night terrors

It’s 5 a.m., and the sky is getting light in the east as we drive back from the emergency room with my mother finally asleep in my arms in the back seat. We got to the hospital around eleven. Delerious and (as far as we could tell) dehydrated, she moaned and cried and cursed at us during the entire drive out. She fought us as we positioned her in the wheel chair and then she managed to kick one of the nurses who was trying to take some blood and put in the hydrating IV.
We felt so helpless. Obvioulsy she was in a lot of pain. When her pain gets bad, that triggers episodes of dementia, and she becomes unable to articulate anythng about where and how badly she hurts. Her hands come at me, clawlike. “I want to kill you,” she cries. “Give me a gun.” Anger and frustration fueled by pain. Nothing will calm her but a sedative added to her IV.
Some of what she is going through is the result of trying some new meds, one of which made her so nauseous that she wouldn’t eat or drink and that’s why we took her to the emergency room. The other makes her sleep for hours, after which she (sort of) wakes up, eats a little something, and then goes back to sleep. Meds are trial and error. Not every med works the same on everyone. And she’s so tiny that even the lower doses are too strong for her. We have to work with her geriatric doctor to adjust the meds. My sibling is impatient with the lack of medical certainty. So much of medical science is hit or miss. And if you miss, you try again. But meanwhile, she suffers. “I’m afraid. I’m afraid,” she mutters. “Please help me,” she mumbles.
The emergency room has one bed empty. “You should have called an ambulance,” the admitting nurse says to me. I didn’t tell her that I wanted to, but my sibling wanted to drive us. That was one battle I didn’t have the energy to fight. It would have only upset my mother more.
I’ve said ths before, but I don’t know how ill elderly people advocate for themselves. For example, there’s a protocol they’re supposed to follow in the emergency room before they can give any treatment: take blood pressure and temperature, draw blood and analyze, get urine sample, do EKG, do an X-ray or CAT scan if indicated….. But there was my mother, completely distraught and delusional, feeling pain with every move she made. She fought against letting them take her blood pressure because she knows how much it hurts her thin arms every time. She ripped off the EKG wires as soon as the nurse put them on. So, we had to be her advocates and insist that they hydrate and and sedate her and worry about the other stuff later. We all had to hold her down to get the IV in her arm and let them draw blood and then put in the hydration. That was when she kicked the nurse and said shewas going to kill us all.
It was a long night for us because my mother slept during the IV drip. Other patients came and went. A young man, maybe about 16 years old, sullen and belligerent, handcuffed, blood-spattered, walks in with two cops. I look into his eyes. Anger. Fear. Defiance. Sadness. Sadness.
I’ve had exactly four hours sleep. She’s up. She’s only talking in Polish. My sibling doesn’t understand any of it. I was bilingual as a child and can still remember enough to communicate in basics. I’m surprised to realize that I’m slipping into actually thinking in Polish rather than mentally translating from English before I speak. But I’ve forgotten too much. Mostly I say, in Polish, “I don’t understand. Talk in English.”
She has pain on the right side of her face, including her eye. It could be residual shingles pain or maybe her glaucoma has escalated. We put ice on her forehead. We give her meds (not the one that made her nauseaous, though). I call her opthamologist, and he will meet us tomorrow (Saturday) morning at his office even though his office won’t really be open. Now there’s a dedicated doctor.
She has tea and homemade bread. She thinks we are people she knew when she livedi in Poland, asking us where we were born and where we went to school. She carries on a monologue in Polish. She laughs.
At least today she can laugh.
I am so tired I want to cry.
Finally, she sleeps again and so do I.

1 thought on “night terrors

  1. I came across your blog and am so touched. Thank God she has you as her advocate. This is a trying time for you, so I’ll send up a prayer that God will see you through and give you a refreshing rest, no matter how little it may be. I know pain changes people, and wrong meds as you know can make one say and do crazy things. I am a chronic pain patient and remember one time when some meds and lack of sleep caused my behavior to change severely. I thought I was going to lose my mind and ended up in ER. I was lucky I didn’t end up in a lock up. I was a stranger to myself. I never ever had such an experience before nor since thank God. I’m sure that just because you understand all what is happening to your mom doesn’t make it much easier for you – as you said, she slept and you wanted to cry. I hope you get the respit you need. Be careful not to burn out! So if anyone else can take your place for awhile, let them help you. Both you and your mother will be better for it. God bless, and hugs from a complete stranger. You sound like a wonderful loving daughter.

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