What’s next, flying monkeys?

November 24, 2015. Dad and Michell woke up at 4:15 A.M. Dad still had some problems overnight, but I hoped to have him on the road to recovery quickly. I had Michell administer the trach care again this morning. I had to assist her a couple of times, but she was a little less nervous than she had been during her first attempt last night. During the administration of Dad’s morning meds, I added a couple of crushed Imodium tablets. Dad and Michell were able to get ready without much difficulty.

flyingMonkeyKristin, Dr. Pfanner‘s nurse, called to tell me that the doctor had decided on an antibiotic for Dad that would take a couple of weeks to clear up the CDiff. The nurse also provided me with some guidance about laundering and cleaning anything that Dad had come in contact with. She also recommended that we purchase some isolation robes to protect ourselves and encouraged us to wear gloves. I told her that we would abide by her guidelines, but it sure seemed like the horse was already out of the barn. Dad had probably been sick with CDiff for several days. Because prolonged antibiotic use probably contributed to Dad’s CDiff, before hanging up, the nurse encouraged me to contact Dad’s pulmonologist to see if they would change his antibiotic. This was a difficult request. We weren’t going to meet Dad’s pulmonologist for a few weeks. I also thought that it was the infectious diseases doctor at the hospital who had prescribed the doxycycline, and I didn’t know when or if we would see her again.

I thought that the dialysis nurses should know about the diagnosis. I texted Sue, our friend and nurse practitioner at the dialysis center, to let her know that Dad had tested positive for CDiff.

flyingMonkeyWhen Dad and Michell returned home at 12:15 P.M., Dad was in a rush to get to the bathroom. As I was pushing him past the piano, I caught his hand between the wheelchair and the piano and gouged him good. His skin was very fragile and susceptible to tears, so now he was also bleeding. Because I had already helped enough, I left the chaos that I had created and drove to the pharmacy to pick up the antibiotic prescription. I returned around 12:30 P.M. and gave Dad his first dose of Flagyl. When I had a couple of minutes to talk with Michell, she told me that Dad had had 1,100 ml of fluid removed during dialysis. With his weight so low, this news wasn’t good, but at least the quantity wasn’t excessive.

It was Thanksgiving week, and I was working half days, starting at 3:45 A.M., so my day was over by the time that Dad returned from dialysis. Michell, Mom, and I ate lunch, and then I resumed the baking that I had started yesterday.

flyingMonkeyAt 4:00 P.M., Mom tried to wake Dad, but he just grunted at her. He finally responded when she told him that he had his head on his sore hand—the one that I had injured. He then tried to get up by himself to go to the bathroom, which he’s incapable of doing. Michell tried to help him, but he told her to get out of his way. She finally got him into the wheelchair, and he kept telling her (and now me) to get out of his way. Michell kept trying to help him, but he kept shoving her away. She then got him the walker, but he pushed it into me and told me to get out of his way. During the arguing and raised voices, he called me by my mother’s name a couple of times, which I found a little disconcerting. He kept insisting that he could walk by himself. I finally stepped back and told him to walk. It took him about one second to realize that he couldn’t walk, and then he let us help him, although he still didn’t seem like himself.

In addition to the drastic personality change, he woke up looking different and years older than he had just four hours earlier. I checked the printout of precautions and side effects that came with the meds, and a couple of the severe side effects included confusion and irritability. I called Dr. Pfanner’s office and talked to the nurse about his drastic change and our concerns, and she said that she would consult the doctor and call back. When she called a few minutes later, she said that we wouldn’t like the answer, but the doctor wanted us to take him to the ER.

And then it got crazy.

When I called 911, I told them about Dad’s symptoms, and mistakenly used the word aggressive to describe his behavior. The 911 operator then started asking questions about weapons and alcohol and drug abuse, but I assured him that we didn’t have those concerns. Before hanging up, the 911 operator asked whether I felt safe hanging up the phone. I assured him that I did and made a mental note to never use the word aggressive during a call to 911.

flyingMonkeyJust a few minutes later, I heard the sirens, and a black SUV belonging to the sheriff’s department turned into the driveway. The deputy told me that the sheriff’s department is called whenever 911 receives a psych call. I assured him that I had not placed a psych call and that my father did not pose a physical threat to us. While we were talking, the deputy spoke into his shoulder mic and told two other deputies to “stand down.” Moments later the first fireman from Little River-Academy arrived. A couple of minutes later, the ambulance arrived, followed by another Little River-Academy fire truck. The EMTs, deputy, and I chatted on the front porch about Dad’s willingness (or not) to go with them. They asked about Dad’s wife and whether either of us had medical power of attorney, which we both possessed. The entourage of deputies and EMTs followed me into the bedroom, and I was able to talk Dad into going to the hospital. Michell rode in the ambulance with him and Mom and I followed them in my car. We sat in the driveway for what seemed like 10 minutes before the ambulance finally pulled out of the driveway. We finally arrived at the hospital at 6:00 P.M.

EMTs take the patient into the hospital through a designated door, separate from any visitors, including those who ride in the ambulance. I parked the car and Mom and I met Michell in the waiting room. While Michell left us to find a restroom, Dad, Mom, and I were ushered into an exam room. When the nurse arrived, I told her about the events of the day. When the resident, Dr. Stephanie Katrin Clark, arrived, said that Dad’s mentation problems could be from the CDiff and not the meds. She then ordered a chest x-ray to see if the lack of lung capacity was causing his confusion. She also ordered an EKG. Finally, the nurse arrived to take Dad’s blood. It was then that we learned that the reason why Dad’s ambulance stayed in the driveway so long was that the EMT was starting an IV. Having an IV in place simplified the nurse’s task, and she quickly acquired the necessary samples and turned them in to the lab shortly before 7:50 P.M. Before the nurse left the room, she started Dad on a saline drip.

At 7:49 P.M., I texted Sue to inform her that Dad had had 1,100 ml removed this morning and that he was now in the ER getting 500 ml of saline. I didn’t know if she could provide us with any information that might help our situation.

flyingMonkeyA little over an hour later, Dr. Clark returned to the exam room and said that she wanted to admit Dad. She said that his blood pressure was soft and he seemed dehydrated. I told her that we had to be home tomorrow for his 60-day home-care assessment. She said that she would give him another 250 ml of saline to improve his blood pressure. The next thing I knew, a tech arrived and said that she was to take Dad to radiology for a CT scan. I told her that it was our understanding that Dad could leave after he had received the 750 ml of saline and that I didn’t want him to have a CT scan. I also told her that he was out of Medicare days (and S&W Senior Care days), so admitting him was out of the question. After the tech had left the room, I explained to Dad and Mom that Dr. Smith had told me that Dad’s CT scan in August had not been normal, but he had then added that the CT scan of someone his age wasn’t normal anyway. I didn’t trust this doctor to say that the results of a CT scan weren’t normal, which would be another reason to admit him.

Shortly after the radiology tech left the room, we heard a knock on the door and a woman entered, identifying herself as the social worker and a problem solver. I again explained why we had to go home. My argument didn’t seem to sway her, so I told her that Dad was uninsured and that unless she could pay his hospital bill, I wasn’t interested in anything that she had to say. She left the room and returned a couple of minutes later with Dr. Clark and with the charge nurse. The doctor then informed me that Dad had suffered a heart attack. Today would mark the second time since July 22 that I had heard this, and I suspected that she was no more correct than the previous doctor had been. When I pressed her for details, she said that his numbers were elevated so that he might have suffered a heart attack. She also said that his kidney function was very high and that according to his medical history, he was very sick. I explained that his kidneys were in terrible shape and that he was ERSD and on dialysis. One of our problems was that the Scott & White Home Care department was not on the same records program as the hospitals, so the latest information accessible to the medical staff at Memorial was from September 29, some 57 days ago.

flyingMonkeyThe social worker and charge nurse explained to us that to take Dad home, we would have to sign an AMA, which would ensure that he could not be recertified. They had effectively trapped us into a no-win situation. We didn’t trust them or the hospital, and even if we did, Dad was uninsured, and we had to get out of there. I told them that I wanted to make some phone calls. I called the Home Health after-hours phone number and told them about our situation. I was transferred to Leo, the night nurse who had originally admitted Dad into home care. My phone died, and when I used Mom’s phone, Leo and I kept getting disconnected. When the nurse returned to the exam room, we told her that we would sign the AMA so that we could take Dad home.

At 10:38 P.M., I texted Sue again and told her that Dad had been dehydrated and that we might need to rethink the amount of fluid we’re pulling off of him, especially when he has diarrhea. At the rate that he was receiving fluids at the hospital, it wouldn’t be long before they replaced everything that had been removed during dialysis.

Eventually, the nurse came back, and my mother told her that we were ready to leave. After we signed the AMA, the nurse removed the IV lines and called for an ambulance to transport Dad home. About 30 minutes later, the EMTs arrived with a gurney. Mom and I recognized both of the EMTs. One of them had been by the house several times and the other, a woman, had brought him home from dialysis earlier today. When the EMTs took Dad to the ambulance, Mom and I passed through the waiting room, where we found Michell, who had been waiting patiently for almost five hours. Michell quickly left the waiting room and joined Dad for the return ride home in the ambulance. Fortunately, we had been able to text with Michell, so she had some idea of what was happening.

The four of us finally arrived home around 11:15 P.M. I started cleaning up in the kitchen and toasted the biscotti that I had baked earlier. We were hungry and too wired to sleep, so Mom also prepared a plate of cheese and crackers. Michell was with Dad in the bedroom. The poor guy was suffering from CDiff and had been trapped in the ER for more than five hours.

flyingMonkeyAt 11:45 P.M, we heard a loud pounding at the door. I peeked around the corner to see if I could tell who was at the door and was momentarily relieved when I saw the uniform of a sheriff’s deputy. When I opened the door, I met Deputy Ryan Blankemeier. He said that his department had received a call that we had taken Dad home from the hospital too soon and he was here to ensure that my father was OK. Deputy Blankemeier looked pretty confused when I told him that it was the nurse at the hospital who called for the ambulance to transport Dad home.

I told the deputy that Dad was on the commode and that he would have to wait until Dad was decent. From where we were standing in the hall, the deputy could hear Dad and Michell talking. After a while, the deputy said that he felt like he could leave, but I insisted that he stay. Eventually, Dad was decent, and I escorted the deputy to the bathroom to see him. I told Dad that the deputy wanted to ensure that he had gotten home OK. He said that “she” got home OK. I told Dad that it was him that the deputy cared about, and Dad said that he was fine, but it was “touch and go there for a while.” Dad laughed, and the deputy smiled. I eventually escorted the deputy to the front door shortly after midnight.

It was well after midnight before Dad was in bed and approaching 2:00 A.M. before I got to bed.

I hadn’t realized how upset Michell had been about the day. I had mentioned in an earlier post that she was astonished when I openly disagreed with a doctor. To sign an AMA and bring Dad home, followed by the visit from the sheriff’s department, was just a bit too much for her. After Dad had gone to sleep, she called a friend and cried about the day and then cried herself to sleep. At this point, she wasn’t sure if she would return next week and would have to pray for guidance. I hoped that she said a prayer or two for all of us.

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.

 

Derailed on the road to recovery

November 18, 2015. Dad had a good night. I slept well and woke up a bit earlier than usual, getting an early start at work. I didn’t know when Gale and Dad woke up, but I started hearing Gale’s voice coming from the bedroom a few minutes before 7:00 A.M. The Imodium that I administered in Dad’s tube feed last night seemed to be working, and he looked very perky when I administered his meds.

trachTubeBecause he was feeling better, it seemed like a good time for me to take a break and change his trach. I set up my TV trays to do that. I still hated this weekly task, and I had a knot in my stomach throughout the procedure, but I was accomplishing it in less time.

Michell arrived for her week with us shortly before 11:00 A.M. Gale updated her on Dad’s recent health challenges and progress and showed her the handout of Dad’s new swallowing exercises. Shortly after Michell arrived, I administered another dose of Imodium into Dad’s feeding tube, along with his midday meds.

Brenda was scheduled to arrive for Dad’s physical therapy session at noon. When she hadn’t arrived by 12:30 P.M., Dad decided to lie down and rest. Brenda finally arrived at 1:00 P.M. for Dad’s session. Considering that he had not felt well enough to exercise the past few days, he did pretty well during his session and had a very good workout.

Kristen arrived promptly at 2:00 P.M. for Dad’s second swallow therapy session. Mom’s book club met on Monday, so Mom hadn’t been at home for Kristen’s first session with Dad, but Mom met Kristen today, and she really liked her. Kristen put Dad through his paces, exercising his neck muscles. Like Gale, Michell sat in on these sessions so that she could coach Dad with his exercises on days when he did not have therapy. Earlier in the day, Adan, the manager of the therapists with Scott & White Home Care, had called me to ask about our Monday session with Kristen. I told him that I had been very pleased and was very optimistic about Dad’s chances. He told me that to ensure that Dad would be successful, he, Kristen, and I would work together to determine the perfect time for Dad to have the modified barium swallow study (MBSS).

elephantAbout 30 minutes after Kristen left, Sally and Ray, dear friends of my parents (and me) stopped by for a visit. In about a month from now, they would move from Temple to New Braunfels. I saw Sally only a few times a year, but she is a delightful person and fabulous quilter and crafter of cards. Her husband, Ray, is also an interesting person who had been involved in the space program, another one of my interests. I could practically recite the dialog from the Apollo 13 movie, and Ray had been involved with this launch at NASA. I would miss them both after they moved from Temple. Dad came out for a few minutes to visit with them. The visit lacked our usual spontaneous conversation. They hadn’t seen Dad in almost a year, and I suspect that his appearance was a little shocking and was the proverbial elephant in the room. It didn’t help that Dad wasn’t feeling well.

blogNov10Shortly after Sally and Ray left, I administered another Imodium pill into Dad’s feeding tube. Although he was feeling a bit better, he still was not better.

After dinner, we played cards, and I won, which indicated that I was improving as a scorekeeper.

After Michell helped Dad get ready for bed, she went to her room to change her clothes for bed. While she was out of the room, I administered Dad’s nighttime meds and trach care. During the trach care, I noticed that his trach was moving around—a lot. I quickly saw that there wasn’t anything holding it in place. Seconds later he said that he felt sick. I grabbed a small red plastic basin from the bathroom, applied some pressure to his trach, and turned on the suction. Eventually, he felt well enough to hold the front of his trach while I tightened the collar which had somehow become loose. It took about 30 minutes to get him to the point where he felt well enough to lie down and try to sleep. From what I could surmise, one of two things had loosened his trach collar since this morning. Either the swallowing exercises had loosened the trach collar, or his shirt collar had been caught under his trach collar when I changed out his trach. Regardless of the reason, Dad and I were both a little rattled by the experience. Michell returned to the bedroom shortly after I had adjusted the ties on the trach collar. This incident was another example of how quickly his situation could change and why we couldn’t let down our guard for a minute.

November 19. I woke Michell and Dad at 4:00 A.M. Michell got up, but Dad continued to doze. Michell had a difficult time getting him out of bed, and when she did, he kept falling asleep on the commode. When Dad moved home after being discharged from the CCH, we had purchased a box of Depends. Dad had flatly refused to consider them, but today he didn’t want to go to dialysis without them, which was an indication of just how bad he felt. It seemed as if his condition was becoming serious. I was thankful that we had an appointment with a gastroenterologist tomorrow.

For the first time since he had come home, some 52 days ago, he was not ready when his transit service arrived.

dohDuring his dialysis session, Dad had the nurse call the EMS dispatch office 15 minutes before his session was scheduled to end so that he wouldn’t have to wait any longer than necessary for his ride home. When Michell told me that they had removed 2500 ml from him, I was flabbergasted. When he left there, his dry weight was 138.28 lbs. He was probably dehydrated when he got there, and then they removed over two liters of fluid from him. I couldn’t help but question the judgment of the nurse who made the decision to remove almost twice the usual amount of fluid.

blogaug1-leftWhen Dad and Michell arrived home at 11:15 A.M., Dad was wiped out and was not feeling well. Within a few minutes after getting back on the bed, he was nauseous, and his trach collar was loose again. I tightened the collar, but he still didn’t feel well. I was becoming very concerned about him and called the Home Care nurse. Stephanie was working today and arrived shortly before 1:00 P.M. in response to our call. After checking Dad, she said that heard congestion in his lungs that she had not heard before. Also, his oxygen saturation never exceeded 93% while she was there. My concern for Dad escalated when Stephanie advised me to call 911.

Stephanie stayed with us until the ambulance arrived and then provided the EMTs with his current status. When she left, the EMTs listened to his chest and ran a bedside EKG. They said that they didn’t notice the congestion that Stephanie had mentioned and that his EKG appeared to be normal. Dad was still complaining about his stomach and nausea. They said that they didn’t see any urgency in taking him to the emergency room, but they would take him if we wanted them to. Dad was already taking a cocktail of drugs that included antibiotics, so I decided to get him something for nausea and let the EMTs leave.

blogaug1-rightAlthough Dad’s condition wasn’t any better, I was somewhat relieved by the EMTs’ assessment, and that we were able to avoid the emergency room. Dad was scheduled to see the gastroenterologist tomorrow, so I just needed to get him through the night. I called Sue, and she refilled Dad’s prescription of ondansetron (Zofran). Mom drove to the pharmacy as soon as I got off the phone with Sue. By the time that she returned home with the prescription, Dad was in a deep sleep. I eventually administered the Zofran in his feeding tube shortly before 5:00 P.M.

We finally woke Dad around 7:00 P.M. He said that he felt better, and his sense of humor was on display. I gave him his evening meds and then encouraged him to get up, which was a mistake, because he thought that it was morning. He was very confused and disoriented and wanted to go into the bathroom so that he could wash his face and brush his teeth. Michell and I finally convinced him that it was nighttime, and got him into his night clothes and back in bed by 8:30 P.M.

November 20. After working for a couple of hours, I went to Dad’s room to wake him and Michell. Usually, they don’t have to get up early on Fridays, but today Dad had an appointment with the gastroenterologist, and the wheelchair transit van was scheduled to arrive at 8:30 A.M. Dad slept through the night, but he wasn’t feeling very well when I woke him. The diarrhea continued to plague him. Between his dehydration from the diarrhea and the dialysis session yesterday, he was shaky and unsteady.

blogaug1-leftWe were ready when the van arrived five minutes early. The van transported Dad and Michell to the clinic, and Mom and I followed in the car. The clinic was located less than five miles from my parents’ home and after locating the doctor’s office and paying the co-pay, we were seated in the waiting room a good 20 minutes earlier than the 9:20 A.M. appointment. When they weighed my 6’1” father, his weight was 134.3 lb, which was less than it had been when he left dialysis yesterday. We waited almost an hour in the waiting room before we were escorted to an examination room. Exam rooms aren’t very large, and they can seem downright tiny the patient is in a wheelchair and is accompanied by a three-person entourage.

After waiting for a few minutes, Julianne and Talitha, the dietitian and nurse, arrived. I really liked them. They were very attentive, and among other things, they confirmed that Dad had a G-tube (and not a J-tube, as Dr. Klovenski had insisted on October 18). While we were there, they changed out Dad’s G-tube, which should be done every month. Julianne considered changing his formula from Nepro to something else but decided that they should test Dad first to ensure that his diarrhea wasn’t caused by his 5-1/2 month liquid diet of Nepro. When Dr. Timothy Pfanner arrived and reviewed Dad’s chart, he said that Dad could have bolus feeds, but not until he was over whatever was causing the diarrhea. To rule out CDiff, the doctor wrote an order for some lab work. I know Dad hadn’t been feeling well, but it was a nice coincidence that we happened to have an appointment with the gastroenterologist at this time. As we left, I scheduled a follow-up appointment for Dad and called the transit service to pick up Dad and Michell.

Mom and I arrived home shortly after 11:15 A.M. Dad and Michelle were not picked up by the van until 11:30 A.M., and it was almost noon before they arrived. Dad was pretty tired by the time he got home. He was scheduled for a physical therapy session in a couple of hours, so I administered some meds and Michell helped him back to bed for a nap.

Brenda arrived shortly after 1:00 P.M. for the physical therapy session, but Dad was wobbly and was unable to execute transfers between the bed and wheelchair with the walker.

Friday wasn’t his usual day for physical therapy, but next week was Thanksgiving, and the therapists were adjusting their schedules for the holiday. Dad was scheduled to have his 60-day evaluation with Kathleen next Wednesday, so he wouldn’t be able to have therapy again until after her evaluation. I told Brenda that we would work with Dad and have him walk between now and then. Brenda said that he should not be walking. I was a little surprised because the other therapist, Lara, had had him walking. I was tempted to tell her that we had already been walking with him, but thought better of it.

After Brenda had left, Dad napped for a short time before Janet arrived for his occupational therapy session. Occupational therapy treatment wouldn’t be reviewed by Kathleen for Dad’s 60-day evaluation, so Janet would return for another session next Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. After Janet left, Michell coached Dad through some of his speech exercises.

blogaug1-upStan left work early and drove from Houston to my parents’ home. He arrived shortly after 5:00 P.M. and just in time for happy hour. Shortly after 6:00 P.M., Dad went to his room and read the paper while we had dinner. After dinner, we played Oh Hell and hit the hay pretty early.

It had been a long week, and I was glad to have Stan with us for the weekend. Dad had seemed to have been progressing, with only little blips along the way. This week it felt like our progress had been derailed, and I hoped that after our visit with the doctor today Dad would get back on track.

After the fall

November 15, 2015. Dad had a restless night, waking up a few times during the night. At 8:45 A.M., he was ready to get up. Before Gale helped him transfer from the bed to the wheelchair, I administered his morning meds and trach care. Gale had done a great job of taking care of Dad while I was in Houston, but she was glad to have me back in Temple to resume the trach care. After I left the room, Dad wheeled himself into the bathroom and proceeded to shave and wash up. He seemed to have an upset stomach and didn’t get out of his room and into the kitchen to visit with us until 10:00 A.M.

blogaug1-1As Mom and I were driving to church, I told her that I had read the log book that the aides kept about Dad, so I knew about Dad’s fall yesterday. I was pretty irritated that she had decided to withhold this information from me. I was very invested in his care and recovery, and it disturbed me that my parents would choose to keep this information from me. She agreed that they would not withhold this type of information from me again and said that she would talk with Dad after lunch. However, we both hoped that there would be no next time.

bellsWhile we were at church, Dad told Gale that he was tired and that he wanted to lie down. He also complained about some tightness and soreness in his back. Gale thought that he also seemed a little depressed about yesterday’s fall in the bedroom. The home-patient hospital beds had only two side rails, which did nothing to keep Dad in bed. At one point, I had used pipe cleaners to attach a couple dozen little bells to four chairs that we pushed up against the sides of Dad’s bed. He still might have been able to escape from the bed, but we hoped that the bells would wake at least one of us during an attempted escape. The chairs and bells had worked for about a week but were less effective as Dad got stronger. One side of the bed was partially obstructed because of the oxygen concentrator and nebulizer. While Dad napped, Gale moved the wheelchair to the other side of the bed and locked it in place, which made that bad boy practically impossible to move.

After Mom and I returned home from church, Gale told us that Dad had diarrhea. According to her, it had started last night and had become progressively worse during the day. I decided to call the Home Care office and request a visit from the on-call nurse.

blogaug1-leftAfter lunch, Dad read the newspaper in his room and rested until the nurse arrived at 4:20 P.M. She said that Dad’s vitals were great and said that he didn’t have a fever. When she learned about the fall (During every visit, providers ask if you’ve had any falls.) and the difficulty that Gale and Mom had had getting him up off of the floor, she said that we could always call for a nurse for assistance. Regarding the reasons why we had called for a nurse, she could only speculate about the cause of his diarrhea and back pain.

Now that the fall was common knowledge, Mom and I spoke with Dad for a few minutes, and I implored him to ask for help when he needed to get up. He restated that he didn’t want to be a bother, and I told him that we had hired someone whose sole purpose was to be bothered by him. He agreed to ask for help going forward.

He seemed to feel a bit better and joined us for happy hour.

Mom was the big winner at cards this evening. It had been a long day, and we were all tired. We started our nighttime routine at 7:45 P.M. and by 8:30 P.M. we were all in bed.

November 16. Dad had a tough night, starting at 1:00 A.M. This bout of diarrhea had a firm grip on him that was becoming progressively worse. He eventually got out of bed and ready for the day around 8:00 A.M. Gale was able to convince him to exercise with the core weight, but by 10:00 A.M., he wanted to return to his room to lie down.

blogaug1-upShortly after noon, Tracy, the nurse, stopped by for Dad’s routine Monday checkup. Similar to yesterday, Dad’s vitals were good. I asked her if we could give Dad some Imodium, but she said that she could not give advice about medications. I finally asked her what she would do if she was in my position, and she said that she’d give her father half of a pill.

I went to Walgreens and purchased a box of Imodium. A standard dosage was two pills, so I wasn’t concerned about crushing a half of a pill and administering it into his G-tube. I wouldn’t have thought that such a small dosage would have helped much, but he seemed a little better for the next five hours.

At 2:00 P.M., the doorbell rang, and we opened the door and met Kristen, the speech pathologist. When Dad wheeled out to meet her, she introduced herself to Dad as the speech therapist. He said that that was a shame because he hadn’t prepared one. To her credit, she laughed. The session might have been for Dad, but I learned a lot about our complex system of muscles that enables us to swallow. She had Dad work through a couple of throat exercises and left a sheet of exercises for him to practice between sessions. She also said that he could eat crushed ice anytime that he wanted.

After Kristen left, Gale helped Dad use the walker to walk from the kitchen to the laundry room, a distance of about 12 feet. He walked slowly, but his steps were steady and controlled. He stayed up for the remainder of the day, resting only while Mom, Gale, and I ate dinner.

blogaug1-rightAfter dinner, Dad felt like playing cards, which was our litmus test for how well he was feeling. By 7:30 P.M., I had won, and we were moving Dad toward his bedroom to start the nighttime routine.

My room was the only room on the second floor, with windows on three sides. On most nights, I could see the moon from my bed. We were expecting some storms through the area in about six hours, and the wind was already howling around my room when I turned out my light.

November 17. The storms that were predicted to start at 2:00 A.M. started two hours late, just around the time that I woke Gale and Dad. Dad had had a great night’s sleep, but he still had not recovered from the diarrhea. I hated to send him away for 4-5 for dialysis hours with these symptoms and hoped that another 1/2 Imodium would help him. Fortunately, the torrential rain that started at 4:00 A.M. had let up some when the wheelchair transit van arrived. The rain ushered in a cold front, and the temperature had dropped almost 20 degrees between the time that I woke up and when Dad and Gale were picked up.

blogaug1-2Fortunately, they didn’t have to wait too long after dialysis for a ride, and Dad and Gale were home by 12:15 P.M. He was pretty wiped out and wanted to take a nap. By 12:40 P.M., he was back on the bed, hooked up to the tube feed and moist air. I administered his trach care and a portion of his midday meds. I became distracted by some shiny object and forgot to administer his antibiotic. Less than five minutes after I left his room, he was sleeping. While he slept, I called Sue, our friend and nurse practitioner at the dialysis center, to see what else I could do for Dad. She said that I could safely give him two pills, the recommended dosage of Imodium.

By 4:00 P.M., Dad was awake but was still very sleepy. Before he joined us for happy hour, I crushed two Imodium tablets, mixed them with water, and inserted them into his G-tube.

While Mom, Gale, and I enjoyed assorted beverages, Dad ate some crushed ice. A little bit of crushed ice went a long way, but at least he was getting a chance to practice swallowing.

Dad took a short rest in his room while Gale, Mom, and I ate dinner. Although he wasn’t feeling his chipper self of a few days ago, he felt well enough to beat us at cards.

scorpion1While Gale and I were in Dad’s room running through his nighttime routine, Gale found a little scorpion on the floor near her bed. Gale was one of the most fearless women I knew, but she screamed like a little girl when she saw the critter. We had barely disposed of it when she encountered another one crawling on the bathroom floor toward the bedroom carpet. My parents had found scorpions in the house in the past, but I don’t recall ever seeing one, and tonight we saw two.

Although many things in our lives were uncertain, one thing was very certain: Gale would never walk barefoot in the bedroom again.

 

 

Finally: some progress and encouraging news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The power outage, the EMS, and other things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hoyerLift
Hoyer lift and sling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thank heavens for our first ‘plan of care’ meeting!

October 20, 2015. Dad slept well, waking only once during the night. At 4:30 A.M., I took a brief break from work to administer his Midodrine and his morning trach care. Gale and Dad were ready several minutes before the Scott & White ambulance arrived, and Dad was hooked up to the dialysis machine by 7:00 A.M.

Although Tuesday was the scheduled day for the aides to change, Gale had spoken with Becky, the owner of One on One Personal Care, and requested that they switch out on Wednesday to better accommodate Dad’s dialysis schedule, which could not change. Becky agreed and later sent me email, notifying me of Gale’s replacement tomorrow. According to Becky, “Michell is 47 years old and has 26 years of caregiving experience.” She continued by stating that Michell had fantastic references and came highly recommended. What Becky didn’t tell me was that she had just hired Michell yesterday.

When Dad and Gale returned from dialysis, she took him to his room and hooked him up to the humidified air and tube feed, and I administered his midday meds. Dad was tired from dialysis and drifted off to sleep.

poc02Shortly after lunch, a UPS driver rang our doorbell. He had come to pick up the “box” that contained the infant-sized trach care kits. When I pointed to the five-foot stack of six boxes, he said that his pickup request specified only one box. I apologized for the mix-up,  sent him away empty-handed, and called American HomePatient. I had noted the woman’s name who had assisted me yesterday and was able to speak with her again. Evidently, our order had specified one case of FR-14 trach care kits, but the order pickers sent us six cases of FR-8 trach care kits. This discrepancy proved problematic for their inventory system and she said that she’d have to get back to me later.

After dinner this evening, we played cards, and Mom won again. The game ended at 8:30 P.M., at which time we started our nighttime regimen. Dad had slept well last night. I hoped that we could log two good nights in a row.

October 21. Dad, Gale, and I had a great night’s sleep. Although they both slept longer than me, I didn’t begrudge them their longer sleep. It was nice for me to score six hours of sleep. By 7:00 A.M., Dad had received his morning meds and trach care, and he was dressed and in the kitchen talking with Mom. Gale used their time in the kitchen to prepare to return home for the next seven days.

poc03While I was attending an online meeting at work, Michell, the new aide, arrived. Gale spent the next hour orienting her to the routine and her responsibilities. Before Gale left, she confided in me that she thought that she smelled cigarette smoke on Michell’s hands. To address her suspicions, Gale stressed to Michell that we had oxygen in the house and that smoke particles were a hazard for Dad because of his trach.

Gale filled a room with her presence and when she was gone, the house felt empty. Michell seemed a little slow getting started, but everyone paled in comparison to Gale.

At 12:30 P.M., I took a long lunch break and went to the dialysis center. Today was Dad’s first “plan of care” meeting between Dad’s dialysis team and me, his advocate. Dad would have his next meeting six months from now and then annually thereafter. During the meeting, I met Dad’s nephrology team: Susan (dietitian), Sue (dialysis nurse practitioner), Dad’s social worker, a couple of other providers, and Dr. Tony Issac (nephrologist), whom I knew from Dad’s stay at Scott & White Memorial. Sue and Susan were also members of my parents’ church, so I already knew three of the people on the team.

pocBubbleDr. Issac started the meeting by asking if we needed anything. Without any hesitation, I told him that I needed him to be Dad’s PCP. Dad was running out of several medications that required the authorization of a physician. I said Dad also needed referrals to see specialists. I told him that although I was an MBRT, I would really like Dad to see a pulmonologist. The room became quiet, people looked at one other for a moment, and the doctor gave me a questioning look. I responded by saying, “make-believe respiratory therapist.” He laughed. In addition to explaining the need for a pulmonologist, I told them about our difficulty in getting a referral to a wound care specialist and how I had had to order the Y extensions from Amazon.com.

Prior to this meeting, I had heard that Dad could not get his dialysis catheter wet. I asked about bathing, and they were practically militant in their response about the importance of keeping the port dry. Basically, this invasive device was like a highway to his heart and brain. Dampness could introduce infection, and we all agreed that we wanted to do everything possible to avoid introducing an infection into his heart. I explained that while Dad was hospitalized, I had become accustomed to seeing the results of his lab work. Even in the last week, his lab results fluctuated wildly. He had been away from the hospital for three weeks and I was nervous about how well he was doing. The only lab results that I had seen were specific to the kidneys. The doctor said that he could order additional lab work and monitor the results.

Finally, I mentioned Dad’s weight, which was now less than 135 pounds. When he was admitted to the hospital five months earlier, Dad weighed 161 pounds. I felt better now that we now had an IV pole on his wheelchair, which enabled him to continuously receive nutrition, but I thought that he needed more calories. Susan told me that I could increase the flow rate from 50 to 55 ml/hour. If he tolerated that, we could increase the flow by an additional 5 ml/hour. She thought that Dad should consult a gastroenterologist to see if the doctor would recommend a bolus feed.

poc02Susan also said that Dad’s calcium levels were high, caused by his extended time in bed. She added that movement would help to decrease the calcium levels. It’s ironic that when you’re sedentary, calcium leaches from your bones and into your blood, which causes the high calcium levels in your blood and decreases your bone density. Although his bones could use extra calcium, I couldn’t give him any because of the calcium in his blood.

We also discussed different ways to weigh him. Unless they can weigh Dad, they cannot calculate a dry weight for him, which means that they’re guessing about how much fluid to remove. The scale at the dialysis center can accommodate a wheelchair, but nothing larger. Because Dad arrived on a gurney, they could not weigh him. They discussed different options, including a Hoyer sling. The dialysis center owns a Hoyer lift, but patients need to provide their own slings. Unfortunately, Medicare could not understand the use case of needing the inexpensive sling without the expensive lift. Someone joked that maybe we could buy a sling on Amazon.com. Dr. Issac pulled out his phone and learned that you could indeed. Nevertheless, we decided to wait until we could transport Dad in a wheelchair and weigh him at that time.

The doctor was very accommodating, and the general feeling in the room was one of awe. They could not believe that we had had so little support, and for all intents and purposes had been on our own. I left the meeting with an overwhelming sense of relief that we now had an additional support system. In addition to being able to call the various dialysis providers, I could also communicate with them via MyChart, the patient portal for Scott & White.

dadOct19
On the patio

When I returned home, Michell watched while I administered Dad’s trach care and midday meds. Shortly after I returned to work, Brenda stopped by for Dad’s physical therapy session. I could not attend the session, but Michell said that she saw Dad stand up on his own by holding on to the bathroom sink. She watched the entire session and thought that he did pretty well. After Brenda left, Dad napped until I logged off from work.

The weather was still nice and the four of us enjoyed happy hour on the patio. After dinner, Michell passed our litmus test and joined us for a game of Oh Hell. Dad had now had two good nights in a row. After running through the nighttime routine with Michell, I hoped that Michell’s first night with Dad would be uneventful.

October 22. Like an answer to a prayer, Dad had another quiet night. Today was Michell’s first day of dialysis with Dad. I don’t know what went wrong, but Dad seemed to jump his groove during his morning routine, although he was still ready when the EMTs arrived at 6:15 A.M.  Although Michell had several years of experience working in nursing facilities, she had never been in a dialysis center, so this was a new experience for her. She managed just fine and was able to administer Dad’s Midodrine two hours into his session. She also had pretty good luck with the ambulance, and she and Dad were home from dialysis by noon.

As usual, Dad was pretty wiped out from dialysis and took a nap shortly after I administered his midday meds and trach care. Dad slept until almost 4:00 P.M. and was ready for happy hour when I logged off from work at 5:00 P.M.

poc01I think that our family happy hour was a new experience for Michell. She didn’t drink, but she still joined us and we found that this time was perfect for getting better acquainted with the aides. Although Dad could not drink with us, he still ensured that we kept the bar refrigerator stocked with the beverages that the aides like to drink.

At the end of Michell’s second day with us, I wondered if Dad would have another good night, or if he’d initiate her with a night of coughing and attempted bed escapes. For the sake of all of us, I hoped that the quiet nights would continue.