Visions of a good night’s sleep danced in my head. If only.

December 22, 2015. I was taking this week off from work in observance of the Christmas holiday. Dialysis didn’t take a holiday, and we were all up early to prepare Dad for his 5:50 A.M. HOP pickup. While Dad and Michell were away, Mom and I attacked our list of chores and errands.

VisionsCross1My most important errand was my appointment with Adan at the Hospice and Home Care Center office, located across the parking lot from the Scott & White CCH. I had spoken and texted with him several times, but we had never met. I was looking forward to meeting with him and reviewing the results of Dad’s MBSS. In addition to what we had been told yesterday, which was that Dad had to avoid thin liquids, the report also contained a list of foods that he could eat. Adan also told me about a thickener that I could purchase at Walgreens that would thicken a thin liquid.

As Dad started this next stage of his recovery, we had to be careful about what we gave him to eat and I had to inspect what I suctioned from his trach during trach care. If the secretions had any color, I might be suctioning food from his trachea, which would mean that he had aspirated the food. To ensure that I didn’t confuse blood with food, we were advised to avoid red food. To further complicate matters, we also had to avoid feeding him white food, like potatoes and oatmeal—unless we colored it—because I would not be able to distinguish aspirated white food from normal secretions.

By the time that I had returned from my errands, Dad and Michell had returned from dialysis and Dad was taking a nap. When he woke up at 1:30 P.M., Michell was horrified to see him sit up and swing his legs over the side of the bed. Fortunately, she had been sitting in the room and was able to stop him from standing up.

VisionsCross3When Dad was safely transferred to his wheelchair, I told him about my visit with Adan and the report from Dr. Sherrard. He had hoped that the report would contain more foods, but he seemed to accept his restricted diet for the time being. We had been advised that Dad could eat a cup of food at a time, but Dad now announced that he would eat no more than 1/8 cup of anything during a meal because he didn’t want to get fat. I started to challenge him on this proclamation but quickly stopped after he seemed to dig in his heels about the matter. I told him that we could not cut back on the Nepro if he didn’t eat more, but he wouldn’t budge. It was becoming very apparent that I came by my stubbornness honestly.

Mom and I delivered bread to some of her friends and then stopped by the pharmacy to pick up some prescriptions for Dad. We returned home just as Dad was waking up from his second nap. Mom and I had decided that mashed sweet potato would be the perfect food for Dad. Not only was it tasty and easy to mash, but it was also nutritious and orange. I prepared several servings in ¼-cup containers. As I handed him his first serving, he said that he didn’t like sweet potatoes and that he would not eat such large servings.

He and I launched into a heated discussion. For starters, the news that he didn’t like sweet potatoes was a shocker because he’d been eating them all of my life, if not longer. I wanted him to follow the advice of the doctor and speech therapists. I was steamed. We had been through too much to screw up his recovery. After he said that he’d eat what he wanted, I told him that he could either follow instructions so that he could get better, or I was gone. Ready or not, my planned departure date was February 1, a little over a month from now.

VisionsCross1We were going through an unexpected transition. While he had been very ill and weak, I had been able to administer the prescribed care. As his health improved and he regained some strength, he was trying to regain control over his life. I couldn’t really blame him, but I had hoped that we’d be pulling together. We had had some little skirmishes during the last few weeks—starting with when he wanted to graduate from an electric shaver to a razor—but this argument seemed more intense, and it didn’t help that neither of us felt well. When Dad and I were on the same side of an issue, we were a force to be reckoned with. However, when we squared off, we could argue like nobody’s business, and our arguing usually upset Mom. At her pleading, we ratcheted down the intensity somewhat and talked in a more civil tone. I backed down, but I was determined that he would be eating more than two tablespoons per meal by the time that Kristen returned after Christmas.

For all my talk about wanting him eating more, the fact that he was now eating made me very nervous because of his history of aspirating. In addition to keeping a watchful eye on what I suctioned from his trach, I also closely monitored his oxygen levels in the event that he aspirated without leaving tell-tale signs in his trach.

We played cards after dinner, and I won. When I called Stan after Dad had gone to sleep, Stan told me that he would not be here until midday on Christmas Eve. The second half of my day had been stressful, and this news was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and I all but hung up on him.

December 23. Dad had a good night’s sleep, but I woke up every time that he moved around in that creaky hospital bed. It didn’t help matters that I went to bed feeling like I was coming down with a cold. When I woke up at 12:30 A.M., my throat felt like it was on fire. I took some Advil, which seemed to help. During more bed creaking sometime around 1:30 A.M., I remembered that I left a lumen print outside. Rain was forecasted for the night, so I got out of bed and retrieved it.

Sometime around 5:30 A.M., I heard Dad again, and I went downstairs to check on him. He seemed ready to get up, but shortly after transferring him to his wheelchair, he wanted to return to bed.

VisionsCross2Michell finally got Dad up and ready for the day at 6:30 A.M. For breakfast, I served Dad two tablespoons of green oatmeal, which looked about as appetizing as it sounds. After finishing his oatmeal, Michell prepared some shaved ice for him, which he ate.

Becky, the owner of One on One Personal Home Care, called and gave us the disappointing news that Katherine would not be returning. Instead, Dianne would replace Gale for the foreseeable future. Dianne had replaced Amanda during Dad’s second week home. We had liked her and were pleased with this news, although nobody could replace Gale.

Michell told me that Dad was insisting that he wanted to get on the bathroom scale to weigh himself. I told her that we’d let him, but that the two of us would help him get on and off of the scale to ensure that he didn’t fall. With his shoes on, he weighed 134.5 pounds. He was dreadfully thin and desperately needed to gain a little weight. I could feel all of his bones across his back and ribs. Getting on the scales probably wasn’t one of his physical therapy goals, but it was a little victory for him.

Michell started coaching Dad through his swallow therapy exercises, but Dianne arrived before they finished. Before Michell left, I gave her a gift card for Christmas from Stan and me. Shortly after she left, Tracy, the nurse, arrived and was soon followed by Janet and Brenda, the occupational and physical therapists.

VisionsCross2After Brenda left, I prepared a nice bowl of green mashed bananas for Dad’s lunch. Per his specifications, I served him a mere two tablespoons of the banana and ate the rest myself, but without the green food coloring. I still found it unbelievable that he preferred the nasty green bananas over the sweet and natural-colored sweet potatoes.

After he finished consuming his green lunch, Dad was ready for another nap. While he slept, I ran a few pre-holiday errands. I was still feeling pretty lousy, and when I returned home, I was ready for a nap. When I woke up, I found Dad and Dianne sitting outside on the patio. It was a beautiful day, and the temperature was in the low 80s, which was seasonably warm for two days before Christmas. It was such a nice evening that Dad wanted to stay outside and have our happy hour on the patio.

Although Dad received a clean bill of health and accolades from the therapists and the nurse, he had coughed up a lot of secretions today. I didn’t see anything that looked like one of his colored meals. I was a little concerned about the yellow yogurt that he ate for dinner because I probably couldn’t distinguish it from his secretions.

Dad won at cards tonight, and we were all tucked in bed by 8:00 P.M. There was no doubt about it; I was down with a wicked chest cold.

VisionsCross3December 24. We had a terrible night. Shortly before 2:00 A.M., I heard a gurgling sound coming from the baby monitor. I ran downstairs and saw that Dad’s speaking valve had blown off of his trach, he was sleeping on his side, and secretions were spewing out of his trach and onto his bed. I woke him, disconnected him from the tube feed and oxygen concentrator, and sat him on the side of the bed. During the 45 minutes that we sat on the side of his bed, he coughed and suctioned up at least 1/2 cup of secretions. When his secretions seemed to be under control, I helped him back into bed and checked his temperature and oxygen levels, and both were good. Dad drifted back to sleep, and I trudged back upstairs to bed.

When the alarm went off at 4:00 A.M., I could not get out of bed. I was now suffering from this danged cold, and an interrupted night’s sleep hadn’t helped matters. While I was contemplating whether or not to move, I heard Dianne tell Dad that they would have to ask me about something, so I decided that I needed to get up now.

It seemed that Dad was feeling pretty weak and didn’t want to go to dialysis. I told him that he had to go today. Because of Christmas, the dialysis clinic was closed tomorrow, so he couldn’t postpone today’s session. He acquiesced and started to get up and get ready to go. I felt terrible for him. With the kind of secretions that he had, I suspected that we were both suffering from chest colds. As bad as it was for me, it had to be terrible if you couldn’t handle the extra secretions caused by a cold.

VisionsCross1Dianne hadn’t been to the dialysis center since early October, and there wouldn’t be anyone there today that knew Dad’s normal routine. To ensure that he would be OK with the new aide and the holiday crew, I followed the HOP to the dialysis center, and I was glad that I did. The “C” team was on duty; they had never dealt with a trach patient, and his station was not equipped with a suction machine or a wand. I also wanted to ensure that they didn’t remove too much fluid and dehydrate him. The last thing that we needed today was a repeat of Thanksgiving’s visit to the hospital and subsequent visits from Deputy Blankenmeier and Adult Protective Services. When everything was set up for him and I felt that he would be OK, I returned home.

Stan arrived at my parents’ house just before 10:00 A.M. Shortly before 11:30 A.M., Dad and Dianne arrived home. They had left the dialysis center at the stroke of 11:00 A.M. and were the last ones on the bus and the first stop on the return trip. According to Dianne, Dad coughed up and suctioned about as much during dialysis as he did last night. He was feeling weak, so we transferred Dad to the bed and administered his midday meds. Before he could fall asleep, he started vomiting, probably because of his CDiff pill. His stomach was practically empty, but I was always scared of aspiration when he vomited.

After Dianne and I got him cleaned up situated for his nap, we were ready for our lunch. I didn’t want him left alone, so I ate lunch in his room. When she finished her lunch, Dianne stayed with Dad while Stan and I ran some errands.

Dad slept for most of the afternoon and was still asleep when Stan and I returned home. Dad woke up briefly for happy hour but wanted to lie down again while we ate dinner. He still felt a little queasy and didn’t want to eat dinner, so he opted for his Nepro diet.

All that napping must have paid off because he won tonight’s game of Oh Hell.

VisionsCross3Dad’s normal temperature ranged between 97.2 and 97.6 degrees. After he went to bed, his temperature started rising. By 9:30 P.M., his temperature had reached 99.2, prompting me to call the after-hours nurse. At 10:30 P.M., Dad’s temperature returned to 97.2, and I went to bed. After I finally fell asleep, Leo, the night nurse, returned my call. Leo told me that I shouldn’t take Dad’s temperature more often than once every four hours and that Dad’s temperature was still within normal range. After that little dressing down, I went back to sleep.

I had always been the first one up on Christmas morning, but all I wanted for Christmas this year was a good night’s sleep.

 

In my mind, everything was riding on the MBSS

December 18, 2015. When I started work at 4:00 A.M., everyone else was still sleeping, and the house was very quiet. A couple of hours later, I heard sounds of people stirring in Dad’s room. When I checked on him, he seemed to be moving slowly. He sounded congested, and he used the suction wand a lot. By 8:00 A.M., his coughing had subsided somewhat, and Michell had him ready for the day. An hour later, she donned her drill-sergeant demeanor and started coaching him through his exercises. She had him walk with the walker throughout the tiled areas of the house and work on his core and leg exercises. During short breaks, she brought him a couple of cups of crushed ice so that he could practice swallowing. I appreciated the way that she kept after him to exercise between therapy sessions. By 10:45 A.M., Dad was exhausted and was ready for a nap.

crossNavyI had a date in Houston that night with my husband, and I wanted to leave Temple before noon. I logged off from work at 10:30 A.M. and started packing up to leave. After a quick lunch, I was out the door by 11:45 A.M. The traffic was light until I got near Houston, and the trip was relatively hassle-free. I arrived home shortly before 3:00 P.M. and treated myself to a short nap on the couch with my two cats, which meant that I merely catnapped.

In Temple, Stephanie, the home-care nurse, arrived at 12:45 P.M. and said that one of Dad’s lungs “didn’t sound all that clear.” She told Michell and my parents that every couple of hours she wanted Dad to take ten deep breaths and hold the last breath. The nurse said that this exercise would make him cough, and I surmised that it was supposed to help clear his lungs, but I doubted that he did it even once.

crossNavyStarKristen arrived at 2:00 P.M. for Dad’s swallow therapy, and she was pleased with his progress. At the end of the session, Kristen seemed excited about Dad’s upcoming MBSS on Monday and said that she thought he’d do well. I sure hoped so.

Kristen was barely out of the house before Michell had Dad walking the halls with his walker, and she then coached him through a few bed exercises. While he was on the bed, he decided that he might as well take another nap.

While Stan and I enjoyed “A Christmas Story” in Houston at TUTS, Michell and my parents played three-handed Oh Hell, and Michell won.

December 19. Dad and Michell woke up at 4:00 A.M. and started getting ready for dialysis. Dad had slept fairly well, but at 2:30 A.M., Michell had awakened to see Dad getting himself back under the covers after sitting on the side of the bed to use the urinal. He made her crazy whenever he moved around the bed without asking her for assistance.

crossNavyIn Houston, Stan and I slept in until the decadent hour of 6:00 A.M. I allowed myself to laze around the house for another hour or so before going to the grocery store for gas and some items to take back to Temple. Over the past several months, I was lucky to have had friends who were quite willing to help me meet deadlines while I was living out of town and careening into Houston on my tight schedules. On my way out of town today, I met one such friend from my photography class for a little bit of a catch-up, and then I delivered some holiday biscotti to some other friends. This would be my last visit to Houston until after the new year.

I had finished all of my errands and was en route to Temple by 11:00 A.M. During my drive to Temple I stopped twice—once to stop at Buc-ee’s and once when the DPS stopped me for speeding. After receiving the warning for driving 75 MPH in a 70 MPH zone, I maintained my speed at two miles over the speed limit and was then tailgated for the remaining 80 miles of my trip.

Meanwhile, Dad and Michell returned home from dialysis at 11:45 A.M. After Michell administered his midday meds and trach care, he was ready for a nap. I arrived at my parents’ home at 1:55 P.M., just as Dad was just waking up.

crossNavyI was starting to worry about Dad again. We had not received his lab results, but I was fairly certain that he was suffering from CDiff. His probiotic meds arrived today, and I hoped that they would help him. This danged infection weakened him, and I didn’t want him to be too weak to perform well during the modified barium swallow study (MBSS) on Monday.

Later in the afternoon, LoSharris and Tom, my parents’ neighbors, stopped by with some candy and cookies, and the five of us had a nice visit. It seemed almost like old times.

After dinner, we played cards. Dad won, but I gave him a run for his money. By 7:30 P.M., Dad was getting ready for bed and drifted off to sleep in less than 20 minutes after being helped to bed.

December 20. Dad woke up a couple of times during the night to use the commode. Because of the baby monitor in his room, I woke up whenever he woke up or stirred in his squeaky hospital bed. Although he was able to get back to sleep shortly after 2:00 A.M., I didn’t have his gift of falling asleep at the drop of a hat. After a fitful rest, I eventually got up at 7:15 A.M., which was also when Dad woke up.

crossPurpleOur biggest challenge with Dad was that he now tried on a regular basis to sit up on the side of the bed while still plugged into all of his devices, which tended to put a strain on the lines that tethered him to the bed. After coming close to hurting himself last week, I would have thought that he’d ask for assistance. Regardless of how often I reminded him that we had hired aides whose job it was to assist him, he didn’t want to bother them. Our family had never needed outside help and I suspect that he was uncomfortable in asking for it now.

For as many years as I could remember, Mom had baked her traditional Christmas morning bread for close friends. Even the dramatic change in our lives could not deter her from this tradition, and she had been baking steadily during the past week. Today, she brought three loaves of bread with us to church—one for each of our favorite church ladies: Kris, Sue, and Sue’s mother, Joan. I was finally able to connect with Pastor Don and his wife, and I gave them some of my homemade biscotti.

crossPurpleWhile Mom and I were at church, Michell had had Dad walk 212 feet, which was not as far as Friday but was still a great effort. He also did some other exercises, but he had read about some football games that would be televised today and wanted to watch them. Being interested in anything on the television was significant. He had not shown any interest in watching anything on the television since before his surgery some 7-1/2 months ago. The fact that the Houston Texans were playing the Denver Broncos helped to entice him. At halftime, he thought that the Broncos had won because they had a 20-point lead, so he quit watching. Stan told me later that the Broncos had blown their lead and had lost the game.

Dad expressed some concern about feeling the trach when he swallowed. He had never spoken about the trach, so the comment seemed like it was coming from out of left field. I had a nagging feeling that he feared that he might not do well tomorrow with the MBSS test and was bracing me for a poor outcome.

crossNavyAfter happy hour, I followed him to his room and asked him if he was apprehensive about the swallow test the next day. I didn’t get much in the way of a response from him, but knowing him as I do, I suspected that he was nervous. Hoping to allay his concerns, I told him that Kristen was confident that he would do well. Truth be told, I was as nervous as a cat about this test.

By 7:30 P.M., Mom had beaten us at Oh Hell, and Dad was on his way to bed. Less than an hour later, Dad was sleeping, and everyone else in the house was moving in that direction.

December 21. My iPhone alarm woke me at my usual time and I grabbed some coffee and logged on to work at 3:45 A.M. I could hear a little commotion in Dad’s room at 5:00 A.M., when Michell helped him to the bathroom. A few minutes later, she helped him transfer back into the bed and reconnected his tube feed and oxygen lines. The room was quiet until 8:00 A.M., when Michell woke him. By 9:15 A.M., Dad was dressed and ready for his busy day.

crossNavyBrenda arrived at 10:15 A.M. for Dad’s physical therapy session. She had him walk with the walker and perform a series of sink exercises. He didn’t seem to exhibit any weakness during his session, which eased my fears about him being too weak for his swallow study this afternoon.

While we were waiting for the HOP to arrive, the dispatch office called to tell us that the driver was lost and could not find our house. I stood at the end of the driveway with the phone and provided turn-by-turn instructions for the driver. Fortunately, the schedulers pad the required transportation time, so he wasn’t more than a few minutes late to our house, and we arrived early to the hospital for Dad’s appointment.

crossNavyStarWhile we were in the x-ray waiting room, Holly, Dad’s speech therapist during his hospital stays, stopped by to see us. I was very fond of her, and it was thoughtful of her to stop by to say hello. After introducing Michell and reintroducing Dad to her, there were hugs all around. She was very reassuring, and before she left, she told us that Dr. Sherrard knew every trick in the book to get good results from Dad so that he could pass the test. When the tech escorted Dad to the exam room, she said that there was room for the three of us to observe the procedure without being exposed to the x-ray.

crossNavyStarThe only thing that I would ever see that’s cooler that this is a total solar eclipse, and that wouldn’t happen for another 20 months. Barium was mixed with a thin liquid, like water, a thickened liquid, like nectar, and a soft solid. Dad sat in front of an x-ray, and the barium additive enabled us to observe how he swallowed the liquid and food items. When Dr. Sherrard saw how something seemed to get caught when he swallowed, she had him repeat the test, but with his chin tucked. The chin tuck made a huge difference that even the three of us could see. The doctor confirmed that he was able to swallow thickened liquids and soft foods, which was such good news! At the end of the test, I hugged Dr. Sherrard and started tearing up. I didn’t know how Dad felt about this day, but I had been worrying and praying about this test from the time that it was scheduled. He had failed this test twice during his hospitalization, and the doctors had written him off as a chronic aspirator—someone who would never be able to swallow food again. As far as I was concerned, everything had been riding on a successful outcome of this test.

crossNavyStarMichell and Dad took the HOP back home, and Mom and I left the hospital in my car. On our way home, Mom and I stopped by the pharmacy to pick up another prescription for Dad’s CDiff. We were hopeful that Dad would have better luck with this medication. While we were waiting in the pharmacy, I texted Stan, Sue and Kris, and the pastors to share the good news about Dad’s test results, and they sent back a flurry of amens and hurrahs.

jalenpenoKristen arrived at the house at 4:00 P.M. She had already received the results of the MBSS from Dr. Sherrard via Adan. She was very excited about the test results—almost as much as I was—and was ready to progress to the next level. She wanted Dad to eat something and suggested applesauce. We didn’t have any, but we had homemade apple butter, which Dad had eaten on waffles every weekend before his hospitalization. He had not eaten since dinner on May 5, so his taste buds weren’t used to anything stronger than crushed ice. From his reaction, you would have thought that we were feeing him pureed jalapenos. He went on and on about the spicy food that we gave him. As Kristen coaxed him to swallow more bites, I tucked my chin as he swallowed, willing the apple butter down his esophagus.

crossNavyStarDuring our very happy happy hour, our neighbor Jane called. I had left a message for her to call me so that I could arrange to return a casserole dish that had held a yummy dinner. During my visit with her and her husband, Mickey, I shared our wonderful news about Dad and caught them up on some of our trials since his return home. They served me wine, which caused me to linger longer than I should have. By the time that I returned home, our dinner was a little overdone. I was too happy to be very contrite over a slightly-burnt dinner.

Dad sat with us during dinner, and we served him a very tiny portion of chocolate pudding. Following our dinner of pudding and burnt casserole, we played a game of Oh Hell, and I won. After his busy and eventful day, Dad was in bed and nodding off to sleep by 8:30 P.M.

http://www.uwhealth.org/voice-swallow/modified-barium-swallow-study-mbss/11461

 

Why did it have to be a snake?

December 14, 2015. We had a 9:00 A.M. appointment today with Dr. Pfanner, the gastroenterologist. Before Michell had left on Wednesday, she had mentioned to me that Dad had seemed a bit weaker. His strength had seemed to wax and wane depending on the quality of his sleep. However, yesterday Katherine also mentioned Dad’s weakness and suggested that we ask the doctor to order another CDiff test. Some of Dad’s symptoms were returning, and we suspected that his last course of antibiotics had not completely eradicated the infection.

spidersSnakesCrossWhen we arrived at the doctor’s office, the nurses and doctor were agog about Dad, repeating how much better he looked than he had just a few weeks earlier. The nurse said that seeing him “just made her day.” They were also pleased that he had gained a couple of pounds. His weight was up to 139 pounds. The dietitian said that if he passed his swallow test, she would recommend that we start him on bolus feeds, which would mimic three to four meals per day. I also asked her about putting him on a probiotic diet to reduce the likelihood of contracting CDiff. She thought that that was a good idea and that she would discuss options with Dr. Pfanner. I also asked her if we could have Dad retested for CDiff because for the past couple of days he seemed to be exhibiting some of its symptoms again. Dr. Pfanner told me to order VSL#3 Probiotics for Dad and administer one sachet a day in his feeding tube. He said that he would rather wait a couple of more days to see if Dad’s symptoms persisted before retesting him for CDiff.

The gastroenterologist’s office was located in the clinic at the hospital. While Dad and Katherine waited for the HOP to take them home, I decided to stop by my parents’ cardiologist, whose office was in the hospital. Dr. Elizabeth Ebert was not available, but I was able to speak with Jennifer, her nurse, about removing Metoprolol, a Lopressor, from Dad’s list of meds. To this layperson, this drug seemed at cross-purposes with another one of his medications. Jennifer said that Cardiology would defer to Nephrology about all of his blood pressure prescriptions, so I would need to contact Dr. Issac. After Dad and Katherine returned home, Dad took a nap.

spidersSnakesCrossMom had mistakenly scheduled the physical therapist for 1:30 P.M., which conflicted with Dad’s standing appointment with the speech therapist. Although he had been a little weak during his last session, he had a good physical therapy session today with Brenda. When Kristin, the speech therapist, arrived at 2:00 P.M., she said that she could reschedule Dad’s session for the same time this Friday.

At 4:30 P.M., I changed Dad’s trach tube. It didn’t go as smoothly as most of the other changes, but it wasn’t nearly as horrible the last the time when I got the two trach collars tangled up on the collars’ Velcro. I’m always unnerved when Dad seems like he can’t breathe, and he turns all red, which can happen after 10 seconds. Katherine is a wonderful CMA and had been handling the daily trach care and the meds for me, but she said that she didn’t want any part of the trach changing and she was glad that I was around to do it.

spidersSnakesCrossDuring happy hour, Dad seemed to use the Yankauer suction wand more often than usual and coughed up a lot of secretions. It wasn’t unusual for him to cough more than usual after I changed the trach, and I suspected that the lubricant that I used on the trach tube was the culprit. The addition of ice, which probably hardened the lubricant somewhat, might have contributed to the additional irritation and secretions.

December 15. Dad and Katherine were up at 4:15 A.M. Except for waking up for a few minutes at 11:30 P.M., Dad had had a good night’s sleep. Mom had called the dispatch office yesterday to set up Dad’s pickup schedule for the next two weeks. Because we now understood that we had to schedule time by the target arrival time and not the pickup time, today’s bus arrived at the more reasonable hour of 6:00 A.M., approximately 25 minutes later than before. Katherine mentioned that Dad’s CDiff symptoms were worsening and that the diarrhea seemed to have returned with a vengeance. As much as I liked Dr. Pfanner, I was just a little annoyed that he hadn’t ordered the lab work and wouldn’t do so for another 24 hours.

spidersSnakesCrossToday, I drove 65 miles to Austin to attend an annual lunch with a group of former coworkers. It was a long way to go for lunch, but we had been meeting for about 15 years, and I always looked forward to seeing these guys. The luncheon also gave me an opportunity to share more of my holiday biscotti and experience one of my normal activities and traditions.

While I was in Austin, Dad seemed much weaker and stumbled and almost fell when he tried to reach for the urinal. Later, he almost toppled over when he got up from the commode. Katherine was learning that she had to keep a watchful eye on him at all times. Dad admitted to her that he was feeling weak and tired, and by 1:00 P.M., he was ready for a nap.

Dad was waking up from his nap when I arrived home at 2:00 P.M. I worked the rest of the afternoon, stopping at 5:00 P.M. when Dad announced that it was time for happy hour.

spidersSnakesCrossWhile we were eating, Dad was sitting in his wheelchair in his bedroom, but became impatient with us and decided to wait for us in bed. Instead of asking for assistance, he decided that he could make the transfer from the wheelchair to the bed by himself. We didn’t realize what he had done until we went to get him to play cards. Because his tube feed and oxygen were attached to the wheelchair, the oxygen and G-tube lines were pulled taught. Once again, I was relieved that he hadn’t decannulated himself by such a stunt. Katherine thought that he was OK, but I noticed a stain on his shirt. When we lifted the shirt, blood appeared to be seeping from his G-tube stoma.

Instead of playing cards, I called the Homecare nurse and texted Sue. Sue called me immediately. We spoke at length, and she tried to assure me that he was probably fine. While I had her on the phone, I decided to tell her about my conversation with Dr. Ebert’s nurse. Sue said that she wanted to keep Dad on the Metoprolol. In response to my call to the Homecare after-hours number, Leo, the night nurse, stopped by, cleaned around the stoma, checked Dad’s vitals, and left at 9:30 P.M. To avoid any similar incidents in the future, we assured Dad that we wanted him to call us at any time and that assisting him would not be a burden.

It was way past bedtime for all of us, and we prepared Dad for bed as soon as Leo left.

spidersSnakesCrossDecember 16. After our late night with Leo, Dad slept in until almost 7:00 A.M. He had now endured the two additional days of CDiff symptoms, so I called Dr. Pfanner’s office as soon as his office opened. I spoke with Talitha, his nurse, to see if she could order a CDiff test for Dad, but she wanted to check with the doctor. After I tired of waiting for a return call, I emailed Dad’s nephrologist to see if he would order the test. By the time Talitha got around to placing the orders, she saw that the order had already been placed by nephrology.

At 10:45 A.M., Michell returned for her week with us. With all of the folderol last week, her week off was only three days. I’m sure that her time off flew by. After Katherine left, I found a note that she had written:

Mr. & Mrs. Locke & Melody,

I just wanted to say thank you so very much for allowing me the opportunity to meet y’all and care for Mr. Locke.

This week has been a true blessing not only for the work (money) but for getting to be a part of y’all’s lives. It’s been a true pleasure.

Have a wonderful week.
Katherine E. S.

Dad had a full schedule of therapists today. Less than an hour after Michell arrived, Janet arrived for Dad’s occupational therapy session. As soon as she left, Dad wanted to lie down for a nap.

spidersSnakesCrossDad woke from his nap about 30 minutes before the always-prompt Kristen arrived for Dad’s swallow therapy session. She was very encouraging and said that Dad was progressing extremely well.

About 40 minutes after Kristen left, Brenda arrived for Dad’s physical therapy session. She also said that Dad was progressing well and said that she would speak with Kathleen, her manager, about increasing Dad’s goals.

Shortly after happy hour, Timothy from American HomePatient stopped by with 12 more tanks of oxygen and a new tube feed pump. Before he left, he showed me how to use it. This pump wasn’t very different, but it used different-sized bags. We had a huge supply of the bags that fit the other pump, but he could not take them. We had so many boxes of supplies that I decided to stash the extra bags in case we needed them again. After Timothy left with the bleeping Kangaroo pump, we played cards, and Michell won.

spidersSnakesCrossWhen I went upstairs to bed, I called Stan to tell him about the day and say goodnight. He was at the office and would be working all night. He also told me that he was now on call for the next week, which meant that he could not drive up to Temple this weekend. Damn.

December 17. I had been working for about 30 minutes when Dad and Michell got up around 4:00 A.M. Each morning when Mom got up, she stepped out the front door to get the newspaper. My parents had the most wonderful paper carrier on earth. Each morning he would pull into their circle driveway, get out of his car, and place the newspaper on the front porch. On most mornings, my parents could simply lean down and pick up the paper without stepping out of the door onto the front porch.

IMG_1344Today, however, was different. Although the paper was in the right place, Mom saw something on the front porch that kept her from opening the door. When Mom looked out of the front windows, she saw a large snake on the front porch, which wasn’t all that unusual. It scared her enough, though, that she wouldn’t open the door to get the paper, and she came to the office to get me—the biggest wuss in the world when it comes to snakes. When I looked out the front window, I had to laugh. The snake turned out to be a bungee cord that fell off of Timothy’s hand truck during his delivery last night. With the bravado of Crocodile Dundee’s better half, I boldly walked outside, captured the bungee snake, and picked up the newspaper.

Before they left for dialysis, I shared the story of the bungee snake with Dad and Michell, and we all got a good laugh out of the tale, including Mom.

spidersSnakesCrossThe bus arrived back home with Dad and Michell at 11:25 A.M. After administering Dad’s meds and getting him settled for a nap, Michell and I collected another stool specimen that I dropped off at the Scott & White lab.

With all of the interruptions of the day, I didn’t get back to work until 4:00 P.M. I was exhausted and ate some M&Ms in an attempt to stay alert for the short time that I worked. We lived on a schedule here, so I stopped working at 5:00 P.M. We had happy hour before dinner at 6:00 P.M.

Because we had had a big lunch of meatloaf sandwiches, we weren’t terribly hungry at dinnertime, so we had minestrone. After dinner, the four of us played cards, and Mom won.

spidersSnakesCrossIt felt so easy and comfortable now that Michell was back with us. I made a point of telling her how glad I was that she was back. I should do that more often. It had been a busy day of snake wrangling, test samples, errands, and even some work. I was in bed by 8:15 P.M and glad to be there.

Progressing to a new mode of transportation

November 30, 2015. I woke up at 3:30 A.M., and Dad and Gale woke about two hours later. Dad’s strength had returned to his pre-CDiff levels, and he was in great spirits. Today he would be assessed for an additional 60 days of home care under Medicare. He had been scheduled for this assessment last week but it was canceled when we were temporarily discharged from home care.

medicalCrossThe parade of provider assessments started with Kathleen, the physical therapist, at 10:30 A.M. She was followed at 11:30 A.M. by Janet, the occupational therapist, and at 1:30 P.M. by Stephanie, the nurse. During Kathleen’s visit, she asked how Dad was being transported to dialysis. We told her that we had wanted to use the HOP, but were still using the Scott & White wheel chair service. On October 26, we had hand-delivered our application in hopes that we could expedite the process. We were told at that time that the approval process might take as long as three weeks. We had now waited more than a month. Being able to use the HOP’s paratransit service would save us $114 per week, and we were anxious to take advantage of the cost savings. We had tried calling, but could not get through to a human. Kathleen was familiar with the HOP organization and immediately used a seemingly secret number to phone the office to check on Dad’s status. During her call, she learned that Dad had been approved on November 10, more than two weeks ago, but somehow his paperwork was misplaced and not mailed to us. We could either wait to have them mail it to us or we could stop by the office later today to pick up the paperwork.

During my lunch break, Mom and I drove to the HOP office to retrieve Dad’s ID card and a booklet of regulations. We were told that we would have to call the dispatch office to schedule Dad’s pickup times. When we returned home, Mom called the HOP dispatch office, and I happily called the Scott & White EMS wheelchair van service and canceled Dad’s pickups. Transitioning to the public transit system seemed like a huge milestone.

Shortly after Mom and I returned home from the HOP office, our dear friend Mike called to tell us that he would be passing through Temple en route to Houston from Wisconsin. I had not seen Mike since May 15, 2015, the night that Mom had her stroke. Mike is married to Rhoda, who had come to Houston to help me the day after Mom had her stroke. My parents and I looked forward to seeing him again.

At 2:00 P.M., Kristen arrived for her regularly-scheduled swallow therapy session with Dad. At the end of Dad’s session, she said that Dad was “amazing” and that she wanted me to schedule an appointment for a “cookie swallow” test, otherwise known as a modified barium swallow study (MBSS). She also said that next week Dad would advance from ice chips to applesauce. I was excited, yet scared to death. For so long we had made no progress, and some doctors said that he’d never swallow again. Now, after just a couple of weeks with a speech pathologist, he was about to make a remarkable advancement. On the other hand, after just a couple of weeks working with a speech pathologist, he was going to swallow something that could potentially set him back six months. To say the least, my emotions were all over the map. It didn’t help matters any that my father seemed to have a cavalier attitude about what was happening. He seemed to worry more about tomorrow’s bus ride than he did about protecting his airway.

Kristen left at 4:00 P.M., and after a day of visitors and therapy, Dad was ready for a nap. An hour later, he was awake and ready for happy hour and ice chips. By 6:30 P.M., happy hour and dinner were over, and we were ready for a cutthroat game of cards. Gale was on a roll and won again, although not as handily as she had the previous night.

Our bedtime routine started at 7:30 P.M., and Dad was in bed and ready for trach care by 8:00 P.M. Today, it felt like we were finally back in the groove and back on the road to recovery.

December 1. Dad did not sleep well. He was worried about today’s bus ride to dialysis. At 3:15 A.M., he was the first one awake and was eager to get up. At 3:30 A.M., he asked Gale for the booklet of rules and regulations. He had read that booklet so many times that I was certain that he had it memorized. I’d bet money that he had read the guidelines and rules more than any other HOP rider, and he’d been in possession of it for less than 24 hours.

When I came downstairs at 3:45 A.M., I was a little surprised to see him up. I was even more surprised when I returned from the kitchen 40 minutes later with a cup of coffee and saw that he was dressed and ready to go to dialysis. Needless to say, the very tired Gale was not ready. At 5:00 A.M., the parade of surprises continued when the phone rang. The dispatcher from the HOP called to let us know that the bus was en route to our house and would arrive in a few minutes. When Mom had scheduled his pickup time, she gave them the time that the bus needed to arrive at our house, which was 6:15 A.M. The scheduler interpreted that time as the time that Dad needed to arrive at the dialysis center. After we resolved that misunderstanding, the dispatcher said that the bus would arrive at 6:00 A.M. At 5:50 A.M., they arrived and pulled into my parents’ circular driveway. Mom and I watched as the wheelchair lift was lowered. The driver then wheeled Dad into the bus and ensured that the wheelchair was restrained. After Gale entered the bus, Dad paid his fare of $2, and they were off.

While Dad and Gale were at dialysis, Mom made a cake for Gale. Today was her birthday, and we wanted to celebrate it with her. Our friend Mike arrived a few minutes after 11:00 A.M. I had hoped that Dad would arrive home shortly after his session ended, but the bus did not arrive home until 12:30 P.M. Although Mike needed to be on his way to Houston, he stayed until 1:00 P.M. so that he could visit with Dad.

wheelchairShortly after Mike left, Dad was ready for a nap, and he slept until it was time for him to swallow some ice chips. As he wheeled himself from his room, he stopped by the office to let me know that I should stop for the day because it was time for happy hour.

After dinner, we presented Gale with her cake, sang to her, and gave her some cheesy gifts. Had she won at cards, her day would have been perfect, but it was not to be. Tonight was my night to win.

By 8:00 P.M., Dad was in bed and I had administered his meds and trach care. Now that he had had one successful day of public transportation under his belt, I hoped that he would sleep well.

December 2. We all had a good night’s sleep. I slept through my alarm and didn’t wake up until 4:30 A.M., and Dad slept until 6:00 A.M., although he wasn’t ready to leap out of bed even then. He was still in bed when I took a break at 7:00 A.M. to administer his meds and trach care. Dad pointed to his various tubes said that he’d be glad when he could get rid of “all of these wires.” I told him that he was in control of when the tubes would be removed. After he rolled his eyes at me, I reiterated the importance of his physical, occupational, and swallow therapy exercises, which he hated doing. After whistling in the wind for a few minutes, I returned to work and let Gale help him to get ready for the day.

An hour or so later, I heard Gale helping him with his swallowing exercises. He and Mom then ran through the exercises that Janet, the occupational therapist, had left for him.

Michell arrived at 11:20 A.M. and met with Gale so that she could catch up on the events of the past week and learn about the bus service. I think that Michell was relieved to hear that the week had been boring in comparison to her drama-week with us. After Gale left, I gave Michell a hug and told her how grateful we were that she had decided to return.

walkerGale had barely pulled out of the driveway when Brenda arrived for Dad’s physical therapy session. Brenda put him through his paces, having him walk 68 feet, march in place, stand on one foot, and stand on his toes. Dad was exhausted when she left and was ready for a nap. However, instead of sleeping until he woke up himself, he instructed Michell to wake him by 2:00 P.M.

A couple of hours after waking from his nap, Dad wanted Michell to help him with some of his exercises. I didn’t know if I had inspired him to exercise or if he was more interested in exercise because he was feeling better. The reason didn’t matter to me, as long as he exercised.

After happy hour and dinner, we played cards. Michell was tonight’s winner. By 8:00 P.M., Dad was in bed and practically asleep.

December 3. Dad was up at his regular time for a dialysis day and was ready when the HOP paratransit bus arrived at 5:40 A.M., which meant that Dad would be at dialysis almost an hour before his scheduled chair time. Ideally, he would be home an hour earlier, too.

I worked for about six hours and then packed up my laptop and drove back to Houston. Tonight was the last night of the semester for my photography class. I had missed most of the semester, and I wanted to attend the final critique. Not only did this class represent some remnant of normalcy for me, I wanted to share some of the holiday biscotti that I had baked.

Dad was finished with dialysis at 10:30 A.M. and was on the bus by 11:00 A.M., but because he was the last stop, he and Michell didn’t arrive home until almost 1:00 P.M. By 1:45 P.M., he was ready for a nap. While I was in Houston, Michell would assume responsibility for the trach care and meds. As has been the case with Gale, I had laid out all of the instructions and refilled the pill dispenser. I would be gone for less than 24 hours, so Michell and I both felt that she would get along fine without me.

During happy hour, Michell prepared more ice chips for Dad. After dinner, the three of them played Oh Hell, and Michell won again. After administering the meds and trach care, Michell had Dad ready for bed by 8:00 P.M. and he was asleep before she was ready for bed.

Unfortunately, Dad didn’t stay asleep very long, and by 11:50 P.M. he was fast awake. When Michell asked him why, he told her that he was thinking about problems. Fortunately for both of them, he drifted back to sleep within 30 minutes.

 

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.