Reality check

My phone rang at 6:30 on Thursday morning. It was my mother – my mother who rarely phones me, never mind that early in the morning. I knew something was wrong immediately.

Her voice was weak and quavery. She said she’d fallen on her way to the bathroom. She said her left leg and hand were numb and tingly. She asked me to come over.

She doesn’t live far. I was there in fifteen minutes, heart pounding all the way. I cannot begin to describe the terror I was feeling.

Mom was laying on her bed, on her side. She looked awful, pale and ill. I held her, she repeated what she’d told me on the phone, her voice a little stronger now that she wasn’t alone any more.

I called 911. I told the operator that I suspected a stroke. I gave her Mom’s address, and she assured me that help was on the way. She had me ask Mom to smile, which Mom did with both sides of her mouth even. She had me ask Mom to raise both arms above her head, which again, Mom did with both arms even. She had me ask Mom to say “The early bird catches the worm”, which Mom did, articulating clearly if weakly. I already knew that those are the three quickest ways to determine whether or not a serious stroke has occurred, so I started feeling a bit less scared.

The paramedics arrived. I set out all Mom’s medications and her medical card for them to note for their paperwork. They asked her a few questions, had her do the same things that the 911 operator had had me get her to do. They checked all her vital signs. They reassured her – and me. They brought the stretcher close, but she still had to be practically carried the four or five steps to get to it. Her left leg was not lifting off the ground. She was so weak. They took her to the nearest hospital. I followed in my car.

We waited two hours in the hallway before being taken into the emergency ward. Mom had to go to the bathroom during that time. Again, the paramedics had to almost carry her because that left leg was so unstable. That exhausted her again.

Finally in a bed in emergency, she was hooked up to monitors and the colour started to come back to her face. The feeling came back into her hand. She was able to move her left leg while lying down, but she still was unable to support herself enough to walk. The emergency doctor checked her over and mentioned that her heart rate was fluctuating erratically, a condition known as atrial fibrillation. I googled it immediately. It’s quite common in the middle-aged and elderly, is quite treatable, and people with it are more prone to strokes.

The internist arrived at 4:30 pm. He too noticed the atrial fibrillation. His preliminary diagnosis was a small stroke, possibly due to that. He ordered more tests: CT scan, ultrasound, ECG. He checked Mom’s leg strength. I thought it was stronger than before.

Mom spent the night in the emergency ward. I spent the night at home, waking up every couple of hours.

Back at the hospital the next day, Friday, Mom’s own GP visited her. She said that the atrial fibrillation was new for Mom, but that it was definitely treatable. She reassured Mom that after a few days there for further testing, observation, and a bit of physical therapy, she would get Mom a walker and she could almost certainly go home and continue to live independently. I relaxed a bit more then.

Mom finally got moved to a bed in one of the hospital wards at about 5 pm. I helped settle her in, put all the things I’d brought for her away in the cupboard beside her bed. I ordered her TV service so that she could watch the curling tournament that she was upset about missing. She started reading one of the magazines I’d brought her. She looked healthy and relaxed. Just before I left for the night, the nurse brought her a walker, showed her how to use it, then took her down the hallway to try it out. She was walking immeasurably better than I’d seen yet, lifting her leg properly and moving smoothly. I exhaled in relief.

I think she’s going to be okay.

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17 responses to “Reality check

  1. All the best to your mum! So scary for you, but it sounds like she’s well on the road to recovery already.

  2. That is scary, but what a relief that she’s o.k. All the best for a speedy recovery, but it sounds like she’s already on the way! 🙂

    • Thank you, Pauline. I’m off to the hospital now to see her and get the latest news. She was going to be assessed by the rehab team this morning, so I hope they’ll have a therapy program for her so she can strengthen that leg and get home quickly.

  3. I am hoping that all is looking better for your Mum. Sometimes, it can be scarier for the person not affected as they feel rather helpless through it all.

    • VioletSky – Thanks! And you’re right about it sometimes being worse for the person who watches it all, because all I can do is sit with her, take notes when the doctor comes to see her, and advocate for her whenever possible. I do feel like I’m not doing much at all and though I know she appreciates my near-constant presence, I don’t know if it’s enough.

  4. I have the feeling that your mother is made of strong stuff and that she will be fine. She’s always been a tough and independent lady and will continue to be so. She knows no other way to exist after all. Good luck to both of you and all my best wishes. A big hug for both of you too.

    • Irene – Have you met my mom or something?? You’ve absolutely nailed her personality! Thank you for your good wishes and hugs – much appreciated!

  5. Life Is Ducky

    Thank goodness both your Mom and you are both doing alright. I was reading the other day that Sir John A. MacDonald’s mother had a whopping 12 recorded strokes – here’s hoping your Mom is made of similarly strong stuff.

    • Thank you! Yes, my mom really is a tough old bird and very pragmatic. I doubt she’s ever felt sorry for herself in her entire 82 years! I’m not quite so strong, but I’m dealing pretty well so far – though if she has 12 strokes, I don’t think I will! And how are YOU doing lately? I know you’ll be having ups and downs, but I hope the ups are gradually getting a bit longer than the downs!

  6. How frightening! What a relief that she was able to call you and that you are so close by. Sending positive, healing vibes her way…I wish her a speedy recovery.

    • Thanks, Nicky. She’s doing really well, other than her gout is now flaring up and she seems to have strained some muscle in her good leg … all of which is pissing her off tremendously. But I suppose if she’s going to be in the hospital, she might as well have ALL the medical problems at once!

  7. Poor you and poor your mum. Stuff like this is always so very scary but it does sound like she’s in good hands. Please tell her that complete strangers from the other side of the planet wish her the very best…

    • Mrs Jones – Thank you so much! She IS in good hands: all the medical professionals I’ve dealt with in the past two days have been respectful and caring and patient and calm and … I just can’t say enough about them, really.

  8. Distressing and scary and I can empathize. Albeit I am younger than your mom, I had the same thing nearly 3 years ago. But, she (and you) did exactly what was needed and the prognosis is good. Frightening to the observer and even more frightening to the person it’s happening to, believe me. I could only think, I’m young yet. I don’t want to die yet. Anyway, I did all the ‘right’t things to deal with it re blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. And for me absolutely no residual effects, thank God.

    • mrwriteon – Good to know that someone else has experienced this and has come through with flying colours – but a bit distressed that it was YOU! But like you, Mom seems to be bouncing back well, and should be back home in a couple of days.

  9. How scary for both of you, and how good your medical service is. I am glad that she is getting better, and hope you get some decent sleep now you don’t have to worry about her.

    • I’m totally impressed by our medical system thus far myself! Even with all the budget cuts there over the past decade (just like education), I believe they are still doing an amazing job from what I’ve seen over the past two days. And yes, I slept wonderfully last night.