August 27, 2018. Mom and I arrived at Dad’s room around 8:30 A.M. Dad was a little confused about where he was and why he was there, and I spent a lot of time trying to explain his situation to him.
At 9:50 A.M., Adan arrived at Dad’s room with Emily, his trainee, to conduct a swallow assessment. I was relieved to see him and knew that Adan would conduct a proper assessment that wouldn’t adversely impact Dad. Before he started, Adan left the room to review Dad’s chart. Within moments of his return, the doctor and his entourage of residents and other providers stopped by Dad’s room for morning rounds, which meant that Adan had to postpone his assessment. After conferring with his associates for a few minutes, the doctor told me that Dad’s hemoglobin and platelets were low. It seemed counterintuitive to me, but the doctor said that he’d probably order blood thinner for Dad to address both problems. Because Dad’s fistula had clogged during his last dialysis session, the nephrologist had entered an order for Dad to go to interventional radiology (IR) to have his fistula checked out. If Dad was lucky, clearing out the clog would be a simple process. If the interventional radiologist could not clear the clog, he would need to insert a dialysis catheter in Dad’s neck. I said a silent prayer for Dad’s good luck.
Shortly after the doctors left, Adan and Emily returned. In case a patient aspirates fluid during a swallow study, it’s important to have a clean mouth so that a minimal amount of bacteria goes into the lungs. Because Dad had not brushed his teeth since he arrived five days ago, Adan had him brush his teeth before starting the test. After observing Dad drink some water, Adan said that he had a productive cough and a good swallow. They then had Dad drink some cranberry juice, followed by some pudding. I was thrilled when Adan said that he had not observed any sign of dysphagia, and would order a menu for him. He warned us that food trays get a low priority in the ICU, so he couldn’t guarantee when Dad would get a meal. As Adan left the room, he said that Dad was probably the healthiest person on the floor, which was the best news that we had heard since Dad entered the hospital.
At 10:15 A.M., I saw a familiar face walk by the door. I quickly left the room and was able to stop Dr. Heath White. We had had quite a history with Dr. White in 2015. He had tended to Mom after her stroke and then had periodically been Dad’s attending physician for a couple of months. We chatted in the hall for a few minutes, and he said that he was surprised that it had been three years since he had seen Dad. While we were talking, he pulled out his phone to peruse Dad’s charts to see when he had last added a note to Dad’s chart. As he left, he told me to contact him if we ever had any pulmonary problems. It was good to see a familiar face, and I regretted that he had not had an opportunity to see Dad last year when he looked and felt so well. As much as I liked Dr. White, he had often had negative predictions about Dad’s prognosis.
At 11:00 A.M., Leslie removed Dad’s feeding tube. She then told me that she had started Dad on a new blood thinner to prevent clotting. Because his hemoglobin was low, he might receive a blood transfusion. We had been down this low hemoglobin path three years ago, and I hoped that one unit of blood would do the trick.
Now that Dad was more alert, he talked a blue streak. Not everything that he said was based on reality, and he was still confused about where he was. He thought that he would be going to a hotel and that he would be coming home with us tonight. However, when he and Stan talked about sports or chores that Stan could do around the house, Dad was as lucid as the rest of us. I couldn’t wait until he was moved out of ICU, an environment that often contributed to confusion and delirium.
Shortly before noon, an aide from food service brought Dad his lunch tray. His first meal in five days consisted of puréed chicken noodle soup, milk, iced tea, and orange sherbet. Because he thought that the consistency of the soup was like a milkshake, he decided to use a straw to eat it, which proved to be very messy. While holding the bowl, he tipped it, and half of the soup ended up on the bed. He was able to consume some of it before he devoured the sherbet. Eating again was an important milestone. Although it had been a messy meal, I was practically giddy with relief that he had been able to eat.
After Dad was cleaned up from his lunch, Mom, Stan, and I went home for our lunch. Stan then left Temple around 1:30 P.M., hoping to beat Houston’s afternoon rush-hour traffic. Shortly after he left, I received a text message from Pastor Tom. He indicated that he had spoken with Dad, but he wasn’t sure what was going on and asked me to call him to clarify Dad’s status. Dad was pretty lucid when it came to talking about yard maintenance or sports, but he was pretty confused about his status and what was happening to him. I could understand how Tom would also be confused following a conversation with Dad.
When Mom and I returned to Dad’s room shortly before 3:00 P.M., Dad was sleeping. He woke up to let us know that he would be receiving some blood and platelets. Leslie came in a few minutes later and confirmed that he had been typed and matched and was ready to receive the transfusion when the blood arrived. I was pleased that Dad could accurately relay some information to us about his status.
Dad’s status had improved dramatically. He no longer required medication to elevate his blood pressure, and now he was eating. He was still a sick puppy, but not sick enough to warrant ICU care. I had hoped that Dad would be moved from ICU to a patient room, but now that move seemed doubtful for today. The hospital generally does not like to move patients from ICU while they’re receiving blood. It was getting late, so we were not sure if the IR schedule could accommodate Dad.
As we were preparing to leave the hospital at 5:30 P.M., Leslie told us that Dad should be moved from ICU to 634 North before the shift change. If his food tray arrived after the shift change, she said that she would take his dinner tray to him. Although the 6th floor had a higher patient-to-nurse ratio, she said that they had many more aides and that one of the aides would assist Dad with dinner. When I asked about the blood transfusion, Leslie said that he should be able to receive blood overnight.
When I returned to my parents’ house, I wrote an enthusiastic email message to my sister-in-law, telling her about the turnaround in my father’s health in the past couple of days. Today had been a great day. Dad hadn’t had his fistula checked out, but it felt like he had turned a corner. Mom and I both felt optimistic about Dad’s prognosis.