Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Note from Kent Wood

My dad asked if I could post the following note:

My dear family and friends,
I just want to express my love and appreciation to each of you. My life, and the lives of my children, have been blessed due to the outpouring of love, concern, and service that have been offered to us so liberally by so many. We have felt the impact of your fasting, faith and prayers. Meals have been prepared, dogs have been walked, beds have been delivered, books have been offered, notes of comfort have been provided, etc. . . all, it seems, at just the right moment. It has reminded me that there is a symphony of service being conducted by God as He inspires each of us to act on impulses planted by Him. The result is blessings in each of our lives. I pray that God may bless each of you for your kindness.

This has been a most challenging chapter in my life. It is hard for me to articulate how much I loved my wife Kathy. She was my dearest friend and sweetheart. I feel as though part of my heart has been taken from me for awhile. Yet, I will also add that these last few weeks have been remarkable as I have felt such an outpouring of spirit, love, understanding, light and comfort, which are helping to fill the void in a significant way. I am very grateful for the grace and compassion of our Father in Heaven and our elder Brother, Jesus Christ. My heart has been turned toward them as never before and I desire to do their will and hopefully join them and my dear wife some day in the future. In our faith, we believe that marriages and families are eternal, when joined through priesthood ordinances. I thank God for the great hope in my heart, born from these temple covenants, blessings and promises.

Of all the people I would like to thank, it is my children. They have made countless sacrifices to be by my side during my hour of need while each one of them continues their private journey to become comforted and reconciled with God regarding the loss of their mother. Their strength and faith have been an inspiration to me. We have felt the grace of God pulling us together, helping us be more unified and of one heart. I thank God for this wonderful gift.

May God bless each of you for all you have done and continue to do to bless our lives.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Update, August 12

In the last post I mentioned that Dad had been diagnosed with a ruptured diaphragm. This was a reasonable diagnosis, given his symptoms and the fact that recent scans showed some of his abdominal organs sitting a bit high (i.e., as if they had migrated up and through the diaphragm).

The surgery was to be done laparoscopically. When the surgeons went in and searched for the torn section of the diaphragm, they weren't able to find anything. So far, little to no communication from the doctors about what they now think is causing Dad's shoulder pain and the apparent ascension of his abdominal organs.

Dad was kept at the hospital for a day or two so he could recover from the surgery. He's home again now, enjoying the hospitality of Elisabeth, Sean, and Jason. They're all taking their turn cooking these days. No word on whether or not Jason's meals are edible.

The family recently started the tradition of doing a conference call on Skype every Sunday night. Last Sunday we spent most of the time taking distorted snapshots of ourselves (oh, the beauty of Macintosh computers), sending them to each other, and laughing. Sean has officially been crowned King of the Photobooth.

Some people have asked me if I feel some sense of relief after leaving California. I think they're under the impression that I was having a really difficult time down there, and that a burden has been lifted from my shoulders. Looking back, there are still some places that my imagination won't go, but I thank God that my memories from the last two months are now a sort of holy ground, and I can't visit them without feeling peaceful, thankful, and better. I felt no burden until I came back to Canada. Being on the phone with Dad helps a little, but part of me just wants to go back and be with him. I truly miss him. From what I can gather during those phone calls with Dad, he is still improving. A little stronger every day. The pace is slow, but it has been relatively steady. Still a long road ahead. I envy the people that get to walk it with him.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Update, August 3

Since Dad returned home, the biggest obstacles for him have been pain control and breathing efficiency. His general breathing has been improving, but not as quickly as was expected. More troubling, however, is the fact that no bruising, tearing, or breaking was detected in the shoulder or nearby tissue, but when he is upright, he feels a sharp, debilitating pain in his left shoulder and upper chest, and his breathing becomes very labored. Until now, nobody has been able to find an underlying cause for these symptoms.

During a routine check-up today, a doctor discovered that Dad has a ruptured diaphragm (on the left side). A tear in the diaphragm allows abdominal organs to migrate up into the chest cavity. This can displace the lungs, reducing their efficiency. It also commonly leads to shortness of breath (dyspnea), dysphagia (which explains Dad's continued issues with swallowing liquids), and sharp pain in the chest and shoulder.

Dad is waiting to go into surgery. We are slightly frustrated that we didn't catch this sooner, but mostly we are hopeful that Dad's progress will be accelerated now that the cause of his symptoms is being addressed.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A wonderful day

Today was Mom's burial and memorial. Is it odd to say that it was one of the best days of my life? It was an experience that left me with a clearer vision of who I want to be. The memorial was perfect. It was simple enough to please Mom (she being the lover of simplicity that she is), but it was inclusive enough to reflect Mom's gregariousness. There were so many people who, thanks to their hard work behind the scenes, made the day flow smoothly. As a family, we want to thank everyone who came to help us celebrate the life of our mother and wife. My father was sad that he wasn't able to interact with you after the services; if we had left it up to him, he would have been standing there shaking hands and hugging until he dropped. He sends his love and gratitude.

On a personal note: I'm leaving with my wife for Ontario today (it is now the day after the services -- I was too exhausted to finish this post last night). This means that this blog is winding down. I may give a few updates on Dad's health now and then, but I feel like the primary purpose of the blog has been served. Please check back periodically over the next month or so. There are still some important posts from other members of the family that I, personally, am looking forward to.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Note from Elisabeth Wood

Elisabeth, 32, is the oldest of the children. She sent me the following:

I'd like to thank every person who has shown kindness to our family. We've received many gifts, so much assistance, things that would be impossible to numerate or address individually. Please know that we are grateful for everything. Your support has lifted us. We can feel it. Thank you!

Note from Christina Wood

I invited my siblings to contribute to the blog with a memory or a thought. Christina, 18, is the youngest of the six children. She has been an example to all of us in many ways. This is her letter:

Shortly after I learned about the terrible accident I was in complete shock. Time froze and I didn't want to accept the fact that my mother who I had just seen earlier that evening was not able to ever come home to me! You hear all of these stories about "people" experiencing death in their lives....but I never thought that this would happen to someone like me and my family. Throughout my entire life my mom has been the one that I was always able to go to when I had a question; it seemed like she had answers for everything. She was the one who tried to make sure that she was involved in my life and each of my siblings lives. She helped teach me some of the most difficult lessons of life. Even though the lessons she taught me were hard to learn sometimes, I will always cherish them for the rest of my life.
Aside from the Lord, my parents have been the most amazing examples in my life. They are people who have lived very simple lives, as long as I can remember. When it comes to others, my parents were always willing to help out in any way they could; they didn't like to publicize what they did but since the accident I have heard so many different ways that my parents have touched others' lives for good. Sometimes it is a little overwhelming because of the legacy my mother has left behind ...but I hope that if I try as hard as possible to be like my mom one day I can hopefully resemble her.
People have asked me why I am able to "be so strong" throughout all of this and my one and only response is because I know that we are an eternal family and I will see her again! I love you mom!

media coverage #2

Two recent articles about Mom:

Sacramento Bee

Folsom Telegraph

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Update, July 21

Dad is sitting in his favorite recliner, answering questions for a reporter from the Sacramento Bee (Anita Creamer). He is talking about Mom and her love of music, and how that love of music affected those she loved. Now he's talking about her love of God. All of the questions about himself have been answered with a few terse sentences, but one question about Mom has called forth a seamless, fluid description of her defining characteristics. I love how much he loves her.

The reporter just left and now we're sitting in the family room listening to Bach, Orff, and Handel. Dad is closing his eyes and waving his hand to the beat of "The Harmonious Blacksmith". During my childhood, he would often invite me into his office, close the door, turn up the stereo, and simply sit back into his chair. I knew this meant that he had just had a special moment with some piece of music, and he wanted to share it with me. I remember when he first introduced me to Respighi's "Pines of Rome". The ground shaking with the fanfare, and Dad watching me, waiting to see if I understood the beauty of it.

Another memory: on Sundays after dinner, Dad and the kids would clean up while Mom went straight to the piano to practice. I developed the habit of laying down under the piano (it was a baby grand) and dozing off while she played. Whenever she asked if I had any requests, I always wanted "Arabesque #1" by Debussy. Somehow an association was forged between my mom and that song, so that every time I hear it I can feel the texture of the rug on my back, the piano is vibrating above me, and Mom is lost in her fingers at the keyboard.

Dad is doing well. He has been diligent at his breathing exercises, and he pushes himself to his limits each day. The daily progress is visible to us, his children, even though we are constantly with him.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Arrival at home

Dad was discharged from Kaiser yesterday. After a discussion with the doctor covering his case, Dad decided that it was time to come home. Some very special people have done amazing things to ensure that he is comfortable here. He is (and we are) infinitely appreciative.

We just finished our first breakfast together with Dad.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Update on Kent, July 17

Late last evening (July 16th), a medical supply truck stopped at our house and dropped off an adjustable hospital bed. We pushed the dinner table to the side and assembled the bed in the dining room. Some friends arrived an hour later to help install some drapes that will function as a privacy barrier. Tomorrow, we are expecting another delivery: a wheelchair and a walker.

All of this is happening because Dad is coming home within the next 2 or 3 days. Kaiser, bless their hearts, would feel fine discharging him tonight, but we feel that he needs a few more days under the supervision of medical professionals. Even though his appetite and energy continue to increase daily, he still has a hard time walking down the hall without becoming utterly exhausted. Also, we have been concerned about a pain that seems to be increasing in his left shoulder.

He has, however, made the transition to oral drugs (Norco and Morphine), and his mind has been very clear for the past week. He still doesn't remember the accident, but he now knows everything that we know, and has been heavily involved in the planning of the memorial services for Mom. From his hospital bed, he has been counseling, encouraging, and entertaining us. He is, thank goodness, back at the head of this family in the most important ways.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

memories of Kathy

Mostly in private conversation, countless stories about my mother have come out of the woodwork. Whether they are funny, sad, inspiring, or even just plain boring, they bring out new facets of my mother's life and help me to see her in a different light. I would like to start collecting them for posterity. I want my children to know not only the Kathy that I knew, but also the Kathy that is revealed in these countless quiet interactions with people outside of the immediate family. I realize that this may not be the ideal place to share some of these memories, but if you have such a memory, please consider sharing it. If you'd rather share it with me in private, please feel free to email me at danielkentwood@gmail.com

Here is something I gave to my mom on her birthday two years ago. It isn't necessarily a memory about her, but it is, as Robert Frost put it, the result of a "lump in the throat" and a homesickness while thinking about her. I had forgotten about it, but I came across it yesterday and thought it might resonate with some of the readers of this blog. I use the image of a tree to describe my mother's deft balance of relentless curiosity and innocence. She was both wise and pure; both liberal in her interests and focused in her commitments. I have always admired this about her.

May 26, 2007

She is a strong tree,
Happily, knowingly, restingly bearing
A nesting of trees within trees
She musically resonates
A perfectly disturbed pond-nova
Of white pulp and fiber,
A cross-section history of selves in alignment.
Always growing over what scars
May be born of a constant movement
In order to stay still

She has stood in her own grove,
When the wind seeking her genuflection
With violence to bring her head low,
She first bends her will and head
Lowly with love,
Leaves and branches whistling musically.

As music is both the notes and the cathedral,
She equally listens, reflects, and sings:
Her life is an arabesque
Of shaping without hands,
A delicacy of intervention and trust
Both load-bearing and free-standing

I have to smile with pride—
Half the life of a tree
And she, precociously bearing far more rings
Than years.
She knows that we are, most of all,
Our very last ring
And she knows that the last ring
Is also the youngest.
She refuses to believe that knowledge kills.

Somewhere along the way,
She learned, as promised,
That the tree of life
Really can be grafted
Into the tree of knowledge,
But her accomplishment is something other:
She’s happily, knowingly, and restingly bearing
The operation.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Memorial service for Mom

After speaking with a doctor today, we are confident that Dad will be able to attend a memorial service for Mom on the 27th of July. Here are the details:

Monday, July 27, 2009
Mormon Center at Temple Hill
2100 California Circle
Rancho Cordova, CA

All are invited.

Dad's body continues to heal. He walks, talks, and eats a bit more each day (although the small amount of eating is still an issue; they started giving him meal supplements today). The main issues keeping him at the hospital are (1) the lack of a steady pain management regimen and (2) the weakness of his limbs and lungs. Now we wait. I think even Dad would agree that now, with the end in sight, the waiting isn't so difficult.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Update on Kent, July 11

Dad has lost a significant amount of weight in the last few days. He isn't getting nutrition from a feeding tube, and he gets exhausted when he sits up to eat, so he doesn't eat very much. His appetite grows a little each day, though, and he is now eating solids. He had french toast for breakfast and a cheeseburger for lunch. After tasting nothing but tube for weeks, his tastebuds must be very happy.

Two more big milestones today:
1. The neck brace came off. This brace was more of a precaution than anything else, but it was very uncomfortable, and Dad is happy to be rid of it.
2. He walked around the room twice today (with the help of a walker). Also, he sat in a wheelchair while Elisabeth took him around the hospital grounds.

The lung infection seems to be retreating. His white blood cell count is moving down and the amount of secretion from his lungs has tapered off.

We would just like to remind local friends that, while his condition is improved, he is still in a very delicate situation, and it is draining for him to entertain guests (although he would never say this to anyone). Until his condition is more stable, please be sure to check with a member of the family prior to visiting. It won't be long before he'll have the strength to freely visit with friends and members of the stake.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Update on Kent, July 10

Dad was moved to a Kaiser facility in Roseville yesterday. His new room is much bigger and quieter than the one in the UC Davis ICU. There have been a few minor kinks in the transition, mostly due to poor communication between Davis and Kaiser, but overall this has been a positive development. The really great news is that Dad's breathing is no longer being supplemented with oxygen, and his feeding tube is gone. By the time I left this afternoon, he had eaten pudding, oatmeal, and some vanilla ice cream that we smuggled in. More good news: there is a DVD player. We brought him 'The Rocketeer', 'The Magnificent Seven', 'Planet Earth', and a few others. His mind gets sharper each day, along with his sense of humor. Jason and I were discussing who would be staying the night with Dad tonight, when Dad interjected, "Boys, I've been thinking about it, and I think I'll stay the night tonight. I don't want you to get lonely."

His physical therapy session today was sobering. They had him stand up for a few minutes, and they want to get him walking soon. Even after the infection and lung damage are healed, there will be a long period of recovering from the extended inactivity.

We love and miss the nurses at the UC Davis ICU. They were exceptionally attentive and compassionate. Root beer floats coming soon.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Update on Kent, July 8

Dad has been out of bed twice this morning. They're trying to keep him as active as possible while keeping his breathing rate as low possible. It is a difficult line to walk, since standing and sitting make breathing quite painful, and this pain makes him breathe faster. He's very determined to get out and start moving, though. This morning he asked the nurse if he could have a root beer float tonight. She laughed and said it would be hard to get that request approved. Dad promised her that he'd take everyone out for a root beer float when he is better.
A team from Kaiser is coming by today to assess Dad and see if he is ready to be moved out of ICU. Everyone is in a good mood today.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bright and morning star

I hesitated before publishing this post. This video, which contains the last recorded words of our mother, was filmed on the evening of the accident that took her life. We saw it for the first time during a private family viewing of her body last Thursday. A blog is no place to mourn, and the part of me that still mourns when I watch this clip wanted to keep private this last glimpse of my mom--to have a part of her that nobody else would have. But my mom would want as many people as possible to hear the message she delivers in this clip, and it is for this reason that I'm posting it here (with the permission of my siblings).

I know that not everyone reading this blog has the same perspective on faith. One important aspect of the LDS faith is the practice of "bearing testimony," as we call it. To bear testimony is to verbally express one's conviction and understanding regarding Christ, and also regarding both the vehicle (i.e., the organization of the church) and content (i.e., the principles of the Gospel) of Christ's teachings. To the degree that this understanding has brought joy to someone, it will drive that person to share it with others by way of testimony. The spontaneous bearing of testimony was a defining element of my mother's character, and she did this primarily because of her love for others and her desire for them to have the same joy that she experienced. This is how I will always remember her.

I suppose this is an appropriate moment for me to express my own conviction that life does not end with death, and that I will be with my mother again. My normal tendency would be to launch into a lengthy explanation of this conviction (primarily for the benefit of my scientific colleagues, who I love and respect), but this blog isn't about me.

In this clip, my mother refers to Christ as her Bright and Morning Star. It is a reference from the book of Revelation in the New Testament. To fully appreciate why my mother found this name so meaningful, you have to be acquainted with my parents' fascination with astronomy. For a glimpse of this fascination, go to my father's website, where he has posted some of his astrophotography. Click here or here.

Because of the private nature of this post, I have disabled comments.

Update on Kent, July 7

Last night was the first time that nobody stayed the entire night with Dad. As Elisabeth was getting into the car to leave for the hospital early this morning, she got a call . . . from Dad! His voice was raspy, but clear enough to understand. He asked if anyone was planning on coming to visit him today. You might infer two things from this: (1) he had his ventilator tube removed yesterday, and (2) we won't be leaving him alone for very long any time soon. When Dad looks back on this experience, I don't want "lonely" to be a word that comes to mind.

His stats are still looking pretty good without the ventilator. Right now, heart rate is 120, oxygen saturation is 96%, and respiratory rate is 23. We had a small scare when one of the many doctors on the team assigned to Dad came in, took a quick look at the respiratory rate, and decided to tell Dad that if his breathing didn't improve within the hour, they would have to put him back on the ventilator. Since then, we've had a few reassurances that it would be very unlikely that he would be reintubated today. Just one more reminder that medicine, while hopefully informed by the latest science, is still very much an art. One would hope that the artists share the same artistic vision, especially when the canvas is Dad's body.

The nurses just set up a system that will allow Dad to press a button for a small dose of morphine every 6 minutes. This should keep him more comfortable and give him a small measure of control over his situation, and while I think the former is surely appreciated, it is probably the latter that is going to be the biggest relief for Dad.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Update on Kent, July 6

The morning stats are looking good:

His hematocrit and hemoglobin levels (i.e., red blood cell measures) are rising again. This means that the internal bleeding has probably subsided.

His heart rate is down to 90 right now. This is the lowest I've seen it since the accident!

He continues to breathe almost entirely on his own, with minimal assistance from the ventilator. He is breathing at 15-20 breaths per minute, which is good. His lungs are still extremely congested, but he has a strong cough, and the nurses have been able to remove a good amount of congestion this morning. It is likely that the breathing tube will be removed today or tomorrow.

The initial anti-anxiety drug that he was given had amnestic properties (i.e., it makes you forget stuff). The doctors recently started giving him a different anti-anxiety drug that doesn't have this unfortunate side effect. Consequently, he seems to be much more focused, aware, and in touch with his memory. We've developed a small set of hand signs for him to use when he needs something. We can tell pretty quickly when he has an itch, is in pain, wants to rest, wants some music, or wants a cool rag on his forehead. When he has a unique request, he spells it out by writing with his finger on our hands. Last night, I started telling him all about my latest experiments and ideas. He excitedly communicated his approval and gestured for me to elaborate. Until last night, I don't think I had a clear sense of how much I need this man to be proud of me.

Sean and Elisabeth just arrived, and Dad has a big smile on his face.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Update on Kent, July 5

Dad just finished another successful spontaneous breathing trial, and now the respiratory specialist is doing some IPV (inter-pulmonary percussion ventilation) treatment with him. During IPV, saline is rhythmically pumped into the lungs in order to dislodge secretions, which are then removed with suction.

Dad's red blood cell count was down this morning, indicating that there is internal bleeding somewhere in his body. They immediately stopped giving him heparin (a blood thinner to address his blood clots) so that the bleeding would have a chance to coagulate. Because his inactivity puts him at risk for more blood clots, the doctors surgically implanted an IVC filter. This umbrella-shaped filter latches to the walls of the inferior vena cava (one of the major veins that supply blood to the heart) and prevents blood clots from passing.

His breathing is stable, his fever is gone, and he is sleeping soundly. In spite of the recent setbacks, Dad is doing well. Due to the combination of injuries he suffered, however, it is becoming clear that his recuperation will take longer than previously expected. I will try to keep everyone informed about changes in his health, but it may be the case that over the next weeks his health will change very little, or only very gradually. This also has obvious implications for the funeral services for Mom. Please know that as soon as we have some reliable idea of when Dad will be released from the hospital, we will schedule the services and publish them here for anyone interested in attending.

I mentioned to some friends today that the love and support that has been given to our family has exceeded our capacity to respond. I can extend that same sentiment to all of you. Thank you for the private emails, the calls, the visits, and the comments on this blog. We will not forget your kindness.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Some setbacks

Today was difficult. The efficiency of Dad's breathing gradually deteriorated until the doctors decided to intubate him again. So he's back on the ventilator. There is also a concern that a more resistant bacterial infection has taken over the lungs, as his white blood cell count is climbing again, along with his heart rate and temperature.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Update on Kent, July 3

Dad stood up for the first time since the accident. He was a little shaky and he expressed surprise and concern at how weak he was. The nurses sat him down in a chair and he sat for about 20 minutes. It was clearly more difficult for him to breathe in an upright position. His breathing rate went up to the mid 30s and his oxygen saturation went down to about 84% before he asked to be moved back to the bed. It was good progress, but it was also a reminder of how much work remains to be done.

All of the excitement tired him out, and now he's sleeping. His heart rate is 104. His oxygen saturation is still a little low at 94%, and his breathing is still high at 31. But his temperature is down to 37.4 C.

He still suffers from a bit of disorientation. Sometimes it worries me, and I have to remind myself that it is normal to have temporary cognitive deficits following head trauma and extended administration of drugs like morphine and midazolam. On the other hand, hanging around Kent Wood on narcotics is pretty fun! He is still the sweetest, gentlest man I know, and that sweetness comes out in very creative and, at times, hilarious ways. Yesterday, Kristen (my wife) was at his side while he was nodding off during a conversation about women's rights (apparently he was concerned that too many women were not being given enough opportunities). He suddenly opened his eyes and said, "Pastries." Kristen asked, "Kent, are you dreaming about doughnuts?" He closed his eyes again, smiled, and said, "Oh, the pastries I've seen. It's wonderful!" Not surprising, coming from a man who made us stop at every Dunkin Donuts we saw during a road trip on the East Coast.

A swallowing specialist just came in and did an assessment. Dad is still having a hard time executing a full swallow, and this would put him at risk for lung infection (i.e., food and liquid could accidentally get into his lungs). He's allowed to have ice chips (which he absolutely loves), and these will give him a chance to exercise his swallowing muscles. Unfortunately, this also means that he's going to have a feeding tube placed down his throat later today. Bummer.

The primary goals right now are (1) getting rid of the lung infection and (2) recovering the function of his swallowing muscles.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Goodbye, ventilator

A number of events over the last few days made it clear to us that today was the day to start talking to Dad about Mom. We gathered at his bedside early this morning and, after a brief prayer, proceeded to describe the accident and the subsequent events leading up to today. We did our best to pause and verify that he was understanding us, but the level of Dad's awareness has been fluctuating unpredictably over the last few days, and I think we unfortunately caught him in a bit of a haze. I think he understood some of the basics, but it was clear that not everything was sinking in.

Afterward, as we sat in the waiting room, coming to grips with the fact that we'd probably have to have that dreaded conversation at least one more time, one of the doctors approached us and said that she really wanted to get the breathing tube out of him today. It came out at about 2pm, and after an hour or two he was able to whisper to us. After 10 days of not being able to understand him, we were hanging on every word. There were a few sentences that were clearly the product of the morphine, but most of his communication to us made perfect sense.

Some of the more memorable lines:

We were telling him how remarkable his improvement has been, when he smiled and said, "I've got a lot to live for."

He was responding to the nurse's questions with a shrug and a 'yeah-whatever' sort of expression, with pursed lips. One of us said, "Dad, you sure are making a lot of funny faces." His response was something we affectionately call "Monkey Face", which is a ridiculous facial expression that is a family tradition handed down from generation to generation in the Wood line. My brother Jason and I were laughing about that one for a few minutes.

He repeatedly said, "Okay everybody, shall we go down to the cafeteria and grab a bite to eat?" After the last time, he turned to the nurse and asked, "Do you have any recommendations?"

We were so happy today.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Spontaneous breathing trial, June 30

Dad was very restless today. He tried to ask all sorts of questions, but due to the ventilator tube and the drugs, we had a very difficult time understanding him. It must be incredibly frustrating for him. When he is able to get his point across, though, he lets everyone know how happy he is. At one point he kept lifting his arms, which were fastened to the bed to prevent him from tugging at the ventilator tube. After a few minutes of trying to decipher his hand gestures, we finally guessed that he just wanted us to unfasten the ties on his arms. As soon as we did, he lifted both arms as high as he could and stretched them out. He smiled, gave his signature thumbs-up sign, and then he even did a little dance with his hands!

The respiratory specialist did a spontaneous breathing trial with him today. Essentially, they remove all ventilator support for thirty minutes and they observe how well he breathes on his own. He performed wonderfully. It won't be long before they can permanently remove the breathing tube.

During the breathing trial, Dad's mom (we call her 'Gabby') started singing old-timey love songs to him. In that moment, I saw my father as a son. I doubt I'll ever forget the sacred feeling of perceiving the connection between them as she sang her encouragement to her son, and I knew from his eyes that it was working. It reminded me of many times with my own mother, and the thought that I'll never have that experience again was replaced with the thought that, yes, I will have that experience again, but in a very different way.

I apologize if I'm getting too sentimental. I try to stick to the facts, but sometimes the facts are pretty beautiful.

Morning update, June 30

Another good morning for Dad. His white blood cell count is going down, his blood pressure and heart rate are at safe levels, and he seems to be relatively comfortable. He still has a slight fever at 38.2 C. His breathing continues to improve, and the PEEP has been lowered to 8.0, which is the lowest that we've seen it so far. His lungs are getting stronger. They are still removing a good amount of secretion from his lungs, but this is hopefully the tail end of the infection.
The primary goals right now are (1) pain control, (2) weaning off the ventilator, and (3) getting rid of the lung infection.

We brought in some music for him. First, I put on Faure's Requiem, which is one of his favorite pieces of music. His heart rate immediately started to decrease, and he raised his eyebrows, smiled, and gave a big thumbs-up. The last piece on this particular recording is the Pie Jesu, which is a soft soprano aria. Because this piece ends so quietly, I had the volume up pretty high. Unfortunately, the next song on the play-list was a bluegrass song, and it came blaring out for a few seconds before we could lower the volume on the iPod. Dad didn't like this very much. So we're on a break from music for a little while, and in the meantime we're going to work on our play-lists.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Morning update, June 29

Dad's condition is steadily improving. Here are some of the important stats this morning:

Heart rate is 120

Temp is 37.8 C

PEEP is at 10.0

Oxygen is at 35%

These are very encouraging stats, especially in light of the fact that the nurses have dramatically reduced the amount of pain killer he's getting. Last night, Kristen and I figured out that he is much more comfortable when we stuff pillows under his knees -- having his legs elevated takes the pressure off of his lower back, which must be a significant source of discomfort due to the broken transverse processes.
He's still fighting the infection in his lungs, but that seems to be going well. He has a bad contusion on his left eye (and what looks like strabismus in the right eye), but the ophthalmologist seemed to think everything was satisfactory after an examination yesterday.

Late last night there was a brawl outside the ICU. We had momentarily stepped outside to give the nurses some room while they repositioned Dad, when a group of distraught people entered the waiting room. From their conversations, we gathered that their son had just drowned. The boy's mother was fainting every few minutes. More and more friends and family arrived until the waiting room was completely packed. After a few minutes an argument broke out. Following some harsh words, there was an altercation, which unfortunately caught some innocent bystanders by surprise. We tried our best to diffuse the situation by expressing our sorrow and acknowledging their loss. Two good friends who were visiting at the time went and spoke with the instigators of the fight and helped them calm down. It was around this time that the boy's mother went into cardiac arrest. This caused even more confusion. Everyone was sobbing, and a few people were throwing up. I felt so incredibly sad for this family. After the emergency team came and wheeled away the mother, we were able to make our way past the police, who were also pretty agitated. It was nice to be back with Dad. He has a way of comforting people even when he's the one in critical condition.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Morning update, June 28

Elisabeth stayed the night with Dad last night, and she gave us some good news this morning:

Heart rate is down to 114.

Temperature is down to 37.4 C.

The nurses have been removing congestion from his lungs every four hours, and it looks like the amount of congestion is tapering off.

He seems to be both responsive and relatively comfortable, and that is a combination that hasn't been possible until now. Today is going to be a good day!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Update on Kent #4

I just finished speaking with his primary day nurse, who gave me a good summary of his condition. Currently, the most urgent issue is the lung infection and the resultant fever. Based on early images of his lungs, they are convinced that he had community-acquired pneumonia when he was admitted into the emergency room on Saturday morning. If not for the accident, the infection probably would have been killed off by the body's endogenous defenses, but the trauma to his body has given this infection the opportunity to flourish. The good news is that the infection hasn't spread to other parts of his body yet. They are treating it with two different antibiotics, and they are hopeful that it will be eradicated within the next two days.

They recently discovered two blood clots in his lungs. This isn't too much of a problem (according to the nurse), but it does explain the recent setbacks in his breathing. They are treating the clots (in his lungs, as well as some in his arm) with a blood-thinner.

On the bright side, the medical team has been giving him much more appropriate levels of pain medication. This brings his heart rate down and allows him to sleep a little.

With regards to his breathing, there are two crucial numbers with which we have become well-acquainted. First, there is the PEEP. It stands for Positive End-Expiratory Pressure, and it is indicative of the amount of pressure that the respirator maintains in his airway after he exhales. This positive pressure keeps the alveoli open and prevents the lungs from collapsing. Currently, his PEEP reading is 14.0, which is the highest that it has been, and this is primarily to address the clotting in his lung.

Another important number is the oxygen content of the air being pumped into him by the ventilator. This number is an indirect measure of the efficiency of his breathing. The air that we normally breathe has an oxygen content of roughly 21%, but the oxygen content of the air Dad is breathing has been as high as 70%. Right now he's at 40%, which is very good, given his current situation.

His temperature is currently 38.5 Celsius, which is 101.3 Farenheit. This is down from his temperature last night, which was 39.5 C (or 103.1 F).

His heart rate is 126. I can see his chest pounding through his hospital gown. In spite of this, he is sleeping peacefully now. Occasionally, he'll raise his eyebrows as if he just heard some surprising bit of news, or he'll start to lift his hand like he wants to scratch an itch, but his arm only gets so far before it falls back down to the bed. I miss him and I want him to wake up.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Update on Kent #3

It is my hope that this blog will give hope and comfort. It was in the spirit of that hope that I focused only on the positive aspects of Dad's health in the last update. I still want to keep this focus, but I think I should have mentioned some of the more difficult issues Dad is facing. He is still in critical condition: he hasn't made very much progress with his ventilator in the last day or two, the doctors think he has group acquired pneumonia (which they think is the cause of his fever), and he has been in a constant state of tachycardia (average heart rate of 130) since Friday. If you pray, please continue to pray for our father.
We love and appreciate all of you.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Update on Kent #2

Great news: the tube in Dad's chest was removed today. He also slept much more today than he did yesterday, thanks to a more merciful dosage of pain medication. He is able to write out messages on a pad of paper, and this allows us to do a better job at keeping him comfortable (although his handwriting is now even worse than his pre-accident undecipherable scribbles). He keeps the nurses in line, asking things like, "How many CC's of saline am I getting?"

One hand, one heart

Walnut Creek, circa 1984

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Services for Mom

Because we can't predict exactly when Dad will be out of the hospital, we haven't set a date for the memorial services for our mother. When we are able to set a date and time, we'll let everyone know through this blog and other outlets. We anticipate that it will be held between mid-July to early-August.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

media coverage


moved to ICU

Dad was moved to ICU late last night. It is a much better atmosphere than the emergency room (he was there for 70 hours). They cleaned him up, gave him a new bed and some new sheets, and replaced his bandages. His temperature has been spiking periodically, but Tylenol and antibiotics have kept the fever at bay. There were moments during all of the moving around last night where it was clear that he was very uncomfortable, but he would simply respond to the requests of the nurses by giving a "thumbs-up". It was hard not to be proud of him.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Our gratitude

We have been so incredibly overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, help, and condolences. We can't possibly begin to give thanks on an individual basis. Please know that all the food, flowers, service, and words of comfort have not only helped us in this difficult time, but also given us a certain kind of joy that those who love Mom have been able to mourn her passing in their own way. We know that many are hoping and praying for the continued recuperation of our father. We love you for it.

Update on Kent

Here are the details concerning Dad's condition as of today (June 22):

* He had a collapsed lung and a half-dozen broken ribs on his left side. His lung was punctured, so they are draining blood from it, and also removing the air that is escaping from his lung into his chest and abdomen. He is currently on a ventilator.

* There was a gash on the back of his head. This has been stitched, and there is no sign of any related brain damage.

* There was some swelling and bleeding behind his eye, and there was some initial concern for Dad's vision, but this has been ruled out. His vision seems fine so far.

* Generally, he is in and out of consciousness. The pain medication keeps him asleep most of the time. When he is most alert, he responds to questions with smiles, nods, and squeezing our hands. He occasionally asks questions by mouthing one or two words.

* Contrary to early reports, there is no apparent damage to his neck vertebrae. Some external elements of his lower vertebrae were chipped off, but this will not require any intervention.

* We have been touched by the many offers to visit and stay with him. Arrangements have already been made to have someone with him in the event that an immediate family member can't be there. Until his condition is more stable, we ask that people refrain from visiting him.

The accident

[Updated on Mon. June 29]

There are a few versions of the accident floating around, so it might be useful to have a more official account given here. Of course, the details of the event are still gradually coming into focus for us, so I'll just stick to what we know for sure. We know that Dad and Mom were driving home from Girl's Camp, and that it was about midnight on Friday, June 19th. Near the Folsom Prairie City off-ramp on I-50, their car fishtailed, ran up an incline, and flipped a number of times. Mom's death was instantaneous. The first officer on the scene informed us that when he arrived, he found that Dad was conscious, but disoriented until they were able to sedate him.