Saturday, April 23, 2005

The 411 (and the 552)

My mother probably jumped the gun a little -- just a leeeetle -- but I'm glad I made this trip back when I did.

My mom called me on Saturday, April 9 to tell me about my grandmother. I told her I'd make it back as soon as I checked my work schedule and priced some fares. By Thursday, April 14, I was on a flight out.

What my mother didn't tell me during the intervening telephone conversations was that my grandmother was only in the ICU for one night -- April 9 -- and had been moved to a "regular" room at the hospital by April 10. Nonetheless, I did want to go see my grandmother. At 87, she is not a young woman anymore, and various maladies have taken their toll on her life: diabetes, resulting in the loss of a leg, at least one stroke, and general memory loss.

I had imagined that this trip home would consist primarily of me spending long hours in the hospital, watching my grandmother do little but sleep while I tried to remain alert for the slightest change in her condition. This was not the case. Even my family seemed to acknowledge that while she could could slip away at any time, she wasn't in imminent danger of doing so. So I spent much of my time with my folks and brother instead, helping out where they work.

First visit to see Grams: We walk in to find a doctor and resident talking about her. Grandma had just suffered some convulsions. It was unclear whether she had a stroke or was just suffered some effects from a previous one, but Mom and I accompanied her down to get a new CAT scan just to be sure.

Keep in mind, I hate hospitals. I hate the hypersanitized smell, and yet I also hate the smell of urine, feces, and/or vomit that sometimes comes with certain rooms. I hate the blindingly white walls, and floors, and lights. And I generally hate the feeling that death lurks around every corner there. I hate hospitals.

So sitting around waiting for my grandmother to undergo a CAT scan wasn't particularly pleasant. I passed the time with my book (The World According to Garp, by John Irving), watching bad court shows on the television in the waiting room (The People's Court followed by some other one), and checking out a hunky guy who was also in the waiting room (yeah, I'm so going to hell) while my mom closed her eyes for a bit in the corner. I had to tap her when she started snoring.

Having just suffered convulsions, she was placed on anti-seizure medication which undoubtedly made her tired, so it was difficult for her to even open her eyes. She did open her eyes once or twice, but I don't know what level of recognition was behind them. I don't even know if she even knows I was there that day.

The second time I saw her, my grandmother was only a little more alert, but no more coherent. She opened her eyes from time to time when my mother engaged her, but couldn't really respond to any questions. Mom kept asking if she recognized me, and it was always absolutely unclear whether she did or not even though her eyes looked directly at me on numerous occasions. I tried speaking to her, but my Chinese proficiency was so awful that all I could think of to say was "Hi. How are you? Are you comfortable? Is everything okay?" What the fuck? Here was this old woman with a feeding tube in her side and oxygen being pumped into her nose and I was asking her if everything was okay. I guess a part of me kinda hoped she would sit up and scream, "You fucking moron, look at me! Does it look like every-fucking-thing is fucking OKAY to you? Goddamn, what a dumbshit!"

Needless to say, my grandmother did no such thing in response to my random blathering.

Subsequent to my second visit, the hospital decided to release my grandmother back to the nursing home. My mother was adamantly against the idea, seeing as it was pretty clear that the nursing home clearly would no longer be able to provide for with ongoing care of the level she would need. Indeed, my mother was right; after 12 hours my grandmother found herself back in the hospital, in Room 552.

I saw her for the last time in that room (which coincidentally shared the same number as my freshman year dorm room). Her bony hand, protected by skin which bore a striking resemblance to the skin of a white onion, kept alternating between pushing the blanket off her arm and pulling it back up to her chin. Her arm bore all the plum-colored bruises of numerous attempts at dialysis; it seemed like no patch of her skin retained any healthy color anymore, but bore the marks of painful attempts to maintain her life.

My mom and I placed by her head a small tape player which apparently had as its only purpose to play Buddhist chants on auto-repeat, 24/7. I hope hearing such sounds will comfort her. I'm not a religious person, but even when I hear those sounds they tend to relax me.

When I left my grandmother's bedside for the last time, I told her I'd see her again soon. I may have to go back home for a class reunion, I told her, or to see my cousin Nathan get married in August. "I'll see you then, okay?" I told her. "We'll see each other again soon!"

Even if she understood me, I don't think she believed me either.


anne said...

Welcome back, Dennis.
I'm glad everything went better than you feared.

Steve said...

I was wondering how your trip was going... glad you're back safe and sound.

Steve Goble said...


I'm really sorry to read of your loss. If your Gran did see you at her bedside, I'm sure your presence would have been a comfort to her.

Best wishes,
another Steve.

katie said...

Glad to see you are back, I agree with your assement of hospitals. Couldn't they at least make it look a bit more inviting. To sterile is a bit much.