Saturday, May 15, 2010

Meet Miss Addy

On Thursday, I brought home the newest addition to our family, Addy (short for Adeline). She was born on 1/31/10, so she's about 14 or 15 weeks old. Just like Ruby and Sally before, she's a black and tan piebald mini-dachshund. Unlike her smooth (short-haired) predecessors, though, this little girl is long-haired.

We found a breeder about an hour and a half from our home who breeds minis and had a number of piebalds that she was breeding for spring deliveries. In early April, she had a litter that had a tiny little red piebald that we tentatively reserved until I could meet her. Pretty much every day, we'd visit the breeder's web site to check out the picture of the girl, hoping for updates, as the breeder updates the photos of her litters as they age. A few weeks ago, Skip found Addy on the breeder's site. The breeder was selling her for another breeder, so they showed up all ready to go. We were instantly smitten. She stared out at us from the web page with her bright eyes in her dark, sweet face.

Addy is sweet and lovable. She's inquisitive, like all puppies, friendly and fearless. One great thing about her is she has a bit of the mountain goat in her. She'll run right up Skip's body in bed and give her a kiss. All the nurses and aids and Skip's companion, MW, love her. Right now, the only one who doesn't love her is Ruby. She is very unhappy to have some 4-legged competition in the house. She is softening a bit, though, as she let Addy curl up beside her while they both took a snooze earlier today. So, we're cautiously optimistic that Ruby will be loving to her new sister soon enough.

So nice to have a new spark of life around the house!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sad News

My Dad in the Fall of 1991, age 66

My Dad died on Thursday evening at the age of 84. He went into the hospital last Friday due to stomach pain and it was found he had a bowel obstruction. It was surgically removed on Saturday. Unfortunately, he never regained full conscious after the surgery, entering a state of "anesthetic somnolence." As the week wore on, his systems generally started to shut down and he eventually succumbed to respiratory failure.

My sister was able to spend quite a bit of time on Cape Cod with my Mom and Dad during that last week of his life. She'd give regular updates to my brother and me, at times hopeful and at times concerned with all the issues he was encountering. We're lucky she could spend so much time there, especially as she was once a nurse midwife and so has a good medical background and, more importantly, has a strong, "do it" personality. She kept in touch with a host of medical personnel arrayed in support of my Dad's health issues (though not always organized in support of them, something my sister tried to push them towards) and did her best to sort out for my Mom and the rest of us what was going on and what steps were being taken to help my Dad.

Early in the week, Skip and I tried to figure out the plan we'd use for her care if my Dad went far enough downhill that I had to take the 2-hour drive down to see him. MW was scheduled for Thursday but wasn't available on Friday. We had feelers out in a few directions to see what we could cobble together for Friday, but no Plan B was firmly in place yet.

Thursday morning, my Mom called to let me know my Dad was in respiratory failure. Because there was no plan to put him on a ventilator, his death was imminent, though no one could divine exactly when. I wrapped up some work stuff, ate breakfast, put my out of office notice on my email, got Skip fed, cleaned up and into her wheelchair, then showered and got myself out the door. That actually all took 3 hours, so I made it down to the hospital and the cardiovascular ICU by 2:30. My brother, his wife and two of his kids were there with my Mom. Also there was my parents' aid, AP, who provides wonderful care to my parents. They have basically adopted him, something they've done with special young people they've met all my life. Unfortunately, my sister, who did such yeoman work supporting my Mom and Dad all week, couldn't be there as she was in Vermont with her husband attending an event at the school of her two youngest boys.

When I arrived at my Dad's hospital room, his face was covered with a huge BiPAP oxygen mask, pushing pressurized oxygen into his lungs. His eyes were closed, his hands were limp. He appeared not to be conscious. My mom was there by his side. My Dad was a big guy, 6' 3", but I was struck by how thin he'd gotten. His breathing was quite labored. It was so hard to see him in this state. I wanted him to be alive but hated that he was struggling so much.

For the next 3 hours, we all became obsessed by the monitor showing heart rate, temperature, blood pressure, blood oxygen level and respiration rate. I hated that monitor but I was fascinated by its readout. My Dad's heartbeat was irregular and the rate varied a lot. His blood pressure slowly dropped, his temp slowly rose (up to 104 degrees F,40C), his blood oxygen slowly dropped.

Shortly after 5, we were joined briefly by a surgeon who was keeping tabs on my Dad. In the nicest way possible, he confirmed the situation was irretrievable but it was impossible to predict when death would occur. We decided to head off to dinner then. Those of us who weren't staying on the Cape with my Mom were planning to head home after dinner.

As we were finishing up dinner, the ICU nurse called my brother and let him know death was imminent, my Dad's heart rate was down to 20 beats per minute (before I forget, let me give a shout-out to the nurse, Denise. She was great. The ICU nurses only have 2 patients each, which allows them a lot of time with each. More importantly, though, she had a wonderful, caring temperament and gave much care and concern to my Dad and his family). We settled up and headed back right away, arriving about 20 minutes after the call. Unfortunately, my Dad had already died. I don't know how I would have felt to be in the room at his death, but I did feel badly for my Mom that she wasn't there at the exact moment.

Sadly, we trooped into his room and stood around his body. The human body should never be wholly still; it looks so odd to see no movement whatsoever. The nurse let us stay with my Dad for over an hour while we mourned. After a while, my Mom's minister arrived. Soon thereafter, we all left my Mom and the minister to sit with my Dad for a while before they transported him to the morgue.

So that's it. My Dad is gone and I shall miss him terribly. He was a larger-than-life Renaissance man. He had an amazing abundance of energy and drive which I was in awe of and wish I had as well. He was active in town government in my hometown for decades, he was active in the Unitarian congregation in town as well. When they retired to Cape Cod, they helped establish a new UU congregation and my father helped spearhead a drive to save it from financial ruin when it was still young. He designed and built the house they lived in on Cape Cod. When he was done with that, he acted as the general contractor for a Habitat House and then went on to help rebuild the Cape Museum of Fine Arts. He was on the board of a local foundation that funded college education for local kids and branched out into environmental grantmaking.

With him, our family cut down the trees to clear the lot for the house Skip and I now live in (I was about 6 when I learned to wield an axe). I worked with him over the years in his huge garden, picking rocks, spreading manure, harvesting, pickling, making jam and so on, endlessly over the years. One weekend in my teens, as the last kid left at home, he and I planted 2500 Christmas tree seedlings together. Yes, 2500 seedlings in one weekend. And it rained the entire time. When he decided to get into wine-making, he planted grapes that would flourish in our climate, built an arbor for them and then his own press.

I'm glad that in my later years, I was able to loosen up enough to tell my Mom and Dad, out loud, that I loved them. My Dad's love and affection for all of us was so clear. He was a strong family supporter, generous but expecting much from us. And, too, I'm glad that in the last few years, as he experienced growing health issues with his Parkinson's and other ailments, that I could help out both my parents by regular visits to the Cape, helping with paying bills and such, but mostly just being there for the chance to visit.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How Do They Do It?

It's true that I often feel overwhelmed by my caregiving role. But sometimes when we joke about how the house can be like Grand Central Station, I realize that I get a lot of help every week. We have ...
  • Skip's companion, MW, who comes 10-15 hours a week. She is both company for Skip and a big help to me, handling piles of laundry, dishes and dinner. On the Saturdays that I go to visit my parents on Cape Cod, when I'm gone for 8-10 hours, she stays with Skip most of the day. This is a nice, extended break apart for both of us.
  • Skip's aid, KH. Because Skip is under the care of a visiting nurse, Medicare pays for an aid. KH comes 4 times a week for 1-1/2 hours each time. She gives Skip a bath, washes her hair, gets her transferred to her power chair, changes the sheets, gets her a snack, etc. She's energetic and friendly and she and Skip keep up a constant conversation while she's here.
  • Daily nursing visits to change the dressing on Skip's wound. The wound nurse who has been working with Skip for at least 6 months is very knowledgeable and has been a key part of the reason Skip is as far along as she is in the healing process.
  • A wonderful couple comes every other week to clean the house. They go from top to bottom and clean everything.
There's some stress associated with having visitors to the house so often. But that is far outweighed by the services each provides and the care and company these folks provide to Skip.

What about those caregivers who have a similar load to me ... a full time job, caregiving responsibilities for someone who needs a lot of care, family finances to manage, house maintenance to attempt. How do they do it? I can't imagine the level of stress, the feelings of being overwhelmed and the constant fatigue that person must feel.