Sometimes You Just Know

My elderly mother lives 4 hours away in a nursing home in the town where I grew up. Every month, my brother and I take turns visiting her for the day. I call it my 444 day – 4 hours to drive there, 4 hours to visit her, 4 hours to drive back.

Last Friday night I was gearing up to head down the next morning. There was a small forecast of snow for the next day, so I decided not to go down, that I would wait and go the following weekend (this weekend coming) instead.

Then, just as I turned out my light to go to sleep, I said to myself – much like Cameron Frye – “This is ridiculous, ok I’ll go, I’ll go, I’ll go, I’ll go, I’ll go. What – I’LL GO. Shit.”

So I set my alarm and went to bed.

I awoke Saturday to a dusting of snow but nothing I couldn’t handle. At the last-minute before leaving, I also threw in my small travel toiletry bag into the car, given that my car has been having issues and has been in and out of the garage this year. It pays to be prepared, right?

I arrived at my mom’s nursing home residence just before noon, as usual. She was surprised to see me – neither my brother nor I had been able to get ahold of her for about a week. Her phone was out-of-order, because it just rang and rang and rang, which is part of the reason I felt the need to go see her. Turns out, she had turned the ringer off, so by hitting the volume up button, I turned the ringer back on.

Yes, she is a little technologically challenged.

She headed off to tell the nurses that she would not be having lunch at the home, and to get her lunchtime meds. When she returned, I noticed she was limping.

“Mom, why are you limping?” I asked.

She sat down in her rocker, took off her slipper and her thin knee-high hose, and showed me her foot.

Her foot that was full of puss, infected, with four black toes full of dead, necrotic tissue.


I ran out to the hall to get the resident nurse, and brought her to take a look. She agreed that I needed to take her to the Emergency room immediately. Her initial thought was Gangrene.

Every day and every evening at mealtimes, the staff nurse makes the rounds in the dining hall asking the residents how they are feeling. This nurse saw my mother not four hours earlier and asked her how she was.

My mother replied, “fine”.

No, you are most definitely NOT fine.

My mother is in nursing home care because 18 months earlier I came down for a visit and found her wasted away to 78 pounds, lethargic, and barely conscious. She was forgetting to eat at mealtimes, losing the hours on crosswords and television. She would look at the clock, see 5pm and think, “it’s almost dinner time”, but then would get lost again and realize it was 8pm and completely forgetting that she had not eaten dinner. Her lack of appetite was an issue for a year before this, and I had tried to push her to go to the doctor to get checked out, but stubborn as a mule, she ignored me.

When I brought her to the ER 18 months earlier she had blood pressure of 200/110, and weighed 78 pounds. Now her weight has stabilized at 112 pounds and bp of 138/76.

But I digress.

I take her to the ER and after triage, we wait 3 hours to see the ER doc. She swabs the oozing foot and checked her pulse, and is concerned with the swelling in her foot – aside from the infection – that indicates poor circulation. Another health issue we noticed and asked her to get checked out.

The doctor ordered blood tests to see how far the infection spread. Two hours after that, she was settled in the back room of the ER, waiting for a transfer to a bed upstairs.

I was going to be spending the night in her room at the residence.

I am angry. Angry and frustrated that she let it go this far. Most likely, she got a cut on a toe from her long toenails (which she cannot cut on her own), and with bad circulation in that leg, the infection didn’t heal, and spread to the rest of her foot. She was treating it by using PolySporin that she ordered from the Pharmacy.

You’d think that when her baby toenail fell off, it would be time to talk to the nurse. The nurse who is on staff. The nurse she sees every day. They would have probably treated it with oral medication for two weeks – bam. Infection gone. Testing for circulation scheduled, away we go.

I get that in life there are things we want to avoid. Death, and taxes most often come to mind.

But you can’t put things off and ignore them, just hoping they will go away on their own. Sure, a cold can go away, as can muscle aches, and PMS symptoms.

But this is not going to just go away. There is a good chance that at the end of this she might leave the hospital missing a toe – or worse. Results from a test she had Monday will show how far into her foot the infection spread. If it is into the bones… surgery might be necessary.

And let’s not also forget the poor circulation issues in her right leg, which also might require surgery.

Then I think back to lying in bed Friday night, deciding, at the last-minute, to set my alarm to get up early the next morning for the long drive. The thought to pack a small overnight bag with me “just in case”. Just in case of what, I wonder?

They say that parents pick up that second sense about their kids; about when they are hurt or need help. Maybe it happens to kids when their parents need help.

Whatever the reason, I am most definitely glad I made the trip when I did. Sometimes… you just know.