October 11, 2000
The First Days after Normal
I told you the beginning of this yesterday.
On October 11, 1990, I got up and left my apartment, not knowing what sort of situation I would find when I reached my hometown. I drove straight to the hospital, greeted by our friend and by my mother's doctor. Let's call him Dr. Idiot. You'll see why.
But before I go there, I want to say that our friend who had helped get Mother to the doctor's office and to the hospital the day before is one of the heroes in this story. Not only did she do all that, she offered to make sure I was fed, that there was always a car at my disposal in case any problem developed with mine, and to watch out for me in general. I will never be able to repay all her kindness, but I do try to pass it on when I can.
Mother was still terribly confused when I came in, but the confused things she said were based in reality. She was calling things by the wrong names, for example, and getting some people's names confused as well. But she knew who I was, and that she was having tests done.
Dr. Idiot made his first mistake by assuming I didn't know what was going on with my mother in any way, since I lived out of town. Even when I told him how frequently I saw her, or how often we talked, he dismissed anything I knew. He told me my mother hadn't been in his office enough times for him to have a clear idea of her general health. Excuse me, jerk, she went at least every six months, at the intervals you suggested. Dr. Idiot was the replacement for the doctor who had been our family physician until retirement a couple of years prior to this (which means he had access to all her records). And until this episode, Mother and I both thought highly of Dr. Idiot.
He also apparently decided I was too ignorant of anything medical for him to bother answering my questions. For instance, when I asked him why her blood pressure was so low, his response was that she had hardening of the arteries. Uh, no, that wasn't the reason. If I hadn't been upset at the time, I would have known the answer myself---it was because she had been in bed all day. I soon learned that if I wanted to know anything, I should ask the nurses.
Dr. Idiot told me he was certain my mother had Alzheimer's Disease, but that he was calling in a specialist (I wouldn't have known "neurologist" of course) "to satisfy Medicare."
The diagnosis he was making of Alzheimer's came from two things. First, she had gone to his office the week before complaining of an unusual headache, and asked if he thought she might possibly have come down with Lyme Disease from a tick she had found on the dog. I'm not sure what the price for a Lyme Disease blood test was in those days, but it could have been done. Instead, he told her the headache was from the aforementioned hardened arteries. When he mentioned this, the son of a bitch made his second mistake with me---he laughed at her for asking the question.
Come on---she didn't go in and ask if she was pregnant!
The second Alzheimer's proof for him was that her feet had been dirty when she arrived at his office the day before. Okay, it was a rainy day and she stepped in a puddle on her way to the car. Got some mud on her feet. But aren't you glad to know that you can prevent or cure Alzheimer's by having clean feet! My friend Donna and I are still making that joke.
Condensing the story a bit here: the neurologist---let's call him Dr. Neurologist!---came in and did a spinal tap. He noticed an almost immediate improvement in Mother's confusion. He ordered an arteriogram to confirm things, but he was pretty sure she had too much cerebrospinal fluid around her brain.
The arteriogram did indeed show something useful. Mother had had a subarachnoid hemorrhage, a type of stroke. The excess fluid around her brain was being prevented from draining normally because of the clot the stroke had formed. Dr. Neurologist called me in and said Mother would need surgery to install a shunt to deal with the hydrocephaly.
Unlike Dr. Idiot, Dr. Neurologist thought paying attention to me was a useful thing to do in terms of figuring out how much medicalese he could say and how much he needed to translate. Eventually, I thanked him for just that. He told me I would need to make a decision as to where to have the surgery done, so I asked if I could have a bit of time to make said decision. He said that would be fine, and that he'd be in touch the next day.
I started calling on anyone whose knowledge would be helpful in the process---I came back to Mother's home and started making calls. One person that I called was a friend who was a physician's wife. Her husband was on staff at the hospital in Chapel Hill, and I knew he had extensive knowledge of the medical community in the state. So I asked her to ask him where he would have the surgery done if it were a member of his family who needed it. (I could have tried tracking him down myself, but his wife didn't mind helping out.) He sent word back that I should take Mother to Charlotte and choose a neurosurgeon from one of the practices there; that all had good reputations. He was sorry he didn't have a specific name, but I appreciated his input a great deal.
In consultation with other savvy people, I narrowed the choice of neurosurgeons down to a specific practice in Charlotte. I went back to the local hospital the next day, and talked with Dr. Neurologist. He told me he would see that the arrangements were made for her transfer.
The last round with Dr. Idiot came later that afternoon. He said I should let him know "when you have decided the surgery is important." For once, I didn't hide my dislike for the attitude. I told him, quite coldly, that I knew the surgery was important, and that Dr. Neurologist had made plans for her transfer to the hospital in Charlotte. I was glad that I would not have to deal with Dr. Idiot once we left that hospital.
Incidentally, the way he dealt with Mother's situation is not the only reason I call him Dr. Idiot. At around the same time, he was treating a friend of mine who went to his office because she had a sore throat. He told her it was "just stress," and suggested tranquilizers. She got a second opinion and an accurate diagnosis of strep throat.
The story continues tomorrow.
Happy Birthday, Bonnie! I've started a "Happy Birthday" thread in the forum, and Bonnie got the first mention. Please feel free to use this thread to add greetings for anyone you care about, on their birthdays. Of course, other questions are still there for your comments, or you're welcome to ask a new one.