This past few weeks have been a whirlwind from a daughter and nurse perspective. Although I have not been professionally working these past couple years, I again stepped into the arena to become an active advocate for family members, help decipher the medical language and terminology, and share communications among family keeping them up to date.
When choosing to become a nurse in my late teens and early 20’s, I never expected this type of role would be so pervasive in time. Those not familiar with this story, this position of wearing a “dual hat” as family member and nurse has been all to common in the past couple years. With my sibling’s health issues (CHD and AML), it became quickly evident there was void in family’s understanding and communication in the foreign medical language. As a true nurse at heart, I saw this need and stepped up to the table to provide practical assistance.
This role, however, is not without challenges. Trying to sift through medical language outside my particular specialty field and navigating the emotional component as a family member so close at heart to a loved one in medical need has certainly been trying for sure. Balancing family member’s needs, privacy, etc are obvious concerns. Transparency is my nature.
Unfortunately, my personal fears sometimes shined through despite trying to disguise them with courage or confidence that very real potential comorbid complications are on the table of life. My mother is one person who knew me best and most clearly identify these fears within me. She is so close and dear to me in heart, finds medical language very most daunting (even more so than my father), and quite honestly the hardest to shield my fears.
Having said that, my dearly deceased brother was nearing his first birthday in heaven on April 24th, 2016. This was a first milestone that was very present in our family’s minds this past month. Our family system was still finding ways to stay connected and whole despite the incredible losses in the recent year. My parents were venturing to see his two youngest participate in performances for the weekend. This was truly an emotional and exciting time celebrating old and new memories.
My father has always been a very solid and strong “power horse” in the family who could protect us from anything. No one who knew him would express him as a weak soul lacking muscle power. In the case of my 70 year-old father, I truly believe in retrospect that he was demonstrating yet again his powerful strength that weekend. The loss of my brother was incredibly devastating to him.
Grief is unique to everyone, takes on many forms for many folks, and the road through loss is not always clearly traveled as predicted. My father persevered through challenging life events in his years of development, adulthood, and consistently demonstrated his strength to persevere. In true form, he wasn’t going to take away any attention from the momentous weekend. In my perspective, he minimized some early warning signs of ill-health. While participating in the weekend, he showed increasing signs of fatigue, pallor, and feeling unwell. By the end of the weekend, his stamina to persevere declined.
At this juncture, the reality of the issue at hand became clear.
As my father entered his home on April 25th following a long ride home, his ill-health declared itself. Thankfully, my mother had the wherewithal to think quickly, promptly, and responsibly to get him to medical care. As our family consistently states, “She gets ambulance pay” for recognizing the significant health crisis and seeking medical care promptly when the signs became very clear a health issue was present placing my father at significant risk. This is not easy given a stubborn strong-willed father and unclear defining symptoms to a spouse without trained medical skills.
With a skillful medical team, he was quickly assessed and treated for a critically health issue. He had an active gastrointestinal (GI) bleed. With fluids, blood products, and further assessment, the etiology was not able to be clearly identified and the bleeding continued. A further consult with general surgery was warranted.
As a caring daughter, I naturally became very actively engaged upon admission and increasingly fearful as time unfolded given the nature of the issue from the perspective of a nursing professional. In true form, my father was trying to reassure me that I didn’t need to come to his hospital for support unless the diagnosing became more complicated. My father, always trying to protect and minimize his discomforts. He would do anything for his kids and family, yet always seemed to place the most burden on himself.
On my first visual impression at the bedside of my father’s clinical state, I became frighteningly worried for his health status. He was white as the sheet, frail, and demonstrated clinical vital signs and diagnostic testing that was highly alarming to me as a nurse and daughter. I never before had seen my father so vulnerable and fragile. I truly feared for his life.
Thankfully, he had a stellar health care team managing his care and my mother had her best friend (and oldest sister) at bedside when we met the surgeon to discuss the state of affairs. We all sat quietly, listened intently, and heard the very uncertain conversation from the surgeon about his health issue.
The nature of the GI bleed was unclear despite their standard protocol and approaches to assessing and treatment. There was a very likelihood that they may need to approach it in the operating room which was in his words was like, “looking for a needle in a haystack” given the fact that the GI tract is 20 feet long.
There was nothing good about what the surgeon said despite any angle you looked at it. I tried really hard to put a positive focus or spin on the conversation and the only thing I could find was that the team would could keep up with blood product support (FFP, Platelets, and PRBC) and hopefully it would stop on its own.
My father continued to be critically ill for 48 hours with unclear bleeding source, blood transfusion reaction, and uncertain outcome. Receiving well over a dozen units of blood products, I alerted my two remaining siblings and father’s closest sibling of the dire situation unfolding. May aunt also had also recently lost her husband this past Christmas holiday due to cancer. This time was truly a frightening time for us all.
With some passage of time and patience, my father’s very close flirtation with a potentially fatal outcome was gratefully abated. He did not join the many family members who recently joined those chosen to ascend to heaven this past year. If he did, it could have been truly devastating to an already stressed family coping with significant deaths in the last year.
In retrospect, the correlation with my older brother’s GI comorbidity complication that lead to his death is an interesting connection between my brother and father. Thankfully, my father pulled through, the bleeding resolved, and he was ultimately discharged with a rising hemoglobin on his first follow-up visit. I am extremely grateful to have been able to spend this Mother’s Day with him seeing some signs of progress and recovery.
While it was a very challenging day for my mother spending her first Mother’s Day without her second born son and first-born son’s wife, I am certain that the reassurance seen in my eyes as a daughter and nurse were blessings from God to her. Nothing in my eyes, voice, non-verbal communication was alarming to me that I felt the need to put up my guard to protect or shield from her.
I cannot imagine what it would be like if the outcome were different and we were preparing for another funeral in the family. Inevitably, I know it will happen. It always does. In the circle of life, we all have a birth and death date on this blessed earth. I am more confident today that his strength will persevere in time with a renewed self-care perspective for the future.
It may take 6 weeks to get back to baseline feeling “normal” again, but he will return to his strong “power horse” and stubborn self again with renewed vision. I have no doubt in my mind that he is not done giving of his talents and wisdom. My father has a lot of good years left to share, model, and teach us about how to live a healthy and stable quality of life. I am looking forward to seeing him on Father’s Day when he has had more weeks of recovery and a different lens from the last two weeks. I am grateful and love you Dad!
Your loving daughter,