This happened in March 2008. Mom spent 9 days in the hospital and 6 weeks in a skilled nursing facility before returning home. She is doing fine, now, but it was touch and go for a while.
Tuesday night after dinner, I took my mother to the bathroom. I helped her pull her pants down and get seated on the toilet. After toileting, she could not wipe.
“My arms aren’t long enough,” she said.
I cleaned her and pulled up her pants. I guided her to the sink to wash her hands. I turned on the water for her. She put her hands under the water and just stood there letting it run over her fingertips.
“Pick up the soap,” I said.
She picked it up and held it under the warm stream of water.
“Pull it out from under the water.”
She pulled her hands and the soap out of the running water.
“Rub your hands with the soap.”
She began to make lather.
“Put the soap down. Wash your palms. Wash the backs of your hands. Wash your fingertips.” I gave her instructions one at a time. It was all she could process.
Afterwards, she grasped her walker and hung on to it as she shuffled into the hallway that leads to the living room. After a few steps, she stopped.
“Lift your foot, Mom,” I instructed.
She couldn’t move. I reached down and tugged on the pant leg of the foot I wanted her to lift.
She couldn’t do it. She started to slump to the floor. I thrust my hands under her armpits and held her 197 pound body. Shaking with increased adrenaline, I called my husband to help.
Freddy ran into the hallway. He held her from the front and I held her from the back. I tried to get her to respond to my shouted commands to stand. She slumped and pinned my hand to the walker.
“Freddy!” I yelped. “She’s pinned me to the walker!”
He pulled her away from my hand. She started sliding out of my grasp. I placed my knee between her legs and she sat on it as she collapsed to her knees.
“Bob! Bring us a chair!” Freddy yelled to my father.
My father brought a wooden chair into the hallway. Freddy placed it behind me. I worked my way behind the chair while holding onto my mother. I pulled while Freddy lifted and we dragged her unresponsive body into the chair.
“Mom!” I yelled. She opened her eyes, looked at me and closed them again.
“Mom! I’m going to take your blood sugar.” I turned to my husband and barked, “Freddy, get her insulin and kit, please!”
He ran to the kitchen and got her insulin out of the butter compartment in the refrigerator door. He ran back to me.
“Where’s her kit?” he asked.
“It’s…it’s …it’s…” I couldn’t articulate. “I’ll get it. Make sure she doesn’t fall.” He nodded.
I ran into the living room and grabbed her kit from the top of the medicine console. “I really need you to know where these things are!” I complained, loudly.
“I know!” said Freddy.
I ran back to the hallway and opened the kit. I inserted a test strip into her meter. I tore open an alcohol pad and rubbed it on her fingertip. I pricked her fingertip and squeezed until a small globule of blood appeared. I touched the test strip to it and watched the meter count down. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…457. I slid her needle from the kit and loaded it with 27 units of insulin. I cleaned her arm with the alcohol pad and gave her the insulin injection.
My father said, “I think she should go to the hospital. Insurance will pay for it.”
“I think you’re right, Dad.” I said. I looked at my husband. “Freddy, will you call for an ambulance?”
“Okay,” he said. He went into the living room and began looking for the ambulance phone number in the phone book. After a few minutes, he came back into the hallway. “Should I call 911?” he asked.
“Watch her. I’ll do it.” I said.
I found two ambulance numbers in the yellow pages. I called one and a recording said it was the fire department. I hung up and called the other number. A recording told me that I had the ambulance and gave me choices to push on the touch tone phone.
“Agent!” I said, not wanting to navigate the robo-system.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear….” I hung up and dialed 911.
When the 911 operator came on I gave my name, address and requested an ambulance for my mother.
“Is she conscious?” she asked.
“Yes.” My voice trembled.
“Is she breathing okay?”
I wanted to cry, but knew I had to keep it together so I could give information to the operator. She asked what had happened to my mother and I told her. She assured me the ambulance was on the way. I hung up and went to wait in the hallway with my mother.
An ambulance and a fire truck pulled up in front of the house. Four paramedics came in. They worked together to check and record my mother’s vital signs, blood sugar and medications used. Her blood sugar had gone up to 488.
My husband pushed her wheelchair into the hallway. I helped to lift her out of the chair and into her wheelchair. The paramedics pushed her through the house and out the back door where they loaded her onto a gurney.
“Call my brothers and sister!” I yelled to my husband.
“Okay,” he answered and went back into the house to get their emergency numbers from the list posted on the wall, next to the calendar.
The paramedics rolled the gurney down the side of the house, to the street and loaded my mother into the ambulance. I climbed into the back and strapped myself into a seat next to her, wanting to be close in case she felt lost.
The paramedic inserted an IV line into my mother’s arm. “Ready,” he said to the driver. He grabbed the radio mike and keyed it to tell the hospital that it was 8:30 p.m. and our ETA was in six minutes.
ER staff rolled her into room 24 as soon as we got there. They checked her blood sugar. The meter couldn’t record it. It was over 500. A nurse took blood for the lab to test. They started a five hour cycle of checking her blood and giving fast acting insulin to bring it down.
My youngest brother and his wife walked into room 24. They waited with me through the testing process, a CT scan and the PCU admission in the fourth hour after her arrival. Sharing the burden felt less terrifying.
We went home after 1:00 a.m. I showered and went to bed, waking every few hours. In the morning, I fixed a heat and serve meal, then went to the hospital with Freddy.
My youngest brother’s wife was waiting at the hospital entrance. “She’s been crying this morning,” she said. “She doesn’t know where she is or why she’s there. We should stay with her in shifts, so she won’t be scared.” I agreed.
We went straight to my mother’s room. She lay in bed looking at the wall in front of her. She looked scared.
“I thought you left me in a nursing home,” she said with a sorrowful look in her eyes.
“I would never do that.” I told her, remembering the promise I made to her 41 years ago when she worked at a convalescent home. I felt sorry that I had gone home the night before.
I stayed with her taking a break in the early evening to eat and go back to the house to pack for an overnight stay. My youngest brother and his family stayed with her while I was gone. During the night, nurses woke her every two hours to take her blood sugar and give her insulin. They changed her disposable diaper and cleaned her thoroughly each time.
She ate breakfast in bed. Afterwards she asked for the bedpan. The nurses got it for her and put her on it. When she finished, they’d take it. A few minutes later, she would ask for it again. This happened three times. When the doctor came to see her, I asked for her to be catheterized. When they put the catheter in, she filled the bag with 800 ccs of urine. Something had impeded her natural flow, making her feel the need to urinate frequently.
They took her blood sugar and got her up for lunch. She sat in a chair next to the bed and began to eat. A nurse came in and gave her a shot of insulin. She continued to eat. After a few bites, her hands began to shake. I covered her legs, in case she was cold. She ate a little more of her food. She grabbed hold of her water cup by putting two fingers inside and her thumb on the outside. She pulled it to her breast and held it trembling. I took it and held it to her lips. She drank and drank and drank. She picked up her fork, put it in her chicken soup and raised it, dripping to her lips. She couldn’t get it to her mouth. I picked up a spoon and asked her if she wanted help. She nodded and I put a spoonful of soup in her mouth. After a few bites, her head lolled back and her eyes closed.
I pushed the nurses call button. Nurses came in and took her blood pressure. It was 77/51. They got her into bed and took it again. It was 161/90. They took her blood to test for an infection and then put her on antibiotics. They told me the test results would take a few days to culture. They took her to get another CT scan. The results were no different than last night’s scan. There was no neurological damage other than the Alzheimer’s disease. They took a urine sample for testing. Each time they came in they asked her questions.
“What’s your name?”
“What’s your last name?”
“Who’s the president?”
"Who’s that lady over there?” The nurse pointed to me.
“It’s my Mama!”
My eyes welled with tears. Whenever I’ve faced trouble in childhood and in adulthood, I’ve always wanted my mom. In better years, she was there to support me and help me get through life’s problems, big or small.
I want my Mom, now, but it’s painfully clear I can’t have her. I’m her Mama, now.