Mom vs. Dishwasher: The Need for a Senior Advocate

Mom vs. Dishwasher:  The Need for a Senior Advocate

My mother was tidying up in the kitchen late one evening when somehow she tripped over the lowered dishwasher door. She ended up on the floor with both legs twisted under the door and she felt shooting pains in both legs and her right hip. She didn’t want to worry anyone (good grief, mom!), or wake my Dad who was already asleep, so somehow she slowly made it to the living room couch where she spent a long painful, sleepless night, while not worrying anyone.

Not being able to get to the bathroom the next morning since she couldn’t bear weight on either leg apparently qualified as an emergency and therefore a reason to worry somebody, so she called me.

When she told me what happened (good grief, mom!), I called 911 for my parents’ address. Calling Mom back, the phone woke my Dad. Dazed and confused, he recovered enough to get up and let the EMTs in the front door.

As soon as we could, Dad and I headed for the ER. They told us that Mom was having tests, so Dad and I went to sit in the waiting room. We waited and waited for what seemed like hours. No one came out to give us an update. Finally (feeling emboldened by past volunteer work in the ER) I slipped in through the locked doors behind an employee, and found Mom. She had been asking for her family but no one had come to get us in the waiting room!

The damage turned out to be hairline fractures in both legs and a badly bruised hip. She was advised not to bear weight on her legs (they apparently can’t put a cast on a “hairline fracture”), to follow-up with her regular doctor in 3 days, given a prescription for pain pills, and discharged from the ER to go home.

As I went to get the car from the parking deck my brain finally kicked in and I began to think ahead. The walkway to my folk’s townhouse was uphill. Besides that, her bedroom was down the hall from the bathroom…how would she manage all that on “non-weight bearing” legs?

Thank goodness I had the presence of mind to go back and request that the ER doctor write an order for a wheelchair to be delivered immediately to my parent’s address, along with a bedside commode.

As I brought my car around, I saw my father wheeling mom out the exit door. With no staff member in sight, we stood there trying to figure out how to move my mom (with her two broken legs) from the wheelchair into my car with a minimum of discomfort. Was that all there was to the hospital discharge procedure? She could go home – bye! No assistance was offered by the hospitalist or the ER staff.

Fortunately, two aides were taking a break nearby and volunteered to help. One lifted mom into the backseat and the other pulled her across from the opposite side so that her legs could remain extended. I was too flustered to challenge the lack of follow-through by the ER staff or question the lack of home care planning until later.

Luckily the arrival of the wheelchair delivery coincided with our arrival home. Dad and I maneuvered Mom into the townhouse and into bed. We positioned the bedside commode nearby. (A good thing too because not only was the bathroom down the hall, but as it turned out, the wheelchair wouldn’t fit through the bathroom doorway!)

The Need for a Senior Advocate

I remember when Mom and Dad moved into the townhouse some years ago, thinking that it would be good for an aging couple… compact, all on one floor, no steps. I never thought about details like measuring the width of the doorways to see if a wheelchair would fit!

Taking a deep breath, I knew I had to figure out how to arrange the help that Mom and Dad would need. All the care needs and assistive medical equipment that I knew about came flooding into my mind. I knew I had to get on the phone immediately, but who to call?

My husband had been telling me about an employer-sponsored Healthfair he attended the week before. He brought home brochures and magazines in a nifty little carry bag. Some were about arranging coordination of care for seniors. Boy did our family need some coordination!

My traumatized parents, whose daily routine had changed so dramatically with that late-night fall, were trying mightily to cope. And I needed time to adjust my schedule to the new responsibilities in helping my Mom and Dad. We needed a… a… a nurse, a good fairy, a miracle? An advocate!

All the way through this ordeal, we could have used a healthcare advocate — to report mom’s relevant medical history to the hospitalist and ER staff (because she was in pain, and nobody consulted Dad and me in the waiting room!) And Dad and I would have appreciated somebody coming to update us (waiting in the waiting room) on mom’s condition – and the fact that she was asking to see us.

The whole “discharge process” (or lack of one) cried out for change… in transport, home health planning, patient education, requisitioning equipment, making follow up appointments and filling prescriptions!

It is hard to think about, but if I hadn’t been able to get to my Mom & Dad’s, and had my brain had not kicked into gear at some point, and two good Samaritan aides had not been taking a break when we needed muscle, the whole situation would have devolved into chaos! As it was, we muddled through.

I realized that we must be better prepared next time! And there will always be a ‘next time’ because that’s just life. A crisis never looks like a crisis when it first walks in the door! Whew!

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