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.


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.


One step forward, two steps back


September 5, 2015. When we opened the Temple Daily Telegram, we were greeted with the unfortunate news of another Scott & White doctor dying, this time in a climbing accident. Scott & White had now lost two doctors during Dad’s hospitalization.

I arrived at Dad’s room at 9:45 A.M. The window shades were open, but the lights were off and he was still asleep. The first thing that I noticed was that he was restrained with his wrists bound to the side rails, which prevented him from being able to call for assistance or suction himself. I used the call button to call the nurse, but she cut me off while I was speaking. I was pretty annoyed when I called her, but being cut off mid-sentence really irked me. I stormed out of Dad’s  room to the nurses’ station and told the nurse that if she was going to leave him in a helpless state, I expected her to stop by his room every 15 minutes to tend him, or loosen the restraints to the point that he could suction himself. The nurse and respiratory therapist accompanied me back into Dad’s room. The three of us were followed by the charge nurse, who gave me a dressing down for yelling at her nurses at the nurses’ station. I wasn’t yelling, but there was no doubt that I sounded very annoyed. As I walked back to Dad’s room, I asked them if they possessed any humanity at all.

As Dad woke up, he started becoming agitated about his restraints. He also kept saying that he was done here and wanted to leave. Who could blame him?

At 10:20 A.M., Alyssa, his nurse, stopped by to tend to a wound on his right foot.  She also tended to his oral care for the morning. Dad wasn’t wild about having his teeth cleaned, but he finally let her do it.  I tried my best to explain how important oral care was to his situation, but he didn’t believe that we were helping him.

At 10:40 A.M., a couple of nurses stopped by to reposition him. I had to remind them to give him enough slack in his restraints so that he could suction himself.

lumen60I left the CCH at 11:40 A.M. to have lunch at the house with Mom and Stan. They had stayed at the house to do some yard work.  Mom had found a couple of snake skins, which I took to use with some of my lumen printing. I thought that they might add a nice touch to my fig leaf prints.

Mom and I returned to the hospital at 2:00 P.M. Dad kept wanting to get out of bed, and I kept trying to get him to understand that he had to follow the rules and stay in bed or else they would restrain him. Alyssa then told me that Dr. Anderson wanted Dad restrained 24/7.

At 2:45 P.M., his feeding tube became clogged. Alyssa couldn’t clear it, so she went to enlist some help from Melissa, another nurse. While she was out of the room, Victor, the respiratory therapist, came in to clean Dad’s trach dressing and to suction him. Dad had mentioned to me that he didn’t like this respiratory therapist. He would insert the suction tube down the trach to the point that Dad would gag, then he’d sort of giggle and push it deeper until Dad’s legs would shake. It was a disturbing spectacle to watch and wasn’t typical of all of the respiratory therapists.

While he was in the room, Victor told us that Dad was still be being suctioned a few times a day. Until Dad could remove his secretions better, they couldn’t contemplate red-capping him.

After Victor left, I gave Dad a bunch of pep talks about coughing and suctioning to the point that he asked me if I was his cheerleader. Sometimes I could be a little over the top, but I felt like I was practically willing him to improve.

At 4:10 P.M., the nurses came back to Dad’s room to try to clear out his clogged feeding tube. They tried moving him around in the bed to see if the movement would help clear up the clog. They then loosened up the tie on his right hand so that he could use it to hold the Yankauer, his suctioning wand. After they had given him some slack in the restraints he said that he usually used his left hand for the Yankauer, which made the nurses laugh. They changed the restraints again so that he could suction himself with his left hand.

Mom and I left for home around 4:30 P.M. Dad looked so lonely. I hated to leave him. On the way out, one of the nurses told us that he had asked her for scissors. When she told him that she couldn’t do that, he told her that she wouldn’t have to tell anyone about it. Everything about Dad’s behavior seemed so surreal. He was delirious to the point that he was like a different person, but occasionally his sense of humor surfaced. Even the nurse thought his request was funny.

Stan treated Mom and me to a dinner at J&B’s. After dinner, we stopped back by the hospital to say goodnight to Dad, but he was asleep. The only person who saw us was Victor.

I was so worried about Dad and his restraints. I just couldn’t envision the doctor ever having them removed. Of course, it would have been nice to see Dr. Anderson so that we could discuss it. When we did catch sight of him, he just walked by without acknowledging our presence.

Although Dad’s hands were restrained, his feet weren’t. Three times during the night, Connie, his nurse, found him with both of his legs dangling out of the side of the bed. Before putting his legs back in the bed, she tried to convince him that he needed to keep his legs in the bed.

September 6. Before we went to the CCH, I emailed three of my best friends about an upcoming trip to Wisconsin that was scheduled for late September. The trip was a birthday gift from my girlfriends and I was looking forward to the break. My Dad’s condition had been a little touch-and-go recently, but I was still hopefully optimistic that he would be well enough for me to feel comfortable leaving him for five days.

img_1190Mom and I arrived at Dad’s room around 9:15 A.M. Dad was getting an IV for a heart flutter. I asked the doctor about his restraints and about his plan for removing them. Because the Seroquel didn’t seem to be addressing his delirium, the doctor told me that he was switching him to Risperidone. He said that Dad pulled out his feeding tube three times overnight. I believed him at the time, but there was nothing in Dad’s chart that supported such a statement. When I asked about what was keeping him at the CCH, he said that they needed to check to see whether the dialysis center would take him.

In the last day or so, it seemed that Dad had lost his manual dexterity, which affected his ability to suction himself. It was hard to watch him fumble with the Yankauer and not be able to hold it up to his mouth. Mom and I agreed that we should ask the doctor to see if Dad could have some occupational therapy to help regain his ability to suction himself.

Mom and I left for church shortly after 10:00 A.M. and Stan stayed with Dad during our absence. At church, the sermon was about waiting. Sometimes it seemed like the pastor wrote his sermons specifically for us.

After lunch, Mom and I returned to the hospital around 2:00 P.M. Dad announced that he was ready for a ride in the chair.

Michelle got him in the Stryker chair, showed me how to use it, and we took off. It’s a wild chair with wheels that move independently of each other, so you can move sideways. With Mom in charge of the portable oxygen tank and me in charge of driving the chair, we went up and down the halls, out the front door and back in. I also took him towards the back of the hospital and out the delivery doors, which was where he entered this place via ambulance. The doors opened easily enough to let us out, but they did not reopen when we tried to return. As long as we were outside, I tried to give Dad the lay of the land. When my parents first moved to Temple, they lived just a short distance from this facility. He really had no concept of where he was, and I think that he enjoyed the time outside and the mini geography lesson.

silksuns_thumbWhen we were ready to return to the air conditioning, I tried the back door buzzer, which notified the nurses’ station that someone was at the receiving entrance. The nurses kindly told me that it wasn’t safe to go out that door. I took Dad out for one more spin, but through the front door. When we returned to his room, he said that he wanted to go back to his room. I told him that he was in his room. To orient him to his surroundings, I backed him out of his room and pushed him back in. I also showed him his sunflowers and told him that as long as he saw those flowers, he was in his room. He then fell fast asleep. We called Michelle, his nurse, to tell her that we were leaving. She fastened a gait belt around him so that he wouldn’t slide out of the chair and said that they would move him back to bed before the shift change. Mom and I then left at 4:30. We stopped off at HEB and picked up a pizza for our dinner.

Labor Day, September 7. Mom and I arrived at the CCH at 1:00 P.M. Dad usually returned to his room from dialysis between 1:00 P.M. and 1:30 P.M., so we were surprised to see him and Michelle, his nurse, in the room. The lights were off, with the only light coming from the small windows. Michelle was at his bedside with a couple of vials of blood in her hands. She said that he had had a bad morning and that his blood pressure had dropped and his MAP had dipped into the 50s. Because of his low blood pressure, they ended his session an hour early. They removed only 64 ml of fluid, a tiny amount, and had just cleaned his blood during the session. She said that the normal dose of Midodrine that he usually took for his blood pressure didn’t help so they started him on some vasopressors, which finally increased his MAP to 65. The doctor ordered a blood workup to see if Dad was developing a sepsis condition. The nurse said that he was rousable, but he seemed pretty knocked out to us.

Michelle said that he had been more responsive before dialysis, but he was becoming less responsive. When the nurse tried to get a response from him, he scowled in pain, but wouldn’t open his eyes. The nurse said that they would check his venous blood gases and that they also ordered some blood cultures, but they wouldn’t get those results for a couple of days. The doctor came back and said that Dad was like just this before he got sick last time, which didn’t make sense to me because his condition had been improving before he aspirated in July. He added that Dad might be in septic shock again, but he didn’t know why yet. In the meantime, he ordered an additional broad-based antibiotic—in addition to the one that he was already taking.

Stan and I had traveled to Temple in one car and I hadn’t brought my computer with me, so I couldn’t stay in Temple. We had planned to leave at 2:00 P.M., but I asked Stan if we could wait an hour longer. I hated to leave my parents with my father in this condition. I left Dad’s room and called Mom’s friend, Marilyn, to see if she could stop by to stay with Mom for a while. Like a true friend in time of need, she said that she would arrive by 3:00 P.M. When I returned to his room, he started to wake up. He quickly got annoyed with the pneumatic compression devices (PCD) on his legs, and he asked why this keeps happening to him.

The doctor also suspected that Dad had acquired CDiff. Until they received the results of that lab work, they had to assume that he had it. While we were in Dad’s room, the nurse taped an isolation sign on the door. I stayed and visited with him a little longer, and then  I told him goodbye, and he kissed me goodbye.

Mom was very concerned that the doctor caused Dad’s worsening problems. While she was probably wrong, we sensed some attitude from this doctor, and found the following note from him in Dad’s chart:


Stan picked me up at the CCH shortly after 3:00 P.M. and I said goodbye to Mom and Marilyn.

Stan and I encountered heavy traffic during our drive back into Houston. It seemed as if everyone was returning to Houston at the same time. When we got to Buc-ee’s, about 40 miles from home, Stan stopped for a beverage. While he was inside, I called Mom to check on Dad. She said that he was doing better and that Michelle had rolled him onto his side, and he fell asleep. What was interesting about this news was that Dad had always slept on his side, and this was probably the first time during his hospitalization that he was rolled onto his side. His myriad devices and restraints had been forcing him to sleep on his back.




It’s pointless; he’ll never learn how to swallow

September 1, 2015. Dad was awake at 3:40 A.M. and was convinced that there were animals in his room. Regardless of what Michelle, his nurse, said, he insisted that they were there and he wanted her to move his bed so that he could get a better view of them. Michelle tried her best to reorient him to his surroundings by asking him some questions, but he would answer only a few of them. After he became somewhat oriented, she gave Dad his call light and left his room. A few additional hours of sleep didn’t seem to help Dad, as he still seemed somewhat confused when he woke up later.

When Jennifer arrived for Dad’s physical therapy session, Dad said that he wasn’t feeling very well, but would try to participate. She got him to do some bed exercises and eventually got him to sit on the edge of the bed. From that point on, he refused to participate and said that he wanted to lie down. She was able to assist him into the Stryker cardiac chair and then left him with Mom. Mom took him outside, and he was amazed by it; he had not been outside in almost four months, and he thoroughly enjoyed the different sensory experience.

I was in Houston, but right about that time, I received a text message from Pastor Don, who asked for Mom’s mobile phone number. He must have been near the CCH because he texted me right back that Mom and Dad were outside the building but were heading indoors. Mom had never seen Don’s car before and didn’t realize that he was in the parking lot.

After my parents returned to Dad’s room, Dad wanted to know if he and Mom were going shopping. Given his current circumstances, it was an odd question but was typical of a question he might have asked some five months earlier. While three nurses moved Dad from the Stryker chair back into bed, Pastor Don came inside and the three of them had a nice visit. There was something about visits from male friends that seemed to make Dad more lucid and engaged. We had had a similar experience when our neighbor, Tom, visited.

Dad had been receiving fentanyl for his shoulder pain, and he was sleeping when Mom returned from lunch. Mom had been told that they were reducing his dosage, but he sure seemed sleepy. After he woke up, he and Mom had a nice afternoon. She told him about the rehab facility that she and I had visited and she also told him about rehab therapy that he could receive at home.

September 2. Shortly after midnight, Dad was wide awake and very confused. Konnie, his nurse, tried to reorient him, but Dad could not recall his birth date, the time, the date, or the president. Konnie spent quite a while reorienting Dad, and then Dad slept until he was awakened shortly before 7:00 A.M. for dialysis. However, according to Suzanne, the dialysis nurse, Dad was still pretty disoriented when he arrived for his session.

When Mom arrived, Dad immediately started talking about going home, and he kept on topic for the entire day. He just could not understand why he couldn’t leave and eventually got mad at Mom for not taking him out of this place. The nurses tried to help by giving him some medication to calm his agitation.

dad08-2015Addison, one of the speech pathologists that we knew from Memorial, arrived to administer another bedside swallow study. The last one, which was administered by Holly, was a total bust. Dr. White had ordered this evaluation at my request a couple of days ago. Unfortunately, Dad responded about as well to Addison as he had to Holly a few days earlier on August 31. He refused to participate and Mom had to read him the riot act to get him to work with Addison. His swallows were delayed for a few seconds and he coughed each time he swallowed. When Addison instructed him to use his Yankauer to suction himself, he flatly refused. She tried to explain the consequences to him, but the effort was wasted breath on her part. A few minutes after Addison completed the evaluation, the respiratory therapist suctioned out the brown and purple fluid that he had aspirated during the test. Because of another failed bedside evaluation, Addison could not recommend him for the modified barium swallow study (MBSS), which would further assess his readiness to have his trach red-capped. Dad’s delirium seemed to be getting worse, and I couldn’t help but wonder what they had given Dad earlier in the day to calm him.

Shortly after 3:30 P.M., Susan stopped by for Dad’s physical therapy session. Dad had been asking all day to get out of bed. That he kept trying to get out of bed to walk to the bathroom was ironic, because he could not stand without some assistance, let alone walk. When Susan finished his session with him, she moved him to the Stryker chair with the air mattress. She admitted that Dad was making progress, albeit, very slowly.

Mom had been a little disappointed about the day. Dad had made little or no progress toward the goals laid out for him by the doctor, and Dad’s time with hospitalization coverage was quickly slipping away.

September 3. If only Dad could sleep through the night. Once again, he was awake in the middle of the night, and he set off the bed alarm when he attempted to get out of bed. He told the nurse that he needed to get out of bed so that he could go to his office and work on his finances. Konnie, the nurse, tried to reorient Dad to the fact that he was at the CCH and not at home. Dad became verbally aggressive with him and started hitting and kicking Konnie and the nurses who came to the room to assist him. Konnie finally administered Haldol, although Dad still remained pretty combative for a while afterward. His lungs were full of secretions and he needed to be suctioned, but Dad refused to let the respiratory therapist suction him. Finally, the nurse contacted the doctor, who ordered the nurses to restrain him.

When Dr. Anderson arrived later than morning, he decided to address Dad’s delirium by doubling Dad’s bedtime dosage of Seroquel. I had to assume that the increased dosage would decrease his need for restraints. The doctor had ordered that they remain in place because Dad was pulling at his devices earlier in the morning.

Dad had a much better physical therapy session today with Susan. In addition to executing the exercises, she had him use the walker to navigate from the bed to the chair. When she had finished her session with him, she left him in the Stryker chair. After Dad was situated in the chair, Esther put on his restraints.

Mom arrived as Dad was getting into the chair at the end of his physical therapy session with Susan. After the past few days, during which Dad was too weak to complete some of his exercises, Mom was thrilled to see his progress this morning.

Mom approached Dr. Anderson about letting Dad have some ice. Dad had been allowed to have some ice chips a few times each day when he was at Memorial. Holly and Addison, the speech therapists at Memorial, had told us that even if he aspirated a little of the water from the ice, it would be absorbed by his lungs. Mom thought that if he had some ice chips a few times each day, he would get some practice swallowing. The doctor said that there wasn’t any point in letting Dad have any ice because he would never learn how to swallow. Dr. Anderson added that it was “pointless [to give him ice] because Dad had aspirated so many times” since he left Memorial. Before he left the room, Mom told the doctor that she was going to check out the local dialysis center. In his typical encouraging manner, Dr. Anderson said that she’d “have to go a long way to find a dialysis center that would accept him.”

Mom had made an appointment with the director of the Scott & White dialysis center. Mom later told me that the meeting went well and that she left the meeting with the impression that the trach would not prevent Dad from receiving dialysis there.

Shortly after Mom left for her appointment with the director of the dialysis center, Dad asked Esther, his nurse, why he was restrained. She reminded him about his aggressive behavior during the night. When Dad asked to have the restraints removed, Esther told him about the requirements for removing them. He said that he understood and indicated that he would be more cooperative.

A few minutes after his restraints were removed, Dr. Sangeetha Ranganath, the infectious diseases specialist, stopped by for another assessment. Dr. Ranganath was a sweet Indian woman, but she spoke rapidly with a soft voice and an accent that Mom couldn’t understand. Mom later learned that Dr. Ranganath said that they were keeping him on the same antibiotic for another few weeks.

Dad spent about six hours in the chair and Mom felt like he had had a pretty good day and had made some progress. For her, the day was a mixture of potentially good and discouraging news. Her encounter with Dr. Anderson further hardened her negative feelings toward this doctor. However, she had come away from her meeting with the director of the dialysis center with the impression that they would be able to accommodate Dad.

Konnie was Dad’s night nurse again, and once again, he had difficulty getting Dad to understand that he had to remain in bed. Konnie was only partially successful in reorienting Dad to his situation and had to apply the restraints. He checked on Dad a few times during the night and it seemed like Dad stayed asleep.

September 4. For Dad, one day sort of morphed into the next. For him, today was dialysis day, but for the rest of us, it was the start of the Labor Day weekend. When Dad was wheeled into the dialysis center, he was still wearing his bed restraints. Dad kept attempting to get out of his bed, and Leon, the dialysis nurse, thought that Dad was very confused and disoriented.

While Dad was in dialysis, Mom met with Adan, formerly a speech pathologist at the CCH. She and I had been told by several physicians that Dad should have his feeding tube replaced with the PEG. Unfortunately, we had come to the point where we really didn’t trust some of the attending physicians. She trusted Adan and felt like she could go to him for advice. At the conclusion of their meeting, Mom was ready to tell Dr. Anderson that we wanted to proceed with the PEG procedure.

When she eventually saw the doctor, she told him of her decision. He said that he would order the procedure, but Dad might not get the PEG until Tuesday, the day after Labor Day.

One of Mom’s good friends, Sally, had admitted herself into a SNiF after hip surgery. Mom called her to get a first-hand account of her experience and what we might expect with Dad. With the exception of the food, she said that her experience was positive. She also mentioned that SNiF residents could get a pass to go home on the weekend. This was a benefit that we hadn’t considered.

During the afternoon, Jennifer stopped by for Dad’s physical therapy session. He was very uncooperative and was fixated on scissors and a hair appointment that he supposedly was late for. Jennifer was able to get him to perform only a few range-of-motion exercises during their session.

After work, Stan and I drove to Temple for the long weekend. After dinner, Mom, Stan, and I visited Dad at the CCH. We had the nurse move Dad into the Stryker chair, and then we wheeled him outside and visited with him for about 45 minutes. At 7:45 P.M., we returned Dad to his room, and the three of us returned to the house.

After we left, Dad was moved back into the bed, where the nurse reapplied his restraints.

rescuedslipperWhen the three of us arrived at the house, Mom told us that last night she had washed her slippers and had left them on the bench in the courtyard.When she woke up today, only one slipper remained. The neighbors share stories of the wildlife in the area. I decided to try my luck slipper hunting in the backyard. Sure enough, I found it under a tree, none the worse for wear. Something that seemed like a tasty treat must have left its predator with a little dry mouth. Dad would love this story.


Talk about your obstacle courses!

August 29, 2015. Dad’s day started around 5:00 A.M. when he was visited by Mary, a wound care nurse. The CCH wound care nurses not only tended to wounds, which you might expect, they also trimmed nails and would give Dad a shave. Neither Dad nor Mom was a fan of facial hair, so they both felt better after he received a spruce up from wound-care nurses.

img_0978When Mom and I arrived at the CCH at 7:45 A.M., Dad was sleeping. A few minutes later, the respiratory therapist woke him, finished his breathing treatment, and administered his oral care. While she was finishing her session with Dad, Dr. White arrived. He and I stepped out of the room and discussed a treatment plan for Dad that would enable him to transfer from the CCH to a skilled nursing facility (SNiF) before his hospitalization benefits expired. If we could get him into a SNiF, he could receive up to 100 days for rehabilitation therapies. When I met with Marty yesterday, she and I agreed that we would like to see him leave the CCH within a couple weeks so that he wouldn’t use up all of his lifetime reserve days of Medicare coverage.

Dr. White thought that Dad had some challenges that could prevent him from transferring to a SNiF. The doctor thought that the feeding tube would be a problem, along with Dad’s mentation and diminished strength. He also suspected that the trach tube might be another obstacle, but he wasn’t sure. He did say that based on the CT scan from yesterday afternoon, Dad’s lung condition was improving.

The doctor said that he could start the process of removing Dad’s trach tube, but he’d been moving cautiously in that regard in case they needed to intubate Dad again. I asked if Dad could start receiving swallow therapy and he said that he’d request a swallow evaluation on Monday. Dr. White said that he’d have Marty give us a list of SNiFs so that we could contact some of them to get an idea about the goals we needed to meet to transfer Dad by Oct. 1st. I told him that I’d like to aim a little higher and get him transferred sooner. He also said that Dad’s nights had been uneventful since he got out of bed a few days earlier. He also said that he would meet with Rachel, the nurse practitioner, to see if she could offer any insight into conditions that could prevent him from being admitted to a SNiF.

When I returned to his room, Dad asked to see his list of exercises. When I couldn’t lay my hands on it, he became somewhat annoyed and agitated that it was lost. I finally got him to calm down when I assured him that I’d help him redo the list.

He grimaced a lot during the morning and finally told us that his shoulder was hurting him a lot. We called for Christine, the nurse, and requested some pain medicine. A few minutes after she gave him the meds, he started complaining about sharp pains in his head. After conferring with the nurse, we suspected that the pain in his shoulder was radiating to his head. After the pain medicine took effect, he stopped complaining about pain.

Kevin from x-ray stopped by around 10:00 A.M to x-ray Dad’s shoulder. While Mom and I sat in the waiting room, I told her about my conversation with Dr. White. She didn’t want Dad to go to a SNiF, and said that she and Dad had promised each other that they would not institutionalize each other. I hadn’t expected this response. A good friend of hers had checked herself into a SNiF during her convalescence from hip surgery. I had no intention of institutionalizing Dad, but we were running out of hospitalization benefits and had to find a place where he could complete his recovery. I told her that not using a SNiF would mean that she would have to hire caregivers to come to the house. She probably would not be able to leave him alone if he was at the house. I was also pretty sure that Medicare would not cover this expense. She said that she didn’t care and would be willing to do what was necessary to keep him out of a nursing home. We dropped the subject for the time being when we returned to Dad’s room.

Dad was a lot more comfortable when the bed extension was on his bed. Unfortunately, when the extension was on the bed, the bed wouldn’t fit into the elevator, so most of the time, the extension sat in the corner of the room. Because the weekend afforded him a couple days without elevators, Christine attached the bed extension.

Dad fell asleep pretty fast when the pain meds kicked in, which seemed like a good time for Mom and me to slip out for lunch.

When we returned after lunch, Dad was lying diagonally in the bed. After Christine got him resituated, Dad and I spent much of the afternoon redoing his exercise routine. I had to talk him down from some of the exercises that he used to do in boot camp some 65 years ago. I hoped that he would be as gung-ho at execution as he was during planning. So far, the physical therapist could barely get him to stand up on the side of the bed.

The three of us watched some of the golf tournament in the afternoon, but Dad had received more pain medicine and he kept drifting off to sleep during our conversations. After one such dozing off at 4:45 P.M., Mom and I went home.

Mom and I continued our tense discussions about moving Dad from the CCH to Marlandwood West, which was a SNiF in the neighbor that, on paper, seemed like a great option for him. Mom still wasn’t convinced, and she was also very concerned about the upcoming week because Dr. Anderson would be returning as the attending physician. It was probably just a freakish coincidence, but nothing seemed to go well for Dad when Dr. Anderson was there. With all that we had going on, I decided to stay in Temple a little longer. Instead of going home on Sunday, I agreed to stay through 4:00 P.M. on Monday. In addition to seeing Dr. Anderson, I would try to stop by Marlandwood with Mom and check out the facility. At this point, we had been arguing about what we envisioned the environment to be like. We needed to see it first-hand.

While Mom and I were at home discussing rehab options, back at the CCH, Dad was attempting to get out of bed so that he could use the bathroom. Luckily, Andrea, the night nurse, intercepted his escape and convinced him to remain in bed. Fortunately, Dad stayed in bed for the remainder of the night.

August 30.  Every morning that he was in the hospital, Dad received a briefing of sorts from the nurse about the importance of staying in bed and using the call light when he needed assistance. From what I had witnessed so far, Dad had not taken these daily briefings to heart. Truth be told, between his delirium and some of his meds, I doubted that he could remember these chats with the nurses for more than a few minutes.

Mom and I arrived at the CCH at 9:05 A.M. to find that Dad was still sleeping. We learned that Dr. White was making his rounds, but he had already been to Dad’s room. We woke Dad and eventually convinced him to wear his hearing aids and wear glasses. Glasses and hearing aids might not seem like a big deal, but wearing them wasn’t always a given with him. Stan arrived at 10:00 A.M. to spell me and Mom while we attended church.

The church service lasted 15 minutes longer than usual, so we didn’t arrive home until 12:30 P.M. We were surprised that Stan wasn’t already there, but he arrived shortly after we arrived. Dad had been asking about the finances, but they were on his computer, which I had disconnected so that I could work from his desk. When we finished lunch, Stan hooked up Dad’s computer again in case he asked me to look up some financial information for him.

After saying goodbye to Stan, Mom and I returned to the CCH at 2:00 P.M. When we entered Dad’s room, we found that Angela was in his room and Dad was partway out of the bed. I tried again to see if we could raise the fourth rail but to no avail.

We had not been able to speak with the doctor today. When we asked Carrie if she could find him for us, she said that Dr. White had left the building. We had seen him walk by several times, so either she was misinformed or he had left and had subsequently returned. Regardless, we never saw him again.

For most of the afternoon, Dad slept while Mom and I watched the Barclay’s golf tournament. I hated that he slept so much, but at least we weren’t arguing about the importance of staying in bed or why he couldn’t go home. Mom and I finally left for home shortly after 4:30 P.M.

August 31. Mom had a doctor’s appointment this morning, and when she returned, she and I drove to Marlandwood, the SNiF that was located less than three miles from my parents’ house. Like many nursing facilities, it housed rehab patients who were building back their strength so that they could safely return home. Half of the facility was devoted to permanent residents.

While at the Marlandwood facility, Mom and I visited with Stacy and Colleen, representative of the facility, about moving Dad. We weren’t wild about the semi-private rooms, but we were impressed with the respiratory therapist and the PT and OT personnel. They seemed devoted to building up their rehab patients for their safe return home and they had no qualms about any of Dad’s conditions that we raised. Mom and I were very optimistic about Dad’s situation until we returned to the CCH and talked with Rachel, the nurse practitioner. According to her, Dad could not receive offsite dialysis with a trach unless he could remove his own secretions. She also said that he would need to be able to change out his trach, should a problem arise during dialysis. She reminded me that having the four rails up on the bed was considered restraint, and a SNiF would not accept him if he had been restrained. It was a terrible conversation. I know that everyone loved Rachel, but she had never offered up anything but obstacles. We never heard a single suggestion from her to help us in our plight.

dohAt 2:55 P.M., Holly stopped by for a bedside swallow assessment. She came armed with ice, grape juice, and pudding, but Dad totally refused to participate. I couldn’t take it for another minute. After trying unsuccessfully to get him to exert any effort, I yelled at him and left the building. By 3:05 P.M. I was in my car and on my way home. Between the numerous obstacles and his inability to overcome them, I was frustrated to the breaking point and I felt like I was about to explode. I stopped by the house to pick up my computer and drove home–fuming all the way. Once again, it seemed like Dad’s biggest obstacle was Dad.



Waxing and waning cognition

August 25, 2015.  Dad had a good night, and by “good,” I mean that he stayed in bed and didn’t try to pull out any vital devices. Dr. White thought that Dad was pleasant and could answer most of his assessment questions, but Dad’s cognition waxed and waned, depending on the time of day. The doctor said that until Dad regained some of his strength, he wasn’t going to consider red-capping the trach, let alone removing it.

The healthcare providers weren’t the only ones who thought that Dad was confused about his whereabouts. Dad thought that he was at home and Mom had to explain to him that he was at the hospital and home was where she went at the end of every day.

Another of Dad’s problems was severe protein calorie malnutrition. I felt partly to blame because I had practically insisted that they reduce his tube feeds during dialysis. I couldn’t help how I felt. There was no way that Dad could survive another aspiration event.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMom had been encouraged yesterday when Dad seemed interested in signing the paperwork necessary to obtain matching funds from Shell for the Locke Academic Scholarship at CMU. Unfortunately, although he was still very interested in the scholarship, he couldn’t sign his name. Mom gave him a pen, but he didn’t seem interested in practicing, either. She thought that perhaps she could sign the form for him if they could get a notary to witness his intent and consent. Mom told the CCH chaplain of their predicament and he said that a notary public worked at the CCH. He said that he would see what he could do for them.

When she was notified about Mom’s request, Marty, from the administration office, stopped by Dad’s room and told Mom that because of Dad’s mentation problems and confusion, the CCH’s notary could not witness any signatures on his behalf. She went on to say that because finances were involved, the notary at the CCH could not notarize the patient’s document. Sometimes Marty annoyed the heck out of me. Instead of simply stating that the CCH was not permitted to notarize financial documents, she made a point of stating that Dad was not of sound mind. The bottom line was that he could have been as sharp as a tack, and they wouldn’t have been able to help my parents. I could not understand why so often the staff at this facility felt the need to go above and beyond to demoralize patients and their families.

At 1:30 P.M., Jennifer, the physical therapy assistant, stopped by for Dad’s therapy. Dad told her that other than a pain in his right shoulder, he was feeling pretty good today. He also kept mentioning to her that he had a document that he needed to get notarized. Jennifer had her work cut out for her to keep Dad focused on his exercises, but she was able to get him to finish some bed exercises and to sit on the edge of the bed. She had to use her hand to keep Dad from falling over on the bed. She wasn’t able to get him to stand up, but after he finished his physical therapy session, Jennifer and Carrie, the nurse, put Dad in a cardiac chair that they referred to as the Stryker chair. This chair was totally cool and much different from the cardiac chairs at Memorial. It had four wheels that turned independently of each other. When you pushed him in this chair, you had the flexibility of moving sideways and in circles. Unfortunately, you could also move in those directions when you were trying to move in a straight line. Today he simply sat in the chair in his room.

A couple of hours after Mom went home, and at the time of the shift change, the bed alarm sounded in Dad’s room. The night nurse, Debra, hurried into Dad’s room and found him on the floor. Evidently, he had decided that he could get out of the bed to use the bathroom. As soon as he stood up, he pretty much sat down on the floor. With the assistance of another nurse, Debra got him back into bed and reset the bed alarm to its most sensitive setting.

Less than three hours later Dad’s bed alarm sounded again. This time, Debra reached Dad’s room before he got out of bed. She reminded him again that he needed to use the call button when he needed assistance. Before leaving the room, she raised three of the side rails on his bed. Because Dad often scooted down the bed and sort of slid out of the bed through the open rail, I asked if it could also be raised. I was informed by the nurses that raising all four rails was synonymous with restraining a patient, at least in the eyes of Texas law.

Dad was able to stay in bed for the remainder of the evening.

August 26. Today marked another ominous milestone. It was the 90th day since Dad started dialysis, which officially made him ESRD (end-stage renal disease), or dialysis dependent. The 90th day was also dialysis day and Rebecca, his nurse,  darkened his door at 7:00 A.M. and wheeled him up to the dialysis center for another eight-hour session.

When Mom arrived at the hospital at 11:30 A.M., she learned that Dad’s WBC count was down to 6.5, which was very normal. Dad’s room was empty, so she asked when the patients usually returned from dialysis. Rebecca said that he would be finished sometime between 1:00-1:30 P.M. Instead of waiting for a couple of hours in his room, Mom decided to drive over to Memorial to speak with the Scott & White SeniorCare Insurance representative. Dad was fast approaching what we were told was the end of his hospitalization insurance coverage and Mom needed to learn more about where he stood and what sort of options were available to us.

Shortly after Mom returned to the hospital she learned about Dad’s escape and attempted escape from the bed last night.


Jim’s three sons

After Dad returned to his room, he asked Mom about his brothers and how many boys his middle brother, Jim, had. He also told Mom that he had been taken away to some special place. Mom explained to him that he had been having dreams and that he hadn’t been taken anywhere, except for dialysis, which was located in the CCH. After Mom clarified the confusion about Dad’s nephews, they seemed to have a more coherent conversation.


newsweek-trumpWith the exception of a couple of golf tournaments, Dad hadn’t been watching any television since May 6. To catch him up on the latest political happenings, Mom brought him the Newsweek magazine that had Donald Trump’s picture on the cover. At the time, Mr. Trump still didn’t seem like he’d make it to the general election, let alone the White House.

Before Mom left for the day, Pastor Don stopped by for a visit. He always seemed to instinctively know when to stop by and cheer up my parents, and he provided the perfect end to Mom’s day at the hospital.

August 27. The blood test results that I used to live by now seemed to be hanging out in the normal zone. You’d think that I would have started to exhale, but I was still very worried about the infection that seemed to lurk in his lungs. It didn’t help matters much that Dr. White had requested another consult from infectious diseases. We hadn’t seen Dr. Sangeetha Ranganath for a few weeks. Mom didn’t catch everything that the doctor said, but Mom did hear that she changed Dad’s antibiotic.

A few days earlier, Dad had had me write down 16 exercises that he planned to perform to build up his strength. Before I returned home to Houston, he had instructed me to leave the list of exercises in his room where he could find them. He seemed months away from being able to perform any of the exercises, but when Jennifer stopped by today for his physical therapy session, he was fixated on them. He kept telling Jennifer that he wanted her to find the exercises for him to complete. She finally was able to redirect him to the task at hand and got him to perform some of the bed exercises, but he flat out refused to perform sit-stands or sit in the chair; in fact, he insisted on getting back into bed. She and Mom both tried to explain how these exercises were important for building his strength, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. Who knows; maybe he wasn’t wearing his hearing aids. Mom was very discouraged. She and I were desperate for Dad to build up his strength, yet he seemed unwilling to participate.

The hospitals were starting to take a toll on Mom. During the past month, she had developed a cough that she couldn’t seem to shake. The danged place was always cold, and she and I kept sweaters in Dad’s room. Throughout the day, she popped cough drops to soothe her throat.

August 28. I drove to Temple this morning and arrived at my parents’ house while my father was still on dialysis. Mom and I met briefly with Dr. Heath White before Dad returned to his room. The doctor said that he had met with Dad earlier and he seemed to be feeling pretty well today. As usual, he mentioned Dad’s waxing and waning delirium, but he also mentioned that his WBC count was holding steady at 6.5. Dad was a little late returning to his room because he had been scheduled for a chest CT scan immediately after dialysis.

The doctor recommended that they replace Dad’s nasal feeding tube with a PEG, which is inserted into the stomach through the abdominal wall, rather than the nose. My father-in-law had had a terrible experience with the PEG, which heavily influenced me to avoid it. I also was concerned with my father’s penchant for pulling out vital invasive devices. Pulling out a nasal tube is one thing; pulling out a PEG would be something far more serious. We told Dr. White that we would consider his recommendation. He was now the third doctor who had recommended this procedure. I surely wish that we had gone the PEG route during his initial stay in Memorial. Perhaps he wouldn’t have aspirated if he had had a PEG. We’d never know, but I had my suspicions.

Dad seemed to be in good spirits when he returned to his room. I hadn’t seen him for several days, and he seemed glad to see me again. We spent a few minutes catching up on the past week, but our conversation deteriorated into a discussion about him leaving. No matter what Mom and I said, he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t go home today.

I decided to leave the room for a few minutes and stopped by the business office to talk with someone about Dad’s remaining benefits. I knew that Mom had spoken with them while I was in Houston, but I was still confused about where we stood and what our options were. Marty was available and she explained that Dad had 35 more days of hospital coverage. She also explained that we would be able to get 100 days of coverage from a skilled nursing facility (SNiF). Other than the fact that I knew that one of my cousins had been in a SNiF, I didn’t know much about them.

Shortly after I returned to the room, Jennifer stopped by for a physical therapy session with Dad. He greeted her by telling her that he felt that he could stand and sit in the chair in his room, versus the cardiac chair. However, she hadn’t been in his room very long before he started complaining of fatigue, which was common for dialysis days. He also told her that he wanted to go home today. Although patients usually get into the Stryker chair from a lying-down position, Jennifer said that she would show Dad how he could stand and pivot into the chair from the bed. Dad felt that he was up to the task and was surprised when he couldn’t do it. Jennifer tried to use his failure to complete the task as a teaching moment about the importance of physical therapy, but I didn’t think that it did much good. She was able to transfer him to the chair after she put a gait belt on him.

Dad stayed in the chair for the remainder of the afternoon. Considering how dialysis usually saps his strength, he was having a pretty good afternoon. While he was still in the chair, the respiratory therapist stopped by and said that his breathing had improved and that they probably would not need to put him back on CPAP tonight.

Around 4:00 P.M., I called for Michelle, his nurse, to help move him back into bed. Dad had had a full day and was starting to get tired. Except for the few tense minutes of discussion about leaving, we had had a pretty good day. Mom and I left the hospital hoping that Dad would sleep well.


So much for that great start

August 21, 2015. Dad’s day got off to an exciting start at 1:30 A.M. when the central monitor alarm sounded, indicating that Dad’s heart had stopped. Dad’s nurse and the charge nurse rushed into Dad’s room and found him to be very agitated. He had disconnected all of his leads and had removed his central line dressing. When the nurses explained to him that they needed to replace the leads, he struck one of them and refused to have his leads and dressing replaced. They tried to convince Dad about the importance of monitoring his heart rate and keeping his central line covered to prevent infection. Dad would not cooperate with the nurses and demanded to speak with the doctor. The nurses contacted the on-call physician and the staff nurse, both of whom came to Dad’s room. Dr. Henry, the on-call doctor, sat with Dad and talked with him for about 30 minutes. During that time, Dr. Henry told Dad that if he continued to pull out wires and lines, they’d have no choice but to restrain him. To that threat, Dad said, “Well, I’ve been restrained before.” They sedated him, put him back on CPAP support, and he eventually went back to sleep.

Img_0992Today was dialysis day, so Mom and I spent the morning at home doing chores and picked 284 tomatoes from the vegetable garden. We had picked so many tomatoes this summer that Mom and I were eating tomato sandwiches every day—sometimes twice a day. We arrived at the CCH at 12:30 P.M. and encountered Dr. Smith in the lobby. He told us about how Dad had acted out overnight. He said that Dad’s MRI was not normal, but added that the MRI for an 86-year old was not normal anyway. Because the MRI wasn’t conclusive, the doctor didn’t know whether Dad’s acting out was transient or permanent. Although they could sedate him at night while he was on pressure support, they really couldn’t sedate him when he was off the ventilator. What was disturbing about last night’s event was that Dad was lucid and that he knew that he was in the hospital. Dr. Smith said that Rachel, the nurse practitioner, was working for the next couple of nights, so he’d have her check in on Dad.

Regarding my request to have the tube feeds suspended during dialysis, Dr. Smith said that Dad’s feed rate had been reduced to 10 ml per hour during dialysis, which was a compromise between what I and Dad’s dietitian wanted. The minimal tube feeds probably weren’t in Dad’s best interest, but Dr. Smith understood my fierce concern about reducing the risk of aspiration.

During dialysis, Dad didn’t seem to exhibit any of the distress or agitation that he exhibited five hours earlier. Susan, the dialysis nurse, remarked that Dad had been very talkative during dialysis and told her about his cardiac history.

When I spoke with Dad’s nurse, Cassie, she told me that Dad had remembered her and said something like, “Long time, no see.” She said that some of his conversations would be lucid and then he would drift off to some other topic. She said that he mentioned something about seeing “Dorothy” and someone else, but Mom and I couldn’t think of who that might be. After hearing that he had also spoken about being at Jim’s house, Mom and I assumed that he was speaking about his brother, Jim, and Jim’s wife, Dora. Both Jim and Dora had been deceased for a few years.

Cassie also said that she’d check to see if Dad could be scheduled for Seroquel at night. Before I left for Houston, Cassie told me that his WBC count was 9.0, which was normal. As least something was normal.

I headed home for Houston with a heavy heart. I had been so optimistic last evening and now I was pretty concerned. Not only did he seem to be a totally different person, it now seemed as if Dad was his biggest threat to his own recovery.

Susan, the physical therapist, stopped by during the late afternoon to assess Dad’s condition and set up his goals. Dad’s strength had continued to weaken and his balance was impaired. His first goal was to be able to transfer from the bed to a chair.

Shortly after Susan left the room, Chris, the occupational therapist arrived to perform his assessment and establish goals. Unfortunately, Dad needed to progress with his physical therapy before he’d strong enough to work with the occupational therapist.

By the time Mom arrived home from the CCH and called me, I was at home in Houston. During the day, when Dad was asked where he was, he replied that he was at Walt’s house or maybe Jim’s house. Mom had to tell him that both of his brothers had been dead for several years. During their conversation, he brought up the subject of using the bathroom. During their bizarre conversation, it became apparent to Mom that Dad thought that you used the bathroom by getting on a table. When Mom explained that a table wasn’t involved, Dad wanted to know how it worked. Mom explained about toilets, and she had to spell the word. He proceeded to refer to toilets with a French accent. When they finally got off of that subject, Dad expressed an interest in getting into a wheelchair and going outside.

Fortunately, Dad had an uneventful night and didn’t require any restraints.

August 22. At 9:05 A.M., Cassie, Dad’s nurse, entered Dad’s room to find that he had decannulated himself. Just the thought of it made me queasy. Cassie called for the respiratory therapist, who reinserted his trach tube. This made two days in a row that Mom was greeted with a distressing update from Dr. Smith as she entered the CCH.

When Mom entered Dad’s room, Dad was sleeping, and he slept until 3:00 P.M. When he woke up, the respiratory therapist replaced Dad’s speaking valve. As was so often the case, the conversation turned to the subject of the bathroom. Dad insisted that all he needed was two strong men and he could get out of bed and use the bathroom.

After Mom left for the day, Dad stayed on the trach collar until 7:30 P.M. It seemed that Dad had another uneventful night. I didn’t know if he was tired from dialysis and physical therapy or if he was under the influence of his antipsychotic medications, but he slept through the night. At this point, I didn’t care why he slept. I just wanted him to get through the night without hurting himself.

Img_1012August 23. Sundays at the CCH were pretty uneventful. There was no dialysis or therapies and you didn’t see the doctors after the morning rounds unless there was a problem. You’d think that the parking lot would be full of cars, but the CCH wasn’t teeming with visitors. The place seemed empty, dark, and depressing. The doctors at Memorial had told me on more than one occasion that a primary reason for transferring Dad from the ICU to the CCH was so that he could be exposed to more light. These rooms had small windows and even with all the light on, the rooms still seemed dark.

After Mom attended church, she stopped by the CCH to see Dad. He seemed to be in pretty good spirits and wanted to talk to me. Shortly after I had eaten lunch, I received a call from Mom. She handed her cell phone to Dad. He and I tried to talk, but he couldn’t hear me very well. It seemed that he wasn’t wearing his hearing aids, so he handed the phone back to Mom. I was happy to hear that he had had an uneventful night and that the day was going well for him.

August 24. Dad’s day started with dialysis. He was starting to become confused about where he was during dialysis and it often seemed to him as if he was leaving the building or going through a series of tunnels. The trip to dialysis was actually a trip down a short hall and an elevator ride to the second floor. On this day, they removed 2,300 ml of excess fluid during dialysis, which reduced his weight from 152.9 to 144.5 pounds. On May 6, he entered Memorial weighing 161 pounds, which was a reasonable weight for a 6’1” adult male. He seemed like a shadow of his former self.

As we had been told before Dad’s transfer from Memorial a few days earlier, Dr. Heath White was back at the CCH as the presiding physician. He had now been the presiding physician for my mother during her hospitalization and for my father at each admittance at Memorial and CCH. He probably felt like we were stalking him. Dr. White found Dad to be pleasant, but confused. Dad’s WBC count was now 6.6, which was very normal and considerably lower than it was the last time that Dr. White had seen Dad and predicted his death.

Dialysis leaves most dialysis patients tired, and Dad was no exception. When Jennifer, the physical therapist assistant, stopped by at 3:30 P.M., Dad was too tired to participate. Mom asked if they could make sure to stop by on days when he didn’t have dialysis.

Cayaana, Dad’s night nurse, found Dad’s mentation to be somewhat impaired. During the start of her assessment, he seemed to be aware of his whereabouts and his situation, but after about 30 minutes, she found that she had to remind him about where he was.

Dad’s mentation problem could be challenging and was raising concerns for Mom. In particular, in honor of my mother, my father had been funding a scholarship for outstanding political science majors at Colorado Mesa University. Shell, my father’s employer for 30+ years, matched my father’s contribution. The deadline for submitting the application for 2016 was approaching. Before she left the CCH for the day, my mother mentioned the deadline to Dad. Mom was pleased to see that this topic sparked a few moments of clarity and he said that he would sign the application tomorrow.

Fortunately, his night was uneventful and he did not require restraints.

Leaving Memorial again. Back in the CCH again.

August 20, 2015. As Mom and I drove to the hospital, we realized that today would probably be Dad’s last day at Memorial. We were glad that he had recovered enough to leave Memorial, but we had reservations about the CCH. Except for a couple of cases (good people we had encountered), our feelings about the facility were not positive.

Mom and I arrived at Dad’s room at 7:40 A.M. to find Dad’s legs halfway out of the bed. His nurse, Pam, got him back into bed and then called the doctor about Dad’s delirium. I wiped Dad’s eyes with a warm washcloth, and Pam gave him some Fentanyl, an opioid pain medication, in his feeding tube.

Janie, the respiratory therapist, administered a breathing treatment of Albuterol, followed by oral care. Dad signaled that he wanted the speaking valve now, but he’d been having some difficulty breathing, so he had to remain on CPAP. Janie said that she would move him over to the trach collar around 9:15 A.M. to see how he managed.

Dr. Brett Steven Ambroson stopped by and said that the infectious diseases specialist had recommended a couple of antibiotics for the next few weeks, but added that Dad would probably be on some sort of antibiotic for the rest of his life, or until the antibiotics eventually did no good. Gad.

blogpillsPam said that she spoke with the doctors about Dad’s delirium, and they wanted to fully vent him at night and had ordered an extra dose of Seroquel for him during the day, along with more Fentanyl. She said that the extra meds were ordered because of Amanda’s claim last night that Dad had hit her. This claim bothered me. It might seem like I was splitting hairs, but Dad had been struggling with the group of nurses to keep from being tied up. During the flailing of his arms, she was struck. He did not deliberately strike her. Mom and I were in the room and we saw what happened, and we didn’t realize that anyone had been hit during the ruckus. It was only when they had finally restrained him that one of the nurses said that he had hit it.

Dr. Stewart stopped by to talk with us about Dad’s situation, including the recommendation to fully vent him at night and then wean him off of the vent so that he could get more rest and get back onto the day schedule for the trach collar. He said that the doctors at Memorial would recommend stopping the Seroquel and replacing it with a pharmacy-grade Melatonin, known as Ramelteon. He said that they had had good results with it at Memorial and hoped that the CCH doctors would want to continue it.

At 10:20 A.M., Michelle, the dietitian, stopped by for a routine visit to see if Dad’s nutritional needs were being met. I had sort of a love/hate relationship with this very nice woman, which had more to do with the tube feed than her. Because Dad had aspirated on his tube feed during dialysis, I asked if he could have the tube feed suspended during dialysis. She wasn’t wild about that suggestion because Dad would be in dialysis for about 12-15 hours each week and the nutritional loss for him could be significant. She said that she would speak with her counterpart at the CCH to devise a nutritional plan for Dad. Since her last routine visit with Dad, he had received about 90% of his daily nutritional goals. As she had done during her previous visit, she also recommended the addition of probiotics and fiber to Dad’s diet.

Dad’s DNR order was not valid outside of the hospital, so Mom had to sign a new one for the ambulance ride from Memorial to the CCH. We didn’t expect anything to go wrong, but it still gave me the willies to sign this document and then send him on his way. We had one final visit with Dr. Ghamande and his team. He pretty much repeated what Dr. Stewart had told us earlier. He also mentioned that Dr. White would be the presiding physician at the CCH next week.

At 11:37 A.M., Janie returned to Dad’s room and moved him back to the trach collar in preparation for his transfer to the CCH.

emts_aug_blurFive minutes later, the EMTs arrived to prepare Dad for the trip back to CCH. Because the cuff was deflated on his trach collar, Dad was able to chat with the EMTs without a speaking valve. He seemed to be in good spirits and didn’t exhibit any agitated behavior. The EMTs’ preparations were finished in less than 30 minutes. As they started pushing Dad’s gurney out of his room, Dawn rushed into the room with Dad’s speaking valve and installed it on his trach.

Mom and I arrived at the CCH at 1:05 P.M. and sat in the waiting room for about 20 minutes before we could go see Dad. When we arrived in Dad’s room, we found him chatting amiably with Dr. Randall Smith, our favorite doctor by far. It seemed as though Dr. Smith was conducting a getting-to-know-you type of interview, but he was actually trying to assess Dad’s cognition. Before he left the room, Dr. Smith said that he was going to request a PT assessment for Dad today and have Speech Therapy get started on swallow therapy. We were so glad that Dr. Smith was the attending physician, if only for three more days. Mom and I finally went home for lunch around 1:15 P.M., and I started working online from home at 1:45 P.M.

Mom returned home from the CCH at 5:15 P.M. During the afternoon, I had inadvertently downloaded a virus from a training website and was now being held captive by one of our IT techs while he tried to fix my computer. I was eventually able to tear myself away from my terribly unproductive day and eat dinner with Mom.

We arrived back at the CCH at 7:05 P.M. Dad seemed to be enjoying his speaking valve and was speaking with a clear and strong voice. In that strong voice, he wished for a pair of tiny scissors that he could use to cut his restraints at night. In my perfect world, he wouldn’t have needed the restraints.

Gary, the respiratory therapist, arrived at 7:45 P.M. and administered Dad’s Albuterol nebulizer treatment and trach care. The treatment lasted for several minutes, during which Dad could not talk. As soon as Gary removed the nebulizer device, Winnie, the night nurse, arrived to administer the evening meds. Within a few minutes, Dad started drifting off to sleep. He had had a full day, full of non-stop talking for the past seven hours. We left the CCH feeling pretty confident that he would have an uneventful night and a good night’s sleep. Dad’s latest stay had gotten off to a pretty good start, and Mom and I were feeling much more optimistic about his return to the CCH.






He speaks! At last.

August 18, 2015. Mom and I arrived at the hospital at 7:40 A.M. to find that Dad was sleeping and unrestrained, which was a nice change. I spoke briefly with his nurse, Pam, and learned that his WBC count had inched up again to 13.3. I hoped that we would learn something about the results of the BAL test on Dad’s secretions. I woke him and wiped his eyes and face with a cool cloth.

At 8:30 A.M., the wound care team stopped by to assess Dad’s various sores, including a new blister that had just developed yesterday on his right hand. The constant repositioning of Dad by the nurses annoyed Dad but was supposed to reduce the likelihood of bed and pressure sores. I can’t imagine what his condition might have been like without the constant movement. Janie, the respiratory therapist, stopped by at 9:15 A.M. and moved him from CPAP support to the trach collar. She said that the doctor wanted to see whether Dad could handle an eight-hour trial today.

Dad had a moment where he indicated that he was getting out of bed. I wasn’t sure whether he needed the bathroom or just wanted out of the bed. I persuaded him to remain in the bed. My father had always been very focused on completing tasks and achieving goals. This character trait seemed to be amplified in his delirious state. Since his first stay at the CCH, he had been intent on getting out of bed to use a proper bathroom. Unfortunately, accomplishing this goal was not possible at this time, and reminding him of that reality was my daily task.

Around 10:45 A.M., Mom left the hospital to run some errands. We still hadn’t seen the doctors, but we had heard that the MICU had a full house. Also, they seemed to assess patient condition on a curve. If your condition was less critical than the other patients, then you might not see the doctors until early afternoon. We couldn’t find fault with this convention, but it made any sort of planning difficult.

Dad had been coughing up a lot of thick yellow secretions today and seemed to be pretty sleepy and confused. I was concerned that he might be battling some new, or recurrence of an old, infection. At one point he asked me to explain about the bathroom and review what would be happening today.

At 11:15 A.M., the machine that provided oxygen aerosol support for the trach collar stopped making its usual working sounds. The equipment problem didn’t seem to create any breathing problems for Dad, but Pam said that the oxygen line had popped off. Aside from the lack of sound, Dad didn’t realize that anything was wrong. After Janie, the respiratory therapist, arrived, she performed a little maintenance on the machine and provided a little trach care on Dad, which reduced his secretions somewhat.

During rounds, Dr. Ghamande acknowledged Dad’s elevated WBC count and said that they were still waiting for the results of the BAL. He said that barring any unforeseen complications, Dad should be able to transfer to the CCH in a couple of days. He said that they would keep extending Dad’s trach collar trials by a couple of hours a day and continue with CPAP support at night. He thought that Dad should be ready for a speaking valve very soon.

After the doctor left the room, Lanette, Dad’s case manager, told me that according to Cheryl, Lanette’s counterpart at the CCH, Dad has used all of his 90 days of annual Medicare hospitalization coverage, plus 46 of his 60 reserve days. This meant that he would be uninsured in 14 days. I experienced a wave of panic and a knot in my stomach. I couldn’t see any way on earth that my father could go home in two weeks. I had been keeping track of Dad’s days and according to my notes, he had been hospitalized for 105 days, not 136. Until this moment, it hadn’t occurred to me that you could run out of Medicare coverage. It made sense, but I was operating in survival mode and not financial mode. The other unpleasant surprise was that his supplemental insurance was tied to his Medicare coverage. So, although he continued to pay the Medicare and supplemental insurance premiums, he would be uninsured. I sat down with my calendar and recounted the days a couple of times to sanity-check myself. My results differed from Lanette’s, and I called her and contested her calculations. She said she would contact Cheryl, but I was pretty sure that the error was Lanette’s.

Mom returned from her errands and lunch at 12:30 P.M. and I left the hospital for home at that time. Shortly after Mom arrived, a couple of nurses moved Dad to the cardiac chair. While he was in the chair, Travis and Mike, the physical therapists, came by and exercised Dad’s legs. They said that Dad’s progress was very slow and that he had lost considerable strength in his upper and lower extremities. The 105 days in bed had taken a toll on Dad’s strength.

While Dad was still sitting in the cardiac chair, Dawn, a trach nurse, stopped by for a routine trach change. Dawn told Mom that she was handling Svenja’s cases while she was on vacation. By the time that Dawn finished the trach care and left the room, Mom needed to head back to the house.

Mom and I returned to the hospital shortly after 7:00 P.M. Dad was in a very agitated state and insisted that he was going to get out of the bed. Amanda, his nurse, tried to redirect his attention by repositioning him in the bed. Unfortunately, Dad was delirious and was beyond redirection.

When patients use the trach collar to breathe, the trach collar is deflated, which enables the patient to speak around the trach. It’s not the best form of communication, but between the ability to speak around the trach and the letter board, Dad had been able to communicate with us and the various health providers. He started talking about leaving the Mormon church, and then switched to yelling about quitting the hospital union. He warned Mom to run from the Mormons and not let them get to us. He also spoke of membership in the hospital, and he told me and Mom that we should not join the hospital. Maggie, the charge nurse and one of Dad’s former night nurses, came in and chatted with him for a little while. Coincidentally, Maggie was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Fortunately, she kept her sense of humor during his ranting about Mormons. He kept talking about bathrooms and coffee and not being around miserable people. After 8:30 P.M., his mental state progressed from agitated to aggressive. Amanda had to get the help of another couple of nurses to restrain him. Dad actively fought the restraints and while flailing his arms, struck one of the nurses. It was an experience that I hope to never repeat. Amanda had administered Seroquel in Dad’s feeding tube before they started restraining him, and she said that he should calm down soon. Mom and I left the hospital, more shaken and drained than we had been in many days, and we prayed that Dad would have an uneventful night. As hopeful as we had been a couple of days ago, we were now worried.

August 19. Mom and I woke up this morning to a broken air conditioner. The normal temperature for central Texas in August approaches 100 degrees. Fortunately, my parents had zoned air conditioning, so the house wasn’t unbearably hot. We were able to schedule a service call before we left home.

Mom and I arrived at the hospital shortly after 7:30 A.M. and saw that Dad was still restrained. We noticed that he was on the trach collar and was breathing hard. We quickly learned that he had been on the trach collar all night. The night staff had taken it upon themselves to extend his eight-hour trial to more than 20 hours. We asked Charma, his nurse, to call Dr. Stewart. When Dr. Stewart arrived, he had Janie, the respiratory therapist, put Dad back on CPAP support. While Janie was making the change, she removed some large clogs from Dad’s throat by using saline to lavage the tracheostomy tube. She said that after Dad’s lungs had had some time to rest, they could move him back to the trach collar. We wanted him to get back on a schedule of using the trach collar during the day and CPAP at night. The doctor wasn’t too thrilled that Dad had not been moved back to CPAP support during the night. While the doctor was in the room, he told us that Dad’s WBC count was now 11.9, which was an improvement from yesterday.

imagesDr. Stewart then told me and Mom that he wanted to meet with us in a conference room to consult with us about some of Dad’s future possibilities. He started off this consultation by stating that they considered Dad’s recovery to be one of their best achievements and acknowledged our part in that success. He went on to say that he suspected that if Dad did go home, he could have more episodes of pneumonia. He continued by saying that Dad might never fully develop the ability to swallow, and if he did, he could very likely choke on his food and develop pneumonia again. He went on to say that although Dad might never be able to eat peas and carrots, we should let him eat what he wants, regardless of the consequences. He said that there was a good chance that Dad would go home with a trach tube. After that disheartening meeting with one of our favorite caregivers, Mom and I returned to Dad’s room.

Brandon, who was helping Janie, came in at 9:00 A.M. to administer some oral care, which was a disaster. Dad wanted no part of it and spit out the mouthwash. It was ironic how much Dad hated the procedures that were most important to his recovery.

During the morning rounds, the attending physician, Dr. Shekhar Anant Ghamande, told us that Dad had some new drug-resistant infection, which was why there was some purulence in Dad’s secretions. To combat it, they would start Dad on Meropenem, one of the three antibiotics that they could prescribe for this infection. Aside from the infection in his lungs and the pressure sores, Dad was progressing well. The doctor also said that Dad could get a speaking valve today! I had the doctor tell Dad the good news, but Dad asked only if he could go home.

Barbara, one of the hospital chaplains, stopped by to visit Dad. We had come to know her pretty well during Dad’s stay, and she had been very helpful. As I had mentioned earlier, the chaplains were the people to ask about anything in the hospital. During Barbara’s visit, she confided to me and Mom that she was retiring at the end of the month.

When Barbara left, I saw Dr. Pan, the nephrology fellow, in the hall with Dr. Nimrit Goraya, the nephrologist, Dr. Goraya said that they had planned to dialyze Dad for eight hours, but because he didn’t have much edema, they would shorten it to six hours. Instead of being finished at 3:00 P.M., they would finish around 1:00 P.M.

Mom and I left the hospital around 11:30 A.M. for lunch. I spent the afternoon working from home and met with the AC repairman, our hero for the day. Shortly after Mom returned to the hospital after lunch, she met Pastor Don in the MICU waiting room, and they had a nice visit before entering Dad’s room.

Mom called me during the afternoon to tell me that Dad still didn’t have a speaking valve. She couldn’t remember if he was to get one today or tomorrow. I told her that the doctor had said that he should get the speaking valve today. I had her tell Dad’s nurse call Dawn, Svenja’s backup while she was on vacation.

Passy-Muir speaking valve

Shortly before 4:00 P.M., Dawn stopped by to change Dad’s trach tube. This change was different from yesterday’s change because this time she also changed the size of the trach. The new size would enable easier swallowing, which would help Dad control his own secretions. Whenever we swallow or clear our throats, we’re handling normal secretions. The presence of a trach tube makes that normal activity more difficult. This new trach tube had a smaller outer diameter, but a larger inner diameter. This sizing combination would enable Dad to inhale more oxygen and swallow easier. The icing on this new trach-tube cake was that the new trach tube could accommodate the Passy-Muir speaking valve. As soon as Dawn placed the speaking value on the trach tube, Dad was able to speak again. WooHoo! Unfortunately, she had to remove it to put Dad back on CPAP support.

Mom came home shortly after the trach tube change-out and told me that Dad was still on CPAP. I called the nurse and reminded her that he was supposed to go back onto the trach collar at 2:00 P.M. The dilemma was that he could not sleep with the speaking valve, so even if he could sleep with the trach collar, he couldn’t speak. During times when he was receiving CPAP support, he couldn’t have the speaking valve. We just had to get him back on a schedule that would enable him to speak during the day.

When we arrived at the hospital shortly after 7:00 P.M., Dad was still on CPAP, but Renee, the respiratory therapist was in the room. I spoke with her and Amanda, Dad’s nurse, about my concerns, and they said that they would get him back on schedule during the night.

Renee switched Dad to the trach collar for the remainder of our visit so that Dad could talk with us. We had some strange conversations with Dad. It seemed like he thought that he was back at work. He finally adjourned our meeting at 8:00 P.M., and told me and Mom to leave.

A cool front had passed through the area and Mom and I took a couple of moments to enjoy the cooler night air. As we drove home, we marveled at the spectacular sunset. We stopped at the field behind the new Valero gas station to look at the sunset before heading home.

Back in the letter board saddle again

Trach collar

Saturday, August 15, 2015.  Shortly after I arrived at the hospital at 7:45 A.M., Dr. Hayek ordered Dad moved Dad from BiPAP to CPAP support on the ventilator. They then reduced the settings to less support and let him breathe at the lower setting for about 30 minutes before putting him back on the trach collar. The attending physician, Dr. Ghamande, wanted Dad to have at least four hours on the trach collar today. If this trial worked out well, then they would attempt a six-hour trial tomorrow. During the nephrology visit, Dr. Goraya said that it was unlikely that Dad’s kidneys would function again, although they couldn’t say anything definite for another few weeks. Medicare requires that you be on dialysis for 90 days before you can be declared dialysis dependent. Although the 90th day was just around the corner, the nephrologists seemed hesitant to declare that Dad had end-stage renal disease (ESRD) until he reached this milestone.

During my morning update of Dad’s early-morning lab work, I was told that his WBC count had inched up slightly from 10.4 to 10.7. It was still within the normal range, and I was provided the usual song-and-dance routine about how you have to treat the whole patient and not just look at the numbers, but his numbers had not just stopped trending downward, they were moving in the wrong direction. After 102 days, I couldn’t help but worry.

At 9:09 A.M., Pandora, the respiratory therapist, put the trach collar on Dad. He was now breathing on his own again. Leslie, his nurse, then asked him the following three questions to test his mental facilities: 1) Could you hit a nail with a hammer, 2) Can a leaf float on water, 3) Is a one pound rock heavier than a two-pound rock. He did OK on the first two, but answered “sometimes” to the last question.

For the second day in a row, Dad wanted some of our coffee. Mom and I decided that we should quit drinking coffee in front of him. I wondered if he could smell the coffee.

Shortly before 10:00 A.M. Leslie, the nurse, moved Dad into the cardiac chair. At 11:00 A.M., my husband, Stan, texted me that he had arrived from Houston. Mom and I left shortly thereafter to join him for lunch at the house.

After a nice lunch with Stan, Mom and I returned to the hospital at 12:40 P.M., while Stan stayed at the house and did some yard work. Dad was still sitting in the cardiac chair. He kept trying to talk and became pretty frustrated. His breathing trial was over at 1:15 P.M., and Pandora removed the trach collar and moved him to the CPAP setting on the ventilator.

At 1:50 P.M., Leslie rounded up a couple of nurses to help her move Dad from the chair to the bed, where he promptly fell fast asleep sitting up in bed. The ventilator started alarming, which drove Mom crazy. I guess it takes a certain type of alarm to get the attention of a nurse or respiratory therapist. In this case, water had accumulated the lines, which wasn’t life threatening. Unfortunately, we weren’t permitted to touch anything; we just had to listen to and endure the alarm while we watched nurses and aides walk past the room.

At 4:55 P.M., Mom went downstairs to the lobby to meet Stan. I wandered into the hall and happened to meet a nurse that we had dubbed as Daytime Natalie. She was a nurse in the CTICU, and Mom and I were very fond of her. She had a couple of minutes to spare and stopped in to visit with Dad.

Mom, Stan, and I ate dinner at a local restaurant to celebrate Mom’s birthday. Her birthday was tomorrow, but this was Stan’s only night in Temple. After dinner, Mom and Stan went home and I returned to the hospital and met Dad’s night nurse, Janine, and his respiratory therapist, Tatyana. Shortly after I arrived, Dad starting started indicating that he wanted to get out of bed, and continued in earnest until I finally was able to leave around 8:45 P.M. Starting at 8:15 P.M., I had started receiving text messages from Stan, asking if everything was OK with me and Dad. Every time I tried to leave him, he would grab my arm and want me to stay five more minutes. I felt more than just a little guilty when I left.

August 16. Mom’s birthday got off to a nice start with cinnamon rolls and some nice gifts from Stan. As Mom and I were driving to the hospital, my phone rang, but my purse was in the back seat and I couldn’t grab it before the call went to voice mail. I pulled over and noticed that the call was from Scott & White. Leslie, Dad’s nurse, had left a message saying that Dad was very tired and needed to rest. She went on to say that she was a little worried about him this morning and that she had contacted Dr. Stewart, who then put him back on the ventilator. She did not want us to wake him. If Leslie was trying to discourage us from racing to the hospital, she was failing miserably.

We encountered Dr. Goraya on the way into MICU, and she said that they would not be dialyzing Dad today. While talking with Leslie outside of Dad’s room, she said that she had been looking through the last few weeks of Dad’s charts, and by all rights, he should not be here now. Her comment made me feel good about his progress, but his condition was still very fragile.

I called Stan and told him about Leslie’s call, and that I still wanted him to come by the hospital while Mom and I were at church, but that Dad might be sleeping and that Stan should bring something to read. Should Dad wake up, then Stan could interact with him. I also wanted Stan to be with Dad, if the doctors should stop by while Mom and I were attending church.

When church was over, I texted Stan to let him know that Mom and I were heading home. He said that Dad woke up around 11:00 A.M., and that they were stepping him down to the trach collar for another six-hour trial today.

After our lunch, Mom and I arrived at 1:30 P.M. at the hospital and met Stan in the waiting room. He had been shooed out by the nurses about 10 minutes earlier. We were pleased to see that Dad was in the cardiac chair and breathing on his own with the trach collar when we arrived. Dad’s breathing trial started around 1:25 P.M. We had the TV turned on to the PGA tournament. Watching TV might not seem like a milestone, but he had probably watched no more than a couple of hours of TV since he was admitted on May 6. It was nice to see him interested in something.

Mom left the hospital for home around 4:25 P.M. About five minutes after Mom left, Dad finally tired of the breathing trial. He was still on the trach collar when I left at 4:45 P.M. His trial didn’t last much more than three hours, but considering how badly the morning started, we were pleased with his trial.

After dinner, we arrived at Dad’s room at 6:55 P.M. and spoke with Leslie for a few minutes before she left for the day. She said that Dad had been wearing her out. He’d been wiggling down the bed all day, in what seemed like attempts to escape from the bed. She finally made his bed alarm a lot more sensitive so that it would alarm whenever he wiggled down to one end.

Leslie said that she noticed during the day that Dad’s secretions had seemed more yellow and thicker than normal. She said that she had talked to the doctor about ordering a sputum culture. She said that it might not be anything because he’s not running a fever. The WBC count wasn’t collected during the early morning lab work, so I didn’t know if his WBC count was elevated.

Dad’s night nurse was Amanda. When she completed her evening assessment, she told us that his temperature was 98.7, which is practically normal for most people. However, normal for Dad was just over 97 degrees. It probably wasn’t a big deal, but I hoped that the sputum culture tomorrow would reveal something.

August 17. Mom and I arrived at Dad’s room a little after 7:30 A.M. and found that he was restrained and was already receiving conventional dialysis. His nurse, Jasmine, and another nurse were repositioning Dad in his bed, so his curtain was closed. While waiting in the hall I spoke briefly with Amanda, his night nurse, and she said that during her shift, Dad had tried repeatedly to pull out his trach tube. When she explained to him what that would mean, he indicated that he didn’t care and wanted to “be done with it.” To calm him, she gave him some Seroquel. As Dad’s health improved, it seemed that he was his own worst enemy.

Jasmine, Dad’s nurse, later told him that she would remove his restraints if he promised that he would not try to pull out his trach tube. She stressed to him that his safety was her primary concern. He indicated that he would not pull out anything. Jasmine told us that they would put the trach collar on him later today so that he could better express his wishes. Her comment sort of implied that he might get a speaking valve, but I wasn’t sure. I was a little disturbed when I learned that Dad’s WBC count was up to 13.2. Based on Leslie’s comments yesterday and Dad’s elevated WBC count, the doctor had ordered a Bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) to see if Dad had any new infections.

Dad finally used the letter board and asked lots of questions about his stay. He didn’t realize how long he had been in the hospital and was very surprised when he heard what happened to him. I spent a long time explaining some details about his saga and I think that it helped to improve his attitude. Shortly after that, we started communicating more with the letter board. He seemed to be a lot calmer and seemed to understand more about his circumstances.letterBoard

Shortly before 11:00 A.M., I told Dad that Mom and I had to leave to attend a meeting with April Jones, the nurse manager at the CCH. We wanted to ensure, or try to ensure, that his second time at the CCH would be better than the first. He seemed pleased and lettered that he would be interested in knowing what she had to say. Following an annoying and frustrating meeting with Ms. Jones and her associates, Mom and I returned home for lunch. I stayed home and worked for the remainder of the afternoon.

When Mom returned to the hospital after lunch, a nun from the hospital’s chaplain office was in Dad’s room singing to him. Using his letter board, Dad told the nun to sing a song to Mom. Dad had already given the nun one of the family photos that I had taped to the wall. She said that she’d hang it in the chapel. Mom found the experience pretty surreal and realized that from one minute to the next, she never knew what to expect from Dad.

After pleading unsuccessfully for days to get Dad to use the letter board, it seemed that he now would not put it down. From what Mom was able to surmise, Dad whipped out the letter board for every person who entered the room—the nurse, doctors, and techs. Using the letter board, he asked Dr. Ambroson to take him to the kitchen, which tickled the doctor. In hindsight, this request was an indication that Dad was having trouble distinguishing the difference between home and the hospital. However, it seemed like a different person was now occupying Dad’s bed.

When Dad’s dialysis session was over, Dawn, the respiratory therapist, put on the trach collar. Then the nurses moved him to the chair. As Mom left the room, Dad used the letter board to tell her to be careful.

When I arrived at Dad’s room at 6:45 P.M., he was still in the cardiac chair, but he was soon moved back to his bed. Dad and I visited until 9:00 P.M. Using the letter board, he asked lots of questions about eating, going home, and many other things. He seemed to have lost some of the clarity that he had during the day, which I attributed to being exhausted from such a busy day. When I left, he still had one more hour remaining on his six-hour trial of the trach collar.

His night nurse, Amanda, said that she would give him some Seroquel this evening after the breathing trial and that he should sleep well. I wasn’t over the moon about Dad’s level of clarity this evening, but he had had quite a day communicating with everyone. I left the hospital hoping that the next day would be even better.

100 days and counting

August 12, 2015. Mom and I arrived at Dad’s room at 7:45 A.M. Dad was on a four-hour conventional dialysis trial to judge his tolerance. I freaked out when I saw that his feet were elevated above his head. During dialysis, patients who suffer from hypotension often have their feet elevated above their heads to their increase blood pressure. With his history of aspiration, that practice could not be applied to him. Olga, his nurse and the one who had elevated his feet, responded to my outburst and raised his head.

After Olga had repositioned Dad, I asked her about his morning lab results. I was thrilled to learn that his WBC count had dropped further and was now at 11.3. A normal WBC count seemed within sight!

Cake dreams

Mom’s birthday was in four days, and we were anticipating that Dad would be at home when we celebrated his birthday on October 6. I thought that we should have a four-tier birthday cake on Dad’s birthday—one tier for each of the birthdays we missed celebrating this year. Dad seemed to brighten up at idea and indicated that he wanted chocolate, Mom wanted carrot cake, I wanted rum cake for my layer, and I decided that Stan wanted apple cake.

During rounds, we met the new attending physician, Dr. Shekhar Anant Ghamande. He said that Dad was progressing and that things were getting better, but that Dad needed some exercise.

Dad was a bit difficult to handle. He kept trying to talk, which was impossible, and he refused to use the letter board to communicate. Other than learning that he wanted chocolate cake for his birthday, we had no successful communication with Dad.

The conventional dialysis trial, which Dad completed without much difficulty, was over at 1:15 P.M. Dad was moved into the cardiac chair, but he would not put his feet on the chair’s foot stand. Without his feet on the foot stand to stop him from sliding off the chair, the nurse had to reposition him in the chair every few minutes. Mom left the room for a few minutes and when she returned, she heard singing coming from Dad’s room. While she had been away, a Catholic nun from the hospital’s chaplain office had stopped by to see Dad. With Dad’s refusal to use the letter board to communicate, I couldn’t imagine how they communicated.

Dad tired of sitting in the chair and wanted to get back into bed. The nurse had left the room to find someone who could help her, but while she was gone, an ultrasound tech arrived and spent about an hour checking Dad’s legs and arms. The nurse later said that by the time that the tech left the room, Dad was as inspired to transfer back into bed as she had ever seen him. We never did learn about the purpose of the ultrasound, but at least a couple of us were glad for his extra time in the chair.

When Mom and I returned to the hospital after dinner, we were pleased to see that Dad was sleeping and that Tyler was his nurse again. It was the first day in many days that I could tell Stan that we had had a good day today.

August 13. As Mom and I drove to the hospital, we realized that Dad was starting his 100th day in the Scott & White institution. We arrived at the hospital at 7:35 A.M. Dad was restrained, but I quickly removed the soft restraints.

Dad was all hot and bothered to get out of the bed at 7:45 A.M. Anna, his nurse, was pretty busy, so we had to wait until 9:45 A.M. to get him into the chair. During Dad’s initial stay in the ICU, he hated the uncomfortable chairs, and practically fought to stay in bed. Mom and I were glad that he now wanted to get out of the bed.

At 10:00 A.M., Travis and his entourage of occupational and physical therapists stopped by to exercise Dad. They stood him up from the chair and onto the floor. Dad’s legs would not straighten out, but he was able to kinda sorta stand, with some assistance. The therapists worked with him for about 10 minutes, moving his arms and legs. Cardiac chairs are designed to take patients from a recumbent to a sitting position. You don’t usually step out of or into a cardiac chair. Getting Dad resituated into the chair was a real struggle for the three therapists, but they eventually succeeded.

Mom left the room to call April Jones, the nurse manager at the CCH, to see if she could make an appointment to meet with April next week. We had not been thrilled with our previous experience with them and wanted a better relationship the next time. Mom wanted to start working on that now.

While Dad was in the chair, Michelle, the dietitian, had stopped by for one of her routine visits. In addition to her usual concerns about Dad’s nutrition, she was now concerned about the extended use of antibiotics and how they could affect his digestion. She said that she would suggest that the doctors consider starting him on probiotics. I don’t know if they ever did add probiotics to his daily regimen of meds.

After Dad got back into bed, he slept for 10 minutes and then woke up and started worrying the bed linens and pulling on his lines and trach tube. Dad seemed to be having lots of secretions, and he seemed to be struggling to breathe. Nikita, the respiratory therapist, happened to walk past the room as he was having breathing problems. She said that Dad had been on CPAP since 7:00 A.M. She thought that it was time to give his lungs a break, and switched him back to BiPAP support shortly before we left for dinner.

Mom and I returned to the hospital at 6:40 P.M., just prior to the shift change. The big pleasant surprise for us was that Andrea was Dad’s night nurse. She had been his nurse for the first three days when Dad returned to Memorial, and Mom and I loved her. When we first met her, Andrea had mentioned that she usually liked working nights, and we were glad to see her again and assigned to Dad. She commented on how much Dad had improved since she had last seen him 19 days earlier.

Mom and I stayed with Dad until about 8:00 P.M. On the way out of the hospital, we walked over to the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit (CTICU) in the north tower, which was where Dad stayed during his first stint at Memorial. In addition to seeing a couple of the nurses we knew, we were enthusiastically greeted by a nurse we didn’t remember. Mom and I were really touched by the outpouring of support that we received from some of the caregivers in CTICU. Today had been another pretty good day, and we left the hospital at 8:15 P.M., feeling like Dad would have a relatively good night.

View of nurses’ station from Dad’s room

August 14. Mom and I arrived at the hospital at 7:45 A.M. to find that again Dad was restrained. Evidently, Andrea had had to restrain him about four hours earlier because he was trying to pull out his trach tube and PICC line. As I had done for the past few days, I untied Dad’s restraints. Almost immediately, Christine, his nurse, reprimanded me for removing his restraints and reminded me about the importance of restraints and notifying the nurses, and blah, blah, blah. I had a pretty good relationship with most of the nurses and caregivers, and they knew that we were a constant presence in Dad’s room. It wasn’t as if Christine had never laid eyes on us. Dad’s room was right in front of the nurses’ station. While I understood the importance of the restraints for patient safety, I was annoyed at the cavalier attitude that some nurses seemed to have about them. As far as I could tell, restraints were used because the hospital could not assign someone to watch him. Wouldn’t you think that a nurse would ask family members if they would or could stay with the patient so that they could remove the restraints? My father wasn’t unconscious; he knew that he was tied to the bed. Who in the world would think that being restrained was good for patient morale?

On a more positive note, Dad’s WBC count was down to 10.4, which was finally in the normal range; it was a tad on the high side, but normal nonetheless.

Trach mask

Drs. Hayek and Stewart (who I affectionately dubbed the fellows) stopped by and we discussed the status of Dad’s breathing and the possibility of having the speaking valve trial on Monday. However, before Dad could get a speaking valve, he had to be able to breathe on the trach collar. Dr. Stewart told us that the respiratory therapist would stop by later in the morning to make the switch.

It was Friday, the day we referred to as the last day of dialysis for the week. As Carlos, the dialysis nurse, was setting up the dialysis machine, Dr. Nimrit Goraya, the attending nephrologist, stopped by with her nephrology fellow and residents in tow. She told us that because Dad had tolerated the last conventional dialysis trial, he would receive another four hours of dialysis again today. Carlos got the dialysis started at 9:30 A.M. In principle, Dad’s dialysis session would be over by 1:30 P.M.

During Dad’s morning trach care, Ashley, the respiratory therapist, changed out the ventilator apparatus for a trach collar and trach mask. The trach collar test was on!

I stayed home after lunch, but Mom returned to the hospital at 1:00 P.M. Shortly after she arrived, Dad started foaming around his trachstoma. She quickly located Ashley and Dr. Stewart, who said something about a hypoxic episode. Ashley switched Dad back to the ventilator. Although Dad had failed his initial breathing test, Dr. Stewart said that it was still a good day. Unbelievably, Dad slept through the whole ordeal, and he slept for the remainder of the time that Mom was with him.

Dad’s dialysis session was over at 1:15 P.M., and they were able to remove 1,400 ml of fluid without any instances of hypotension, which moved him one step closer to being discharged from Memorial to the CCH.

I arrived at the hospital at 6:45 P.M., and once again was very pleased to see Andrea. Dad was awake and looked pretty good. However, soon after I arrived he became very agitated and wanted to get out of bed. He insisted that he needed to get out of bed to use the bathroom. I had to hold him down. He tried to push me away, but for the first time in my life, I was stronger than him. He kept edging his feet over to the side of the bed like he was trying to get up. He finally started pulling his pillow out from behind his head and indicated that he was uncomfortable. I called Andrea and told her that Dad needed to be repositioned. Andrea and another nurse respositioned him, which seemed to calm him a little and divert his attention from his original purpose. Because of his agitation and the fact that he had had to be restrained the previous two nights, Andrea also gave him some Seroquel through his feeding tube. According to Andrea, the doctor had increased Dad’s dosage of Seroquel for nights when he was restless.

I was shooed out of the room at 7:45 P.M. so that Andrea could tend to him. I probably wouldn’t have been able to come back into his room for at least 15 minutes, so it seemed like a good time to go home. Dad had been so distraught during the time that I was there that I hated leaving him, and left feeling a little conflicted. It just hadn’t felt like a good day.