April 19, 2016. In the days following the removal of Dad’s PEG, a sense of normalcy seemed to descend on my parents’ home. Dad still had dialysis sessions on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, but we no longer had to deal with the PEG tube and the stoma, and Dad could get rid of his undershirts that we had customized to accommodate the tubing. Only the dialysis catheter still remained, and it would stay in place until the fistula was cured and ready for dialysis.
The amount of fluid that was removed from Dad during dialysis seemed to fluctuate widely. On one day, they would remove 2,200 ml, and two days later they would remove only 1,200 ml of fluid, which was the minimum level. It was hard to believe that fluid retention could vary by a liter. We tried to ensure that Dad adhered to his renal diet and couldn’t understand the fluctuations.
I traveled back to Houston for a few days and was astonished by the high water that I saw on the drive home. The Little River, which is often barely more than a trickle, looked like a boiling ocean and extended the entire width of the bridge. I had often wondered why the bridge over this pissant river was almost a mile long, and now I knew. The Brazos River was shockingly high as well. The news about the rain had made the national news, but this drive home gave me a first-hand glimpse of its aftermath. I had heard that a portion of US290 had been damaged during the flood, so I exited to FM99, only to be turned back because the road was underwater. Fortunately, the damage to US290 affected only one lane, so the slowdown was minimal. I suspected that I would start seeing some flooded neighborhoods as I approached Houston.
In 2004, my parents designed their current Temple home and contracted with Mike, the builder who had built their previous home, to turn their plans into reality. Several months before Dad entered the hospital in May 2015, the foundation cracked, causing cracks in the walls and the tile floors. A couple of weeks before Dad’s surgery, Mike repaired the foundation (at no cost to my parents). Mike had planned to let Dad contract his crew to repair the cracked drywall and tile when Dad returned from the hospital. Those plans were put on hold when Dad was discharged from the 148-day hospital stay to almost five months of home care. Not only would the work have been very disruptive, but Dad had a tracheostomy and could not be exposed to the fine dust from the tile work and drywall. Now, some 11 months later, the tradesmen had arrived and the final repair work was about to begin.
April 20. Today was my first day in the Houston office for the first time in a few weeks. On earlier trips to Houston, I had worked from my home office. It was nice to be back among my coworkers, some of whom I hadn’t seen in almost a year.
At 10:45 A.M., I received a text message from Sue, the dialysis nurse practitioner. I had contacted her earlier because Dad had been experiencing some irregularity, and I now never purchased any OTC medications without first asking her if they were safe for renal patients. In this instance, she told me that Dr. Issac, the nephrologist, recommended that Dad take Miralax. I passed along this message to Mom, and she said that she would have him start taking it.
Mom and Dad worked in the garden, and Dad decided to do some work on their irrigation system. After getting down on the ground, he couldn’t get up. Mom wasn’t strong enough to help him up, so she had him crawl over to the greenhouse steps, and from there he was able to sit and then stand up. I had no qualms about him getting on the ground to work in the garden, but it was important to have (stable) aids nearby that he could use to get back on his feet. Fortunately, their garden shed was next to the garden. He could also have crawled to the chairs on the patio, but he might have encountered some chiggers and fire ants on the way. Stan had seen a wagon in a gardening magazine that might be helpful to Dad, but we were fairly certain that Dad would not want us to order it.
Dad had a physical therapy session with Brenda today, but their session was cut short because of the pain in Dad’s back. Before she left, Brenda provided Dad with a list of exercises that she wanted him to perform before their next session. Dad wasn’t known for exercising between sessions, and I doubted whether he would do them.
April 21. It was another rainy day in Houston and Temple. We didn’t need the rain in Houston, and I didn’t like Mom driving Dad to dialysis in the rain. During dialysis, Dad had 1,200 ml of fluid removed.
When I spoke with Mom, she said that Dad had gotten up on the riding mower and spent about 15 minutes mowing the backyard. Many years earlier, Dad had had some terrible back problems, and a doctor (probably a surgeon) had recommended back surgery. Like me, my father had a career that required you to sit all day, which is terrible for your back. After my parents retired to a farm in Colorado, he spent a lot of time working outside and riding his tractor, and he swore that the tractor fixed his back. I assumed that he was looking to his riding mower for similar relief.
April 22. Stan and I had planned to spend the weekend in Temple but decided to go a day early instead of our usual Saturday. I worked for about seven hours, and he did some chores around the house before we left for Temple in two cars. Stan left around 1:45 P.M. and I followed him about 15 minutes later, but I arrived about 15 minutes before him. Although I might have a tiny bit of a heavy foot, he made two stops along the way to my one stop.
The weather was fabulous in Temple, so we enjoyed our happy hour drinks on the patio. Because today was Friday, we had tacos for dinner. Stan and I often teased my parents about their mealtime conventions. You could always tell what day it was by the breakfast and dinner menus. After dinner, we played Oh Hell, and I won, which broke my current losing streak.
April 23. Dad often complained about having to get up at 4:45 A.M. to get to dialysis, but he almost always woke up earlier, and this morning was no exception. According to my mother, he was awake and out of bed at 4:00 A.M. He went back to bed at 4:30 A.M. and she then had to wake him at 4:45 A.M.
Stan and I took my car to a local garage for an oil change, and then we drove to the nearby town of Buckholts for a short photo safari. During my many trips to and from Temple, I had passed an old abandoned house that I wanted to photograph, but I had never had the time to stop. The weather was still nice and we were able to spend some time away from the house. On our way back to my parents’ home, Stan stopped in Rogers and purchased some doughnuts. He said that the doughnuts were for Mom, but I think that he used her as an excuse to buy them for himself.
After lunch, Dad and I started preparing a stew for tonight’s dinner. He had purchased the vegetables, so the stew was chock full of vegetables that we didn’t see when Mom shopped. While the stew simmered, I had Dad take an hour nap. Mom and Stan were slaving in the backyard. Mom worked in her garden and the courtyard and Stan mowed the lawn, trimmed some bushes, and treated fire ant hills.
Both my parents made two disturbing statements today. Mom said that “it was a shame that my father had to end his life this way,” and Dad said that “it’s too bad that you have to have dialysis just to live.” I guess my perspective differed from my parents’. I was thrilled that he was here and that we were still able to have fun as a family. We’re the perfect example of viewing the glass as either half empty or half full.
April 24. I slept until I was awakened by the rising sun shining on my face. My room didn’t have curtains, but I rarely slept until sunrise. I finally got out of bed shortly before 7:00 A.M. and changed into my scrubs, which had become my new go-to early-morning clothes. Mom was downstairs, and I heard the familiar tone from the coffee maker that indicated that my coffee had finished brewing.
While Mom and I attended church, the guys were outside in the garden, spraying and doing a variety of miscellaneous yard maintenance chores. After lunch, the guys went back outside to do more spraying, and then they came inside to watch a golf tournament. Stan helped me put away some of the Christmas decorations that had been sitting on the floor in the storage room. Stan left shortly after 5:00 P.M. and arrived home around 8:00 P.M.
Mom, Dad, and I had drinks out on the patio, and Dad and I cooked hot dogs on the grill. For the first time in longer than I can recall, we watched TV after dinner instead of playing cards.
April 25. I had been working for about 45 minutes when I heard Dad’s wheelchair pass by the office en route to the kitchen. When I reminded him that he had four days a week that he could sleep in, he gave me a look of mock surprise. He liked to complain about having to wake up early for dialysis, but he also woke up early on his off days. I followed him into the kitchen to refill my coffee cup and heated him some water while I was there. A few minutes after finishing his coffee, I heard him return to the bedroom and get back into bed.
Mom woke up at 6:30 A.M. and stopped by the office to say good morning and tell me that Dad was still sleeping. He eventually woke up again around 7:00 A.M., which was when I went to the kitchen for breakfast.
I was glad that we didn’t have any planned meetings today with home-care health providers. Shortly after 9:00 A.M., Russell and his assistant arrived and started repairing broken tile. They worked until 3:00 P.M., which was when I also quit working for the day so that I could accompany Mom and Dad to the doctor’s office.
Dad’s PCP worked Tuesday through Friday, and not always from the Temple office, and it was difficult to see her within a reasonable amount of time. When I had asked our friend Sue if she could recommend another PCP for Dad, she had recommended Dr. Michael Martin. Dad met with him today for about 20 minutes. The doctor ordered some x-rays and bloodwork, and then we scheduled a follow-up appointment. On the drive home, we all agreed that we liked this doctor. In light of the decision to switch PCPs, Mom said that she would cancel Dad’s appointment with Sarla Patil on Wednesday, two days from now.
On the way home, we stopped by Walgreens to purchase birthday cards for a niece, nephew, and grandniece. Since becoming the last Locke of his generation in October of 2008, Dad had been keeping in touch with the children and grandchildren of his siblings. During his medical ordeal of the past year, Dad had maintained this correspondence, being unable to sign only one card, which Mom signed on his behalf.