Monday, June 02, 2008

A Trip to the E.R.

(Note: I also posted this on the Children of Hoarders Yahoo! Group earlier today.)

My mom went to the hospital around 11 PM last night, complaining of severe pain in her hands, arms, and sides, and feeling extremely warm, even though her bedroom was fairly cool. Now, my mom has had strokes and fought hard against getting an ambulance and going to the emergency room, but this time around, she thought it made sense to go, so I figured it must be serious. (I live a few hours away from her, so I get my clues where I can.)

My sister got to the hospital around midnight, and sat with my mom through the blood drawing, the Q&A with nurses and doctors, and then, just as she was figuring that it was time to go home and come back in the morning (it was around 2 AM), the emergency room doc came in and gave my mom some Tylenol and discharged her without further explanation. (Not going to go into details, but the doc seemed to be a real piece of work.) My sister asked the doc if he noticed that mom can't walk, mom is now pushing 200 lbs, and that sis is a petite 5 foot 2. Long story short, they had to arrange a medical transport service to take her home. By then it was a little after 4 AM.

Here's where it gets good:

When the doc gave her Tylenol, my mom wouldn't take it at first, because "I never take that kind of stuff." Nope. Not Tylenol, not aspirin...nothing. "Drugs" upset her body. "I don't want those chemicals in me." Of course, she'll take any supplement that she hears about on the radio or TV, by the fistful, but she won't take a pain killer when she's in pain. She says, "I'm a SURVIVOR! I adapt!" (She places extra, almost pouty, emphasis on each syllable of "survivor," like she's proud that she doesn't take appropriate action. She said the same thing when we were kids, and we couldn't let a repairman into the house to fix little things like ovens, furnaces, water heaters, refrigerators, etc.)

Anyway, back to the story...

We've discussed on the message board how hoarders appear to have some very distinctive speech patterns, like not being able to distinguish between critical information and ephemera, taking ten minutes to say something that could be said in one minute, due to unnecessary detail, etc., etc. Well, at 4:20 AM, my mom called me to tell me that she was back home.

She told me all about the ambulance driver, whose "name was Jeff -- isn't that something? What a coincidence! Another Jeff!"

Jeff, a very unusual name, of course, was the name of one of the kids I hung out with in high school, oh, 25 years ago.

"Jeff and the other guy were so funny; we had a good time! He lives in Springfield. I wonder if they know so-and-so."

Then she switched gears, and told me that she heard a little kid crying in the emergency room. "Gee, I wonder what was the matter with him. I didn't get a look at him, but I could hear his parents. They had some kind of an accent. I don't know where they were from. There was a lady who looked like she might have broken her arm, too, but she didn't look like she was in much pain. I had it worse than her, I think."

You get the picture. I managed to get a word in edgewise, and asked her, "Well, how about YOU? How are YOU? What did the doctor say?" Another roundabout story of how even her cat knew something was wrong with her, since he kept looking at her funny, etc. etc., and that she had dinner a little late, etc. Finally, I said, "Mom, it's 4:30 AM. Are you OK?" Like usual, her response to a direct question is, "Well, I have to tell you the story." "No, Mom, the ambulance driver's home town is not 'the story,' your health is the story. It's after 4:30 AM. Tell me if you are in any pain, or tell me if you are still overheated." After about two or three tries, I interrupted and said, "Obviously, if you are well enough to talk about the cat, I can go back to sleep now."

"Oh. Okay. Boy, your sister was bent out of joint."

Me: "Mom!"

"Are you coming down to see me today?"

Me: "You're fine, I'm going to go to work. Bye."

"Oh, everyone is in such a hurry!"


Another day in the life of a COH...


Anonymous said...

sounds like when I talk to my mom (a hoarder). Argh!

Rachel Lauren Photography said...

wow...this sounds exactly like my mother, also a hoarder. I am just now starting to learn that I am not alone in this; will keep your blog link and keep reading!

Precious Palette said...

Yeah, my mother is a hoarder also. Like the reader before me I thought I was alone in this situation. As frustrating as it is, I'm going to keep trying to help my mother to seek help.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Interesting insight into the speech patterns. My mother, who was an extreme hoarder, also had that scattershot conversation. It was frustrating in trying to get to the point, but I never saw that it might have connection to the hoarding behavior.

Hoarder's Son said...

I think that the speech patterns and the hoarding behaviors are actually symptoms of a deeper cognitive issue.

If someone lacks a good ability to prioritize things -- whether the things are objects, thoughts, or concepts -- then that lack of ability might show up as an inability to decide which things should be thrown away, or an inability to distinguish key points, the latter resulting in an inability to speak or to write concisely.

This line of reasoning leads me to wonder if perhaps it is a mistake to think of hoarding as a distinct mental illness. Perhaps it is more accurate to think of hoarding as a symptom (an extreme one, of course) of a more fundamental problem with analyzing and acting upon information.

JB said...

Or it could be that she loves her stuff more than people because it is all she has. The reason she rambles is due to the same emptiness she feels. She wants your attention, she even asked when you were going to visit. I suspect by your speech about your mom "[h]ere's where it gets good" (what could be good about your mother in the hospital?) you judge her but you seem to also include a lot of ephemeral information in your post. I hardly think that means a positive diagnosis for hoarding. There is one more thing - She is your mother and she was sick, it is possible going to the hospital in an ambulance shoved her mortality right in her face and she wanted someone to let her know it was o.k. She gave birth to you. So what that she woke you up at 430 a.m. Actually you should have been at the hospital.

Well it seems you don't have a good relationship with your mother for whatever reason, who knows if it's because of her or you. I would venture to guess it's due to both of you.

Hoarder's Son said...

@JB - If this post was the only thing that you've read from me, then I guess I can understand how some of what you wrote makes sense. I don't think that I suggested anything in this post that could be used as a "positive diagnosis of hoarding." However, given that other children of hoarders have had experiences similar to what I described, I did suggest that rambling speech patterns and an inability to "get to the point" of a story might be associated with some types of hoarding. In the comments, I expanded on this a little bit by suggesting that both hoarding and rambling speech patterns might be symptoms of a common, underlying problem with decision making. I'm a scientist, so I like to generate hypotheses to explain things.

I've known my mom for more than forty years, and I can assure you that she is, indeed, a very severe hoarder, and her actions have indicated over and over again that she prefers her things -- including trash -- over her family, friends, and grandchildren. She has been this way since before I was born.

I won't get into the issues about her feeling empty and wanting attention. I'm sure that she does feel that way, but it's something that I can't fix. Believe me, she has had no shortage of attention paid to her over the years. It's a subject for another post.

Kimmy said...

As an adult female with ADHD, it kinda sounds a bit like this mixed in.

Thalia said...

Oh wow. My dad was a hoarder and he would just talk and talk and ramble on and on about nothing. He was the kind of guy you'd be terrified to get cornered by at the family reunion because he just wouldn't stop. With him it felt like a symptom of him feeling entitled to take up your space, like it was all his to fill up with junk--the house, the yard, your mental space. That's really interesting that it might be something related to the hoarding.

scorpio19th said...

My hoarding mother always spoke with this rambling train-of-consciousness brain-numbing inane babble. I finally learned just to sit and smile, nod my head once in awhile, frown in disapproval if that seemed appropiate, etc. In other words, totally ignore 99% of what she said. I never ever knew that it was another of the hundreds of traits that hoarders have in common.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Hoarder's Son about the hoarding being a symptom of an underlying inability to prioritize.

I have often thought that it is part of the dynamic of giving great importance to minutiae because the hoarder avoids many important areas. The hoarder in my family learned to survive by ignoring evidence, by pretending things were okay that were actually violating. Having practiced not noticing, as a survival tactic, for decades, the elderly years are the full bloom of those many, many years of avoiding what was actually going on--because it would have meant admitting things that were too painful to admit.

The choice to put on blinders in some areas, took over myriad other areas of life.

It helps to know there are others who face the same pains, the same history, and to know we are not the cause of the hoarder's dis-ordered values.

Thank you for your blog. It is a great help.

offtoworkigo said...

My mother, too, has an inability to leave out non-related details; as though her "filter" doesn't think anything is worthy of filtering out. I can see that by sharing your story, you've opened yourself up to comments by people who don't know why you don't respect your mom's freedom and just "butt out" (laughingly left in comment form by someone who feels compelled to "butt in" to your situation), and to people who don't understand why you don't do MORE. There is such a fine line between exerting to little control over a parent with mental illness and exerting too much control. If only all the commenters with the "easy answers" actually had ones that worked. Take care of yourself. Take care of your Mama to the best of your ability (even though, with mental illness, there will always be "hindsight" and "regret). And ignore the people who've never been there...who are still able to VISIT their parents because they can FIT into their parents homes...who have never received a broken angel pulled out of someone's trash as a Christmas gift (not that I personally would know anything about, not I). You're doing the right thing by validating someone else's feelings about being the Adult Child of a Hoarder.

Anonymous said...

I've just stumbled on this through the FB COH group... this speech pattern observation is revelation! My hoarder mother, maternal grandmother and uncle all talk this way. My brother rambles and I fight getting-to-the-point too. Nature and nurture both at work. Wow! Every conversation my mother is telling me about "the checker at the grocery store who has a daughter whose boyfriend was working for a circus and he rode a green unicyle and anyway, I was buying peas for this shepherd's pie I wanted to make, but they didn't have the same peas...." You get the idea.

Anonymous said...

I too just stumbled on this--I am stunned. My sister is a hoarder and has this speech pattern in excess! It has gotten more so as she got older....if I try to make her get to the point she snaps my head off and cannot do it! She flls up the space/mental space too. It is not always boring but it is unstoppable and it is something she is sometimes ashamed of (she notices disapproval by others). I keep thinking it is a denial mechanism to avoid dealing with her BIG issues--like she is running out of money to live on! Like she is in real trouble for losing things in her house. No, nothing seems to bother her at all--she just runs on about trivia and NEVER gets to anything significant that is driving me crazy. So maybe this is part of the pattern. It must be, and the prognosis -- no improvement likely. This seems like it must be chemical brain malfunction....what an important observation!!!!!