The first call came when Dad and I were browsing through Sam’s Club. The second interrupted our drive to admire the fall foliage. By the tenth call, I stopped counting.
The content of each conversation was always the same: “Your mother fell,” the aide from the memory-impaired unit of the nursing home would shout. “An ambulance is transporting her to the hospital. You need to come.” The consequences were also always the same. We found Ma sitting in a bed in the ER, nibbling on Jell-O and confusedly asking, “Where am I?”
Emotionally exhausted by living in this “the boy who cried wolf” world, Dad and I spoke to the director of the facility. We reminded her that Ma’s bed had been lowered to about two inches from the floor, and a thick gym mat lay on the floor to cushion any fall. We begged the director to return Ma to her bed when she fell, but she refused. She worried about insurance and lawsuits, while I focused on the stress that these faux emergencies were causing both Dad and Ma.
I also concentrated on the more frightening issue: the torn skin on Ma’s skeletal arm. Dad and I repeatedly asked the nurses to medicate and bandage it, but there were too many times when they forgot. Then, one morning when Dad and I arrived for our daily visit, we got off the elevator and heard her wails of pain. From far away! Ma’s room was at the opposite end of the hall. We dashed to her room to discover a real emergency, one that no one had bothered to call us about. Ma’s body was fiery hot; her left arm looked as if Captain Hook had ripped off her skin. I used my energy to deal with Ma, not to confront the unpleasant aide who might have resented me and taken it out on my mother. Dementia had brought out the worst in Ma, but she was still a human being who deserved compassionate care.
Within fifteen minutes, an ambulance transported Ma to the hospital. Two weeks later, she died in a hospice due to MRSA.
Even fifteen years after Ma’s passing, I still feel resentment about the call that never came: one that might have given my mother a more peaceful end to her life.
Ronna L. Edelstein