Fastening My Seat Belt: Turbulence Ahead

I was bracing for another cognitive decline to follow this hospitalization, but she seemed so lucid and aware yesterday that it caught me off guard when I got a voicemail from her shift nurse this morning saying my mother was concerned that I might not know she was in the hospital. I was with her for six hours in the ER on Sunday night and for about seven hours yesterday. She seemed as sharp and aware as she ever is when I left last night. But this morning, all of that had been erased. She didn’t know where she was or how she got there.

I had to go back to work today; I couldn’t afford another day off and it’s a day full of meetings that require my support. I had no choice, but I felt guilty for not being there. At my first opportunity to get away from my desk, I called the hospital and was transferred to her room. She fumbled a bit with the phone, dropping it twice before finally answering. In a halting voice, with long pauses as she struggled to find words, she tried to explain something about the phone, about why she’d had trouble answering. Finally she gave up and concluded “Oh well, I’m talking now.”

I asked her how she was feeling and she told me she feels fine, just really confused. “There are huge holes in my memory,” she said. “I don’t know where I am or what’s real.” She sounded frightened. I tried to reassure her by explaining that she’s in the hospital because they found an infection in her blood which is being treated by IV antibiotics. I told her that I had brought her to the ER on Sunday night and had stayed with her most of the day yesterday, but I had to go back to work today. “I don’t remember any of that,” she said anxiously. I gently told her that it’s OK, that she’s safe and in good hands, and she just kept saying how confused she felt. I suggested that the confusion might be caused by the infection because the last time she was sick enough to go to the hospital she experienced the same thing. Then I just kept reiterating that she’s in good hands, getting good care, and has lots of people praying for her.

The last time she was hospitalized, she took a significant cognitive decline and never recovered a lot of her prior functioning. If that happens this time, I don’t know how much more of her essential personality and nature will slip away from us. I’m scared, but I can’t let her see that. I have to be the voice of calm, like the flight attendant reassuring passengers startled by turbulence that if there is a loss of cabin pressure oxygen masks will automatically drop. Meanwhile, I’m fastening my own seat belt because this is going to be a bumpy ride for a while.

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