I’ve heard the arguments from both sides a thousand times on business owners getting personal and being transparent. I definitely side with being transparent. I ask each of my clients to trust me enough to open up and show me who they are and I cannot imagine not doing the same in return.
The holiday season has been a very rough one here at the Thomes House. Throughout the month of November I struggled with keeping up with my busy season in photographing and editing the last of the year’s weddings and portrait sessions, filling print orders, designing albums and holiday cards, fielding new requests almost daily that I did not have time for… all the while my personal life was pretty crazy with my Dad recovering from major surgery and my husband opening a new restaurant at the Mall of America in Minnesota and being gone for almost the entire month. Throughout all of this my health declined and I was dealing with relentless debilitating headaches every day as well as seasonal colds for both my daughter and I.
December came and things were looking better all around… until about halfway through the month. On the 16th I rushed my Dad to the ER with high blood sugar which isn’t all that uncommon for him – he is a type 1 diabetic and his blood sugar is often off the wall in both directions. Normally I would not have even taken him to the hospital at that point but his body’s response to the insulin I injected him with was the opposite of what it should have been and this left me very uneasy. Off to the ER we went, expecting that he may possibly stay overnight but certainly no longer than that. Boy was I wrong. While in the ER I learned that he was suffering from diabetic ketoacidosis and his cardiac enzymes were really off as well. I was very confused as he was just fine and his sugar hadn’t been very high for very long. They admitted him to the ICU and he slept through almost his entire first 2 1/2 days there. The day he woke up we were told that he had had a heart attack – no symptoms or anything – but this would make his second heart attack. Upon talking to my dad for a few minutes I excused myself and left the room to speak to his nurse. He was very different. Something was wrong. The person in the room looked like my Dad but he wasn’t acting like my Dad. He was forgetting everything and saying some off the wall things. I let the nurse know that he was definitely “off” and asked her why. They hadn’t noticed anything wrong but she said that with his kidneys being messed up that could be the reason why and to let the doctor know tomorrow. The next day he was even more off the wall. I mentioned it again to a different nurse, asked more questions and asked her to please tell the doctor about my concerns as the doctor was never available when I wanted to speak to her. At this point I had been repeatedly told (after asking what they were giving him) that he had only been given fluids to flush his kidneys. That night he was moved from the ICU to the step down unit. I was given many reasons to “explain” my Dad’s “off” behavior but none of them really seemed right to me. The 5th day was one of the worst days I have ever experienced. The man that I went to visit looked like my Dad but it was like there was nothing left of the man that I know as my Dad in that body. In fact, the man that I saw that day was about as polar opposite of my Dad as you can get. In my first 5 minutes there he had tried to rip the IV out of the artery in his neck which would have resulted in him bleeding to death very quickly. Even after I explained this he continued. I screamed for help and a nurse came in and told him the same thing. He continued. She threatened to have him put in restraints and he threatened her and anyone who tried to do so. The things he said made absolutely no sense at all, he seemed to be in a massive time warp coupled with a fantasy world, he was hallucinating, screaming at me, tried to hit me and he was so horribly mean to me for no reason. That is NOT who my Dad is. In the middle of all of this his doctor came in to let him know that they would likely be releasing him later in the day, said something about the antibiotic he was on (I thought he was only on fluids?!) and she walked out. I chased her down, protested his release, loudly voiced my increasing concerns, reminded her who I am (next of kin, healthcare proxy) and demanded answers. She blew me off but agreed to call for a neurology consult and walked away. I returned to the room where things continued to go bad. When I couldn’t take any more I ran out of the room in hysterics and just froze outside of his door. I stood there, leaning against the wall, sobbing, feeling scared, hurt and hopeless. A wonderful nurse’s aid named Robyn came to me, got me some coffee, kleenex, an ear to listen and a place to calm myself. She brought my Dad’s nurse to me so I could talk to her. Try as I might, I simply could not collect myself enough to go back into my Dad’s room, even after an hour of trying to pull it together, so I went home without saying goodbye. That afternoon the walk to my car and the drive home seemed infinitely longer than it ever had before. The house was so empty and my mind and heart were so heavy. My husband was out running errands and had left his cell at home. I cried so hard for so long. After my husband came home and I managed to choke back some of my tears long enough to tell him what had happened, we both went back to the hospital. Dad was exhausted from all of the earlier excitement and he slept most of the time we were there and only spoke once when he was awake. While we were there I made sure to check out what antibiotic they had him on (he is allergic to two) but it was one I was not familiar with. As we walked to the car my husband asked if I was disappointed that Dad didn’t do anything crazy in front of him… “No. I know you believe me and I don’t think that I could have handled any more today”. After we had dinner and got our daughter to bed I looked up the medication that they had my Dad on – turns out that the “severe side effects” (that you should immediately let your doctor know about if you experience any of them) explained every single thing that was going on with my Dad. Of course, I had to forward these side effects to my family. My best friend did a little research and found that they shouldn’t have even given him that medication in the first place as it is not recommended for diabetics. UGH! We aren’t doctors, nurses or even in the medical field… why did it take us doing this research to come up with this?! The next morning I went to the hospital and immediately asked the nurse to call the doctor and order him to be taken off of that medication. My request was met with some argument but in the end I pushed the issue and reminded them that they legally had to oblige. From that day on I voice recorded my visits in their entirety. That evening my husband and daughter went back with me. When we left my husband said “Yep – he’s totally lost it. He’s as nutty as a fruitcake”. Each day brought new and interesting things… random wild stories from my Dad about how he had been working the last two nights in a row doing HVAC with my husband and someone named Jack, days when he couldn’t remember who my daughter was (her name or her relation to him), days where he just completely shut down and gave up. I truly believe that it was the medication that caused the mental issues that my Dad experienced and I am very thankful that I was wise enough to do the research and insist on them discontinuing it. I have dealt with doctors and hospitals way too often and I am a very firm believer in doing your research and being your own advocate – or being an advocate for someone who isn’t well enough to be their own. Doctors are human too – they can and do make mistakes and they do sometimes make judgements of their patients and families that affect patient care. Just like any other profession and people in general, there are the good and the bad… if you are fortunate enough to find a GREAT one, just make sure that you don’t take him/her for granted!
Christmas morning in the hospital was not the best Christmas memory I have but I will say that it was the first time that I felt hopeful in 9 days. He was coming back around. He was remembering more, imagining less and his personality was starting to very slowly creep back. He smiled. We gave him a digital photo frame and my husband loaned him his iPod (which apparently he believes we bought him for Christmas – so be it) and the music and photos seemed to help. It was hard when he asked who one of our dogs was… he was with me when I adopted him and he’s been a part of our family for almost a year. It was hard leaving him to head to my in-laws’ house for Christmas dinner but at least we had hope again.
He is home now and things are a lot better than they were. We are in the middle of a million doctor follow up appointments and getting ready to schedule surgery for his heart. Every day is still a struggle but some are easier than others. My Aunt and cousin will be here from Florida in 2 days and I’m so anxious for them to get here. I hope that their visit will be a good one and that they will feel better after seeing my Dad. They’ll be here to go to the cardiologist with us and I am so thankful for that.
I am so incredibly thankful to all of you who have been keeping my Dad and our family in your thoughts and prayers and for my clients who have been so very patient. I still have hundreds of e-mails and a dozen or so voice messages to get caught up on so if you have not yet heard from me, please accept my apology and know that I will get back to you when I can. If your need is somewhat urgent, please send me another quick e-mail or call to let me know.