January 9, 2016. Dad woke up this morning at 4:00 A.M., and from my office, I could hear him coughing. When I changed his trach dressing, I noticed that it was coated with secretions. I was a little concerned that he was having a relapse, but his oxygen saturation was 98%, and his temperature was normal. By 5:45 A.M., he had finished his breakfast of Cream of Wheat and a fig, and was waiting for the HOP bus. By 6:30 A.M., Dad and Dianne were at the dialysis center, and Dad was hooked up to the dialysis machine.
While Dad was on dialysis, Mom and I attended a Methodist Women’s Epiphany luncheon at the church. I had been attending this church for about a year now and knew many of the women. When Mom and I returned home after the luncheon, Dad was finishing a lunch of a turkey sandwich and ¼ cup of applesauce for dessert. He was like a transformer, transforming from someone who proclaimed that he would only nibble, to our eating machine.
Shortly after lunch, Stan arrived from Houston. He and Dad then spent most of the afternoon together, sorting through my parents’ 78 RPM records and playing selected songs. While the guys were sifting through classic tunes, Mom and I were finalizing our notes for tomorrow morning. The pastors at my parents’ church had asked us to address their three services about pastoral care, how it had helped us, and how to request it. I was addressing the 8:30 A.M. traditional service and the 10:50 A.M. contemporary service. Mom would address the 11:00 A.M. traditional service.
Dad and Stan transitioned from sorting through records to watching the NFL wildcard playoff game. Around 4:30 P.M., Dad started feeling “funny.” He hadn’t had his nap, and I thought that he might be feeling the effects of the dialysis. He stayed in bed during happy hour and didn’t want to get up for dinner. I was able to tempt him out of bed after dinner with a slice of pumpkin pie. He joined us for a couple of games of Oh Hell, and he won both games. We were finished playing cards before 8:00 P.M. Following his normal nighttime routine, plus the new chore of applying the anti-itch lotion, he was nodding off by 9:00 P.M., and so was I.
Other than a couple of hours during the late afternoon and early evening, today was a good day for Dad. He coughed very little, and I had started his first bolus feed. Bolus feeding would mimic regular meals. To get started with the bolus feeds, we had tried only one can at the rate of 100 ml/hour. He had balked at the thought of doubling his tube-feed rate, but it amounted to only eight ounces over a 2-1/2 hour period. Unless the couple of hours of discomfort this afternoon were due to the bolus feed, he had suffered no adverse effects from it.
Dad’s itching woke him again at 11:30 P.M., and he asked Dianne to apply more of the anti-itch lotion. The lotion seemed to soothe the itching, and he went back to sleep.
January 10. The lotion relieved the itching for a limited amount of time, and Dad was awake again at 2:00 A.M. He called out for help, which woke me, but not Dianne. When I entered his room, he told me that he needed more lotion. Dianne woke up while I was talking to Dad, and she took over. I left him in her capable hands and went back upstairs to bed.
When I woke up at 6:00 A.M., Dad was still sleeping. He eventually woke up about 30 minutes before I left for church. After attending the 8:30 A.M. church service, I drove back home to pick up Mom, and then the two of us returned to church. Mom attended the traditional service in the sanctuary, and I attended the contemporary service in the Family Life and Worship Center. It was interesting to attend two dramatically different services that had the same sermon.
While Mom and I attended church, the guys collapsed and tore down shipping boxes and played three games of cribbage.
Mom and I arrived back home at 12:30 P.M., just in time for lunch. Dad had a blue-tinted tuna-salad sandwich, a bowl of pear slices, and a can of Nepro. After meeting with Susan the other day, I had downloaded a calorie-counting app for my iPhone and was now tracking his calorie intake. Unlike most people, he needed to gain weight, so I kept track of his intake and continually encouraged him to eat more.
Immediately after lunch, Stan returned to Houston. With Dad’s partner-in-crime gone, Dad wanted to take a nap. He had just eaten a fairly substantial meal, so we didn’t want him to lie down. Instead, he slept for two hours while sitting on the couch.
A few minutes after he woke up, he started vomiting in the bathroom sink. The nausea hit him fast but passed in about 20 minutes. When he felt a little better, he wanted to lie down on the bed. About an hour later he vomited again. Dad might have had the upset stomach, but I was rattled. We had given him a couple of bolus feeds today, but even at the faster rate, it still took more than an hour for the pump to deliver one cup of the Nepro. I called my lifeline, the Home Care on-call nurse, and told her about Dad’s vomiting. I also sent email to the nurse at Dr. Pfanner’s office to let her know about Dad’s vomiting. I knew that I wouldn’t hear from the gastroenterologist’s nurse on a Sunday, but I hoped that I would hear from her early on Monday. The on-call nurse returned my call, but she wasn’t helpful and did not stop by to see Dad.
Still feeling a little unsettled, Dad stayed on the bed until almost 5:00 P.M., and then he joined us in the living room during happy hour. Unsure about what we should feed him, we gave him a cup of shaved ice to see how he could handle it.
At 5:30 P.M., we ate dinner and Dad had cottage cheese and some sliced peaches, which we hoped would be easy for him to digest. After dinner, we played cards until 7:45 P.M. when I was declared the winner.
Shortly after 8:00 P.M., Dad had received his nighttime meds, a breathing treatment, and a bit of anti-itch lotion, and he was ready for bed. We all hoped that the lotion would remedy the itching for the entire night so that he, and we, could sleep.
January 11. The Kangaroo pump alarm sounded at 3:15 A.M., and woke Dianne. After she refilled the tube-feed bag, she noticed that Dad was awake, and scratching his back. She got up again and applied more of the anti-itch lotion to his back.
Around the time that Dad fell asleep, I got up, donned my scrubs, and headed downstairs to the office. Around 5:50 A.M., I heard him coughing. I stopped what I was doing to visit with him for a few minutes, and I encouraged him to suction himself. After he used the Yankauer suction wand for a few minutes, I administered his morning meds and trach care. When I returned to work, he finished his morning routine with Dianne and got dressed. Before he ate breakfast, Dianne administered his breathing treatment.
After Dad enjoyed another breakfast of Cream of Wheat and pears, Dianne hooked him up to the tube feed. She then coached him through all of his exercises, except for his physical therapy exercises. Brenda was scheduled to stop by later this morning, and Dianne didn’t want Dad to tire before she arrived.
We had a full schedule of therapists and nurses today, starting at 10:00 A.M. Dad needed to have his trach changed today, so I corralled him at 9:00 A.M. and took care of the change before Brenda arrived. The diameter of the new trach tube was smaller than the old ones, and it slid into the stoma easily, but there seemed to be a bit of a gap around the trach. Fortunately, the trach dressing completely covered the stoma. I wondered how long it would take the diameter of the stoma to decrease for a person who was 87.
Brenda arrived at 10:45 A.M. for Dad’s physical therapy session and was very pleased with Dad’s progress. She agreed that Dad could try transferring in and out of the car. Getting in and out of a car might seem simple, but this type of transfer is difficult. With an SUV, the transfer into the vehicle is difficult because you have to lift yourself into the vehicle. With a car, the transfer out of the vehicle is difficult because it requires some strength in your legs and core. Everyone was thrilled when Dad successfully transferred in and out of the SUV. Being able to negotiate a car transfer successfully was the first step to freedom from our dependency on public transportation. Because none of us had the strength to manhandle the wheelchair, Dad’s reliance on the HOP’s wheelchair lift would continue as long as he might need a wheelchair on either end of an excursion. Giving up public transportation for the trip to dialysis would require that he was consistently strong enough after dialysis to transfer in and out of cars. Although Dad was not strong enough to start riding in the family car to dialysis and the doctors’ offices, he would soon be able to visit his barber.
Brenda said that she was also very pleased with Dad’s balance. I shared my personal goal with her, which was to get Dad to church on February 14, Valentine’s Day. Brenda said that based on his current progress, she couldn’t see any reason why he wouldn’t be ready for this type of an outing. After all of the fun in the garage, Brenda ushered Dad back into the house for a rigorous workout.
Moments after Brenda’s departure, Stephanie, the nurse, stopped by with some much-needed supplies, including covers for Dad’s dialysis catheters and 4×4 gauze sponges. The dialysis covers that I had purchased were too large. We asked her about Dad’s itching and the little bumps on his back. She encouraged us to keep on doing what we were doing, but if the itching and bumps didn’t clear up within a week, she said that we should make an appointment for him to see a dermatologist.
It had now been one week since Dad’s trach was red capped. The bedroom was quiet without the condenser, 50 PSI system, and nebulizer that heated the room, and Mom wanted them removed. I finally got in touch with American HomePatient and asked them to remove these noisy, heat-generating, and large items.
Before Kristen arrived for Dad’s 2:00 P.M. swallow therapy session, he ate another meal of cottage cheese and peaches. In addition to Kristen’s delightful personality, Mom and Dad loved her punctuality. Dad asked Kristen if he could drink milk, but she said that it was a thin liquid and must be thickened. He wanted milk and said that he would try it; however, it took only one sip of the thicken milk for Dad to decide that he would hold out for the real thing. Kristen and I spent most of the remaining time of this session trying to convince him to resume eating. Since his vomiting episodes yesterday, he had subsisted on a diet of cottage cheese, Cream of Wheat, and fruit slices.
Julie, the dietitian from Dr. Pfanner’s office, called me today about the message that I emailed her yesterday. I told her about Dad’s vomiting, and she couldn’t think of any reason for it, not based on anything that we were doing. She said that we could maintain the 75 ml/hour bolus rate today for the tube feed, and then increase it to 100 ml/hour tomorrow.
Between Kristin’s advice to Dad about eating and Julie’s assertion that we seemed to be taking good care of him, Dad ate pizza and pumpkin pie for dinner. He seemed to be fine for now, but I wanted to know what caused the vomiting.
After our game of Oh Hell, which I won, we started ushering Dad to bed at 7:40 P.M. He was still very itchy and required the anti-itch lotion, but at least tonight marked the final night of his breathing treatments. Tomorrow was another dialysis day, and I hoped that he would get a good night’s sleep.