Joan landed in the hospital for the third time in two months after the latest in a series of complications following what had been expected to be a simple medical procedure. This time, her leg had broken in a fall at home as an aide was assisting her in getting into the shower.
She reported, "The doctor was able to set it. He put on a brace, not a cast. He said if he put a cast on, it would weigh a hundred pounds and I'd never walk again," because it would add so much weight and make Joan so lopsided.
After five days in the hospital, Joan was transferred to the short-term rehabilitation wing of the Good Samaritan skilled nursing facility in Prescott Valley.
She said, "They were fabulous. I wouldn't go to the bathroom unless there were two aides there. I was afraid that I would fall again. They humored me unbelievably. They were fabulous. When it came time to take a shower, it was the same thing. They took me from my bed to a special wheelchair and rolled me down the hall and into the shower. They were just phenomenal. The wheelchair could roll right into the shower."
"The aides there, I don't know how they got people like that there. The people at Good Samaritan were above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for. Every shift was like that."
Joan spent nearly a month there.
Meanwhile, her husband Greg had a heart attack. It is hard to know exactly what led to his having a heart attack at exactly that time, but one can guess that the strain of suddenly being thrust into the role of advocate and at times primary caregiver for Joan may have played a part. The preceding three months had been one giant blur filled with Joan's emergency room visits, bouts of hospitalization and stays in various rehabilitation facilities, with one short period at home.
For people who work in the field of healthcare, such activity is business as usual. But for Greg - for most people - it can be like landing in a foreign country where the language, customs and geography are all unfamiliar. It takes a great deal of energy just to make it through a day. At each unfamiliar juncture, a family member has to decide, with very little data, "Do I keep silent, because these people are professionals and surely they know more than I do? Or do I act on my knowledge of my injured or sick relative, and try to figure out who to talk to so that something changes in her care? Will I make things better or make them worse if I speak up?"
Greg, unable to visit Joan, sent a neighbor to tell her that he had had a heart attack.
Greg and Joan were both discharged and sent home - he from the hospital, she from a skilled nursing facility - on the same day. Their daughter-in-law flew in from the East Coast to take care of them. Clearly, medical misadventures affect not only the person to whom they happen, but entire families.
To provide the medical expertise needed, they arranged for home healthcare from an agency they hadn't used before, Legacy Home Healthcare. Joan was very happy with the care they provided.
"They were fabulous! They coordinated with my doctor daily. The nurse was coming two or three times a week. She would check to make sure that the brace was on right, that it hadn't moved or anything."
The nurse also carefully checked and inspected Joan's knee. "About the third time she came after her initial evaluation," Joan recalled, "She put her hand on my knee and she said, 'This does not feel right. This feels really hot.'" The nurse immediately called Joan's doctor, who ordered Joan to go to the hospital right away. It turned out that Joan had developed a massive infection inside her leg.
And so began yet another hospitalization to address yet another complication. Despite getting excellent care - and Joan has nothing but praise for her doctors who so often rescued her from looming disaster - Joan continued to weaken. Her saga continues next week.