January 12, 2016. Shortly after 1:00 A.M., Dad’s incessant itching woke him and he told Dianne that he wanted to take a shower, which was not permitted without the assistance of a physical therapy aide. Instead, Dianne applied more anti-itch lotion, which enabled him to fall asleep again. By 4:00 A.M., the Kangaroo alarm had sounded and woke Dianne, who then woke Dad.
By 4:30 A.M., with some assistance from Dianne, Dad had washed his face, brushed his longish hair, and was dressed for the day. Keeping with his normal routine, he wheeled himself to the kitchen and read some of the newspaper while Mom prepared his breakfast of Cream of Wheat with honey and a small bowl of peaches and pears. He was finished with breakfast and ready to go long before the HOP arrived at 6:00 A.M.
His secretions had decreased significantly. The reservoir on the suction machine had measurement markings, and it might sound a little disgusting, but Dad’s secretions now measured less than 1/2 cup per day, which was a fraction of earlier quantities.
Now that Dad could transfer in and out of the SUV, Mom scheduled appointments with the hearing aid center and the dermatologist. She told me that Dad also wanted to see the barber on Thursday. He was usually a little weak on Thursdays because of dialysis, so strength-wise, Wednesday would have been a better day, but his Wednesday dance card was already filled with nurse and therapist appointments.
Dad and Dianne returned home from dialysis shortly before noon. Dianne told me that his check-in weight had been 64 kg and 62.8 kg when he left. After pulling out my calculator and converting kilograms to pounds, it appeared that he had gained a couple of dry-weight pounds. I didn’t want to tell Dad about his weight gain for fear that he’d quit eating so that he wouldn’t get fat.
Mom had prepared grilled cheese sandwiches, a comfort-food favorite, and V-8 Juice for him for lunch, and he ate it without a thought about his weight. He had had 1,500 ml of fluid removed during dialysis, and he was tired. Whenever Dad napped, Dianne took advantage of his downtime and also took a nap, and they both slept for a couple of hours.
During dinner, Dad’s appetite didn’t disappoint. He ate hot dogs, beans, and a couple of crescent rolls for dinner.
After our nightly game of cards, Dianne and I were finished with Dad’s nightly meds and trach care by 8:15 P.M., and by 8:30 P.M., he was sleeping. An hour later, he started coughing, but Dianne was able to get him to suction himself, and he was soon sleeping again.
January 13. When I woke up at 3:30 A.M., I heard Dad tell Dianne that he wanted to go to the little room, which was how he referred to the room that housed the proper toilet in my parents’ master bathroom. During his last visit, Stan had installed grab bars in the little room, enabling Dad to finally use the proper toilet in that bathroom. Dianne responded to Dad’s request by asking why he wanted to go to the living room. He wasn’t wearing his hearing aids, and she couldn’t understand him, so this insane exchange about the little room and living room lasted until I came downstairs and interpreted for them. They both laughed and agreed to refer to this room as the small room. After Dianne helped him back to bed, they both went back to sleep.
Mom had been successful at scheduling an early appointment today with the dermatologist and had to wake Dad and Dianne at 6:00 A.M. This trip to the dermatologist would be his first excursion in the car since May 6, 2015.
While getting dressed, Dad’s dialysis catheter dressing fell off. Unbelievably, Dianne picked it up off of the floor and put it back over his dialysis ports. When I heard what had happened, I had her remove the soiled dressing, and I called the dialysis lab and spoke with Dad’s nurse. The nurse told me that he could stop by the dialysis lab at any time today to have the dressing replaced.
After Mom, Dad, and Dianne returned home from the doctor and the dialysis lab, I told Dad that he needed to eat something. He had been off of the tube feed since 4:00 A.M., and had only eaten 85 calories worth of food. He finally agreed to eat 1/4 cup each of cottage cheese and applesauce. This paltry amount wouldn’t make much difference, but at least he agreed to eat something. When he ate only a portion of each, I told him that he needed to eat more, which prompted an argument. After exchanging a few harsh words, he said: “Melody doesn’t really care if I’m around or not.” Dianne, who had been present during our little exchange, had the good sense to hightail it out of the kitchen before my anger exploded. I grabbed the arms of his wheelchair, and I shook it hard and long while shouting, “How dare you say that to me!” The shouting brought my mother to the kitchen to see what we were arguing about now. I gave her the condensed version and stormed out of the kitchen to the office.
I stayed mad at him all day and was glad that I could stay in the office and work. When Brenda arrived at 10:30 A.M. for Dad’s physical therapy session, she informed us that Pam, the shower aide, would be arriving in a few minutes to help Dad with his shower. This shower session had been scheduled to train Michell how to help Dad with a shower but Michell had had car trouble and had not yet arrived, which annoyed Brenda. This shower session was somewhat less of a fire drill than his first shower, and I think that soap might have been involved this time. After lunch, Janet stopped by for Dad’s occupational therapy session, and Kristen stopped by at 2:00 P.M. for the swallow therapy session.
After dinner, I told Mom that I needed to prepare either tonight or tomorrow for my trip home on Friday. She said that I should make my preparations tonight, which meant that she was canceling tonight’s card game. My parents have a high-efficiency washing machine, and like most of these machines, they’re prone to mold. After using it, I mentioned to her that I had noticed some mold on the seals. In response, she told me that she didn’t like my attitude. I was becoming more eager to leave here with every passing hour.
After Dad got into bed, he started coughing hard and then started vomiting. The vomiting didn’t last very long and he seemed fine. He fell asleep until 10:00 P.M., when his coughing woke me, and I went downstairs to his room. I notice that his red cap was missing. Once again, he had blown off his red cap while coughing. Luckily, I had a few clean ones on hand. I suctioned him again, and I became worried when I noticed the pink color of the secretions in the suction tank. During dinner, Dad had eaten some strawberry ice cream and I feared that he had aspirated some of it. When I tried to take his hand to check his oxygen saturation, he grabbed my hand and held on to it, and I melted. I guess only the ones who you love the most can provoke such opposing emotions in the span of a few hours.
While he had been vomiting, his heart rate had reached 141, but his oxygen saturation stayed about 95% and his temperature remained normal. After his coughing subsided and his vitals were normal, he was ready to go back to sleep, and so was I.
January 14. Dad woke up before 3:30 A.M. and was ready to get up and get the day started, not seeming to have suffered any ill effects from last night. He ate a little breakfast and was ready and waiting for the HOP bus to take him to dialysis.
I had logged on to work around the time that Dad woke up, and my morning was full of scheduled meetings. Michell and Dad arrived home from dialysis around 11:30 A.M. and had already eaten lunch by the time that I was free for lunch.
Although Dad seemed to be in a good mood, he was coughing a lot more today. He was tired from dialysis and wanted to take a little nap, but he insisted that he be awakened by 2:00 P.M.
As instructed, we woke him at the appointed time, and he prepared himself for his second excursion in the family SUV, this time to the barber shop. His barber said that he had wondered what had happened to him. The last time that Dad had seen the barber, Dad told him that he was going to the hospital for some surgery. The barber did a great job on Dad, transforming him into his former well-groomed self.
Shortly after returning home from the barber, Dad said that he wasn’t feeling well and wanted to lie down again. He slept for another hour and Michell woke him just before 5:30 P.M.
Because of his coughing spells today, I decided to resume the saline breathing treatments for at least for a day or two. His secretions seemed to contain some “solids,” which was somewhat disturbing. After the breathing treatment, he started coughing hard again, blowing off the red cap. The way that that red cap flew off of the trach reminded me of a cork flying off of a champagne bottle. After his coughing spell, his oxygen saturation level was 99%, higher than it had been since the day that he was red-capped, so it seemed that his cough had been productive.
January 15. Dad slept most of the night and started coughing around the same time that my alarm sounded. By the time that I got downstairs to his room, he was sleeping again. After working a little over two hours, I heard Michell and Dad talking in the other room, and I stopped for a few minutes to see how he was doing.
As soon as he was up and moving around, he started coughing a lot, and his secretions still looked like they contained solid material. Concerned that he might have aspirated some of last night’s dinner, I texted Kristen. (I don’t know what I would have done without text messaging. It saved so much time so many times and alleviated so much worry.) She replied, saying that some of the solid material in the tank could have come dislodged from pockets in his mouth, and that she didn’t think that he exhibited any of the symptoms of silent aspiration.
Mom and I talked about finding another primary care physician for Dad—one that was part of the Scott & White network. We spent some time online looking for physicians and called the office of our neighbor and doctor, Barbara, to see if she was still taking new patients, but we had to leave a message. We had not received a return call or email by the time that I left for Houston.
Mom and Michell took Dad to the hearing aid center to see the audiologist. She adjusted the volume of Dad’s hearing aids and cleaned them. They returned from their excursion in time for lunch. Dad ate another good meal of a ground roast beef sandwich, tomato juice, and fruit for lunch. Because of its consistency, tomato juice is considered a thick liquid, so Dad was permitted to drink as much of it as he wanted without having to thicken it.
Shortly after I left Temple for Houston, Stephanie, the nurse, arrived. She told Mom and Michell that Dad’s lungs sounded like they were clear, and that he seemed to be doing fine. When she left, Michell coached Dad through his occupational and physical therapy exercises, and then he walked a little on the front porch of the house.
A little after 2:45 P.M., Dad started coughing hard and then started vomiting. Fortunately, I guess, he vomited only tube feed and did not lose his lunch. After a few minutes, he said that he felt better and that he wanted to take a nap.
I arrived home shortly before 4:30 P.M. When I called my mother to tell her that I had arrived, she told me about the events of the afternoon. I spoke briefly with Michell and had her give Dad a Zofran pill for his nausea and cut back on the rate of his tube feed. We had increased the rate from 55 ml/hour to 130 ml/hour. The dietitian at the gastroenterologist’s office had assured me that this rate shouldn’t cause a problem, but all evidence pointed to the contrary. He needed the Nepro to supplement his dietary intake, but he wouldn’t get it if he kept vomiting.
It was good to get home to what seemed like a parallel universe. I don’t know how I would have survived without these periodic respites to Houston and I wondered how so many caregivers—primarily women—did.