From the Mountain Top to the Valley

This past Monday morning at 6:20 am I received a call from Mountain Valley saying that Dad’s leg had swollen during the night, that it had developed blisters, and that the doctor felt he should go to the hospital for treatment. I concurred. When I saw his leg, I understood why they had wanted to do so. It was partially blackened from blood. The leg was swollen more than I had ever seen before. Subsequently I have heard doctors say it was the worst they have ever seen. They took him off Lovenox and put him on heparin. Then his hemoglobin dropped even lower than it had been in August when he was here.

I had already made arrangements for Kate and me to go to Nashville on Thursday to see Aida. Larry came over to relieve me. Friday while we were doing some shopping before returning to Knoxville Larry called to say he had spoken with the doctor. She had given him the news that there was little they were able to do for him except something extreme like amputating the leg and that he was too old and fragile for this. Thus hospice was recommended.

We came on back to Knoxville where Larry and I talked and quickly agreed that hospice was the only sensible thing to do. He left for Atlanta, and I told the on-call doctor that we wanted to move forward with hospice care. Even though that would not officially happen until yesterday afternoon, they quickly shifted their care of Dad to keeping him comfortable and making sure he suffers no pain. Ironically, he has not had pain and is not on any pain medication. It has amazed the doctor.

I spent the entire day with him yesterday. I emailed three of his good friends to tell them they could come by to say their goodbyes if they wished. One of them came by yesterday afternoon. Another may drop by this afternoon.

We have someone coming in at 7:00 pm each night and staying until 7:00 am. She had taken care of Kate’s mother for 5 years. She was the weekend day shift person, but she filled in when someone else had a conflict.

I should make a personal note about how I am feeling. My rational, logical side knows that this is a good thing – not that he is “sick” – but that this means the vascular dementia initiated by his stroke 3 ½ years ago will not lead him to a vegetative state. In addition, he would want to go out with a flare. For the past 12 months he (and I) lived for his 100th. There were times when he wondered if he would make it. He did, and it was everything we could have wanted. It was a great celebration of his life, and now he can go in peace.

Now for the emotional side. I find watching him die is emotionally draining. I find myself moved to tears through the day. I have tried to tell him I love him and that he was a good father. I have done so, but each time I have done it through tears. As I have read him email from friends, I have broken down in tears. When I have talked with the staff here, I end up in tears. Last night Kate and I went out for a late dinner. By that time I was feeling like I had gotten the tears out of my system. Then I came in this morning. He is so weak he can hardly speak. Periodically he is able to get out a word or two, but it takes all the strength he can muster. He is hungry, but it is getting difficult to swallow. I gave him a piece of peach which he wanted. Once in his mouth, however, he couldn’t swallow it; so I asked him to spit it out.

He gets worn out after eating or drinking anything. He asked that I lower his head. For some reason he never likes the head of the bed raised. At the hospital and at Mountain Valley, they always want it raised a little. He always asks me to lower it. After eating or drinking, his breathing gets more strained. I think that is because he aspirates some of everything that he swallows. He has done so since the stroke. Fortunately, it has not been so bad as to lead to pneumonia which is the expectation.

Yesterday when I spoke with the doctor, she said she thought he couldn’t survive more than 2 days to a week. This will be another blessing.