2010 May Archive | Amber Jean

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Monthly Archives: May 2010

Back to Dad

Dad is listening to the Lawrence Welk show. The crease in his brow softened since we put the video tape in a few minutes ago. He has not eaten food for 7 days. He is not drinking water. His condition “took a turn” on Friday as his body began the final stages of shutting down. Paul and I arrived straight from the airport late Saturday night after completing the Nestle chocolate sculpture commission in Wisconsin. Robin and I are taking shifts; Dad is in the TV room next to the living room where we can keep watch.  He spent most of the last weeks in his old blue easy chair but it grew uncomfortable for him so a hospital bed was delivered earlier today. 

Dad is mostly in another world during the spells when he is awake – a world where he has been bear hunting and where he paid the popcorn man for two bags of popcorn. He lights imaginary cigarettes after pulling an invisible lighter from the pocket of his sweatpants. Late this afternoon with his own hand shaking uncontrollably, Dad gallantly lifted mother’s hand to his lips for a kiss. When Dad planted a delicate kiss on mom’s hand, a spark beamed from the pale blue part of his heavily lidded eyes – a little half-grin shown on his unshaven face.
The jaundice has darkened his skin and eyes with a deep sickly yellow. He cannot swallow pills or liquids but doesn’t seem to have symptoms other than pain and agitation thus the medications are no longer necessary. Pain relief is delivered automatically by pump into his permanent IV.  We boost the pain meds by pushing the button on the pump in 15 minute intervals.  Every four hours we give him a few drops of medicine to help with the agitation.  Mom is holding up – proving quite strong. Dad shrinks, his breath becomes shallower and his body weakens. 
We keep close by.


After pulling an all nighter in the BIG tent at the festival grounds, Paul and I finished 1.5 hours before the unveiling – just enough time to grab a shower before meeting the press. We “wowed ‘em.”  Felt good! Blurry-eyed, plumb tuckered, and in desperate need of a nature fix, we left the festival grounds for a short walk to the lake. Passing a nail salon on the way; we stumbled into the air conditioned space. Paul passed out in a chair while a cute little oriental girl worked at getting the chocolate, paint, and silicone from my battered hands. We wandered along the lake in a daze, plopped our weary bodies onto the grass, and looked up at blue sky through shimmering green leaves of a giant tree. White blooms danced and Eddie Brickel sang from the speakers which surrounded the lake in the town park. I admired my silver sparkle fingernails, felt deeply thankful for Paul’s help and support, and thought about the tears which glistened in the plant manager’s eyes at the unveiling as he thanked me for our passionate effort during a difficult time. I felt blessed. Relieved. Thankful. Paul and I returned to our hotel, pulled the shades, turned the air conditioning onto full blast and fell asleep at 6:30. Unaccustomed to sleeping more than a few hours at a time during the last few weeks; I woke three hours later and decided to attend the Chocolate and Wine Indulgence event at the festival. A full moon nudged its way through heavy low clouds determined to outshine the bright garish carnival lights of the festival. My father and mother fill my thoughts. Dad’s nauseous body has rejected any attempts at eating for the last four days. Mom sounds a bit lost. I want to go home. 

(photos and video will be posted soon…)

Willy Wonka Land

Emerged in Willy Wonka Land…my eyelids and heart are heavy. We are racing the clock to the big unveiling on Friday. Punched with gaping grief, my chest hurts when I step back from the crazy world of chocolate, candy, and creation. Worry is wrapped around a difficult unexpected chapter in my parent’s life. Dad is hanging in there. He gets around with his walker – sleeps more and eats less each day. 
Most hours in my Nestle-world are filled with scheming and problem-solving – fueled with nibbles of chocolate, sips of water, and deep breaths. My hands are tired and sore. Phone calls with family and Hospice nurses punctuate long hours of vivid thoughts, creative ideas, and lots of crazy yummy chocolate creating.
Wildberry nerds look like turquoise…a lovely accent for the Wizard of Oz-themed chocolate sculpture.

Nestle Chocolate Sculpture – Day One

Phew! First day at Nestle working on the ChocolateFest creation = fourteen hours of head-scratching, sculpture building, chocolate eating, people meeting, and red hairnet wearing – along with a few good laughs. Thank goodness I’ve a GREAT partner to help me with this GIGANTIC chocolate sculpture!

Photo taken of Paul and I with the cell phone while watching the safety video in the security office before entering the chocolate factory.

Long night…

The inevitability of loss looms over my soul and stabs my heart like the owl who pierces the still night by screeching under a thin slice of moon outside my window. I hope father is sleeping peacefully with mom. Eyelids impossibly heavy, he rests more each day. Sometimes Dad slurs his words and doesn’t finish his sentences. Yet he gets out of the chair and scoots around the yard with his walker filling the bird feeders. The whites of his eyes darken more yellow each day. His body shrinks. Dad misses the ability to read since jaundice weakens eye muscles but his spirit gets him out of the chair without assistance, up and down stairs, into his little black pickup to “drive the fence” and check the horses.  

Mom too is losing weight but holding up. A dear sweet little bird that frets and flutters, feels and fusses, loves and hurts. Aunt Liz and Uncle Rollie are arriving today to keep watch over the two of them. Tomorrow I must leave for Chocolate City, USA with chisels packed, my heart torn, deep breaths and plenty of faith. Juggling phone calls with Hospice nurses and Nestle, the bank and my accountant, a few museums and two pet sitters, life continues. Just shy of 3 weeks since Dad’s pancreatic cancer prognosis, I drink deep from the cool night air, listen to the owl, shuffle exhibit agreements and post-it notes. 
Paul will accompany and assist me with the Chocolate Festival sculpture creation. His support and guidance are a godsend. We’ve squeezed a three week project into eight days – will need a bit of luck and more than a bit of strength.

An update on my father

written early Monday morning…

Mom and Dad had a much-needed quiet day at home.  They are both understandably exhausted.  Just over a week has passed since last Saturday when I drove Dad home from his two-night stay at the hospital.  Since then Hospice care began, Howard and his family arrived from Minnesota, Robin arrived from Tennessee, the kitchen floor was ripped up and new flooring installed (Dad insisted), Dad’s older brother Keith came from Nebraska for a visit with his daughter.  Carl (Dad’s brother) and his wife (my aunt MaryJane) arrived.  Meetings were held in our home with the funeral home director.  Documents were signed.  A washing machine leaked into the basement.  Meals were given by friends and appreciated by my family.  A skit was performed by the grandchildren and their new friends (my boyfriend’s children).    Rounds of nausea, pain, and itching skin (a condition of jaundice) are being controlled with carefully recorded medications.  Stories have been woven with laughter and tears.

The most difficult moments lately are the “goodbyes.”   Saturday at noon, Keith left for the airport under Lacy’s close watch looking somehow smaller than when he arrived; his blue eyes soft with sadness.  Later the same day – Howard, Tiffany and the girls drove away sobbing after homemade cards were given to grandpa, photos were taken and hugs shared in a tangle of oxygen and IV cords.  Yesterday Carl and MaryJane left for Nebraska after we shared a scrumptious ham dinner and apple pie prepared by friends.
Tomorrow Dad’s brothers Loyal and Don will arrive from Nebraska along with his sister Virginia and her husband.  My father (somewhere in the middle of seven siblings) is the first to face this transition.  Dad is in a medical records journal for being one of only two Americans to survive three separate polio attacks as a child.  Told he would never walk, Dad won seven out of eight track events in 8th grade.  Known for his orneriness, Dad is one tough bugger – the reality and disbelief of recent days have a tight grip on his family.  His spunk and spirit spit sparks from deep blue eyes; radiant in the photos taken even while his body shrinks and his skin yellows. 
Using his walker, Dad made it outside and down some steps to his shop where he gave two proud tours of his impressive collection of ashtrays.  He sleeps a lot.  The nurse Eddie increased his pain meds today but they are still less-than-half what Dad is allowed at this point. Mother is frazzled but holding up.
Me?  Awake.  Very much awake.  The train I drove by early yesterday morning in a darkened canyon under a gray sky seemed somehow brighter than usual.  Like the spring landscape my heart feels open, raw, tender, strong – patches of snow incongruent with the budding spring wildflowers – a tumultuous mish mash of rain, snow, sun, snow, sleet, sun, gray skies, soft pink sunsets, sunshine and more rain.
Thank-you for keeping us in  your thoughts and prayers.

My father – five days after his prognosis…

Dad perked up after I got him home last weekend and my brothers arrived.  Hospice is on board with daily visits and medications. 

Dark wet streets lay before me that starless Saturday morning when I drove to the hospital at 4 a.m. to be with Dad.  Laying next to him in the hospital bed, I listened to the gurgle of fluid beginning to creep into his lungs as one more sign that his body is beginning to shut down.  We shared some thoughts – mostly silence – as night gave way to day and the snow blew sideways.  Father’s physician visited a few hours later to say goodbye to Father.  He asked if Dad would like to pray.  They held hands while the doctor said a beautiful prayer aloud from his heart.  Dad also prayed out loud – a humble poignant moment shared through tears while I sat at the foot of the bed.  Mom was preparing at home since we had been told that Dad would be released “first thing” (they had put the “pick-line” – a permanent IV – in the night before).  Alas, it was late afternoon before father was wheeled (freshly showered) to my truck. The reclusive sun came out to brighten the landscape during Dad’s nauseous ride home.  Within minutes after I helped Dad into the house, grey clouds swallowed the sun.  Howard and his family arrived Saturday night.  Robin drove from Tennessee and arrived Sunday evening. 
Dad insisted on having the kitchen and bathroom floors ripped up, new sub floors put down, and new linoleum installed (the flooring had been ordered and the project scheduled to occur this week before the recent medical events transpired).  Robin and Howard are helping with the floor project to speed up progress.  Howard’s girls have been staying with me.
Dad, Mom, the boys and I met with the mortician yesterday afternoon at the house.  The funeral director was Howard’s high school classmate.  We all liked him – though it was a bit surreal to carry on the meeting while two strangers pounded away loudly in the kitchen.  Two of Dad’s brothers will arrive tomorrow (Keith and Carl).  Mary Jane will drive with Carl from Nebraska and Lacy is accompanying Keith by plane (also from Nebraska).
Dad will decide what arrangements he wants to make (he is considering several options).  He had a difficult time last evening with nausea and weakness.  Hospice is available by phone 24 hours a day to assist with questions, concerns, and medications.  The jaundice is more apparent each day.  He slept his best night of rest last night with mother in their bedroom.  Today the construction continues, Dad is a bit tired – but as you know – he is a tough stubborn bugger using his walker to wheel himself about the house and is (of course) overseeing the floor project.
Thanks for keeping us in your thoughts.

My father – written last Sunday –

Dear family and friends,

Staring at the blank screen of my computer, I find myself stumbling through the process of typing the first line in this “letter” to you.  I am intimidated by the white space and my keyboard…wish they were pen and ink – no – more than that – at least a phone call and connection more personal than a keyboard since what I have to share is more than difficult.
My father is dying. 
The prognosis was delivered to Dad and I about 8:00 Thursday evening an hour after he was checked into the hospital.  Earlier the same day, Dad had driven himself to the doctor for a check-up.   As many of you know, Dad is one TOUGH bugger who has dealt with several ailments and multiple surgeries during the past decade.  He suffered for many years with diverticulitis (a digestive disorder which creates various symptoms and plenty of pain to his abdomen, stomach and chest).  Several years ago he had surgery to remove a section of his colon.  Digestive symptoms and pain are a constant annoyance to him.  Understandably, father thought the symptoms and pain were caused by the diverticulitis.  He had grown quite used to pain in his mid-section and simply dealt with it.  The only reason Dad had a checkup scheduled on Thursday was because of a bizarre incident with his eye less than a week before.
A week ago (Friday), Dad woke up blind in one eye.  He went to an eye doctor who said he’d “never seen anything like it” – Dad was sent to an eye surgeon the same day.  The eye surgeon diagnosed the temporary blindness as a large blood clot (the blood itself was obstructing his vision).  Such a clot is usually caused by trauma to the eye, thus the doctor became concerned about Dad’s general health.  The eye surgeon contacted Dad’s personal physician to recommend a checkup.  Dad was sent home with instructions not to lay down, spent the weekend sleeping upright in his easy chair and his vision improved several days later. 
The scheduled checkup was Thursday.  Dad drove himself to the hospital after a breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and sausage.  Upon examination, the doctor sent dad to the hospital to be admitted for several tests.  The rest of the day was a frustrating round of hospital “stuff” – none of which was unfamiliar to my father since he is no stranger to tests, surgeries and procedures.  The sonogram technician told father that his gall bladder was in bad shape so when I went to see him the third time that day, we talked about the likely possibility of surgery to remove the gall bladder.  Dad was almost chipper…medical validation and a reasonable explanation for the keen suffering he’d experienced the past four weeks.  We waited for the doctor’s prognosis but were rather unprepared for the news shared once the doctor entered the room, closed the door, and sat down.
We were told that Dad’s gall bladder was totally “shot” along with his liver.  Most likely the organs were suffering from cancer and at this point the doctor believed there was a strong chance that dad was in stage four of pancreatic cancer.  We were told the diagnosis at this point was “not good.”  A cat scan the following morning would tell us more but most likely the cancer was pancreatic, had already spread throughout the vital organs, and there would not likely be any treatment for father at this stage.  The doctor was compassionate but clear.  I called my brothers, then drove to the house to tell mother.
The next 48 hours transpired in a vivid yet blurry chapter.  The final diagnosis came late Friday night after a long day of waiting, disbelief, bits of hope woven with grim fear.  The cat scan was delayed due to an high amount of trauma in ER caused by late spring winter-like road conditions.  The nature of the beast of pancreatic cancer is that it is aggressive and rapid.  The pancreas “floats” in the body – thus the organ remains symptom-less when attacked by cancer.  Only when cancer has spread to the other organs do symptoms appear.  By the time Dad was admitted to the hospital, his liver had already begun to shut down, his urine had been the color of dark beer for at least 3 weeks, he was weak, had jaundice, and had shortness of breath…ailments which father thought were caused by the diverticulitis.  Twenty four hours after dad was admitted into the hospital a “pick-line” was inserted into Dad’s arm as a permanent IV so we could have Hospice care provide pain medication when he returned home.  Less than twenty four hours after that (Saturday) I drove Dad home from the hospital.  The house had been taken over by equipment which Dad said appeared like “aliens” in their home: oxygen generator, home care supplies, etc.  Howard (my younger brother) arrived with his family.  Robin (my older brother) is on his way.
Dad’s symptoms since Thursday have progressed rapidly.  His body is shutting down.  He may have a few days or a few weeks (?)
If this were paper and ink, there would be many crumpled pages at my feet.  My apologies if this seems too long, too brief, or too impersonal.  Howard’s arrival at 8:00 pm allowed me to catch a few hours of sleep last night but I woke in the dark with the task of telling you.  Morning snuck upon me totally unnoticed while this e-mail transpired from a blank page to an attempt to share the beginning of an intense, awkward and deeply sad chapter of my father’s life.  We ask for your prayers, compassion, and good energy during this difficult time.  I will try to keep you updated by e-mail.  I must leave in a few minutes to take some walkie-talkies and anti-bacterial soap to the house. 
Wish I could send a hug with this note.