With Love, all things are possible.
I don’t know how many times I keep saying it, but I’ll never stop now. With Alzheimer’s I never know what’s going to stick and what isn’t. What Mum’s going to remember and what’s going to be buried forever. What’s suddenly going to pop out, or how deep the love channel runs and where the love messages get stored.
My English mobile shrilled with a call from the Alzheimer Residential Home where Mum lives now. Mum had been rushed off to the Emergency Room in an ambulance, with all the symptoms of a heart attack. I didn’t even have to think about it, I knew I needed to be there.
Yes, I know I’m a “fixer” and a “manager” but I couldn’t help thinking, it was my phone that rang. I’m the one who lives, for the most part of the year, in America. There must be a reason, and there certainly was, I later found out.
The weather was foul, April showers, constant cold mist and rain. The M-25, the huge circular ring road round London, was heavy with traffic and blinding spray. I didn’t know the way to the hospital, so I entrusted the navigation to the little GPS in my sister’s car.
On the last part of the journey, I began to worry that I wouldn’t know how to get to the A&E (Accident & Emergency) entrance (the English equivalent to the ER), so was delighted to find myself stuck behind an ambulance with its blue lights on. Trusting a hunch, I followed the ambulance hoping it would lead me to the right section and the right Hospital. It did!
Imagine my surprise at seeing a young man getting out of it with Mum’s shawl! What were the chances of that? I leapt out of the car and ran to her side, finding her terrified and in agonizing pain. The rain wet her face and made tears for her; Mummy, you see, doesn’t know how to cry.
“Where am I, Noony? What’s happening?”
It was horrible watching them whisk her in, knowing I couldn’t follow, because I had to park up the car, but I hoped that she understood at a visceral level that one of us was near.
At last we were reunited and spent the next six hours side by side in a little curtained cubicle the A&E. The pain seemed unbearable, but the results of Electro-Cardiograms showed her heart was fine. Blood pressure was fine. If she'd known how to cry, she would’ve been crying. Yet they couldn’t seem to find anything to give her for the pain. You have to know Mum, she rarely complained about pain, and hardly ever took pain pills in her life.
“Where am I, Noony? What’s happening?”
She cried out in pain.
“Where am I? What’s happening?”
She held her chest and moaned.
“Where am I?”
She was freezing and I couldn’t put enough of those paper-thin blankets over her to keep her warm.
“I’m so cold, it hurts. Where am I?”
Then it occurred to me. We’d signed a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) a few months earlier. Is this was happened with a DNR? The patient just got ignored? I somehow couldn’t believe it and my heart was pumping overtime now.
At last a doctor appeared and what a breath of fresh air he was! He poked and pressed and made her shout out in pain.
“This is good,” he winked at Mum.
“Good?” I asked.
“Yes, heart attacks don’t hurt when pressed.”
He smiled. He spoke to Mum and he spoke to me. Then he explained the DNR. They do give every level of help and pain relief. Until something gives out, then they allow nature to follow its course. No chest cracking or pumping.
So pain relievers were eventually injected and within half an hour relief arrived in the form of a smile.
“Gosh, I’m hungry. What’s happened? Why am I here?” Mum sat up in the bed without warning.
“Really? That’s good news. How’s the pain?” I couldn’t believe this transformation.
“Much better. Am I going to stay here forever? Is there anything to eat in this place?”
The doctor happened to walk by and popped his head through the curtains. In her inimitable fashion, Mum addressed him.
“Do you think I might ever get something to eat here?”
“Are you hungry, Mrs. Rathbone?”
“Well, wouldn’t you be?”
Mum was back! And soon the doctor was back, with a tray. Sandwich and a cup of tea. Yep, Everything in England is cured with a cup of hot tea. But this was the first time I’d ever seen it served up by the doctor himself! What a sweetheart.
“So what’s happening, Noony? Where are we?”
At last she was discharged and six hours after my hair-raising drive there, we were back on the M-25, only this time Mum was in the passenger seat on my left.
“Are you alright, Mum? Warm enough?”
“Mmmm, lovely. I love this hot seat.”
I drove and we fell silent for a while. Two minutes, five minutes, ten minutes? I don’t know. She may even have dozed off, as my eyes never left the motorway.
Then I felt her hand on my arm.
“Thank you, Noony,” her normal tone returned, she stroked my arm.
“Oh, Mum, there’s nothing to …”
She cut me off, “Thank you, what a lovely adventure we had. A sneaky afternoon out. I always love it when we go out together. This is one for the memory box." Her voice had a misty undertone to it. I was going to say something about the ordeal she’d just come out of: about the fear, about the pain, but something made me bite my tongue.
My foot came off the gas pedal a little, as I glanced over at her. Gone was the pain, gone was the fear. Her eyes smiled. My own heart began weeping, because all that was left for her, from her traumatic experience, was…Love.