Emergency, emergency!

I woke up this morning to the sound of my cell phone ringing. It was 5:41 a.m. I didn’t get to it in time to answer. The call-back number: Mom’s nursing home. My heart started beating very rapidly. I stopped to pee before I called back. The nurse had left a voice mail to call back about Mom. They always do that when there is something specific they need to tell me about her status – they just say, “Call back for an update about your mom.” While I was dialing, Patrick’s cell phone started buzzing. He is the backup emergency contact. The nurse answered and started talking right away. Mom had fallen and hit her head on one of the wooden railings along the wall in the center. She had a cut on her head that wouldn’t stop bleeding. They had called the squad, and wanted to confirm that my hospital of choice was Ohio State’s Medical Center. I told the nurse I would meet Mom at the hospital. I warned her that Mom had rejected a squad ride months ago when she was going to get a ride for a dermatology appointment. She didn’t seem worried – Mom was lying in the hall with her head on a towel and had remained calm. I hoped for the best.

I got dressed, put on deodorant, put water on my hair and brushed my teeth. I left the house, feeling determined to drive safely. It helped that there was very little traffic. I found my way around construction to the emergency room, where I had to wait for what seemed like way too long for someone to acknowledge my presence. It was 6 a.m., so it made sense that there weren’t many people up front. There weren’t many people waiting, either. A nurse I checked in with gave me a visitor sticker and told me to wait until Mom was checked in. I sat down for about 30 seconds and then was allowed to go back. The paramedic was still in the room, taking notes. Mom looked pathetic, lying with her head held forward, with blood all over her face and hands and a bandage over her left eyebrow. I started rubbing her head and arm. I asked the medic how she did on the ride, and he said she was fine. Quiet. “You’re a great guy,” she said to me. This got the medic’s attention. “I look like a boy with this short hair,” I told him. She was talking about “him” being OK. I think she was talking about herself.

A nurse came in to take Mom’s blood pressure with an automatic device. As it was squeezing Mom’s arm, she was trying to put a thermometer in Mom’s mouth. Mom was saying, “Ow. Ow. Ow!” about the squeeze on her arm. She wouldn’t open her mouth. “I guess I shouldn’t try to take her temperature while I’m taking her blood pressure,” she acknowledged. She never did get Mom’s temperature. Mom’s BP was 105 over 55. This nurse left. An admissions rep came in to take Mom’s info. Thankfully, the Alz center had all of her info – Medicaid number, date of birth, etc. But I had grabbed Mom’s driver’s license and Medicare card on my way out of the house. A doctor came in to take a quick look. Mom yelled at him because he pulled her hair removing the tape from her head. Her cut was pretty bad, about an inch long and half an inch wide, maybe so big and mushy from landing on a dull surface. Later another nurse came in. My favorite person. She asked a few questions about Mom’s diagnosis. “Bless her heart,” she said a few times. The doctor had ordered supplies for sutures in Mom’s head. A CT scan was planned, too. She was given an Ativan to relax. The nurse and I strategized to get it into Mom’s mouth. She doesn’t understand instructions, so we tried to get Mom to open her mouth and then toss in the pill. Mom ended up chewing the pill, without complaint. She did drink a little water, too. Shortly after taking it, she was sound asleep, snoring.

The CT scan came back normal – or as normal as it can be for a person with dementia. No bleeding in the brain. When the doctor came in to do the stitches, he asked me to help. He put cloths over the top of Mom’s head and over her face to keep the wound exposed and the area clean. Mom pulled the cloth off of her face. I rearranged it so it covered one eye and her mouth. And then I firmly held her head with one hand and her hands with the other while the doctor gave her a long shot of lidocaine. “Ow!” she said. She squirmed. She screamed once. Before he was done, though, she relaxed. He cleaned the wound and that was messy, and she complained. He had to do two stitches in the tissue underneath the surface. Mom did pretty well for those. But once he started the external stitches, she winced a few times when the needle went through. “What are you doing?!” she said. And the string tickled her face, and she tried to brush it away. “This will be a very good result, cosmetically,” the doctor said. I certainly do not care about that, but I think he was doing his best to find a bright spot. He thanked me for helping him. I thanked him for being as gentle as possible. And I said, “I’m glad I can help. I often feel helpless when it comes to Mom.” He felt along Mom’s body to check for other injuries. He put his hand behind her neck and asked if it hurt. “Bonnie Caldwell,” Mom replied. They were both doing their best under the circumstances.

After he left, I toweled off Mom’s bloody hands and the rest of the blood that had dripped behind one of her ears. I told Mom I would be taking her home soon. She had done a lot of talking, sometimes speaking just plain gibberish. But considering the stress, I think she really did great. She sat up, and said, “I’ll be a goddamn son of a bitch.” And I laughed really hard. I went to get my car and came around to pick her up. I had the air conditioning blasting, and she said, “I don’t like the cold.” Not the Bonnie I remember, who loved air conditioning. I turned it down and put on classical music. She crossed her legs and sat completely silently for the ride back to the center. When we got there, I tried to lure her out of the car, and she was just sitting there. So I grabbed her legs and pulled them to the side and out the car door, and she said, “Well, just wait a minute.” She was a little stiff, so she might have pulled a muscle or something. She also had socks on, so she walked gingerly to the door. It was a little difficult convincing her to walk into the building. Once we got in the lobby, she plopped down in a chair. I gave a nurse the discharge instructions and told her I thought Mom could use a nap. They planned to have aides take her to her room with a wheelchair. I thought I might just confuse the situation, so I left. Everyone was interested to see how Bonnie was doing, so I knew she would be in good hands.

I went back to check on her later in the afternoon, and found her napping on the couch in the lobby. I hoisted her legs onto my lap and sat on the end of the couch. She slept off and on, and I rested my head. I could see serious bruising around her eyebrow and on her cheek. We sat like that for about half an hour. And then Mom perked up, and sat up. I took a photo of her stitches.

The bruising extends from around the stitches, down around her eye and to her cheek. Poor girl took a hard fall.

We walked around for a bit, and then I encouraged her to sit at a table and wait for dinner. I kissed her goodbye. I hope she sleeps through the night and doesn’t take any late-night walks for awhile.

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13 comments so far

  1. JenniferJayhawk on

    That was quite a story Emily. I’m glad everything turned out somewhat ok. It looks like your Mom took quite a hit. It’s always jarring to be woken up that way.

    My Mom’s skin is paper thin so her whole body looks like a battleground.

  2. glenna on

    Thinking of you & your Mom.

  3. endlessperpetuation on

    I am glad that it all turned out relatively well. You were a pro in that early morning, post phone call time when we have no idea which way things are going to go. I hope that YOU get some well deserved rest & pleasant sleep tonight.

  4. Sherri on

    I’m sorry, Emily – what an ordeal – scary to get those wee hours phone calls. The eye looks good, though – particularly for having just been stitched. Your mom, btw, is the only other person I know who has blood pressure as low as mine. Random observation, I realize :-). I do hope she sleeps better – stops the late night walks, as you said.

  5. momsbrain on

    Jennifer: My mom bruises easily, too, on her arms and legs. I asked the nurse this morning how it looks and she said, “not as bad as some bruises we get around here.” So there is that…

    Glenna: Thank you!

    Endlessperpetuation: Well, thanks for saying I was a pro. I am prone to NOT being a pro, to being highly emotional and rushing, and I knew I needed to keep it together and not make the situation worse by doing something stupid like getting into an accident. Luckily, I was wide awake, I assume with adrenaline.

    Sherri: Interesting about the BP. I wasn’t sure how that compares to her normal state, but I was just glad it wasn’t high. I’m findings lots of people can relate to the phone call timing… and luckily mine wasn’t really TOO far off normal wake-up time.

  6. Jeff on

    I’m so impressed with your ability to help out in the emergency room. That must have been a great comfort for the nurses and doctor to see. I also hope Mom doesn’t take any more late night walks That must have been scary for the staff and confusing for her However, I also laughed out loud at her quote “I’ll be a GDSOAB”!

  7. momsbrain on

    Hi, Jeff. I was impressed that they let me help. I think emergency departments are flexible and they could see that Mom was not going to follow their instructions. Because she can’t. She was funny. And even though hospitalization can cause a serious setback in some dementia patients, I think Mom recovered nicely. I saw her Saturday and she was in a very good mood.

  8. Laura on

    Sorry you had to go through that, but sounds it went quite smoothly all in all. She seemed fairly lucid at times – maybe the accident knocked a little sense into her to help deal with the situation. I loved how she stated her name.

  9. momsbrain on

    Hi, Laura. She definitely seemed to know that something had happened to her that made her willing to stay on the gurney. Her usual restlessness wasn’t showing. I’ll never know how much pain she actually felt. And we also don’t know if she lost consciousness. It was funny when she said her name. The doctor didn’t know what to make of her. But he better get used to seeing dementia patients.

  10. Melinda Poling on

    Just a reminder Emily – the Alz center is responsible for the bill – not Medicare or Medicaid – if you have any problems – you know how to reach me.

  11. Melinda Poling on

    Glad she is doing better!

  12. momsbrain on

    Melinda, Thanks. I am perplexed by what you’re saying. I would expect Medicare, supplemental insurance and then Medicaid to pay for it. I guess I will find out.

  13. […] thoughts of Mom drift in and out all day, every day. I recently told a friend/co-worker about the emergency department experience we had when Mom fell and needed stitches. (That was five years ago. Seems like yesterday.) We were […]


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