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
11:00am
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

video

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.