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.

 

Finally: some progress and encouraging news

November 2, 2015. I had been working for over an hour when Dad woke up at 5:00 A.M. after a restless night. He was ready to get out of bed, so Gale got up, disconnected his oxygen and tube feed, and helped him transfer from the bed to the wheelchair. Just four weeks earlier, this transfer required the brawn of both Gale and me. Now, Dad needed just a minor assist from one of us. Because he was now able to reposition himself in the bed, we no longer had to use the draw sheet to move him in the bed.

By 6:00 A.M. he was dressed and ready for his morning meds and trach care. His burst of energy was short-lived, however. By 7:30 A.M. he was ready for a nap, but 90 minutes later he was awake and ready to face the day again.

blogNov01-6Later in the morning, I received a call from Barbara at the Scott & White gastroenterology center. She said that her office had received a referral from Dr. Issac. She wanted to schedule an appointment for Dad to have his G-tube changed and to discuss bulous feeds, which would enable us to administer larger quantities of Nepro three to four times each day and discontinue the continuous feed. Because of Dad’s dialysis schedule, I couldn’t schedule an appointment any earlier than November 30.

A short time later, I received a text message from Sue, our friend and the nurse practitioner at the dialysis center. After conferring with Dr. Issac about the missing Fluconazole (antifungal), she said that the doctor wanted Dad to take the pills for another two weeks. She wrote a new prescription for two weeks’ worth of pills, which still cost the better part of $200, but about half the cost of the prescription that we had declined on Saturday at the pharmacy.

The nurse arrived shortly before 1:00 P.M. to take Dad’s vitals and check his progress. She thought that he was progressing well, and was gone within 10 minutes.

While I was working, Mom took a phone call from Scott & White EMS. They asked if we still needed the EMS transport service to dialysis. Evidently, we’re supposed to call them at the start of each month to schedule pickups for the upcoming month. I hoped that the next call that we made to the dispatch office was to cancel the service. At $120 per week, this service was starting to get a bit pricey.

blogNov01-5Shortly before I was ready to log off for the day, Dad wanted to make his way into the office, which was no easy task. Although the door was wide enough for the wheelchair, the placement of a large desk just inside the door made wheelchair access impossible. Gale and I had to carefully transfer him from the stable wheelchair to the less stable 1980s era four-star desk chair. I was glad that the physical therapist wasn’t here to watch.

A couple of days earlier, Dad had lifted his legs off of the bed during a wheelchair transfer and Laura had been having him exercise in front of the bathroom vanity. Dad said that he wanted to try walking with the walker. After happy hour, Mom followed Dad with the wheelchair and Gale retrieved Dad’s walker and helped him walk 14 steps down the hallway, which was a huge accomplishment. I’m not sure that we should have been having Dad walk without the supervision of his physical therapist, but we were very excited. Only two weeks earlier, standing and moving with the walker would have been impossible.

After dinner, we were ready for a cutthroat game of Oh Hell! By 8:15 P.M., Mom was the big winner, and it was time for us to begin our nighttime routine.

My nighttime calls to Stan were much more enjoyable after a day like today. We were starting to get more support from healthcare providers and Dad’s strength was starting to return. Our baby steps seemed to be moving in the right direction.

November 3. Yesterday’s good day continued on into the night. Dad slept well and didn’t wake up until I woke him at 4:00 A.M. He and Gale marched through their morning routine and were picked up by the EMS at 6:00 A.M. Dad’s scheduled pickup time was 6:20 A.M., but you never knew when they would arrive. Dad didn’t like to be late for anything, so he was usually ready by 5:45 A.M.

blogNov01-3I had assumed that Michell would replace Gale tomorrow, but I hadn’t heard anything from Becky, the owner of One on One Personal Home Care. I dashed off a quick email to her to confirm, and then returned to my day job.

Because Dad had been picked up a bit early this morning, he had gotten started early on his dialysis session, and he was able to leave dialysis early. He and Gale didn’t need to wait very long for the EMS ride for the return trip, and they were home by noon. After I administered his meds and trach care, Dad was ready for a little nap.

About a week earlier, on October 26, Barbara, a neighbor and doctor with Scott & White, told us that she would try to help get Dad an earlier appointment with a pulmonologist so that he could get started on his swallow therapy. Today, I asked Mom if she had heard from Barbara. She said that she had, and Barbara had said that after the pulmonologist had checked Dad’s medical records, he declined to see Dad, saying that Dad was a chronic aspirator and that treating him would be pointless. This discouraging news was practically impossible to process. I couldn’t bear the prospect of Dad never being able to eat again. Mom and I tacitly agreed to not share this depressing news with Dad.

When he woke up about three hours later, Gale interrupted me at work to tell me that Dad seemed very disoriented. He was in the bathroom washing his hands, but he didn’t seem to know where he was. We assumed that he was exhausted from dialysis and that he would snap out of it. He didn’t come out of his room to visit with us during happy hour, but he seemed to perk up when asked if he wanted to play cards after dinner.

blogNov01-2Dad was still very tired and was ready for bed shortly after Mom was declared the Oh Hell winner of the night. By 7:30 P.M., he was in bed and ready for me to administer his meds and trach care. I sat with him while Gale prepared herself for bed, and then went upstairs to call Stan. To say the least, my updates to him about the daily events were varied from day to day. Because Dad went to bed early, I was also able to retire early and hoped to get an extra 30 minutes of sleep.

November 4. I had been working for about 30 minutes when Dad woke up shortly after 4:15 A.M. He wanted to get out of bed, and he had Gale disconnect him and help him transfer to his wheelchair. He wheeled himself into the bathroom and proceeded to fall asleep. Gale helped him back into the bed and I suctioned him. He had been coughing a lot and had a super wet cough, so I thought that he’d have a lot of secretions to suction, but the trach tube was dry. I surmised that the cough had more to do with his lungs than his trach. After sleeping for about three more hours, he was awake and raring to get out of bed at 7:00 A.M. I took a break from work about an hour later and administered his morning meds. By 8:30 A.M., he was dressed and alert and leaving the bedroom at full speed in his wheelchair.

Around 9:45 A.M., the three of us got with him to walk again: one of us on each side and one behind him with the wheelchair. His gait was a bit unsteady, but he took about 17 steps, which was equivalent to almost 19 feet, a distance that we based on the size of our floor tiles.

blogNov01-7Michell arrived at 11:00 A.M. and conferred with Gale for a few minutes. It was nice to have a few weeks in a row with the same two aides. The transitions were easier for them and they were getting to know one another. Shortly after Gale left, Dad wanted to lie down for a short nap.

When Dad woke up, he wanted to work on his computer. I had commandeered his computer desk and had disconnected his computer so that I could use the keyboard and mouse, so he had to use Mom’s computer. With him and Mom in the office, it seemed like the perfect time for me to get out of the room and take a lunch break.

Shortly after 1:00 P.M., Laura arrived for Dad’s physical therapy session. She had Dad walk the same path that we had had him walk earlier, but he walked it at least twice during their session. She then moved him into the bathroom and had him do some exercises while holding onto the vanity. Dad was pretty exhausted when Laura left and was ready for another nap.

Just as I was logging off for the day, I received a text message from Adan, the manager of rehab services at S&W Homecare. I had texted him earlier in the day and asked if we could talk sometime today after 3:00 P.M. When I called him, he said that he would contact our PCP (probably Tony Issac or Sue, Dr. Issac’s nurse practitioner) to have a swallow study ordered for Dad. He also said that he’d have Kristin, a speech pathologist, contact me sometime tomorrow to schedule an appointment with Dad. Adan and I agreed that we wanted her to have some swallow therapy sessions with Dad before the modified barium swallow study (MBSS) to ensure that he would be able to handle the barium. He also said that he would contact the Pulmonary desk at S&W to see if he could find out which doctor would be assigned to Dad.

I was stoked. Adan was one of a handful of people who was in our corner. Without him and the nephrology team at the dialysis center, I don’t know what we would have done. I was thankful that Mom had met and had come to know Adan while Dad was at the CCH. I couldn’t wait to share this good news with Mom and Dad.

We played Oh Hell again, and Dad won (beating Mom by just a few points). We were in bed early and I called Stan at 8:30 P.M. to share the news of the day. It was a nice quiet night until about 12:30 A.M. After hearing Dad cough for about 15 minutes, I got out of bed and went downstairs to suction his trach.

November 5. Sometimes I found it difficult to sleep with all of the noise that emanated from the baby monitor. This was one of those nights—or mornings. I finally got back to sleep about an hour before my iPhone played its annoying wake-up ring tone. I made my way back downstairs, started the coffee maker, and logged on to work.

blogNov01-4Dad and Michell were sound asleep when I woke them shortly after 4:00 A.M. We had an uneventful morning and Dad was picked up for dialysis shortly before 6:00 A.M. His dialysis session was finished before 11:00 A.M., and they were home before noon. After administering his midday meds and trach care, he was ready for a nap.

He woke up from his nap a bit disoriented again, but he became more alert as the day progressed. I knew that he was completely alert when he complained after learning how much we were spending on his in-home care. It wasn’t a topic that I wanted to have discussed too much within earshot of Michell. A cost of $1,000 per week might have seemed high, but it was a bargain for 24/7 care.

Other than the discussion about medical bills, Dad was in fairly good spirits for the remainder of the day. We were experiencing another beautiful autumn day today, and Dad wanted us all to sit on the patio during happy hour. Michell was starting her second week with us and was beginning to feel more comfortable with us, and she started talking about her personal life. I have friends who spell their names as Michelle and Michele. I asked her about the spelling of her name and whether hers was a family name. She laughed and said that her mother didn’t know how to Michelle and consequently, her name looked like “mic-hell.”

blogNov01-6After dinner, Dad felt well enough to play a couple of games of Oh Hell: Dad won the first game and Mom won the second. We had two sets of criteria that determined how long we played cards: how Dad felt and whether he had dialysis the next day and how I felt and whether I had to work the next day. For the most part, I wanted to start Dad’s nighttime routine by 8:30 P.M. so that I could go to sleep by 9:30 P.M. A perfect night was one in which we all got six hours of uninterrupted sleep.

A perfect night was one in which we all got six hours of uninterrupted sleep.

 

Just. Want. To. Go. Home.

redCap2
Red caps rock!

July 12, 2015. Stan arrived at my parents’ home at 9:00 A.M. from Houston, and Mom and I left for the CCH shortly after his arrival. Before Mom and I left the CCH for church, the respiratory therapist stopped by and replaced Dad’s speaking valve with a red cap. Oh my gosh! It was almost like having no trach tube. He breathed normally and he sounded more like his usual self. Dad’s ability to remove his own secretions with the Yaunker would determine when they could decannulate him.  If Dad could not handle his secretions, the respiratory therapists would have to remove the red cap and suction him. While we were there, Dr. Smith stopped by and asked if Dad had been in the chair. I just hated knowing that our week with this doctor was about to end.

Stan visited with Dad at the CCH while Mom and I attended church, and then he stayed for another couple of hours while Dad sat in the chair. I was encouraged when Stan told me that Dad did most of the transfer from his bed to the chair, and once he was in the chair, his coughing stopped.

Later in that day, Cassie, the nurse, mentioned that Dr. Smith was considering switching Dad from intravenous to oral antibiotics. Among other things, the oral antibiotics were less harsh on the kidneys. Because Dad could not swallow pills, the oral antibiotics would be crushed and administered through his feeding tube.

keyFor the past few weeks, Mom and I had been unable to unlock the front door with the house key. Stan had sprayed graphite into the lock and that remedy had worked for a couple of weeks, but we were now back to square one. We didn’t have the time or inclination to fix it, so we just accessed the house from other doors. The front door lock was just an example of life’s little inconveniences that didn’t seem all that important at the time.

July 13. It was Monday, which meant that a new doctor started the week-long rotation, and Dad was scheduled for another 4-5 hours of dialysis. On the positive side, Dad was gaining less weight between dialysis sessions, which meant that they would remove less fluid from his blood. Today they removed only 1,497 ml, far less than the 4,000 ml or more removed only a week or so earlier. The nephrology personnel were cautiously optimistic that his kidneys might be perking up. What they actually said was that they “would watch him closely for a possible sign of recovery.”  Dad’s labs that day were a little contradictory. Although his creatinine levels had improved slightly, his WBC count had inched up. It was still well within the normal range, but this was the first uptick that we’d seen in the WBC count in a couple of weeks. Dr. Ciceri, the new doctor, mentioned that Dad seemed to be in good spirits and that he was very conversant. Perhaps I worried too much.

My parents live down the street from Bob Probe, an orthopedic surgeon with Baylor Scott & White, who was now chief of staff for Scott & White Clinic. This morning, while Dad was in dialysis, Mom and I visited with Dr. Probe and expressed some of our concerns about recent events. In particular, we wanted to tell him about my mother’s experiences at the hospital—specifically, her admittance to Scott & White Hospital as Trauma Patient Ohio. We also told him about my difficulty calling 911. Although he had no authority over the 911 system, he had many contacts who he said he would contact. We also shared some of the challenges that we had had with Dad’s care. In our experience with the hospital, we had learned that it was the patients’ responsibility to understand what was happening. We had seen firsthand that the doctors didn’t ensure that the patient could hear or understand what was being said. You’d have to pity the poor person who was admitted without a support system or advocate. As someone who is concerned about new-user experiences, I told him that to navigate the system, new patients and their families needed more information about resources, and perhaps the case managers could come around more often. From what Mom and I could surmise, the hospital personnel who filled this void were the chaplains, and some did it better than others. If the chaplains were the designated go-to resources, it would have been nice to know that on May 6. Dr. Probe said that he appreciated the perspective and the feedback. He took a lot of notes during our meeting, and Mom and I left the meeting under the impression that we would hear back from the good doctor. Spoiler alert: It’s been almost 14 months and we still haven’t heard from him, but hope springs eternal. He might have bigger fish to fry. Since our meeting, Dr. Probe was promoted to Chief Medical Officer of the Baylor Scott & White system.

Following our visit with Dr. Probe, Mom and I went home for lunch.  On my way back to Houston, I stopped by the hospital to say good-bye to Dad. He was dozing when I arrived, but woke easily and was pretty talkative. He looked pretty alert, and seemed to be feeling better than he had on most dialysis days. Mom arrived shortly before I left at 2:00 P.M. Soon after I left, Dad said that he was tired and had Mom leave for the day. When he was tired, he could fall asleep in midsentence. Later that evening, Mom tended to the garden and also gave it a good soaking. After all the rain just two months earlier, we were now suffering from a drought. Where rain was concerned, it was either feast or famine in central Texas.

July 14. Dad was alert and in good spirits when Dr. Ciceri visited him during morning rounds. Dad’s vitals were good, and it seemed like it was a perfect day to conduct the MBSS. The swallow study must be administered in the radiology department at Scott & White Memorial. Dad was ferried to the hospital in an ambulance and the test was administered by Holly, his speech therapist during his stay at Memorial. Unfortunately, the test that we had yearned for yielded some disappointing results. In short, he was diagnosed as a high risk for aspiration. They tested him with thin liquids, nectar and honey-thickened liquids, puree, and pudding. Even when swallowing with a chin tuck, he was not successfully swallowing anything but the pudding. Fortunately, Adan planned to continue working with him. The prospect of Dad not being able to eat again was unthinkable.

Dad was pretty tired by the time he returned from Memorial to his room at the CCH. Shortly after he arrived, Jennifer, the physical therapist, arrived for his session. He told her that he felt as though he had already been moving around all morning. Physical therapists tend to ignore such protests from patients, and she proceeded with therapy. Although Dad had some difficulty standing from a chair and the side of the bed, he was able to complete all the repetitions of his exercises and walked a few steps. He did much better when he “walked” in the wheelchair. When she was finished with their session, Jennifer left him in the chair, where he stayed for an hour. Mom was encouraged by all the therapy that he was receiving.

Mom stayed until 5:45 P.M. and was still there when our church friends, Kris and Sue, stopped by after work. They had stopped by once before, but didn’t know the password. I don’t remember ever being told about a password, and unless you visited after 8:00 P.M., the doors opened automatically. Sometimes this place was just weird.

Today seemed like a pretty good day for Dad. I would have felt better about it I hadn’t been so worried about his white blood cell count.

homeJuly 15. During dialysis, Dad told the nephrologist that he wanted to go home. The doctor told him that to be declared dialysis dependent (with End Stage Renal Disease), he had to be hospitalized and on dialysis for a total of 12 weeks. Although Mom and I had heard this news a few days ago, it was new news for Dad and prompted him to start asking questions about billing. The doctor contacted Marty Edens, the social worker, who dropped by to answer his questions. Marty couldn’t answer his specific billing questions, but she was familiar with Medicare and some of Dad’s situation. Dad told Marty that he “can’t imagine being here for six more weeks.” He repeatedly told her that he “made a wrong decision two months ago that put him where he was now.” I was glad that I missed this heartbreaking conversation and the follow-up discussion that Marty had with my parents later that day. My mother then requested a plan for his discharge. Marty told them that she could not give them a time frame regarding recovery, other than that if he continued to need dialysis, he would remain at the CCH until at least August 26, or until the doctors said he didn’t need dialysis, or they declared him to be dialysis dependent.

My exasperated parents then asked her when Adan would be able to come by. They both found some comfort and sense of progress in therapy sessions, especially speech therapy sessions with Adan. Adan stop by, had Dad eat some ice chips, and said that he would stop by tomorrow with some thickened soup for Dad to try.

Jennifer then arrived for their physical therapy session, but Dad was too tired after dialysis to exercise. Before she left, Jennifer said that Dad was now ready for sessions with occupational therapy.  They had withheld occupational therapy until he was a little stronger and no longer dependent on oxygen. The occupational therapist judged his prognosis to be fair, based on what he had read in Dad’s chart. His prognosis for just about everything was fair. I was getting tired of this “F” word.

Although Dad’s lab work and his vitals were holding tight, Dr. Ciceri thought that Dad might be somewhat confused, which can be a side-effect of prolonged hospitalization. On a more positive note, during Dad’s dialysis session, only 1,194 ml of fluid was removed, which was considerably less than earlier amounts and left him less fatigued. With Dad’s extra energy, he continually told nurses, doctors, and other providers that he “just wanted to go home.” Up until 71 days ago, my parents had been the poster adults for healthy seniors. They were active, engaged, and in control of their lives. Their current situation left them frustrated and just barely able to tolerate their current situation.

 

Moving day!

June 25, 2015. The big day had finally arrived. Because the move was scheduled for 11:00 A.M., I decided to work for a few hours and then get to the hospital in time for Dad’s transfer. Mom arrived at the hospital at 8:00 A.M and was pleased to see that Dad was out of bed and in the chair. We were pleased when the nurse told her that he had been in the chair for two hours. Time in the chair helped his lungs and his endurance.

The doctor canceled the morning blood draw, but according to Dr. Velazco, the last blood draw showed that Dad’s hemoglobin level was up to 8.3, which meant that he wouldn’t need another unit of blood today. The doctor said that Dad appeared to be well enough to transfer to the Scott & White Continuing Care Hospital (CCH).

hurryUpI was running late and didn’t arrive until 11:00 A.M., so I was surprised to see that Dad was in bed and sleeping, because I was expecting his transfer to be underway. Shortly thereafter, Laura, the case manager, called to say that Dad’s move was rescheduled for 1:00 P.M. I still needed to wrap up some things at work, so I left at noon, and Mom stayed behind.

I returned to the hospital at 1:45 P.M. Dad still hadn’t transferred. I helped Mom remove the last of Dad’s personal items from his room. The EMS team arrived at 2:05 P.M and started prepping Dad for his move. They were a real personable crew, and with all the positive energy in the room, it felt like we were moving toward better times. We were eager to move on, but truth be told, after 53 days here, I was going to miss some of the nurses and therapists.

Mom and I waited until they wheeled Dad out before we left. Then, instead of following the ambulance to the CCH, I followed Mom to a local auto body shop. A few days earlier, Mom had hit the passenger-side mirror of her beloved Chrysler LeBaron convertible when backing out of the garage. In addition to the added stress of having to deal with the car damage, she agonizes over every scratch and ding. You can’t buy body parts for this car, so the shop guys were going to scavenge for a replacement mirror. They removed the injured mirror from Mom’s car, and we headed for the CCH.

When we arrived at the CCH, the mood of the facility seemed different, calmer than that at Memorial. For starters, the parking lot was much smaller, every space was relatively close to the front door, and you didn’t need to engage in hand-to-hand combat to get a parking spot.

We found Dad in his room and a nurse and an aide were updating his chart and reviewing his recent medical history. We hadn’t been there very long when we saw Dr. White, one of the doctors from Memorial. He had been Mom’s doctor for a couple of days and then Dad’s doctor a couple of different times at Memorial. We hadn’t realized that he was part of the CCH doctor rotation. He told us that this was his final rotation at the CCH.

Img_1012The primary rationale for transferring a patient from ICU to a continuing-care facility has to do with the environment—specifically, the light. We were told that that Dad needed exposure to more daylight and to a distinct daytime and nighttime. We hadn’t been at the CCH very long before I started wondering whether anyone from Memorial had ever set foot inside the CCH. Its odd-shaped rooms each had only one small window placed so awkwardly that I couldn’t see how the patient got any advantage from the much-vaunted changes in light.

Although the doctors at Memorial frequently referred to the CCH as “rehab,” the CCH personnel made it clear that they were not a rehabilitation facility, although they did provide occupational, physical, and speech therapy. After we arrived, we were told that rehab for Dad would come after he left the CCH—perhaps at a skilled nursing facility.

I questioned Dr. White about Dad’s plan of care while at the CCH. He said that he wanted to observe Dad for a couple of days before determining a plan.

June 26. Dad’s first full day at the CCH. It was also Friday, which meant that he had a date with dialysis. Because he received dialysis in his room at Memorial, we were always with him during these sessions. Mom assumed that she would also accompany him to dialysis at the CCH. The dialysis personnel let her enter, but they instructed her to don protective clothing. She soon realized that she was the only visitor. Dad slept most of the time that she was there, so she decided that going forward, she would not sit with him during dialysis. She would use this time to run errands and work around the house. She would ensure that she was in his room when he returned from dialysis.

After lunch I accompanied Mom back to the CCH. Shortly after I arrived, I asked the nurse for his lab results. She quickly told me that she could not release that information to the family, and I just as quickly told her that either I or my mother would be provided this information every day that they drew blood. Now that he was at the CCH, they drew blood at the start of his dialysis sessions. Our requests for his medical information weren’t questioned again.

Dad’s hemoglobin was up to 8.4 and his WBC count was down to 10.4. These lab results were good, but the great news came later that day when we learned that the wound care personnel would trim Dad’s finger and toe nails. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but he had been hospitalized for 54 days, so nail trimming was huge. If only we could score a haircut. Dad was determined that he would not get a haircut until he could go see his barber, but he was starting to look a little shaggy.

Sometime during the day, Dad lost his left hearing aid. This wasn’t the first time that he lost a hearing aid, and it wouldn’t be the last time.

Being in a new facility meant that we had a whole new group of care providers to meet. We had developed so many positive and cooperative relationships at Memorial and looked forward to getting to know and trust the providers here. One that I would come to like and appreciate was Angela, a respiratory therapist. Dad wasn’t too wild about any of the respiratory therapists at either location, but some he really detested. Angela was a gentle touch, even when she had to administer deep breathing treatments or deep suctioning.

Mom and I visited until 4:00 P.M. and then left to buy some canning supplies. Those cucumbers weren’t going to become pickles by themselves.

June 27. Mom and I arrived around 8:45 A.M. It had rained quite a bit earlier in the morning, which was good news for pulling weeds in the vegetable garden. The first great news that we received was that the night nurse had found Dad’s hearing aid. It was Saturday, and not a dialysis day, so no blood was drawn for labs. The nurse mentioned that his electrolytes were down yesterday after dialysis but were better this morning.

Dr. White stopped by shortly before noon and said that he thought that Dad would probably move to the second floor in a week or two. The CCH is a two-story facility, and the sicker patients reside on the first floor. He also said that if Dad kept improving, they’d probably reduce the frequency of his lab work to twice a week. The doctor also said that occupational and physical therapy would start during the coming week. He didn’t mention speech therapy, and I hoped that it would be included, too. I didn’t learn until much later that the speech therapist at the CCH had already received his consult request and had reviewed Dad’s swallow therapy history from Memorial.

Dad had a bit of a strenuous afternoon. He coughed a lot, and each coughing spell seemed to leave him exhausted.

Img_0992That night after dinner, Mom and I headed to the garden. I picked the remaining cucumbers and then pulled up the cucumber plants—as directed by my father—to make room for the cantaloupe vines. Mom and I then picked about six dozen tomatoes. This was the summer of the tomato sandwich and the bread & butter pickles. We just hoped that Dad would come home in time to enjoy the bounty of his garden.

Can we score four good days?

June 3, 2015. We arrived at the hospital around 8:45 A.M., slightly later than our normal arrival time.  I queried the nurse about Dad’s morning labs and learned that his white blood cell (WBC) count was up slightly to 12,600. I was told to not worry, but I had been keeping track of good days versus bad days, and it seemed like we couldn’t maintain forward progress. Bad days were generally preceded by an increase in his WBC count. I logged this information, kept my thoughts to myself, and gave Dad a big smile. According to his nurse, he had had a pretty good night, but when questioned by the doctor, was not able to remember that the year was 2015.

PINEAP01Dad was awake, alert, and was glad to see us. He had required BiPAP support while he slept, but they had stopped his medication for hypotension. It seemed like we were on track to have the Modified Barium Swallow Study (MBSS) later in the morning. He had received permission to have ice and thickened juices, and he was ready for both. Holly, his speech therapist, had provided me with thickener, so I prepared some thickened apple juice for him. He drank it, but told me that he’d rather have pineapple juice. The hospital didn’t keep it onhand, so Mom and I promised to bring some from home.

At 11:00 A.M, Dad was taken to Radiology for his MBSS. Transferring him from his bed to a stretcher was a major production. A wound vac was connected to his chest and two receptacles were attached to his chest tubes. He also sported a central line for his IV medications and he still had the arterial line in his right arm.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I really liked Scott & White’s patient record system. Shortly after Dad returned to his room, Holly stopped by and showed me the videos of Dad’s MBSS. This video was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen. Your body is doing some pretty complex stuff when you swallow. I’m astonished that we don’t choke on a regular basis. His test results showed that he was still silently aspirating thin liquids, like water. However, he had no trouble swallowing pudding or thickened liquids. He couldn’t, however, eat enough pudding to sustain his nutritional requirements, so the feeding tube had to remain.

He hadn’t been out of bed since his return to ICU 10 days earlier. The physical therapist stopped by to help him move from the bed to the chair and mentioned that his strength and balance had decreased significantly. As he did with most hospital personnel who entered the room, he told her that he was anxious to get moving again and that he wanted pineapple juice.

Dialysis started late in the day and continued for six hours and didn’t end until after Mom and I went home for dinner. Dad’s day seemed to go better than I had originally thought it would. Mom and I advanced the good day counter to 2. We were now hoping for three in a row.

tPA_structure
Structure of the PLAT protein

When we returned to the hospital on Thursday, June 4, Dad was already sitting in a chair; he had been there since 5:30 A.M. We arrived early enough to meet with Lyndee, Dr. Sai’s PA, Dr. White, and the nephrologist. Lyndee told us that Dad’s WBC count was 10,000, which is practically normal. She also told us that they would remove his arterial line today. Lyndee also mentioned that Dad’s right chest tube had stopped draining. She explained that to break up the clot, she would insert a tissue Plasminogen Activator (tPA) into his right tube. She also mentioned that tPA is also used to dissolve the clots in stroke victims. She was fairly certain that the left drain had done its job and they could remove it tomorrow. Having the tPA meant that he could not be dialyzed and could not have speech therapy.

Lyndee quickly explained the tPA procedure to Dad. When she was finished, I asked him if he understood what she said, and he shook his head. I proceeded to explain the process to him, using single syllable words. When I was finished, Lyndee said, “That was great. We should have you explain this to all our patients.” I really liked Lyndee, but I felt like telling her that explaining procedures to patients in a way that they could understand was her job.

While Mom and I ran errands and had lunch, Lyndee inserted the tPA in Dad’s right drain.  He had to be kept prone for a few hours and the nurses rotated him every 15 minutes. He was very sleepy and slept through most of it.

At 3:30 P.M., Lyndee removed the clamp on Dad’s right chest drain, which released 250ml of fluid in less than 5 minutes. We were cautiously optimistic that only infected fluid was being released, and not blood or other vital fluids. Shortly thereafter, Fred, his day nurse, removed his arterial line from his right hand.

Mom and I stopped by after dinner in time to see a lab tech enter Dad’s room to draw blood for a hemoglobin test. The chest tube receptacle showed that more than 750ml of fluid had been released since the tPA was finished, which was more than twice what had drained from his right chest cavity. I couldn’t decide whether to be pleased or nervous, so I decided to err on the side of pleased.

Before leaving, I prepared some pudding for Dad and got him some ice. It seemed that we had had another good day—the third one in a row. Advance the good day counter to 3.