Saturday, August 13, 2016

6 Months Later... Hal's Legacy

I'm sorry it's taken this long to write another post. It's certainly taken this long to just talk about it without becoming overwhelmed with emotion, but writing is just as painful. August 11th will be 6 months since Hal has passed, as well as Nancy's birthday. It's going to be a hard day but Nancy and I thought that this would be a good time to go back and talk about the events that led up to Hal's passing so that anyone who'd like to know can read this and remember him.

Tuesday, January 26th, Hal and Nancy came back home after he had his 3rd brain surgery for tumors. Although the surgery went very well and the doctors were very positive about it, Hal mentally was just not the same.

I was fortunate enough to see Hal the next week when we had a pizza party at the store to welcome him back. He seemed very positive and his surgical site was healing well. I could tell in conversation that he wasn't 100% himself. He asked the same questions multiple times. He complained about pain throughout the day. Nancy spent less time at the store and more time at home because he simply was too weak to be left alone for long periods of time and she worried for his safety.

I got to see him one more time that week on Saturday when I stopped by their house briefly. I kissed him goodbye and told him I'd see him soon.

On Tuesday, Nancy spent the day with Hal. They went into Augusta to go shopping and had lunch at Dairy Queen. He was having trouble swallowing and kept coughing during their meal. He said it felt like he had something stuck in his throat. From there they went to Walmart. She picked up what they needed while Hal rode around in an electric cart picking up what they didn't need. They got back to the truck and he took a drink of his soda and choked again. She wanted to take Hal to get checked out but he declined; he wanted to go home. They worked on woodworking projects with Hal's new tools he got for Christmas. Nancy made a base to raise his recliner higher so he could get up easier.

When they ate dinner that night he was still having trouble. With that along with his high levels of pain and double vision, Nancy planned on calling his doctor at the Mayo Clinic on Wednesday to ask him for his advice.

That night at around midnight, Nancy woke up to the sound of Hal's hearing aid chirping for a new battery. She removed the battery and noted that Hal's CPAP machine was breathing normally. At 1:45 am, Hal got up to go to the bathroom. Nancy was half asleep but could hear him in the bathroom coughing just like he had the previous day. She heard him fall hard and she rushed to see if he was okay. She found him face down, unconscious on the bathroom floor. She tried to turn him over but he was just too heavy for her to move him. He was completely unresponsive and wasn't breathing. Nancy then called 911. Two sheriffs showed up at the house first and were able to get him turned onto his back and started CPR. EMS showed up about 20-30 minutes after that and they could not find a pulse. They took over CPR and after another 20-30 minutes, they finally got a pulse.

Because his vitals were so unstable, they decided to transport Hal to the Kansas Medical Center in Andover. He arrived there around 3 am. We all rushed to meet Nancy there. My mother and I along with Hal's brother and his wife were all there. The Andover hospital was able to get Hal's vitals more stable but he still wasn't improving. He was unable to breathe without a ventilator and his eyes were dilated. They didn't have a neurologist there so Hal was transported to the neurocritical ICU at St. Francis in Wichita at around 6 am.

I arrived at St. Francis around 6:30. At St. Francis, they were able to take more extensive tests and determined he had not suffered a heart attack, brain bleed, or stroke. When I arrived they had just finished those tests and were in the process of doing an EKG. After about an hour the neurologists reported that he had very little brain function. The results were not looking good.

I left to go to school around 8:15. After school, I went by the shop for a couple hours and fortunately we have some very caring employees (more like close friends that also work with us) who were more than willing to cover for Nancy and I so that I could go back to the hospital. I believe I got back to St. Francis around 3 pm and stayed a few hours.

During the day, Hal's body temperature would spike and then drop, his heart rate would also spike and then drop. He still wasn't breathing on his own. The doctors believed the choking he was experiencing were actually seizures and that's what caused him to collapse. They also believed that the time that he stopped breathing to the time that CPR began was too long and his brain had suffocated and may have put him in cardiac arrest. Throughout the day at St. Francis he was experiencing frequent small seizures. The doctors still didn't know if he would come out of the state he was in but as of that point, he was still on life support.

I left the hospital around 7pm and Nancy left at around 9pm after all the visitors had come and gone. Hal's father, Rusty was among those who visited. He's 93 years old and just lost his wife Betty, Hal's mother, in 2014. He is really having a hard time understand what was happening and was very upset.

Later that night, (Thursday, February 11th) Nancy remembers the nurse calling her around 1am telling her that Hal was having a harder time and was in need of more assistance than before. Nancy was so exhausted that she fell back asleep until her daughter, Jennifer called her saying that the nurses had called her too saying that it was more urgent and we needed to come back to the hospital. I met them at St. Francis at around 2:15 and Hal had just passed at 2 am. He was 60 years old.

The doctors were very apologetic as they told us how Hal's body was shutting down despite their efforts. We believe it was just his time to go; his body had had enough. We went to see him and he was still feverishly hot from his temperature spikes. Shock and exhaustion was pretty much all we could feel at the time. Hal had struggled for so long and Nancy simply wouldn't let him give up so to lose him after he just had brain surgery was so defeating. Like the battle had been lost.

The funeral was held the following Tuesday, February 16th at Holy Cross Lutheran Church. Hal had wished to be cremated so grudgingly, Nancy conceded. Family, friends, and customers from near and far arrived to pay their respects and celebrate Hal's life. We put together a slide show of pictures with his favorite music playing. Some of the pictures and stories I had never seen or heard before! Stories of his adventures, pictures from when he was young. I enjoyed seeing pictures from his younger years when he was able to walk and especially liked the ones where you could see some of his friends that were in attendance to the funeral. I snickered at the hair and clothing choices from the 60s and 70s. On display were his wood turning projects, pens he had made, his favorite hat and boots.

Some of his closest friends spoke at the service. They talked about how good a friend Hal was to them, stories (only G rated ones of course) and how Hal deserved so much more than life gave him. Nancy's daughter Jennifer wrote a letter instead of speaking which Pastor Snow read aloud, talking about how much we loved him. His two brothers wrote a letter together. Nancy wrote a letter too which spoke of the night of the incident and how grateful she was to have that last day together. The theme that showed in everyone's stories was how he never blamed anyone for his problems and how courageous he had been through them. It was a very emotional day but we all felt so fortunate for our many friends and family that were able to join us and share their love with us. I always knew my grandparents were well known, but they were (and still are) loved and respected. The many lives that my grandpa touched overwhelmed me.

August 11th was Nancy's birthday as well as the 6 month mark since Hal passed. She said she's still waiting for the heartbreak to get better. From her point of view: "My family keeps me busy. They have been extra vigilant on the special days since February. Like Hal's birthday in March, our wedding anniversary in April, Easter, Mother's/Father's day, birthdays, and now my birthday. The last 6 months has been hard but I am so blessed to have family, friends, and good customers who have cried with me, showed care for me, and have been generous with financial help. I cannot think of words to express my gratitude. Life is truly a gift. Make the most of each day and tell the ones you care about how special they are. I hope I can give as much as I have received."

I know our family will never be the same, the business will never be the same. But the fact that so many people have been so supportive of my family has been eye opening. We're not just a business, our customers are not just customers. We are all family and everyone felt Hal's passing as a loss. Nancy started this business as an outlet for Hal and although he's gone, his friends (humans and animals alike) live on for him. I can still hear his voice in my head, mostly ornery comments and him crashing his electric scooter into things. My grandfather will always be with me as well as all the creatures he influenced throughout his 60 years.

His spirit remains at Birds of Paradise if you look for him.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

We are finally home!

Monday, January 25th
This day was a busy one. Mayo Clinic came to the facility Hal was staying at and did some blood work. They got all of his prescriptions ready for us to travel on Tuesday. He had his staples removed. We're watching the weather closely. We had some drizzle Monday afternoon that changed to snow that night. He had physical therapy, occupational therapy, a shower. He should sleep really well tonight.

Tuesday, January 26th
We had one more prescription that we had to get filled but the pharmacy didn't open until 9. We finally left Rochester around 10 am and it was snowing! The roads are a little ice packed. Going west-bound on I-90 there were deep drifts in the ditches; easily 6 foot. The snow had blown over and it reminded me of waves. All the trees had frost all over them; it was really quite beautiful. After about an hour, we made it to Albert Lea. After a few miles on I-35, the snow stopped, the highway turned dry. We had an uneventful trip til we got to Kansas City. We came across a large truck that had been on fire and we were caught in its traffic that was backed up forever. That was around 5:30. We got home a little after 10pm but I didn't get to bed until midnight.

I hope everyone can bare with me a little longer. It's going to be a few more days til I can leave him for long periods at a time. He's definitely getting stronger but not to where he can be alone all day. I'll continue to take baby steps with him and won't be able to be at the store full time. I do plan to trim but my schedule will be a little different. Please continue to be patient.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hal's Recovery pt. 4

Tuesday, January 19th
Can't believe we've been gone a week already. This morning was a start of a new chapter of this journey. After getting discharged from the hospital this morning, Hal was taken by a medical transportation service to a skilled nursing facility in Rochester. He thinks we will leave for home tomorrow but I know he is not strong enough to travel the 600 miles home. I hope by the end of the week things will look much better.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Hal's Recovery pt. 3

Friday-Monday, January 15th-18th
It would be Saturday night before Hal got any rest. He's very disoriented and his muscles are weak. His surgery site, however, looks better and the incision looks great. We got good news on Friday that pathology said they found no cancer. They started from light sedation on Saturday so they could try to get him to sleep through Saturday night. That's exactly what he did: he slept all through Saturday and all day Sunday. It looked like it was exactly what he needed. His skin color, alertness, and speech is much better. He's got a nice bruise around his eye but the swelling has gone down. By Sunday afternoon, though, his blood pressure and heart rate elevated and they're starting IV fluid. Things were improving Monday morning and we learned in the afternoon that Tuesday morning he'll be moved to a skilled nursing facility. There we'll try to get his strength built up so we can get him home. I would have not wanted to go home today anyway! When we woke up this morning it was -20 degrees with a windchill factor of -37. Really glad you guys are nice and warm in Kansas! Lots of the metal framed doors and windows are covered in frost. Visitors to the hospitals are writing their names and leaving hand prints in the frost.

Thanks again, everyone for your prayers, thoughts, calls, and any other ways that you've done to support us. I really hoped I'd be home by now but I'll be back as soon as I can.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Hal's Recovery Day 2

Thursday January 14th

We had a rough night. Hal was restless and his face was still quite swollen and was hurting. They took his "turban" and bandages off. There's about an 8 inch long curved incision. I counted at least 40 staples holding it closed. From 7am to early afternoon, it seemed like a parade of different people in and out. Doctors, nurses, PT, OT, social workers, diabetes management, the list goes on. Now we're looking at our options after dismissal. Today, Hal is not strong enough to travel 600 miles home. Some type of skilled nursing facility could be next. I'm sitting where I can look out the 9th floor window, facing west. The winter sun shining gently on the snow covered rooftops, all the trees with the hills in the background, it looks peaceful.

I'm really tired. Maybe tomorrow will be better to me.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Hal's recovery

Tuesday, January 13th
I crashed at the hotel and slept like a rock all night. (It felt really good!) I arrived at the hospital around 8am. Hal looks like he's been in a bar fight. His left eye is almost swollen shut. He has a compression bandage around his head, it reminds me of a turban! They plan to move him from ICU to a regular floor later today. His surgeon was pleased with his recovery. He told him the left side of his face is going to be sore for quite a while. They had to go through muscles to get through the surgical site. About noon, they took us to his new room, one floor up. Finally, about 3 o'clock, the doctors and residents have been in, food services, new nurses, meds. It was all finally over so we both took a nap. Next they'll work on getting his system working again, like eating and drinking normally. He's having trouble eating because his jaw is so sore. They didn't take the compression bandage off today.

We'll see what tomorrow brings. They'll assess him to see how his progress is and predict when he'll be ready to go home. I'll continue to keep you posted!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Hal's Surgery

Sunday, January 10th
It's been suggested that I write a blog of our trip to Mayo Clinic. I journal every day anyway, so why not?

I awoke at 6:15 as usual. My regular chores take about 1 1/2 hours so I got moving. We had link sausages (to clean out the refrigerator) to go with our usual protein shake (which used the last of the milk). It was almost 9 when we locked the gate on our drive. By 12:15 we were in Kansas City to stop for a quick lunch. North of Des Moines, the fields were covered in snow. Big drifts, 3 foot or so, against the fences. By 6pm the car said it was -4 degrees outside. When we arrived at Rochester, Minnesota at 7:30, it was -13 degrees.

We checked into our hotel, went to a Chinese buffet, and back to our room by 10pm.

Monday, January 11th
We got ready and left for the clinic. It's still below zero but our rental car started. At 9:20 am, the first parking garage, 10 stories tall, was completely full. I let Hal out at Mayo Clinic's front doors. The staff brought a wheel chair and brought him inside. I headed for the second 10 story parking garage a couple blocks away. Its elevator took me to the subway level where I made my way back to Hal.

He had appointments with his surgeon, blood drawn, and then a good lunch at the Mayo cafeteria. Then a couple more pre-surgery tests. We left the clinic about 5:20 and it was snowing. We went to our favorite Mexican restaurant. Back at the room, Hal had to shower with special soap in preparation for his surgery tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 12th
The timer went off at 4am. Hal had a restless night's sleep. He fell against the tub in the bathroom and hurt his left side. That would be the same side that he broke ribs on last March when he rolled the tractor.

It's cold this morning, -6 degrees, and the wind is up pushing the windchill to 28 below. We arrived at the hospital just befor 5:30. Lots of other people were there. It was typical Mayo Clinic organization; assistants were there with wheel chairs to help us get him loaded. I parked in the underground garage, found Hal in the 5:30 am check in line. There were other lines for 5:45 and 6 am check ins. All of the pre-surgery questions, health checks and verification. He took a full, cleansing shower (Not even really a shower, more like a wipe down) with antibacterial cloths. All that took til 7:30. I kissed him goodbye, told him I loved him, and told him to "be nice to the nurses" as they rolled his gurney away.

About 9:15, my nurse coordinator called who said they were "in the surgical site" meaning they had started opening him up. I was escorted to a different waiting room by the ICU where he will be after surgery. An hour later she called and said things were going fine and they were in the microscopic part of the surgery. It's 11:50 and our coordinator just let me know that they are starting to close the site. She said it would take about an hour. Just before 1pm, I met with Dr. Marsh. He said the surgery went well and he thinks they removed all the tumors. The derma had an "icing" tumor. This coating did not show up on the MRI we had done in December. Dr. Marsh was able to scrape a lot of that off. It'll be a couple of days before pathology comes in but he feels it will not have advanced to a cancerous level.

Finally, about 4:30 I got to see him. His bandages are wrapped like a turban. He's doing well and seems to be in good spirits. We both thank everyone for their prayers, calls, and good wishes!