Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Patience with Patients

I have a new appreciation for nurses and an increased personal awareness that I would not make a good one. Oh sure, as long as I’m dealing with a good patient, I’d be Florence Nightingale. But, put me in a room with a less-desirable patient, and I would turn into Nurse Ratched from the movie, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.

Worse yet, I’d probably begin channeling Lizzie Borden and chop the patient’s head off. It’s not a coincidence they are called “patients” (patience).

I wouldn’t have this newfound knowledge about myself had it not been for my dad. Dad has been in the hospital in Waco, Texas since last Wednesday, recovering from elective back surgery. During the surgery, in which the surgeon was placing pins between the last several vertebrae in Dad’s ever-compressing spine, the spinal fluid sac began leaking fluid. Although this was expected, when the doctor tried to stitch up the leak, he said the scar tissue on the sac began to disintegrate. The doctor patched the area and gave orders that Dad would need to be on his back for several days with two drains in his back until the sac healed.

I wanted to give my mother a break, and offered to drive up from Austin to spend last Friday night in the hospital with Dad. When I explained to Dad that I was going to stay the night with him, he kiddingly said, “I don’t know if that’s a good idea, I’ll make you crazy!” To which I replied, “Too late!” Little did I know what an ominous, prophetic statement his comment would turn out to be.

Room 412, Dad’s private hospital room, had a large, navy blue leather recliner. However, after sitting down in it, I felt like Goldilocks in Papa Bear’s chair. It swallowed me up. Luckily, though, it almost fully reclined flat, allowing the concerned family member to stay the night and rest.

Dad had a fairly good day until the afternoon, when the raspy breathing was diagnosed as pneumonia. In addition to the labored breathing, every time he took a sip of water, Dad squeezed his eyes shut tightly in pain. He was still so weak I had to hold the cup and straw for him. The doctor-on-call came by to visit Dad, and then Mom left to return to the Ranch for a restful night in her own bed.

By 5:00 p.m., Dad finally had an appetite. When I asked what time Dad’s dinner tray would be delivered, the nurse informed me that the hospital doctor had ordered no food or drink, including water, until he could be seen the next morning by a respiratory specialist to determine if there was anything wrong with his throat. As you might imagine, the news did not sit well with Dad.

Dad asked several times when dinner was coming. Then, he asked for a tall, cold Coke. He asked for water. Denying my father a sip of water was excruciating for me, as well as for him. I told Dad that if he couldn’t eat or drink, then I would suffer right along with him. But, that was not a smart decision on my part.

Next, Dad began to show greater signs of confusion. He was weary and weak, but unable to sleep for more than 10 minutes at a time. Because his daily anti-depressant and sleep aid only came in pill form, the nurse would not administer them, which meant I was in for a rollercoaster of a night ministering to the hallucinations and restlessness of my father.

He wanted the TV on. The sound wasn’t loud enough. The sound was too loud. He wanted the TV off. Rinse and repeat.

During a break from the TV, Dad began talking of fishing with George. “George who, Dad?”, I asked. Dad thought about it a minute. “I only know one George.” But, he never answered my question, at least not until he fell asleep and began talking about “George Dubya”. My dad was hallucinating that he was talking with George W. Bush about fishing.

Throughout the night as I became aware that my father had awakened again, I would look over at him and inevitably, he would be holding onto the sides of his hospital bed, trying unsuccessfully to pull himself up. “What are you doing, Dad?” I’d ask. He always replied the same, “Grayson, come help me get up. I want to get up out of this chair and go to bed.” I would remind him that he was in the hospital, that he’d had back surgery and that the doctor said he had to stay on his back until the spinal fluid sac had healed. By the tenth time we’d had this conversation, I was ready to strap Dad to the bed and stuff a washcloth in his mouth.

Somewhere between the slow ticks of the black and white wall clock and the off-and-on raspy snores of my father, I fell asleep. An hour later, I awoke to my dad urgently calling my name. “Grayson! Help me get up out of this bed!” I could hardly process what my eyes were seeing. There was blood splattered all over his hospital gown, the blanket and the bed. I pressed the nurse’s call button and quickly assessed the situation. He’d pulled out his I.V.! “Grayson! Help me get out of this bed and take me to the bathroom! I don’t care what they say!”

At that moment, I lost my patience with the patient. I walked out of the room, and as I passed the nurse, I mentioned what he’d done. I walked to the waiting room…and waited.

I was so exhausted, and hadn’t eaten since breakfast. More than anything, I yearned to stretch out flat in a nice firm bed and sleep. Obligation finally willed me to my feet, and I returned to Room 412.

Dad was sound asleep.

I quietly eased myself into the monstrous recliner, added yet another prayer to the pile I’d already prayed and shut my eyes.

“Grayson!”….Maybe if I don’t answer, it will go away. “Grayson!” There it was again. “Glenda!”….That’s my mother’s name. Slowly, I opened my eyes.

“Glenda, are you there?!”

I inched my way up out of the recliner. “Dad, Mom is at the Ranch. She’s at home. You’re in the hospital. What do you need?”

“Grayson, I don’t care what they say. You get me up out of this bed right now!”, he demanded.

“Dad, you cannot get up. You’ve had back surgery.”

“Grayson, you get me up right now and set me on the pot. I mean it!”, he threatened.

“I will not!!” I replied, and showed him the controller with the red nurse’s button. “If you need to go to the bathroom, you press this red button and call the nurse. She’ll bring you a bed pan.”

Dad said with disgust, “I don’t want that ol’ thing.”, meaning the controller, as I pressed the button.

“Grayson, you are so mean.”

A soft tone dinged on the controller. “May I help you?”

“I need to take a crap RIGHT NOW!” my dad yelled in his pitifully soft, raspy voice.

At that moment, I mentally hit the proverbial wall. I gathered up my jacket and purse, and told Dad I was leaving for a little bit. I told him to buzz for the nurse if he needed anything while I was gone.

It was 5:00 a.m., and I’d just mentally transformed into the crazy, sleep-deprived, maniacal woman my father had warned me about earlier that day.

I walked out of the hospital into the darkness of early morning and breathed in a lungful of the brisk, fresh-smelling air. Although I wanted to, I couldn’t cry. I had no reason to cry. I wasn’t the one laying in a hospital bed. I wasn’t the one with a painful, bad back. I was just tired and hungry.

Sliding behind the steering wheel in the driver’s seat of my familiar and beloved Dodge Durango and turning the key in the ignition, I fantasized about driving the two hours home right then and there. But, I realized I’d left the tote with my quilt I’d been working on in the hospital room.

It was 5:08 a.m. I took out my cell phone and called my husband. That blessed, wonderful man picked up his phone and listened to me rant and rave about the terrible night I’d spent with Dad. He assured me he could drive up immediately, but I insisted he stay home. My sister was coming early for a visit and my mother would be returning. At the first sign of a family member, I would be handing off the Dad baton and driving home to Austin.

After our phone call, I drove to Starbucks, ordered a Venti Hot Chocolate, No Whipped Cream, Extra Hot and a blueberry muffin. It tasted heavenly. I knew I was going to make it after all, and drove back to the hospital.

Reluctantly, I returned to Room 412. I pushed the door open and stepped inside. Dad was sound asleep. Once again, I sat in the blue recliner, kicked back into a flat position and shut my eyes. It was 6:30 a.m.

Within 30 minutes, the nurse entered the room. Apparently, Dad had fallen asleep on the bed pan and had never pressed the Nurse Call Button, as he’d been instructed. She rolled him over, removed the unused bed pan, and asked where I’d been. She said they’d been talking about me. Dad thought he had run me off. The nurse said she’d found Dad sitting up at the end of his bed twice while I was gone, but each time, the bed alarm sounded and she put him back to bed. (I’m still not sure she was telling me the truth, knowing how weak Dad was.)

When the sun started to shine in through the blinds, my hopeful disposition returned as I waited to be relieved of my duties. At 8:30 a.m., Mom tip-toed in the door, and my chest burned warm with joy as I hugged her and hugged her. All would be well.

At 9:15 a.m., I left Room 412 for the last time, vowing never to return, if at all possible, at least within the next several days.

Since that time, Dad has been allowed to eat, take all his medicines, has had a number of satisfying bowel movements and has been sleeping through the night. And, I have learned a valuable lesson about myself.

If the time ever comes that Dad is alone and needs to be cared for, I won’t be the one to do it. Don't get me wrong. I love my dad. But, I know my limitations.

"Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears."--Barbara Johnson

My Gears Are Stripped, Y'all!!

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