August 29, 2018. Before going to bed last night, I had washed a load of clothes and then placed them in the dryer with the intention of drying them in the morning. When I woke up at 4:00 A.M. this morning, I was pleased that I remembered the wet clothes, and started the dryer. Life’s little victories seemed important these days.
When Mom woke up at 6:00 A.M., she said that she was exhausted and that she was frustrated that she didn’t have time to do anything around the house. Last night, Stan and I had talked about trying to get Mom to stay at home and rest, so I took this opportunity to suggest that she stay at home this morning, and I would bring her with me to the hospital after lunch. She gratefully accepted my offer.
I arrived at Dad’s room shortly before 7:45 A.M. He was sleeping, but he was easy to wake. After saying hello, he told me that there had been about 15 people in the room overnight, which seemed implausible to me. I later learned from his night nurse that Dad had triggered his bed alarm by getting out of bed, and when she got to the room, she found him on the floor in a “praying” sort of position, probably trying to get back into bed. She had to call for assistance to get him back into the bed, but I doubt that the task required 15 people. However, keeping Dad in bed had proven to be one of life’s most difficult challenges. Thank goodness he didn’t injure himself.
Dr. Tanner, one of the nephrology residents, stopped by this morning and confirmed what the nurse had told me yesterday afternoon. Because of Dad’s low blood pressure, they were unable to remove more than 500 ml of fluid yesterday during dialysis. He said that they were going let Dad’s body rest today and perhaps try another dialysis session tomorrow. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I had prayed that Dad could maintain enough blood pressure to keep removing this excess fluid?
After Dr. Tanner left the room, someone from the food & nutrition department dropped off Dad’s breakfast tray. It was a messy process, but with some assistance from me, he ate about half of the food on his tray. The linen cart for our section of 6 North was conveniently located across from Dad’s room, and the nurses told me that I could use it. Before Dad started eating, I grabbed a bath towel and used it like a large bib, which saved me and the nurses a lot of clean-up time. I was happy to see that in the last couple of days, he had graduated from receiving Nepro through a feeding tube to a tray containing oatmeal, an omelet, an English muffin, a carton of Nepro, milk, and coffee. As nervous as I was about his status, I had to admit that his condition had improved a lot in the past five days.
At 10:00 A.M., I used the call button to summon the nurse. Once again, Dad had slid down the bed and needed to be repositioned. While Aspen, the nurse, was there, I asked her if she had seen the doctor or his PA or any of the therapists. I didn’t want to risk missing any of them by leaving for lunch at the wrong time. Aspen replied that she had not seen any of the providers this morning. I spent the next hour trying to engage Dad in some sort of meaningful conversation while he drifted in and out of sleep.
At 11:00 A.M., Katherine, the occupational therapist, arrived. She had barely started getting information from Dad when Amber, the physical therapist, and her student, Shelby, arrived. The room became a hubbub of activity when the nephrologist also arrived. It was positively uncanny how all of the care providers seemed to arrive at the same time. Thankfully, the nephrologist stopped by, only to confirm what Dr. Tanner, his resident, had said earlier. I was glad that his visit was brief. I was eager for Dad to get started with his physical and occupational therapy.
Within moments of the nephrologist’s departure, a knock at the door announced the arrival of Pastor Tom. When he entered the room, he looked at Katherine and said, “Hi, sister.” It seemed that Katherine was also a member of my parents’ church. I know that it doesn’t make any difference in a person’s care, but I always felt better when I was able to make a personal connection with the health care provider, so Pastor Tom’s visit seemed fortuitous. Pastor Tom stayed only long enough to exchange enthusiastic greetings with my father. Although he was there for only a couple of minutes, seeing him always acted like a shot of adrenaline for Dad, which was just what was needed at that moment.
Amber and Shelby were able to get Dad to sit on the side of the bed. While he sat on the side of the bed, Katherine exercised his arms and checked his toes and legs. Katherine and Amber then worked together to get Dad to stand up, with me cheering him on from across the room. By 11:20 A.M., Dad was exhausted and ready to lie down.
As the occupational and physical therapists were getting Dad resituated and comfortable in bed, Adan, the speech therapist, entered the room to ask if Dad had been receiving his food trays. I told him that the breakfast tray was great, but I questioned the wisdom of giving Dad rice for dinner last night. He agreed and said that he would modify Dad’s diet to dysphagia III so that his trays would not include loose foods like rice. When I asked him if he knew anything about Dr. Hunt, who was starting his week-long rotation today, he said that he thought that the doctor was cool.
So far, I’d seen everyone today that I wanted to see, with one exception: I had not seen Dr. Hunt. However, it was now 11:40 A.M., and I needed to get home for lunch. After a quick lunch, Mom and I returned to Dad’s room at 12:50 P.M. When I reached out to touch his right arm, I noticed that his gown was damp on his right shoulder. When I mentioned the damp gown to Aspen, she said that while I was gone, they tried to give him a pill and some water had spilled on his gown. I don’t know if I could swallow a pill while slumped down in bed, especially if I was in a groggy and confused state. I didn’t question her more, but I assumed that he was able to swallow the pill.
Shortly after 1:30 P.M., Dr. Hunt arrived and began to summarize Dad’s current condition. During his summarization, he mentioned the presence of a blood clot in Dad’s neck, which was new news to me. I knew that he was receiving a blood thinner, but the doctors had only mentioned the likelihood of platelets clotting as the reason for giving him a blood thinner. Doctor Hunt mentioned that he had requested a consult with hematology/oncology to help him determine if Dad had developed an intolerance to heparin or not. He also said that he didn’t want Dad released from the hospital to a rehab facility until we had established a baseline for his kidneys and weight, and a baseline for his mentation. He wanted to know if neurology thought that his confusion was a permanent or transient condition. Because Dad had fallen last night, the doctor wanted to ensure that Dad had not fallen on his head. For that reason, he ordered a CT scan. I was skeptical about the need for the neurology consult and the CT scan. Usually, when Dad fell out of bed, his fall was more like a slide that started with his feet. The cynic in me thought that all of these consultations and tests were ways in which to inflate the hospital bill. As long as the tests didn’t harm or hurt him, I reluctantly agreed with the doctor’s suggestions.
Within the hour, a gurney appeared outside of Dad’s room, and he was transported to the x-ray department for his CT scan.
At 3:15 P.M., a couple of doctors from the hematology/oncology department visited us to talk about some of the problems that Dad might be having with heparin and HIT. They said that sometimes they could substitute Argatroban for the heparin, but in Dad’s case, they thought that this drug was too harsh. Because Argatroban is metabolized in the liver, it would be too hard on Dad’s liver, which had been under stress during this hospital stay. They said that they also had been viewing Dad’s white and red blood cells under a microscope and had noticed a slight change in their shape, which might indicate the start of a cancerous condition. However, the only way that they could know for sure was to order a bone marrow test, and we all agreed that at Dad’s age, we didn’t need to go down this path. They speculated that his liver problems probably started with the sharp drop in his blood pressure the day after his latest surgery. Although his blood pressure had rebounded, it would take more than a few days for the liver to recover.
When Mom and I left at 5:00 P.M., I had some very mixed feelings about the day. On the one hand, he had started his physical therapy, and the doctor was talking about Dad’s discharge from the hospital. On the other hand, we were discussing blood clots, the possibility of a cancerous condition, and the need for a CT scan to determine whether he had sustained a head injury. Although Mom felt better after having spent the morning at home, Dad’s morning had seemed a bit more positive than his afternoon, and I was sorry that she had missed it.