A Story of Signs Part I

I get up at 6:30 am so I have enough time to write a little, shower and pack. We are headed over to Clearwater (a 2 ½ hour drive) for a late Mother’s Day visit. We plan to take my 88-year-old mother Ginny out to dinner and stay for a couple of days.

My phone suddenly rings at 7:04 am. It’s mom.

“Hey mom, what’s up?” I ask. “We’ll be leaving by 9.”

“Well, I’ve taken a bad fall. I crawled back into the bedroom and I’m leaning against the bed. I can’t pull myself up. I’ve tried calling everyone, I even called 911 and no one answered.”

I ignore that comment for a moment. “What hurts mom? Are you bleeding anywhere? Does your head hurt?”

“My left side hurts, but not my head. No, I’m not bleeding” she responds.

“Where is your Med-Alert button?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Ok. Well, if you dialed 911 correctly, they would answer, so I think maybe you hit a wrong number. And you said you tried (my sister) Hailey? Tell you what. I’m going to call her and will call you right back. Just stay where you are.”

Hailey answered. She had just gotten home from a walk. I fill her in and she says “let me call her. I’ll call you back.”

She talks to mom, who has calmed down, but is still unable to push herself up.

“Can’t you just call the police to come and lift me back up?” Ginny asks. This question alone speaks volumes to the severity of the fall. She’s irritated, not scared.

Hailey explains to her that she can call the police, but they wouldn’t lift her up. They would call the medics to transport her to the hospital.

“Well I don’t need a hospital. Can you drive in to help me?”

There’s a lot of back and forth. We are worried that the storm door is locked (see previous story here) and no one will be able to get in. We’ll have to call the police anyway. First, though, I call my sister-in-law Betsy who lives much closer to Ginny and she agrees to get over there to assess the situation. If the outside door is locked, Hailey will call the police to break the door. She’s also preparing to start the drive into town. It is rush hour and could take a while.

Betsy arrives and thank God that door is open. She gets inside and tries to help mom stand up, but she can’t. She will wait for Hailey. She calls us to confirm that mom seems fine otherwise. She decides to take mom’s trash out and finds an A/C maintenance man on the floor.

“This might sound weird, but I have an older woman who has fallen, and I can’t get her up. Is there any way you can help?”

“Sure” is his response and he lifts Ginny up like mom lifts her stuffed dog Button.

Betsy finds an old walker in the closet and mom starts to move around. Betsy gets her some cereal and she leaves as soon as Hailey arrives.

At this point, we’re on the road too and we debate taking her to urgent care to be checked out, but she’s “having none of that.” She returns to bed and sleeps for two hours.

She is sleeping when we arrive with sub sandwiches. When she wakes up, I ask her if she is hungry and if she would like a sandwich.

“Yes, I’m hungry” and eats a quarter of a roast beef foot-long.

We ask her multiple times if she wants an ibuprofen, that she is going to stiffen up, but she begs off that too.

Naturally, our Mother’s Day dinner is off the table. Or, not.

We’ll just reschedule mom, that’s ok. We understand you’re not up to going out.”

“Oh, I want to go out. I never pass up a dinner out.” Hailey and I look at each other and burst out laughing.

She refuses to use the walker, but she agrees to the use of her cane and we go out for dinner.

We just can’t believe her fortitude and will. We know we are lucky this time, but luck only holds for so long. I feel a little unsettled too, like a distant red flag has appeared on a hazy horizon. And as it turns out, I was right.

Next up: A Story of Signs Part II


  1. I’m glad this story had a happy ending, Melanie. I can also picture laughing if I were in your shoes. Your mom’s comment about “not wanting to miss a meal” sounds exactly like my mom. 😎 It all seems so relatable, having had similar far-out tales with mom. One of the hardest regular decisions I faced was, “Do I bring her to the ER?” On the surface, this question seems ridiculous. If she’s hurt, you do. If you think she’s going to be okay, then perhaps I’ll just keep a close eye on her. The problem, as you well know, is many times we don’t know what is best, and our loved one is not able to articulate what is wrong either.

    Each trip to the ER was guaranteed to be a several-hour stay. There were the inevitable two-three hours of waiting to be examined. The initial visit from the ER doctor followed by another several-hour wait as they ran a couple of tests and assessed what to do. My story is not an attack on hospitals, but a reality of what medical services are like in our area. At some point after five-six hours without any resolution, I’d think, “Did I do the right thing by bringing her here?” I am mostly sympathetic to the medical community. I generally see severely understaffed situations with good people trying to do their best.

    The worst incident (The one time I can’t forgive the ER for their decisions) was when Mom had fallen, and the logical course of action was to bring her to get an x-ray to assess the damage. Fortunately, the x-ray was negative (I was relieved since Mom had osteoporosis), but the doctor recommended they keep her overnight for observation. That sounded wise. Several hours later, I was still there, wondering what was taking so long about getting her transferred into the hospital. The problem was (I’ve since learned this is not an unusual circumstance in our area.) that there were no beds available in the hospital. At 1:30 a.m (after something like an eight-hour wait), the ER doctor told me they would transfer her to a nearby hospital by hospital.

    Since I was still working at the time and would have to get up the following morning to teach a class I was unprepared for due to this latest fall, I headed home, half-exhausted, relieved that they had found her a spot. At 3:15 a.m., I awoke to my brother’s phone call from the other side of the country. Even though I was the one who was in charge of medical decisions, the hospital called my brother. He told me that Mom had been put on a helicopter and flown (three hours driving distance) to the nearest available hospital. I was dumbfounded! (I still can’t believe that this was the best solution given her situation.) You put an eighty-eight-year-old woman with dementia in a helicopter, not for any apparent medical reason, but because you didn’t have space for her??? It still makes me angry, thinking about it.

    The next morning I got up and went to my job at school, still uncertain as to what the hell was going on. (Life goes on, despite what is happening with our loved ones.) One might ask, how could you do that? My response is, “I didn’t know what was going on, and what else was I supposed to do?” I figured I’d call the hospital during the day, get an update on her situation, and drive over when they told me she was ready to be released to pick her up. (three-hour drive in one direction—six hours total.)

    While I was teaching, my cellphone rang, and Mom was on the phone. All I can figure is someone from the hospital had helped her because she wouldn’t have had the ability to do this herself. She had no idea where she was and wanted to know when I would be picking her up. I tried to explain to her what had happened and that I was waiting to hear from a doctor so that I would know when I could pick her up. She got angry with me and said that she was going to “order a taxi if I wasn’t going to come to get her right then.”

    You can understand my anguish. It was an impossible situation. Mom had a $6,500 helicopter ride (insurance did eventually pick it up) for no medical reason other than there were no beds. Two days later, I drove her and picked her up and drove her back to her assisted living facility. I am not embellishing this tale at all. It was horrific! Weeks later, I still did not receive any logical explanation from the local ER despite numerous attempts to talk to the hospital about their decisions that night.

    Sorry about the extended response, but your story brought this awful incident back to the surface. As people continue to age and medical services are sometimes woefully lacking, I think this enormous problem is going to happen to more and more families.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow Pete! That is an INCREDIBLE story. Just like you, I am mystified why they would choose to fly your mother so incredibly far away for a BED! Seriously, I simply can’t wrap my brain around that. And this forced you into a bad situation with negotiating with her when she wanted to come home. I’m sorry I triggered such a negative experience, but it’s a powerful story to share. Thank you. I’m glad you were able to smile too thinking about your mom when I wrote about my own mom’s comment. 😂 Boy, she keeps us on our toes. Have a nice weekend Pete!

      Liked by 1 person

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