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Chronology of Illness during 2005

In early 2005, Dennis told Dr. Millard that he wanted the Lung Volume Reduction Surgery.  We were advised that there were a number of tests to be completed as well as a six week therapy program.  We found Dennis an apartment close to the Lung Center and for six weeks he left on Monday morning for his therapy session and then stayed at the apartment through his session on Friday before returning home.  There were a number of reasons for making this decision and the main one was to conserve his energy for the therapy program.  It is 150 miles roundtrip to the Lung Center from our home and the drive was more than Dennis could handle even with me doing the driving.  It had become almost impossible for him to go anywhere by himself.  I didn't realize it at the time, but a big part of the problem was his anxiety over his inability to breathe.

There were a number of delays on the surgery and it didn't actually take place until May 18th, 2005.  We both were looking forward to a successful surgery that would possibly add a few years to Dennis' life.  The day before the surgery, I packed a duffle bag with everything I needed to "camp out" in the 2nd floor waiting room outside the ICU area Dennis would be in for about a week. 

The surgery was considered a success and I was looking forward to our being back home in about a month and Dennis being able to breathe much better.

However, on the 4th day after surgery, Dennis began having problems.  The team of doctors determined that he had developed pneumonia and things became progressively worse when they had to place him on a respirator to help him breathe.  Instead of looking forward to going home in a month, we began to worry if we would get home at all.  For most of the next 4 weeks, Dennis was unaware of his condition or even that he was in a hospital.  On June 14th, he was transferred to Baylor Specialty Hospital (by ambulance).  We were hopeful that he would recover quickly but he had been flat of his back in a hospital bed for 4 weeks and he was going to have to rebuild all of his muscles in order to stand and walk.  He was also still on the respirator.  A decision was made to perform a tracheotomy so the process of weaning him off the respirator would be less stressful.  

The remainder of June and the entire month of July were spent working on building up Dennis' strength, conquering his inability to swallow (the muscles in his throat were not working correctly), getting the right balance of medications, and the biggest challenge was controlling his anxiety over his breathing. He would have severe panic attacks that literally shut down his airways so he could not breathe.  We worked at relaxation techniques to control the panic but it is not something that can be controlled easily.  It is a major challenge every day.  

We also learned real quick that one of the most debilitating problems Dennis faced then and now is keeping the Carbon Dioxide (CO2) levels down in his body.  When the CO2 level is elevated the patient experiences extreme dementia, mental confusion, and can not stay awake.

I was able to take him home on August 1st.  We were thrilled to be home.  I had been home only 2 times since the surgery and I couldn't wait to pick up our babies (our three Pomeranian's, Cleo, Griz, and Snuggle)  from my son.  They were so glad to see us.  

Puppies.jpg (13407 bytes)

So now we are home!  I found out real quick that I couldn't leave Dennis alone to go shopping - he would have a panic attack and be frozen in place until I got home.  I had been on "family leave" since May but had to quit my part-time job since he couldn't be left alone.   We resorted to using Xanax when I knew I had to leave for a couple hours.  For the first month or two, we drove to Dallas 3 days a week for his therapy sessions at the Martha Foster Lung Center near Baylor.  It was a challenge each trip because of his anxiety and nerves.  He knew his life depended on having oxygen available and couldn't control his fear of not having enough to get back home.  We always carried 2 E-cylinders as well as 3 portable tanks. Our trips would take about 6 hours and we had enough oxygen to last 12+ hours. The holidays were ignored as it was too dangerous to have a large number of visitors. The chances of Dennis picking up any kind of bug far outweighed the disappointment of seeing everyone at once.

During this time, building his physical weight and strength was a major effort.  I scoured the grocery store for the highest calorie content foods I could find.  I read all the labels and tried to use products that did not convert to CO2. Every visit to the doctor revealed a high level of CO2 in his system which created confusion and sleepiness during the daytime hours. You can read about the importance of nutrition here2006



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