Thursday, October 18, 2012

His last days

Little did I know that the "walk" I had with him on October 7, 2012, would be the last on this earth. On Wednesday, October 10, 2012, at 11:36pm, my beloved father passed from this earth to his eternal home.

On the evening of October 8, the nursing home called to tell me that after he had eaten his meal, he vomited and had loose bowels and then became unresponsive. His breathing rate also increased some, and his oxygen saturation went down. They had cleaned him up then put him in bed and put him on oxygen. My husband and I went with our daughter to go see him. I went in first, and when I spoke to him and told him who I was and rubbed his arms, he began to move around and I could tell by his body language and facial expression that he knew I was there, even though his eyes remained closed.

We stayed with him about an hour or so, and I held his hand and tried to make sure he was comfortable. My daughter held his hand briefly a couple of times as well. At that point I didn't know if this was a temporary or permanent downturn in his condition. His breathing wasn't that bad yet, just a little bit faster than normal. He wasn't taking food or drink, though, despite their best efforts, but again, I didn't know if it was only temporary. He would also move his hands to his stomach area from time to time and wince a little as if in some pain. A couple of times, he did try to open his eyes, as if to look at me, but was only able to do so for a few seconds before closing them again.

The physician's assistant came by and examined him and talked with us briefly, then said he would be back the next morning to check on him again. They said they would put him on some Tylenol for the pain. I had already called my brother, so he came as well. As soon as he came in the room and spoke to my dad, my dad began moving around and even tried to sit up, and his eyes opened slightly for a brief moment before they closed again. My brother told me later that after my husband, daughter and I had left, our dad had opened his eyes again briefly to try and look at him.

That night I had trouble sleeping, despite my best efforts to relax. Then next morning I went to see him again after dropping my daughter off at school. He seemed about the same, except he appeared to be in more pain, though his eyes remained closed. I spent a couple of hours with him, and spoke with the resident RN who was there at that time, as well as the physician's assistant when he came by again. We discussed what might be going on and what the next steps were. Their best guess what that he had an infection in his lungs, which the antibiotics he had been on had not helped. The physician's assistant talked about doing another chest x-ray. My dad had just finished a second round of antibiotics, which was a different type from the first one he had been on. We talked about trying another round. After giving it some thought and praying for wisdom, I felt it would be best not to, and the physician's assistant and RN agreed, as well as my step mom when they called her. Their thinking was the same as mine, that if two rounds of antibiotics had not helped, then why do a third round at this point and risk giving him nausea as a side effect. We also all agreed to go ahead and order a low dose of pain medication to be given every few hours.

After picking up my daughter from school that day, we went to visit my step mom in the Rehab Center. On the way back home, something was urging me to go back by and see my dad again, despite having my daughter with me and needing to get her home since it was a school night. I'm so glad now that I listened. When we got there, his breathing was markedly worse. Not only was he breathing much faster, he also had the sound of thick congestion in his lungs, which you could hear with every breath. The one positive thing is that the pain medication was helping, he was no longer wincing in pain. I stayed as long as I could, holding his hand and making sure he was comfortable.

Thinking it might help some, they suctioned him while I went out of the room with my daughter, then began trying to give him a breathing treatment. Giving him the breathing treatment was no easy task. Since he couldn't hold anything in his mouth, they had to put a mask on him so that he could breathe it in, but he clearly didn't want the mask, and began fighting to take it off. We tried, in vain, to stop him and convince him to leave it on. I was amazed at how strong he still was. Finally they had me hold the mask right in front of his face so that he would simply breathe it in naturally, which he allowed me to do. It didn't seem to help with his breathing or congestion, however, at least not that I could tell.

At one point I hugged him and told him that it was from (my step mom's name). I told him she would be there with him if she could, but that she was still in a Rehab Center, and that she was slowly getting better. As clear as day, his facial expression changed and he nodded in acknowledgement. Later I told my step mom about that moment, and my hope is that it helped ease the pain in some way of her not being able to be there in person.

I didn't want to leave that night, but I had to get my daughter home. I knew he had all the signs that it wouldn't be much longer, and was expecting them to call sometime during the night. I still held out hope, of course, that something would change and that he would suddenly get better again, but I also knew that it may simply be his time to go. My dad was upgraded to critical care status with Hospice, and a nurse was called in to sit with him overnight. That made me feel better to know that someone would be with him.

At about 11:40pm, the phone rang. I knew who it was. The hospice nurse said it was that it was peaceful, that he simply slowed down his breathing gradually, then stopped.

The Memorial Service in celebration of my father's life was held this past Monday. It was very nice. Five of my father's former employees spoke about him, and I was awed by their words. My father helped so many people and had a much greater effect on peoples' lives than I ever realized. I take comfort in the fact that my father's influence will continue to live on through many in this community and all over the country.

I also take comfort in knowing that he very likely at some point along the way returned to the faith he knew in his younger years as the son of a Baptist preacher--according to the book of John in the Holy Bible--and therefore is now in no more pain or suffering, but is in Heaven praising God, full of joy and peace, reunited with family and friends who preceded him and held the same belief, including someone very close to my heart - my precious mother.

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