Baby steps toward normalcy

redcap21_smallFebruary 4, 2016. At 2:00 A.M., Dad was awake and was making noises that Dianne couldn’t understand. It took her only a couple of moments to realize that his red cap was missing, which prevented him from being able to talk. Dianne spent a couple of minutes looking for it and found it on the floor. He must have blown it off when he coughed during the night. We had a spare red cap in a saline container, which Dianne placed on Dad’s trach. She then placed the soiled red cap in the saline and refilled the tube-feed bag with Nepro, and then she and Dad went back to sleep for a couple of hours.

When Dad woke up at 4:00 A.M., the tube-feed bag was not empty, but Dad could not remain in bed on a dialysis day. By 5:45 A.M., Dad and Dianne were on the HOP bus and on their way to dialysis. While he was there, 1500 ml of fluid was removed. When Dad left this morning, his ankles seemed a tad swollen, so I hoped 1500 ml of fluid was adequate.

normalcyCross1Dad and Dianne were back home by 11:30 A.M. I had been in meetings all morning and hadn’t seen them leave or return. I was able to break from working at noon, and the four of us had lunch together. To accommodate an appointment with his primary care physician (PCP) and a haircut this afternoon, Dad wanted to take his nap right after lunch.

The four of us arrived at his PCP’s clinic at 2:45 P.M., and then sat for 15 minutes in the waiting room and an additional 30 minutes in the examination room before Dr. Sarla Patil arrived. Dr. Patil had become Dad’s PCP a few months before he entered the hospital, and Dad had seen her a couple of times before his surgery in May 2015. During Dad’s hospitalization, she had not received as much as an email from the physicians at Scott & White, which seemed like a strange way of maintaining doctor/patient relationships. We had made this appointment to have Dad’s staples removed from his head wound, but Dr. Patil wanted to talk about the events of the past nine months. However, Dad was determined to get a haircut today, and he cut the conversation very short. On the way out, we made an appointment to see her for a consultation, which would enable us to have a longer conversation.

We had arrived in separate cars, so when we left, I drove to HEB to pick up some groceries and then went home so that I could go back to work. Mom, Dianne, and the newly-trimmed Dad returned home about 30 minutes after me, and they were ready for happy hour.

normalcyCross3We had planned to tell Dianne that this would be her last shift with us, but after dinner and our game of cards (in which Dad beat me by 1 point), she dropped Dad’s hearing aids behind his dresser. The dresser was tall and heavy as lead, so retrieving them would be challenging and I didn’t plan to attempt to retrieve them until tomorrow. When Dianne was out of the room, Dad told me that he was concerned that she might think that the mishap with the hearing aids had something to do with the end of her service and asked me to wait and tell her tomorrow.

By 8:00 P.M., Dad was in bed and falling asleep.

February 5. I had a busy day at work, which started just before 4:00 A.M. Mom stopped by to see me just before 6:00 A.M. to say hello and to refill my coffee. I asked her how Dad was today and was surprised to learn that he and Dianne were still sleeping. About 30 minutes later, I heard them talking, and then at 7:45 A.M. I heard the sound of Dad’s wheelchair passing by the office en route to the kitchen. After having a cup of hot water, which he referred to as weak coffee, he ate his usual Cream of Wheat and figs with peaches on the side. After so many months without eating, Dad’s taste for coffee had not yet returned. I tried to get him to try drinking it with cream, but he would drink only black coffee or water.

normalcyCross2At 9:00 A.M., Dad told Dianne that he didn’t feel well, and wheeled himself back to the bedroom and napped until 10:00 A.M., waking once to use the suction wand. After waking, with some assistance from Dianne, Dad got into Mom’s Chrysler LeBaron so that he could identify a sound that she had been hearing. I can only imagine how difficult it was for him to get out of that car. Like many sports cars, the LeBaron is low to the ground, which makes exiting it difficult.

Mom, Dad, and Dianne ate lunch at 12:30 P.M., but I was unable to break away from work to join them. I was able to stop work for a few minutes at 1:30 P.M. when Janet stopped by for Dad’s occupational therapy session. As soon as Janet left, I followed Mom and Dad in Dad’s car to a repair shop, where they left it. When we returned home, Mom and I used a collection of patches to cover Dad’s dialysis ports so that he could take a shower without exposing his dialysis catheter to moisture. We taped him up so well that I was concerned that the patches wouldn’t come off without pulling on the catheter. I’d be glad when he could have the catheter removed. The catheter provided an infection entrance ramp to his heart. When he was finished with his shower, Dianne replaced Dad’s g-tube stoma dressing and trimmed his toenails.

normalcyCross4While Dad got a pedicure and then took a nap, I worked, but he and I joined Mom and Dianne at 5:00 P.M. for happy hour. After an early dinner, we played Oh Hell, and Mom won. By 7:30 P.M., Dad was in bed and was waiting for Mom and me to administer his nighttime meds and set up the tube feed with two cans of Nepro. When Dad returned from the hospital this past September, I had insulated Mom from all of the caregiving activities. When my parents decided that they could get by without the aides, my mother had agreed to assume some of the caregiving activities. She now seemed to be a bit overwhelmed by the level of care that Dad still required.

February 6. At 2:30 A.M., the alarm on the Kangaroo pump woke Dianne, but the high-pitched alarm didn’t phase Dad, and he continued to sleep soundly. Although I was grateful for my dog-like hearing, there were times when I wished that I could sleep through these alarms. Dianne added the third can of Nepro to the tube-feed bag and returned to bed to sleep for 90 minutes.

I had to drive south to Houston today and then to north Conroe to celebrate a friend’s 60th birthday. I had forgotten to set my alarm but was awakened by the sound of Dad and Dianne talking. Dad got dressed and wheeled himself to the kitchen for his Cream of Wheat breakfast. By 6:00 A.M., Dianne and Dad were on the HOP bus. When they pulled out of the driveway, I ate breakfast and then left for Houston.

normalcyCross1A couple of hours later, I stopped at the Buc-ee’s near Waller and met Stan, who was en route to Temple. I arrived at my home in Houston at 10:00 A.M. I dropped off some clothes, gathered some others, and changed for the party in Conroe. The seasons were changing, and periodically I needed to swap out portions of my wardrobe.

Back in Temple, Dad had required the removal of only 1200 ml of fluid during dialysis, which is a minimal amount. Not only did Dad finish early but he and Dianne were also able to board a HOP bus as soon as they exited the clinic, enabling them to return home at 11:02 A.M.—an all-time record. On most dialysis days, Dad returned home just in time for lunch. Because they were home so early today, they decided to sit in the sunroom to rest and visit. Dad had barely sat down when Stan arrived. After visiting for a few minutes, Mom prepared them grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch.

Dad needed a nap, but because Stan was here, he was adamant that he wanted to wake up by 2:30 P.M. Shortly after he woke up, he and Stan drove to Lowe’s. Using his walker, Dad walked from the parking lot to the front door of the store where he was greeted by Lowe’s employees who showed him to a motorized wheelchair. I would have thought that Dad would have objected to using it, but he took to it like a duck to water. They guys purchased their supplies, and then Dad used his walker to return to the car.

pamCakeI had enjoyed seeing some of my dearest friends at the party in Conroe, but I had to leave the party at 3:15 P.M. and drive to Temple. I arrived at my parents’ home just in time for dinner. Mom fixed a nice dinner of roast beef and mashed potatoes, and we enjoyed King Cake for dessert.

After dinner, the five of us played Oh Hell, and I won by one point! At 8:00 P.M., Dad wheeled himself to the bedroom to start his nighttime routine. As Mom finished her new nighttime duties, Dad was drifting off to sleep at 9:00 P.M.

February 7. Dad had another great night’s sleep. Dianne woke up shortly before 3:00 A.M. to add a can of Nepro to the tube feed bag. Dad woke up at 6:00 A.M. and wanted to get up, but Dianne told him that he had to stay in bed until the Nepro was gone. She told him to sleep for another 30 minutes.  When Dad woke up again at 6:40 A.M., the Nepro was gone, and he was eager to get up. Dianne unplugged him from the pump and helped him out of bed. He then got dressed and wheeled himself to the kitchen for his daily cup of hot water.

normalcyCross4The five of us ate breakfast together. For the past 58 years, Mom has baked a special bread for Christmas. Because he could not swallow at Christmastime, Dad could not participate in our traditional breakfast. Believing that Dad would be able to eat again someday, Mom had frozen a loaf of the bread that she had baked this past Christmas, and today we toasted it for breakfast. To mimic our traditional breakfast, she served it with eggs and bacon, making the meal seem like a second Christmas breakfast.

While Mom and I were getting ready for church, Stan and Dad played a couple of games of cribbage. While we were gone, Dad and Stan went outside for a walk around the backyard. It was cool and windy, so they didn’t stay outside for more than a few minutes.

When Mom and I returned from church, the five of us ate lunch. After lunch, Stan and I moved the twin bed that Mom had been using into a guest room, swapping it for the inflatable bed that had been there. Starting tonight, Dianne would sleep in the guest room and Mom would sleep in the master bedroom. I feared that, like the aides, Mom would not enjoy too many restful nights, but we had to start transitioning to our new normal.

Shortly after Stan and I rearranged furniture, he had to return to Houston. Shortly after he left, Mom, Dad, and I drove to Bob Mills, a local furniture store, to look at beds. Mom had donated their king-size bed to charity a couple of days before Dad was discharged from the hospital. Now that the aide service would be ending soon, we planned to return the hospital bed to American HomePatient, and my parents needed a new bed. Because Dad was not supposed to lie down flat on the bed, my parents wanted a split king-size bed so that he could elevate his head. We looked at few beds and made notes of prices for more comparative shopping.

normalcyCross2We returned home shortly before happy hour, and after dinner, we watched the Super Bowl game while playing Oh Hell. At 7:30 P.M., Mom started working with Dad on his bedtime routine. She was a bit nervous, so I was glad that we started now while the aides were still here. I couldn’t blame her for being nervous; I was a nervous wreck for the first two weeks that Dad was home. Heck, I was still nervous. I was ready for bed at 8:30 P.M., but Mom and Dianne returned to the sunroom to watch the game, but neither of them could stay awake until the end. My parents are fans of the Broncos, who were winning when Mom and Dianne turned off the television.

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