Saturday, May 05, 2007

What was that about stroke symptoms?

My mother just called, saying she felt coherent for the first time in a long time. We were having a very nice conversation, and then she suddenly started slurring very badly, and then she stopped talking.

I tried hanging up and calling back: I got a busy signal, which must mean that the phone's off the hook. My sister and brother-in-law are two floors down in the basement, asleep, and my sister's cell is off.

So I called the Philadelphia police department, who connected me to Rescue, who took a brief medical history and are sending someone out there.

I really hope she just fell asleep. I really hope I'm over-reacting.

I'm scared.

I'm sitting here biting my nails; I called one of our priests to ask for prayers. I'd been in the middle of doing a bunch of final grading, and I should get back to that, but I'm feeling a little distracted, you know?

The phone's still busy, half an hour after this all started. Aaaaargh!


It's now over an hour since I spoke to Rescue. The phone at my sister's house is still off the hook, which I have to take as evidence that no one's there yet. About twenty minutes ago, I started trying to call Rescue again to find out what was happening: the main City Hall number put me on interminable hold, and I called another police number where a helpful officer tried to connect me to Rescue and cut me off instead, and then I called my mother's police district, where a very nice officer said that he didn't have information on Fire Rescue dispatch, but that he'd send a car to my mother's house and call me back. I kept saying, "She may need an ambulance," but I know he's doing the best he can.

Am I crazy, or should all of these people be able to talk to each other more easily?

Or -- now here's a concept -- how about some easy way to call any given area's 911 system from out of state?

Yes, I know: Emergency services in big cities are completely overwhelmed. And it's a Saturday night. And I can't even wish that I were still there, because if I were, I'd probably be asleep, just like my sister and brother-in-law are.

Later still:

She's fine. I finally got through about five minutes ago; my sister said, "You're the one who called the fire department?" sounding appalled. They're all tired and cranky, and, I suspect, furious at me -- except Mom, who called back just now (sounding completely normal) to say that she's fine and that she understands why I reacted the way I did.

She doesn't know why her voice got so slurry and then stopped, or why the phone receiver was tangled up in her sheets for over an hour. I suspect she may have had a small stroke, and I'm still worried, but the best I've been able to do has been to get her to promise to talk to a doctor about it on Monday.

As Gary pointed out, the moral of this story is that my sister needs to keep her cell phone on at night.

And finally:

Mom just called again, sounding very prim, and said, "I'm supposed to call you."

"What?" Oh, no: is this a sign of altered mental status? Did she have a stroke after all?

"The police just came and told me I'm supposed to call you."

"What? I called the police back! I told them you were fine! I told them they didn't have to go there!"

"Well, your sister answered the door. If I were you, I wouldn't talk to her for a while."

What a mess! Among other things, this means that my sister will never believe me about medical symptoms again. (Crying wolf: my specialty.) But on the other hand, Gary and I were laughing at the absurdity of it all. "Emergency services will be showing up there every hour all night," he said. "They'll send a SWAT team. The mayor will drop by. And I'm sure your sister's going to call the Reno police department and have them check up on us at 3:00 a.m., just to get even."

Oh, lordy. Okay: so what should I have done? I still don't think I was wrong -- I don't think I had any real choice about how to handle it -- but if anyone has a better solution, please let me know.

Oh, and by the way, my mother had a TIA/stroke back in 1992; given that history on top of her recent medical issues, I really don't think I was out of line.

Just the same, I'm going to go crawl under a rock now.


A happy ending, and the medical mystery solved, here.


  1. Steve1:20 AM

    I think you did the right thing.

  2. You did absolutely the right thing, even if it was 'only' a TIA (and with my first hand experience of TIAs I'd be taking this one a little more seriously than 'only')

    Transient aeschemic incidents are a good indicator that all is not as it should be and should be treated seriously, unless you think its cool for the sufferer to end up with a broken hip as happens so often when one occurs when walking.

    Don't worry, you did right. Love and prayers to all of you.

  3. Susan, please come out from under that rock. You did the right thing! I don't think you over reacted...I would have done exactly the same thing were it my mom. And my dad would probably have reacted a lot like your sister. He would have been huffy about how he was in charge and doing a good job. Maybe it's time for your sister to get a different land line from the one in the basement so that you can reach her in such cases and not have her woken up by the authorities. Since your mom sounds understanding perhaps she would be the person to suggest this to. Would one of those tests that predicts the likely hood of strokes be a good idea for your mom? It's been a long time since 1992. Maybe it is less of a possibility than you fear. Which makes me wonder if maybe you should put together a list of the things most likely to affect your mom and if something isn't high on the list rule it out of your concerns about her.

    I'll pray for your mom, you and also your sister, she needs a more understanding heart.

    Peace & Hope!

  4. Thanks to all three of you!

    Lee: My sister has a perfectly understanding heart -- she teaches severely and profoundly disabled kids, which isn't work I could do -- but even the most understanding heart gets grumpy when woken twice from sleep in the middle of the night. I'd be a little testy too, if that happened to me. Very good idea about a second land line, though, and I think you're right that my mother's the best one to suggest it. Either that, or keeping the cell phone on.

  5. Anonymous7:23 AM

    of course you did the right thing! no matter how upsetting all this is now, how much more upsetting it would have been if there had been something really wrong and no one had done anything about it...

    how long you stay under the rock is entirely up to you, but we're all here for you whether you're under or out from under,


  6. Anonymous8:29 AM

    You did absolutely the right thing under the circumstances. Your mother and your sister should be thanking you.

  7. I think you did the absolutely right thing. Even though your sister is frustrated now, and I definitely understand the impact of criticism, I think you showed how much you care about your Mom's well-being. What you heard should send anyone to action.

    You and your family and especially your Mom are still in my prayers. I'm sorry I comment a lot less right now, but please know that I always read and pray.
    As we say in the RSD world, gentle hugs.

  8. You know I agree that you did the right thing. And I think asking your sister to keep her cell phone on at night is a great idea.

  9. In agreement with everyone else - given your mother's history, recent and past, she could've had a stroke, or a post-surgical blood clot, and you have no way of knowing. You're also exactly right in thinking she may, in fact, have had a small stroke, and felt better afterwards. That's a fairly common thing.

    I'm sure your sister will understand, though she may not like you for awhile. You're far away, and your mother offered classic symptoms. What would she do if she called you one night, had a normal conversation, and then suddenly you slurred your speech and the phone call abruptly ended? Hopefully the same thing.

    I agree you need a second phone access to your sister. Does she live permanently with your mother? If not, you may want to think about getting a lifeline sort of system for your mom......

  10. I don't know what else you could have done, and I would've done the same thing in your place. Your sister sounds just like mine!

  11. Well, I won't repeat what everyone else just said, but as a medical professional, I'm telling you, you did the right thing. Your sister may teach the disabled, but she should have been more concerned, a TIA is nothing to mess with.

  12. Gak! My comment was eaten by The Google!

    Trying again:

    Yes - your sister now has a pattern of refusing to allow EMS to transport your mother to the hospital. Call the attending physician ASAP and report what happened to the best of your ability. Your mother may have thrown an embolus, and she is at risk of another major event.

    You not only did the right thing, but you did MANY right things - and very creatively, too, under great pressure.

    If you can, see of the attending would order a home care RN to make an assessment visit and see what services your mother requires at home.

    Also, my intuition is leading me to wonder if your sister has an issue with end of life decisions - has there been frank discussion of resuscitation and aggressiveness of care between her and your mother? Is everyone in explicit agreement? Are there DPOA and living will documents?

    The sooner, the better to get these issues on the table and to get clarity. I think your mother did have some type of neuro event, and that her speech garbled so quickly may be a medication - or it may be an embolic event.

    Email me if I may be of support or assistance. univrslhealth at gmail dot com

  13. You better NOT be under a rock. What if you had NOT done everything you did and something horrible had happened? There was every indication something had gone wrong, and you were right to get help.

    Thank God everything turned out okay.


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