Attempting to recover at home

April 13, 2018. A lot had happened since our last visit to Temple. Dad had checked himself out of Cornerstone, which meant that instead of receiving daily physical and occupational therapy, he would receive physical therapy twice a week at the Roney Bone and Joint Institute. After Dad’s unorthodox transfer home, Stan and I were anxious about his situation and were eager to set eyes on him.

home4Cross2Stan and I left Houston for Temple shortly before 3:00 P.M., but because of an accident in Cameron that closed the road in both directions, we didn’t reach my parents’ home until 6:30 P.M. Shortly after we arrived, I learned that Dad had not been out of his wheelchair since his last physical therapy treatment on April 10. In principle, Mom would help Dad with his rehab exercises between sessions with the therapists, so I was a bit concerned that nothing had happened since he had been home.

We had a nice evening, and I tried to contain myself and not say anything about Dad’s lack of therapy since his return home. The four of us discussed some of the chores that they needed Stan and me to do over the next two days. We played Oh Hell, and I won.

home4Cross3April 14. Following our Saturday breakfast of homemade waffles, we reviewed and refined the list of chores that Stan and I needed to tackle today. Mom and I went to Academy, Walgreens, and WalMart. Dad had asked Mom and me to find some exercise aids that he could use at home. We purchased a couple of items from Academy, but I doubted that he would use them. They were simple and inexpensive so our loss wouldn’t be significant. After we returned from our shopping expedition, I tried, without any success, to encourage Dad to try walking a few steps with his walker. I hoped that he would try walking a few steps before we left for home tomorrow.

IMG_3501My parents had a large vegetable garden. Between Dad’s stint in the hospital and rehab and Mom looking after him, weeds had taken up residence among the tomatoes, squash, beans, and cantaloupe. While surveying the garden, I wondered why the vegetables couldn’t be as low-maintenance as the weeds. After lunch, I weeded the vegetable garden while Stan planted a couple of rose bushes and a couple of saplings in the yard. The day before Dad fell, he had placed bags of mulch in the front gardens. A couple of weeks ago, Stan had spread the mulch but thought that we needed to purchase a couple more bags, but Dad wanted only to use what he had purchased. When I had finished weeding the vegetable garden, I redistributed mulch in the front gardens. I had often said that my parents’ large yard kept them active and was good for their health. The large yard was now becoming a chore for Stan and me, and we fantasized that they would consider downsizing.

home4Cross4During our happy hour, Dad announced that he and Mom had decided that they could not continue living in their home for many of the reasons that concerned Stan and me. Dad said that they wanted our opinion and looked to us to do some research. We discussed many options, and it seemed that they wanted to move into a small house, which wasn’t my first choice for them. However, I knew of a 55+ community in The Woodlands and discussed its possibilities. I allowed myself to dream of all sorts of possibilities that included them living in or near Houston.

April 15. While Mom and I attended church, Dad and Stan played cribbage. After lunch, I tried again to get Dad to walk a few steps with his walker before we returned to Houston, but was unsuccessful. Stan and I left at 2:40 P.M. and arrived home at 5:50 P.M. Although we were concerned about Dad’s lack of therapy, we were very encouraged that my parents were open to moving.

home4Cross3April 16. I spent a few hours scouring the web for independent-living communities in Harris County that had decent reviews. I spoke with a representative from an independent-living community in The Woodlands, Texas. The community sounded exactly like what my parents wanted, but I wasn’t convinced that this was the best place for them. Although it provided many amenities, it was a gated neighborhood that didn’t provide transportation, which could be problematic in the future. I did a little more research but didn’t find anything that I liked well enough to suggest without first visiting the property.

April 28. Stan had a bad cold, so I traveled to Temple today without him, arriving at my parents’ home shortly after 10:30 A.M. My mother had been worrying the heck out of me with her stylish shoes that wouldn’t stay on her feet. During the past year, Mom had lost a lot of weight, and now her slimmer feet often stumbled out of her shoes. Sunday had become one of the most dangerous days of the week as her shoes fell off while we walked to and from the church. I had told her that we would shop for some stylish, yet sensible, shoes as soon as I arrived.

After finding the perfect shoes, we dashed into HEB for a few groceries and then went home for lunch. Dad told us that he had exercised four times while we were gone. Because he had “exercised,” he wasn’t willing to walk with the walker.

home4Cross2I had a difficult time hiding my disappointment when Dad told me that he and Mom had decided to stay in their house and not move. Several thoughts came to mind, but for once, I decided to keep my thoughts and concerns to myself. However, I wished that they had told me sooner about this decision so that I wouldn’t have wasted so much time looking for viable options for them.

We ended our evening with a game of Oh Hell, and Mom won.

April 29. Mom and I attended church this morning, which gave her the opportunity to test and show off her new shoes. I still wasn’t able to get Dad out of his wheelchair, so I had to settle for batting .500 during this weekend trip.

 

Leaving rehab just a tad too soon

April 6, 2018. Today was my last day of employment. After 19 years, one week, and one day with my employer, I had been informed that I was ready to pursue other interests. In anticipation of my employer’s significant US layoffs, I had left Temple last Thursday so that I could be in the office in case I was included in the reduction.

badRehabCross7My week in Temple for Dad’s surgery had put me behind in many of my responsibilities at home, so when Stan suggested that we return to Temple tomorrow, I brought up several reasons why I could not leave town for the weekend; besides, he had plans to play golf on Saturday. When he said that we could drive to Temple after golf, I agreed to the trip.

April 7. I hit the ground running and finished my grocery shopping before Stan left to play golf. While he and his friend Mike were playing a couple of rounds of golf, I checked off tasks on my to-do list and was ready to leave town when the guys returned at 2:00 P.M., and we left home shortly before 4:00 P.M.

badRehabCross5I had decided that I would not tell Mom that we were coming for a short weekend visit. Knowing her the way that I do, I knew that she would try to tidy up the house or prepare dinner during our three-hour drive. When we were about two miles from Cornerstone, I called Dad. Although he answered his phone, he couldn’t hear me. We continued our drive to the facility and surprised him when we walked into his room. During our 20-minute visit, I adjusted the speaker control on his phone so that he could hear callers. I then called Mom and told her that Stan and I were with Dad and that we would be arriving soon. In the 30 minutes that elapsed before we arrived at my parents’ home, Mom had rushed around the house, trying to tidy up. Truth be told, even when she thought that the house was a mess, it still looked like it was minutes away from a photo shoot for House Beautiful magazine.

April 8. Stan was right to suggest that we visit my parents this weekend. It was obvious to us that Mom was approaching the end of her rope. With Dad away, she wasn’t sleeping well, and she was skipping meals. During the day, she spent most of her time at Cornerstone and then was distressed about not getting anything done at the house. She was also too tired to cook when she got home and had lost weight that she couldn’t afford to lose. During our short visit, I prepared six protein- and carbohydrate-rich single-serve casseroles for her to eat. I didn’t want her to get sick while Dad was in rehab.

badRehabCross2April 10. Dad had been the sole occupant of his semiprivate room and had been enjoying his privacy. Although the Cornerstone staff encouraged patients to visit some of the common areas, Dad had no interest in leaving the room except for physical therapy. Today the staff notified him that he would get a roommate on Friday, three days from now. Shortly after receiving this news, he started complaining in earnest about the facility. He didn’t like the therapists, and the room was too small. I agreed with him that the rooms were small, but the rehab stay was supposed to be short, and he could leave his room and spend time in the common areas. Nothing that I said about the facilities and the purpose of rehab seemed to sway his opinion. Dad now seemed to be more concerned about his accommodations and not about his rehabilitation mission.

Dad had his first post-op appointment with the orthopedic surgeon today, and my parents used the services of the Cornerstone bus to get to the clinic. The surgeon wasn’t there, but they met with his physician’s assistant (PA). She told my parents that she could order outpatient rehab for Dad (which he would receive twice each week) and that he could leave Cornerstone at any time.

badRehabCross7With the blessing of the surgeon’s PA, my parents decided to check out of Cornerstone before Dad’s roommate was admitted to the facility, and several days short of the recommended two-week stay. Mom assured me that she would help Dad with rehabilitation exercises on the days between physical therapy. The separation was taking a toll on Mom, Dad didn’t want a roommate, and they had decided that they didn’t think that the therapy was helping. I was opposed to their plan, but she said that it was their life, and she was right.

Mom had not eaten dinner last night, and I was relieved to hear that she ate one of the prepared single-serve casseroles tonight. I hoped that she would start taking better care of herself when Dad got home. On the other hand, Dad had been eating well, although it didn’t seem that Cornerstone had been serving him a renal diet.

At 9:45 P.M., I received a call from a Cornerstone employee. She had been trying to call Mom but it didn’t seem to her that the phone number was correct. After telling me the number that she had called, it was apparent that she had transposed a couple of the digits. When I asked her if there was a problem, she said that Dad had slid out of bed and was found on the floor. She went on to say that Dad had been uncooperative, but they helped him back into the bed and he seemed unhurt.

badRehabCross4After hanging up, I tried calling Dad at Cornerstone to get his side of the story and see how he was doing, but after the phone rang a few times, I decided to hang up. I didn’t want him to try to get to the phone if it happened to be out of his reach. I called Mom, and she was breathless when she answered the phone saying, “Melody, is it Dad?” The ringing phone had awakened her, but by the time she reached it, the caller had hung up. My call came moments later, and I told her about the call from Cornerstone. Mom said that the incident surprised her, saying that he had been out of bed before to use the bathroom. This incident only heightened my concern about Dad coming home early.

April 11. My parents’ next-door neighbor, Jo, and her caregiver arrived at Cornerstone this morning to help get my father home. My parents called these two women angels, and they were. Mom had not called them; I didn’t know how they knew that Dad was leaving, and I don’t know how Mom would have been able to transfer Dad into the car and then transfer him out of the car and into the house. My parents didn’t have a wheelchair yet, so their friend used an office chair to get Dad into the house from the car.

A representative from American HomePatient, the provider for the wheelchair, called me today. She was trying to call my parents, but their records had my parents’ former phone number, which had changed after my parents returned the last rental wheelchair to American HomePatient.

badRehabCross2When I called my parents’ home, Dad answered the phone and told me that Mom was at WalMart. She was shopping for medical supplies that she would need to care for Dad. During our conversation, he told me that he would start receiving physical therapy on April 23, 12 days from now. This news worried me, which seemed to be my default state these days. When I expressed my extreme concern about such a long gap in his therapy, he said that he and Mom were just old people trying to get by the best that they could. So now, in addition to being worried, I was also feeling guilty for questioning all of their decisions.

 

So far, so good at the rehab facility

March 30, 2018. After spending most of the week with my parents, I was now back home in Houston so that I could spend the Easter weekend with my husband. I was pleased to learn that Dad had received physical therapy today. He had not received physical therapy every day at the hospital, so I hadn’t assumed that he would have therapy today. In the hospital, physical therapists didn’t work on the weekends, and I didn’t know if physical therapists worked on the weekends at the Cornerstone rehab facility. Having therapy today lessened the potential gap in his treatment. To ensure that Dad would reach his physical therapy goals in the targeted time, he needed frequent sessions. Significant gaps between sessions could slow his progress or cause him to regress. My parents and I were intent on Dad being able to safely leave Cornerstone within two weeks.

goodRehabCross1Shortly before 11:00 A.M., the case manager called me from Scott & White Hospital to tell me that Dad was still in the hospital but would be transferred to Cornerstone later today. She said that she had tried to reach my mother, but no one answered the phone. I told her that I was in Houston, but my mother was with my father at the hospital and that she could speak to both of my parents by going to his room. I was a bit surprised that she had not tried Dad’s room first. Even if my mother hadn’t been there, Dad would have appreciated knowing the details of his transfer.

Later today turned out to be noon, just an hour after she called me. The previous occupant of Dad’s semiprivate room had already been discharged, so Dad had the room to himself. I hoped that he would have a private room for a few days. He didn’t receive any physical therapy during the afternoon, so I was thankful that he had received therapy this morning at the hospital.

When Mom called me a little after 5:30 P.M., she told me that the day had gone very well and that Dad was determined to be fit enough to go home in five days. Mom’s enthusiasm and optimism about today’s events rubbed off on me, and I had a good feeling about Dad’s prospects.

goodRehabCross5March 31. I wasn’t sure what time Mom planned to leave home this morning for Cornerstone, so I called her mobile phone, hoping that she might have it with her. Mom usually kept her phone in her purse and had a difficult time answering it before the call was transferred to voicemail. I knew that Dad kept his phone on the bedside table, so when there was no answer, I tried his mobile phone number. As I had expected, Mom answered Dad’s phone.

I could hear a lot of background noise during the call, and Mom said that Dad’s room was a hubbub of activity. The occupational therapist and an aide were getting Dad ready to take him to the shower, which was located down the hall. Because of all of the distractions, I told her that I would call her later this afternoon.

goodRehabCross2When I called Mom at 5:30 P.M., she gushed praises about the physical therapist. Mom said that the therapist was kind but firm and that she did a great job with Dad. After spending an hour in physical therapy, my exhausted father returned to his room. I don’t know how much time he spent with the occupational therapist this morning, but if every day was like today, Dad just might be ready to leave in less than a week. I was very pleased that the residents of Cornerstone received therapy on Saturdays. Because tomorrow was Sunday and a holiday, I didn’t think that he’d receive therapy, but at least he would have only a one-day gap in his treatment.

April 1. Today was Easter Sunday, and I called Dad’s mobile phone as soon as I returned home from church. After four rings, the call went to voicemail. I called again with the same result. On my third attempt, I received a text from him, which had to have been the result of some fumbled fingers because he does not text. Now that I knew that he was there and most likely was holding his phone, I called again, and this time he answered. We talked for almost 25 minutes. He was in a great mood. He said that Mom had been there for a couple of hours before she went to church. The Cornerstone staff had delivered bags of Easter candy to the residents, and he proceeded to itemize the contents of his bag during our call. When he found the six-inch Hershey bar, he said that he would start with it. While we were talking, a caregiver arrived with his meds. He told her that he was on the phone and would take the pills later. In jest, I told him to take the pills with his candy.

After all of the effort that it took to convince him to enter this facility, I was thrilled with his positive attitude and good mood. We had a great talk, but when his lunch arrived, he was done with me. Evidently, Cornerstone’s food was pretty good too.

goodRehabCross3Mom called me a couple of hours later from Dad’s room. Dad was in physical therapy, and because my parents’ neighbors said that they might visit this afternoon, she remained in Dad’s room during his session. While Mom and I were talking, an aide wheeled Dad into his room. I was thrilled that he had had therapy on a Sunday, and Easter Sunday at that. At the end of our call, I was feeling good about this facility and Dad’s care. It seemed that his stay at the Cornerstone facility was going to exceed my wildest expectations.

 

 

They say that he has to go to rehab, but he says No.

March 27, 2018. Because I was concerned about how Dad fared during his first night after surgery, I didn’t sleep well and woke up just before 2:00 A.M. I hoped that he had slept well and that he had not tried to get out of bed during the night. Mom and I didn’t have much of an opportunity to visit with Dad yesterday after his surgery, but I had warned him that he might experience some confusion after his surgery. I knew that I would be spending a few hours at the hospital today, so I set up my computer shortly before 5:00 A.M. and worked for about four hours. Thirty minutes later, Mom and I arrived at the hospital.

noRehabCross3When we entered Dad’s room, we found that a nurse and a couple of nursing students were turning Dad in his bed. Until patients can get out of the bed, they must be turned every few hours so that they don’t develop bed sores. After Dad was resituated in his bed, Dr. Bolanos entered the room. Within moments, the two of them were arguing about Dad’s antibiotic suppressant drug. He insisted that the doxycycline gave him an upset stomach and that he hadn’t taken the pill in six months. She suggested that he take the antibiotic with food or with Zofran, which would prevent any nausea. He agreed but said that he would take only one pill a day and not the prescribed two pills. Fortunately, she avoided the subject of rehab during this visit.

Although Dr. Bolanos had steered clear of the contentious subject of rehab, Kim, the physician’s assistant, took the bull by the horns when she stopped by Dad’s room. While she was there, she described the different types of physical therapy available to patients and the patient requirements for each option. For Dad, she reinforced Dr. Bolanos’s recommendation for in-patient therapy at a rehab facility. As before, Dad insisted that he had to go home and take care of his garden and wife.

Dad_ot-paintShortly after lunch, Amy, the occupational therapist arrived and had Dad stand with the walker. Before Amy left the room, Brooke and Lisa, the physical therapist and her assistant, arrived. They had Dad stand up and sit down and then sit in a chair. While he was enjoying being out of bed, Pastor Tom entered the room. While Tom was there, he spoke of the many benefits of rehab. The pastors in that church always seemed to answer my prayers. Before Tom left, he urged Dad to get well quick because he needed a Christian in the church, which was a running joke between them. Tom had a very busy schedule this week, and Mom and I greatly appreciated his taking the time for a visit.

At 3:00 P.M. I returned to the house so that I could get in a couple more hours of work. I was feeling the effects of my sleepless night and drank coffee to keep myself awake until 5:00 P.M., which was when I logged off for the day. While I was working, my parents’ neighbor, Jane, dropped off a Cobb salad that she had purchased for us while she was in Austin. Mom and I devoured this much-appreciated gift for dinner.

March 28. Dr. Bolanos stopped us in the hall as we approached Dad’s room. She told us that Dad was very confused. He thought that he was at home and he was also having hallucinations. Also, during the night, he had gotten out of bed, and the nurses had found him on the floor when they responded to the bed alarm. To help prevent him from injuring himself, they exchanged his bed for one that could be lowered within inches of the floor. As if this news wasn’t enough, she added that Dad was argumentative and was still fighting the notion of going to rehab.

noRehabCross1When we entered Dad’s room, we encountered chaos. Dad was eating breakfast and arguing with Alisha, an aide who was trying to take his blood pressure, which was required before he could have his morning meds. He insisted that he would not take the meds, and wanted her to leave. Steve, the electrical technician, was also in the room, trying to repair a problem with a spastic call light and oversensitive bed alarm. It didn’t help matters any that Steve and a nurse were discussing the problems with the system.

I asked Alisha if she could leave so that Dad could finish his breakfast, and she agreed to come back later. As soon as she left the room, another woman entered the room. She introduced herself as Lisa, the nurse manager, and asked if we were having problems. I told her that the room had been like a sea of chaos when we arrived, which was not helping my father’s anesthesia-induced confusion or his mood. She took control of the situation and orchestrated the activities of the nurses, aides, and Steve until a relative calm settled over the room. The only challenge, which remained for a few hours, was the bed alarm and call light. Dad’s new bed did not have a built-in bed alarm and an attached call light. The nurses were using a chair alarm and the rigged-up system was somewhat faulty. I finally had Steve turn off the maddening bed alarm, promising to have the nurse turn it on when Mom and I left.

noRehabCross2Adding to the parade of people who dropped by was the case manager, who asked whether she should start looking for a rehab facility for Dad. Dad didn’t hear her question, and I quickly ushered her out of the room. Rehab was still a touchy subject, and I didn’t want us to launch into another argument in front of the case manager. I returned to the room and told Mom that she needed to see the case manager in the hall. While Mom was gone, she signed the appropriate paperwork to set the discharge process in motion. While Dad had been in surgery, I had asked Pastor Tom about Cornerstone, and he said that he thought (based on his visits to many rehab facilities) that it seemed like a good facility. We hoped that Cornerstone, which was within a couple of miles from my parents’ home, could accommodate Dad.

Mom and I had hoped to be with Dad during his next physical therapy session, but we hadn’t heard anything about today’s schedule. To ensure that we didn’t miss the session, I went to the cafeteria to buy lunch for Mom and me. While Dad enjoyed a lunch of pork chops, Mom and I ate yogurt and fruit. Dad admitted that his lunch was pretty good, which was practically an enthusiastic endorsement of the hospital food. We finally asked the nurse about Dad’s schedule, but she said that there was nothing on his chart today about him having physical therapy. With that disappointing news, Mom drove me back to the house so that I could get back to work.

noRehabCross3Shortly after Mom returned to the hospital, Pastor Tom returned for another visit. Tom told Dad how rehab had made a difference in his recovery when he broke his ankle after jumping from a plane while he was in the army. Although Tom’s words probably fell on deaf ears, I felt like we should have baked Tom a pie for trying to sell Dad on the notion of a rehab facility.

Shortly before I logged off from work, I answered a phone call from Cornerstone. Marie was calling to inform us that Dad had been accepted and that she wanted to make an appointment with Mom so that they could finalize the arrangements for his two-week stay.

Now, all we had to do was get Dad to agree to the transfer from the hospital to the Cornerstone facility.

 

One-year anniversary: Aortic valve replacement surgery

May 6, 2016. It was hard to believe that one year ago, Mom and I had accompanied Dad to Baylor Scott & White hospital for his aortic valve replacement surgery, a 7-10 day hospital stay that became a 148-day hospital stay, followed by five months of home care. His surgery had been successful, but the recovery was a failure.

IMG_1760When I called my parents’ home from my home in Houston today, my mother told me that she had been informed that Dad’s second round of home care would be ending soon. Once again, I felt like I was losing a lifeline. Although I rarely needed them, just knowing that I could phone a nurse for assistance was comforting.

May 7.  It was Saturday morning and Stan and I were driving to my parents’ home in Temple in separate cars. He left home at 7:45 A.M. I had a couple of errands to attend to and followed Stan a couple of hours later.

When I arrived at my parents’ home shortly before 1:00 P.M., Dad was home from dialysis and Stan was mowing the lawn. After lunch, Dad and I went to HEB to purchase groceries and supplies that we would need for the dinner that we had planned for Mother’s Day tomorrow. While I was there, I found a beautiful bouquet that I purchased for Mom.

Dad told me that he wanted me to start reducing my number of trips and days with them. He said that he wanted to start using his computer again, and when I was there, he couldn’t access it because I used that space to work. He added that when I wasn’t there, they felt like their life had almost returned to normal again. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this announcement. I also wanted to reduce my time away from home, but I still felt that their situation was somewhat tenuous.

Very little can dissuade us from playing cards after dinner, and Dad won big time at Oh Hell.

May 8. For as long as I could remember, my parents had eaten waffles for breakfast on Saturday. During Dad’s seven months of hospitalization and home care, Mom had abandoned this tradition. After preparing countless batches of waffle batter, Mom had committed the recipe to memory. Between the months-long lapse in preparing the waffle batter and her having a stroke, Mom had forgotten her recipe. When preparing waffles last weekend, she searched in vain for her written recipe and resorted to one in a cookbook. During the past week, she had continued her search but without success and had to use the substitute. Although Mom prepared the batter, Dad had been the official waffle baker, a role that he now resumed.

IMG_1795After Mom and I returned home from church, the four of us enjoyed chocolate-dipped strawberries with our lunch.

During happy hour, Mom opened her Mother’s Day card and a little gift from me. My wonderful husband gave Mom a gift card to Chico’s. Because she had lost so much weight during the past year, most of her clothes no longer fit her. So that I could accompany her on her shopping trip, he also gave me a gift card.

IMG_1761For dinner, Dad and I fixed some of Mom’s favorites: baked potatoes and rib-eye steak. Dad also had me prepare one of his favorites: sautéed mushrooms. Everything was great—even the banana pudding ice cream that Dad had selected for dessert. Although the flavor didn’t sound very appealing to me, it was surprisingly good.

Stan left for our home in Houston at 4:30 P.M, but he didn’t get home until 8:00 P.M. One of the cats welcomed Stan home with the gift of a furball in the middle of the family room floor. Poor Stan.

Back in Temple, I won our game of Oh Hell, beating Mom by two points.

May 9.  I started working at 4:00 A.M. My father had an early post-op appointment today with Dr. Jaffers, the surgeon who performed Dad’s fistula surgery. My parents and I agreed that I would skip this appointment but would go with them to Dad’s later appointment to see Dr. Martin. We planned to take two cars so that I could drive to Houston from the doctor’s office.

annivCross1At 10:00 A.M., after a 6-hour workday, I stopped working and packed my car. When I turned the key, the engine hesitated before it started. When we arrived at the doctor’s office, I asked my parents to wait for me to start my car before leaving the parking lot. In case my car had a problem, I didn’t want to be stranded at the doctor’s office.

Dr. Martin repeated what we had already heard: Dad had several compression fractures. We talked with him about Dad’s three falls (May 2015, January 2016, and March 2016), and the likelihood that one of those falls had caused Dad’s current back problems. Because back injuries can be cumulative, the last fall or the standing up in church could have been the tipping point that caused Dad’s pain. The doctor wanted a blood test and a bone density scan to determine if the compression fractures were caused by osteoporosis. When my parents went to the lab for the blood work, I went home. I was relieved that the car seemed to start without any hesitation and assumed that I had imagined some problem with my car.

When I stopped for gas in Somerville, my car struggled to start. I called Stan to share my concerns and discuss my options. I had planned to go to the office and then meet a former coworker for dinner. I was afraid that if I went to the office or out to dinner that the car wouldn’t start and that I would be stranded. We agreed that it would be prudent for me to skip the office and reschedule my dinner plans.

annivCross3I drove home and called Stan when I approached the neighborhood. We met at the house, unloaded my car (with the engine running), and he followed me to the Honda dealership. Through the miracle of smartphones, I was able to attend a meeting during my drive to the dealership. The service department representative said that they could fix my car within an hour, which allowed Stan and me to grab dinner while we waited.

When we arrived home with two fully-functioning cars, I called Mom to see how Dad was doing. After they left the lab, they ran a couple of errands, and by the time that they reached home, Dad was in a lot of pain. His back was hurting him so much that he had to lie down. Mom was very concerned and told me that he had a difficult time finding a comfortable position.

Mom was a little confused and a bit frustrated by the doctor’s visit. She had thought that the doctor was going to start treating Dad, so she was surprised when the doctor said that he needed more tests.

May 10. When I called Mom at noon to see how she and Dad were doing, she told me that she had received bad news from the dermatologist: her biopsy was cancerous and she would need surgery. The cancer was slow moving, so the doctor said that she could schedule the surgery for after our family reunion in June.

annivCross1Dad was feeling somewhat better today. Mom had had him take some Extra Strength Tylenol last night and it seemed to lessen his pain. She told me that Dad returned to the x-ray department at the Scott & White clinic for a bone density scan this afternoon. The scans weren’t painful, but lying on the table was very painful.

May 14. After spending a few days at our home in Houston, Stan and I planned to return to Temple for the weekend. Like before, we would take separate cars, enabling me to stay a day or two longer. After handling a few chores around the house, Stan and I departed for Temple; Stan left about 10 minutes before me. As I was passing the Buc-ees in Waller, I passed Stan. He could seldom pass this mega rest stop without stopping for coffee or snacks. He stopped again in Rogers to pick up some doughnuts for my mother (so he said), so I arrived almost 15 minutes ahead of him.

I hadn’t been in the house for more than a few minutes before Dad started complaining about the doctor and the lack of information from Scott & White. I decided to log on to Dad’s MyChart account and discovered that Dr. Martin had sent my father a message, telling him that he had severe osteoporosis. The doctor added that he had requested a consultation with an endocrinologist. I emailed Dr. Martin to see if we needed to make the appointment or if we would be contacted by the specialist. I also noticed that Dad had an appointment for additional blood work, but I couldn’t tell which doctor had placed the order.

annivCross3We later got into a heated discussion about how my parents wanted Dad to replace his prescribed statin with pectin. Evidently, the home care nurse told my parents that statins were dangerous and that she had been giving her husband pectin instead. I could believe it because my sister-in-law’s father-in-law had had some severe side effects from prolonged statin use. However, I’d prefer if we clued in the cardiologist before we started self-medication.

When he saw Dr. Martin last week, Dad’s chart did not include the statin, but my parents did not recall any discussion with Dr. Ebert about stopping this medication. Because it was on the list of medications that I maintained for Dad, Dr. Martin had added it back to Dad’s chart. We decided that I would contact Dr. Ebert, tell her about the situation, and see what she advised. Who knows; if she thought that substituting pectin for a statin was a good idea, I might have Stan ask our doctor about 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

 

Transitioning from sick room back to bedroom

February 22, 2016. After all the excitement of going to church yesterday, today seemed almost boring, but in a good way. Dad didn’t seem to have much of a cough this morning, and for a while, I thought that we had vanquished his congestion. His cough came back sporadically during the day, but it seemed like we had turned a corner.

sickroomCross2Another normal activity returned today when Mom attended her book club with her good friend Marilyn. I was thrilled that she was able to get out of the house and visit with her friends. When you’re in caregiver mode, your new normal world becomes very small, and it seems almost strange to return to your former normal life.

While Mom was away, I acted as Dad’s spotter while he made three trips up and down the front steps with his walker. He appeared fearless, but my heart was firmly planted in my throat. It was all I could do to keep my hands off of his shirt, although I’m pretty sure that I did grab the back of his shirt a couple of times. It probably didn’t do much for him, but it made me feel like I could save him from a fall. Fortunately, I didn’t have to test that theory.

Brenda had been working with him to be independent with a cane. Up until now, he had used his cane and walker when he was away from the house but relied on the wheelchair when he was at home, saying that he could move faster with it, which was true. He practically zipped through the halls in that wheelchair. The aides had commented on how well he handled the contraption. Michell had marveled at how the walls held no telltale signs of a wheelchair in residence. Kathleen, the physical therapist, had commented that Dad was the opposite of most of her patients, who used wheelchairs away from home and canes and walkers when they were at home. We were expecting weekend guests within the next couple of weeks, which might have inspired Dad today to get out of his wheelchair and spend more time walking with his walker and cane when he was at home.

sickroomCross3While Dad was feeling adventurous, he wandered into the pantry to get a can of fruit. He stooped just a bit too low and struggled mightily to get up. I wasn’t in the best place to help him, and he was pretty winded when we finally got him up and out of the pantry. We agreed that he was not quite ready for knee bends.

After I logged off from work, I prepared a casserole for our dinner. While waiting for dinner, we enjoyed our happy hour together and watched the news.

We played a three-handed game of Oh Hell, and Dad won. Mom was a little shaky on threading the tubing in the Kangaroo pump, but she handled the meds like a pro.

sickroomCross1February 23. Today marked the 148th day that Dad had been home from the hospital. He had now been home as many days as he had been hospitalized. A month or so after Dad returned home, I had had a conversation with our friend Adan about what to expect regarding Dad’s recovery time. I had asked if Dad would require one day of recovery for each day of hospitalization, and Adan had said that he thought we might be looking at a 2:1 ratio. Dad wasn’t close to where he was when he entered the hospital some 236 days ago, but I suspected that Adan was correct in his assessment. Because I didn’t want to discourage him, I didn’t want to tell Dad that he was merely at his halfway point to being recovered. He seemed to be pushing himself to resume his former life.

We were all up early—some of us (Dad) earlier than others. Usually, because of the baby monitor resident in the master bedroom, whenever Dad woke up, I also woke up. Last night, after a relatively early night for all of us, I had slept soundly, even through a hard rain and a thunderstorm.

sickroomCross2Mom fixed Dad his typical breakfast of Cream of Wheat and then drove him to dialysis. Fortunately, the rain had stopped before they left. During dialysis, Dad had 1,900 ml of fluid removed. Our routine had started to settle down, which enabled me to put in a full and uninterrupted day of work. During my lunch break, I was able to get out of the house for a walk, which turned out to be a short one because of the cold and windy weather. I’m more of a fair-weather walker.

Mom and Dad were able to take a nap after lunch. When we finished playing cards at 7:30 P.M., the three of us were tired and ready to call it a day. By 8:00 P.M., Mom had administered Dad’s meds, and I was on my way to my room for my nightly call to Stan.

February 24. Dad woke up around 3:00 A.M. and asked if he was still tied up. Mom disconnected him from the Kangaroo pump so that he could use the bathroom. She then told him to go back to sleep, which he did, sleeping until 6:00 A.M.

sickroomCross3Kathleen, the physical therapist, called and said that she would arrive to assess Dad’s progress sometime between 11:00-11:30 A.M. I was looking forward to her approving Dad for another 30 days of physical therapy. When she arrived at 11:15 A.M., she watched Dad walk with his cane and told us that Dad was doing great, so great that she was discharging him from physical therapy. With this announcement, Dad had now been discharged from home care, occupational therapy, swallow therapy, and now physical therapy. For better or worse, we were now truly on our own. Yay?

After lunch, Dad and I went grocery shopping at Wal-Mart, and by the time that we returned home, we walked over 15,000 steps for the day. He had his walker with him, but I had him push the cart, which gave him some stability. After we got home and brought in the groceries, he and Mom went back out for more groceries, this time to Sam’s.

Dad did a lot of walking today, probably more than most people, but he still needed to exercise to build his strength and improve his balance, but he would shut down the conversation when I tried to broach the subject with him.

When we were getting Dad ready for bed, I checked his pill box and discovered that he had not received any meds since last night. Until the dispense of meds became second nature for Mom, I would have to keep a more watchful eye on Dad’s meds.

February 25. Today I was more worried about Mom than Dad. With the aides gone, she had more responsibility. I didn’t want to assume all of the work of the aides because I wanted to ensure that Mom could tend to Dad during my periodic trips to Houston. But now, it seemed that the extra work was beginning to take its toll on her, and for the first time, I thought that she looked frail.

sickroomCross1After breakfast, she insisted on going to Penny’s to buy linens for the new bed. While she was gone, Dad and I talked about him assuming more responsibility for his care. So that Mom would not need the extra burden of administering his medications, I proposed that Dad prepare his medications and then he and Mom could administer the crushed and diluted cocktail in his G-tube, and he agreed. I also got him to agree to drink one Ensure and one Nepro a day, which would provide him with 775 calories. This base of calories would help to ensure that he consumed the calories he needed to add some much-needed meat to his bony frame.

The three of us watched the Republican debate. My parents hung in until 9:00 P.M. It ended at 10:00 P.M., so this was a late night for me. When they were getting ready for bed, Dad gave himself his nighttime meds. Mom had had a bad cough during the evening and while we played cards. Before she went to bed, I gave her a breathing treatment. Thank goodness that Dad’s prescription provided us with more saline and albuterol than one person could use.

February 26. I was up early and worked until Dad came into the office. Mom had not seemed well yesterday, and he was worried about her. While we were talking about her, she walked into the kitchen all perky, looking like she was ready to take on the world. She was like a walking testimonial for the benefits of a good night’s sleep. Although I had worked for a bit while my parents were still sleeping, I had actually taken the day off from work. We had a busy day planned, and Mom was ready to get started.

sickroomCross2Right after breakfast, we hit the chores like field hands. I quickly deflated the inflatable bed, and at 8:15 A.M., a guy from American HomePatient arrived and picked up the hospital bed. Unfortunately, he did not take the mattress, so I moved it to a back room in the house. Evidently, they can’t reuse mattresses and they won’t pick up anything that they can’t give to another patient. We were hopeful that we could find someone who would take a mattress off our hands.

Now that the master bedroom was bed-free, we cleaned, vacuumed, and shampooed the carpeting. Once again, I said a silent thank you to my husband for purchasing the floor mats to cover the bedroom floor. I’m positive that the carpeting would have been ruined otherwise.

While we were waiting for the carpeting to dry, Dad and I made another trip to Wal-Mart. After lunch, the three of us decided to take advantage of some free time, and we napped for about an hour. After we woke up, we did a bit more cleaning before the Ashley Furniture truck arrived at 4:00 P.M. After they assembled the bed, they were gone in a flash. We then spent 45 minutes struggling to put the mattresses inside of the mattress covers. We eventually triumphed, but the experience was aggravating, and I’ll never buy one of these beds for myself. We were finally finished manhandling the mattresses at 5:15 P.M., and I was good and ready for happy hour.

During the day, Dad drank all but about 2 oz of the Nepro/Ensure mix, and he gave himself his meds.

sickroomCross3After making the bed, Mom rearranged some of the medical accessories in the bedroom so that it looked more like a bedroom and less like a hospital room. Among other things, the baby monitor was removed from their room, which was a huge milestone for me. For the past 151 days, I had barely slept while I monitored Dad’s sleep and nighttime emergencies and needs. With the monitor gone, I felt like I was experiencing some separation anxiety.

February 27. After a day of physical activity, we all slept well, and we all slept for at least seven hours. The morning was uneventful and smooth, but I forgot to weigh Dad before he and Mom left home for the dialysis center.

During dialysis, Dad had 1,600 ml of fluid removed, but he probably should have had more removed. It was ironic that for so many months I had been critical that the nurses were removing too much, yet now I had the opposite concern.

A couple of days ago, Dad said that he would drink Ensure for lunch and the Nepro throughout the day. Today he back-pedaled on our agreement and drank the Ensure but not the Nepro.

sickroomCross2Mom and I fixed up their bedroom and spent some time putting together some other rooms of the house. The entire house was looking more like a home and less like a hospital. Their bedroom had had the most significant transformation, and only a set of shelves with some medical supplies gave any indication of how the room had been used for the last 21 weeks.

Stan arrived shortly after Mom and Dad returned from dialysis. Dad took a nap after lunch and then he and Stan started up the grill for dinner.

With all of the transformational activities during the past few days, it seemed like we needed a family photo to make the milestone. Happily, everyone was receptive to the idea.

Dad won at Oh Hell. I was able to get 1,400 calories in him today, so I felt like a winner too.