On the evening of October 3rd, Carolyn pretty much reached the point of no return.
After three years ping-ponging between hospital rooms, our home/hospital, and a dozen or so doctors' office's, (most so plain, so dull there's not even a fire exit route to read while you wait), it finally reached this point.
Carolyn lay dying. But she was both comfortable and content for now in her own bed. I knew. She probably wouldn't last the night.
In despair, I wrote the following to our thousands of fellow suddenly seniors, many old friends after 10 years or more of reading Suddenly Senior:
I remember thinking, who knows? Can't hurt.
Here in Clearwater, it's our experience that if an ambulance takes you to any of the area's general hospitals, and if there is a nuance of mental disease, doctors at the ER may immediately send you on to the dreaded "locked mental ward" downtown, under arrest, if necessary. There, along with area drunks, dispossessed, some crazy elderly and a bunch of forlorn homeless, few receive medical help. Instead, all are usually held locked up for a requisite four days and released to the streets.
If you are manic, as Carolyn often was in those days, to get a medical hospital room, you must have connections.
Her first three visits, Carolyn had no connections.
Each time, she retuned from four days in the dungeon in tears, sick and frustrated. And yes, frightened. Walking among the insane, the near-dead, and a few wild-eyed criminals about pushed Carolyn over the edge. I was allowed to see her one-hour a day.
Worse, we let them get away with it twice more before we figured the system. Stupid and stressed is a bad combination with me.
Now we again needed medical help. And we knew that Carolyn would again be taken to the mental dungeon if a medical hospital staff doctor didn't admit her directly. Not easy. You truly do need connections. As Carolyn was slipping away, our primary physician worked for days to help Carolyn avoid the dungeon and get right into the hospital. Finally, late on Oct. 3rd, we got the call from our beloved Dr. Thomas: "Room's ready. Bring her now!"
Would she live long enough to get there?
The Ride to Life
My dilemma? Carolyn and I had promised one another not to allow the other to die in the hospital. It was a serious pact. We'd both suffered way too many hospital days recently, on one side of the bed or the other. We wanted simply to live and die at home.
But the phone call brought hope. And with hope, attitudes, even life can change.
At the hospital and in her own medical room, we learned that Carolyn's "swallower" had failed; all her food and liquids aspirated into her lungs pushing her into pneumonia. Docs blamed seizures, then dementia. Then not dementia. Who knew?
Carolyn, who when admitted, didn't know her name or where she was, couldn't speak coherently, couldn't walk or stand unaided, is today — two months later in a rehab unit — chatting up her physical therapist as she exercises her arms with a small wheel. She now gets physical, swallowing, and other therapies daily. And she's getting better. Much better! You'll soon hear from her, too.
Carolyn was still unconscious the next day, October 4th. I sat next to her for hours reading aloud many of the 1,600 e-mails sent by readers responding to my note the previous evening.
Once in a while, I'd catch a slight smile on her face as if saying, "Keep reading, you old goat."
Yes. She has a long way to go. But she would be all right, after all, thanks to a caring doctor, a load of e-mail and a whole world full of loving thoughts.
We are so grateful.
Thank you all. Again.
© 2010 — Frank Kaiser
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Frank and Carolyn Kaiser have been to hell and back this last year, healthwise. But you can't keep a good man - or woman - down, as they say. They're very much alive and kicking - just kicking a little more slowly and carefully. [Ed]
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