Back in summer 2015, the year Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I blogged just about every day. Sometimes, I go back to those posts to see where we were then, both for general life events and in the diagnosis process. I’m struck by the clinical nature of some of my posts and the raw emotion in others. I wonder about my writing each day: Did the events dictate the style of writing, or did my ability to process what was going on? I’m not sure.
I’m thinking of those posts now after the turn of events we just had. Late last week, the nurse from Mom’s facility called. Immediately after identifying herself, she launched into a recount of Mom’s morning, ending with the most important point: Mom was currently unresponsive. The nurse’s main question: Did I want them to call the ambulance?
Mom’s vitals were good, I knew the staff would keep her comfortable, and Mom has a DNR, so if something went south before I could get there, I knew she’d be in the company of people who would hold her hand during the crisis. So, I said no. “Keep her there, please,” I told the nurse. “I’ll be over in a few hours, but I’ll see about getting Dad over as soon as possible.”
After hanging up, I became aware of my body’s response to the phone call. A few years earlier, I’d have been shaking with anxiety, my heart pounding. Now, six years into our journey, only a slight buzz hovered near the edges of my nerves. Was I worried? No, I was not. Mom lives with a terminal diagnosis, and one of these days, she will be gone. I took a swig of water, shook off the buzz, and drove to the library to meet a student.
When I arrived at the facility later that afternoon, the nurse introduced herself. She chatted about what was going on (nothing, as Mom still was unresponsive), and she gave me the rundown of what might happen. I was too polite to tell her that I knew everything she already told me. That’d I’d thought about all of this before, that I had a doctorate in physiology and knew the body pretty well. That my sister, an adult nurse practitioner, knew even more than me. I let the nurse do her job, and I did mine: I held Mom’s hand.
At some point, though, I felt the need to explain to the nurse my calm demeanor, the almost clinical quality to my response. She said she understood, but did she? Again, I’m not sure because I don’t think I understood it until I reflected on it. The simple answer: I stay calm in a crisis, and that phone call constituted a bit of a crisis. The not-so-simple answer: at some point, the events of the morning would catch up to me, and I’d be a real mess.
That messiness didn’t happen this time, though, because about five hours after Mom became unresponsive, after the hospice nurse had come and evaluated her, after we all sat and wondered about what had happened that morning, she woke up. Like when you turn on the light switch—all of a sudden, she was back. We’re thinking a neurological event happened, possibly a TIA, but since we didn’t go to the hospital, we’ll never know.
After that, Mom ate dinner, she smiled, she laughed, and she went to bed and woke up the next morning. These small TIAs can lead to larger strokes, and my family and I are aware that this event might be a harbinger of something more ominous down the line. But as I said to my aunts when I gave them the update: “Mom is happy. She lives with people who love and care for her, and she is comfortable. She’s in the right place.”
This Mother’s Day, I’ll be heading over to see her. I’ll chat with her and know she may not have any idea what I’m saying. And I’ll listen to her words (or lack thereof), and hold a conversation as if we were communicating like we used to. I’ll give her a picture of a Gerbera daisy (as actually giving her flowers isn’t the best idea), and we’ll sit and pretend all is right with the world. I’ll take these moments and tuck them into my heart. I’ll need them someday, probably soon. And I’m certain my response then will hold nothing but raw emotion.