Good Bye Dad and the Hospice Angels

Posted on January 4, 2013

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My dad passed this morning at 4:40 AM. I was at his side. He was at peace and in no pain thanks to the angels at the hospice unit.

We received his terminal diagnosis on the 21st of December and all family members, along with my dad, chose no treatment and weeks of life as opposed to radiation and chemo that, ultimately, would only but time. Maybe 6 to 12 months which would all be spent in and out of the hospital. And since the lymphoma had spread to his brain he would have only continue his memory loss and confusion. It was not a quality of life option.

So, on Christmas Eve we admitted him to an in-patient hospice unit. We had tried to work it out so he stayed with family but I live in a small, upstairs one bedroom apartment. Not very appropriate. My brother has a guest room so our dad stayed there one night. The guest room is upstairs and my brother has a 2-year-old daughter. Dad was up throughout the night, confused, walking up and down the stairs, looking for his dogs which died several years ago, then took my 2-year-old niece out of her crib because he thought she had wandered off. My brother’s house was not an option anymore so we found Community Hospice of Texas.

I’ve heard both good and bad things about hospice. But I will say this, every staff member, from nurse, to doctor to PCT at Community Hospice of Texas were all angels.

The first few days of my dad’s admittance he thought he was in an US Army hospital in Germany. My dad was drafted and spent 2 years in the Army most of it in Germany. Since it actually snowed Christmas Day here in north Texas (a rarity at best as in my 47 years I can only recall 2 white Christmas’) it was easy to see why he would think he was in Germany. The nurses, doctors and patient techs all treated him affectionately when he asked their rank, what branch of the service they were in, etc. Most of them commented that they thought he was career military and loved it even though he was actually only in 2 years and hated every minute of it.

After Christmas, his memory and confusion deteriorated rapidly. Dad began seeing and talking to dead relatives. He began taking trips to Mexico. And, he started having what he called “the worst headaches in my life”. As the days went by, he’d rub his head, and eyes, or clench the bed rail but when you asked him if he was in pain or hurting, he’d say “No, I’m fine.” Or if you asked him if he needed some meds he’d decline saying “No, I’m all right”. But the nurses and tech knew better. They’d see a grimace, see him rubbing his head and neck and then bring him pain relief. It started out with 10 mg of Hydrocone but soon followed with 10 mg, then 20 mg of Roxanol. But, they kept a close watch and didn’t over medicate such that he was in a constant, drug induced fog.

The weekend before New Year’s Day was when Dad took a significant turn. First, he needed help eating. Up until that day he had been alert, chatting, talking and feeding himself. Over the weekend he began sleeping more and couldn’t lift the utensils. I and his sister fed him lunch that day mashing up french fries and other foods so he could swallow without choking. I remember crying as I held out a spoonful of diced peaches and thinking “You fed me when I was a baby, the beginning of my life and here I am feeding you at the end of your life”. Even the PCT’s were helping trying to feed him. “Letty” was the special one. She could get him to eat anything. She called him “Pappi”. I remember seeing her come in to check on him when he was asleep and she leaned over, kissed him on the head and said “I love you Pappi.”

And that’s what I noticed most about the hospice staff: their kindness, their love, their passion and compassion. I felt they genuinely cared about not only my dad, but us and everyone in his family.

Starting New Year’s Eve, he was pretty much comatose. Some might say asleep or in a fugue state. He rarely spoke and when he did it was a soft mumble that was difficult to make out. And he was rarely without someone at his side. His sisters, brother-in-law, nieces and nephews not to mention me, my brother and our wives were there 24×7. The only intelligible words I heard him speak were Wednesday evening when my brother and son were there. We told him “Dad, you got me, Garry and Kevin with you” and he said “I got the three best”. Later that night as I sat by myself next to his bed he woke up briefly and said “I love you boys”. It was strong, it was clear. I replied “We know dad. we love you too” then he drifted back off nodding his head as if he heard and understood.

A little over 24 hours later, he drifted off quietly in his sleep. The apnea had increased dramatically the last two days where his breathing was a constant gurgle and snore despite medication to try and clear the congestion in his throat. I woke up at 4:38 and heard his breathing change. He took a long, deep breath and let out what sounded like little popping noises. I got up, walked to his bed and grabbed his hand and heard him let out 4 short breaths. Amazingly, the night nurse Sara walked in right as I grabbed his hand. Somehow or other, she knew too. She held his other hand as his last few breaths and heartbeats trickled away.

We stood there several minutes and she gently laid his arms across his chest, walked around the bed, placed her arms around me while I said my final good byes.

I’ll miss you Dad

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Posted in: Lifestyle