Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Trail Back, Part 3 (Still in ICU)

Still in ICU, still getting meds via the central line IV in my neck to help me sleep, still in the recliner, too.  I actually told Lea Ann that the recliner is so much more comfortable than the beds that she should try it one night.  She did.  Not such a good idea.  Good for me, not so much for her.  She woke up sore and stiff and achy from it.  Sorry about that baby...  Maybe it is better for me because I am on meds and you are not. There is nothing like our bed, and this place is proving that to us both every day! My bad.

I really do like the nursing staff.  They are friendly, they talk to you as a person and not as a patient or a number on a chart, and they care...  It shows in and how they do things every day.  I am most impressed with them all.  I have two different nurses per day.  They switch on the 7's so I know when they are confabbing in the corner it is time to put on prime-time TV and see what there is to see!  The 7:00am conference tends to be outside the room and also I have been asleep through a majority of them, at least so far.  Otherwise, time has little meaning to me here other than I know when it is night and time to sleep.  I have NO idea what day it is generally and honestly, with the medications I am on, I don't much care either.

Today I had a visit from several of the doctors.My surgeon came in, took a look at the site while the nurse and his assistant changed the dressings.  He says it looks very good and that I seem to be a quick healer.  At this rate I will have the chest tubes out in a few more days if all keeps going this well.  I like that and I tell him so.  He may be a blunt, straight-to-the-point-type but to be honest I want my doctor to give it to me straight. It is hard to fight something if you are not being told exactly what is happening.  This doctor does that.  I wonder if it has something to do with the fact he is actually a cardio-thoracic surgeon and not a gastroenterologist.  In any event, I've been told by several people that he is the best in the state, if not in the entire southwest.  So as mad as I had gotten with him before, I cannot think of someone else that I would have wanted to do the work on me that he did.  Next in was the respiratory doc.  Lean forward, deep breath in, out, in, out, in, out moving that damned sub-zero temperature stethoscope all over my back and chest and sides.  How can one NOT take a deep breath?  I swear he keeps that thing in a freezer and just takes it out to use it them puts it right back in.  In any event, my breathing is better.  "Less crackles" he says. That means I am flowing more air and that means the portions of the lung that got scoped are getting better and may be re-inflating again.  He will take a look in a few days.  I didn't think to ask him HOW he would look...  Just took him at his word (it ended up being an ultrasound a few days later).  I had been diagnosed with sleep apnea long before the cancer diagnosis, so I was still on the oxygen with the nasal nubs stuck up my nose.  My saturation was good, so they started to wean me off the oxygen a bit.  He also mentioned that the respiratory therapy people would be in to see me today.  The word therapy and I do not get along so well, but we'll see what they say whenever they get here.  He says they will have some exercises for me as well as possibly some blow-by breathing treatments if they are deemed necessary.  Time for a nap. ZZZzzz...

I am awakened a little later as the nurse is doing one of the periodic checks. Lea Ann is dozing on the chair in the corner.  The nurse says they will likely get me up to do a little walking later on today.  Oh really?  Well uh, at the moment I am fairly comfortable.  I don't really have much of anywhere I want to go.  Why would I need to walk?  Oh it helps fend off pneumonia and gets some of your strength back and helps you heal and gets your breath back too.  Well...  Maybe if I stay quiet and don't ask about it they will forget.  As she is finishing the respiratory therapy lady comes in.  She is pushing along yet another piece of equipment and pulling along a table behind her that has some things in plastic bags. She introduces herself and asks about my breathing issues and all.  I tell her what I had and about the sleep apnea and Lea Ann adds what she knows about the collapsed lung and the re-inflation issues. At that point she hands me the first plastic bag from the table.  It has this blue thing with a tube and a mouth piece on it that looks to me to be either a new fangled musical instrument or a breathalyzer in case I might possibly be drunk.  It was neither of those.  This thing you had to breathe in through your mouth as much as possible, but keep the pressure as even as possible by keeping a little plastic wafer hovering between these two lines. She says it measures the volume of air you are bringing in and also helps to increase it.  It also helps to keep possible pneumonia at bay. Sounds simple enough.  I ask the therapist what the volume is for an average for a person not fresh out of surgery.  She shows me by moving this little sliding marker up the cylinder that houses the wafer.  the closer I can get to that the better I am doing. Doesn't look very hard. She wants me to try it...  No problem.  I blow out all the air that I can then put the mouth piece in and start to inhale. The little wafer is laughing at me, I swear to god.  I did not even get it up a third of the way to the marker for average and now I am coughing like an idiot.  What the hell?  I was breathing fine!  Why do I need to do this?  She explains that this is normal and I need to use this several times away and try to get better every time. I nod as my coughing fit subsides.  She hands me the next plastic bag. Another little plastic unit thing...  Another mouth piece and this one has a ball inside it.  Its kind of heavy. Another breathalyzer?  No, this one is for blowing out.  It makes your chest vibrate as you are blowing out to loosen anything in there and allow it to be expelled or absorbed. Lets try that one...  Well Ok.  Blowing out can't be as hard as sucking in.  Wrong.  It barely moves and it causes me to start hacking the coughs again.  This is starting to hurt a bit too.  She states that is common as well and that I need to use this little tool several times a day too.  I put both on my roll-around table as I am returning once again from a red-faced coughing fit. I will now get a little nebulizer treatment for some blow by medications to help my breathing as well.  This will get done two or three times a day and will be happening less and less as I get better.  I know about nebulizers.  I had to use one on my twin girls when they came home from the hospital as both had asthma. They are easy.  Put yet another mouth piece in and then just breath normally until the medication is all gone.  I have to take two different treatments that takes a total of about 30 or 45 minutes.  They do seem to help, but I wonder if they are because of all the coughing I did on those little therapy tools.  I'm not liking those.  They make me cough and hurt.

Night time comes...  I'm starting to get tired and it is dark.  Lea Ann is still in the room with me.  I talk with her about going home.  I have been stable, they are weaning me off a few of these things and I am starting initial therapies.  I tell her that she ought to go home and get a good nights sleep in a bed that is comfortable and will help her back and feet some (she has Rheumatoid Arthritis in both feet).  We can give her cell phone number to the nurses and if anything happens or if I need anything they can call her.  It is only a 20 or 25 minute drive to get back here, 15 if you hurry.  I am worried about her. She looks SO tired and I want to make sure she's OK and gets some good rest.  I still have that urge to take care of her, even at this point in time.  She decides that she will do it but makes me and the nurse promise to call if ANYTHING comes up and she will call to check on me throughout the night. We agree.  I smile at her, I say thank you for taking care of me and staying with me all this time.  I kiss her, I tell her to sleep good and dream better, I ask her to maybe dream of me, and I promise her again I will call if I want her to come back or if I need anything.  Her exact words are "You BETTER or you will need this hospital longer than you already do!"  She and I both chuckle and I get another kiss and she heads home for her first night's sleep away from the hospital for a week or so.  I have to say also that throughout this whole thing, Lea Ann has been the information nexus of the entire network of family and friends and co workers, etc.  She has been calling and texting and Facebooking several times a day giving updates, thanking people for presents and flowers that have been delivered, and generally just being my rock.  In fact the entire family's rock.  I have to commend the boys too.  Our boys have been doing and helping her and I all they can.  My girls are all back in Missouri or I am sure they would have helped too.  Without ANY of them I would have had a much worse time.  I love them with all I have, all I am, and all I ever will be.  Without hesitation.  The flowers and things that were delivered were not allowed in the ICU room, so Lea Ann would take pictures of them, have our sons take them to our house, and she would show me the pictures.  I got to see all the stuff later after I went home.  In any event, Lea Ann was doing SO much and staying awake and watching over me so much...  I cannot tell you how she did it because I have no Earthly idea.  She is the strongest woman I have ever known and I an happy and proud that she has chosen to live her life with me.  I am one lucky son of a gun!

So Lea Ann goes home, I get my nightly IV medication to help me sleep, and I secretly smile and think "I got through the day without having to get up and walk around like they said I would..."  Slight mental chuckles permeate my brain as I slip into sleep...

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