Last Saturday Daniel and I stood on a high mountain pinching ourselves and thanking God for the nomadic, adventurous life we lead. Sure, a winter spent snowbirding in flatland-Fort Myers meant two hard weeks retraining our legs and lungs in northern Georgia; however, the blisters and pain were worth it to climb the trails we love. And, while the view from atop Brasstown Bald was an accomplishment for our bodies, it was more so a motivating factor to keep challenging ourselves in the weeks and months to come.
But there was something about that last hike in Blairsville, Georgia. Though we take no days for granted out on the road, every step on the Arkaquah Trail felt significant. A feeling and a phrase nagged at us as we climbed.
“There’s a last time for everything.” That lyric from a new Brad Paisley tune played over and over for hours in both of our minds. We shrugged it off and decided not to wonder what it meant. The day had been too good to jinx ourselves by hypothesizing.
Exhilarated and exhausted, we fell asleep Saturday night with smiles on our faces because our destination the next day was another favorite of ours: Asheville, North Carolina. There we’d have two more glorious weeks of hiking and craft beer tasting before heading north to Indianapolis for a quick trip home.
When my phone lit up at 6:30 am, our plans changed.
Mom fell and fractured her hip. Within a few hours Daniel and I broke camp, cancelled Asheville, and pointed the RV toward Indiana. The drive took all day with spring storms and vacation traffic, but by 9:30 pm we sat bedside at an all too familiar hospital.
I’d hoped never to return to the place Daddy died and yet here we were. From mountain high to valley low in 24 hours.
A broken hip stinks for anyone. A broken hip for an Alzheimer’s patient stinks much more. Mom knew she hurt, but she had no memory of falling and breaking anything. Reassurance from family helped little. The look in her eyes made it clear she had no idea where she was or why.
The procedure had been successful the surgeon said. Therapists came by to get Mom up because that’s what you do when Anyone breaks a hip. A walker was placed within reach and instructions were given.
Lucy June isn’t like Anyone. She’s never used a walker in her life. They didn’t have walkers on the farm which is where her mind says she lives right now. The walker may as well have been a gas pump; she’s never used one of those either.
Day after day we sat with Mom. Doctors, nurses, and therapists regularly came and we listened and we spoke on our mom’s behalf. My siblings and I gently and sometimes not-so-gently reminded them that Mom isn’t like Anyone. Her mind broke years before her hip.
When Anyone breaks a hip the prognosis is clear and predictable. Two weeks in a rehabilitation program followed by a few more weeks of careful movement until the bone heals generally leads to life resuming normality. Alzheimer’s patients, unlike Anyone, don’t know normal. For them, normal falls on a spectrum. Maybe rehab will work. Maybe it won’t. Maybe Mom will walk again, but maybe she’ll decline rapidly and die.
Doctors talked with us about both ends of the spectrum. “Prepare yourself for the worst, but hope we’re all wrong,” one of them said. In other words, this episode, the fall that broke Lucy June’s hip, may be the beginning of the end for her body just as a handful of forgetful thoughts 12 years ago turned into her introducing me as both her son and her sister.
We admitted Mom to a rehab facility on Friday night. Still in her hospital gown, Mom looked scared and confused and in pain. “When was your last bowel movement?” the nurse asked. Again, I stepped in to remind him that she didn’t know. He handed her a corded gadget and explained how it worked. “If you need anything, hit the red button and I’ll be right here, okay?” He meant well. He was following what he’d do for Anyone, but his new patient is Lucy-with-Alzheimer’s and she’s only trying to figure out why her leg hurts and why she can’t move it.
Of course, we want to believe more than anything that the doctors are wrong about Mom’s prognosis. We want to believe that if any Alzheimer’s patient can stubbornly fight back to her normal, surely it’s Lucille. But the long, hard week in the hospital took a huge toll. She’d refused to eat. She’d refused to take medicines. It was as if she’d given up.
My siblings and I have left Mom in the hands of the professionals who regularly work to get Anyone back on their feet. Honestly, my thoughts are less focused on those hands and more prayerful about God’s. I trust His plan for her and although I don’t understand the whys behind the loss this disease brings, I know God loves her even more than I do. In His hands, Lucille will be restored, healed, and completely normal, whatever that looks like.
Until then, we wait. Daniel and I haven’t changed any other scheduled plans on the road. Reservations remain in place for Wisconsin, Michigan, Canada, and so on. We’ll take one day at a time just as we did when Daddy was sick.
The one thing I’ll do differently this time: I’ll understand that time spent in a valley low won’t last forever and I’ll trust that someday I’ll find myself once again back on a mountain high.