Killing fire ants: continued progress during caregiver respite

January 16, 2016. It seemed that Dad had had a great night’s sleep, and from all accounts, he woke up feeling chipper. Starting a few days after his return home, every morning, Dad would tell the aides what he wanted to wear and where they could find the clothes in his closet and dresser drawers. After gathering his clothes for the day, they would then help him dress. Today, Dad started dressing himself. To ensure that he was safe from falling, Michell remained nearby while he dressed. By 5:30 A.M., Dad and Michell had eaten breakfast and were ready and waiting for the HOP bus to transport them to dialysis.

antCross1After Michell and Dad returned from dialysis, she restarted his tube feed at the slower rate of 55 ml/hour. Julie, the gastroenterologist dietitian, had suggested a faster rate, but Michell and I had agreed to administer the Nepro at the slower rate until Dad went at least a couple of days without feelings of nausea. Meanwhile, it seemed that Dad’s appetite had returned, and he ate tuna with a toasted English muffin and a little applesauce.

After lunch, Michell administered the trach care and midday meds. Her willingness to handle Dad’s trach care had enabled my return to Houston the previous day for a short visit, although I knew that the procedure made Michell very nervous.

When Dad woke up from his afternoon nap, he told Michell that his throat felt scratchy, similar to the way it had felt yesterday before he vomited. Michell wasn’t sure what to do, but Dad agreed to chew on some ice chips to see if that helped his throat, or perhaps his stomach, to feel better. The scratchiness seemed to disappear, and Dad didn’t get sick.

antCross3Mom felt very encouraged about Dad’s good spirits today and asked Michell if she could help to get Dad into the sunroom for happy hour. Although she did assist Dad into the sunroom, she probably could have literally carried him, considering her strength and his extreme weight loss.

Mom, Dad, and Michell played a game of three-hand Oh Hell, and they agreed that the game was better with four or more players. By 8:00 P.M., Dad was getting ready for bed. After yesterday’s bouts of coughing and vomiting, Dad seemed to have had a good day, and the secretion reservoir did not show any signs of aspirated food particles.

January 17. Dad had another restful, uneventful night and slept until 6:00 A.M. By 6:15 A.M., he had identified the clothes for Michell to gather for him, and he was at the bathroom sink getting washed up for the day. For breakfast, Dad had 1-1/2 English muffins, a soft-boiled egg, and some home-made jam. The egg and muffin breakfast reminded me of the October morning shortly after Dad had been discharged from the CCH. He had wheeled himself into the kitchen and asked Mom if she would fix him a soft-boiled egg. At that time, he couldn’t eat anything and we weren’t sure if he’d ever be able to eat.

antCross2While Mom attended church, Dad and Michell strolled around the yard and inside the house. While outside, Dad noticed some large fire ant beds. Fire ants are a nuisance and somewhat of a danger for those of us who live in warmer climates. Back in the days of being an able-bodied person, he had kept a close eye on pesky insects, such as wasps and fire ants.

Dad had become accustomed to playing cribbage on Sundays, but this weekend, his cribbage buddy was in Houston with me. Fortunately, Michell had agreed to learn the game, and she and Dad played a game before their lunch of grilled cheese and angel food cake.

antCross2After lunch, Dad was on a mission to get rid of the fire ant mounds that he found during his morning walk. With a little assistance from Michell, he went out to the garage, grabbed a trowel and the ant poison, walked back through the house and out the patio door to the backyard. Dad dug some dirt from the top of the mound and then treated the mound with the poison. The danged ants probably recolonized a few feet away, but this mound was just below the kitchen window, and he wanted to get rid of it.

All of the walking and ant killing had tired him, and by 3:00 P.M. Dad was ready for a short nap. When he woke up at 3:30 P.M., he astonished Michell by asking for a cup of ice. He wasn’t a fan of the crushed ice and often complained that it made his mouth exceptionally cold.

antCross1Mom and Dad had lived in Grand Junction, Colorado, for 21 years, and they were both still fans of the Denver Broncos football team. Dad had specifically requested that he be awakened from his nap at 3:30 P.M. so that he could watch the Broncos beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. During the game, he snacked on green grapes.

After his big lunch, the Nepro tube feed, and some grapes, Dad wasn’t very hungry for dinner, but he did eat some green beans and ice cream. Even if he wasn’t very hungry, he rarely skipped dessert.

The three of them played cards again tonight and at 8:45 P.M., Dad started heading to his bedroom to start his nightly routine. He had now had a couple of good days in a row under his belt, and Michell hoped for another night of rest.

I was relieved that Dad had fared well while I was gone. After the fall that he had had during my absence in December, I was all in favor of uneventful days and nights.

Finally! A proper toilet and a trip to the barber

January 12, 2016. Shortly after 1:00 A.M., Dad’s incessant itching woke him and he told Dianne that he wanted to take a shower, which was not permitted without the assistance of a physical therapy aide. Instead, Dianne applied more anti-itch lotion, which enabled him to fall asleep again. By 4:00 A.M., the Kangaroo alarm had sounded and woke Dianne, who then woke Dad.

img_1421By 4:30 A.M., with some assistance from Dianne, Dad had washed his face, brushed his longish hair, and was dressed for the day. Keeping with his normal routine, he wheeled himself to the kitchen and read some of the newspaper while Mom prepared his breakfast of Cream of Wheat with honey and a small bowl of peaches and pears. He was finished with breakfast and ready to go long before the HOP arrived at 6:00 A.M.

His secretions had decreased significantly. The reservoir on the suction machine had measurement markings, and it might sound a little disgusting, but Dad’s secretions now measured less than 1/2 cup per day, which was a fraction of earlier quantities.

shave1Now that Dad could transfer in and out of the SUV, Mom scheduled appointments with the hearing aid center and the dermatologist. She told me that Dad also wanted to see the barber on Thursday. He was usually a little weak on Thursdays because of dialysis, so strength-wise, Wednesday would have been a better day, but his Wednesday dance card was already filled with nurse and therapist appointments.

Dad and Dianne returned home from dialysis shortly before noon. Dianne told me that his check-in weight had been 64 kg and 62.8 kg when he left. After pulling out my calculator and converting kilograms to pounds, it appeared that he had gained a couple of dry-weight pounds. I didn’t want to tell Dad about his weight gain for fear that he’d quit eating so that he wouldn’t get fat.

Mom had prepared grilled cheese sandwiches, a comfort-food favorite, and V-8 Juice for him for lunch, and he ate it without a thought about his weight. He had had 1,500 ml of fluid removed during dialysis, and he was tired. Whenever Dad napped, Dianne took advantage of his downtime and also took a nap, and they both slept for a couple of hours.

During dinner, Dad’s appetite didn’t disappoint. He ate hot dogs, beans, and a couple of crescent rolls for dinner.

shave2After our nightly game of cards, Dianne and I were finished with Dad’s nightly meds and trach care by 8:15 P.M., and by 8:30 P.M., he was sleeping. An hour later, he started coughing, but Dianne was able to get him to suction himself, and he was soon sleeping again.

January 13. When I woke up at 3:30 A.M., I heard Dad tell Dianne that he wanted to go to the little room, which was how he referred to the room that housed the proper toilet in my parents’ master bathroom. During his last visit, Stan had installed grab bars in the little room, enabling Dad to finally use the proper toilet in that bathroom. Dianne responded to Dad’s request by asking why he wanted to go to the living room. He wasn’t wearing his hearing aids, and she couldn’t understand him, so this insane exchange about the little room and living room lasted until I came downstairs and interpreted for them. They both laughed and agreed to refer to this room as the small room. After Dianne helped him back to bed, they both went back to sleep.

Mom had been successful at scheduling an early appointment today with the dermatologist and had to wake Dad and Dianne at 6:00 A.M. This trip to the dermatologist would be his first excursion in the car since May 6, 2015.

shave3While getting dressed, Dad’s dialysis catheter dressing fell off. Unbelievably, Dianne picked it up off of the floor and put it back over his dialysis ports. When I heard what had happened, I had her remove the soiled dressing, and I called the dialysis lab and spoke with Dad’s nurse. The nurse told me that he could stop by the dialysis lab at any time today to have the dressing replaced.

After Mom, Dad, and Dianne returned home from the doctor and the dialysis lab, I told Dad that he needed to eat something. He had been off of the tube feed since 4:00 A.M., and had only eaten 85 calories worth of food. He finally agreed to eat 1/4 cup each of cottage cheese and applesauce. This paltry amount wouldn’t make much difference, but at least he agreed to eat something. When he ate only a portion of each, I told him that he needed to eat more, which prompted an argument. After exchanging a few harsh words, he said: “Melody doesn’t really care if I’m around or not.” Dianne, who had been present during our little exchange, had the good sense to hightail it out of the kitchen before my anger exploded. I grabbed the arms of his wheelchair, and I shook it hard and long while shouting, “How dare you say that to me!” The shouting brought my mother to the kitchen to see what we were arguing about now. I gave her the condensed version and stormed out of the kitchen to the office.

I stayed mad at him all day and was glad that I could stay in the office and work. When Brenda arrived at 10:30 A.M. for Dad’s physical therapy session, she informed us that Pam, the shower aide, would be arriving in a few minutes to help Dad with his shower. This shower session had been scheduled to train Michell how to help Dad with a shower but Michell had had car trouble and had not yet arrived, which annoyed Brenda. This shower session was somewhat less of a fire drill than his first shower, and I think that soap might have been involved this time. After lunch, Janet stopped by for Dad’s occupational therapy session, and Kristen stopped by at 2:00 P.M. for the swallow therapy session.

shave1After dinner, I told Mom that I needed to prepare either tonight or tomorrow for my trip home on Friday. She said that I should make my preparations tonight, which meant that she was canceling tonight’s card game. My parents have a high-efficiency washing machine, and like most of these machines, they’re prone to mold. After using it, I mentioned to her that I had noticed some mold on the seals. In response, she told me that she didn’t like my attitude. I was becoming more eager to leave here with every passing hour.

After Dad got into bed, he started coughing hard and then started vomiting. The vomiting didn’t last very long and he seemed fine. He fell asleep until 10:00 P.M., when his coughing woke me, and I went downstairs to his room. I notice that his red cap was missing. Once again, he had blown off his red cap while coughing. Luckily, I had a few clean ones on hand. I suctioned him again, and I became worried when I noticed the pink color of the secretions in the suction tank. During dinner, Dad had eaten some strawberry ice cream and I feared that he had aspirated some of it. When I tried to take his hand to check his oxygen saturation, he grabbed my hand and held on to it, and I melted. I guess only the ones who you love the most can provoke such opposing emotions in the span of a few hours.

While he had been vomiting, his heart rate had reached 141, but his oxygen saturation stayed about 95% and his temperature remained normal. After his coughing subsided and his vitals were normal, he was ready to go back to sleep, and so was I.

January 14. Dad woke up before 3:30 A.M. and was ready to get up and get the day started, not seeming to have suffered any ill effects from last night. He ate a little breakfast and was ready and waiting for the HOP bus to take him to dialysis.

shave2I had logged on to work around the time that Dad woke up, and my morning was full of scheduled meetings. Michell and Dad arrived home from dialysis around 11:30 A.M. and had already eaten lunch by the time that I was free for lunch.

Although Dad seemed to be in a good mood, he was coughing a lot more today. He was tired from dialysis and wanted to take a little nap, but he insisted that he be awakened by 2:00 P.M.

barberPoleAs instructed, we woke him at the appointed time, and he prepared himself for his second excursion in the family SUV, this time to the barber shop. His barber said that he had wondered what had happened to him. The last time that Dad had seen the barber, Dad told him that he was going to the hospital for some surgery. The barber did a great job on Dad, transforming him into his former well-groomed self.

Shortly after returning home from the barber, Dad said that he wasn’t feeling well and wanted to lie down again. He slept for another hour and Michell woke him just before 5:30 P.M.

shave3Because of his coughing spells today, I decided to resume the saline breathing treatments for at least for a day or two.  His secretions seemed to contain some “solids,” which was somewhat disturbing. After the breathing treatment, he started coughing hard again, blowing off the red cap. The way that that red cap flew off of the trach reminded me of a cork flying off of a champagne bottle. After his coughing spell, his oxygen saturation level was 99%, higher than it had been since the day that he was red-capped, so it seemed that his cough had been productive.

January 15. Dad slept most of the night and started coughing around the same time that my alarm sounded. By the time that I got downstairs to his room, he was sleeping again. After working a little over two hours, I heard Michell and Dad talking in the other room, and I stopped for a few minutes to see how he was doing.

As soon as he was up and moving around, he started coughing a lot, and his secretions still looked like they contained solid material. Concerned that he might have aspirated some of last night’s dinner, I texted Kristen. (I don’t know what I would have done without text messaging. It saved so much time so many times and alleviated so much worry.) She replied, saying that some of the solid material in the tank could have come dislodged from pockets in his mouth, and that she didn’t think that he exhibited any of the symptoms of silent aspiration.

shave1Mom and I talked about finding another primary care physician for Dad—one that was part of the Scott & White network. We spent some time online looking for physicians and called the office of our neighbor and doctor, Barbara, to see if she was still taking new patients, but we had to leave a message. We had not received a return call or email by the time that I left for Houston.

Mom and Michell took Dad to the hearing aid center to see the audiologist. She adjusted the volume of Dad’s hearing aids and cleaned them. They returned from their excursion in time for lunch. Dad ate another good meal of a ground roast beef sandwich, tomato juice, and fruit for lunch. Because of its consistency, tomato juice is considered a thick liquid, so Dad was permitted to drink as much of it as he wanted without having to thicken it.

Shortly after I left Temple for Houston, Stephanie, the nurse, arrived. She told Mom and Michell that Dad’s lungs sounded like they were clear, and that he seemed to be doing fine. When she left, Michell coached Dad through his occupational and physical therapy exercises, and then he walked a little on the front porch of the house.

A little after 2:45 P.M., Dad started coughing hard and then started vomiting. Fortunately, I guess, he vomited only tube feed and did not lose his lunch.  After a few minutes, he said that he felt better and that he wanted to take a nap.

shave2I arrived home shortly before 4:30 P.M. When I called my mother to tell her that I had arrived, she told me about the events of the afternoon. I spoke briefly with Michell and had her give Dad a Zofran pill for his nausea and cut back on the rate of his tube feed. We had increased the rate from 55 ml/hour to 130 ml/hour. The dietitian at the gastroenterologist’s office had assured me that this rate shouldn’t cause a problem, but all evidence pointed to the contrary. He needed the Nepro to supplement his dietary intake, but he wouldn’t get it if he kept vomiting.

It was good to get home to what seemed like a parallel universe. I don’t know how I would have survived without these periodic respites to Houston and I wondered how so many caregivers—primarily women—did.




Checking off another milestone: successful car transfer

January 9, 2016. Dad woke up this morning at 4:00 A.M., and from my office, I could hear him coughing. When I changed his trach dressing, I noticed that it was coated with secretions. I was a little concerned that he was having a relapse, but his oxygen saturation was 98%, and his temperature was normal. By 5:45 A.M., he had finished his breakfast of Cream of Wheat and a fig, and was waiting for the HOP bus. By 6:30 A.M., Dad and Dianne were at the dialysis center, and Dad was hooked up to the dialysis machine.

carCross3While Dad was on dialysis, Mom and I attended a Methodist Women’s Epiphany luncheon at the church. I had been attending this church for about a year now and knew many of the women. When Mom and I returned home after the luncheon, Dad was finishing a lunch of a turkey sandwich and ¼ cup of applesauce for dessert. He was like a transformer, transforming from someone who proclaimed that he would only nibble, to our eating machine.

Shortly after lunch, Stan arrived from Houston. He and Dad then spent most of the afternoon together, sorting through my parents’ 78 RPM records and playing selected songs. While the guys were sifting through classic tunes, Mom and I were finalizing our notes for tomorrow morning. The pastors at my parents’ church had asked us to address their three services about pastoral care, how it had helped us, and how to request it. I was addressing the 8:30 A.M. traditional service and the 10:50 A.M. contemporary service. Mom would address the 11:00 A.M. traditional service.

Dad and Stan transitioned from sorting through records to watching the NFL wildcard playoff game. Around 4:30 P.M., Dad started feeling “funny.” He hadn’t had his nap, and I thought that he might be feeling the effects of the dialysis. He stayed in bed during happy hour and didn’t want to get up for dinner. I was able to tempt him out of bed after dinner with a slice of pumpkin pie. He joined us for a couple of games of Oh Hell, and he won both games. We were finished playing cards before 8:00 P.M. Following his normal nighttime routine, plus the new chore of applying the anti-itch lotion, he was nodding off by 9:00 P.M., and so was I.

carCross2Other than a couple of hours during the late afternoon and early evening, today was a good day for Dad. He coughed very little, and I had started his first bolus feed. Bolus feeding would mimic regular meals. To get started with the bolus feeds, we had tried only one can at the rate of 100 ml/hour. He had balked at the thought of doubling his tube-feed rate, but it amounted to only eight ounces over a 2-1/2 hour period. Unless the couple of hours of discomfort this afternoon were due to the bolus feed, he had suffered no adverse effects from it.

Dad’s itching woke him again at 11:30 P.M., and he asked Dianne to apply more of the anti-itch lotion. The lotion seemed to soothe the itching, and he went back to sleep.

January 10. The lotion relieved the itching for a limited amount of time, and Dad was awake again at 2:00 A.M. He called out for help, which woke me, but not Dianne. When I entered his room, he told me that he needed more lotion. Dianne woke up while I was talking to Dad, and she took over. I left him in her capable hands and went back upstairs to bed.

When I woke up at 6:00 A.M., Dad was still sleeping. He eventually woke up about 30 minutes before I left for church. After attending the 8:30 A.M. church service, I drove back home to pick up Mom, and then the two of us returned to church. Mom attended the traditional service in the sanctuary, and I attended the contemporary service in the Family Life and Worship Center. It was interesting to attend two dramatically different services that had the same sermon.

While Mom and I attended church, the guys collapsed and tore down shipping boxes and played three games of cribbage.

carCross3Mom and I arrived back home at 12:30 P.M., just in time for lunch. Dad had a blue-tinted tuna-salad sandwich, a bowl of pear slices, and a can of Nepro. After meeting with Susan the other day, I had downloaded a calorie-counting app for my iPhone and was now tracking his calorie intake. Unlike most people, he needed to gain weight, so I kept track of his intake and continually encouraged him to eat more.

Immediately after lunch, Stan returned to Houston. With Dad’s partner-in-crime gone, Dad wanted to take a nap. He had just eaten a fairly substantial meal, so we didn’t want him to lie down. Instead, he slept for two hours while sitting on the couch.

A few minutes after he woke up, he started vomiting in the bathroom sink. The nausea hit him fast but passed in about 20 minutes. When he felt a little better, he wanted to lie down on the bed. About an hour later he vomited again. Dad might have had the upset stomach, but I was rattled. We had given him a couple of bolus feeds today, but even at the faster rate, it still took more than an hour for the pump to deliver one cup of the Nepro. I called my lifeline, the Home Care on-call nurse, and told her about Dad’s vomiting. I also sent email to the nurse at Dr. Pfanner’s office to let her know about Dad’s vomiting. I knew that I wouldn’t hear from the gastroenterologist’s nurse on a Sunday, but I hoped that I would hear from her early on Monday. The on-call nurse returned my call, but she wasn’t helpful and did not stop by to see Dad.

carCross2Still feeling a little unsettled, Dad stayed on the bed until almost 5:00 P.M., and then he joined us in the living room during happy hour. Unsure about what we should feed him, we gave him a cup of shaved ice to see how he could handle it.

At 5:30 P.M., we ate dinner and Dad had cottage cheese and some sliced peaches, which we hoped would be easy for him to digest. After dinner, we played cards until 7:45 P.M. when I was declared the winner.

Shortly after 8:00 P.M., Dad had received his nighttime meds, a breathing treatment, and a bit of anti-itch lotion, and he was ready for bed. We all hoped that the lotion would remedy the itching for the entire night so that he, and we, could sleep.

January 11. The Kangaroo pump alarm sounded at 3:15 A.M., and woke Dianne. After she refilled the tube-feed bag, she noticed that Dad was awake, and scratching his back. She got up again and applied more of the anti-itch lotion to his back.

Around the time that Dad fell asleep, I got up, donned my scrubs, and headed downstairs to the office. Around 5:50 A.M., I heard him coughing. I stopped what I was doing to visit with him for a few minutes, and I encouraged him to suction himself. After he used the Yankauer suction wand for a few minutes, I administered his morning meds and trach care. When I returned to work, he finished his morning routine with Dianne and got dressed. Before he ate breakfast, Dianne administered his breathing treatment.

After Dad enjoyed another breakfast of Cream of Wheat and pears, Dianne hooked him up to the tube feed.  She then coached him through all of his exercises, except for his physical therapy exercises. Brenda was scheduled to stop by later this morning, and Dianne didn’t want Dad to tire before she arrived.

We had a full schedule of therapists and nurses today, starting at 10:00 A.M. Dad needed to have his trach changed today, so I corralled him at 9:00 A.M. and took care of the change before Brenda arrived. The diameter of the new trach tube was smaller than the old ones, and it slid into the stoma easily, but there seemed to be a bit of a gap around the trach. Fortunately, the trach dressing completely covered the stoma. I wondered how long it would take the diameter of the stoma to decrease for a person who was 87.

carCross1Brenda arrived at 10:45 A.M. for Dad’s physical therapy session and was very pleased with Dad’s progress. She agreed that Dad could try transferring in and out of the car. Getting in and out of a car might seem simple, but this type of transfer is difficult. With an SUV, the transfer into the vehicle is difficult because you have to lift yourself into the vehicle. With a car, the transfer out of the vehicle is difficult because it requires some strength in your legs and core. Everyone was thrilled when Dad successfully transferred in and out of the SUV. Being able to negotiate a car transfer successfully was the first step to freedom from our dependency on public transportation. Because none of us had the strength to manhandle the wheelchair, Dad’s reliance on the HOP’s wheelchair lift would continue as long as he might need a wheelchair on either end of an excursion. Giving up public transportation for the trip to dialysis would require that he was consistently strong enough after dialysis to transfer in and out of cars. Although Dad was not strong enough to start riding in the family car to dialysis and the doctors’ offices, he would soon be able to visit his barber.

Brenda said that she was also very pleased with Dad’s balance. I shared my personal goal with her, which was to get Dad to church on February 14, Valentine’s Day. Brenda said that based on his current progress, she couldn’t see any reason why he wouldn’t be ready for this type of an outing. After all of the fun in the garage, Brenda ushered Dad back into the house for a rigorous workout.

carCross1Moments after Brenda’s departure, Stephanie, the nurse, stopped by with some much-needed supplies, including covers for Dad’s dialysis catheters and 4×4 gauze sponges. The dialysis covers that I had purchased were too large. We asked her about Dad’s itching and the little bumps on his back. She encouraged us to keep on doing what we were doing, but if the itching and bumps didn’t clear up within a week, she said that we should make an appointment for him to see a dermatologist.


It had now been one week since Dad’s trach was red capped. The bedroom was quiet without the condenser, 50 PSI system, and nebulizer that heated the room, and Mom wanted them removed. I finally got in touch with American HomePatient and asked them to remove these noisy, heat-generating, and large items.

Before Kristen arrived for Dad’s 2:00 P.M. swallow therapy session, he ate another meal of cottage cheese and peaches. In addition to Kristen’s delightful personality, Mom and Dad loved her punctuality. Dad asked Kristen if he could drink milk, but she said that it was a thin liquid and must be thickened. He wanted milk and said that he would try it; however, it took only one sip of the thicken milk for Dad to decide that he would hold out for the real thing. Kristen and I spent most of the remaining time of this session trying to convince him to resume eating. Since his vomiting episodes yesterday, he had subsisted on a diet of cottage cheese, Cream of Wheat, and fruit slices.

Julie, the dietitian from Dr. Pfanner’s office, called me today about the message that I emailed her yesterday. I told her about Dad’s vomiting, and she couldn’t think of any reason for it, not based on anything that we were doing. She said that we could maintain the 75 ml/hour bolus rate today for the tube feed, and then increase it to 100 ml/hour tomorrow.

Between Kristin’s advice to Dad about eating and Julie’s assertion that we seemed to be taking good care of him, Dad ate pizza and pumpkin pie for dinner. He seemed to be fine for now, but I wanted to know what caused the vomiting.

After our game of Oh Hell, which I won, we started ushering Dad to bed at 7:40 P.M. He was still very itchy and required the anti-itch lotion, but at least tonight marked the final night of his breathing treatments. Tomorrow was another dialysis day, and I hoped that he would get a good night’s sleep.


Today, a shower. Tomorrow, a proper toilet?

January 5, 2016.  I had stayed up too late the night before and Dad had interrupted Michell’s sleep, so she and I were both moving slowly this morning. I took a short break from work, and Michell and I woke Dad at 4:10 A.M. With a little assistance from Michell, Dad was up, dressed, and ready for his Cream of Wheat and peach slices by 5:00 A.M. It was fortunate that he was ready early because the HOP bus arrived at 5:45 A.M., which was on the early side of their pickup time window. It was a danged cold day winter day in central Texas, and I was glad that I had to attend a meeting and could not escort Dad and Michell out to the bus.

shower3During Dad’s dialysis session, 1,200 ml of fluid was removed, which was much less than most sessions. When Dad and Michell arrived home at 12:15 P.M., he announced that he was going to walk after lunch. The four of us ate a light lunch and I served Dad a small amount of mac-and-cheese and fig jam. Dad said that he would like to take a short nap and get up at 1:30 P.M. As soon as he transferred from his wheelchair to the bed, I administered his final dose of antibiotic for his second bout of CDiff.  Unfortunately, within a few minutes he started vomiting. I had assumed that because I had given him the pill on a full stomach I didn’t need to also give him a Zofran pill, but I was wrong. At least we were finally finished with this course of medicine. Because of this little interruption in his plan, Dad decided to postpone his walk until 2:00 P.M.

When Dad woke from his nap, Michell got Dad’s walker, but as soon as he started to walk, he stumbled. After walking tentatively for about 10 minutes, Dad decided that he was too tired to continue. He was very upset that he felt so weak and winded after just a few minutes, and he asked to lie down on the bed for a few minutes.

When Dad woke up at 3:45 P.M., he complained about itchiness, so Michell gave him a sponge bath and changed his bed linens. After Michell encouraged him to exercise more, he agreed and said that he was now ready for some walking.

shower2We had a very nice happy hour, and then we had leftovers for dinner. I still tucked my chin when he swallowed, as if I could will him to practice the correct swallowing techniques. We got a late start on cards, and Mom eventually won. By 8:00 P.M., Michell and I accompanied Dad to his bedroom, and I administered another breathing treatment before he went to bed. I could not believe how much his oxygen saturation had improved since his trach was red capped. When I checked his oxygen saturation tonight, it was 99%, which was higher than it had been since he had come home. After administering his trach care, I must not have replaced the red cap securely. Before I left his room, he coughed, which propelled the red cap across the room. Fortunately, I had a spare that I could use.

At 11:00 P.M., I heard Dad calling for Melissa, which is what he usually called Michell. He had been stumbling over the aides’ names since he’d been home, and they had gotten to the point that they responded to their aliases. I ran downstairs to see what he needed, and he said that he wanted to know if it was time to get up. Sheesh.

January 6. The downside of having Dad’s trach red capped was that without the noisy oxygen concentrator, I could more clearly hear what was being said in his room and I could hear every squeak of his creaky bed. At 2:00 A.M., he woke up and announced that he was ready to get up. Fortunately, Michell convinced him to stay in bed for a couple of hours longer.

shower1By the time that Dad woke up again at 4:00 A.M., I was logged on to work in the office next to my Dad’s bedroom. While I worked, Michell was able to convince him to run through all of his exercises. Michell departed shortly before 10:30 A.M., just after Dianne arrived at 10:00 A.M. Michell had been gone for about five minutes when she reappeared back in the house because her car had a flat tire. I belonged to AAA-Texas and called for roadside assistance in our driveway.

While she waited for more than an hour for aid to arrive, Michell ate lunch with us. Dad ate ½ cup of bluish banana. I was pretty sure Dad couldn’t wait until I quit adding blue and green food coloring to his food. It really did make the food look disgusting.

After lunch, Dad took a short nap and woke up a few minutes before Kristen arrived for his swallow therapy session at 2:00 P.M. Today was another milestone and a fun day with Kristen. Once again, Dad wanted to review the list of foods that he could eat and see what he could add. When he asked about ice cream, Kristen said that ice cream was fine, and then she asked Mom if we had any ice cream in the house. We did, and Dad enjoyed a small bowl of vanilla ice cream for the remainder of their session.

shower2Moments after Kristen left, Kathleen, the physical therapist, arrived with a physical therapy aide who would help Dad with his shower. It had been almost eight months to the day since his last shower, and was he ever ready. We spent about 30 minutes covering his dialysis ports, using some shower shields and tape that we had purchased, based on recommendations from Sue, Dad’s dialysis nurse practitioner. Although my parents have a large bathroom and shower, both were a little crowded. Dad, Dianne, and the physical therapy aide were all in the shower. Kathleen orchestrated the process from outside the shower and Mom stood by with towels. After helping to cover his dialysis ports, I returned to work in the next room. It seemed like only a couple of minutes later that the physical therapy aide noticed some condensation buildup under the shower shield, and I heard her end the shower. Dad was far from squeaky clean, but I’m pretty sure that he lost at least a couple of layers of dead skin. When Dianne tried to apply some lotion, Dad balked at having anything put on his skin.

During dinner, we all ate meatloaf, green beans, and ice cream, including Dad. I worried over every bite that he took and I don’t know how I avoided heartburn. In addition to tucking his chin when swallowing, Kristen had insisted that Dad not talk while eating. As a kid, I remember hearing that we should not talk while eating, but most people are pretty bad at following this guideline. For Dad, it was especially important, and we were having a difficult time getting him to remember. I encouraged everyone at the table to eat in relative silence.

shower3We had an early game of cards and Dad was in bed before 8:00 P.M., and I hoped that he would stay in bed throughout the night. About 30 minutes later, Dad woke up, complaining of itching, and he let Dianne apply some lotion to his back.

January 7.  Now that the bedroom was quiet, Dianne was more sensitive to the annoying alarm on the Kangaroo pump when it ran out of Nepro. It woke her at 2:15 A.M., and Dad woke up while she was replenishing the empty bag, but only for a few moments.

When I woke up a little after 3:30 A.M., I couldn’t hear sound from the baby monitor. A couple of minutes later, I heard the bed creak and Dianne told Dad that he could not get up until 4:00 A.M. She was short, but she could be forceful.

After Dad got out of bed, his morning routine went like clockwork, and the bus left with him onboard at 6:00 A.M. I had meetings all morning and was on the phone when Dad and Dianne returned home at 11:25 A.M.

shower1During dialysis, they removed 2,100 ml of fluid, and Dad was a little tired and wanted to take a little nap before lunch. Mom had to leave for a haircut before Dad woke up at noon, but he ate lunch with Diane and me.

After lunch, Dad was ready for another nap. While she was sitting in the side chair in Dad’s room, Dianne also fell asleep. While they napped, I went to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for Dad. After Dad and Dianne were up from their naps, Becky, the owner of One on One Personal Care, stopped by for a visit. Becky said that Gale still didn’t know what she wanted to do. She said that Dad looked great, and then she left. We had happy hour at 5:00 P.M., followed by sloppy joes and ice cream for dinner. Dad seemed to cough a bit more this evening, which concerned me, which wasn’t surprising.

I won at cards and by 8:15 P.M., I had administered his nighttime meds and breathing treatment, and I was turning out the lights. His breathing had seemed a bit labored, but his oxygen saturation still registered 96%.

He woke up a couple of times during the night to clear his secretions, but was able to return to sleep.

Today was the 100th day since Dad’s discharge from the CCH and on home care.

shower2January 8.  I had been working for almost two hours when Dad woke up at 5:30 A.M. Shortly after he got out of bed he proclaimed that he was finished with using the bedside commode. Instead, he would start using the “proper toilet,” which was located inside a toilet room. After 100 days at home with Dad, I decided that instead of stating the obvious, that he wasn’t strong enough to use the toilet, I said that we would let him see if he could maneuver himself on and off of it before he needed it. If nothing else, we could speak with the physical therapist about this new goal. I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised that he was fed up with the bedside commode. During most of his 148 days in the hospitals, his primary goal had been to use the toilet in the bathroom. There were so many daily activities that we take for granted that he had not been able to do. He had made some great strides, but as he slowly regained his health and strength, he was becoming more impatient to resume his previous life.

In addition to the usual Friday visits, the observance of the holidays had caused some reswizzling of schedules, so Dad would see his nurse and all of his therapists today. The nurse came by first this morning, followed shortly by Brenda. While Brenda was here for Dad’s physical therapy session, I told her of Dad’s desire to use the toilet, and she agreed to be present while he tried. He was able to sit on the commode, but could not get up. Brenda repeated an earlier suggestion to install grab bars in the bathroom, and this time, Dad seemed to seriously consider her suggestion. Following the toilet practice session, Brenda put him through the paces.

shower3Shortly after Brenda left, Janet arrived for Dad’s occupational therapy session. During his therapy session, Mom and I ate lunch. I left shortly after 12:30 P.M. for the dialysis center to see Susan, the dietitian. She and I agreed that Dad needed to consume at least 2400 calories per day to gain the weight he needed and to meet his nutritional requirements. Shortly after I returned home at 2:00 P.M., Kristen arrived for Dad’s swallow therapy. During his session with Kristen, Dad asked if he could have bread. Instead of directly answering his question, she asked Mom if she would prepare him half of a turkey sandwich. He nibbled on the sandwich and had all but consumed it by the end of their session. Although she said that Dad could eat bread, Kristen did not want him to eat toast, because of crumbs that he might aspirate.

I enjoy making pizza from scratch, and during our happy hour, I prepared a pizza for dinner. To my surprise, the guy who just a few days earlier had refused to eat more than 1/8 cup of food at any meal, ate 1/8 pizza. And just three hours earlier, he had consumed a small turkey sandwich.

After our pizza dinner, we played cards and Dad won, beating Mom by one point. Dianne and I administered his nighttime meds and breathing treatment and had him ready for bed by 8:20 P.M.

After I went to bed, Dad had another night of itching. Through the baby monitor, I could hear him coughing, and shortly after 10:00 P.M. I went downstairs and convinced him to use his Yankauer suction wand to handle his own secretions. His swallowing and eating seemed to be improving, but I couldn’t help but worry that he might aspirate or might have already aspirated.

I wished Dad would adhere to a few of Kristen’s guidelines so that I wouldn’t worry so much. I feared that all this worrying would make my hair turn gray.


Capturing the elusive red cap

January 1, 2016. A couple of minutes after midnight I heard grunting, sounds coming through the baby monitor. When I went downstairs to check on Dad, he said that he needed to get up now. As I started to unhook his feeding tube, I asked him why he needed up. He said that he was annoyed because he had overslept and had missed the Rose Parade. When I explained to him that it was midnight and not noon, he looked relieved and smiled. As long as I was there, I suctioned his trach, and after we wished each other Happy New Year, I was on my way back upstairs by 12:45 A.M. He had had a lot of secretions, so I was grateful for the false alarm.

rcap3At 6:00 A.M., I heard Dad and Michell talking and decided that it was time for me to get up to administer Dad’s morning meds and breathing treatment. His secretions seemed a bit thinner now, but his oxygen saturation was still too low for me to consider lowering his oxygen.

As I had learned at midnight, Dad’s big plan for the day was to watch the Tournament of Roses Parade, a New Year’s Day tradition. However, the parade wouldn’t start for almost three hours, which allowed him time for a delightful breakfast of green oatmeal, and some walking and sink exercises. The best place to watch the parade was in my parents’ sunken sunroom. Stan, Michell, and I spent a few minutes working out the logistics for getting him out of the wheelchair, down the step and transferred back into the wheelchair so that he could continue receiving tube feed and oxygen without damaging the floor. It seemed like it should be a simple maneuver, but Dad’s tubes and wires complicated his already-limited mobility.

Tracy, the nurse, dropped by at 1:00 P.M. and said that although Dad was still suffering from the effects of his cold, she thought that we were doing everything right. At 2:00 P.M., Kristen arrived for Dad’s swallow therapy. I was continually impressed by the home-care caregivers as they kept up their regularly-scheduled visits during the holiday. I had worked in corporate America for more than 20 years, and only the newest employees worked around, let alone on, the holidays.

rcap2Dad was still very congested today. Before we played cards, I had to suction him so that he could enjoy our game. By 8:30 P.M., the first day of 2016 was just about over. After I administered Dad’s meds and a breathing treatment, I treated myself to a breathing treatment to combat my own chest cold. I had never used a nebulizer and was surprised at how well it was clearing up my congestion.

January 2. During the night, I heard coughing and talking through the baby monitor. Dad’s secretions had kept him awake, but Michell was able to convince him to suction himself. Michell was concerned when she saw blood in his secretions, but attributed the blood to a nosebleed that he had had a few hours earlier.

When Michell helped Dad out of bed at 5:00 A.M., I also got up, and after changing into my scrubs, I went downstairs to see how he was doing. After administering a breathing treatment, the morning meds, and letting Dad wash his face and brush his teeth, Michell washed his hair with some no-rinse shampoo. Before Gale had left us, she had encouraged me to purchase some no-rinse shampoo, but I couldn’t find it in our local stores. I finally found it online on December 26, and it had arrived a couple of days ago. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked.

rcap3After Dad was as clean as Michell could get him without a shower, we all ate breakfast together. Mom prepared Dad a special breakfast of Cream of Wheat topped with a couple of peach slices. When we finished breakfast, I administered another breathing treatment, and then Mom and I went shopping in Waco, approximately 35 miles north of Temple, leaving Stan and Dad to play cribbage and stay out of mischief until our return at 1:00 P.M. Between Dad’s long hospitalization and Mom’s stroke, Mom had lost a lot of weight and needed some new clothes. The shopping trip also gave us a much-needed respite and a chance to spend some time together.

After Mom and I returned home, I ran a few errands in Temple and picked up another prescription for Dad. Before I left, I told Dad that I would change his trach when I returned, but by the time that I had returned, he was sleeping. Not to be deterred from my goal, I changed his trach as soon as he woke up. In the seven days since I had last changed it, it had become pretty gunky, but the secretions had not solidified in the trach. Dad hated to stay in the bedroom, which was the only place where he received the moistened oxygen. I often worried that secretions were hardening in his trach, which would then narrow his airway.

rcap2Dad never kept the outside Christmas decorations up past New Year’s Day, and he was chomping at the bit to have them taken down. With the assistance of Stan and Michell (the tallest person in the house), Dad had the decorations removed and packed for next year.

Now that Dad was able to eat, Mom and I tried to come up with menus that were appealing to everyone in the house. We also had to ensure that the food was not red or white so that I could monitor Dad’s secretions for signs of aspiration. Mom wanted a side dish to accompany the roast that she planned for dinner. I reminded her that many trendy restaurants offered mac-and-cheese as side dishes. Not only was mac-and-cheese tasty, but it was also orange. Keeping with the orange theme, Mom also made butterscotch pudding for dessert. As we had hoped, Dad was able to eat the mac-n-cheese and pudding.

After dinner and our daily game of Oh Hell, I gave Dad another breathing treatment of albuterol. This treatment seemed to kick up his secretions, and I had to remove a lot of secretions before he went to bed.

rcap3Shortly after Stan and I went to bed, we heard an exchange between Dad and Michell through the baby monitor. Evidently, Dad was itching so much that he agreed to let Michell give him a mini sponge bath. More startling than him agreeing to the bath was that he agreed with her that he should have let her do it several days ago when she first suggested it.

January 3. When the alarm went off at 3:40 A.M., I could barely drag myself out of bed, and Michell was also forcing herself to get up. After walking around like a zombie for about 30 minutes, I finally woke Dad at 4:10 A.M. I wanted to let Mom sleep, so I fixed him a breakfast of Cream of Wheat and peaches. To ensure that I fixed his breakfast as Mom would, Dad monitored and corrected me while I prepared his meal. After breakfast, we were able to squeeze in a saline breathing treatment before the HOP bus arrived to take him to dialysis.

While Dad and Michell were at dialysis, Mom and I went to church. When we returned home at 12:30 P.M., we found Dad and Stan involved in a game of cribbage. After Dad played a most spectacular hand and beat Stan, we had lunch. Dad ate only a small portion of applesauce, so I was glad that he was still receiving Nepro. Dad had lost so much weight that we, and the dietitians, could not justify reducing his Nepro.

rcap2As soon as lunch was finished, Stan returned home to Houston. The holidays were over, and tomorrow was the first working day of the new year. Dad was ready for a nap, but because of his aspiration precautions, he could not lie down for an hour after eating. Because he had to sit upright, he decided to go into the sunroom to watch the Texans football game. Michell and I were getting better at this transition. We still hadn’t told the physical therapist that we were letting him step into this room. By 3:00 P.M., the football game finally lulled him into a drowsy state while sitting in his chair. Before he fell asleep, we helped him out of the sunroom and into his wheelchair so that he could go to his room for a nap.

I woke Dad at 4:30 P.M. so that I could administer some meds and a breathing treatment before happy hour. Unfortunately, our happy hour was anything but happy.  I don’t remember how it started, but we had a terrible argument about his exercising. Lately, Michell had been unable to get him to exercise, and he made it very clear that he would exercise when and if he felt like it, and it wasn’t doing any good anyway. We had a terrible argument about this, his new lot in life, and my new terse way of talking to him. The primary reason that we had hired aides to assist us was to ensure that we could maintain some semblance of normal familial relationships. When a family member changes roles from child or spouse to the caregiver, it can strain normal relationships. I had been responsible for taking care of him for a few months and had been his uber-advocate during his hospitalization. Now that he was getting better, he was beginning to resent my telling him what to do. The more that he angrily pushed back on my efforts to care for him, the more ready I was to pack my bags and go home. Following our exchange, I heard Dad tell Mom that “she was the only one that mattered.” I was beginning to feel a bit unappreciated.

rcap3I had prepared a salmon casserole for dinner, which Dad was able to eat. My parents have a fig tree, and during the summer Mom had made some fig jam, which Dad enjoyed for dessert. Everything seemed very civil for the rest of the evening, but I was still a bit miffed.

No amount of arguing would keep us from playing Oh Hell after dinner. When we finished playing cards, Michell and I administered his meds and breathing treatment, and Dad was ready for bed by 8:30 P.M. From what I heard through the baby monitor, Dad needed the Yankauer suction wand around 10:30 P.M., but I didn’t hear him again that night. During my regular call with Stan, I unloaded my frustration about my situation here and my desire to leave. At the end of our call, I was somewhat less agitated.

January 4. Today was the first working day of 2016, and I was up and logged on to work before 4:00 A.M. Today was an important day for Dad, and one that I had been looking forward to and nervous about for a couple of months. The appointment with the pulmonologist was very important, although I didn’t think that Dad realized its importance.

Tracy, the homecare nurse, stopped by at 9:15 A.M., and said that Dad’s lungs were clearer, so it seemed that the breathing treatments that she had recommended had helped. I took a break from work at 11:15 A.M., and the four of us had a quick lunch. Shortly after lunch, the HOP picked up Dad and Michell; Mom and I followed the bus to the clinic for Dad’s 1:00 P.M. doctor’s appointment.

redCap2When we were ushered into the examination room, Dad’s world began to change. After Mom and I provided a short update on Dad’s condition and treatment since his discharge, Dr. Badri Giri said that he was surprised that Dad had not seen Svenja (the trach goddess), or anyone else in the medical profession, about the trach. He immediately paged Svenja for a trach consult. Although she was available, she was about as far from us as she could be while still on the hospital grounds, but would be there within 10 minutes. While waiting for Svenja, Dr. Velazco stopped by, and there were hugs all around. Dr. Velazco, another pulmonologist, had not seen Dad since late August, and he was thrilled to see how Dad’s condition had improved. The hugs continued when Svenja arrived. She and I spent a few minutes catching up and then she started to check out Dad’s trach and stoma. I respected and liked Svenja and was nervous that she would find a problem that was related to Dad’s care. When she said that Dad’s stoma looked good, I exhaled the breath that I didn’t realize that I had been holding. After she and the doctor conferred for a few minutes, they decided to downsize Dad’s trach from a size 8 to a size 6 trach, which meant that the outside diameter of the trach was smaller. The smaller diameter would still be large enough for us to keep using our FR14 suction kits and would enable the stoma to start closing. She deftly replaced the trach within a few moments. Svenja and the doctor had considered removing the trach but decided to wait about a month until he completed more swallow therapy. Instead, she red-capped the trach, which meant that Dad was now breathing through his nose and not the opening in his trach. Dad had not breathed through his nose since June 8, 2015, almost six months earlier. On the way out, we saw Dr. Hayek in the hall and stopped to say hello to him. Dad had no recollection of Svenja and Drs. Hyack and Velazco, but these three health care providers had been important players in Dad’s recovery at Scott & White Memorial, especially after he aspirated in July. On our way out, we scheduled Dad’s follow-up appointment in February.

We returned home from the doctor’s appointment at 3:00 P.M. Michell was able to engage Dad in some swallow-therapy exercises, and I logged back on to work for another couple of hours.

rcap1The red-capped trach introduced many changes in our lives. For starters, we no longer needed the very noisy and heat-generating oxygen concentrator and attached nebulizer. We also would not need to use the oxygen tanks. The difference in Dad’s bedroom was startling, starting with the quiet, which was almost deafening. The temperature dropped at least five degrees, which would be a welcome change for the aides, who sweltered during the night. I would still need to administer trach care, which included changing out the trach every week and checking for aspirated food particles in his secretions. The smaller diameter of the trach would make handling secretions easier for Dad, too. When I checked Dad’s oxygen saturation, it was 100%!

We were all in much better spirits during happy hour and dinner, not to mention cards. Once again, I was practically giddy with excitement about Dad’s progress, yet on edge that something would happen that would cause Dad’s condition to regress.

rcap1After our full and exciting day, Michell and I administered Dad’s meds and trach care, and he was drifting off to sleep by 8:15 P.M. After the wonderful events of the day, I couldn’t wait to call Stan to share the good news.


We were ready to leave 2015 behind

December 28, 2015. When I woke Dad at 6:30 A.M., he seemed a bit perkier, and it appeared that he might have turned a corner with his cold. My assumption,  short lived at the outset, was dashed when a hard coughing jag took hold of him. After “coughing up a rusty nail,” he decided to stay in bed for another 30 minutes. While Dianne tended to Dad, Mom, Stan, and I had breakfast. When he wheeled himself from the bedroom to the dining room, he announced that he was ready to resume eating. As we discussed several food options, I was cautiously optimistic that he would eat more than 1/8 cup per meal. When Dad said that he would eat an egg, I decided to make egg salad sandwiches for lunch so that we could all eat the same food. I hadn’t had egg salad for a couple of years, and Dad could use the protein.

nyeStar2Dianne got  Dad to do some exercises this morning before he played cards with Stan. At 11:00 A.M., Kathleen arrived to administer Dad’s 30-day physical-therapy assessment. She was pleased with his progress and established some new goals for the next 30 days, which included walking unattended with a walker, transferring in and out of a car, and starting to walk with a cane. Dad had been expressing some dissatisfaction with the progress of his therapy, and he was satisfied with these new goals. Mom and I were ecstatic.

Without much prodding, Dad ate his ¼ cup serving of egg salad for lunch, which was his largest meal by mouth since the swallow test on December 21. Tracy, the nurse, arrived shortly after 12:30 P.M. After listening to his lungs, she said that Dad would benefit from having breathing treatments. She also said that she supported my decision to increase Dad’s oxygen level to 2-1/2 liters when he was using the breathing tanks. She said that the breathing treatments would require a prescription. I didn’t understand what we needed, so before Tracy left, I contacted Sue, our nurse practitioner at the dialysis center, so that she and Tracy could discuss Dad’s requirements. After speaking with Tracy, Sue said that she would submit an order to American HomePatient for a nebulizer and write a prescription for saline and albuterol. I had never used a consumer nebulizer and hoped that it came with some good documentation.

nyeStarA few weeks earlier, I had downloaded the Scott & White Pharmacy app and had configured it for Dad’s prescriptions. In addition to permitting me to reorder prescriptions, it also alerted me when a prescription was ready for pickup. After receiving notification that the saline and albuterol were ready, I picked them up from the pharmacy so that we would have them on hand when the nebulizer arrived.

Stan left for our home in Houston shortly after 1:00 P.M. After he left, I tried to get some work done during the afternoon, but between my bad cold and interruptions to handle Dad’s thick secretions, I didn’t accomplish much.

During dinner, Dad joined us at the dinner table and feasted on ¼ cup of applesauce. Although he wasn’t eating much, having Dad with us at the table was a huge emotional boost for Mom and me. We pestered him constantly to tuck his chin when he swallowed, which irritated him, but having him with us during dinner was wonderful. After dinner, we played cards and Mom won.

By 8:30 P.M., I had administered Dad’s nighttime meds and trach care, and he was drifting off to sleep. I was up a couple of times before midnight to check on his oxygen saturation level. It dropped below 90%, but it returned to a more normal level of 94% after I repositioned the oxygen trach mask over his trach.

nyeStar2December 29. I was out of vacation time, which meant that I had to work the last few days of the year. Most of my coworkers would be taking off this week, so I decided to set my alarm for 4:00 A.M. so that I could sleep in a bit. Unfortunately, my internal clock woke me at 3:15 A.M., and left me feeling anything but well rested. I eventually pried myself out of bed at 3:45 A.M. and set up my computer, crushed some pills for Dad, and woke him up. His oxygen saturation level was holding steady at 94%, and his temperature was 98.5 degrees. Except for one short period where his oxygen saturation dipped below 90%, he had had an uneventful night.

After Dianne helped him up and to the bathroom, she said that Dad’s strength seemed better today. Dad said that he wanted Cream of Wheat for breakfast. It seemed pretty runny to me, so I mixed in some of the thickener, which changed the consistency to something similar to flubber. Left alone, Cream of Wheat will thicken. When you add a thickener to it, it becomes thicker than wallpaper glue, and just about as tasty.

When the HOP bus didn’t arrive at its appointed time, I called the dispatch office and asked about the status of our bus. The dispatcher said that they didn’t have us on their schedule, but just this once they would accommodate us, but we should call during regular business hours and set up Dad’s schedule for the next two weeks. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait too long, and the bus arrived shortly after 6:30 A.M. After Dianne and Dad left, Mom and I ate breakfast and then I went back to bed. I was still feeling dreadful and thought that a nap would help me.

nyeStarDianne texted me repeatedly during Dad’s session to update me about his blood pressure, which seemed very low that day. After the text messages subsided, I slept until 9:30 A.M. I was able to work for a couple of hours until Dianne called to tell me that because of the scheduling mix-up earlier today, she and Dad weren’t getting a return ride for about an hour. I was worried about Dad’s congestion, so I took the suction machine to the dialysis center. There’s always a suction machine at his station, but he would have to move out of his station when his session was over. Thankfully, moments after I arrived, their bus arrived, so the suction machine and I returned home.

After Dianne and Dad arrived home, Dad joined us for lunch, and he agreed to eat more egg salad. For dinner, Mom prepared chicken thighs. I took the meat from one of the thighs and finely chopped it in the food processor. I then mixed it with cream of chicken soup and some gravy mix so that it was brown. Although it wasn’t much to look at, it had a better consistency than flubber and Dad said that it tasted OK, although he ate only ¼ cup of it.

nyeStar2I spent a significant portion of the afternoon talking with the manager of American Home Patient about Dad’s nebulizer. The device that connects to the oxygen concentrator and adds moisture to the oxygen is also known as a nebulizer, so when American HomePatient submitted the order to Medicare, it was rejected. The Medicare computers could not fathom why we needed two nebulizers. Holly, the manager at American HomePatient, came through for us and said that they would provide us with a nebulizer at their expense. Timothy from American HomePatient eventually arrived at 6:30 P.M. with the nebulizer. He showed me how to use it, but I got some of the instructions wrong, and it didn’t work when I used it on Dad before bed. While Dianne and I were getting Dad ready for bed, I discovered that Michell had not shown her how to care for Dad’s G-tube stoma. After a short lesson, I was ready to call it a night.

Dad’s secretions were still terrible and very thick, so I didn’t get to bed until 9:00 P.M. He slept pretty well, and I went to his room only twice during the night.

December 30. Unfortunately, after the 2:00 A.M. trip downstairs to check on Dad and suction more of his built-up secretions, I couldn’t get back to sleep. After an hour of lying awake, I got up at 3:00 A.M., took a shower, and went to work.

Not only did Dad wake up bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and full of vim and vigor at 6:30 A.M., Dianne said that she noticed an increase in his strength. As soon as he was dressed, he wheeled himself into the kitchen and asked Mom if she would fix him some more Cream of Wheat for breakfast. He still kept to his ¼ cup portions, but at least he had progressed from his 1/8 cup servings.

nyeStarShortly after breakfast, Jared, the respiratory specialist with American HomePatient, arrived and showed me how to use the nebulizer properly. The nebulizer wasn’t difficult to use, but it came with several attachments that required assembly, and the assembly instructions were not included. I was pleased to see that one attachment would connect to his trach and the other two could be used by mouth. As soon as Jared left, I used the trach attachment to administer a breathing treatment with albuterol. Now that I saw how it worked, I realized that Dad had received similar treatments during his stays at Scott & White Memorial and the CCH.

While Dad was still full of energy, Dianne coached him through some of his physical therapy and swallowing exercises. Shortly after they were finished, Michell arrived, and then Janet arrived at 11:30 A.M. for Dad’s occupational therapy session. Dad was still feeling good, and they had a very productive session with more of their lively conversation.

Kathleen, the physical therapist, arrived at 1:00 P.M. to assess Dad’s ability to transition to the shower. She also wanted to ensure that Michell knew how to assist him during these transitions. Dianne had been trained, but Kathleen wanted both of our aides trained.

nyeStar2After Kathleen left, we had very little time to eat lunch before Kristen would arrive at 2:00 P.M. Dad had a small serving of applesauce for lunch and then rested upright in bed until Kristen arrived. Before starting her therapy session with Dad, we wanted to discuss some of the foods that Dad could eat and the circumstances under which he could drink water. Although water is a thin liquid, she said that Dad could drink it if he had a clean mouth. Any water that he might aspirate would be absorbed by his lungs and would not hurt him. However, if he aspirated food particles with the water, he could develop another bout of pneumonia. Kristen was just about finished with her session with Dad when our good friends, Marilyn and Earl, arrived for a short visit. After they left, Michell and I set up the nebulizer and administered a saline treatment. After the treatment, he seemed to be coughing more. With Dad now eating, I didn’t know whether to be relieved that his chest cold was breaking up, or concerned that he was coughing because he had aspirated. It seemed that I worried a lot.

Dad joined us again for dinner and had leftover chicken and cream of mushroom soup—his first leftovers in seven months. After dinner, we played a wicked game of Oh Hell, and Mom trounced us. As we were wrapping up the game, Dad triggered a nosebleed when he blew his nose. He was still struggling with it when we administered another saline treatment. His oxygen saturation level wasn’t great, but it was over 90%. I hoped that he’d have an uneventful night. I was exhausted and was headed upstairs for bed by 8:15 P.M.

December 31. Dad had a good night, and I was able to sleep until my alarm went off at 3:45 A.M. By the time that I got downstairs, Michell and Dad were up. I gave Dad a couple of pills and got him set up with the nebulizer for an albuterol treatment. After his breathing treatment, I administered his morning trach care and was momentarily alarmed when I noticed the blood in his secretions. He had had another nose bleed this morning, and Michell and I surmised that blood might have gone into his throat. By 5:00 A.M., Dad was ready for breakfast. When I prepared his Cream of Wheat this morning, I restrained myself and didn’t add the thickener. By the time that Dad was ready to eat, the hot cereal had thickened, and Dad and I were both happy.

nyeStarAt 35 degrees, it was feeling like winter this morning when the HOP arrived at 5:45 A.M. We all bundled up to escort him outdoors. Dad was still struggling with a nosebleed when he left.

After a shower, breakfast with Mom, and a little nap, I worked until Dad and Michell returned at 11:15 A.M. Michell said that his nose didn’t bleed during dialysis, but it started again shortly after he got home. Before serving him an appetizing lunch of blue-colored tuna, I administered a saline breathing treatment. I was now also using some of the other attachments that we received with the nebulizer and was giving myself saline breathing treatments.

After lunch, I wanted Dad back on the bed so that he could receive moistened oxygen. After having 2,200 ml of fluid removed during dialysis, he was feeling a little weak and was ready for a nap, so we got what we wanted.

nyeStar2While Dad napped, I worked until 3:00 P.M., when I stopped to accompany Mom to the local HEB. When we got home, Mom made some hot chocolate for the three women in the house. It was chilly outside, and the hot chocolate felt good. When Dad woke up shortly before 4:00 P.M., I administered another breathing treatment. Before he was finished with the four-minute procedure, Stan arrived from Houston. It was New Year’s Eve, and we were going to usher out this year with the family together.

Dad told me that he thought that his cough seemed different. I was encouraged and hoped that his breathing treatments were working. I felt like my saline treatments were also helping to break up my congestion. It would be nice if we would both recover from this crud in our lungs.

The five of us enjoyed our New Year’s Eve dinner together. We prepared some canned salmon and mayonnaise for Dad, and the rest of us had chicken-fried steak. Truth be told, I was pretty sure that Dad would always select salmon over chicken fried steak if he had the choice.

2015_decnye_02The five of us played Oh Hell until about 9:00 P.M., and Mom won the last game of 2015. While getting Dad ready for bed, we administered another breathing treatment. His oxygen saturation level was still good, but he was still receiving a higher concentration of oxygen. I’d feel better when his oxygen level remained normal with less oxygen.

Stan and I stayed up until about 9:45 P.M. so that I could take another dose of cold pills before going to bed. Sometime around 11:00 P.M., Stan heard a noise through the baby monitor and woke me up to check on Dad. Fortunately, when I went downstairs to check on Dad, he was sleeping.

nyeStarI had some serious mixed feelings about this year. On the one hand, it was probably the worst year of our lives, and I was glad to kiss it good-bye. On the other hand, it was a year of blessings and a miraculous recovery, and I acquired some skills that I never wanted.




Two bad colds, and a partridge in a pear tree

December 25, 2015. At 3:45 A.M., I was awakened again by the gurgling sounds coming through the baby monitor, and hurried downstairs to check on Dad. As was the case yesterday, his speaking valve had come off and secretions were running out of the trach and onto his chest. I suctioned his trach, changed his dressing, and got him cleaned up. As Dianne was helping Dad change into a dry nightshirt, we noticed blood on his blanket. We quickly discovered that he was bleeding from his elbow. His fragile skin was susceptible to skin tears, and he often got them by just rubbing against fabric. We cleaned up the blood and bandaged him, and helped him back into bed. He then used the Yankauer wand to suction himself. Fortunately, his secretions were not as bad as they had been last night. While I was in his room, I took his temperature, which was slightly elevated again. By 4:15 A.M., Dad was drifting back to sleep and I was headed upstairs to bed. I slept until 6:45 A.M., when I was awakened by the sound of him coughing. I also heard Mom in the kitchen. It was Christmas morning, so I thought that I should get up and join her. Historically on Christmas morning, I was the one who leapt out of bed before dawn, turned on the lights on the tree, and started the music and the coffee, and hollered for everyone to get up, but I was really dragging this year because of this awful cold.

xmasOrnament1While I was finding my first cup of coffee, Dianne tried to interest Dad in a sponge bath, but he wouldn’t entertain the idea. During recent physical therapy sessions, he had practiced transitioning in and out of the shower, and he would have a “proper” shower after the holidays. Unfortunately, while he was holding out for a proper shower, he was accumulating several layers of dead skin, which caused flakiness and bumps to appear on his extremities. When I returned to his room to see how he was feeling, he said that he felt better than yesterday, but he wavered a bit when I helped him transition to his wheelchair.

Before I left his room, he instructed me to get out his red shirt and gray-blue trousers for Christmas. I was already wearing a red shirt and was encouraged that he wanted to wear his traditional Christmas attire. He and I weren’t feeling festive, but we still wanted to look the part.

2015_xmas_013After we all opened our presents, Mom, Stan, Dianne, and I enjoyed our family’s traditional breakfast of Christmas morning loaf and bear claws. After tidying the kitchen somewhat, I accompanied Dad as he wheeled himself from the bedroom to the sunken sunroom where we had the tree. Stan and Dianne helped Dad step down into the sunroom and over to a chair—a real chair and not the wheelchair. My parents and husband had long since resigned themselves to my insistence on our traditional family photo session on Christmas Day, but no one seemed to mind it this year. I usually came armed with fancy hats or other props, but this year I was just happy that our Christmas photo included the four of us.

After all of the excitement of opening packages and navigating the step to the sunken sunroom for photographs, Dad was ready for a nap.

xmasOrnament2After Dad woke up, he and Stan played several hands of cribbage, and Stan finally won, which was a major feat as Dad was darn good at the game. Dad was still fighting a chest cold and Stan was fighting a migraine, so they were both ready for naps when they finished their grueling match. Mom and I didn’t want to take naps, but we eventually fell asleep while sitting on the couch.

By the time that happy hour rolled around, we were all awake. Dad snoozed during our dinner and joined us for a rousing game of Oh Hell, in which he tied with Dianne for first place. His temperature had been slightly elevated today, but not enough for me to call the after-hours home care nurse.

December 26. Shortly before 1:00 A.M., the grinding sound of the suction machine blared through the baby monitor. After a few minutes, it stopped, but started again at 1:45 A.M. Dad resisted suctioning himself during the night, so I knew that he must be suffering. As soon as I entered his room, I checked his vitals; his oxygenation levels were borderline and his temperature was 99.6 degrees. I suctioned his trach and removed some very thick secretions. As much as I knew that he would hate it, I told him that I had to remove his speaking valve because it was restricting some of the oxygen intake.

Removing the speaking valve meant that he couldn’t call out for help, so I returned to his room a couple of more times before 4:00 A.M. to check on him, and then stayed with him until he woke up.

xmasOrnament1When he and Dianne were awake, I went to the kitchen for some coffee and to visit with Mom. I checked on Dad again and suctioned his trach, and then returned to my bedroom. Stan was just waking up, and I asked him to let me sleep for another 30 minutes and then wake me so that I could administer Dad’s meds. When I knew that Dad was up and about, I went back to bed and slept until 9:00 A.M.

After I had been up for awhile, Dad wheeled himself into the kitchen and thanked me and apologized for keeping me awake for most of the night. I told him that I would accept his thanks but not his apology. He could not help being sick any more than I could, but I couldn’t sleep if I knew that he was suffering and unable to help himself. As much as I liked having the aides in his room, we had hired quite a few sound sleepers. They often didn’t wake up until after I entered the bedroom.

Stan had purchased a turntable that could convert LP recordings to audio files. My parents have a large collection of 78 RPM records that Stan wanted to save, and he and Dad spent the remainder of the morning trying to get it to work. We were much more successful getting Dad to eat ice and walk around the house than recording music. Dianne was also able to interrupt the post-holiday festivities to get Dad to practice his swallowing exercises.

After lunch, Dad was ready for a nap. A cold front was moving through the area and weather changes usually triggered migraines for Stan, so he also took a nap. When Dad woke up from his nap at 2:30 P.M., I changed out his trach.

xmasOrnament2He and Stan played a couple games of cribbage, each winning one game. We were able to get Dad to consume one cup of crushed ice during happy hour, which made three cups for the day. I kept reminding Dad that Kristen had told us that nothing improved swallowing more than swallowing. After dinner, we played Oh Hell, and I won on the last hand, beating Mom by two points.

About the time that we finished playing cards, Dad started coughing again. I was a little surprised, because he had coughed only a few times since getting up this morning. It seemed that his secretions thickened and the coughing started with the approach of bedtime. When we got to the bedroom, I checked his oxygen saturation, and it was down to 90% and then dropped into the 80s. Had I not changed out his trach earlier today, I would have thought that his trach might be partially blocked. He hadn’t had his oxygen saturation level drop below 90% in many months. I told him that I’d need to remove the speaking valve again so that we didn’t restrict his oxygen intake.

I set my iPhone timer to wake me every hour so that I could check on him, but I might have been up more often than that. He seemed to be struggling with the secretions and I suctioned a lot of thick secretions from his trach. My goal was to keep his oxygen saturation level at a minimum of 92%, and I would not replace the speaking valve until he reached 93%. At midnight, his oxygen level was up to 92%.

xmasOrnament1December 27. At 2:00 A.M., I heard the sounds of coughing through the baby monitor. When I approached Dad’s bed, I saw that he had moved the oxygen trach mask away from his trach. In my bleary-eyed state two hours earlier, I had not returned the oximeter to its normal spot, and now I couldn’t find it to check his oxygen saturation. After I finished suctioning him, Dianne found the oximeter, and we saw that his oxygen level was at 93%.  When I returned to his room two hours later, it was time for him to get up and get ready for dialysis. Thankfully, his oxygen level had now reached 95%. Dad didn’t usually have dialysis on Sunday, but the schedule had been modified to accommodate the Christmas holiday, which had fallen on Friday this year.

Dad was ready to go at 5:45 A.M. The weather was bad, and when the HOP had not arrived by 6:15 A.M., we were concerned that the bus was not coming; thankfully, they were just running late. After Dad and Dianne left, I went back to bed. Stan woke me about an hour later because he saw a text message arrive on my phone from Dianne about Dad’s low blood pressure. Although I appreciated that she wanted to keep me informed, I was pretty sick and wanted to sleep. Low blood pressure was always a possibility during dialysis and the nurses could adjust the dialysis machines to alleviate most problems.

In all the time that I had been living with my parents since my father’s discharge from the hospital or during weekend visits, I had not missed church on Sunday, but I was pretty certain that the entire congregation would be grateful if I stayed home today. Stan drove Mom to church and I tried to go back to sleep. No sooner had I closed my eyes than I heard the chime of my phone announcing the arrival of another text message. Dianne now informed me that Dad’s oxygen saturation levels were low. It was 10:15 A.M. and I was wearing my scrubs, so I decided that I should get up and go to the dialysis center and suction Dad–something that the nurses would not do. I had not told Dianne that I was coming, so she and Dad were surprised to see me. Between the suction machine and the Yaunaker provided by the dialysis center and our supplies in Dad’s dialysis bag, I had everything that I needed and was able to suction him in a matter of minutes. His oxygen levels were low and he was coughing, but I didn’t find any secretions in his trach. I couldn’t provide any more assistance, so I returned home.

xmasOrnament2By noon, Dad and Dianne were back home, and Dad was ready to lie down for a nap. After we transitioned him to the bed, I administered his meds and suctioned him again, and this time I pulled quite a bit of thick secretions from his trach. When he woke from his nap at 2:00 P.M., his oxygen saturation level was down to 88%, a reading that would have set off the alarm on the hospital monitors. I decided to administer the contents of a saline bullet before I suctioned him. I had been provided with a box of saline bullets when Dad came home, and each bullet contained 30 ml of saline, which would break down the secretions. I later learned that the use of saline bullets is a disputed practice, with some nurses professing that it can do more harm than good, but was what I was taught by the respiratory therapists at the CCH. When I tested his oxygen saturation a few minutes after I had suctioned him, his oxygen level had improved to 91%.

Dad was ready to get up from his nap. When Stan was here, Dad liked to play cribbage, and he needed to get his cribbage fix before Stan left. When they were finished, Dad was ready for another nap, but gave us strict orders to wake him before happy hour.

When I went to Dad’s room to wake him for happy hour, the oxygen trach mask was nowhere near his trach and his oxygen level was down to 79%. This wasn’t turning out to be one of my better home-care days. I placed his trach mask over the trach and increased the oxygen levels on the concentrator and his oxygen level soon returned to the 90% range.

Because I had been removing Dad’s speaking valve during the night, Stan wanted to find a way that Dad could notify Dianne and me if he needed assistance. Stan returned from a shopping trip with a doorbell and a duck call, neither of which was met with any enthusiasm. We decided to stick with our current process where I would check in on him every hour or so during the nights that he didn’t have the speaking valve.

xmasOrnament1After playing a spirited game of Oh Hell, where Mom won, we had Dad ready for bed shortly after 8:15 P.M. After Mom went to bed, Stan and I puttered around the house and talked for a while before we went to bed. Although we spoke every night on the phone, we had been living a sort of strange existence for the past few months, and it was nice to just sit and talk. We knew of couples who lived in different cities and “visited” occasionally, but I couldn’t live like that.

When we finally went to bed at 10:00 P.M., I set the timer on my iPhone to wake me every two hours, but I was so sensitive to the sounds emanating from the baby monitor, I was pretty sure that I’d be up more often than that to check Dad’s oxygen saturation levels and to suction him, and I was.