I love my mom dearly and never believed that the determined, independent, fashionable lady who raised me would at some point become so ill that she would become unable to care for herself. As her only child I wish I had the foresight to anticipate such a thing, but it is very true that you can never be fully prepared for the time that your parent becomes sick.
In August of 2004 my mother had a brain aneurysm rupture from which she almost died. It was a terrifying experience which forced me to see my mother completely incapacitated, head partially shaven, tubes and wires from the ventriculostomy tube and EEG surrounding her head, and her awareness of what was occurring wavering between minimal recognition to absolutely no clue as to what had occurred. I spent three weeks in the Neurosurgical ICU at UCLA Medical Center essentially living there, wondering if my mom would pull through this monstrous event. It was almost worse processing this as a physician, because I was well aware of the severity of the incident and how it would impact her if she were to survive.
My mother had two coil embolization procedures which stabilized the weak blood vessel in her brain and she was discharged to my home, where I spent the next month providing 24 hour care for her. It was exhausting and I was overwhelmed with emotion. After a month with me, my mother stubbornly insisted on going back to her apartment and returning to work. At work, she was no longer the detail-oriented fact checker she used to be. She forgot phone numbers that she used to take pride in rattling off with no hesitation. Her behavior became extremely erratic and unpredictable, and she would fly into rages which were in complete opposition to the calm, reserved woman I knew as my mother. I began to lose my cool as my anger over what had occurred and the realization that my mother would never, ever be the same fully set in.
My mother’s behavior continued to meander all over the place and she began to neglect the cat that she loved so much and was unable to clean up after herself. I would purchase groceries which she would binge on, then call me in a rage later that day insisting that I buy more immediately. She hoarded toilet paper and boxes of tissue. One time I discovered pants in the garbage and when I asked her why on earth she would throw away a pair of pants, she admitted ashamedly that she had soiled them.
Finally, one day in January of 2006 I had gone to pick my mother up for her hair appointment. She was not in the living room, but the bathroom light was on and the door was open a crack. I called out to her to let her know I was there, but heard nothing. I waited for a few minutes, then opened the door. She was not in the bathroom. Puzzled, I walked into her bedroom, looked to the floor, and saw her crumpled on the floor. When I rushed over to pick her up, she cried out in pain. I immediately called 911 and waited for the paramedics to arrive.
Once my mother was in the hospital, we determined from the BUN and creatinine levels that she had been lying there for two days. She told me she was getting out of bed and simply did not have the strength to stand and slumped to the floor, where she remained until I had found her. She had soiled herself and because she had been lying on her shoulder the entire time, she sustained a rotator cuff tear that had caused the pain which made her cry out.
By February of 2006 my mother was placed in the skilled nursing facility where she now resides. I am so thankful that the majority of her memory and personality have been restored over the years, but she has absolutely no concern over her physical appearance which is such a bizarre thing for me to grasp. This woman used to insist on putting on earrings and heels when she visited the grocery store, so to see her in sweatpants, a zipped up hooded sweatshirt and no makeup still breaks my heart.
All in all, though, I still have my mother and I hope that the experience which changed her life is one she doesn’t remember.