A good day in the ICU gets Dad one step closer to a room on the patient floor

August 27, 2018. Mom and I arrived at Dad’s room around 8:30 A.M. Dad was a little confused about where he was and why he was there, and I spent a lot of time trying to explain his situation to him.

hip1At 9:50 A.M., Adan arrived at Dad’s room with Emily, his trainee, to conduct a swallow assessment. I was relieved to see him and knew that Adan would conduct a proper assessment that wouldn’t adversely impact Dad. Before he started, Adan left the room to review Dad’s chart. Within moments of his return, the doctor and his entourage of residents and other providers stopped by Dad’s room for morning rounds, which meant that Adan had to postpone his assessment. After conferring with his associates for a few minutes, the doctor told me that Dad’s hemoglobin and platelets were low. It seemed counterintuitive to me, but the doctor said that he’d probably order blood thinner for Dad to address both problems. Because Dad’s fistula had clogged during his last dialysis session, the nephrologist had entered an order for Dad to go to interventional radiology (IR) to have his fistula checked out. If Dad was lucky, clearing out the clog would be a simple process. If the interventional radiologist could not clear the clog, he would need to insert a dialysis catheter in Dad’s neck. I said a silent prayer for Dad’s good luck.

Shortly after the doctors left, Adan and Emily returned. In case a patient aspirates fluid during a swallow study, it’s important to have a clean mouth so that a minimal amount of bacteria goes into the lungs. Because Dad had not brushed his teeth since he arrived five days ago, Adan had him brush his teeth before starting the test. After observing Dad drink some water, Adan said that he had a productive cough and a good swallow. They then had Dad drink some cranberry juice, followed by some pudding. I was thrilled when Adan said that he had not observed any sign of dysphagia, and would order a menu for him. He warned us that food trays get a low priority in the ICU, so he couldn’t guarantee when Dad would get a meal. As Adan left the room, he said that Dad was probably the healthiest person on the floor, which was the best news that we had heard since Dad entered the hospital.

At 10:15 A.M., I saw a familiar face walk by the door. I quickly left the room and was able to stop Dr. Heath White. We had had quite a history with Dr. White in 2015. He had tended to Mom after her stroke and then had periodically been Dad’s attending physician for a couple of months. We chatted in the hall for a few minutes, and he said that he was surprised that it had been three years since he had seen Dad. While we were talking, he pulled out his phone to peruse Dad’s charts to see when he had last added a note to Dad’s chart. As he left, he told me to contact him if we ever had any pulmonary problems. It was good to see a familiar face, and I regretted that he had not had an opportunity to see Dad last year when he looked and felt so well. As much as I liked Dr. White, he had often had negative predictions about Dad’s prognosis.

hip3At 11:00 A.M., Leslie removed Dad’s feeding tube. She then told me that she had started Dad on a new blood thinner to prevent clotting. Because his hemoglobin was low, he might receive a blood transfusion. We had been down this low hemoglobin path three years ago, and I hoped that one unit of blood would do the trick.

Now that Dad was more alert, he talked a blue streak. Not everything that he said was based on reality, and he was still confused about where he was. He thought that he would be going to a hotel and that he would be coming home with us tonight. However, when he and Stan talked about sports or chores that Stan could do around the house, Dad was as lucid as the rest of us. I couldn’t wait until he was moved out of ICU, an environment that often contributed to confusion and delirium.

home4Cross4Shortly before noon, an aide from food service brought Dad his lunch tray. His first meal in five days consisted of puréed chicken noodle soup, milk, iced tea, and orange sherbet. Because he thought that the consistency of the soup was like a milkshake, he decided to use a straw to eat it, which proved to be very messy. While holding the bowl, he tipped it, and half of the soup ended up on the bed. He was able to consume some of it before he devoured the sherbet. Eating again was an important milestone. Although it had been a messy meal, I was practically giddy with relief that he had been able to eat.

After Dad was cleaned up from his lunch, Mom, Stan, and I went home for our lunch. Stan then left Temple around 1:30 P.M., hoping to beat Houston’s afternoon rush-hour traffic. Shortly after he left, I received a text message from Pastor Tom. He indicated that he had spoken with Dad, but he wasn’t sure what was going on and asked me to call him to clarify Dad’s status. Dad was pretty lucid when it came to talking about yard maintenance or sports, but he was pretty confused about his status and what was happening to him. I could understand how Tom would also be confused following a conversation with Dad.

When Mom and I returned to Dad’s room shortly before 3:00 P.M., Dad was sleeping. He woke up to let us know that he would be receiving some blood and platelets. Leslie came in a few minutes later and confirmed that he had been typed and matched and was ready to receive the transfusion when the blood arrived. I was pleased that Dad could accurately relay some information to us about his status.

hip5Dad’s status had improved dramatically. He no longer required medication to elevate his blood pressure, and now he was eating. He was still a sick puppy, but not sick enough to warrant ICU care. I had hoped that Dad would be moved from ICU to a patient room, but now that move seemed doubtful for today. The hospital generally does not like to move patients from ICU while they’re receiving blood. It was getting late, so we were not sure if the IR schedule could accommodate Dad.

As we were preparing to leave the hospital at 5:30 P.M., Leslie told us that Dad should be moved from ICU to 634 North before the shift change. If his food tray arrived after the shift change, she said that she would take his dinner tray to him. Although the 6th floor had a higher patient-to-nurse ratio, she said that they had many more aides and that one of the aides would assist Dad with dinner. When I asked about the blood transfusion, Leslie said that he should be able to receive blood overnight.

steadyCross2When I returned to my parents’ house, I wrote an enthusiastic email message to my sister-in-law, telling her about the turnaround in my father’s health in the past couple of days. Today had been a great day. Dad hadn’t had his fistula checked out, but it felt like he had turned a corner. Mom and I both felt optimistic about Dad’s prognosis.

 

Holding steady in the ICU

August 25, 2018. When Dad had been hospitalized in 2015, extended time without eating had left him unable to swallow food without aspirating. Against all the odds and the prognostications of the naysayers, he had regained his ability to swallow again. The fear that he could suffer again from dysphagia gripped me, probably irrationally. Before Mom and I left home for the hospital this morning, I texted Adan, our friend and speech pathologist at Scott & White, for his advice. He told me to ask the attending physician for a speech consultation. Adan added that he was off work until Monday, but that he would alert Holly, the speech pathologist who was working this weekend. Holly was another Scott & White employee I really liked. Even if she couldn’t help Dad this weekend, just seeing her would provide calming relief to Mom and me.

steadyCross1Mom and I arrived at the hospital shortly before 8:30 A.M. When we entered Dad’s room, I checked the board to see the names of the nurses and aides who were assigned to him today. When I saw that Natalie was his nurse, I wondered if it could be the Natalie that we knew in 2015. Less than a minute later, I got my answer when she walked into the room. I was so thrilled and relieved to see her again that I ran to her and hugged her. In retrospect, I probably picked up all sorts of germs when I hugged her, but I didn’t care and would do it again. Not only was she an angel in blue scrubs, but she was also familiar with Dad’s medical history. Natalie, whom we had referred to as Daytime Natalie, usually worked in the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit (CTICU) and was helping out in the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU) for a few days. Dad had also been in the MICU unit for about a month in 2015, and another nurse came by to say hello, saying that she thought that we looked familiar.

Shortly after our reunion with the nursing staff, the nephrology resident stopped by and said that she didn’t think that Dad needed to be dialyzed today. However, she added that the nephrologist would stop by later during nephrology rounds, and he would make the final decision after seeing Dad.

hip3At 9:45 A.M., the doctor and his entourage of fellows and residents entered Dad’s room. He reiterated that Dad was very sick. His low blood pressure, which they were keeping in the safe range with Levophed, was affecting his liver, kidneys, and lungs. When I asked about a speech consultation, he said that Dad’s blood pressure would need to increase before they could consider letting him swallow food. He went on to say that as it was, Dad was in danger of aspirating his own saliva. When I mentioned that Dad’s face and extremities seemed very puffy from excess fluid, the doctor said that dialyzing him could have unintended consequences. Although Dad needed to have some of his excess fluid removed, removing the fluid could cause his blood pressure to drop, so dialyzing him today seemed out of the question.

The doctor asked me about whether we would consent to using a ventilator. I told him that I would view using a ventilator as a last resort. When I asked if we could use CPAP or BiPap for oxygen instead of a ventilator, he said that CPAP had some risks, but inserting the ventilator also carried risks because you had to anesthetize the patient. I was so frustrated with Dad’s situation, and it seemed that everything hinged on our ability to increase his blood pressure. I hoped that Mom and I would not be faced with this decision.

hip1Just when we thought that we understood Dad’s plan for the day, the dialysis nurse entered the room. By 11:30 A.M. she was finished with Dad’s setup, and his eight-hour session had begun. She told us that the nephrologist wanted to see if they could safely remove 300 ml/hour. Over an 8-hour period, he could have as much as 2,400 ml removed, which would be great if he could tolerate it. They had given him a liter of saline the other day to increase his blood pressure, so I was not overly optimistic that they could reach their goal. The dialysis machine monitored Dad’s blood pressure and would alarm if Dad’s blood pressure dropped. Dr. Idoux, the nephrologist, said that Dad might need to be dialyzed every day for a while if he could tolerate it. I prayed that we could safely remove all of the excess fluid that he had accumulated over the past 7 to 8 months.

Because I knew that she would be honest with me, I spoke with Natalie about the wisdom of my leaving Dad for about 20 hours. She said that he seemed to be trending in the right direction, although during her time as a nurse, she had seen patients die who were about to be discharged. On that happy note, I posted my mobile phone number in the room and ensured that the nurses would contact me if I needed to come home. Johnson City was only a two-hour drive from Temple, and we would return if she or another medical provider thought that Dad was in jeopardy.

After taking a short lunch break, Mom, Stan, and I returned to Dad’s room at 12:45 P.M. Dad was still on dialysis, and his blood pressure was still holding steady. Levophed was supporting his blood pressure, but they had not needed to increase the dosage to compensate for the loss of fluid. Dad seemed a bit more aware, but he still faded in and out. I prayed that he would not wake up, notice that he was on dialysis, and pull out the lines.

steadyCross2I hugged my parents goodbye, and Stan and I left for Johnson City at 2:35 P.M., hoping and praying that both of my parents would be OK until I returned home tomorrow morning.

Remembering that recovery can be the worst part of surgery

August 23, 2018. Mom and I arrived at Dad’s room shortly after 8:30 A.M. Following earlier surgeries, he had suffered from post-surgery delirium, and I wondered how confused he would be about his surroundings and his situation. Dad was still sleeping when we arrived, and his breakfast tray sat untouched on his bedside table. I was pleased that his breakfast included Cream of Wheat, which he called gruel and which he could easily swallow. Because of his aspiration history and the weeks of swallow rehabilitation therapy required to recover from this disorder, I was always nervous about letting him go too long without eating, and almost 40 hours had elapsed since his last meal. I was able to wake him without much difficulty and coaxed him to swallow two or three spoonfuls of the now-cold cereal and a couple of sips of orange juice before he drifted back to sleep.

hip5A few minutes later, Lisa, his nurse, came into his room. I could tell from the monitors that his blood pressure and pulse were trending downward, and Lisa started making some phone calls. Dr. Christopher Sartin, the orthopedic surgery fellow, stopped by and ordered a blood test to check Dad’s potassium level. The lab tech was unable to find a vein, and eventually had the nurse pause Dad’s IV so that she could draw blood from the IV line. I had inherited Dad’s stubborn veins and understood the torture this activity could be, and I hated to watch him endure it.

When the lab tech left, an aide checked Dad’s blood sugar, which was down to 54, which is very low. His temperature was also low, and his blood pressure was 90/58. A couple of minutes later, Lisa called the doctor again, and I overheard her say something about calling for a rapid. Moments later, I heard an announcement that Mom and I had heard numerous times during Dad’s previous hospital stays but never for him: Rapid response medical alert; in-patient room 546 South.

hip3Dad had been assigned to an unusually large room, which suddenly became very crowded. In addition to his nurse, the room was now being filled with the rapid-response nurse, the charge nurse, the other nurses assigned to 5 South, therapists, doctors, the pharmacist, and the chaplain. In case Dad needed to be moved, someone from the Transportation department waited in the hall outside of his door. Because they kept moving around, I lost count of the number of people in the room after I counted 12 of them. One of the nurses was one who we knew from Dad’s 2015 stay in the hospital, and she continually updated us on what the team was doing and what they were considering. As she disseminated information to me, I relayed it to Mom, who was now very nervous. I overheard them say something about giving Dad Narcan to rid him of any opioids that he had received during surgery.

Thinking that the blood pressure equipment might not be correctly recording, they tried two different machines and then tried the manual process, but all of the readings were similar. To elevate his blood sugar, they gave him dextrose. Myriad devices were ushered in and out of the room. I supposed that there was some bodily function that they didn’t measure, but I couldn’t imagine what it was.

To increase his blood pressure, they started giving him a bolus dose of saline. Although I prefer saline over Lopressor alternatives, I thought that I should tell our friendly nurse about Dad’s fluid overload condition, although at this point, they were fighting to stabilize him. They could address his fluid situation later.

hip1After 30 minutes, Dad’s blood pressure was 104/71 and his blood sugar had increased to a safer 85. The rapid-response team finally decided to move him from the orthopedic surgical floor to surgical ICU (SICU). Fortunately, a room was available, and the transportation tech and the nurses started preparing Dad for the move.

Mom and I followed Dad’s bed through the halls and elevators to room 202 North. As he was being resituated in his room, a nurse walked in and started talking with the doctor. As soon as I heard her voice, I knew that Dad was in good hands. I immediately said, “Hi, Ursula! Do you remember us?” It took her about a nanosecond to remember us. I had to remind Mom that Ursula (from Transylvania) was Dad’s first nurse when he was brought to the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit (CTICU) following his aortic valve replacement surgery on May 6, 2015. She said that she was the SICU charge nurse and would get him situated, and that Debra would be his nurse.

Dad’s temperature was still low, so the doctor ordered a Bier Hugger to warm him. Because he wouldn’t be getting out of bed anytime soon, Ursula also started a Foley catheter. It was now 11:50 A.M., and we still hadn’t had a coherent conversation with him since he was wheeled to surgery yesterday morning.

home4Cross2I started having unsettling feelings of déjà vu when the nurse inserted a feeding tube at 12:15 P.M. I knew that it was necessary, but it seemed like a big step backward. A few minutes later, Dr. Jonathan Curley, the resident SICU doctor, asked us to leave the room because he wanted to start an a-line in Dad’s arm, which required a sterile environment. The a-line would enable the doctors to monitor Dad’s blood gases and continuously monitor his blood pressure. Because you cannot insert IVs, draw blood, or take blood pressure from an arm that has a fistula, starting IVs and a-lines was more difficult now that he had a fistula in his left arm.

When Mom and I returned to the room at 1:00 P.M., the doctor was trying unsuccessfully to start another IV line. About an hour later, Patricia, a tech from the cardiac unit, administered a cardiac ultrasound. She couldn’t tell me what the test would show, but I assumed the doctor wanted to see if his heart function had improved.

home4Cross3Around 3:00 P.M., Dad’s first IV infiltrated and they needed to start another IV. Unfortunately, his body wasn’t giving up veins without a fight. Dr. Curly called in another resident, whom I nicknamed the vein hunter. He also used ultrasound and he eventually found a vein on Dad’s upper right arm. Dad’s MAP was still very low, hovering between 54 and 58, but he was receiving more albumin to raise his blood pressure. I kept hoping that the albumin would start working. His MAP needed to increase to at least 60 (ideally 65).

By 4:15 P.M., Dad had finished receiving his dosage of albumin, but his MAP had only inched up to 59-60. However, his glucose level had increased to a more normal level of 92.

Although Dad was awake for much of the afternoon, he wasn’t making much sense. At 4:45 P.M., Mom and I were exhausted from this emotionally draining day, and I was concerned about the emotional strain on Mom. We decided to go home for the evening. As we walked out to the parking lot, I received a text message from Sharon, one of Mom’s dear neighbors, saying that she and her husband would provide us with dinner. After we arrived home, I walked across the street to their house to tell them about the day and to accept their offer of dinner. They said that they would bring the meal over in about 30 minutes.

home4Cross2I had been back in the house for only a few minutes when my phone rang at 6:06 P.M. It was Dr. Yawn from the hospital. He started by saying that Dad was stable but followed that statement by asking if my mother or I had medical power of attorney. He said that although Dad was stable now, he was pretty sure that he wouldn’t stay that way. He said that Dad’s heart was not doing well. They had performed an echocardiogram yesterday, and the side of the heart that pumps blood to the lungs was strained. He also said that Dad’s ammonia level was elevated, which was causing much of his confusion. The doctor said that the elevated ammonia level was the result of his elevated liver enzymes and depressed clotting. He said that they were giving him medication to address the elevated ammonia. He seemed to think that Dad had more confusion than from just anesthesia, but I told him that I had been anticipating 3-4 days of confusion, which had become normal for him after surgery. He had no response, and I felt that he discounted what I said.

He went on to say that Dad had been slowly responding to some medication to elevate his low blood pressure, but that IVs cannot be used to administer most of the Lopressor class of drugs, which would require a central line. Dr. Yawn needed permission from us to insert the line so that they could administer these drugs. I reluctantly gave him permission to proceed with the procedure, which would require an interventional radiologist.

Dad seemed to be making urine, but because of his liver situation, the doctor said that he would not be able to be dialized if his kidney function failed. The organs have a pecking order of importance, and it seemed that the liver trumped the kidneys, so that anything that might help the kidneys but compromise the liver would be off limits. The Doctor went on to say that Dad had the potential for severe liver problems, which would yield a severe outcome. He asked if Dad had a history of liver ailments. I told the doctor that the only problem that he had had was when he was very ill in 2015 and his liver was in shock for a few days.

home4Cross2The conversation continued to get worse when Dr. Yawn started asking about any extreme measures that we would want to hospital personnel to take should Dad’s heart stop beating. I didn’t want chest compressions, but I felt that I should discuss this issue with Mom, and then call him with our decision.

Mom and I had a long and heartbreaking conversation about this question. In the end, because Dad had signed a DNR for his surgery in 2015, I felt certain that he would not want the chest compressions, and I pleaded with Mom to agree. During the past 30 years, Dad and I had had several conversations about procedures that he would not want at a later stage in his life. I now prayed that he would have stuck with those declarations, had he been able to speak. Although we watch TV and movie doctors give chest compressions, in reality, the act is violent. Mom reluctantly agreed to forgo extreme measures, and I called Dr. Yawn. When I told him the reasons for our decision about not administering chest compressions, he agreed and used the word gruesome to describe the process.

I asked the doctor to call us during the night if any event occurred so that we could go to the hospital to be with Dad.

home4Cross3As I ended the call, the doorbell rang. Sharon, and her husband, Jim, were on the front porch holding our hot dinner, which they had just finished preparing for us. I thanked them profusely for their kindness and quickly told them about our phone call. After they left, I put most of the meal in the refrigerator. During the past 30 minutes, Mom and I had lost our appetite.

I didn’t sleep well, but at least my sleep was not interrupted by a ringing telephone.

 

Improving at a snail’s pace with speed bumps

January 22, 2016. Today started out well. I started to work at 3:45 A.M. and stopped about three hours later for a breakfast break. I was surprised to learn that Dad was still sleeping. A few minutes after I returned to work, I heard Dad and Dianne talking in the bedroom. After she unplugged him from the tube feed, he used the walker to go into the closet to pick out his clothes for the day, and then he got dressed. Dianne later told me that it was a blessing to witness how far he had come.

scargo_cross1Dad, Dianne, and Mom ate breakfast at 8:15 A.M., Dad having his usual Cream of Wheat with honey, and a pear. About 90 minutes later, he said that he didn’t feel well, and then started vomiting. Surprisingly, he vomited only mucus and not his breakfast. I was perplexed about what might have caused the vomiting. Fortunately, Stephanie, the nurse, had already called us and was scheduled to arrive within the hour.

When Stephanie arrived, she couldn’t shed any light on why he might have been sick. She said that although he seemed to have a lot of phlegm, his lungs sounded clear. She and I then had a long talk about the amount of fluid that was being removed from him during dialysis. He didn’t appear to be retaining any fluid, and his dry weight seemed low to me. Stephanie was no nephrologist, but I asked her if she thought that measuring Dad’s ankles every day might help us to determine his level of fluid retention. She said that she thought that that was a good idea and suggested that we give it a try.

Janet stopped by for Dad’s occupational therapy session, and she and Dad had a long discussion about his lack of exercise between their sessions. He didn’t like to do it, and I doubted that anything she said would make any difference. She said that she would return next week, but I didn’t know how much more we’d see of her after that. She had been working with Dad on building up his core, and today I was pleased when I learned that she would lead both Mom and Dad through the exercises. I had Dianne record the session so that they could repeat the exercises when Janet wasn’t here.

IMG_1437When Janet left, I took a break from work to eat lunch. When I returned to my computer about an hour later, I was greeted by the blue screen of death. I called my employer’s help desk and ran through some diagnostic tests to determine if we could fix the problem, but the tech finally said that he would open an urgent issue. I was lucky. The now-dead computer was very new, and I still had my old laptop with me. The IT tech from the Houston office called me and said that he was sending me a loaner computer via FedEx, which meant that I wouldn’t need to drive 60 miles to our Austin office, which had been a concern. I spent the remainder of my workday using my old computer to work on a website. I was thankful that I had enabled daily backups of my computer.

While I was playing with blue screens and the help desk, Dianne and Dad were walking around the house and running through his balancing routines at the laundry room sink. During happy hour, he navigated himself into the sunken sunroom. He still needed some assistance to step out of the room, but his skill with the walker was improving.

scargo_cross2We were finished with our dinner of enchiladas and chocolate cake before 7:00 P.M. Dianne was getting better at Oh Hell and was tonight’s winner. We were finished with our card game by 7:30 P.M., and by 7:55 P.M. Dad was drifting off to sleep.

January 23. Although it was Saturday morning, I woke up shortly after 3:00 A.M. While I was lying in bed wondering why I was awake, I heard a loud crash through the baby monitor. I jumped out of bed and ran downstairs and into Dad’s room. It seemed that he had swung he feet out of bed and was attempting to get out of bed, forgetting that he was attached to the tube feed, which hung on an IV pole. Having the contraption fall was only a small problem. The fact that Dianne had not secured the top of the tube-feed bag when she refilled it was quite another. The sticky Nepro seemed to have been sprayed all over Dad, his bed, and the floor. Once again, I was very thankful that Stan had purchased floor mats to cover my parents’ bedroom carpeting.

While Dianne was cleaning up after Dad’s handiwork, Dad wheeled himself into the bathroom and got himself cleaned up for breakfast. After his breakfast of Cream of Wheat, he wanted another cup of hot water, which prompted another knock-down drag-out about what he could and could not do with water. Kristen, the speech therapist, had told him on numerous occasions that he could not drink water unless his mouth was clean. Drinking water immediately after eating was strictly forbidden—at least for now. I reminded him that by March 1st I would be out of here, even if he gave himself pneumonia again by aspirating on food particles.

scargo_cross3Mom and I were still concerned about Dad’s dry weight and followed his bus to the dialysis center so that we could talk with his nurse about the amount of fluid they had been removing. We had spoken with Sue, our friend and nurse practitioner, only a week ago, but I still thought that they were removing too much. After speaking with the charge nurse, she said that they would remove only the minimal amount—1200 ml. Mom and I had been loaded for bear, and the encounter with the nurse was very anticlimactic.

On the way home from the dialysis center, Mom and I stopped at HEB. I preferred shopping during early morning hours when no one was around except the people who restocked the shelves. When we pulled into the parking lot, we noticed the strangest sight—hundreds of blackbirds were sleeping in the parking lot. Dozens of them were on the ground, and many others were sitting on the tops of the employees’ cars. As we drove through the parking lot, they didn’t stir. They remained still as we walked passed them and into the store. By the time that we left the store, the birds were gone.

Stan arrived from Houston at noon. He hadn’t been in the house for more than two minutes where we heard the HOP bus arrive with Dad and Dianne. Dianne reported that Dad had weighed in at 66.2 kg, and true to her word, the nurse had removed only 1190 ml of fluid, leaving Dad weighing 65.4 kg.

scargo_cross2After lunch, Mom and I ran a couple of errands, and when we returned, Stan and Dad were playing cribbage. After beating Stan at a couple of games, Dad finally wanted to take a nap. He told Dianne that he wanted to get up by 5:00 P.M., a little less than two hours from now. She tried to wake him at 4:45 P.M. and then again 45 minutes later. She was finally able to rouse him at 5:50 P.M., but he stated that he didn’t feel right.  He joined us in the living room as we were ending our happy hour. Dianne prepared some shaved ice for him, and during the remainder of our happy hour, Dad talked a lot about his mother and her final days battling Guillan Barre Syndrome.

We had a nice dinner, but Dad didn’t eat much. At Dad’s request, we played a longer game of Oh Hell and didn’t start heading toward bed until 8:45 P.M. After Dad got into bed, Dianne left the room to get ready for bed. She was gone for only a couple of minutes when Dad started complaining about not feeling well and about having the G-tube. As I was administering his meds into the G-tube, he started vomiting, and this time he was vomiting a lot more than mucus.

By the time that Dianne returned, Dad said that he was feeling better. To ensure that his night was less eventful, I also administered some Zofran into his G-tube. He seemed to be coughing a lot, so we had him move up in the bed, and I raised his head and feet. By 9:30 P.M., he seemed better and ready to go to sleep. I was certainly good and ready to go to bed.

January 24. I got up shortly before 6:30 A.M. and went downstairs to see Dad. I had heard through the monitor that he and Dianne were awake and he was asking her if he was tied up (his reference to being attached to the tube feed). He was feeling good, but he was somewhat grumpy and a little sarcastic. While he and I were exchanging barbs, Dianne left the room to take a shower and get dressed. When she returned, I went to my home office to see if I could make any progress with my loaner PC, which had arrived yesterday from my Houston office.

IMG_1442We all had a nice breakfast together. Mom fixed scrambled eggs, sausage, and English muffins, and Dad had a little of each. While Mom and I attended church, Stan and Dad played cribbage. After lunch, Stan and Dad went out to the garden. They spent about 30 minutes outside and then sat on the patio for about 20 minutes, just enjoying the beautiful weather and each other’s company. Stan was Dad’s welcome relief from being surrounded by a bunch of women who seemed to do nothing but tell him what he could and could not do. By the time that the guys came indoors, it was after 3:00 P.M. and time for Stan to return to Houston.

After Stan left, the four of us watched the Denver Broncos beat the New England Patriots. My parents were diehard fans of the Denver Broncos and were thrilled at their victory over the Patriots. We monitored the game between the Carolina Panthers and Phoenix Cardinals during dinner and our game of Oh Hell. Dianne was a fan of the Panthers, so everyone in the house seemed pleased with the outcomes of the sporting events.

scargo_cross1We wrapped up our game of Oh Hell by 8:30 P.M., and by 9:15 P.M., all of were ready for bed. Before drifting off to sleep, I called Stan. He had texted me when he arrived home, but I needed to speak with him every night before I went to sleep.

January 25. I was up by 3:30 A.M. and at work with a cup of hot coffee within 15 minutes. The house was very quiet for the next 2-1/2 hours. I kept the office door closed, but by 6:00 A.M., I heard some sounds coming from Dad’s room.  Dianne unhooked him from the tube feed, and Dad got up and got dressed for the day. He wheeled himself into the kitchen and prepared himself a cup of hot water while Mom prepared his Cream of Wheat and ½ pear for breakfast.

IMG_1446While I was working, Dad and Dianne walked around the backyard for about an hour, which gave his legs a good workout.

Brenda arrived around 11:30 A.M. for Dad’s physical therapy session, and she concentrated on his balance, which would be important when he started walking with a cane.

Kristen arrived at 2:00 P.M. for Dad’s swallow therapy session. During this visit, she had Mom prepare a cup of hot coffee for Dad and had him take some sips of it. Once an avid coffee drinker, he now was not very enamored with the taste of coffee. It’s amazing how not eating for a few months can affect your taste buds. Kristen said that as long as he had a clean mouth and remembered to tuck his chin when he swallowed, she felt good about him drinking coffee. She added that on her next visit they would have thin liquids and a snack. Kristen left after only 30 minutes, at which time Dad decided to take a short nap.

In addition to Dad’s normal Monday activities and appointments, today was recertification and assessment day for Dad’s therapies. At 3:00 P.M., Kathleen arrived with Pam, the physical therapy shower aide, in tow. Kathleen reviewed Dad’s balance, walking with the walker, and his ability to transfer into and out of the car. She also had Pam work with me to ensure that I could properly apply the dressing to Dad’s port before he showered. Our aides were both trained, but their time with us was coming to a close, and Mom and I also needed this training. At the end of her time with us, Kathleen certified Dad for another 30 days of occupational and physical therapy. She said that he had great balance and that she would like to see Dad walking independently with a cane at the end of 30 days.

scargo_cross3After Kathleen and Pam left, I returned to work until happy hour, and Dad took a nap. After dinner and happy hour, Mom beat us at Oh Hell. It was an early evening, and Dad was in bed by 8:00 P.M. I couldn’t wait to call Stan and give him the good news about today’s events.

 

 

 

Getting better doesn’t always feel like progress

January 18, 2016. I drove to my office in Houston and worked until my lunchtime, at which time I left Houston for Temple. While I was in transit, Brenda stopped by for Dad’s physical therapy session. She suggested that they practice a car transfer, but he told her that he was done with practicing the car transfer. He had transferred in and out of the car several times. Brenda didn’t know it, but we had not always adhered to her guidelines, so she probably didn’t realize that Dad had hit the streets for doctors’ appointments and haircuts following his first successful attempt. However, knowing Dad as she did, she wouldn’t have been too surprised. Dad could be very determined, not to mention stubborn. It was a Locke family trait. Instead of car transfers, Brenda had him work on his balance.

progresscross1When I arrived at my parents’ home in Temple, Kristen, the speech therapist, was reviewing the dos and don’ts about eating and swallowing. While she was there, I showed her some foods that I had purchased in Houston, which included canned nectars and tomato basil soup. Based on some earlier conversations with Kristen, I had guessed that they qualified as thickened liquids, and she agreed.

For dinner, Mom prepared a chicken and biscuit dinner, and for dessert we had angel food cake, topped with a homemade mixed-berry jam. It seemed that we had deviated somewhat from the “avoid meals of white and red” guideline so that we could distinguish blood from aspirated food in his trach, but we didn’t care. We were pleased that we were able to prepare meals that we could all enjoy together. Just a few weeks ago, Dad would retreat to his bedroom while we ate, coming out when it was time to play Oh Hell. We played the card game again tonight, and Dad won.

While Dad was getting ready for bed, I learned that since I had left on Friday, he had started dressing himself.

progresscross2Before I went to bed, I needed to move my car from the front of the house to the side of the garage. While I was outside, I noticed a large stack of boxes beside the garage. It seemed that UPS had left my order from American HomePatient out of sight of the street and out of our sight too. After using the hand truck to haul everything inside, I unpacked the boxes and saw that they neglected again to send us the saline and 4x4s gauze sponges that I had ordered two orders ago. These supplies were vital for trach care and I had resorted to having the nurses to bring me gauze sponges during their visits.

January 19. Dad had a very good night, waking only once at 3:00 A.M. to use the Yankauer suction wand. When he woke an hour later, he was in a good mood and had a pretty good morning. He and Michell were ready and waiting for the HOP bus when it arrived early at 5:40 A.M.

progresscross3When they arrived at the dialysis center, Dad weighed in at 66.4 kg. Because his target weight was 63 kg (139 lbs), the dialysis nurse said that they would remove 4800 ml of fluid. Michell had experienced the last time that the dialysis center removed too much fluid. She strongly objected to this news and had the nurse lower the target to 1800 ml. Michell had changed a lot since she first joined us. In November, she had been shocked when I objected to the guidance of the wound specialist. Now, just two months later, she was standing up to the medical professionals. At the end of his dialysis session, Dad weighed 64.8 kg.

After Dad and Michell returned home, I contacted Sue, our friend and the nurse practitioner at the dialysis center, and questioned her about Dad’s target dry weight. Unlike most of their dialysis patients, Dad needed to gain weight. I was trying my best to get Dad to eat more, yet the dialysis center maintained 63 kg target weight for a 6’1” male. Sue agreed that his case was not typical, and increased his dry weight to 64 kg.

While Sue and I were talking, she told me that Dr. Issac, the nephrologist, wanted to talk with Dad about removing the dialysis port and replacing it with either a fistula or graft. She said that she would schedule an appointment for Dad to see Dr. Jaffers, the surgeon. When I told Dad about the call and the possible surgery options, he seemed to become very depressed. It became clear to me that I did a poor job of presenting this information to him in a positive light, and I spent quite a bit of time trying to convince him that he was doing very well and was making great progress. After talking myself blue in the face, I agreed to drop the subject for today. My parents had been determined that Dad would recover to the point that he would not require dialysis. I suspected that surgery to provide a permanent dialysis vessel was a bit disheartening and not what he wanted to hear.

progresscross1We played Oh Hell after dinner, and Michell won. Dad still seemed a little down, but not as much as earlier. After Dad had gone to bed, Mom thanked me for what I had said to him earlier today, but I don’t think that anything that I said to him had had any effect. She disagreed and thought that he’d feel better tomorrow.

I wondered to myself if it would help if I told him that I believed that he was on day 258 of a 296-day journey, which meant that he was 87% of the way to being better.

January 20. From what I could hear, Dad slept in until 7:00 A.M. I had meetings that started around 4:30 A.M., and couldn’t take a break from work until 10:00 A.M. I took that opportunity to change Dad’s trach, two days past my self-imposed seven-day cadence. The change went well, and Michell noticed that his stoma was becoming smaller. Svenja, the trach nurse, had switched Dad to a smaller sized trach to enable the stoma to begin healing, and it seemed to be working.

progresscross2At 11:20 A.M., Brenda and the shower tech, Pam, stopped by so that Michell could learn how to apply the shower shield to Dad’s dialysis port and how to help him transfer in and out of the shower. During the process, Dad also got to take a shower. Dad and his shower helpers were finished with Dad’s shower within 30 minutes, and Michell was certified to assist Dad with showers. After Pam left, Brenda spent the remainder of Dad’s physical therapy time working on his walking and balance.

After his lunch of ham and turkey on an English muffin, Dad and Mom worked on some of their finances while I worked. The office seemed just a tad smaller with the three of us in such tight quarters.

At the stroke of 2:00 P.M., Kristen arrived for Dad’s swallow therapy. As she was getting ready to leave, Dianne arrived to relieve Michell. Usually, the aides switched out around 10:00 A.M., but because Michell had had car trouble last week and arrived a few hours late, she had told Dianne that she would stay late today.

jan20Shortly after Dianne arrived, Mom went to the grocery store. When she returned, Mom, Dad, and I got into the car and drove to the church. I was still intent on taking Dad back to church on Valentine’s Day, and I thought that we needed at least one practice run. During the ride there, I shared my plan for his recovery and how I believed that by the time the 296 days were up (148 days of hospitalization and 148 days of home care), he would be ready to be mainstreamed. We all agreed on a plan, but he added that he wanted to end the live-in aides in three weeks. I told him that if he used them to help him exercise, we could terminate our relationship with One On One Personal Home Care. As long as we had the aides, we might as well get out money’s worth from them. He seemed to be onboard. I hoped that this little talk would inspire him to exercise more.

At the church, Dad got out of the car, and we walked part of the way to the door. He became a little winded, but we still had enough time to practice a couple more times before the big day.

For dinner, we ate spaghetti, still one of my favorite comfort foods, and then Dad beat us at Oh Hell.

January 21. Dad woke up at 3:30 A.M. to use the toilet and was ready to get up, but his plans were dashed when Dianne told him that he would stay in bed for another 30 minutes.

progresscross3Mom was up before 4:00 A.M., and I met her in the kitchen when I made coffee. With the assistance of his walker, Dad went into the closet to select his clothes, and then he dressed himself. After dressing, he wheeled himself into the kitchen and joined Mom for a cup of hot water, which he referred to as weak coffee. Her coffee was somewhat stronger.

When he finished his breakfast of Cream of Wheat and honey, with a peach on the side, I administered his morning meds and trach care. We negotiated the morning routine like a well-oiled machine, and the HOP bus arrived moments after 6:00 A.M.

progresscross2While Dad and Dianne were at the dialysis center, I called Gale. I subtly implored her to return for one or two rotations. We would be ending our relationship with One on One Personal Homecare Services soon, and I wanted to see her again, if not for work, then for dinner. Gale would not commit to returning to work, but she agreed to come back for dinner. To get the rotation of aides to align with when I wanted to host dinner for Michell and Gale, I might need to get Michell to stay for a two-week stint. I didn’t want to hurt Dianne’s feelings by excluding her from the dinner, but Michell and Gale were by far our favorite aides.

Dad weighed 66.4 kg when he arrived at the dialysis center. After having 2200 ml of fluid removed, he left weighing 64.4 kg. Dianne and Dad returned home at 11:20 A.M.

progresscross1We had turkey sandwiches and Fig Newtons for lunch, and then Dad took a nap. After the loss of 2200 ml of fluid, he was feeling pretty punk. He said that he’d rather not gain weight if it meant having so much fluid removed. I explained that we’d work with Sue to ensure that they gradually increased his dry weight. She had just adjusted it a couple of days ago, so it seemed a bit premature to ask for another adjustment.

After sleeping for a couple of hours, he started feeling a little better, and by happy hour he was feeling more like his normal self. After dinner, we played cards, and I was tonight’s big winner. We were finished with cards and starting our nighttime routine at 7:50 P.M. Within 30 minutes, he was in bed and sleeping, and he slept well all night.

 

Rest stop on the road to recovery

January 17, 2016, marked the 255th day of my Dad’s healthcare odyssey. Now seemed like a good time to take a timeout to review some of the major challenges of his journey. Also, I’m taking a bit of a timeout myself to prepare for Christmas 2017. I’ll continue with Dad’s healthcare story in my next post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.