Sunday, April 08, 2007

Two Very Busy Days

IT'S BEEN A CHALLENGING pair of days, and not due to the ongoing job hunt. My father had another visit to the hospital on Thursday. He is home now, and seemingly well, with outpatient follow-up care the next step through midweek. Here's the scoop.

Thursday morning at six, my phone rang. I awoke instantly. Calls between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. are never good. My heart rate accelerated as I heard my mother reply to my hello. She said my father was having chills. For a half hour, he had been shivering, with his teeth chattering, and despite checking to see if the window was open and adding a blanket to the bed, nothing warmed him up. He was in no pain, had no numbness or tingling in any extremities, had a normal heartbeat, could speak and move well, and was fully aware. I began to relax at hearing no signs of stroke or heart attack were present.

I was more concerned about my mother. Her voice betrayed her anxiety, and I wanted to keep it from accelerating. I told her not to worry and that I would get dressed and come over right away. I knew they wanted to go to the hospital to get this checked out. We agreed that an ambulance would probably make both of them more anxious, so I told my mother I would drive us all over.

As I dressed quickly, I thought about what this could possibly be. My father hadn't had a cold in some time, had showed no sign of illness Wednesday night when I had had dinner there, and had gotten a seasonal flu shot. A blood test and perhaps a chest X-ray seemed like the logical next steps.

I dressed swiftly and raced over. My mother was dressed and ready to roll. My father was still in bed. She said his chills had stopped. From his bed, swathed in extra covers, he said he was feeling better. This is never the last word on any given illness of my father's. It takes a few attempts to get the full story out. He does this to spare my mother stress, but in fact this heightens it.

He asked for 15 more minutes before he got dressed and joined us in the car. I assented. What else could I do? His symptom had abated, he was clearly conscious (if tired), so I wandered back into the dining room and read the paper, while my mother shotgunned a cigarette.

We finally left the house at 7. He grabbed another 20 minutes of sleep beyond the first 15, then rose, dressed, and joined us. The hospital is about 4 minutes away, so we were in the emergency room in no time. Admission was swift, the room being empty. My mother filled the time before we were allowed to visit my dad by sleeping. At least this let me know her anxiety had receded.

We got the OK to enter a half hour later. My dad, feeling no further chills, was in a hospital robe, lying uncomfortably on the bed. He had pulled a muscle in his back two weeks prior, and the position to which the bed had been raised was hitting him where it hurt. I eased the bed down to horizontal, which seemed to help. The attending physician had ordered X-rays and taken samples, so now it was a matter of getting some detailed results.

This took the better part of 4 hours. Although my mother and I stopped at the hospital coffee shop for a much-needed breakfast, for the duration, we stood or sat by my father's bedside, waiting for further news on the results. All we knew at that point was he had a mildly elevated white cell count in his urine. This could mean anything; the blood would be more informative, and we would need a culture if there was in fact an infection. His primary-care physician did visit, though, to examine him, and he was leaning toward keeping Dad at least overnight to get some antibiotics or merely to be observed, depending on results. An infectious-disease specialist was incoming to make this read.

Dad was finally admitted to a room at 1:00. I had two career-counseling teleconferences arranged for the afternoon, the first at 2:00. I would have skipped them both, but my parents urged me to go. With Dad stable and asymptomatic, my mother felt comfortable staying on her own and returning home via taxi. I kissed them both goodbye and raced back home, in time to catch the first call from the beginning.

As part of the career counseling program, one can attend teleconference and web conference seminars. I took the introductory one earlier that week, and I had signed up for two more to keep things moving (we only get a month's worth of services). I have to admit, though, that my mind was not on the details, and I was more scribe than student.

Back-to-back teleconferences in my mental state was murder, made worse by the participants' inattention to repeated proctor requests to mute their phones. Every time I heard someone walking around their house, shushing their children, or shifting the phone in their grip, my blood pressure mounted. I just gritted my teeth and kept writing, hoping my notes would make sense when I was clearer of mind. What I recall of the classes seemed helpful.

Once this was done, I rummaged around the place for food and returned to my parents' house to pick up my mother for a second visit. We found my father finishing dinner and watching the Yankees. He had an antibiotic drip leading into his hand, but he was otherwise alert and feeling well. The surroundings didn't seem to be getting him down, but my father has a reputation for stoic endurance, especially when it comes to keeping my mother's mind tranquil.

We had a visit from the infectious-disease specialist while we were there, a petite, cute Jewish doctor who, sadly, was married. Too bad; she had tended to my mother on a visit for cellulitis years earlier, and she got high marks all around. She confirmed that they were culturing the blood sample to determine the precise reason for his chills, and that in the absence of specific or continuing symptoms, they would continue the broad-spectrum antibiotic until they had a culprit.

Said culprit came early the next morning: septicemia. Something had been brewing, and it had created the inflammatory response and chills that are part of the symptoms of that blood affliction. My mother called me with this news and sounded just as upset as she had the previous morning. I told her if he had no fever, further chills, or other signs of illness, then we probably got in front of this disorder early enough to keep it from progressing into the full septicemia syndrome. Considering all septicemia indicates is a bacterial presence in the bloodstream, the doctor or nurse could have picked a less charged term.

The doctors wanted more tests on my dad, including a bone scan to find any hidden osseous infections, and an ultrasound on his heart and kidneys. Return home prior to Easter Sunday was up in the air. No skin off our asses from a religious standpoint, as we don't celebrate it in any sense. My mom just wanted to know precisely what was up. If it was full septicemia, my dad could be looking at a few weeks in the joint. My mother doesn't get around well on her own, and has little recent practice in driving the big retirement-mobile my dad bought a few years back.

During our Friday visit to my father's room, I got a call from my former supervisor, to whom I shall refer in this blog as M. She called to take a break from working; she is racing to finish her thesis presentation and two prototype projects for extremely picky professors. All three have her just as anxiety ridden as my mother, it seems. I tried to calm her down, to let her know that taking breaks from her work and getting enough sleep would pay off in the long run, as they had when I had massive term papers at the very end of my own college career. I gave her the full story on the flower adventure, not having wanted to interrupt her work earlier in the week with details. We covered all manner of subjects from our former teammates at the job to my early impressions of the career-coaching firm. Talking with M. was my first contact with the outside world, so to speak, since Wednesday, and I sensed she needed as much of a break as I did; also, she is an excellent conversationalist and I dearly miss having her on the other side of the cube day to day. By the time my call-waiting cut in, 45 minutes had passed, and my mother was ready to leave; Dad had been taken upstairs for testing. I bade M. a happy Easter, urged her to take a break at some point later that day, and hung up.

I took Mom shopping and over to the hair salon for a visit deferred from Thursday. I stole a half hour to visit the gym and blow off some tension on the elliptical trainer. I had been idle for nearly three days, and eating less programmatically, and I was feeling it. The rest of Friday was a downer blur; I didn't want to commit to anything too distant from home in case I was needed, but I was too disorganized to rejoin the course materials from the career joint.

Saturday brought good news. All tests were negative. The doctors were happy with the results and decided to remove Dad's IV dock and let him come in for treatment from home for a few days. I was relieved, both to have Dad home and Mom more relaxed. When I drove over, Dad was all but scratching at the door to be let out. The hospital has eliminated the checkout procedure, so I was able to escort him down without hurdling a mass of paperwork.

I was pleased to be home, rather than tied up in the city, during this whole adventure. Naturally, had I been employed on Thursday when my mom called, I would have taken the day off; Friday, too, would have been negotiable; no sense sitting there and worrying when I could be helping them both.

The challenge now is to establish the daily pattern I was trying to put together last week. With visits to the career center on Monday and Wednesday, and a mass of reading material and online courses to take, it proves to be a busy month — and that's not even counting the job hunt itself. I need to stay busy at this. I also need to keep a list of any job contacts I make, to present to New York State if there's an inquiry into my unemployment insurance. I've got two contact so far in the first week, so I am definitely able to prove I have been looking. I need more than looking, though; I need finding.

In what field, though . . . ah, that's the real question. Another post perhaps. For now, I'm just happy to have my father back home and my mother relaxed again.

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