Killing fire ants: continued progress during caregiver respite

January 16, 2016. It seemed that Dad had had a great night’s sleep, and from all accounts, he woke up feeling chipper. Starting a few days after his return home, every morning, Dad would tell the aides what he wanted to wear and where they could find the clothes in his closet and dresser drawers. After gathering his clothes for the day, they would then help him dress. Today, Dad started dressing himself. To ensure that he was safe from falling, Michell remained nearby while he dressed. By 5:30 A.M., Dad and Michell had eaten breakfast and were ready and waiting for the HOP bus to transport them to dialysis.

antCross1After Michell and Dad returned from dialysis, she restarted his tube feed at the slower rate of 55 ml/hour. Julie, the gastroenterologist dietitian, had suggested a faster rate, but Michell and I had agreed to administer the Nepro at the slower rate until Dad went at least a couple of days without feelings of nausea. Meanwhile, it seemed that Dad’s appetite had returned, and he ate tuna with a toasted English muffin and a little applesauce.

After lunch, Michell administered the trach care and midday meds. Her willingness to handle Dad’s trach care had enabled my return to Houston the previous day for a short visit, although I knew that the procedure made Michell very nervous.

When Dad woke up from his afternoon nap, he told Michell that his throat felt scratchy, similar to the way it had felt yesterday before he vomited. Michell wasn’t sure what to do, but Dad agreed to chew on some ice chips to see if that helped his throat, or perhaps his stomach, to feel better. The scratchiness seemed to disappear, and Dad didn’t get sick.

antCross3Mom felt very encouraged about Dad’s good spirits today and asked Michell if she could help to get Dad into the sunroom for happy hour. Although she did assist Dad into the sunroom, she probably could have literally carried him, considering her strength and his extreme weight loss.

Mom, Dad, and Michell played a game of three-hand Oh Hell, and they agreed that the game was better with four or more players. By 8:00 P.M., Dad was getting ready for bed. After yesterday’s bouts of coughing and vomiting, Dad seemed to have had a good day, and the secretion reservoir did not show any signs of aspirated food particles.

January 17. Dad had another restful, uneventful night and slept until 6:00 A.M. By 6:15 A.M., he had identified the clothes for Michell to gather for him, and he was at the bathroom sink getting washed up for the day. For breakfast, Dad had 1-1/2 English muffins, a soft-boiled egg, and some home-made jam. The egg and muffin breakfast reminded me of the October morning shortly after Dad had been discharged from the CCH. He had wheeled himself into the kitchen and asked Mom if she would fix him a soft-boiled egg. At that time, he couldn’t eat anything and we weren’t sure if he’d ever be able to eat.

antCross2While Mom attended church, Dad and Michell strolled around the yard and inside the house. While outside, Dad noticed some large fire ant beds. Fire ants are a nuisance and somewhat of a danger for those of us who live in warmer climates. Back in the days of being an able-bodied person, he had kept a close eye on pesky insects, such as wasps and fire ants.

Dad had become accustomed to playing cribbage on Sundays, but this weekend, his cribbage buddy was in Houston with me. Fortunately, Michell had agreed to learn the game, and she and Dad played a game before their lunch of grilled cheese and angel food cake.

antCross2After lunch, Dad was on a mission to get rid of the fire ant mounds that he found during his morning walk. With a little assistance from Michell, he went out to the garage, grabbed a trowel and the ant poison, walked back through the house and out the patio door to the backyard. Dad dug some dirt from the top of the mound and then treated the mound with the poison. The danged ants probably recolonized a few feet away, but this mound was just below the kitchen window, and he wanted to get rid of it.

All of the walking and ant killing had tired him, and by 3:00 P.M. Dad was ready for a short nap. When he woke up at 3:30 P.M., he astonished Michell by asking for a cup of ice. He wasn’t a fan of the crushed ice and often complained that it made his mouth exceptionally cold.

antCross1Mom and Dad had lived in Grand Junction, Colorado, for 21 years, and they were both still fans of the Denver Broncos football team. Dad had specifically requested that he be awakened from his nap at 3:30 P.M. so that he could watch the Broncos beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. During the game, he snacked on green grapes.

After his big lunch, the Nepro tube feed, and some grapes, Dad wasn’t very hungry for dinner, but he did eat some green beans and ice cream. Even if he wasn’t very hungry, he rarely skipped dessert.

The three of them played cards again tonight and at 8:45 P.M., Dad started heading to his bedroom to start his nightly routine. He had now had a couple of good days in a row under his belt, and Michell hoped for another night of rest.

I was relieved that Dad had fared well while I was gone. After the fall that he had had during my absence in December, I was all in favor of uneventful days and nights.

Finally! A proper toilet and a trip to the barber

January 12, 2016. Shortly after 1:00 A.M., Dad’s incessant itching woke him and he told Dianne that he wanted to take a shower, which was not permitted without the assistance of a physical therapy aide. Instead, Dianne applied more anti-itch lotion, which enabled him to fall asleep again. By 4:00 A.M., the Kangaroo alarm had sounded and woke Dianne, who then woke Dad.

img_1421By 4:30 A.M., with some assistance from Dianne, Dad had washed his face, brushed his longish hair, and was dressed for the day. Keeping with his normal routine, he wheeled himself to the kitchen and read some of the newspaper while Mom prepared his breakfast of Cream of Wheat with honey and a small bowl of peaches and pears. He was finished with breakfast and ready to go long before the HOP arrived at 6:00 A.M.

His secretions had decreased significantly. The reservoir on the suction machine had measurement markings, and it might sound a little disgusting, but Dad’s secretions now measured less than 1/2 cup per day, which was a fraction of earlier quantities.

shave1Now that Dad could transfer in and out of the SUV, Mom scheduled appointments with the hearing aid center and the dermatologist. She told me that Dad also wanted to see the barber on Thursday. He was usually a little weak on Thursdays because of dialysis, so strength-wise, Wednesday would have been a better day, but his Wednesday dance card was already filled with nurse and therapist appointments.

Dad and Dianne returned home from dialysis shortly before noon. Dianne told me that his check-in weight had been 64 kg and 62.8 kg when he left. After pulling out my calculator and converting kilograms to pounds, it appeared that he had gained a couple of dry-weight pounds. I didn’t want to tell Dad about his weight gain for fear that he’d quit eating so that he wouldn’t get fat.

Mom had prepared grilled cheese sandwiches, a comfort-food favorite, and V-8 Juice for him for lunch, and he ate it without a thought about his weight. He had had 1,500 ml of fluid removed during dialysis, and he was tired. Whenever Dad napped, Dianne took advantage of his downtime and also took a nap, and they both slept for a couple of hours.

During dinner, Dad’s appetite didn’t disappoint. He ate hot dogs, beans, and a couple of crescent rolls for dinner.

shave2After our nightly game of cards, Dianne and I were finished with Dad’s nightly meds and trach care by 8:15 P.M., and by 8:30 P.M., he was sleeping. An hour later, he started coughing, but Dianne was able to get him to suction himself, and he was soon sleeping again.

January 13. When I woke up at 3:30 A.M., I heard Dad tell Dianne that he wanted to go to the little room, which was how he referred to the room that housed the proper toilet in my parents’ master bathroom. During his last visit, Stan had installed grab bars in the little room, enabling Dad to finally use the proper toilet in that bathroom. Dianne responded to Dad’s request by asking why he wanted to go to the living room. He wasn’t wearing his hearing aids, and she couldn’t understand him, so this insane exchange about the little room and living room lasted until I came downstairs and interpreted for them. They both laughed and agreed to refer to this room as the small room. After Dianne helped him back to bed, they both went back to sleep.

Mom had been successful at scheduling an early appointment today with the dermatologist and had to wake Dad and Dianne at 6:00 A.M. This trip to the dermatologist would be his first excursion in the car since May 6, 2015.

shave3While getting dressed, Dad’s dialysis catheter dressing fell off. Unbelievably, Dianne picked it up off of the floor and put it back over his dialysis ports. When I heard what had happened, I had her remove the soiled dressing, and I called the dialysis lab and spoke with Dad’s nurse. The nurse told me that he could stop by the dialysis lab at any time today to have the dressing replaced.

After Mom, Dad, and Dianne returned home from the doctor and the dialysis lab, I told Dad that he needed to eat something. He had been off of the tube feed since 4:00 A.M., and had only eaten 85 calories worth of food. He finally agreed to eat 1/4 cup each of cottage cheese and applesauce. This paltry amount wouldn’t make much difference, but at least he agreed to eat something. When he ate only a portion of each, I told him that he needed to eat more, which prompted an argument. After exchanging a few harsh words, he said: “Melody doesn’t really care if I’m around or not.” Dianne, who had been present during our little exchange, had the good sense to hightail it out of the kitchen before my anger exploded. I grabbed the arms of his wheelchair, and I shook it hard and long while shouting, “How dare you say that to me!” The shouting brought my mother to the kitchen to see what we were arguing about now. I gave her the condensed version and stormed out of the kitchen to the office.

I stayed mad at him all day and was glad that I could stay in the office and work. When Brenda arrived at 10:30 A.M. for Dad’s physical therapy session, she informed us that Pam, the shower aide, would be arriving in a few minutes to help Dad with his shower. This shower session had been scheduled to train Michell how to help Dad with a shower but Michell had had car trouble and had not yet arrived, which annoyed Brenda. This shower session was somewhat less of a fire drill than his first shower, and I think that soap might have been involved this time. After lunch, Janet stopped by for Dad’s occupational therapy session, and Kristen stopped by at 2:00 P.M. for the swallow therapy session.

shave1After dinner, I told Mom that I needed to prepare either tonight or tomorrow for my trip home on Friday. She said that I should make my preparations tonight, which meant that she was canceling tonight’s card game. My parents have a high-efficiency washing machine, and like most of these machines, they’re prone to mold. After using it, I mentioned to her that I had noticed some mold on the seals. In response, she told me that she didn’t like my attitude. I was becoming more eager to leave here with every passing hour.

After Dad got into bed, he started coughing hard and then started vomiting. The vomiting didn’t last very long and he seemed fine. He fell asleep until 10:00 P.M., when his coughing woke me, and I went downstairs to his room. I notice that his red cap was missing. Once again, he had blown off his red cap while coughing. Luckily, I had a few clean ones on hand. I suctioned him again, and I became worried when I noticed the pink color of the secretions in the suction tank. During dinner, Dad had eaten some strawberry ice cream and I feared that he had aspirated some of it. When I tried to take his hand to check his oxygen saturation, he grabbed my hand and held on to it, and I melted. I guess only the ones who you love the most can provoke such opposing emotions in the span of a few hours.

While he had been vomiting, his heart rate had reached 141, but his oxygen saturation stayed about 95% and his temperature remained normal. After his coughing subsided and his vitals were normal, he was ready to go back to sleep, and so was I.

January 14. Dad woke up before 3:30 A.M. and was ready to get up and get the day started, not seeming to have suffered any ill effects from last night. He ate a little breakfast and was ready and waiting for the HOP bus to take him to dialysis.

shave2I had logged on to work around the time that Dad woke up, and my morning was full of scheduled meetings. Michell and Dad arrived home from dialysis around 11:30 A.M. and had already eaten lunch by the time that I was free for lunch.

Although Dad seemed to be in a good mood, he was coughing a lot more today. He was tired from dialysis and wanted to take a little nap, but he insisted that he be awakened by 2:00 P.M.

barberPoleAs instructed, we woke him at the appointed time, and he prepared himself for his second excursion in the family SUV, this time to the barber shop. His barber said that he had wondered what had happened to him. The last time that Dad had seen the barber, Dad told him that he was going to the hospital for some surgery. The barber did a great job on Dad, transforming him into his former well-groomed self.

Shortly after returning home from the barber, Dad said that he wasn’t feeling well and wanted to lie down again. He slept for another hour and Michell woke him just before 5:30 P.M.

shave3Because of his coughing spells today, I decided to resume the saline breathing treatments for at least for a day or two.  His secretions seemed to contain some “solids,” which was somewhat disturbing. After the breathing treatment, he started coughing hard again, blowing off the red cap. The way that that red cap flew off of the trach reminded me of a cork flying off of a champagne bottle. After his coughing spell, his oxygen saturation level was 99%, higher than it had been since the day that he was red-capped, so it seemed that his cough had been productive.

January 15. Dad slept most of the night and started coughing around the same time that my alarm sounded. By the time that I got downstairs to his room, he was sleeping again. After working a little over two hours, I heard Michell and Dad talking in the other room, and I stopped for a few minutes to see how he was doing.

As soon as he was up and moving around, he started coughing a lot, and his secretions still looked like they contained solid material. Concerned that he might have aspirated some of last night’s dinner, I texted Kristen. (I don’t know what I would have done without text messaging. It saved so much time so many times and alleviated so much worry.) She replied, saying that some of the solid material in the tank could have come dislodged from pockets in his mouth, and that she didn’t think that he exhibited any of the symptoms of silent aspiration.

shave1Mom and I talked about finding another primary care physician for Dad—one that was part of the Scott & White network. We spent some time online looking for physicians and called the office of our neighbor and doctor, Barbara, to see if she was still taking new patients, but we had to leave a message. We had not received a return call or email by the time that I left for Houston.

Mom and Michell took Dad to the hearing aid center to see the audiologist. She adjusted the volume of Dad’s hearing aids and cleaned them. They returned from their excursion in time for lunch. Dad ate another good meal of a ground roast beef sandwich, tomato juice, and fruit for lunch. Because of its consistency, tomato juice is considered a thick liquid, so Dad was permitted to drink as much of it as he wanted without having to thicken it.

Shortly after I left Temple for Houston, Stephanie, the nurse, arrived. She told Mom and Michell that Dad’s lungs sounded like they were clear, and that he seemed to be doing fine. When she left, Michell coached Dad through his occupational and physical therapy exercises, and then he walked a little on the front porch of the house.

A little after 2:45 P.M., Dad started coughing hard and then started vomiting. Fortunately, I guess, he vomited only tube feed and did not lose his lunch.  After a few minutes, he said that he felt better and that he wanted to take a nap.

shave2I arrived home shortly before 4:30 P.M. When I called my mother to tell her that I had arrived, she told me about the events of the afternoon. I spoke briefly with Michell and had her give Dad a Zofran pill for his nausea and cut back on the rate of his tube feed. We had increased the rate from 55 ml/hour to 130 ml/hour. The dietitian at the gastroenterologist’s office had assured me that this rate shouldn’t cause a problem, but all evidence pointed to the contrary. He needed the Nepro to supplement his dietary intake, but he wouldn’t get it if he kept vomiting.

It was good to get home to what seemed like a parallel universe. I don’t know how I would have survived without these periodic respites to Houston and I wondered how so many caregivers—primarily women—did.

 

 

 

Capturing the elusive red cap

January 1, 2016. A couple of minutes after midnight I heard grunting, sounds coming through the baby monitor. When I went downstairs to check on Dad, he said that he needed to get up now. As I started to unhook his feeding tube, I asked him why he needed up. He said that he was annoyed because he had overslept and had missed the Rose Parade. When I explained to him that it was midnight and not noon, he looked relieved and smiled. As long as I was there, I suctioned his trach, and after we wished each other Happy New Year, I was on my way back upstairs by 12:45 A.M. He had had a lot of secretions, so I was grateful for the false alarm.

rcap3At 6:00 A.M., I heard Dad and Michell talking and decided that it was time for me to get up to administer Dad’s morning meds and breathing treatment. His secretions seemed a bit thinner now, but his oxygen saturation was still too low for me to consider lowering his oxygen.

As I had learned at midnight, Dad’s big plan for the day was to watch the Tournament of Roses Parade, a New Year’s Day tradition. However, the parade wouldn’t start for almost three hours, which allowed him time for a delightful breakfast of green oatmeal, and some walking and sink exercises. The best place to watch the parade was in my parents’ sunken sunroom. Stan, Michell, and I spent a few minutes working out the logistics for getting him out of the wheelchair, down the step and transferred back into the wheelchair so that he could continue receiving tube feed and oxygen without damaging the floor. It seemed like it should be a simple maneuver, but Dad’s tubes and wires complicated his already-limited mobility.

Tracy, the nurse, dropped by at 1:00 P.M. and said that although Dad was still suffering from the effects of his cold, she thought that we were doing everything right. At 2:00 P.M., Kristen arrived for Dad’s swallow therapy. I was continually impressed by the home-care caregivers as they kept up their regularly-scheduled visits during the holiday. I had worked in corporate America for more than 20 years, and only the newest employees worked around, let alone on, the holidays.

rcap2Dad was still very congested today. Before we played cards, I had to suction him so that he could enjoy our game. By 8:30 P.M., the first day of 2016 was just about over. After I administered Dad’s meds and a breathing treatment, I treated myself to a breathing treatment to combat my own chest cold. I had never used a nebulizer and was surprised at how well it was clearing up my congestion.

January 2. During the night, I heard coughing and talking through the baby monitor. Dad’s secretions had kept him awake, but Michell was able to convince him to suction himself. Michell was concerned when she saw blood in his secretions, but attributed the blood to a nosebleed that he had had a few hours earlier.

When Michell helped Dad out of bed at 5:00 A.M., I also got up, and after changing into my scrubs, I went downstairs to see how he was doing. After administering a breathing treatment, the morning meds, and letting Dad wash his face and brush his teeth, Michell washed his hair with some no-rinse shampoo. Before Gale had left us, she had encouraged me to purchase some no-rinse shampoo, but I couldn’t find it in our local stores. I finally found it online on December 26, and it had arrived a couple of days ago. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked.

rcap3After Dad was as clean as Michell could get him without a shower, we all ate breakfast together. Mom prepared Dad a special breakfast of Cream of Wheat topped with a couple of peach slices. When we finished breakfast, I administered another breathing treatment, and then Mom and I went shopping in Waco, approximately 35 miles north of Temple, leaving Stan and Dad to play cribbage and stay out of mischief until our return at 1:00 P.M. Between Dad’s long hospitalization and Mom’s stroke, Mom had lost a lot of weight and needed some new clothes. The shopping trip also gave us a much-needed respite and a chance to spend some time together.

After Mom and I returned home, I ran a few errands in Temple and picked up another prescription for Dad. Before I left, I told Dad that I would change his trach when I returned, but by the time that I had returned, he was sleeping. Not to be deterred from my goal, I changed his trach as soon as he woke up. In the seven days since I had last changed it, it had become pretty gunky, but the secretions had not solidified in the trach. Dad hated to stay in the bedroom, which was the only place where he received the moistened oxygen. I often worried that secretions were hardening in his trach, which would then narrow his airway.

rcap2Dad never kept the outside Christmas decorations up past New Year’s Day, and he was chomping at the bit to have them taken down. With the assistance of Stan and Michell (the tallest person in the house), Dad had the decorations removed and packed for next year.

Now that Dad was able to eat, Mom and I tried to come up with menus that were appealing to everyone in the house. We also had to ensure that the food was not red or white so that I could monitor Dad’s secretions for signs of aspiration. Mom wanted a side dish to accompany the roast that she planned for dinner. I reminded her that many trendy restaurants offered mac-and-cheese as side dishes. Not only was mac-and-cheese tasty, but it was also orange. Keeping with the orange theme, Mom also made butterscotch pudding for dessert. As we had hoped, Dad was able to eat the mac-n-cheese and pudding.

After dinner and our daily game of Oh Hell, I gave Dad another breathing treatment of albuterol. This treatment seemed to kick up his secretions, and I had to remove a lot of secretions before he went to bed.

rcap3Shortly after Stan and I went to bed, we heard an exchange between Dad and Michell through the baby monitor. Evidently, Dad was itching so much that he agreed to let Michell give him a mini sponge bath. More startling than him agreeing to the bath was that he agreed with her that he should have let her do it several days ago when she first suggested it.

January 3. When the alarm went off at 3:40 A.M., I could barely drag myself out of bed, and Michell was also forcing herself to get up. After walking around like a zombie for about 30 minutes, I finally woke Dad at 4:10 A.M. I wanted to let Mom sleep, so I fixed him a breakfast of Cream of Wheat and peaches. To ensure that I fixed his breakfast as Mom would, Dad monitored and corrected me while I prepared his meal. After breakfast, we were able to squeeze in a saline breathing treatment before the HOP bus arrived to take him to dialysis.

While Dad and Michell were at dialysis, Mom and I went to church. When we returned home at 12:30 P.M., we found Dad and Stan involved in a game of cribbage. After Dad played a most spectacular hand and beat Stan, we had lunch. Dad ate only a small portion of applesauce, so I was glad that he was still receiving Nepro. Dad had lost so much weight that we, and the dietitians, could not justify reducing his Nepro.

rcap2As soon as lunch was finished, Stan returned home to Houston. The holidays were over, and tomorrow was the first working day of the new year. Dad was ready for a nap, but because of his aspiration precautions, he could not lie down for an hour after eating. Because he had to sit upright, he decided to go into the sunroom to watch the Texans football game. Michell and I were getting better at this transition. We still hadn’t told the physical therapist that we were letting him step into this room. By 3:00 P.M., the football game finally lulled him into a drowsy state while sitting in his chair. Before he fell asleep, we helped him out of the sunroom and into his wheelchair so that he could go to his room for a nap.

I woke Dad at 4:30 P.M. so that I could administer some meds and a breathing treatment before happy hour. Unfortunately, our happy hour was anything but happy.  I don’t remember how it started, but we had a terrible argument about his exercising. Lately, Michell had been unable to get him to exercise, and he made it very clear that he would exercise when and if he felt like it, and it wasn’t doing any good anyway. We had a terrible argument about this, his new lot in life, and my new terse way of talking to him. The primary reason that we had hired aides to assist us was to ensure that we could maintain some semblance of normal familial relationships. When a family member changes roles from child or spouse to the caregiver, it can strain normal relationships. I had been responsible for taking care of him for a few months and had been his uber-advocate during his hospitalization. Now that he was getting better, he was beginning to resent my telling him what to do. The more that he angrily pushed back on my efforts to care for him, the more ready I was to pack my bags and go home. Following our exchange, I heard Dad tell Mom that “she was the only one that mattered.” I was beginning to feel a bit unappreciated.

rcap3I had prepared a salmon casserole for dinner, which Dad was able to eat. My parents have a fig tree, and during the summer Mom had made some fig jam, which Dad enjoyed for dessert. Everything seemed very civil for the rest of the evening, but I was still a bit miffed.

No amount of arguing would keep us from playing Oh Hell after dinner. When we finished playing cards, Michell and I administered his meds and breathing treatment, and Dad was ready for bed by 8:30 P.M. From what I heard through the baby monitor, Dad needed the Yankauer suction wand around 10:30 P.M., but I didn’t hear him again that night. During my regular call with Stan, I unloaded my frustration about my situation here and my desire to leave. At the end of our call, I was somewhat less agitated.

January 4. Today was the first working day of 2016, and I was up and logged on to work before 4:00 A.M. Today was an important day for Dad, and one that I had been looking forward to and nervous about for a couple of months. The appointment with the pulmonologist was very important, although I didn’t think that Dad realized its importance.

Tracy, the homecare nurse, stopped by at 9:15 A.M., and said that Dad’s lungs were clearer, so it seemed that the breathing treatments that she had recommended had helped. I took a break from work at 11:15 A.M., and the four of us had a quick lunch. Shortly after lunch, the HOP picked up Dad and Michell; Mom and I followed the bus to the clinic for Dad’s 1:00 P.M. doctor’s appointment.

redCap2When we were ushered into the examination room, Dad’s world began to change. After Mom and I provided a short update on Dad’s condition and treatment since his discharge, Dr. Badri Giri said that he was surprised that Dad had not seen Svenja (the trach goddess), or anyone else in the medical profession, about the trach. He immediately paged Svenja for a trach consult. Although she was available, she was about as far from us as she could be while still on the hospital grounds, but would be there within 10 minutes. While waiting for Svenja, Dr. Velazco stopped by, and there were hugs all around. Dr. Velazco, another pulmonologist, had not seen Dad since late August, and he was thrilled to see how Dad’s condition had improved. The hugs continued when Svenja arrived. She and I spent a few minutes catching up and then she started to check out Dad’s trach and stoma. I respected and liked Svenja and was nervous that she would find a problem that was related to Dad’s care. When she said that Dad’s stoma looked good, I exhaled the breath that I didn’t realize that I had been holding. After she and the doctor conferred for a few minutes, they decided to downsize Dad’s trach from a size 8 to a size 6 trach, which meant that the outside diameter of the trach was smaller. The smaller diameter would still be large enough for us to keep using our FR14 suction kits and would enable the stoma to start closing. She deftly replaced the trach within a few moments. Svenja and the doctor had considered removing the trach but decided to wait about a month until he completed more swallow therapy. Instead, she red-capped the trach, which meant that Dad was now breathing through his nose and not the opening in his trach. Dad had not breathed through his nose since June 8, 2015, almost six months earlier. On the way out, we saw Dr. Hayek in the hall and stopped to say hello to him. Dad had no recollection of Svenja and Drs. Hyack and Velazco, but these three health care providers had been important players in Dad’s recovery at Scott & White Memorial, especially after he aspirated in July. On our way out, we scheduled Dad’s follow-up appointment in February.

We returned home from the doctor’s appointment at 3:00 P.M. Michell was able to engage Dad in some swallow-therapy exercises, and I logged back on to work for another couple of hours.

rcap1The red-capped trach introduced many changes in our lives. For starters, we no longer needed the very noisy and heat-generating oxygen concentrator and attached nebulizer. We also would not need to use the oxygen tanks. The difference in Dad’s bedroom was startling, starting with the quiet, which was almost deafening. The temperature dropped at least five degrees, which would be a welcome change for the aides, who sweltered during the night. I would still need to administer trach care, which included changing out the trach every week and checking for aspirated food particles in his secretions. The smaller diameter of the trach would make handling secretions easier for Dad, too. When I checked Dad’s oxygen saturation, it was 100%!

We were all in much better spirits during happy hour and dinner, not to mention cards. Once again, I was practically giddy with excitement about Dad’s progress, yet on edge that something would happen that would cause Dad’s condition to regress.

rcap1After our full and exciting day, Michell and I administered Dad’s meds and trach care, and he was drifting off to sleep by 8:15 P.M. After the wonderful events of the day, I couldn’t wait to call Stan to share the good news.

 

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

Visions of a good night’s sleep danced in my head. If only.

December 22, 2015. I was taking this week off from work in observance of the Christmas holiday. Dialysis didn’t take a holiday, and we were all up early to prepare Dad for his 5:50 A.M. HOP pickup. While Dad and Michell were away, Mom and I attacked our list of chores and errands.

VisionsCross1My most important errand was my appointment with Adan at the Hospice and Home Care Center office, located across the parking lot from the Scott & White CCH. I had spoken and texted with him several times, but we had never met. I was looking forward to meeting with him and reviewing the results of Dad’s MBSS. In addition to what we had been told yesterday, which was that Dad had to avoid thin liquids, the report also contained a list of foods that he could eat. Adan also told me about a thickener that I could purchase at Walgreens that would thicken a thin liquid.

As Dad started this next stage of his recovery, we had to be careful about what we gave him to eat and I had to inspect what I suctioned from his trach during trach care. If the secretions had any color, I might be suctioning food from his trachea, which would mean that he had aspirated the food. To ensure that I didn’t confuse blood with food, we were advised to avoid red food. To further complicate matters, we also had to avoid feeding him white food, like potatoes and oatmeal—unless we colored it—because I would not be able to distinguish aspirated white food from normal secretions.

By the time that I had returned from my errands, Dad and Michell had returned from dialysis and Dad was taking a nap. When he woke up at 1:30 P.M., Michell was horrified to see him sit up and swing his legs over the side of the bed. Fortunately, she had been sitting in the room and was able to stop him from standing up.

VisionsCross3When Dad was safely transferred to his wheelchair, I told him about my visit with Adan and the report from Dr. Sherrard. He had hoped that the report would contain more foods, but he seemed to accept his restricted diet for the time being. We had been advised that Dad could eat a cup of food at a time, but Dad now announced that he would eat no more than 1/8 cup of anything during a meal because he didn’t want to get fat. I started to challenge him on this proclamation but quickly stopped after he seemed to dig in his heels about the matter. I told him that we could not cut back on the Nepro if he didn’t eat more, but he wouldn’t budge. It was becoming very apparent that I came by my stubbornness honestly.

Mom and I delivered bread to some of her friends and then stopped by the pharmacy to pick up some prescriptions for Dad. We returned home just as Dad was waking up from his second nap. Mom and I had decided that mashed sweet potato would be the perfect food for Dad. Not only was it tasty and easy to mash, but it was also nutritious and orange. I prepared several servings in ¼-cup containers. As I handed him his first serving, he said that he didn’t like sweet potatoes and that he would not eat such large servings.

He and I launched into a heated discussion. For starters, the news that he didn’t like sweet potatoes was a shocker because he’d been eating them all of my life, if not longer. I wanted him to follow the advice of the doctor and speech therapists. I was steamed. We had been through too much to screw up his recovery. After he said that he’d eat what he wanted, I told him that he could either follow instructions so that he could get better, or I was gone. Ready or not, my planned departure date was February 1, a little over a month from now.

VisionsCross1We were going through an unexpected transition. While he had been very ill and weak, I had been able to administer the prescribed care. As his health improved and he regained some strength, he was trying to regain control over his life. I couldn’t really blame him, but I had hoped that we’d be pulling together. We had had some little skirmishes during the last few weeks—starting with when he wanted to graduate from an electric shaver to a razor—but this argument seemed more intense, and it didn’t help that neither of us felt well. When Dad and I were on the same side of an issue, we were a force to be reckoned with. However, when we squared off, we could argue like nobody’s business, and our arguing usually upset Mom. At her pleading, we ratcheted down the intensity somewhat and talked in a more civil tone. I backed down, but I was determined that he would be eating more than two tablespoons per meal by the time that Kristen returned after Christmas.

For all my talk about wanting him eating more, the fact that he was now eating made me very nervous because of his history of aspirating. In addition to keeping a watchful eye on what I suctioned from his trach, I also closely monitored his oxygen levels in the event that he aspirated without leaving tell-tale signs in his trach.

We played cards after dinner, and I won. When I called Stan after Dad had gone to sleep, Stan told me that he would not be here until midday on Christmas Eve. The second half of my day had been stressful, and this news was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and I all but hung up on him.

December 23. Dad had a good night’s sleep, but I woke up every time that he moved around in that creaky hospital bed. It didn’t help matters that I went to bed feeling like I was coming down with a cold. When I woke up at 12:30 A.M., my throat felt like it was on fire. I took some Advil, which seemed to help. During more bed creaking sometime around 1:30 A.M., I remembered that I left a lumen print outside. Rain was forecasted for the night, so I got out of bed and retrieved it.

Sometime around 5:30 A.M., I heard Dad again, and I went downstairs to check on him. He seemed ready to get up, but shortly after transferring him to his wheelchair, he wanted to return to bed.

VisionsCross2Michell finally got Dad up and ready for the day at 6:30 A.M. For breakfast, I served Dad two tablespoons of green oatmeal, which looked about as appetizing as it sounds. After finishing his oatmeal, Michell prepared some shaved ice for him, which he ate.

Becky, the owner of One on One Personal Home Care, called and gave us the disappointing news that Katherine would not be returning. Instead, Dianne would replace Gale for the foreseeable future. Dianne had replaced Amanda during Dad’s second week home. We had liked her and were pleased with this news, although nobody could replace Gale.

Michell told me that Dad was insisting that he wanted to get on the bathroom scale to weigh himself. I told her that we’d let him, but that the two of us would help him get on and off of the scale to ensure that he didn’t fall. With his shoes on, he weighed 134.5 pounds. He was dreadfully thin and desperately needed to gain a little weight. I could feel all of his bones across his back and ribs. Getting on the scales probably wasn’t one of his physical therapy goals, but it was a little victory for him.

Michell started coaching Dad through his swallow therapy exercises, but Dianne arrived before they finished. Before Michell left, I gave her a gift card for Christmas from Stan and me. Shortly after she left, Tracy, the nurse, arrived and was soon followed by Janet and Brenda, the occupational and physical therapists.

VisionsCross2After Brenda left, I prepared a nice bowl of green mashed bananas for Dad’s lunch. Per his specifications, I served him a mere two tablespoons of the banana and ate the rest myself, but without the green food coloring. I still found it unbelievable that he preferred the nasty green bananas over the sweet and natural-colored sweet potatoes.

After he finished consuming his green lunch, Dad was ready for another nap. While he slept, I ran a few pre-holiday errands. I was still feeling pretty lousy, and when I returned home, I was ready for a nap. When I woke up, I found Dad and Dianne sitting outside on the patio. It was a beautiful day, and the temperature was in the low 80s, which was seasonably warm for two days before Christmas. It was such a nice evening that Dad wanted to stay outside and have our happy hour on the patio.

Although Dad received a clean bill of health and accolades from the therapists and the nurse, he had coughed up a lot of secretions today. I didn’t see anything that looked like one of his colored meals. I was a little concerned about the yellow yogurt that he ate for dinner because I probably couldn’t distinguish it from his secretions.

Dad won at cards tonight, and we were all tucked in bed by 8:00 P.M. There was no doubt about it; I was down with a wicked chest cold.

VisionsCross3December 24. We had a terrible night. Shortly before 2:00 A.M., I heard a gurgling sound coming from the baby monitor. I ran downstairs and saw that Dad’s speaking valve had blown off of his trach, he was sleeping on his side, and secretions were spewing out of his trach and onto his bed. I woke him, disconnected him from the tube feed and oxygen concentrator, and sat him on the side of the bed. During the 45 minutes that we sat on the side of his bed, he coughed and suctioned up at least 1/2 cup of secretions. When his secretions seemed to be under control, I helped him back into bed and checked his temperature and oxygen levels, and both were good. Dad drifted back to sleep, and I trudged back upstairs to bed.

When the alarm went off at 4:00 A.M., I could not get out of bed. I was now suffering from this danged cold, and an interrupted night’s sleep hadn’t helped matters. While I was contemplating whether or not to move, I heard Dianne tell Dad that they would have to ask me about something, so I decided that I needed to get up now.

It seemed that Dad was feeling pretty weak and didn’t want to go to dialysis. I told him that he had to go today. Because of Christmas, the dialysis clinic was closed tomorrow, so he couldn’t postpone today’s session. He acquiesced and started to get up and get ready to go. I felt terrible for him. With the kind of secretions that he had, I suspected that we were both suffering from chest colds. As bad as it was for me, it had to be terrible if you couldn’t handle the extra secretions caused by a cold.

VisionsCross1Dianne hadn’t been to the dialysis center since early October, and there wouldn’t be anyone there today that knew Dad’s normal routine. To ensure that he would be OK with the new aide and the holiday crew, I followed the HOP to the dialysis center, and I was glad that I did. The “C” team was on duty; they had never dealt with a trach patient, and his station was not equipped with a suction machine or a wand. I also wanted to ensure that they didn’t remove too much fluid and dehydrate him. The last thing that we needed today was a repeat of Thanksgiving’s visit to the hospital and subsequent visits from Deputy Blankenmeier and Adult Protective Services. When everything was set up for him and I felt that he would be OK, I returned home.

Stan arrived at my parents’ house just before 10:00 A.M. Shortly before 11:30 A.M., Dad and Dianne arrived home. They had left the dialysis center at the stroke of 11:00 A.M. and were the last ones on the bus and the first stop on the return trip. According to Dianne, Dad coughed up and suctioned about as much during dialysis as he did last night. He was feeling weak, so we transferred Dad to the bed and administered his midday meds. Before he could fall asleep, he started vomiting, probably because of his CDiff pill. His stomach was practically empty, but I was always scared of aspiration when he vomited.

After Dianne and I got him cleaned up situated for his nap, we were ready for our lunch. I didn’t want him left alone, so I ate lunch in his room. When she finished her lunch, Dianne stayed with Dad while Stan and I ran some errands.

Dad slept for most of the afternoon and was still asleep when Stan and I returned home. Dad woke up briefly for happy hour but wanted to lie down again while we ate dinner. He still felt a little queasy and didn’t want to eat dinner, so he opted for his Nepro diet.

All that napping must have paid off because he won tonight’s game of Oh Hell.

VisionsCross3Dad’s normal temperature ranged between 97.2 and 97.6 degrees. After he went to bed, his temperature started rising. By 9:30 P.M., his temperature had reached 99.2, prompting me to call the after-hours nurse. At 10:30 P.M., Dad’s temperature returned to 97.2, and I went to bed. After I finally fell asleep, Leo, the night nurse, returned my call. Leo told me that I shouldn’t take Dad’s temperature more often than once every four hours and that Dad’s temperature was still within normal range. After that little dressing down, I went back to sleep.

I had always been the first one up on Christmas morning, but all I wanted for Christmas this year was a good night’s sleep.

 

In my mind, everything was riding on the MBSS

December 18, 2015. When I started work at 4:00 A.M., everyone else was still sleeping, and the house was very quiet. A couple of hours later, I heard sounds of people stirring in Dad’s room. When I checked on him, he seemed to be moving slowly. He sounded congested, and he used the suction wand a lot. By 8:00 A.M., his coughing had subsided somewhat, and Michell had him ready for the day. An hour later, she donned her drill-sergeant demeanor and started coaching him through his exercises. She had him walk with the walker throughout the tiled areas of the house and work on his core and leg exercises. During short breaks, she brought him a couple of cups of crushed ice so that he could practice swallowing. I appreciated the way that she kept after him to exercise between therapy sessions. By 10:45 A.M., Dad was exhausted and was ready for a nap.

crossNavyI had a date in Houston that night with my husband, and I wanted to leave Temple before noon. I logged off from work at 10:30 A.M. and started packing up to leave. After a quick lunch, I was out the door by 11:45 A.M. The traffic was light until I got near Houston, and the trip was relatively hassle-free. I arrived home shortly before 3:00 P.M. and treated myself to a short nap on the couch with my two cats, which meant that I merely catnapped.

In Temple, Stephanie, the home-care nurse, arrived at 12:45 P.M. and said that one of Dad’s lungs “didn’t sound all that clear.” She told Michell and my parents that every couple of hours she wanted Dad to take ten deep breaths and hold the last breath. The nurse said that this exercise would make him cough, and I surmised that it was supposed to help clear his lungs, but I doubted that he did it even once.

crossNavyStarKristen arrived at 2:00 P.M. for Dad’s swallow therapy, and she was pleased with his progress. At the end of the session, Kristen seemed excited about Dad’s upcoming MBSS on Monday and said that she thought he’d do well. I sure hoped so.

Kristen was barely out of the house before Michell had Dad walking the halls with his walker, and she then coached him through a few bed exercises. While he was on the bed, he decided that he might as well take another nap.

While Stan and I enjoyed “A Christmas Story” in Houston at TUTS, Michell and my parents played three-handed Oh Hell, and Michell won.

December 19. Dad and Michell woke up at 4:00 A.M. and started getting ready for dialysis. Dad had slept fairly well, but at 2:30 A.M., Michell had awakened to see Dad getting himself back under the covers after sitting on the side of the bed to use the urinal. He made her crazy whenever he moved around the bed without asking her for assistance.

crossNavyIn Houston, Stan and I slept in until the decadent hour of 6:00 A.M. I allowed myself to laze around the house for another hour or so before going to the grocery store for gas and some items to take back to Temple. Over the past several months, I was lucky to have had friends who were quite willing to help me meet deadlines while I was living out of town and careening into Houston on my tight schedules. On my way out of town today, I met one such friend from my photography class for a little bit of a catch-up, and then I delivered some holiday biscotti to some other friends. This would be my last visit to Houston until after the new year.

I had finished all of my errands and was en route to Temple by 11:00 A.M. During my drive to Temple I stopped twice—once to stop at Buc-ee’s and once when the DPS stopped me for speeding. After receiving the warning for driving 75 MPH in a 70 MPH zone, I maintained my speed at two miles over the speed limit and was then tailgated for the remaining 80 miles of my trip.

Meanwhile, Dad and Michell returned home from dialysis at 11:45 A.M. After Michell administered his midday meds and trach care, he was ready for a nap. I arrived at my parents’ home at 1:55 P.M., just as Dad was just waking up.

crossNavyI was starting to worry about Dad again. We had not received his lab results, but I was fairly certain that he was suffering from CDiff. His probiotic meds arrived today, and I hoped that they would help him. This danged infection weakened him, and I didn’t want him to be too weak to perform well during the modified barium swallow study (MBSS) on Monday.

Later in the afternoon, LoSharris and Tom, my parents’ neighbors, stopped by with some candy and cookies, and the five of us had a nice visit. It seemed almost like old times.

After dinner, we played cards. Dad won, but I gave him a run for his money. By 7:30 P.M., Dad was getting ready for bed and drifted off to sleep in less than 20 minutes after being helped to bed.

December 20. Dad woke up a couple of times during the night to use the commode. Because of the baby monitor in his room, I woke up whenever he woke up or stirred in his squeaky hospital bed. Although he was able to get back to sleep shortly after 2:00 A.M., I didn’t have his gift of falling asleep at the drop of a hat. After a fitful rest, I eventually got up at 7:15 A.M., which was also when Dad woke up.

crossPurpleOur biggest challenge with Dad was that he now tried on a regular basis to sit up on the side of the bed while still plugged into all of his devices, which tended to put a strain on the lines that tethered him to the bed. After coming close to hurting himself last week, I would have thought that he’d ask for assistance. Regardless of how often I reminded him that we had hired aides whose job it was to assist him, he didn’t want to bother them. Our family had never needed outside help and I suspect that he was uncomfortable in asking for it now.

For as many years as I could remember, Mom had baked her traditional Christmas morning bread for close friends. Even the dramatic change in our lives could not deter her from this tradition, and she had been baking steadily during the past week. Today, she brought three loaves of bread with us to church—one for each of our favorite church ladies: Kris, Sue, and Sue’s mother, Joan. I was finally able to connect with Pastor Don and his wife, and I gave them some of my homemade biscotti.

crossPurpleWhile Mom and I were at church, Michell had had Dad walk 212 feet, which was not as far as Friday but was still a great effort. He also did some other exercises, but he had read about some football games that would be televised today and wanted to watch them. Being interested in anything on the television was significant. He had not shown any interest in watching anything on the television since before his surgery some 7-1/2 months ago. The fact that the Houston Texans were playing the Denver Broncos helped to entice him. At halftime, he thought that the Broncos had won because they had a 20-point lead, so he quit watching. Stan told me later that the Broncos had blown their lead and had lost the game.

Dad expressed some concern about feeling the trach when he swallowed. He had never spoken about the trach, so the comment seemed like it was coming from out of left field. I had a nagging feeling that he feared that he might not do well tomorrow with the MBSS test and was bracing me for a poor outcome.

crossNavyAfter happy hour, I followed him to his room and asked him if he was apprehensive about the swallow test the next day. I didn’t get much in the way of a response from him, but knowing him as I do, I suspected that he was nervous. Hoping to allay his concerns, I told him that Kristen was confident that he would do well. Truth be told, I was as nervous as a cat about this test.

By 7:30 P.M., Mom had beaten us at Oh Hell, and Dad was on his way to bed. Less than an hour later, Dad was sleeping, and everyone else in the house was moving in that direction.

December 21. My iPhone alarm woke me at my usual time and I grabbed some coffee and logged on to work at 3:45 A.M. I could hear a little commotion in Dad’s room at 5:00 A.M., when Michell helped him to the bathroom. A few minutes later, she helped him transfer back into the bed and reconnected his tube feed and oxygen lines. The room was quiet until 8:00 A.M., when Michell woke him. By 9:15 A.M., Dad was dressed and ready for his busy day.

crossNavyBrenda arrived at 10:15 A.M. for Dad’s physical therapy session. She had him walk with the walker and perform a series of sink exercises. He didn’t seem to exhibit any weakness during his session, which eased my fears about him being too weak for his swallow study this afternoon.

While we were waiting for the HOP to arrive, the dispatch office called to tell us that the driver was lost and could not find our house. I stood at the end of the driveway with the phone and provided turn-by-turn instructions for the driver. Fortunately, the schedulers pad the required transportation time, so he wasn’t more than a few minutes late to our house, and we arrived early to the hospital for Dad’s appointment.

crossNavyStarWhile we were in the x-ray waiting room, Holly, Dad’s speech therapist during his hospital stays, stopped by to see us. I was very fond of her, and it was thoughtful of her to stop by to say hello. After introducing Michell and reintroducing Dad to her, there were hugs all around. She was very reassuring, and before she left, she told us that Dr. Sherrard knew every trick in the book to get good results from Dad so that he could pass the test. When the tech escorted Dad to the exam room, she said that there was room for the three of us to observe the procedure without being exposed to the x-ray.

crossNavyStarThe only thing that I would ever see that’s cooler that this is a total solar eclipse, and that wouldn’t happen for another 20 months. Barium was mixed with a thin liquid, like water, a thickened liquid, like nectar, and a soft solid. Dad sat in front of an x-ray, and the barium additive enabled us to observe how he swallowed the liquid and food items. When Dr. Sherrard saw how something seemed to get caught when he swallowed, she had him repeat the test, but with his chin tucked. The chin tuck made a huge difference that even the three of us could see. The doctor confirmed that he was able to swallow thickened liquids and soft foods, which was such good news! At the end of the test, I hugged Dr. Sherrard and started tearing up. I didn’t know how Dad felt about this day, but I had been worrying and praying about this test from the time that it was scheduled. He had failed this test twice during his hospitalization, and the doctors had written him off as a chronic aspirator—someone who would never be able to swallow food again. As far as I was concerned, everything had been riding on a successful outcome of this test.

crossNavyStarMichell and Dad took the HOP back home, and Mom and I left the hospital in my car. On our way home, Mom and I stopped by the pharmacy to pick up another prescription for Dad’s CDiff. We were hopeful that Dad would have better luck with this medication. While we were waiting in the pharmacy, I texted Stan, Sue and Kris, and the pastors to share the good news about Dad’s test results, and they sent back a flurry of amens and hurrahs.

jalenpenoKristen arrived at the house at 4:00 P.M. She had already received the results of the MBSS from Dr. Sherrard via Adan. She was very excited about the test results—almost as much as I was—and was ready to progress to the next level. She wanted Dad to eat something and suggested applesauce. We didn’t have any, but we had homemade apple butter, which Dad had eaten on waffles every weekend before his hospitalization. He had not eaten since dinner on May 5, so his taste buds weren’t used to anything stronger than crushed ice. From his reaction, you would have thought that we were feeing him pureed jalapenos. He went on and on about the spicy food that we gave him. As Kristen coaxed him to swallow more bites, I tucked my chin as he swallowed, willing the apple butter down his esophagus.

crossNavyStarDuring our very happy happy hour, our neighbor Jane called. I had left a message for her to call me so that I could arrange to return a casserole dish that had held a yummy dinner. During my visit with her and her husband, Mickey, I shared our wonderful news about Dad and caught them up on some of our trials since his return home. They served me wine, which caused me to linger longer than I should have. By the time that I returned home, our dinner was a little overdone. I was too happy to be very contrite over a slightly-burnt dinner.

Dad sat with us during dinner, and we served him a very tiny portion of chocolate pudding. Following our dinner of pudding and burnt casserole, we played a game of Oh Hell, and I won. After his busy and eventful day, Dad was in bed and nodding off to sleep by 8:30 P.M.

http://www.uwhealth.org/voice-swallow/modified-barium-swallow-study-mbss/11461

 

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.