My Nightmare Before Christmas

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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  1. Renee, how horrible what you’ve been going through. I also would’ve taken the blame, but thank goodness for the doctor who made you see it wasn’t your fault. Your poor mother. I pray that her recovery goes well. Btw, it’s wonderful and heartwarming to know you have such a nice Christmas tradition with your mom which includes visiting the gravesite. It means more to her than you know.

  2. The important thing is that you were there, right there to scoop her up, tend to her and talk her through a frightening experience. Your doctor sounds wonderful, calm and upbeat which is just what patients and family members need right now. Since this is his profession, and he sees so much, you can believe his smile and words. Thoughts and prayers going to your mother, you and your family.

  3. What an amazing daughter you are and even if your mother had broken something it was never your fault – never! (My own ma recently broke hip so I really gel with this post.)

  4. Don’t let guilt in. When my dad fell and broke his hip years ago, I was 3,000 miles away. All you can do is be a great daughter — and you are. Life and fate intervene.

    The doctor should be bottled!

    My thoughts and eaters are with your mom, Renee.

      1. Guilt is nasty that way. It seeps into what seems like a seamless defense.

        But do your best to fight it.

        Your mom doesn’t want you to feel that way, and you need to listen!

  5. Oh, Renee, I’m so sorry you and your Mom have to go through this. We put so much pressure on ourselves when it comes to the ones we love. I’m glad you were finally able to understand that it was not your fault. You are an amazing daughter and I know that your Mom and your family are fully aware of that. Cut yourself some slack and just love them the way you always have and you will be doing everything you can.

  6. Renee, I knew as soon as she “fell” what had happened. The same thing happened to my grandmother. Those poor old bones just break and then they fall. It’s acutally very common. I am so sorry she and you went through this. Prayers that she is able to rehabilitate and return to her life. Keep strong, Honey, and don’t blame yourself for anything. She’s very lucky to have you and the rest of her family and I’m sure she knows it.

  7. If it is as the doctor says, that a break was the cause of the fall and not the other way around, then not only did you not cause it, you likely saved her. If it had happened some time when she was alone, she might have been immobilized for who knows how long. I’ll spare you the sad stories of when this has happened to family members for now.

    1. It’s getting easier to see things from that perspective. She is telling me the same thing – that she is so happy that it broke when she was with me instead of being alone at home or in some other location. It’s been difficult though.

  8. Renee, I read this on my cell phone as my hubby and I were returning from an errand this morning. And I cried. I’m so sorry that you had the guilt, although I understand. I’m glad the surgeon was able to take that burden off your shoulders. Wishing your mom a speedy, uncomplicated recovery. Take care of YOU, too!

  9. Renee, I’m so sorry that your mom had this fall and had to experience surgery. I can only imagine how difficult this was for you. Blessings and peace to you and your family, and most of all your mom, as she recovers. And don’t blame yourself! If you hadn’t acted so quickly, and been with her to help her get to the hospital, she might have had a very different outcome. You saved her! ~ Sheila

  10. I sorry for your mother. For the fall and the fact that she has had to have surgery. It’s no fun at an elderly stage. I have a mother who isn’t stable on her feet neither, so I know your feeling. You and your mother are in my thoughts.

  11. Oh dear Renee, reading this broke my heart. I can relate to your inconsolable feeling of responsibility…although unfounded. No amount of reason or logic can relieve us when we feel that we somehow should have or could have done things differently. I am so glad that the doctor pointed out with absolute, scientific finality that the break was not your fault.

    I am also glad you appear to have a wonderful doctor and hospital for your mom. The healthcare community can be amazingly good when it is available and attainable. I hope the lemonade keeps coming. Your holiday just got rearranged. 😉

  12. Oh jeez, what a stressful thing. So sorry Renee, that must’ve been awful for all of you. Continuing to pray from here for healing, strength and peace.
    Don’t forget to breathe. 🙂

  13. Our prayers are yours! Your mother sounds like a strong and remarkable woman and I pray that God grant her quick healing and grant you peace. Blessings – Patty

  14. Those brittle old bones do seem to have a mind of their own. I’m glad the osteopath convinced you it wasn’t your fault. I do know that feeling having watched my wheelchair dependent son take a tumble or two! My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family this season. Best wishes for your mother’s speedy recovery.

    1. She does have osteoporosis and the leg has been bothering her for a while which was attributed to her bad spine. I’m hoping she will feel better than ever once it heals.

  15. Renee, just think how blessed your mother is having such a caring daughter….imagine if she were alone! I can relate to your story and feelings…my mother was alone, all her children thousand of miles away. Clear your mind of guilty thoughts and keep enjoying the previous moments with your mom. Wishing your mom a speedy recovery and to you all a peaceful holiday season.

  16. Bless your Mom’s heart. My healing thoughts and prayers are with her.
    I can imagine how you must’ve felt, you’re a good daughter, here’s a comfort hug for you (((hug)))

  17. Your mother is in my thoughts Renee. I I pray for her quick recovery. And you too take care of yourself. It was not your fault at all; so do not blame yourself.

  18. Oh HUGS. Thank goodness you were there – she could have been alone. The doctor sounds good and it sound like they understand older patients and what they face. You and yours are in our prayers. May warmth and joy find your hearth and linger long.

  19. I am so sorry to hear about this. Hope your mother is recovering well. It is a blessing you were there. Thinking of you xxx

  20. I thought I’d come by and see how your Mom’s doing and to see how you’re doing too. My prayers and thoughts are with you and your Mom. (((hugs of comfort for you both)))
    I hope all is well at your home and Christmas was joyful. I wish you & your family the best in the coming new year. 🙂

  21. Oh, Renee! I’m sorry I haven’t gotten to read your post until now. I hope your mom is on the mend, and you’ve sent that guilt packing! What a wonderful doctor you’ve described. My grandmother fell down my uncle’s basement stairs in the night when she got confused. I often wondered how he and his wife dealt with the emotions that followed.

  22. My dear Renee, today is the 4th of January – you wrote on 15th December. How I managed to miss your post till today I have no idea. Now WHO is feeling guilty?

    One way or another you weren’t to blame. Easier said than done when either the young or the frail are in your ‘care’. And, remember, you were there! As your commentator Elyse pointed out she is 3000 miles away from her parents. I have no idea how many miles I am away from my parents but door to door it takes about ten hours to drive and border controls in between. So no propping up either of them for me. Not that they need it – yet. Neither does it make me feel guilty. Uncomfortable, at times, yes. But not guilty. Of course, I do have the luxury of one of my sisters being only ten minutes away from them. On which note: How very lucky your mother is to have so much family so close – and so caring.

    I am with you in my thoughts. What worries me that you haven’t given an update since 18th December when you answered comments. I dearly hope all is well, Renee.

    Bear hug,

  23. I hope your Mom has continued to recover and that your guilt has eased, at least somewhat. Bad things are going to happen and it’s impossible to prevent them, or even anticipate them. It sounds as though you have a wonderful family — something I’m sure you’re grateful for.

    Happy New Year, Renee.

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