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.

 

The power outage, the EMS, and other things

October 23, 2015. I was able to get in a couple of hours of work before Dad and Michell woke up at 6:00 A.M. I took a short break from work to administer Dad’s morning meds and trach care. Shortly after 8:00 A.M., I was meeting with Manisha, one of my Indian co-workers, when we lost power. It took several seconds for the seriousness of the situation to occur to me. Until a few weeks ago, a power outage was an inconvenience worthy of a fine whine, but now with our dependency on the concentrator and nebulizer for oxygen, electricity was critical for Dad. I called Oncor Energy, and they predicted that power to the area would be restored by 9:30 A.M. I checked our supply of oxygen tanks and called American HomePatient to request an emergency shipment of oxygen tanks. I called Oncor Energy again at 9:00 A.M., and according to the helpful recording, they could not predict when power would be restored; however, crews were assessing the problem. Power to the neighborhood was finally restored around 10:30 A.M. The emergency order of oxygen proved to be unnecessary, but I decided that I would prefer to have an ample supply of tanks on hand rather than risk running out. Dad seemed pretty unaffected by the outage and napped through most of it. During the outage, Michell checked his oxygen saturation level a few times, and it stayed between 97-99%, which was great. The only deficiency caused by the outage was the lack of moisture from the nebulizer to Dad’s lungs.

Tracy, the home care nurse, stopped by around 11:30 A.M. She said that other than his bedsore, he seemed to be doing fine. However, she thought that if anything, Dad’s bedsore was getting worse. I told her that we had an appointment with a wound care specialist in four days. About 90 minutes after Tracy left, Janet arrived for Dad’s occupational therapy session. As usual, Janet and Dad talked nonstop during their session. As she left, she told me that she thought that Dad was making some progress.

Dad complained about all of his tubes and wanted to know when he could get rid of them. I explained to him that it took him five months to get into this condition and it would probably take another five months for him to get better. Evidently, his expectations were significantly different from mine, and he gave me a look that broke my heart. I explained that we were doing everything that we could to ensure success on all fronts, which was why we had the two therapists working with him.

I later texted Adan to see if I had given Dad the correct information. Adan called me, and we had a long talk about Dad’s progress. During our discussion, he said that he thought that my estimate was far too optimistic and that Dad was probably looking at something along the lines of a 10-month recovery. He also said that the trach might be one of the last things to go. Adan also said that we could start the swallow therapy now if he had an order from a pulmonary specialist.

The news that Adan thought that we were ready to start swallow therapy was huge. Less than a month ago, he had told me that because of his chronic aspiration, Dad would not receive swallow therapy. I had implored him to give Dad a chance to fail and not just write him off as a lost cause. After much discussion, Adan had finally agreed to try swallow therapy after Dad regained some of his strength.

We swallow all day long. It seemed like such a simple thing that I had not realized what an intricate process it is. I would later learn that this seemingly simple process is achieved through the careful orchestration of some 80 muscles. According to Adan, simply regaining some of his strength would improve Dad’s chances of success. I felt better after our talk and thanked our lucky stars that Adan had moved from his position as a speech pathologist at the CCH to his current position as the supervisor of rehab services at Scott & White Home Care.

Around 3:00 P.M., I received a call from Brian at Scott &White EMS. He informed me that according to the notes provided to him by his EMTs, Dad could be transported to dialysis on a wheelchair and not a stretcher; therefore, they would start charging us $80 round trip. I explained that it was his EMTs who asked us to wheel Dad outside so that they wouldn’t have to bring the gurney into the house. Furthermore, I told him that although Dad might be able to make the trip there, he was not strong enough for the return trip. Brian said that he would contact the dialysis center to verify my assessment. He called back a little later and said that Scott & White EMS would provide wheelchair transport to dialysis and gurney transport for the return trip, which meant that we would be charged only $40 for each transport. Gurney transport was covered by Medicare, but wheelchair transport was not. Every day it was another nickel, dime, or $40 that we had to shell out to someone.

While Brian and I were discussing the logistics of this arrangement, I texted Sue, the nurse practitioner at the Scott & White dialysis center, and asked if I could call her.

hoyerLift
Hoyer lift and sling

When we spoke a few minutes later, she became annoyed and said that this decision was not for EMS to make and that the dialysis center would not accept Dad without a Hoyer sling. As I had learned earlier this week, Medicare won’t pay for the very inexpensive Hoyer sling unless you also get the more expensive Hoyer lift. Dr. Issac wrote an order for the Hoyer lift, but depending on when American HomePatient received the order and their inventory, we wouldn’t receive it until sometime next week.

I logged off from work at 5:30 P.M. and was good and ready for happy hour. Dad joined us until dinner was ready, at which time he returned to his room. The dishes were clear at 7:15 P.M. and we were ready for the nightly game of Oh Hell. I don’t remember who won, but we played a long game that didn’t end until 9:00 P.M.

October 24. It was dialysis day, and Michell, Dad, and I were up at 4:00 A.M. It was raining like a son-of-a-gun this morning. To enable Dad to be picked up by the EMTs, I had to clear a place in the garage where we could transfer Dad from the wheelchair to the gurney. We hadn’t needed this accommodation before because we had had good weather on dialysis days since he had been home. Dad resumed his normal routine for dialysis day and was ready to go at 5:45 A.M.  Because of the inclement weather, the ambulance was about 15 minutes late.

While Michell and Dad were at dialysis, Mom and I did some chores around the house. I also took this time to wade through some of Dad’s medical paperwork. When I sat down in the kitchen with a cup of coffee and Dad’s home care admittance book, I found a document that stated that his Medicare coverage for home health care might end this coming week. I called the on-call nurse to verify this information, and she said that according to her records, Dad was covered through the end of the year, but she advised me to call the office on Monday. I felt mildly relieved but would feel better after I contacted the office on Monday.

Mom and I went to the bank around 10:15 A.M. As we approached the front door of the bank, a HOP Paratransit bus dropped off a passenger. We asked the rider about the HOP service, and she gushed about the paratransit service and the HOP organization. In addition to the convenience and responsiveness of the service, its cost was very reasonable: just $2 per trip. We told her about Dad’s situation, and she encouraged us to apply for the paratransit service.

Mom and I had other errands to run, but the trip to the bank took longer than we had anticipated. We thought that we should go home now to ensure that we were there when Dad arrived home from dialysis. Shortly after we arrived home, Stan arrived from Houston. When we hadn’t heard from Michell and Dad by 12:30 P.M., I texted Michell, and she replied that they were still waiting for the ambulance. Rainy weather often results in car accidents, and accidents take precedence over transport services. There was nothing that I could do for Dad, but I had Stan drive me to the dialysis center so that we could bring Michell home. I planned to stay with Dad until the ambulance arrived, but as Stan and I arrived at the dialysis center, Dad’s ambulance also arrived. Michell said that she would stay with Dad, so Stan and I returned home. Michell and Dad eventually arrived home at 1:30 P.M.

After his seven-hour trip to dialysis, Dad was exhausted, and from the sound of his breathing, it seemed that his trach needed changing. I spent the next few minutes suctioning him and then left him to sleep for a few hours. He started coughing badly later in the afternoon, and I decided that I couldn’t postpone his trach change any longer. Dad seemed to breathe a little better after the trach change, but he still had a lot of secretions, and he didn’t want to suction himself, so I had to suction him again.

We played a game of Oh Hell after dinner, and we started to put Dad to bed around 9:00 P.M. His oxygen saturation was 98%, which relieved me a little, and he fell asleep almost immediately.

Around midnight, Dad’s coughing woke me and I decided to go downstairs to see if I could encourage him to suction himself. He steadfastly refused to hold the Yankauer wand, and his oxygen saturation readings were erratic. I suctioned him for a few minutes and went back to bed when his coughing seemed to subside.

October 25. I woke up at 6:09 A.M. and I didn’t hear any noise from Dad coming through the baby monitor. Convinced that something bad had happened to him, I bolted up out of bed and ran downstairs to his room to see if he was all right. Thankfully, he was just sleeping, albeit quietly. I returned to my room and changed into my scrubs.

I returned to Dad’s room 45 minutes later and found that he was up and washing his face, but he seemed a bit disoriented. I administered his morning meds and trach care and Michell took over for the remainder of his morning ritual.

I left Dad’s room and went to the kitchen. Mom had started the coffee maker a short time earlier, and I was ready for a cup of coffee. Michell wandered into the kitchen and mentioned that Dad had told her that he wanted to stop dialysis. I knew that he understood the implications of stopping dialysis. I hoped that Dad was experiencing a temporary funk, but I needed to watch him and be supportive. While Michell was with Dad in the bedroom, Stan, Mom, and I had breakfast. Dad finally appeared dressed for the day at 9:15 A.M.

While Mom and I attended church, Stan and Dad tried to fix the VCR. When we returned from church, Dad was napping. Michell told us that at 11:30 A.M. he had wanted to lie down for a few minutes, and he fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. Stan told me that he needed to leave early today, but he wasn’t ready to leave until 2:00 P.M. Before he left, I woke Dad so that he could say goodbye to Stan. Dad was constantly surrounded by female caregivers. Stan was the welcome break from all of the female hovering, and Dad enjoyed their time together on weekends. Shortly after Stan left, Michell was able to convince Dad to do some of his physical therapy exercises.

After dinner, Michell and I asked Dad if he wanted to play cards. He said no, that he was just a “hindrance.” I told him that I was really asking if we were going to play cards this evening because we wouldn’t be playing cards without him. We played a long game tonight, and while he was pretty much exhausted by the end of the game, he wasn’t too tired to beat us again.

We started on our bedtime routine at 8:30 P.M., and I was able to call Stan shortly after 9:00 P.M. I was distressed about Dad’s apparent depressed mood, which was uncharacteristic of him. Stan said that he could understand how Dad’s cup could look a bit less than half full from his perspective. Perhaps Stan was correct.

If I thought that I had been unprepared to be a caregiver for Dad’s physical health, I was totally unprepared to handle depression.

 

How to dress for success for the emergency room

October 17, 2015. I had hoped that we could have slept until 4:00 A.M., but shortly after 1:00 A.M., I was awakened by Dad’s coughing. I listened for a couple of minutes and then decided to check on him. Although we placed the Yankauer wand and suctioning machine near him, he seldom used them during the night. I woke Gale when I turned on the lights with the dimmer switch and opened the trach care kit. His secretions weren’t as thick as I had thought and I was able to return to my room in just a few minutes, and Dad and Gale went back to sleep.

Gale and Dad were awake at 4:15 A.M., but Dad was tired and wasn’t ready to get out of bed until 5:00 A.M. They had their dialysis preparation routine down cold and didn’t need the extra 45 minutes. Dad was ready to leave before the scheduled departure time of 6:10 A.M.

cross3The nurses were ready for Dad when he arrived, so his dialysis session started at 6:30 A.M. Two hours later, his systolic blood pressure dropped below 100, and Gale administered the Midodrine via Dad’s G-tube. Unless the ambulance arrived late, it was great when the dialysis session started and ended early. Fortunately, Dad and Gale didn’t have to wait long, and they were back home by 11:30 A.M. Gale reconnected his humidified air and tube feed and I prepared his midday meds. He was pretty tired and napped for the next three hours.

When Dad woke up, he and Gale sat outside on the patio. He wanted to compose some lists, but his impaired dexterity still prevented him from writing. Gale was always willing to sit outside with Dad and talk, and she happily agreed to act as his stenographer while he dictated. When Mom and I were ready for happy hour, Dad said that he was tired and returned to his room, where he stayed until we played cards at 6:30 P.M. All that sleeping today seemed to pay off for him, and he beat us again at cards.

I was tired and was glad to start preparing Dad for bed at 8:30 P.M. By 9:15 P.M., he was in bed and had received his nighttime meds, and Gale had returned to the bedroom after her own nighttime preparations. Stan was on call and could not come to Temple this weekend. Before crashing for the night, I called him and we talked about our very different days.

Dad slept well for about 90 minutes, and then he began to be restless and have periodic coughing spells. His coughing and restlessness woke Gale but was not loud enough to wake me.

October 18. At 1:00 A.M., Dad’s coughing finally woke me. I listened for a minute or two before Gale paged me through the baby monitor. Gale suspected that he needed suctioning, and she was correct. He required a lot of suctioning, which surprised me because he hadn’t required much suctioning when he went to bed. Shortly before 2:00 A.M., I was finished with him, had cleaned up after myself, and had returned to my bedroom. I dozed on and off for a couple of hours but heard him coughing again at 4:00 A.M. As tired as I was, I knew that sleep was impossible. I got out of bed, dressed in my scrubs, and returned to Dad’s room.

Dad was in a bad mood and his attitude toward me was a little pissy and juvenile, and had the roles been reversed, he would have reprimanded me for my behavior. He straightened up somewhat when Gale, the good cop, returned to the room. She helped Dad out of bed and into the wheelchair, and he wheeled himself into the bathroom and coughed up some more of his secretions. A couple of minutes later, he said that he was tired and he had Gale help him back into bed where she connected his humidified oxygen and tube feed. Gale and I both used the opportunity to get a bit more sleep.

cross4When he woke a couple of hours later, he was in a much better mood. Because Dad could not take anything by mouth, all of his meds were crushed, mixed with water, drawn into a large syringe, and inserted into his G-tube, directly into his stomach. When I reached for the Y extension line that connected the G-tube with the tube feed line and provided the input valves to the G-tube, a loose end came up in my hand. I didn’t know how long that it had been disconnected from the G-tube, but Dad and the bed were a sticky mess. It was as if we had thrown a couple of milkshakes in bed with him.

I tried to reinsert the Y extension into the G-tube, but it wouldn’t stay. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I had Gale give it a try, but she also struck out. We plugged the G-tube, turned off the Kangaroo pump, and proceeded to clean up Dad and the bed. I wasn’t sure what to do about the G-tube, so I called Home Care. It was Sunday, so the after-hours operator had to contact the on-call nurse. The on-call nurse called a few minutes later and said that she would come by so that she could lay eyes on Dad; however, she would not arrive for at least a couple of hours.

Instead of waiting around the house for a couple of hours, Mom and I decided to go to church. As we were leaving the church, Gale called and said that the nurse had just left and that she had noticed something that we had overlooked: the tip of the Y extension had broken off inside of the G-tube. Gale said that the nurse added that she “had never seen anything like this,” one of the worst phrases in the English language. Her advice to us: call 911 and take Dad to the hospital.

cross2Shortly after Dad’s return home from the CCH a few weeks earlier, Gale and I were careful about the way in which we handled the Y extension because we didn’t know how long the tubing or connectors would last. Just a few days ago, we had asked the nurse if she could acquire more of them for us. Fortunately, she was able to find one and it was still in its packaging. I planned to bring it with me to the hospital later today and was determined that we would not come home until it was securely inserted in Dad’s G-tube.

On the way home from church, Mom and I stopped by the pharmacy to pick up a refill of Midodrine. We had only two pills left and Dad needed four on Tuesday. While at the pharmacy, we learned that we could not get a refill until Tuesday. This was not a 24-hour pharmacy, so there was no way to get the pills before dialysis. Correction: there was no way to get the pills before dialysis and have them covered by Medicare. After a no-win discussion, we paid $30 for two pills.

When Mom and I returned home from the pharmacy, I changed into my favorite navy blue scrubs. The hospital was a dirty and germy place and I didn’t want to wear my street clothes. Although I rode in the ambulance with Dad, passengers are not permitted to enter the emergency department with the patient. I had to stand in line with the walk-in patients and then have someone direct me to him. When I found Dad, he was being triaged and questioned by the nurses, and I heard him say that they would have to talk with his daughter. The resident was Dr. Victoria Klovenski, who had been the resident when Dad visited the ER on October 6.

yExtensionAs I explained the problem, Dr. Klovenski enlisted the assistance of a medical student. This case was a little out of the ordinary and presented them with a problem-solving exercise that they never experienced in medical school. After gathering a variety of EENT implements, they tried a couple of times to pull out the tip, but couldn’t get a grip on it. The student finally tried pushing it into the G-tube with some sharp implement. When it became apparent that this approach wouldn’t work, he pulled for all he was worth to retrieve the implement that was now firmly impaled in the tip, and in so doing, pulled out the broken tip. The puffed up young medical student said, “I just have to say that I feel a little proud.” You would have thought that he had discovered the cure for cancer. It was a lighthearted scene, and I suspected that cases like this one were a nice diversion from tending to accident and gunshot victims. Before we left, Dr. Klovenski asked me why I thought that Dad had a G-tube because he really had a J-tube. I told her that I didn’t know the difference, but that the doctors at the CCH had told me that it was the former. I made a mental note to resolve this conflict.

cross1In addition to the lightheartedness of the visit, this trip to the hospital felt different for me too. From the moment that I arrived, everyone seemed to listen to what I had to say. I felt as if my IQ had suddenly increased. While Dad and I were waiting for the ambulance to take us home, one of the staff members asked me where I worked, and then it dawned on me. I had worn my navy scrubs: the color worn by RNs. Mom always told me to dress for success. I guess first impressions are important.

The entire trip to the hospital, beginning with the ambulance ride from home and back took less than two hours, which was like an emergency-room miracle. When we returned home shortly after 3:00 P.M., Dad was in a great mood and he and Gale chatted while I set up my TV trays for the weekly trach change.  Other than the 10 seconds of terror surrounding the actual removal and replacement of the trach, the change was uneventful and didn’t interfere with our 5:00 P.M. happy hour.

Dad returned to the bedroom to nap while we ate dinner. He was still groggy when I went to his room to tell him that we were ready to play cards. While he was resting, I decided to administer his nighttime meds. By the time that I was finished, he was awake and ready to play cards, but tonight his naps failed him and I was the big winner of Oh Hell.

October 19. I woke up at 3:45 A.M. when my iPhone alarm went off. I quickly donned my scrubs and started the coffee maker. As I went to my parents’ office to start my work week, I peeked into the master bedroom and noticed that its residents were sleeping.

Shortly before 8:00 A.M., I was returning to my office with my third cup of coffee and noticed that Gale and Dad were stirring. After finishing my coffee, I returned to the bedroom and administered Dad’s morning meds and trach care, and then returned to work.

I had a busy morning at my virtual place of work and saw Dad during trips to the kitchen for coffee. At 10:00 A.M. I was in the kitchen when I heard the wheelchair moving at a pretty quick clip down the hallway. I had reached the point where I could sense Dad’s mood and the way that he felt by the speed at which he piloted the wheelchair. As he rounded the corner towards the kitchen, he looked great. Gale said what we all thought: he looked like one sharp-dressed man, and Dad said that he felt good.

Shortly after noon, Brenda arrived for Dad’s physical therapy session. I took a short break from work and called American HomePatient. Mom had asked me if we could get rid of the six cases of supplies in our front hallway. I had told her that I would see what we could arrange. All of American HomePatient’s services were tied to Medicare and I had no idea how they handled returns. When I explained to the service representative that the trach care sets that they had sent us were very small, she was surprised because the correct size had been ordered. When I told her that the trach tubes were FR-8, she said that they were for infants and that she would place a pickup order and send us the correct items.

cross5While I had her on the phone, I told her that I also needed to order some Corpak Y Extensions to connect the tube feed tubing to the G-tube. She told me that she could not provide this item without an order from Dad’s primary care physician. I told her to forget it and that I would just buy them myself. She proceeded to lecture me about how I couldn’t just walk into a Walgreens and buy these supplies. During our call, I had my iPad sitting next to me, which I reached for during my lecture. She required a couple of minutes to complete her paperwork for the exchange order. Before our call had ended, I had placed an order with Amazon.com for two packs of 5 extensions for a grand total of $21.92. I was sleep deprived and cranky and was becoming weary of the steady drumbeat of things that required a PCP. No wonder the providers at the CCH were so skeptical about our ability to take care of Dad. The system seemed to be designed for you to fail. How people who lacked our resources were able to manage everything and navigate the confounding system was a mystery to me.

After Brenda left, Dad napped for a couple of hours, but he was ready to go outdoors to the patio at 2:30 P.M. I hated that he was off of his humidified air for a couple of hours, but the weather was beautiful. Mom and I joined him and Gale on the patio for happy hour.

While Gale, Mom, and I ate dinner, Dad returned to his room for some much-needed humidified air. After dinner, our good day continued with a spirited game of Oh Hell, and Mom was tonight’s winner. We tried to get Dad to bed early on the nights before dialysis, and by 8:30 P.M., we were finished with our nightly rituals and he was sleeping. I hoped that Dad’s very good day would be followed by a very good night.

Our homecare dance was three steps forward and two steps backward

October 14, 2015. Dad’s trach was pretty clogged up with thick secretions this morning and I had to break down the secretions with saline to clear his trach. When I was finished suctioning him, Gale and I got him into the wheelchair and he wheeled himself into the bathroom, where he proceeded to cough up quite a bit of mucus into the sink.

At 9:15 A.M., the nurse arrived with a young woman in tow, whom she introduced as a nursing student. Before proceeding with Dad’s exam, she asked if we minded having another person in the room. We had become accustomed to nursing students during Dad’s stay at the CCH, so we told her that we didn’t mind. His vitals were good, including his oxygen saturation, but his poor bedsores hadn’t improved during the past week.

familyTreeAfter lunch, Dad had Mom and Gale take him outside to check on the hoses in the backyard. My parents’ acre lot had quite a few young trees. Dad had set up permanent irrigation to some of the trees, but his system required that some hoses be moved among the trees. Diane had been his ready assistant a few days ago, and now it was Gale’s turn. Fortunately, Gale loved being outdoors.

Later, Dad announced that he wanted to go to the garage to see if he could get into the car. I told him that this was a difficult transfer and that he wasn’t ready for it. His problem, or maybe it was my problem, was that everyone kept telling him how good he looked and how well he was doing, and he took their comments just a bit too much to heart. We both stood our ground and argued about it for a few minutes. I finally told him that we would speak with the physical therapist when she arrived later today to see what she said, and he grudgingly relented.

wheelchairIn addition to being concerned about all of the time that Dad was off of the humidified air, I was also concerned about the considerable amount of time he spent disconnected from his tube feed. The tube feed was available to him only in his room because his wheelchair had no IV pole to which to attach the Kangaroo pump that operated the feed. I suspected that he was receiving less than half of the protein and other nutrients that he needed. If I could attach the Kangaroo pump to the wheelchair, then he could receive nutrition all the time as he moved around the house, property, and elsewhere, except during dialysis. When I had called American HomePatient earlier this morning to see if I could get an IV pole for the wheelchair, the person who took my call said that she would have someone get back to me. Timothy from American HomePatient called this afternoon to see if we would be at home to receive our order of oxygen tanks and the IV pole. When he delivered our order, he also connected the IV pole to the chair.

Brenda, the physical therapist aide, arrived at 11:15 A.M. When we asked her if she thought that Dad could negotiate a wheelchair-to-car transfer, she said that she would have to speak with Kathleen, the physical therapist, to see if we could make that transfer one of his goals. In the meantime, he should not attempt it. She added that until Dad was proficient at this type of transfer, he could have a real problem if he could make the transfer at home when he was rested, but then not be able to handle the transfer when he wanted to come home. He wasn’t thrilled with her response, but he agreed to see what Kathleen had to say. He later claimed that the therapists were trying to hold him back. I explained that they had a plan for his recovery and that he had to be a bit more patient. Dad and I weren’t famous for our patience, so this was a big request.

noPCPDuring the past few days, I had been discovering some of the flaws in the homecare system and Medicare. When the nurse encouraged us to take Dad to a wound care specialist, I called the nurse practitioner at the CCH for the referral and was told that Dad was no longer their patient and that we would have to get all of our referrals from his primary care physician (PCP). Dad had been hospitalized since May and hadn’t seen his PCP in almost two years. As a matter of fact, we had to cancel an appointment with her during his hospitalization. When I called the office of Dr. Sarla Patil, his PCP, and explained our predicament to her nurse, she said that the doctor could not provide any referrals or refill his prescriptions unless he came to her office. She went on to say that had Dr. Patil been the referring physician for homecare, then they could help, which was a nonhelpful and ridiculous comment. When I explained that he wasn’t ambulatory, she apologized and said that there was nothing that she could do. In desperation, I called the office of the doctor who had saved his life, Dr. Randall Smith. I spoke with his nurse, Christine, and explained Dad’s relationship to the doctor and that we needed to see a wound care specialist. A couple of hours later, a clerk at the wound care center called to schedule an appointment for Dad at 2:30 P.M. on October 27, almost two weeks from now. Dr. Smith wasn’t Dad’s physician—just a compassionate health provider. Thank goodness for Dr. Smith.

I finished work around 5:00 P.M. and thought that I should suction Dad before our happy hour. Once again, I had to use saline to loosen the thickened secretions at the bottom of his trach. As much as I hated to do this at night when I was tired, I decided that I should change his trach after dinner.

October is a delightful month in central Texas, and we decided to enjoy the wonderful weather by taking happy hour to the patio. We shared some family stories with Gale and she told us stories about her family and grandchildren.

After dinner, Dad was ready to play cards, but I wanted to change his trach before I became too tired. After I set up my two TV trays and trach-changing kit, Gale and Dad returned to the bedroom, and I changed out the trach. Very much like the last time, the interior of this trach tube was lined with hardened secretions and I had to leave it soaking in saline while we played cards. The more time that he was away from the humidified air, the more likely it was that he would narrow his airway with hardened secretions. I showed him the buildup in the trach, but I don’t think that he connected the cause and effect. I don’t know if it was because of the extra air that he received from his new trach, but Dad won at Oh Hell again tonight.

When the game was over, I finished cleaning up the trach while Gale helped Dad get ready for bed. Because I had just changed the trach, I skipped the nightly trach care and just administered his meds while Gale got ready for bed.

I was finally able to call Stan shortly before 9:15 P.M. to give him an update on the day. He then told me that he had decided to stay home this coming weekend and take his on-call rotation for this week, which required that he stay close to home. I was very disappointed, but he assured me that if he took on this responsibility now, he wouldn’t have to miss any more weekends with us for the remainder of the year.

YankerFamilyOctober 15. At 1:30 A.M., I was awakened by the sound of coughing coming through the baby monitor. I kept hoping that Dad would use the Yankauer wand, but at 2:00 A.M., I went downstairs to suction him. When I was finished, he was ready to get up and start preparing for dialysis. I told him that I needed to get some more sleep before I started work. Even when he was in his most delirious state, I could reason with him when I played the work card. He didn’t want to do anything that would jeopardize my career or my ability to work. He agreed to stay in bed and I went back upstairs and collapsed on the bed. My iPhone alarm woke me at 3:30 A.M., but I couldn’t get myself out of the bed for another 15 minutes. I donned my scrubs (I now had four sets.) and went back downstairs to work until I had to wake up the residents of the master bedroom. At 4:15 A.M., I woke Dad and Gale and grabbed another cup of coffee for myself.

Dad seemed to lack the energy that he had possessed a couple of hours earlier and was moving a little slow. Even with his lower energy level, he required only a little assistance from Gale to transfer from the bed to the wheelchair, although he still was not strong enough to stand and walk. After Dad was dressed for dialysis, I suctioned him and administered his Midodrine, which was the only drug that he took before dialysis. Midodrine elevated his blood pressure, and the aide always took a diluted dosage that she administered in his G-tube after two hours of dialysis. If his blood pressure dropped too much during dialysis, he might need to go to the emergency room, a trip that we wanted to avoid at all costs.

At 5:45 A.M., Dad and Gale were ready to go, and the ambulance from Scott & White arrived on time 25 minutes later. A couple of hours after Dad’s dialysis session started, I received a call on my mobile phone. My heart stopped when I saw that the caller was Gale. I was relieved when she said that the nurses were administering flu shots today and she wanted to check with me before he received one. I told her that he should get the flu shot, and then I sat for a couple of moments while I waited for my heart rate to return to normal. Although Dad had been doing well while he was at home, he was still very ill and faced numerous challenges. I felt like I was holding my breath whenever he wasn’t within my sight, and these phone calls from the dialysis center were almost as bad as the nighttime calls had been when Dad was in the hospital.

Dad’s dialysis session went well and he and Gale were back home by noon. I stopped work to take the wheelchair outside for Dad’s transfer from the gurney, but after we came indoors, Gale took over and got Dad on the bed and hooked up to his humidified air and tube feed. When Dad drifted off to sleep, Gale, Mom, and I took a short lunch break. When Gale saw that Dad was still sleeping, she seized the opportunity to rest on her bed for what she called a long minute. By 2:00 P.M., Dad was awake and ready to go outside. Gale removed the Kangaroo pump from the IV pole in the bedroom and attached it to the IV pole that was now installed on the wheelchair. Although we still had to rely on the trachBib2trach bib moistened with sterile water to provide some moisture to his lungs, he no longer was deprived of tube feed when he left the bedroom. Dad had to be more careful as he navigated the hallways to ensure that the pump didn’t hit the wall or knock photographs off of the wall.

Shortly before dinner at 6:30 P.M., I suctioned Dad again and let him get a bit more rest until it was time to play a cutthroat game of Oh Hell. After he won again tonight, the second night in a row, we were suspecting that these naps were giving him an unfair advantage over the weary.

October 16. At 2:00 A.M., I could hear some talking through the baby monitor, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. When I got out of bed and moved down the stairs, I could hear that Gale was assisting Dad to the bedside commode in the bathroom. They didn’t need me, so I retreated to my bedroom. When I got up at 3:30 A.M. to work, both Gale and Dad were sleeping soundly. At 4:30 A.M., I was walking with a cup of coffee from the kitchen and I heard Dad coughing. I woke the two sleeping beauties and suctioned Dad. They were back to sleep before I sat down in front of my computer with another cup of coffee.

By 7:45 A.M., Dad was in his wheelchair in front of the bathroom sink. All Gale had to do was open the doors under the sink and place the towel so that he didn’t injure his shins. She was now able to straighten up the room and make the bed while he shaved and brushed his teeth. I took a break from work around 9:00 A.M. to administer trach care and morning meds. As usual, he was all dressed and looking spiffy.

When I was finished with him, he rolled himself into the kitchen and said, “Mary, could you fix me a soft-boiled egg?” Mom and I didn’t say anything for a moment, and it was all that I could do to hold myself together. When I explained to him that he couldn’t eat anything, he couldn’t believe that he couldn’t have just an egg. I explained that at some point he would receive swallow therapy, and then hoped to God that he would.

About an hour later, the nurse arrived to check his vitals and see how his bedsore was healing. She thought that it was healing nicely. Doesn’t that just figure? As soon as you get an appointment with a specialist, you start getting better. Shortly after the nurse left, Janet, the occupational therapist, arrived. I had always thought that occupational therapists worked with patients to help them learn how to take care of themselves. Janet spent most of her time working on Dad’s core muscles. Like Kathleen, the physical therapist, Janet was also a New Yorker, and she and Dad could banter like nobody’s business. I don’t know who enjoyed it more, Janet or my father. I could hear them from my parents’ office, and sometimes I had to just shake my head and laugh.

After Janet left, Dad was a little tired and needed a rest. He retired to his room for a nap at 12:30 P.M. and slept for a little over an hour. At 5:00 P.M., our good friends from across the street stopped by for happy hour. Once again, the weather was wonderful, so we all sat out on the patio. This hour with Jim and Sharon was the closest to normal that I had felt in a long time.

When the neighbors left, Dad rested while Mom, Gale, and I ate dinner. After dinner was cleared and the kitchen was cleaned, Dad came back and beat us again at cards. The three losers were seriously considering putting a stop to his evening naps if he kept whupping us at cards. Shortly after 8:30 P.M., Dad, Gale, and I started our nightly ritual and Mom prepared the coffee for the following morning—probably the most important nightly task.

It had been a long day, and by the time that Dad and Gale were in bed and I called Stan, I felt as if I had been awake forever. Although tomorrow was Saturday, it was dialysis day, which meant an early start for our household. I hoped that Dad would sleep until 4:30 A.M.

The battle lines were being drawn between caution and freedom

October 11, 2015. It was close to 12:30 A.M. and we had been asleep for less than an hour when Dad started coughing. After 90 minutes of his intermittent hard coughing, Dianne convinced him to use the Yankauer wand attached to the suction machine to remove some of his own secretions. Within a few minutes after using the wand, Dad was sleeping. Dianne also went back to sleep, but at 4:15 A.M., something woke her. To her horror, Dad was on his knees on the floor. He needed to use the bathroom and for some reason, he thought that he could get there by himself. In a panic, Dianne paged me through the baby monitor.  The anxiousness in her voice propelled me out of bed and down the stairs. The two of us tried for a few minutes, but we could not get him off of the floor and back into the bed. Fortunately, my husband was in town. I called for Stan through the baby monitor, and the three of us were able to get Dad off of the floor. At 4:50 A.M. we finally had him back in the bed. Once again, he was lucky that he hadn’t hurt himself. I could only suppose that when he woke up at night he couldn’t remember that he couldn’t walk or that he was hooked up to two devices. Depending on how he might fall, he could put a strain on his trach and decannulate himself or pull out his G-tube. Just the thought of such things happening gave me the heebie-jeebies.

I woke up again at 6:45 A.M. and woke Dianne and Dad. Dianne and I assisted Dad into his wheelchair and he wheeled himself into the master bathroom to wash his face, brush his teeth, and shave. Dianne gave him a sponge bath and helped him get dressed. He might have needed a few days to reacclimate himself to his house, but after 148 days in a hospital gown, he knew what he wanted to wear and told her where to find it. When he was all shiny and dressed, I stopped by his room and administered his trach care and morning meds. When I was finished, Dianne and I reattached his humidified oxygen and tube feed.

After breakfast, Mom shooed Dad out of the master bath and I went upstairs, and the two of us got ready for church. As we drove to church, I updated Mom on the activities of the previous night. We both enjoyed our respite at church and then returned home to an empty house, although there were two cars in the garage and three cars parked out back.

It was another beautiful day and shortly after Mom and I had left for church, Dad told Dianne that he wanted to go outside. She pushed him outside and she helped him navigate his wheelchair over the entire backyard. My parents’ house sits on an acre lot, so Dad had a lot to show her. After being out in the sun for 40 minutes, they moved to the patio and sat in the shade. Under the best of circumstances, spraying the trach bib provided only a modicum of moisture. Although Diane did her best to keep Dad’s trach bib wet with the spray bottle of sterilized water, the outside air was very dry, so he was breathing in a lot of dry air. After finding them on the patio, I became a little agitated that he had been off of the humidified air for a couple of hours. After a bit of foot-tapping from me, Dad agreed to come back inside.

Just a short time later, Dad said that he needed to go to the workshop in the garage to find a tool for Stan. It was 99 degrees outside and still dry. After he had spent 10 minutes in the workshop with Stan, I insisted that he go to his room for humidified air and nutrition. I kept pestering him to come inside, but he was uncooperative and became angry at my repeated attempts to get him back indoors. I was exasperated. I tried to explain that any time that he spent outdoors was time that he breathed dry air into his lungs and deprived his body of nutrition, yet I was the bad guy.

Finally, at 4:15 P.M. we finally got him back in bed and hooked up to his essential lines, and he quickly drifted off to sleep. Before Dad closed his eyes, Stan came to his room to say goodbye. Stan was returning to Houston but would come back next weekend.

Dad slept until 6:00 P.M., at which time we had happy hour. Sometimes he would sit and talk with us during happy hour, but today he spent most of the time wheeling himself around the house. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it would be to not be able to sip a drink or eat my favorite foods, and sometimes it seemed that the denial of one of life’s pleasures depressed him. When Mom announced that dinner was ready, Dad wheeled himself back to his room. Dianne trailed after him and helped him back into bed and attached him to the tube feed and humidified air.

By 7:00 P.M., we had the dining room table cleared and the dishes in the dishwasher. We helped Dad back into his wheelchair and we played another cutthroat game of Oh Hell.

Tomorrow would be a work day for me, so I was glad when we started getting Dad ready for bed at 8:45 P.M. Truth be told, it was still past my bedtime. Dianne helped Dad get ready for bed and I administered the nighttime meds and trach care.  After I left the room, Dianne coached Dad through his exercises prescribed by the physical therapist.

He had had a full and busy day, and he fell asleep as soon as he finished his exercises. His coughing briefly woke him up at 11:00 P.M.

October 12. Dad slept pretty well until 1:00 A.M., at which time he started coughing again. Again, Dianne convinced him to use the Yankauer wand and suction machine to clear out some of his secretions. He didn’t sleep much afterward and was very restless. I could hear his coughing and gurgly breathing through the baby monitor, and at 3:00 A.M., I got up, donned my scrubs, and suctioned secretions from his trach. When I was finished, Dad assumed that it was time to get up. I explained to him that it was Monday and that he didn’t need to get up early for dialysis, and he agreed to go back to sleep.

After I cleaned up the trach-cleaning supplies, I went to my parents’ office and logged on to work. For about three hours, I was the only one who was awake. Although I was on Skype almost nonstop, my talking didn’t disturb Dianne or Dad. In addition to Dad being hard of hearing, the oxygen generator was noisy and blocked all sound outside of the master bedroom. My mother was sleeping in a room on the opposite side of the house. I could crash cymbals and not wake up anybody.

At 6:30 A.M., the residents of the master suite started stirring. Dianne unplugged Dad from the oxygen and the Kangaroo pump and helped him into his wheelchair. Once he was situated, he could wheel himself into the master bath and wash up and shave. Before helping him get dressed, Dianne checked his blood pressure and oxygen saturation. His blood pressure was good, but his oxygen saturation was still hovering in the low 90s. I administered his morning meds and trach care and went back to work.

While Dianne got ready for the day and ate breakfast, Dad sat in his room, received humidified air and nutrition, and read the newspaper. At 9:00 A.M., he was ready to go outside and have Dianne help him with some yard work. When he said he wanted her help, he meant that he would tell her what to do. I told him that our aides were not here to do his yard work. Dianne interrupted, insisting that she would love to go outside and do some light yard work. I shook my head and headed back to work while Dianne wheeled Dad outdoors.

Dad and Dianne stayed outside for about an hour, at which time I urged them to come back inside for air and nutrition. I couldn’t decide whether I was starting to feel like a broken record or a nag. Dad grudgingly came back indoors and let Dianne reattach him to his humidified air and tube feed. He fell asleep and slept until 11:30 A.M. We were expecting the nurse this afternoon and I wanted to be sure to administer his trach care and change his dressing before she arrived. When I reached to pull off the speaking valve, it wouldn’t budge. I. Could. Not. Believe. It. It was déjà vu all over again. My only consolation was that the nurse would be here soon. I decided to hold off on changing the trach until she arrived; perhaps she might have better luck removing it.

Like an answer my prayers, the nurse was able to remove the speaking valve, and without any muss or fuss. Before she left, she gave me some tips for handling the speaking valve. As the nurse was walking out to her car, the physical therapist aide entered the driveway. Dianne watched the physical therapy session so that she’d be able to assist Dad with his daily exercises. Shortly after the therapist left, Dianne and Dad went back outside. After about 15 minutes, I was pestering them to come back indoors. Dad agreed and Dianne hooked him back up to his air and tube feed.

At 5:10 P.M., I was finished working for the day and was ready for our happy hour. At that moment, Dad and Dianne went back outside for 10 minutes. I couldn’t believe how much time he was spending outdoors. Mom, Dianne, and I were ready for dinner by 6:30 P.M., which enabled Dad to spend some time on the humidified oxygen and tube feed.

After dinner, we played another rip-roaring game of Oh Hell. Although the game can be challenging, it’s even more challenging when you don’t deal the cards correctly—something that seemed to happen often with Dad’s impaired dexterity. Dianne and I started getting him ready for bed at 8:45 P.M. After Dianne helped him to get ready for bed, I administered his nighttime meds and trach care and sat with him while Dianne prepared herself for bed. At 9:15 P.M., I finally dragged myself upstairs to bed, called Stan, set my alarm for 3:30 A.M., and fell asleep.

October 13. With the exception of a little coughing around 12:30 A.M., Dad slept through the night until I woke him and Dianne at 4:20 A.M. As I returned to work, they resumed their morning routine in preparation for dialysis. When they were finished, Dianne dashed to the kitchen to grab a quick bite of breakfast and I returned to the master bedroom and administered Dad’s Midodrine and trach care. The Scott & White ambulance arrived about 15 minutes early, but Dad was ready. Dianne drove her car and followed the ambulance to the dialysis center. The good thing about being picked up at 6:00 A.M. is that, if you’re lucky, your dialysis session will start earlier, which is what happened today.

The aides at One on One Personal Care switched out on Tuesdays, which was a little difficult logistically with Dad’s dialysis. Gale arrived at the dialysis center at 10:30 A.M. and found Dianne and Dad just as Dad’s session was ending. Dianne drove back to the house, picked up her belongings and paycheck, and drove to her next assignment. The aides worked every other week and rest during the alternate weeks. To accommodate our dire predicament, she sacrificed three days of her week off. Gale stayed with Dad until he was picked up by the ambulance and then drove to our house.

aidesAndDad
Dianne, Dad, and Gale at the dialysis center

It was good to see Gale again. She looked refreshed but confessed that she had been dog tired when she left us a week earlier. During her first night home, when her husband got out of bed to use the bathroom, she bolted up in bed and said, “Where do you think you’re going?” It took her a couple of days home to wind down.

Gale marveled at the change in Dad and said that he seemed much stronger in just one week. A week earlier, it took considerable effort from the two of us to transfer him from the bed to his wheelchair or to the bedside commode. Now she could transfer him with only a little assistance from me.

Dad spent most of the day resting, which meant that he had a few uninterrupted hours of humidified air and nutrition. At 5:00 P.M., we got him up for happy hour and then he returned to his room while Mom, Gale, and I ate dinner. Although she hadn’t won a game yet, Gale was now a pro at Oh Hell. Dad still had a difficult time dealing cards and our cardinal rule was to always count our cards before starting to play a hand.

We breezed through our nighttime routine. After Gale helped Dad get ready for bed, I administered his meds and trach care while Gale got herself ready for bed. When she returned to the room at 8:45 P.M., I retired to my bedroom, set my alarm, called Stan, and hoped for another few hours of uninterrupted sleep.

We quickly drifted back into our routine. Dad and Gale were both kidders, and they resumed their friendly banter.

I couldn’t believe the difference in this day and Gale’s first day with us. I was still constantly on pins and needles and worried that something could go wrong at any minute, but at least we acted like we knew what we were doing.

 

Another new experience: premature aide loss

October 8, 2015. At 1:30 A.M., the Kangaroo pump alarm went off, indicating that the tube feed bag was empty. I got up and went downstairs to Dad’s room and woke Amanda so that she could change the bag. Dad was hard of hearing, so I could understand why he hadn’t heard the alarm, but it was about two feet from Amanda’s bed, loud, and annoying, and I didn’t understand how Amanda could sleep through it. The darn thing woke me through the baby monitor.

About 90 minutes later, Dad was awake and tried to get out of bed. It was dialysis day, so Amanda decided to help him get up and get ready for the day. By 4:00 A.M., they were ready for me to administer the trach care. Dad had plenty of time to read the paper, which usually arrived before 5:00 A.M., while Amanda took her morning shower.

dadGurneyHis dialysis session was happily uneventful, with no extra bleeding or trips to the hospital. To top it off, the ambulance was on time for the return trip, and Dad and Amanda arrived back home at 11:35 A.M., which was record time.

The dialysis sessions usually wore out Dad, and it wasn’t unusual for him to take an afternoon nap while we ate lunch. He slept off and on until 3:00 P.M., at which time he wanted to get up because he had company. Our neighbor, Barbara, who was married to Dr. Bob Probe, brought Dad a homemade chocolate cake and some flowers. She seemed surprised when she learned that he wasn’t swallowing yet. We told her that we’d give Dad the flowers and we’d be glad to eat the chocolate cake.

After Barbara left, Amanda convinced Dad to do the exercises that the physical therapist had prescribed.

Dad had been away from the house for 148 days. Fortunately, with the exception of writing an occasional check, Mom and I didn’t have to deal with any financial issues. He had set up their finances so that incoming money automatically went to certain accounts and almost every bill was automatically paid. Now, some of the hospital bills were arriving, and Mom thought that this was a good time to start reorienting Dad to the finances that he had so artfully set up. While they were busy with the finances, I was in the kitchen preparing dinner. While dinner was in the oven, I checked my email and was surprised to see the following message from Becky Crabtree, the owner of One on One Personal Homecare Services:

Good afternoon,

Amanda called me this afternoon asking that she be replaced. She didn’t think she was a good personality match for this position. I have Dianne scheduled to be there in the morning. She is a fill in and will stay until Gale returns on Tuesday. 

I’m sorry things didn’t work out with Amanda. Unfortunately, this happens occasionally. Again I apologize for this change.

princessCushionAlthough Dad seemed to like her, I wasn’t enamored with Amanda, and having a new aide would cause multiple interruptions in my work day to train another person. When the doorbell interrupted my pity party, my first thought was that I wasn’t in the mood for company, but I was relieved to see that we had just received a package from Amazon.com. Dad’s padded commode seat cushion had just arrived. The cushion was four inches thick and appeared as if it would have satisfied that princess who had all that trouble with that pea.

When Mom and Dad were finished reviewing their finances, Dad took another short nap while Mom, Amanda, and I ate dinner. Dinner conversation was a bit awkward as we avoided speaking about the elephant in the room.

When I started to administer Dad’s trach care, I encountered a problem with his speaking valve: it wouldn’t come off. When I tried again, Dad exclaimed that I hurt him. I tried one more time before resigning myself to the fact that I would have to change his trach so that I could remove his speaking valve. I couldn’t believe that I had to change out his trach just three days after the last time, but I couldn’t think of any alternative. Besides the fact that I hated changing the trach, I didn’t like changing it when I was so tired. I grabbed the extra TV tray and had Amanda assist me. It was the first time that she had seen a trach tube changed. As much as I hated to perform this little procedure, I felt a tiny bit more confident about doing it now that I had soloed twice.

By 10:15 P.M., Amanda had had her nighttime shower and we had Dad all medded up and in bed. I was exhausted and would need to get up in just a few hours for work. Within minutes of getting myself into bed, Dad was wide awake, telling Amanda that he needed to get up because he had work to do outside. He seemed confused and kept trying to get out of bed. He—and Amanda and I—finally fell asleep around midnight.

October 9. I slept until my iPhone alarm woke me at 3:30 A.M. I listened to the sounds coming through the baby alarm, but all I could hear was the sound of the oxygen concentrator. I dressed in my purple scrubs and headed downstairs to my parents’ office, where I had carved out a place for my computer so that I could work. On my way to the office, I looked into Dad’s room, which was next to the office, and noticed that he and Amanda were both sleeping.

At 5:00 A.M., I heard Dad stirring, so I took a short break from work and administered the trach care and morning meds. Sometimes I liked to go into his room just as he was waking up. He would open his eyes wide and say, “Hi, Mel!” and he always looked like he was glad to see me. When I was finished with Dad, Amanda and I transferred him to the wheelchair, and he wheeled himself into the bathroom to wash his face. Amanda helped him get dressed, and then she assisted him with his daily exercises and hooked him up to the feeding tube and humidified oxygen. About 15 minutes later he asked if he could leave the bedroom. Amanda disconnected his tube feed and oxygen concentrator and hooked him up to the oxygen tank. When he wheeled himself out to the family room, I told him that Amanda had to leave us and that Becky was replacing her with an aide named Dianne. He seemed genuinely sorry to hear that she was leaving. I didn’t tell him that it was Amanda’s idea to leave or that it wasn’t a terrible turn of events for Mom and me.

Shortly before 9:45 A.M., Dianne arrived and she was a bundle of energy. She had several years of experience and was closer in age to Gale than to Amanda. Amanda gave her a quick orientation and then she grabbed her bags and left the house so fast that one might have thought that her suitcase was full of our silver. Within 10 minutes after Amanda’s departure, Dad and Dianne had bonded and he gave her a tour of the house.

Shortly after the home tour, Dad wanted Dianne to take him outside. The weather in central Texas during October is usually very nice, and today we were experiencing Chamber of Commerce weather. Dad had been off of his humidified oxygen and tube feed for a couple of hours. Although I was unsuccessful in getting him to come indoors, he eventually had to come in when the nurse arrived at 11:35 A.M. Then, the nurse probably hadn’t even pulled out of the driveway before Dad was sound asleep. Not only did he sleep through his midday meds, we didn’t seem to disturb him when we changed the sheets on Dianne’s bed. He eventually woke up in time for happy hour. We didn’t play cards tonight, and we started preparing him for bed a little earlier than usual. Dianne was pretty sharp, but because it was her first night, preparing Dad for bed took a little longer than usual. I sat with Dad while Dianne prepared herself for bed.

October 10. I don’t know if he wanted to give the new aide a break or if he had worn himself out the previous day, but Dad did not wake up until 5:30 A.M. In addition, he had slept through the night. Perhaps he was trying to lull Dianne into a false sense of security.

It was Saturday, so I was thrilled to have had the extra sleep. My husband would be arriving soon to visit and to help out with the yard work. When I heard sounds through the baby monitor of Dad and Dianne stirring, I got up, dressed in my scrubs, and went downstairs to his room. I found him in the master bathroom, washing his face and brushing his teeth. When he was finished, I administered his morning meds and trach care. At 6:05 A.M., the phone rang. Back in the day, we might have wondered who in the world be calling us that that hour. Now, we correctly surmised that it was the EMT service from Scott & White, informing us that they would be late.

A few days earlier, the EMTs had asked us if we could wheel Dad outside where they would then transfer him from the wheelchair to the gurney. Our house had some twists and turns that were difficult for the EMTs to traverse with the gurney. Each time that they entered the house with the gurney, they had some close calls with walls and artwork. We weren’t sure if Dad could make the transfers, but we were willing to give their suggestion a try. The EMTs provided him with ample support (some could lift him) and he was able to make the transfers without too much trouble. Most dialysis patients are often weak after dialysis, so the return trip transfers from the gurney to the wheelchair were a bit difficult and required more assistance from the EMTs.

As it turned out, the EMTs were on time, and Dianne wheeled Dad outside and watched as the EMTs transferred him from the wheelchair to the gurney. Dad and Dianne arrived at the dialysis center at 6:45 A.M. and by 7:00 A.M., he was receiving dialysis treatment. Dad slept for the first 15 minutes, but after he woke up, he and Dianne chatted for the remainder of his four-hour session. During Dianne’s orientation, Amanda hadn’t mentioned how to secure an ambulance for the return trip at 11:00 A.M. Truth be told, Gale had never mentioned to me what she did, so I had no clue. About 10 minutes before the end of his session, Dianne asked the nurse who had to call for the ambulance. The nurse placed the call for her. I didn’t know if that was the normal procedure, but it worked for Dianne. The ambulance arrived at 11:15 A.M., and they were home by noon.

Dad was pretty weak, and the transfer from the gurney to the wheelchair was a bit more awkward than usual. He was tired and agreed to go to bed so that we could resume his humidified air and tube feed. Before Mom, Dianne, Stan, and I ate lunch, I administered his midday meds, during which time he fell asleep and didn’t wake until almost 4:30 P.M.

I decided that I liked wearing scrubs, but I didn’t like having only one set. Now that I understood the sizing, I accessed my favorite website and ordered three more sets in navy, black, and fuchsia, three of the colors that I saw nurses and therapists wear at Scott & White.

Before I had had the problem with the speaking valve a couple of days ago, I had changed out Dad’s trach on a Monday, which meant that I would need to change it on the following Monday. With work and my short and interrupted nights’ sleep, I was pretty tired during the work week. Although I now felt a bit more confident with the trach change, I’d prefer to have the change-out day fall on a weekend day. With that goal in mind, I changed Dad’s trach again. Because he had spent so much time away from the humidified air, his secretions built up and hardened in his trach, so changing out his trach more often was probably advisable; however, I didn’t want to stay on a two-day cadence for trach changes.

Similar to the two aides who preceded her, Dianne had never witnessed a trach change and was very interested in the process. She also proved to be a good assistant. Shortly after we finished the trach change, the five of us sat on the back patio for an hour to enjoy the beautiful weather. At 6:00 P.M., Dianne took Dad back to his room and we hooked up the humidified oxygen and tube feed. He took a short nap and woke up as Mom, Dianne, Stan, and I were finishing dinner.

After we cleared the table and finished cleaning up the dishes, Dad announced that it was time to play cards. He explained the rules of Oh Hell to Dianne, and it was game on. He tried to keep score, but the loss of manual dexterity prevented his being able to write to his satisfaction, so I took over the score-keeping. The five of us played a long version of the game and then sat around the table talking. At 10:15 P.M., we finally started to prepare Dad for bed. After Dianne helped him into his night clothes and into bed, I administered the trach care and meds. I sat with him until Dianne returned to the room around 11:30 P.M. and then I headed upstairs to bed.

Now that I had changed Dad’s trach three times, I noticed that he seemed to cough more for about 30 minutes afterward. I didn’t know if that was normal, or if perhaps I applied too much lubricant on the trach tube before inserting it into his trachea. I didn’t want to hurt him during the trach change, so I preferred erring on the side of too much lubricant. What amazed me was that he didn’t know what I was doing when I changed the trach, and he said that he didn’t feel anything. I was thankful that he didn’t approach the procedure with the same sense of dread and apprehension that I felt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

September 13, 2015. While Stan, Mom, and I were eating breakfast, we spoke about Dad, our anxiety about his medical coverage and how to make the best use of his remaining coverage. We made a list of questions and requests that we wanted to address with the doctor today:

  • As long as one of us was in the room with him, we would loosen his restraints.
  • As long as we were signing all the consent forms, he didn’t get to decline physical therapy any more than he could decline antibiotics or any other treatment.
  • We wanted him in some sort of chair every day, for as many hours as possible.

As a follow-up, I wanted to know if any of the providers was concerned about Dad’s rising WBC count.

dadCallLightMom and I arrived at the CCH around 9:00 A.M. Dad was still sleeping, but some of the lights were on in his room and once again he was restrained and his call button was out of his reach. I held his hand for a few minutes while he slept. I wanted him to wake up, so I found a cloth, soaked it in warm water, and placed it over his eyes, which did the trick. After he woke up, we chatted about typical morning topics, like the weather. He was a bit disoriented about where he was for a couple of minutes, but we finally got into the groove and talked about the flowers in my parents’ courtyard at home.

 

trumpetPlant
Angel Trumpet

He told John, his nurse, about their Angel Trumpet plant and how he and my mother first saw its flowers when they returned from a trip. Dad started in the middle of the story and I’m sure that John didn’t understand all of what Dad said, but I knew what he was talking about. I wondered how many conversations like this one were considered nonsensical.

 

John told us that Dad’s blood pressure had dipped a couple of times last night. At the first occurrence, they administered Lopressor, but the second time, they were able to remedy the situation with a bolus push of saline. I don’t know if it made any difference medically, but I always preferred the saline bolus over vasopressors. In simple terms, the saline bolus adds more fluid to the blood, which increases the pressure. It’s probably not an ideal situation for dialysis patients, but I had never heard anyone mention that as a concern or a risk.

Dr. Brito, the attending physician, stopped by and spent a long time charting on the terminal in Dad’s room. She could tell from our conversation that Dad was lucid and engaged. I told her that I had asked John this morning if he would loosen the restraints while we were in the room. After listening to our conversation and knowing that Dad’s nasal feeding tube was gone, she said that they would discuss removing the restraints during rounds.

Stan arrived around 10:00 A.M., and Mom and I left for church about 15 minutes later. When we saw Stan after church, he said that he and Dad had had a nice visit and that John had removed Dad’s restraints around 11:30 A.M. Dad’s blood pressure dropped some while Stan was there, but he said that they planned to monitor him and had not started any medication—namely vasopressors.

When Mom and I returned to the CCH after lunch, Dad was dozing, but he woke easily. We chatted some more about hospital rules and about how he had to stay in bed unless supervised by hospital personnel. Before our conversation was over, he fell asleep and snoozed for about 30 minutes. John stopped by, and when we asked him about the possibility of getting Dad out of bed, he said that he would be glad to put Dad in the Stryker chair later in the day if we were there. Dad spent an hour or so in the chair and was in good spirits for the rest of the day.

Mom and I returned home without having an opportunity to share our demands with the doctor.

September 14. It was Monday and Dr. Ciceri was this week’s attending physician. I had never met him, but Mom knew him from Dad’s first stay at the CCH in June. Dad had dialysis this morning, so I worked from my parents’ home until lunchtime. Mom arrived at the CCH at 12:40 P.M., and I joined her 30 minutes later. We learned that Dad had had a rough time during dialysis today. About an hour into his session, his blood pressure dropped. In addition to the Midodrine that Suzanne, his dialysis nurse, had administered prior to starting his session, she also administered Albumin via an IV during the entire session. Shortly thereafter, he had experienced tachycardia and required Levophed. When his situation still hadn’t improved, Suzanne contacted the nephrology fellow and he had her end the session 40 minutes early. Dad looked pretty lethargic when he was returned to his room. When I asked about the results of his morning lab work, I noted that for the first time since August 19, his WBC count was elevated out of the normal range.

I wanted to speak with the nephrologist to see if there was any way in which to make dialysis sessions more tolerable for Dad. I asked Michelle, Dad’s nurse, to see if Dr. Concepcion, the nephrologist, was still in the building. She called the dialysis lab and learned that he and his fellow had left the building earlier this morning. At 1:45 P.M., she paged Dr. Ciceri for us and told us that he would stop by to see us later.

At 1:55 P.M., Marty and Dr. Ciceri stopped by to talk about Dad’s current status and our request to have him transferred to the VA hospital. After Marty had confirmed Dad’s eligibility to receive VA medical benefits, Dr. Ciceri spoke to someone in the admissions office at the VA hospital. Because Dad had received a vasopressor during dialysis today, he wasn’t considered stable enough to transfer. He needed to be off of vasopressors for at least 24 hours. The doctor said that he would reevaluate Dad’s condition tomorrow.

Because of Dad’s low blood pressure, his physical therapy session was canceled. Dad was very lethargic during most of the day. At 2:15 P.M., Brenda, a tech, administered a bedside EKG. Dad perked up somewhat during the late afternoon and seemed to be in good spirits.

Mom’s friend, Marilyn stopped by with some books. She and Mom visited briefly in the CCH  lobby, and Mom went home shortly after Marilyn left.

September 15. Mom arrived at the CCH at 8:40 A.M., just as Dad was just waking up. He seemed much different from the lethargic and ill-looking person he had been the previous day. He had been awake for only a few minutes when Jennifer arrived for his physical therapy session. He told her that he was feeling good and that he had no complaints. She had him stand and to pivot and sit and stand from the edge of the bed. At the end of the session, she was able to situate him in the Stryker cardiac chair. Jennifer was pleased with his attitude and his progress, and so was Mom. Jennifer finished her session with Dad at 9:20 A.M., and he remained in the chair until 2:00 P.M.

prezEvery morning, the doctor, nurses, or both, performed a short assessment of Dad’s mental status. From the third week after he entered the Scott & White system, he had been unable to tell the medical providers the name of the president of the United States. Although there might have been a few days in which he couldn’t remember, I suspect that most of the time he was being stubborn. He wasn’t a fan of President Obama and forgetting his name was a personal protest of Dad’s. I sometimes wondered if his refusal to acknowledge the president affected the assessment of his mental status.

Dr. Ciceri stopped by and told Mom that he had ordered several tests. He also shared the good news that Dad was now off the vasopressors.

Dad had been complaining about an echo in his hearing aids, so Mom took his hearing aids to be repaired. Before she left, she and Dad had a crazy discussion about the location of the audiologist. His delirium turned their conversation into a no-win situation for Mom, and she eventually left to complete her errand.

Mom contacted Gina, her hairdresser, to see if she would come to the CCH and give Dad a haircut. His hair had become long and scraggly, and Mom couldn’t stand it. When she told Dad, he objected, saying that he would wait until he could see his barber. Mom went to the nurses’ station to borrow a hand mirror. All it took was one glance at himself in the mirror and the discussion was over. Gina would stop by next Thursday, nine days from now.

Dad hadn’t been very successful at suctioning himself today. Shortly before Mom left for the day, she noticed that the sound of the suction machine seemed different. At the time, several nursing students were working at the CCH. Mom latched onto one and had him look at the machine. The young nursing student was able to fix the problem, and Mom thanked him profusely, calling him a techie. After the nursing student left, Dad was much more successful at clearing his own secretions.

September 16. Dad was feeling pretty good again this morning, and coincidently, his WBC count was on a downward trajectory. He had now been off of Levophed for over 24 hours. The nephrologist had planned to remove a lot less fluid than usual, so it seemed that the day was getting off to a great start. Dad required Midodrine a couple of times during his dialysis, but he tolerated the session fairly well.

When Mom learned that Dad had been off of the vasopressors for 24 hours, she asked Marty when he would transfer to the VA hospital. Marty told her that she would send the updated information to the VA hospital but the VA hospital would make the transfer arrangements. She would let Mom know more about his transfer as soon as she knew.

Now that the transfer seemed like a done deal, Mom told Dad. They had a somewhat strange conversation because of Dad’s confusion about where he was and where he would be going.

During Dad’s physical therapy session with Jennifer, he told her that he had a bit of an upset stomach, but other than that, he had no other complaints. Although he became somewhat fatigued near the end of their session, she was able to get him to complete several exercises. When they were finished, she helped him into the Stryker cardiac chair, and left him with Mom.

Mom had an afternoon appointment with Dr. Ebert, her cardiologist. The doctor wanted Mom to start taking blood thinners again. Mom had been taking Xarelto when she had her stroke in May. During her hospitalization, Dr. White, her attending physician, told her to stop taking it for at least three weeks, and the neurologist had recommended that she stop taking anticoagulants altogether. Dr. Ebert now wanted to prescribe Eliquis, a different anticoagulant. The thought of her taking blood thinners again concerned me, but Dr. Ebert had been pretty cool and honest with me when I met her in May. I had to trust some doctor, but it seemed as if the specialists focused on single organs and not the whole person.

Shortly before Mom left the CCH for the day, Adan dropped by Dad’s room and gave Mom the name of the speech pathologist at the VA hospital and assured Mom that she was great. As she left, Mom felt pretty good about the day and optimistic about getting Dad transferred from the CCH before his acute medical coverage expired in 15 days.

September 17. Yesterday had seemed like such a good day and so full of promise for the coming days. We were ready to build on yesterday’s progress and see Dad transferred to the VA hospital.

During dialysis, Dad had a pretty strong cough. Although he was able to cough up and clear a lot of thick mucus with his Yankauer, he still required periodic suctioning from the nurse and respiratory therapist. The constant suctioning support was a disappointing indication that he was still nowhere near ready to have his trach red-capped. Although Dad needed some Midodrine during dialysis, he didn’t require a vasopressor, so he would still be able to transfer to the VA hospital. Dr. Ciceri thought that Dad’s mental status was pretty good, although he still couldn’t name the president. Dad had not had any fluid removed during dialysis, so he felt a little better than usual when dialysis was over.

Dad’s heart rate became elevated during the day and when Jennifer stopped by for Dad’s physical therapy session, she was told by the nurse that he could have only bed exercises. Mom asked Jennifer if she would come back later during the day for another session. She said that she would see what she could do, but she didn’t return.

The abbreviated physical therapy session wasn’t nearly as disappointing as the visit from Marty. Marty reported that her counterpart at the VA hospital, Tracy, told her that the hospital was on divert status for dialysis beds. This meant that they could not admit another dialysis patient. Until they could, Dad would not be eligible for a transfer. Marty assured Mom that she would continue to check on the diversion status. I didn’t hold out much hope that a dialysis patient would leave the VA hospital within 15 days.