On Thursday when I saw my mother-in-law she announced some plans that were less than reasonable: she was going, at age 73, to start her own import/export business back home in the Philippines; she was going to buy a house to live in with an eventual grandchild so the grandchild could go to the same Catholic school her daughters had attended; she would buy the two houses on either side of hers. Such thoughts had become common of late, and were accompanied by a sort of manic energy as she recounted them. After these plans consumed her for a day or two, they'd be forgotten and replaced with new schemes.
Now, in retrospect, it appears that this behavior was symptomatic of a larger problem we failed to piece together. Just a few weeks ago Ma kept calling Cha daily and asking when Cha was taking her to Virginia, even after Cha had told her they weren't going. We assumed Ma was not hearing what she was told; her partial deafness may have masked some deeper cognitive and memory problems.
Yesterday Dadong called Cha and said "Mommy is sick." Cha left around eleven and went to visit as I settled in to read homework. The phone rang around 1pm and it was Cha. She said something was wrong with Ma. I drove up to Towson and was dismayed to find her barely coherent. She knew who we were, but she wasn't able to think past a sort of instant reaction to what was in front of her. She could barely walk, and listed alarmingly to the side when she did so. She was watching North by Northwest on VHS and every time she saw the screen she would point and say "What is that? That is pretty! Is that my house? Am I watching this? I've never seen this." She kept asking "What are you going to do?" We tried to get her to do laundry but she was having trouble grasping the process. There were clothes in the washer and Ma simply didn't remember the next step. "What are you going to do?" she asked Cha. "Do you want to put these somewhere? Ok, let's put them." She kept trying to go to sleep, even when we put her shoes on her feet she curled up on the couch. She said she felt dizzy. We told her "We're going to the doctor," but she couldn't understand us. She didn't remember my Thursday visit at all.
We decided to take her to the ER, but could not find Ma's purse. We asked her where her purse was and she looked in the refrigerator.
At the ER she asked if we were there to visit her mother. Throughout the day relatives who were far away or deceased would arise in her memory and she'd assume they were present or nearby. When asked for telephone numbers she'd respond with social security numbers. She would give years or birthdays when asked for her address.
They did a battery of tests--all negative--to see if she'd had a stroke or other disabling event. A chaplain at the hospital arrived to pray with Ma, and was alarmed by her session. A psychiatrist was summoned and gave Ma a brief assessment, which didn't go well. She thought it was 1976 and the president was Douglass MacArthur. She thought the hospital was a small part of Maryland (which is true), but that it had been Japan before and now it wasn't. She said she was sad because her father had just died and it was 1976 (he died in 1944). We'd been watching Ken Burns' The War and the show was somehow confused into her memories. Of course she'd been in the Philippines during the war and all day she'd struggled with past and present. "It is 1976 and everyone is going to die here. I am going to die here," she said. It was one of the most heartbreaking things I've ever seen. The second time the psychiatrist asked her who the President was, she said "That actor," but on the third try she knew it was Bush. She was able to subtract 7 from 100, but could not subtract 7 from 93.
They kept Ma in the hospital last night, and are going to admit her to the psychiatric ward for more observation and tests. They fear she has some form of dementia and want to find out if it has been caused suddenly by some unknown factor, or if perhaps it has been gradually increasing over time.
Last night they fed Ma and she was laughing and joking and suddenly knew her address again. She was making fun of the hospital food. But she didn't know what day it was, what time it was, and kept asking us about relatives in Canada and where they were going to sleep. Poor Ma. None of us are prepared for this.