Monday, December 25, 2006

Love the one you're with

Merry Christmas! Now that I'm stuffed like a pig and sitting down from the day's festivities, I've had a chance to boot up and write -- something I've not done in awhile.

I was shocked this after noon when I came to the front door of my parents' house to find my dad sobbing, literally, standing in the doorway. He hugged me so hard, and said "Merry Christmas, I love you so much." Chris, my husband, I think summed it up best that dad is now out of the woods physically, but emotionally, it's like it's all caught up with him. He talked about how sorry he is for taking my mom and the people he loves most in the world for granted, how much he appreciates every one. He told Shane, my brother-in-law, to always respect and cherish Colleen, my sister, and he sobbed while talking to my nieces, Courtney and Kristen, about how they turned into such beautiful young girls.

What a transformation! This is no longer the stoic "keep a stiff upper lip" dad I've known all my life. I have to admit, at first it caught me off guard.

But then over dinner, he hardly touched his food, and stared with a far away look in his eyes, as though he was looking through us, through the room even, into some far away place only inhabited by his own mind. I have no idea what he was thinking, but later my mom cleared it up: she said he thinks this will be his last Christmas -- that he's not going to live much longer!

This has my mom very upset. He sleeps all the time, barely eats, is distant and emotional all at once.

I don't know how to react to my dad right now. I feel kinda guilty for that. It's hard when you swap roles, when your parents become dependent on you instead of the other way around. It's overwhelming and sad and strange.

At the end of the evening, we all filed in to say good bye to dad in his bedroom, where he was lying on his side, dozing. Each of us, one by one, said good bye and gave him a kiss. Elise, my two year old, started crying and said, "papaw is sick." And then I teared up. And then my mom. But dad had that far away look in his eyes, like he was looking at us, but not seeing us. Looking through us into some place he'd visited recently. I'd give anything to know what he is thinking.

Tonight, I lived in the moment. I enjoyed my kids, my parents, my family. I laughed. I remembered to love the ones I'm with. Life is tenuous, pitifully short and sad. Enjoy the happy times, even when it rains on Christmas day.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Dad is discharged!

It's true. As of today, dad is home, resting comfortably. He still has drainage tubes in place. A visiting nurse is scheduled to come out tomorrow, and Thursday he goes to an outpatient visit with his surgeon to have tubes and staples and all remaining attachments removed.

Let's hope and pray this is the end of this story. God knows he's been through enough.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Ah, the quiet time of night. Dogs at my feet, tea in hand, time to write.

Friday morning was, very honestly, the morning from hell. Sophie was convinced there would be a snow day, so convinced that when I told her she had school, she argued with me. "Mom, there's five inches of snow out there!" she quipped. So at every turn, she stalled and struggled, staring first at her clothes, then at her cereal. Finally I became enraged. Like a mother bear, I came at her growling. She refused, as always, to brush her hair. I'm ashamed to admit, I became so angry at her fighting me to go to school, I broke the brush on the kitchen table. Elise kept saying, "mommy broke the brush, mommy broke the brush" all weekend.

The stress is getting to me, obviously.

Then, between dropping Sophie off at school and getting Elise off to daycare, my cell phone rang. It was my mom. She called to tell me there was a code called on my dad very early in the morning that morning, and the stroke team had been called in. At that moment, an NG tube was being placed down my dad's nose to drain his stomach. She was sobbing, just sobbing. I checked in at work, then dropped everything and went over to the hospital to find my mom standing at the end of the 4200 hallway, staring out the window, still sobbing. I rubbed her back, hugged her.

"I don't think he's going to pull through this time," she said through tears.

"We need to request a family meeting," I said.

"What's that?"

"It's a meeting of the treating physicians and hospital staff involved in dad's care. It's a place where we can all be present and have our questions answered," I told her.

We walked down the hall and into my dad's room. He lay, head turned away from us despondently. On the wall to his right, a vacuum suctioned bilious fluid out of his belly through the NG tube in his nose. There was quite a bit. His nurse came in, and I asked her the details of what happened last night with the code, and what was happening currently.

She said he'd been given PO (by mouth) antibiotics on top of the IV antibiotics he was already taking, and it'd made him nauseated. He sat up in the middle of the night because he felt like he was going to be sick, and suddenly his blood pressure bottomed out and he went down. A code blue was called as a precaution, but he did not code; he just passed out. The stroke team was also called as a precaution because he is at risk for a stroke, but she assured, "none of this was serious or even atypical with as much as he's been through."

"So this is not serious?" I asked for the sake of my mom, who moments before was sobbing and thinking of my dad being on death's door.

"No," she reassured. "None of this is serious." I could see the relief in my mom's face as her eyes softened. So, no family meeting was needed. But....

How did it go from being routine medical care to my mom planning a funeral?

Simple: lack of communication.

When the NG tube was being placed, nothing was explained to my mother. She stood watching, helpless, afraid to ask questions for fear of getting in the way. She heard a nurse say, "he's been through so much," but wasn't offered an explanation of what was happening and why. So, what she heard, in this unfamiliar, intimidating world of tubes and monitors and medications, was "this must be serious; he must be near death."

Because of the medication he is taking for pain, he jumps slightly, fidgeting with the blankets, his gown, etc. My mom told me later this was what my grandmother did before she died. Because of this association, my mom also drew the conclusion that my dad must be near death as well.

It doesn't take much to go from 0-60 when your loved one is lying helpless in a hospital room. Medical professionals forget this, forget what it's like to be on the other side. We need to remember, to advocate for families, to encourage them to speak up and ask questions. Because that fear and anxiety lead to unnecessary stress -- stress that can be alleviated by simple communication.

Oh yeah, and my dad? He may be discharged this week. :0)

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Fourth Surgery Report

Tonight, I went to visit my dad again in the surgical ICU at General. He'd just been given a strong pain killer, and was dozing in and out of consciousness, mouth open, tubes once again poking out from every direction. He woke briefly, long enough to recognize that we were standing at his bedside, and then dozed off again.

Suddenly, his green eyes flipped open, and he said, "guess what!"

Stunned, we replied, "what?"

He said, "guess what was on in the operating room?" He didn't wait for us to answer, before he said "Meatloaf!" And smiled weakly. "Who would ever have thought they would be playing Meatloaf in the operating room!"

"What song?" my mom asked.

At this point, he dozed back into sleep.

At 67, he is probably an unlikely candidate for being a Meatloaf fan. But fan he is. For his 60th birthday, I bought him and my mom tickets to see them live. I think it was one of the most memorable moments of my dad's life.

So, that Meatloaf was playing when my dad went in for his fourth (and hopefully final) surgery to repair his lung, to him, this was a sign from God. That God was near, keeping an eye on him.

Tonight, dad rested comfortably in the SICU when we left him. My mom is exhausted. She called me sobbing tonight at 7:30. The only thing I could make out was that she needed me. So I rushed to the hospital.

After waiting 12 hours to see my dad post-op, the SICU secretary refused to allow my mom to see him until precisely the 8 p.m. visiting hour. Not only this, she spoke very tersely to my mom. It was just enough to send her over the edge. That's when she called me sobbing.

We reported her to the charge nurse in surgical services.

What happened to "family centered care?"

Sophie's Prayer

Last night, as I tucked the girls in bed, Sophie said this:

"Dear Lord,
Please let my papaw come out of the hospital before Christmas, and keep Kahlua and my four fish comfortable and safe up there in Heaven.

Without you, we wouldn't be here, so thank you for letting us be here.

God bless America and everybody in my family. Amen."

Monday, December 4, 2006

This morning, my mom called me from the hospital quietly crying to tell me my dad has to have yet another surgery, this time with tissue taken from his abdomen to make a patch to repair the hole in his lung. I can't even recall how many weeks he's been in the hospital consecutively. I know it's over five.

The vet's office called to tell me Kahlua's ashes are in and I can pick them up anytime. It's done. The last two months with her, it killed me to think of her beautiful fur burning. I can't think about it too much.

Sometimes, when the other dogs are being rowdy in the living room, they'll bump the Christmas tree, and I'll hear the bell that was on her collar jingle. Just for a second, I'll expect to see her coming toward me. Likewise, when I came home from work tonight, I half expected to find her waiting for me at the door.

She's gone.

I am pensive and quiet tonight. It's cold outside, finally winter, and I'm enjoying it. But I'm tired.

Friday, December 1, 2006

It's been awhile since I've wanted to sit down and write, so much has gone on just in the last week, leaving my head spinning. But right now, every thing is quiet and it's lovely. All the dogs are at my feet, dreaming their doggie dreams, paws twitching in slumber scenes of chasing rabbits or squirrels. The Christmas tree is lit up, its blue lights and white shining star glowing off the hardwood. Occasionally the sound of the wind whipping around the house breaks the silence. But otherwise, this moment is perfect bliss. And so, the perfect time to write.

Sophie is at her first slumber party tonight. Ten giggly girls all under the age of eight in pajamas eating pizza and popcorn, watching "Grease" and gossiping about boys and teachers and school. She's growing up so fast. For Christmas, she emphatically told me not to get her any Barbies or any other dolls because she's too old for them. She wants her bangs to grow out. She listens to "radio Disney" and shakes her booty in a wild sort of dance in the living room. She is seven years old. Growing up so fast.

My dad is still in the hospital. Apparently when he'd had his sternal rewire, infection was already in the bone, and the pressure of the rewire broke two of his ribs, puncturing his lung. When he called his physician, the doc dismissed him, calling in a script of vicodin. Now, that puncture won't heal, weeks later. His chest blows up with air from crepitis depending on the position he lays in. I've not actually seen it, but my mom says it looks like a football under the skin. He's depressed, unable to even walk to the bathroom in his hospital room because he has to be attached to drainage tubes and a vacuum connected to the wall every second of the day and night, or his chest blows up with air.

I have prayed harder for him than I've ever prayed for anything in my life.

Today, I put a picture of Kahlua in an ornament on our tree. And I took Marley for his first puppy exam at the same vet where Kahlua died not a week earlier. I found pictures of Kahlua as a puppy recently. I'm at peace with her death and my decision. She lived a long, happy life, and died in my lap. I might not have been there with her at the moment of her birth, but I was with her all her life until the moment of her death, and that's all I wanted. The cycle is complete.

It's late. I think, like the dogs, I might lay down now during this quiet night and go to sleep. It's getting colder outside. I hope it snows.