Caring for the man who would not sleep

October 2. It was 2:00 A.M., and Dad was wide awake and wanted to get up. After Gale, our caregiver, called me for assistance, she resituated Dad in bed and helped him roll over on his side, although she noticed he didn’t need her assistance. To keep him on his side and more or less stuck in bed, she wedged a pillow behind him. I don’t know if he slept, but at 4:00 A.M., Gale paged me again when Dad tried to get out of bed, so the pillow didn’t do much to control him.

My parents’ bathroom was large, but the commode was located in a separate room, which was more like a closet. In his current condition, it was physically impossible for him to use the commode. American HomePatient (AHP) provided us with a bedside bedsideCommodecommode that we kept in the common area of the bathroom. Having it in a more open area enabled the aides to transport him to and from the commode, a contraption that he loathed. After helping him into the bathroom to use the dreaded bedside commode, Gale and I were able to convince him to go back to bed. Thankfully, he remained in bed until 8:30 A.M., at which time I administered his trach care and morning meds. I was still a rookie with the trach care and the process took about 45 minutes.

I received a call from Kathleen Devine (I loved her name.), who introduced herself as the home care physical therapist. She wanted to stop by to assess Dad’s strength to determine a plan for his occupational and physical therapies. Our schedule was wide open and she said that she would stop by before noon.

After a couple of trips to dialysis, we had realized that in addition to his extra trach, Dad gymBagalso needed to bring a blanket, a box of tissues, and various other items. Gale told Stan that instead of Mom’s Elizabeth Arden tote bag that we were using to transport his dialysis accessories, Dad needed something larger and more masculine, like a duffle bag. Stan wasn’t sure what she had in mind, but he eventually found a gym bag that she deemed perfect for the task.

Gale checked out Dad’s bureau and closet. She marveled at how well his clothes were folded and organized, although I don’t know if the credit goes to Dad or Mom. With a little guidance from Dad, Gale picked out some clothes for him and dressed him for the day. Gale also made a slight design adjustment to Dad’s undershirt. Because his PEG tube extended out from his midsection, wearing an undershirt over the tube bent the tube, which, in addition to being uncomfortable, was not good for the PEG tube. With Dad’s permission and the precision of Edward Scissorhands, Gale cut a hole in his undershirt and fished the tube through the opening. When Dad wore a button-down shirt, the tube extended through the placket. The PEG tube wardrobe problem was solved.

By 9:30 A.M., Gale and I had transferred Dad to the wheelchair and Gale wheeled him outside on the porch. Dad could navigate the wheelchair pretty well by himself in the house, but he needed some assistance going through the thresholds to the outside. By 10:00 A.M., I insisted that he come back inside so that we could hook him up to the moist air. He wasn’t enamored with the thought of being tethered to the concentrator and nebulizer, but after Mom brought him the paper he seemed pretty satisfied to sit in his room to read it. He hadn’t read a newspaper since July.

At 11:45 A.M., Kathleen arrived. She was a no-nonsense transplant from New York and I liked her immediately. She watched as Gale and I transferred Dad from the wheelchair to the bed and back again. She told us that a physical therapist aide would stop by twice a week to help him stand and walk, and the occupational therapist would visit him once a week and work on his upper body and core strength. We agreed that Dad would have physical therapy on Monday and Wednesday and occupational therapy on Friday. When I asked about speech therapy to address his swallowing problems, she said that I would have to speak with Adan about swallow therapy.

A few minutes after Kathleen left, the doorbell rang again, and this time it was Paula, the home care nurse. According to the plan that we had established during Dad’s admission to home care, the home care nurse would visit us three times a week. Although I was glad to have the nurses stop by, I was also nervous that they would find fault with something that we were or were not doing. Paula told us that Dad’s bed sore, which started when he fell in May, was serious, and she suggested that we get some Mepilex border patches. She had a couple of extras in her bag but told us that they were expensive and that we should ask AHP to supply them for us.

When Paula left, I called AHP but was told that without a doctor’s order, Medicare would not reimburse them. To obtain doctor’s orders would require that I contact Dad’s primary care physician and schedule an appointment, and this activity was not high on my list of priorities, so I decided to buy a package myself. Also, when Gale and I snagged supplies from Dad’s room at the CCH, I grabbed a box of gloves, size small, which were fine for me but were too small for Gale. I logged on to and ordered the Mepilex patches and a case of medium gloves. Was there anything that this company didn’t sell?

After his busy day of visitors, and a tremendous lack of sleep, Dad finally let us put him back in bed and he slept for two glorious hours.

Shortly before 5:00 P.M., Dad wanted to get out of bed and visit with us while we partook of some alcoholic beverages. Happy hour at the Locke house had been a nightly ritual that he could now only watch. Before the surgery last May, my Dad’s Manhattans had been a highlight of the overnight visit to my parents’ house that my girlfriends looked forward to every year.

At 7:30 P.M., we began what was becoming our nightly ritual. I administered the trach care and the meds, and Gale changed out the tube feed bag and filled the new one with Nepro. Gale was quickly becoming a pro at winding the tubing through the Kangaroo pump, and I knew that I needed to start paying more attention to what she was doing. It was unfortunate that the bag did not hold enough Nepro to make it through the night. Fortunately, I guess, Dad didn’t sleep through the night anyway.

October 3. At 2:20 A.M., Gale woke to find that Dad was halfway out of the bed, which prompted her to use the baby monitor to page me. Gale and I maneuvered him back into bed, but he insisted that he was going to get up. I told him that if he didn’t stay in bed, I would get into the bed next to him so that he couldn’t escape. He said, “OK,” and scooted over. Two hours later, we were up and I had a dandy kink in my neck from sleeping halfway off of the pillow. Gale and I transferred Dad to the wheelchair and he wheeled himself to the sink in the bathroom, where he washed his face and brushed his teeth. As he held his hands and washcloth under the faucet, he said that this was the first time in five months that he had felt running water on his hands. Gale and I exchanged glances, too overcome to say anything in response. He neglected to mention that it had also been five months since he had brushed his teeth and washed his face. These milestones helped to put Dad in a great mood.

I administered his morning meds and trach care and Gale dressed him for dialysis. He was ready for the ambulance transport at 6:10 A.M., 10 minutes before his scheduled pickup time. Dad’s great mood diminished somewhat when the transport arrived at 7:20 A.M., 20 minutes after his session was supposed to start.  He was eventually hooked up at 8:00 A.M.

trachBib2During dialysis, Dad used oxygen tanks from the dialysis center, but this service did not include the moisture that he needed to keep his trach moist. In an attempt to compensate for the lack of moisture, Timothy from American HomePatient had provided us with several bibs composed of a porous non-woven material. The bib was placed between the trach and the oxygen source. The bib wouldn’t stay moist for more than 30 minutes, so we kept a small spray bottle in his dialysis bag, and Gale was vigilant about keeping the bib wet.

Dad stayed alert during the entire dialysis session, and he and Gale talked the entire time. I imagine that Gale would have appreciated his taking a little nap so that she could close her eyes. Dad’s blood pressure had dropped somewhat during dialysis, so the dialysis nurse stopped the session before the goal of 1500 ml was reached. Gale called the EMT service for a ride, and once again they waited for more than an hour for a ride home. We were starting to set some pretty low expectations for the EMT transport service.

After they returned home, Dad was tired and wanted to take a nap. During the two hours that he slept, Gale also slept. At 4:00 P.M., Dad was awake and ready to get up. Gale and I transferred him to his wheelchair and we went outside and sat on the patio for 90 minutes. He had been away from the nebulizer for almost six hours today, so I strongly suggested that he go back to his room. My husband, Stan, was still in town, and he visited with Dad until 7:00 P.M., when Mom served dinner. In addition to the baby monitor station in my bedroom, we also kept one of the stations in the dining room. Just a few minutes into dinner, we heard an unusual sound from the monitor. Gale practically leapt from her chair and ran to the bedroom and found my father on the floor on the right side of his bed. In addition to the oxygen, he was also receiving nutrition from the tube feed. All of this equipment was located on the left side of the bed, which meant that he was putting a strain on a couple of vital supplies by being on the floor. It astonished me that he couldn’t figure out that in addition to being too weak to stand, he was also tethered. Fortunately, Stan was there and he, Gale, and I got Dad up off the floor and into the wheelchair. Gale checked his PEG and looked for skin tears and I checked his trach. He hadn’t hurt himself, but he gave the rest of us a scare.

Gale stayed with Dad while Mom, Stan, and I finished dinner. I then sat with him while Gale ate. When she was finished, Gale started getting Dad ready for bed. After he was dressed for bed, Gale and I ran through our nightly routine of meds, trach care, and tube feed.

Starting at 10:00 P.M., he started trying to get out of bed. He might have been too weak to stand, but Gale thought that for a weak guy, he was pretty strong. He could really put up a battle when he wanted to get out of bed.

October 4. The baby monitor alarm woke me at 4:00 A.M. Gale thought that Dad sounded gurgly and thought that he might need to be suctioned. I agreed and after I finished suctioning him, he insisted that he wanted to use the house toilet. Gale and I tried to explain that he couldn’t use it but that we would take him to the bedside commode in the bathroom. To say the least, he became very upset. He complained that the commode seat was very uncomfortable, which was true. He finally relented, but then he didn’t want to go back to bed, so Gale got him up and prepared for the day. I promised Dad that I would order a seat cushion for him, which I did later in the day.

By 6:00 A.M., he was sitting in the wheelchair, attached to the moist oxygen, and reading the paper, and we were all happy.

After breakfast, I returned to Dad’s room and administered his morning meds and trach care and then excused myself to shower and get ready for church. At 10:20 A.M., my mother and I escaped to church. Our friends at church were anxious to hear about Dad. Sue, our friend who was the nurse practitioner at the dialysis center, said that Dad was a real chatterbox. She had been amazed by how much he talked during dialysis. The pastors and everyone else we told about Dad were thrilled that he was at home.

Shortly before we returned home from church around 12:30 P.M., Dad felt a little tired and wanted to go back to bed to rest. Gale mentioned to me that she had heard some noise coming from his stomach and told me that she was going to ask the nurse to listen more closely tomorrow.

My husband had been staying with us for the past week, but after lunch, he went back home to Houston. I don’t know how we would have managed without him and I hoped that we wouldn’t need his brawn while he was gone. For both of us, our vacation had now come to an end. I had set up my work computer in my parents’ office and planned to start back to work tomorrow at 4:30 A.M.

Tonight was another frustrating night of Dad trying to get out of bed. We had him ready for bed at 8:30 P.M., but he slept until 11:00 P.M., after which time he tried repeatedly to get out of bed. At 2:00 A.M., Gale used the baby monitor alarm to call me. Dad had scooted to the end of the bed and she needed help to raise him. He insisted that he wanted to get up. I explained to him that I had to go back to work in a couple of hours and that I wanted him to sleep until 4:00 A.M., which was when I would get up. He agreed to that plan, and the three of us slept for two more hours. I fantasized about six consecutive hours of sleep.

Sorta better, but not so much

September 8, 2015. Before Mom arrived at the CCH, Stacy, Dad’s nurse, informed the physical therapist that the doctor didn’t want Dad to receive physical therapy today because of his hypotension. Dad’s blood pressure had been low since his dialysis session yesterday. Dad’s WBC count was still within the normal range, although in four days it had inched upward from 6.9 to 9.2. The assumption was that as long as his WBC count was within the normal range, his hypotension was not caused by an infection.

When Mom arrived, Dad was in good spirits and they had a nice visit before she had to leave for a couple of appointments with her own doctors. She met today’s attending physician, Dr. Carl Boethel, and had time for only a brief visit with him before she had to leave. She learned that the results of Dad’s blood cultures had come back negative. We never really understood the significance of the blood cultures, but we always welcomed negative results.

During the weekend, Mom, Stan, and I had tried to brainstorm some alternative solutions for Dad’s diminishing Medicare coverage. It finally dawned on us that Dad was a veteran of the Korean War, and the VA hospital was located between my parents’ home and church. Instead of fighting the practically impossible odds of getting him admitted into the SNiF before his benefits expired, we thought that we’d see if we could get him transferred to the VA hospital. On the day that we had left Memorial, I had overheard a conversation about a patient being transferred from Memorial to the VA hospital. I recalled thinking that I hadn’t thought that the VA hospital was an option. If transferring from Memorial to the VA hospital was an option, we hoped that transferring from the CCH to the VA hospital was also an option. When Mom arrived at the CCH, she told the receptionist that she needed to speak with Marty, but Marty was home taking care of a sick child.

When she returned from her appointments with the neurologist and dermatologist, Mom asked Dad if he had met with the physical therapist. When he said that he had not seen her, Mom intercepted the therapist when she exited from the adjacent room. It was then that Mom learned about the doctor’s orders to suspend therapy for the day. Mom and I were very concerned about Dad’s weakened condition and Mom was not happy that he had remained in the bed all day. Both of my parents wanted Dad to get out of bed and onto the chair. Mom tried to get the nurses to move him to the chair, but to no avail. The fact that he had been restrained since Mom left for her doctor’s appointment didn’t help their mood either.

Mom undid Dad’s restraints a couple of times during the remainder of the day so that he could use the Yankauer, but he had a difficult time handling it and tore it apart.

As if he knew that he was needed, at 4:00 P.M. Pastor Don called Mom to see if he could stop by for a visit. He arrived at 4:45 P.M. and the three of them had a nice visit. Visits from men outside of the medical industry seemed to have a calming effect on Dad and diminished his delirium during the visit.

With all the drama surrounding Dad, it would be easy to forget about Mom’s issues. In addition to her recent stroke, she had also been battling bouts of skin cancer. I was pleased when I learned that she received gold stars from her dermatologist and neurologist.

September 9. Today was my wedding anniversary and I was at home in Houston with Stan. At the CCH, Dad woke up disoriented, and when he arrived at dialysis, Suzanne, his dialysis nurse, thought that he seemed very confused. Statistically, it wasn’t much different, but his WBC count had ticked up by the smallest amount. Although his WBC count was still within the normal range, I was apprehensive about the trend. It seemed that I was the only one who was concerned, and I was 160 miles from the action.

Mom was able to spend a few minutes talking with Dr. Whitney Prince, today’s attending physician. She told Mom that Dad was scheduled to receive the PEG tube tomorrow.

After Mom left for the day, Andrea, Dad’s night nurse, found him with his legs hanging out of the bed, which was practically his default position. The way that he kept sliding down the bed, you’d think that he slept on silk sheets. Other than that little intervention with Andrea, Dad slept through the night without any drama.

September 10. Because of his scheduled PEG placement today, Dad was NPO when the morning shift started. While Dad was waiting for his transfer to Memorial for the procedure, Marty told my parents that she had faxed his clinical records to the Marlandwood West nursing facility. According to Marty, they told her that because Dad was taking antibiotics, they could not accept him. She also said that the dialysis center would prefer that he require less suctioning before they would accept him. The hand restraints were also a blocker. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make Dad understand the problems that he caused with his repeated attempts to get out of bed. He now had only 22 days of hospitalization Medicare coverage. We hoped that the VA hospital would turn out to be a viable option.

At 10:30 A.M. the Scott & White paramedics arrived and transported Dad to the Interventional Radiology (IR) department at Memorial. It seemed that he didn’t have a set time on the IR schedule and Dad had to bide his time until 1:15 P.M., which was when they prepped him for the procedure. The procedure went well, and he finally returned to his room at the CCH at 3:40 P.M. My mother was told that he still had to use the nasal tube for another 24 hours, and then he should be able to start using the PEG.

Mom stayed at the CCH for a short time after Dad returned before she went home for the evening.

September 11. At 3:30 A.M., Andrea, Dad’s night nurse, discovered that Dad had disconnected the tube from his new PEG. She didn’t notice any visible damage to his abdomen as a result of his handiwork, and she reconnected the tube. He eventually went back to sleep and slept until his nurse woke him for dialysis. Suzanne, the dialysis nurse, noticed that he had thick white secretions, and although his WBC count was still within normal range, in two days it had inched up to 9.9 from 9.3. In the period of a couple of weeks, his WBC count had increased from 6.5 to 9.9. I understood that I had to look at the whole person and should not concentrate on the numbers, and blah, blah, blah, but the trend of these lab results made me a little nervous.

Dr. Whitney returned today as the attending physician and she stopped by to assess Dad during dialysis.

When Mom arrived, she noticed that Dad was tightly restrained to his bed. When she asked why, she was told that Dad kept trying to pull out his trach. Dad’s speech was slurred and Mom could barely understand him. His oxygen saturation had been low, so his speaking valve was removed, which made communicating with him even more difficult. Speaking valves block a small amount of air intake, so if he wasn’t getting enough oxygen, removing the speaking valve could solve the problem.

Jennifer arrived in the late afternoon for his physical therapy session. At first, Dad said that he didn’t want physical therapy today, but Mom persevered and he participated. Once he got started, he seemed to enjoy the session. After he performed the bed exercises, he was able to sit on the edge of the bed and move around on the bed and swing his legs. Before Jennifer left, she and the nurse put Dad in the Stryker cardiac chair and he slept in the chair for about an hour, with his hands restrained to the chair.

Mom was a little frustrated with the day. According to the whiteboard in Dad’s room, he was supposed to have the nasal feeding tube removed today, but John, Dad’s nurse, was hesitant to remove it. Finally, at 4:00 P.M he started the tube feed through the PEG, but he still didn’t remove the nasal feeding tube. Mom had also wanted to talk with Marty about having Dad transferred to the VA hospital. Unfortunately, Marty didn’t come to work today so Mom would have to wait until Monday to talk with her. At 4:45 P.M., Mom found John and told him that she was leaving for the day.

I had left Houston after work and arrived at my parents’ home in time for an update on Dad and a much-needed glass of wine before dinner.

img_1194September 12. Mom and I arrived at the CCH at 8:00 A.M. Dad was still restrained and his call button was on the floor. John, Dad’s nurse, told us that his heart rate had been elevated to 135 and he became tachycardic. After they gave him some vasopressors, his heart rate returned to a more normal 68.

John said that Dad had had a good night, but when I asked him about the restraints, he said that Dad had tried again to decannulate himself, so the restraints had to remain.

When the new attending physician, Dr. Veronica Brito, stopped by for a pre-round check, we asked her about the restraints and the possibility of getting Dad into the Stryker chair. We had never met this doctor, but she told us that she was on the regular rotation with the CCH. Because of vacations and some shift changes, we had missed seeing her during Dad’s earlier stay at the CCH. She told us that the nurses didn’t think that Dad was strong enough to get in the chair. I was annoyed and she and I had an intense discussion about exercise, restraints, and dialysis. I told her that we wanted a plan to get him off of the restraints and that it was one of the issues that was keeping him here. She said that he had other problems that were keeping him here–like his dialysis. I told her that the dialysis wasn’t keeping him here and that primary thing keeping him from West was the restraints. She said that he was still very sick and that we had to respect his health. I told her that at Memorial, it seemed very important for him to get in the chair every day, even if three nurses had to drag him to it. I told her that I couldn’t understand why getting out of bed didn’t seem important at the CCH.

At 10:30 A.M., I was surprised when John and Hector, an aide, moved Dad from the bed to the Stryker chair. John said that he didn’t think that Dad should go outside where he couldn’t be monitored by the nurses. Mom and I wanted to see how Dad fared in the chair this morning, and if Dad’s vitals remained within a good range, maybe we could take him outside this afternoon. Shortly before we left for lunch, a nurse stopped by and finally removed Dad’s nasal feeding tube.

When Mom and I returned after lunch, Dad was in the Stryker chair and John and Hector prepared him for our cardiac chair road trip. His invasive devices had to be unhooked from the wall and attached to mobile-equivalent devices. Mom manned the oxygen tank and I drove the chair. We weren’t permitted to go outside, but we explored every hallway in the building. We chatted a lot, although I couldn’t understand most of what he said. He said that he was glad that I was there because he said that I was his tiger, compared to Mom, who he said was more like a kitten. Statements like that proved how little he knew about Mom’s role and daily battles on his behalf. If we could ever get him out of this place, I’d have to address some of his misperceptions.

Mom and I left the CCH at 4:45 P.M. and Stan arrived at the house shortly after we returned to the house. This was another one of his short trips in which he would take care of the yard, sit with Dad while we were at church, and then return home. We told Stan about the day and the new attending physician. Although we had had an intense discussion with her, she seemed to listen to us. All in all, it had been a pretty good day.


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.


Maybe Bedside Manners 101 isn’t a required course

sunflowervase2August 9, 2015. We arrived at the hospital at 9:00 A.M. to find that Dad was still asleep and restrained, the nurse’s name was not on the board, and Dad’s feeding tube was empty. Two out of three of these situations were unacceptable. I went to the nurse’s station to find out who his nurse was and to let them know that his tube feed bottle was empty. A nurse entered the room with a fresh bottle of Nepro, changed out his tubing, and replaced the empty bottle. The nurse also told me that Dad’s nurse was Nicole, who finally showed up at 9:15 A.M. and introduced herself.

My annoyance diminished somewhat when Nicole provided me with Dad’s latest lab results. His WBC count was still dropping and had reached 14.9, down from 16.4 yesterday. His liver function was only slightly elevated, which was fantastic news.

Dr. Nidhi Munshi, the weekend nephrologist, stopped by at 9:30 A.M. and told us that Dad would have an eight-hour dialysis session tomorrow.

Stan arrived at 10:00 A.M. and was soon followed by Dr. Vazquez and his entourage. We removed Dad’s restraints and told the nurse that Stan would be there until lunchtime and he would watch Dad to ensure that he didn’t pull out any of his lines and devices. They put him back on CPAP, but said that it seemed that his brain would sometimes forget to breathe when he was asleep. When we met with Stan during lunch, he told us that Dad had been fine and not become agitated while Mom and I were at church.

After lunch, Stan returned to Houston, Mom went back to the hospital, and I stayed home to catch up on some work. When Mom returned home, she said that they received the results from his blood test on Friday and he didn’t seem to have any infections present in his blood. Shortly after she had arrived after lunch, they had changed his ventilator from CPAP to pressure support, which meant that he was breathing on his own. Dad had refused to use his letter board and he couldn’t get a speaking valve until he could breathe on his own, so we were making some progress.

Mom and I returned to the hospital around 7:10 P.M. and were delighted to see that Tyler was Dad’s nurse. He hadn’t been assigned to Dad for several days. Tyler said that he noticed an improvement in Dad. While Mom and I were visiting, Dad seemed to be over-breathing the ventilator. His blood pressure was higher this evening, too. When I mentioned to Tyler that he’d be NPO after midnight because of a TEE scheduled for Monday, Tyler said that he didn’t know about the TEE. Mom and I just looked at each other and rolled our eyes. We headed for home at 8:20 P.M.

img_1121August 10. We arrived at 7:40 A.M. and noticed that Dad was already on dialysis. Before we arrived, they had drawn blood and ran an ABG test and found that his pH was up to 7.53, which meant that, instead of being acidosic, his pH was too alkaline. We were told that they could fix his current pH level by reducing the bicarb dialysate that he received during dialysis.

Dr. Evan Hardegree stopped by to get the TEE consent forms signed and told us that he’d be assisting Dr. Elizabeth Ebert. It was a coincidence that the cardiologist who was performing the TEE happened to be my parents’ doctor. I still hadn’t gotten used to the fact that once you entered the hospital, you dealt with only the hospital’s doctors and not your own. I hadn’t seen Dr. Ebert since May 19, the first time that Dad had aspirated.

Dr. Lu Pan stopped by to talk with us again about testing Dad on the four-hour dialysis session. He assured us that they would adjust the amount of fluid removed if Dad’s blood pressure dropped too much. Once again, the discussion about these conventional dialysis sessions was increasing my stress level. The back story to the discussion about the shorter dialysis was that they were prepping him for a transfer to the CCH.

Around 9:00 A.M., the cardiology team, led by Dr. Ebert, stopped by with the equipment necessary for the bedside TEE. While they were trying to decide whether the Fentanyl already in Dad’s system would be enough to keep him comfortable during the procedure, Svenja, the trach nurse arrived for a routine follow-up visit. The new tube was supposed to help wean him from the ventilator and she was concerned that Dad had not been on CPAP support much since she replaced the tube.

Mom and I left the room at 9:05 A.M. and passed the time by getting some coffee from the cafeteria. Sometimes the volunteers offered free coffee from their cart, but their coffee was pretty bad. I was no coffee connoisseur, but even I had standards, albeit low. As we arrived in the ICU waiting room, Dr. Hardegree met us and told us that they couldn’t detect any sign of infection on the new arterial valve. Yay!

Dr. White came by about 11:00 A.M. and was a real Debbie Downer. I had been feeling a little positive about Dad’s improved condition. In addition to the good news about the TEE, Dad’s WBC count was down to 13.1. When I looked for some positive feedback from the good doctor, he said that although Dad was better than he was when he first arrived, the doctor was not convinced that Dad’s condition would ever improve. Furthermore, because of Dad’s recurring apneic spells, he wasn’t sure that Dad would ever get off the ventilator, and he questioned whether Dad’s mentation would ever improve. When I told him that Dad had just had a TEE and that he was still partially sedated, he was not moved. I felt sick. If Dr. White was right, my father would never forgive us for trapping him in this hellish existence. Dr. White was one of the doctors who had a strong enough voice that Dad might be able to hear what he said, and I was very worried that Dad might have overheard this dismal prognosis. Mom said Dad’s condition seemed to improve after he received physical therapy. Dr. White said that they would try that and that they’d try to find him the cardiac chair.

Dr. White’s notes in my father’s chart sums up his attitude about my father’s case.

After lunch, Mom returned to the hospital and I stayed home and tried to accomplish something at work. Sometimes I felt guilty for logging on to work and sending Mom back to the hospital to deal with our alternate existence.

When Mom returned home, she had a mixed report about the afternoon. It seemed to her that Dad had finally bonded with her again. We don’t know why he had been giving her the cold shoulder, but the problem seemed to have resolved itself.

The Iron Crane, the S&W bird

Dad had been in an inside room for several days, and the doctor thought that a window room might help Dad with his mentation and delirium problems. With an inside room, there’s no real sense of day and night. When his nurse was able to round up a couple of other nurses to assist her, she moved Dad to room 238. The hospital was still undergoing a massive facade overhaul, so the window rooms weren’t all that quiet.


After Dad was moved, the nurses were able to move him into a cardiac chair. It’s an amazing contraption that starts as a bed and then morphs into a chair. Dad was still in the chair when PT arrived. The therapist was able to adjust Dad’s position in the chair, but Dad could not sustain an upright sitting position. He just kept slipping down the chair and didn’t seem to have the strength or inclination to sit upright.

Pastor Tom, the senior pastor from their church, stopped by to see Dad. Dad was sleeping, but Tom said that he’d try to visit again tomorrow.

When Mom and I returned to the hospital at 6:55 P.M., we were thrilled to see that Tyler was Dad’s nurse for the night. It had been a stressful day, with more downs than ups. Knowing that Dad was in good hands for the night always helped me and Mom rest better at night. I was still very disturbed about Dr. White’s prognosis and kept replaying the conversation in my head. During my nightly call with Stan, I was pretty upset by the events of the day.

August 11. Mom and I arrived at the hospital at 7:45 A.M. and noticed two things: Dad was restrained and he appeared to have had a bath and shave the previous night. We got Olga, his nurse, to remove the restraints. He immediately started grabbing at his lines and we had a difficult time with him for a while, but he eventually calmed down after they repositioned him. Dr. Hayek stopped by at 8:00 A.M. and adjusted the ventilator for CPAP. He said that Dad had been on CPAP for about 3-5 hours yesterday. I was pleasantly surprised because I thought he had been on CPAP support for only an hour. The other good news for the morning was Dad’s WBC count: it was now down to 12.2.

The fancy schmancy hospital beds were best suited for persons up to 5’10” in height. Dad was 6’1” and often would lie diagonally in the bed. In this diagonal position, he often started slipping out of the bed. We mentioned the problem to Olga, and she was able to find one of the few bed extensions, which added enough length to accommodate Dad’s frame so that he could lie straight in relative comfort without slipping.

Around 10:15 A.M., my parents’ next-door neighbors, LoSharis and Tom, stopped by for a short visit. Dad seemed to brighten up as they entered the room. He immediately recognized Tom and extended his arm to shake hands. I hoped that they would return soon. It seemed as if the fog that surrounded Dad was lifted while they were in the room. Mom had to run some errands, so she left shortly after Tom and LoSharris.

Dr. White made his rounds at 11:00 A.M. When he entered the room, I looked him straight in the eye and told him that Dad was wearing his hearing aids today, and that I’d appreciate it if he would respect that. He paused for a moment, nodded as if he understood the point that I was trying to make, and said, “OK.” Today’s meeting went better than yesterday’s, and Dr. White admitted that Dad appeared to be a lot more alert. I explained to him again that yesterday Dad had just had the TEE when the doctor rounded, so it hadn’t been a fair assessment. To his credit, he agreed that timing was everything.

Nothing positive happens around here without the other shoe dropping, and today was no exception. Dr. White said that he wanted to start Dad on four-hour dialysis trials to prepare him for a transfer to the CCH. I told him that I needed plenty of advance notice because we wanted to meet with April Jones, the CCH nurse manager, before he transferred. We had some concerns about the care that he had received there. Dr. White said that he also would like to hear my concerns and would be available to talk with me anytime. He wanted some specifics about the CCH and I told him about our first 12 nightmarish days there. I also told him that because the place was so dark it didn’t seem like a good environment for someone who was suffering from delirium. From what I could surmise, my comments seemed to fall on deaf ears.

When Dr. White left, I found a quiet place in the hospital to attend an online meeting for work. When I returned from my meeting, Dad was sitting in the cardiac chair. He started getting fidgety and then he experienced some breathing problems. The respiratory therapist was called, and she adjusted his ventilator settings.

After running her errands, Mom returned to the hospital at 1:00 P.M., and I left the hospital a few minutes later so that I could work online from home for a few hours.

Dad sat in the cardiac chair for about another hour. He kept squirming and sliding out of it and was finally moved back into the bed. As soon as he got back into bed, he fell asleep and slept until Mom went home for dinner.

Mom and I returned at 7:10 P.M. and learned that Tyler was taking care of Dad again! We were very surprised because Tyler had already worked three days this week. He told us that he was working five days this week. I was so glad to see him that I forgot that I was opposed to nurses working 60-hour weeks. Seeing him was a relief and felt like the answer to a prayer.

The good, the bad, and the sad

hospitalbedAugust 3, 2015. It had now been 90 days since Dad first entered the hospital for his seven-to-ten day stay. When Mom and I arrived at 7:45 A.M., Dad’s room was a hubbub of activity. Dr. Phan, the nephrology resident, was assessing him and Emily, his nurse, was exercising his arms and legs. But the first thing that we noticed was Dad’s bed. Yesterday, Dr. Jimenez had told Dad’s nurse that he wanted to see Dad’s bed raised to a more upright position. I had envisioned that the angle of his bed would change from 30 to 75 degrees. What we saw instead was a bed that had morphed into a chair. It played music, automatically adjusted to specific angles, and could change into a chair. Was there anything that this bed couldn’t do?

Emily greeted us with a mixed bag of information. She told us that Dad had been off all of his vasopressors since 1:30 A.M. and that Dad had squeezed the doctor’s hand this morning in response to a verbal command. On top of that good news, the respiratory therapist had switched over his ventilator to CPAP, so Dad was now breathing on his own. I would have been over the moon, except his WBC count was now 19.7, which was up from 18.0. I was obsessed with his WBC count and noticed that it had been inching up for the past two days.

Under normal circumstances, the attending physician starts on Friday; however, life at the hospital had been anything but normal. Two weeks earlier, the director of the Medical ICU died in a freak accident at his home in Salado. Aside from the loss of an extremely well-liked coworker, the doctors’ schedules were shuffled to fill the administrative duties left by his passing. This shuffling of schedules resulted in the early departure of Dr. Jimenez and the early arrival of Dr. Yau as the new attending physician.

Dr. Yau said that he would order a CT scan to see if Dad had an infection outside of his lungs that could be drained, which would help lower Dad’s WBC count. On a more positive note, he said that it seemed that Dad’s kidneys had finally decided to wake up and start making urine. The day seemed to be going better than I could have expected. I hated to leave, but I had to return to my parents’ house to attend a noon meeting for work.

Shortly after I got home, my day started taking a downward turn when the internet service stopped working. With the internet being my primary connection to my job, I didn’t accomplish much for the remainder of the day.

Things weren’t going much better in my father’s room. From what my mother observed, Dad would not stop pulling on his feeding tube, CPAP connector, and trach tube. Mom was also upset because it seemed to her that Dad didn’t recognize (or acknowledge) her. Even worse, he seemed to regard her with some contempt, although he seemed pretty happy when the nurse was in the room. Because he was unable to communicate with us, we were very confused about his behavior and what he was thinking.

xmas2014While Mom and I were at home for dinner, I printed out some recent photos of Dad with the family. I wanted the hospital personnel to see him as more than the sick man that they attended in that hospital bed. He hadn’t entered the hospital as some sickly old man, and I wanted them to have a sense of who he was just a few months earlier. After dinner, Mom and I returned to the hospital around 6:50 P.M. and learned that Dustin was Dad’s nurse. I wasn’t impressed with this nurse, and I wasn’t thrilled to see him again.

Dad seemed agitated again. In an attempt to calm him, I held his hand and talked to him for about an hour. He seemed to be calming down when the respiratory therapist stopped by to administer the oral treatment, but as soon as she left, Dad vomited. With his history of aspiration, I was a little freaked out. I quickly grabbed a nurse in the hall, and she got Dustin, who was seated at the nurses’ station. I wondered if he had been agitated because he felt nauseated. I’d never know.

After contacting the on-call resident, they decided to stop Dad’s tube feed for the remainder of the night. The doctor also ordered an x-ray and the nurse pulled out all the remaining fluid in Dad’s stomach. It seemed disgusting, but with the feeding tube, the nurse could use a syringe to withdraw the Nepro in his stomach. They occasionally suctioned his stomach contents to see how fast the tube feed was being absorbed by his system, and then they’d return the Nepro into his stomach. Something that once might have seemed pretty disgusting now was part of our daily routine.

At 8:25 P.M., Dustin and another nurse repositioned Dad and adjusted the back of his bed to a 45-degree angle. Tube feed-patients were usually kept at a 30-degree angle, so Dad was now a bit more elevated than usual.

As Mom and I were leaving for the night, Dustin told us that they would x-ray Dad sometime around 3:00 A.M tomorrow morning to see if he had aspirated anything when he vomited.

In addition to 90 days being a long hospital stay, it also marked the end of his annual insured Medicare days. From this point forward, he’d be drawing against his one-time reserve of 60 days. Surely he’d be home in less than 60 days.

August 4. Mom and I arrived to Dad’s room at 7:45 A.M. Dr. Brett Ambroson, one of the residents, was assessing Dad.  He provided us with a brief update about the CT scan and x-ray, assuring us that Dad had not aspirated the Nepro last night. He also confirmed that Dad was still off all of the vasopressors. Shortly after Dr. Ambroson left, Dr. Adam Hayek, one of our favorite fellows, stopped by to see if we had any questions. While he was in the room, Dr. Hayak mentioned that Dad had vomited again during the night, so until the doctor stopped by on his rounds, the tube feed would be withheld.

For the first time since his readmittance to the hospital, Dad motioned for me to give him a kiss, and he smiled at me.

At 11:00 A.M, Travis, the physical therapist, stopped by to see if he could get Dad into a cardiac chair. Travis couldn’t find a cardiac chair, so he tried to get Dad to the side of the bed. Dad was pretty weak, and Travis had one heck of a time moving Dad. Fortunately, Heather, another physical therapist, stopped in to help him. Dad didn’t actually sit on the side of the bed, but they established a baseline of Dad’s strength. Travis said that he’d try to find a cardiac chair for Dad later in the day. I didn’t know what a cardiac chair was, but if Dad could barely sit on the site of the bed, I didn’t understand how he could get into a chair.

Just before we left for lunch, Pastor Don stopped by for a short visit and a much-needed prayer. Although Dad had seemed happy to see us, I wasn’t feeling as positive this morning about his status as I had been just 24 hours earlier. Although Dad’s condition was no longer grave, it was guarded, which diminished my anxiety only slightly.

As mom walked back into Dad’s room after lunch, Dad was pulling out his feeding tube again. Mom alerted Chris, the charge nurse, who secured the tube with a little tape and some glue.

Dr. Howell stopped by and said that the antibiotic that Dad was taking was very strong and that they wanted to hold it in reserve and not use it unless absolutely necessary. He added that it could take as much as four weeks to clear up the infection. Four weeks. That was over half of our remaining Medicare coverage time. I wondered if Dad would have to remain in the hospital until the infection was gone. His WBC count had inched up again overnight, and I was becoming more anxious about this infection.

At 3:30 P.M., the nurse gave Dad some Zofran for nausea, and told us that the tube feed would resume later that evening.

I had been at home working since lunchtime and returned to the hospital at 6:30 P.M. Sarah, the night nurse, came in at 7:05 A.M. to perform her evening assessment. Dad didn’t respond well to her commands, but I had a sense that he could if he wanted to. He was very frustrated and it seemed to me that he was losing his will. I talked to him for a long time, but I didn’t think that I made much progress with him.

Since Dad had become aware of his surroundings, we had talked to him about what was going on around him and the state of his health, but we had not told him what had happened to him at the CCH. For him, it probably seemed like one minute he was in dialysis and the next minute he was waking up in the hospital, hooked up to machines and unable to communicate. Stan, Mom, and I agreed that we should tell him what happened. Maybe tomorrow.

We held on to positive moments

July 27, 2015. I was working from my parents’ home, and I would log on to my office network at 3:45 A.M. I had coworkers in India and Israel, and by starting at this time, I could work with them for two or three hours before I went to the hospital.

Shortly after 4:30 A.M., it occurred to me that my Millennial cousin might be more of a texter than an emailer. To ensure that he would read my email that I sent him last night, I texted him to tell him that I had emailed him the previous night. Sure enough, about an hour later he called me on my mobile phone.  He wasn’t able to give me many answers, but he did provide me with information that I could research further so that I could converse with the doctors and ask reasonably intelligent questions.

Mom and I arrived at the hospital at 8:00 A.M., only to learn that Dad was still unresponsive. According to Kristina, his nurse, he would open his eyes and grimace only to a sternal rub and other painful stimuli. The sternal rub can be painful for anyone, but Dad had just had open-heart surgery a couple of months earlier, and I couldn’t bear to watch this exercise. He would not respond to or follow any verbal commands. I later watched the doctor inflict this pain, and it was hard to watch. Worse yet was the slow-motion response from my father. It’s an image that I can’t shake.

sunflowervaseCarlos, the dialysis nurse, arrived at 8:15 A.M. and proceeded to prepare Dad for dialysis. At the same time, Dr. Fernandez, one of the fellows who worked in the ICU, performed a brief assessment of Dad’s condition. Following his assessment, he sat down with me and Mom and told us how pleased he was to see our devotion and attention to Dad, and added that he wished that all his patients had families like us. As he left us, he said that he thought that our prayers would be answered. It was a moment that would carry us for a few days.

Shortly after his dialysis session started, I put the radio headphones on Dad’s head. I left the headphones on him for about 30 minutes, but we still didn’t see any response.

Because Dad’s blood pressure and temperature dropped during dialysis, Dad’s nurse had to increase his vasopressor. It was discouraging to see the dosage increased, but it was still lower than it had been yesterday.

From the moment that we would arrive at the hospital, I would scan the halls to try to determine where the doctor was on his rounds and when he would arrive to Dad’s room. After he and his party arrived, I’d stand in the threshold so that I could eavesdrop on their conversation, which was usually more enlightening than his meeting with us. It’s also where I picked up some medical jargon. Today Dr. White and his entourage appeared outside Dad’s door at 10:20 A.M. As usual, he held court with his team of residents, fellows, pharmacists, and the nurse for several minutes before entering the room. He eventually agreed that things seemed to be progressing in the right direction—except Dad’s noggin. He also said that because Dad’s platelets were low again, he would request a hematology consultation. On a very positive note, the lowering of the vasopressors had improved the blood flow in Dad’s extremities, and Dad would not lose any toes!

When Mom and I returned from lunch at 1:00 P.M., we found Dr. Hildago, a neurology resident, in Dad’s room. Between the two of us, Kristina and I updated the doctor on Dad’s 83-day medical history.

After the neurology resident left, we were pleasantly surprised to see Pastor Don and his wife, Wynn, enter the room.  Seeing the two of them had sort of a cleansing effect on our stressed-out emotions. Mom and I always enjoyed their visits and hated to see either one of them leave.

Dad’s tube feed had resumed yesterday, and the dietitian stopped by to assess his nutritional requirements and status. The current flow of Nepro was less than half of what it had been when he aspirated. The dietitian recommended that it be increased to 40 ml/hr, which would provide him with about 1,700 calories day.

sunflowervase2At 2:15 P.M., the hematology team arrived. Because Dad’s lab work showed that he had Thrombocytopenia, Dr. White had requested a hematology consultation. According to the doctor, Dad’s platelets dropped when he became septic and required vasopressor support. From what the doctor said, Dad’s sepsis condition also increased his platelet consumption. To make matters worse, Dad’s infection and the antibiotics both suppressed the bone marrow production of platelets. For these reasons, the hematologists were not surprised that Dad’s platelet count continued to be low. They said that they would give him platelet transfusions whenever his platelet count dropped below 20. Following the platelet transfusion the other day, his platelet count now sat at 26, which was still pretty low.

Moments after the hematology team left, Dr. Burkholder, the neurologist, arrived with a couple of residents in tow. He told us that Dad should have an EEG sometime later today and an MRI either tomorrow or the next day, depending on various schedules. This brief encounter with the doctor was typical of how we interacted with the specialists. The resident or fellow would arrive and spend quite a bit of time assessing Dad, and then the doctor would pop in for two minutes, basically repeating what the resident had told us earlier.

eegDad’s oxygen levels had been fair, and when Nikita, the respiratory therapist arrived, she increased his oxygen level on the ventilator from 40% to 50%. As she adjusted the ventilator settings, she said that she’d probably decrease the levels back to 40% later in the day.

Kristina had shown me how to exercise Dad’s arms. When she saw me moving his arms, she showed me how I could also move his legs. I had barely started exercising his legs when the EEG tech arrived.

After the EEG, which takes longer to set up than to administer, Mom and I left the hospital to run some errands and eat dinner.

sunflowervase2When we returned to Dad’s room at 7:00 P.M., we were thrilled to see that Tyler was Dad’s night nurse again. Nights were scary for me and Mom, and knowing that Dad was in good hands gave us some peace of mind. Dad’s vasopressor dosage had inched down again, which was also wonderful to see.  Unfortunately, the oxygen setting on the ventilator was still set to 50%, which meant that Dad’s oxygenation was still shaky.

While Tyler was getting set up for the night, I exercised Dad’s arms and noticed that he seemed a little flushed. Usually the hospital room felt cold enough to set Jell-O, but for a change, Mom and I weren’t shivering. When I checked the thermostat, I noticed that it was set for 75 degrees—a setting that we hadn’t seen before and would never see again. Tyler quickly adjusted it back to 68 degrees.

When Mom and I left for the night, Tyler was oiling Dad’s dry feet and said that he planned to wash Dad’s hair. If only Tyler could work every night.



Things were going great, until they weren’t.

July 16. Dad was seen by the infectious diseases specialist, who (like Dr. Smith) wanted to take Dad off of the IV antibiotic. The lower strength of doxycycline, compared with the IV antibiotic he was taking, should help improve his kidney function. Antibiotics are tough on your system and can affect kidney function.  Not surprisingly, when the doctor visited with him, Dad told him that he wanted to go home.

As promised yesterday, Adan stopped by with some thickened chicken soup for Dad to try. Dad wasn’t wild about the consistency of the soup, but Adan was encouraged that Dad was swallowing the soup without aspirating it.

flower1Jennifer from PT arrived and Dad was ready to exercise. He immediately asked about her plans for him, and Mom wanted to know what he could do over the weekend. She didn’t want him “just lying in bed.” Although my parents were resigned to the fact that my father had to remain hospitalized until August 26, they didn’t want to stay there one day longer than absolutely necessary. Jennifer showed them a variety of exercises that Dad could do, and she encouraged him to sit in the chair at least twice a day over the weekend. Although he started out pretty unsteady, Dad was able to walk with assistance for about 250 feet. Jennifer was encouraged about how his mobility kept improving during their sessions.

July 17. The bad news was that it was Friday and Dad was scheduled for dialysis. The good news was that he’d have a two-day reprieve when today’s session was finished. Because it was dialysis day, he also had blood drawn. His lab results were very good. His WBC count was 6.5, his hemoglobin was 9.4, and his creatinine was 3.61. The hemoglobin and creatinine numbers weren’t good for the average person, but they were an improvement for him. They removed 2,877 ml of fluid, which was a significant increase over Wednesday. Although he was tired, he was still able to participate in some activities later that day.

Unfortunately, all of his physical therapy led Dad to believe that he could get out of bed by himself. He was reminded again by the nurse that if he needed anything, he should use the call button to request assistance.

Adan stopped by with some thickened tomato soup for Dad. It tasted as dreadful as it sounded, but he was able to swallow it. Adan was now cautiously optimistic about Dad’s prognosis. Mom and I were thinking ahead to Stan’s birthday the following week, and she asked Adan if he thought that Dad could eat a Jell-O cake (Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.). Unfortunately, he said that the Jell-O was very slick and would be difficult to swallow. I was bummed. I had really hoped that we could have some sort of cake next week.

July 18. It was Saturday and the first weekend since May 15 that I stayed at home in Houston. When Mom arrived at the CCH, Dad was awake, but he said that he wasn’t feeling very well. He slept for another hour and felt better when he woke. Mom noticed that his feet stuck out of the bed when he slept. At 6’1”, Dad was taller that the hospital beds were long. According to the nurses, the beds were designed for 5’10” adults. Although she had asked before, Mom asked the nurse if she could find a bed extension for Dad’s bed. After searching for quite some time, she finally discovered an extension in the room across the hall, which had been occupied by a short woman.  The extra foot enabled Dad to sleep with his feet under the covers.

sunflowerThe nurse started a new IV, but they had no plans to remove Dad’s PICC line until Sunday or Monday. I had sent Dad more flowers, and he surprised me by calling me at home to thank me for them.  Although he was disappointed about how weak he had become and his extended stay, his attitude seemed to be getting more positive, and he was working hard to gain back the strength that he’d need to leave.

July 19. At 3:15 A.M., the night nurse woke Dad so that she could reposition him in the bed. When he objected, she reminded him about the importance of frequent position changes to prevent ulcers and to promote healing. He informed her that he didn’t need any help turning himself in bed and added that he did not want to be awakened during the night to turn. As you might expect, she asked him to show her, and he was able to fully turn on each side. She reinforced the importance of him turning, and then she left.

Rebecca, the day nurse, had a similar exchange with Dad when she reminded him that he had to turn himself in the bed every two hours.

When Dr. Ciceri saw Dad during morning rounds, he found Dad to be in good spirits and very conversant. If it wasn’t for the danged kidneys, you’d think that he’d be about ready to go home.  It was now 75 days since Dad’s surgery. It had also been two days since dialysis, and Dad was feeling pretty good. With Mom’s help, he did lots of bed exercises and walked all over the CCH in his wheelchair.

July 20. It was Monday again, which meant a new doctor and more dialysis. Unfortunately, Dr. Douglas Anderson, our “favorite” doctor, was back.  Before his 7:00 A.M. dialysis appointment, Dad was reminded once again that he had to use the call button and could not get out of bed without assistance. Dad’s pre-dialysis lab results were mixed. His WBC count was down to 5.4 but his creatinine level was up to 4.73, higher than they had been in weeks. Dad’s pre-dialysis weight was taken from the scale that is built into the bed. The down side of that nifty bed extension was that it added to the weight of the bed. According to the bed scale, which wasn’t recalibrated for the extra weight of the extension, he had gained 4.6 kg since Friday, which was highly unlikely. The dialysis nurse guestimated that he had gained 2.2 kg (5.5 pounds), and removed 2,872 ml.

Dad was pretty tired after dialysis—too tired to participate in swallowing trials with Adan. Adan said that he would follow up with Dad on Tuesday for a trial meal, and possibly diet advancement.  That news from Adan was pretty promising, but even better than that was the news that Mom received from her neurologist. According to her latest MRI, Mom’s brain showed no signs of impairment from her stroke in May.

July 21. Dad’s day started out pretty well and he was in good spirits. Adan stopped by in the early afternoon and had Dad try eating some thickened chicken soup. He thought that Dad had made good progress in the past few days and would bring Dad a tray on Wednesday or Thursday.

Shortly after Adan left, Jennifer arrived for his physical therapy session. During his sit-stands on the edge of the bed, his heart rate increased to 140. Jennifer was a little alarmed, but the nurse told her that increases like this weren’t uncommon for Dad. Because he was a little dizzy and off balance, he required some assistance when he walked. His balance improved the more that he walked, but he required at least minimal assistance during the session. As she had done on previous visits, Jennifer ended the session by having Dad sit in the chair. All in all, Jennifer felt that he was progressing toward his goals.

A couple of hours after Jennifer left, Christopher, the occupational therapist, arrived to formulate goals with my parents. The occupational therapist had been monitoring Dad’s progress with physical therapy and felt that Dad was ready for OT intervention.

July 22. It was hump day for most people but dialysis day for Dad. It was also my husband’s birthday. Although Stan’s day would be better than Dad’s, he was scheduled to work during the day and then all night. As compensation for working 20 hours, Stan would get the day off on Friday, enabling us to get an early start to our weekend in Temple where we would celebrate Stan’s birthday with my parents.

When Dad arrived at the dialysis department, the dialysis nurse noticed that his lung capacity was somewhat diminished with crackles to the bases, although she said that his cough was productive. His WBC count was sitting at 5.6, so I wasn’t too worried about infection, although I wondered if the doxycycline was addressing the infection in his lung. His creatinine level was down slightly, but not nearly as low as it had been last week.

At 3:05 P.M., I was at the office in Houston and attending a meeting with Patrick and Michele, a couple of my coworkers. Whenever I was in Houston, I kept my mobile phone close by in case my mother happened to call. To date, all of my phone conversations with her were initiated by me. At this moment, my phone rang and my mother’s name appeared on the caller ID. I couldn’t take the call, but noticed that she left a message. I was able to end the meeting a little early, and then listened to the following message: “Melody, it’s Mom. I’m at the hospital with Dad and he’s not doing too well. He had a bad coughing spell during dialysis and they’re trying to bring his blood pressure down, but he’s got the shakes and delusions and all kinds of stuff. Call me on my cell, because I’m not going to leave him. Talk to you later. Bye-bye.”


Just. Want. To. Go. Home.

Red caps rock!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What a difference one person can make

July 5. On the way to church, Mom and I stopped by the hospital to visit with Dad and to try to get a moment of the good doctor’s time. Dr. Anderson didn’t seem to be a fan of the patients’ families, but we had told the nurse yesterday that we wanted to talk with him. Before the doctor graced us with his presence, Mom and I had a discussion with Dad about his inactivity. He seemed content to stay in bed, and we were just as determined to get him out of it.

When Dr. Anderson arrived, he remained in the threshold with his arms crossed high on his chest. Following the introductions, I asked him about Dad’s prognosis for getting a red cap on his trach. He said that they were monitoring Dad’s secretions and would attempt it as soon as possible. The conversation started to deteriorate when I asked him about Dad getting out of the bed and into the chair. He said that Dad was too weak to sit in the chair. When I challenged that proclamation, saying that all the doctors at Memorial wanted Dad in the chair every day, he still wouldn’t budge. He basically said that the Memorial doctors were wrong. When I asked about the frequency of Dad’s swallow therapy, he rolled his eyes and said that the (lemon swab) therapy that Dad had received at Memorial wouldn’t do any good. To make matters worse, Dad was satisfied that he didn’t have to get out of bed. The first word that popped into my head was warehousing, and Mom and I were incensed. They were not going to warehouse Dad.

While Mom and I were at church, many former and current health-care professionals asked us about Dad’s condition, and they all asked if he had been sitting in the chair. When we relayed our earlier conversation with Dr. Anderson, one of the parishioners encouraged us to put our concerns in writing and meet with the nurse manager and request a care plan for Dad. During the morning service, Pastor Don mentioned that Dad was one of his blessings. Don went on to say that Dad had been having a tough time, but he blessed Don every time Don visited with him. On the way back to my parents’ home after church, I stopped by the hospital to say goodbye to Dad before I went home to Houston. Before I left, I collected some information for Mom about the CCH from the CCH website. I wanted to ensure that she was adequately prepared for her meeting with the nurse manager. I also ensured that she was armed with an excerpt from the mission statement on their website.


July 6. Shortly after Mom arrived at the CCH, the case manager informed Mom that Dad would need to remain at the CCH until he had received dialysis for at least 90 days. Evidently, Medicare won’t consider a person dialysis-dependent until he has received at least 90 days of dialysis while hospitalized. What that really means is that they won’t pay for it. It also meant he couldn’t leave this place until August 26! It was difficult to believe that this policy was cost efficient, but who am I to question the U.S. government?

It was the first day of the doctor rotation, and a breath of fresh air, known as Dr. Randall Smith, blew into Dad’s room after dialysis. In addition to insisting that Dad get out of bed and into the chair, he actually spoke to Mom. A few people at the CCH would become important in our lives. Now that Dr. Smith had arrived, we had met three of them: Adan, Angela, and Dr. Smith.

Later that morning, Mom was able to see April Jones, the nurse manager. We don’t know if seeing her or having a different doctor made the difference in Dad’s care that week, but Mom’s mood improved significantly after their visit. We still can’t tell you what a care plan looks like, because we never saw one. Evidently, care plans are prepared every week and are part of the patient’s chart. Patients and their families are apprised on a need-to-know basis, or when something happens. We learned that our best bet was to form relationships with the therapists.

Adan, the speech therapist, visited with Dad and administered a bedside swallow test with water, ice chips, and lemon swabs. He also felt Dad’s neck muscles, and believed that Dad was swallowing. Instead of the original plan of one time a week, Adan would now try to meet with Dad three times each week. Although Dad’s progress was slow, Adan thought that he was progressing toward his goals.

Dad had dialysis today, but they removed only 2.8 liters, which was less than what they had been removing. His WBC count was inching down and was now at 8.5—another good sign of progress.

July 7. Dad started the day somewhat agitated and confused, but his mental status improved as the day progressed. When Jennifer from physical therapy arrived, Dad told her that he was “as weak as a kitten.” Following their session, Jennifer said that Dad’s strength was improving faster than he appeared to realize. She thought that he was making good progress with his transfers and standing, and that his activity tolerance had also improved. Could it be that all that physical activity improved his mood and mentation?

At the end of the physical therapy session, Jennifer left him in the chair, where he remained for an hour. Although Mom’s mood improved with Dad’s increased physical activity, she became a bit agitated with the “junk and bugs” on the floor. This wasn’t a new complaint. Conditions were pretty similar at Memorial, too.

Adan stopped by today with some thickened cranberry juice for Dad to swallow. Adan was going to see if he could get a MBSS test at Memorial next week. If Dad could pass the test, then he could start eating again.

July 8.  It was dialysis day again. The nephrologist thought that Dad looked euvolemic—or normal—so they would not need to remove as much fluid. However, because he became hypotensive during dialysis, they had to stop fluid removal. In the end, they removed less than 2 liters.

We also received mixed news about his lab results. Although his WBC count was down to 7.7 and his hemoglobin was staying put at 8.5, his creatinine levels still exceeded 4.0—significantly higher than normal range of 0.6—1.2.

One of the daily routines occurred between the nurse (every nurse) and my Dad. Every day, multiple times each day, my father complained about being repositioned in the bed. This interruption occurred every two hours that he remained in bed (another good reason to get in the chair). Every time that my father complained, the nurse recited the importance of turns to prevent skin breakdown. He could be a challenge sometimes.

IMG_0839July 9. Dr. Smith said that in terms of his respiratory status, Dad was doing well. Unfortunately, he still had too many secretions to have his trach tube red-capped. He also said that, although it was still elevated, Dad’s creatinine levels seemed to be dropping. He wasn’t going to make any predictions but thought that Dad might be having some recovery of his kidney function. Wouldn’t that be great!

Jennifer from physical therapy was pretty optimistic, too. She noted that Dad was able to pull himself up and reposition himself in bed with little or no assistance. Mom was pretty excited about Dad’s physical therapy session. He walked in the hall that day with the assistance of a walker. Following therapy, he sat in the chair again for an hour. Dad’s swallow therapy was progressing too, albeit much slower.

Following an afternoon of flying endorphins from all of Dad’s physical activity, their friend, Marilyn, stopped by for a short visit. When Mom got home that evening, she picked some cantaloupes and tomatoes from my parents’ killer garden. Dad had missed the garden-fresh cucumbers; maybe he’d be home in time to enjoy fresh-picked melons from their garden.

July 10. It was Friday, and dialysis day. The lab results were encouraging. All of his levels had improved since Wednesday. His hemoglobin was up, his WBC count was down to 7.4, and his creatinine finally fell below 4.0. I arrived from Houston shortly after 3:30 P.M. After a week of good news, I was eager to see him again. Unfortunately, he was still pretty tired and disoriented from his dialysis session. At 4:15 P.M., he asked us to leave for the day.

Mom and I decided to take advantage of our free time and worked in the garden. We picked about three dozen figs; I picked 13 tomatoes, five cantaloupes, and one cucumber. I thought that I had pulled up all the cucumber plants, but one escaped me and the cucumber was about the size of a melon.

July 11. Mom and I arrived at the CCH at 9:25 A.M., in time to see a whirlwind of activity around Dad. Evidently, his feeding tube was clogged again and the nurse’s aide was trying to clear it. When Dr. Smith arrived, the small room seemed filled to capacity. In addition to some of the typical daily goals, like the requirement to get out of bed and into the chair, he announced that he wanted to see if they could remove Dad’s central line. Central lines and dialysis catheters are like infection highways with exits into your heart and brain, among other vital organs. The doctor thought that Dad was improving to the point that he could have the central line removed and replaced with an IV for the administration of his meds. I had some mixed feelings about this. IVs don’t stay in for long periods, which meant more sticks, and he was a poor stickee. I inhaled, but kept my thoughts to myself. I didn’t know what Dad thought, but I inherited his challenging veins and wondered if we shared similar anxious thoughts. The tech was able to hit a vein on the first try, which was practically a miracle.

Although Dad’s creatinine levels were improving, his kidneys weren’t giving up nearly enough fluid. In a two-day period, they needed to release about 2 liters. What they didn’t give up was pulled off during dialysis. If only you could give your kidneys a pep talk.

Dr. Smith thought that Dad was still a few days away from having his trach tube red-capped. Dad still had some infection in his lungs and he was still coughing up a lot of secretions. Later in the day, the respiratory therapist suggested that Dad might get his red cap on Monday or Tuesday.

When Mom and I returned after lunch, Dad had a new feeding tube, but it was somewhat uncomfortable. The tube has a very small diameter and is very flexible. It contains a thin wire to aid insertion and which appears on x-rays, which in turn are used to ensure that the tube is properly positioned. After the doctor finally had had the opportunity to review the x-ray of the positioning of Dad’s new tube, the nurse removed the wire, which improved the comfort level. Then the nurse restarted the Nepro tube feed.

As sick as Dad still was, the little things seemed to really annoy him, which I guess I should have taken as a good sign. He absolutely detested the oral care treatments that he received several times during the day. He thought that the mouthwash was the vilest thing he had ever tasted and asked the respiratory therapist, “which gas station they visited to find that stuff.” Considering that he used the original Listerine at home that was really saying something about the taste. His oral care was important, so I didn’t respond to his complaints. I was more concerned when he complained a couple of times that his IV site was painful.

IMG_0845Before Mom and I left for the day, Dad told Mom to be sure to give the neighbors some of our cantaloupes. Mom said that she had planned to give them away and would start with our neighbors to the north after we got home.

Mom was really struggling from the over-cooled building and had me stop on the way home for throat lozenges. We also picked up a birthday card for one of my cousins. My Dad had been mailing birthday cards to his nieces, nephews, and their children. As the last of his generation, he wanted to maintain the connection with the younger generation of Lockes. Mom and I hoped that he’d be home in time to sign and mail the October birthday cards.

From the bum’s rush to a snail’s pace

Thursday, June 18. Mom and I drove in separate cars to the hospital and arrived shortly before 8:00 A.M. Dad was still sleeping and still on CPAP. Although I knew that the CPAP gave his lungs a break, it made him look as if he was breathing hard. Blair, his nurse, told me that his WBC count was down to 9,900, which put him back into normal territory. According to Dr. Sanchez, Dad had had an uneventful night, and was doing much better today.

Janie was the respiratory therapist and, for some reason, Dad just didn’t cotton to her. He especially disliked the deep suctioning and respiratory treatment that she administered that morning. That good time was followed by the always fun mouth cleansing. Although Dad hated it, mouth cleansing is very important for patients who aspirate. If you’re going to aspirate your saliva, it should be as clean as possible. At the end of this session, Janie switched Dad from CPAP to the trach collar so that he could breathe independently. Being on the trach collar also meant that we could attach the speaking valve.

Dr. Walker, the nephrologist, said that Dad would need dialysis this day, and he’d also need to visit IR to have his dialysis catheter changed out, which was one of the prerequisites for his transfer to the Scott & White Continuing Care Hospital (CCH). She was pretty sure that Dad wouldn’t transfer to the CCH today. She added that there was a pretty good chance that they would dialyze Dad tomorrow, too. The CCH dialyzed on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Having dialysis tomorrow would get him in sync with their schedule.

Dad still had his chest tube, and he couldn’t leave until it was removed. Dr. Sanchez assured us that he would remove Dad’s chest tube later in the day, but I would have to hear about it second hand. I had to return to Houston for a couple of days, and I left the hospital at 10:00 A.M. As I was turning onto FM 93, which intersected with my parents’ street, I saw two ambulances turn down their street. I learned later that day that their next-door neighbor had died from a gunshot wound. It was almost too much to take in.

Dad completed his second four-hour dialysis session. The doctor thought that he tolerated it “fairly well,” but these four-hour sessions left Dad drained. Dad had a little difficulty breathing during the afternoon and was returned to CPAP support. He had lost a little blood during the catheter change out, and the IR department had a difficult time stopping the bleeding. The blood loss was enough to cause his hemoglobin level to drop, which meant that he required another unit of blood.

Friday, June 19. Dad had slept well during the night on CPAP support and was moved to the trach-collar at 7:00 A.M. According the nurse, Dad’s WBC count was down to 9,000, which was terrific news. This good news was tempered by the arrival of the dialysis nurse. As the nephrologist had predicted the previous day, Dad had more dialysis during the morning. Although Dad seemed to be progressing well, the doctors decided to delay his transfer until Monday so that they could monitor his hemoglobin levels. Later that day, Sandra, one of the church’s lay leaders, stopped by to visit Dad. This visit was the first of many from this exceptional and caring woman.

June 20. Stan and I drove from Houston to Temple separately—Stan arriving before lunch. When I arrived midafternoon, I was cautiously alarmed when I learned that Dad’s WBC count had ticked up 400 points to 9,400. Although I was assured that it was not statistically significant, any increase in his WBC count made me nervous. Mom said that he had had some pretty thick secretions, and the respiratory therapist had suctioned several times before I arrived.

We returned to the hospital after dinner so that we could say good night and speak to his night nurse.

Father’s Day, June 21. Mom and I arrived at the hospital and visited with Dad before we attended church. Dad was sound asleep, but we were pleasantly surprised to see Daytime Natalie in his room when we arrived. For the past few days it seemed that we were getting a string of new nurses—people who didn’t know him or his medical history. Natalie told me that Dad had received deep suctioning earlier that morning. She also told me that his WBC count was up to 11,400, a 2,000 point increase from the previous day.

Compared to a of couple days earlier, today he seemed lethargic and very sleepy. When he finally woke up, he kept saying that a procedure had gone wrong during the night, and he demanded to see the doctor. Because there was no evidence of any procedure during the night, when Dr. Velazco arrived, he ordered another respiratory treatment, an ABG, and an X-ray for Dad. Stan arrived shortly thereafter and Mom and I went on to church. Father’s Day wasn’t starting out as well as we had hoped.

After lunch, the three of us returned to the hospital to celebrate Father’s Day. Dad opened his cards, but he didn’t want to open any gifts. It was raining when Stan left for Houston around 3:00 P.M. We didn’t like to leave our cats at home alone too long. Stan had made this trip several times since Mother’s Day, but I never relaxed until I knew that he had arrived home safely.

It hadn’t been the greatest Father’s Day. Other than hearing that Stan had made it home safe and sound, the best news of the day was that the ABG didn’t show any problems with Dad’s blood gases. Mom and I left for the evening at 5:00 P.M. feeling just a little depressed. It seemed like we kept meeting obstacles that we couldn’t overcome.