Bright and early yesterday morning I picked Mom up to take her to the dentist. As she got in the car, she told me she was having trouble walking. I got her buckled in, stowed her walker, and asked for clarification as we drove. She said her legs felt weak and her balance was off. Concerned that she might be coming down with the virus I’d just gotten over, I asked about other symptoms – no headache or other pain, no nausea, no coughing or congestion. She said she didn’t feel sick, just tired. The appointment took less than 20 minutes, but by the time we were driving home she was visibly fatigued. I walked her up to her room and she practically fell into bed – literally, she lost her balance and would have tumbled in if I hadn’t caught her.
Concerned, I stopped at the front desk on my way out and asked them to check on her at lunch time and bring a tray to her room if she didn’t feel up to going down for lunch. Then I went to work… and tried not to worry. I called at 12:30 to check on her and was told that they brought her pills and chicken noodle soup and she was resting. I called back a couple hours later and asked the nurse to check on her again, which she did. She told me that Mom had difficulty sitting up and was so lethargic that she appeared sedated. “I think you should take her to the ER to get checked out,” she concluded.
I shut down my computer, told my boss why I was leaving, and bolted out the door. My friend Joy met me at Mom’s place and it was immediately apparent that she was very sick indeed. She wasn’t even strong enough to sit up without help, and there was clearly no way she was going to walk to the car, so I asked the nurse for a wheelchair and her medication list. Thank God Joy was there because I never would have been able to get her into the wheelchair (or into and back out of my car) without help. She couldn’t even lift her legs and was almost a dead weight. Joy, calm and cheerful and practical, also helped me keep it together so that Mom wouldn’t see how alarmed I was at her condition.
The ER didn’t look like much, but we got great service. Paperwork was filled out and she was taken back for her intake and EKG within 10-15 minutes. All her vitals looked good – no fever, blood pressure within a normal range (lower, in fact, than is usual for her). When they asked her questions, she answered in a barely intelligible mumble, as if she had a mouth full of rocks. They checked for signs of a stroke, then ordered a chest x-ray and bloodwork. Once they got her onto a gurney in her own little curtained cubicle in the ER, Joy brought her a cup of water. And as soon as she drank it, she could talk normally again.
With the exception of one slightly snarky male nurse, everyone in the ER was awesome. They took great care of her and were totally understanding about letting both Joy and me stay by her side, even though Joy isn’t a blood relative and the sign said “only one visitor per patient.” The doctor looked at her EKG result and said something about “an interesting rhythm,” then listened to her chest and told me he suspected pneumonia. Three hours from the time of our arrival, she was admitted and taken up to room 1608, where I gave her medical history for the third time while she promptly fell asleep.
The floor nurse asked if I wanted to spend the night in her room. I thought about it briefly. Mom gets confused easily even when she’s not ill, and I imagined her waking up and not knowing where she was or why. I should be there, I thought. But it was almost 8:30 p.m. and I hadn’t eaten since noon, and I knew I wouldn’t be functional for work the next day if I didn’t get a decent night’s sleep. So I settled for writing my name and cell number on the white board in her room and giving the nurse a heads-up that she might awake confused about where she was, and I went home. Sleep, even in my own comfortable bed, was not easy.
But today has been a day of rapid improvement and good news. I called around 10:00 a.m. and spoke to a nurse, who told me that the plan was “several days of antibiotics, then do a new EKG and chest x-ray and reassess.” At lunchtime I called and spoke to Mom briefly, encouraged to hear her speaking normally and sounding lucid and coherent. I told her I would come by to visit right after work.
About 3:45 p.m., I was in a meeting at the office when my cell phone rang. It was the head nurse assigned to my mom’s case, calling to give me an update. “Are you still at work?” she asked, and I immediately felt guilty – like, what am I doing at work when I should have been there at my mother’s side in the hospital. But the news was all good. Pending a physical therapy assessment, the doctor was planning to send her home in 1-2 days, most likely with an order for ongoing PT at home.
I went straight to the hospital after work. Mom was getting a breathing treatment when I arrived, so I just squeezed her hand and sat quietly in the window seat, watching the sun set and the lights of Burbank come on. As soon as the breathing treatment was finished, the physical therapist arrived. After about 15 minutes of back massage – a gentle drumming/tapping to help loosen chest congestion – she actually got Mom up on her feet and we went for a very short walk down the corridor with the hospital-provided walker. Sitting up in bed after, Mom was tired but her eyes looked bright and she seemed really herself for the first time in almost two days. I sat on the edge of her bed and held her hand. She smiled at me and said “I love you.”
And this is why she needed to move here, why I needed her to live close to me. If she was hospitalized back in Arizona, I’d be worrying constantly, helpless to do anything but call. Because she’s right here, in a hospital five miles from my apartment, I can run back to her place and bring her glasses (which we forgot when we left for the ER) and a book and some crossword puzzles. I can see for myself how much she’s improving. I can just BE THERE. And I need that every bit as much as she does.