky to have had friends who were quite willing to help me meet deadlines while I was living out of town and careening into Houston on my tight schedules. On my way out of town today, I met one such friend from my photography class for a little bit of a catch-up, and then I delivered some holiday biscotti to some other friends. This would be my last visit to Houston until after the new year.
I had finished all of my errands and was en route to Temple by 11:00 A.M. During my drive to Temple I stopped twice—once to stop at Buc-ee’s and once when the DPS stopped me for speeding. After receiving the warning for driving 75 MPH in a 70 MPH zone, I maintained my speed at two miles over the speed limit and was then tailgated for the remaining 80 miles of my trip.
Meanwhile, Dad and Michell returned home from dialysis at 11:45 A.M. After Michell administered his midday meds and trach care, he was ready for a nap. I arrived at my parents’ home at 1:55 P.M., just as Dad was just waking up.
I was starting to worry about Dad again. We had not received his lab results, but I was fairly certain that he was suffering from CDiff. His probiotic meds arrived today, and I hoped that they would help him. This danged infection weakened him, and I didn’t want him to be too weak to perform well during the modified barium swallow study (MBSS) on Monday.
Later in the afternoon, LoSharris and Tom, my parents’ neighbors, stopped by with some candy and cookies, and the five of us had a nice visit. It seemed almost like old times.
After dinner, we played cards. Dad won, but I gave him a run for his money. By 7:30 P.M., Dad was getting ready for bed and drifted off to sleep in less than 20 minutes after being helped to bed.
December 20. Dad woke up a couple of times during the night to use the commode. Because of the baby monitor in his room, I woke up whenever he woke up or stirred in his squeaky hospital bed. Although he was able to get back to sleep shortly after 2:00 A.M., I didn’t have his gift of falling asleep at the drop of a hat. After a fitful rest, I eventually got up at 7:15 A.M., which was also when Dad woke up.
Our biggest challenge with Dad was that he now tried on a regular basis to sit up on the side of the bed while still plugged into all of his devices, which tended to put a strain on the lines that tethered him to the bed. After coming close to hurting himself last week, I would have thought that he’d ask for assistance. Regardless of how often I reminded him that we had hired aides whose job it was to assist him, he didn’t want to bother them. Our family had never needed outside help and I suspect that he was uncomfortable in asking for it now.
For as many years as I could remember, Mom had baked her traditional Christmas morning bread for close friends. Even the dramatic change in our lives could not deter her from this tradition, and she had been baking steadily during the past week. Today, she brought three loaves of bread with us to church—one for each of our favorite church ladies: Kris, Sue, and Sue’s mother, Joan. I was finally able to connect with Pastor Don and his wife, and I gave them some of my homemade biscotti.
While Mom and I were at church, Michell had had Dad walk 212 feet, which was not as far as Friday but was still a great effort. He also did some other exercises, but he had read about some football games that would be televised today and wanted to watch them. Being interested in anything on the television was significant. He had not shown any interest in watching anything on the television since before his surgery some 7-1/2 months ago. The fact that the Houston Texans were playing the Denver Broncos helped to entice him. At halftime, he thought that the Broncos had won because they had a 20-point lead, so he quit watching. Stan told me later that the Broncos had blown their lead and had lost the game.
Dad expressed some concern about feeling the trach when he swallowed. He had never spoken about the trach, so the comment seemed like it was coming from out of left field. I had a nagging feeling that he feared that he might not do well tomorrow with the MBSS test and was bracing me for a poor outcome.
After happy hour, I followed him to his room and asked him if he was apprehensive about the swallow test the next day. I didn’t get much in the way of a response from him, but knowing him as I do, I suspected that he was nervous. Hoping to allay his concerns, I told him that Kristen was confident that he would do well. Truth be told, I was as nervous as a cat about this test.
By 7:30 P.M., Mom had beaten us at Oh Hell, and Dad was on his way to bed. Less than an hour later, Dad was sleeping, and everyone else in the house was moving in that direction.
December 21. My iPhone alarm woke me at my usual time and I grabbed some coffee and logged on to work at 3:45 A.M. I could hear a little commotion in Dad’s room at 5:00 A.M., when Michell helped him to the bathroom. A few minutes later, she helped him transfer back into the bed and reconnected his tube feed and oxygen lines. The room was quiet until 8:00 A.M., when Michell woke him. By 9:15 A.M., Dad was dressed and ready for his busy day.
Brenda arrived at 10:15 A.M. for Dad’s physical therapy session. She had him walk with the walker and perform a series of sink exercises. He didn’t seem to exhibit any weakness during his session, which eased my fears about him being too weak for his swallow study this afternoon.
While we were waiting for the HOP to arrive, the dispatch office called to tell us that the driver was lost and could not find our house. I stood at the end of the driveway with the phone and provided turn-by-turn instructions for the driver. Fortunately, the schedulers pad the required transportation time, so he wasn’t more than a few minutes late to our house, and we arrived early to the hospital for Dad’s appointment.
While we were in the x-ray waiting room, Holly, Dad’s speech therapist during his hospital stays, stopped by to see us. I was very fond of her, and it was thoughtful of her to stop by to say hello. After introducing Michell and reintroducing Dad to her, there were hugs all around. She was very reassuring, and before she left, she told us that Dr. Sherrard knew every trick in the book to get good results from Dad so that he could pass the test. When the tech escorted Dad to the exam room, she said that there was room for the three of us to observe the procedure without being exposed to the x-ray.
The only thing that I would ever see that’s cooler that this is a total solar eclipse, and that wouldn’t happen for another 20 months. Barium was mixed with a thin liquid, like water, a thickened liquid, like nectar, and a soft solid. Dad sat in front of an x-ray, and the barium additive enabled us to observe how he swallowed the liquid and food items. When Dr. Sherrard saw how something seemed to get caught when he swallowed, she had him repeat the test, but with his chin tucked. The chin tuck made a huge difference that even the three of us could see. The doctor confirmed that he was able to swallow thickened liquids and soft foods, which was such good news! At the end of the test, I hugged Dr. Sherrard and started tearing up. I didn’t know how Dad felt about this day, but I had been worrying and praying about this test from the time that it was scheduled. He had failed this test twice during his hospitalization, and the doctors had written him off as a chronic aspirator—someone who would never be able to swallow food again. As far as I was concerned, everything had been riding on a successful outcome of this test.
Michell and Dad took the HOP back home, and Mom and I left the hospital in my car. On our way home, Mom and I stopped by the pharmacy to pick up another prescription for Dad’s CDiff. We were hopeful that Dad would have better luck with this medication. While we were waiting in the pharmacy, I texted Stan, Sue and Kris, and the pastors to share the good news about Dad’s test results, and they sent back a flurry of amens and hurrahs.
Kristen arrived at the house at 4:00 P.M. She had already received the results of the MBSS from Dr. Sherrard via Adan. She was very excited about the test results—almost as much as I was—and was ready to progress to the next level. She wanted Dad to eat something and suggested applesauce. We didn’t have any, but we had homemade apple butter, which Dad had eaten on waffles every weekend before his hospitalization. He had not eaten since dinner on May 5, so his taste buds weren’t used to anything stronger than crushed ice. From his reaction, you would have thought that we were feeing him pureed jalapenos. He went on and on about the spicy food that we gave him. As Kristen coaxed him to swallow more bites, I tucked my chin as he swallowed, willing the apple butter down his esophagus.
During our very happy happy hour, our neighbor Jane called. I had left a message for her to call me so that I could arrange to return a casserole dish that had held a yummy dinner. During my visit with her and her husband, Mickey, I shared our wonderful news about Dad and caught them up on some of our trials since his return home. They served me wine, which caused me to linger longer than I should have. By the time that I returned home, our dinner was a little overdone. I was too happy to be very contrite over a slightly-burnt dinner.
Dad sat with us during dinner, and we served him a very tiny portion of chocolate pudding. Following our dinner of pudding and burnt casserole, we played a game of Oh Hell, and I won. After his busy and eventful day, Dad was in bed and nodding off to sleep by 8:30 P.M.