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We have been in the USA visiting and, hopefully, helping my Mother and immediate family for the last two and a half weeks. Our intentions were good, but our execution of the plan left a little to be desired. We had booked the trip 10 months ago when Qantas was having a good sale on Business class seats to the USA (two for 1!!). And at that time we had just returned from a trip there and it seemed like two weeks would be long enough. Erroneous thinking on many levels. We are left wondering what led us to this decision, so that we don’t repeat it.


Our Qantas 737 plane to Sydney, named Retro Roo, painted with old style livery

Mum was good when we got there, but two of the last three days of our visit she was in hospital with an unexpected urinary tract infection. Did you know that this is a very common ailment in the elderly? The doctor who spoke to us was very nice and further informed us how this effects elderly people, and to some extent why. I thought I would share it since you may have someone in your family that is in a similar situation.

The doctor said that elderly patients, in general, have ‘less reserves’ in their system, so when this infection establishes itself it often appears that the affected person is confused and dizzy. He went on to explain why this happens. When a person has a UTI, they feel as if they need to relieve themselves more often than normal, thus dehydrating them slightly. This dehydration effects the blood pressure, so that when they stand, they are dizzy, and often fall. The dehydration also effects the brain function, and people can seem slightly more confused or less sharp than normal. If this is someone who already has some dementia, it can seem somewhat normal, since people have good days and bad days with that as well.


Members of Mum’s gardening group at the assisted living home.

In Mum’s case she had not really noticed the burning with the urination that is often the telltale symptom, and so she fell twice in three days while getting up in the night. We had spent all day with her both days, and she had not commented on symptoms, or seemed much out of the ordinary. In fact, we did not know about the first fall, until the second one happened. How this can happen in an assisted living place is a very long and involved story that has to do with patient consent and how the issue is reported etc. Regardless, it is just plain frustrating.

The second time Mum fell she was wearing her medical alert necklace, which has a motion detector on it. When it detects a fall, they try to contact the person. If the person is unresponsive, they send paramedics, which they did. Mum was unconscious so they took her to the hospital. They ran many tests and immediately established that she had the UTI and started antibiotics intravenously.

Through what can only be viewed as a snafu of ridiculous proportions (internet not working properly, phone not working, hotel not having us listed as registered guests, despite the fact we had been there for 10 nights already), no one was able to get word to us until we appeared at her apartment the following morning, to find her gone, but the dog there alone. The assisted living place was able to update us and that is when I learned of her fall three nights previously. None of the rest of the family even knew about that one, since she was not wearing the medical alert necklace that night (they are uncomfortable for sleeping and Mum had removed it)

Mum was very confused that day and the following day. It wasn’t helped by the fact that hospitals are lousy places to get any rest! We took her home on the second day, and after a night of sleep, and two days of antibiotics in her system, she was like a new person on the last day we saw her. We spent most of the day with her and then left for the airport to fly home to Australia.


Sometimes trips are good just to break you out of your normal routine

On the long haul flight coming home, heavy fog was predicted for Sydney, so our flight was diverted to Fiji for refuelling in case we had to fly around a bit before landing, or fly to a farther airport. So, 17 hours in the same seat on an airplane was a new record for us, and not one I care to challenge. The fog did not eventuate in Sydney, but farther up the coast.

Yesterday after we arrived home and went to the grocery, unpacked bags and made some dinner, I remarked “I’m sure I have some idea how Mum must feel when she is confused. My brain has the acuity of chocolate pudding.”

Mum is good and we are exchanging emails already. I am deliriously happy, having awakened in my own bed and now enjoying a really good cup of coffee. The brain is less pudding-y and more protoplasm-y this morning.