Over the last few years my grandmother-in-law’s memory has been slipping away from her, but has been more of an inconvenience than a danger. At times, she seems like she might be a good natured, well loved, background character in a sitcom about senior citizens. Convinced the cat has run away, stolen by the neighbor, or met a horrific end, every few minutes, she queries anyone in her eye-line as to the relative location of her nearly homebound cat. Unfortunately, age and time caught up to her on Friday.
At five-thirty in the morning she went into the kitchen, for what we don’t know, and somehow ended up on the floor. She is has no physical infirmities, and easily can get on and off the floor herself, even though she is in her mid 80’s. So, when she started to shout out for help from her husband, he was afraid. She needed assistance, was disorientated, and out of sorts. Her husband called 911 to get assistance.
She was taken to the hospital, put on fluids and tests were run. For this woman who had a history of two strokes, her doctor decided to run a few tests, none of which were on her brain. She was hooked up onto an IV to get fluids and IV antibiotics when a bladder infection was found.
The stress from the event sent her five minute memory cycle on a spin I’ve never seen before. Even as I’m answering her question, she would cut me off to ask the same question again. Even more concerning was the fact that she could not remember that she had an IV in her arm, so when she went to the bathroom, she would just bound off, with the IV tugging behind her. Before I arrived at the hospital, she accidently popped the IV out.
Convinced she could not be left alone for the night, I insisted I stay overnight with her. Everyone else left me in the room with her and real trouble began. The fluids that had been being pumped into her body needed to leave and the Dance of the IV began.
Twelve times over the course of the evening, she jumped out of bed and headed for the bathroom, unhindered by her IV or its hazard. These six dangerous feet from the bed to the toilet were my worst enemy. There was the gate on the bed where the IV got caught. An IV pump that had to be drug across the ground because the wheels didn’t know their job is to roll. I am convinced the hose was intentionally being treacherous when a wrong spin while getting out of bed, twisting getting into the bathroom, turning while getting off the toilet, a change of direction at the sink, getting comfortable in bed, and restless wandering could have ended in a broken hip, wrists or head injury. The more likely result is the one that happened: a bloody room while I slept.
At 2:00am I saw the end of the Discovery Channel show Doing DaVinci, she had been asleep for a while so pulled a pillow onto the roll around bed table and dozed off in just a matter of minutes. I was roused from my sleep by the distressed calls of my grandmother-in-law. She was trying to figure out why she was bleeding. When I looked around, there was blood everywhere, all over her, all over the floor and all over the hospital equipment. She could not remember how she was injured, she didn’t know why she was bleeding; she didn’t even know that she ever had an IV in her arm. It seemed to her that her arm just started to squirt blood all over here on the way to the bathroom. After a bit forcefully telling her to sit down and untangling her, applying pressure, I ran out to signal a nurse.
When the nurse arrived, she took over the first aid and I sat down. I looked up at the clock: it was 2:10am. In less than ten minutes, she had woken up, ripped out the IV and bled all over. It wasn’t a life ending amount of blood, but the sheer distance she traveled while bleeding and wrapped up in the IV tubing was incredibly scary.
The nurse had her hold onto her arm, to keep the pressure on the bleed until she got back with some gauze and tape. Surely the pain of the now second IV hole would keep it fresh in her mind that she needed to keep pressure on it. Faster than I could stop her, she threw the bandage off and flung herself onto the ground to begin the cleanup of her own blood. I told her to get up, that they have people who would clean it up and she got back on the bed. She was satisfied temporarily but just a few moments later she was trying to clean again. I was able to stop her until the nurse returned.
In order to prevent yet another IV situation, the nurse used gauze to wrap the IV tube all the way up to her elbow so she could no longer see the IV. This did prevent her from fiddling with the needle in her hand but made preventing her from twisting up much harder. I would have to pull her gown up to her elbow to convince her that the tube coming out of her gown was actually attached to her.
Then she started to ask the young nurse if she knew Janette, a classmate of hers. She graduated from high school in 1944, half way across the country. She asked the nurse’s last name over and over again.
Once we got her back in bed and ready to relax again at about 3:30 am, the nurse left the room and we started to talk; by talk I mean answer her same questions over and over again. She didn’t know which town she was in, didn’t know why she was there, what happened or how long she had to stay. Frustrated with me, she demanded to know why we were keeping her there when she obviously wasn’t sick and she wanted to know if the doctor would be in soon so she could be discharged. In a particularly disheartening moment, she asked me if we were in a hotel or in a hospital. It’s obvious this is far too good looking a room to be a hospital, she explained.
We made it through the night with no more blood and only one minor incident. When morning rolled around, the hospital gave us both breakfast. We ate, watched TV, and she expressed her glee at the strangely wonderful service of getting your breakfast in your room at a hospital. Before she finished eating her fruit cup and her ridiculously small muffin, she started to plan her escape, getting more frustrated with her imprisonment.
The doctor arrived, with un-brushed hair, ignored her, and without eye contact, asked me if she was doing better. I said, “No, but being here to get nothing more than saline isn’t helping her either.” He said, “I’ll have them draw some blood and I’ll review the chart.”
By the time my familial relief shift arrived, I was totally exhausted, feeling guilty about the bloody results of my watch. My body felt split between the jitters of twelve cups of coffee and sheer emotional drainage.
Hours go by and no one has come to draw blood because no lab was ordered by the doctor. During this time she is progressively more agitated by being trapped in bed, unable to leave, and threatening to walk out. Utterly fatigued and a bit pissed off, I go and ask the nice nurse why the test has not been completed yet. She looked surprised and said that she would find the doctor and take care of it. That was hospital code for, “I didn’t ever get an order.” I later overheard the nurses talking about how that doctor had done that to several people that morning.
Promptly, the nurse took the blood and we had to wait a bit longer to get the results and find out that all seemed ok, even though my grandmother-in-law did not. We never saw the doctor again; we were just discharged with a prescription for antibiotics.
As a double edged sword, an hour after arriving home, she couldn’t remember that she had been in the hospital or why but I did. I’ll always remember that day, it was the day her family couldn’t deny her ailment any longer.