“Your oxygen is 90.”
“That’s low,” Dad said to the nurse. “It’s normally around 97.”
“We need you to be working your lungs.”
He stared straight ahead like he knew the drill but said nothing.
“She wants you to expand your lungs, Dad.”
“I hear her. I hear her,” he snapped at me then turned towards the nurse. “Bettina, I’m not going to be at my best when I’ve been lying in bed all night!”
This is true—Dad’s lung capacity was decreasing because he was in bed so much. I was doing all I could to get him discharged.
“You need to work your lungs, Bill,” Bettina repeated.
“Well, I need to get up out of bed to do that, but I can’t do that without setting the alarms off all the time!” He was so ready to get out of this hospital.
“And you know why we did that……right? Because you fell at home.”
“I know I fell at home, but that’s history!”
“You are high risk.”
Dad rolled his eyes. He took several deep breaths into his plastic breathing machine, pushing the little rattling balls up to the proper level in the air chamber. Then he took a few careful swallows of water and was ready to finish the story of the sailing trip to Washington Island. He was hoping the nurse would move on to her next patient. She seemed satisfied with his effort and made her exit.
“So, we were motoring through the fog without too much difficulty.” Dad’s breathing seemed to naturally improve as he started in on the sailing story. “As we got around the tip of Door County and changed course for Washington Island, we could hear the fog horn of the Ferry Boat. We couldn’t see it, but we heard it. Because the wind was so calm in the fog, we were motoring with the Atomic Four, which was the name of the standard motor on boats in those days.
We stayed alert to avoid the ferry and any other boats. According to the Rules of the Road, I would occasionally give a blast on my boat horn. This was the proper procedure during these conditions. We never saw the ferry boat, but sure enough, right off our bow, at my estimated speed, there it was—the tripod light of the Washington Island Harbor. We got into the Harbor and found a place to tie up at Outfitters. We walked around a bit to get a feel for the Island, spent the night in the boat and then headed back the next day over the same route.
We had a beautiful sail and as we were coming through Ship’s Canal, the water was quite calm. We got to the end of the canal in Lake Michigan, when substantial wind and waves began. I had the hatch over the V-birth open. The first good wave we hit pushed the water right in that hatch and into the V-birth. So here we were, once again, with many of our things soaked.
We continued along Lake Michigan shore and by the time we got to Manitowoc, the weather had built up. The stretch from Manitowoc to Sheboygan was some pretty hard sailing. In those days, Sheboygan didn’t have such a nice harbor for transit boats because it was a large harbor for commercial shipping. When we arrived, we found a place to tie up alongside one of the old coal docks.
We had just about settled in after supper that night when there was a rap on our cockpit. We looked out, and there was our son Ed. He knew our sail plan and figured out exactly where we were and that we had had a very hard sail that day. He told us the storm was picking up speed and that he had come to take over for Mom. He suggested that she take his car home.
Dolores was such an incredible sport, she would have—like she had done so many other times—stuck it out. But she didn’t argue with Ed.
I don’t have any idea how Ed found us that night. I guess he had just figured out what he would have done had he been in my spot. Ed was that way. Always anticipating, always offering, always helping. I wonder what he’s assigned to in heaven…..?
Dolores drove Ed’s car home. Ed and I spent the night on the boat and enjoyed a challenging sail the next day. The storm grew and the wind and waves were really rough. We had a great time and it was good Dolores listened to Ed and drove home.
To think now, how she was raised on a farm in northwestern Illinois, far from any body of water. She never had the opportunity to learn how to swim, never particularly liked the water, yet still she was always willing to share with me and my joy……….”
I had a big lump growing in my throat and my eyes welled as I thought about my mom and brother……..
“That’s a great story, Dad,” I finally managed to say.
Just then, as though he had been waiting in the wings for us to finish so he could make his entrance, an aide named Bruce walked into our room.
“Do you know what the date is, Bill?”
“I have a suggestion for you, Bruce,” Dad said. “You guys should put the day of the week up on the board there, along with the date. It’s really difficult to keep track of life outside when every day inside the hospital is the same. When I was at St. Jo’s, they always had the day of the week along with the date written on the marker board. That really helped.”
“Kind of defeats the purpose doesn’t it, Bill?”
“At this hospital, you’re supposed to figure out the day of the week by counting forward from the day you came in?”
Bruce didn’t respond to that question but took a look at the symbol on Dad’s wristband. “So you want to be resuscitated, if necessary, when you die, Bill?”
“You guys seem more worried about me dying then keeping me alive.”
“Bill, you just don’t want to get that wrong.” Bruce walked over to the board and added Friday to the date.
A small victory but it felt good to have witnessed it. A patient’s feedback is important.
We had been at the hospital since Monday. I had pushed for getting Dad released as soon as possible because I was sure he would recuperate better at home. His resident physician and head doctor both agreed with me. I had a 2:30 appointment that Friday I didn’t want to miss and they helped expedite Dad’s release.
His Resident happened to be from Ghana and his Head Doctor was from India. They had become like family to us and both came to say goodbye. “I don’t know the tradition in your country,” Dad said to each of them. “But as we often do in our country, I’d love to give you a hug.”
Each had replied, “I could use a hug.”
They managed to get us through the discharge process so I was able to make my appointment which was somewhat of a miracle in itself.
It’s funny, I feel sad to be ending our unexpected experience of being a High Risk Fall patient. There was a little rough sailing but all in all, we ended up arriving safely back into our harbor. And as always, those whose hearts touched ours will always stay with us.
Thank you Dr. Richard and Dr. Joseph—God bless you.
March 14, 2014