Wednesday evening, the phone rang, and those dreaded words came across the earpiece; your mother is in the emergency room and has fallen and broken her right hip.
To create context for this story, allow me a moment to give you some relevance to my mother as an individual. She has been an independent soul all her life. My father’s career was very demanding; therefore, he traveled four out of five days every week. To survive, my mother became extraordinarily independent. Over time, autonomy was her comfort zone, and no other environment would be acceptable.
In the Emergency Department, the on-call orthopedic surgeon entered to assess my mother. As the family sat on pins and needles, the surgeon stated due to my mother’s medical history, the only option was to place her into palliative care and keep her comfortable on painkillers. My mother began to sob; the family asked if there were any other options, especially considering the rampant opioid pandemic. We collectively realized that for my mother, this was a death sentence. This “treatment” meant that she would be in a nursing home for the rest of her life and be relegated to a bed with a slow miserable death ahead of her.
After the surgeon left the room, arguments ensued between family members and my mother’s face looked as though she had seen a ghost. She profoundly stated, “I’d rather die here and now. I will not live the rest of my life confined to a bed.” The family was distraught, confused, and angry. It was time to act. I pledged to find other opportunities to fix my mother’s broken hip and provide her a higher level of mobility.
I utilized some of my available resources. A surgeon from outside the area directed me to a local hospital’s Chairman of Orthopedics, who performs orthopedic surgery daily. Using my referral, the surgeon took my call immediately. I forwarded him the pertinent medical records, and he called me the very next day. He opened the conversation with, “Your mother has some options!” With relief, I brought my mother options that she could live with – literally. The first option would strengthen the hip enough to use stairs, however, this procedure had a high risk because it required general anesthesia. Option two involved a 45-minute surgery using a regional block to allow the surgeon to place two plates with screws into the fracture point. The procedure would take place under monitored anesthesia care with a prognosis that my mother should be up and walking in 24 hours. She would not be strong enough to take stairs, but she could walk as far as her strength would allow.
When she heard her options, my mother’s eyes filled with tears of joy and she immediately selected option two: walking with no stairs. The surgeon scheduled the procedure for the upcoming Saturday morning. The surgery lasted 41 minutes and was a success. He later asked me who gave us the palliative care prognosis. When I gave him the first surgeon’s name, a furious look came upon his face. He then advised us that the surgeon was his student, and he was disheartened that better treatment options were not offered to us earlier.
Six years later, my mother is now independent and walking. She averages half a mile to a mile daily. She occasionally uses a walker for unsteady gait, but because of the surgery, she has, in her words, a nomadic life that brings her great joy.
Options are all around us – we just have to find them.