As most of you know, my mother is elderly, due to turn ninety in about forty days.  She prefers to live in her own home and has great neighbors.  Although she doesn’t drive, she has my sister and me, grandchildren, and even a sister only one year younger who did drive until just recently.  We take her wherever she needs or wants to go.

Thursday evening after work, I picked her up to do a little Christmas shopping and to ‘decorate’ the graves of my father and both sets of my grandparents.  We do this together every year.  It is important to her that we not forget this type of remembrance, and it is important to me too.

She has back issues – double scoliosis and osteoporosis.  She has been having leg pain and has fallen a few times over the past years.  But she has always been good to tell me when she needed a shoulder to lean on or help getting up or down, in or out.

She was having a good day.  She protested when I insisted on driving her up to the door of the first store instead of parking and letting her walk with me.  After we finished getting what she wanted, I brought her to my house, wrapped the gifts, had her write the tags and attach them, and them I loaded the car with the flowers and wreaths that I had already purchased.  There is one step down in my garage.  She made it fine.  I turned to set the alarm and lock the door and that’s when it happened.

I heard a thud.

I turned and she was on her hands and knees.  She had fallen.  I grabbed her around the waist and lifted her, sitting her on the step.  She was panicked.  I was panicked.  I tried to calm us both although she kept insisting she landed on her hip.

I feared she had busted her knee and although I kept asking what had happened, she just said she went down – her leg gave away – she didn’t slip, trip, or move.  It just crumbled from beneath her.

Yet, I felt it was my fault.  If I had not let go of her she wouldn’t have fallen.  If I had walked her to the car first, then returned to lock the door, it wouldn’t have happened.

I pressed on her knees, checked her hands and wrists for broken bones.  She assured me it was only her hip and her upper thigh that hurt and when I asked if she needed to go to the hospital, she said ‘yes’.  I tried to lift her and her leg dangled out a bit – not good.

I called my husband who was at the farm to come and help me lift her into the SUV that I felt would be more comfortable for her.  She didn’t want to go to the local hospital, but to the one in a neighboring county where her doctor and cardiologist practiced.  I wasn’t going to argue with her.  I called my sister to meet us there and set off.

She remained calm, assuring me it wasn’t my fault.  But of course, if I had not let go of her she wouldn’t have fallen.

The hospital confirmed our worst fears.  She had broken her hip.  Surgery would have to be done.  She was scheduled for it the following morning.  I settled into bed after midnight and awoke at 1:45, just watching the clock and crying until it was time to get dressed and go back to the hospital.

If I had not let go of her she wouldn’t have fallen.  It was clearly my fault.  What if she didn’t survive the surgery?

There were concerns about her heart murmur and the surgery got pushed up as more tests were ordered.  Phrases like ‘risk assessment’ were thrown about.  The surgeon’s assistant came in with the first bit of good news.  She wasn’t going to need a full hip replacement, only the ball part as the socket looked fine.  That would reduce the amount of time she was in surgery.  She explained the procedure and I had to race for the bathroom, feeling the flush of heat that precedes nausea when I thought of what she would be going through.

If I had not let go of her she wouldn’t have fallen.

I answered questions over and over again about the fall as they tried to determine if anything contributed to it such as, confusion, shortness of breath, dizziness.  They wanted to make sure she didn’t have a health problem that caused her to fall.

The family rolled in.  Sweetly, they all assured me that it wasn’t my fault.  She had fallen at my sister’s house and at my niece’s house.  She had fallen at her own house.  But not lately.  And not severely enough to need surgery.  And though I appreciated their words, none of it made me feel better.

My mother was resigned – peaceful.  She told me she was ready for whatever happened and had a good life.  Breaking a hip had always been her worst fear.  She had said over and over how that was something she never wanted to have happen.  And it happened on my watch; in my care; at my house.

If I had not let go of her she wouldn’t have fallen.

Then the orthopedic surgeon entered.  I liked him immediately.  He had a giant smile that radiated into his eyes.  He assured us she would be fine.  And then he rolled back the covers to sign the leg and hip so there would be no confusion during the surgery.

“There’s no bruising,” he said.  He checked her knees, arms, legs, back.  “No bruising at all.  The hip most likely wasn’t broken as a result of a fall.  It just broke and caused the fall.”

He continued to reassure her.  The hip may have been fractured for some time and just finally broken.  She might feel much better than she had in years after the surgery.  But what he had done was release me from the guilt.  Apparently I had scooped her up so fast that even her knees hadn’t bruised.

It wasn’t my fault.

And they could do the surgery with a spinal block and ‘feel good’ medicine so that she wouldn’t have to go under general anesthesia – another risk at her age.

We still worried.  The waiting room filled with those who care about her.  And then he bounced out with the same bright smile and the same assurances that he was pleased and all was well.  She came through just fine.

There will be physical rehabilitation and there is always danger of infection or some other disease presenting itself while hospitalized.  But I did get a little sleep last night and I don’t feel weighted by such horrible guilt as I had been feeling.

This morning it all seemed like a horrible nightmare.  And I’m on the way back to the hospital as they intend to get her up this morning and see if she can put weight on the leg.

Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers until she is safely home.

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