My Short Life As A CNA

My father was enjoying an active vacation in the Caribbean when he noticed a lump in his throat. He had a malignant melanoma tumor removed two years before and had undergone a year of Interferon treatment that left him with no energy. When he completed his treatment, he spent the next year doing all the things he loved. He water skied with his grandkids. He snow skied with friends and family. He traveled with his wife. Now the lump in his throat threatened all that.

When he got home, a biopsy confirmed that his cancer had returned. Everyone knew then that it wasn’t going to end well.

He had the tumor removed the day after Christmas. He and his wife asked if I could came down for a visit when he got out of the hospital. I went to help them out. He couldn’t drive on his pain medications, so I was his chauffeur for his daily business and his doctor visits. A week after he got out of the hospital he wanted to drive. He drove us on a short trip. He was off his pain medication, but he was still impaired. He never drove again.

After two weeks, a experimental trial treatment plan was settled on and they felt they could manage things on their own. I went home, but everyone knew it would just be a matter of time before his health would decline and they would need more help.

A couple of weeks later my dad was scheduled to begin the experimental trial treatment. He mentioned to the doctor conducting the trial that he had a great deal of pain in his back. The doctor went to look again at the pretrial MRI. When came back, he told my dad that in a few weeks he would be coming back saying his back pain was gone. Unfortunately, that never happened.

My dad endured increasing back pain for two and half months while going through the trial treatment program. Then, he started to fall. His legs would give way suddenly without notice. An MRI revealed a large tumor pressing against his spine. He was out of the trial and had surgery to remove the tumor. He never was able to walk unassisted again.

When my dad was released from the hospital and rehabilitation clinic, I went back down to help. It would be the last time I visited my father. I would be there to the end. While I am not a trained certified nursing assistant, that became my job for the final weeks of my dad’s life. I did what I could to help his wife with his care. I helped him out of bed and into his wheelchair. I helped him with his bathroom visits. I transported him to his home office and back. I helped him get to his doctor appointments. I was his wheel man. I helped him with his physical therapy. I helped with his home care visits. As his voice was failing, I gave him a bell to ring when he needed me. I wanted to be at his beck and call.

I took care of my dad when his wife needed a well deserved break. She would take care of him at night or when I wanted to unwind at a restaurant for an hour. We were a team and I think we worked well together.

We also had a lot of help with in home care. We had nurses coming for visits. We had physical therapists and vocational therapists coming by. We even had a certified CNA come to help with his baths. We all tried to make my dad as functional and comfortable as we could.

One weekend the whole family was coming into town for a visit. I joked with my girlfriend that everyone was going to be in town for the wedding (our wedding) except for her.

That Friday afternoon, a home care nurse came by for a visit. When she took his pulse, she found it was racing. We called the doctor and were told to take him to the emergency room. When we got there, they hooked him up to a heart monitor and brought in the crash cart. Then a bunch of people came into the room. The doctor told my dad that might feel a little funny as the doctor gave him a shot. What he didn’t say was the shot was to stop and restart his heart. It worked. His heart stopped and restarted with a more normal heart beat.

My dad was then admitted to ICU for a week of observation. He still got his family visits, but unfortunately they were all two at a time in the ICU unit.

My dad had been having a great of trouble swallowing and was having difficulty eating. While he was in the hospital, they installed a PICC line, which was a huge blessing. A PICC line is a thin tube inserted through the skin that terminates in a large blood vessel in the chest. A PICC line allows blood to be drawn without inserting a needle and nutrition to be given directly to the blood stream. It made blood draws and feeding him a lot easier on everyone.

When he was released from the hospital, his wife and I were in charge of managing his PICC line and his TPN (liquid) nutrition. At this point, he was also on oxygen. As he was transported from room to room, the oxygen had to move also.

The next weekend my girlfriend came for a visit. My dad and his wife adored her. She could do no wrong. The night before she was going to leave, my girlfriend and I went out to dinner together. Over dinner she told me that she had been thinking a lot about it and decided she was ready for us to get married. Tears were streaming down my face. I told her that I couldn’t tell my dad that we were going to get married, because I would also be telling him that he wouldn’t be there. I suggested that if we were going to get married, that we do it at my dad’s home the next weekend. That way, my dad could be there. That was not what she was expecting, but she agreed.

When we got back from dinner, we talked with my dad’s wife. She was thrilled and completely behind the idea. The next morning we gathered around the fountain in the backyard for pictures before my girlfriend left to go back home. I sat my girlfriend down next to the fountain and I dropped down on one knee. Through a stream of tears, all mine, I asked her to marry me. My dad couldn’t hear what I was saying, but he knew what was happening. He asked when we were going to get married and I told him on Sunday in the backyard. Here? Yes. On Sunday? Yes. How many days is that? Six days.

So for the next six days we cared for my dad and planned a wedding. Each day I would tell my dad where we were in the planning; what had been take care of and what still needed to be done. My dad’s wife arranged for a wonderful catered brunch. My wife and I bought rings, picked out music and arranged for the flowers. My mom, sisters, cousins and my best friend all made it into town. My girlfriend and I had the civil ceremony alone on Friday.

On Sunday morning, everything was ready for the family marriage ceremony. Since my girlfriend’s father had passed away, my dad and his wife gave her away. My best friend, a former pastor, officiated a ceremony that was simple, but beautiful and meaningful. My best friend’s wife was wonderful in that she made she sure we got all the pictures for our wedding day. We had a wonderful catered brunch. We toasted with sparkling cider and watched a picture slide show I put together set to one of our songs. My dad participated to the extent he could but he was tired.

After everything was done and we had said our goodbyes, I was waiting by the door for my new wife. My dad was watching and smiling at me with a sense of pride and contentment. My new wife and I were going to spend our wedding night at nice hotel and come back the next afternoon.

The next morning we received a phone call from my dad’s distraught wife. My dad had passed away. We rushed back to the house to find my dad lying in his bed, as if sleeping. My dad had passed away early that morning, after everyone had gone home. After he had seen everyone one last time, I think he was ready to go.

We did everything we could to make the remaining weeks of his life comfortable and meaningful. He made it easier by taking his decline with such grace. I think he lived his last years to the fullest. He was a Vibrant Gray.