Yesterday. Early morning and Dad is on the phone.
I think your Mum has had a stroke he says.
I throw on my clothes and race round to their house, a few lucky minutes away.
It is 9:30 am. An ambulance has been called for.
|My lovely mum, Kay
Mum suffers from a condition called Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and, occasionally she has a major fit which ends up with her being hospitalised so that she can get the right medication.
This time she looks much worse than usual. She is lying in bed, eyes wide open, just staring at the ceiling.
I caress her hair and say “Hi Mum” but she doesn’t respond.
“Dad,” I say, “If this is a stroke, perhaps you should give them a call again?”
When our parents are elderly and we are not spring chickens ourselves, it is especially difficult to remain tactful whilst ensuring that the best outcome is reached for everyone.
Every word is monitored. Each expression goes through a kind of internal quality control whilst we ourselves are fighting to quell our own panic.
The minutiae of life seem suddenly massive. That cup of tea, clearing away the breakfast things, packing the bag for hospital.
Nothing can be found. Nothing is in its right place. Dad can’t remember where he’s put his glasses, his watch, the phone.
And despite this rushing around to find stuff, time seems to slow right down.
The waiting. The interminable waiting.
We circle around each other, checking Mum every few minutes or so. Her eyes won’t close. Her breathing is laboured.
We phone again and are given a set of questions and tasks to complete to check Mum’s responses. She does not seem to be able to see but she can clearly hear and grip our hands.
At the end of the call we are asked to listen to a recorded set of instructions which seems to be never-ending. Don’t move the patient if they have fallen. Watch the patient to make sure their condition does not deteriorate. And on and on.
I don’t want to listen to the recording. I want Mum to be with someone who can actually DO something to help her.
There is nothing we can do to make her more comfortable.
I make more tea.
The ambulance service says an ambulance is ‘on the way’ but no they cannot give us a time frame – despite the fact that I thought they still have set response time targets to meet. It is, they tell us, a very busy morning for the ambulance service in the Cardiff area.
Dad takes his tablets. I phone the Husband to update him.
The front door is open so that the crew can come straight in.
I ponder that I wish I had some sort of medical training. You feel so useless, don’t you?
And I watch Dad, who has been married to Mum for 53 years fighting his fear of a separation which will be truly crushing.
Then there’s the ‘debate’ about telling my sister.
Dad is torn about whether to tell her and worry her. Worried that she will get in her car and race down from the North too fast.
I tell him that he must tell her or she would never forgive him.
“I’ll tell her when we’re in hospital” he says.
The thing about being a long-term carer as Dad is, is that it is such hard work only total control of each and every detail of daily life makes it bearable.
Carers must walk the knife edge of copable-with and all-out-emergency and pray that today everything will be OK and that the next brush with trouble is weeks away.
Mum has had her condition since 1984 and Dad has spent the last 32 years learning about her condition, coping with it and caring for her.
There is no let up. It’s a 24/7 job. There are no obvious triggers, apart from stressful situations but, in a world which reduces daily to enable them both to cope, the smallest things can be deemed a stressful situation – going out to lunch, family problems, even a tiny disagreement.
After two and a half hours the ambulance turns up. Mum is taken to hospital. Dad goes with her.
She is in safe hands.
We cannot be cross at the ambulance crew who are doing the best they can.
We do wonder about the pressure the NHS in Wales is under.
Mum spent the next 7 hours in a bed in A&E. They had no pillows. A pillow in A&E is “like gold-dust” Dad was told.
She is later moved to an Assessment Unit which is pleasant and clean. The staff are kind and smiling.
I go back home to see the Husband and the kids, who I hug a little bit tighter.
They want to know what has happened to Nain and whether Taid is OK.
“I don’t understand it”, Ieuan says, “Nain was fine when we were there on Monday”.
And that’s the thing for those of us caring for elderly parents. All our lives can change out of the blue.
That’s why I like to make the most of Christmas and any special family occasion.
Mum is now safely back at home, having been discharged just over 24 hours later.
We are thanking our lucky stars and so relieved to have her home.
But, with that long wait for the ambulance, it’s just as well that it wasn’t a stroke because the outcome could well have been one I really don’t want to think about.