Lost In Los Banos

“Can you tell me where the nearest emergency room is?!” My heart is pounding, I’m trying not to panic because what I do from this point forward could mean the difference between life and death. The startled night clerk at the reception desk at the Motel 6 looking up from his computer screen begins to tell me, “It’s about 15 minutes away. When you pull out of the drive way, turn right……” His voice continues to ramble on, giving me detailed directions that my brain is unable to comprehend.

Think Tiffany, think…..frantically I stop him mid sentence, “Let me grab the GPS!” I run out to the rental car, fumbling as I grab the GPS and race back to the hotel lobby. I press the hospital icon and wait impatiently for the list of options to appear on the screen. All I can focus on is the right side of the screen which shows the distance to each option listed, I highlight the closest one and turn the screen toward the night clerk and demand to know, “Is this the closest hospital?”

“Yes”, he confirms.

“Thank you!” I turn and race back to the car ……

I press the Go icon on the GPS, the only thing that matters is that I follow the directions and stay calm. I desperately want to ask the GPS to clarify the directions because I’m not confident I’m heading in the right direction but I know the voice is automated, its not a real person. The GPS is now in control and the only thing I can do is follow the directions as it navigates the road to the hospital. Besides the voice of the GPS there is another voice emanating from the back seat, an agonizing voice begging to go home…..trying to explain that we can’t go home because we are over 3,900 km away is just an exercise in futility.

Its New Years Eve, night has fallen and we’ve just driven three hours through the twists and turns of the mountains without any signs of civilization, we were in the middle of no where.

Three days earlier we were in Los Angeles, the starting point for our drive up the coast of California on the Pacific Coast Highway. On my mothers bucket list, is her wish to drive up the coast at least once. Since her eye sight is slowly deteriorating she may never get the opportunity again, so it’s either now or never.

The sun was shining, it was the perfect day. In fact the weather report indicated that it was sunny skies ahead for the next few days. We drove past Venice Beach, then through Malibu along the coast heading towards our first stop, Santa Barbara. We decided since it was approaching lunch we would check out the town and grab a bite to eat. I’m not one for parallel parking so I found a parking garage close by, parked the car and we made our way toward the stairs that would take us to ground level. Suddenly I heard a distress call from behind and as I turned around my eyes widened as I painfully realized that it was coming from my mother. She was sprawled across the pavement facedown crying out for help. I had forgotten that her lack of peripheral vision was one of the complications of her eye disease. We scrambled to pick her up and as her face came into view we could see the blood streaming from her nose, various cuts and scraps on her face and her glasses were severely scratched digging into the bridge of her nose. In true form however my mothers worry of embarrassment superseded all logic and she demanded to be taken back to the car. Thank God there was a paramedic who came rushing over to assist. She quickly assessed my mother and confirmed that it was okay we had moved her but strongly recommended taking her to the hospital which was only a few blocks away. The horror I felt must have been obvious on my face since she offered to call an ambulance if I was unable to drive. However by this time I already had the GPS in my hands and looking up the nearest emergency room. Little did I know that this wouldn’t be the only time I would have to relinquish control to the GPS unit to navigate us to the nearest emergency room.

After a battery of tests to assess any head trauma, making sure she didn’t have any internal injuries as a result of the fall that weren’t obvious from the outside, they decided to admit her for observation. Looking at her, you would think she had been in a fight and you would be curious to see what the other guy looked like. The entire right side of her face including her eye were painful hues of black, blue and purple. A series of scraps clearly outlined the path her face took as it slid across the pavement during her fall. Her wrist was broken, suspended in a sling and she was a little wobbly on her feet, most likely a result of the rattling her brain took combined with morphine and percocets they had pumped into her body to dull the pain. Three days passed before the hospital finally cleared her for discharge. The only instructions we received from the discharge nurse ….. make sure that we stopped every couple of hours so that my mother could get out of the car and walk around for a few minutes. Seemed simple enough, our final destination was a 6 hour drive, 2 to 3 stops along the way, how hard could that be?

Just after 12 o’clock noon we left Santa Barbara with the goal of stopping in a couple of hours to eat, visit the restroom and get a little fresh air. It wasn’t long after we left the hospital that my mother appeared a little to fidgety in the back seat and when I glanced at her through the rear view mirror I could see that beads of sweat had started to form on her forehead. However, the sun was high in the sky and heating up the inside of the car, so I quickly attributed her condition to the rising temperature and she was just moving trying to escape the penetrating heat. I adjusted the thermostat and didn’t concern myself to much because we would be pulling over for a break soon.

Finally we found a rest area, pulled over and helped my mother out of the car hoping the brisk winter air would cool her down. Her agitation was now giving way to anger and she was grumbling about getting hungry. We headed to the nearest McDonalds figuring once she ate, her blood sugar would stabilize …… Little did we know however that this was just the prelude of my mothers unraveling.

Her condition just escalated, she went from disorientated and confused to completely delusional, folded in half in the back seat of the rental car covered in vomit and begging not to go to the hospital but pleading instead to be taken home …… that’s the moment I pulled up in front the Motel 6 in a frantic attempt to find the closest emergency/trauma centre.

Okay Tiffany, stay calm. Just let the GPS be your guide. Thoughts would enter my head ….. You know the what if, then what variety ….. What if we don’t make it to the hospital in time and she dies, then what? What if we make it to the hospital and the trauma is to severe and she never recovers, then what? However the agonizing groans from the back seat and the smell of vomit kept bringing me back to the task at hand. Focus, you have only one task ….. get to emergency, they will know what to do.

When we arrived at emergency my mother was immediately taken to trauma, hooked up to a bunch of machines for monitoring and completely unaware of where she was, unable to communicate nothing more than to tell us she was thirsty. She was gasping for breath, her heart beat and blood pressure erratic and her eyes were darting everywhere, startled by all the lights and commotion around her ….. she had gone into shock.

By the following morning she was starting to come around, she knew who the president of United States was, her date of birth, her name and who we were. She didn’t know where she was and frankly we didn’t really know either. I was troubled to find out they had questioned my mother to find out if she was a victim of abuse and if she needed help. Since there were no police there to arrest us they had obviously ruled that out. Now the questions turned to us…..they wanted to know if my mother abused alcohol or drugs, which couldn’t be further from the truth. However, they were just doing their job, looking for something, anything to explain her injuries and behaviour.

As the day progressed my mothers condition went from bad to worse. She became more confused and imagining things and people that were not there. But nothing could have prepared us for the scene the following morning. When she awoke the following day she had become unglued and the accusations were flying. It was surreal, like we had somehow been transported into a scene of 24 without a script or Jack Bauer coming to our rescue …. “Why did you abandoned me?” “Are you really my daughter, or did they make you to look like her?” “Did they brainwash you?” “What is this place?” “Why can’t I leave?” Even the hospital staff wasn’t immune, as far as my mother was concerned they were from ISIS and were holding her hostage …… I wasn’t clear as to the reason ISIS would be interested in holding a 71 year old women with bright red hair hostage, but my mother was convinced they had come to get her. Finally they sedated her …. I left the room in tears ….. this was not my mother. As the day wore on she drifted in and out of sleep, each time she woke up she seemed to be a little better, still generally confused but no longer delusional.

The following morning her attending Doctor informed us that they were going to discharge her. I was mortified, less than 24 hours before my mother was delusional and now she was suddenly healthy enough to travel? Flashing through my mind was the nightmare road trip that brought us here to Los Banos. 72 hours ago I had never even heard of Los Banos! We were not equipped for a rerun of that particular episode of 24! We still had a 2 hour drive just to get back to Sacramento and that didn’t include the 12 hour travel time from Sacramento back to Canada. In my mind were visions of her becoming unhinged in the airplane, calling everyone terrorists, the Air Marshals confining her and demanding the plane be grounded immediately ….. I was now hyperventilating at the thought. To console my fears and try to calm me down, her attending physician asked if I had ever tried hot yoga.

However, I’m happy to say I am not writing this blog from a black site detention centre or psychiatric hospital. I’m at Starbucks in Canada enjoying a Chai Tea Latte. My mom and step dad are at home getting ready to entertain friends with stories of our adventure while we were lost in Los Banos California. Now that the dust has settled I’m finally ready to say ….. Happy New Year!!

P.S. Judy, I warned you before we arrived that we were dysfunctional! But even this is a little over the top for us! Thanks for your love, support, friendship and hospitality but most of all ….. for awesome coffee! Mike, if we had ended up at a black site detention centre, you were my go to guy. Christina, I’m sure after spending 5 days in the same clothes I did probably smell but you ignored it and hugged me anyway!


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