Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Sky Really Fell

“Don’t cry wolf,” My Mom would caution almost daily when we were young. Sometimes she’d even tell elaborate stories of a little girl that made up tall tales. One day this little girl found herself in a lot of trouble and really needed help and no one would believe her. I don’t know about my sister, but I would sit terrorized listening to this story. We used to read about Chicken Little and his cries over “the sky is falling, the sky is falling,” too. He seemed a little more annoying, so I was never too concerned over his well being. And from what I remember, he ended up being right anyway.
I guess the message got through. I know for sure my sister never made false claims to garner attention and I hardly did either. My most famous cry wolf didn’t take place until third or fourth grade when I maybe overplayed a sprained ankle a little at summer camp. The minor twist really hurt when it happened, but by the time the pain receded I was already getting piggy back rides around the property. Come on, who would pass up that kind of fun?
What I don’t understand is why My Mom was so obsessed with that specific type of precautionary tale back then or why she isn’t heeding her own warning now. That woman is so dramatic over a stubbed toe or a brush against her skin, I actually find myself feeling irritated if she complains of pain rather than checking to see if it’s legitimate or not. Not a good MO for a caregiver. And it landed us in a very traumatic situation yesterday.
Actually, let me back up to mid July. It’s one of the blogs I didn’t post yet – My Mom and I were leaving the house and she kept acting exhausted. I knew she was faking it, so I insisted she get moving. We made it to the kitchen sink where she grabbed the side of the counter just as her knees buckled and her feet swung out from under her. I was right by her side, grabbed her and the shock of it all brought her back around again in a split second. She became perky and alert enough to continue to head out of the house. The situation left me shaking like a leaf and very aware of how unprepared I was for an emergency. It also reminded me how lucky I had been that in two and a half years of caregiving, I never had to make a trip to emergency and never had to dial 9-1-1. A few of my friends that have begun caregiving for parents have been strapped with medical emergencies on top of the every day duties. My situation seemed like a breeze in comparison. So as we hit the car and took off for our afternoon of fun, I actually began to doubt once again whether my dramatic Mom hadn’t faked at least a little of the incident.
Fast forward to yesterday. We had a replay of feigning exhaustion. She had already been in bed for two days and I was convinced oversleeping was the culprit, nothing truly health related. She did have one of her recurring Urinary Tract Infections. The doctor’s office had already called in the prescription, I figured she could go to adult daycare for a couple of hours of activity while we waited for the scrip to be ready.
Through closed eyes and grunts we trudged to the daycare. As expected, her eyes popped open and a smile hit her face as we walked through the door to hear “America the Beautiful” being crooned at the sing-a-long. The only problem was her tummy was grumbling to the music as well.
The rest of the group soon left for lunch. My Mom and I stayed behind to make a trip to the restroom. Alone, in a room completely constructed of tile, she pulled the “I’m going down” routine. I yelled, I grabbed her head and told her this wasn’t the place to try this antic and then I realized …. she wasn’t faking it. This was a real emergency. Her eyes rolled back, her body convulsed and I abandoned yelling at her and instead screamed for help at the top of my lungs. No one could hear me – and I wasn’t crying wolf. The whole group had gone downstairs to the lunch room. I was in a giant, empty facility, hoisting My Mom’s crumpled body like a toddler on my hip trying to figure out what to do next. First I begged to hang in there. Next I asked forgiveness for not believing she was really sick. Then, fearing we were both going to hit that hard tile any minute, I propped her on the walker and somehow made it back out to the main room. Her head continued to sway back dangerously. My calls for help remained unanswered. I wrestled between staying with her and running for assistance. Survival won out. She somehow stayed propped half on the walker and half on a table while I ran down the hallway to the front desk. “Call 9-1-1!” I yelled, still trying to convince myself it was really an emergency. I had never done anything that weighty. “She might be having a stroke,” I added, mostly to convince myself that, yes, this was real. This was that dreaded emergency that any caregiver knows will happen one day.
By the time I got back to the room, the worst of My Mom’s episode had subsided. With help, she sat upright. Eyes closed and even more exhausted than early that day, but alive and somewhat well. Well enough that I started thinking I would look like an idiot in front of the paramedics. Who would look like she was crying wolf now? Just as I debated calling them off, they wheeled in. The first thing I did was apologize. They reassured me I was right to call and even started calling out symptoms as if to make me believe I wasn’t crazy. She was still pale, had almost no blood pressure and was severely dehydrated.
“I’m starting to doubt she should go to the hospital,” I admitted.
“She is bouncing back,” one of the guys said, but you should have her checked out. But a full blown ambulance ride? I thought to myself. It just seemed too dramatic.
“What would you do if it was your mother?” I asked.
“Don’t ask me that,” the female answered. “I’d leave her here.” At least, comic relief.
“What if she was a good Mom, instead of a bad one?” I added. We all laughed.
They assured me we were doing the right thing. I admitted, even to my disbelieving self, that at the age of 88 it was pretty miraculous that this was the first trip to the hospital for an old age concern. It was our first use of an ambulance too. (My Dad even drove himself to the hospital when he had a heart attack.)
The ER crew confirmed the need for medical attention. My Mom’s raging infection had likely spread to her blood system. A very serious condition. Her heart rate to this moment remains dangerously low. We had to have two talks with hospital staff to agree on no “heroics” if her heart rate or blood pressure dropped any further. “She could slip away tonight,” the doctor told me. “You made a good decision. That’s a peaceful way to go.”
Not so peaceful to the caregiver. Not when you know you dragged your Mom out to daycare when it turns out she was deathly ill. This mistake could consume me with a lifetime of guilt. Or perhaps I've stumbled across the reason My Mom read those bedtime stories all those years, maybe it wasn’t to scare me out of crying wolf, maybe it was to prepare me to accept the reality of life. If you cry wolf enough times there are bound to be consequences and it’s not necessarily your caregiver’s fault.
The good news is, My Mom survived. She’s quite lucid today and I was able to truly ask forgiveness for not believing her. I even pledged to take action a little quicker next time she claimed to have an ache or pain. We’re being very loving right this second, but when we get home – she’s gonna hear the warning tale of the little girl that tells stories! In fact, I saw a children’s book section in the gift shop. I wonder if they sell Chicken Little?

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