Saturday, September 10, 2005

A Game of Bingo

In the Reminiscence Neighborhood, Bingo can be exciting.
In addition to what numbers are called and varying levels of ability at covering numbers, you've got many other levels of chance: whether players will leave the table, whether someone not playing will make an escape attempt through the secure door, whether someone's heart or brain will shout "Bingo," ending the game.
Today I called Mom to say, "I'm flying home from New York--I'll see you tomorrow."
"I'm winning!" she reported, using the cell phone of her caregiver, Jona.
Within minutes I boarded the plane and turned off my cell phone, happily, thinking "For the next five or six hours, no one needs me. I can be out of touch with the world."
But half an hour later, Jona noticed that Evelyn was slumped in her chair.
"Evelyn, are you okay? Evelyn!" All the care givers joined in the effort to rouse her, but she sat motionless, her body bent forward and to one side.
"Evelyn, can you talk to me? Evelyn! Can you talk to me?" cried Jona. This had never before happened in the year she had been working six days a week as Evelyn's private caregiver. There had been a crisis three months earlier, an allergic reaction causing Evelyn's tongue to swell and block her airway, but that had happened on Connie's shift, and today seemed different from that. Her tongue was not swollen, though it was hanging out of her mouth, and saliva was drooling from each corner.
"Marnie, call 911!" Jona decided.
Phone calls went out and almost two minutes passed as she continued to be unresponsive. Everyone tried to rouse her.
And then, amazingly, she opened her eyes. "Leave me alone... I want to go back to my room."
Meanwhile the nurse's aide and medications nurse rushed into the room from the second floor to find a big fuss being made over a patient who seemed to be fine.
"Why did you call 911? She doesn't need to go to the ER."
"Anne told us to call 911 if anything happens, even if it turns out that she's fine."
"You didn't need to call 911!"
Then the paramedics arrived, trying to assess the situation.
"Leave me alone--let me go back to my room!" Evelyn yelled.
"She's pale--her skin is cold," Jona told them. "She was unconscious for one or two minutes."
"I was just sleeping," Evelyn insisted.
But the paramedics took her vitals and decided not to take any chances. Over her protests, they put her on a stretcher and carried her out to the ambulance. Jona stayed with her and negotiated the questions and paperwork of the emergency room--all without so much as a Medicare or Blue Cross card.
Meanwhile Lorraine at the reception desk of Ocean View Assisted Living was enjoying a real emergency. She reached Emily at a football game in Maryland: "Your mother's unconscious! The paramedics are arriving!" Somehow word of Evelyn's miraculous recovery never reached her as she witnessed the action at the front door, including the inglorious exit via stretcher.
Lorraine did not reach me. I was peacefully reading The Atlantic at 40,000 feet, then sleeping for the last hour of the flight.
"You may turn on your cell phones," I heard and realized we were taxiing to the gate. When I turned the thing on, it exploded with messages.
Emily in a voice of alarm: "Mom's been admitted to the hospital. She was playing Bingo...."
John in a text message: "I visited your mother in the ER. She seems fine but--"
Groggily, I stumbled off the plane and to the baggage area, where John met me and took me directly to the hospital. By the time I got to bed, it was 3 am New York time.
In the constant game of chance at Ocean View Assisted Living, Mom was the winner of today's prize: an ambulance ride.


Emily said...

Bingo on the west coast, football on the east coast:

Anne and I had planned to spend the week sending and visiting our college children back east. We had prayed for "9 days of no incidents." It was not to be--the second day of Anne's trip and the day before my own, our mother had a restless night and awakened with a swollen and painful wrist. Announcing it was broken, she demanded a visit to the E.R.

For the first years of her Lewy Body Disease this was her social life. Partly because it was exciting, but mostly because it was familiar--she had been a professor of nursing AND a Navy nurse in WWII. As such she was accorded the respect and homage due visiting royalty whenever she was at the hospital, especially the ER. So whenever life got a little slow, or she needed extra TLC not provided by relatives, she figured a reason to go to the ER.
We since learned that some of this was real, and some was imagined/hallucinated, but as her LBD progrssed the incidents increased in severity and consequences--falls aplenty became a broken hip, general confusion and odd situations became Urinary Tract Infections, and so on. The hospital grew used to the double team of sisters arriving simultaneously with the paramedics and their 'eccentric' patient. We also planned our vacations around each other so someone would be around in emergencies.

Now our children, who had had just about enough of daily grandma crises, were heading off to school. We just needed to be mothers ourselves for the same 7 days. That left our mother on her own with 24 hour caregivers and Ocean View.

So several days after Anne's departure and one day before my own, I spent hours waiting in the ER with our mom and a very attentive caregiver as stand-in for Anne. The usual troupe of residents, medical students, nurses, and of course other patients waited with us, the most frequent comment being, "Is she always this way?" I never know how to answer that because it seemed so. Mom had become 'Loopy' but she was still herself. How much was the LBD, how much was her unique character, and how much was today's medical problem was always anyone's guess. I decided she was different and so, in conference by cell to Anne in NYC, we decided on a test for UTI. Good thing, because it was positive. Perhaps that is what disturbed her sleep in the first place and caused whatever happened to the wrist. Now, the wrist. Well, the Xrays weren't clear, and a radiologist couldn't be located. No matter, because now the xrays couldn't be located. So after 7.5 hours, mom was given a super splint to wear and keep her from hurting it further. Follow up with the orthopedist in a week (never mind that the receptionist will say there are no appts for 3 weeks). Exhausted and happily satisfied, mom and her entourage of daughter and caregivers (now the night shift too) return to Ocean View. I pray for 7 days free of complication.

Anne and I manage what we can by phone during the week. We say goodbye to our children, we stock their rooms. Anne is finally headed home on Saturday, and I find I am fighting a killer fever and sore throat. I contemplate flying home early but the airline won't honor the discount tickets. Dutifully, I trundle with my family towards the football game between one son's school, US Naval Academy, and anothers school, Stanford University. Like the midshipmen, I march in, only the roar in my head is not blue angels flying overhead. I am determined to be a good fan, mother, guest, I swear. Then the phone rings and a panicked receptionist at Ocean View pants that my mother is unconscious and they are calling 911. "Good idea," I say, trying to jump start my brain into mother mode. I leave a message on Anne's cell phone, knowing she is peacefully in the air by about 20 minutes. I notify her husband John so he can tell her when she arrives home, if for any reason her phone doesn't work. Also I ask him to call our brothers who live in other states. The crowd at the game is exploding along with my head and John asked me who scored. I give a brief summary of the game. I start to call Jona,the caregiver, but she rings me first. We speak quickly and I tell her she did the right thing to call 911. Take my mother to the ER where she is happy and cared for. Then Anne will come home and we will deal. Another touchdown or two in between 4 more calls to/from Ocean View, John, Jona, Anne. And only 3 minutes into the football game. My fellow spectators look at me as if my mobile phone use is ruining their enjoyment of the game, but there is no where to go in the crowds.

I come to the conclusion that this is another of those strange LBD "zone outs" that I have seen. My mothers just zones out for 3-5 minutes. Her eyes go askew, her mouth falls open, she does not talk or sleep. It looks a little scary and she does not rouse when you call her or nudge her. Then just as quickly she awakends and picks up right where she left off. My brother saw the first one 3-4 yrs ago. I saw them and finally Anne saw one. Now Jona has seen one. This seemed to scare her, but I am comforted by the diagnosis of Lewy Body Disease. Its definitely sad, and mom will slowly die from it, but at least this puzzle piece is explainable.

Somehow it is all handled. The phone stops ringing. The game continues on with both teams scoring 79 points total. My fever goes up, my voice goes down for the count. I give up and go rest in the car for the last quarter and miss the opportunity to tailgate and chat with alumni and middies. I feel as confused as I have seen my mother at times and wonder, does LBD start here? at middle age while caring for one's mother in attendance of one's children? The car is silent as I alternate between chills and fever. The phone is silent as I wonder about so many things, but I realize that I will sleep, restlessly, while Anne will arrive at the airport at midnight with messages that demand her attention for the night. We made it 6 and a half days.

Anne Eggebroten said...

A transcript of Emily's phone message to me:
"ANNE! This is Emily. I'm at this game. I almost flew back tonight. Apparently Mom is unconscious and Lorraine at Ocean View just called me and they're calling 911 and taking her to the hospital. I don't know what it is. There's not a whole lot I can do, and I know you're in the air, but as soon as you get this message--um, just realize Mom is probably at the ER and let me know what you know, and [suddenly cheery tone] I'll be home tomorrow. Thanks. Bye."