Feeding tube: removal delayed!

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.

fistulaDrawingI 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.

ourCatsTonight 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.

tubefeed3March 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.

tubefeed4I 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.

bluebonnetsMarch 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.

tubefeed2In 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.

tubefeed3My 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.

tubefeed1I 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

Another fall! A caregiver’s nightmare.

March 5, 2016. I drove Dad to dialysis this morning. He weighed in at 69.0 kg (151.8 lb), and the nurse told me that he would have 1,900 ml of fluid removed. From what I surmised, the doctor had established 68 kg (149.6 lb) as Dad’s dry weight. Dad took his walker with him to dialysis, but before leaving the house, Dad had breezed around the house in the wheelchair. When Mom picked him up, he weighed 67.6 kg (148.7 lb). After returning home, he walked for the rest of the day, using only his cane, and he did extremely well.

2016_mar_12While Dad was at dialysis, Mom baked a cake and I prepared Locke’s Lasagna, Dad’s fabulous recipe for spinach lasagna. When I was finished, I spent a bit of time outside, taking photos of the backyard. My parents’ fruit trees were in bloom, and the white and pink flowers made the trees appear very delicate. When I moved in for close-ups, I noticed that the bees were also enjoying the blossoms.

Shortly after Mom left to pick up Dad, my friend Rhoda called and said that she and her husband Mike had not yet left Houston. After all the brouhaha last night about our expected guests arriving for lunch and how that was upsetting to Mom, it turned out that she wouldn’t have to worry about serving lunch after all.

anotherFallCross3A few minutes after Mom and Dad returned home, Stan arrived from Houston. The four of us ate lunch and then Stan and Dad played cribbage. The weather was nice, so while I waited for our friends to arrive, I took a walk around the neighborhood. My parents were very fond of Rhoda and Mike and looked forward to seeing them again. Rhoda and Mike arrived mid-afternoon, and after we finished all of the greetings, I commandeered Rhoda for some software assistance, leaving Mike, Stan, Dad, and Mom in the sunroom to visit.

While the lasagna baked, we enjoyed an extended happy hour and tried to catch up on the past few months. I was pleased to see that Dad ate a large portion of lasagna and a pretty large piece of cake for dessert. After dinner, the six of us played Oh Hell.

When we finished our game, Dad prepared his concoction of meds and applesauce. My parents said goodnight to us shortly after 9:00 P.M., and Rhoda and Mike left a few minutes later. My parents’ house could accommodate several guests, but because our house was still transitioning from a homecare environment, our friends opted to stay at a local hotel.  Stan and I cleaned up the kitchen and went to bed around 10:00 P.M.

March 6. The four of us were up and at ’em by 6:30 A.M. Stan and my father went to Lowe’s around 8:00 A.M. to buy light bulbs, which provided Dad with a good walk. Stan let him out at the door, but Dad walked around the store and then back to the car with the assistance of only his cane.

MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERARhoda and Mike arrived for breakfast around 8:45 A.M. Mom and I prepared waffle batter and link sausage, and Dad ran the waffle iron. It was another nice meal, and Dad ate his fair share of waffles, and I restrained myself from reminding him to eat without talking. My parents liked to leave leftover waffles outside for woodland creatures, like foxes and possums, but the six of us didn’t leave enough for a mouse.

I had hoped that Rhoda and I could escape for a photo safari in a neighboring town, but the weather was too dreary for black and white film photography. At 10:30 A.M., I was itching to get away for a visit with Rhoda, so we decided to hit the road and hope for some sun. About 30 minutes later we arrived at the neighboring town of Cameron, and the clouds thinned out and delivered a sunny day and nice clouds. We found some abandoned and storm-damaged homes and spent some time getting close to the structures, most likely bordering on trespassing. We had such a great time that we got a little carried away and lost track of time.

anotherFallCross2While we were gone, the guys and Mom watched part of a golf tournament on television. After eating such a large breakfast, Stan ordered salad takeout from Olive Garden for our light lunch. He ordered five servings and we still had tons of leftovers. Stan had to get back to Houston to care for our cats, so he left shortly before 3:00 P.M. The remaining five of us spent the rest of the afternoon visiting until happy hour. During happy hour, we shared some of our stories about the trials and tribulations that we had faced during the past few months. Unfortunately, Dad’s stories weren’t unique. Rhoda also relayed some disturbing stories about her father’s time in the hospital during the past year. We had a late dinner of tacos, which didn’t leave us any time for cards this evening.

Our friends left shortly after 8:30 P.M., after what seemed like a very short visit. I think that having our friends visit for the weekend was the perfect tonic for my parents, and for me. Happily, I would be back in Houston during the next weekend, and Stan and I would get to visit with our friends for two weekends in a row.

March 7. I was up early for work, but after having stayed up past my bedtime last night, I felt like I could have slept for another hour. Mom finally woke Dad after 6:00 A.M. After all of his physical activity during the weekend, he was pretty tired.  I knew how much he preferred zipping through the house in the wheelchair and was pleased that was starting out the day with the cane and not the wheelchair.

anotherFallCross3Although I was pleased with his physical activity, I noticed that he seemed breathless when he ate, and he often had a runny nose after meals. If I remembered correctly, Kristen, Dad’s swallow therapist, had mentioned that a runny nose was a sign of aspiration. After watching him like a hawk, I decided that he seemed OK, so maybe I was worrying unnecessarily, which seemed to be my modus operandi.

Mom baked some pineapple banana bread today, and during lunch, we watched Peyton Manning tearfully retire from football. I put in another full day of work and was able to take a walk before lunch today. I stopped working early so that I could move a couple of our many floor mats to our office for Dad. As long as we had a supply of them on hand, we might as well use them to protect the carpeting in the office.

We had Sloppy Joes for dinner, but Dad ate only ½ of his sandwich. He had been doing pretty well with his intake the past few days and was drinking the Ensure and Nepro, so I didn’t pester him to eat more. After dinner, we played Oh Hell again, and I was tonight’s big winner.

By 8:30 P.M., Dad had crushed and consumed his meds with applesauce, and I was ready to call Stan five minutes later.

March 8. It was dialysis day for Dad and we were all up early today. The weather forecast didn’t bode well for today. Although stormy weather was in the forecast, Mom and Dad left for dialysis before the rain started. Shortly after Mom returned home, the weather turned bad with tornadoes in nearby Lampasas and San Saba.

anotherFallCross2When it was time to pick up Dad from dialysis, the weather was terrible, and I decided that I should make the trip to the dialysis center. The roads had terrible ponding and mild flooding the entire way. About a block from the dialysis center, the police had blocked the road and I had to go around deep water by traversing a parking lot. When I arrived, Dad said that he was relieved and glad to see me. By the time that Dad was ready to leave, approximately 30 minutes had elapsed. When we walked outside, I was amazed to see that the rain had stopped and the sky had cleared. As I drove back to the house, I could not believe how much the water had receded. I could only describe how flooded the streets had been because there was no evidence of the terrible conditions that I had countered during my trip to pick up Dad.

When Dad had arrived at the dialysis center, he weighed 69.1 kg (152 lb). After 1,400 ml of fluid was removed, he weighed 67.7 kg (149 lb). He had eaten quite well during the weekend, and I was relieved that he had not retained more than the usual amount of fluid.

I worked until 4:30 P.M. and then picked up my film camera and walked about a ½ mile down my parents’ street. When I returned, Dad was at the bar, preparing a drink for my mother. He then took his soft drink and walked into the sunroom where Mom and I would join him in a matter of moments.

anotherFallCross1It was then that we heard the sound of trouble. Neither Mom nor I witnessed what happened, but we think that Dad fell while stepping into the sunken sunroom. He hit his mouth on the wicker furniture that held Mom’s collection of African violets. He and a few violets were damaged, but nothing too serious on either front. His lip was pretty bloody, and we fetched a cold compress for him to help control the bleeding and swelling. It was then that we noticed the dandy skin tear on his leg. Fortunately, we still had ample first aid supplies. I bandaged up his leg and cleaned up his lip. For a few days, he would look like he had been in a fistfight.

After dinner, I showed Mom and Dad how I dispensed the pills in the two-week pill organizer. It was 8:00 P.M. when we were finished with that activity, but Dad wasn’t ready to go to bed until we played a game of Oh Hell.

March 9. The weather was pretty bad overnight. My bedroom had windows on three sides and the thunder and lightning woke me up and interrupted my sleep during most of the night. I might have fallen back to sleep had the pill alarm not gone off in the kitchen at 12:52 A.M. I had purchased the reminder clock to help Dad remember when to take his pills. My parents didn’t like the clock, and I’m pretty sure that I’m the only one who was disturbed by it. I had set the alarm time correctly, but the clock time was off by 12 hours.

Dad’s leg bled some overnight, so I had to bandage it again this morning. I worked until it was time for us to go to the clinic at S&W to meet with the fistula surgeon, Dr. Jaffers.

anotherFallCross1During Dad’s last plan of care meeting, we had all decided that Dad would have the graft procedure, which uses artificial tubing and not the patient’s vein. However, Dr. Jaffers convinced us that we should take the fistula route. If he decided during surgery that the graft would be the better option, he would fall back to that choice. His assistant offered us two dates for the surgery: March 25th or April 1st. Because the available time on the March date was in the afternoon, we thought that we should go with the April 1 option. Besides the fact that I don’t believe in scheduling surgery for the afternoon, Dad didn’t recover well from anesthesia. I wanted to ensure that he could spend a few hours at the hospital if he experienced delirium or hallucinations. March 25 was also Good Friday. If Dad experienced side effects from the anesthesia or didn’t feel well two days after surgery, he would not be able to attend church on Easter.

This surgery was a big deal, or at least it was for me. Dr. Jaffers would surgically connect an artery to a vein in Dad’s left arm, which would then be used to remove and return blood during dialysis. When the fistula was cured, Dad would have the dialysis port removed, enabling him to shower and swim without protection. Dad wasn’t thrilled that he would be stuck with two needles three times a week or the fact that this procedure implied that he would need dialysis for the rest of his life. However, the fact that he could have the surgery was a sign that he was getting stronger.

anotherFallCross1By the time that we got home, it was well after 1:00 P.M. By the time that I finished packing for my trip home, ate a quick lunch, and reviewed some of the medical tasks with Mom, it was after 3:00 P.M. I finally left for home at 3:20 P.M. The weather between Temple and Houston was miserable, but the traffic wasn’t bad until I got about 10 miles from home. By the time that I finally arrived home at 7:00 P.M., I was good and tired and very glad to see Stan and my kitties.


A bit of civic duty and a touch of the caregiver blues

February 28, 2016. Although Dad had attended church last week for the first time in almost a year, he opted to stay home today while Mom and I went to church. Stan spent a little time in the backyard and used the tiller to work over the soil in the vegetable garden. Before he left Temple for our home in Houston, he and Dad played a couple of games of cribbage.

After Stan left, I fixed dinner. Dad had two appointments tomorrow, which would prevent me from working a full day tomorrow, so I worked a couple of hours before dinner.

civicCross2February 29. Today was Sadie Hawkins day, otherwise known as leap day, and I was going to be back in Houston with my husband before the end of the day. While I was working, Dad came into the office, intent on finishing a letter to Shell about the Locke Scholarship that he funded. Mom had drafted the letter and I finished applying edits and some formatting so that he could mail it before the postal carrier arrived.

After helping Dad with his letter, I worked until 11:15 A.M., grabbed a quick bite to eat, and then packed my car for my trip home. As I left, Mom and Dad were standing together in the front yard talking with their neighbor, Jim. It did my heart good to see them engaged in normal activities.

I arrived at my Houston office shortly before 3:00 P.M. and found my new desk. While I had been living at my parents’ home, my employer had relocated the Houston office to a different building on the campus. I spent about an hour unpacking my crates and putting items away.

civicCross3After I arrived home, I called Mom, and she said that Dad had drunk some Nepro and that he had taken a shower. Not being there to ensure that his dialysis port was adequately covered made me extremely nervous, but I had to trust that he was fine. The refreshing and cleansing properties of water could also be deadly for him. I would be glad when he could have the fistula surgery and have the dialysis port removed. Somehow, I also needed to get a grip on myself and try to relax as my parents regained control over their lives.

Stan, our cats, and I enjoyed a quiet evening together. I had been away from my cats for the better part of a year and enjoyed having a cat on my lap again. Our female kitty suffered from allergies, and Stan had been the good cat daddy, taking her to the vet and administering her meds.

civicCross1March 1. Today was Election Day in Texas, which was the primary reason that I had come home: I was going to vote. Had I been realistic about my father’s recovery, I would have requested an absentee ballot, but it was nice to come home, if only for one night. I worked for about an hour from home, packed up my computer, and drove less than two miles to my polling place. I encountered a long line that moved quickly and finished voting just 14 minutes after the polls opened. After stopping by the house once again to grab a cup of coffee, I was on the road to Temple by 7:33 A.M.

I arrived at my parents’ home just as Mom was just leaving to pick up Dad from dialysis. While she was gone, I set up my computer. The house remained quiet today. Dad took a nap after lunch and Mom and Dad occupied themselves with mundane household tasks and reading the mail. I worked until Dad called me to the sunroom for happy hour.

After dinner, we played three-handed Oh Hell and spent much of the evening watching the election results for Super Tuesday.

March 2. Today we had appointments with two specialists—the gastroenterologist and the infectious diseases doctor. Shortly after we arrived at the gastroenterologist’s office, we were welcomed by Talithia, the nurse, and Sara, the dietitian. I told them that for the past two weeks, Dad had been receiving all of his nutrition by mouth. The only fluid that passed through the G-tube (PEG) was water. They were pleased, but they said that Dad would need to take all of his nutrition by mouth for at least 30 days before they would pull his PEG.

civicCross2I was concerned about the logistics of pulling his PEG and whether he’d require surgery. They assured us that it was a simple office procedure that required only a few minutes and that his stomach would heal within a couple of hours. Once again, I was amazed by how fast the body could heal itself. Talithia told us to schedule an appointment for two weeks from now to have it removed. When Dr. Timothy Pfanner entered the room, Dad told him that he wanted to stop taking so many pills. The doctor said that compared to most of his patients, Dad wasn’t taking that many different medications.

When we left the gastroenterology clinic, we took the elevator to the fourth floor to the Infectious Diseases (ID) specialist. When we saw Dr. Sangeetha Ranganath, she said that Dad looked much better, but Dad had no recollection of ever meeting her. I had met her on May 21, 2015, when she first started following Dad’s case when he first developed myriad infections. Because the staph infection can reside in his system for so long, she said that she could not consider stopping the antibiotic for at least another year. He complained about the number of pills that he was taking, and she said that he wasn’t taking that many medications. Dad had swung and missed twice this morning. I suspected that if he had had a third appointment, he would have asked about reducing his meds.

civicCross3After lunch, Mom drove Dad to the barber so that he could get a haircut. During happy hour later, he and I got into another row about me yelling at him. His hearing has been a real challenge. If I didn’t speak loud enough, he complained that he couldn’t hear me. If I spoke too loud, I was yelling at him. The bottom line was that he was tired of my telling him what to do, which was what I heard him tell Mom.

Dad might have been perturbed at me, but not enough to call off a game of cards. After a dinner filled with stony silence, we played an enjoyable game of Oh Hell, and I won.

Dad started taking his pills by mouth today. He couldn’t swallow the pills with water, so he crushed them and mixed them with applesauce. In addition to the pills, he also had to mix in a couple of teaspoons of Renvela, an expensive phosphate binder. According to Dad, the concoction was just about the worst tasting thing that he had ever eaten, and I suspected that he wasn’t exaggerating.

March 3.  I logged on to work at 3:45 A.M. this morning and heard Mom and Dad wake up about 45 minutes later. The day got off to a bit of a rocky start because Dad was still getting used to crushing his meds and mixing them with applesauce. I suspected that if the concoction were tasty, the process would have been finished sooner. However, he and Mom were out the door exactly on schedule at 6:20 A.M. We didn’t have a chance to weigh him, and neither he nor Mom paid any attention to either of his weigh-ins. During dialysis, 1,900 ml was removed, so he lost a little over 4 lbs during this session.

civicCross1After lunch, he had a short nap and was good to go for the rest of the day. Near the end of my workday, Dad came into the office, and we finished his scholarship letter to Shell. Evidently, he hadn’t mailed it earlier in the week.

After dinner, we played Oh Hell, and Mom won. During our game, we watched the Republican debate on television.

March 4. Other than my being very tired because I stayed up too late watching television, the day started out well. I worked until 7:00 A.M., and stopped to eat breakfast with my parents. After breakfast, I worked steadily until lunchtime, with only a couple of interruptions from Dad, who periodically came into the office to look for some medical documentation.

After lunch, I took a long walk along my parents’ street to view the Texas bluebonnets. After the revitalizing walk, I worked until 5:00 P.M. It seemed as if we were going to have another uneventful day.

civicCross2It wasn’t until after dinner that the day seemed to implode. Mom asked when our friends would arrive for the weekend. I thought that we had already discussed the weekend plans, but when I told her that they would be here for lunch, she became very upset. I didn’t help matters much when I asked her if I could give our friends the sheets from their old bed. She responded by saying that she had too much to do to possibly find the time to look through the messy linen closet for the sheets. She then said that she also had to bake a cake before they arrived. I continued to upset her when I offered to bake the cake.

My mother is a perfectionist. When I reminded her that she should try to limit self-imposed stress, it was like throwing gasoline on a fire. She then said that I might talk to my father like this, but not to her, which upset me. I was just trying to keep my father alive and reduce the probability of my mother having another stroke, and all I got was grief. I finally told her to get out of the kitchen so that I could take care of the dinner dishes and tidy up. By the time that I had cleaned up the kitchen, she had found the linens, which wasn’t surprising because she had the most organized linen closet on the planet, in spite of her protests to the contrary. After giving me the linens, she went to the bedroom and shut the door. I went upstairs to my bedroom, closed the door, and called Stan to pour out my frustration on him. I would be glad when he arrived tomorrow. Having him around seemed to have a calming effect on all of us.





Transitioning from sick room back to bedroom

February 22, 2016. After all the excitement of going to church yesterday, today seemed almost boring, but in a good way. Dad didn’t seem to have much of a cough this morning, and for a while, I thought that we had vanquished his congestion. His cough came back sporadically during the day, but it seemed like we had turned a corner.

sickroomCross2Another normal activity returned today when Mom attended her book club with her good friend Marilyn. I was thrilled that she was able to get out of the house and visit with her friends. When you’re in caregiver mode, your new normal world becomes very small, and it seems almost strange to return to your former normal life.

While Mom was away, I acted as Dad’s spotter while he made three trips up and down the front steps with his walker. He appeared fearless, but my heart was firmly planted in my throat. It was all I could do to keep my hands off of his shirt, although I’m pretty sure that I did grab the back of his shirt a couple of times. It probably didn’t do much for him, but it made me feel like I could save him from a fall. Fortunately, I didn’t have to test that theory.

Brenda had been working with him to be independent with a cane. Up until now, he had used his cane and walker when he was away from the house but relied on the wheelchair when he was at home, saying that he could move faster with it, which was true. He practically zipped through the halls in that wheelchair. The aides had commented on how well he handled the contraption. Michell had marveled at how the walls held no telltale signs of a wheelchair in residence. Kathleen, the physical therapist, had commented that Dad was the opposite of most of her patients, who used wheelchairs away from home and canes and walkers when they were at home. We were expecting weekend guests within the next couple of weeks, which might have inspired Dad today to get out of his wheelchair and spend more time walking with his walker and cane when he was at home.

sickroomCross3While Dad was feeling adventurous, he wandered into the pantry to get a can of fruit. He stooped just a bit too low and struggled mightily to get up. I wasn’t in the best place to help him, and he was pretty winded when we finally got him up and out of the pantry. We agreed that he was not quite ready for knee bends.

After I logged off from work, I prepared a casserole for our dinner. While waiting for dinner, we enjoyed our happy hour together and watched the news.

We played a three-handed game of Oh Hell, and Dad won. Mom was a little shaky on threading the tubing in the Kangaroo pump, but she handled the meds like a pro.

sickroomCross1February 23. Today marked the 148th day that Dad had been home from the hospital. He had now been home as many days as he had been hospitalized. A month or so after Dad returned home, I had had a conversation with our friend Adan about what to expect regarding Dad’s recovery time. I had asked if Dad would require one day of recovery for each day of hospitalization, and Adan had said that he thought we might be looking at a 2:1 ratio. Dad wasn’t close to where he was when he entered the hospital some 236 days ago, but I suspected that Adan was correct in his assessment. Because I didn’t want to discourage him, I didn’t want to tell Dad that he was merely at his halfway point to being recovered. He seemed to be pushing himself to resume his former life.

We were all up early—some of us (Dad) earlier than others. Usually, because of the baby monitor resident in the master bedroom, whenever Dad woke up, I also woke up. Last night, after a relatively early night for all of us, I had slept soundly, even through a hard rain and a thunderstorm.

sickroomCross2Mom fixed Dad his typical breakfast of Cream of Wheat and then drove him to dialysis. Fortunately, the rain had stopped before they left. During dialysis, Dad had 1,900 ml of fluid removed. Our routine had started to settle down, which enabled me to put in a full and uninterrupted day of work. During my lunch break, I was able to get out of the house for a walk, which turned out to be a short one because of the cold and windy weather. I’m more of a fair-weather walker.

Mom and Dad were able to take a nap after lunch. When we finished playing cards at 7:30 P.M., the three of us were tired and ready to call it a day. By 8:00 P.M., Mom had administered Dad’s meds, and I was on my way to my room for my nightly call to Stan.

February 24. Dad woke up around 3:00 A.M. and asked if he was still tied up. Mom disconnected him from the Kangaroo pump so that he could use the bathroom. She then told him to go back to sleep, which he did, sleeping until 6:00 A.M.

sickroomCross3Kathleen, the physical therapist, called and said that she would arrive to assess Dad’s progress sometime between 11:00-11:30 A.M. I was looking forward to her approving Dad for another 30 days of physical therapy. When she arrived at 11:15 A.M., she watched Dad walk with his cane and told us that Dad was doing great, so great that she was discharging him from physical therapy. With this announcement, Dad had now been discharged from home care, occupational therapy, swallow therapy, and now physical therapy. For better or worse, we were now truly on our own. Yay?

After lunch, Dad and I went grocery shopping at Wal-Mart, and by the time that we returned home, we walked over 15,000 steps for the day. He had his walker with him, but I had him push the cart, which gave him some stability. After we got home and brought in the groceries, he and Mom went back out for more groceries, this time to Sam’s.

Dad did a lot of walking today, probably more than most people, but he still needed to exercise to build his strength and improve his balance, but he would shut down the conversation when I tried to broach the subject with him.

When we were getting Dad ready for bed, I checked his pill box and discovered that he had not received any meds since last night. Until the dispense of meds became second nature for Mom, I would have to keep a more watchful eye on Dad’s meds.

February 25. Today I was more worried about Mom than Dad. With the aides gone, she had more responsibility. I didn’t want to assume all of the work of the aides because I wanted to ensure that Mom could tend to Dad during my periodic trips to Houston. But now, it seemed that the extra work was beginning to take its toll on her, and for the first time, I thought that she looked frail.

sickroomCross1After breakfast, she insisted on going to Penny’s to buy linens for the new bed. While she was gone, Dad and I talked about him assuming more responsibility for his care. So that Mom would not need the extra burden of administering his medications, I proposed that Dad prepare his medications and then he and Mom could administer the crushed and diluted cocktail in his G-tube, and he agreed. I also got him to agree to drink one Ensure and one Nepro a day, which would provide him with 775 calories. This base of calories would help to ensure that he consumed the calories he needed to add some much-needed meat to his bony frame.

The three of us watched the Republican debate. My parents hung in until 9:00 P.M. It ended at 10:00 P.M., so this was a late night for me. When they were getting ready for bed, Dad gave himself his nighttime meds. Mom had had a bad cough during the evening and while we played cards. Before she went to bed, I gave her a breathing treatment. Thank goodness that Dad’s prescription provided us with more saline and albuterol than one person could use.

February 26. I was up early and worked until Dad came into the office. Mom had not seemed well yesterday, and he was worried about her. While we were talking about her, she walked into the kitchen all perky, looking like she was ready to take on the world. She was like a walking testimonial for the benefits of a good night’s sleep. Although I had worked for a bit while my parents were still sleeping, I had actually taken the day off from work. We had a busy day planned, and Mom was ready to get started.

sickroomCross2Right after breakfast, we hit the chores like field hands. I quickly deflated the inflatable bed, and at 8:15 A.M., a guy from American HomePatient arrived and picked up the hospital bed. Unfortunately, he did not take the mattress, so I moved it to a back room in the house. Evidently, they can’t reuse mattresses and they won’t pick up anything that they can’t give to another patient. We were hopeful that we could find someone who would take a mattress off our hands.

Now that the master bedroom was bed-free, we cleaned, vacuumed, and shampooed the carpeting. Once again, I said a silent thank you to my husband for purchasing the floor mats to cover the bedroom floor. I’m positive that the carpeting would have been ruined otherwise.

While we were waiting for the carpeting to dry, Dad and I made another trip to Wal-Mart. After lunch, the three of us decided to take advantage of some free time, and we napped for about an hour. After we woke up, we did a bit more cleaning before the Ashley Furniture truck arrived at 4:00 P.M. After they assembled the bed, they were gone in a flash. We then spent 45 minutes struggling to put the mattresses inside of the mattress covers. We eventually triumphed, but the experience was aggravating, and I’ll never buy one of these beds for myself. We were finally finished manhandling the mattresses at 5:15 P.M., and I was good and ready for happy hour.

During the day, Dad drank all but about 2 oz of the Nepro/Ensure mix, and he gave himself his meds.

sickroomCross3After making the bed, Mom rearranged some of the medical accessories in the bedroom so that it looked more like a bedroom and less like a hospital room. Among other things, the baby monitor was removed from their room, which was a huge milestone for me. For the past 151 days, I had barely slept while I monitored Dad’s sleep and nighttime emergencies and needs. With the monitor gone, I felt like I was experiencing some separation anxiety.

February 27. After a day of physical activity, we all slept well, and we all slept for at least seven hours. The morning was uneventful and smooth, but I forgot to weigh Dad before he and Mom left home for the dialysis center.

During dialysis, Dad had 1,600 ml of fluid removed, but he probably should have had more removed. It was ironic that for so many months I had been critical that the nurses were removing too much, yet now I had the opposite concern.

A couple of days ago, Dad said that he would drink Ensure for lunch and the Nepro throughout the day. Today he back-pedaled on our agreement and drank the Ensure but not the Nepro.

sickroomCross2Mom and I fixed up their bedroom and spent some time putting together some other rooms of the house. The entire house was looking more like a home and less like a hospital. Their bedroom had had the most significant transformation, and only a set of shelves with some medical supplies gave any indication of how the room had been used for the last 21 weeks.

Stan arrived shortly after Mom and Dad returned from dialysis. Dad took a nap after lunch and then he and Stan started up the grill for dinner.

With all of the transformational activities during the past few days, it seemed like we needed a family photo to make the milestone. Happily, everyone was receptive to the idea.

Dad won at Oh Hell. I was able to get 1,400 calories in him today, so I felt like a winner too.


More milestones and fewer nets

February 18, 2016.  I knew that Dad had had a very restless night. Because his bed constantly creaked while he fidgeted, I hadn’t had much sleep either. When he woke up at 4:00 A.M., he said that he hadn’t slept much, and I had a pretty good idea why. Today’s trip to dialysis would be different from any other trip because not only would he not have an aide to accompany him, he wouldn’t have an aide stay with him. In addition, Mom would drive him to and from dialysis. I had also spent a few worried minutes awake because I was concerned that he would try to get out of bed. I didn’t realize it at the time, but at 3:15 A.M., he did get out of bed by himself and got into the wheelchair.

net2BirdShortly after hearing the wheelchair, I got up, dressed in my scrubs, and logged on to work. It was then that I noticed that Mom was still sleeping and had not helped Dad out of bed. Mom woke up shortly before 4:00 A.M. It was a semi-hectic morning on our first dialysis day without an aide, but Mom and Dad were on their way to the dialysis center in plenty of time for Dad’s 7:00 A.M. appointment.

After Mom returned home, she and I ate breakfast and then she started baking a batch of English muffins. Unfortunately for her, she miscalculated how long the baking would take, and she realized too late that she would not get to the dialysis center at my parents’ agreed-upon time. As she feared, she arrived a few minutes late.  Dad was royally annoyed, and he complained ad nauseam about her tardiness. He finally dropped the subject and said that they would have to adjust their schedule. During dialysis, only 1,400 ml of fluid was removed, which seemed low to me. Dad still had a bad congestion, which made me nervous about his fluid levels. I told him that I planned to take him to dialysis this coming Saturday.

net2NetDuring lunch, Dad started backpedaling on his agreement to drink Nepro with his lunch. If he didn’t consume enough calories during the day, he’d have to consume them during the night while he slept. His excuse for not drinking the Nepro today was an upset stomach. After lunch, he took a nap and slept for about 90 minutes. Mom was also tired and fell asleep while sitting in a glider chair in front of the television. I think that they both got some of their best sleep while sitting in front of the television.

When she woke from her nap, Mom called the furniture store and ordered their new bed and scheduled it to be delivered next Friday, eight days from today. My parents had shopped at three stores and had finally settled on a split king-sized bed from Ashley Furniture. Because Dad was supposed to sleep at a 30% incline, they needed a bed that enabled him to sleep on an incline while she slept flat. Before the bed arrived, we’d have to get rid of the hospital bed and move her twin bed back to the guest room.

I stopped work in time for our happy hour and gave Dad some Tussin to help ease his congestion. Although his congestion sounded bad, his temperature, oxygen saturation, and heart rate were all good. We had a relatively light dinner of leftovers and sorbet. Although three-handed Oh Hell isn’t as much fun as when we have more players, Dad wanted to play, and I won.

net2KnotAfter the card game, we headed to the bedroom. While Mom prepared Dad’s night time meds, I gave Dad another breathing treatment. We finally got our first aide-less day under our belts by 8:30 P.M. Whew!

February 19. The day started with a knock-down drag-out argument between Dad and me. We argued over his nutritional needs, Nepro, and the amount of fluid to be removed during dialysis. When Mom left the house in tears, Dad and I sat down and had a rational discussion. He didn’t understand dialysis or his body and only partially heard what was said around him. We finally agreed that when I took him to dialysis tomorrow, I would talk to the nurse about how much fluid to remove.

net2BirdBrenda arrived at 9:30 A.M. for Dad’s physical therapy session.  She put him through the paces but commented to me that she was frustrated that he didn’t practice any of the exercises between their sessions. She and I both hoped that Kathleen would extend his time in physical therapy during his upcoming evaluation. Although his strength was improving, we felt that he needed more therapy.

At 11:30 P.M., Janet stopped by for Dad’s final occupational therapy session. Unlike the physical therapy exercises, Dad did practice some of these exercises between sessions because Mom liked to do them with him.

After eating lunch, Dad took a short nap before Kristen arrived for her final swallow therapy session with him. He presented her with a list of foods that he wanted to eat and asked her if he could eat them. Most of the items were planted firmly in the NO column, but he kept trying to get her to agree to rice and nuts.

net2NetNow that I knew when my parents’ new bed would arrive, I needed to ensure that we’d be rid of the hospital bed slightly before the arrival of the new bed. I called American HomePatient and left a message with Holly, the branch manager, and told her that we needed to have the bed picked up first thing in the morning on February 26.

During Dad’s plan of care meeting, Dr. Issac said that he would order a referral for Dad to see Dr. Greg Jaffers about fistula surgery. I wanted to get an appointment with the surgeon as soon as possible and texted Sue, the dialysis nurse practitioner, to check on the status of the referral. She replied that Dr. Jaffers’ office would contact us when they received the referral.

net2KnotAfter the therapists left, Mom did some shopping and Dad wrote up an article about the Locke Academic Foundation. My father funds a scholarship for political science students at Colorado Mesa University, and he sent some additional information about the scholarship to Shell, his former employer who matches his funding. While the house seemed to be running with a steady rhythm, I worked until 5:00 P.M., which was when I stopped for our happy hour. Dad was still intent on eating peanuts, so I reminded him that for the time being, to reduce the risk of aspiration, he had to avoid eating nuts. When he said that he didn’t know what aspiration was, I was a little alarmed. I couldn’t understand how we could have come this far without him understanding what aspiration was, that it was a bad thing, and how it had nearly killed him.

We didn’t play cards tonight, and I’d be glad when Stan arrived tomorrow.

February 20. I took Dad to dialysis today. The nurse had suggested that they remove 1,600 ml of fluid, but I told her that I thought that his target dry weight was a bit high. His ankles seemed swollen, and I suggested that 1,800 ml might be a better goal, and she agreed.

net2BirdAfter Dad was settled, I left the dialysis center and promised to return at least 20 minutes before the end of his session. He did fine during dialysis and didn’t cough until I came to pick him up. Stan arrived from Houston about 20 minutes after Dad and I returned home.

To begin preparing for the new bed, Stan and I moved the twin bed that Mom had been sleeping on from the master suite to the guest room. We then moved the inflatable bed from the guest room to the master suite for Mom to use until the new bed arrived. The bed wasn’t comfortable for long periods, but Stan wouldn’t be here next Friday when we had to clear out the master bedroom, and I wanted to take advantage of his brawn while he was here. Moving the beds now would enable Mom and me to more easily clean up the room in advance of the delivery of the new bed. I hoped that the inflatable bed wouldn’t be uncomfortable for Mom and that she would be able to get some sleep during the coming week.

I helped Mom set up Dad’s meds for the next two weeks, and the guys played a few hands of cribbage. As long as Stan was here, Dad seemed a bit more laid back.

net2BirdAfter dinner, we played some more cards and monitored the primary election results on the television. In Nevada, Hillary Clinton won the Democratic caucuses and Donald Trump won the South Carolina Republican primary.

When Dad finally went to bed at 9:45 P.M., he said that he was feeling queasy and he was still pretty congested. I was worried that he might not feel well enough to attend church tomorrow.

February 21. I had high expectations for the day. Although we had stayed up a little later than usual, I had been able to sleep for more than seven hours, which was very unusual for me. However, the day seemed to take a turn for the worse when I entered my parents’ bedroom. Dad had a bit of congestion and he seemed to be in a crummy mood. His attitude was such that I fully expected him to back out of attending church again today.

net2NetI was relieved when the four of us got inside the car. I drove to the church and let everyone out close to the church entrance. The accessible parking spots were occupied and the parking lot was surprisingly full, so I had to park quite a distance from the church entrance. I joined my parents and Stan at our regular pew in the church. Soon after we arrived, our church friends who sat in the pew behind us arrived. When I saw Pastor Tom in the sanctuary before the service, I told him that Dad was with us. He stopped by our pew and welcomed Dad in true Tom style. He started the service with a big JOY and announced that after being deathly ill since May, Neal Locke was back. The congregation gave Dad a huge round of applause, and then Tom (jokingly) asked if Dad had brought his offering with him. After the service, many people approached Dad to welcome him back. Before we had left the house for church, Dad had said that he wouldn’t attend church again until he was better. After his warm reception from the congregation, he seemed willing to attend more often. My parents were very fond of this pastor, and before Dad’s hospitalization, my parents had rarely missed a Sunday in church. Getting Dad back to church seemed like another major milestone in his recovery.

net2KnotWhen we got home from church, we spent a lot of time working out the arrangement of my parents’ bedroom. After Stan left, we watched the golf tournament, and I tried to get some work done. We spent most of the evening just talking. Dad’s congestion was practically gone, but he let me give him a breathing treatment before bed. Mom was getting better at administering the meds and tube feeds.

I finally got to bed at 9:10 P.M. After four days without an aide, we seemed to be easing into a routine.


Net photo by Tina Hartung on Unsplash


Not the Valentine’s Day that I had envisioned.

February 11, 2016. Dad had another good night’s sleep. He was awake by 4:00 A.M. and was soon ready for dialysis. Fortunately, he was ahead of schedule because the HOP bus arrived at 5:40 A.M., 20 minutes earlier than our scheduled pickup time. They have a policy that states that if they have to wait on a rider for more than five minutes, they can revoke the rider’s service. This was not the first time that they had arrived 20 minutes earlier than our scheduled pickup time. I can’t count the number of times that he sat outside the house in his wheelchair waiting on them. I think that they had had to wait for him only once.

Dad and Michell returned home from dialysis at 12:30 P.M. Shortly after their return, I started packing up my computer and joined Mom, Dad, and Michell for lunch. I wanted to attend my Thursday night class tonight in Houston, and I departed for Houston after eating.

So far, Dad seemed to be doing well without his trach. I, on the other hand, was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room of rocking chairs. On the one hand, the way in which he was improving was just this side of miraculous. On the other hand, I kept waiting for the other shoe to fall. I practically held my breath every time he swallowed, and I just about leaped out of my skin when he talked while he was eating. Kristen had warned him against talking while eating because of the increased risk of aspiration. With the trach gone, all of our backup options were gone. If he aspirated now, he’d be back in the hospital and on a ventilator.

While I was in Houston, Dad’s day was uneventful, which was my idea of a perfect day. After his post-lunch nap, Michell and Mom covered Dad’s dialysis port with layers of dialysis port shields, enabling him to take a shower. Like eating, showering was another daily activity that most of us took for granted but was a potentially lethal activity for Dad.

February 12. Dad slept in until 5:30 A.M., which enabled Mom to get a bit more sleep, too. I had been worried about moving Mom into the room with Dad because she needed her rest and Dad was a fitful sleeper, to say the least. By 6:45 A.M., Dad was eating his typical breakfast of Cream of Wheat and peaches. After breakfast, Michell helped Mom administer Dad’s morning meds.

Shortly before 11:00 A.M., Pastor Don from my parents’ church stopped by to visit with Dad. He hadn’t been by to see Dad recently, and I was sorry that I missed him. I was still in Houston and would not return to Temple until tomorrow.

Don’s visit with Mom and Dad was interrupted by Janet, Dad’s occupational therapist. Her presence also provided Dad with an opportunity to sharpen his wit. He and Janet usually spent the entire session trading good-natured barbs. We were fortunate to have a therapist like Janet. She was good-natured, gave Dad a run for his money, but didn’t take any hooey from him.

Janet departed at lunchtime, and Dad had a good meal of ham and cheese on a homemade English muffin, pickles, nectar, and a Fig Newton. He would need a hearty lunch. Just before 2:00 P.M., he and Mom went bed shopping at Ashley Home Furnishings. They were back home by 3:00 P.M., and Dad was ready for a nap 15 minutes later.

At 5:00 P.M., Dad enjoyed a glass of Sprite during happy hour, which was followed by a dinner of meatballs and avocado salad, and some strawberry sherbet. For Dad, you couldn’t improve much on this meal, unless you substituted salmon for the meatballs. Mom, Dad, and Michell played a game of Oh Hell and were heading to bed by 7:45 P.M.

February 13. Dad was awake at 4:00 A.M. and was eager to get up and get ready for dialysis. Because he was still receiving Nepro during the night, he could not get out of bed until Mom disconnected him from the Kangaroo pump. By 5:00 A.M., Dad was eating his Cream of Wheat, but with pears today. When he finished his breakfast, Mom administered his morning meds. Dad was ready for the HOP bus shortly after breakfast, but today the bus didn’t arrive until 6:15 A.M.

While Dad was in dialysis, Stan and I left Houston for our return trips to Temple. Stan left at 8:30 A.M., and I left two hours later. Dad and Michell returned home from dialysis at 12:25 P.M., and I arrived in Temple just as the four of them were finishing their lunch.

I had barely unloaded my car when Mom and Dad said that they were going to back to Ashley Home Furnishing to look at some more beds.

While Mom and Dad were gone, Michell told Stan and me that she was very concerned about Dad and Mom being alone. She was concerned that we were ending the service with One on One Personal Homecare too soon. Gale had expressed a similar concern. I discussed some options with Michell and asked if she would be able to stay on for the month of March. She wasn’t sure that she could, so we dropped the subject.

Dad had not been embracing our plan to drink Nepro during the day; however, he needed the extra the extra protein that it provided because he was still very underweight. The gastroenterologist was not going to pull the G-tube until we could show that Dad could consume enough calories without it. I also didn’t like Mom waking up at 2:00 A.M. to refill the tube feed bag. I tried giving him ½ can of the Nepro when we administered the nighttime meds. It was a little messy, and he probably didn’t get all of his meds, but it might work. Meanwhile, my 140-pound father kept saying that he didn’t want to get fat.

Dad ate a pretty decent meal tonight of spaghetti and angel food cake, and he won big time at Oh Hell. When I changed his stoma dressing, it looked as though the trach was completely healed and only the neck wound needed to heal. His trach dressing hadn’t been changed since I left town  2-1/2 days ago, but the dressing contained very little drainage. Amazing.

February 14. I had been eagerly anticipating this day for weeks. Today the four of us—Mom, Dad, Stan, and I—were going to attend church together, and this would be the first social outing for Dad since he entered the hospital nine months ago. All of the pastors and some of the church members had been very supportive during the past few months, and getting Dad back to church would be a significant milestone. Unfortunately, he woke up at 7:30 A.M. with a terrible congestion. Stan also told me that he had heard Dad coughing during the night and using the Yankauer suction wand. I didn’t want to verbalize my fears that the congestion might have been caused by aspiration.

I quickly administered a breathing treatment to help break up his congestion, but he was just too sick to go to church. He balked about eating breakfast at first but acquiesced when he saw that Mom had prepared eggs, sausage, homemade English muffins, and her Christmas morning bread. This spread wasn’t typical of our Sunday-morning fare, but this was supposed to be a special day. Before Dad left the table, he had managed to eat his fair share of everything.

I was very disappointed that he didn’t attend church with Mom and me, and had to extend his regrets to some of our friends at the church. When Mom and I returned home, Dad and Stan were playing cribbage. I gave Dad two more breathing treatments during the day and gave myself one in an attempt to deal with my developing congestion. Shortly after we had finished eating lunch, Stan departed for Houston.

During the afternoon, my parents watched a golf tournament, although they seemed to sleep through most of it. They woke up shortly before 5:00 P.M., and we had a nice happy hour. Dad nibbled at his dinner of a frankfurter, tomato, and avocado salad. After eating a slice of angel food cake, he was ready for a game of Oh Hell, which I won.

By 8:00 P.M., Dad was on his way to bed. Before Mom administered his meds and set up the Nepro and Kangaroo pump, I administered another breathing treatment. By 8:30 P.M., Dad was drifting off to sleep, but I feared that he wouldn’t get a good night’s rest.

Intentional decannulation!

February 8, 2016. When I woke up this morning, I thought I heard Dad and Mom talking, but when I went downstairs to check on them, she was sleeping, and he was rolling over in bed. I donned my scrubs and headed to my parents’ office to work. Shortly after 4:30 A.M., I heard Dad calling out my name. When I entered the master bedroom, he told me that he was ready to get up. He had not yet consumed three cans of Nepro overnight. I persuaded him to try to sleep for a bit longer. In the end, he stayed in bed until 6:15 A.M. Dianne came in and unhooked Dad from the now-empty tube feed and helped him into the wheelchair. Dad shaved, got dressed, and headed into the kitchen to prepare his hot water while Mom got dressed. While Dad read the paper, Mom prepared pancakes for their breakfast.

decan_cross2At 7:40 A.M., Dad said that he wanted to lie down. When he returned to the bedroom, I prepared his meds and watched as Mom administered them. While Dad took a short nap, Dianne called Becky to see if Michell would be returning tomorrow. Michell’s mother had undergone gallbladder surgery last week, and I didn’t know if her mother’s recuperation would affect her ability to return. I had tried to text her, but it seemed that her phone number was no longer valid. Becky told Dianne that Michell had a new phone number and planned to return two days from now on Wednesday.

Brenda stopped by at 9:20 A.M. for Dad’s physical therapy session and gave him a good workout. When I told her that our skilled nursing services had ended and that we were ending our aide service in less than two weeks, she was very concerned. The aides had been a godsend. I could not have kept working, and I’m not sure that Dad would have survived without their assistance. However, although Dad had not fully recovered, my parents felt that they had reached a point where they could get by without them. My mother was weary of having the extra people in the house, and they cost more than $1,000/week, and to date, they had been with us for 16 weeks. Before she left, I told Brenda that I would contact Adan to talk with him about our remaining therapy home care. She said that she would tell Adan to expect a call from me. When Brenda left, I sent a text message to Adan, asking him to call me.

decan_cross3Shortly after Brenda left, Mom, Dad, and I drove to the automotive repair shop to retrieve Dad’s SUV. We had left it there on Friday, and it was now ready. We returned shortly before noon. After lunch, Dad wanted to take a nap before his 2:00 P.M. swallow therapy session with Kristen.

Like many of his sessions with Kristen, she spent quite a bit of time reminding Dad about what he could eat. We also spent some time talking about sodium.

decannulationAt 3:25 P.M., the four of us piled into Dad’s SUV and drove to the pulmonary clinic. I had been crossing my fingers and toes for days that this appointment would turn out well. After taking Dad’s vitals, the office staff ushered us into the exam room at 4:00 P.M.  Dr. Giri and Svenja (the trach goddess of Scott & White) were pleased that the diameter of Dad’s stoma had decreased and agreed that it was time to decannulate Dad. I could barely contain my excitement. Within moments, Svenja removed the trach and showed me how to clean and dress the stoma. Before we left, she also gave me some supplies to dress the stoma until it closed. During Dad’s hospitalization and recovery, medical professionals reminded me that it takes longer for an elderly person to heal. I hoped that Svenja provided me with adequate free supplies. As we were leaving the pulmonary department, I said what I hoped would be my final goodbyes to some of the pulmonary staff that I had come to know during the past year—including Dr. Stewart, who had told us that Dad would probably never be able to eat carrots and peas. Score!

decan_cross1We arrived home at 5:00 P.M., just in time for a very happy happy hour. We watched the news, and an hour later Mom served us Swedish meatballs for dinner. By 7:45 P.M., we had finished playing cards and Dianne beat me at Oh Hell by one point.

After Dianne helped Dad get ready for bed, I walked Mom through the process of getting Dad hooked up to the Kangaroo pump and administering his nighttime meds. Fortunately, trach care was now a thing of the past. I would change his stoma dressing in the morning.

When I called Stan to tell him about the events of the day, he told me that Dianne had told him on Sunday that she had not ever worked for a client that had gotten better. Wow.

decan_cross3February 9. I woke up a little before 3:45 A.M. and woke Mom and Dad at 4:00 A.M. Mom had added the third can of Nepro only a couple of hours earlier, and about a cup remained, which meant that Dad would have to finish the remaining Nepro when he returned from dialysis. After getting dressed, he wheeled himself to the kitchen and prepared his hot water while Mom prepared his Cream of Wheat and figs. While Dad was eating, I worked with Mom to prepare Dad’s bag for dialysis and to administer his morning meds.

While Dad was in dialysis, our neighbor, Barbara, stopped by with some beautiful roses. She stayed for about an hour and got an earful from Mom and me about some bothersome things that happened to Dad during his stay in the Scott & White hospitals.

During dialysis, 1800 ml of fluid was removed, and Dad’s weight changed from 68.4 kg to 66.8 kg. After he returned home, we ate lunch and then Dad took a nap. While he slept, we connected him to the Kangaroo pump. During the two hours that he slept, he consumed the remainder of the Nepro.

decan_cross3After he got up, I knew that I had to change his stoma dressing. I was a little squeamish about this chore. I had this visual image of seeing the inside of his trachea. When I removed the old dressing, I was surprised at how much the stoma had closed. Although the skin on his neck had not closed, the trachea was practically healed. Svenja had told me that for a few days, when the dressing was removed, Dad would not be able to talk without covering the stoma. For all intents and purposes, the trachea had closed in 24 hours. I had no idea that the body could heal itself so fast. I’ve had paper cuts that took longer to heal.

During happy hour, we watched the news and were anxious to hear the results of the New Hampshire primary election. Mom beat the pants off everyone in Oh Hell, and by 7:45 P.M. I was helping Mom get Dad ready for bed. I don’t think that she realized how much work it was to care for Dad. Before heading up to my room, I checked my phone and learned that Trump and Sanders had placed first in the New Hampshire elections. Go figure.

After falling asleep, I was awakened by a text message. It seemed that the father of a Glassell classmate had died earlier in the evening. I had only seen photographs of David’s father, but after having worked so hard to keep my father alive, this death hit me hard.

decan_cross2February 10. Everyone was still sleeping when I started working, but at 5:00 A.M., I heard Dad insisting to Mom that he wanted to get up. We had moved one of the baby-monitor stations to the aide’s bedroom, so Dianne appeared a couple of minutes later to help Dad get up. Mom had already disconnected him from the Kangaroo pump. Because he got up early, at least one cup of Nepro remained in the tube-feed bag, and he would need to finish it later in the day.

Brenda arrived at 9:00 A.M. for Dad’s physical therapy session. Dad’s goal for this period was to be able to walk with a cane, and Brenda was doing her part to ensure that Dad’s balance would support that goal.

Minutes after Brenda left, Michell arrived. We said our final good-byes to Dianne. This last week with Michell would be our final week of aides. Stan had purchased some angel pins, and I gave one to Dianne as she left. Dianne’s loud non-stop talking sometimes grated on Mom’s nerves, but she was a good aide, and I had appreciated the way in which she cared for and watched out for Dad.

decan_cross3After lunch, Dad started giving me static about eating, saying he would not consume more food as long as he was receiving three cans of Nepro. I told him that I would not reduce the amount of Nepro by a can until he ate more. I had been monitoring his caloric intake since he started eating meals with us and he had never consumed more than 675 calories each day, which was not enough for him to maintain his weight, let alone gain weight and keep up his strength. We had both dug in our heels and I eventually left the room.

When he got on his bed for a nap after lunch, he pitched a fit when Michell hooked up the pump to his G-tube so that he could consume the remainder of the Nepro. He was starting to get on my last nerve with his constant refusals to exercise or eat. I took a break and went outside for a long walk. As I returned from my walk, I met Kristen in the driveway. It was 2:00 P.M. and time for Dad’s swallow therapy session.

decan_cross3When Mom and Michell got Dad up from his nap, he was still in a snitty mood and was a little rude to Kristen. Kristen had been in the house only a few minutes when we heard a knock at the door. Mom and I were thrilled to see Adan on our doorstep. Dad didn’t remember him, but Mom and I were very grateful to him for his support and all that he had done to enable us to get Dad eating again. Unfortunately, Dad’s icy demeanor didn’t thaw when he met Adan, and I was embarrassed beyond words. Kristen had told Adan about Dad’s great progress and had conspired with Adan to surprise us. While Adan was here, he mentioned that he had spoken with Dr. Randall Smith about Dad’s progress. Dr. Smith had saved Dad’s life by switching Dad’s discharge orders from hospice to home care and would always hold a special place in my heart.

Shortly after Kristin and Adan left, the doorbell rang again. Gale had arrived! We had arranged to have a dinner for both Michell and Gale. Although Gale hadn’t been our aide since Thanksgiving, she had been the perfect aide for Dad during his first week at home. She had implemented some of our home care standards and had taught me a lot. I don’t know how we would have coped without her.

decan_cross1Now that Gale was in the house, Dad was in a much better mood. The five of us enjoyed a nice happy hour, followed by a scrumptious meal. I had forgotten how much Gale liked playing Oh Hell, and she hollered with delight when she won. By 8:00 P.M., she had to leave to drive a couple of hours to her home. As she left, I hugged her goodbye and gave her an angel pin in the hope that she would remember us and how grateful we were for having known her.

Tomorrow was a dialysis day, so as soon as Gale left, Dad started getting ready for bed. Mom and I set up the Kangaroo pump and administered his nighttime meds.

The first part of the day was a little rocky, but I loved seeing Adan and Gale today. It felt like a day of transition, but the real transition was still a week away, when we would no longer have any aides.