Note: In 2007, Jamie Wilson Headley (founder and CEO of Dementia Services Group) began the complicated process of helping her once-independent mother adjust to life with dementia.
These are the challenges that one woman faced, but although Jamie’s Journey is deeply personal, it is also universal. We hope that her trials and triumphs will shed light on the emotional and logistical issues that come with caring someone with dementia.
Mom was settling in nicely in the new facility. I was still there daily but I was less stressed because she was less stressed. We were coming up on the Memorial Day holiday and I was looking forward to relaxing a bit and maybe even taking a day for myself, and not visiting Mom. My husband and I were discussing options for the weekend that night when my phone rang and it was the receptionist from Mom’s complex.
She said that Mom had been outside with another resident and had fallen and had an abrasion on her arm so the were going to send her to the ER just to be safe. They had already called an ambulance so I told them to let Mom know I would meet her at the ER. It sounded like a minor issue but I hated the idea of Mom going in the ambulance with out me. I worried she would be frightened or confused. I called the ER and asked them to please notify her that I was on my way, in case she got there before me. I could feel the panic rising. My husband said he would come with and reminded me that my Mom was always calm in these types of situations. It was true, the few time we took her to the hospital she was always calm and pleasant and she thought it was great fun to flirt with the EMTs and doctors if they were male and cute. Mom had a way of lighting up any room she was in and brining humor to a situation even in the worst of times. He said she would probably have a group gathered around her having a grand old time by the time we walked in. I could picture that and began to breathe again.
By the time we got to the ER, Mom was already in a room. I saw one of the nurses outside the room and asked for and uåpdate before we went in. He said she was stable and conscious but she had likely broken her left arm and had a compound fracture on the right (a compound fracture happens when the bone breaks through the skin). They had wrapped her arm and had given her some medication for pain and they were waiting for the attending and orthopedic doctors to evaluate her. So much for breathing.
We entered the room and Mom was lying upright on the gurney, looking calm. She had a small cut on her forehead and her glasses were bent clearly from the fall. Her left ankle was swollen and elevated, her right wrist was wrapped in bloody gauze and her left was splinted. Both wrists were at odd angles and obviously broken. Guess that little abrasion was more serious then originally thought. I must have looked as scared and upset as I felt because Mom just looked at me and said, “well, this is some mess I got myself into.” I asked if she was in pain and she said yes, but it was manageable. Apparently they had already given her a pretty large dose of pain killers, but she was certainly lucid . When I asked her what happened she told me she and her friend were out walking on the property and she just tripped over her friend’s little dog. She put her arms out to break her fall and that was that. The doctor arrived and said he would be sending her to X-ray but needed to exam the compound fracture first. As he started to unwrap the gauze I could feel myself getting dizzy. Normally I am very good in medical emergencies, I don’t panic and I don’t get grossed out by injuries, but not apparently not when it came to Mom. Scott saw me go pale and suggested I step out. He said he would stay and talk with the doctor. Scott had been a medic in the Army so he was no stranger to bad injuries. I reluctantly agreed. I didn’t want to leave Mom but I also didn’t want to pass out or throw up. I stepped out and tried to breathe. I needed to stop shaking and get myself under control. I could feel the tears welling up when the nurse saw me and took pity on me. She took me by the arm and got me some water and reassured me the injuries were not life threatening. “Your Mom will be fine, we have amazing doctors here and she will get great care. Besides she is clearly pretty tough. She never flinched when we examined her and she is still pretty lucid after all the pain meds we gave her. That is one tough cookie.” I had to smile at that – Mom’s nick name has always been Cookie and we often called her one tough Cookie.
Scott came out of the exam room a few minutes later and said it was okay to come back in, the wound was covered. The doctor said he was going to get the X-ray and confer with the orthopedic surgeon but it we should assume she would be having surgery that night to stabilize the right arm since the break was more sever. The left arm would be in a cast and her ankle was just sprained. Mom continued to be calm and seemed more bored by the whole situation then anything. Yep, one tough Cookie alright. Twenty minutes later they came to take Mom to X-ray. I wanted to go with her but she assured me she was fine. While she was gone, Scott told me it was probably a good thing I had stepped out of the room when the doctor examined her right arm. He said the wound was gapping and pretty gruesome, as bad as any compound fracture he had seen. After the X-ray they gave Mom some more pain killers and we just needed to wait for the surgeon. They would be operating in the next 1-2 hours. We passed the time chatting and Mom would try to doze a bit. When they came to transport her to the operating room, I told her I loved her and would be waiting for her when she got to recovery. She gave me smile and they wheeled her down the hall. At that point I lost it and there was no holding back the tears. Scott reassured me and the nurse suggested we go home and grab a few hours of sleep. They would call me when the operation was complete and she was in recovery. Since it was after midnight at the point we agreed to try and get some rest. By the time I got home and calmed down enough to even think about sleep the hospital called and said to come back. The surgery had gone well and more quickly than they had anticipated. Mom was doing fine and should be waking up by the time I got back there. I told Scott to stay in bed (he still had to work that day) and I headed back to the hospital.