Who the hell is President McClatchey anyway?

My mom lost her mind. 

Thankfully, she found it again. 

It was a hectic Wednesday, a couple of weeks ago. It was the first day our house was on the market, and I’d be running around trying to clean and purge the place for weeks, when my mother’s boyfriend called. “Something’s wrong with your mother,” he told me. And yes, something was. For one, she was trying to drink a banana.


Barely able to hold it together, my daughter and I got in the car and rushed to meet them at the E.R. They set her up in a room and began questioning her.

“Do you know what year it is?”


“Who’s the president?”


“Who’s standing next to you?”

“My daughter.” (me)

“And who’s that next to her?” they asked, pointing to my daughter.

“She’s — ” she gave an apologetic smile. ” — a stranger.”

And that’s how it went. She had a lot of stories that night — stories of birds and cages and rattling those cages. She talked a lot, very faintly, and as if she were in a dream. At one point, she pointed to the hospital curtain, a pattern of hollow squares. “Oh,” she said, very interested. “They used pictoral Roman numerals and not the academic ones!”

I cried.

At first I tried to hide my tears from her, but by the second day, nothing bothered her. She was checked out — in her own little world where she had seventeen children (as she told the physical therapist), and lived at a strange address, and birthdays or years didn’t matter, and the president changed from McClatchey to Anderson, and none of it really mattered anyway. Her voice was monotone, her eyes went flat, her ability to care was suddenly gone.

“What month is it?” one of the therapists asked.


“No, it’s May.”

“Oh. Okay,” she’d shrug, expressionless.

The doctors talked about a stroke or a possible brain tumor. The case worker told me to start thinking about nursing homes. A nurse sat down with me and said, “At least she seems at peace with everything.” And I sobbed gracelessly, my nose clogging and my eyes swelling and my breath catching in snorts in my throat.

But then day three happened. She knew Obama was president. We all perked up a little. She still seemed confused and slightly detached, but there was hope.

One of my best friends visited. She asked my mom about her latest trip to California, and who she saw when she was there. Things were going well until she said, “I didn’t see my mother this time.”

The sinking feeling returned. I reminded her that her mother has been dead for twenty years.

“Oh,” she said. “I guess that’s why I didn’t see her then.”

Over the next several days, her clarity improved and her personality returned. She wanted to read again, and she began asking a lot of questions. Her sense of humor started to resurface (particularly when I told her the above). And the doctors discovered that it wasn’t a stroke, and it wasn’t a tumor. It was a strange little virus that somehow got up into her head — viral encephalitis.

Viral encephalitis! Probably from a mosquito when she was gardening! 

I wanted to cheer. You can recover from viral encephalitis very well, and there are not likely to be any lasting effects. Wow.

A week later, she checked out of the hospital. That night, at dinner, we entertained her with stories of her confusion (like I said, her sense of humor had returned).

So, like I said, my mom lost her mind and found it again. And I feel like in some ways I did the same. Although like some people, I don’t have a mosquito to blame.

(insert huge sigh of relief)