Blog Interrupted

Things have evolved here at home.  I’m sleeping back in the hospital bed as a concession to my caregivers.  They did not ask me to do it, but since I’m the one dying I did not want to kill them in the process.  I said goodbye to the Sara Stedy for transfers because I was losing the upper body strength necessary to use it.  It was getting too difficult to get out of the lift chair safely.  I’ve transitioned over to the Hoyer lift and it’s not bad, not that I ever thought it would be.  But I know there were people out there who doubted I would willing convert.  As I felt my strength leaving, I was begging for my caregivers to use the Hoyer.

Washing and dressing are the longest part of my day.  Sometimes I need a nap afterwards.  Dressing is done in bed now.  Basketball pants with snaps up the outside of both legs and skirts are becoming my new apparel.  I’m still fighting against going commando so I’m searching for someone who wants to help me adapt clothes.  Since I know how to sew, it may turn out that I will have to teach my husband how to make the adaptations.

My husband is now on a leave of absence from work.  It turns out that he is my only untrained caregiver allowed by law to operate all the equipment I need.  I won’t go into the absurdity of that.  His awesome co-workers have donated almost six weeks of time to him; something I think is amazing.  I am anxiously awaiting warmer weather so we can travel the neighborhood walking trails.

My community has a volunteer organization, Woodlake Cares, that helps neighbors in need.  They do not perform personal care though.  One day while I was out on the trail I met a friendly neighbor Suzanne.  Suzanne  slowed down her pace to walk along with me and my aide.  She wanted to learn about ALS and me.  That chance meeting spawned a new volunteer group that joined with my church community to form Woodlake Cares 4 Kathryn.  Awesome and amazing, isn’t it?

Also amazing to me is the help I have been given by Team Gleason.  As I mentioned in a previous blog (Trick-or-Treat, Nov. 5, 2017), Team Gleason is a charitable foundation formed by Steve Gleason who played professional football for The New Orleans Saints from 2000-2008.  He was diagnosed with ALS in 2011.  The mission of Team Gleason is “to generate public awareness for ALS, raise funding to empower those with ALS to live a rewarding life, and ultimately find a cure” (teamgleason.org, 2016a.).

In the evenings when my husband removes his hearing aids, it is even more impossible to communicate.  I was looking for a floor stand for my eye-tracking device so I could have it bedside to communicate with my husband.  New stands cost upwards of $1,200.  My husband searched the internet for a used stand and found one for $950.  I told him to hold off on purchasing it.  I wanted to post in one of the ALS forums I joined on Facebook to see if anyone there had one to offer.  I quickly received responses.  A few people told me their devices came with both wheelchair and floor stands; something I was told was not possible for me.  Then a message popped up from Team Gleason.  They offered to send me one free.  Two days later it arrived.  Brand spanking new, no red tape, and no strings attached.  Unbelievable!

I was also having trouble transferring to my wheel-in shower chair.  It cost me almost $600 when I bought it.  (Why so pricy?  Duh!  Because you are handicapped and need it.)  The transfer from the Hoyer lift was making it difficult to get seated properly.  My husband was overwhelmed by the multitude of chairs available for sale.  How did we know it would work?  Was it a good quality?  They were not returnable.  He decided to call the experts at Team Gleason for advice.  After all, they organized Team Gleason House which was planned specifically “for Innovative Living is a new residential facility designed to help people diagnosed with incurable neuro-muscular disorders live more independently” (teamgleason.org, 2016b.) so we knew they had the knowledge.  His email was returned with a request for his phone number.  Two minutes later he received a call.  They understood and offered me a custom-built shower chair.  Again, no red tape!  How do you thank someone and their foundation for their generosity?  You SHOUT IT OUT HERE for the world to read.  Thank you Steve Gleason and Team Gleason for your generosity.

Blog interrupted.  I was interrupted writing this blog post on March 15th when I had to suddenly go to the ER.  I had planned to meet with a funeral director that day to arrange  my final plans and continue living.  But my aide noticed how swollen my left leg had become.  A quick call to my doctor sent me to the ER.  Once I left the house anything and everything went wrong.  I was triaged and then called in for a sonogram of my leg to check for a blog clot.  Oops, you’re in a wheelchair!  They didn’t want to inconvenience me with a Hoyer lift, picking me up to be put on a stretcher and then picking me up to go back in the wheelchair.  So it was back to the waiting room.  Waited some more and got called again.  Oh, now it was decided that they could perform a sonogram from my wheelchair.  Amazing!  The wheelchair had the same ability to recline as earlier.  Guess they just figured it out.

We had arrived around 11:30 a.m. before the crowds, but it took several hours to get a room in the ER.  Unlike other hospitals I’ve been in, Duke has actual rooms in the ER for patients.  Once you’re in the room you get the feeling you are locked away from everyone, abandoned.  I hadn’t taken any of my medicine that day and no one was in a bother to get it for me.  I guess the ER  staff was busy, but doing what I have no idea.  It took two requests to get a head pillow.  I was put on the ER stretcher where I was left for 8 or 9 hours.  It was like murder.  My sensitivity due to neurological problems and the inability to move kicked in and it felt like my buttocks was burning. I cried and screamed for relief; my PBA was in full swing and I let it rage.  Instead of simply moving me, I was offered morphine!  Morphine would slow my respiratory system.  How could it be that no one understands ALS in a hospital with a renowned ALS Clinic!  You would think a neurologist would be called in to consult for a patient with a neurological disease.  That only happens on TV.  Finally I got two more pillows placed beneath me.  That solved the problem.  Morphine versus pillow.  Smh.

Around midnight I finally got a hospital room, but only because my husband went home to get my Trilogy machine.  The admitting doctor had never heard of Trilogy and said I would need to go to the respiratory ward which had no bed available until the next day.  Not happening!  So off my husband went to get my machine from home leaving me under the watchful eye of a friend who had joined us and knew her way around the medical nonsense.  About ten minutes after arriving at the valet my husband learned that they had killed our van’s battery by leaving the transmission in neutral and the lights on.  Now he needed a jump at 12:30 a.m.  On his way back to the hospital, our friend had to call to tell him the hospital pharmacy did not carry one of my ALS-related medications.  (Again, this is a hospital with a renowned ALS Clinic.)  So again he went back home.  At 1:30 a.m. we kicked our friend out so she could rest up for her next day at work.  It was an exhausting day.

The good news in all of it was that the staff on the hospital floor are excellent.  The nurses and nursing assistants are great at what they do, although I was their first ALS patient.  The doctors did not know much about ALS so if you cannot speak, you had better have an advocate with you.  Communication for me came down to shaking my head.  No one has the patience to wait for your speech device.

The final result is that I have two blood clots, one in my left leg and one in my lungs.  I will be on blood thinners for life.  FU ALS.

References

teamgleason.org (2016a.).  Team Gleason, Retrieved March 14, 2018 from http://www.teamgleason.org

teamgleason.org (2016b.).  Team Gleason House, Retrieved March 23, 2018 from http://www.teamgleason.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Transformers

300px-PrimeBeeAs time goes by I feel more and more as if my daily existence is machine dependent.  I am not talking about the usual home appliances.  I am referring to the multitude of equipment that an ALS patient relies on to make their life comfortable and livable.

Since my last post two weeks ago, I have been inundated with appointments.  One of the first was with EMS who arrived to help get me off the floor when I slid out of my lift chair.  I know, not exactly a planned appointment.  I had a new aide filling in for the day who wasn’t familiar with my routine.  I wasn’t hurt, but it did take quite a while for EMS to arrive which was disconcerting.  I was very surprised to learn that the paramedics are not trained on how to use a Hoyer lift.  My aide, however, was able to instruct them and they all worked together.

This incident has made me even more impatient waiting for occupational therapy (OT) to arrive.  You see, it’s time to give the hospital bed another try.  We’ve already dismantled our guest room to accommodate some furniture that will need to be moved out of the master bedroom.  The electric hospital bed is coming back into my life because I have become weaker.  The electric Hoyer will help get me into bed and the occupational therapist will be our instructor.  Then the battle to get comfortable will begin anew.  It’s a real challenge keeping ahead of the constant changes that are the life of a person living with ALS (PALS).

So, in addition to the electric hospital bed and lift, I had a visit from my durable medical equipment supplier who brought me a Trilogy machine and a cough assist machine.  You may be familiar with the terms CPAP and BiPAP.  Trilogy is similar to a BiPAP machine.  It helps with respiratory issues.  In my case it will help inflate my lungs and perhaps increase my lung capacity, but it will also help me get rid of the carbon dioxide that I cannot expel on my own.  It is difficult to expel carbon dioxide when the respiratory system is compromised by ALS.  Too much carbon dioxide can kill me.  It is also one reason why I keep an ALS alert sheet hanging in my kitchen.  It alerts EMS not to give me 100% oxygen.  I found this information at the site www.alsemergency.info and ran it by my doctor before posting.  Now both my husband and I are masked sleepers.

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The end of the month brought the much-awaited speech device, a Tobii Dynavox.  The Tobii uses eye-tracking so I can type and surf the internet hands free.  There were a few hiccups with the delivery like missing mounting poles for my wheelchair and several attempts to retrieve via email the information to unlock Windows.  But all is good and the sales rep is affixing the mounting bracket as I type this.

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I will be spending a lot of time getting up to speed typing by eye and learning Windows again.  Ugh!  All I need now is an appointment-free day, week or month.

In the days that followed Tobii’s arrival, I saw a palliative care nurse practitioner and had a physical therapy (PT) intake visit.  I’m already scheduled for PT twice this week.  My life and home are in shambles.  I have boxes everywhere (empty device boxes, liquid formula boxes), an empty guest room, dust bunnies.  Well, you get the idea.  OT where are you?  I need you so that decisions can be made about where to put everything.  It was very difficult to move to a smaller home just to accommodate ALS.  Adding more stuff to the mix does not help.  Being a little bit of a neat freak (which I didn’t think I was, but have been accused of being), all of this drives me nuts.

The transformation to a machine-filled ALS life began with a power wheelchair.  Now it has expanded to include the Amazon Alexa to turn on and off lights and other cool stuff, a Ring doorbell, cough assist and Trilogy machines, a suction machine, an electric Hoyer lift, electric hospital bed, and my speech device, the Tobii Dynavox.  Half of these machines I am not able to operate alone or unaided.  I thank God every day for the assistance of able and caring people who transform my life into a comfortable existence.