March 10, 2016. When I was at home in Houston, I still woke up at 3:30 A.M., but unlike my Temple workday, I had to make myself presentable and drive to the office, so I didn’t start working until 5:30 A.M. As I drove into the parking garage at the office today, I suspected that Dad was finishing his breakfast of Cream of Wheat and nasty-tasting cocktail of crushed pills and applesauce. As part of the daily induction process at the dialysis center, the nurse would ask if he’d had any falls since the last visit. Once again, Dad would have to declare that he had fallen, although it wouldn’t have taken a detective to determine that something had happened to him.
During my first full day in Houston, I worked until about 3:30 P.M., and then ran some errands on my way to my night class at Glassell. By the time that I arrived at the school, I had run out of time to call Mom to see how Dad had fared during dialysis. I hadn’t heard anything from her, so I had to assume that they both were OK.
I had spent a lot of time during the day thinking about Dad’s upcoming fistula surgery and the problems that he’s had coming out of anesthesia. I was glad that we had chosen the April 1 date, but I was beginning to have second thoughts about scheduling surgery on a Friday. Should anything go wrong after his surgery, we’d be at the mercy of the emergency room unless the surgeon was available after normal office hours.
March 11. When I called Mom at 8:00 A.M., she told me that she and Dad had slept in and had just finished eating breakfast. Evidently, Dad’s skin tear kept seeping blood yesterday. When she changed the dressing again this morning—the third day since his fall—she thought that the bleeding had stopped. I had never seen skin tears like his before. I was no expert, but this long tear seemed like it would take a long time to heal. As I had suspected, when Dad walked into dialysis yesterday, the nurses commented on his face, and instead of asking if he had had any falls, they asked how he fell.
During my call with Mom, I shared my concerns about Dad and his history with post-op delirium from the anesthesia. We decided that we would discuss our concerns with Dr. Patil, Dad’s PCP. I also suggested that we speak with Dr. Jaffers, the surgeon, so that he might speak in advance with the anesthesiologist. I also told her that I wanted to reschedule Dad’s Saturday dialysis session to Monday, April 4, in case he wasn’t well enough to make his session the day after surgery. Mom said that she would talk to Sue, the dialysis nurse practitioner and our friend.
Tonight was Stan’s regular poker game, so I spent the evening on the couch with my cats. When I was home in Houston, I spent most of my time running errands, doing laundry, and switching out my clothes to accommodate the changing seasons. I would have preferred some downtime with Stan, but the cats were good company, albeit not great conversationalists.
March 15. Dad had 2,000 ml of fluid removed today during dialysis. After talking with a few people at the dialysis center, he decided that he didn’t want to impose on anyone, so he decided that he would not ask to change either his surgery date or dialysis schedule. This news upset and frustrated me. During his past two surgeries last year, Dad had suffered from post-op delirium for a minimum of two days. Because he had to concentrate to swallow correctly, I was afraid that he might aspirate during a delirious state. However, as stubborn and determined I was, I was no match for Dad when he made up his mind.
March 16. I worked from the Houston office again today. Back in Temple, Dad had an appointment with the Tube Clinic at the gastroenterologist’s office to have his PEG tube removed. I was eager to talk with Mom to hear how Dad had handled the procedure. However, when I spoke with her, she said that Dad did not have the PEG tube removed today. Instead, the nurse told Dad that he would first need to pass another Modified Barium Swallow Study (MBSS). This requirement was news to us. Because Dad had already passed an MBSS earlier and had been eating for a month, we thought that he had met his requirements to have the PEG tube removed. Unfortunately, the x-ray department at the hospital didn’t have any available appointments today for completing the study.
After Mom and Dad returned home from the doctor’s office, they received a call from the x-ray department at the hospital. Because of a last-minute cancellation, they could administer the MBSS today. Mom and Dad returned to the hospital for the test, and he passed the solids and thickened liquid portion, but did not do well with thin liquids. The doctor said that he would require additional therapy before she could recommend removal of the PEG. Dad couldn’t get another appointment with Dr. Pfanner’s office until after his surgery date, which meant that Dad would have the PEG until sometime after his fistula surgery. I knew that Mom and Dad were disappointed, but I was secretly relieved. Not worrying about Dad’s ability to swallow after surgery seemed like a big win to me. It’s true; God works in mysterious ways.
I stayed in Houston for a couple more days. I didn’t get much information from Mom about Dad’s condition during my daily calls. When I spoke with her on Friday, March 18, she told me that she would give me more news about Dad’s appointment when I returned to Temple on Saturday. Unlike me, she didn’t come to the phone armed with copious notes about the day’s activities, so our in-person chats were usually more productive.
I had a busy Saturday morning in Houston and didn’t start my trip back to Temple until shortly before noon. Dad was still napping when I arrived at 2:00 P.M. After I had been there for about an hour, I opened the front door and found a package that was addressed to me. Because Dad was taking antibiotics, the gastroenterologist had prescribed some probiotics for Dad, which I had to order from Amazon. The package was shipped in cool packs to keep the bacteria cool. I had no idea how long the box had been sitting in the sun, but the package was barely cool when I opened it. I hoped that the expensive bacteria were still viable.
When I asked about Dad’s additional swallow therapy, Mom said that she had not heard from anyone at the hospital.
Stan couldn’t join us for the weekend, but Mom, Dad, and I still enjoyed a game of Oh Hell.
March 20. This morning got off to a good start. The weather was beautiful, and the Texas bluebonnets were in full bloom. The three of us slept well, enjoyed a great breakfast of eggs and homemade English muffins, and then we went to church.
I had hoped that after church we could drive 30 miles to the neighboring town of Cameron and take some family photos amid the flowers. Unfortunately, Dad said that he was not feeling well and just wanted to stay at home for the remainder of the day. I was a bit of a poor sport about having my plans dashed, but he was adamant that he would not leave the house again for the day.
Thinking back on the day, I suspect that all of the standing up and sitting down during the church service affected his back. He didn’t say anything at first, but as the day progressed, he complained about sharp pains.
March 21. I was more sleepy than usual when my iPhone woke me this morning. I dragged myself out of bed shortly before 4:00 A.M. and went downstairs to my parents’ office to work. Dad was in a lot more pain today than yesterday, but he couldn’t seem to pinpoint the location more than just “somewhere in the middle.” I poked around on his belly to see if he had any rebound tenderness, which could be a sign of appendicitis, but that didn’t appear to be the problem. The pain also seemed too low to be his gallbladder. After eliminating all of my past maladies, I left him alone, and he stayed in bed until almost 8:00 A.M. Fortunately, Dad already had an appointment scheduled today at 1:30 P.M. with Dr. Sarla Patil, his PCP. I called her office to see if we could reschedule the appointment to an earlier time, but they didn’t have any earlier times available.
In addition to our concerns about Dad’s abdominal pain, we had a list of questions for Dr. Patil. At the end of the exam, she said that she thought that Dad would benefit from some additional physical therapy and referred Dad to another month of home care. She couldn’t tell what was wrong with Dad from an office examination but decided not to pussyfoot around, and she ordered a CT scan for Wednesday morning, two days from now.
She also said that I was overly concerned about Dad and the anesthesia, and I hoped that she was right. Although Dad’s skin tear from March 8 was still seeping, she said that it was healing. She added that if she were to prescribe an antibiotic, it would be the one that he was already taking.
On the way home from the doctor’s office, we stopped by the hearing aid office so that Dad could have his hearing aids cleaned, which would improve the communication in the house.
After we returned home, I worked for another hour, and then I stopped for happy hour. After our dinner of beans and franks, we played Oh Hell, and I won.
My husband’s cousin called me, thinking that he was calling Stan. Stan’s mother was one of 12 siblings. Stan’s uncle, the last remaining sibling, was now in hospice. I called Stan to pass along this sad information. Stan’s uncle was 86—one year younger than my father.
March 22. Dad was still in pain when he woke up this morning. Although he was moving slowly, he left for dialysis only a couple of minutes behind schedule. When Mom returned home at 7:00 A.M. from dropping Dad off at dialysis, I took a break from work to have breakfast with her. We turned on the television and learned about the bombings in Brussels; ISIS claimed responsibility, killing 31 people.
I called the swallow therapy department at Scott & White Memorial Hospital. After Dad had partially aspirated thin liquids during his last MBSS, Dr. Sherrad wanted to meet with him to show him some exercises, and I wanted Dad to get started. Because Dr. Patil had ordered more home care and additional physical therapy, I suggested to Dr. Sherrad that we have Dad’s PCP add swallow therapy to her order. Dr. Sherrad also thought that the additional swallow therapy would be a good idea. I called Adan, our friend who managed the home care therapists, to see if he had received the order. He hadn’t but said that when he did, I could call the PCP’s office and ask her to send him the referral for swallow therapy.
Everything seemed to be coming together and I was glad that Dad would be receiving more physical and swallow therapy. Although I was glad that Dad would still have the PEG during his surgery, we were all ready to move past this time in his life and be finished with the feeding tube.
Photo by Vladimir Kramer on Unsplash