Stepping into the world of Social Work
I haven’t blogged about it yet, but most people who know me are aware that my father was hospitalized at the beginning of February with a serious illness. Dad is 77, and enjoyed very good health until a shoulder injury some time back and a heart valve replacement a few years ago.
He first reported a number of non-specific symptoms and was hospitalized. I wasn’t notified until almost a week later. I arrived at the hospital to find Dad looking pretty scary. He was able to talk, however, and was particularly concerned about giving me the passwords to their online services to help my mom with the bills. I believe he felt at the time he had suffered a stroke.
A few days later, I get a call from my mom that Dad had been taken to ICU and placed on a ventilator to “give his lungs a rest.” I was notified a week or so later that they were choosing to do a tracheotomy for the ventilator. What I heard indirectly, and from those discussions I’ve been able to have directly with the doctors, is that he has lymphoma or something in the non-Hodgkins lymphoma, leukemia, or bone marrow cancer family. The most confusing thing is that the most troubling symptoms are not cancer symptoms, rather the neurological symptoms (such as not being able to breathe!). It was another couple of weeks before I really fully understood the true nature of the situation.
After a week or two in ICU, he was moved to another ward, and improvement was very limited. My last visit to him at Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital was rather troubling, as he couldn’t use his voice, but was clearly trying to talk to me. My aunt, who had been able to visit during times where he could cap his ventilator and use his voice, was telling me that he was increasingly less rational in what he did say, for example demanding that she take him home immediately. The nurses confirmed that they were noticing this, too.
Having a professor who is a medical social worker in this situation was amazingly comforting. Dr. Joosten, my Social Welfare instructor, helped me understand that many senior patients exhibit some loss of rationality simply due to the length of stay and the nature of such intense care. Medications, sleep deprivation, lighting and many other factors may have something to do with this, and even has the name of ICU psychosis or ICU syndrome.
In addition, I was finally given a diagnosis beyond the cancer which helped me understand the neurological symptoms. Apparently, whichever cancer he has, or a number of trivial viral conditions he could have caught over the winter,, triggered Guillain-Barre syndrome. GBS is a serious autoimmune condition, in which the body starts attacking parts of the nervous system.
The bad news, of course, is how serious these conditions are. The good news is that neither is an automatic death sentenc
e. So we have some hope, though we know it will be a long haul.
Last week, Dad was transferred to another facility, Kindred Hospital in La Mirada. We visited today and he appears to be doing much much better than the last time we saw him, both psychologically and physically.