Another infection

I had two calls from Alz center nurses last week. I was just leaving a work-related evening reception event at about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday when my cell phone lit up. A night-time call, for some reason, gives me pause. The nurse said staff had just noticed that Mom had a swollen jaw. They had been trying to get her to drink some juice, and she rejected it. That’s when an aide noticed the swelling. The staff members didn’t know what the source of the swelling was, so they had lined her up to be seen by the visiting physician the next day. I asked what time he would be there so I could try to visit at the same time and possibly assist with the exam. It could be anytime from 1 to 2:30, the nurse said. I was concerned that Mom had a rotten tooth that was abscessed and would need to be pulled.

I showed up the next day at about 1:10. The doctor was in already, and I tracked him down to see when he would see Mom. He asked me to wait about 15 minutes. I went over to the program area and found Mom sitting on a couch, resting her head in one hand, very drowsy. I pulled up a chair and sat as close as I could to her. I patted her arm but she didn’t acknowledge my presence. I just kept my hand on her arm and sat. I tried to look at her jaw, but her head was hanging forward and I couldn’t see any definition or lack of definition in her jaw. She eventually opened her eyes and began to slowly turn and let her head fall toward the middle of the couch, with her feet toward me, her knees bent. I rubbed her leg and felt a tough spot, so I lifted her pants up to her knee to touch the spot, which was on her upper front calf. I couldn’t tell if it was a bruise or a rough patch from previous skin problems. I tried to pull down her pant leg and she stopped me and said, “Oh, no. Oh, no.” She pulled it back up. I think she thought I was going to try to take her pants off.

She turned sideways and rested her head on her two hands, together as if in prayer. She was so tired. The doctor came and nudged her and tried to talk to her. He called her Mrs. Caldwell, and I noticed he called another patient by her last name. So respectful, but probably the only person who addresses the residents that way. Mom knitted her brow and fussed a little as he started lifting her head. I went behind the couch to try to grab one of her arms, but the doctor said he got to feel the lump on her right jaw and, as he suspected, she had an infected salivary gland. He said the gland was probably backed up with fluid, the result of food particles getting stuck in the mouth. Shortly before he came, Mom had slid her finger into her mouth and ran it along her right cheek. He said that further convinced him that it was her salivary gland. I asked if it hurts. He said it might be inflamed. He prescribed antibiotics and said she could be given a pain reliever if staff thought it was needed. I figured Mom was tired because she was a little bit sick with infection. After the doctor moved on to the next patient, I got up close to Mom and put my arm around her. She made sleepy sounds like she was just a little annoyed. She reminded me of a child. I hugged her and kissed her cheek and left her to nap.

The next day, a nurse called me during the day to tell me Mom had gained five pounds in a week. The nurses were going to monitor her weight weekly. Mom’s legs have been puffy for years, and sometimes there is more swelling, or edema, than other times, and they thought that could be one source for the gain. She has been a little lethargic, perhaps because of her infection. They weren’t alarmed, but they wanted to let me know it’s a change in her condition and something they’ll be watching. I appreciated the call. I think they are choosing to err on the side of telling me things now, which is what I want.

These events followed a visit last Tuesday that was very enjoyable. Mom was in the program area, resting on a couch she was sharing with an older woman resident I didn’t recognize. This resident was wearing her nightgown and looked very cozy. Mom eventually stretched her feet out and put them on this lady’s lap. And the woman patted Mom’s feet. It was a sweet moment. Mom was in a good mood, making pleasant conversation. Meanwhile, this new resident told me she is hard of hearing and suggested I write her a note. I pulled a gum package out of my purse and wrote on it, “What is your name?” She wrote her name in a shaky but classic script. I wrote, “Do you have any children?” And she wrote her name again. But she told me she had a daughter. It turned out I was visiting during an emergency drill so I helped coax Mom into one wing of the program area, where all residents and staff were gathered until an aide could account for everyone. While we were assembled in these close quarters, Mom encountered her boyfriend, Mr. Beard, and the two of them began walking around the perimeter, holding hands. She was busy with him, so once we heard the all-clear to end the drill, I slipped away without saying goodbye.

9 comments so far

  1. Jeff on

    Tom had an impacted salivary gland once while I was out of town. He said his face swelled up huge, but it also resolved quickly. I like the idea of a new friend for Mom.

  2. momsbrain on

    I had a coworker with an infected gland, too, and she said it hurt a lot. A nurse called today to say Mom is now down 5.2 pounds in a week. That makes me think it was leg swelling. The nurse also said her feet look less swollen. So weird.

  3. Mary Jane Metz on

    I’m pretty sure your mom actually did try meditation as several of her friends were starting to get interested shortly before her diagnosis. My memory is that she thought she lacked the patience for it. I’ll check with Eve though . She might remember more. I do definitely remember that she went to a yoga class (my teacher and my recommendation), but she didn’t like it and didn’t go back.

  4. patwhite67 on

    Sending my thoughts to you as you are there for your mom.

  5. momsbrain on

    Thanks for the info, Mary Jane. There’s so much I don’t know about Mom… I have a vague memory of the yoga attempt, but I had no idea she considered meditation.

    Hi, Pat. Thanks for the support. I saw Mom Tuesday evening and she wasn’t in the best mood. She was all prepped for bed and might have been tired, but she seemed just a little bit irritable. Her infection was better, but I thought there was a chance she still had some pain.

  6. Jeff on

    I can remember an incident at the Neil Ave apartment that might have put Mom off meditation. She had a downstairs neighbor whose son occasionally meditated and chanted SO LOUD that it could wake you out of a sound sleep in the extra bedroom. That can’t have been fun to live with, even though it was TM and therefore a different type of meditation. On another note, I was at physical therapy today and saw two older women working on physical issues, one who was just a little unsure of everything and one who had her daughter with her and who was clearly with at least moderate Alzheimer’s. This was confirmed by overhearing a conversation. I thought that we are lucky that the staff at the Care Center would be helpful if anything like that were necessary. I can’t imagine trying to care for a parent and having to get them to physical therapy, let alone to understand why it was happening.

  7. momsbrain on

    Jeff, I remember that guy very well. One time, Mom and Carmen, I think, tap-danced in the living room to drown out the chanting. And then they left, and I was home alone, and the guy came up to tell me some plaster had fallen from the ceiling. It was an uncomfortable moment for me – but he wasn’t a bad fellow. The Alz center staff do offer all types of therapy. I used to take Mom in to the neurology clinic at Ohio State frequently for clinical trials, and I don’t think she knew why we went there so often. Everyone was nice to her, of course, but she didn’t like being tested for her memory and always complained about that – it made her feel stupid.

  8. Vin @ dementia-mama-drama on

    I can totally relate. I have diagnosed Mama with UTI’s before the doctors even had an idea. Enjoy reading your blog, thanks for sharing.

  9. It’s so tough to see your loved ones sick. Especially when you feel like there isn’t much you can do to help them get better.

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