When my mother broke her hip on June 23, 2018, I knew we had finally turned the corner we needed to turn, reached an inevitable point of no return. I had prayed for a long time I would have the wisdom to know when to act and what to do. This event was unmistakable affirmation we had arrived at the crisis point I knew was coming. In addition to taking over my mother’s finances and removing her ability to drive, I had taken other important steps on which the rest of the story hinges.
My mother, as I have mentioned, was rigorous about her health. How many vitamins, protein drinks, pills, liquids (such as Barley Green and Sea Silver), herbs, teas she brewed and things she grew—such as alfalfa sprouts and kombucha mushrooms—I could not now recite in full. Nevertheless, her diligence paid off and at the time of her fall, she had never had a surgery and was not on medication of any kind. The doctor she loved had retired and she had never found another of his caliber. When she needed a simple prescription, she went to a young GP, whose office was near her house.
One of my most trusted advisers said to take my mother to a gerontologist and another friend gave me a recommendation. I made an appointment and the doctor examined my mother and gave her the famous “memory test.” She did not know the month or year and had no idea who the President was. One noteworthy moment from this appointment occurred when the doctor asked her to explain what “No ifs, ands or buts about it” means. She responded, “Well, ‘if’ is a subordinate conjunction…” and proceeded to lecture him on the fine points of introductory clauses.
He explained to me intelligent people can mask their dementia longer and more successfully. But now we had a baseline.
We also had a doctor to call when we reached the ER the morning of the fall. And he was an expert on procedure and how to get her admitted to a room for a brief stay.
The other appointment I had previously scheduled was with the Benton House on Oakleaf Plantation Parkway. I had gone there in February, again, at the advice of a friend, my daughter’s neighbor, who had recently been on the same journey with her mother. I had visited several different assisted living facilities and had good experiences at all of them, but the moment I walked into the Benton House, I thought, “This is it.”
I knew that would be my mother’s future home.
I put down a deposit on an apartment…even chose the one I thought best.
So, on the morning of the accident all the pieces were already in place.
Thank goodness, for some reason she had her cell phone nearby. She called me at 4:00 a.m. I am an early riser and was already awake, so was fully alert to act.
Because I had taken the time to calculate what I would need to get into her house in an emergency, I had the keys to her storm door, front door handle and deadbolt. So off I went across town. When I arrived, I was relieved to find the porch light was on. I unlocked three locks and opened the door, only to discover the safety chain was on. There was nothing to do, but put my shoulder to the door and ram it. The frame of the door pulled loose and went flying, landing, safety chain and all, in the middle of the floor.
Nana was seated on the floor in her bedroom door. She said she had gotten up to go to the bathroom and slipped. (The walker was at the other end of the hall.) She had a bath towel (I never did figure out where that came from) and was half sitting on it, explaining she had wet herself. I tried to help her up, but she was in too much pain to stand. Despite her objections, I called 911.
A rescue crew arrived within moments. An added blessing was that there was a young woman with them, so that helped Nana’s embarrassment factor. They lifted her up and helped her (according to her directions) to seat her at the bar…in a high stool. Then she assured them she was fine and sent them on their way. After they left, she told me she had to go to the bathroom. When I tried to help her up, she yelled in pain. I eased her back down and promptly called rescue again. They had not yet reached the station and turned around and came back.
This time we ignored all Nana’s protestations. They lifted her onto a stretcher and wheeled her gently out the door and down the four porch steps.
I can still picture the scene: watching from the door to the hallway as she exited her house accompanied by this capable and caring crew.
As I walked through the front door, I thought, “This is it. She’s not coming back here.”
And she never did.
We had another month to go: first, a brief hospital stay, and then weeks in rehab, before she moved into the Benton House on July 27.