Present day update: I spent last Saturday at the Emergency Room with my mother, again. Atria called me at 6 that morning and said she had fallen at 2AM, the paramedics were called, but they checked her out and said she would be OK. At 11 o’clock when I was getting ready to leave the house on errands they called again. ”Your mother has fallen. She said she hit her head. The paramedics just took her to the Emergency Room.” We were there all afternoon. They had her neck in a brace and she complained about pain in her right arm. They took x-rays of her neck and arm and nothing was broken. I got her back to her room at 5 o’clock. She may not be able to walk again. We’ll see what this week brings.
ER Nightmares Part III
The social worker quickly concluded that I wasn’t insane, and said, “We’d better talk,” and she led me into a private office next to the “computer room” which I had now dubbed Doctor Central. “Your mother does not want the tests and there is nothing we can do,” she began. “But the doctor says she needs them. Can’t you sedate her and do the tests? You can tell my mother is not a reasonable person and can’t make decisions for herself.” I countered. “Yes. . .” she said, “Maybe there is something we can do. We can admit her as a 5150 patient. It is usually reserved for a person who is in danger of hurting themselves or others. I’ll see what I can do. You can wait in the lobby and I’ll talk with the doctor.” A few minutes later she came out. She told me they would be able to admit her as a 5150 under the H&S Code. They would sedate her then draw the blood to do the tests. Finally, we were getting somewhere! “ It should take about two hours. “You can call the ER then and find out if she is to be admitted to the hospital, which they will probably do if they find something wrong, or she will be released.” I turned to my husband. “Let’s go home, ” I said. “I’m tired and I could use a drink.”
I called at 7:30, two hours later as I was told, and asked about my mother. A nurse came on the line. “She refuses to have her blood drawn. She is being rather difficult.” “Are you looking at her chart?” I said. “She was admitted as a 5150 and needs to be sedated,” I said. “I don’t see anything about that,” she said. “I’m going to call the social worker who talked with us. She can tell you,” I said hanging up. I had just dialed the number for the social worker and began explaining the situation when our land line rang. “It’s for you,” my husband said, “It’s the hospital.” He handed me the phone. It was the nurse I had spoken to offering me her apologies saying she had just come on duty and wasn’t aware of the situation. She said they would call when the tests were completed. We waited. And waited. Finally at nine my husband went to bed. “Wake me up if you want me to go with you,” he offered. I waited. Decided to have another glass of wine. And waited. Finally at 11 o”clock they called. “You can come pick your mother up. She is being released. Her tests were negative.” Should I wake my husband up? I had been drinking wine. I decided to just go. At this point I didn’t care if they pulled me over.
When I arrived my mother was laying on the bed completely relaxed. She was talking with the nurse. I looked down at her arm. She had big bruises from her wrist to her elbow. “What happened?” I asked. “They must have had trouble finding a vein,” he answered. “But her tests came out fine.” I looked down on my mother, lying there so vulnerable. Was I wrong to put her through this? I thought. Did my mother really know best?
My mother surprised me last Friday. I went to pick her up to take her to get her hair done and for lunch. No, she still wasn’t ready when I got there. What took me by surprise was when we left the room and began walking down the hall. She took a few steps and then stopped. “I don’t think I can go any further,” she said. “Shall I get the wheelchair?” I said expecting an angry reply of “No, I’m never going to use a wheelchair. I don’t need it.” Instead it was a calm answer of, “Yes, I think that would help.” Except for the pain of lifting it in and out of the car trunk, I think I was happier with using the wheelchair than she was. Instead of walking slowly three paces behind or in front of her, we were able to zip into the restaurant and right up to a table. Afterward I took her on a quick tour around the mall before her hair appointment. Oh, how free that felt!
ER Nightmares Part II
We only had to wait about 10 minutes before my mother was called in to see the doctor. As we were shown into the small room back of the intake desk we passed several people with white coats who were facing computers. When we were settled and my mother’s blood pressure taken, one of the white-coated doctors entered the room. The doctor gave an explanation similar to what the other doctor had said. They were going to draw blood to do tests that would determine if there was an infection. Septicemia could be very dangerous. After my mother was settled in the room next to the “computer room”, I went back to sit in the lobby. I well remembered the last time I took her to a lab to draw blood. She refused to get out of the car. This was in the middle of summer. In 112º heat. After an hour’s worth of time with my going back and forth to the lab telling them, “It’ll be just a few more minutes,” she finally gave in.
From the lobby I had a view of my mother sitting in her chair waiting. Soon a young male nurse walked up to her, talked for a few minutes and then left. I knew what had happened. I left the lobby, passed my mother and entered the “computer room”. The young nurse was sitting in front of one of the computers talking with the doctor. “Are you going to take my mother’s blood?” I inquired. “She told me she didn’t want me to do it,” he said. “So,” I said, or something like it. “We can’t take her blood if she refuses,” he said, with the doctor nodding agreement. “I thought the tests were important. She doesn’t know what she is doing. She isn’t capable of reason,” I said raising my voice a bit. “Well, what we can do is call a social worker,” the doctor offered. “Maybe she can talk with her.” “Great,” I said. They said when she came they would tell her I was waiting in the lobby and she would meet me there first. After about 40 minutes the social worker, a large amiable woman, came to meet me and I had high hopes. As we entered the small patient room she asked one of the nurse’s assistants to get my mother. As I began to explain to the social worker why we needed to talk with her my mother slowly entered the room with her walker. I still can’t grasp what happened next. “She’s crazy,” my mother said pointing to me. “I brought her to the hospital and she refuses to have her blood taken.” I didn’t need to have taken psychology courses to know this was a classic case of projection! As soon as I had closed my mouth, I began to protest. Sensing conflict, the social worker asked me to leave so she could talk with my mother alone. 10 minutes later she came up to me in the lobby. “Have you just been released from a mental hospital? Have you ever been in a mental hospital?”
To be continued . . .
It all started with a snake . . . or a would-be snake. One day last month I was getting ready to run some errands when I got a call from Atria. It was one of the aides. “Your mother is sitting in the hallway and won’t go back in her room. She says there’s a snake under the bed. Could you talk to her?” Knowing it would do no good talking with my mother on the phone I said, “I’ll be right over.” My mother has always been deathly afraid of snakes and it didn’t help that when we first moved to the desert and lived in a rural area we had our share of them on our property. Once when she and my dad were visiting one came in the house. We found it curled up under the water heater. Though we whispered and thought we removed it quietly, my mother found out anyway. When I arrived at Atria my mother was still sitting outside her room. “I’m not going in as long as there is a snake in there!” she exclaimed. I did a full inspection of the room. “I don’t see a snake, Mom, I think it left.” I finally convinced her to come back inside, but I could tell she was still having reality problems when she began talking about seeing her parents the night before.
Soon after we had returned to the room the patient care nurse came to see how my mother was. He then suggested that she go to a walk-in emergency medical clinic for a urinalysis. “What does this have to do with what just happened?” I asked. He explained that sometimes elderly patients begin having hallucinations due to an infection. If an infection that started in the urinary tract got into the blood stream there could be problems. My mother hadn’t complained of pains, but she did use Depends which may make her more likely to contract an infection, I thought. So over my mother’s objections I called my husband to bring over my power of attorney papers (just in case) along with the book I was reading.(I knew how these visits can go!) After my husband arrived and I convinced him to go along, thinking that he could serve as a buffer between my mother and I, we left for the doctor’s office.
Luckily there were not many patients waiting to be seen that afternoon so she did not have too long a wait. When the results were in we were shown in to see a doctor. “There is some blood in her urine and her white blood cell count is up. She needs more tests which I can’t do here. I would like her to go to the Emergency Room. I will send some papers with you so they will know what she needs.” Our long afternoon just got longer!
After checking in with the front desk we were soon seated in the waiting area near the admitting door. It was then that the badgering started. When my mother is angry she doesn’t cuss or yell. She becomes snotty and caustic. “I don’t know why I am here. There is nothing wrong with me. You’re trying to run my life. You don’t know anything about doctors or hospitals. I’ve worked with doctors. I know.” I first looked to my husband who tried to placate her but gave up. The rest of the time he kept his head in a book. I next moved across the aisle from my mother, but she kept on. People turned to look. Finally I moved across the waiting room. It was quiet. I began to read my book. . . . . . . . to be continued.
We went over to my mother’s Sunday to bring her a new remote control for her TV. When I visited her the day before she did not have her television on. She always has it on. When I asked her about it she said, “I don’t watch it all the time. I have so much to do I usually don’t watch it in the daytime.” I noticed her remote wasn’t on the table by the chair where she usually sets it. “Where’s your remote?” I ask. “I don’t know. I haven’t been able to find it,” she responds. With someone with dementia it is futile to ask them to retrace their steps or think about where it could be. So I begin my search with a “It has to be here somewhere.” I searched the closet, every drawer, under both chairs and the bed. I even looked in her suitcases. No remote. Did it get thrown out? It was a real mystery. When I told my mother I would get a new one for her I got the usual objections. “Don’t bother. I don’t want you to take time to do that. I’ll be fine without the TV.” This last statement was not true. Television is important to my mother. She doesn’t go out of her room and can’t enjoy books anymore. It is her link with reality.
That is why Sunday afternoon found us at Radio Shack purchasing a remote with large buttons that would be easy to use, and driving over to Atria to see my mother. While my husband was busy adding batteries and programing the remote I talked with my mother. “The toilet roll holder fell down and I can’t reach it,” my mother told me. I went in to retrieve it. “You’re out of toilet paper too,” I said, opening the cabinet door under the sink where I scrounged around looking for some. No toilet paper. But what I did find was her purse. I had never seen it there before. She usually hangs it in the closet behind some clothes or in the drawer under her nightgowns. I picked it up. On a hunch I unzipped it. Yes, there, sitting right on top was her remote control. I held it aloft to show my mother what I had found and then sheepishly went to tell my husband who had just finished programing the remote and was flipping through channels. All I got was an eye roll. I put the old remote in the top dresser drawer and we got ready to leave. Oh, first I called the front desk. “Room 16 is out of toilet paper. Could you please send someone over.”
A Call for Help
Last night at 12:30 AM we were awakened by a phone call. My husband answered and turned to me with the phone. “It’s for you,” he said. Still groggy from sleep, I hardly had time to speculate, but late night phone calls were rarely good. The last time I had dreaded receiving them was when my kids were teens and hadn’t come home yet. Now they both had families of their own and I wasn’t prone to worry. No, it wasn’t my kids this time. “This is Maria, at Atria,” the caller said, “I am sorry to bother you, but it’s your mother. She’s very confused. She just called the sheriff’s department and they called me.” It seems she thought she was in the hospital and couldn’t reach any nurses so she dialed 911! Oh no, I thought. “We have her calmed down now and are checking on her every half hour,” Maria said. So I wouldn’t have to go over there. As I handed my husband the phone I explained to him what had happened. “Your poor mother. Thank God her last name is different from ours,” was his only reply as he fell back to sleep.
I noticed today, when I went over to see her, (she was fine of course and had no memory of the previous night) someone had placed a large sign above her phone with the phone number of the front desk written in large black letters.
Another one of my mother’s friends died yesterday. Marilyn used to be our neighbor in the days when everyone on the street had kids and the mothers stayed at home. She had a great sense of humor and she and my mother had some good times together. Marilyn has suffered from Altzheimers for several years and has been in a nursing home. When I talked to Mom about it this morning she wasn’t upset. To her Marilyn was still as vital as she used to be. She told me about what they did together and said,”I talk to her a couple of times a week.”
When someone dies you usually try to console them by telling them to cherish the memories. My mother has constructed her own little reality to do this. What a blessing!
The day after I posted the story about my grandparent’s cabin I got a phone call. It was my mother, who rarely calls. After asking how I was she said she had some news. “My father sold the cabin in the mountains. I talked with my mother last night.” I was so taken aback all I could muster was an “Oh.” My mind, though, was reeling. She couldn’t have read my blog! She doesn’t even have a computer, much less know how to use one. But my mother went on, “Yes, I’m so glad they sold it. I didn’t like them driving up and down that mountain all the time.” I just agreed and we had a long discussion about mountain roads. ( Mom has always claimed to have an ESP connection. Could it be . . .)
My mother is having more of these hallucinatory experiences lately. I used to think she would dream something and then think it really happened, but many times this happens in the daytime. Mom used to work as a volunteer in the local hospital a couple of times a week, which she loved doing. She sometimes will get a card from the volunteer auxiliary wishing her well. At times she thinks she still works there and will mention how she has worked there that week. Other times she tells us that someone from the auxiliary called and they want her to come back.
Hallucinations are a natural part of dementia. With some people it can also be accompanied by paranoia when they are very distrustful and sometimes even try to attack others. The only way my mother expresses this is more of a memory problem. Someone is using her toothbrush because it is wet. It is probably one of the aides or someone they let in the room, she thinks. I got so tired of hearing this complaint I went to Costco and bought a pack of twenty. Now she has switched to her hairbrush. “Look at the hairs,” she says, “Someone has used this.” These are the times you need a sense of humor.
Yesterday was Daddy’s birthday. He would have been 96. In December it will be 15 years since he died of cancer. Mom doesn’t always remember how he died, or even that he’s dead. It is sad to have to remind her when she asks, “Is Daddy gone? I sometimes think he’s here.” He fought his colon cancer for two years; at the end he was in a lot of pain. Mom took care of him the whole time by herself and refused hospice until two days before he died. It is hard to understand why she doesn’t remember this period of her life. Her memory was good then, but maybe the overlay of time has made that part of her brain fuzzy too. I was worried that Mom would be emotional about the day so I called her last night. She was fine. We had a short conversation and she didn’t bring up the subject, but I’m glad I called.
It’s interesting what memories my mother wants to talk about. With her ability to remember present day events weak, she has reverted to the past. Her favorite topic is “the cabin”. When Mom was younger, it must have been when she was a teenager, her parents bought a large three story cabin in the San Bernardino mountains. On a clear day she would often look up toward the mountains and say to my sister and I, “You can almost see where the cabin used to be.” Of course as the years went by and the smog drifted into the valley we couldn’t even see the mountains. My grandparents sold it long before we were born. Something tells me it may have burned down.
That cabin is now very clear in my mother’s mind. She can tell you where it was located on the road up to Lake Arrowhead on a cliff overlooking the valley. She can take you through its many rooms and talk about the large stone fireplace in the living room. But what she most likes to talk about is who rented the cabin for periods of time. Madeline Carroll, who was a well known movie star at the time, was the renter. You can imagine being a teen how excited my mother would have been at the time. She talks about how when her family came up to stay in the cabin her best friend Letha would come also. The two girls would look through many of the things Madeline would leave there, trying on her clothes and using her perfume. She remembers one time Madeline was staying there with who they thought was her husband, until my grandfather read in the paper that the husband was on safari in Africa at the time. My mother always wondered who “the other man” was. Though such an event from the Hollywood set would not cause much of a stir nowadays, back then it would have been scandalous. I’m glad my mother has these memories to hold onto; it helps to fill the void of her everyday remembrances. I like to hear her talk about them, but I’m often taken aback when she says, “I wonder if Daddy (her father) ever sold the cabin?” I think so. He’s been gone 47 years. I say to myself.
Yesterday confirmed for me our choice of Atria for my mother was the right one. She has continued to want to stay in her room and not even go to the dining room for meals. I had come to get her to take her to Penney’s for a hair appointment. As we walked down the hallway to the door we passed several aides. Each one of them smiled and greeted her. “Oh, she’s out of her room!” several remarked. When I took her back after the appointment she decided to get some water or juice from the lobby before going to her room. I took some packages to her room, and as I was leaving I glanced in the lobby. She was talking to the Director as he was helping her choose what she wanted. I felt good about leaving her. I knew she was in safe, caring hands.
Living with or helping an elderly person takes patience. Lots of patience. I thought I was patient. Didn’t I live through my children’s teenage years? Surely having taught school for 35 would qualify me. Nothing prepared me with what was required to deal with my mother.
My mother always took a lot of time to get ready. Before she could leave the house it had to be spotless; no dishes in the sink, no shoes on the floor or toothpaste left uncapped. Now multiply that by ten, no, by 100! As you age your body doesn’t move as fast, but when it is complicated by arthritis with which my mother is afflicted, it takes forever just to get out of a chair and move to the closet. When she has to put her feet through two pant legs and ease her slacks over her hips it is an ordeal along with slipping her curled toes into shoes. It takes half an hour to put on makeup that used to be done in ten minutes. It is sad to see my always stylish, “put together” mother just opt for a quick dab of lipstick because it takes too much effort to do anything more.
When we have to pick Mom up to go anywhere I call two hours in advance and tell her I will be there in an hour. She readily assures me she will start to get dressed. An hour before we leave I call again. She usually has fallen asleep and the call wakes her up. Sometimes she doesn’t remember we are coming. “Yes,” she says again, “I’ll start to get dressed.” At this point I tell my husband that we’d better go early.
When we arrive, my husband, who has the patience of a gnat, usually decides to wait in the common area and read his book. I let myself into the room not knowing what stage of dress my mother is in. Sometimes she has fallen back to sleep. If she has not begun to dress Mom has trouble deciding what to wear. Often several outfits are strewn on the bed. She asks me which outfit would be the best. This, from a mother who easily made decisions for herself and had an opinion on everyone else’s! After she is ready I make several attempts to leave. It always takes time to find her purse which she has either hidden in the closet or in a drawer. Her keys should be in the top drawer, but sometimes we have to search for them. Closet doors need to be closed and curtains pulled. Most times she will go back in to get tissues for her purse.
She navigates her walker slowly down the hall apologizing for going so slow. My sister bought her a newer walker with a seat that has large wheels and moves faster. She refused to even try it. She also nixed the wheelchair which is paid for by Medicare and would make it easier for us to travel with her. “I just can’t walk very fast today. I need to get out and walk more,” she says. She says this every time. I always agree. We’re both in denial that she’ll be better tomorrow.
My mother is of the generation that doesn’t do her own hair. I guess when she was younger she did, but ever since I remember she went to the hairdresser once a week to have it done. (I never had this luxury. After two days mine looks like a greasy mess!) I know, though, like any woman, it makes her feel better when her hair is styled , so I try to make an appointment for her every week. We always start out with my mother saying she will call for an appointment. She never does; she forgets she said it. So the next day I call and make it, and then call her. “You didn’t have to do that. I could have done it. You’re so busy.” When I pick her up I always hear the same complaint. “I really want to go to Bonnie. She knows how to do my hair.” “But she’s in Riverside and you’re here,” I say. “No, I think she’s moved. She’s near me now.” And so it goes . . .
Now that we had my mother safely ensconced in Atria assisted living, we had to concentrate on how we were going to keep her there. She did have some savings which would keep her for awhile, but all her money was tied up in her house. After calculating what she would save on utilities and groceries by not living at home along with the cost of her board and care, I estimated she would have just three months before we had to come up with more money. It was easy to see that we either had to rent or sell the house. Since neither my brother or sister, or I wanted to deal with renters and the problems that could arise, even with a rental service, it became clear that we would have to sell.
Once we made this decision everything moved very quickly. A reasonable offer was made the day after we listed the house. The biggest problem, now, would be what to do with all of Mom’s “stuff”. She and Daddy were very organized so there wasn’t a lot of junk laying around, but the drawers and cupboards were filled as well as the garage. Besides furniture, clothes and linens there were all the kitchen appliances, cookware and dishes, especially the good china and serving ware. Mom also had valuable antique dishes, dolls, and other things that she had inherited. Should we have a garage sale? Do we want to take the time to sort and price everything? What do we do with the things we think are worth a lot?
After deciding time was money and none of us wanted to do a garage sale we opted to have an estate sale. Part of what influenced our decision was that the antique dealer who ran the sale had a list of thousands of people on his mailing/email list that would be contacted about our sale. We also asked ourselves what would we do with everything that didn’t sell? In an estate sale everything that doesn’t sell is reduced in price on the last day and then a another dealer comes in and buys what is left at an agreed price and then cleans the house. The dealer would take 33% commission on the sales. This sounded good. We would not even have to clean out cupboards. They would take everything out and price it.
So this is what we did. We took the sentimental and really valuable things and left the rest. It still took a lot of sorting, but was not near the job it would have been. Would I do it this way again? I did have some second thoughts when I went back to the house the day before the sale and saw everything of my parent’s laid out on tables. And the prices. I knew some antiques were worth more and was tempted to take them back, but things were priced to sell. Was I willing to take boxes of glassware and knick knacks from store to store to try to sell them? I think not.
It has been a year since I filed the police report. After calling weekly, and then monthly, I always got the same reply. “There are so many cases, we are backlogged.” and “We can’t talk about the case, but we are still working on it.” This week I received another call back. It was different this time. “Your case is still open, but it doesn’t look good.” After all this time, that’s what I hear?! I do understand, but it is frustrating! They may be looking at so many cases that each one becomes non-personal, like a number. But this is our problem, and it has affected our life, and most of all our mother’s. How can I explain to her when she asks, “Have you heard anything? Can I go home yet?”
You Can’t Stay Here
This time there was no choice and little discussion. My mother had to move out of the neighborhood. Now. This time she understood. After I filed the police report she couldn’t stay there. At first we thought it would be settled quickly and she could possibly move back. But it is not like the TV shows where crimes are solved in one hour. The justice system moves slowly. We didn’t realize just how slowly.
Again, we considered having my mother live with one of us, or stay with each of us in rotation. We tried the rotation for only nine weeks and knew it wouldn’t work. Our mother was so confused she didn’t know where she was half the time! It would have to be assisted living once again. Having been through this before I thought I knew where she could probably fit in. I called Senior Living Options and was put in touch with their representative, who was a different one than I’d worked with before. My sister thought she should go to a private home and we looked at a few, but I was not happy with what I found. After some negotiation help from the representative, we ended up with my first choice, Atria assisted living. It was clean and friendly and had an activity program and beautiful dining room. And it was again close to me.
We took a weekend to move in my mother’s mahogany guest room furniture and two living room chairs one pink and the other avocado green.I then went out shopping. I decided this time I would try to make my mother’s room look like a well appointed hotel room. I knew she was like me, not comfortable in rooms that weren’t color coordinated and nicely decorated. I found a beautiful quilt and matching pillows with large pink flowers in Marshalls. I ordered a small table for her kitchen area over the internet, and finished with a pale green rug and two artificial floor plants from Kohl’s. I hoped this would sell her on the room like the staging of a house for sale.
She did like her room and she settled into the routine of the place. She had many options to choose from there, from food to activities and the facility assigned a resident to talk with and show her around. We had high expectations that she would become part of the community. My mother had other ideas.