Archive | February 2015

Two Scares in Two Weeks = Too Many!

Early Sunday morning, February 8, I got a call from my sister in Colorado. My oldest niece, who is in her first year of college here in California, was in a hospital with a fractured skull following a surfing accident. I called the hospital, who confirmed that she was still in the ER and that I would be allowed to visit, and arranged for a friend to go with me. All that I knew when we left for the hospital was that my niece was lucid and able to talk. I clung to that on the 90-minute drive down, praying that her ability to talk (and even joke) meant no brain injury. When I arrived at her bedside, one of the first things she did was wiggle her fingers and toes for me to show me that she wasn’t paralyzed. Thank God!

She was incredibly fortunate. A hairline fracture at the base of her skull, two fractures in her C1 vertebrae – but no brain injury, no paralysis, no need even for surgery to repair the bones. The neurosurgeon got her fitted for a neck brace, which she’ll wear for about six weeks to allow the bones to heal themselves. I spent most of two days in the hospital with her, until her Mom could get a flight from Denver. Then I went back to work, exhausted but grateful.

Last Wednesday night, I turned my phone on at the end of my evening class to find multiple messages from the owner of my mom’s board and care. Call me as soon as possible. Gulp.

Mom had a nosebleed that wouldn’t stop and the blood was draining down into her throat. The caregivers were worried that she might choke. The owner had taken her to the ER. I jumped in my car and met them there. The nosebleed had mostly stopped by the time I arrived, and I wondered if we were going to waste 4-6 hours at the ER for nothing… but no sooner had they taken her into the back to get her vitals and medical history, she vomited a dark bloody substance into her lap. Twice.

I was horrified at the sight of it. And I saw the alarm in the eyes of the nurses and techs, who rushed her to a bed in the back to get her hooked up to the monitors. Her blood pressure was dangerously low. For the second time in two weeks, I faced the possibility that everything could be coming unraveled in an instant. I didn’t know what vomiting blood might mean, but it didn’t look good. And I was especially worried because I was scheduled for surgery myself in just one week – who would take care of her if we were both in the hospital at the same time?

Thankfully, again, we were lucky. Her labs checked out just fine, her blood pressure returned to her high normal range, and there were no further symptoms during the three or four hours they kept her for observation. The doctor concluded she had simply swallowed blood that was trickling down from her nosebleed, and her stomach rejected it.

It was a long night. We had been taken to a room in the back of the ER, so I didn’t see how much activity was going on up front, but apparently they were very busy. After the labs came back and the doctor paid an initial visit, we were pretty much ignored. Mom complained of a bad taste in her mouth (no wonder!), but when we asked for water or ice chips none were forthcoming. I did manage to track someone down to get her a blanket because she was shivering. The blanket they brought was heated, which helped her get some rest for a while. When she got cold again, I put her corduroy coat over her for some extra warmth. And we waited…

It was 1:30 a.m. by the time we were given the OK to take her home. And the miracle of all of this is that the owner of the facility (AND her husband, who had driven her over to check on Mom and then brought them both to the ER) stayed there with us until the very end – and then they took her home, so that I could go home myself and get some sleep. When this woman says “the residents are my family,” clearly she means it. Once again, I left a hospital feeling completely exhausted but deeply grateful.

Wednesday I go in for laparoscopic gallbladder removal. Mom has been doing fine – no more nose bleeds, more active than usual with my brother visiting – so I’m not worried. I also know now that if there WAS an emergency when I couldn’t get there, I can trust her new “family” to take good care of her.

Perspective

After a doctor’s appointment last week, Mom and I stopped at a CVS drugstore to pick up a few things. When she’s not feeling tired, she enjoys getting out and doing things – even if it’s just browsing a drugstore for ten minutes.

As I got out of the car, a middle-aged woman approached me, asking if I could spare any change. I brushed her off, saying “Not now but maybe when we come out.” She continued talking to me, explaining that she hates asking for money but she and her husband are both out of work and currently living in her mother-in-law’s garage – and when she saw me lifting the walker out of my trunk, she eagerly offered to help. “I’ve got it,” I said, “but thank you.” The woman explained that she wants to work and would be happy to do anything – wash windows, clean houses, walk dogs, yard work.

I wasn’t sure how Mom would react to her, having spent most of her life in smaller communities where this sort of situation is uncommon. I can still vividly recall her reaction to an older woman sitting in a motorized wheelchair by the side of a freeway off ramp a few months ago. “Why would they just leave her there?” she burst out. “That’s a terrible place to leave someone!” I quickly explained that I thought the woman had probably chosen to sit there to ask for money, though glancing in the rearview mirror I didn’t see her holding a sign… and she wasn’t close enough to the road to take money being handed from a car window without getting out of the chair…

Anyway, we went in to the drugstore and I picked up the few things we needed and let Mom buy a bottle of Tums that she didn’t need because they were on sale. We picked out some cookies for her to take home, too, since we’re still trying to keep her from losing any more weight. I rang up our purchases with my debit card and got $10 cash back.

As we left the store, I discreetly passed the ten to the woman who had asked for help. She glanced at the bill in her hand and burst out “Oh, thank you so much! I could hug you!” – adding quickly “But I won’t. I know most people don’t want to be touched by strangers.”

“You can hug me,” Mom said immediately, turning with a smile.

I nodded and smiled my assent. “She’s a hugger.”

The woman hugged my mom gingerly around the shoulders, as if she might break. And she kept smiling and waving to us as we pulled out of the parking lot.

I drove away thinking how very fortunate Mom and I both are, despite the increased burdens of her care costs over the last year. I’ve been frustrated lately with all the costs for my own health care and Mom’s medications and incidentals (Ensure, incontinence products, haircuts, etc.) that just keep adding to my credit card debt because there’s not sufficient monthly income to cover it all. But I have a job and I have credit cards, and neither of us needs to go without. And Mom’s monthly income is enough to cover her base level of care at a wonderful home, where she is happy and engaged. And that, to me, is priceless.