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.