On Caring

car·ing

adjective /ˈke(ə)riNG/ 

  • Displaying kindness and concern for others
    • – a caring and invaluable friend

noun /ˈke(ə)riNG/ 

The work or practice of looking after those unable to care for themselves, esp. sick and elderly people

I appreciate the concerned and caring responses to my recent post about my dad.  All the love, prayers and supportive messages have been wonderful.

In these last few days, I’ve experienced many examples of caring and in both the definitions above: “displaying kindness and concern for others” and “the work of looking after those unable to care for themselves, especially sick people.”

Around 2 am Wednesday morning my father got sick.  His third round of chemo had ended Friday and he’d had three pretty good days over the long weekend.  But on Tuesday he wasn’t feeling well and my mom didn’t know why.  I mean, other than the fact that he has cancer and had just finished five days of chemo.  I don’t want or need to go into graphic details here, but dad was sick and mom was giving him water in the feeding tube throughout the day on Wednesday.  It wasn’t a good day but she was in contact with his oncologist and following the doctor’s advice.

In the afternoon Papa was still sick and unable to keep water down so mom called me to help her get him to the hospital.  When I got to their house it was soon clear that the two of us couldn’t manage to get him down the stairs and out to the car and so we called 911.  It was such a relief to have these guys show up and just take the weight of care from us.  They were very calm, efficient, professional and caring.  On the ride to the hospital they were already transmitting his vital statistics to the ER staff, they got him on an IV and got fluids going and started giving him anti-nausea meds.

My mom got to the hospital before the paramedics as she took a few shortcuts and they got slowed down with commute traffic.  She found that not only were they caring for my dad, but also that when you arrive at the hospital in the back of an ambulance, you don’t have to have someone  find a wheelchair for you, or fish around for your member card or try and explain symptoms to the triage nurse.  You go right in the special ambulance entrance and into a room.

All the staff in the ER were wonderful but Claude, the nurse who was mainly caring for him, was especially caring and kind.  When my mom started to feel a bit shaky Claude asked when she’d last eaten and quickly got a sandwich, applesauce and juice.  That helped some but she’d been awake for too many hours and was overwhelmed and she needed to lie down.  Which is how she ended up on a gurney in the hall.  My dad was undergoing tests and receiving fluids in his room, my mom was resting on a gurney in a busy hallway and I was going back and forth between them.

It was after 5 pm when dad arrived in the ER and probably after 9 pm when the decision was made to admit him to the hospital.  The medical staff still hadn’t pinpointed why he was experiencing the symptoms he had other than as a response to his recent round of chemo.  My mom felt that she was unable to give him the care he needed at home in the shape he was in (and to be honest, in the shape she was in…it was pretty clear to the doctor while he had this conversation with my mom and she herself was lying on a gurney).

We stayed until he was finally in a room around 10:30 pm.   Claude was so helpful, calm and efficient throughout the evening as he moved quickly in and out, helping us and other ill or injured patients and their distressed and tired family members.

Before we left the hospital, I spoke with Rem on the phone.  I had decided to spend the night at my folks house to keep my mom company and to take the following day off from work so I could join her at the hospital.  I asked Rem to pack up a bag of clothes and toiletries for me, naming some specific items I thought I would need. I was touched when I found other things that he thought would offer me comfort that he had packed as an expression of his care and concern.  I was glad to have my soft, cozy bedroom slippers, a book to read, and my favorite pair of socks.  It helped the next morning, when facing our return to the hospital, to be armed with some sleep and these socks that make me feel stronger when I wear them.

It is now Sunday and dad is still in the hospital and now we know why my dad is sick. He tested positive for C. diff:  Clostridium Difficilea bacteria that can cause diarrhea and colitis.  It is one of those bad bacteria that some people have in their guts all the time without any symptoms and is most often transmitted in a hospital or medical center.  It typically occurs after a person has been on antibiotics or chemo. Dad has, of course, been in the medical center recently as he went in on the first and last days of his chemo cycle, he’s been on antibiotics for an infection and has been on chemo. A triple whammy.

He is in isolation which means every time anyone goes into his room they must put on a (paper or plastic) gown and gloves which are in a rack on the outside of the door.  When leaving the room you remove the gown and gloves in the room and discard them and then wash your hands.  Alcohol-based hand cleaner isn’t effective against the spores but traditional and stringent hand-washing is.

The large garbage bag in the room fills throughout each day as caregivers come and go, each one gowning and gloving as they enter.  The hall and nurses station are noisy so we try and keep the door closed and the room quiet and calm.  You can hear the knocking as someone pulls a packaged gown off the rack on the door, another rattle as they tug a pair of gloves out of their box and a pause as they garb themselves in the protective clothing.

With the yellow gowns and blue gloves the various staff as they come into the room have a sameness, but they are a mosaic of different nationalities, cultural backgrounds, ages, sexes and sexual orientations.  We have our favorites but they all define caring by their actions.

Different nurses have different styles of care and communication.  They are all professional and concerned with keeping my dad as comfortable as possible.  They are also busy and can’t always respond immediately when dad pushes his call button for assistance.  Those waits are difficult for us and I think particularly for mom.  She’s been caring for him, feeding him and giving him his medications for about 11 weeks now and if he experiences pain or nausea she responds quickly.  That is one of the upsides for the 1-on-1 patient-to-caregiver ratio.  The downside is the caregiver can become tired and burned out.

We get tired at the hospital even though we are mostly just sitting quietly.  Often Papa is resting or fully asleep.  We sometimes hold his hand and read.  The nurses, technicians, housekeepers and myriad other staff that I don’t know by title are on their feet constantly and interacting with people who are frightened, ill, cranky, and confused.   Yet even at the end of long shifts they continue to treat us and my dad with care and consideration.

Dad doesn’t like being in the hospital and he’s pretty down.  Considering what he’s been going through, it’s no wonder.  But he has shown improvement and we hope he will be able to come home early in the week.  It depends on how he is doing and of course we want to be sure he is well enough to come home before he is released.  In the meantime, mom is getting a little respite from the 24/7 caregiver role, my siblings and other family members and I are pitching in to care for the caregiver and dad is in the hands of professional caregivers.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “On Caring

  1. Becky

    Ugh. Your poor Pa. C Diff is the worst. Shelly got in the hospital the day after she had a c-section to deliver Shawn. Thankfully, antibiotics seem to knock out the symptoms pretty quickly. I hope he is feeling MUCH better very soon. You and your Mom take care of yourselves too. Hospitals have a way of sucking you dry.

    • Yeah, yesterday Papa said “a hospital is no place to be sick”. He hates it and says he will not stay another night. Luckily the doctor seems to agree about staying – my mom is waiting for him to be released. She said it was better to see him feisty and grumpy than limp and wrung out. We’re trying to pace ourselves and do things in shifts because it is too long a day to sit all day long together. It’s better if we each have a chunk of time and overlap each other.

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