Eight little bottles sitting on the shelf.

Dad became more and more frustrated with each extra day he had to stay in the hospital because of the second surgery. He was still in so much pain, couldn’t eat anything, and was extremely lonely. Depression had set in and it was not going to go away easily. Having my brother come to visit during Easter was a great blessing, as there were three days where Dad could focus on something other than his pain and misery.

He was able to go home after having spent a total of 19 days in the hospital. This day was a very happy one; he was practically vibrating with excitement and sat down in his chair in the living room as soon as we opened the front door. Turned on the hockey game, I believe! His discharge planning was simple enough – a home care aide would come every second day to start, to do his dressing changes and help him with anything else he needed help with. At this time, he was eating soft foods and drinking fluids well. He did not use his feeding tube, preferring to take in his nutrients the old-fashioned way – through the mouth.

It’s interesting how you don’t really know your true strength until it is tested. And then tested again. And again.

Dad’s esophagus closed up two weeks after returning home. He was unable to take in solid food, and then soft food, and finally fluids would not even find their way into his stomach. He refused to use his feeding tube and therefore was taking in nothing. Absolutely nothing. Every time he tried, he would throw it up as it would lodge in his esophagus. Picture not even being able to swallow your own saliva.

He wasted away for another two weeks, losing over ten pounds in the process. Finally, he was convinced to head back to the hospital, where they performed a ‘dilation’ and opened up his esophagus, as well as pushing fluids into his body over a period of eight hours. When he returned home, he felt great again. He was happy, hopeful, and ready to eat.

The next day his esophagus closed up again.

When I arrived that afternoon, he was as pale as a white sheet of paper. He was throwing up and was too weak to walk for longer than seconds at a time.

I urged him back to the hospital, where we waited over eight hours to have him admitted. Another push of fluids occurred; x-rays were taken; they deduced that the esophagus had been irritated in some way and was swollen. They released him after a breakfast of jello, coffee, and apple juice. He was hopeful that it was only swollen and that any swelling would go away eventually. He tried to be in good spirits but I could tell he was beginning to feel defeated, was frustrated with the health care system, and was very ready to give up and accept death.

You can only say so much to someone who has given up. I literally begged him to start using his feeding tube again. I asked him to think of a goal he could work towards. I asked him to think about how good he feels now so it would motivate him to make the effort to take care of himself on the days where he isn’t feeling good. What he didn’t perceive as nagging, he did retain.

I counted the bottles of Ensure Plus before I left. Eight. I took a step down on the ladder of self-respect. If he wasn’t going to make the effort, I would know about it. I would make the effort for him.

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