Are we about ready to leave the ICU?

August 26, 2018. After having spent an enjoyable evening in Johnson City, Stan and I left for Temple at 7:35 A.M. We arrived at my parents’ home at 9:40 A.M., unloaded the car, and headed to the hospital. Unfortunately, we just missed seeing the doctor during rounds. Dad was on dialysis, which had started at 6:00 A.M. Rachel, the dialysis tech, stopped by shortly after 10:00 A.M. to check on Dad, and said that he hadn’t put up any fuss when she started the SCUF dialysis session. I was glad that he was having more fluid removed and was encouraged that he could withstand the loss of the fluid while still maintaining adequate blood pressure. I had hoped that Natalie would be back as Dad’s nurse and was a little disappointed to see that the name Leslie had replaced hers.

steadyCross1Dad had slipped down the bed, and I used the call button to summon a nurse to reposition him. Instead of Leslie, a male nurse and a female aide entered the room. I immediately recognized the nurse as Fred and said that the last time that I had seen him, his wife had just had a child. He recognized me but said that he didn’t think that I was correct because his youngest daughter was three years old. When I told him that Dad had been a patient here in 2015, he said that he hadn’t realized that that much time had elapsed. It seemed like a mini-homecoming in some alternate life.

Dad talked a lot this morning, and most of what he had to say was pretty depressing. He said that he thought that he and Mom had changed mentally, and he implied that his life wasn’t worth saving. Today was the first day that he’d been talking since the surgery, and I asked him to wait another day before we discussed these serious topics. This talk was also upsetting Mom, and I wanted to redirect the conversation.

hip1Because we had missed the morning rounds with the doctors, Leslie provided us with an update. They had changed his antibiotic, but his white blood cell count was still trending upward.  I told her that I had fed Dad some gruel on Thursday morning and was wondering if he could begin eating again. She said that she would try a bedside swallow test to see if he could swallow a pill. I told her that with his history of aspiration, we would prefer to have Speech involved in any swallow test. If she did do the bedside swallow test, I asked that she not use a straw, which changes the shape of the mouth during swallowing and can affect the test.

The nephrologist and his resident stopped by shortly after 11:00 A.M. The doctor asked Dad how he was doing, which was a mistake on his part because Dad started complaining about the hospital, beginning with his stay in 2015. When the doctor explained that Dad was having dialysis to remove fluid, Dad started to give him some attitude about having dialysis. While I was explaining to Dad about the stress that the excess fluid had on his organs and why he needed dialysis, the doctor left. I was certainly glad that Dad was awake and somewhat alert, but he was not the greatest patient in the world and was a bit challenging to control. When Dad asked me what we were going to do for the rest of the day, he got a little annoyed when I said that he was going to stay in bed. By 11:45 A.M., the cold of the hospital was beginning to bother Mom, so she and I went home for lunch.

hip2When we returned to the hospital at 1:30 P.M., I was surprised to see that Dad was off of dialysis. Leslie said that because his fistula had clogged, they had stopped his session 90 minutes early. Still, they were able to remove 2,225 ml. During the past two days, just over 4 liters of fluid had been removed, and Mom and I saw a noticeable difference in the size and weight of his legs.

At 2:50 P.M., Dad had slid down in the bed, and I called for a nurse to reposition him. While the nurses were preparing to move him, they noticed that he was bleeding slightly from his fistula in his left arm. The moment that they moved him, it was like a dam broke and the fistula started bleeding—a lot. The nurses called for some assistance, and Angel, one of the hospital’s top 25 nurses, entered the room. When Angel called down to the dialysis center for advice on how to stop the bleeding, he was told to keep applying pressure until the bleeding stopped. When Rachel, the dialysis nurse, showed up at 3:05 P.M., she said that his fistula had seeped just slightly yesterday, but she saw no real bleeding. By 3:25 P.M. the bleeding had stopped, enabling the nurses to replace his bandages and change his gown and bed linens. About 30 minutes later, Christina, the dialysis resident, stopped by with Rachel to check the fistula.

hip5At 4:30 P.M., Leslie stopped the Levophed drip, which had been keeping his blood pressure at a safe level. She had already reduced it to the lowest dosage earlier, and Dad had been maintaining a MAP of 79 (80 being perfect). Some 15 minutes later, his MAP had dropped to 68. As we left for the day, I hoped that Dad’s blood pressure would stabilize on its own and not dip below a MAP of 68.

As tired as we were when we left at 5:00 P.M., I dreaded leaving him alone. Historically, most of his problems developed when we weren’t there to watch over him. I was so anxious when I wasn’t with him that I was starting to rely on sleeping pills to sleep.

 

 

Wrapping up our first month of home care

October 26, 2015. I had hoped that we’d have an uneventful night, but shortly after 1:00 A.M. Dad started coughing. I could hear Michell encouraging him to use the Yankauer wand, but he refused and kept coughing that terrible wet cough. I finally got up and went downstairs to see if I could convince him to use it, but at 2:00 A.M. I opened a trach care kit, suctioned his secretions, and then returned to bed. When my iPhone alarm played its annoying wake-up ring tone at 3:30 A.M., I was too tired to get out of bed. I kept snoozing the alarm until 4:15 A.M. and started to work 15 minutes later with a much-needed cup of coffee.

Dad was slow to wake up this morning, too, which was OK for him because he didn’t have any early appointments. At 7:00 A.M. he was ready for me to administer his morning trach care and meds.

In addition to work, I had several administrative health care chores to address today. After 27 days at home, we were running low on meds, so I emailed Dr. Issac to have him order new prescriptions. I also needed to reschedule Dad’s wound care appointment. I don’t know what I had been thinking, but when this appointment was scheduled, I didn’t realize that it could conflict with Dad’s dialysis if we encountered any glitches with the dialysis session or transportation. Also, within the next few days, Dad would require a 30-day physical therapy assessment, which I scheduled with Kathleen.

When I had logged on to Dad’s My Chart medical portal account over the weekend, I had learned that thanks to a referral from Dr. Issac, Dad now had an appointment with a pulmonologist. Unfortunately, the appointment was scheduled for January 4, more than two months from now. When I called to see if I could schedule an earlier appointment, I learned that they were booked solid until the new year. I guess that explained the January 4 date, and that I wasn’t going to do any better.

We were running very low on Nepro. When I called American HomePatient to order more, the clerk asked me about the other items that I needed. I told her that I didn’t know what all I needed and was informed that I was supposed to place a single order for everything that I would need for the upcoming month. I had once told Dr. White that patients and family needed a playbook to understand how to navigate the hospital system. The same was true for home health care. The American HomePatient folks were very friendly, but a short bulleted list of guidelines, not to mention an order form, would have been very helpful.

My final call for Dad was to Scott & White Home Care to see how long we were covered by Medicare. I learned that we had received an initial 60 days of coverage. At the end of the 60 days, Dad would be reassessed for an additional 60 days of coverage. This was good information to know and it would have been nice to know it about 30 days earlier.

While I was working, Stephanie, a new nurse, arrived to check on Dad. Because she had not been here before, she performed a very thorough assessment of him, which I learned was the typical protocol for all first visits. After she left, Michell told me that Stephanie had also changed Dad’s trach dressing, which made me feel as uncomfortable as the time that my mother-in-law cleaned out my refrigerator. I should have administered Dad’s midday trach care and changed his dressing an hour earlier, but I hadn’t been able to take a break.

Several days earlier, our neighbor Barbara, had brought Dad some flowers and cake. Mom called Barbara to see if she could return her cake holder. While they were talking, Barbara asked about Dad’s condition and if he was swallowing yet. Mom told her, no, and then explained that we needed a referral from a pulmonologist, but we wouldn’t be able to see one until January 4. She and her husband are both doctors at Scott & White and Barbara said that she could help. Mom and I were hopeful that we might be able to expedite the process.

I was bone tired today, but I managed to eke out eight hours of work and sneak in a little nap. When I woke up, Mom and I drove to the HOP office to fill out an application for a paratransit pass for Dad. Their office was less than 10 miles from my parents’ home, and we thought that we could expedite this process by filling out the form in person. Unlike some websites that enabled you to download a PDF version of the application form, this one required you to request that they send you one by mail.

When Mom and I returned home shortly before 5:00 P.M., Dad was napping. We woke him for happy hour, but he said that happy hour wasn’t that much fun for him, and he went to his room to read the paper. He stayed there until Mom, Michell, and I had finished dinner. I knew that two days didn’t constitute a trend, but now Dad had seemed depressed for two days. Thankfully, he still wanted to play Oh Hell when we finished dinner. Michell won for the first time, but Dad was a close second.

We got Dad snug in bed by 8:30 P.M. He had suctioned himself pretty well while he was getting ready and I didn’t encounter any secretions during the nighttime trach care. I hoped that this was a positive sign for a good night’s sleep.

October 27. It was becoming apparent to me that I was clueless when it came to predicting good and bad nights for Dad. Although he seemed fine when he went to bed, within four hours, secretions had accumulated in his trach. As usual, he wasn’t too keen on suctioning himself at night. This combination of secretion build-up and his refusal to suction led to lots of uncomfortable coughing. Around 2:00 A.M, I heard him call for help. I ran downstairs and he said that he needed the urinal. It’s supposed to be placed on the bedrail, but tonight it was left in the bathroom. He hadn’t wanted to bother anyone, so he tried to get out of bed to get it and was partly out of bed when I entered the room. After Michell and I moved him back into bed, I trudged back upstairs to bed for a bit more sleep.

Michell and I woke Dad at 4:30 A.M. I took care of his trach and then Michell took over. He was ready to go by 5:45 A.M., but after we had waited for several minutes past his scheduled pickup time, I called the dispatch office to check on their status. They never answered the phone, but they eventually arrived shortly before 6:30 A.M.

A few hours later, I contacted Sue, the nurse practitioner at the dialysis center, and asked her about my request for Dad’s prescriptions. She hadn’t seen my earlier email to Dr. Issac and promised to place the new orders at once.

Although Dad had less fluid removed today than on Saturday, he was exhausted when he returned from the dialysis center. After I administered his midday meds and trach care, he slept for three hours. He was awake and ready to get up shortly after I logged off from work for the day, and he joined us for happy hour. He returned to his room while we ate dinner, and he was ready for a game of Oh Hell when we were finished. Mom was the big winner tonight, and once again, Dad came in second place.

October 28. Dad had another night of coughing. I got up a couple of times to check on him, but he seemed to be sleeping through it. I swear he could sleep through just about anything. I got up at 3:30 A.M. and started to work at 3:45 A.M. After several weeks working these crazy hours, my coworkers in India, Israel, and the UK had become accustomed to seeing me online a couple of hours earlier than usual. Depending on the location, they were now seeing me online during their morning to early afternoon instead of late afternoon to early evening. As nice as it was to have more time to meet with them, I hoped that we wouldn’t continue this schedule much longer. As convenient as my hours were for my coworkers to the east of me, it wasn’t as convenient for those to the west, like my manager, who worked in California. I was very lucky to have a job that enabled me to work while taking care of a family member.

Today was an off day for dialysis, so Dad didn’t need to wake up before 5:00 A.M. During a break from work, I took care of the trach care and meds, and then left him to Michell. During one of my meetings, Gale arrived and Michell updated her on the events of the past seven days.

Stephanie, the nurse, stopped by again today. I was concerned about Dad’s secretions and was afraid that he was still battling pneumonia. In addition to the suctioning at night and during trach care, he also suctioned himself with the Yankauer wand during the day. She listened to his chest and said that it was clear. She explained that the trach alone was enough to cause secretions and that the effects of pneumonia can last for months. He had a lot of issues, but she thought that he was progressing well on all fronts, except for the bed sore.

Kathleen, the physical therapist, came by and performed her 30-day assessment of Dad and formulated a new plan for the next 30 days. In the coming month, Dad’s goals would include transfers to the shower and the dialysis chair. Dad needed to be able to maneuver from a wheelchair to the dialysis chair so that we could change from the expensive ambulance transfer to the more affordable HOP paratransit bus. I was still nervous about Medicare coverage for the various therapies, including speech therapy, which hadn’t yet started. Kathleen assured me that if Dad progressed well in one area but not as well in others, Medicare wouldn’t stop all of the services—only those no longer necessary.

While I was still working, Mom went to the drug store to pick up Dad’s prescriptions. In the short time that she was at the pharmacy, her car battery died. Fortunately, I was a member of AAA and eventually she received service and was able to start the car and drive home.

During the afternoon, Dad was up for most of the day and joined us for happy hour, but rested while Mom, Gale, and I ate dinner. Gale mentioned to me that although he seemed physically better, she thought that Dad seemed sad. I didn’t want to hear comments like this because they only reinforced my concerns about him and reminded me of articles that I had read about occurrences of depression following ICU delirium.

We played cards again, and Mom won again. We started moving Dad toward the bedroom and his nighttime ritual at 8:15 P.M.

October 29. The alarm woke me this morning at 3:30 A.M. Having the alarm wake me instead of Dad was like a gift. It seemed that I had slept throughout the night—6 hours! I got up at 3:45 A.M., started the coffee maker, and was working by 4:00 A.M. Gale started waking Dad around 4:15 A.M. During trach care this morning, Dad gave me a good scare when he had a hard coughing jag while I was suctioning him. He seemed to get over it without any damage, except to my blood pressure. With a little assistance from Gale and me, Dad was ready to go at 5:45 A.M. While we were waiting for the ambulance he scared the bejeezus out of me again when he experienced another hard coughing spell. We had come too far for him to slip away from us again. He hadn’t coughed like this since he had been home, and few things scared me as much as these hard coughing spells.

This morning, the ambulance drivers were both women, which was a first for us. Dad’s blood pressure dropped during dialysis, so they stopped removing fluid early and just cleaned his blood. In the end, they removed about 820 ml—about half of the usual amount. The ambulance arrived at noon to bring Dad home, and surprisingly, the same two EMTs from the morning also brought him home. It was unusual to have the same EMTs on both ends of the trip. It was more unusual that both EMTs were women.

Dad was very tired when he arrived home and he needed more than the usual assistance to transfer him from the gurney to the wheelchair. Shortly after administering his midday meds and trach care, he was out like a light for three hours. One of my weekly chores was to keep the pill dispenser full. During my lunch break, I organized pills and called Sue for a couple more refills. It would have been nice if all of the prescriptions lasted the same length of time. By the time that I logged off for the day, I had worked for almost 10 hours, and I was wiped out.

We were experiencing Chamber-of-Commerce-type weather today and the four of us agreed that the patio was perfect for happy hour. The temperature hovered around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with low humidity. We sat out on the patio for about an hour. After dinner, we were all ready for a game of cards—especially Mom, who won again. She seemed to be on a roll.

I had some trouble suctioning Dad tonight. It seemed that the tubing that I used to suction the trach kept hitting something, and I silently reprimanded myself for not changing his trach today. I don’t like to change out the trach on dialysis days, and now I was very tired, too. However, the thought that his airway might become obstructed during the night made it difficult for me to go to sleep, and I kept waking up because I couldn’t hear him through the baby monitor.

Good grief. I couldn’t sleep when he was coughing and I couldn’t sleep when he was quiet.

The power outage, the EMS, and other things

October 23, 2015. I was able to get in a couple of hours of work before Dad and Michell woke up at 6:00 A.M. I took a short break from work to administer Dad’s morning meds and trach care. Shortly after 8:00 A.M., I was meeting with Manisha, one of my Indian co-workers, when we lost power. It took several seconds for the seriousness of the situation to occur to me. Until a few weeks ago, a power outage was an inconvenience worthy of a fine whine, but now with our dependency on the concentrator and nebulizer for oxygen, electricity was critical for Dad. I called Oncor Energy, and they predicted that power to the area would be restored by 9:30 A.M. I checked our supply of oxygen tanks and called American HomePatient to request an emergency shipment of oxygen tanks. I called Oncor Energy again at 9:00 A.M., and according to the helpful recording, they could not predict when power would be restored; however, crews were assessing the problem. Power to the neighborhood was finally restored around 10:30 A.M. The emergency order of oxygen proved to be unnecessary, but I decided that I would prefer to have an ample supply of tanks on hand rather than risk running out. Dad seemed pretty unaffected by the outage and napped through most of it. During the outage, Michell checked his oxygen saturation level a few times, and it stayed between 97-99%, which was great. The only deficiency caused by the outage was the lack of moisture from the nebulizer to Dad’s lungs.

Tracy, the home care nurse, stopped by around 11:30 A.M. She said that other than his bedsore, he seemed to be doing fine. However, she thought that if anything, Dad’s bedsore was getting worse. I told her that we had an appointment with a wound care specialist in four days. About 90 minutes after Tracy left, Janet arrived for Dad’s occupational therapy session. As usual, Janet and Dad talked nonstop during their session. As she left, she told me that she thought that Dad was making some progress.

Dad complained about all of his tubes and wanted to know when he could get rid of them. I explained to him that it took him five months to get into this condition and it would probably take another five months for him to get better. Evidently, his expectations were significantly different from mine, and he gave me a look that broke my heart. I explained that we were doing everything that we could to ensure success on all fronts, which was why we had the two therapists working with him.

I later texted Adan to see if I had given Dad the correct information. Adan called me, and we had a long talk about Dad’s progress. During our discussion, he said that he thought that my estimate was far too optimistic and that Dad was probably looking at something along the lines of a 10-month recovery. He also said that the trach might be one of the last things to go. Adan also said that we could start the swallow therapy now if he had an order from a pulmonary specialist.

The news that Adan thought that we were ready to start swallow therapy was huge. Less than a month ago, he had told me that because of his chronic aspiration, Dad would not receive swallow therapy. I had implored him to give Dad a chance to fail and not just write him off as a lost cause. After much discussion, Adan had finally agreed to try swallow therapy after Dad regained some of his strength.

We swallow all day long. It seemed like such a simple thing that I had not realized what an intricate process it is. I would later learn that this seemingly simple process is achieved through the careful orchestration of some 80 muscles. According to Adan, simply regaining some of his strength would improve Dad’s chances of success. I felt better after our talk and thanked our lucky stars that Adan had moved from his position as a speech pathologist at the CCH to his current position as the supervisor of rehab services at Scott & White Home Care.

Around 3:00 P.M., I received a call from Brian at Scott &White EMS. He informed me that according to the notes provided to him by his EMTs, Dad could be transported to dialysis on a wheelchair and not a stretcher; therefore, they would start charging us $80 round trip. I explained that it was his EMTs who asked us to wheel Dad outside so that they wouldn’t have to bring the gurney into the house. Furthermore, I told him that although Dad might be able to make the trip there, he was not strong enough for the return trip. Brian said that he would contact the dialysis center to verify my assessment. He called back a little later and said that Scott & White EMS would provide wheelchair transport to dialysis and gurney transport for the return trip, which meant that we would be charged only $40 for each transport. Gurney transport was covered by Medicare, but wheelchair transport was not. Every day it was another nickel, dime, or $40 that we had to shell out to someone.

While Brian and I were discussing the logistics of this arrangement, I texted Sue, the nurse practitioner at the Scott & White dialysis center, and asked if I could call her.

hoyerLift
Hoyer lift and sling

When we spoke a few minutes later, she became annoyed and said that this decision was not for EMS to make and that the dialysis center would not accept Dad without a Hoyer sling. As I had learned earlier this week, Medicare won’t pay for the very inexpensive Hoyer sling unless you also get the more expensive Hoyer lift. Dr. Issac wrote an order for the Hoyer lift, but depending on when American HomePatient received the order and their inventory, we wouldn’t receive it until sometime next week.

I logged off from work at 5:30 P.M. and was good and ready for happy hour. Dad joined us until dinner was ready, at which time he returned to his room. The dishes were clear at 7:15 P.M. and we were ready for the nightly game of Oh Hell. I don’t remember who won, but we played a long game that didn’t end until 9:00 P.M.

October 24. It was dialysis day, and Michell, Dad, and I were up at 4:00 A.M. It was raining like a son-of-a-gun this morning. To enable Dad to be picked up by the EMTs, I had to clear a place in the garage where we could transfer Dad from the wheelchair to the gurney. We hadn’t needed this accommodation before because we had had good weather on dialysis days since he had been home. Dad resumed his normal routine for dialysis day and was ready to go at 5:45 A.M.  Because of the inclement weather, the ambulance was about 15 minutes late.

While Michell and Dad were at dialysis, Mom and I did some chores around the house. I also took this time to wade through some of Dad’s medical paperwork. When I sat down in the kitchen with a cup of coffee and Dad’s home care admittance book, I found a document that stated that his Medicare coverage for home health care might end this coming week. I called the on-call nurse to verify this information, and she said that according to her records, Dad was covered through the end of the year, but she advised me to call the office on Monday. I felt mildly relieved but would feel better after I contacted the office on Monday.

Mom and I went to the bank around 10:15 A.M. As we approached the front door of the bank, a HOP Paratransit bus dropped off a passenger. We asked the rider about the HOP service, and she gushed about the paratransit service and the HOP organization. In addition to the convenience and responsiveness of the service, its cost was very reasonable: just $2 per trip. We told her about Dad’s situation, and she encouraged us to apply for the paratransit service.

Mom and I had other errands to run, but the trip to the bank took longer than we had anticipated. We thought that we should go home now to ensure that we were there when Dad arrived home from dialysis. Shortly after we arrived home, Stan arrived from Houston. When we hadn’t heard from Michell and Dad by 12:30 P.M., I texted Michell, and she replied that they were still waiting for the ambulance. Rainy weather often results in car accidents, and accidents take precedence over transport services. There was nothing that I could do for Dad, but I had Stan drive me to the dialysis center so that we could bring Michell home. I planned to stay with Dad until the ambulance arrived, but as Stan and I arrived at the dialysis center, Dad’s ambulance also arrived. Michell said that she would stay with Dad, so Stan and I returned home. Michell and Dad eventually arrived home at 1:30 P.M.

After his seven-hour trip to dialysis, Dad was exhausted, and from the sound of his breathing, it seemed that his trach needed changing. I spent the next few minutes suctioning him and then left him to sleep for a few hours. He started coughing badly later in the afternoon, and I decided that I couldn’t postpone his trach change any longer. Dad seemed to breathe a little better after the trach change, but he still had a lot of secretions, and he didn’t want to suction himself, so I had to suction him again.

We played a game of Oh Hell after dinner, and we started to put Dad to bed around 9:00 P.M. His oxygen saturation was 98%, which relieved me a little, and he fell asleep almost immediately.

Around midnight, Dad’s coughing woke me and I decided to go downstairs to see if I could encourage him to suction himself. He steadfastly refused to hold the Yankauer wand, and his oxygen saturation readings were erratic. I suctioned him for a few minutes and went back to bed when his coughing seemed to subside.

October 25. I woke up at 6:09 A.M. and I didn’t hear any noise from Dad coming through the baby monitor. Convinced that something bad had happened to him, I bolted up out of bed and ran downstairs to his room to see if he was all right. Thankfully, he was just sleeping, albeit quietly. I returned to my room and changed into my scrubs.

I returned to Dad’s room 45 minutes later and found that he was up and washing his face, but he seemed a bit disoriented. I administered his morning meds and trach care and Michell took over for the remainder of his morning ritual.

I left Dad’s room and went to the kitchen. Mom had started the coffee maker a short time earlier, and I was ready for a cup of coffee. Michell wandered into the kitchen and mentioned that Dad had told her that he wanted to stop dialysis. I knew that he understood the implications of stopping dialysis. I hoped that Dad was experiencing a temporary funk, but I needed to watch him and be supportive. While Michell was with Dad in the bedroom, Stan, Mom, and I had breakfast. Dad finally appeared dressed for the day at 9:15 A.M.

While Mom and I attended church, Stan and Dad tried to fix the VCR. When we returned from church, Dad was napping. Michell told us that at 11:30 A.M. he had wanted to lie down for a few minutes, and he fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. Stan told me that he needed to leave early today, but he wasn’t ready to leave until 2:00 P.M. Before he left, I woke Dad so that he could say goodbye to Stan. Dad was constantly surrounded by female caregivers. Stan was the welcome break from all of the female hovering, and Dad enjoyed their time together on weekends. Shortly after Stan left, Michell was able to convince Dad to do some of his physical therapy exercises.

After dinner, Michell and I asked Dad if he wanted to play cards. He said no, that he was just a “hindrance.” I told him that I was really asking if we were going to play cards this evening because we wouldn’t be playing cards without him. We played a long game tonight, and while he was pretty much exhausted by the end of the game, he wasn’t too tired to beat us again.

We started on our bedtime routine at 8:30 P.M., and I was able to call Stan shortly after 9:00 P.M. I was distressed about Dad’s apparent depressed mood, which was uncharacteristic of him. Stan said that he could understand how Dad’s cup could look a bit less than half full from his perspective. Perhaps Stan was correct.

If I thought that I had been unprepared to be a caregiver for Dad’s physical health, I was totally unprepared to handle depression.