Transitioning from home-care patient to normalcy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Eagerly anticipating 7 days in a row without a medical incident

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Life without the PEG

April 19, 2016. In the days following the removal of Dad’s PEG, a sense of normalcy seemed to descend on my parents’ home. Dad still had dialysis sessions on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, but we no longer had to deal with the PEG tube and the stoma, and Dad could get rid of his undershirts that we had customized to accommodate the tubing. Only the dialysis catheter still remained, and it would stay in place until the fistula was cured and ready for dialysis.

sansCross1The amount of fluid that was removed from Dad during dialysis seemed to fluctuate widely. On one day, they would remove 2,200 ml, and two days later they would remove only 1,200 ml of fluid, which was the minimum level. It was hard to believe that fluid retention could vary by a liter. We tried to ensure that Dad adhered to his renal diet and couldn’t understand the fluctuations.

I traveled back to Houston for a few days and was astonished by the high water that I saw on the drive home. The Little River, which is often barely more than a trickle, looked like a boiling ocean and extended the entire width of the bridge. I had often wondered why the bridge over this pissant river was almost a mile long, and now I knew. The Brazos River was shockingly high as well. The news about the rain had made the national news, but this drive home gave me a first-hand glimpse of its aftermath. I had heard that a portion of US290 had been damaged during the flood, so I exited to FM99, only to be turned back because the road was underwater. Fortunately, the damage to US290 affected only one lane, so the slowdown was minimal. I suspected that I would start seeing some flooded neighborhoods as I approached Houston.

sansCross2In 2004, my parents designed their current Temple home and contracted with Mike, the builder who had built their previous home, to turn their plans into reality. Several months before Dad entered the hospital in May 2015, the foundation cracked, causing cracks in the walls and the tile floors. A couple of weeks before Dad’s surgery, Mike repaired the foundation (at no cost to my parents). Mike had planned to let Dad contract his crew to repair the cracked drywall and tile when Dad returned from the hospital. Those plans were put on hold when Dad was discharged from the 148-day hospital stay to almost five months of home care. Not only would the work have been very disruptive, but Dad had a tracheostomy and could not be exposed to the fine dust from the tile work and drywall. Now, some 11 months later, the tradesmen had arrived and the final repair work was about to begin.

April 20. Today was my first day in the Houston office for the first time in a few weeks. On earlier trips to Houston, I had worked from my home office. It was nice to be back among my coworkers, some of whom I hadn’t seen in almost a year.

At 10:45 A.M., I received a text message from Sue, the dialysis nurse practitioner. I had contacted her earlier because Dad had been experiencing some irregularity, and I now never purchased any OTC medications without first asking her if they were safe for renal patients. In this instance, she told me that Dr. Issac, the nephrologist, recommended that Dad take Miralax. I passed along this message to Mom, and she said that she would have him start taking it.

2014_ 08temple_113Mom and Dad worked in the garden, and Dad decided to do some work on their irrigation system. After getting down on the ground, he couldn’t get up. Mom wasn’t strong enough to help him up, so she had him crawl over to the greenhouse steps, and from there he was able to sit and then stand up. I had no qualms about him getting on the ground to work in the garden, but it was important to have (stable) aids nearby that he could use to get back on his feet. Fortunately, their garden shed was next to the garden. He could also have crawled to the chairs on the patio, but he might have encountered some chiggers and fire ants on the way. Stan had seen a wagon in a gardening magazine that might be helpful to Dad, but we were fairly certain that Dad would not want us to order it.

Dad had a physical therapy session with Brenda today, but their session was cut short because of the pain in Dad’s back. Before she left, Brenda provided Dad with a list of exercises that she wanted him to perform before their next session. Dad wasn’t known for exercising between sessions, and I doubted whether he would do them.

April 21. It was another rainy day in Houston and Temple. We didn’t need the rain in Houston, and I didn’t like Mom driving Dad to dialysis in the rain. During dialysis, Dad had 1,200 ml of fluid removed.

sansCross3When I spoke with Mom, she said that Dad had gotten up on the riding mower and spent about 15 minutes mowing the backyard. Many years earlier, Dad had had some terrible back problems, and a doctor (probably a surgeon) had recommended back surgery. Like me, my father had a career that required you to sit all day, which is terrible for your back. After my parents retired to a farm in Colorado, he spent a lot of time working outside and riding his tractor, and he swore that the tractor fixed his back. I assumed that he was looking to his riding mower for similar relief.

April 22. Stan and I had planned to spend the weekend in Temple but decided to go a day early instead of our usual Saturday. I worked for about seven hours, and he did some chores around the house before we left for Temple in two cars. Stan left around 1:45 P.M. and I followed him about 15 minutes later, but I arrived about 15 minutes before him. Although I might have a tiny bit of a heavy foot, he made two stops along the way to my one stop.

The weather was fabulous in Temple, so we enjoyed our happy hour drinks on the patio. Because today was Friday, we had tacos for dinner. Stan and I often teased my parents about their mealtime conventions. You could always tell what day it was by the breakfast and dinner menus. After dinner, we played Oh Hell, and I won, which broke my current losing streak.

April 23. Dad often complained about having to get up at 4:45 A.M. to get to dialysis, but he almost always woke up earlier, and this morning was no exception. According to my mother, he was awake and out of bed at 4:00 A.M. He went back to bed at 4:30 A.M. and she then had to wake him at 4:45 A.M.

IMG_1747Stan and I took my car to a local garage for an oil change, and then we drove to the nearby town of Buckholts for a short photo safari. During my many trips to and from Temple, I had passed an old abandoned house that I wanted to photograph, but I had never had the time to stop. The weather was still nice and we were able to spend some time away from the house. On our way back to my parents’ home, Stan stopped in Rogers and purchased some doughnuts. He said that the doughnuts were for Mom, but I think that he used her as an excuse to buy them for himself.

After lunch, Dad and I started preparing a stew for tonight’s dinner. He had purchased the vegetables, so the stew was chock full of vegetables that we didn’t see when Mom shopped. While the stew simmered, I had Dad take an hour nap. Mom and Stan were slaving in the backyard. Mom worked in her garden and the courtyard and Stan mowed the lawn, trimmed some bushes, and treated fire ant hills.

sansCross3Both my parents made two disturbing statements today. Mom said that “it was a shame that my father had to end his life this way,” and Dad said that “it’s too bad that you have to have dialysis just to live.” I guess my perspective differed from my parents’. I was thrilled that he was here and that we were still able to have fun as a family. We’re the perfect example of viewing the glass as either half empty or half full.

April 24. I slept until I was awakened by the rising sun shining on my face. My room didn’t have curtains, but I rarely slept until sunrise. I finally got out of bed shortly before 7:00 A.M. and changed into my scrubs, which had become my new go-to early-morning clothes. Mom was downstairs, and I heard the familiar tone from the coffee maker that indicated that my coffee had finished brewing.

While Mom and I attended church, the guys were outside in the garden, spraying and doing a variety of miscellaneous yard maintenance chores. After lunch, the guys went back outside to do more spraying, and then they came inside to watch a golf tournament. Stan helped me put away some of the Christmas decorations that had been sitting on the floor in the storage room.  Stan left shortly after 5:00 P.M. and arrived home around 8:00 P.M.

sansCross2Mom, Dad, and I had drinks out on the patio, and Dad and I cooked hot dogs on the grill. For the first time in longer than I can recall, we watched TV after dinner instead of playing cards.

April 25. I had been working for about 45 minutes when I heard Dad’s wheelchair pass by the office en route to the kitchen. When I reminded him that he had four days a week that he could sleep in, he gave me a look of mock surprise. He liked to complain about having to wake up early for dialysis, but he also woke up early on his off days. I followed him into the kitchen to refill my coffee cup and heated him some water while I was there. A few minutes after finishing his coffee, I heard him return to the bedroom and get back into bed.

Mom woke up at 6:30 A.M. and stopped by the office to say good morning and tell me that Dad was still sleeping. He eventually woke up again around 7:00 A.M., which was when I went to the kitchen for breakfast.

sansCross1I was glad that we didn’t have any planned meetings today with home-care health providers. Shortly after 9:00 A.M., Russell and his assistant arrived and started repairing broken tile. They worked until 3:00 P.M., which was when I also quit working for the day so that I could accompany Mom and Dad to the doctor’s office.

Dad’s PCP worked Tuesday through Friday, and not always from the Temple office, and it was difficult to see her within a reasonable amount of time. When I had asked our friend Sue if she could recommend another PCP for Dad, she had recommended Dr. Michael Martin. Dad met with him today for about 20 minutes. The doctor ordered some x-rays and bloodwork, and then we scheduled a follow-up appointment. On the drive home, we all agreed that we liked this doctor. In light of the decision to switch PCPs, Mom said that she would cancel Dad’s appointment with Sarla Patil on Wednesday, two days from now.

sansCross2On the way home, we stopped by Walgreens to purchase birthday cards for a niece, nephew, and grandniece. Since becoming the last Locke of his generation in October of 2008, Dad had been keeping in touch with the children and grandchildren of his siblings. During his medical ordeal of the past year, Dad had maintained this correspondence, being unable to sign only one card, which Mom signed on his behalf.

Photo by Marcus Dall Col on Unsplash

 

Reaching another milestone: PEG removal!

April 13, 2016. My alarm woke me, but it was only just a little after 2:00 A.M., and the alarm was in my dream. I was able to get back to sleep and woke up at 3:45 A.M. when the alarm actually went off. I think that I inherited these wake-up dreams from my father. He often wakes up early from naps, swearing that Mom woke him.

While I worked, Dad sat at his desk in my parents’ office and finished preparing their tax return. Shortly after breakfast, Brenda, the home care physical therapist, called to see if she and her supervisor, Kathleen, could stop by later in the morning to assess Dad’s progress.

pegOutCross4I had to drive back to Houston this afternoon. I was already fighting to stay awake and decided to take a short nap during my lunch break, so I missed seeing the physical therapists when they arrived at 11:30 A.M. Dad was walking pretty well, but his recent back pain had affected his balance somewhat. Kathleen said that Brenda would focus more on his core muscles to help Dad with his balance.

Shortly after I woke up from my nap, the three of us left for Dad’s 2:20 P.M. appointment with the gastroenterologist. When we arrived, Dad weighed 151 pounds, his blood pressure was 112/69, and his temperature was 96 degrees. In the exam room, after Julie, the dietitian, asked about Dad’s protein and caloric intake, I was a little anxious when she said that Dad needed to consume an additional 20 grams of protein each day.

When Dr. Pfanner entered the exam room, he helped Dad up on the exam table and quickly removed the PEG tube. Dad didn’t feel anything, and Mom and I glanced away for a millisecond and missed seeing the “balloon” as the doctor removed it. For the better part of eight months, Dad had had a hole in his 87-year old stomach, and now I was concerned about how long it would take to heal and close. When I asked the doctor about how long Dad would have to abstain from eating and drinking, I was shocked when he said that Dad couldn’t eat anything for 4-6 hours, and then he should consume only Nepro until tomorrow. Today was the second time in four months that I had been amazed at the speed in which some of our body parts could heal. Dad’s trach stoma had healed in two days, and now his stomach would be ready to consume liquid in six hours. The epidermis doesn’t heal nearly as fast. I have had paper cuts that took three times as long to heal.

coffeeCupWe had driven to the doctor’s office in two cars. After the appointment, I helped my parents into their car, drove to Starbucks for some coffee, and then started my drive to Houston at 3:19 P.M. The traffic was relatively light, but I was feeling drowsy when I reached Waller, approximately 40 miles from home. Fortunately, Waller had a Buc-ee’s, one of the best rest stops in Texas. I stopped to stretch my legs and buy another cup of coffee. As I walked toward the exit, I met a wall of teenagers. Five buses had just unloaded more than 100 kids. I thanked my lucky stars for my perfect timing.

I got home shortly before 6:30 P.M.

April 14. According to Mom, Dad didn’t experience any problems during dialysis today. Although his blood pressure was a little low, it was not low enough to require midodrine to elevate it. He still complained of back pain, but he didn’t feel any discomfort at the site of his PEG stoma.

I asked Mom if Dad had tried to find the thrill on his arm every morning as he had been instructed by his surgeon, and her response was not what I had hoped. She said that they often have trouble finding it and that it’s not as strong as they would have thought. I told her to ask the dialysis nurses about it and that it’s too important to ignore. She agreed that asking the dialysis nurse was a good idea and agreed to ask one of them on Saturday, two days from now.

When the home care nurse stopped by, she said that she thought that Dad might be suffering from adhesions. I can’t imagine how she came to that conclusion, and Mom never mentioned where these adhesions might be located or what the nurse suggested that we should do about them. On a positive note, Dad’s vitals were good. Evidently, this nurse had come by the house about three months ago and was impressed by Dad’s progress since then. Before she left, the nurse helped Dad and Mom find the thrill on Dad’s fistula.

pegOutCross2April 15. Kristen, Dad’s swallow therapist, stopped by for her final session with Dad. Before she left, she said that Dad could start trying to swallow his pills. She encouraged him to start with very small pills and coat them in applesauce. Dad had been crushing the pills and mixing them with applesauce. Evidently, some of the pills tasted vile, so being able to swallow them would be a welcome change. Still, the thought of his swallowing pills made me nervous. I had been taking liquid vitamins for several years, and I suggested to Mom that we should ask Dr. Martin if Dad could swallow the pills with the liquid vitamins. When mixed with water, the liquid was a thickened liquid and quite slippery, which I thought might ease swallowing.

April 16. Dad had dialysis this morning. According to Mom, they removed about 1,500 ml of fluid. After a morning of running errands, I started my drive back to Temple, leaving my husband on the links with his golf buddy.

The highway from Houston to Temple passes through small towns, many of which get their revenue from speeding drivers. After my numerous trips to Temple, I knew when to slow down. Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying attention and resumed the 70 MPH speed a tad too early. I was stopped just outside of Somerville and got my second warning since Dad’s hospitalization last May. warningWhen the very nice officer handed me my driver’s license and warning, he advised me to watch my speed today. Because of several festivals in the area, there were many more patrol officers monitoring speeds than usual. As I eased back onto the highway, I noticed that I had stopped just a few yards shy of the posted 70 MPH sign. After setting my cruise control at 72 MPH, I arrived in Temple at 2:03 P.M.

With some assistance from Mom, Dad prepared a spaghetti dinner. Unfortunately, shortly after our nice dinner, Dad and I had another knock-down drag-out argument about his health and attitude about taking care of himself. Unlike so many other times, we eventually had a meeting of the minds and we agreed on a plan for managing his pain and boosting his protein intake.

April 17. Dad didn’t feel like going to church today, and the weather was dreary. The three of us enjoyed a nice breakfast of homemade cinnamon rolls, and then I worked on my computer until Mom and I left for church.

pegOutCross1After the church service, we mentioned to our friend Sue, who was also the nurse practitioner at the dialysis center, that Dad was still experiencing a lot of pain. She said that she would order x-rays for him. I also asked her about medical alert bracelets for dialysis patients with fistulas. For the rest of his life, he can never have blood drawn or his blood pressure taken on his left arm. She said that she thought that we could get him such a medical bracelet.

After a yummy lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches, Mom and I went outside to cover up some cantaloupe seedlings. We were expecting stormy weather, and she wanted to protect the young seedlings so that they wouldn’t drown. After watching the depressing evening news and eating dinner, we played Oh Hell, and Mom beat Dad by three points.

April 18. Dad had a 10:00 A.M. post-op appointment with Dr. Jaffers, the surgeon who had built the fistula in Dad’s left arm. While waiting for the doctor, Dad vomited in the exam room. According to Mom, he had just taken his morning meds before we left the house. The last time that he vomited, he had just taken his meds on an empty stomach. Other than the vomiting in the exam room, the doctor thought that Dad was healing well and that his fistula should be cured and ready to use during hemodialysis by early June.

pegOutCross3I thought that we also had an appointment for x-rays, but when we arrived in the radiology department, Dad was not on their schedule. I texted Sue because she had told me that she would enter an order for the x-rays.  Evidently, she had encountered a problem with her computer, and then she became distracted and forgot to enter the orders. While we were in the radiology waiting room, the order appeared, and Dad was called by the technician after a short wait.

The x-ray process was painful for Dad. Although x-rays aren’t painful, getting up on the hard table, being repositioned on the table, and getting down from the table was painful. I hoped that these x-rays would show something useful and actionable.

During an afternoon meeting with my manager, I learned that she had accepted a position in another business unit. She had been a wonderful manager and very supportive while I’ve been working remotely from my parents’ house. The two of us had made a great team, and it felt like she was breaking up the band. Although I knew that this move would benefit her, I was a bit apprehensive about how it would affect me.

I stopped working at 5:00 P.M. for our happy hour. After a nice dinner of leftovers, we played Oh Hell, and I lost again.

rainBefore going to sleep, I called my husband in Houston. Evidently, Houston had received between 9-15 inches of rain, depending on the area of town. According to the news, this was the worst rain event since tropical storm Allison in 2001 and has been dubbed the Tax Day Flood. Stan said that our house was OK. He didn’t know how much rain we received at our house. All he knew was that our 5.5” rain gauge had overflowed.

 

On the road to PEG removal

April 8, 2016. When Dad’s PCP reviewed his CT scan on March 24, in addition to the seven stress fractures, she mentioned that he had an enlarged prostate, and she recommended that Dad see a urologist. About an hour before my parents were to leave home for the appointment with the urologist, Dad vomited some phlegm.  The doctors’ offices at Scott & White ask that you arrive at least 20 minutes before your scheduled appointment. Dad’s vomiting had delayed their departure and they could not arrive during the prescribed window. Our family has an aversion to being late, so Mom called the doctor’s office to ask whether they should reschedule their appointment. The clerk who answered the phone assured Mom that the office builds in a 15-minute late check-in time, and that they should not worry about arriving too late. I wondered if the clerk laughed to herself that a patient was worried about arriving late. I suspect quite a few patients are either late or no-shows.

pegBustCross1Even with their minor setback, my parents arrived on time to the doctor’s office. When they arrived at the clinic, Mom let Dad off at the door of the clinic so that he could check in while she parked. This simple act of letting Dad out in front of the building was a huge accomplishment. It wasn’t that long ago that it took an additional person in the car to help him out and into a wheelchair.

The visit with the doctor was a bust. He didn’t see anything wrong and said that he wasn’t sure why Dad was there. Unlike his back, Dad’s prostate wasn’t causing him any pain, so the visit seemed very anticlimactic.

The home care nurse was scheduled to stop by the house today to check on Dad. My parents not only wanted to arrive on time to their appointments and events, they expected the same of others as well. Unfortunately, the home care providers were not always so punctual. My parents didn’t have a busy social life, but they ensured that they were available to the providers at the appointed time, and would hold lunch, shopping, visits, or other things until the nurse arrived. Today the nurse was an hour late. She stayed long enough to see if Dad had had any falls and to check his vitals, which were good.

pegBustCross2Dad also had an appointment today with Kristen, his swallow therapist. Unlike every other provider, you could set your watch by her, and as usual, she arrived on time. Today’s appointment was her first visit since Dad was readmitted to home care. Mom was glad to see her again, and Kristen worked with Dad for about an hour. Dad promised to work on his exercises over the weekend, and I hoped that he would.

April 9. During dialysis this morning, Dad’s systolic blood pressure dropped below 100, but the nurse told him not to take his midodrine unless the systolic pressure dropped below 90. After dialysis, Mom thought that Dad seemed weaker than usual. I was surprised that he had been advised to hold off on the midodrine. For months, he had been told that his systolic pressure needed to exceed 100. Mom said that Dad didn’t take the pill because they didn’t want to go against the doctor’s orders, which almost seemed like a joke. I asked her if she had been able to keep a straight face when she said that. I would be back in Temple later today and would try to stop by the dialysis center next week to speak with the nurse about Dad’s changing blood pressure guidelines.

Stan left Houston for Temple at 9:00 A.M., and I left a couple of hours later. I used my trips home to get haircuts, change out clothes, and to run errands. I could seldom start my return trip to Temple before noon.

pegBustCross3April is prime time in central Texas for wildflower viewing. During my drive to Temple, I encountered heavy traffic near Chappell Hill, the location of today’s Bluebonnet Festival. The abundance of wildflowers made the otherwise boring drive a lot more enjoyable.

I eventually arrived at my parents’ home a little after 2:30 P.M.

April 10. When Stan was in Temple, Dad usually skipped church. Sometimes he and Stan would play cribbage, and other times Dad had a list of tasks for Stan. Before Dad entered the hospital 11 months ago, he would have handled all but the most difficult tasks himself. Now, Dad often needed Stan’s assistance many smaller tasks, especially with his recent back challenges.

When Mom and I returned home from church, Stan told me that Dad was in a lot of pain. He noticed that Dad sometimes experienced a sharp pain with certain types of moment. After hearing this news, I gave Dad an Extra Strength Tylenol along with his probiotic. Fortunately, the Tylenol seemed to take effect in a short time and eased Dad’s pain when he moved.

pegBustCross1Dad didn’t want to eat lunch, but he sat with us while we ate, and he agreed to drink a bottle of Ensure. Because he didn’t want to eat, I talked a lot about removing the PEG tube. It was imperative that Dad be able to take in enough nutrition by mouth sustain himself. During our discussion of the visits to Dr. Pfanner’s office (the gastroenterologist), it became apparent that Dad misremembered the number of times he had been to the doctor’s office and thought that he had been there one more time after the MBSS. During our discussion, I agreed with Dad that we would have the PEG removed during his next appointment with Dr. Pfanner, even if it meant that we had to sign an AMA. As I agreed to this plan, I hoped against hope that the doctor would want to pull the PEG during the next visit. The last time that I signed an AMA on Dad’s behalf, I was reported to Adult Protective Services. I was reasonably confident that that wouldn’t happen again, but once bitten, twice shy. Signing an AMA during home care also caused the patient to be discharged from home care.

 

 

After lunch, Dad and Stan went outside to finish up some chores that involved electrical wire. When they finished with that manly task, they watched the Masters golf tournament on television.

pegBustCross2Stan left for Houston shortly before 5:00 P.M. My parents and I watched some TV before I got myself in gear and prepared a casserole for dinner. We ate stylishly late and weren’t finished with dinner until after 8:00 P.M. I was becoming a bit concerned about Stan. He had left here over three hours ago and I still hadn’t heard from him. I was just about to call him when I received a text message stating that he had just arrived home safe and sound. With all of his travels back and forth between Houston and Temple, I was always worried that something might happen to my lifeline, and I was relieved when I learned that he was home.

April 11. Dad woke up before 6:00 A.M. and got himself dressed without waking Mom. When I heard him wheel past the office, I stopped working for a few moments to prepare a cup of hot water for him. While he was still having trouble swallowing thin liquids, drinking hot water was preferred over coffee. Since his surgery, he had not liked the taste of coffee and preferred the water, so not being able to drink coffee was not a hardship for him.

When he finished his breakfast, Dad moved into the home office to prepare their taxes, but found that the room was too dark for him to read the instructions. I agreed that it was a bit dark, but because I spent my day looking at a computer screen, I hadn’t been bothered by the dimly-lit room. It bothered him, so after he found some CF light bulbs, I set up the ladder and replaced the burnt out bulbs. The difference was like night and day.

pegBustCross3While I was in my 10:30 A.M. meeting, Dad vomited some applesauce and probably some of his meds. The home care nurse stopped by at 11:30 A.M. I told her that I was concerned about the vomiting, but she said that his vitals were great. Dad complained about some non-specific pain that kept moving around, but because he didn’t have an elevated temperature, it didn’t seem like he had an infection. I was frustrated by and concerned about his little setbacks.

After lunch, I worked until Kristen arrived for Dad’s swallow therapy. She had him swallow water and he did very well. While she was here, Julie from the Speech Pathology department at Scott & White called and said that as far as they were concerned, Dad could have his PEG tube removed. She said that they had recommended that the PEG stay in place until after his surgery so that we could accommodate any problems that might result from post-operative delirium. Because he did well during that time, it was up to the gastroenterologist to determine if Dad could get adequate nourishment by mouth. This news was a relief, and it felt like we had tackled one of our major hurdles.

After I stopped working for the day, I took a short walk and called one of my girlfriends. She said that she didn’t think that her father would survive his colon cancer. Her husband’s mother was struggling with a bout of pneumonia, although she seemed to be doing well. Although it was comforting to talk with someone who understood the source of your stress, this was one of those times when misery didn’t like company.

pegBustCross3My parents and I enjoyed a nice evening together. After our happy hour and dinner, we played Oh Hell. It was a close game, but I beat them by three points. On days like this one, I tried to soak up my parents’ essence so that I could remember every detail about their laughter and their good humor.

 

Thank goodness for the (relative) calm after the surgery

April 2, 2016. After staying up last night until after 11:00 P.M. following Dad’s fistula fiasco, the 4:30 A.M. alarm seemed to come just moments after I placed my head on my pillow. By the time that I had dressed and started the coffee, the light was on in my parent’s room. Dad’s incision site had bled only slightly during the night. After eating breakfast and administering meds, Mom and I took Dad to dialysis. When we arrived, he weighed 153.34 lbs., which was about 3 lbs. more than his dry weight. After getting him settled in for his three-hour session, Mom and I left for home around 7:30 A.M. When we returned to pick him up, his RN, Melissa, showed him how to find the thrill in his arm. Following fistula surgery, when you place your fingers over the fistula, instead of feeling a pulse, you feel a whooshing that feels almost like a cat’s purr. This whooshing vibration is the thrill. His post-dialysis weight was 150.92 lb.

Dad’s fistula would need to cure for a couple of months before he could use it for hemodialysis. Dad’s surgeon, Dr. Jaffers, had told him that he should check his thrill on a daily basis. If he could not feel it, he should contact his doctor, and he’d probably need surgery to repair the fistula.

calmButterflyWhile my husband, Stan, was in town, he mowed the lawn and sprayed weeds. After lunch, Dad took a nap, and Stan and I drove to the Miller Springs Nature Center near Lake Belton to find some accessible trails that Dad might be able to walk. The trails seemed a bit less than optimal and appeared to be a little damaged. I was pretty certain that Dad would have a difficult time navigating them with a cane or a wheelchair.

My lack of sleep was starting to take its toll on me, and when we returned home, I needed a nap. Fortunately, I woke up in time for happy hour. After dinner, dad was feeling well enough to play cards, and I won.

April 3. According to Mom, Dad’s incision seeped a bit more during the night. While Mom and I went to church, Dad and Stan stayed home and played cribbage. As Mom and I were walking into the church, my phone rang. It was the home-care nurse, Paula, and she wanted to come by and admit Dad into Scott & White Home Care. When our friend and nurse practitioner, Sue, heard about Dad’s ordeal with the fistula surgery, she was more than a little exercised, and she could not believe that the incision was still seeping blood. She said that “bleeding wasn’t supposed to happen.” I told her that I have hundreds of pages of documentation full of things that “shouldn’t have happened” to my father.

Because Sue had been so worried about Dad’s continued bleeding, we checked Dad’s dressing as soon as we returned home. Paula arrived at 1:00 P.M., shortly after we had finished replacing the adhesive on the dressing. Paula offered to change his dressing, but we decided to wait until we heard from Dr. Jaffers. Because she was part of the Scott & White network, she was able to email Dr. Jaffers to see how soon we could have the dressing changed.

It was comforting to have my nursing lifeline back.

calmCross1April 4. I logged on to Dad’s MyChart account at Scott & White and saw that Dad’s appointment with Dr. Jaffers had been rescheduled to a later date. At the start of his office hours, I called Patsy, Dr. Jaffers’s secretary, to see why our appointment had changed. Her phone number had been one of the numbers that I had called in response to Dad’s bleeding after the surgery. When she heard that it was me calling, she said that she was getting ready to return my call from Friday evening. I also told her about the drainage of Dad’s dressing and thought that it should be changed. When I told her that I had photographed it with my phone, she asked me to text the photo to her cell. She soon returned my call and told me to take Dad to the dialysis center and have the nurses change his dressing. To ensure that we wouldn’t encounter a problem there, I called the charge nurse to let her know that the doctor had instructed us to drop by. Dad and Mom left a few minutes later and had no problem getting Renee, one of the nurses, to change the dressing. She and some of the others there were a little disturbed about the problems that he had encountered. Unbelievably, it seems that he was the first person ever to have problems of this nature. Of course.

calmCross2This afternoon while I was working, I looked out the window and saw Dad holding the cane with his right hand and dragging a garden hose with the arm that had just had surgery. I immediately ran outside to help him. My major concern was that he might fall, but he also seemed out of breath, and then there was the issue with his arm. I got him to rest for a minute before he headed out to the garden to see my mother, who was planting cucumber seeds. It was pretty warm out, so I wasn’t wild about either them being in the direct sun.

At 4:00 P.M. I ended work so that I could download some bank statements and transaction statements for Dad. We finished at 4:30 P.M., and then I took a short walk to stretch my legs. We had a nice happy hour and watched the news before eating a tender chicken that had been stewing in a crock pot. We played cards after dinner, and my mother won. We hit the hay a little early. I did a little packing and gathering for my trip home on Wednesday, two days from now.

April 5. I was up early and had to wake Mom and Dad with the “good morning” song. They were moving a little slow but they were up and out of the house by 6:15 A.M.  When Mom returned from dropping off Dad at the dialysis center, she said that they planned to remove 3,300 ml of fluid today, but they would also add fluid, so the net amount removed would be closer to 2,000 ml. I’m no nephrologist, but I wasn’t sure why they didn’t just remove 2,000 ml.

calmCross3After lunch, Dad took a nap. He was sleeping soundly, and I had a difficult time waking him. He finally got up at 2:45 P.M., 45 minutes after I started trying to wake him. The rest of the day went well. He and I talked about dinner plans for Saturday, and I went to the store to buy him a battery and some food. After dinner, we played cards, and Mom won.

It was after dinner when the day went to Hell. It seemed to me like Dad was out of breath. Concerned, I checked his oxygen level, and it was fine, but his heart rate was 132. I had been hoping that he would start weaning himself from the wheelchair, but the more we talked, the more apparent it became that he wasn’t getting rid of the wheelchair. According to Dad, the wheelchair was the only comfort that he had. Furthermore, he didn’t trust Dr. Pfanner and thought that he’d keep coming up with excuses for not pulling Dad’s PEG tube. Dad then shared a bucketful of excuses for not walking or getting rid of the wheelchair and not exercising. When our discussion turned into a heated argument, Mom came into the room and asked what we were arguing about.

Dad seemed to be in the midst of a terrible pity party, and he couldn’t seem to see his way out. I was a little concerned because he seemed depressed. I’m no expert, but I knew that he was in pain, which probably contributed to his attitude and outlook on life.

calmCross1I was too tired to continue the fruitless conversation, and I went upstairs to bed. I could hear the television, and it was on for quite a while. Evidently, Dad went to bed late after watching Ted Cruz give his victory speech in Wisconsin. By the time he went to bed, he didn’t like Ted Cruz.

April 6. I dragged myself out of bed at 3:45 A.M. and was logged on to work 15 minutes later. Mom and Dad were up by 6:00 A.M., and I stopped work at 7:30 A.M. so that the three of us could eat Mom’s homemade banana muffins for breakfast.

At 10:00 A.M., I took a brief break from work when Kathleen arrived to administer a physical therapy assessment for Dad. Following her assessment, she said that she would put him on an aggressive rehab plan so that he could walk with or without a cane. Kristen, the speech therapist, also called this morning and scheduled a session time with Dad on Friday afternoon. I would be in Houston on Friday and was disappointed that I wouldn’t get to see her.

I called Dr. Pfanner’s office and tried to get a straight answer from his nurse about whether or not Dad needed to take another MBSS before he could have the PEG tube removed. After not getting a straight answer, I emailed her again and restated my question in writing.

calmCross2I left Temple for my home in Houston at 12:43 P.M. and arrived home shortly after 3:30 P.M. I was pretty tired for the last 40 minutes of the drive and forced myself to stay awake. Stan got home from work about an hour later.

It seemed like I had been gone for quite a while, and it was good to be home again with Stan and our cats. Stan fixed us a nice dinner of turkey breast, and it was moist and yummy. After dinner, we made reservations for our trip to Wisconsin this September. My friends had surprised me with a girlfriend trip to Wisconsin to celebrate a milestone birthday last year, but my father’s situation had required a postponement of our plans, and this trip was our time to get together at last.

April 7. Because I would be working from home today, I was able to sleep in until 4:00 A.M., and lounge around and watch the news until 5:30 A.M. I finally got to my home office above my garage at 6:00 A.M., close to the time that Mom and Dad were on their way to the dialysis center back in Temple.

calmCross3Back in Temple, Dad had 1,800 ml of fluid removed during dialysis and his nurse also removed his dressing. Sue, the dialysis nurse practitioner and our friend, had been very concerned about Dad’s progress and stopped by to ensure that his fistula was healing well.

I worked until 5:00 P.M. and then called Mom for a quick update on their day. After Dad’s nap, they spent quite a bit of time outdoors in their garden, planning a drip line. When I called them, they were watching the news and enjoying happy hour.

After I spoke with Mom, I set up an account with WordPress so that I could begin sharing Dad’s story, a story that I hoped would be ending soon.

 

 

 

At last: Fistula surgery day has arrived!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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