If this is an emergency, hang up and dial 9-1-1

My husband and I are TUTS season-ticket holders, and on the night of May 15, 2015, we had tickets for “The Music Man.” We had an extra set of tickets for our close friends, Mike and Rhoda. At 5:09 P.M., they wouldn’t arrive for another 45 minutes, so I decided to call my parents to see how my father was doing. To see how (or if) their stories matched, I called my father first and he seemed to think that everything was going well and that he’d be leaving soon. He wasn’t wearing his hearing aids, so the conversation was a bit challenging. At 5:16 P.M. I called my mother to get her side of the story. When she answered I asked how the patient was doing. She responded by saying, “We’re just having so many problems with engineering.” At first I thought that either I had misunderstood or she had, but our conversation continued in the same confusing vein, and some of her responses seemed straight out of “Harry Potter.” I handed the phone to my husband and told him to ask her about my father. He seemed to have a nice conversation with her, but when he handed the phone back to me he said that he couldn’t understand a word she said.

The challenge of living three hours from your loved ones is that you can’t just run down the street to check on them. I needed eyes on my mother, so at 5:27 P.M. I called the neighbor who lives across the street, explained that I was having difficulty understanding Mom, and asked if he could go over and ask my mother about my father’s condition. He called back 15 minutes later and said that he couldn’t understand her either. At 5:50 P.M., I called my father and told him that I thought that Mom was in some sort of trouble and that I wanted to call 9-1-1. He said that he would call her himself. For future reference, having a hearing-impaired person without his hearing aids call someone who’s speaking gibberish is pretty much a waste of time. He had no trouble understanding what he thought she said.

I called my mother again and told her that I was calling an ambulance for her and they would take her to the hospital. It was another confusing conversation and I don’t know if she got the gist of what I was saying or planning to do because I couldn’t understand anything she said. As I was telling her good-bye, she finally said something that I could understand; she told me that she “loved me to bits.”

Harris County 9-1-1 Banner

At 6:23 P.M. I called 9-1-1. When asked about the nature of my emergency, I told the Harris county 9-1-1 operator that I needed to be transferred to a 9-1-1 operator in Bell County. She said, “I don’t even have a phone number that I can give you.” My husband, who was busily searching for Bell County phone numbers on his iPad, gave me the number for the Bell County Sheriff’s office. My call was answered with, “If this is an emergency, hang up and dial 9-1-1.” OMG! I knew that she would eventually end up at Scott & White Hospital, so I called the main number and told the operator of my plight. The very helpful operator said that she would transfer me to someone who could help me. I wish I had made a note of that department because I was greeted with another recording of, “If this is an emergency, hang up and dial 9-1-1.”

Now it’s almost 6:30 P.M. Our theater-going friends brought us sandwiches, turned in our tickets at the box office, and went to the show themselves. In desperation, I called my parents’ neighbor again and asked if he could call 9-1-1 for me. He did, but he had a difficult time convincing them that my mother was in need of assistance. They eventually agreed to send an ambulance to the house. Before he hung up, our friend provided the 9-1-1 operator with my mother’s name and my name and phone number. I was relieved that help was on the way. I started gathering clothes and my work computer so that I could leave as soon as I heard from the hospital. That wait took much longer than I expected.

Call me crazy, but it seems like the State of Texas could have a web page (maybe a wiki) that contains the 254 phone numbers of 9-1-1 operators. At the very least, the 9-1-1 operator who answered my call should have have been able to say, “I can’t transfer you, but you can call 254-555-5555.” I was lucky that I was able to snag a neighbor to make the call. The elapsed time from my first call to 9-1-1 to the time that our friend placed the call was nine minutes. In an emergency, nine minutes can be the difference between life and death.

Trauma Patient Ohio

After hearing from my parents’ neighbor that he had called 9-1-1, I paced the floor for 30 minutes. The hospital was just a short distance from my parent’s house, so I should have already heard something. Maybe the ambulance didn’t show up. I called their house, but there was no answer. I called our friend again and he asked me for an update. I told him that I was calling him for an update. He said that she should be at the hospital.

At 7:51 P.M. I called Scott & White Emergency Department (ED) and asked for the status of Mary Locke. I was informed that they had no patient by that name. I hung up and phoned our friend again. He said that he would call a neighbor and get back to me. Evidently a couple of ambulances and a Little River-Academy fire truck had pulled up to my parents’ house, which had attracted the attention of some neighbors. The next-door neighbors saw my mother escorted out of the house, placed on a gurney, and put in the ambulance.

ohioWith this new information, I called Scott & White ED again and asked about the status of my mother. Again they told me that they had no such patient. I informed her that neighbors witnessed a Scott & White ambulance drive off with my mother on board. Because my parents’ house was less than five miles from the hospital, I assumed that it was her destination. It was then that she asked me about her symptoms, and as I started to explain, she said, “We have a Jane…” I interrupted her and asked if she was saying that my mother was a Jane Doe. She said that my mother had not been able to identify herself and she was admitted as Trauma Patient Ohio.

I left the house for Temple just a couple of minutes later, but I was fuming. Somewhere between the 9-1-1 call and the hospital, identifying information about my mother was lost. What’s worse is that even though she was having a stroke, she carried her purse with her when she left the house. In it was her wallet with her Medicare card, Texas driver’s license, and Scott & White Senior Care card. The ambulance drivers and the ED staff didn’t check her purse for any identification. Had they done so, they would have been able to access her medical history and medications.I questioned a hospital administrator a few months later about this oversight and he surmised that privacy might have been the reason for not checking her purse. When I asked if they checked for IDs of unconscious victims, he shrugged.

I left home at 8:45 P.M. After about 30 minutes I decided that I should call the hospital and give them my contact information, which the clerk gratefully accepted. As I approached Chappell Hill, I received a call from the hospital. My mother was being admitted, and Drew, her nurse gave me an update on her condition and also told me where I could find her when I reached the hospital. I also received a call from the ED doctor who had treated her, and the prognosis was depressing. It seemed that my mother had suffered a stroke in the part of the brain that controls speech. You’d have to know my mother to know how devastating this news was to me. She’s one of the most articulate people I’ve ever known. Among other things, she’s been a politician, a political activist, and a lobbyist. I couldn’t believe that God would deprive her the ability to communicate. However, my mother can write. When I asked about writing, I was told that all forms of communication are controlled by the affected area. With this depressing news, I continued driving. I still had 100 miles to go.

I finally arrived at Scott & White at 11:45 P.M. After checking in with the guard, I made my way to Medical ICU in the south tower. I found my mother and the nurse in room 249. Drew asked that I not wake her. She had been very agitated and she was heavily sedated and finally sleeping. He said that I could sleep on the couch in her room if I wanted. I planned to take him up on his offer, but I thought that I should check in on my father first, who was in the north tower.

It was now midnight and I was praying that my father was asleep. How do you tell someone who just had open-heart surgery that his wife just had a stroke? As luck would have it, the light was on in his room and he was sitting up in bed. I don’t remember what we said. All I remember is that when I told him that I was going to sleep in the hospital, he told me that I needed to go to his house to ensure that the house was secure.

Technically, it was now Saturday, May 16, both of my parents were in the hospital, and I was 160 miles from my husband. It was one of the few times in my life that I wished I wasn’t an only child.