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.

The patients are doing better, but now the caregiver is down

June 1, 2016.  The headache that I woke up with yesterday had not subsided and woke me up at 12:51 A.M. I took more of Dad’s Extra Strength Tylenol and then vomited about 30 minutes later. The pain made it impossible to sleep and made me less than productive when I started working at 4:00 A.M. I attended one of my meetings but had to cancel the remainder of my meetings. At 7:00 A.M., I went back to bed.

fastCross1My husband suffers from migraines, but I very seldom get headaches, so Mom was very concerned. She called her doctor’s office to see if I could see the doctor today, but they didn’t have any openings. We didn’t want to go to the emergency department, so his nurse suggested that Mom take me to an urgent care center. The one closest to the house opened at 9:00 A.M., and we were waiting in the car when they unlocked the doors.

After a short wait, Mom accompanied me to the examination room. After the doctor asked me a few questions and had me walk across the room, he told me that he suspected that I was having a stroke. After the events of the past year, this diagnosis seemed like a bad dream, and I hated that my mother had to hear it. The doctor said that the only way to conclusively diagnose a stroke would be to go to Scott & White, the very place that I had been trying to avoid. Before I left, the doctor handed me a couple of prescriptions for back pain and the headache. Because I was headed for the hospital, I didn’t want to take the prescriptions, but after the doctor all but insisted that I take them, I put them in my purse. After having spent $125 at the urgent care center, we drove a couple of miles to the Scott & White Emergency Department (ED). Dad had a doctor’s appointment this morning, so I told Mom to drop me off at the door and then go home and take care of Dad. If I had learned nothing else this past year, it was that once you walk through the door of the emergency department, you’re there for a few hours.

ouchCross4Unbelievably, the waiting room was empty. Two nurses triaged me and took me right to an examination room. Although this might seem like standard operating procedure (SOP), in my experience with this ED, triage was followed by a lengthy wait in the waiting room. Business must be slow on Wednesday mornings. What was SOP was the blood draw and urinalysis, followed by an hour wait for the test results. While I was waiting, my mother was escorted to the examination room. She and Dad had decided to reschedule his appointment so that she could be with me.

During our wait, the primary ED physician stopped by to tell me that I was in good hands because the ED resident was a neurologist. To my horror, the resident then told me that she was going to order a spinal tap. At that point, I told her that when I had been at the urgent care center, the doctor suspected that I was having a stroke. She was confused by that diagnosis and asked me if I knew how he reached that diagnosis. I told her that I wasn’t sure, but he had been concerned that my walk had been a little disjointed and unsteady. After watching me walk, she was a little skeptical, but she ordered a chest x-ray and a CT scan of my head. After another wait, she ordered a CT scan of my lungs and an x-ray of my head. I could practically hear the bill growing.


May is Stroke Awareness Month. If I had had my wits about me, I would have challenged the diagnosis of the urgent-care doctor. I had no facial drooping or difficulty with speech, and he didn’t check the strength of my arms. Mom had had a stroke on May 15, 2015, so I should have known better.

fastDollarsAnd then the woman with the traveling laptop entered the room to resolve my bill. After handing her my insurance card, she told me that I had a very good insurance plan for emergency care. My bill had come to $6,000.00 (approximately $1,000/hour), but my out-of-pocket portion was only $2,000.00 (gag). She started to say that if I were to be admitted, there would be some other process, but stopped midsentence and said that I would be admitted. When I asked why, she said that the doctor would return soon and she would tell me. After all of these tests and the pending admittance to the hospital, I wondered what the heck was wrong with me. When the doctor returned, she said that she was admitting me because I had pneumonia. I had spent a lot of time with someone who had had pneumonia twice during the past year, and I was pretty certain that I didn’t have a single symptom that would warrant that diagnosis.

Although I had dodged the spinal tap by bringing up the urgent care diagnosis, I cringed when she said that they needed to draw more blood for a blood culture—one draw from each arm, and they could not use the IV as a source. The worst thing that I inherited from Dad was his veins: we’re both terrible sticks. I told the nurse that she would have a difficult time getting more blood from me. After poohpoohing me, she tried unsuccessfully to hit a vein in my right arm. She was about to try again when the resident returned, saying that they were not going to admit me. It seemed that I didn’t have pneumonia after all. She said that what they had thought was fluid in my lungs was my diaphragm. They realized their mistake when someone checked the CT scan of my chest.

fastCocktailThe good news was that they were going to give me a nice IV cocktail of concoctions that would make my headache go away. Although I was grateful to get rid of the pain, I was not convinced that it wouldn’t return after all of the good drugs wore off. When I asked her if she had any idea what caused the pain, all she said that she doubted my assertion that I didn’t get headaches, which was hugely annoying.

After an hour, the liter of fluid and the good stuff that it contained had drained into my veins.  I felt better and Mom took me home. Unfortunately, the good feeling wore off in about four hours.

I was the designated driver for our family-reunion trip to Midland on Friday, but Mom was now having second thoughts about the five-hour drive, and she suggested that we cancel our trip. I reluctantly canceled our hotel reservation and contacted one of my cousins to apprise her of our situation.

fastCross2June 2. Fortunately, I had the prescriptions from the urgent care center, which we filled after breakfast. Because my pain had started in my head and extended down my back, the urgent care doctor had prescribed one medication to address the backache and another for the headache.

The prescribed pills seemed to do the trick, but they left me feeling stupid and sleepy, which made working almost impossible. I spent most of the day napping.

2014_ 09cats_014

June 3. Peanut, our female cat, had been ill and Stan had dropped her off at the vet’s office for some tests. I called the vet this morning to get the results. Unfortunately, the news was not good. Peanut’s WBC count was elevated 10x above normal for cats. He said that he was pretty certain that she had bone marrow cancer, and she might also have cancer in her liver. He said that he’d call me Sunday morning before church with another update. During all the terrible times during Dad’s hospitalization, I had cried only once, and then it was for another patient. Maybe it was because of how I was feeling, but this news about our sweet cat was the tipping point for me, and I could not suppress my tears.

fastCross2I quit taking the medication for my back, but I dipped into the headache meds as often as I could. I don’t know what prompted me to do it, but I pulled out Mom’s yoga mat and ran through some Pilates moves that have helped me in the past with back pain.  Before the day was over, I had run through the routine two more times.

Because I had originally planned to be in Midland today, Stan had arrived last night so that he could spend the weekend with Dad. Although our family reunion plans were canceled for Mom and me, I was glad that Stan was here for me.

June 4. Stan relieved Mom today and took Dad to dialysis. He also picked him up at the end of his session, and the two guys ran some errands and retrieved Dad’s lawn mower from the repair shop.

annivCross1While Stan and Dad spent the day on outdoor activities, I kept running through my Pilates routines and noticed that my headache and back pain had diminished significantly.

June 5. Note to self: the next time that I get a screaming headache and backache, try Pilates before seeking medical assistance. I had had some back problems in the past, but they had never started with a headache. Exercise and stretching were now my first option. When Mom and I went to church this morning, both my back and head were pain-free.

Now Mom, Dad, and I had all experienced the Scott & White Emergency Department. When I went to see my doctor in Houston a week later (as advised by the ED resident), she shook her head, rolled her eyes, and asked: “what kind of medicine are they practicing up there?” I had had the same thought.


It seemed like good times were right around the corner


It was Thursday, June 11, 2015. Mom, Chris, and I arrived at the hospital in time to see Dad on dialysis and the infectious diseases (ID) doctor in my father’s room. She said that Dad’s white blood cell (WBC) count was back up to 12,000, and that he still had a lot of infection. She then looked at me and asked if there was any correlation between dialysis and his WBC count. It seemed like a strange question coming from a doctor and I was slightly puzzled that she’d ask me. Her visit was followed by Dr. Issac, the nephrologist, who said that Dad still wasn’t producing enough urine. He’d need to produce at least twice as much for them to consider stopping dialysis.

When Dr. Velazco arrived, he said that Dad’s spontaneous breathing was good and his vitals were good, except for his WBC count. Because recent X-rays showed that the pneumonia had not cleared up as much as they had hoped, the doctor scheduled a CT scan for the next day. The CT scan and tomorrow’s CBC would be very telling about his condition. Before the doctor left the room, Dad told him that his trach tube hurt, which was remedied with Tylenol. When I mentioned my concern for our inability to get past three or four good days, Dr. Velazco said that today was most likely a good day. I perked up a bit when he told me that Svenja, the trach nurse (who I nicknamed the Trach Goddess of Scott & White), would stop by the next day to fit Dad for a speaking valve. Although the medical staff thought that we had a great letter board, it was a tedious form of communication. Dad was moved to the chair at 4:30 P.M. and was still there when we came back after dinner. As bad as sitting is for a person, it’s a danged sight better than lying in bed. Maximum chair time was a daily goal for us and the doctors, although Dad was not always onboard.

keysThat day I also accompanied Mom to see the neurologist. For the past month, our lives had revolved around my father, and it was easy to forget that Mom had suffered a stroke—one that doctors had diagnosed as serious and life altering. In retrospect, I feel that I deprived her of the rehabilitative care that she deserved by not pursuing out-patient therapies. Although she’s much better now, it was startling to see how much the stroke had weakened her—similar to how one might have weakened from weeks in bed. My mother, who one month earlier had effortlessly walked the stairs, now opted for the ramps to access the hospital, and often had to stop to rest. Ideally, during the month that I had spent with her, she should have received speech and physical therapy. Instead, beginning the day after she was discharged, she was with me visiting Dad at the hospital. The good news was, not only could she now spell “world” backwards, she was told that she could drive again.

It was Friday, June 12, and doctor-change-out day at the hospital. From the get-go, it seemed like a really good day. One of our favorite nurses (Daytime Natalie) was Dad’s nurse and provided me with great morning vitals. Dad’s WBC count was down to 10,200 and Dr. Koshy, the ID, doctor said that he was doing well. This doctor was memorable because she always placed a glove over the cold stethoscope before she placed it on Dad’s chest. The good news kept coming when Dr. Sanchez said that Dad’s respirator was adjusted so that he was now breathing room air. He also said that he would have Dad’s arterial line (A-line) removed later in the day. Central lines and A-lines were highways to infection, so having them removed was a blessing. The only negative news of the day came from Dr. George, the nephrologist, who said that Dad still needed to produce more liquid gold.

veggiesMom and Chris stayed home after lunch and tended to my parents’ vegetable garden, which seemed to be exploding with tomatoes and cucumbers. During the early afternoon, Dad had his CT scan, which showed that his right chest cavity still held excess fluid. The doctor said that he might need another chest tube to clear it. Later that afternoon, Dad and I watched “Jeopardy,” which was one of the few normal activities that we had shared in a long time. Today we were fortunate to have two separate visits from pastors Tom and Don. Dad always seemed to brighten up after visiting with them. As if to underscore the good feelings of the day, Michelle, another of our favorite nurses, stopped in for just a moment to tell Dad how good he looked. When we returned to see him after dinner, Dad was back on CPAP. His oxygen levels had dropped some and he would receive full oxygen support during the night.

After such a good day on Friday, we felt optimistic that the trend would continue through the weekend. When we arrived at 8:15 A.M. on Saturday, June 13, Dad was still sleeping, was off CPAP, and was breathing on his own. His WBC count had ticked up slightly to 10,700, but Amanda, his nurse, wasn’t concerned. Dad’s hemoglobin level was also down almost a full point from the previous day, which meant that he needed another unit of blood. Amanda told me that Dad’s blood pressure had dropped overnight below a mean arterial pressure (MAP) of 65 and he required meds to raise it back to normal levels. I liked learning about MAP because I’d never been great at knowing when you had a good blood pressure reading. I knew some of the obvious readings, but Dad’s blood pressure was all over the place. The monitors alarmed only when the MAP dipped below 65. Understanding how to calculate the MAP would become important a few months later.

As Dad’s condition improved, the doctors started appearing later in the day. It’s an interesting situation—too sick to leave ICU, but not sick enough to be there. Mom and I had been a bit concerned about Dad’s congestion, his inability to stay awake, and the hemoglobin levels. When Dr. Sanchez arrived shortly before 1:00 P.M., he spent quite a bit of time suctioning Dad. He couldn’t explain the dropping hemoglobin levels and attributed it to Dad’s poor kidney function.

When Mom, Chris, and I returned after our very late lunch, we were pleased to see that Daytime Natalie had taken over for Amanda as Dad’s nurse. She informed us that Dr. Sanchez had requested an ABG test, and Dad’s blood gases were fine and were not responsible for his inability to stay awake. Dr. Sanchez was adamant about Dad getting out of bed and into the chair. With the help of a couple of other nurses, Natalie finally got Dad into the chair shortly after 5:00 P.M. From the moment he sat down, he was fussing to get back into bed. When we returned at 6:30 P.M., Natalie said that when they came back to move Dad back to bed, they could barely keep up with him; it was the most energy they’d seen from him all day. I guess we’re each energized by something, even if it’s the idea of going back to bed.

The first homecoming

May 18, 2015, was the day that we had been thinking my dad would be discharged from the hospital. Instead, I spent a significant portion of that morning speaking with Dad’s caregivers about his deteriorating condition. In short, he had bacterial pneumonia and severe sepsis with acute organ dysfunction. His medical team was administering several antibiotics, but there was no way in which his cocktail of meds could take care of the amount of infected fluid (pus) in his chest. The doctors recommended that they reopen his chest and wash out the infection. Of course there were some risks, but the alternative was dire. What I didn’t know until May 2016 was that he was also at risk for acute kidney injury.

015311b4f046096e6baca1e8f21e99a56ab3538076Dad’s cardiologist stopped by and performed a Transesophageal Echocardiography (TEE). The TEE was necessary to ensure that Dad’s new bovine heart valve wasn’t harboring any infection. I hadn’t met her before and she surprised me when she said, “I didn’t want him to have this procedure. He should be home working in his garden.”  My parents never heard that she had had reservations about the more invasive procedure. Lesson learned: regardless of the surgeon’s reputation, have the physician who made the original surgical referral (in this case, the cardiologist) review the surgeon’s recommendation.

His washout surgery was scheduled for 6:00 P.M. that night, but the surgeon’s earlier procedures had run long, so he opted to wait until the next morning. Although it was a simple procedure, he didn’t want to perform surgery with only a skeleton staff on hand should something go wrong.

On May 19, Rhoda and I arrived early to the hospital. My father’s surgery started at 8:00 A.M., and I received a call shortly after 9:00 A.M. informing me that the surgery was finished. Around lunchtime, we received our first visit from Pastor Don, a pastor from my parents’ church. Before he saw my father, Don visited with my mother for a few minutes before her discharge.

During Mom’s discharge, I learned that she could not be alone or drive for at least 30 days, at which time she would undergo a neurological assessment. I was glad that she was home, although some of our conversations were pretty unsettling. She often could not remember what we asked her or what we or she had just said. To say the least, I was cautiously optimistic about her recovery.

On Wednesday, May 20, my mother and I returned to the hospital to see my father.  Rhoda had postponed a trip to Wisconsin to help me, but now she really needed to leave. She stopped by the hospital on her way home. Although my father’s breathing tube had been removed the previous day, speaking was still a little difficult. He managed to call her “a blessing,” when he said good-bye.

Within hours after Rhoda’s departure, Dad was transferred from CTICU back to the fourth floor. We were pleased that he was well enough to transfer, but he wasn’t there very long before it became very apparent that he was extremely disoriented. The fourth-floor charge nurse was more than a little annoyed that he had to assign an aide to my father’s room to ensure that he wouldn’t try to get out of bed or remove some vital tube.

I had had the foresight to take my work computer with me when I hurried to Temple five days earlier. I had been able to do my job in the intervening days even though I was away from my office. Now, however, I needed to return to my home and my office for a couple of days. I also needed to see my physical therapist—I had had surgery myself in March and was still undergoing physical therapy. Lucky for me, my dear husband agreed to come to Temple to relieve me for a couple days. He and I formulated a plan of coverage for Mom until my father was discharged.

On May 21, I worked from my parents’ home until about 8:00 A.M. My mother’s friend Marilyn stopped by to stay with Mom until Stan arrived. Stan and I met in Cameron, Texas, to exchange keys and information. I arrived at my workplace shortly after noon and felt a little guilty for leaving my mother and Stan to contend with my father’s delirium. My sense of guilt was short-lived, however. After being home for an hour or so, I noticed that my house was infested with fleas. Our cats never go outside, but we learned that this year was especially bad for fleas. We frequently employed a pet sitter and assumed that some fleas had hitched a ride with her. At this point Stan and I laughed about this latest situation, wondering what else could go wrong. After flea traps and expensive oral medication for the cats, we finally vanquished the fleas.

juggling_ballsDuring my five days in Temple I had been living in a sort of surreal and parallel universe. When I arrived on May 15, I had assumed that my father’s discharge was imminent. My big unknown was about what was in store for my mother. I had not anticipated that my mother would be discharged first. Now, in addition to figuring out how to care for my recently independent and active parents, I had to start thinking about my job and living away from my husband. It was a daunting juggling act—one I hoped would be over soon.

Spell “world” backwards

After ensuring that my parents’ house was secure, I tried to think about sleep. I had been running on adrenaline for seven hours and I was determined to be at the hospital when my mother woke up. At 2:00 A.M. my parents’ house phone rang, and it was my father. Evidently, he couldn’t sleep either. He wanted the contact information for my mother’s nurse. ICU hospital rooms don’t have telephones—actually, most of them don’t, but I digress. Each room has a special access code that family members can use to contact the nurse. I told him that I had that information, but that it was in the car. I had to laugh when he told me he’d wait while I retrieved it. I assured him that I’d be there in 3-1/2 hours and promised to check in with him shortly after seeing Mom.

During my road trip to Temple, the medical professionals told me that with therapy my mother would eventually regain some of her speech. Not knowing what to expect, I was at the door of my mother’s room at 5:30 A.M. Drew, the nurse, was still there and said that we could now wake her. Relief overwhelmed me when she opened her eyes and said, “Hi, Melody.” She was able to speak, although she was very confused. I had never realized what a stroke was like from the patient’s side. She had no pain, no idea why she was there, no memory of how she got there, and  she was pretty certain that she was fine. However, when I saw her CT scan, it was obvious to me where the bleed had occurred.
worldShortly thereafter, a steady stream of doctors, fellows, residents, therapists, aides, and who knows who came through my mother’s door. My California-born mother sometimes has a difficult time understanding some of her native Texas friends. This teaching hospital is teeming with personnel from across the globe, most of whom speak rapidly and are very polite and soft spoken. I finally asked them to let me translate all of their requests. While testing her cognitive impairment, they asked her to spell “world” backwards. After two hours of sleep that followed almost 24 hours awake, I was pretty sure that I couldn’t spell it myself, and would probably fail their tests.

Meanwhile, over in CTICU in the north tower, my father told his surgeon that his wife had suffered a stroke and was in the south tower. I don’t know whether the surgeon breached any hospital protocol, but he arranged for a nurse to take my father to my mother’s room. At 12:30 P.M., he was wheeled in and it was a great reunion. How I wished that I had the presence of mind to photograph the moment with my phone. The two of them touched their fingers that sported the pulse oximeters. It looked like an ET moment when their two lit fingers touched. How I wish that either one of them could recall this meeting.

I went back to my parents’ house so that I could phone family and close friends of my parents. Some of the neighbors saw my car and called for an update on my mother’s condition. After witnessing the collection of emergency vehicles the night before, curiosity and concern were running high.

Shortly after 1:00 P.M., my dear friend Rhoda arrived from Houston. She had called me early in the morning to see if she could come to Temple for a few days to help out. I surprised us both when I quickly accepted her offer. I wasn’t sure how she could help, but with my mother in the hospital and my father due to be discharged soon, I was pretty certain that the next few days would be hectic and that she’d be able to help.

Turns out, she was a godsend.

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.