That summer (2008), Dad got a bladder infection. Even though I had spent some time working in the medical field, I had no idea. Dad went to bed one night just fine, but woke up very, very sick. He called me to his room, and told me he couldn’t get up or walk. I asked him if I should call the ambulance, but he said no, and with my help managed to get downstairs, so I could get him into my car to take him to the hospital. By the time we got to the back hall, he collapsed in a heap and nothing we did could get him on his feet again.
911 arrived within minutes and their examination failed to show anything wrong, but with Dad’s history of stroke, his congestive heart failure meant a trip to the hospital and his weakness meant a trip to the hospital. I requested that he be sent to a nearby hospital where his family Dr. had admitting privileges and fortunately my request was granted. So off he went. By the time I got there, the diagnosis was in. A bladder infection.
I expected that we’d be discharged with a prescription for antibiotics, but no, they started him on IV antibiotics and told me he’d be there for at least a few days. Who knew a bladder infection could be so serious? Unfortunately, there were no acute care beds available so he was moved to a “holding area” at the back of the ER. Even though there was more privacy, the front wall of the cubicle was simply a curtain and did little to block out the sounds of the busy emergency room. Voices, bells ringing, machines beeping, doors slamming, people crying out and all the rest. On top of this, there was absolutely no natural light and the fluorescent lights stayed on night and day. I thought this is enough to make anyone confused. That night when I visited, Dad was still OK, a little puzzled by all the fuss, uncomfortable on the stretcher, but lucid and oriented to time and place.
The next morning was a totally different story. When I got to the hospital, Dad was happily redecorating his room. As I walked in, he looked up at me and grinned, “You know, this isn’t so bad you know, all I need is a mirror on the wall over there, and I think I’d like to change the paint..oh and maybe those curtains. I really hate green you know.” Hello, Lewy!
He continued, “And then you know there are those ants. They are so strange.” “Ants?” I replied, “what ants?”…”the ones crawling up the wall, right there” he replied waving his hand toward the wall. “See, look, they crawl right up to that line there and then disappear. Isn’t that strange?” He said this with a grin, obviously delighted by the antics of his new roommates. I looked at the wall, seeing neither ants nor lines.
On checking with the staff, I learned that hallucinations and delusions are a common sign of bladder infections in the elderly. So, I didn’t worry too much, having been assured that the hallucinations were benign and would disappear in time. Eventually, they did, but not before he became so confused and disorientated that they had to assign an aide to sit with him 24/7 to make sure he didn’t wander out of the hospital. Foreshadows of things to come.
After 3 days watching Dad’s mental condition deteriorate and believing his condition wasn’t being helped by the atmosphere of the ER, I started making phone calls to find him a bed in a real hospital. After assuring the powers that be, that I didn’t care where he went as long as he got into a place with real beds, windows and some quiet so he could get an uninterrupted sleep, I was offered a bed in a small town hospital about an hour away from home. He was transferred by ambulance, and when I arrived that evening, he was settled, still very confused, but being treated like a king and was lapping up all the attention. Over the next couple of days, he began to improve and although the memories of the hallucinations remained, he became more and more lucid.
Or did he?
The day finally came when I got the phone call that he could be released. When I arrived at the hospital, Dad was sitting in his room intently looking out the window. “Hi Dad, what are you looking at?”, “The ants” he replied calmly. !!!!!
A quick and somewhat panicky conversation with the head nurse calmed me down. Yes there actually was an infestation of ants, and they had had to call exterminators to deal with the problem. It had been a wet summer and the ants were on the move.
The episode provided many chuckles over the next few years.