What’s next, flying monkeys?

November 24, 2015. Dad and Michell woke up at 4:15 A.M. Dad still had some problems overnight, but I hoped to have him on the road to recovery quickly. I had Michell administer the trach care again this morning. I had to assist her a couple of times, but she was a little less nervous than she had been during her first attempt last night. During the administration of Dad’s morning meds, I added a couple of crushed Imodium tablets. Dad and Michell were able to get ready without much difficulty.

flyingMonkeyKristin, Dr. Pfanner‘s nurse, called to tell me that the doctor had decided on an antibiotic for Dad that would take a couple of weeks to clear up the CDiff. The nurse also provided me with some guidance about laundering and cleaning anything that Dad had come in contact with. She also recommended that we purchase some isolation robes to protect ourselves and encouraged us to wear gloves. I told her that we would abide by her guidelines, but it sure seemed like the horse was already out of the barn. Dad had probably been sick with CDiff for several days. Because prolonged antibiotic use probably contributed to Dad’s CDiff, before hanging up, the nurse encouraged me to contact Dad’s pulmonologist to see if they would change his antibiotic. This was a difficult request. We weren’t going to meet Dad’s pulmonologist for a few weeks. I also thought that it was the infectious diseases doctor at the hospital who had prescribed the doxycycline, and I didn’t know when or if we would see her again.

I thought that the dialysis nurses should know about the diagnosis. I texted Sue, our friend and nurse practitioner at the dialysis center, to let her know that Dad had tested positive for CDiff.

flyingMonkeyWhen Dad and Michell returned home at 12:15 P.M., Dad was in a rush to get to the bathroom. As I was pushing him past the piano, I caught his hand between the wheelchair and the piano and gouged him good. His skin was very fragile and susceptible to tears, so now he was also bleeding. Because I had already helped enough, I left the chaos that I had created and drove to the pharmacy to pick up the antibiotic prescription. I returned around 12:30 P.M. and gave Dad his first dose of Flagyl. When I had a couple of minutes to talk with Michell, she told me that Dad had had 1,100 ml of fluid removed during dialysis. With his weight so low, this news wasn’t good, but at least the quantity wasn’t excessive.

It was Thanksgiving week, and I was working half days, starting at 3:45 A.M., so my day was over by the time that Dad returned from dialysis. Michell, Mom, and I ate lunch, and then I resumed the baking that I had started yesterday.

flyingMonkeyAt 4:00 P.M., Mom tried to wake Dad, but he just grunted at her. He finally responded when she told him that he had his head on his sore hand—the one that I had injured. He then tried to get up by himself to go to the bathroom, which he’s incapable of doing. Michell tried to help him, but he told her to get out of his way. She finally got him into the wheelchair, and he kept telling her (and now me) to get out of his way. Michell kept trying to help him, but he kept shoving her away. She then got him the walker, but he pushed it into me and told me to get out of his way. During the arguing and raised voices, he called me by my mother’s name a couple of times, which I found a little disconcerting. He kept insisting that he could walk by himself. I finally stepped back and told him to walk. It took him about one second to realize that he couldn’t walk, and then he let us help him, although he still didn’t seem like himself.

In addition to the drastic personality change, he woke up looking different and years older than he had just four hours earlier. I checked the printout of precautions and side effects that came with the meds, and a couple of the severe side effects included confusion and irritability. I called Dr. Pfanner’s office and talked to the nurse about his drastic change and our concerns, and she said that she would consult the doctor and call back. When she called a few minutes later, she said that we wouldn’t like the answer, but the doctor wanted us to take him to the ER.

And then it got crazy.

When I called 911, I told them about Dad’s symptoms, and mistakenly used the word aggressive to describe his behavior. The 911 operator then started asking questions about weapons and alcohol and drug abuse, but I assured him that we didn’t have those concerns. Before hanging up, the 911 operator asked whether I felt safe hanging up the phone. I assured him that I did and made a mental note to never use the word aggressive during a call to 911.

flyingMonkeyJust a few minutes later, I heard the sirens, and a black SUV belonging to the sheriff’s department turned into the driveway. The deputy told me that the sheriff’s department is called whenever 911 receives a psych call. I assured him that I had not placed a psych call and that my father did not pose a physical threat to us. While we were talking, the deputy spoke into his shoulder mic and told two other deputies to “stand down.” Moments later the first fireman from Little River-Academy arrived. A couple of minutes later, the ambulance arrived, followed by another Little River-Academy fire truck. The EMTs, deputy, and I chatted on the front porch about Dad’s willingness (or not) to go with them. They asked about Dad’s wife and whether either of us had medical power of attorney, which we both possessed. The entourage of deputies and EMTs followed me into the bedroom, and I was able to talk Dad into going to the hospital. Michell rode in the ambulance with him and Mom and I followed them in my car. We sat in the driveway for what seemed like 10 minutes before the ambulance finally pulled out of the driveway. We finally arrived at the hospital at 6:00 P.M.

EMTs take the patient into the hospital through a designated door, separate from any visitors, including those who ride in the ambulance. I parked the car and Mom and I met Michell in the waiting room. While Michell left us to find a restroom, Dad, Mom, and I were ushered into an exam room. When the nurse arrived, I told her about the events of the day. When the resident, Dr. Stephanie Katrin Clark, arrived, said that Dad’s mentation problems could be from the CDiff and not the meds. She then ordered a chest x-ray to see if the lack of lung capacity was causing his confusion. She also ordered an EKG. Finally, the nurse arrived to take Dad’s blood. It was then that we learned that the reason why Dad’s ambulance stayed in the driveway so long was that the EMT was starting an IV. Having an IV in place simplified the nurse’s task, and she quickly acquired the necessary samples and turned them in to the lab shortly before 7:50 P.M. Before the nurse left the room, she started Dad on a saline drip.

At 7:49 P.M., I texted Sue to inform her that Dad had had 1,100 ml removed this morning and that he was now in the ER getting 500 ml of saline. I didn’t know if she could provide us with any information that might help our situation.

flyingMonkeyA little over an hour later, Dr. Clark returned to the exam room and said that she wanted to admit Dad. She said that his blood pressure was soft and he seemed dehydrated. I told her that we had to be home tomorrow for his 60-day home-care assessment. She said that she would give him another 250 ml of saline to improve his blood pressure. The next thing I knew, a tech arrived and said that she was to take Dad to radiology for a CT scan. I told her that it was our understanding that Dad could leave after he had received the 750 ml of saline and that I didn’t want him to have a CT scan. I also told her that he was out of Medicare days (and S&W Senior Care days), so admitting him was out of the question. After the tech had left the room, I explained to Dad and Mom that Dr. Smith had told me that Dad’s CT scan in August had not been normal, but he had then added that the CT scan of someone his age wasn’t normal anyway. I didn’t trust this doctor to say that the results of a CT scan weren’t normal, which would be another reason to admit him.

Shortly after the radiology tech left the room, we heard a knock on the door and a woman entered, identifying herself as the social worker and a problem solver. I again explained why we had to go home. My argument didn’t seem to sway her, so I told her that Dad was uninsured and that unless she could pay his hospital bill, I wasn’t interested in anything that she had to say. She left the room and returned a couple of minutes later with Dr. Clark and with the charge nurse. The doctor then informed me that Dad had suffered a heart attack. Today would mark the second time since July 22 that I had heard this, and I suspected that she was no more correct than the previous doctor had been. When I pressed her for details, she said that his numbers were elevated so that he might have suffered a heart attack. She also said that his kidney function was very high and that according to his medical history, he was very sick. I explained that his kidneys were in terrible shape and that he was ERSD and on dialysis. One of our problems was that the Scott & White Home Care department was not on the same records program as the hospitals, so the latest information accessible to the medical staff at Memorial was from September 29, some 57 days ago.

flyingMonkeyThe social worker and charge nurse explained to us that to take Dad home, we would have to sign an AMA, which would ensure that he could not be recertified. They had effectively trapped us into a no-win situation. We didn’t trust them or the hospital, and even if we did, Dad was uninsured, and we had to get out of there. I told them that I wanted to make some phone calls. I called the Home Health after-hours phone number and told them about our situation. I was transferred to Leo, the night nurse who had originally admitted Dad into home care. My phone died, and when I used Mom’s phone, Leo and I kept getting disconnected. When the nurse returned to the exam room, we told her that we would sign the AMA so that we could take Dad home.

At 10:38 P.M., I texted Sue again and told her that Dad had been dehydrated and that we might need to rethink the amount of fluid we’re pulling off of him, especially when he has diarrhea. At the rate that he was receiving fluids at the hospital, it wouldn’t be long before they replaced everything that had been removed during dialysis.

Eventually, the nurse came back, and my mother told her that we were ready to leave. After we signed the AMA, the nurse removed the IV lines and called for an ambulance to transport Dad home. About 30 minutes later, the EMTs arrived with a gurney. Mom and I recognized both of the EMTs. One of them had been by the house several times and the other, a woman, had brought him home from dialysis earlier today. When the EMTs took Dad to the ambulance, Mom and I passed through the waiting room, where we found Michell, who had been waiting patiently for almost five hours. Michell quickly left the waiting room and joined Dad for the return ride home in the ambulance. Fortunately, we had been able to text with Michell, so she had some idea of what was happening.

The four of us finally arrived home around 11:15 P.M. I started cleaning up in the kitchen and toasted the biscotti that I had baked earlier. We were hungry and too wired to sleep, so Mom also prepared a plate of cheese and crackers. Michell was with Dad in the bedroom. The poor guy was suffering from CDiff and had been trapped in the ER for more than five hours.

flyingMonkeyAt 11:45 P.M, we heard a loud pounding at the door. I peeked around the corner to see if I could tell who was at the door and was momentarily relieved when I saw the uniform of a sheriff’s deputy. When I opened the door, I met Deputy Ryan Blankemeier. He said that his department had received a call that we had taken Dad home from the hospital too soon and he was here to ensure that my father was OK. Deputy Blankemeier looked pretty confused when I told him that it was the nurse at the hospital who called for the ambulance to transport Dad home.

I told the deputy that Dad was on the commode and that he would have to wait until Dad was decent. From where we were standing in the hall, the deputy could hear Dad and Michell talking. After a while, the deputy said that he felt like he could leave, but I insisted that he stay. Eventually, Dad was decent, and I escorted the deputy to the bathroom to see him. I told Dad that the deputy wanted to ensure that he had gotten home OK. He said that “she” got home OK. I told Dad that it was him that the deputy cared about, and Dad said that he was fine, but it was “touch and go there for a while.” Dad laughed, and the deputy smiled. I eventually escorted the deputy to the front door shortly after midnight.

It was well after midnight before Dad was in bed and approaching 2:00 A.M. before I got to bed.

I hadn’t realized how upset Michell had been about the day. I had mentioned in an earlier post that she was astonished when I openly disagreed with a doctor. To sign an AMA and bring Dad home, followed by the visit from the sheriff’s department, was just a bit too much for her. After Dad had gone to sleep, she called a friend and cried about the day and then cried herself to sleep. At this point, she wasn’t sure if she would return next week and would have to pray for guidance. I hoped that she said a prayer or two for all of us.

The diagnosis

November 21, 2015. Despite the howling winds that blew through town overnight, I slept well, waking up only a couple of times when I heard Dad coughing. I got up early and woke Dad and Michell shortly after 4:00 A.M. Dad woke up slowly and had another difficult morning. I administered another dose of Imodium in his G-tube, along with his morning dose of Midodrine, which would help raise his blood pressure during dialysis. Michell and I also had the fun task of collecting a stool specimen that we had to drop off at the dialysis center.

diagnsisLetter-dWhen Michell and Dad were picked up by the EMS wheelchair van service, Stan and I drove to the dialysis center. I had been very upset that they had removed 2,500 ml from Dad on Thursday, and I intended to express my concern to the charge nurse. For each 1,000 ml removed, a dialysis patient loses 1 kg. After I had explained Dad’s situation, she said that they would just clean his blood today and not remove any fluid from him.

I remained at the dialysis center with Dad until he was weighed, which would determine his wet weight. Instead of gaining weight since his last session, which is what typically happens with dialysis patients, he had lost weight. He now weighed 128 pounds, five pounds less than his dry weight on Friday. Although two dietitians were now monitoring his nutrition, I was very concerned about his weight. I know that Michell was concerned when she learned how much the nurse planned to remove, she didn’t feel that she was qualified or entitled to question their judgment.

diagnsisLetter-iAfter I saw Dad weighed, Stan and I left Dad and Michell at the dialysis center so that we could run several errands before Dad returned home. Everything worked in our favor, and we were home by 10:30 A.M. As it turned out, Stan and I didn’t have to rush. Dad and Michell had to wait for the van and didn’t return home until after noon.

As soon as he got home, I administered Dad’s trach care and meds. Following dialysis, Dad usually was ready for a nap, but not today. During the storm last night, we had wind gusts up to 40 MPH that ushered in a cold front, and we lost a roof shingle. As soon as I was finished with Dad, he was ready to discuss with Stan how to replace the shingle.

diagnsisLetter-aShortly before 2:00 P.M., Dad took a long nap on the couch while we were in the living room because he didn’t want to be away from us. I think that he thought that sleeping on the couch would ensure that he didn’t miss happy hour, but he slept through it. Dozing on the couch might not seem like a big deal, but it was another first for him in his post-hospital life. We had to rely on the oxygen tank and trach bib because we couldn’t bring the oxygen concentrator and nebulizer to the living room, but he was able to receive Nepro during his nap. He slept for about four hours, and we woke him when we finished dinner.

We played cards again, and Stan was tonight’s winner. Shortly after 8:30 P.M., we started our bedtime routine, and by 9:10 P.M., I was heading upstairs. I had been concerned that, after sleeping for so many hours today, Dad wouldn’t be able to sleep, but he was snoozing before I left the room. Since lunchtime, I had been feeling like I was coming down with a cold, so I took some Nyquil before bed. Even if it didn’t help fend off a cold, it would help me sleep.

diagnsisLetter-gAt 10:30 P.M., the baby monitor station in our room started alarming. After quickly putting on my glasses, I could read the message on the display that indicated that our station was unlinked from the base station. As I tried to turn on the light, I discovered that the power was out again, which was why the monitor was unlinked. I called the power company, whose phone number was now stored on my iPhone, and listened to the recorded message stating that the power would be restored by12:30 A.M. I went downstairs and checked on Dad and Michell. Although the baby monitor alarm was also sounding in their room, it was the silence of the oxygen concentrator that first woke Michell. When I entered the room, she was setting up an oxygen tank next to Dad’s bed. I called the power company again, and the recording had been changed and now stated that they didn’t know when the power would be restored. The power came back on at 3:30 A.M. as Michell was replacing Dad’s empty oxygen tank.

November 22. After the interrupted night’s sleep, I finally woke up when I heard Michell telling Dad that it was 6:00 A.M. When I entered the master bedroom, my first thought was that Dad seemed as sleepy as I felt. However, his movement seemed unnaturally slow. Right after he finished washing his face and brushing his teeth, Michell checked his oxygen saturation level, and it was 74%, a severely low level. I then noticed that I didn’t hear the soft hissing sound from the oxygen tank that I heard when the oxygen was flowing. When I checked the tank, the valve was in was in the off position, which surprised Michell. She was sure that it had been on and thought that Dad must have leaned against the key and turned it off. We quickly put him back on the bed, removed his speaking valve and gave him unobstructed oxygen from the concentrator and nebulizer. After 30 minutes, I still wasn’t happy with his oxygen levels, so to rule out any chance of an obstructed airway, I changed out his trach. For the past couple of weeks, we had been slowly reducing the amount of oxygen that we administered from the oxygen tanks and his oxygen saturation levels had remained high. I now decided to increase his oxygen level back to two liters, which is where it was when he was discharged from the CCH almost two months ago.

diagnsisLetter-nBy 8:00 A.M., Dad was back in the wheelchair and was reading the Sunday newspaper. When Mom and I left for church, he and Stan were playing cribbage. After a couple of games of cribbage, Dad wanted to lie down and rest. According to Michell, he fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. Usually, he liked for us to wake him before Stan left for Houston, but today he asked that we let him sleep.

We finally woke Dad and helped him out of bed shortly after 3:00 P.M. He was up for the rest of the evening, and Michell was able to get him to run through some of his swallow-therapy exercises. Dad rested in his room again while we ate dinner, and he was ready to play cards when we were finished eating. By 8:20 P.M., we were finished with cards and starting our nighttime routine. Less than 25 minutes later, we had finished administering the meds and trach care, and Dad was sound asleep.

diagnsisLetter-oNovember 23. Dad was very slow in waking up this morning. When I heard him and Michell talking, I took a break from work to administer his morning meds and trach care. Tracy, one of our RNs, called around 9:00 A.M.to see if we could be her first stop this morning. I was very low on the Mepilex dressings that American HomePatient didn’t provide and asked Tracy if she could bring me a few to tide me over until I could order more from Amazon. She said that she would stop by the office and pick up a couple for me. I was very fond of Tracy. She was a wonderful nurse and the mother of a special needs child. She was one of my favorite nurses and a very caring person. She arrived at my parents’ home at 10:00 A.M. with my requested dressing in hand. After her brief examination of Dad, she said that his bed sore was practically healed. With the way that Dad had been feeling, I didn’t want to take him back to the wound care doctor, which would most likely take the entire afternoon. She said that I could safely cancel his appointment with wound care today. Also, she didn’t think that I would need any more of the expensive Mepilex dressings. I happily accepted the good news and canceled the appointment with the doctor and the EMS wheelchair van service.

diagnsisLetter-sWhile Tracy was visiting, Dad spent the entire time either sitting or lying on the bed, so she didn’t see how weak he had become. Shortly before Tracy arrived, Michell had had to hold up Dad to keep him from falling when he was trying to get dressed. I hoped that we would hear something soon from Dr. Pfanner’s office.

I contacted Kathleen, the physical therapist, to see if she could come over today to take care of Dad’s 60-day assessment for Medicare. As part of the assessment, the Scott & White Home Care providers would recommend an additional 60 days of home care. Unfortunately, because the health care providers can’t perform their assessments more than five days before the assessment due date, which was this coming Saturday, the earliest that she could stop by would be Tuesday, which was a dialysis day. According to Kathleen, the therapists and the nurse would arrive on Wednesday to perform their assessments. After a couple of phone calls, she and I decided that to avoid a massive traffic jam of providers, she would conduct her assessment on Thanksgiving Day. I was impressed how everyone was willing to work on and around one of the biggest US holidays of the year. For us, every day had become basically the same, but these people all had families and lives outside of work. My only concern had to do with Dad’s diminishing strength and that he might not be able to exhibit progress during his assessments.

diagnsisLetter-iShortly before noon, Michell helped Dad with some of the exercises prescribed by the occupational therapist and then she, Mom, and I helped him walk from the kitchen to the bedroom.

Kristen arrived at 2:15 P.M. for Dad’s speech therapy session, but he was sleeping. I had thought that we would not see any of the therapists until next week, but Kristen said that she was not part of Kathleen’s team, plus, she had just started treating Dad. To enable Dad time to wake up, she said that she would visit with her next patient and return in about 90 minutes. She returned shortly before 4:00 P.M., and she and Dad had a good session.

I worked only a half day today and ended the day around the time that Dad woke up. I retired to the kitchen and baked a couple of batches of biscotti. I needed to get my annual baking underway, but I felt guilty for baking something that Dad liked but could not eat. It didn’t help that the aroma of the biscotti wafted throughout the house.

Late in the day, Dr. Pfanner’s nurse called and said that Dad tested positive for CDiff. She and I discussed some antibiotics that he could take for it, but she would need to consult with the doctor and get back to me. Evidently, Dad’s G-tube was causing them to rethink which medication to prescribe. It was ironic that this infection was probably caused by Dad’s long-time usage of antibiotics, yet it would take another antibiotic to get rid of it. It was terrible that he had contracted this infection, but at least we knew why he had had this terrible diarrhea and that he would soon have medication to treat it.

diagnsisLetter-sI would need to leave town again for a day or two in early December. I had asked Michell if she would consider administering trach care and the meds while I was gone. I told her that Gale had performed these same tasks while I was gone a couple of weeks earlier. Michell had worked in nursing homes before she took a position with One On One Personal Homecare Services. In nursing homes, she would not have been permitted to perform either of these tasks. The rules of home care were at the discretion of the home care providers, namely me. I encouraged her to speak with Gale to see how she had managed. Truth be told, Michell had already performed tasks here that would have been off limits for her in a nursing home. Fortunately, Michell said that she would agree to be trained by me and give me her final decision after she had a chance to speak with Gale. During our nighttime routine, I showed her how to administer the trach care. She was nervous, and it would take a bit more practice with her, but I had to give her credit; I don’t know if I would have been willing to assume responsibility for the trach care had I been in her shoes.

 

After the fall

November 15, 2015. Dad had a restless night, waking up a few times during the night. At 8:45 A.M., he was ready to get up. Before Gale helped him transfer from the bed to the wheelchair, I administered his morning meds and trach care. Gale had done a great job of taking care of Dad while I was in Houston, but she was glad to have me back in Temple to resume the trach care. After I left the room, Dad wheeled himself into the bathroom and proceeded to shave and wash up. He seemed to have an upset stomach and didn’t get out of his room and into the kitchen to visit with us until 10:00 A.M.

blogaug1-1As Mom and I were driving to church, I told her that I had read the log book that the aides kept about Dad, so I knew about Dad’s fall yesterday. I was pretty irritated that she had decided to withhold this information from me. I was very invested in his care and recovery, and it disturbed me that my parents would choose to keep this information from me. She agreed that they would not withhold this type of information from me again and said that she would talk with Dad after lunch. However, we both hoped that there would be no next time.

bellsWhile we were at church, Dad told Gale that he was tired and that he wanted to lie down. He also complained about some tightness and soreness in his back. Gale thought that he also seemed a little depressed about yesterday’s fall in the bedroom. The home-patient hospital beds had only two side rails, which did nothing to keep Dad in bed. At one point, I had used pipe cleaners to attach a couple dozen little bells to four chairs that we pushed up against the sides of Dad’s bed. He still might have been able to escape from the bed, but we hoped that the bells would wake at least one of us during an attempted escape. The chairs and bells had worked for about a week but were less effective as Dad got stronger. One side of the bed was partially obstructed because of the oxygen concentrator and nebulizer. While Dad napped, Gale moved the wheelchair to the other side of the bed and locked it in place, which made that bad boy practically impossible to move.

After Mom and I returned home from church, Gale told us that Dad had diarrhea. According to her, it had started last night and had become progressively worse during the day. I decided to call the Home Care office and request a visit from the on-call nurse.

blogaug1-leftAfter lunch, Dad read the newspaper in his room and rested until the nurse arrived at 4:20 P.M. She said that Dad’s vitals were great and said that he didn’t have a fever. When she learned about the fall (During every visit, providers ask if you’ve had any falls.) and the difficulty that Gale and Mom had had getting him up off of the floor, she said that we could always call for a nurse for assistance. Regarding the reasons why we had called for a nurse, she could only speculate about the cause of his diarrhea and back pain.

Now that the fall was common knowledge, Mom and I spoke with Dad for a few minutes, and I implored him to ask for help when he needed to get up. He restated that he didn’t want to be a bother, and I told him that we had hired someone whose sole purpose was to be bothered by him. He agreed to ask for help going forward.

He seemed to feel a bit better and joined us for happy hour.

Mom was the big winner at cards this evening. It had been a long day, and we were all tired. We started our nighttime routine at 7:45 P.M. and by 8:30 P.M. we were all in bed.

November 16. Dad had a tough night, starting at 1:00 A.M. This bout of diarrhea had a firm grip on him that was becoming progressively worse. He eventually got out of bed and ready for the day around 8:00 A.M. Gale was able to convince him to exercise with the core weight, but by 10:00 A.M., he wanted to return to his room to lie down.

blogaug1-upShortly after noon, Tracy, the nurse, stopped by for Dad’s routine Monday checkup. Similar to yesterday, Dad’s vitals were good. I asked her if we could give Dad some Imodium, but she said that she could not give advice about medications. I finally asked her what she would do if she was in my position, and she said that she’d give her father half of a pill.

I went to Walgreens and purchased a box of Imodium. A standard dosage was two pills, so I wasn’t concerned about crushing a half of a pill and administering it into his G-tube. I wouldn’t have thought that such a small dosage would have helped much, but he seemed a little better for the next five hours.

At 2:00 P.M., the doorbell rang, and we opened the door and met Kristen, the speech pathologist. When Dad wheeled out to meet her, she introduced herself to Dad as the speech therapist. He said that that was a shame because he hadn’t prepared one. To her credit, she laughed. The session might have been for Dad, but I learned a lot about our complex system of muscles that enables us to swallow. She had Dad work through a couple of throat exercises and left a sheet of exercises for him to practice between sessions. She also said that he could eat crushed ice anytime that he wanted.

After Kristen left, Gale helped Dad use the walker to walk from the kitchen to the laundry room, a distance of about 12 feet. He walked slowly, but his steps were steady and controlled. He stayed up for the remainder of the day, resting only while Mom, Gale, and I ate dinner.

blogaug1-rightAfter dinner, Dad felt like playing cards, which was our litmus test for how well he was feeling. By 7:30 P.M., I had won, and we were moving Dad toward his bedroom to start the nighttime routine.

My room was the only room on the second floor, with windows on three sides. On most nights, I could see the moon from my bed. We were expecting some storms through the area in about six hours, and the wind was already howling around my room when I turned out my light.

November 17. The storms that were predicted to start at 2:00 A.M. started two hours late, just around the time that I woke Gale and Dad. Dad had had a great night’s sleep, but he still had not recovered from the diarrhea. I hated to send him away for 4-5 for dialysis hours with these symptoms and hoped that another 1/2 Imodium would help him. Fortunately, the torrential rain that started at 4:00 A.M. had let up some when the wheelchair transit van arrived. The rain ushered in a cold front, and the temperature had dropped almost 20 degrees between the time that I woke up and when Dad and Gale were picked up.

blogaug1-2Fortunately, they didn’t have to wait too long after dialysis for a ride, and Dad and Gale were home by 12:15 P.M. He was pretty wiped out and wanted to take a nap. By 12:40 P.M., he was back on the bed, hooked up to the tube feed and moist air. I administered his trach care and a portion of his midday meds. I became distracted by some shiny object and forgot to administer his antibiotic. Less than five minutes after I left his room, he was sleeping. While he slept, I called Sue, our friend and nurse practitioner at the dialysis center, to see what else I could do for Dad. She said that I could safely give him two pills, the recommended dosage of Imodium.

By 4:00 P.M., Dad was awake but was still very sleepy. Before he joined us for happy hour, I crushed two Imodium tablets, mixed them with water, and inserted them into his G-tube.

While Mom, Gale, and I enjoyed assorted beverages, Dad ate some crushed ice. A little bit of crushed ice went a long way, but at least he was getting a chance to practice swallowing.

Dad took a short rest in his room while Gale, Mom, and I ate dinner. Although he wasn’t feeling his chipper self of a few days ago, he felt well enough to beat us at cards.

scorpion1While Gale and I were in Dad’s room running through his nighttime routine, Gale found a little scorpion on the floor near her bed. Gale was one of the most fearless women I knew, but she screamed like a little girl when she saw the critter. We had barely disposed of it when she encountered another one crawling on the bathroom floor toward the bedroom carpet. My parents had found scorpions in the house in the past, but I don’t recall ever seeing one, and tonight we saw two.

Although many things in our lives were uncertain, one thing was very certain: Gale would never walk barefoot in the bedroom again.

 

 

Just when I thought we were making some progress

hoyerLift
Hoyer lift and sling

November 10, 2015. Dad had another good night’s sleep. At 4:00 A.M., I took a short break from work and woke Dad and Michell. They progressed through their morning routine without any hitches, but Dad was a bit apprehensive about today’s trip to dialysis. Although today’s transit service to dialysis would be with the wheelchair transit and not the gurney service, he was probably nervous about being moved from the wheelchair with the Hoyer lift. It was supposed to be a safe way to move less ambulatory patients, but it was an unknown entity for us. Before the transit van arrived, we positioned the Hoyer sling under Dad so that the nurse could attach it to the lift when he reached the dialysis center.

When Michell and Dad arrived at the dialysis center, instead of using the Hoyer lift, the EMTs picked up Dad and placed him in the dialysis chair. We had hoped that the nurse at the dialysis center would weigh Dad in the wheelchair so that we could establish a dry weight for him, but the EMTs were too fast. When Dad’s session was finished, Michell encountered a couple of EMTs who had just dropped off a patient. She was able to convince them to transport them home, which enabled Michell and Dad to arrive home at  11:15 A.M., which tied our record time.

Between my working and Dad’s three hours’ worth of naps, I didn’t see him except for trach care until happy hour. He seemed well rested, and by 7:45 P.M., he had beat us at Oh Hell. He headed for bed, and we were finished with our nighttime routine by 8:15 P.M. Our mornings and nights were starting to run like well-oiled machines.

laZbonesNovember 11. Dad had another good night. I might have heard him cough twice. At 7:45 A.M., I was between meetings and wanted to administer trach care and meds, but Dad was still in bed and didn’t want to get up. I told him that he was a lazy bones and that we’d have to make “Lazy Bones” his theme song. He smiled, didn’t open his eyes, but started singing the song.

With the assistance of Michell, he finally got out of bed and got himself shaved and washed up by 8:30 A.M. It was Wednesday—change out day for the aides. Michell was packed up and ready to leave, but she couldn’t go until Gale arrived. Gale was running about an hour late, and she eventually arrived around 11:00 A.M. The ladies exchanged information about Dad, and Michell was on her way.

Mom and Dad met about finances for a while this morning, and then Dad took a short nap before Stephanie, the nurse, arrived. She was also running late, but she finally arrived at 1:00 P.M. Stephanie said that Dad’s vitals were all good and that his lungs sounded clear. She also said that she saw some signs of his bedsore starting to heal. I asked her about the odds of Dad being released from Home Health Care on the 24th. She didn’t think that that would happen, and said that Dad’s home care would most likely be extended an additional 60 days. I wasn’t sure how the process worked, and I had been asking every caregiver for her opinion. The thought that we’d be discharged after our initial 60 day period unnerved me. I was almost out of the lubricant that I used for Dad’s trach. Before Stephanie left, I showed her the package and asked if she could find us some extra packets.

cross9Before Stephanie’s car left the driveway, Brenda pulled up behind her for Dad’s physical therapy session. I didn’t watch the session, but from what I could hear, it seemed like she was working with him on transfers. I once heard her say that Dad got an A on something that he did, but not an A+. At the end of the session, she said that he got a gold star for the day. I had to laugh to myself as I wondered about the type of psychology that they employed to get him to cooperate. On her way out, Brenda stopped by my office and asked me about the rubber mat for the shower that I had agreed to get during our discussion on November 6. I had forgotten to order one, but I promised that I would find one. I also asked her about the chances of us being discharged on the 24th, and she also didn’t think that it was likely. Gale asked her about the exercises that they should concentrate on until she returned on Friday. Whenever the providers left the house, they sat in their cars and updated their notes about their visits with Dad. Before Brenda had pulled out of the driveway, I had ordered Dad’s bath mat from Amazon.

Shortly after Brenda left, Mom and Gale helped Dad use the walker and he walked 48 feet. I logged off from work shortly after 4:30 P.M. and told Dad that I needed to change his trach, and that we’d all be happier if I took care of that chore before happy hour. I grabbed my two TV trays and my assistant, Gale, and we ushered Dad into the bedroom. I probably didn’t need an aide to help me, but I felt better having one of them there with me. Sometimes I forgot to bring something, or I needed an extra hand. For the first time in about six weeks, Dad’s trach was not crusty. The weather had been bad and he’d been forced to stay indoors and away from the dry air.

Dad won at cards again. Before he went to bed, I had Gale administer the meds and the trach care. Gale had said that she would handle Dad’s trach care while I was out of town for a couple of days this week. I was hoping that I could also convince Michell to do the same when I left for a couple of days in December. Gale did a great job, but to ease her mind some, I typed up some notes that detailed every step of the basic routine trach care and the med prep processes. I would be gone for about 48 hours, so she would not need to know how to change his trach.

blogNov10-02November 12. Shortly before 3:30 A.M., I heard Dad call for Gale to help him to find the urinal. I got up shortly after that and woke them. I watched as Gale handled all of the meds and routine trach care this morning—her last practice run before I left for Houston. Everything ran smoothly, and we were ready when the wheelchair van arrived at 5:50 A.M., some 20 minutes early.

While I was working, I heard the audio caller ID on my parents’ landline announce in a distorted voice that we were receiving a call from Watts Prison. For a moment I considered letting the call go to voicemail, but my curiosity got the better of me. I laughed out loud when the caller identified herself as Kristen Watts. So that she didn’t think that I was a nutcase, I quickly explained why I was laughing. After exchanging schedule information, we agreed on Monday and Wednesday sessions at 2:00 P.M. for Dad’s swallow therapy. Her first visit with us would be on Monday, four days from now. I practically ran out of the office to find Mom and share the good news!

I received a call from Gale at 12:20 P.M., stating that she and Dad were on their way home from dialysis. I waited until they got home, and then I left for Houston. The last time that I had been home was on September 22. During that three-day visit, I had come home to pack a few items that I would need during Dad’s final days in hospice.

blogNov10-01Gale had her first solo run with the meds and trach care right after I left. Dad took a nap until 3:00 P.M. and was up for the remainder of the day. The three of them played cards, and Mom won again.  Gale got Dad in bed by 8:00 P.M. and had no problem administering his night time meds and trach care.

That evening, I attended my photography class. The last time that I had seen my classmates, I told them that I had just finished making hospice arrangements for my father. We had had quite a change in fortune since late September. I had been attending class with some of these people for more than five years, and I had known the instructor since 2008. It felt good to be with them again, and they were very excited about Dad’s progress.

November 13. Dad had had another great night, and he slept until Gale woke him at 8:00 A.M. Shortly after Dad was out of bed and dressed, Gale noticed that the line from the nebulizer was dry, which meant that Dad wasn’t receiving any moisture with his oxygen. She called Jared from American HomePatient, and he came over immediately. It seemed that we were supposed to change the water bottle every two weeks. Gale added this missing tidbit of information to our list of chores, but it would have been nice to know this about six weeks earlier. Jared and the other representatives who set up Dad’s home care room probably did tell us everything that we needed to do, but this orientation occurred amid a whirlwind of activity with no written instructions left behind.

blogNov10Stephanie, the nurse, came by around noon to take Dad’s vitals and check his bedsore. She said that the bedsore was healing nicely and that it was looking great. Bless her heart; Stephanie also brought us enough trach lubricant to last for a couple of months. These home care nurses were wonderful. In hindsight, I don’t know if I ever told them how much I appreciated them.

When Brenda stopped by later for Dad’s physical therapy session, she had Dad practice a dry run (literally) getting in and out of the shower with the new mat. She didn’t have him walk today, but she had him run through a series of bed exercises.

My Mom’s dear friend, Marilyn, stopped by around 3:30 P.M. with a nice arrangement of mums and visited with my parents for about an hour. Mom hadn’t resumed her social life, and she benefited by having her friend visit.

Meanwhile, I was in Houston. While I had been in Temple with my parents, my employer had arranged for new office space on our campus. I would be moving from a cubicle to an open-space environment with less room for books and personal belongings. I spent most of the day in my cube, throwing out paper. I filled up three trash cans and three recycle bins, and was still not finished. Stan was thrilled when I brought home three boxes of personal items.

blogNov10-02November 14. Dad seemed to be on a roll. He had another great night’s sleep. He and Gale ran through their morning routine and arrived at the dialysis center shortly before 7:00 A.M. It was a slow day for the EMS transport service, so the wheelchair transport arrived shortly after Gale called them, and then she and Dad arrived home shortly before noon.

Dad was tired and was ready for a nap after Gale administered the midday meds and trach care. After Dad had drifted off to sleep, Gale left the room.

While I was in Houston, I ran several errands, stopped by the office to throw out more paper and prepare my belongings for the move, and got a haircut. I encountered several friends and happily told them about how well Dad was progressing. When I started my return trip to Temple at 2:00 P.M., I was feeling positive about how we were getting along.

blogNov10-01Shortly after I left Houston, Dad woke up from his nap and needed to use the bedside commode. Instead of calling for assistance, he decided that he could get out of bed and into the bathroom without assistance.  Not surprisingly, he fell as soon as he took one step from the bed. Gale heard the commotion through the baby monitor and ran to Dad’s room. She was unable to lift him off of the floor to get him back into the bed. She called for my mother for assistance. It took the two of them almost an hour to get him back into bed so that she could assess any damage caused by the fall. Not only had he been attached to the tube feed, but the oxygen was also attached to his trach collar, which was cupped over the trach tube. While on the floor, he had put a tremendous strain on his G-tube and he was lucky that he didn’t decannulate himself during the fall. After Gale had straightened out the mess caused by the mishap, she helped Dad transfer into the wheelchair.

An hour or so later, Dad wheeled himself into the kitchen and asked Mom not to tell me about his fall. She said that she wouldn’t tell me about the incident, as long as he promised not to try to get out of bed again without assistance.

When I arrived at my parents’ home shortly before 5:00 P.M., I was greeted by what seemed like a happy household. We had a nice happy hour, and after dinner, we played two games of Oh Hell. Gale was excited to win the first game, and Mom won the second game.

blogNov10-02When we finished playing cards, Gale told me that she wanted to take a shower. She said that I might want to read her log book to catch up on the activities that occurred while I was gone. I read her notes about today’s fiasco and was horrified, appalled, and furious. Such a stunt could have seriously hurt him. I spoke with Gale before I went to bed, and she was very upset. She said that she had never experienced such an incident before and was not sure that she wanted to return, which would be a tremendous loss for all of us. Not only would we lose a wonderful caregiver, but we also were very fond of her.

Fuming, I went upstairs and called Stan. The poor guy got an earful as I unloaded my frustrations of Dad’s day. He talked me down and told me to approach Dad and his resistance to following instructions in terms of my fears. He wasn’t kidding. Dad was his own worst enemy, and like Gale, I was afraid to let him out of my sight.

 

The big trick: missing medications

October 30, 2015. The alarm woke me again this morning, which made two nights in a row that Dad, Gale, and I had slept through the night. Silence still made me a little nervous, so I checked to see that Dad was still breathing before I grabbed a cup of coffee and logged on to work. I worked until about 8:00 A.M. and then administered Dad’s morning meds. I then set up my two TV trays and changed out his trach. The bottom part of the trach was pretty crusty and partially obstructed, which was why the suction tube had stopped during his trach care last night. I felt so guilty. I reminded him again that being away from the bedroom nebulizer caused his secretions to dry in his trach, but the importance of the situation didn’t seem to resonate with him. Before I left the room, Dad asked me if I would be leaving and if Gale would take over. I told him that I was working on plans that would enable me to go home occasionally for a day or two.

halloweenBlog4Today started out pretty well for Dad—in fact, it seemed practically transformative. He was able to pull himself up in the bed with one hand, and his transfers from the bed to the wheelchair were much better. When Tracy, the nurse, stopped by at 10:00 A.M., she said that he was doing well and that his bed sore seemed to be healing. Janet, the occupational therapist, arrived about 90 minutes later and put him through the paces with some arm and core exercises. On her way out, she said that she thought that Dad was progressing very well.

The occupational therapy tired him, so he took a short nap after Janet left. Gale took advantage of his downtime and treated herself to a cat nap. Because Dad had slept so well the last two nights, she was less tired that she had been during her previous weeks here.

He took a couple of short naps during the day, but otherwise, he was up and about for the rest of the day.

It rained like a son-of-a-gun for most of the day. Shortly before dinner, I donned my boots and a rain jacket and ventured outside to read and empty the rain gauge. At the time, I emptied out 5 inches, and the rain showed no signs of tapering off.

halloween03Last Sunday I had purchased a couple of pumpkins from the church. Tomorrow was Halloween, which was Gale’s favorite holiday. She usually spent the day with her granddaughters and was a little disappointed that she was missing this time with them. I had searched the internet for her to find some Cheshire Cat makeup ideas for her granddaughter, and she had had a good time experimenting with them last week. I thought that carving pumpkins might make her feel more like she was celebrating. Before dinner, Gale and I spread newspaper over the island in the kitchen and attacked our pumpkins. While we were carving up a storm in the kitchen, a casserole was in the oven, and Dad was taking another nap.

I set up my camera on a tripod and attached the shutter release so that Dad could take pictures. When he woke up from his nap, he snapped a couple of pictures of Gale and me finalizing our masterpieces.

After dinner, we played Oh Hell again, and I won! Miracles do happen. We were finished with cards shortly after 8:00 P.M.

October 31. I had forgotten to set my iPhone alarm last night, but fortunately, an amazing thunderstorm woke me at 3:45 A.M. Beginning when Dad came home, I had been sleeping in the upstairs guest room that my parents dubbed the Vista Room. It has windows on three sides, and blinds are installed on the east side windows. Because my day started when it was still dark outside, I didn’t bother to close the blinds—I didn’t need to shut out the daylight. Consequently, when Mother Nature put on a light and sound show at night, I would wake up. My first thought after the clap of thunder that woke me was that the power had gone off, but I noticed that the power light on the baby monitor was still lit. With everything apparently OK, I thought that I should make coffee—just in case we did lose power. I guess if I could worry about coffee, things were improving around here.

halloweenBlog3The storm passed through the area pretty fast, and it wasn’t raining at 6:15 A.M. when Dad and Gale were picked up for dialysis by the EMTs. Because it was Saturday, Mom and I ate breakfast together and tried to catch up on some chores around the house. While our lives were revolving around Dad, our household was like a computer. Mom acted as the operating system that managed our primary functions, like shopping, laundry, cleaning, and meal preparation. I kept up with Dad’s appointments, meds, supplies, and trach care. The aides handled Dad’s most basic needs and monitored his safety, and Stan helped with the yard and filled in all of the gaps. He also provided the extra dose of testosterone in the house, which Dad needed.

While Dad and Gale were at dialysis, I drove to the S&W pharmacy to pick up another prescription of an antifungal for Dad and was shocked when the bill came to $399. When I asked the pharmacy clerk about the price, she said Medicare pays for only one refill of the drug each month. She then looked at our records and said that I had picked up this same prescription last week. I left the prescription at the pharmacy and returned home. halloweenBlog2Mom and I searched the house for the pills, but we couldn’t find them anywhere. We surmised that we must have inadvertently thrown out that prescription when we threw away the bag from the pharmacy. This was our first major system failure since Dad had come home. Mom and I opted to forget about the antifungal—for now. It was less than 45 days ago that we were told that Dad would die from a fungus in his blood. I didn’t like the idea of forgoing this medication. Tomorrow was Sunday and I would see Sue, the dialysis nurse practitioner, at church. I hoped that she might have some suggestions on what we should do. Meanwhile, we felt as if the tricking had started already, and not the treating.

At 11:15 A.M., an ambulance pulled into the driveway with Gale and Dad. Gale was pretty certain that this time beat the all-time record. Dad stopped by his bedroom long enough for his midday meds and trach care and then wanted to get into his office to review some financial paperwork with Mom. At 2:00 P.M., he returned to his room and napped for a couple of hours. While he slept, I made spiced pumpkin seeds from our carving session the previous night. I’m not a big fan of pumpkin seeds, but these were pretty tasty.

halloween01After our happy hour and a spaghetti dinner, I decided that we wanted a group Halloween photo, and I herded everyone outside to the front porch.

My parents have lived here for 10 Halloweens and have never been visited by trick-or-treaters, and tonight was no exception unless you included Stan and the mailman (who had had us sign for the delivery of Dad’s medical records, which included a bill for $732, which we considered a trick, indeed).

Because of the holiday, or because Dad was feeling pretty good and we knew that we’d gain an hour of sleep tonight at the end of Daylight Saving Time, we played two games of Oh Hell. I won the first round, and Dad won the second.

At 9:00 P.M. CDT, we started Dad’s nighttime routine. We seemed to be on a roll of good nights. I could always hear the drone of the equipment coming through the baby monitor, so my nights weren’t entirely peaceful, but I hoped that Dad, Gale, Stan, and I could sleep in just a bit tomorrow.

November 1. As we had all hoped, Dad slept until 6:30 A.M. standard time, which meant that we all were able to get that extra hour of sleep. He wasn’t in a hurry to get out of bed and was happy to lie in bed for a while longer. After hearing that the residents of the master bedroom were up and about, I donned my scrubs and went downstairs. Dad was in the bathroom washing his face and brushing his teeth, so I started the two coffee makers in the kitchen—one with fully-caffeinated beans and the other with the decaffeinated ones.

I took care of Dad’s morning meds and trach care, joined Mom and Stan for breakfast, and then Mom and I went to church. Before the church service started, we told Sue about our prescription mishap. She said that she was shocked that something like this had happened to us, and there wasn’t anything that she could do to help us. She added that she didn’t think that Dad still needed the antifungal. Feeling like a total loser, I prayed that Dad would not pay for our mistake.

While Mom and I attended church, Dad and Stan played a couple of games of cribbage. Dad might have been handicapped by a trach, a feeding tube, and his inability to swallow, but he could still beat Stan at cribbage.

halloweenBlog1I needed to get back to Houston periodically for a day or two. I had contacted a couple of services to see if we could hire nurses to handle Dad’s trach care, but we needed someone three times a day, and I couldn’t figure out how to make it work logistically or financially. I also learned that it wasn’t every nurse that was trained to handle the duties of a respiratory therapist. I had approached Gale a couple of days earlier to see if she would be willing to administer the meds and trach care for Dad while I was gone. I planned to have everything set up and documented for her. Administering the medication was pretty simple with our pill organizer and pill crusher. The trach care was a trickier issue. I was pleased when she said that she would try administering the trach care a couple of times to see if she could handle it.

Gale and I had our first trach care rehearsal after lunch. She did a great job, although I didn’t realize how much I relied on slipping my pinkies under the trach collar to place and adjust the trach dressing. Her fingers were a bit larger than mine, so we had to figure out a different way for her to adjust the dressing. I could tell by the way that she exhaled when she was finished that she had been pretty nervous. It was just over a month ago that I had to do this for the first time and I had been very nervous. Gale had been a caregiver for over half of her life, but this was her first time to suction secretions and change a trach dressing. I didn’t know how Dad felt about Gale stepping in, but outwardly, he was very supportive.

After the trach care, Stan returned to Houston to our home and cats. I had lost track of the times that he had made this trip, and I was always a bit on edge until I received his text message when he reached home. Every person in our little family was a vital player in our healthcare journey.

Mom, Dad, Gale, and I visited during happy hour, and after dinner we played another game of Oh Hell. After the game, Gale and I escorted the big winner to his room. I handled the trach care and Gale crushed the pills, mixed them with water, administered them into the G-tube, and flushed the line. By 9:00 P.M., Dad and Gale were ready for bed. Mom and I set up the ever-important coffee makers for tomorrow morning, and I called Stan.

Gale would be able to spell me in a couple of weeks, Dad seemed to be making good progress, and he had had a few good nights in a row. I was looking forward to another decent night’s sleep. Except for the apparently discarded antifungal pills, we seemed to be progressing pretty well.

 

 

Caring for the man who would not sleep

October 2. It was 2:00 A.M., and Dad was wide awake and wanted to get up. After Gale, our caregiver, called me for assistance, she resituated Dad in bed and helped him roll over on his side, although she noticed he didn’t need her assistance. To keep him on his side and more or less stuck in bed, she wedged a pillow behind him. I don’t know if he slept, but at 4:00 A.M., Gale paged me again when Dad tried to get out of bed, so the pillow didn’t do much to control him.

My parents’ bathroom was large, but the commode was located in a separate room, which was more like a closet. In his current condition, it was physically impossible for him to use the commode. American HomePatient (AHP) provided us with a bedside bedsideCommodecommode that we kept in the common area of the bathroom. Having it in a more open area enabled the aides to transport him to and from the commode, a contraption that he loathed. After helping him into the bathroom to use the dreaded bedside commode, Gale and I were able to convince him to go back to bed. Thankfully, he remained in bed until 8:30 A.M., at which time I administered his trach care and morning meds. I was still a rookie with the trach care and the process took about 45 minutes.

I received a call from Kathleen Devine (I loved her name.), who introduced herself as the home care physical therapist. She wanted to stop by to assess Dad’s strength to determine a plan for his occupational and physical therapies. Our schedule was wide open and she said that she would stop by before noon.

After a couple of trips to dialysis, we had realized that in addition to his extra trach, Dad gymBagalso needed to bring a blanket, a box of tissues, and various other items. Gale told Stan that instead of Mom’s Elizabeth Arden tote bag that we were using to transport his dialysis accessories, Dad needed something larger and more masculine, like a duffle bag. Stan wasn’t sure what she had in mind, but he eventually found a gym bag that she deemed perfect for the task.

Gale checked out Dad’s bureau and closet. She marveled at how well his clothes were folded and organized, although I don’t know if the credit goes to Dad or Mom. With a little guidance from Dad, Gale picked out some clothes for him and dressed him for the day. Gale also made a slight design adjustment to Dad’s undershirt. Because his PEG tube extended out from his midsection, wearing an undershirt over the tube bent the tube, which, in addition to being uncomfortable, was not good for the PEG tube. With Dad’s permission and the precision of Edward Scissorhands, Gale cut a hole in his undershirt and fished the tube through the opening. When Dad wore a button-down shirt, the tube extended through the placket. The PEG tube wardrobe problem was solved.

By 9:30 A.M., Gale and I had transferred Dad to the wheelchair and Gale wheeled him outside on the porch. Dad could navigate the wheelchair pretty well by himself in the house, but he needed some assistance going through the thresholds to the outside. By 10:00 A.M., I insisted that he come back inside so that we could hook him up to the moist air. He wasn’t enamored with the thought of being tethered to the concentrator and nebulizer, but after Mom brought him the paper he seemed pretty satisfied to sit in his room to read it. He hadn’t read a newspaper since July.

At 11:45 A.M., Kathleen arrived. She was a no-nonsense transplant from New York and I liked her immediately. She watched as Gale and I transferred Dad from the wheelchair to the bed and back again. She told us that a physical therapist aide would stop by twice a week to help him stand and walk, and the occupational therapist would visit him once a week and work on his upper body and core strength. We agreed that Dad would have physical therapy on Monday and Wednesday and occupational therapy on Friday. When I asked about speech therapy to address his swallowing problems, she said that I would have to speak with Adan about swallow therapy.

A few minutes after Kathleen left, the doorbell rang again, and this time it was Paula, the home care nurse. According to the plan that we had established during Dad’s admission to home care, the home care nurse would visit us three times a week. Although I was glad to have the nurses stop by, I was also nervous that they would find fault with something that we were or were not doing. Paula told us that Dad’s bed sore, which started when he fell in May, was serious, and she suggested that we get some Mepilex border patches. She had a couple of extras in her bag but told us that they were expensive and that we should ask AHP to supply them for us.

When Paula left, I called AHP but was told that without a doctor’s order, Medicare would not reimburse them. To obtain doctor’s orders would require that I contact Dad’s primary care physician and schedule an appointment, and this activity was not high on my list of priorities, so I decided to buy a package myself. Also, when Gale and I snagged supplies from Dad’s room at the CCH, I grabbed a box of gloves, size small, which were fine for me but were too small for Gale. I logged on to Amazon.com and ordered the Mepilex patches and a case of medium gloves. Was there anything that this company didn’t sell?

After his busy day of visitors, and a tremendous lack of sleep, Dad finally let us put him back in bed and he slept for two glorious hours.

Shortly before 5:00 P.M., Dad wanted to get out of bed and visit with us while we partook of some alcoholic beverages. Happy hour at the Locke house had been a nightly ritual that he could now only watch. Before the surgery last May, my Dad’s Manhattans had been a highlight of the overnight visit to my parents’ house that my girlfriends looked forward to every year.

At 7:30 P.M., we began what was becoming our nightly ritual. I administered the trach care and the meds, and Gale changed out the tube feed bag and filled the new one with Nepro. Gale was quickly becoming a pro at winding the tubing through the Kangaroo pump, and I knew that I needed to start paying more attention to what she was doing. It was unfortunate that the bag did not hold enough Nepro to make it through the night. Fortunately, I guess, Dad didn’t sleep through the night anyway.

October 3. At 2:20 A.M., Gale woke to find that Dad was halfway out of the bed, which prompted her to use the baby monitor to page me. Gale and I maneuvered him back into bed, but he insisted that he was going to get up. I told him that if he didn’t stay in bed, I would get into the bed next to him so that he couldn’t escape. He said, “OK,” and scooted over. Two hours later, we were up and I had a dandy kink in my neck from sleeping halfway off of the pillow. Gale and I transferred Dad to the wheelchair and he wheeled himself to the sink in the bathroom, where he washed his face and brushed his teeth. As he held his hands and washcloth under the faucet, he said that this was the first time in five months that he had felt running water on his hands. Gale and I exchanged glances, too overcome to say anything in response. He neglected to mention that it had also been five months since he had brushed his teeth and washed his face. These milestones helped to put Dad in a great mood.

I administered his morning meds and trach care and Gale dressed him for dialysis. He was ready for the ambulance transport at 6:10 A.M., 10 minutes before his scheduled pickup time. Dad’s great mood diminished somewhat when the transport arrived at 7:20 A.M., 20 minutes after his session was supposed to start.  He was eventually hooked up at 8:00 A.M.

trachBib2During dialysis, Dad used oxygen tanks from the dialysis center, but this service did not include the moisture that he needed to keep his trach moist. In an attempt to compensate for the lack of moisture, Timothy from American HomePatient had provided us with several bibs composed of a porous non-woven material. The bib was placed between the trach and the oxygen source. The bib wouldn’t stay moist for more than 30 minutes, so we kept a small spray bottle in his dialysis bag, and Gale was vigilant about keeping the bib wet.

Dad stayed alert during the entire dialysis session, and he and Gale talked the entire time. I imagine that Gale would have appreciated his taking a little nap so that she could close her eyes. Dad’s blood pressure had dropped somewhat during dialysis, so the dialysis nurse stopped the session before the goal of 1500 ml was reached. Gale called the EMT service for a ride, and once again they waited for more than an hour for a ride home. We were starting to set some pretty low expectations for the EMT transport service.

After they returned home, Dad was tired and wanted to take a nap. During the two hours that he slept, Gale also slept. At 4:00 P.M., Dad was awake and ready to get up. Gale and I transferred him to his wheelchair and we went outside and sat on the patio for 90 minutes. He had been away from the nebulizer for almost six hours today, so I strongly suggested that he go back to his room. My husband, Stan, was still in town, and he visited with Dad until 7:00 P.M., when Mom served dinner. In addition to the baby monitor station in my bedroom, we also kept one of the stations in the dining room. Just a few minutes into dinner, we heard an unusual sound from the monitor. Gale practically leapt from her chair and ran to the bedroom and found my father on the floor on the right side of his bed. In addition to the oxygen, he was also receiving nutrition from the tube feed. All of this equipment was located on the left side of the bed, which meant that he was putting a strain on a couple of vital supplies by being on the floor. It astonished me that he couldn’t figure out that in addition to being too weak to stand, he was also tethered. Fortunately, Stan was there and he, Gale, and I got Dad up off the floor and into the wheelchair. Gale checked his PEG and looked for skin tears and I checked his trach. He hadn’t hurt himself, but he gave the rest of us a scare.

Gale stayed with Dad while Mom, Stan, and I finished dinner. I then sat with him while Gale ate. When she was finished, Gale started getting Dad ready for bed. After he was dressed for bed, Gale and I ran through our nightly routine of meds, trach care, and tube feed.

Starting at 10:00 P.M., he started trying to get out of bed. He might have been too weak to stand, but Gale thought that for a weak guy, he was pretty strong. He could really put up a battle when he wanted to get out of bed.

October 4. The baby monitor alarm woke me at 4:00 A.M. Gale thought that Dad sounded gurgly and thought that he might need to be suctioned. I agreed and after I finished suctioning him, he insisted that he wanted to use the house toilet. Gale and I tried to explain that he couldn’t use it but that we would take him to the bedside commode in the bathroom. To say the least, he became very upset. He complained that the commode seat was very uncomfortable, which was true. He finally relented, but then he didn’t want to go back to bed, so Gale got him up and prepared for the day. I promised Dad that I would order a seat cushion for him, which I did later in the day.

By 6:00 A.M., he was sitting in the wheelchair, attached to the moist oxygen, and reading the paper, and we were all happy.

After breakfast, I returned to Dad’s room and administered his morning meds and trach care and then excused myself to shower and get ready for church. At 10:20 A.M., my mother and I escaped to church. Our friends at church were anxious to hear about Dad. Sue, our friend who was the nurse practitioner at the dialysis center, said that Dad was a real chatterbox. She had been amazed by how much he talked during dialysis. The pastors and everyone else we told about Dad were thrilled that he was at home.

Shortly before we returned home from church around 12:30 P.M., Dad felt a little tired and wanted to go back to bed to rest. Gale mentioned to me that she had heard some noise coming from his stomach and told me that she was going to ask the nurse to listen more closely tomorrow.

My husband had been staying with us for the past week, but after lunch, he went back home to Houston. I don’t know how we would have managed without him and I hoped that we wouldn’t need his brawn while he was gone. For both of us, our vacation had now come to an end. I had set up my work computer in my parents’ office and planned to start back to work tomorrow at 4:30 A.M.

Tonight was another frustrating night of Dad trying to get out of bed. We had him ready for bed at 8:30 P.M., but he slept until 11:00 P.M., after which time he tried repeatedly to get out of bed. At 2:00 A.M., Gale used the baby monitor alarm to call me. Dad had scooted to the end of the bed and she needed help to raise him. He insisted that he wanted to get up. I explained to him that I had to go back to work in a couple of hours and that I wanted him to sleep until 4:00 A.M., which was when I would get up. He agreed to that plan, and the three of us slept for two more hours. I fantasized about six consecutive hours of sleep.

Sorta better, but not so much

September 8, 2015. Before Mom arrived at the CCH, Stacy, Dad’s nurse, informed the physical therapist that the doctor didn’t want Dad to receive physical therapy today because of his hypotension. Dad’s blood pressure had been low since his dialysis session yesterday. Dad’s WBC count was still within the normal range, although in four days it had inched upward from 6.9 to 9.2. The assumption was that as long as his WBC count was within the normal range, his hypotension was not caused by an infection.

When Mom arrived, Dad was in good spirits and they had a nice visit before she had to leave for a couple of appointments with her own doctors. She met today’s attending physician, Dr. Carl Boethel, and had time for only a brief visit with him before she had to leave. She learned that the results of Dad’s blood cultures had come back negative. We never really understood the significance of the blood cultures, but we always welcomed negative results.

During the weekend, Mom, Stan, and I had tried to brainstorm some alternative solutions for Dad’s diminishing Medicare coverage. It finally dawned on us that Dad was a veteran of the Korean War, and the VA hospital was located between my parents’ home and church. Instead of fighting the practically impossible odds of getting him admitted into the SNiF before his benefits expired, we thought that we’d see if we could get him transferred to the VA hospital. On the day that we had left Memorial, I had overheard a conversation about a patient being transferred from Memorial to the VA hospital. I recalled thinking that I hadn’t thought that the VA hospital was an option. If transferring from Memorial to the VA hospital was an option, we hoped that transferring from the CCH to the VA hospital was also an option. When Mom arrived at the CCH, she told the receptionist that she needed to speak with Marty, but Marty was home taking care of a sick child.

When she returned from her appointments with the neurologist and dermatologist, Mom asked Dad if he had met with the physical therapist. When he said that he had not seen her, Mom intercepted the therapist when she exited from the adjacent room. It was then that Mom learned about the doctor’s orders to suspend therapy for the day. Mom and I were very concerned about Dad’s weakened condition and Mom was not happy that he had remained in the bed all day. Both of my parents wanted Dad to get out of bed and onto the chair. Mom tried to get the nurses to move him to the chair, but to no avail. The fact that he had been restrained since Mom left for her doctor’s appointment didn’t help their mood either.

Mom undid Dad’s restraints a couple of times during the remainder of the day so that he could use the Yankauer, but he had a difficult time handling it and tore it apart.

As if he knew that he was needed, at 4:00 P.M. Pastor Don called Mom to see if he could stop by for a visit. He arrived at 4:45 P.M. and the three of them had a nice visit. Visits from men outside of the medical industry seemed to have a calming effect on Dad and diminished his delirium during the visit.

With all the drama surrounding Dad, it would be easy to forget about Mom’s issues. In addition to her recent stroke, she had also been battling bouts of skin cancer. I was pleased when I learned that she received gold stars from her dermatologist and neurologist.

September 9. Today was my wedding anniversary and I was at home in Houston with Stan. At the CCH, Dad woke up disoriented, and when he arrived at dialysis, Suzanne, his dialysis nurse, thought that he seemed very confused. Statistically, it wasn’t much different, but his WBC count had ticked up by the smallest amount. Although his WBC count was still within the normal range, I was apprehensive about the trend. It seemed that I was the only one who was concerned, and I was 160 miles from the action.

Mom was able to spend a few minutes talking with Dr. Whitney Prince, today’s attending physician. She told Mom that Dad was scheduled to receive the PEG tube tomorrow.

After Mom left for the day, Andrea, Dad’s night nurse, found him with his legs hanging out of the bed, which was practically his default position. The way that he kept sliding down the bed, you’d think that he slept on silk sheets. Other than that little intervention with Andrea, Dad slept through the night without any drama.

September 10. Because of his scheduled PEG placement today, Dad was NPO when the morning shift started. While Dad was waiting for his transfer to Memorial for the procedure, Marty told my parents that she had faxed his clinical records to the Marlandwood West nursing facility. According to Marty, they told her that because Dad was taking antibiotics, they could not accept him. She also said that the dialysis center would prefer that he require less suctioning before they would accept him. The hand restraints were also a blocker. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make Dad understand the problems that he caused with his repeated attempts to get out of bed. He now had only 22 days of hospitalization Medicare coverage. We hoped that the VA hospital would turn out to be a viable option.

At 10:30 A.M. the Scott & White paramedics arrived and transported Dad to the Interventional Radiology (IR) department at Memorial. It seemed that he didn’t have a set time on the IR schedule and Dad had to bide his time until 1:15 P.M., which was when they prepped him for the procedure. The procedure went well, and he finally returned to his room at the CCH at 3:40 P.M. My mother was told that he still had to use the nasal tube for another 24 hours, and then he should be able to start using the PEG.

Mom stayed at the CCH for a short time after Dad returned before she went home for the evening.

September 11. At 3:30 A.M., Andrea, Dad’s night nurse, discovered that Dad had disconnected the tube from his new PEG. She didn’t notice any visible damage to his abdomen as a result of his handiwork, and she reconnected the tube. He eventually went back to sleep and slept until his nurse woke him for dialysis. Suzanne, the dialysis nurse, noticed that he had thick white secretions, and although his WBC count was still within normal range, in two days it had inched up to 9.9 from 9.3. In the period of a couple of weeks, his WBC count had increased from 6.5 to 9.9. I understood that I had to look at the whole person and should not concentrate on the numbers, and blah, blah, blah, but the trend of these lab results made me a little nervous.

Dr. Whitney returned today as the attending physician and she stopped by to assess Dad during dialysis.

When Mom arrived, she noticed that Dad was tightly restrained to his bed. When she asked why, she was told that Dad kept trying to pull out his trach. Dad’s speech was slurred and Mom could barely understand him. His oxygen saturation had been low, so his speaking valve was removed, which made communicating with him even more difficult. Speaking valves block a small amount of air intake, so if he wasn’t getting enough oxygen, removing the speaking valve could solve the problem.

Jennifer arrived in the late afternoon for his physical therapy session. At first, Dad said that he didn’t want physical therapy today, but Mom persevered and he participated. Once he got started, he seemed to enjoy the session. After he performed the bed exercises, he was able to sit on the edge of the bed and move around on the bed and swing his legs. Before Jennifer left, she and the nurse put Dad in the Stryker cardiac chair and he slept in the chair for about an hour, with his hands restrained to the chair.

Mom was a little frustrated with the day. According to the whiteboard in Dad’s room, he was supposed to have the nasal feeding tube removed today, but John, Dad’s nurse, was hesitant to remove it. Finally, at 4:00 P.M he started the tube feed through the PEG, but he still didn’t remove the nasal feeding tube. Mom had also wanted to talk with Marty about having Dad transferred to the VA hospital. Unfortunately, Marty didn’t come to work today so Mom would have to wait until Monday to talk with her. At 4:45 P.M., Mom found John and told him that she was leaving for the day.

I had left Houston after work and arrived at my parents’ home in time for an update on Dad and a much-needed glass of wine before dinner.

img_1194September 12. Mom and I arrived at the CCH at 8:00 A.M. Dad was still restrained and his call button was on the floor. John, Dad’s nurse, told us that his heart rate had been elevated to 135 and he became tachycardic. After they gave him some vasopressors, his heart rate returned to a more normal 68.

John said that Dad had had a good night, but when I asked him about the restraints, he said that Dad had tried again to decannulate himself, so the restraints had to remain.

When the new attending physician, Dr. Veronica Brito, stopped by for a pre-round check, we asked her about the restraints and the possibility of getting Dad into the Stryker chair. We had never met this doctor, but she told us that she was on the regular rotation with the CCH. Because of vacations and some shift changes, we had missed seeing her during Dad’s earlier stay at the CCH. She told us that the nurses didn’t think that Dad was strong enough to get in the chair. I was annoyed and she and I had an intense discussion about exercise, restraints, and dialysis. I told her that we wanted a plan to get him off of the restraints and that it was one of the issues that was keeping him here. She said that he had other problems that were keeping him here–like his dialysis. I told her that the dialysis wasn’t keeping him here and that primary thing keeping him from West was the restraints. She said that he was still very sick and that we had to respect his health. I told her that at Memorial, it seemed very important for him to get in the chair every day, even if three nurses had to drag him to it. I told her that I couldn’t understand why getting out of bed didn’t seem important at the CCH.

At 10:30 A.M., I was surprised when John and Hector, an aide, moved Dad from the bed to the Stryker chair. John said that he didn’t think that Dad should go outside where he couldn’t be monitored by the nurses. Mom and I wanted to see how Dad fared in the chair this morning, and if Dad’s vitals remained within a good range, maybe we could take him outside this afternoon. Shortly before we left for lunch, a nurse stopped by and finally removed Dad’s nasal feeding tube.

When Mom and I returned after lunch, Dad was in the Stryker chair and John and Hector prepared him for our cardiac chair road trip. His invasive devices had to be unhooked from the wall and attached to mobile-equivalent devices. Mom manned the oxygen tank and I drove the chair. We weren’t permitted to go outside, but we explored every hallway in the building. We chatted a lot, although I couldn’t understand most of what he said. He said that he was glad that I was there because he said that I was his tiger, compared to Mom, who he said was more like a kitten. Statements like that proved how little he knew about Mom’s role and daily battles on his behalf. If we could ever get him out of this place, I’d have to address some of his misperceptions.

Mom and I left the CCH at 4:45 P.M. and Stan arrived at the house shortly after we returned to the house. This was another one of his short trips in which he would take care of the yard, sit with Dad while we were at church, and then return home. We told Stan about the day and the new attending physician. Although we had had an intense discussion with her, she seemed to listen to us. All in all, it had been a pretty good day.