Never Goodbye

Navigating the Journey through Dementia

After consulting with our neighbor Wydean, the neighborhood authority on who’s who and what’s what in Fort Payne, we were up-to-date on hospital horror stories. We followed her strict advice to admit Dad to Gadsden Regional Medical Center through their emergency section the next morning. The following day, the orthopedic surgeon operated on his hip and put in five screws and a plate. Surgery went very well. The surgeon said Dad lost very little blood, and it had been a clean break.

I stayed beside him day and night, sleeping in a chair that opened up into a bed. Hospital policy stated a family member or friend should remain with an elderly patient throughout the hospital stay. It was a wise policy, especially in my dad’s case. Keeping him in bed became the most difficult aspect of caring for him. He was obsessed with getting out of bed—either to go to the bathroom or go home.

After two days, when my son Brad and our neighbors Brenda and Jim came to visit, I finally got a chance to go to the house, take a shower, pack a bag of clothes, and return.

In my absence, the physical therapists had worn dad out walking him around. Brad said he protested loudly about the pain and after the exercise felt cold, shaky, and exhausted. He was fast asleep when I returned. A few hours later, after Brad and the neighbors had gone, the hospital attendant tried to take Dad’s  blood pressure and temperature. He could not wake Dad up. “Mr. Jack –wake up,” the attendant repeated over and over, while nudging him gently. No response. Putting a cold wet washcloth on my dad’s face finally aroused him. The thermometer revealed Dad was burning up with a fever of 103.5 degrees.

For whatever reason, the hospital attendant did not believe the temperature reading was accurate and kept insisting it could not be right. His theory that dad got hot from all the covers didn’t bode well with me at all. Dad used the same amount of covers the whole time in the hospital. I told this to the hospital attendant, who barely looked eighteen and reeked of inexperience. Dad’s face appeared flushed; his eyes were glazed over and his skin felt hot. I could see him try to talk, but no words would come out. His breathing sounded congested.

Still in disbelief, the kid said we would wait a few minutes, and he would re-take Dad’s temperature. Meanwhile, I wet a washcloth and started sponging Dad’s face, neck and hands. When the kid returned in 10 minutes to re-take the temperature it now read 103.4 degrees.

The hospital staff took fast action using ice packs and Tylenol to bring down the fever. Dad had developed pneumonia. I continued to sponge his face and hands. After a few hours the fever was down. They had him on antibiotics, and he was on the upswing. He started recovering from pneumonia with the highest temperatures never much over 99 degrees. However, he didn’t sleep for two nights. The supposed sedative they gave him the second night acted as a stimulant. He became a wild man doing bed calisthenics, with ongoing attempts to leap out of the bed.