Caring for My Father: Top Ten Lessons Learned

The call late one afternoon about my father suffering a stroke was totally unexpected. Like many of you who live a distance from your loved ones my wife, Leslie, and I lived 950 miles away. We had no information other than he was transported to an emergency room. We could locate no one who could provide additional information, and we could not reach Dad. The terms fear and helplessness come to mind now, but they didn’t quite capture our feelings then.

Later that night, we were finally able to contact the physician treating Dad. Dr. Foster (I’ll never forget his name.), an ICU physician, described Dad’s condition very clearly by saying “Your father wouldn’t be here with me in the ICU if he wasn’t very sick.” The call with Dr. Foster was our first verification of the seriousness of Dad’s condition, and the fear, unknown and uncertainty to follow.

On an airplane at 5:30 the next morning, I arrived at Dad’s bedside six hours later. The good news was that he’d been moved from ICU to a private room. The bad news was that I wasn’t sure if he realized who I was until after several moments. He seemed surprised and a bit puzzled at first. You know, he’s in a hospital dealing with who knows what thoughts and I come walking in. It likely took a few minutes, as he would say, “to get my bearings.” His tears, however, confirmed that he’d realized that I was actually there and seemed to touch him emotionally.

Neither Dad nor I knew it then, but that was the start of managing Dad’s care. Dad spent the next 3 weeks in the hospital – his stay extended because of a heart attack. Then, another 3 weeks in rehab highlighted by the start of dialysis treatment. Toward the end of his rehab, we knew there was a decision to make: Either he was to go home with home care assistance or enter a care facility. We were blessed with some excellent advice from Dad’s case worker, however, resulting in Dad’s decision to go home with Leslie and me.

The first year was the toughest. Dad was having to come to terms with the fact that his body would no longer do what it could do just days earlier. His mind overestimated what his body could do. He obviously suffered from both cardiac and nephrological problems. His ailments resulted in 187 days in either a hospital or rehabilitation facility that first year. Going forward, he survived at least two heart attacks, multiple TIAs, and 6½ years of dialysis between the ages of 84 and 90.

Leslie and I didn’t realize it then, but in the midst of engaging people and systems that we never imagined having to engage, there were many on-the job lessons to learn. At times, the learning curve was steep and many of the systems were not user-friendly. The systems ranged across hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, physician practices, dialysis centers, and skilled and non-skilled elder care facilities. Throughout our experience, however, we have come to believe that we can be helpful to others who are now in our situation through the lessons we learned.

Top Ten Lessons:

  1. Health care “systems” are not designed for the patient, but for the system.
  2. Obtaining quality health care for and meeting the needs of our loved ones requires a true advocate who actively monitors and manages that care.
  3. Doctors do not actively communicate with other doctors about patients’ care.
  4. Coordination of care happens, but not frequently or consistently within all health care systems.
  5. The needs and desires of the elderly are many times missed, overlooked or ignored by overworked health care workers and overwhelmed health care systems.
  6. Physicians order treatments; nurses provide treatments – God bless them all!
  7. At times, the treatment and decision choices suck, and we are relegated to picking the choice that sucks the least!
  8. An insurance companies’ standard response to a medical claim is “Coverage Denied.” Lesson learned: Appeal all denials.
  9. Family members can’t or don’t always step up.
  10. Home care agencies offer the same services, but not the same level of quality.

Identifying these lessons brings back vivid memories of the uncertainty, the fear, and the roller coaster rides of emotion and the decisions. Given our experience – and lessons learned - we are so blessed to be uniquely prepared to help seniors and their families on their journey. Our goals include:

  • Providing care that contributes to our clients’ overall medical health and reduces the need for hospital admission or readmission
  • Keeping our clients at home as long as possible

If you or someone you know needs assistance with a loved one, we’d love to talk with you. We are here to assist in any we can.

Dr. Steve L. & Leslie B. Whatley

Owners, HomeWell Senior Care of Collin County

Contact Us:

Office: 469-519-1014



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