By: Shar Porier
The Banks County News
August 21, 2002
The tiny face was barely visible over the Lennox Lewis-sized neck brace. Purple, blue and pink bruises surrounded both of her eyes. She looked as if she had been brutally beaten.
In her soft brown eyes, I gratefully welcomed the recognition I was afraid I would not find. She knew me.
Mama, I cried, fighting back the tears. I reached down to gently hug the frail figure afraid to even touch her - afraid of hurting her. But, I gently scooped her up in my arms and hugged her.
Oh, Mama, look at you. I think you have every color of the rainbow across your face, I said, trying to hide my worry.
Our worst fears had been realized. She had suffered a severe fall.
This wouldnt have happened if the doctor had put her in the nursing home in March like we asked, I muttered under my breath. Then, I decided, No, I cant go there. Have to stay focused on Mom.
My younger sister, Mary, and her, husband, Ken were in the hospital room. Their faces were over-shadowed with worry. Mary has been Moms prime caretaker for so long and, this past year, has been particularly hard on her.
One good thing, one wonderful thing that has come out of this nightmare is we have discovered how deep a bond sisters can share. She knows she can count on me. I know I can count on her.
Its been hard watching Mary become Moms only contact with the outside world. Its a heavy burden she has carried with few complaints. Sometimes she is torn between wanting her own life and needing to take care of Mom. Marys a tiny thing, just 4-foot-11-inches. How such a big heart finds room in that small space is a wonder to me. I admire her.
Mary filled me in on what happened, how she had found Mom on the kitchen floor and brought her to the hospital. They were awaiting the results of a CT scan and X-rays.
Mom said she was fine. She couldnt remember the fall, how it happened, how she got here, or even where she was, though she suspected she was in a hospital.
The trauma doctor finally arrived with the diagnosis - no skull fracture - just a stress fracture in the orbital bone of the skull. Other than one tiny broken bone in her hand, she had no other skeletal injuries. She did have a concussion, but not a serious one. He was quite surprised that she had escaped with such minor injuries considering her weakened bones from osteoporosis.
He said the CT scan showed evidence of scar tissue from micro-strokes. These happen when tiny clots break loose and end up in capillaries of the brain. When the capillary bursts, the surrounding brain tissue dies from lack of nourishment.
It was a subject that gained my interest when I first read about it while researching progressive loss of memory. It mimics Alzheimers in many ways. I had mailed a copy of the article to her doctor, hoping it would prompt some tests. Never heard a word back, of course.
This could be the reason for her time trips maybe? Or was it a combination of both?
There would be no way to conclusively rule out Alzheimers until her death when biopsies of her brain tissue could be done to find the telltale plaques associated with the disease, he said. I questioned why this circulatory disease scar tissue would show up in the scan and not the plaques of Alzheimers. He skipped the question and called for an evaluation by a psychologist to get a base line of her mental function. Nice dodge, I thought. Guess thats an I dont have a clue, answer.
I asked about Moms finger. A soft splint had been taped on her little finger, but that wasnt what was broke. It was the tiny bone in her hand. Dont you think she should have a splint that encompasses the broken bone in her hand. Isnt that whats broken? That splint isnt keeping the bone still. I thought the splint was supposed to support and confine one joint above to one joint below the fracture.
He looked at the ineffective splint on Moms swollen, purple-violet finger. Now why did they do that, he asked That will have to be changed out immediately.
He looked at me for the first time, like I might actually comprehend what was being done. I fought the urge to tell him I had been in med school.
The psychologist arrived and went through a list of simple questions to test Moms memory. Mom kept looking at us for the answers, but we told her she had to do it by herself. Mom didnt do well and it slightly upset her.
He also requested a physical evaluation be done and in minutes Mom was being put through a few tests by a physical therapist and an occupational therapist. She flunked PT and OT. Her osteoarthritis and osteoporosis had left her physically incapable of standing up, sitting down, maintaining balance and walking without assistance.
After a brief conference in the hall, they came back in with their recommendation. After a three-day stay in the hospital, Mom would be transferred to a nursing home. We just had to pick one.
Mary and I hugged as tears welled in our eyes. Finally, clinical proof of what we already knew five months ago. Where were these people when we needed them?
We knew where we wanted her to be taken. That had been decided in March after completing our mission of checking out all the nursing homes in East Toledo, Oregon and Genoa. It was a grueling challenge and, quite frankly, made us have second thoughts about the whole thing. Heck, most of them couldnt even pass the first thing on our list - no urine smell. We were not going to sacrifice that requirement. We made no appointments. We wanted to see the place in action at different times of the day, meet the staff of the different shifts, talk with the janitorial staff as well as the skilled professionals and had to check out the food prep area. We didnt tour facilities - we inspected them. We didnt want to hear a sales pitch. We wanted to gauge the level of professionalism and kindness in action. We took advantage of every opportunity to speak with residents and their family members about the place. We even asked employees how they felt about the management.
Of all the places we went, only one met all our objectives and allowed us free rein to roam and inquire. To our surprise, it even had one perk we had not expected to find - therapy rooms with on-site full-time therapists. We had found the home for Mom and put her on the waiting list.
Moms doctor could have helped things along by admitting her to the hospital when she had quit eating and taking her meds. But she refused.
I couldnt wait to see her doctor come through the door to sign off on the teams recommendations. She came and spoke briefly with Mom about the home and the therapy. She never looked at us. Then she was gone. I resisted the urge to tackle her, drag her back and make her look closer at the emaciated, fragile, mulit-colored human being that was her patient.
I glanced at Mom. She had that lost look on her face. I went to her bedside and asked if she needed anything, was she in pain.
No, she replied. But somebody did a crappy job of painting that door.
It was just the grain in the wood, but the concept wouldnt register.
It was nearing evening and her most disturbing symptoms were surfacing. She began chatting about what she was going to do when she got home. The elephants at the zoo across the street from her childhood home would be expecting her. She helped care for them, hosed them down, gave them hay. She adored those elephants. Her time machine also took her into the botanical gardens and she talked about playing with butterflies.
As the sun set, so did the memories of 48 years of marriage to the man she loved. Gone were the memories of her four children. She was just a young girl with a million things to do. She rattled on and soon began to nod off to sleep like a young child.
The three of us stood over her with our arms around each other and watched as dreams danced across her face.
For the first time in a long time, she wouldnt be the only one getting a good nights sleep.
Shar Porier is a reporter for The Banks County News.
By: Angela Gary
The Banks County News
August 21, 2002
A description of the crash position. Details on the rendezvous point where we were all to meet outside the helicopter if it crashed.
These are among the items I learned about in a briefing Friday morning before I took to the skies in a small helicopter for a short flight over north Georgia.
Im scared of heights and roller coasters and other amusement park rides, so I was a little apprehensive about the flight. It was busy last week though and I didnt have a lot of time to worry about the flight I was to take later in the week.
Friday morning, staff photographer Yve Assad, who was to accompany me, and I were making jokes about being fly girls and trying not to get too nervous. However, when she headed out to get a bag in case we got sick, I did ask her to get one for me too.
I still wasnt incredibly nervous. That was until we arrived at the airport and Andy Newton, who is a retired Navy pilot, regaled us with tales of his military life. This included an emergency landing where he had to swim to the surface. Since I dont know how to swim, I started thinking about whether we would be flying over any water during our flight. He was about to scare us further (I meant entertain us) with another story that included fire when it was time for our briefing from the pilot. Gee, I hate that we missed that one.
Pilot Jim Brown then described the crash position to us and told us the rendezvous point outside the helicopter would be at the nose. If we couldnt meet there, he pointed out the next site we should try to meet at. He then cautioned us not to get out until everything, including the blade, had stopped running. He said it would be horrible to survive a crash and then get hit by the blade....It was too late to back out. I didnt want to look like a wimp or chicken or worse.
We put on our head gear, buckled up and Jim slowly lifted the helicopter. It was so smooth that we didnt seem to be moving, although we traveled up to 100 miles per hour. It seemed as if we were sitting atop the trees and gently moving along.
It wasnt scary at all. It was fun.... That is, until the third person in the small helicopter, Emil Beshara, asked the pilot to take a hard left. Now let me tell you, hard left is not something you want to hear when youre in a helicopter. This means the pilot will take a sharp left and you will get a side-view. Emil says he only did this two times and it was to direct the pilot over areas he didnt want to miss in the area. Yve and I think it felt more like 20 times. The first time he asked for a hard left, she looked at me all wide-eyed and whispered, What is he doing? I just shrugged and tried not to look as the landscape suddenly veered to the left.
At one point, the pilot said he didnt want to fly too low because it would scare the chickens. I immediately thought he was talking about Yve and me but then I looked down and saw the chicken houses just below us.
It was actually a wonderful experience to see our area of Georgia from up above. There are lots of subdivisions and new development, but I also saw plenty of green space. Its interesting to see how the developments are popping up.
If anyone has the chance to take to the skies in a small plane or helicopter, I encourage them to put aside their fears and do so. It was a great experience. I was also pleased I didnt have to get in the crash position or meet Emil and Yve outside at the rendezvous point. I was also glad we didnt have to dig out those bags Yve had put inside her camera bag.
Angela Gary is editor of The Banks County News. She can be reached at AngieEditor@aol.com.