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.
My 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.
When 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.
We 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.
Michell 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.
After 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.
December 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.
Dianne 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.
Dad’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.