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Stressful events in life are often learning experiences, but they can also be the most life-affirming.

Last Wednesday evening my mother headed off to church for a worship committee meeting. Between the parking lot and the church office, she took a severe fall based on the blood they later found on the sidewalk. But it wasn’t initially obvious. She walked into the meeting in progress, was quiet and seemed confused, and it gradually became obvious that something was seriously wrong. On the ride to the hospital, she kept asking why she was in the car, where they were going, what was she doing, and what day it was. Then she would ask the same series of questions all over again.

My father kept trying to reach me and my sister, but the connection from the ER was poor and his call wouldn’t go through. By the time he reached us he was very shaken, and wasn’t confident about the decisions he was being asked to make. They decided to send her by ambulance to the Trauma Center at Grant Hospital in downtown Columbus.

When we arrived at the ER, we learned Mom was categorized as a Level 1 trauma patient. While we tried to process this, we talked about possible brain swelling, and whether a stroke or heart attack had been the cause of the fall. Mom is always running and is very agile, so we couldn’t believe she had tripped and fallen.

When we were allowed to see her she was in a neck brace, and they had cut her clothing off so they didn’t have to move her to put her in a hospital gown. She had stitches on her chin, a bruised and swollen lip, a knot on her temple and the entire left side of her face was swollen and turning purple. She didn’t remember falling, sitting in the meeting, riding in the car to the hospital, or getting stitches – but we were grateful she recognized us and was alert and asking questions. All she could remember was pulling herself up the steps outside the church, and wondering ‘Why am I doing this, I never have trouble climbing steps!’ as if she were looking down on herself.

After a CT scan confirmed she had no broken bones or brain swelling, they removed her bracing and allowed her to be transferred to a room. At 4am, after making sure she received pain medication so she could sleep, my dad, sister and I left to find a hotel room to grab a few hours of sleep of our own.

Thursday involved a series of tests – an EKG, an exam of her carotid arteries, speech and physical therapists; to determine whether a heart attack or other medical issue could have caused the fall, or if any serious damage had been done by the impact. As the day progressed, she was still in pain, but it was clear that she was getting better and better. The diagnosis was a severe concussion. At 8pm she was cleared to go home and we all left the hospital. It had been only 27 hours since Mom left her house to go to church, but it felt like days.

What did I learn from all of this?

• Everyone should have a contact system in place to reach family in case of emergency, and a way to stay in touch as things evolve. I don’t know how people coped before cell phones, but texting and emailing via phone – regardless of the time – was a godsend. Clients who have had family members in the hospital for longer periods of time have used websites such as Care Pages and Caring Bridge to keep friends and family informed.

• Had my mother’s fall been caused by a stroke, or triggered one, things would not have turned out as well. Stroke victims need immediate medical attention, and every minute afterwards without treatment means more damage to the brain.

• Being in the right place for your medical emergency is critical. The ER group in our small town was empathetic and kind to our parents, but they did not have the expertise to treat brain trauma the way Grant Hospital could.

Our experience was scary, but also life-affirming, and reinforced my belief in the kindness of people.

I cannot say enough good things about all the people we came in contact with at Grant Hospital. Marcus, the police officer stationed at the ER entrance when we arrived, did a great job of making sure everyone was safe before they could enter the ER (My dad’s small pocket knife set off the metal detector!) but he also got my dad a cup of coffee and joked around with him as he anxiously waited for news about Mom.

A nurse technician who arrived to take blood for testing noticed Mom had just given blood an hour earlier for other tests. Instead of sticking her again, she called the laboratory and told them to add the extra test to the list of items needed from the first blood draw. She used common sense and empathy!

These are just two examples. There are people out there who want change to begin with them, and they are making an impact in healthcare.

My mother does everything from running the church food pantry to raising vegetables to take to neighbors and shut-ins. It was gratifying to see her friends and relatives reach out to take care of her when she needed them after all the good she’s done for others all these years.