“Is this Andrea Gallagher?”
“Yes, who’s this?”
“This is Lifeline, Mrs. Gallagher. Your mother pushed her Lifeline button a little while ago and asked us to call an ambulance. Your father passed out. He and your mom are on their way to the hospital.”
With a trembling voice I asked, “Do you know which hospital?” Somehow I thought this was a more appropriate question than “How is he?” since I figured she did not know.
“No, I don’t. Their preferred hospital is not on our form.”
“It is Lowell General. Please write it down for the future. Did you call anyone else on the list?” I asked, knowing my two sisters are listed on the Lifeline form.
“No, you are the first person I called after the ambulance.”
I was thinking, this is crazy, I am 3,000 miles away. My sister Carla lives three minutes from my parents; why didn’t they call her?
I thanked the lady. She was very nice, and before hanging up she gave me one more comforting piece of information.
“Your dad was awake when they took him to the hospital.”
I broke down in tears even though it was good news.
At that point I was thankful to Lifeline, but I had a question to file away for later: Why did they call me before my sister who lives close by?
Later I found out it’s because Lifeline has two lists: Responders and Informers. Depending on the situation and the client’s wishes, the Responder called will either be the police, the fire department, an ambulance or, in my parents’ case, my sister who lives nearby. The Informers are called afterward, in alphabetical order by last name. That’s why I was called first.
After the call from Lifeline, I quickly called Carla on her cellphone. She was at our parents’ house. Our mom had called her after she called Lifeline, and my sister arrived just as the ambulance was pulling up.
My sister told me she was glad she was there. Mom was distraught and not thinking clearly and could barely think of what to collect and bring to the hospital.
Fortunately my dad came to just before the ambulance arrived, so the paramedics quickly set to work checking his vitals.
My parents were just beginning their day that morning. My dad had been moving from a lying down to a sitting position with my mom’s help, as he cannot do it alone, and he experienced a loss of consciousness due to low blood pressure.
We’d recently learned my dad has orthostatic hypotension, a form of low blood pressure that occurs when you move from reclining to sitting or sitting to standing. After numerous doctor visits we’d found there is nothing that can be done in his particular case. While my dad normally has high blood pressure, this low blood pressure condition is a side effect of his long-term Parkinson’s disease.
In the matter of a week, my dad went from ambulance to ER to a hospital room for two nights to rehab, also known as a skilled nursing facility.
Why, you might ask, was all this medical care required for a simple fainting episode where my dad did not hurt himself and came to on his own?
It seems that in the short time my dad was in the hospital, where they confirmed his diagnosis of orthostatic hypotension, my dad had become so weak that the doctors suggested it was best if he entered rehab for a short period of time to regain his strength.
For many older people, hospitalization results in mental or physical decline. This can happen even with a short hospital stay and even if they’ve been cured of whatever brought them to the hospital in the first place. Continuous bed rest and a lack of socialization contribute to the decline.
My dad is home now, but his and my mom’s lives have changed dramatically.
Managing moves from hospital or rehab to home (care transitions) was a hotly discussed topic at a recent conference I attended. Watch for my next column to hear more about my dad’s experience.