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Have you ever been faced with a situation where you felt like you’re the only logical person in the room? Yesterday I came across paperwork that reminded me of one of my late mother’s hospital visits. For everyone who’s a caregiver to a family member with dementia or Alzheimer’s… You’ll identify with this. Or… Maybe you just need a good laugh.

Sometimes no one, but you, makes any sense.

The nurse at mother’s dementia facility had called to say mother was complaining her neck and shoulder hurt. To be on the safe side… The facility had called an ambulance. As I drove like a wild woman… the 40 minutes to the hospital… I vacillated from fearing the worst to a steely resolve I could deal with anything. 

When I got to mother’s room, the nurse standing next to her bed looked somewhat shellshocked, and her arms were up, blocking her face. Mother, on the other hand, was yelling and swatting at her like she was a venomous flying insect.

“Is this your mother?” the nurse asked. Her tone had more than a note of desperation. Mother leaned forward in her hospital bed, took aim and landed a punch on the nurse’s arm. “We’ve been unable to take her blood pressure, hook her up to a heart monitor or take her temperature… We’re all afraid of her.”

Mother pointed at the nurse and hollered, “I don’t trust her! She’s trying to sell me something! You never know about people who just walk into your apartment uninvited!” 

When I explained the woman was a nurse who was trying to help her, mother picked up a cup of water and threw it at me. “Well now she can help you!”

Mother had always been difficult, but this was pushing it, even for mother. I wiped my wet glasses on my shirt and continued to explain we needed to connect the electrodes to the sticky pads on her chest. 

With that mother started tearing the sticky pads off and lining them up on her other arm. “You do what you want with yours,” she said, “and I’ll do what I want with mine.”

Eventually blood tests, x-rays and an MRI showed nothing—except dementia—was wrong with mother. She had not suffered a heart attack, but again… To be on the safe side… They wanted to keep her in the hospital overnight. 

A cardiologist stopped by her room to say he’d ordered a stress test. When I asked if there was any evidence mother had a heart problem, he said no, but mother wanted a stress test. 

When I explained my 91-year-old mother couldn’t walk, had dementia and didn’t understand what was going on, the cardiologist turned to mother and asked her if she had dementia. Like a petulant child, mother kicked her foot under the covers for emphasis and said, “No!”

As if to prove a point to me, the cardiologist turned to mother, again, and said, “And you want a stress test. Isn’t that right, m’am?”

Mother eyed him critically and then snorted like a horse. “You’re going to test me to see if I’m cuckoo. Well I’m not! She is,” mother said, pointing at me. She held up a bra she’d pulled from a plastic bag full of her clothes. “Is this your bra?” mother asked the male cardiologist.

Seemingly oblivious to mother’s responses, the cardiologist went on to tell me the stress test has been scheduled for later that afternoon.

“So tell me, again,” I said. “If she has no evidence—of any kind—of heart disease, why are you doing a stress test?” 

“Because she wanted one,” the doctor replied. “Oh, and I’ve prescribed morphine for her pain.”

Morphine? Seriously?  

When caregiving pushes us to the limit, sometimes we need to dig deep to find the humor. Even so… You might want to resist the temptation to ask the doctor if you’re on Candid Camera?

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  1. Brenda,

    I am glad you find humor in writing this post but I know how difficult it must be for you as a caretaker.
    My sweet grandmother suffered from dementia ( we first learned of her dementia from her neighbors in Iowa calling my mother to tell her that grandma was going door to door in her bra and panties soliciting donations to the March of Dimes)
    It still brings me to tears with laughter remembering the things she did back then, that today is funny, but I know how worried we were about her declining mental state.
    That doctor is an idiot!


    • Hi Robin, Mother died almost three years ago, so I have some perspective about dementia. I’m not surprised to hear about your grandmother, going door to door. I’m glad you found the humor in it as well. We would have been mortified if that had happened to the person we knew and loved before dementia… if they had a drinking problem for instance, something they could seek help for, but dementia’s a different thing entirely. Yes that doctor was an idiot… borderline malpractice in my opinion, and I put a stop to the stress test and the morphine, got him to sign hospital release papers and had mother dressed and out of there in 30 minutes. Thanks for sharing! xoxo, Brenda

  2. Well Brenda, you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. I’ve made a Thelma and Louise pact with my sister that we will drive off a cliff if this happens to us. Though I’d like to throw a cup of water at my kids every day so maybe it’s already happened. 😉

    • You’re funny, Mithra! I always love reading your blog and your comments here. In some ways, we view the world through the same lens. Thanks so much! Are you Thelma or Louise? The instigator or the facilitator? Since high school, three of us have been best friends… Two of us have a wide streak of both Thelma and Louise, and the third one… She was a Hindu nun for seven years, so while she’s right there with us as part of the antics, the entire time she lends thoughtful, teachable moments to our capers. xoxox, Brenda

  3. I was only peripherally involved with my aunt when she was suffering with dementia. I knew of the episodes, but didn’t experience any of them. What a heart-breaking disease. But when the person with dementia isn’t the one talking nonsense, what can you do but laugh!

    • Hi Diane, Yes and no… You at least expect a cardiologist to make sense, especially when a patient is brought in by ambulance! Since I was the only one making sense in the whole bloomin’ building, I cancelled all of his orders and took my mother out of there! I think all of us who’ve been caregivers have stories to tell. Thanks so much!!! Brenda

  4. Your mom is a handful, Brenda! I do want to say, though that it’s really unconscionable and seems highly unethical for the cardiologist to ask a vulnerable, incapacitated adult to answer any question related to medical decisions. GEEZ. My mother is 93, has dementia, and I’d be pretty openly irritated with some medical professional thinking that he or she could override the decisions of the caregivers. It’s a huge responsibility caring for someone with dementia, but they need their informed caregivers, otherwise, unscrupulous doctors will try to do every test they can whether needed or not. My mom is fortunate to have two sons who are physicians, so they push back when it’s necessary. I never thought I’d be my age caring for a mom who needs so much supervision, but life leads us down paths we’re not always prepared for.

    • Hi Jean, Your mom’s blessed to have you and your brothers who can stand up, take charge and make decisions for her. My heart breaks for the patients whose family doesn’t live near by, doesn’t care or isn’t involved, or doesn’t have the strength to go against a doctor who isn’t making good decisions. Like your brothers, I pushed back and was a no nonsense advocate for my mother. In this case, I followed the doctor out into the hallway, cancelled his order for a stress test and the morphine!!!! Oh my stars!!! and got him to sign release papers on the spot and stood at the nurse’s desk until they brought a wheelchair. Then I scooped up my mom and got her out of there, all in 30 minutes. We’re never prepared for what life brings us, though, are we? Life is challenging, that’s for sure! I appreciate your comment. Thank you! Brenda

  5. Oh my mother was a complete PITA too. She had late stage severe MS which had caused paralysis to everything but her mouth, sadly enough for us, and the fairies had come in and eaten away any sense between her ears long before that. The bit that got me was that no Dr EVER told our family that our mother was cuckoo, we just figured it out, but it was like the elephant in the room. A very large stinking elephant. Waving it’s trunk around and stomping and other stuff that elephants who are not housetrained do. What was both sad and frustrating was having to see her nursing/caring staff having to take her seriously. Sometimes I would just roll my eyes have to go out for fresh air. Upon her passing, clearing out her house, we found all kinds of anti-psychotic drugs that she was on. All we could think was that someone knew she was psycho, but never thought it might be a nice idea to assure her poor teenage kids not to take any notice of Mom because she was bonkers. Throughout her entire life, she was always the wounded child. In the end, she died as the wounded child, seriously wounded by her inability to manage her emotions and her illness. She succumbed to it and milked it for all it was worth, seemingly with never a moment’s thought about anyone else who could be suffering because of her illness and inability to function as a caring mother (that’s narcissism for you). She made sure she threw more than a metaphorical cup of water over us before she left this world. After she died, I once told her spirit to stay away from me and my family, don’t come near us, don’t come back to us, dealing with her in one lifetime was more than enough! She passed away at 56. Although it was sad, and I was only 30 when I lost her, it was a relief. It was the end to the constant drama she caused in our lives. I see women my age now – in their 50’s – who are dealing with ageing elderly parents, and I think in a way it was at least a blessing that she went early. I’ve done all that and it’s behind me. Clearing out a house. Saying farewell to a parent. It made me grow up quicker. I never had the benefit of my mother’s skirts to hide behind or to seek the wisdom and comfort of. There was little about her that was wise or comforting. She was a blackhole, a vortex that drew energy into itself and would keep sucking until you were fully depleted and then allege that we had abandoned her again. Sound familiar? Seeing her so decrepit made me determined to grasp each wonderful amazing day with both hands, with a full breath, a full heart, to give freely and generously of myself, my energy and my material wealth, and to show true love and forgiveness to others, especially my own children, to the very best of my ability. The only elephants I will now give permission to enter my living room are well trained ones.

    • TJ, In many ways, we had the same mother! No one EVER told me that my mother was mentally unstable. Even my father’s mother knew but would only say, “You know how she is,” referring to mother’s wacko decisions. It was the elephant in the room, and I felt it, but never thought it was a mental health issue other than she had a nervous breakdown when I was 12 and my father died. She and I role reversed. “The wounded child… ” Boy! That struck a familiar chord. I always said she liked being the victim and to myself would call her “poor, pitiful Sue.” I tried to reason why someone would want to consistently be the victim… or wounded… but then I was applying logic. NARCISSISM!! Oh yes! That was mother’s middle name. EVERYTHING was about her! EVERYTHING! The only time mother was wise and comforting was when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. She became the mother I’d always wanted. As soon as treatment was over, she went back to being the mother I grew up with. At least for that time, I knew what it was like to have a nurturing mother who put me first. “Abandoned her…. ” Oh my word, TJ. You are describing my mother! God bless us both! We seemed to have survived and are stronger for it. xoxox, Brenda

  6. You certainly had your hands full caring for your mother and her medical needs. My mother died relatively young (67) and was a very sweet and placid woman. Mother-in-law on the other hand was a difficult personality.

    • Hi Donna, I’m happy for you that you had a wonderful mother. Mother-in-laws… I imagine most of us could write a book about them. Actually that’s not a bad idea. Perhaps I should put out the word and accept contributing chapters! LOL! Thanks so much!! Brenda

  7. Oh, Brenda, I can so relate to what you’re going through. My sister and I took care of our elderly mother, who had dementia, at her own home for nearly 10 years. Without a doubt, those were the most difficult years of my life (and my life has been far from easy). When Mom kept insisting that she was in a seniors’ home when she was actually in her own house, almost burned the house down and refused to eat anything but chocolates, my sister and I reluctantly arranged for her to get on the list to be put in a subsidized care facility. Of course Mom hated it there and cursed my sister and I constantly. She didn’t recognize me as her daughter (she thought I was her sister), constantly asked where Ray (her deceased husband, my dad) was and where her bank book was (she was convinced my sister and I were stealing from her). I visited her 3 – 4 times a week, a 3 1/2 hour trip by bus that left me physically and mentally exhausted. My sister visited her just about every day because she lives near the care facility and has a car.

    Three days before Christmas last year, Mom was complaining of stomach pains from her hernia and was vomiting blood. The nursing home called 911 and rushed her to the hospital. My sister phoned at 8:00 that night and said “You’d better get to the hospital.” I rushed out there by taxi and we received the chilling news – Mom’s hernia had strangulated. They gave her 3 days to live. She died on Christmas morning.

    Life does, indeed, lead us down paths we’re not prepared for.

    • Squeak, You may be the most devoted daughter I’ve heard of in a long time. Even though your sister lived near you mom’s care facility, you took that long bus trip 3-4 times a week? Oh, sweet lady! Dementia is cruel to the entire family, isn’t it? I eventually moved mother close to me after I went with her to fill her car with gas, and she didn’t know where the gas tank was; she was trying to use the remote for her TV as a phone… Even though I moved mother’s things into her room at the dementia facility, she didn’t recognize them as her own… and she hated it there. She hated everything and everyone. It was jarring when she would talk about things I’d brought her or done for her but would say it was “her mother” who’d done them. Let’s pray we don’t have dementia. I think it would be easier to get hit by a bus! Lights out! I always love seeing your name, here, and think of you from time to time! xoxox, Brenda

      • Thank you for the kind comments, Brenda! I think of you, too.

        I chuckled at your comment about your mother saying it was her mother who had done things or given her things that you had done or given. I gave my mom a lap blanket with polar bears on one side and fleece on the other as one of her Christmas presents the first year she was at the care facility. She loved it and told everybody (including me) that she was on the up escalator at one of our local malls when a man on the down escalator reached over and gave her the blanket. When I told her that I had bought it for her for Christmas, she got really angry and started screaming at me that I was a liar. Heavy sigh.

        • Squeak, That hurts, I know… especially when it’s a real time and effort commitment on your part just to go see her. We just have to know they’ve lost the ability to reason and remember and in some instances… that can be a good thing. xoxox, B

  8. There’s humor and there’s….coming attractions? The last time my mother in law was hospitalized, with pneumonia (90, with early dementia, lives in skilled nursing now on 24 hour oxygen and is barely strong enough to get from her bed into a wheelchair due to congestive heart failure) she was telling the people there that she was fully independent, mobile, could do her own cooking, lived with her son (which has not been true since February) and they were all set to order physical and occupational therapy for her so she could go home. Not exactly major league stuff like what that doctor you encountered was trying to pull, but still. My mother in law literally can not remember what just happened to her five minutes before. How can any doctor believe her if they are with her more than five minutes? But I’ve heard so many stories from people I know who have been down the caring for someone with dementia road. I also know we can’t really prepare ourselves for what is to come, and we will either have to find some humor in it, or lose our own sanities.

    • Alana… BINGO!! We must find the humor, because if we absorb it all and take it to heart, we’re toast! I first took my mother to Baylor Medical’s Senior Care Hospital in Dallas for evaluation. I was in the room while they “evaluated” mother and asked her questions. Clearly she wasn’t getting anything right and was already pretty far down the dementia road, but they told her she “just needed to pay better attention.” Of all places, they should have known dementia patients “present well” and can fool people into thinking they’re more capable than they really are. Thank you for sharing with me! It’s always comforting to know we’re not alone in whatever we’ve experienced. xoxo, Brenda

  9. This is the saddest thing. I can only hope that I escape this. I am positive, and hopeful, and relentlessly cheerful…..but this would do me in. I pray I escape dementia. I pray everyone does.

    • Penelope, I also pray we all escape dementia. It’s wicked and cruel for everyone involved. I, too, am positive and cheerful… relentlessly so. My late husband used to say I was the lowest maintenance person he’d ever known, even through breast cancer, I was always positive and happy. Part of that is the core of our personality and who we are, but it’s also a conscious decision we make. You’ve been through a terrible trauma and ordeal, and yet, you’ve chosen to bear it gracefully and cheerfully. That doesn’t mean you weren’t devastated and didn’t have your moments, but your resilience comes through in everything you post. That’s one of the many reasons I’m here, cheering you on, rejoicing that your roosters are home and you’re rebuilding your life. Brava! xoxox, Brenda

  10. Gosh Brenda it s a dreadful disease and it seems that your mother who was difficult anyway became even more so as her dementia worsened. But that doctor was an idiot…

    • Hilda, The scary part of any serious illness is twofold: The realization we’re dealing with something beyond our power to control, and the advice and counsel we’ve sought is incompetent. Twenty years ago I was in the hospital with a mysterious, serious blood loss. I called a girlfriend… her husband was the President of the Family Physicians of America… very well respected, but he wasn’t my doctor at the time. Over the phone, from my hospital bed, I explained to him what I’d been through for a week, and he said. “Get out of there before they kill you!” And he was right. Since then, he’s been my doctor. We should all have the guts to speak up when we know we’re not in good hands or things don’t “ring right.” Thank you, Hilda! Brenda

  11. My father-in-law was a wonderful, generous man with a fantastic sense of humor, which is why it was so hard to see him enter the hospital -fully cognizant – trying to avoid an amputated toe due to complications from diabetes, and end up lost in a fog of unawareness. He wasn’t able to avoid multiple amputations in the end (My husband and I have often wondered “If only he had said OK to removal of his toe from the beginning, would he have survived this?” Of course, we’ll never know, but the longer he was in the hospital, the more he lost touch with reality.

    His good-natured personality even came through in his delusions, though, and they actually provided some comic relief, such as the time he told Bill (my hubby) that the staff woke everyone up the previous night and took them on a cruise! Not too bad, huh?!? But even better was when he told us, “It was the darndest thing, but Robert Redford came by and gave me his blanket!”

    A loving man in life and in death. I miss him.

    • Val, aging and all that goes with it is alarming and heartbreaking. On top of that, we lose the person we’d known all those years and loved, so it’s heartbreaking for all concerned. We see what’s happened to those we love and wonder if we’re slated for a similar fate? I have a dear friend who’s only a couple of years older than I am who had three surgeries in 10 days, and she’s not herself, but then it takes a year before the anesthesia is gone from our body, which has a big impact on us mentally. A cruise AND Robert Redford… Not to be flip, but I could use some of whatever he was taking! xoxox, Brenda

  12. Laugh or cry? You never know with dementia and daughters…. My (vast) experience has shown me that doctors LOVE to order tests. I’m no expert in the ways of insurance, but I’m guessing someone is getting greased ($$$) along the way. Glad your Mom is ok, but curious if she has this kind of attitude at the AL too, or if it was saved solely for the hospital?

    • Emily, It sounds as though you’ve had some experience with this. I agree with you. Some doctors or hospitals have got to be getting some kind of kickback… not all, but in the case of my mother… It did make me wonder. Mother died almost three years ago of dementia, but she was the same in the dementia facility. Mother always acted as though she were the victim of some unknown slight or offense. As she got older, she became more vocal about how she felt and went from being snotty to down right rude and mean. That’s not to say there weren’t days when I went to see her where she was happy to see me and was sweet and loving, but something would ruin it like… She would make comments, in a very loud voice, about people passing by like…. “I wonder why that woman let herself get so fat?” or “Why would anyone wear such an ugly, purple blouse? It makes her skin look awful, but then she’s not at all attractive to begin with.” Comments where I just wanted to melt into my chair. And if I tried to put my fingers to my lips and make a “shush” sound, she’d invariably say something like “What? She already knows she’s fat.” Oh my stars!!! That was difficult. Happy to see you here, Emily! Thanks so much, Brenda

  13. OH SHIT!!!!!!!!
    They left my MOTHER on the floor from 9pm to 2 am……………and that was HOSPICE DOING after she fell!!!!!The minimum wage young thing decided ENOUGH was ENOUGH and got her off THE FLOOR at 2 AM!!!!!!!!SHE GOT A HUGH TIP FROM ME!!!!!!
    I’m SORRY you did not have SIBLINGS TO BE THERE WITH YOU!

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