06/07/2013 06:44 pm ET Updated Aug 07, 2013

Parenting a Parent

My mother has always been active. Not in a sporty, tennis-3x-a-week sort of way, but more like someone with a long to-do list. She is always moving, always headed somewhere, always taking care of all that has to be taken care of. In her mid-70s, she still works full time and shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

But then she fell.

No one thought anything of it at the time. An accidental slip on a greasy kitchen floor left her more embarrassed than hurt. Or so we thought. She landed hard on her back, but popped right back up and assured her guests she was fine. She and my Dad were hosting an annual Christmas party at their home and within minutes, the party resumed without a hitch. She was fine that night. She was fine the next day. She was fine a few weeks later.

But then things started to change. It was so gradual at first that it was easy to miss. I simply started to have the feeling that Mom had turned a corner somehow. After all those years of vibrancy, she had finally started to act more like an old person. Her gait became slower, her shoulders more rounded, her fine motor skills less sharp. I shrugged it off to old age and tried to ignore the fact that she really wasn't that old.

It wasn't until early March, almost three full months after her fall, that I knew something was terribly wrong. A five-day beach vacation with my parents revealed just how severe her symptoms had become. She dragged her feet when she walked, had poor balance, no strength in her legs and was often cognitively confused. I struggled with the idea of returning home immediately, wondering if she had suffered a mini-stroke. But although her symptoms were numerous, she was able to enjoy herself and seemed relatively stable. We stayed, but I convinced her to see a neurologist as soon as we got home.

For reasons I'm still not completely sure of, the neurologist did not order a scan of my mother's brain. Perhaps she and my Dad did not stress the severity of her symptoms enough? My Dad assured me he would, but I wasn't there, so I'm not sure what he said. Instead, I was left with a great deal of frustration and the realization that I needed to speak to the doctor myself.

It's a strange feeling when you start to parent your parents. My folks are still quite independent and active, but in this case, I knew I needed to become more involved and perhaps even take charge. I called the neurologist. And called. And called. It took over a week to finally get someone to ring me back to schedule a brain scan. I was persistent; I had to be. This was my Mom, the woman who has bent over backwards to help me every time I've needed it. The least I could do was fight for her.

The MRI of her brain finally took place on April 6th, almost a month after our beach trip and close to four months after her fall. The scan revealed a massive subdural hematoma on the right side of her brain. The good news was it was not an active bleed, the bad news was it would require surgery. When the doctors asked if she had taken a fall in the last few months, my parents' initial response was no. The fall at the Christmas party seemed so insignificant at the time that it hadn't even stayed in their collective memory.

The surgery went very well and as little as 10 days later, I took her out to get a pedicure. She was steady on her feet, had more strength in her legs and was cognitively clear. She was my Mom again. She's recovering well and has even gone back to work part-time.

Supposedly I'm part of what they call the "sandwich generation," which leaves me caring for both my child and my parents. It's a label used to describe a stressful, taxing time in a person's life. And no, my experience so far hasn't been easy, but in a way it's nice to be able to give back. After all, it was my parents who made me the strong person I am today. Without their help, I would have never been able to help them.