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How many times do mothers tell their children, "If you do that, you'll break your neck." I know I said those words many times. I'll never forget the day when my Strong Son, a 7th grader at the time, came into the kitchen with his head cocked to one side. He had to confess that he had been jumping on his bed - something that was absolutely against the rules. He couldn't straighten his head. I took him for x-rays, and the radiologist was afraid to make the call. They sent the x-rays to a neurosurgeon who said his vertebrae were fine, but the muscles in his neck were in spasm. The doctor prescribed muscle relaxers, which didn't help his neck but had some weird side effects. So we stopped the medication and he wore a padded neck brace for several days. One morning he woke up and everything was back to normal.
Now I can smile when I think of that story. But my Honorable Husband's mother was not so fortunate.
A week ago she fell in her home and cracked two vertebrae in her neck. Fortunately she was not paralyzed. But she is in lots of pain. She was in the hospital for 5 days. During that time they observed that she was having trouble swallowing. After tests, they put her on a diet of pureed food and thickened liquids. No one knows whether the swallowing is a result of the neck injury or something unrelated.
She has terrible headaches. No one is sure whether the headaches are caused by the fall, the neck injury, or too few calories (because she does not like pureed food). She takes pain medication every 3 hours.
She was released from the hospital to a rehab center where she will get 3 months of physical and occupational therapy. She will also see a speech therapist who will work on her swallowing techniques. The therapists are optimistic about her chances for a full recovery - if she eats enough to keep up her strength and if she works hard in therapy.
HH and I went to stay with her in rehab for 6 days. He was there in the daytime. I was there at night and in the morning. That way we made sure we got to talk to all of the doctors and therapists.
Here are a few things I want to remember as I get older. Perhaps they will help you or someone you love.
* Don't be too ashamed or too busy to use a walker. HH's Mom is 91 and has arthritis. She has a walker. She uses it almost the time. But that particular day she decided to walk across the den without it.
* Pain medication is a mixed blessing. Without it she cannot make it through a therapy session. But there are side effects - noticeably anger and repetitive behavior.
* Nurses and nurses aides respond to kindness. When she smiles at them and says thank you, she gets better care than when she complains. She got better care because family was there to take on a lot of duties ourselves - like feeding her and standing by while she went to the potty.
* A strong, healthy 59 year old woman (like me) is not strong enough to support the weight of a helpless 91 year old. I had to call for assistance when she needed to be moved. I was very aware of the danger that I could wind up in the room next door if I was not careful with my own legs, neck, and back. Injuries can happen fast - and have serious consequences.
* It would be really, really hard to come anywhere close to the BTD diet in a hospital or nursing facility. Everything is sweetened - sometimes with sugar; sometimes with NutraSweet. The theory is that the patients will eat more if sugar is added to the food. There are wheat products everywhere. On the pureed diet, they smash up rolls, pancakes, noodles, cereal, and more. The pureed bread must be pretty bad - HH's Mom usually loves bread, but she refuses to eat it pureed. The thickener in the water and juice is made from corn starch.
Having experienced how much better I feel, and how much faster I heal when I eat right, I'm afraid I would seriously clash with hospital dietitians.
I can't believe what they feed sick and recovering people!
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