Close friends and family members have often told me I am one of those folks who stays calm, cool and collected during a crisis. I don’t hit the red panic button and run around like the star victim in a chainsaw massacre movie. Little do they know when the crisis is over, I sink into the closest comfy chair and let out a deep sigh punctuated with a rousing “Jeez-la-weez!”
So a few months ago when I got the early morning phone call from Head Nurse “Kay” at my mother’s assisted living facility, I calmly listened as she described my mother’s condition. My mother had been found wandering around a part of the building she rarely goes to unless she and her gal pals are heading to bingo. My mother did not know where she was. She did not know why she was there. She was completely disoriented. Thankfully, one of the staff saw she was in distress and escorted her back to her room, then notified Nurse Kay.
Nurse Kay told me she believed my mother had an infection which was affecting her ability to comprehend. And based on her experience, it was most likely a urinary tract infection, which is rather common in the elderly. When I asked Kay how could an infection cause my mother’s mental state to be in such a muddle, she said she really had no definitive answer for me. She could only tell me that it does happen and she sees it happen a lot. And that it happens very quickly. I got the same answer from our family doctor when I spoke to him. Who woulda thunk?
As it turned out, my mother did not have a urinary tract infection, but rather an infection in two of her teeth. And with the assistance of Nurse Kay, within a few hours of that morning phone call, my mother was in the dentist’s office. A few hours after that appointment, my mother started taking antibiotics for the infection. After the antibiotics did their job, she was in the oral surgeon’s office getting the teeth removed. All is well that ends well.
But here is the rub: my mother knew she had a problem. But she was hiding it. From eagle-eye Nurse Kay and her crew. From me when I had visited her a few days before that morning call. From her gal pals. So no matter that my mother was becoming more befuddled with each passing hour, she was still clever enough to hide her rapidly swelling lower jaw.
When I picked her up to take her to the dentist, she looked like a chipmunk with a golf-ball-sized stash of nuts in her cheek. And as we were leaving her room, she asked how bad her face looked. I smiled and told her she looked like an adorable chipmunk. I then asked if she was in any discomfort. She replied her jaw was a bit tender and had been for a few weeks. When I asked her why she waited so long to tell anyone, she replied, “I was waiting for it to mature.”
MATURE? Are you serious? Jeez-la-weez!
With this experience I gained more than a knowledge of infections and how they can affect the mental stability of the elderly, and how common they are and how often they can occur. I learned how dedicated Nurse Kay and her staff are to their residents. And how much they care for them on a personal, as well as a professional level. When I brought my mother back to the assisted living facility after she had her teeth removed, I lost count of the number of staff members who asked how my mother had done during the procedure. And each assured me they would keep an extra eye on her and let me know how she was recovering. Which they did do.
I was reminded there are many medical professionals who are truly dedicated to their patients. Like our family doctor, who stood at the ready should we need his services. And the dentist, who immediately opened a time slot in his schedule to see my mother. Along with the oral surgeon who was patient, polite and respectful with my mother. He told me he enjoys working with patients from the “Great Generation” [aka those who have lived through WWII]. He says they are no nonsense folks. They tell him not to worry about them but to simply get the job done. He says there is a lot we “youngsters” can learn from this generation. And I agree.
I have also discovered that sometimes a rousing “Jeez-la-weez” is in order DURING a crisis, rather than after.