At the bottom of the up escalator
My mother and I stepped on the escalator at the El Paso International Airport as we’ve done lots of times before. Then I heard someone screaming — screeching actually — “Help! Help!” It happened so fast that I didn’t realize at first that sound was coming from my throat. Maybe because I was suddenly living a nightmare, and usually in my nightmares my legs freeze and I can’t whisper for help, much less scream. But there was my mother tumbling backward on the up escalator, slasher movie scenes flicking through my brain — you know the ones, where clothing and jewelry and hair gets sucked into the closing cracks between the escalator stairs. These scenes never end well, and in that split second of horror all I could think of was stopping that damn escalator, which someone — God bless him or her, whoever it was — managed to do.
In those two or three seconds that followed, we were surrounded by blue-uniformed cops and some passersby, including a woman who knelt down by my mother and held her hand. My mother was lying on her back, head toward the bottom and cushioned on my sister’s foot. She begged us to get her on her feet but no one wanted to move her until the paramedics arrived to make sure she hadn’t broken any bones. My heart was hammering and all I could think was, “This is it, oh God, this is it.” Often, when an Alzheimer’s patient takes a fall or suffers an injury or illness, it can mean a huge setback. After my mother-in-law fell and had to undergo a hip replacement, her dementia worsened very quickly. She never truly walked again.
In the midst of trying to convince Mom to not move, the cops were asking for IDs, trying to figure out what had happened and who was in charge of this poor woman lying on the escalator. I heard my sister explain that she was Mom’s caregiver, but that I was taking Mom to Dallas so she could take a break from caregiving. Incredibly, one of the officers assured her we were doing a great job. I suppose it’s in his line of work to comfort, because he was actually serious, despite the fact that looking back on that moment, I know I looked like a poor excuse for a daughter.
I knew my mother was OK when she started talking to the woman holding her hand. “How old are you?” my mom asked her. I didn’t hear the answer, only my mom saying, “No wonder your face looks so pretty. You have no wrinkles. Look at me. I’m 79. I have lots of wrinkles.” When the paramedics arrived to check her out, we got her up and in a chair. They asked her if she wanted to go to the hospital and she said, “What for?” and immediately told one of them he was very handsome. I think she was already forgetting what had happened. In fact, her blood pressure was normal and she had a few very minor scratches on her back. She did however, make the rest of her trek to the gate in a wheelchair.
She had no pain last night, slept well, and this morning, when I woke her I asked her if she remembered falling. “No. When?” she asked.
While we waited at the gate, I texted my sister to tell her we’d made it through security. “It was totally my fault and I feel like SHIT,” I wrote. She said it wasn’t my fault, that we get used to our parents being able to do certain things and then one day, when we least expect it, we discover they can’t. I still feel guilty. But I’m relieved that today Mom is up and walking and happy and totally oblivious to what she went through yesterday. I’m also extremely grateful for the El Paso police and paramedics who helped us, and the woman who, despite being on her way to catch a flight, stopped to hold my mom’s hand.
I do agree with one thing my sister texted while we waited at the gate: “No more escalators ever!”