The Call You Never Want To Get: Your Mother Had A Stroke

It was 9 AM PST and I was standing in the living room of my new Seattle home waiting for the delivery of my furniture. I was marveling at the incredible view of Puget Sound from this room when my cell phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number except I knew it was from Santa Fe, NM. Curious, I thought and answered.

“Hello, this is Hari.”

“This is Patricia the nurse at El Castillo. Your number was listed on Adeline’s papers. Are you her daughter?”

“Yes” I answered calmly.

“I just sent your mother by ambulance to the Emergency Room. We found her on the floor. She was confused. “

“What? Fell? Is she OK?” I asked as I felt the panic begin to set in.

“I am not sure but here is the number to Christus-St Vincent ER. I’m sorry, I spoke with your mother often. I took care of her wound last summer. “

“ OK, Thank you.” And I hung up stunned. What was happening? Was my mother OK? Was it another fall?

I immediately called the ER and was told by the ER that she was being assessed and please calls back in a few minutes to speak with the nurse and doctor. I was desperate for information. I felt helpless so I called my dear friend in NM and asked her to go to the ER. I really needed someone to focus me.

My next call was to a geriatric care manager group who last week I had decided to hire to oversee my mother’s care. I didn’t know if anyone would answer or if they could help but I needed someone who would be there for me. I needed a “Hari”, to do what I do. I needed to know my mother would not become a victim of hospital inattention or mistakes until I got there.

Lydia answered my call and immediately was on the job. She understood my need and said, “Would you like me to go to the hospital?” My world shifted and at that moment I understood what I do for people when I step in to assist with a family member. I felt my mother would be as safe as possible because someone would be watching.

So as both my friend and Lydia were on the way to the hospital, I called the ER. I spoke with the nurse.

“I am the daughter of Adeline Crenson and I am her healthcare proxy. Can you tell me what is going on?”

“We are not sure yet. We are doing labs and CAT scan. Does your mother have dementia or Alzheimer’s? She is very confused and isn’t speaking well.”

And what was to become a constant refrain for me, I said, “ No my mother is a vibrant and active woman who had no cognitive deficits.”

I knew at that moment that something major and devastating had occurred to my mother. I asked when there would be more information and was told to call in one hour.

My heart was breaking because I knew my mother was scared and alone until my supports could get there. I waited to hear from my friend. She finally called and told me. My mother had recognized her but was confused. She said there appeared to be some weakness on the right side. It looked like a stroke. She was bruised on her arms and legs. She held her cell phone to my mother’s ear and I spoke.

“Mom, it’s me. I am coming. I will be there as soon as I can. I love you.”

And then I heard this weak voice say, “ Yes, Love you, thank you.”

I called the ER an hour later and the nurse said she would call back in about twenty minutes as she was eating lunch. OK, eat your lunch but please don’t keep me waiting too long. I know that 20 minutes can easily turn into 60.

She did call me back and before she could begin I said, “I am a nurse practitioner so please tell me exactly what you have found.”

“Your mother had a stroke, left side temporal and parietal lobe. She is very dehydrated and confused. It appears from report that she had been on the floor of her apartment for a long time maybe a day. She will be admitted. Your friend and care manager are here and have spoken with the doctor. “

How do you take in information like this? I said, “I have tears in my eye and am heartbroken.”

“Oh, do you want me to call you back?”

“No, I am just telling you this is hard to hear. What is the plan? I want to speak with the doctor”

“He will call shortly.” And the conversation ended.

I was sitting in a café waiting for take out, holding my head in my hands and feeling my world shift. I knew what it meant to have a stroke, damage it can cause and the arduous journey to recovery. My mother will be 90 in August, and I knew it was going to be hard. So many questions swirled in my brain. What was I going to find? Could she recover? Was her thinking impaired? Would she be able to read and write, her favorite activities? Would she walk? It didn’t seem real. It couldn’t be happening.

The doctor called. The first thing he asked me was if my mother had dementia. My response was the same. He discussed with me the extent of the stroke. My mother had aphasia and right side paralysis. He then asked,

“Does she have a DNR? What life saving measures do you want?”

I didn’t expect to hear those words and it made me suddenly realize the true nature of this event. My mother was critically ill and no one knew if she was going to survive. And as the famous Carole King song says, “ I feel the earth move under my feet.”

He said he was asking because he wanted to know how many tests to do and if she needed surgery, would I allow it. I told him, to do the necessary tests to get information, nothing to invasive but no decisions on further medical interventions until I get there and I have all the information. He said she would be admitted.

My friend called me about two hours later after she had left. She was very gentle and kind. She told me my mother was not able to speak very well and couldn’t get words correctly. She had met Lydia and felt she was exactly what I needed. She had taken control and let the staff know she was my voice. It was clear I needed to get to Santa Fe as soon as possible.

And so began my journey. I booked a flight and headed for Santa Fe, praying, hoping my mother would be able to recover.