About a month after my son (my second child) was born, I remember sitting on the sofa nursing him while watching my two year old daughter play in the family room. All of the sudden I felt something I had never experienced before. I got this heavy feeling in my stomach and I couldn’t breathe as easily as I usually did. I became overwhelmed with fear for no reason and as hard as I tried to calm myself down, this intense feeling would not go away. I began to think that I wasn’t capable of caring for two children. I was doing o.k. with them so far. There was no logical reason for this feeling whatsoever. Looking back on this, I think that the mild anxiety attack I had was a premonition for the disaster that hit our family a month later. If you keep reading, you’ll see why.
One month later it happened. I’m talking about the thing that people warn you about when you have older parents living alone in a house. Everything seemed to be going great. My son was two months old and starting to sleep longer stretches at night. My daughter was becoming more adjusted to having a new sibling and sleeping much better as well. My husband was on his way to the airport in San Francisco to hop on a plane to North Carolina for a college reunion at Duke University. He loves North Carolina and was really looking forward to visiting Durham for a week. It was 10:30 p.m. and I was sitting on the coach thinking about going to bed when all of the sudden I decided to look at my phone. I then noticed two voice messages from the Hollister area. I played the first message and to my surprise… and horror, it was an emergency medical transportation person telling me that my mother had fallen and was injured. She explained that they were taking my mom to the hospital along with my dad (although they did not seem to know what they wanted to do with him exactly) in an ambulance to the emergency room at the local hospital. I was in shock. The next message was left by a nurse in the E.R. at the hospital telling me to call her immediately. These messages had been left on my phone two hours before I had discovered them. I started panicking. I had no idea what to do except call the E.R. to find out what happened. One of the nurses at the E.R. told me that she had already been seen by the doctors and had been transferred over to a hospital room. She gave me the room number and transferred my call to the medical surgical floor of the hospital. The nurse there told me that my mother had fallen outside of her home and was on the ground for quite a while. She somehow called 911 and the medical transportation unit brought her to the E.R. with my dad. She told me that my mother had a fractured hip and she would probably have to stay in the hospital for quite a while. My dad was sitting in a wheel chair in the hospital room with her because the EMTs would not leave him in the house alone. The nurse then asked me to come get my dad. I broke down in tears as I explained to her that I had two small children asleep in their rooms and nobody to watch them that night. There was no way I could rescue my dad and check in on my mom. My husband had just texted me letting me know that he was about to board the plane to North Carolina. I had no other friends or relatives in the bay area who could help me at that hour. “What about any relatives here in Hollister?” she asked me. I told her I could try to call some cousins, but they may not answer. “See what you can do.” she told me.
I called two cousins, but no answer, so I left messages. I called another cousin and she answered. She sounded tired and perplexed at my late call, but I quickly told her why I was calling at that hour. She was willing to help, but was hesitant because she had a bad back. She was pretty sure she would not be able to lift my dad out of the wheel chair and into a car…and then out of the car and into his bed at home… and then who would watch over him all night? He was mentally incapacitated and immobile at the time. I had no choice but to call my husband to the rescue. He answered immediately thank goodness. He was in line to board the plane as I explained to him what had just happened. “I’ll go get him.” He said without hesitation. “I’m not sure how I’m going to get my bag off this plane though.” He immediately got out of line and told the airline employees at the desk about his family emergency. They immediately called to get his bag pulled off the plane and in twenty minutes or so he was on his way to Hollister. I called my cousin back and we designed a plan. She went to the hospital and found my dad watching over my mom in a wheelchair. She called me and put my mom on the phone. My mom explained to me how she was in her backyard trying to cut the branches off of a tree with some heavy pruning sheers (because she did not want to pay her gardner any extra money to do this for her, ugh!). Her voice sounded very weak and I could tell she was in some pain. She went on telling me how she pulled hard on a branch with the pruning sheers and it broke which sent her flying backwards and into the concrete sidewalk. Mother has always been a very independent (and frugal) woman. Even at the age of 79, she was determined to do everything herself. She cooked, paid the bills, drove and took care of my dad. A month before this happened, she reluctantly gave up taking care of my dad full-time and hired a very strong part-time male nurse named Roger to help her. That was a miracle, but on the other hand, it had become impossible to lift and move him from place to place. He had also become incontinent. She was not comfortable dealing with adult diapers. Who can blame her! Anyway, she told me she was on the ground for two hours yelling for help before the EMTs picked her up. “Who called the ambulance?” I asked her. “I did!” she explained. “How did you do that?” I asked. “I used my arms to gradually pull myself into the patio where the sliding glass door to the house was open. I was able to very calmly ask your dad to get on his scooter and go get the phone. I don’t know how this happened, but he somehow understood what I was asking him to do. He very slowly got on his scooter, drove over to the phone, and grabbed it for me. He then drove the scooter to where I was laying and floor and threw it to me. He did this and then drove himself back to the couch.” This was a miracle. To this day we have no idea how he was able to do this. Only Roger was strong enough to lift him off the couch. My dad had not been able to get up on his own for months. This is a great illustration of how powerful love is though. I’m a strong believer that compassion can create instances that you never thought were possible. I have proof of this now!
My husband and my cousin were able to get my father home that night. My husband put him into bed and kept watch over him all night in a recliner chair. The next day I was able to drop off my daughter at daycare and go to Hollister (with my two month old in tow) to see my parents. I stopped at my parent’s house first. My poor husband was exhausted. Since the nurse my mom had hired could only do part-time hours, we made some calls to some different in-home care agencies including Visiting Angels. Nobody had any 24 hour caregivers available with such short notice and there was no way we could manage in-home care for my dad living fifty miles from him anyway. We then made the painful decision to immediately put my dad into an assisted living facility.
That same day I drove over to the nearest facility and asked them if they had any open rooms. Luckily they had one room open for him. The director of the facility told me that I had to bring my Power of Attorney documents since my dad could not make this decision for himself. Thank goodness I knew exactly where these documents were. My mother and father had created a family trust a few years before this had all happened and my mother had told me where to find these documents in her house. They had assigned me as their Power of Attorney, never thinking that I would ever have to actually exercise this important role. I then had to get my father a physical examination by a doctor as well as a TB test. After I had all that done, they would accept him into their facility. I called his doctor’s office and they told me I could get him in that afternoon. The problem was that the TB test could not be read until the next day. Ahhh! I was running out of time. There was nobody available to stay with my dad overnight at his own house except for my husband. I couldn’t stay at the house with an elderly, immobile and incapacitated man while nursing a newborn. Plus there was no baby stuff in the house! My poor husband never liked my parents’ house because my mother was a bit of a hoarder and the house was pretty dirty. He knew however, there was no choice in the matter. He would work on feeding my dad and labeling all his clothes while I took care of the kids at home that night. Teamwork!
The next day we put my dad in my husband’s car and told him we were taking him to a hotel while my mom is in the hospital. He had no idea what was going on. “Where is she?” he asked. I explained to him what had happened to her. He could not remember anything about the incident. He was quite surprised that she was in the hospital. We picked up a McDonalds lunch to go for him and drove to the assisted living facility. The director greeted him in a very friendly and welcoming manner at the car and one of the nurses helped us put him in his wheelchair. I set up his bed with his linens from home and put his clothes in the closet and dresser. The room was painted in beautiful shades of vanilla white and red. A red picture of some flowers hung on the wall next to his bed. The director told me that dementia residents feel calmed by the color red. I put a picture of his airplane on another wall to personalize the room for him a bit. A resident walked into the room asking us bizarre questions about where they were, where a certain nurse they were looking for was and who was going to live in this room. Most of the residents sat in a huge community area staring blankly at a giant TV screen in wheelchairs or on the couch. This did not seem right for my dad at all, I thought. He is going to hate it here. I wheeled my dad to a table near the community eating area and a caretaker sat next to him and introduced herself. He ate his lunch slowly and kept asking me why he was here and where I was going. “It’s just for a little while,” I told him. Tears started welling up in his eyes as he grabbed my arm trying to keep me from leaving. Another resident put her hand on his arm and said “It will be o.k..” “You’ll be o.k..” she repeated. She smiled trying to help me reassure him that he would be o.k.. Walking away from your father after placing him in a home with a bunch of strangers was not easy. We felt terrible, but at the same time relieved that we had a solution to a pretty major problem. Now I know why I had experienced an anxiety attack while I was sitting on the couch that day. A premonition I say…a foreshadowing!
My mother spent two weeks in the hospital. I only saw her there once because they would not allow children under the age of sixteen into the patient rooms and I had the two month old with me at the time. In fact, the first time I visited her, I did not know of this rule so I had to leave my son with the volunteer lady at the information desk. Yes, I left my baby alone with a perfect stranger. Before you call me a bad mommy, you should know that she was a very sweet elderly hospital volunteer who offered to watch him for me for just a few minutes. There were also two or three hospital employees who had knowledge of this and were keeping an eye on both of them for me. Anyway, after having surgery on her hip, she spent the next month in the rehabilitation center, otherwise known as “the nursing home.” She hated it and complained about everything every second of the day. I don’t think the nurses were too crazy about her either. Being the strong woman that she is, she healed quickly and was up and about walking again with the aid of a walker. The staff agreed to discharge her but she had to participate in the in-home physical and occupational therapy that they would provide her and she had to get a part-time personal caretaker to help her around the house. I called someone who was recommended to us and she agreed to have the help at home. Mom was also kind of relieved that dad was put into assisted living. “I should have put him in one of those places months ago!” she said. “He refused to go though,” she added.
Whew! Both parents are now in good hands now. I can go back to being a mom and we now have peace of mind, I thought happily to myself. Thank God! Unfortunately, just when you think life will get easier, reality can deal a pretty bad hand of cards from the deck sometimes. I was told that when an elderly person breaks their hip, it can send them down a pretty slippery slope very quickly. That being said, life for all of us did not get better….in fact it got much, much worse.
To be continued… “The Rollercoaster Ride Called “Alzheimer’s Disease””