I have spent this morning at the hospital with my wonderful mother in law Elaine. Nine days ago Elaine fell and bashed her ribs so hard she suspected they were broken. As a nurse in her younger days, she knew nothing could be done if they were broken and to just take it easy.
Easier said than done when you’re 85 years old with a severe disability to start with. Just when she felt she was on the mend, last night she turned over in her bed and suffered excruciating pain. Jim, my father in law, called the ambulance and Elaine was ferried off to emergency at our closest hospital. I found out this morning and rushed over to be with her. Her last hospital experience (a different hospital thank goodness), was disgusting. She was left in a hallway for three hours, freezing cold, unable to move and alone. I vowed that would never happen again – not on my watch!
Elaine’s fall nine days prior, occurred because she has quite a severe disability to begin with. It affects her balance and if she becomes slightly off centre, over she goes. This time it was as she was pushing something into the garbage bin under her sink. She lost her balance and came down on the corner of the door. It must have hurt like hell!
‘Mummy, you have to stay alive’.
Elaine’s life changed when she was in her early 40’s. Driving with her husband Jim and one of their sons Nick, who was 12 at the time, they were returning home to Perth from a trip to Melbourne.
Elaine always felt she should help out with the long distance driving even though she struggled with concentrating on long roads. I know how she feels because I have this problem too. Ignoring this fact, believing it to be just mind over matter, she took her turn at the wheel. Next thing she remembers is that she was lying on the road struggling to stay alive. She had fallen asleep at the wheel.
Fortunately Jim and Nick were unhurt or she would never have forgiven herself. Elaine had broken her neck. They were a long way from help and she recalls feeling she could have easily faded away except for that fact that Nick’s little face was inches from hers and he was saying
‘Mummy, you have to stay alive’.
Eventually she was helicoptered back from the South Australian border where the accident occurred to the Austin hospital in Melbourne.
This was a lucky break (excuse the pun), because the Austin Hospital in Melbourne was a leader in dealing with spinal injuries. At the time, other hospitals around Australia believed in operating on broken necks and spines. This would have been a disastrous outcome. Her neck had broken and folded around her spinal cord, cutting off all feeling below the neck. She was in fact a quadriplegic.
Nick and Jim stayed by her side in Melbourne not knowing if she would ever recover or feel from the neck down again. Back home, their other three sons were growing up fast. At ages 15, 16 and 17 these boys, with the help of Elaine’s brother David, simply got on with life – they knew mum would be back soon enough.
Elaine’s life hung in the balance for weeks then she gradually she stabilized. Bolts were then drilled into her skull and weights were attached to these bolts. Millimetre by millimetre over the next 6 months they stretched her neck bones back into place. Although her spinal cord had been damaged, affecting the right side of her body, it had remained in tact. Three months after the accident Elaine finally felt her hands and feet tingle.
It was to be months more of rehabilitation and pain before she was able to fly home to Perth. In all the time she had been in the Austin Hospital she drove herself on with the knowledge her boys needed her and she must return.
‘Boys! I’m home’ she cried – except the boys had gone…
The day finally arrived and she was home. Naturally her sons were thrilled to see her – but there was a change. They took over the running of the house and were totally independent. Boys no longer but capable young men to be proud of. Except that she then went through self pity and remorse – she felt she had lost her value and was no longer needed.
Women of Elaine’s era self worth, once they were married, came from being the rock of every family. They didn’t work – husbands simply wouldn’t allow their wives to work! Their job was to care for the home (housework and meals) and the family (the kids – in every aspect). Hence Elaine had given up her beloved nursing and become a mother of 4 boys in a time period of 5 years! (I CANNOT IMAGINE WHAT THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN LIKE).
To come home after such a traumatic event from her accident and find things would never be the same again was heartbreaking. More next blog…