Summary: My elderly mother was living in her beloved home with the concerted help of friends, family and home health aides. But after knee replacement surgery, her dementia emerged– fully developed. Our family was completely unprepared for our new reality; one of the many issues addressed by Caring Across Generation’s #blog4care as together we confront our national eldercare health crisis. Here is our story:
Her home was the culmination of her dreams.
And as my mother encountered the increasing physical challenges of her later years, she clung fiercely to her independence and her refuge.
I remember one particular attempt to discuss her emerging limitations:
Maybe we should look into a retirement community…?
Maybe I should just die.
And so, from 3000 miles away, we cobbled together a ragtag but reliable network of friends and cousins, neighbors and home health aides, church volunteers and Meals on Wheels. It took a village, but our mother would remain in the place she loved best.
And for more than a year, it seemed to work. But her knee started to hurt; then it started to buckle; then she started to fall.
Her doctor’s proposal: knee replacement surgery. But my mother was apprehensive, fearful.
Should I do this, girls?
We set out to answer that question during our annual Christmas visit, weighing her options in a brief, upbeat examination with her doctor. He countered her doubts; happily assuring us
“you will be dancing out of the hospital.”
It’s alarming how charming a doctor can be.
After the surgery, my mother reported from her hospital bed that she was living in an opulent room, decorated with crystal chandeliers, gold damask drapes and a heavy red brocade bedspread. It was a castle, she giggled; her every wish was their command.
I thought it was bit unusual, but I didn’t worry; clearly she was still under the effects of the anesthesia.
But the fantastical descriptions continued. I didn’t know anesthesia could last so long. Her conversations made no sense.
She could not stay at the hospital. After multiple discussions with doctors and social workers, we moved her to a “convalescent” home. It was described as a temporary interlude; the best place to learn physical therapy for her new knee.
I called her. She burst into tears.
Oh Hallie, I am so glad it is you. Last night I slept on a park bench! Now I am trapped in a school!
…a bench…a school…?
Call the police, Hallie. I am lost!
But Mama, I called the number for nursing home. They answered. And they put you on the line. You’re where you’re supposed to be.
Hallie, please help me. I am lost! Call the police!
(Time out…is this still the anesthesia? OK…I can get her through this. If I keep telling her where she is– what is going on–my smart, stubborn mother will come out of this. The anesthesia will wear off. She will wake up; learn the physical therapy; go home.)
Yes, Mama. I will help you.
I called again.
Oh Hallie, you are missing a fun party. I am at Aunt Mary’s house and there are lots of people. I can’t find Mary, but there are so many people here. I am sure I will find her.
Mama, you are at the nursing home.
Hallie, don’t be silly. I am at Mary’s house. It’s a party. Lots of Mary’s friends are here.
My uncle called me a few days later. I spoke to your mother. She thinks she is at Aunt Mary’s…at a party!
(That must be some party…)
But I still didn’t get it.
I thought her mental lapses were temporary. I thought it was the anesthesia. I thought she was going home.
Do your exercises, I implored; my sister implored; our cousins implored. Our village was unanimous: Do your physical therapy and you will go home!
The nursing home notified us; Medicare will not cover her care unless her doctor prescribes more days…(Yes, I thought, she needs more days to learn her exercises; more days so she can go home!)
I called the charming doctor. I would convince him to prescribe more treatment; give her more days. I know she will get better…
I heard his hesitation, and then I heard his words.
Your mother had me fooled; she was so bright and bubbly; funny and sweet.
My mother had you fooled..?
I didn’t ask the right questions. I didn’t realize that her mind was gone.
I would never have done this surgery if I had known her mind was gone.
WHAT? What are you saying to me?
I am saying your mother will never go home.