Hey! You! Are You Listening?
I’m not sure I can listen any harder, any more deliberately, more consciously—for that sound. Like an animal caught in a trap, immobile, writhing in pain, crying in the night’s darkness for relief. I hear it in the distance, over the daily cacophony of life. In my sleep. In my dreams. In my waking hours, as the yelps emanate from down below: “Joooooooooooooooooooooe!” Yeah mom. I’m listening. Be right down!
On the afternoon of December 24, 2020 my mom took a spill in the bathroom. I alone could not pick her up and ended up calling my older brother (who lives nearby) to come and help me. She seemed fine, if not a little sore Christmas day, but the day after she was lethargic, complaining of pain emanating from her sternum and decided to go to bed VERY early. This was so very odd for her. Within thirty minutes of being in bed, I heard her calling out to me. She complained of dizziness, being tired, and pain in her chest. We talked for a bit and I finally called my older brother, Dave, to come over and check her out—he and his wife Pat were former EMTs here in Lacey Township. They both came over, took vitals, and we assessed her situation. On top of all her complaints, mom looked a bit ashen and frail. We finally decided to call for an ambulance, and she was taken to Community Hospital in Toms River.
She ended up spending two weeks in that hell-hole. During that time she was diagnosed and treated for a UTI, a gallstone, and “sludge” in her bile duct and gallbladder. In the end she left minus the UTI, and one infected gallbladder, which they removed endoscopically. During her stay she also had hospital induced delirium — a common and dangerous condition that effects elderly patients. It can be triggered by insertion of catheters, needle sticks, high doses of intravenous antibiotics (which she was on for the UTI), being restricted to bed, feelings of confinement, helplessness, disrupted sleep patterns from being woken up at all hours for “wellness checks” meds, etc.
My mom would tell me elaborate stories of all the people she would see who came to her fourth floor hospital window. She also told me that my cats Rocky & Rosie were always on her window sill. She told me she had seen my younger brother Frank, his wife and my sister on the TV one night. WTF!!!??? Of course she ended each story with, “… but don’t tell anyone I told you this.” As a dutiful son—of course I ignored her & Googled: “elderly hospital hallucinations”. I was gobsmacked by the number of medical articles on the subject of hospital induced delirium/dementia. I called my brother and told him—he being her medical POA (power of attorney)—he called the hospital to inform her treatment staff. Of course they didn’t do much.
So since her return home on the evening of February 6, 2021 I’ve become my mother’s (live in) primary caregiver.
I’m not here looking for sympathy or to bemoan our situation (okay … maybe a little)—though it is difficult. At 93 her healing process is so very slow. It’s also complicated by severe pain from rheumatoid arthritis in all her joints, and muscle pain she’s never experience before her hospital stay. I don’t know what to make of that, nor do her doctors—which BTW I’ve changed. It seems her primary care doctor was pretty worthless. I won’t name names, but like most elderly folks, my mom “believed” in her. But when it came down to it, mom needed a new more aggressive and attentive primary. Please enter Visiting Physicians Services of NJ (VPS) & Dr Resk—her new primary. VPS is part of the Visiting Nurses Association of NJ (VNA). VNA supplied her with twice weekly in-home occupational therapy, physical therapy, and a home aid. All of which was covered by Medicare. The services were comforting and invaluable at helping get mom on the road to recovery.
With all this and while still under a self-imposed COVID lockdown—life is stressful—to say the least. We both await COVID vaccines & are on the New Jersey state list for over 65 & 18-64 with health issues. In the meantime I look for outlets to occupy my mind and my soul take my mind elsewhere if only for an hour. TV does only so much. So I opted to buy myself a new Apple toy—my new Space Gray Apple AirPods Max headphones. While they are on—there is no outside world. I feel guilty. I feel no guilt. I call it self-care. Not that an object/toy can take away all the emotional baggage associated with taking care of my mom—it certainly can teleport me elsewhere—even for a brief while. And if my mom needs me she picks up the telephone & calls. Win win.
It’s been eight weeks home and recovery is ongoing. There are good days and bad days. I just hope for many more GOOD days.
With headphones on I’m still listening. Listening & looking for signs of hope, recovery, wellness, and a time where I don’t have to strain to hear that call coming from below: “Joooooooooooooooe!”