The Amazing Disappearing Mother

We call my Mom, who lives in northern Wisconsin, a couple times a week. She’s essentially bedridden, but she has an excellent support network through her religious congregation.

She’s not tech savvy, as in, her TV remote sometimes gives her trouble. Deleting messages from her answering machine has eluded her for years. When we call and get the “Messages full” error, we assume she’ll call back when she’s back from the kitchen or whichever room of her apartment she’s been visiting.

Every once in a while, we don’t talk to her for a whole week.

When it hits 8 days, we call someone to go check. Like a week ago Saturday.

She wasn’t there.

On the rare occasions she makes her doctor appointments, it’s a weekday, so this was most unusual. A while later Best Beloved had the thought to check whether her wheelchair was there. No wheelchair, she’d taken it with her. Wheelchair, no Mom, she went out on a stretcher. That’s not being dramatic, it’s reality.

Our friend went by again. Wheelchair was there.

We called the hospital. No Mom. They suggested the hospitals in the nearest big town.

No joy.

Called another friend in the area, who said yes, it’s time to call the police.

It is marvelously comforting to have the calm, steady voice of a small town police officer take the pertinent details and promise to “send an officer to check it out.”

A while later, they called back and said she’d been picked up by an ambulance.

A week ago.

Before, I was puzzled. Now, I was concerned. Because if someone goes to the hospital, but they aren’t there anymore, and they didn’t go home . . .

We called the hospital again and gave them the new information. The person who answered the phone said, yes, she did come in by ambulance last Saturday.

So we asked, where is she now?

She was quiet for a bit, said “hmm, can you hang on?” and put us on hold.

I found a mindless online bubble shooter game to keep my brain quiet until she came back.

The call dropped.

I called another friend in the area, and while their phone was ringing, Best Beloved’s phone rang, and it was my mom.

She was unclear what happened, other than she’d been in an ambulance, went to the hospital, and was now in one of the care facilities we’ve been trying to convince her to move to because we don’t believe she can live on her own anymore.

She’d asked them to call, not one of her children, but a local friend. And somehow, that didn’t happen. (We’ve talked to a half-dozen people at this facility, and they are one and all professional caring people, so we’re not sure why the call didn’t happen.)

I asked Mom, perhaps in a loud voice, why she didn’t HAVE THEM CALL HER SON?

Her hearing is so bad and the connection so bad, I don’t think she even heard me.

She honestly thought her friend had been called, and that she would notify us (this is, in retrospect, a perfectly reasonable conclusion, though it doesn’t change the fact that I am family, and the other person is not.)

After more phone calls to the facility, we’ve learned that she’d had some medical visitor, or social worker, at her bedside, when suddenly she seemed confused, in a manner and to a degree that prompted a 911 call. She’d been treated for dehydration, but was still fuzzy mentally, and didn’t seem as ambulatory as they expected, so she went to the care facility instead of home.

When we arranged for her to have a working phone, and had a real conversation, she was coherent, cheerful, and pleased with the food where she was staying. Good food is a major driving force in her life. I inherited that, I guess.

She still doesn’t realize she’s there voluntarily, and we don’t plan to tell her. Though after yesterday, maybe it’s no longer voluntary.

Have you ever spoken to someone with expressive aphasia?

We called to check on her, and after the very nice nurse put Mom on the phone and went back to her station, Mom started saying sentences like “Meet when doctor sleep big down the hall eating flow.” About a minute of that, and I stopped her and said “We have no idea what you’re saying.” She continued in the same vein. I asked her if she knew who I was, and she said “Of course. You’re you!” I sort of felt that wasn’t good enough, so I asked “What’s my name?” and she said “Joel. Joel David Canfield.” (This is correct.)

Then she went off rambling again. I called the nurse on my phone while Best Beloved kept Mom talking. When Mom mentioned going to her mother’s house (her mother died 45 years ago) and that I was with her and had fallen down (um, no) our concern escalated.

The nurse came, listened to her conversation for a minute, then took her to her room to assess her. A while later they called and said she was on her way to the emergency room.

A few hours later the hospital called and said it was a urinary tract infection, which we knew could cause disorientation; it’s apparently common in older women. They said a dose of IV antibiotics and a course of oral antibiotics when she got back to the care facility would put her right. The nurse from the care facility called when Mom got back there late that night with the same news.

And that’s how I spent my summer vacation.

My mom has been widowed twice. She’s in very poor health. Her car sat in storage for 15 years after she stopped driving. She has steadfastly refused to move somewhere she can get the care she needs, despite falling multiple times. We were on the verge of initiating a more aggressive approach when this happened. It appears that she may end up staying at this place permanently, which is another adventure, but knowing she’s being monitored is a huge relief.

Since my father died at 52, Best Beloved’s at 58, and her mother is still in pretty good health, this is our first experience with this aspect of caring for an elderly parent. It has been a mite stressful, it has.


Aging Squared

My dad was 26 when I was born. I was 26 when he died in a traffic accident.

My mom was 18 when I was born. As I approach 60 this year, she just turned 78.

When Dad died at 52 he was riding his bike 20 miles each way to work every day.

Mom has never been quite so active. These days, she’s bedridden and uses a wheelchair to get around—except when she doesn’t.

She’s started falling down. A lot. We’ve reached that point where we’re having the difficult conversations about her care and her living conditions. She’s mentally competent, so it’s her decision, but we worry about her living in a regular apartment instead of somewhere there’s onsite help when she falls.

I’m too old for this. Also too old to have a 15-year-old daughter excited about learning to drive later this year.

Maybe I’m just too old, period.

(Nah. Saw a short video about a wonderful lady who’s 108 and still chugging along, happy as Moses and loved by so many people. Here’s to my next 49 years!)


To Us All in the End — But, Perhaps, Not Today

The wind howled so loud he could just make out his cell phone, ringing his mother’s home phone. Maybe it wasn’t turned up all the way. Didn’t matter; he daren’t give up one hand in the fight against the steering wheel.

It was why he’d moved here, to watch over his aging mother. He didn’t begrudge his brother and sister their lives; he’d have moved here for the beauty of the place, not to mention the economical lifestyle it allowed.

He didn’t begrudge his mother the gentle neediness of a twice-widowed elderly woman. She’d mellowed in her age. Less mourning, more reminiscing.

lonely house

He’d begrudge the final call, though, when it came. Her apartment door would be unlocked, as it always was. He’d step in, calling her, but she’d not answer. She never did, whether she couldn’t hear him or just wasn’t answering.

That’s what he’d begrudge: the finding, then the calling, the endless mourning of others on his behalf.

It started to snow as he slowed for the series of camera-topped speed-limit signs at the edge of town.

Turning onto Main Street, he heard his phone ring through to her voice mail, finally. The wind blew less fiercely between the buildings so he pulled his left glove off in his right armpit and pressed the hang-up button on his phone, dropping it clunk rattle back into the door handle of the van.