The day after Thanksgiving, my 84-year-old mother ended up in the hospital. She was involved in a three car accident (thankfully no one was hurt), got a citation for “failure to control” her vehicle and another for her two years expired tags, and went on her way with a crunched front fender and broken headlight. She was trying to find a grocery store but got lost and then couldn’t remember how to get home. Apparently she pulled in at her local hospital to ask for directions, and the young man working the front desk was attentive enough to realize that she needed more assistance than simple directions. He got her a seat and called a nurse to talk to her. After learning that she’d just been in a car accident, the nurse suggested they check her out to make sure she wasn’t injured. Her blood pressure was 200/100 and she was more than a little confused, so she was admitted.
She spent four days in the hospital while they ran tests and tried to bring her blood pressure down. They initially suspected a minor stroke, but both the CT scan and MRI came back negative. She didn’t seem to understand why she was in the hospital. The first time I talked to her, she told me it was because they were concerned about her blood pressure. When I asked her about it the next day, she said “There’s nothing wrong with my blood pressure.” According to both the nurses and the friends who visited her, there were times when she was lucid and fairly sharp, though forgetful… and then there were times when she couldn’t answer simple questions appropriately. The doctors and case managers were extremely reluctant to discharge her to go home alone.
It was a wake up call for all of us.
My dad died five years ago today. The first year or so after his death was rough for Mom, both emotionally and physically – she lost their house to foreclosure and was hospitalized with pneumonia. But we got her moved into a really nice apartment with great neighbors and for the last three years she’s been doing just fine, or at least that’s how it seemed from here.
I live in another state, seven hours drive away. I visit three times a year on average. My last visit was just a little over two months ago, in late September. I noticed some things that concerned me then, like the fact that she had food stains on a couple of her blouses and had hung them back on the rack with the clean clothes. Her bathroom was filthy, like it hadn’t been cleaned in months. The kitchen wasn’t much better. There wasn’t much in her fridge besides eggs, lunch meat, condiments and a big jug of sugary flavored creamer for her coffee. I spent the first two days of my visit cleaning the apartment, doing her laundry and stocking up on groceries. I knew something wasn’t right, that we needed to start planning for the day when she couldn’t live alone anymore. I just didn’t know that day was coming so fast.