Two bad colds, and a partridge in a pear tree

December 25, 2015. At 3:45 A.M., I was awakened again by the gurgling sounds coming through the baby monitor, and hurried downstairs to check on Dad. As was the case yesterday, his speaking valve had come off and secretions were running out of the trach and onto his chest. I suctioned his trach, changed his dressing, and got him cleaned up. As Dianne was helping Dad change into a dry nightshirt, we noticed blood on his blanket. We quickly discovered that he was bleeding from his elbow. His fragile skin was susceptible to skin tears, and he often got them by just rubbing against fabric. We cleaned up the blood and bandaged him, and helped him back into bed. He then used the Yankauer wand to suction himself. Fortunately, his secretions were not as bad as they had been last night. While I was in his room, I took his temperature, which was slightly elevated again. By 4:15 A.M., Dad was drifting back to sleep and I was headed upstairs to bed. I slept until 6:45 A.M., when I was awakened by the sound of him coughing. I also heard Mom in the kitchen. It was Christmas morning, so I thought that I should get up and join her. Historically on Christmas morning, I was the one who leapt out of bed before dawn, turned on the lights on the tree, and started the music and the coffee, and hollered for everyone to get up, but I was really dragging this year because of this awful cold.

xmasOrnament1While I was finding my first cup of coffee, Dianne tried to interest Dad in a sponge bath, but he wouldn’t entertain the idea. During recent physical therapy sessions, he had practiced transitioning in and out of the shower, and he would have a “proper” shower after the holidays. Unfortunately, while he was holding out for a proper shower, he was accumulating several layers of dead skin, which caused flakiness and bumps to appear on his extremities. When I returned to his room to see how he was feeling, he said that he felt better than yesterday, but he wavered a bit when I helped him transition to his wheelchair.

Before I left his room, he instructed me to get out his red shirt and gray-blue trousers for Christmas. I was already wearing a red shirt and was encouraged that he wanted to wear his traditional Christmas attire. He and I weren’t feeling festive, but we still wanted to look the part.

2015_xmas_013After we all opened our presents, Mom, Stan, Dianne, and I enjoyed our family’s traditional breakfast of Christmas morning loaf and bear claws. After tidying the kitchen somewhat, I accompanied Dad as he wheeled himself from the bedroom to the sunken sunroom where we had the tree. Stan and Dianne helped Dad step down into the sunroom and over to a chair—a real chair and not the wheelchair. My parents and husband had long since resigned themselves to my insistence on our traditional family photo session on Christmas Day, but no one seemed to mind it this year. I usually came armed with fancy hats or other props, but this year I was just happy that our Christmas photo included the four of us.

After all of the excitement of opening packages and navigating the step to the sunken sunroom for photographs, Dad was ready for a nap.

xmasOrnament2After Dad woke up, he and Stan played several hands of cribbage, and Stan finally won, which was a major feat as Dad was darn good at the game. Dad was still fighting a chest cold and Stan was fighting a migraine, so they were both ready for naps when they finished their grueling match. Mom and I didn’t want to take naps, but we eventually fell asleep while sitting on the couch.

By the time that happy hour rolled around, we were all awake. Dad snoozed during our dinner and joined us for a rousing game of Oh Hell, in which he tied with Dianne for first place. His temperature had been slightly elevated today, but not enough for me to call the after-hours home care nurse.

December 26. Shortly before 1:00 A.M., the grinding sound of the suction machine blared through the baby monitor. After a few minutes, it stopped, but started again at 1:45 A.M. Dad resisted suctioning himself during the night, so I knew that he must be suffering. As soon as I entered his room, I checked his vitals; his oxygenation levels were borderline and his temperature was 99.6 degrees. I suctioned his trach and removed some very thick secretions. As much as I knew that he would hate it, I told him that I had to remove his speaking valve because it was restricting some of the oxygen intake.

Removing the speaking valve meant that he couldn’t call out for help, so I returned to his room a couple of more times before 4:00 A.M. to check on him, and then stayed with him until he woke up.

xmasOrnament1When he and Dianne were awake, I went to the kitchen for some coffee and to visit with Mom. I checked on Dad again and suctioned his trach, and then returned to my bedroom. Stan was just waking up, and I asked him to let me sleep for another 30 minutes and then wake me so that I could administer Dad’s meds. When I knew that Dad was up and about, I went back to bed and slept until 9:00 A.M.

After I had been up for awhile, Dad wheeled himself into the kitchen and thanked me and apologized for keeping me awake for most of the night. I told him that I would accept his thanks but not his apology. He could not help being sick any more than I could, but I couldn’t sleep if I knew that he was suffering and unable to help himself. As much as I liked having the aides in his room, we had hired quite a few sound sleepers. They often didn’t wake up until after I entered the bedroom.

Stan had purchased a turntable that could convert LP recordings to audio files. My parents have a large collection of 78 RPM records that Stan wanted to save, and he and Dad spent the remainder of the morning trying to get it to work. We were much more successful getting Dad to eat ice and walk around the house than recording music. Dianne was also able to interrupt the post-holiday festivities to get Dad to practice his swallowing exercises.

After lunch, Dad was ready for a nap. A cold front was moving through the area and weather changes usually triggered migraines for Stan, so he also took a nap. When Dad woke up from his nap at 2:30 P.M., I changed out his trach.

xmasOrnament2He and Stan played a couple games of cribbage, each winning one game. We were able to get Dad to consume one cup of crushed ice during happy hour, which made three cups for the day. I kept reminding Dad that Kristen had told us that nothing improved swallowing more than swallowing. After dinner, we played Oh Hell, and I won on the last hand, beating Mom by two points.

About the time that we finished playing cards, Dad started coughing again. I was a little surprised, because he had coughed only a few times since getting up this morning. It seemed that his secretions thickened and the coughing started with the approach of bedtime. When we got to the bedroom, I checked his oxygen saturation, and it was down to 90% and then dropped into the 80s. Had I not changed out his trach earlier today, I would have thought that his trach might be partially blocked. He hadn’t had his oxygen saturation level drop below 90% in many months. I told him that I’d need to remove the speaking valve again so that we didn’t restrict his oxygen intake.

I set my iPhone timer to wake me every hour so that I could check on him, but I might have been up more often than that. He seemed to be struggling with the secretions and I suctioned a lot of thick secretions from his trach. My goal was to keep his oxygen saturation level at a minimum of 92%, and I would not replace the speaking valve until he reached 93%. At midnight, his oxygen level was up to 92%.

xmasOrnament1December 27. At 2:00 A.M., I heard the sounds of coughing through the baby monitor. When I approached Dad’s bed, I saw that he had moved the oxygen trach mask away from his trach. In my bleary-eyed state two hours earlier, I had not returned the oximeter to its normal spot, and now I couldn’t find it to check his oxygen saturation. After I finished suctioning him, Dianne found the oximeter, and we saw that his oxygen level was at 93%.  When I returned to his room two hours later, it was time for him to get up and get ready for dialysis. Thankfully, his oxygen level had now reached 95%. Dad didn’t usually have dialysis on Sunday, but the schedule had been modified to accommodate the Christmas holiday, which had fallen on Friday this year.

Dad was ready to go at 5:45 A.M. The weather was bad, and when the HOP had not arrived by 6:15 A.M., we were concerned that the bus was not coming; thankfully, they were just running late. After Dad and Dianne left, I went back to bed. Stan woke me about an hour later because he saw a text message arrive on my phone from Dianne about Dad’s low blood pressure. Although I appreciated that she wanted to keep me informed, I was pretty sick and wanted to sleep. Low blood pressure was always a possibility during dialysis and the nurses could adjust the dialysis machines to alleviate most problems.

In all the time that I had been living with my parents since my father’s discharge from the hospital or during weekend visits, I had not missed church on Sunday, but I was pretty certain that the entire congregation would be grateful if I stayed home today. Stan drove Mom to church and I tried to go back to sleep. No sooner had I closed my eyes than I heard the chime of my phone announcing the arrival of another text message. Dianne now informed me that Dad’s oxygen saturation levels were low. It was 10:15 A.M. and I was wearing my scrubs, so I decided that I should get up and go to the dialysis center and suction Dad–something that the nurses would not do. I had not told Dianne that I was coming, so she and Dad were surprised to see me. Between the suction machine and the Yaunaker provided by the dialysis center and our supplies in Dad’s dialysis bag, I had everything that I needed and was able to suction him in a matter of minutes. His oxygen levels were low and he was coughing, but I didn’t find any secretions in his trach. I couldn’t provide any more assistance, so I returned home.

xmasOrnament2By noon, Dad and Dianne were back home, and Dad was ready to lie down for a nap. After we transitioned him to the bed, I administered his meds and suctioned him again, and this time I pulled quite a bit of thick secretions from his trach. When he woke from his nap at 2:00 P.M., his oxygen saturation level was down to 88%, a reading that would have set off the alarm on the hospital monitors. I decided to administer the contents of a saline bullet before I suctioned him. I had been provided with a box of saline bullets when Dad came home, and each bullet contained 30 ml of saline, which would break down the secretions. I later learned that the use of saline bullets is a disputed practice, with some nurses professing that it can do more harm than good, but was what I was taught by the respiratory therapists at the CCH. When I tested his oxygen saturation a few minutes after I had suctioned him, his oxygen level had improved to 91%.

Dad was ready to get up from his nap. When Stan was here, Dad liked to play cribbage, and he needed to get his cribbage fix before Stan left. When they were finished, Dad was ready for another nap, but gave us strict orders to wake him before happy hour.

When I went to Dad’s room to wake him for happy hour, the oxygen trach mask was nowhere near his trach and his oxygen level was down to 79%. This wasn’t turning out to be one of my better home-care days. I placed his trach mask over the trach and increased the oxygen levels on the concentrator and his oxygen level soon returned to the 90% range.

Because I had been removing Dad’s speaking valve during the night, Stan wanted to find a way that Dad could notify Dianne and me if he needed assistance. Stan returned from a shopping trip with a doorbell and a duck call, neither of which was met with any enthusiasm. We decided to stick with our current process where I would check in on him every hour or so during the nights that he didn’t have the speaking valve.

xmasOrnament1After playing a spirited game of Oh Hell, where Mom won, we had Dad ready for bed shortly after 8:15 P.M. After Mom went to bed, Stan and I puttered around the house and talked for a while before we went to bed. Although we spoke every night on the phone, we had been living a sort of strange existence for the past few months, and it was nice to just sit and talk. We knew of couples who lived in different cities and “visited” occasionally, but I couldn’t live like that.

When we finally went to bed at 10:00 P.M., I set the timer on my iPhone to wake me every two hours, but I was so sensitive to the sounds emanating from the baby monitor, I was pretty sure that I’d be up more often than that to check Dad’s oxygen saturation levels and to suction him, and I was.

2015_xmas_24

Why did it have to be a snake?

December 14, 2015. We had a 9:00 A.M. appointment today with Dr. Pfanner, the gastroenterologist. Before Michell had left on Wednesday, she had mentioned to me that Dad had seemed a bit weaker. His strength had seemed to wax and wane depending on the quality of his sleep. However, yesterday Katherine also mentioned Dad’s weakness and suggested that we ask the doctor to order another CDiff test. Some of Dad’s symptoms were returning, and we suspected that his last course of antibiotics had not completely eradicated the infection.

spidersSnakesCrossWhen we arrived at the doctor’s office, the nurses and doctor were agog about Dad, repeating how much better he looked than he had just a few weeks earlier. The nurse said that seeing him “just made her day.” They were also pleased that he had gained a couple of pounds. His weight was up to 139 pounds. The dietitian said that if he passed his swallow test, she would recommend that we start him on bolus feeds, which would mimic three to four meals per day. I also asked her about putting him on a probiotic diet to reduce the likelihood of contracting CDiff. She thought that that was a good idea and that she would discuss options with Dr. Pfanner. I also asked her if we could have Dad retested for CDiff because for the past couple of days he seemed to be exhibiting some of its symptoms again. Dr. Pfanner told me to order VSL#3 Probiotics for Dad and administer one sachet a day in his feeding tube. He said that he would rather wait a couple of more days to see if Dad’s symptoms persisted before retesting him for CDiff.

The gastroenterologist’s office was located in the clinic at the hospital. While Dad and Katherine waited for the HOP to take them home, I decided to stop by my parents’ cardiologist, whose office was in the hospital. Dr. Elizabeth Ebert was not available, but I was able to speak with Jennifer, her nurse, about removing Metoprolol, a Lopressor, from Dad’s list of meds. To this layperson, this drug seemed at cross-purposes with another one of his medications. Jennifer said that Cardiology would defer to Nephrology about all of his blood pressure prescriptions, so I would need to contact Dr. Issac. After Dad and Katherine returned home, Dad took a nap.

spidersSnakesCrossMom had mistakenly scheduled the physical therapist for 1:30 P.M., which conflicted with Dad’s standing appointment with the speech therapist. Although he had been a little weak during his last session, he had a good physical therapy session today with Brenda. When Kristin, the speech therapist, arrived at 2:00 P.M., she said that she could reschedule Dad’s session for the same time this Friday.

At 4:30 P.M., I changed Dad’s trach tube. It didn’t go as smoothly as most of the other changes, but it wasn’t nearly as horrible the last the time when I got the two trach collars tangled up on the collars’ Velcro. I’m always unnerved when Dad seems like he can’t breathe, and he turns all red, which can happen after 10 seconds. Katherine is a wonderful CMA and had been handling the daily trach care and the meds for me, but she said that she didn’t want any part of the trach changing and she was glad that I was around to do it.

spidersSnakesCrossDuring happy hour, Dad seemed to use the Yankauer suction wand more often than usual and coughed up a lot of secretions. It wasn’t unusual for him to cough more than usual after I changed the trach, and I suspected that the lubricant that I used on the trach tube was the culprit. The addition of ice, which probably hardened the lubricant somewhat, might have contributed to the additional irritation and secretions.

December 15. Dad and Katherine were up at 4:15 A.M. Except for waking up for a few minutes at 11:30 P.M., Dad had had a good night’s sleep. Mom had called the dispatch office yesterday to set up Dad’s pickup schedule for the next two weeks. Because we now understood that we had to schedule time by the target arrival time and not the pickup time, today’s bus arrived at the more reasonable hour of 6:00 A.M., approximately 25 minutes later than before. Katherine mentioned that Dad’s CDiff symptoms were worsening and that the diarrhea seemed to have returned with a vengeance. As much as I liked Dr. Pfanner, I was just a little annoyed that he hadn’t ordered the lab work and wouldn’t do so for another 24 hours.

spidersSnakesCrossToday, I drove 65 miles to Austin to attend an annual lunch with a group of former coworkers. It was a long way to go for lunch, but we had been meeting for about 15 years, and I always looked forward to seeing these guys. The luncheon also gave me an opportunity to share more of my holiday biscotti and experience one of my normal activities and traditions.

While I was in Austin, Dad seemed much weaker and stumbled and almost fell when he tried to reach for the urinal. Later, he almost toppled over when he got up from the commode. Katherine was learning that she had to keep a watchful eye on him at all times. Dad admitted to her that he was feeling weak and tired, and by 1:00 P.M., he was ready for a nap.

Dad was waking up from his nap when I arrived home at 2:00 P.M. I worked the rest of the afternoon, stopping at 5:00 P.M. when Dad announced that it was time for happy hour.

spidersSnakesCrossWhile we were eating, Dad was sitting in his wheelchair in his bedroom, but became impatient with us and decided to wait for us in bed. Instead of asking for assistance, he decided that he could make the transfer from the wheelchair to the bed by himself. We didn’t realize what he had done until we went to get him to play cards. Because his tube feed and oxygen were attached to the wheelchair, the oxygen and G-tube lines were pulled taught. Once again, I was relieved that he hadn’t decannulated himself by such a stunt. Katherine thought that he was OK, but I noticed a stain on his shirt. When we lifted the shirt, blood appeared to be seeping from his G-tube stoma.

Instead of playing cards, I called the Homecare nurse and texted Sue. Sue called me immediately. We spoke at length, and she tried to assure me that he was probably fine. While I had her on the phone, I decided to tell her about my conversation with Dr. Ebert’s nurse. Sue said that she wanted to keep Dad on the Metoprolol. In response to my call to the Homecare after-hours number, Leo, the night nurse, stopped by, cleaned around the stoma, checked Dad’s vitals, and left at 9:30 P.M. To avoid any similar incidents in the future, we assured Dad that we wanted him to call us at any time and that assisting him would not be a burden.

It was way past bedtime for all of us, and we prepared Dad for bed as soon as Leo left.

spidersSnakesCrossDecember 16. After our late night with Leo, Dad slept in until almost 7:00 A.M. He had now endured the two additional days of CDiff symptoms, so I called Dr. Pfanner’s office as soon as his office opened. I spoke with Talitha, his nurse, to see if she could order a CDiff test for Dad, but she wanted to check with the doctor. After I tired of waiting for a return call, I emailed Dad’s nephrologist to see if he would order the test. By the time Talitha got around to placing the orders, she saw that the order had already been placed by nephrology.

At 10:45 A.M., Michell returned for her week with us. With all of the folderol last week, her week off was only three days. I’m sure that her time off flew by. After Katherine left, I found a note that she had written:

Mr. & Mrs. Locke & Melody,

I just wanted to say thank you so very much for allowing me the opportunity to meet y’all and care for Mr. Locke.

This week has been a true blessing not only for the work (money) but for getting to be a part of y’all’s lives. It’s been a true pleasure.

Have a wonderful week.
Katherine E. S.

Dad had a full schedule of therapists today. Less than an hour after Michell arrived, Janet arrived for Dad’s occupational therapy session. As soon as she left, Dad wanted to lie down for a nap.

spidersSnakesCrossDad woke from his nap about 30 minutes before the always-prompt Kristen arrived for Dad’s swallow therapy session. She was very encouraging and said that Dad was progressing extremely well.

About 40 minutes after Kristen left, Brenda arrived for Dad’s physical therapy session. She also said that Dad was progressing well and said that she would speak with Kathleen, her manager, about increasing Dad’s goals.

Shortly after happy hour, Timothy from American HomePatient stopped by with 12 more tanks of oxygen and a new tube feed pump. Before he left, he showed me how to use it. This pump wasn’t very different, but it used different-sized bags. We had a huge supply of the bags that fit the other pump, but he could not take them. We had so many boxes of supplies that I decided to stash the extra bags in case we needed them again. After Timothy left with the bleeping Kangaroo pump, we played cards, and Michell won.

spidersSnakesCrossWhen I went upstairs to bed, I called Stan to tell him about the day and say goodnight. He was at the office and would be working all night. He also told me that he was now on call for the next week, which meant that he could not drive up to Temple this weekend. Damn.

December 17. I had been working for about 30 minutes when Dad and Michell got up around 4:00 A.M. Each morning when Mom got up, she stepped out the front door to get the newspaper. My parents had the most wonderful paper carrier on earth. Each morning he would pull into their circle driveway, get out of his car, and place the newspaper on the front porch. On most mornings, my parents could simply lean down and pick up the paper without stepping out of the door onto the front porch.

IMG_1344Today, however, was different. Although the paper was in the right place, Mom saw something on the front porch that kept her from opening the door. When Mom looked out of the front windows, she saw a large snake on the front porch, which wasn’t all that unusual. It scared her enough, though, that she wouldn’t open the door to get the paper, and she came to the office to get me—the biggest wuss in the world when it comes to snakes. When I looked out the front window, I had to laugh. The snake turned out to be a bungee cord that fell off of Timothy’s hand truck during his delivery last night. With the bravado of Crocodile Dundee’s better half, I boldly walked outside, captured the bungee snake, and picked up the newspaper.

Before they left for dialysis, I shared the story of the bungee snake with Dad and Michell, and we all got a good laugh out of the tale, including Mom.

spidersSnakesCrossThe bus arrived back home with Dad and Michell at 11:25 A.M. After administering Dad’s meds and getting him settled for a nap, Michell and I collected another stool specimen that I dropped off at the Scott & White lab.

With all of the interruptions of the day, I didn’t get back to work until 4:00 P.M. I was exhausted and ate some M&Ms in an attempt to stay alert for the short time that I worked. We lived on a schedule here, so I stopped working at 5:00 P.M. We had happy hour before dinner at 6:00 P.M.

Because we had had a big lunch of meatloaf sandwiches, we weren’t terribly hungry at dinnertime, so we had minestrone. After dinner, the four of us played cards, and Mom won.

spidersSnakesCrossIt felt so easy and comfortable now that Michell was back with us. I made a point of telling her how glad I was that she was back. I should do that more often. It had been a busy day of snake wrangling, test samples, errands, and even some work. I was in bed by 8:15 P.M and glad to be there.

Progressing to a new mode of transportation

November 30, 2015. I woke up at 3:30 A.M., and Dad and Gale woke about two hours later. Dad’s strength had returned to his pre-CDiff levels, and he was in great spirits. Today he would be assessed for an additional 60 days of home care under Medicare. He had been scheduled for this assessment last week but it was canceled when we were temporarily discharged from home care.

medicalCrossThe parade of provider assessments started with Kathleen, the physical therapist, at 10:30 A.M. She was followed at 11:30 A.M. by Janet, the occupational therapist, and at 1:30 P.M. by Stephanie, the nurse. During Kathleen’s visit, she asked how Dad was being transported to dialysis. We told her that we had wanted to use the HOP, but were still using the Scott & White wheel chair service. On October 26, we had hand-delivered our application in hopes that we could expedite the process. We were told at that time that the approval process might take as long as three weeks. We had now waited more than a month. Being able to use the HOP’s paratransit service would save us $114 per week, and we were anxious to take advantage of the cost savings. We had tried calling, but could not get through to a human. Kathleen was familiar with the HOP organization and immediately used a seemingly secret number to phone the office to check on Dad’s status. During her call, she learned that Dad had been approved on November 10, more than two weeks ago, but somehow his paperwork was misplaced and not mailed to us. We could either wait to have them mail it to us or we could stop by the office later today to pick up the paperwork.

During my lunch break, Mom and I drove to the HOP office to retrieve Dad’s ID card and a booklet of regulations. We were told that we would have to call the dispatch office to schedule Dad’s pickup times. When we returned home, Mom called the HOP dispatch office, and I happily called the Scott & White EMS wheelchair van service and canceled Dad’s pickups. Transitioning to the public transit system seemed like a huge milestone.

Shortly after Mom and I returned home from the HOP office, our dear friend Mike called to tell us that he would be passing through Temple en route to Houston from Wisconsin. I had not seen Mike since May 15, 2015, the night that Mom had her stroke. Mike is married to Rhoda, who had come to Houston to help me the day after Mom had her stroke. My parents and I looked forward to seeing him again.

At 2:00 P.M., Kristen arrived for her regularly-scheduled swallow therapy session with Dad. At the end of Dad’s session, she said that Dad was “amazing” and that she wanted me to schedule an appointment for a “cookie swallow” test, otherwise known as a modified barium swallow study (MBSS). She also said that next week Dad would advance from ice chips to applesauce. I was excited, yet scared to death. For so long we had made no progress, and some doctors said that he’d never swallow again. Now, after just a couple of weeks with a speech pathologist, he was about to make a remarkable advancement. On the other hand, after just a couple of weeks working with a speech pathologist, he was going to swallow something that could potentially set him back six months. To say the least, my emotions were all over the map. It didn’t help matters any that my father seemed to have a cavalier attitude about what was happening. He seemed to worry more about tomorrow’s bus ride than he did about protecting his airway.

Kristen left at 4:00 P.M., and after a day of visitors and therapy, Dad was ready for a nap. An hour later, he was awake and ready for happy hour and ice chips. By 6:30 P.M., happy hour and dinner were over, and we were ready for a cutthroat game of cards. Gale was on a roll and won again, although not as handily as she had the previous night.

Our bedtime routine started at 7:30 P.M., and Dad was in bed and ready for trach care by 8:00 P.M. Today, it felt like we were finally back in the groove and back on the road to recovery.

December 1. Dad did not sleep well. He was worried about today’s bus ride to dialysis. At 3:15 A.M., he was the first one awake and was eager to get up. At 3:30 A.M., he asked Gale for the booklet of rules and regulations. He had read that booklet so many times that I was certain that he had it memorized. I’d bet money that he had read the guidelines and rules more than any other HOP rider, and he’d been in possession of it for less than 24 hours.

When I came downstairs at 3:45 A.M., I was a little surprised to see him up. I was even more surprised when I returned from the kitchen 40 minutes later with a cup of coffee and saw that he was dressed and ready to go to dialysis. Needless to say, the very tired Gale was not ready. At 5:00 A.M., the parade of surprises continued when the phone rang. The dispatcher from the HOP called to let us know that the bus was en route to our house and would arrive in a few minutes. When Mom had scheduled his pickup time, she gave them the time that the bus needed to arrive at our house, which was 6:15 A.M. The scheduler interpreted that time as the time that Dad needed to arrive at the dialysis center. After we resolved that misunderstanding, the dispatcher said that the bus would arrive at 6:00 A.M. At 5:50 A.M., they arrived and pulled into my parents’ circular driveway. Mom and I watched as the wheelchair lift was lowered. The driver then wheeled Dad into the bus and ensured that the wheelchair was restrained. After Gale entered the bus, Dad paid his fare of $2, and they were off.

While Dad and Gale were at dialysis, Mom made a cake for Gale. Today was her birthday, and we wanted to celebrate it with her. Our friend Mike arrived a few minutes after 11:00 A.M. I had hoped that Dad would arrive home shortly after his session ended, but the bus did not arrive home until 12:30 P.M. Although Mike needed to be on his way to Houston, he stayed until 1:00 P.M. so that he could visit with Dad.

wheelchairShortly after Mike left, Dad was ready for a nap, and he slept until it was time for him to swallow some ice chips. As he wheeled himself from his room, he stopped by the office to let me know that I should stop for the day because it was time for happy hour.

After dinner, we presented Gale with her cake, sang to her, and gave her some cheesy gifts. Had she won at cards, her day would have been perfect, but it was not to be. Tonight was my night to win.

By 8:00 P.M., Dad was in bed and I had administered his meds and trach care. Now that he had had one successful day of public transportation under his belt, I hoped that he would sleep well.

December 2. We all had a good night’s sleep. I slept through my alarm and didn’t wake up until 4:30 A.M., and Dad slept until 6:00 A.M., although he wasn’t ready to leap out of bed even then. He was still in bed when I took a break at 7:00 A.M. to administer his meds and trach care. Dad pointed to his various tubes said that he’d be glad when he could get rid of “all of these wires.” I told him that he was in control of when the tubes would be removed. After he rolled his eyes at me, I reiterated the importance of his physical, occupational, and swallow therapy exercises, which he hated doing. After whistling in the wind for a few minutes, I returned to work and let Gale help him to get ready for the day.

An hour or so later, I heard Gale helping him with his swallowing exercises. He and Mom then ran through the exercises that Janet, the occupational therapist, had left for him.

Michell arrived at 11:20 A.M. and met with Gale so that she could catch up on the events of the past week and learn about the bus service. I think that Michell was relieved to hear that the week had been boring in comparison to her drama-week with us. After Gale left, I gave Michell a hug and told her how grateful we were that she had decided to return.

walkerGale had barely pulled out of the driveway when Brenda arrived for Dad’s physical therapy session. Brenda put him through his paces, having him walk 68 feet, march in place, stand on one foot, and stand on his toes. Dad was exhausted when she left and was ready for a nap. However, instead of sleeping until he woke up himself, he instructed Michell to wake him by 2:00 P.M.

A couple of hours after waking from his nap, Dad wanted Michell to help him with some of his exercises. I didn’t know if I had inspired him to exercise or if he was more interested in exercise because he was feeling better. The reason didn’t matter to me, as long as he exercised.

After happy hour and dinner, we played cards. Michell was tonight’s winner. By 8:00 P.M., Dad was in bed and practically asleep.

December 3. Dad was up at his regular time for a dialysis day and was ready when the HOP paratransit bus arrived at 5:40 A.M., which meant that Dad would be at dialysis almost an hour before his scheduled chair time. Ideally, he would be home an hour earlier, too.

I worked for about six hours and then packed up my laptop and drove back to Houston. Tonight was the last night of the semester for my photography class. I had missed most of the semester, and I wanted to attend the final critique. Not only did this class represent some remnant of normalcy for me, I wanted to share some of the holiday biscotti that I had baked.

Dad was finished with dialysis at 10:30 A.M. and was on the bus by 11:00 A.M., but because he was the last stop, he and Michell didn’t arrive home until almost 1:00 P.M. By 1:45 P.M., he was ready for a nap. While I was in Houston, Michell would assume responsibility for the trach care and meds. As has been the case with Gale, I had laid out all of the instructions and refilled the pill dispenser. I would be gone for less than 24 hours, so Michell and I both felt that she would get along fine without me.

During happy hour, Michell prepared more ice chips for Dad. After dinner, the three of them played Oh Hell, and Michell won again. After administering the meds and trach care, Michell had Dad ready for bed by 8:00 P.M. and he was asleep before she was ready for bed.

Unfortunately, Dad didn’t stay asleep very long, and by 11:50 P.M. he was fast awake. When Michell asked him why, he told her that he was thinking about problems. Fortunately for both of them, he drifted back to sleep within 30 minutes.

 

The diagnosis

November 21, 2015. Despite the howling winds that blew through town overnight, I slept well, waking up only a couple of times when I heard Dad coughing. I got up early and woke Dad and Michell shortly after 4:00 A.M. Dad woke up slowly and had another difficult morning. I administered another dose of Imodium in his G-tube, along with his morning dose of Midodrine, which would help raise his blood pressure during dialysis. Michell and I also had the fun task of collecting a stool specimen that we had to drop off at the dialysis center.

diagnsisLetter-dWhen Michell and Dad were picked up by the EMS wheelchair van service, Stan and I drove to the dialysis center. I had been very upset that they had removed 2,500 ml from Dad on Thursday, and I intended to express my concern to the charge nurse. For each 1,000 ml removed, a dialysis patient loses 1 kg. After I had explained Dad’s situation, she said that they would just clean his blood today and not remove any fluid from him.

I remained at the dialysis center with Dad until he was weighed, which would determine his wet weight. Instead of gaining weight since his last session, which is what typically happens with dialysis patients, he had lost weight. He now weighed 128 pounds, five pounds less than his dry weight on Friday. Although two dietitians were now monitoring his nutrition, I was very concerned about his weight. I know that Michell was concerned when she learned how much the nurse planned to remove, she didn’t feel that she was qualified or entitled to question their judgment.

diagnsisLetter-iAfter I saw Dad weighed, Stan and I left Dad and Michell at the dialysis center so that we could run several errands before Dad returned home. Everything worked in our favor, and we were home by 10:30 A.M. As it turned out, Stan and I didn’t have to rush. Dad and Michell had to wait for the van and didn’t return home until after noon.

As soon as he got home, I administered Dad’s trach care and meds. Following dialysis, Dad usually was ready for a nap, but not today. During the storm last night, we had wind gusts up to 40 MPH that ushered in a cold front, and we lost a roof shingle. As soon as I was finished with Dad, he was ready to discuss with Stan how to replace the shingle.

diagnsisLetter-aShortly before 2:00 P.M., Dad took a long nap on the couch while we were in the living room because he didn’t want to be away from us. I think that he thought that sleeping on the couch would ensure that he didn’t miss happy hour, but he slept through it. Dozing on the couch might not seem like a big deal, but it was another first for him in his post-hospital life. We had to rely on the oxygen tank and trach bib because we couldn’t bring the oxygen concentrator and nebulizer to the living room, but he was able to receive Nepro during his nap. He slept for about four hours, and we woke him when we finished dinner.

We played cards again, and Stan was tonight’s winner. Shortly after 8:30 P.M., we started our bedtime routine, and by 9:10 P.M., I was heading upstairs. I had been concerned that, after sleeping for so many hours today, Dad wouldn’t be able to sleep, but he was snoozing before I left the room. Since lunchtime, I had been feeling like I was coming down with a cold, so I took some Nyquil before bed. Even if it didn’t help fend off a cold, it would help me sleep.

diagnsisLetter-gAt 10:30 P.M., the baby monitor station in our room started alarming. After quickly putting on my glasses, I could read the message on the display that indicated that our station was unlinked from the base station. As I tried to turn on the light, I discovered that the power was out again, which was why the monitor was unlinked. I called the power company, whose phone number was now stored on my iPhone, and listened to the recorded message stating that the power would be restored by12:30 A.M. I went downstairs and checked on Dad and Michell. Although the baby monitor alarm was also sounding in their room, it was the silence of the oxygen concentrator that first woke Michell. When I entered the room, she was setting up an oxygen tank next to Dad’s bed. I called the power company again, and the recording had been changed and now stated that they didn’t know when the power would be restored. The power came back on at 3:30 A.M. as Michell was replacing Dad’s empty oxygen tank.

November 22. After the interrupted night’s sleep, I finally woke up when I heard Michell telling Dad that it was 6:00 A.M. When I entered the master bedroom, my first thought was that Dad seemed as sleepy as I felt. However, his movement seemed unnaturally slow. Right after he finished washing his face and brushing his teeth, Michell checked his oxygen saturation level, and it was 74%, a severely low level. I then noticed that I didn’t hear the soft hissing sound from the oxygen tank that I heard when the oxygen was flowing. When I checked the tank, the valve was in was in the off position, which surprised Michell. She was sure that it had been on and thought that Dad must have leaned against the key and turned it off. We quickly put him back on the bed, removed his speaking valve and gave him unobstructed oxygen from the concentrator and nebulizer. After 30 minutes, I still wasn’t happy with his oxygen levels, so to rule out any chance of an obstructed airway, I changed out his trach. For the past couple of weeks, we had been slowly reducing the amount of oxygen that we administered from the oxygen tanks and his oxygen saturation levels had remained high. I now decided to increase his oxygen level back to two liters, which is where it was when he was discharged from the CCH almost two months ago.

diagnsisLetter-nBy 8:00 A.M., Dad was back in the wheelchair and was reading the Sunday newspaper. When Mom and I left for church, he and Stan were playing cribbage. After a couple of games of cribbage, Dad wanted to lie down and rest. According to Michell, he fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. Usually, he liked for us to wake him before Stan left for Houston, but today he asked that we let him sleep.

We finally woke Dad and helped him out of bed shortly after 3:00 P.M. He was up for the rest of the evening, and Michell was able to get him to run through some of his swallow-therapy exercises. Dad rested in his room again while we ate dinner, and he was ready to play cards when we were finished eating. By 8:20 P.M., we were finished with cards and starting our nighttime routine. Less than 25 minutes later, we had finished administering the meds and trach care, and Dad was sound asleep.

diagnsisLetter-oNovember 23. Dad was very slow in waking up this morning. When I heard him and Michell talking, I took a break from work to administer his morning meds and trach care. Tracy, one of our RNs, called around 9:00 A.M.to see if we could be her first stop this morning. I was very low on the Mepilex dressings that American HomePatient didn’t provide and asked Tracy if she could bring me a few to tide me over until I could order more from Amazon. She said that she would stop by the office and pick up a couple for me. I was very fond of Tracy. She was a wonderful nurse and the mother of a special needs child. She was one of my favorite nurses and a very caring person. She arrived at my parents’ home at 10:00 A.M. with my requested dressing in hand. After her brief examination of Dad, she said that his bed sore was practically healed. With the way that Dad had been feeling, I didn’t want to take him back to the wound care doctor, which would most likely take the entire afternoon. She said that I could safely cancel his appointment with wound care today. Also, she didn’t think that I would need any more of the expensive Mepilex dressings. I happily accepted the good news and canceled the appointment with the doctor and the EMS wheelchair van service.

diagnsisLetter-sWhile Tracy was visiting, Dad spent the entire time either sitting or lying on the bed, so she didn’t see how weak he had become. Shortly before Tracy arrived, Michell had had to hold up Dad to keep him from falling when he was trying to get dressed. I hoped that we would hear something soon from Dr. Pfanner’s office.

I contacted Kathleen, the physical therapist, to see if she could come over today to take care of Dad’s 60-day assessment for Medicare. As part of the assessment, the Scott & White Home Care providers would recommend an additional 60 days of home care. Unfortunately, because the health care providers can’t perform their assessments more than five days before the assessment due date, which was this coming Saturday, the earliest that she could stop by would be Tuesday, which was a dialysis day. According to Kathleen, the therapists and the nurse would arrive on Wednesday to perform their assessments. After a couple of phone calls, she and I decided that to avoid a massive traffic jam of providers, she would conduct her assessment on Thanksgiving Day. I was impressed how everyone was willing to work on and around one of the biggest US holidays of the year. For us, every day had become basically the same, but these people all had families and lives outside of work. My only concern had to do with Dad’s diminishing strength and that he might not be able to exhibit progress during his assessments.

diagnsisLetter-iShortly before noon, Michell helped Dad with some of the exercises prescribed by the occupational therapist and then she, Mom, and I helped him walk from the kitchen to the bedroom.

Kristen arrived at 2:15 P.M. for Dad’s speech therapy session, but he was sleeping. I had thought that we would not see any of the therapists until next week, but Kristen said that she was not part of Kathleen’s team, plus, she had just started treating Dad. To enable Dad time to wake up, she said that she would visit with her next patient and return in about 90 minutes. She returned shortly before 4:00 P.M., and she and Dad had a good session.

I worked only a half day today and ended the day around the time that Dad woke up. I retired to the kitchen and baked a couple of batches of biscotti. I needed to get my annual baking underway, but I felt guilty for baking something that Dad liked but could not eat. It didn’t help that the aroma of the biscotti wafted throughout the house.

Late in the day, Dr. Pfanner’s nurse called and said that Dad tested positive for CDiff. She and I discussed some antibiotics that he could take for it, but she would need to consult with the doctor and get back to me. Evidently, Dad’s G-tube was causing them to rethink which medication to prescribe. It was ironic that this infection was probably caused by Dad’s long-time usage of antibiotics, yet it would take another antibiotic to get rid of it. It was terrible that he had contracted this infection, but at least we knew why he had had this terrible diarrhea and that he would soon have medication to treat it.

diagnsisLetter-sI would need to leave town again for a day or two in early December. I had asked Michell if she would consider administering trach care and the meds while I was gone. I told her that Gale had performed these same tasks while I was gone a couple of weeks earlier. Michell had worked in nursing homes before she took a position with One On One Personal Homecare Services. In nursing homes, she would not have been permitted to perform either of these tasks. The rules of home care were at the discretion of the home care providers, namely me. I encouraged her to speak with Gale to see how she had managed. Truth be told, Michell had already performed tasks here that would have been off limits for her in a nursing home. Fortunately, Michell said that she would agree to be trained by me and give me her final decision after she had a chance to speak with Gale. During our nighttime routine, I showed her how to administer the trach care. She was nervous, and it would take a bit more practice with her, but I had to give her credit; I don’t know if I would have been willing to assume responsibility for the trach care had I been in her shoes.

 

Just when I thought we were making some progress

hoyerLift
Hoyer lift and sling

November 10, 2015. Dad had another good night’s sleep. At 4:00 A.M., I took a short break from work and woke Dad and Michell. They progressed through their morning routine without any hitches, but Dad was a bit apprehensive about today’s trip to dialysis. Although today’s transit service to dialysis would be with the wheelchair transit and not the gurney service, he was probably nervous about being moved from the wheelchair with the Hoyer lift. It was supposed to be a safe way to move less ambulatory patients, but it was an unknown entity for us. Before the transit van arrived, we positioned the Hoyer sling under Dad so that the nurse could attach it to the lift when he reached the dialysis center.

When Michell and Dad arrived at the dialysis center, instead of using the Hoyer lift, the EMTs picked up Dad and placed him in the dialysis chair. We had hoped that the nurse at the dialysis center would weigh Dad in the wheelchair so that we could establish a dry weight for him, but the EMTs were too fast. When Dad’s session was finished, Michell encountered a couple of EMTs who had just dropped off a patient. She was able to convince them to transport them home, which enabled Michell and Dad to arrive home at  11:15 A.M., which tied our record time.

Between my working and Dad’s three hours’ worth of naps, I didn’t see him except for trach care until happy hour. He seemed well rested, and by 7:45 P.M., he had beat us at Oh Hell. He headed for bed, and we were finished with our nighttime routine by 8:15 P.M. Our mornings and nights were starting to run like well-oiled machines.

laZbonesNovember 11. Dad had another good night. I might have heard him cough twice. At 7:45 A.M., I was between meetings and wanted to administer trach care and meds, but Dad was still in bed and didn’t want to get up. I told him that he was a lazy bones and that we’d have to make “Lazy Bones” his theme song. He smiled, didn’t open his eyes, but started singing the song.

With the assistance of Michell, he finally got out of bed and got himself shaved and washed up by 8:30 A.M. It was Wednesday—change out day for the aides. Michell was packed up and ready to leave, but she couldn’t go until Gale arrived. Gale was running about an hour late, and she eventually arrived around 11:00 A.M. The ladies exchanged information about Dad, and Michell was on her way.

Mom and Dad met about finances for a while this morning, and then Dad took a short nap before Stephanie, the nurse, arrived. She was also running late, but she finally arrived at 1:00 P.M. Stephanie said that Dad’s vitals were all good and that his lungs sounded clear. She also said that she saw some signs of his bedsore starting to heal. I asked her about the odds of Dad being released from Home Health Care on the 24th. She didn’t think that that would happen, and said that Dad’s home care would most likely be extended an additional 60 days. I wasn’t sure how the process worked, and I had been asking every caregiver for her opinion. The thought that we’d be discharged after our initial 60 day period unnerved me. I was almost out of the lubricant that I used for Dad’s trach. Before Stephanie left, I showed her the package and asked if she could find us some extra packets.

cross9Before Stephanie’s car left the driveway, Brenda pulled up behind her for Dad’s physical therapy session. I didn’t watch the session, but from what I could hear, it seemed like she was working with him on transfers. I once heard her say that Dad got an A on something that he did, but not an A+. At the end of the session, she said that he got a gold star for the day. I had to laugh to myself as I wondered about the type of psychology that they employed to get him to cooperate. On her way out, Brenda stopped by my office and asked me about the rubber mat for the shower that I had agreed to get during our discussion on November 6. I had forgotten to order one, but I promised that I would find one. I also asked her about the chances of us being discharged on the 24th, and she also didn’t think that it was likely. Gale asked her about the exercises that they should concentrate on until she returned on Friday. Whenever the providers left the house, they sat in their cars and updated their notes about their visits with Dad. Before Brenda had pulled out of the driveway, I had ordered Dad’s bath mat from Amazon.

Shortly after Brenda left, Mom and Gale helped Dad use the walker and he walked 48 feet. I logged off from work shortly after 4:30 P.M. and told Dad that I needed to change his trach, and that we’d all be happier if I took care of that chore before happy hour. I grabbed my two TV trays and my assistant, Gale, and we ushered Dad into the bedroom. I probably didn’t need an aide to help me, but I felt better having one of them there with me. Sometimes I forgot to bring something, or I needed an extra hand. For the first time in about six weeks, Dad’s trach was not crusty. The weather had been bad and he’d been forced to stay indoors and away from the dry air.

Dad won at cards again. Before he went to bed, I had Gale administer the meds and the trach care. Gale had said that she would handle Dad’s trach care while I was out of town for a couple of days this week. I was hoping that I could also convince Michell to do the same when I left for a couple of days in December. Gale did a great job, but to ease her mind some, I typed up some notes that detailed every step of the basic routine trach care and the med prep processes. I would be gone for about 48 hours, so she would not need to know how to change his trach.

blogNov10-02November 12. Shortly before 3:30 A.M., I heard Dad call for Gale to help him to find the urinal. I got up shortly after that and woke them. I watched as Gale handled all of the meds and routine trach care this morning—her last practice run before I left for Houston. Everything ran smoothly, and we were ready when the wheelchair van arrived at 5:50 A.M., some 20 minutes early.

While I was working, I heard the audio caller ID on my parents’ landline announce in a distorted voice that we were receiving a call from Watts Prison. For a moment I considered letting the call go to voicemail, but my curiosity got the better of me. I laughed out loud when the caller identified herself as Kristen Watts. So that she didn’t think that I was a nutcase, I quickly explained why I was laughing. After exchanging schedule information, we agreed on Monday and Wednesday sessions at 2:00 P.M. for Dad’s swallow therapy. Her first visit with us would be on Monday, four days from now. I practically ran out of the office to find Mom and share the good news!

I received a call from Gale at 12:20 P.M., stating that she and Dad were on their way home from dialysis. I waited until they got home, and then I left for Houston. The last time that I had been home was on September 22. During that three-day visit, I had come home to pack a few items that I would need during Dad’s final days in hospice.

blogNov10-01Gale had her first solo run with the meds and trach care right after I left. Dad took a nap until 3:00 P.M. and was up for the remainder of the day. The three of them played cards, and Mom won again.  Gale got Dad in bed by 8:00 P.M. and had no problem administering his night time meds and trach care.

That evening, I attended my photography class. The last time that I had seen my classmates, I told them that I had just finished making hospice arrangements for my father. We had had quite a change in fortune since late September. I had been attending class with some of these people for more than five years, and I had known the instructor since 2008. It felt good to be with them again, and they were very excited about Dad’s progress.

November 13. Dad had had another great night, and he slept until Gale woke him at 8:00 A.M. Shortly after Dad was out of bed and dressed, Gale noticed that the line from the nebulizer was dry, which meant that Dad wasn’t receiving any moisture with his oxygen. She called Jared from American HomePatient, and he came over immediately. It seemed that we were supposed to change the water bottle every two weeks. Gale added this missing tidbit of information to our list of chores, but it would have been nice to know this about six weeks earlier. Jared and the other representatives who set up Dad’s home care room probably did tell us everything that we needed to do, but this orientation occurred amid a whirlwind of activity with no written instructions left behind.

blogNov10Stephanie, the nurse, came by around noon to take Dad’s vitals and check his bedsore. She said that the bedsore was healing nicely and that it was looking great. Bless her heart; Stephanie also brought us enough trach lubricant to last for a couple of months. These home care nurses were wonderful. In hindsight, I don’t know if I ever told them how much I appreciated them.

When Brenda stopped by later for Dad’s physical therapy session, she had Dad practice a dry run (literally) getting in and out of the shower with the new mat. She didn’t have him walk today, but she had him run through a series of bed exercises.

My Mom’s dear friend, Marilyn, stopped by around 3:30 P.M. with a nice arrangement of mums and visited with my parents for about an hour. Mom hadn’t resumed her social life, and she benefited by having her friend visit.

Meanwhile, I was in Houston. While I had been in Temple with my parents, my employer had arranged for new office space on our campus. I would be moving from a cubicle to an open-space environment with less room for books and personal belongings. I spent most of the day in my cube, throwing out paper. I filled up three trash cans and three recycle bins, and was still not finished. Stan was thrilled when I brought home three boxes of personal items.

blogNov10-02November 14. Dad seemed to be on a roll. He had another great night’s sleep. He and Gale ran through their morning routine and arrived at the dialysis center shortly before 7:00 A.M. It was a slow day for the EMS transport service, so the wheelchair transport arrived shortly after Gale called them, and then she and Dad arrived home shortly before noon.

Dad was tired and was ready for a nap after Gale administered the midday meds and trach care. After Dad had drifted off to sleep, Gale left the room.

While I was in Houston, I ran several errands, stopped by the office to throw out more paper and prepare my belongings for the move, and got a haircut. I encountered several friends and happily told them about how well Dad was progressing. When I started my return trip to Temple at 2:00 P.M., I was feeling positive about how we were getting along.

blogNov10-01Shortly after I left Houston, Dad woke up from his nap and needed to use the bedside commode. Instead of calling for assistance, he decided that he could get out of bed and into the bathroom without assistance.  Not surprisingly, he fell as soon as he took one step from the bed. Gale heard the commotion through the baby monitor and ran to Dad’s room. She was unable to lift him off of the floor to get him back into the bed. She called for my mother for assistance. It took the two of them almost an hour to get him back into bed so that she could assess any damage caused by the fall. Not only had he been attached to the tube feed, but the oxygen was also attached to his trach collar, which was cupped over the trach tube. While on the floor, he had put a tremendous strain on his G-tube and he was lucky that he didn’t decannulate himself during the fall. After Gale had straightened out the mess caused by the mishap, she helped Dad transfer into the wheelchair.

An hour or so later, Dad wheeled himself into the kitchen and asked Mom not to tell me about his fall. She said that she wouldn’t tell me about the incident, as long as he promised not to try to get out of bed again without assistance.

When I arrived at my parents’ home shortly before 5:00 P.M., I was greeted by what seemed like a happy household. We had a nice happy hour, and after dinner, we played two games of Oh Hell. Gale was excited to win the first game, and Mom won the second game.

blogNov10-02When we finished playing cards, Gale told me that she wanted to take a shower. She said that I might want to read her log book to catch up on the activities that occurred while I was gone. I read her notes about today’s fiasco and was horrified, appalled, and furious. Such a stunt could have seriously hurt him. I spoke with Gale before I went to bed, and she was very upset. She said that she had never experienced such an incident before and was not sure that she wanted to return, which would be a tremendous loss for all of us. Not only would we lose a wonderful caregiver, but we also were very fond of her.

Fuming, I went upstairs and called Stan. The poor guy got an earful as I unloaded my frustrations of Dad’s day. He talked me down and told me to approach Dad and his resistance to following instructions in terms of my fears. He wasn’t kidding. Dad was his own worst enemy, and like Gale, I was afraid to let him out of my sight.

 

Finally: some progress and encouraging news

November 2, 2015. I had been working for over an hour when Dad woke up at 5:00 A.M. after a restless night. He was ready to get out of bed, so Gale got up, disconnected his oxygen and tube feed, and helped him transfer from the bed to the wheelchair. Just four weeks earlier, this transfer required the brawn of both Gale and me. Now, Dad needed just a minor assist from one of us. Because he was now able to reposition himself in the bed, we no longer had to use the draw sheet to move him in the bed.

By 6:00 A.M. he was dressed and ready for his morning meds and trach care. His burst of energy was short-lived, however. By 7:30 A.M. he was ready for a nap, but 90 minutes later he was awake and ready to face the day again.

blogNov01-6Later in the morning, I received a call from Barbara at the Scott & White gastroenterology center. She said that her office had received a referral from Dr. Issac. She wanted to schedule an appointment for Dad to have his G-tube changed and to discuss bulous feeds, which would enable us to administer larger quantities of Nepro three to four times each day and discontinue the continuous feed. Because of Dad’s dialysis schedule, I couldn’t schedule an appointment any earlier than November 30.

A short time later, I received a text message from Sue, our friend and the nurse practitioner at the dialysis center. After conferring with Dr. Issac about the missing Fluconazole (antifungal), she said that the doctor wanted Dad to take the pills for another two weeks. She wrote a new prescription for two weeks’ worth of pills, which still cost the better part of $200, but about half the cost of the prescription that we had declined on Saturday at the pharmacy.

The nurse arrived shortly before 1:00 P.M. to take Dad’s vitals and check his progress. She thought that he was progressing well, and was gone within 10 minutes.

While I was working, Mom took a phone call from Scott & White EMS. They asked if we still needed the EMS transport service to dialysis. Evidently, we’re supposed to call them at the start of each month to schedule pickups for the upcoming month. I hoped that the next call that we made to the dispatch office was to cancel the service. At $120 per week, this service was starting to get a bit pricey.

blogNov01-5Shortly before I was ready to log off for the day, Dad wanted to make his way into the office, which was no easy task. Although the door was wide enough for the wheelchair, the placement of a large desk just inside the door made wheelchair access impossible. Gale and I had to carefully transfer him from the stable wheelchair to the less stable 1980s era four-star desk chair. I was glad that the physical therapist wasn’t here to watch.

A couple of days earlier, Dad had lifted his legs off of the bed during a wheelchair transfer and Laura had been having him exercise in front of the bathroom vanity. Dad said that he wanted to try walking with the walker. After happy hour, Mom followed Dad with the wheelchair and Gale retrieved Dad’s walker and helped him walk 14 steps down the hallway, which was a huge accomplishment. I’m not sure that we should have been having Dad walk without the supervision of his physical therapist, but we were very excited. Only two weeks earlier, standing and moving with the walker would have been impossible.

After dinner, we were ready for a cutthroat game of Oh Hell! By 8:15 P.M., Mom was the big winner, and it was time for us to begin our nighttime routine.

My nighttime calls to Stan were much more enjoyable after a day like today. We were starting to get more support from healthcare providers and Dad’s strength was starting to return. Our baby steps seemed to be moving in the right direction.

November 3. Yesterday’s good day continued on into the night. Dad slept well and didn’t wake up until I woke him at 4:00 A.M. He and Gale marched through their morning routine and were picked up by the EMS at 6:00 A.M. Dad’s scheduled pickup time was 6:20 A.M., but you never knew when they would arrive. Dad didn’t like to be late for anything, so he was usually ready by 5:45 A.M.

blogNov01-3I had assumed that Michell would replace Gale tomorrow, but I hadn’t heard anything from Becky, the owner of One on One Personal Home Care. I dashed off a quick email to her to confirm, and then returned to my day job.

Because Dad had been picked up a bit early this morning, he had gotten started early on his dialysis session, and he was able to leave dialysis early. He and Gale didn’t need to wait very long for the EMS ride for the return trip, and they were home by noon. After I administered his meds and trach care, Dad was ready for a little nap.

About a week earlier, on October 26, Barbara, a neighbor and doctor with Scott & White, told us that she would try to help get Dad an earlier appointment with a pulmonologist so that he could get started on his swallow therapy. Today, I asked Mom if she had heard from Barbara. She said that she had, and Barbara had said that after the pulmonologist had checked Dad’s medical records, he declined to see Dad, saying that Dad was a chronic aspirator and that treating him would be pointless. This discouraging news was practically impossible to process. I couldn’t bear the prospect of Dad never being able to eat again. Mom and I tacitly agreed to not share this depressing news with Dad.

When he woke up about three hours later, Gale interrupted me at work to tell me that Dad seemed very disoriented. He was in the bathroom washing his hands, but he didn’t seem to know where he was. We assumed that he was exhausted from dialysis and that he would snap out of it. He didn’t come out of his room to visit with us during happy hour, but he seemed to perk up when asked if he wanted to play cards after dinner.

blogNov01-2Dad was still very tired and was ready for bed shortly after Mom was declared the Oh Hell winner of the night. By 7:30 P.M., he was in bed and ready for me to administer his meds and trach care. I sat with him while Gale prepared herself for bed, and then went upstairs to call Stan. To say the least, my updates to him about the daily events were varied from day to day. Because Dad went to bed early, I was also able to retire early and hoped to get an extra 30 minutes of sleep.

November 4. I had been working for about 30 minutes when Dad woke up shortly after 4:15 A.M. He wanted to get out of bed, and he had Gale disconnect him and help him transfer to his wheelchair. He wheeled himself into the bathroom and proceeded to fall asleep. Gale helped him back into the bed and I suctioned him. He had been coughing a lot and had a super wet cough, so I thought that he’d have a lot of secretions to suction, but the trach tube was dry. I surmised that the cough had more to do with his lungs than his trach. After sleeping for about three more hours, he was awake and raring to get out of bed at 7:00 A.M. I took a break from work about an hour later and administered his morning meds. By 8:30 A.M., he was dressed and alert and leaving the bedroom at full speed in his wheelchair.

Around 9:45 A.M., the three of us got with him to walk again: one of us on each side and one behind him with the wheelchair. His gait was a bit unsteady, but he took about 17 steps, which was equivalent to almost 19 feet, a distance that we based on the size of our floor tiles.

blogNov01-7Michell arrived at 11:00 A.M. and conferred with Gale for a few minutes. It was nice to have a few weeks in a row with the same two aides. The transitions were easier for them and they were getting to know one another. Shortly after Gale left, Dad wanted to lie down for a short nap.

When Dad woke up, he wanted to work on his computer. I had commandeered his computer desk and had disconnected his computer so that I could use the keyboard and mouse, so he had to use Mom’s computer. With him and Mom in the office, it seemed like the perfect time for me to get out of the room and take a lunch break.

Shortly after 1:00 P.M., Laura arrived for Dad’s physical therapy session. She had Dad walk the same path that we had had him walk earlier, but he walked it at least twice during their session. She then moved him into the bathroom and had him do some exercises while holding onto the vanity. Dad was pretty exhausted when Laura left and was ready for another nap.

Just as I was logging off for the day, I received a text message from Adan, the manager of rehab services at S&W Homecare. I had texted him earlier in the day and asked if we could talk sometime today after 3:00 P.M. When I called him, he said that he would contact our PCP (probably Tony Issac or Sue, Dr. Issac’s nurse practitioner) to have a swallow study ordered for Dad. He also said that he’d have Kristin, a speech pathologist, contact me sometime tomorrow to schedule an appointment with Dad. Adan and I agreed that we wanted her to have some swallow therapy sessions with Dad before the modified barium swallow study (MBSS) to ensure that he would be able to handle the barium. He also said that he would contact the Pulmonary desk at S&W to see if he could find out which doctor would be assigned to Dad.

I was stoked. Adan was one of a handful of people who was in our corner. Without him and the nephrology team at the dialysis center, I don’t know what we would have done. I was thankful that Mom had met and had come to know Adan while Dad was at the CCH. I couldn’t wait to share this good news with Mom and Dad.

We played Oh Hell again, and Dad won (beating Mom by just a few points). We were in bed early and I called Stan at 8:30 P.M. to share the news of the day. It was a nice quiet night until about 12:30 A.M. After hearing Dad cough for about 15 minutes, I got out of bed and went downstairs to suction his trach.

November 5. Sometimes I found it difficult to sleep with all of the noise that emanated from the baby monitor. This was one of those nights—or mornings. I finally got back to sleep about an hour before my iPhone played its annoying wake-up ring tone. I made my way back downstairs, started the coffee maker, and logged on to work.

blogNov01-4Dad and Michell were sound asleep when I woke them shortly after 4:00 A.M. We had an uneventful morning and Dad was picked up for dialysis shortly before 6:00 A.M. His dialysis session was finished before 11:00 A.M., and they were home before noon. After administering his midday meds and trach care, he was ready for a nap.

He woke up from his nap a bit disoriented again, but he became more alert as the day progressed. I knew that he was completely alert when he complained after learning how much we were spending on his in-home care. It wasn’t a topic that I wanted to have discussed too much within earshot of Michell. A cost of $1,000 per week might have seemed high, but it was a bargain for 24/7 care.

Other than the discussion about medical bills, Dad was in fairly good spirits for the remainder of the day. We were experiencing another beautiful autumn day today, and Dad wanted us all to sit on the patio during happy hour. Michell was starting her second week with us and was beginning to feel more comfortable with us, and she started talking about her personal life. I have friends who spell their names as Michelle and Michele. I asked her about the spelling of her name and whether hers was a family name. She laughed and said that her mother didn’t know how to Michelle and consequently, her name looked like “mic-hell.”

blogNov01-6After dinner, Dad felt well enough to play a couple of games of Oh Hell: Dad won the first game and Mom won the second. We had two sets of criteria that determined how long we played cards: how Dad felt and whether he had dialysis the next day and how I felt and whether I had to work the next day. For the most part, I wanted to start Dad’s nighttime routine by 8:30 P.M. so that I could go to sleep by 9:30 P.M. A perfect night was one in which we all got six hours of uninterrupted sleep.

A perfect night was one in which we all got six hours of uninterrupted sleep.

 

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 Amazon.com 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.