March 25, 2017, began a journey for my Dad, Max Walker, which will take him through many months to come.
Dad’s health had been going down for several months. Normally a very active 75 year old, he began to have to rest frequently between his activities. One day he started feeling pressure in his chest, was sweating profusely and was weak. Finally, my Mom and my Uncle Harold told Dad that he was going to the hospital either in their car, or by ambulance. Dad relented and was driven by car to the local ER.
After several hours in the ER, the results of tests were given. His blood work looked normal and the EKG showed he was not having a heart attack at the moment, but that he had experienced a heart attack at some point in the past. He was released from the ER, doing no better, and was told to follow up with a cardiologist.
Although nothing was done for him, this trip to the hospital began a series of events that were hard and discouraging to go through. Yet through it all, God’s hand and control over everything was exhibited.
On Monday morning, Mom called to get an appointment with the cardiologist. It’s very hard to get an appointment with that doctor in a timely manner. She was told the earliest Dad could be seen by the doctor would be weeks later in April. Hanging up discouraged, Mom walked away from the phone only to have it ring. The doctor’s office was on the phone saying they had a cancellation. Dad could be seen on that Friday, March 31st,.
When we took Dad to that appointment, he was so weak we asked to have a place for him to lay down instead of waiting in the waiting room. He was still experiencing all the symptoms that he had experienced when he had gone to the ER. They immediately took him to a room and hooked him up to run another EKG.
When the doctor came in to talk to Dad, he was told again that the EKG showed he was not having a heart attack. The doctor listened to his chest and abdomen. Although I could not see the doctor’s face, both Mom and Dad could. They noticed that when the doctor listened to his abdomen, his facial expression suggested he heard an abnormal sound.
The doctor then said he thought that Dad should go back to the hospital to have further tests run. He tried to get Dad directly admitted to the hospital in order to bypass the ER, but the hospital would not allow that. So back to the ER we went.
I don’t know how it is at other hospitals, but at our local hospital, going to the ER meant hours of waiting. The thought of going back through the process they had gone through the previous Saturday was not pleasant. However, since the doctor had called ahead, they put Dad in an examination room and tests began immediately. We were later told that if he had been directly admitted, the tests the doctor ordered would have become less of priority since any orders from the ER took precedence over the orders of patients in the rooms.
Blood work, another EKG, x-rays, ultrasounds of his organs, were all done. Nothing was standing out in any of the tests, but he was admitted so that additional tests could be run. Room 307 became his home for the next nine days.
On Saturday, an echocardiogram and a CT scan of his abdomen were done. We learned that the sound the doctor had heard when he listened to Dad’s abdomen could possibly have been an aneurysm or blockage. The tests on his heart were good and no sign of a blockage or aneurysm was found. Although the scan did show that some lymph nodes in his abdomen and around his kidneys were swollen.
The next day, on Sunday, they did a CT scan of his chest to check for blood clots in his lung. No clots were found, but additional swollen lymph nodes were seen.
An ocologist was consulted. He wanted to do a needle biopsy of a lymph node in Dad’s neck. They did the biopsy on Monday. Results of the needle biopsy were not received until Wednesday. The results of the tests just showed some atypical cells but nothing conclusive. He was scheduled to have a lymph node removed on Thursday.
Two different surgeons came in Wednesday to talk to Dad. The general surgeon said he could remove a lymph node from under Dad’s arm but because of his full schedule, it would be late on Thursday afternoon before he could do it. He said he had a partner who possibly could do it a little earlier. Then an ear, nose, throat specialist came in to say he could take a lymph node from Dad’s neck around noon on Thursday. Dad chose to have that specialist to do the surgery.
On Thursday morning, the general surgeon’s partner came in at 9:00. He had a cancellation in his schedule and could perform the surgery at 11:00. The decision was made to have that surgery. We later learned that the ear, nose, throat specialist had a surgery that took longer than expected and it would have been later in the afternoon before he could have performed Dad’s surgery. It was also told that the lymph node in his neck would have been a riskier surgery due to the size and location near his jugular vein. By having the earlier surgery, testing on the tissue began on that day. The oncologist told us Friday evening that the initial results showed no signs of cancer so far, but further testing was ongoing.
All of that time, Dad had grown weaker and weaker. Nothing could be given to him since they did not know what was wrong. If they had given him steroids or anything else, the root problem could have been masked in any tests that were run.
However, while the week had progressed, his blood pressure medication was adjusted time after time. Dad had been on two different blood pressure medications for years but his BP had never been stable. His doctor had even told him to leave it off and if his BP went up, then take a pill. In the hospital, the hospitalist fussed at dad for refusing to take the prescribed medication. Dad had been refusing to take the medication because he knew regular use of it caused his BP to fall too low. The doctor agreed to reduce the amount if Dad would take the medicine. The following days proved Dad right. The dosage was increasingly lowered until he left the hospital with one pill instead of two and the dosage a quarter of the amount originally prescribed. The new amount was prescribed to be used after he left the hospital and has worked well.
Dad was released to go home on Saturday, April 8th, with a follow-up appointment scheduled with the oncologist on Tuesday. He was very weak. Mom had been home sick most of the week while Dad was in the hospital. Having Dad home was good, but both were weak and needed help. I had been able to spend the week with Dad at the hospital and was with Mom and Dad at home on Monday and Tuesday.
On Monday night, the oncologist called to say the results looked like Dad had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The diagnosis had changed from thinking there was no cancer on Friday to now being told there was.
On Tuesday, Uncle Harold, Mom and I, took Dad to the Levine Cancer Institute. He had been throwing up and unable to eat. Uncle Harold helped us get Dad in the car and in a wheelchair as soon as we arrived at the cancer center. Again, as soon as we arrived at the doctor’s office, he was taken to a room and laid down. He was running a high temperature and the nurses immediately hooked him up to an IV, giving him fluids and medicine for nausea. Blood was also drawn.
When the doctor came in, he told us he had just heard from the pathologist an hour before. The diagnosis had changed once again and now we learned Dad had T-cell lymphoma. We were told this was a very rare cancer which was why the diagnosis had been so hard to reach. The doctor said he had never had a case of that particular type of cancer before. He seemed to think the fever and deteriorating health was due to the lymphoma and immediately wanted Dad to be admitted once again to the hospital. Because of the rarity of the cancer, the doctor said many times patients did not know they had the disease and would die because of an infection rather than from the cancer.
So back to the ER. This time, the Levine Cancer Institute was located across the parking lot to the hospital so Dad was taken by a wheelchair and rolled straight into the ER. Had he not been so sick, being wheeled across the parking lot in a wheelchair could have been a fun story to tell. Within a short time he was taken directly to an examination room. Again, since blood work had been taken at the doctor’s office and because the doctor had ordered ahead the tests to be done, everything was carried out more quickly than would have normally been done.
They began giving him meds to bring down his fever. Fluids and nausea medications were administered. A broad spectrum antibiotic was given by IV. The doctor had ordered an MRI to be done of Dad’s brain to rule out a stroke because of how lethargic he had been at the doctor’s office. Another x-ray of his chest was taken. A lot was done in a short amount of time.
It was discovered Dad had a urinary tract infection and the flu. His stay in Room 325 would last for 8 days.
Wednesday was a day of continual tests to determine the strength of his heart and it’s ability to withstand chemotherapy. They started him on steroids to help build him up along with the nausea medication, Tamiflu and an antibiotic. Bone marrow was taken from his hip. On Thursday, April 13th, a pic line was put in and chemo began. Because of his ongoing weakness and nausea, he remained in the hospital. The days were very emotional. A combination of the medication and the reality of his circumstances took a toll on the normally strong man.
On Tuesday, April 18th, he was transported to a rehabilitation facility. On Wednesday, it was like night and day. He was up and moving around. Although still lacking endurance, he began to quickly gain strength. Food began to taste better, having real clothes on instead of the “petticoat” of a gown, the ability to care for himself, all contributed to his remaining in rehab only until Friday, the 21st.
Dad has a long road ahead of him. Trips to the doctor’s offices to get medications and shots to build his white blood counts will occur daily. Home health care to check his status and to clean the pic line, therapists to come in to keep him growing stronger, will take place. Five more chemo treatments, three weeks apart, are scheduled. He will need to take a lot of precautions to avoid getting sick. Visits will be restricted and places he can go to are limited. Even short walks outside will require him to wear a mask because of the pollen in the air.
It’s been hard for him to go through all he’s experienced; it’s hard for his loved ones to watch. But God has had His hand in every event.
- Having the sensation of pressure in his chest along with the sweating and weakness, led to his first visit to the ER and the recommendation of him seeing a cardiologist. The pressure in his chest ceased after being hospitalized.
- The cancellation of an appointment at the cardiologist office allowed dad to be seen quicker.
- Being so weak, although it was not a good thing, led the nurses to put him immediately into an examination room, where tests were started instead of him waiting in a waiting room that would have delayed him getting help.
- Although there was no sign of him having a heart attack at the moment, the cardiologist hearing an abnormal sound in this abdomen led to him requesting further testing.
- Having to go through the ER instead of receiving the direct admittance the doctor requested, led to the ordered tests being done with top priority over patients in a room
- Because the doctor had ordered a CT scan of his abdomen looking for a blockage or aneurysm, the scan revealed the extent of swollen lymph nodes in his torso.
- Another CT scan ordered to look for blood clots in his lung led to the further discovery of swollen glands in this chest and neck.
- Since he was a patient in the hospital, the oncologist consulted saw him quickly without having to wait at home for an appointment.
- The needle biopsy not showing conclusive results led to the extended stay in the hospital where his blood pressure issue was addressed and hopefully corrected with the proper medicine and dosage set.
- The surgeon who just happened to have a cancellation in his schedule allowed the removal and testing of the lymph node to begin earlier.
- Although getting the flu was not a good thing (which he either contracted from his previous stay in the hospital or from going home on Saturday) led to the fever and weakness that caused the oncologist to send him immediately back to the hospital when he went to the Tuesday appointment.
- Another visit to the ER allowed them to immediately begin fluids and an antibiotic along with other tests performed quickly
- Another stay in the hospital allowed the pic line and the first treatment of the chemo to occur quickly.
I’m not saying that it is a good thing that Dad has been so sick. But God is working in the details.
Before he was sick, he had joked with Mom about getting his hair buzz cut. Mom was not excited about that. But with him being so sick, his hair was cut very short while he was in rehab so that he could wash his head easily since he cannot get in a shower due to the pic line.
Dad has never liked coffee. Mom would brew coffee while he was out of the house so he would not be bothered by the aroma and then she would just warm up a cup at a time as she wanted it. When Mom was sick and unable to come to the hospital, coffee did not set well with her. But while he was in the hospital and feeling so nauseous, coffee was one of only a couple things Dad could stomach. Dad told me that if Mom were there, she would know he was really sick since he was drinking coffee.
Thinking about those small details lightened the seriousness of the circumstances.
During the first stay in the hospital, Mom was sick; my brother was sick; both my aunt and uncle were sick. I have a job that allows me to build up time that I can take off and my supervisors are wonderful to work with. All of those things allowed me to spend time alone with Dad. Most of the time he did not feel like having a lot of conversations, but just being with him meant so much to me.
And I saw something else. Though Mom and Dad were apart, I saw a picture of their great love for each other. The doctor my Mom went to had told her to stay away from Dad because of the risk of giving him what she had. Thinking of his well-being over her own is the only thing that would have kept her away from him. She eagerly awaited my phone calls to get updates on him.
And my Dad. A nurse came in at one point to check on him. In his weak voice, he told the nurse that his wife was at home sick. Then with tears in his eyes, he said, “I just want my wife to be ok.” He was worried about Mom and Mom was worried about him.
We often have no choice in the journey we find ourselves on. There’s the age old question of, “why do bad things happen to good people?” If ever that question applied to any situation, it applies to my Daddy. But just as Dad had always been the best example of how to live a Christian life, he also is being a great example of humility dealing with this unplanned journey.
The first full day of rehab, when he was feeling so much better, I shared another moment alone with him. His pastor, Toney, had visited Dad in the hospital and told him about the Easter Sunday sermon he was preparing. In the course of his studies, Toney came across something he had not really noticed before and he asked Dad if he could explain it. So sitting beside Dad on the edge of his borrowed bed, I got to look in his Bible with him and discuss the scripture. Another moment I shall never forget.
We have people all over praying for Dad. And I ask for the prayers of everyone reading this. We are trusting that God is going to bring this journey’s end to a full restoration of Dad’s health. And all along its way, we know we will continue to see God’s hand in every detail.