Care Giver Support: Handling the Unexpected With an Elderly Loved One


The other day my mother had a medical emergency and I was totally unprepared. I had always prided myself on the fact that since my daughter Christine had Lupus, I was pretty good at handling emergency hospital visits. But this time it was my 82 year old mom and I did not have the situation or myself under control.

Thankfully, except for arthritis, my mom has always been in relatively good health. So it was with great shock that I found her on my son’s kitchen floor passed out, unable to respond or speak. We immediately thought it was a stroke, so we called 911.
After many tests and a 20 hour stay in the emergency room, we discovered that my mother accidentally took too many of her pills, all at once, one of which was a sleeping pill. The combination caused her to be completely disoriented and groggy.
Though it was an upsetting experience, I learned a hard lesson. If you have an elderly parent or relative, the time to write down important information is now, not when they are in the midst of a medical crisis. At the time, the EMTs asked me simple questions like my mom’s date of birth and more difficult ones like the medications she takes. I was going blank on all of them. I felt like the terrible, neglectful daughter who did not even know her mother.
I tried to notify my two brothers, only to realize that my cell phone only had their home numbers and not their cell numbers. I also did not have her doctor’s phone number available. To make matters worse, I could not get any service in the hospital on my phone and of course, I had no change to make phone calls.
Because Christine has been sick for a long time, unplanned doctor and hospital visits used to occur at least once a month. I always had my trusty “hospital bag” ready to grab in a moment’s notice. In it I kept bottles of water, a few granola bars, loose change and a few extra dollars, some magazines, a notebook and a pen. Since my mom had never been really sick before, there was no bag to grab and I spent, what seemed like an eternity, sitting by her bedside while she slept, not only worried, but thirsty and bored too.
When we got home the next day, I sat down with my mom and made up an information sheet. I included her name, address, phone number, Social Security number, copy of her medical cards, her medical history and most importantly, a listing of all her medications. On another sheet I listed every possible phone number I might need, in order to reach family members and doctors. I also made copies for my two siblings and my mom, for them to have as well.
I then put together an emergency bag to keep in the trunk of my car. Hopefully we will never have to use the bag or the information again, but it gives me peace of mind just to know that I have it all at my fingertips. If your parent is getting up in years, don’t wait for an emergency to ask them about their health issues, ask them now- and write it all down. You might be glad you did.
Article written by Janet Miserandino, © 2007

  • Furry Godmother

    Very useful list. Thanks, Janet.