Saturday, January 19, 2013

A terrifying night

This past Thursday, I woke up extremely tired and emotionally drained. The day before, my mom, two sisters, and my brother had spent the afternoon visiting and touring nursing homes in an effort to find a place for my dad to go.

For those of you who aren't friends with me on Facebook--which I'm guessing is a lot of you--my 86-year-old father, who is in deteriorating health and suffers from dementia that comes and goes, had an incident a week ago today. He fell in the bathroom and hit his head on the bathtub. My mom called 911 and my dad was rushed to the hospital. The doctors think he may have had a stroke, or at least a "TIA" (Transient Ischemic Attack), which is kind of a mini stroke. My dad was having trouble moving his left side and suffered vision loss as well. Pretty scary stuff.

This was about the fifth time my dad had fallen over the last several months, and the most serious incident to date. The bottom line is that my mother has decided she just can't take care of him anymore. He needs to be somewhere safe, where people can give him the care he needs.

After looking at extended care facilities on Wednesday afternoon, we all gathered at my house that evening to sit down with an attorney friend of mine who works for a firm that specializes in elder care. Coincidentally, she also went through the same thing with her father just about a year ago. So she was a great source of information and moral support. We sat and talked for about three hours about our options, Medicare, Medicaid, what we should do, what we shouldn't do, etc. It was mind-numbing and the end to a very long day, which had begun early in the morning with me researching potential nursing homes online.

I didn't sleep well Wednesday night and I knew Thursday would be a challenge. But I had no idea how much of a challenge it would be until Thursday afternoon.

It started around 2:45pm or so when I was looking through some e-mail conversations between me and my son's school that were taking place through our personal e-mail account. I saw a couple of e-mails that were sent to the school that were totally unfamiliar to me. My first thought was that maybe my wife had logged into our e-mail account and sent replies to the school without telling me. But when I called her to ask her about it, she said she hadn't even logged into our account that day. That's when I first felt like something weird was going on.

I continued on with my work day and started to have a similar experience with work e-mails. I saw work e-mails that I had sent that I did not even remember sending. The biggest red flag came when a co-worker sent me a reply to an e-mail. I opened the e-mail, read her reply, and didn't know what the hell she was talking about. I then scrolled down and saw the e-mail she was replying to--sent by me--underneath her reply. I had no recollection at all of having sent that e-mail. The information in the e-mail also meant that I would've had to have researched something in order to send the e-mail in the first place; and I had no memory whatsoever of having done that.

All of a sudden, I was terrified. I started to cry (real men do cry) and called my wife at work. I told her something was wrong with me and that I needed her to come home. Luckily, my wife's office is only a mile away from our house and she got home very quickly.

I explained what I was experiencing to her and she tried to comfort me as best she could. But I was not a very cooperative "patient." I was scared to death that something was seriously wrong with me. All I could do was sob uncontrollably. I certainly wasn't in any shape to do any more work; but I was in no shape to send any e-mails or call my boss, either. So I asked my wife to call him for me.

Luckily, I have an amazing boss who is very supportive of me. He's been supportive during everything me and my family have gone through over the last few years and this incident was no different. He told my wife to tell me to stop working and ordered me to take the next day off. I can't tell you how great that was to hear. It was a huge relief and I thought just shutting down my work computer and  resting would fix things. But, unfortunately, it didn't.

A little while later, probably around 5:00pm, I started experiencing something incredibly strange. So strange, that I don't even know how to describe it...but I'll try. I started having little fragments of thoughts pop into my head. Some of the thoughts were discernible: work-related stuff, family things, etc. But other thoughts were completely foreign to me. They were things that made no sense to me. And the thing that made everything unbearable was that none of these thought fragments ever entered by mind fully. They would start to materialize; and then as quickly as they started to materialize, they were gone. This kept happening over and over and over again all evening and into the night.

My wife finally got me to go up to bed and lie down. But the thought fragment barrage just kept coming. I cried for hours. I even screamed several times because I felt like I was going insane. I must've muttered or screamed "Please make it stop" a couple of hundred times over the course of a few hours. I also said some pretty nasty things to my wife, who was only trying to help me. But I had no idea what was going on and felt like I had lost control of my mind. I was scared to death. Thankfully, my wife realized that I didn't mean the things I was saying; I was just going through a terrifying experience. She stuck by my side and made me feel as comfortable as possible. I really don't know what I would've done if she hadn't been there.

Finally, at about 10:30pm, things in my head started to calm down. The little thought fragments stopped popping into my head and I started to feel better. Exhausted, but better.

I don't know exactly what happened to me on Thursday. I don't know if it was a panic attack or a mini nervous breakdown. But it was one of the worst experiences of my life. I suppose all the stress and pressure that I've been going through over the last several years--or even the last several months--could've finally caught up with me. The situation with my dad might've been the straw that broke the camel's back. All I know is that I honestly thought I was going insane.

I was scared to go to sleep Thursday night. Scared because I was worried I would wake up in the morning and the crazy thought fragment thing would start all over again. But it didn't. I did wake up on Friday morning feeling like I had been through the wringer, complete with a ginormous headache. But my mind was calm. I thought briefly about logging into my company's network and doing at least a little bit of work. Then I decided to heed my boss's advice and just rest.

I made it through all of Friday without incident, and as I type this late Saturday morning everything remains normal. I am incredibly grateful for that.

As for my dad, he was transferred from the hospital to an extended care facility yesterday. It's one of the places we had looked at on Wednesday. Luckily, they had a bed available. As much as I wanted to help out in the whole transfer process, I did not participate. I was just too drained. I thank my sisters for taking on that responsibility. My mom called me last night and said that everything went well and that my dad was settled into his room.

I'm hoping I never again experience what I experienced on Thursday. It was one of the scariest things I've ever been through. I guess the moral of the story is this: No matter how much stress you have in your life, and no matter how many things you have to do, it's important to step back every once in a while and say to yourself, "I need to stop and think about ME for a while." Helping others and busting your ass at work is great...until it starts taking its toll on you. YOU are the most important person in your life. Don't ever forget that. You deserve to feel good, too. I'm not saying to ignore or abandon your loved ones in need--or your job--but just listen to your body and mind when they start to tell you enough is enough.

Thanks again to my amazing wife. She really saved me Thursday night. She is not only my wife. She is my guardian angel in living, human form. And I would be lost without her. LOST.

P.S. I just wanted to mention something my dad said in the hospital on Monday while I was there visiting him. The speech pathologist came to his room to ask him a series of questions to determine how much he could remember. After answering several questions, my dad said to the speech pathologist, "I love my children and my grandchildren." That was totally unsolicited and was incredible to hear.


  1. Powerful Dean. I hope you give yourself permission to rest and take care of yourself.

  2. Please take the time to schedule a medical check-up for yourself.
    My Dad had a major stroke and was in a nursing home for 2 years before he passed. Fortunately the nursing home was only a block from my parents' house and my mom was able to visit every day. We were also very fortunate to have wonderful nurses and aides that were so caring and good to my dad. Even with the excellent care, the situation becomes overwhelming at times. All the financial decisions is enough to make your head spin. At the time I was teaching, and I often wonder how I dealt with everything.
    You have a lot on your plate So take care of yourself.

  3. Oh Dean! I can't imagine how awful that was and I surely hope it never happens again. I hope you're taking it easy.

  4. Wow - that all does sound very upsetting - awful. And the parent thing can be an emotional stressor that can be a tipping point for sure. Are you going to get what you experienced checked out - medically ? Could be a great idea- surely couldn't hurt. Maybe you could get an explanation that would explain it & decrease your worry / stress level. Hope you continue to feel well. And so glad to hear how great your son is doing ! : )