Thanking those who helped the caregivers

August 2016. Throughout Dad’s ordeal, Mom and I were on the receiving end of numerous acts of kindness. We spent many long days in a hospital room, dealing with negative doctors, hopeless diagnoses, and less-than-positive test results. As we walked into the house after one of those dark days, we often didn’t know what we’d eat for dinner. And then, quite often, the doorbell would ring, and one of our neighbors would be on our doorstep with something that she picked up from Austin or an extra casserole that she made while making one for her family.

thanksInvitationAs our friends showered us with kindness, Mom and I would ask ourselves how we’d ever be able to thank our friends. After almost a year of nonstop kindnesses, Dad was stable and was well on his way to leading his pre-hospitalization normal life. During one of our discussions about our friends, Mom and I decided to host a dinner and invite everyone who had lifted us up by their deeds and prayers. We contacted the Hilton Gardens and Inn and met with one of their banquet representatives. We selected September 30, 2016, as the date and Giving Thanks Day Dinner as the theme. Although I had good reason to be very thankful for a couple of our healthcare providers, we decided to exclude Scott & White employees and invite only friends. Unfortunately, four of the 14 people that we invited would be unable to attend.

September 29. Stan and I took a vacation day from work and drove to my parents’ home in Temple. When we arrived at my parents’ home, Mom told me that American HomePatient would be stopping by later today to pick up Dad’s wheelchair, which was fabulous news. Mom and I had been nagging Dad to get rid of this crutch for months. For a few months now, Dad had been using his cane or walker whenever he left the house. Without the wheelchair, he would now use these aids when he was in the house. Halleluiah.

September 30. Dad was very interested in our plans for the evening. Mom and I needed to arrive early to ensure that the room was ready and to apply some finishing touches. Dad wanted to ensure that he arrived last, so he and Stan decided that they would leave at 6:30 P.M., which was the start time on the invitation.

sunflowerWhen Mom and I arrived at the hotel, the room looked great. While Dad was hospitalized, I had kept real or artificial sunflowers in his room, and today the tables were decorated with sunflower arrangements. I had originally planned to let each one of our guests pick up a place card and choose an available seat. However, to ensure that everyone would be seated next to at least one acquaintance, I arranged the place cards, which also included the menu choices. Without realizing it, the placement of the place cards matched the order that I had planned to address our guests during my following remarks:

Last year, my father entered the hospital on May 6 for some elective heart surgery. He didn’t want any fuss, and he definitely didn’t want any visitors, including me, during his short stay. A few close friends knew about his scheduled surgery, but he didn’t want to announce it to the world, and certainly not from the pulpit. I figured that there would be Hell to pay when he learned that I had contacted the church during his surgery.

  • Jim and Sharon: Until May 15, when I called my mother to check on my father’s status, we thought that everything was progressing reasonably well. During that call with my mother, and the five that quickly followed, I could not understand what she was saying. When I finally realized that she was in desperate straits, I tried to call 911. It was then that I learned that you can’t call Bell County 911 from Harris County. After calls to the Bell County sheriff’s office and the hospital proved fruitless, Jim came to the rescue and called 911 for me. That phone call to 911 was the first of many kindnesses shown to us by Jim and Sharon. Every time that one of them called or stopped by with dinner or desserts, or mowed the lawn, or other numerous things, Mom and I said that we didn’t know how we’d ever be able to thank them.
  • thanksCross1Jane and Mickey: In my 60-some-odd years on this planet, I never realized the importance of giving food during hard times. However, this was the first time in my life, and probably my mother’s life, that I was losing weight without trying or without being sick. Sometimes we came home from the hospital so emotionally exhausted that the thought of preparing a meal was more than we could fathom. Jane’s yummy salads from Austin and homemade goodies were like manna from heaven, and Mom and I kept saying that we didn’t know how we’d ever be able to thank her.
  • Marilyn and Earl: For a few years, my parents attended the First United Methodist Church in Belton. On their first day there, a wonderful woman introduced herself and asked if my mother liked book clubs. This chance meeting has grown into a warm and beautiful friendship. I can’t remember when I called or texted Marilyn about Mom’s stroke, but I do remember her being at the hospital to see Mom. My mother probably doesn’t remember that first visit, but I do, not to mention the many other kindnesses. Following her stroke, Mom couldn’t be alone for a month. I had to return to Houston for a couple of days and Stan said that he would stay with her, but there would be an interval when she would be alone. All I had to do was call Marilyn. On the day that I had to leave, she stopped by the house at 8:00 A.M. and stayed with Mom until Stan arrived.thanksCross2Marilyn and Earl stopped by the hospital a few times to visit with Dad, but July 22nd would be the day that Mom and I will never forget. Mom was definitely a friend in need, and Marilyn was indeed the true friend. She sat with Mom for a few hours following his unfortunate event that morning.And Mom and I kept saying that we didn’t know how we could ever thank her.
  • Pastor Don and Wynn: I’m not from around here, and although I often attended the First United Methodist Church in Temple when I was in town, I didn’t know how to request pastoral care. I wasn’t even familiar with the term. I had contacted Pastor Tom for some unrelated reason about six months earlier, so I had his email address in my phone. Because Tom was sick or out of town, or something, it took a few days for Pastor Don to learn about my father’s hospitalization. But I believe that it wasn’t until my mother was hospitalized for her stroke that Don came to the hospital. I think that I emailed him on the day after she was admitted. Neither of my parents has any recollection of these visits during mid-May, but I do. As Mom healed and Dad recovered, we all came to depend on Don for his faith, kindness, and prayers, especially on the terrible few days following July 22nd of last year. We know that we sometimes asked a lot of him. Not only did Don have his regular pastoral duties, but he was also attending school in Austin.thanksCross3In addition to the fondness that we developed for Don, we also came to love his wife, Wynn, who Mom met on July 22 and I met a couple of days later. Wynn worked at Memorial Hospital in the chaplain’s office, and we became accustomed to her visits to Dad’s room. There were several reasons that we hated to leave Memorial again for the CCH, and not being able to see Wynn was one of them.We lost count of the times that Don visited Memorial and the CCH. He is so special and important to us, and Mom and I kept saying that we didn’t know how we’d ever be able to thank him.
  • Kris and Joan: When my parents first started attending the First United Methodist Church Temple, they had the good sense to sit in the pew in front of Kris, Joan, and Sue.thanksCross4During Dad’s first stint at Memorial, he was the church’s Member of the Week, and he received many cards from the church members, but I’m pretty sure that Kris sent more cards than all the other members combined.  And each card contained special messages of hope, faith, encouragement, and love. Joan, who is a retired nurse, also helped guide us through some of our darker days, providing support, advice, and comfort to Mom and me.And we kept saying that we didn’t know how we’d ever be able to thank them.
  • Sue: And then there was Sue. I hardly know where to begin, but I don’t know what would have happened to us without some timely intervention on her part on that terrible day last year, just two days before Thanksgiving. Dad had been sick, and I think that he became dehydrated during dialysis, which caused him to act like he was experiencing a side-effect to a new drug. It was a holiday week, so the doctor’s nurse told us to take him to the ER. We had him transported to the ER, where they rehydrated him. Unfortunately, they decided that we shouldn’t take him home. To make a long story short, I signed an AMA; they sicced the sheriff on us and turned me in to Adult Protective Services. My father was then discharged from Home Care, which had not only medical implications but also financial consequences.After a few tough moments and feeling like I was drowning in peanut butter, I called Sue and woke her up. Needless to say, because of Sue, we were quickly re-admitted, and then she vouched for us to the APS agent. I could go on, but I’d only embarrass her.You can’t imagine how many times Mom and I said that we didn’t know how we’d ever be able to thank her.
  • Stan: You might think that I’ve thanked everyone, but I’m not quite finished. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook those who are closest to us, but not every woman is lucky enough to have a husband who tells her to “go and take care of your family and don’t worry about me, the house, and the cats.” And that would have been enough, but he then drove to Temple on most weekends to relieve my mother and me so that we could attend church, and then he mowed the lawn and did some other odd jobs around the house.homeHospitalBedAnd when my father came home, Stan transformed my parents’ bedroom into a functional hospital room. And every night when I called him, he’d listened to me cry, complain, and rant. I know that we had vowed to be there for better or worse, but he really raised the bar. And his mother-in-law and I don’t know how we’ll ever be able to thank him.
  • In closing: We also had selfless assistance from a couple of other friends and neighbors. In addition, my best friend postponed a trip so that she could help me out for the week following my mother’s stroke, and my cousin stayed with us for a week last June. Sometimes I can’t believe how we lucked into such wonderful friends and family. My mother and I also don’t know how we’ll be able to adequately thank them.
  • It would be easy to look back on the last year and say that it was the worst year of our lives, and it probably was. At one point, I was relieved when Pastor Don told me that I could be mad at God, because I couldn’t believe that all this had happened to us. I thought that we were good people. But in hindsight, I’ve come to realize that sometimes bad stuff just happens. In our case, it was the luckiest year because at every bad turn, God blessed us with carefully placed angels like the people in this room. And I don’t know how I can thank Him enough.thanksSentiment3Yesterday was an anniversary of sorts for us. One year ago yesterday, my father was discharged from the CCH into Home Care. Six days from now, the man who doctors said would not live to see his 87th birthday will turn 88.

    Can I get an Amen?” (And I did!)

IMG_0417_sm
Pastor Don, Dad, and Stan

The evening was perfect. The food was exceptionally good, and I didn’t cry. After everyone had left, Stan and I stayed for a few minutes and enjoyed a quiet moment and a cup of coffee. As we were preparing to leave, our 19-year old server approached me and told me how much she had liked what I had said, which was the icing on my perfect cake of a day.

Sunflower photo by Marco Secchi on Unsplash

 

 

Birthdays, emergency room miracles, and healthcare milestones

June 18, 2016. Stan and I were in Temple to celebrate my birthday, which had been on June 9 and Father’s Day, which was this Sunday. This weekend marked the return to our tradition of celebrating Father’s Day and my birthday at the same time. On my last birthday, Dad had been unable to swallow, let alone eat cake. His condition had remained unchanged for Stan’s birthday in July, Mom’s birthday in August, and his birthday in October. During that time, I had become resolute that when Dad could eat cake again, I would bake a cake that represented all of the missed birthdays. I envisioned a cake of four layers: a layer for each of us.

I’m partial to rum cake, Mom likes carrot cake, Dad likes chocolate, and Stan likes apple pie, so he would have to be happy with a reasonable cake alternative. To help expedite the process, I purchased four boxes of cake mix and pulled out the cake pans.

IMG_1878The finished cake sported numeral-shaped candles, each candle representing the second digit of our ages: 1, 2, 8, and 9. I had not considered the weights of the layers, and when I was finished, the cake resembled something that you might see in a Dr. Seuss book. I also hadn’t anticipated how much extra cake we’d have. Needless to say, we would not run out of dessert for quite some time. We all were able to enjoy our favorite day, and I was thankful that all four of us could eat cake.

July 1. Today was a big day for Dad. Dr. Jaffers had decided that the fistula was sufficiently cured and could now be used for hemodialysis. After more than 13 months of receiving dialysis via a tunneled hemodialysis catheter, today the catheter would be removed. He had had this catheter since September 29, 2016, just over nine months.

birthdayCross1Like many of the other procedures that Dad had had, this one would be simple and would be performed in the interventional radiology (IR) department by Dr. Dollar, the same interventional radiologist who placed the catheter in September.

The three of us arrived at the Interventional Radiology department at 12:30 P.M., and Dad was wheeled away in a gurney approximately 20 minutes later.

The nurse brought him back to the recovery area at 1:40 P.M. It seemed that the procedure had not been as simple as anticipated. Because the catheter had been in place for nine months, his body had sort of glommed on to it. As we left, the nurse told us that Dad would need to wear his dressing until Sunday afternoon, two days from now. If he showered before that time, he would need to protect the dressing with a shower shield. Once the dressing was removed, he could shower like a regular person. This news had been a long time coming and was like music to our ears, especially Dad’s.

IMG_1947After dinner, I asked Dad if he or Mom had checked his dressing since he had come home. Mom said that she hadn’t checked it, so we asked Dad to unbutton his shirt for us. The dressing was very bloody, and even Dad was concerned about the pool of blood that had collected. It was now after 7:00 P.M. on a Friday and holiday weekend. This was the second time that we had scheduled a simple procedure on a holiday weekend, which made me question our sanity.

We located the papers that the nurse gave Dad when he was discharged. I called the after-hours phone number and asked to speak with the on-call IR resident. After being connected to Dr. Jeffrey Rhea, he asked me a series of questions to help him decide our best course of action. I asked him if I could text him a photo of the dressing area. He liked that idea and at 7:30 P.M., I sent him the first photo. He called me and asked for another photo that included more of the clavicle area, which was the region of his primary concern.

birthdayCross4After reviewing both photos, he said that he didn’t see anything emergent and suggested that we stop by the IR clinic on Saturday after dialysis. As much as Dad hates the Scott & White emergency department, he, Mom, and I decided that he should get rid of the oversaturated dressing before tomorrow afternoon. I texted the doctor and told him that we were going to the emergency room. While en route to the hospital, he texted me as asked for our ETA. When we stopped at a signal, I responded that we were less than five minutes from the hospital.

At the hospital, I was thankful for Dad’s accessible parking placard because, except for the accessible parking spots, the parking lot was full. With me nervously holding on to the back of Dad’s shirt, he walked into the hospital on his own. As I had expected, the waiting room was packed. In the intake line, one person was ahead of us and speaking with the clerk. Off to the side, I noticed a woman telling a hospital employee that her daughter had arrived earlier in an ambulance and was in triage. She was late getting inside because it took her several minutes to find a parking space. When the person in front of us left, I held Dad back and told him that we would let the concerned mother go ahead of us. The slight delay would serve us well.

birthdayCross4When it was Dad’s turn, he explained to the clerk why he was there. When she finished questioning him and completing her paperwork, she told Dad to raise his arm so that she could fasten his ID tag around his wrist. At that moment, Dr. Rhea seemed to appear out of thin air, grabbed the ID bracelet, and said that he’d take care of us. He then told me and Dad, who was now in a wheelchair, to follow him to the end of the waiting room. We waited there while he gathered supplies from a couple of cabinets. As he was about to remove Dad’s dressing in the middle of the hallway, I reminded him that we were sitting in the middle of the main thoroughfare between the waiting room and the examination rooms. He acknowledged that the location might be problematic and had us move out of the waiting room, although we were still in a hallway. One of the ER nurses gave us a questioning look when she saw my father and all the blood from his dressing. I laughed and said, “Is this the OR?” She replied, “No, this is the ER.” Dr. Rhea quickly explained that he was just changing a dressing and would be out of the way in a few minutes.

When Dr. Rhea was finished, he wheeled Dad back to the waiting area and toward the entrance of the hospital. As we wheeled Dad to the parking lot, we thanked the resident doctor profusely. I’m fairly certain that our resident violated hospital protocol, but we appreciated his “git ‘er done” attitude. This trip to the hospital was truly an emergency room miracle: we completed the trip from home, to the hospital, and home again in less than an hour. When we got home, Dad was wide awake and was in the mood for a long game of Oh Hell, which he won. After a day like today, he deserved to win.

birthdayCross3For all intents and purposes, this surgery marked the official end to Dad’s health care odyssey—a mere 420 days after he entered the hospital for elective heart surgery. He would still need to gain some weight and strength, but he was now driving, attending church, and getting around my parents’ acre lot with little to no assistance from his cane, and he used his walker only when he went to dialysis. He had beaten the incredible odds against him and was a walking miracle.

As we looked back on the events of the past year, we acknowledged that there were a lot of couldas, wouldas, and shouldas, but we can’t change the past. We’d have to chalk up our experiences as lessons learned that we could share with others. As I had learned from my own experience with the hospital, it was easy to get sucked into the medical system and lose control of the situation and maybe even lose money. Having advocates and second opinions are vital for negotiating the healthcare industry.

 

The patients are doing better, but now the caregiver is down

June 1, 2016.  The headache that I woke up with yesterday had not subsided and woke me up at 12:51 A.M. I took more of Dad’s Extra Strength Tylenol and then vomited about 30 minutes later. The pain made it impossible to sleep and made me less than productive when I started working at 4:00 A.M. I attended one of my meetings but had to cancel the remainder of my meetings. At 7:00 A.M., I went back to bed.

fastCross1My husband suffers from migraines, but I very seldom get headaches, so Mom was very concerned. She called her doctor’s office to see if I could see the doctor today, but they didn’t have any openings. We didn’t want to go to the emergency department, so his nurse suggested that Mom take me to an urgent care center. The one closest to the house opened at 9:00 A.M., and we were waiting in the car when they unlocked the doors.

After a short wait, Mom accompanied me to the examination room. After the doctor asked me a few questions and had me walk across the room, he told me that he suspected that I was having a stroke. After the events of the past year, this diagnosis seemed like a bad dream, and I hated that my mother had to hear it. The doctor said that the only way to conclusively diagnose a stroke would be to go to Scott & White, the very place that I had been trying to avoid. Before I left, the doctor handed me a couple of prescriptions for back pain and the headache. Because I was headed for the hospital, I didn’t want to take the prescriptions, but after the doctor all but insisted that I take them, I put them in my purse. After having spent $125 at the urgent care center, we drove a couple of miles to the Scott & White Emergency Department (ED). Dad had a doctor’s appointment this morning, so I told Mom to drop me off at the door and then go home and take care of Dad. If I had learned nothing else this past year, it was that once you walk through the door of the emergency department, you’re there for a few hours.

ouchCross4Unbelievably, the waiting room was empty. Two nurses triaged me and took me right to an examination room. Although this might seem like standard operating procedure (SOP), in my experience with this ED, triage was followed by a lengthy wait in the waiting room. Business must be slow on Wednesday mornings. What was SOP was the blood draw and urinalysis, followed by an hour wait for the test results. While I was waiting, my mother was escorted to the examination room. She and Dad had decided to reschedule his appointment so that she could be with me.

During our wait, the primary ED physician stopped by to tell me that I was in good hands because the ED resident was a neurologist. To my horror, the resident then told me that she was going to order a spinal tap. At that point, I told her that when I had been at the urgent care center, the doctor suspected that I was having a stroke. She was confused by that diagnosis and asked me if I knew how he reached that diagnosis. I told her that I wasn’t sure, but he had been concerned that my walk had been a little disjointed and unsteady. After watching me walk, she was a little skeptical, but she ordered a chest x-ray and a CT scan of my head. After another wait, she ordered a CT scan of my lungs and an x-ray of my head. I could practically hear the bill growing.

fastStroke

May is Stroke Awareness Month. If I had had my wits about me, I would have challenged the diagnosis of the urgent-care doctor. I had no facial drooping or difficulty with speech, and he didn’t check the strength of my arms. Mom had had a stroke on May 15, 2015, so I should have known better.

fastDollarsAnd then the woman with the traveling laptop entered the room to resolve my bill. After handing her my insurance card, she told me that I had a very good insurance plan for emergency care. My bill had come to $6,000.00 (approximately $1,000/hour), but my out-of-pocket portion was only $2,000.00 (gag). She started to say that if I were to be admitted, there would be some other process, but stopped midsentence and said that I would be admitted. When I asked why, she said that the doctor would return soon and she would tell me. After all of these tests and the pending admittance to the hospital, I wondered what the heck was wrong with me. When the doctor returned, she said that she was admitting me because I had pneumonia. I had spent a lot of time with someone who had had pneumonia twice during the past year, and I was pretty certain that I didn’t have a single symptom that would warrant that diagnosis.

Although I had dodged the spinal tap by bringing up the urgent care diagnosis, I cringed when she said that they needed to draw more blood for a blood culture—one draw from each arm, and they could not use the IV as a source. The worst thing that I inherited from Dad was his veins: we’re both terrible sticks. I told the nurse that she would have a difficult time getting more blood from me. After poohpoohing me, she tried unsuccessfully to hit a vein in my right arm. She was about to try again when the resident returned, saying that they were not going to admit me. It seemed that I didn’t have pneumonia after all. She said that what they had thought was fluid in my lungs was my diaphragm. They realized their mistake when someone checked the CT scan of my chest.

fastCocktailThe good news was that they were going to give me a nice IV cocktail of concoctions that would make my headache go away. Although I was grateful to get rid of the pain, I was not convinced that it wouldn’t return after all of the good drugs wore off. When I asked her if she had any idea what caused the pain, all she said that she doubted my assertion that I didn’t get headaches, which was hugely annoying.

After an hour, the liter of fluid and the good stuff that it contained had drained into my veins.  I felt better and Mom took me home. Unfortunately, the good feeling wore off in about four hours.

I was the designated driver for our family-reunion trip to Midland on Friday, but Mom was now having second thoughts about the five-hour drive, and she suggested that we cancel our trip. I reluctantly canceled our hotel reservation and contacted one of my cousins to apprise her of our situation.

fastCross2June 2. Fortunately, I had the prescriptions from the urgent care center, which we filled after breakfast. Because my pain had started in my head and extended down my back, the urgent care doctor had prescribed one medication to address the backache and another for the headache.

The prescribed pills seemed to do the trick, but they left me feeling stupid and sleepy, which made working almost impossible. I spent most of the day napping.

2014_ 09cats_014
Peanut

June 3. Peanut, our female cat, had been ill and Stan had dropped her off at the vet’s office for some tests. I called the vet this morning to get the results. Unfortunately, the news was not good. Peanut’s WBC count was elevated 10x above normal for cats. He said that he was pretty certain that she had bone marrow cancer, and she might also have cancer in her liver. He said that he’d call me Sunday morning before church with another update. During all the terrible times during Dad’s hospitalization, I had cried only once, and then it was for another patient. Maybe it was because of how I was feeling, but this news about our sweet cat was the tipping point for me, and I could not suppress my tears.

fastCross2I quit taking the medication for my back, but I dipped into the headache meds as often as I could. I don’t know what prompted me to do it, but I pulled out Mom’s yoga mat and ran through some Pilates moves that have helped me in the past with back pain.  Before the day was over, I had run through the routine two more times.

Because I had originally planned to be in Midland today, Stan had arrived last night so that he could spend the weekend with Dad. Although our family reunion plans were canceled for Mom and me, I was glad that Stan was here for me.

June 4. Stan relieved Mom today and took Dad to dialysis. He also picked him up at the end of his session, and the two guys ran some errands and retrieved Dad’s lawn mower from the repair shop.

annivCross1While Stan and Dad spent the day on outdoor activities, I kept running through my Pilates routines and noticed that my headache and back pain had diminished significantly.

June 5. Note to self: the next time that I get a screaming headache and backache, try Pilates before seeking medical assistance. I had had some back problems in the past, but they had never started with a headache. Exercise and stretching were now my first option. When Mom and I went to church this morning, both my back and head were pain-free.

Now Mom, Dad, and I had all experienced the Scott & White Emergency Department. When I went to see my doctor in Houston a week later (as advised by the ED resident), she shook her head, rolled her eyes, and asked: “what kind of medicine are they practicing up there?” I had had the same thought.

 

Transitioning from home-care patient to normalcy

May 15, 2016. Because Dad had told me that he wanted more access to his computer, I rearranged his computer station so that he could use his computer when I was at my home in Houston. Shortly before he was admitted to the hospital last May, he had purchased a new computer, which ran the Windows 8 operating system. Like most long-time Windows users, he had bonded with the Windows XP operating system and wasn’t enamored with the new operating system.  During my return trip to my parents’ home, Dad complained that he could not remember how to use his new computer.

sudokoBefore Dad’s extensive hospitalization, my parents worked Sudoku and crossword puzzles every evening after dinner. In addition to the hospitalization stay, having the home-care aides and me in the house had disrupted their daily routine. When I asked them if they’d like to resume their former evening activities, both of my parents said that they could not remember how to play Sudoku. I suggested that they start with crossword puzzles and that Stan might be able to get them started on Sudoku during his next visit.

Dad started saying that growing older was terrible. I wished that I could convince him that he was doing well, in spite of his setbacks.

May 17. Per Dad’s request, I was spending less time at my parents’ house. They seemed to be doing pretty well, so I felt more comfortable about limiting my time with them to long weekends, versus the week- or month-long stays. Truth be told, I was probably as eager to resume my normal life as they were to resume theirs.

Following the discussion with my parents about Dad taking pectin instead of a statin to control his cholesterol, I contacted Dr. Elizabeth Ebert, my parents’ cardiologist. According to Jennifer, Dr. Ebert’s nurse, Dad had told the doctor that he wanted to stop taking statins, so she removed them from his list of medications. When I relayed this information to my parents, they said that they had no recollection of this conversation, but now it seemed that we didn’t need to explore the issue of replacing the statin with pectin. Although the nurses were often our best source of information (or alternative viewpoints), I would have preferred that my parents confer with their doctors before adopting the suggestions of a visiting nurse.

Rain had been forecast for the central Texas area, but we received only a slight mist during the morning. Shortly after Dad returned home from dialysis, I packed up my computer and started my return trip to the BMC office in Houston. I arrived at the office shortly before 3:30 P.M. and worked until 5:00 P.M. so that I could meet my former manager for dinner. With my crazy caregiver schedule, I had had only rare interactions with my friends during the past year, and it was nice to visit with a good friend.

May 18. I was in Houston for the remainder of the week and would return to Temple on Saturday. When I worked from the office in Houston, my commute home from work wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t always predictable, and I missed seeing Stan by a couple of minutes. Once a month, he had to work an all-nighter, and he would not be home again until sometime after 3:30 A.M. tomorrow.

2016_may_05A dove had built a nest of sorts (Doves are inept at building nests.) on our front porch. Whenever I walked up the porch stairs, I would stop and check on the status of the (ugly) baby dove and its mother. Today when I got home, the mother dove was gone, and it looked like a dead baby bird was in the nest.  I checked before going to bed, and the mother dove had returned. I assumed that I was wrong about the baby dove, but marvel at how still baby doves could lie. We had also had a dove nesting in a crepe myrtle tree in our backyard, but that nest now seemed to be empty. During the past couple of years, the porch had become a favorite nesting location for doves. Stan said that he didn’t like the messy doves nesting on the porch, but I enjoyed having this bird’s-eye view of spring.

Mom spent a couple of hours at the hospital today with her friend Marilyn, whose husband was battling bladder cancer.  Marilyn had been Mom’s friend in need on numerous occasions during the past year, and Mom was glad to be able to return the favor, if only in a small way. Mom’s time at the hospital with Marilyn was one of the few times that Dad had been left alone since he had been at home. Leaving Dad alone might not have been a big step for Dad, but it seemed like a huge milestone for Mom (and me).

May 21. It rained over three inches in Temple this morning, but by noon the rain had stopped. The weather was a little dicey between Houston and Temple, and the drive took me a little longer than usual. Shortly after I arrived, Mom and Dad returned home from dialysis.

IMG_1833Although I had planned to limit my time in Temple to long weekends, the upcoming holiday weekend and family reunion scheduled for the next weekend caused me to extend this trip to two weeks. Unfortunately for Dad, I would be commandeering his computer workspace during this time. After my father had been unable to get up while adjusting the irrigation in my parents’ vegetable garden, Stan suggested that we get them a tractor scoot. It’s sort of like a cross between a wagon and a scooter. We knew that my parents wouldn’t buy it for themselves, so we purchased it for them as an early wedding anniversary gift. Some assembly was required, but they seemed to like it and might actually use it.

rainMay 30. Today was the observed holiday for Memorial Day, so I had the day off from work. Instead of sleeping in, I was rudely awakened at 3:00 A.M. by a thunderstorm. With the memory of last year’s Memorial Day flood (and this year’s Tax Day flood) still fresh in our minds, we hoped that the storm would pass quickly and provide only a limited amount of moisture. Fortunately, the thunderstorm had not also been a gully washer. Mom and I had planned to weed the garden this morning, but we would postpone those plans until the afternoon.

2014_ 09cats_012Because Stan planned to take off from work next Friday and spend a long weekend with Dad while Mom and I attended a family reunion, he had stayed home this weekend. In addition to some chores that he had to attend to around our house, Peanut, our female cat, was experiencing some health problems that seemed serious, and she needed some attention.

Shortly before noon, Christine, the home care nurse, stopped by to discharge Dad from Scott & White Home Care. However, when she learned that Dad had not yet transitioned from the dialysis catheter to the fistula for dialysis, she decided to keep Dad in the program for another few weeks. We all agreed that although we didn’t anticipate any problems, Dad had a history of encountering unanticipated problems.

IMG_0998Although the ground was a little soupy, the conditions were perfect for pulling out weeds, and I was prepared with my knee-high rain boots. Mom and I weeded the vegetable garden for about an hour and were pleased with our results. The sky had remained overcast, so we weren’t sweltering from heat.

After I had a chance to de-mud myself, my parents and I prepared a Memorial Day dinner. Dad and I barbequed hotdogs on the grill and mom fixed baked beans. A few years earlier, Mom and Stan witnessed Dad and me accidentally dropping a hot dog on the ground and placing it back on the grill. No such event happened this year and it seemed that Dad and I were in finer grilling form than before his surgery.

After dining on baked beans and hot dogs, we played Oh Hell and Mom won.

transitionArrow2
Today was also one of my parents’ wedding anniversary.

May 31. When I woke up at 3:30 A.M., I had a headache. I took some Advil with my coffee and logged on to work at 4:00 A.M. A few hours later, I stopped work for a couple of hours so that Mom and I could accompany Dad to his appointment with the endocrinologist. We had never met this doctor and Dad’s new primary care physician had scheduled the appointment. I didn’t know what an endocrinologist did, and I wasn’t sure why we were meeting with her. I liked this doctor, but it was apparent during the introductions that this visit would be challenging for my parents. The doctor was Indian, had a rapid speech pattern, and was soft spoken. Neither of my parents could understand her, so I interpreted everything that she said.

In short, she said that Dad had severe osteoporosis, which he most likely got from lying in bed for six months. During that time, calcium had leeched from his bones and into his blood, which was why his calcium numbers had been so high.

transitionArrow1The doctor recommended that Dad take medication to strengthen his bones. Because of his renal failure, the only drug that he could take was Prolia, which is administered as an injection every six months. I told the doctor that I had known some women who sounded like they were dying after taking similar drugs. She told me that today was just a consultation and that we should go home, research the drug, and then make a decision. She said that if we had any questions, we could call her.

When we returned home from the doctor’s office, Dad told me that he was not going to take this drug. At first, Mom was concerned about his decision, but then we started googling for information about the drug’s side effects. Within 30 minutes, we all agreed that the adverse side effects could outweigh the benefits of taking this drug. I had mixed feelings about disagreeing with a doctor’s advice. Although it wouldn’t be the first time that we had gone against medical advice, I didn’t want us to default to that response.

Many of the doctors that we had encountered during Dad’s health-care event seemed happy to discuss his odds of living through the ordeal, but when it came to the drugs that they prescribed, they neglected to address benefits versus side effects, some of which had been severe. I know that thousands (maybe millions) of women take drugs to strengthen bones, but how long does it take for the drug to effect a change, and by what percentage? If you’re almost 90 years old, what benefit can you expect? If a doctor prescribes a drug to reduce fractures caused by falls, wouldn’t it be prudent to prescribe physical therapy that addresses building core muscles? I found it frustrating that the first option for doctors seemed to be the prescription pad.

 

Eagerly anticipating 7 days in a row without a medical incident

April 26, 2016. I was slow to get up this morning. I finally dragged myself out of bed at 4:05 A.M., but I wasn’t the only one who was slow to get started. At 5:05 A.M. I had to wake my parents. Even with the late start, Dad and Mom got off to dialysis on time, and Mom was home by 7:15 A.M., which meant that Dad was hooked up well before his 7:00 A.M. chair time. The workmen arrived shortly after 9:00 A.M. and started hanging plastic to isolate their work area and to confine their dust to a small area of the house. They worked most of the day replacing the broken tiles.

ouchCross2Now that Dad seemed to be recovering nicely, he didn’t need my constant presence, which enabled me to spend more time at my home in Houston. I left my parents’ home at 12:30 P.M. and arrived at my home in Houston around 3:15 P.M. I logged on and worked until Stan got home from work at 5:00 P.M., armed with some barbecued ribs, one of my favorite meals.

While Stan and I were eating, Mom called because she had not heard from me. I always call them after the three-hour drive, but today, my call was picked up by voicemail. Evidently, my parents had decided to get out of the plastic maze that their house had become, and they had been relaxing on the patio when I called and had not heard the phone ring.

My mother said that Mike’s contractors did an excellent job and that the tile looked as good as new.

April 27. A different set of tradesmen arrived at my parents’ house today. This group concentrated on repairing the cracked walls and spent quite a bit of time patching the cracks and doing other prep work necessary for painting. Dad had also contracted with the crew to paint the exterior of the house. It had stormed during the night, and these guys added to the wet house by power washing it.

pegOutCross3While the house was being prepped for its beauty treatment, Mom drove Dad to his appointment with Dr. Elizabeth Ebert, his cardiologist. The doctor said that Dad’s heart and its new valve were fine and performing well. While they were in her office, she accessed Dad’s x-rays and confirmed that she also saw seven compression fractures in his spine. Mom didn’t say why the doctor accessed Dad’s x-rays, but I assumed that Dad had told her about his constant pain.

April 30. Even though Stan and I took the day off from work today, I still woke up at 4:30 A.M. I did some laundry, tidied up around the house, and went to the grocery store. By that time, it was raining (again). By 9:00 A.M., I had my car packed and was ready to drive to Temple. Stan left shortly after me.

When I arrived at my folks’ house at 11:30 AM., the front door was unlocked, and when I went inside, it seemed as if no one was at home. On my third trip into the house while unloading my car, my mother came out of the master bedroom and told me that Dad was taking a shower. Until the dialysis catheter was removed, preparing Dad for a shower was an ordeal that involved securely shielding the dialysis ports and ensuring that we didn’t disrupt them in the process. By 12:30 P.M., Dad was dressed, and Stan was pulling into the driveway. Mom told me that before he left dialysis yesterday, the nurse measured his height, and he was 5’10”, three inches shorter than his height when he entered the hospital less than 12 months ago. Also as disturbing was the news that his weight was down to 143 lbs. During the past year, Mom had also lost 20 lbs—weight that she didn’t need to lose. After years of watching their weight, we were not concerned about too much weight loss.

ouchCross3When preparing the house for the repair work, the contractors had us remove vases, knick-knacks, and any other objects that they might damage. After lunch, I helped Mom return everything to its rightful place—sort of. I couldn’t believe how difficult it was for us to remember where everything had been for five years. I questioned both my power of observation and my memory.

The weather was beautiful in Temple, and Stan and Dad took advantage of the nice day by spending the afternoon outside doing yard work. Meanwhile, inside the house, Mom was baking a cake and I was preparing ham loaf for dinner.

After dinner, we played cards, and Dad beat Mom by one point.

May 1. I compensated for my lack of sleep on Thursday night by getting nine hours of sleep last night.  When I woke up at 6:45 A.M., I heard Mom in the kitchen. She had been up for almost an hour, and the coffee was ready.

IMG_1758Mom and I went to church, leaving the guys at home to play cards and perhaps do some chores. On the way out of the church, Pastor Tom hugged me and told me to say hello to my father. I told him that I’d been eager for Dad to get to the point where I could take him out to dinner. I then asked Tom if he could recommend any good sushi restaurants. He looked at me for a couple of moments and then said that I was still welcome to attend church. Mom hadn’t heard what I asked him, but the people behind us did, and they laughed. Tom loved beef and comfort food, but anyone who knew him also knew that he detested salad, vegetables, and sushi.

When we got home, Dad and Stan had taken a break from some outdoor chores and were playing cribbage, and Dad was winning. After lunch, Dad and Stan went back outdoors for more yard work until it was time for Stan to return to Houston. He left Temple at 4:30 P.M. and arrived at our home in Houston three hours later.

After dinner, we played Oh Hell, and I won.

May 3. I worked at my parents’ house until 11:15 A.M., and then started packing up for my return trip home. Dad had only 1,200 ml of fluid removed today. He still weighed 149 lbs, although he seemed to be eating as much as the rest of us.

I called Holly, the manager of American HomePatient to have them pick up everything except the wheelchair. Unfortunately, a lot of what they had sent us last September could not be used for other patients. We’d either need to sell or donate much of what we still had on hand.

ouchCross4As much grief as I gave Dad for not cooperating with his physical therapists, I had not completed my physical therapy sessions following my wrist surgery last year. I still had a couple of sessions left when Mom had a stroke last year, and I had not been able to see the therapist or surgeon. My wrist had been reminding me of these oversights for the past couple of days. Dad’s Extra Strength Tylenol seemed to help somewhat.

The leading news story of the day was that medical errors were the third leading cause of death in the USA for adults. The report went on to say that one in four people in the hospital would suffer from errors, and some of those errors would be fatal. After all that we had been through during the past year, this news story was not news to us, and not surprising. With all that Stan had witnessed with his parents’ final days, he also shared my sentiments.

Mom had been battling skin cancer during the past few years. Her younger years spent on California beaches and the Jersey shore, coupled with gardening and farming had finally caught up with her. During a trip to the dermatologist today, the doctor took a biopsy from her forehead. We were crossing our fingers that she didn’t require more surgery or radiation treatment.

I watch the election returns for the Indiana primary. I couldn’t understand what was happening. Trump was the big winner again, which surprised me, and Cruz dropped out of the race, which pleased and surprised me.

ouchCross1May 4. Mom woke up in the middle of the night, bleeding from the spot on her forehead where the doctor had taken the biopsy. She was able to stop the bleeding and did what she could to bandage it.

Kathleen stopped by today to assess Dad’s progress with his physical therapy. As she left, the homecare nurse arrived for Dad’s routine check-up. She said that Dad was fine, but she was concerned about Mom’s forehead. She told Mom that she must have the bleeding addressed today.

When Mom contacted the dermatologist, she was told to come to the office. While she was there, the wound was cauterized, which was very painful. The nurse also applied a tight compress to arrest the blood flow. By the time that I spoke with Mom on the phone, she told me that her forehead seemed to be doing fine.

incidentSignI kept hoping for a couple of weeks in a row where nothing happened to either of my parents. I sometimes felt like we should have one of those signs like the ones posted in factories: 7 days without a medical incident. Today the counter was reset to zero.

A clerk from American HomePatient stopped by to pick up medical equipment, but he didn’t have the wheelchair IV pole on the list, so the IV pole remained at the house. Although we still had some medical supplies in the house, having the larger equipment removed, coupled with getting the repair work done, was a huge milestone a step toward their life as they had known it.

 

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.

 

At last: Fistula surgery day has arrived!

March 29, 2016. Today was a busy day. Mom and Dad were up early to get Dad to dialysis, and it was a full work day for me. At 8:15 A.M., I met Mom at the King’s Daughters clinic for her appointment with her PCP, Dr. Poteet. In reviewing Mom’s chest CT scans, the doctor said that a spot was visible on her CT scan and showed that she had some scarring in a few lobes. He thought that she might have a chronic infection (bronchiectasis). He wasn’t sure, but he thought that she might need a bronchoscopy to get an accurate diagnosis.  He referred her to a pulmonologist at Scott & White. Because King’s Daughters and Scott & White could not share files, he told her to go to the King’s Daughters Surgery department and pick up a CD of her CT scans, which worked out well because I also had to pick up a CD of Dad’s CT scans. When I returned to the house, I called Scott & White and made an appointment with Dr. Mike Martin for Dad. Our friend, Sue, had recommended that we use Dr. Martin as a PCP for Dad. The earliest appointment I could get was April 25, almost a month from now.

surgeryCross3I spoke with Dana and then Julie at the Scott & White Speech Pathology department about my concerns about Dad’s surgery and the anesthesia. Julie spoke with Dr. Kyla Sherrard and told me that during recovery he’d have to drink some water. If he couldn’t handle it, the issue would be escalated to their department. She added that they would have a dysphagia screener in recovery. I ended my call with them feeling a little bit more prepared. It seemed to me that everyone involved with speech pathology was a rock star. From the person who answered the phone, to Dr. Sherrard, and all of the therapists, they all seemed all in for their patients.

March 30.  Not so busy as yesterday. After Dad woke from his afternoon nap, Mom drove him to the barber for a haircut. This barber had been in business for many years and knew most of the movers and shakers in Temple. Temple had more movers and shakers than one might think. Drayton McLane, the former owner of the Houston Astros, lives there. Probably more so than in a salon, gossip and stories were shared in the barber shop. Since Dad’s return home, Dad had shared some stories of his journey and news about his upcoming surgery. While Dad was there, his barber gave him the name of his surgeon.

surgeryCross2A few days ago, Dad and I had created a recipe for ham loaf, and tonight we prepared it for dinner. Dad also wanted carrots for dinner, and I found an interesting recipe in Mom’s cookbook. My parents had had a good friend who used to serve us ham loaf every time we ate at her house. Mom had never prepared it, and Dad and I were anxious to see if we had created a dish that she would like. Dad and I liked it, but it was a bit high in sodium, which wasn’t good for Dad. We decided, and Mom agreed, that it would be a good use for leftover ham.

March 31. Dad had an uneventful start to the day.

During my one-on-one meeting with my manager, she told me that she was contemplating taking a position with a different business unit in the company. I hated the thought of her leaving. We had a good working relationship, and I considered her to be a friend.

It was a beautiful afternoon. Mom and Dad took a walk out to the garden and then sat on the patio. I fixed our drinks, and we had our happy hour outside until 5:30 P.M. We finished watching the news before Mom and I started to fix dinner. Because we got a late start on dinner, we opted for a simple meal, like leftover meatballs and baked beans.

surgeryCross1We played cards after dinner. Mom and Dad went to bed early so that they would be well rested for Dad’s fistula surgery tomorrow. When I went to the office to shut down my computer, I became distracted with work and didn’t get around to calling Stan until after 9:00 P.M. This time might not seem late, but whenever I deviated from my schedule—calling later or earlier—my husband was concerned that something was wrong. Living on pins and needles had become our new normal.

April 1. I was part of the decision-making process to choose this date, but now that it was here, it seemed that April Fool’s day wasn’t a good day for surgery.  I was up at my regular time and ate breakfast at 4:00 A.M., about 30 minutes before Mom and Dad woke up. Mom ate a small breakfast, but because he would be having surgery in a couple of hours, my father was NPO.

surgeryCross3We left home for the hospital at 5:30 A.M. in a drizzly lightning storm. We arrived at the Day Surgery waiting room and admissions area a couple of minutes after 6:00 A.M., just beating the morning rush at the check-in desk. Dad was admitted, and we were on our way upstairs to Day Surgery before 6:30 A.M. The nurses and anesthesiologist were great, and they took time to listen to my concerns about Dad’s history of dysphagia and aspiration. I wondered how many people I pestered in my quest to ensure that Dad came through this surgery without any post-op challenges or relapses.

When the nurse wheeled Dad to surgery at 7:30 A.M., Mom and I returned to the waiting room. As usual, the waiting room was unbearably cold. While we waited, I took a few walks around the hospital. It’s a big place, and as much as I hated being here, I was in an environment that had become familiar.

When we arrived in the waiting room, the scheduled time of Dad’s surgery was 2:55 hours, and that time turned out to be accurate. Dr. Wiggins, Dr. Jaffers’s resident, called a couple of times during Dad’s surgery to let us know that everything was proceeding well. When the surgery was over, Dr. Jaffers met with us in a consultation room and told us that the surgery had gone well and gave us some instructions for Dad’s post-op care. As he left, the doctor told us that Dad would be in recovery for about 90 minutes. Mom and I decided to use that time to go home so that we could change into some warmer clothes and eat a hot lunch.

surgeryCross2As we pulled out of the driveway to return to the hospital, I received a call on my mobile phone that Dad was out of recovery and waiting for us in Bay 33. When we arrived, his nurse, Danielle, was giving him pudding and water. His dressing seemed pretty bloody. Danielle said that she had changed it once, but she thought that the bleeding had now stopped. She didn’t seem inclined to change it again, and for reasons that I’ll never understand, I didn’t ask her to change it. While we waited for the transportation personnel to take Dad downstairs, Mom helped Dad change out of his hospital gown and into his street clothes. After we arrived home at 2:00 P.M., Dad ate some Cream of Wheat, and then took a nap. I was relieved that he seemed to have come through the surgery unscathed and that my concerns had been unfounded.

Mom ran some errands, and I logged on to work while Dad napped. I woke him at 4:15 P.M. when Mom arrived home from shopping. As soon as he sat up, it was evident that his bleeding had not stopped. I was alarmed when I noticed that his shirt was soaked in blood and that the bedspread held a pool of blood. I cursed myself for not insisting that Danielle change Dad’s dressing so that we could have been certain that the bleeding had stopped before we left the hospital. I started calling numbers on his discharge papers until a human answered the phone. Wanda told me that I should call a different number, but I told her that she had been the only person who had answered the phone, and hers was the last phone number on my list. I took a deep breath as she told me that bleeding from the fistula was a serious problem and that the bleeding had to be stopped. While she put me on hold, she started working the problem and then told me to bring Dad to the emergency department. She would call Dr. Jaffers and have his resident meet us there. Fortunately, Dr. Jaffers was still at the hospital performing similar surgery.

surgeryCross1Before we left the house, Wanda called me and said that we should bring Dad directly to the Day Surgery department on the second floor. When we arrived, the nurses couldn’t understand why we were there and told us to go to the waiting room on the first floor. As we entered the waiting room, we saw a familiar face. Sheila, who had been our contact at Interim Health Care (the hospice company that we chose for Dad), was waiting for her nephew to get out of surgery. She was one of the nicest people that you’d ever want to meet, and she commented on how glad she was to see Dad’s continued progress, which was a far cry from hospice.

After we were directed back upstairs to the Day Surgery department, Dr. Wiggins checked Dad’s incision site and applied a new dressing. She said that Dr. Jaffers wanted her to look for any signs of hematoma to determine if they needed to take Dad back into surgery. At this time, the bleeding had slowed, but not stopped, and Dr. Wiggins had Dad sign another surgery consent form in case more surgery was required. She tightened the dressing to apply pressure for about 40 minutes and then removed the pressure for 30 minutes to see if the bleeding would start again. I was concerned about Dad having to return to surgery because he had eaten just a few hours earlier. Fortunately, I guess, Dad vomited some of his lunch during our hour of waiting. The vomiting might have been caused by the anesthesia and was the only time that he was sick today. When Dr. Jaffers returned to the waiting room, he examined Dad’s incision decided that additional surgery wasn’t necessary.

surgeryCross2As I pulled the car into the driveway, a chime from my iPhone alerted me to an incoming text message. The text message from Stan informed me that he was in Cameron, about 30 miles from my parents’ home. He walked into the house while Mom and I were unwinding with a late happy hour. We served more of the ham loaf for dinner and finally got to bed at 11:00 P.M. For my peace of mind, I put the monitor back in my parents’ bedroom for this one night. I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I spent the night worrying about Dad.

This had been another danged long day of health care, and I hoped that Dad’s days of surgery were over.