Dame at Sea

Dame at Sea

(google image)

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.






Dream of Flight


photo by Robert Croma

At the airport
missed plane
only two flying per day
had to go
Dad helped me pack
on the phone with Mom
and still packing

after a while, she stopped speaking
“Mom, Mom, are you there?”


I kept saying, “goodbye”
put the phone down
background noise / music on her end
then a click

I was traveling overseas

Where was she?

Baby Momma


Dolores and Mom II

Mom with her mother (my Grandma Rose) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

In a dream
I carried you
swaddled like an infant
you weighed so little,
as if you had no bones
“You’re so light,”
I said,
Then it hit me
it was you—now
85 years old
vulnerable and lost,
you didn’t speak or move.
where was I carrying you?



Say Something

Fourteen year old child protégé Jackie Evancho and Cheyenne Jackson are singing “Say Something”  on PBS, a taping of the concert “Awakening” at Longwood Gardens.

Say something, I’m giving up on you
I’ll be the one, if you want me to
Anywhere, I would’ve followed you
Say something, I’m giving up on you

Now she’s singing “Open Fields of Grace,” the voice of an angel. The music transports me. Transported is where I want to stay.

Tired of the usual, the mundane. Take me to that fantasy garden on stage where she sings “Take Me There.” That’s where I want to be.

I just returned from a visit with mom, cut short by her unkindness. I will no longer stay when she is abusive and unkind.

The visit started out okay. We drank chai tea and ate Choco Leibniz cookies, her favorites. We took a spin around the floor.

Gina was shrieking in the dining room, “Leave her alone! Get out of here.”

James, one of the nurses, said, “She does this morning, noon and night. Our hands are tied,” and he motioned with his hands.

“I know, nothing you can do,” I said, as Mom and I wheeled by.

Ronald wheeled by, eating a chocolate frosted donut with sprinkles. She said, “I don’t like him. He’s an old fart.”

As I listen to Jackie Evancho, I think of how Mom and I used to sing together. She had the voice of an angel. Where did that Mom go? I miss her.

“Do you want to go to the concert upstairs?” I asked.

“Not really,” she said. Why didn’t I listen?

“Come on, Mom. We’ll only stay a little while.”

“Whatever you say,” she said.

Jackie is singing Bono’s “With or Without You,” the most heartfelt version I’ve ever heard. She smiles after each song, and says, “Thank you.”

She’s being interviewed and asked what she thinks her purpose is, and she says, with all the bad things happening in the world, she thinks it’s to make people happy and give them a release. She’s so unaffected, respectful and humble. How refreshing.

Mom and I arrive at the concert in the Music Cares Salon. “Do you want to go in?” I say.

“No,” she says, a scowl in her voice. “I want to watch ER.”

“Okay,” and we head back upstairs and return to her room.

Raymond enters her room. “I can’t make it in,” he says.

Mom is blocking him with her wheelchair. “Don’t let him in, he’s been bad.”

“Okay. Raymond, do you want a cookie?” I say.

“Yes,” he says, and I hand him one. He nibbles the chocolate off the edges of the cookie greedily.

“He’s been bad. He soiled himself and smeared it all over someone else’s room,” Mom said.


Jackie is singing Ave Maria. I’m tearing up.

“I don’t want him in here.” She turns around and sees him.

“Raymond, she wants you to go out. I’m sorry,” I say to him.

He shuffles to the door, confused, cookie in hand.

I feel bad for him. Mom used to say how much she liked him.

“I’m all alone,” Mom says. “Nobody cares about me.”

“I’m here, Mom.”

“You’re never here.”

“I can only come on the weekend. I have a full-time job.”

“Why do you have to work full-time? I give you money from my social security check and food stamps.” She is getting angry.

“No, you don’t.”

“Yes, I do. I give you money every month.”

“No you don’t.” I have forgotten the Alzheimer’s rule: always say “yes, and,” as I learned in my improv training. I’m angry now.

“You’re all alone, you don’t need that money.”

“Whatever you say, Mom.”

“You have no idea what it’s like.” She is glaring at me.

“Okay, Mom. You obviously don’t want me here.” I pack up my stuff.

“Go ahead. You don’t want to be here anyway.”

“Whatever you say, Mom,” I say, as I head to the door. She doesn’t turn to look at me.

I tell James, “She’s being a real bitch, so I’m leaving.”

He nods and says, “Your mom’s been very combative in the morning. She doesn’t want to get dressed or out of bed. She fights and curses at the aides.”

“What can I do?”

“The doctor’s thinking of giving her something to calm her down in the morning.”

“Okay, let me know what I can do.”

“Have a good night,” I say.

“You too,” he says, smiling kindly.

Jackie twirls in her gorgeous white gown with pink vines climbing up and down it, raising her arms, bowing graciously as the audience applauds. Big smile on her sweet, bright face.