Dame at Sea

Dame at Sea

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It’s been a while since I posted, and I’ve missed my wordpress friends.

Last Sunday evening I got a call from Deirdre, a nurse at the Actors Home, letting me know that my mom was being transported to Englewood Hospital.  Deirdre  said that Mom was unable to raise her left arm, was dragging her left leg alongside the wheelchair and her blood pressure was elevated. All are stroke indicators.

Mom was admitted to Englewood Hospital late Sunday night. My first sight of her was Monday at 8:00 a.m. She was in a private room on the fourth floor in an immaculate hospital. She was hooked up to an IV and on antibiotics. She was sleepy when I first arrived, but within an hour she grew agitated.

“It hurts so,” she said, “it hurts.”

Her face contorted in pain and confusion.

I spoke to her nurse and asked if we could get her some pain medication. She said, “I have to get authorization from the Dr. Y.  I’ll page her.”

After repeated pages, no response.  The hours passed and Mom was screaming and asking for help.

“What’s going on?” I asked the nurse.

“Dr. Y is not responding to me.”

I asked her for the doctor’s number and told her receptionist / secretary that we urgently needed authorization for pain medication.

A young Indian doctor entered the room.

“Finally,” I said. “Can we get her some pain medication?”

“I’m the neurologist,” she said, “her GP has to authorize that.”

“This is ridiculous,” I said.

The neurologist approached Mom’s bedside.  “How are you feeling, Mrs. Herd?”

“Why don’t you do something?” she yelled.

The neurologist looked at me, and I shrugged.

“She has Alzheimer’s,” I said.

“May I ask you some questions about her?”

“Of course.”

A young woman entered the room carrying a clipboard.

“May I take her lunch order?” she said with an overly wide smile.

“Now is not a good time, ” I said.

She left as if scolded.

After the neurologist and the kitchen girl departed, Mom said, “Push it, push it.”

“Push what?” I said.

She motioned to the left bed rail.

I pushed the bed rail.

“Harder,” she said.

“Okay, you’re not going to fall out,” I said.

“Hold me, hold me,” she said, frantically.

“Okay,” I said, hugging her as best I could.

“Push it, push it!”

The day was spent in this fashion: holding her, pushing the side of the bed so she wouldn’t fall out. I pushed a chair against the bed railing and said, “Now you won’t fall, you can’t.”

She gave me a frightened look.

At around 11:45, the nurse said she received authorization to give her pain meds.

“What is that?” I said.


Shortly afterwards, Mom went quiet and stared blankly into the distance. Finally calm.

At 12:20 p.m., the GP arrived, casually strolling in, dressed in couture.

“What seems to be the trouble here?” she said, smiling.

“Well, I’ve been trying to reach you for the past three hours. My mom was in a great deal of pain.”

“I left you a voicemail,”  she said. “There was an emergency this morning.”

She approached Mom’s bed. “How are you feeling, Katherine?” she said, holding her left hand.

Mom pulled her left hand away, shooting her a hateful look.

“She doesn’t like that,” said Dr Y.

She turned to me, “With Alzheimer’s, you really don’t know if she’s feeling pain or if she’s simply confused.” She said this with arrogance.

“She was in pain; I can tell. I’ve been caring for her for the past five years.”

I can’t tell you how many times doctors have tried to explain the symptoms of Alzheimer’s to me, as if I have no knowledge of it. I know all the symptoms. I had to contain my anger.

“So what is the diagnosis?”

“We aren’t certain yet: the CAT scan was inconclusive. We haven’t been able to give her an MRI because she won’t stay still for 45 minutes. You don’t want to subject her to that, do you?”

“Of course not,”I said.

“She came in very dehydrated, and I suspect she has a UTI so she’s on fluids and antibiotics,” Dr. Y said.

“So what’s next?”

“We want to observe her for awhile. I’m hoping to release her by Wednesday.”

On Tuesday, my brother Rick took the bus from Elmira to see her. She was very happy to see us together.

Rick got there at 4:30 p.m. and I got there after work, at around 7:45.

“She was saying ‘help me, help me,’ earlier. Does she normally do that?”

“She has since she’s been here,” I said.

I put on Channel 13 for her – the news hour. At around 8:20, Mom said to us, “Okay, it’s time for bed now.”

I said to Rick, “I think that’s our cue to leave.”

On Wednesday night she was more agitated than ever, shrieking that she was in pain and saying, “Help me, help me,” then, “Jesus, please help me.”

She hasn’t mentioned God or Jesus in years.

I told the nurse she needed a sedative or pain killer. She gave Mom a dose of Lorazepam which made her dopey.

I asked how she was during the day. “She was .  .  . combative. She didn’t want the aide to wash her up.”

Time for another CAT scan. I accompanied her to Radiology, waiting outside during the procedure.

I heard a shriek.

When we returned to her room, the nurse said, “We’re going to change her diaper and give her her night meds. You can wait in the visitors lounge.”

“Okay,” I said.

I followed the sign to the vending machines, craving a dose of caffeine. It was 9:40 p.m. Pouring outside.

I didn’t have the correct change for a soda. Shit!

If only the vending machine dispensed shots of bourbon. I was spent.

In the visitors lounge, the TV was tuned to Fox News; they were blathering on about Trump, Carson & Co. There had been a debate that night or it was in progress. It didn’t really  compute.

I kept walking around the corner to see if her door was open.

After what seemed an eternity, it was.

On Thursday morning, Dr. L from the hospital called me.

He said, “The neurologist and I examined your mother’s CAT scan. There is evidence of chronic TIAs (transient ischemic attacks) or mini strokes. I’m prescribing baby aspirin, but there isn’t much more we can do. She’s being released back to the Actors Home this afternoon.”

I went to see her on Saturday. She was changed. A heightened level of anxiety and lessened ability to communicate verbally.

“Mmm hmmm, mmm hmmm, mmm hmm, mmm hmmm,” was her main form of communication.

She was calmest when I cut and filed her nails and removed her old nail polish: the icy hands warmed by the time I was through.

My friend gave me a green scapular and rosary for her. At first she didn’t want them, but later she let me put the scapular around her neck.

“Hold it when you’re scared,” I said.

“Yes, dear.”

“Do you want the rosary?” I said.

“Yes.” She wrapped it around her right wrist like a bracelet.

Lorin and I had a vacation planned starting November 1: a weeklong cruise to Orlando and the Bahamas. I considered canceling the trip, but realized there is not much I could do by staying at home. If I stayed at Mom’s bedside for seven days, could I will her not to have any more strokes (which is unlikely) or improve her condition?

All I can hope for now is a lessening or end to her pain and suffering.

As for me, I’m a dame at sea.






18 thoughts on “Dame at Sea

  1. It is ridiculous that they do not have standing orders for pain relief and backup for the GP. I guess it is what happens when administrators and lawyers take the reins of medicine. We are going through many of the same things with my mother.

    Try to enjoy your cruise, you can only do so much.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree with you. It’s downright criminal what they put patients through sometimes. There’s a new fear in the medical profession about over-prescribing pain medication, but it’s not like Mom is going to go selling her pain meds on the streets!
    Thanks for stopping by.


  3. Strange contradiction; ‘appears MD’s must go through a certain amount of dis-connect from their own humanity in order to attain the ‘clinical distance’ required to perform. Most commonly manifesting as, ‘arrogant assholes’ …why are ‘physician/patient dynamics ‘NOT’ part of their education? ..or is it?
    Have encountered fair share of “AA’s” while dealing w/my, almost 91 yr old mom. Although her issues are many, they have not yet reached the level that you have to deal with.
    Am grateful for your post’s and skills as a writer; the love/grace/dignity and compassion you display
    as a human being, is a constant encouragement. The word ‘encourage’ from the French,
    ‘Bravery of the Heart’ …in it’s best and highest form.
    So, enjoy…wish you n’ Lorin the best of best times, restoration and rejuvenation.
    Don’t 4get the sunblock!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I wonder if they are schooled in “patient/physician dynamics.” I tend to doubt it. I believe it’s something that can’t be taught, and is either in you or not. Thank you for the kind, supportive response. How is your mom, by the way? xox


  4. This post mirrors so much of my own experience with my dad. Every time he had to go into hospital we seemed to be engaged in a constant battle with the medical personnel. A Consultant would do his round and take him off meds the last Consultant had prescribed. One stopped his epilepsy medication and when asked why he’d done so gave a patronising reply about the potential harmful side effects. My sister just looked at him and asked, “Don’t seizures also carry potential risks?” Consultant turned on his heel and walked away. Dad’s own GP was wonderful but she couldn’t over-rise what a Consultant decided.
    I feel for you and I hope you enjoy your week’s, much-needed respite.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mary, thank you for the kind words. It never ceases to amaze me what hoops you have to jump through to get proper medical care by doctors, at least that’s been my experience when my mom’s been hospitalized. The nurses and the aides were uniformly excellent and compassionate.


  5. This post captures so many emotions, filtered through your immense intelligence and compassion. The immaculate hospital at odds with the the care as you describe here brought to mind that great scene with Shirley MacLaine in “Terms of Endearment” as she tries to get pain meds for her daughter, Debra Winger. I am so glad that you made your cruise 🙂 And swimming with the manatees is #1 on my bucket list!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your pain comes through your words. I remember getting irritated and defensive for my parents. One time, my dad had surgery. I waited around to see him. It was the end of the day and they “forgot” to let me know I could go in. When I got there, the nurse was telling him, “Now we agreed that you wouldn’t move your leg like that.” I looked at her and said, “You know he can’t help that, right?” She had no idea he had a compressed sciatic nerve. Luckily, he was still to groggy to hear her condescension.

    Liked by 1 person

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