The Challenge of Caring for Older Parents
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Health

Mom's Health Scare and My Biggest Fear

She was definitely not herself.

Disabled senior woman in wheelchair at home in living room
Getty Images

Her head was bobbing up and down. Was she throwing up, I wondered? I enlarged the video and saw that she was on the floor, trying to get up.

She was pulling the bottom drawer out of her desk, which was filled with filled papers. It was a foot and a half away from her bed. With one arm, she was trying to lean on it to lift herself up.

I had no idea how she ended up down there. She had told my brother and me the day before that she had horrific stomach pains and felt nausea but couldn’t throw up. I was miles away, retreating for a month up in the Adirondack Mountains. Mom was in her house in Boca Raton, Florida, where she still lives alone at 97 years old.

I was so grateful, after years of campaigning, that she finally let me install cameras in her house, a few months earlier, after she broke her shoulder on New Year’s Day.

Periodically, I would check the app on my phone to see how she was doing. This particular morning, I looked to see if she was up before I called. I was shocked to see her down, trapped, stuck on the floor — the hard floor of her bedroom. It used to be carpeted but after two and a half decades, she had it removed, complaining it was a dust collector, which triggered her allergies and resulted
in endless sneezing spells. Now, she was on an unrelenting surface — slippery tile. I spotted some towels or rags or sheets on the floor. She must have pulled them off her bed in an attempt to put her knees on them to lift up.

Through the camera mounted on the ceiling, I was able to speak to her, assuming she didn’t have either her landline or mobile phones within arms’ reach. “Mom, are you OK?” I called out loudly.

She mumbled what sounded like “Yeah.”

“Why don’t you get yourself to the front of your bed where you have the rug, and then you’ll have some traction to pull yourself up?”

Mom was nearly there, as she was close to the bottom right corner of her queen-sized bed. As I watched her trying to move her body, I felt tightness in my throat and a knot in my stomach. It seemed as if her legs were dead weight that she was trying to drag. She still had a bad shoulder from her fall a few months before, which she never received any physical therapy for, and when the sling went off six weeks later, COVID hit and everyone was sheltering in place.

I couldn’t continue to watch her struggle.

“Mom, stop. Just rest. I’m going to call Filipe. He has the keys to your house and the code to the alarm, right?”

She muttered, “Yes.”

Mom was not herself, the “sharp as a tack” dynamo who traded stocks, did “puts” and “options” (whatever those are) and prided herself in her investing prowess. She was saying things that didn’t make sense. I was thankful to have reached Filipe. It was 11:40 a.m. and he worked until noon doing handy work in mom’s country club community called Boca Pointe. That’s Pointe with an “e” at the end, the admin at the clubhouse had said when I picked up my card for the athletic center, never referred to as a gym.

Filipe was the only person other than myself that Mom trusted enough to give a set of keys to her house. He’s worked at Boca Pointe longer than Mom’s lived there, which is 26 years.

As I waited the short five minutes for Filipe to arrive, I spoke to her, “Mom, don’t move. Filipe will be there soon. What happened? How did you end up on the floor?”

“I don’t know, Gayle. I probably slipped off my bed.” She was irritated by my question.

Slipped off her bed?

Even though Dad passed 14 years prior, Mom still sleeps on her side, on the edge with her behind often hanging over.

The way the Ring camera is aimed from its mount on the ceiling, I can only see Mom through the reflection in the mirrored sliding closet doors facing her. It just takes a bit of blowing up the

image. The large shade of the night lamp takes up the foreground, blocking a direct view. I always pray she keeps her reflective wardrobe doors closed.

Filipe, a handsome, gentle and kind man with a full head of thick wavy hair, entered Mom’s bedroom.

“You OK ?” he asked Mom, with his charming Portuguese accent. Mom shook her head.

Filipe bent down behind her and slipped his arms under each of hers and slowly lifted her up. Mom stood, getting more hunched over, and now wobbly, wearing a pink, long,, extra-large T-shirt she sleeps in. He waited for her to get back into bed.

“Thank you so much, Filipe. You’re a lifesaver,” I called out as he looked up at the camera.

Later that day, Mom complained about harsh abdominal pain and was eager to see her doctor. When she called to make an appointment, she told them about her symptoms. The nurse informed her it could be COVID-19.

And they couldn’t see her until she had the results. Then they instructed her to go to a local urgent care facility that was only administering COVID tests to people with symptoms. She was informed it would take 10 to 14 days to get the results.

While there, Mom asked the nurse, “Can you please touch my stomach? I am in severe pain.”

The nurse spread her fingers and gently touched mom’s abdominal area, as she cringed.

“Go back to your doctor and tell them they should do an ultrasound,” the nurse advised her.

The following day, Mom texted me, “I’m going to the ER.

They have all the equipment. And if I need to be admitted, I’ll be there already.”

Alone, no family near her, only a few friends, my head was spinning with worry. The thought of losing her was inconceivable. She, widowed, and me, single — she had become “my everything.”

The person I spoke to several times a day, hung out with on FaceTime as I cooked, and offered tips. She was my travel companion and my best editor, even when it was unflattering words about her.

The scan showed she had acute diverticulitis, and she was going to be admitted into the hospital.

The floor she’d be on would be determined by the result of the COVID-`19 test they administered.

Twenty minutes later, she learned she was negative.

“Gayle, you need to write a story about how doctors refuse to see you because they’re afraid you have COVID. Don’t they realize there are other diseases that affect the body besides COVID?” she begged me, seething with anger.

If Mom had waited any longer, she could have died, the doctor said. If she had a severe rupture in her intestines, she would have been rushed into surgery. “She might not have lived through it at her age,” he explained.

As she was in the hospital, receiving high doses of IV antibiotics, I knew I had to get to her as soon as possible. Packing up my rented condo in Lake Placid as I organized her care on the phone, I had to get back home to my place in the city. A day later, I took the first plane out on Delta. No quarantining for two weeks, which I had originally planned for my August visit for her birthday. Just went directly to her house, wearing a mask.

It’s been nearly four weeks since I’ve been here. We have a nurse who comes daily to administer her antibiotics and an aid to help her shower and with her other needs. Each day, Mom gets a little stronger. I’m not leaving so fast.

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