That Time When Dad Hallucinated About My Sister in the Hospital
By Sangeeta Murthy Sahgal
It’s been a crazy 15 days. Anna has been more “out-of-sorts” than “present”. In an hour-long conversation, he can be disoriented, lucid, witty, depressed, and worried. Responding to him takes the mickey out of me and I feel like I’ve been through a wringer. Here is an example.
Yesterday evening, I take one look at Anna and my heart sinks. He is frowning and looking very troubled.
Me (concerned): “Anna, what’s the matter?”
He looks at me but does not see me.
Me (raising my voice): “Anna?!”
I see his eyes focus; there is a glimmer of recognition.
Me: “Anna, what’s the matter?”
Anna (very distressed): “We have to go to the hospital immediately!”
Me: “What happened? Did you have another loose motion?”
Anna (his voice goes up a notch in distress): “Mamta has broken her foot and we have to go to the hospital.”
Mamta, my younger sister, lives in Bethesda.
Me (worried at the thought that something has really happened to Mamta): “Anna, how do you know that Mamta has broken her foot? Did she call you?”
Anna: “No. Vikram told me.”
Vikram, my brother, lives in Westboro. Now I am really worried. It’s got to be serious if Vikram called Anna.
Me: “Vikram called to tell you that Mamta has broken her foot? When?”
Anna: “Vikram told me just now. A few minutes ago.”
Anna (looking around for Vikram): “We have to go to the hospital right now. Has the car come?”
A Strange Exchange and Painful Delusions
It now dawns on me that Anna may be imagining this entire exchange. I am not sure. His distress is real. Though my brother is not in the house, Vikram could have called Anna.
I am more than a little frazzled, and don’t realise that Vikram would call me if there was something serious — versus calling Anna.
I find out from the attendant that neither Vikram nor Mamta have called. I now know what to do: calm him down without contradicting him.
Me: “Anna, Mamta is in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. The Ivory Coast. In Africa.”
Anna looks at me with an expression that says, “What’s that got to do with her breaking her foot, dummy?”
Me: “Anna, you are in Sheikh Sarai. In Delhi.”
Anna’s expression does not change.
Me: “Anna, we can’t go to a hospital in Abidjan. It’s in Ivory Coast. In Africa. We are in India.”
I have to go through this sequence of comments a couple of times till he says, “Ivory Coast and India are on two separate continents.”
Finally! He gets it!
Or so I think.
Anna: “Tell Mamta to go to any government hospital.” Pause. “They will treat her.” Pause. “We need to go to the orthopaedics department of the hospital with my CGHS card.”
How old does he think Mamta is? How old does he think he is?
Oh! And though India and Ivory Coast are on two separate continents (a fact he remembers), it has no bearing on his reality where he needs to go to his daughter who has broken her foot.
Getting Through to Anna
We spend another 15 minutes, going through his reality that has Vikram in the flat, delivering the news that Mamta has broken her foot and is in hospital (somewhere Anna can visit). A hospital to which we need to go immediately. Post-haste! And that we have to carry his CGHS card so that she gets CGHS benefits.
I finally decide to send Mamta a Skype message to call Anna as he thinks that she has broken her foot and is distressed.
One of the things that has helped in the past is to take him out for a walk or a drive. It helps him when he is confused or has delusions or has hallucinations.
Me: “Anna, do you want to take a walk?”
Anna: “No. Mamta is in the hospital. We can’t go for a walk. She will call.”
Me: “Anna, I have sent her a Skype message. I have Skype on my phone and I will carry it with me. So when she calls, we can take it on the road.”
Finally, Anna says “OK.”
And off we go….
My sister has never broken her foot.
(After working in corporate India for over 29 years, Sangeeta has taken time off to look after her father, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2008. Sangeeta hopes that these authentic stories will help patients and caregivers understand and appreciate the impact of Parkinson’s Disease. You can follow Sangeeta’s blog here.)