Thursday, May 6, 2021

Catching my Breath

This post was written yesterday afternoon.

It's 1 pm and the house is blessedly quiet. This is me, breathing a sigh of relief. 

Let me explain what's transpired over the past few days. Buckle up, it'll be a long one. 

Around 2:30 am Monday morning, I was leaving the bathroom after finishing my getting ready for bed routine when I heard my father calling for help from his bedroom. This is not terribly unusual, as he is 85 and falls a lot due to Parkinson's. He also sleeps alone because back in the 1990s mom moved to a separate bedroom because he had several obnoxious sleep habits including untreated sleep apnea and snoring that sounded like trucks downshifting on the highway, so she moved out in order to get some rest. 

So we have an old man who falls a lot and who lacks the strength to get up by himself, sleeping alone in a bedroom on the other side of the house. Yes, it's stupid, but that's apparently what he wants, even though it often results in him spending hours alone on the floor. 

So by sheer luck I hear him calling for help. I open the door and he's on his knees in front of the nightstand, naked from the waist down, complaining that he fell around 11:30 that evening and can't get up. Having been to this rodeo before and being unable to deadlift a 5'10", 165 pound sack of potatoes into a standing position and then hold him upright until he can get his bearings -- and yes, sack of potatoes is correct, he either lacks the strength to help me or refuses to help, I'm not sure which -- I tell him I'm calling 911. 

I call and give the usual information: 85 year old man with Parkinson's, 165 pounds, has fallen and cannot get up, please send burly EMTs to pick him up and assess injuries. The 911 operator asks if anything else is wrong, so I ask him, and he launches into a litany of complaints including "My bones hurt" and "I can't feel my legs". Not wanting to play telephone, and wanting 911 to hear how he sounds (somewhat incoherent, lots of gargle-mumbling), I hand him the phone and make preparations for EMTs: I get dressed, get my mask ready, close the dog gate, turn on the outside lights and unlock the door. 

The EMTs walk in and one of them asks "Have we been here before?" The other one says "Yes, twice." (The first time was the time he fell and I couldn't pick him up, so I called 911; the second time was in the early morning when he was sitting at the table and told mom to call 911 because "I feel like I'm dying." [He wasn't dying. In fact, the doctors couldn't find anything wrong with him. Best guess is that he forgot to take one of his meds.]

So these EMTs know him and know the situation. They pick him up and get him dressed, and he says he wants to go to the ER. I tell the EMTs that's fine, but he has a doctor's appointment at 9 am and it involves fasting for bloodwork, so please don't let him eat anything or drink anything except water. The senior medic senses my utter exhaustion and exasperation and he has a quiet talk with me while his partner talks to my father. 

Senior EMT has gone through this before with his father, and has seen it a bunch of times, and lets me know that he's not judging me at all. He also lets me know that he's perfectly willing to take dad to the ER, but it's likely they'll just discharge him a few hours later and I'd have to come get him. In Senior EMT's opinion, if this were his first time at our house he'd take my father, but now that he knows the score he tells us it's probably better just to follow-up with the doctor in the morning because right now dad is clothed, back on the bed, and resting. I agree that's probably the best course of action. EMT gives me some telephone numbers, including that of a community support person to help with social issues and a non-emergency dispatch number for "invalid transport" -- in other words, call this number and the fire dept will come over to get dad out of bed and into the car for a trip to the hospital. 

OK. All well and good. They leave, I visually confirm dad is asleep on his bed (light on, natch) and close the bedroom door before locking up the house and going to sleep myself. It is now sometime after 3 am. 

We are now at the halfway point in this story. 

When I wake up 8 hours later, I see a note from mom. She tells me that when she woke up at 5 am, she saw the light on in his room but assumed he either slept that way all night or was awake but staying away from the kitchen to avoid eating. By 6:15, however, he still wasn't up and that was the agreed-upon "If I'm not up by then please wake me" time. She goes into his room and finds him on the floor of his bathroom, again naked from the waist down. According to him he went to use the toilet at 3 am -- so I guess immediately after the EMTs left? -- got into the bathroom, fell, and couldn't get up. He complained that he couldn't feel his legs and was afraid he was paralyzed, so mom calls the EMTs -- same guys, same shift, this is now visit #4 -- and they take him to the ER. 

[He wasn't paralyzed. He could still feel his legs when then pinched him. He's just weak and probably had one or both legs go numb due to how he was lying on the ground.]

I learn all this when mom comes home for lunch. I also learn that they were doing a bunch of tests on him to figure out what's gong on, because suddenly going from "one fall about once a week, usually able to get up from it" to "two falls in a four hour span, unable to recover from either" is a big step and they want to determine cause for this rapid decline. 

That was Monday. It's now Wednesday. They still haven't figured out what happened, but they're keeping in the hospital for a while longer. They -- the various physical therapists and social workers -- are also saying that when the hospital releases him he will be sent to the local retirement home for 2 weeks so that he can receive physical therapy in the hopes that he won't fall so often and, if he does, he can maybe get back up. 

This is me breathing a sigh of relief. The problem isn't solved, but mom and I get TWO WHOLE WEEKS of not dealing with the stress and pressure of dealing with a cranky, demanding old man with dementia. The house is calm, the stress levels are falling, and we are making progress in getting him into a VA home. While there is no guarantee that we can get him into the VA before the two weeks is up -- it's a Federal facility, after all, which means it runs at the speed of Government Bureaucracy and just having the paperwork finished doesn't mean he gets in, just that he goes to the head of the waiting list -- this is still a glorious 2 week staycation that mom and I desperately needed. 

Call me an awful person if you must; that just tells me that you've never dealt with an elderly parent with dementia.

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