Reaching another milestone: PEG removal!

April 13, 2016. My alarm woke me, but it was only just a little after 2:00 A.M., and the alarm was in my dream. I was able to get back to sleep and woke up at 3:45 A.M. when the alarm actually went off. I think that I inherited these wake-up dreams from my father. He often wakes up early from naps, swearing that Mom woke him.

While I worked, Dad sat at his desk in my parents’ office and finished preparing their tax return. Shortly after breakfast, Brenda, the home care physical therapist, called to see if she and her supervisor, Kathleen, could stop by later in the morning to assess Dad’s progress.

pegOutCross4I had to drive back to Houston this afternoon. I was already fighting to stay awake and decided to take a short nap during my lunch break, so I missed seeing the physical therapists when they arrived at 11:30 A.M. Dad was walking pretty well, but his recent back pain had affected his balance somewhat. Kathleen said that Brenda would focus more on his core muscles to help Dad with his balance.

Shortly after I woke up from my nap, the three of us left for Dad’s 2:20 P.M. appointment with the gastroenterologist. When we arrived, Dad weighed 151 pounds, his blood pressure was 112/69, and his temperature was 96 degrees. In the exam room, after Julie, the dietitian, asked about Dad’s protein and caloric intake, I was a little anxious when she said that Dad needed to consume an additional 20 grams of protein each day.

When Dr. Pfanner entered the exam room, he helped Dad up on the exam table and quickly removed the PEG tube. Dad didn’t feel anything, and Mom and I glanced away for a millisecond and missed seeing the “balloon” as the doctor removed it. For the better part of eight months, Dad had had a hole in his 87-year old stomach, and now I was concerned about how long it would take to heal and close. When I asked the doctor about how long Dad would have to abstain from eating and drinking, I was shocked when he said that Dad couldn’t eat anything for 4-6 hours, and then he should consume only Nepro until tomorrow. Today was the second time in four months that I had been amazed at the speed in which some of our body parts could heal. Dad’s trach stoma had healed in two days, and now his stomach would be ready to consume liquid in six hours. The epidermis doesn’t heal nearly as fast. I have had paper cuts that took three times as long to heal.

coffeeCupWe had driven to the doctor’s office in two cars. After the appointment, I helped my parents into their car, drove to Starbucks for some coffee, and then started my drive to Houston at 3:19 P.M. The traffic was relatively light, but I was feeling drowsy when I reached Waller, approximately 40 miles from home. Fortunately, Waller had a Buc-ee’s, one of the best rest stops in Texas. I stopped to stretch my legs and buy another cup of coffee. As I walked toward the exit, I met a wall of teenagers. Five buses had just unloaded more than 100 kids. I thanked my lucky stars for my perfect timing.

I got home shortly before 6:30 P.M.

April 14. According to Mom, Dad didn’t experience any problems during dialysis today. Although his blood pressure was a little low, it was not low enough to require midodrine to elevate it. He still complained of back pain, but he didn’t feel any discomfort at the site of his PEG stoma.

I asked Mom if Dad had tried to find the thrill on his arm every morning as he had been instructed by his surgeon, and her response was not what I had hoped. She said that they often have trouble finding it and that it’s not as strong as they would have thought. I told her to ask the dialysis nurses about it and that it’s too important to ignore. She agreed that asking the dialysis nurse was a good idea and agreed to ask one of them on Saturday, two days from now.

When the home care nurse stopped by, she said that she thought that Dad might be suffering from adhesions. I can’t imagine how she came to that conclusion, and Mom never mentioned where these adhesions might be located or what the nurse suggested that we should do about them. On a positive note, Dad’s vitals were good. Evidently, this nurse had come by the house about three months ago and was impressed by Dad’s progress since then. Before she left, the nurse helped Dad and Mom find the thrill on Dad’s fistula.

pegOutCross2April 15. Kristen, Dad’s swallow therapist, stopped by for her final session with Dad. Before she left, she said that Dad could start trying to swallow his pills. She encouraged him to start with very small pills and coat them in applesauce. Dad had been crushing the pills and mixing them with applesauce. Evidently, some of the pills tasted vile, so being able to swallow them would be a welcome change. Still, the thought of his swallowing pills made me nervous. I had been taking liquid vitamins for several years, and I suggested to Mom that we should ask Dr. Martin if Dad could swallow the pills with the liquid vitamins. When mixed with water, the liquid was a thickened liquid and quite slippery, which I thought might ease swallowing.

April 16. Dad had dialysis this morning. According to Mom, they removed about 1,500 ml of fluid. After a morning of running errands, I started my drive back to Temple, leaving my husband on the links with his golf buddy.

The highway from Houston to Temple passes through small towns, many of which get their revenue from speeding drivers. After my numerous trips to Temple, I knew when to slow down. Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying attention and resumed the 70 MPH speed a tad too early. I was stopped just outside of Somerville and got my second warning since Dad’s hospitalization last May. warningWhen the very nice officer handed me my driver’s license and warning, he advised me to watch my speed today. Because of several festivals in the area, there were many more patrol officers monitoring speeds than usual. As I eased back onto the highway, I noticed that I had stopped just a few yards shy of the posted 70 MPH sign. After setting my cruise control at 72 MPH, I arrived in Temple at 2:03 P.M.

With some assistance from Mom, Dad prepared a spaghetti dinner. Unfortunately, shortly after our nice dinner, Dad and I had another knock-down drag-out argument about his health and attitude about taking care of himself. Unlike so many other times, we eventually had a meeting of the minds and we agreed on a plan for managing his pain and boosting his protein intake.

April 17. Dad didn’t feel like going to church today, and the weather was dreary. The three of us enjoyed a nice breakfast of homemade cinnamon rolls, and then I worked on my computer until Mom and I left for church.

pegOutCross1After the church service, we mentioned to our friend Sue, who was also the nurse practitioner at the dialysis center, that Dad was still experiencing a lot of pain. She said that she would order x-rays for him. I also asked her about medical alert bracelets for dialysis patients with fistulas. For the rest of his life, he can never have blood drawn or his blood pressure taken on his left arm. She said that she thought that we could get him such a medical bracelet.

After a yummy lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches, Mom and I went outside to cover up some cantaloupe seedlings. We were expecting stormy weather, and she wanted to protect the young seedlings so that they wouldn’t drown. After watching the depressing evening news and eating dinner, we played Oh Hell, and Mom beat Dad by three points.

April 18. Dad had a 10:00 A.M. post-op appointment with Dr. Jaffers, the surgeon who had built the fistula in Dad’s left arm. While waiting for the doctor, Dad vomited in the exam room. According to Mom, he had just taken his morning meds before we left the house. The last time that he vomited, he had just taken his meds on an empty stomach. Other than the vomiting in the exam room, the doctor thought that Dad was healing well and that his fistula should be cured and ready to use during hemodialysis by early June.

pegOutCross3I thought that we also had an appointment for x-rays, but when we arrived in the radiology department, Dad was not on their schedule. I texted Sue because she had told me that she would enter an order for the x-rays.  Evidently, she had encountered a problem with her computer, and then she became distracted and forgot to enter the orders. While we were in the radiology waiting room, the order appeared, and Dad was called by the technician after a short wait.

The x-ray process was painful for Dad. Although x-rays aren’t painful, getting up on the hard table, being repositioned on the table, and getting down from the table was painful. I hoped that these x-rays would show something useful and actionable.

During an afternoon meeting with my manager, I learned that she had accepted a position in another business unit. She had been a wonderful manager and very supportive while I’ve been working remotely from my parents’ house. The two of us had made a great team, and it felt like she was breaking up the band. Although I knew that this move would benefit her, I was a bit apprehensive about how it would affect me.

I stopped working at 5:00 P.M. for our happy hour. After a nice dinner of leftovers, we played Oh Hell, and I lost again.

rainBefore going to sleep, I called my husband in Houston. Evidently, Houston had received between 9-15 inches of rain, depending on the area of town. According to the news, this was the worst rain event since tropical storm Allison in 2001 and has been dubbed the Tax Day Flood. Stan said that our house was OK. He didn’t know how much rain we received at our house. All he knew was that our 5.5” rain gauge had overflowed.

 

On the road to PEG removal

April 8, 2016. When Dad’s PCP reviewed his CT scan on March 24, in addition to the seven stress fractures, she mentioned that he had an enlarged prostate, and she recommended that Dad see a urologist. About an hour before my parents were to leave home for the appointment with the urologist, Dad vomited some phlegm.  The doctors’ offices at Scott & White ask that you arrive at least 20 minutes before your scheduled appointment. Dad’s vomiting had delayed their departure and they could not arrive during the prescribed window. Our family has an aversion to being late, so Mom called the doctor’s office to ask whether they should reschedule their appointment. The clerk who answered the phone assured Mom that the office builds in a 15-minute late check-in time, and that they should not worry about arriving too late. I wondered if the clerk laughed to herself that a patient was worried about arriving late. I suspect quite a few patients are either late or no-shows.

pegBustCross1Even with their minor setback, my parents arrived on time to the doctor’s office. When they arrived at the clinic, Mom let Dad off at the door of the clinic so that he could check in while she parked. This simple act of letting Dad out in front of the building was a huge accomplishment. It wasn’t that long ago that it took an additional person in the car to help him out and into a wheelchair.

The visit with the doctor was a bust. He didn’t see anything wrong and said that he wasn’t sure why Dad was there. Unlike his back, Dad’s prostate wasn’t causing him any pain, so the visit seemed very anticlimactic.

The home care nurse was scheduled to stop by the house today to check on Dad. My parents not only wanted to arrive on time to their appointments and events, they expected the same of others as well. Unfortunately, the home care providers were not always so punctual. My parents didn’t have a busy social life, but they ensured that they were available to the providers at the appointed time, and would hold lunch, shopping, visits, or other things until the nurse arrived. Today the nurse was an hour late. She stayed long enough to see if Dad had had any falls and to check his vitals, which were good.

pegBustCross2Dad also had an appointment today with Kristen, his swallow therapist. Unlike every other provider, you could set your watch by her, and as usual, she arrived on time. Today’s appointment was her first visit since Dad was readmitted to home care. Mom was glad to see her again, and Kristen worked with Dad for about an hour. Dad promised to work on his exercises over the weekend, and I hoped that he would.

April 9. During dialysis this morning, Dad’s systolic blood pressure dropped below 100, but the nurse told him not to take his midodrine unless the systolic pressure dropped below 90. After dialysis, Mom thought that Dad seemed weaker than usual. I was surprised that he had been advised to hold off on the midodrine. For months, he had been told that his systolic pressure needed to exceed 100. Mom said that Dad didn’t take the pill because they didn’t want to go against the doctor’s orders, which almost seemed like a joke. I asked her if she had been able to keep a straight face when she said that. I would be back in Temple later today and would try to stop by the dialysis center next week to speak with the nurse about Dad’s changing blood pressure guidelines.

Stan left Houston for Temple at 9:00 A.M., and I left a couple of hours later. I used my trips home to get haircuts, change out clothes, and to run errands. I could seldom start my return trip to Temple before noon.

pegBustCross3April is prime time in central Texas for wildflower viewing. During my drive to Temple, I encountered heavy traffic near Chappell Hill, the location of today’s Bluebonnet Festival. The abundance of wildflowers made the otherwise boring drive a lot more enjoyable.

I eventually arrived at my parents’ home a little after 2:30 P.M.

April 10. When Stan was in Temple, Dad usually skipped church. Sometimes he and Stan would play cribbage, and other times Dad had a list of tasks for Stan. Before Dad entered the hospital 11 months ago, he would have handled all but the most difficult tasks himself. Now, Dad often needed Stan’s assistance many smaller tasks, especially with his recent back challenges.

When Mom and I returned home from church, Stan told me that Dad was in a lot of pain. He noticed that Dad sometimes experienced a sharp pain with certain types of moment. After hearing this news, I gave Dad an Extra Strength Tylenol along with his probiotic. Fortunately, the Tylenol seemed to take effect in a short time and eased Dad’s pain when he moved.

pegBustCross1Dad didn’t want to eat lunch, but he sat with us while we ate, and he agreed to drink a bottle of Ensure. Because he didn’t want to eat, I talked a lot about removing the PEG tube. It was imperative that Dad be able to take in enough nutrition by mouth sustain himself. During our discussion of the visits to Dr. Pfanner’s office (the gastroenterologist), it became apparent that Dad misremembered the number of times he had been to the doctor’s office and thought that he had been there one more time after the MBSS. During our discussion, I agreed with Dad that we would have the PEG removed during his next appointment with Dr. Pfanner, even if it meant that we had to sign an AMA. As I agreed to this plan, I hoped against hope that the doctor would want to pull the PEG during the next visit. The last time that I signed an AMA on Dad’s behalf, I was reported to Adult Protective Services. I was reasonably confident that that wouldn’t happen again, but once bitten, twice shy. Signing an AMA during home care also caused the patient to be discharged from home care.

 

 

After lunch, Dad and Stan went outside to finish up some chores that involved electrical wire. When they finished with that manly task, they watched the Masters golf tournament on television.

pegBustCross2Stan left for Houston shortly before 5:00 P.M. My parents and I watched some TV before I got myself in gear and prepared a casserole for dinner. We ate stylishly late and weren’t finished with dinner until after 8:00 P.M. I was becoming a bit concerned about Stan. He had left here over three hours ago and I still hadn’t heard from him. I was just about to call him when I received a text message stating that he had just arrived home safe and sound. With all of his travels back and forth between Houston and Temple, I was always worried that something might happen to my lifeline, and I was relieved when I learned that he was home.

April 11. Dad woke up before 6:00 A.M. and got himself dressed without waking Mom. When I heard him wheel past the office, I stopped working for a few moments to prepare a cup of hot water for him. While he was still having trouble swallowing thin liquids, drinking hot water was preferred over coffee. Since his surgery, he had not liked the taste of coffee and preferred the water, so not being able to drink coffee was not a hardship for him.

When he finished his breakfast, Dad moved into the home office to prepare their taxes, but found that the room was too dark for him to read the instructions. I agreed that it was a bit dark, but because I spent my day looking at a computer screen, I hadn’t been bothered by the dimly-lit room. It bothered him, so after he found some CF light bulbs, I set up the ladder and replaced the burnt out bulbs. The difference was like night and day.

pegBustCross3While I was in my 10:30 A.M. meeting, Dad vomited some applesauce and probably some of his meds. The home care nurse stopped by at 11:30 A.M. I told her that I was concerned about the vomiting, but she said that his vitals were great. Dad complained about some non-specific pain that kept moving around, but because he didn’t have an elevated temperature, it didn’t seem like he had an infection. I was frustrated by and concerned about his little setbacks.

After lunch, I worked until Kristen arrived for Dad’s swallow therapy. She had him swallow water and he did very well. While she was here, Julie from the Speech Pathology department at Scott & White called and said that as far as they were concerned, Dad could have his PEG tube removed. She said that they had recommended that the PEG stay in place until after his surgery so that we could accommodate any problems that might result from post-operative delirium. Because he did well during that time, it was up to the gastroenterologist to determine if Dad could get adequate nourishment by mouth. This news was a relief, and it felt like we had tackled one of our major hurdles.

After I stopped working for the day, I took a short walk and called one of my girlfriends. She said that she didn’t think that her father would survive his colon cancer. Her husband’s mother was struggling with a bout of pneumonia, although she seemed to be doing well. Although it was comforting to talk with someone who understood the source of your stress, this was one of those times when misery didn’t like company.

pegBustCross3My parents and I enjoyed a nice evening together. After our happy hour and dinner, we played Oh Hell. It was a close game, but I beat them by three points. On days like this one, I tried to soak up my parents’ essence so that I could remember every detail about their laughter and their good humor.

 

Countdown to dialysis fistula surgery

March 23, 2016. For months, Mom had had a bad cough. It started last summer while Dad was in the hospital. The hospital rooms had been dreadfully cold, and the cold air seemed to have taken its toll on her. She had gone to her PCP, Dr. Poteet, about the nagging cough, and he ordered a CT scan. A couple of days ago, Dad’s PCP, Dr. Sarla Patil, had ordered a CT scan of Dad’s back. Through fortunate scheduling, they had adjacent CT scan appointments today and were able to go to the imaging lab together.

fistulaStar2Dad wanted to prepare his family-favorite Locke’s Lasagna for dinner, but he was in so much pain that he could barely lift his arms. I told him that I would stop work at 4:00 P.M. and help him fix dinner. Mom and I both helped him, so preparing dinner turned into a family activity.

I had hoped that we would hear from one of the doctors today with some test results, but no such luck. While we were playing Oh Hell, which Mom won, we started betting on which doctor would call first with CT scan results.

March 24.  From the time that he started having dialysis nine months ago, Dad had had problems with very low blood pressure during dialysis. The dialysis system works best when the systolic pressure exceeds 100. Sometimes removal of fluid was stopped when his blood pressure dropped, and in extreme cases, dialysis was stopped altogether. To remedy this problem, the doctor had prescribed that Dad take two midodrine pills before dialysis and then again at the halfway point, which would help keep the systolic pressure at a safe level. Today at halftime, his systolic pressure was 153. Without checking with the nurse, Dad took his second dose of midodrine. A few minutes later, his systolic pressure spiked to more than 170. After this little incident, the doctor advised Dad to take the midodrine only if his systolic pressure fell below 100. I just hated excitement during dialysis.

We finally received a call from Dr. Patil about Dad’s CT scan, which shed some light on the cause of his pain. Evidently, during Dad’s extended time in bed, he had developed severe osteoporosis. At some point during the hospitalization or recovery, he developed seven stress fractures in his back. His recent fall and the standing and sitting during church most likely exacerbated his condition, which triggered his extreme pain. Unfortunately, the doctor didn’t offer any suggestions to deal with the pain. However, she said that she was referring Dad to an endocrinologist. She probably assumed that we knew why she wanted Dad to see this specialist, but I had no idea what an endocrinologist could do for Dad’s back pain. Mom had yet to hear from her doctor.

ourCats
Peanut and Butter

During most of his trips to Temple, Stan had left our cats at home alone. This weekend, because Stan would be gone an extra day, I wanted our cat sitter to tend to them. I had been texting Vickie Lynn for a couple of days, but she had not responded. Because of our situation, I had not needed her services for several months, but we had known each other for over 10 years, and I couldn’t understand why she hadn’t responded to me. I finally went old school and called her home phone and left a message. I was completely blindsided when her husband called to tell me that Vickie Lynn had died from cancer four months earlier. He had taken over her pet sitting business and said that he would take care of our cats this weekend. I always felt unsettled when I learned that someone who I thought was among the living had in fact died.

March 25. At 2:00 A.M., something woke Mom and she noticed that Dad had slid about halfway off of the bed. It took some doing, but she got him back into bed. He’d been sleeping very close to the edge of the bed lately and he’d come dreadfully close to falling out of bed.

fistulaStar3Dad was still in a lot of pain. After 8:00 A.M., I called Dr. Patil’s office and asked her nurse about Tylenol and other pain management options for Dad. She said that she would text the doctor with these questions and then get back to us, but she never did. We’d now have to get through the weekend without knowing what drugs he could take for pain. Under normal circumstances, Dad would take something like Extra Strength Tylenol, but renal issues often determined what medicine he could take.

fistualPhotoStan arrived from Houston and immediately started doing yard work. Before the day was over, he had mowed the back lawn. During the afternoon, I took a break and the four of us drove a mile away from home to a huge lot that was filled with wildflowers. The lot was a favorite of the locals for wildflower photos, and I wanted to have a photo of the four of us among the iconic symbols of springtime in Texas.

After a yummy dinner of salmon and a broccoli, rice, and cheese casserole, which I prepared, we played Oh Hell, and Stan won.

March 26. On dialysis days, Mom and Dad woke up at 4:00 A.M., but this morning I was the first one in the house to wake up, although I had planned to sleep in. When I checked on my parents, I noticed that Dad was again so close to the edge of the bed that he was practically falling out of bed. Moving around in bed was painful, so at night he would lie down close to the edge so that he would not need to move much when he wanted to get up.

fistulaStar1Although his back pain was slowing him, my parents left for dialysis on time, a few minutes after 6:00 A.M. Stan was still sleeping, so I decided to catch up on a little work. I had just sat down with a cup of coffee when the phone rang. I don’t like 7:00 A.M. phone calls, especially from my mother when she’s with Dad at the dialysis center. I was relieved when I learned that she was calling to tell me that she had left the garage light on when she left. As I turned off the light, I had to laugh to myself because I knew that Dad had noticed the light and had told her to call me.

Stan woke up shortly before Mom got home. Mom told us that Dad had gained about 2 kg since Thursday, so they planned to remove 2,000 ml of fluid today.

wildflowersCemeteryAfter breakfast, Stan and I drove to the nearby town of Cameron to look for wildflowers. We didn’t find any in the place where I had seen them earlier, but we stumbled upon an old cemetery that had millions of flowers. I had intended to take some infrared photos on the way home, but clouds materialized and blocked the sun. Infrared film photography requires strong sun. It was a running joke that clouds would materialize whenever I pulled out my tripod.

After lunch, we helped Mom plant tomatoes in my parents’ vegetable garden, and Stan did some more mowing and chores around the yard. Stan wouldn’t be here tomorrow evening for Easter dinner, so we had our Easter dinner tonight. Mom prepared a ham and I roasted a variety of root vegetables. Mom topped off the meal with a yummy homemade strawberry pie.

We played a cutthroat game of Oh Hell. I won, but Mom was a close second. As he was getting ready for bed, Dad announced that he wouldn’t be attending church tomorrow because of his back pain. Mom and I were disappointed. We had scheduled Dad’s fistula surgery for next weekend so that he wouldn’t be prevented from attending Easter services by any post-operative problems. So much for advance planning.

March 27. I couldn’t seem to catch up on my sleep. This morning, a sharp cramp in my right leg woke me up at 5:00 A.M. As long as I was up, I decided to work on my laptop in the living room. While I was there, I overheard an unsettling conversation in my parent’s room. Evidently, my father’s pain was intense, and it sounded like he was suggesting that he stop dialysis because he couldn’t live with the pain.

fistulaStar2When Mom came out of their bedroom, she told me that Dad wanted us to make an appointment with Dr. Patil to see if there was anything that she could offer him that would help him to manage his pain. Dad had also said that if she could not see him this week, we should try to get an appointment with someone else.

When Mom and I left for church, Stan and Dad were playing cribbage. The church was lovely, and the service included a baptism. Consequently, the service ran long and we didn’t leave for home until 12:30 P.M. After the service, I asked our friend Sue if she could recommend another PCP for Dad. Sue is a nurse practitioner with Scott & White dialysis center and immediately recommended her friend, Dr. Mike Martin.

Stan and Dad were still playing cribbage when Mom and I returned home. Stan left for Houston a short time after lunch, and Mom, Dad, and I tended to the garden and watered the new tomato plants. Sue had told us that we could give Dad Tylenol for his pain. When I checked their medicine cabinet, I found a bottle of Tylenol; unfortunately, it had expired three years ago. I drove to Walgreens and purchased something a bit more current.

fistulaStar3We watched the news, which was growing more depressing with each passing day. We didn’t play cards tonight, but Dad and I created a recipe for ham loaf by combing recipes and adding a few extra ingredients for good measure, and we intended to try it on Wednesday. Dad had been collecting recipes—some of his and some of mine. I enjoyed working with him in the kitchen and planning meals. It took me back to our time together during my childhood. Sometimes my mother traveled for the League of Women Voters and left Dad and me to fend for ourselves. Before she left, every meal was planned and when she returned home, there wasn’t a leftover in sight.

March 28. It was a workday for me, so I was up early. When I heard Mom get up, I asked her about Dad, and she said that she thought that he had had a better night’s sleep last night. She said that he had been up a couple of times during the night, but at least he wasn’t in a ball at the bottom of the bed or hanging on the edge of the bed when she got up.

When Dad got up, he announced that he would take two doses of Tylenol today instead of the three that had been suggested. I wasn’t sure why he wanted to bear the pain, but it was his pain and his decision.

Mom left at noon today to attend her book club. While she was gone, Dad took a nap and then he and I walked out to the garden to water their young tomato plants. After tending to the garden, we walked around the backyard and checked out all of the fruit trees. The blossoms were starting to fall and you could see hints of the fruit that would take their place. Unless we got another freeze, the loquat tree might bear some fruit.

Mom returned home from her book club around 4:15 P.M., and Penny, the new Home Care nurse, arrived 15 minutes later. When I expressed my concerns about Dad’s ability to swallow after surgery, she said that we should insist that he be coherent and able to swallow before he could leave the hospital, especially on a Friday. After pestering every medical person that I encountered about Dad’s possible post-op challenges with swallowing, I was beginning to feel like we might be able to ensure that we might have some control over the situation.

Only four more days until Dad’s surgery.

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

 

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

More milestones on the road to recovery

milestoneCross2February 15, 2016. Around 1:00 A.M., the sound of the Yankauer pump woke me, and then I heard Mom and Dad talking, so I got out of bed and went downstairs to their room to see if they needed any assistance. The tube feed bag wasn’t empty, but it was off, which initially annoyed me. Then I noticed that Dad’s congestion sounded bad, so I told him that I wanted him to have another breathing treatment. While I was getting the nebulizer ready, Dad complained about the Kangaroo feeding pump and how it was preventing Mom from getting her much-needed sleep, which also annoyed me. He resisted drinking the Nepro during the day and now he was coming up with reasons to not consume it at night. They had insisted that they could take care of themselves, but Dad seemed to be coming up with excuses to ignore the doctor’s instructions. After Dad finished the four-minute breathing treatment, I restarted the Kangaroo pump and returned to my bedroom.

When I got up at 6:00 A.M., I found Mom struggling with the tubing that connected the G-tube to the tube feed. Dad needed to get out of bed to use the bathroom, and Mom was having a difficult time getting him unhooked. Dad waited patiently as I helped Mom to set him free.

milestoneCross1While Dad was brushing his teeth, he vomited some mucus and Nepro. My first thought was that he might be accumulating fluid in his lungs. I grabbed the oximeter and saw that his oxygen saturation was down to 96%. In the past, there were times when I would have been thankful for 96% oxygen saturation, but not since he had been red capped. From the time that he was red-capped and then decannulated, his oxygen numbers had hovered between 99-100%.

I gave him another breathing treatment at 7:20 A.M., but it didn’t seem to help him much. We had a doctor’s appointment today with Dr. Sarla Patil, Dad’s PCP. She had wanted a consult appointment with us to catch up on everything that had happened to him since May 6, 2015. After waiting 45 minutes to see her at his appointment on February 4, Dad cut that visit short because he was eager to get his first haircut after coming home.

We left home for Dr. Patil’s office at 10:15 A.M. The drive to her office might have taken us 15 minutes, and we finally saw the good doctor 11:15 A.M. She’s not part of the Scott & White network, but she had been given access to Dad’s medical records and had reviewed them prior to our visit. She spent an hour with us, going over all of the details of his ordeal. She, like many others, was amazed that he had survived. I wished that Dad could have appreciated how lucky he was and how fragile his condition was. He just seemed to take it all for granted.

We had taken two cars to the doctor’s office. On my way home, I stopped by the pharmacy to pick up a refilled prescription and some Tussin for Dad’s congestion. Sue, our friend and nephrology nurse practitioner, had advised me to buy only Tussin. It has only one active ingredient (guaifenesin), and would not adversely interact with his other medications.

milestoneCross3When Dad, Mom, and Michell returned home, we all ate lunch. Dad agreed to drink some Nepro at lunch with his ham sandwich. Dad had time for a short nap before his swallow therapy session with Kristen. During this session, she had Dad eat some potato chips and two types of cookies. From what I could tell, he handled them pretty well. Bit by bit (or bite by bite), he was being cleared to eat a normal diet.

Shortly after Kristen left at 3:00 P.M., Dad took another short nap, waking up at 4:00 P.M. During happy hour, he drank some ginger ale. For dinner, Mom prepared one of Dad’s favorite meals—salmon and green beans, followed by pineapple sherbet.

After dinner, we played a spirited game of Oh Hell, and Michell won. By 8:00 P.M., the four of us were heading towards my parents’ bedroom. I set up the nebulizer and administered another breathing treatment. When Mom administered Dad’s meds, I had her also add some Tussin in Dad’s G-tube. Michell assisted Mom in setting up the Kangaroo pump. The tubing had to be threaded in a specific path through the pump, and the daily setup process still confounded Mom. By 8:30 P.M., Dad was drifting off to sleep, and Michell and I were heading to our respective rooms.

February 16. Dad was still congested today, but regardless of how he felt, today was a dialysis day, which meant that he, Mom, and Michell were up at 4:00 A.M. Dad was dressed by 4:30 A.M., and I stopped work for a few minutes to give him a breathing treatment. Once again, the HOP bus arrived at 5:45 A.M., 15 minutes early. Dad had gained more than five pounds over the weekend and had 2,600 ml of fluid removed during dialysis. He and Michell arrived home at 11:45 A.M., and I was able to take a break from work at 12:30 P.M. to join them for lunch. I was able to get Dad to drink a glass of Nepro with his ham and cheese sandwich. He needed to consume three cans of Nepro per day, so any amount that I could get him to consume during the day was that much less that he needed to consume at night.

milestoneCross2About an hour after lunch, Dad was ready for a nap. With some oversight from Michell, Mom administered Dad’s midday meds. After resting for less than 30 minutes, Dad woke from his nap at 2:15 P.M., but wanted to lie down again at 4:00 P.M. Less than an hour later, he was up and ready for happy hour. In keeping with his drinks of thickened liquids, he enjoyed a nectar drink.

Mom made a pizza for dinner, and Dad downed two slices and chased them with some sherbet. We started playing cards at 7:25 P.M., and by 8:15 P.M., Mom had won our nightly game of Oh Hell. After Mom finished administering Dad’s meds and prepared the Kangaroo pump and tube feed, Michell and I left for our respective bedrooms.

February 17. Today was a milestone day. Michell would be leaving us, and Dad would attend his plan of care meeting at the dialysis center. I started work at 3:45 A.M. and about an hour later, I heard Dad calling me. He wanted to get up. I had turned off his tube feed at 3:00 A.M. when the alarm on the Kangaroo pump indicated that the tube feed bag was empty. He had consumed this three cans of Nepro during the past 24 hours, so I turned off the pump and disconnected him from it.

milestoneCross1I spotted him as he transferred from the bed to the wheelchair. He quickly wheeled himself to the kitchen and read the newspaper while he waited for Mom to get up. After he ate breakfast, I took a short break to apply shower shields to his dialysis port so that Michell could help him shower. When he was finished showering and shaving, Mom administered his morning meds.

I had a morning of meetings to attend, but I stopped for a few minutes at 9:45 A.M. to chat with Brenda when she arrived for Dad’s physical therapy session. She would have one more session with Dad before Kathleen, her supervisor, assessed Dad’s progress. Her assessment would determine whether Dad could receive additional physical therapy, and if he could, she would set his goals.

At 10:30 A.M. we said teary goodbyes as Michell left us for the last time. She had joined One on One Personal Homecare after Dad returned home, and Dad had been her first patient with the company. She had been invested in his care and very protective of him. When she left, I gave her a card from Stan and me that contained a $300 gift card. Fortunately, she did not open the envelope until she was gone because I don’t think that my parents would have been thrilled that I gave her the extra money. On her way home, she stopped by a fast-food restaurant and opened the card and called me and tearfully thanked me. The house seemed unusually quiet after she left. I don’t think that my parents and I had been alone in the house since last May. Once again, I felt like I had lost another safety net. I didn’t know if Mom yet realized how much support we received from the aides, but within a few minutes after Michell left, Mom called me when Dad started vomiting a lot of mucus.

milestoneCross3I worked a little longer, and then we ate lunch. During lunch, Mom and I tried to convince Dad to drink his three cans of Nepro during the day. If he would do that, we could discontinue the tube feed. The idea received only a lukewarm reception from him. He was all in favor of discontinuing the Nepro during the night, but he didn’t want to drink the three 8-oz cans of it during the day.

After lunch, we headed to the dialysis center for Dad’s second plan of care meeting. In October, I had attended the first meeting by myself, so this would be the first meeting for Mom and Dad. After he walked down a very long hallway with his walker, the group of caregivers all but gave him a standing ovation. The dietitians, nurses, case workers, and doctor in attendance were very impressed with his current condition and that he had made the long walk. Everyone also validated the things that we had been doing to care for Dad, which relieved me. We had a great session. Last month, Dad had resisted the idea of surgery to remove his dialysis port. During this meeting, I think that we convinced him to have the fistula surgery, and he agreed that the graft would be his best option. In addition to reduced risk of infection, the fistula would enable him to shower without shower shields. Most dialysis patients have fistula surgery for dialysis, which enables the dialysis center personnel to use his arm for dialysis. The dialysis ports that Dad had were considered temporary. Dr. Issac said that he would give us a referral for the surgeon who performs the surgery. Because Dad had been so weak, Dr. Issac had not wanted Dad to have the surgery before now. However, he now felt that Dad was almost strong enough to withstand more surgery.

milestoneCross1Instead of playing cards after dinner, we spent quite a bit of time going over meds, how to dispense them, and how to set up the tube feed and Kangaroo pump. While we were at it, I also figured out how to turn off that damn alarm on the Kangaroo pump. The pitch of the alarm was too high for Dad to hear, but Mom and I heard it loud and clear. Now she and I would sleep better. Before I went up to my room, I showed Dad how to disconnect his G-tube from the Kangaroo pump tubing. I had hoped that showing Dad how to free himself from the pump wasn’t a mistake. I crossed my fingers that he would not try to get up and out of bed without assistance. He had been terrible about not wanting to bother the aides. I feared that he would not want to bother Mom.

Getting better doesn’t feel like progress

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.