A Tale of Multiple Grandmothers
My grandmother has been in the hospital for almost 7 weeks now. It happened the way it happens to most older people: a fall which results in a broken bone which results in surgery and then complication after complication after complication.
When I tell people, I keep getting the same question. “Well, how old is she?” Like her age will determine her survival rate. A woman named Nola Ochs graduated college at the ripe old age of 95. Mary Armstrong celebrated her 90th birthday by skydiving. Frank Schearer is still water skiing at 100 years old. Are these people unique cases? Yes. But I’m not encouraging my 87-year-old grandmother to go for that first attempt at bungee jumping. I’m just rooting for her to make it through all this.
Every week I go visit her in the hospital and every week she’s in a different situation. At first it was just her surviving the surgery. Then it was starting her on physical therapy which she was not happy about because it was grueling and she was having a hard time breathing. She was vocal, and adamant, and cranky, and no doubt in a lot of pain, but she was fighting.
Then the real problems started. She developed pneumonia and was put on steroids which made her delusional. I walked into her hospital room, only to find her discussing in great detail the party she was throwing for herself that night. Other then the fact that she was nowhere near being released from the hospital, it made sense until she started reading the menu.
“Where is the menu you’re reading, Mom Mom? I asked.
“Em, it’s on the bed sheet, obviously.”
Then came the list of guests for what she insisted be a low-key affair. “We should invite Bunny and Eddie, and the Pollacks,” she said. “And let’s get some puppies, too. But only the small fluffy ones…”
When she asked the nurse who the green people were, I got really upset. Was she seeing aliens now? But when the nurse confirmed that the nurses now had new uniforms, thus the green, I was relieved but still terrified.
The next week I saw her, she was in a coma. She couldn’t breathe without the aid of a machine and she was in such a deep sleep, I didn’t even see her eyelids twitch. We thought this might be the end and we tried to prepare ourselves.
And then after almost a week, she woke up. Just like that. She couldn’t talk or move her arms; the doctors thought she’d had a stroke. For days she just lay there. And though we were happy that she was alert we wondered, if she survived, what quality of life she would have.
And then just a few days ago, she spoke her first words in weeks.
“She talked!” my mom exclaimed. It was good to hear my mother, who’d been keeping a vigil by her mother’s side, sound so positive.
“Well, what did she say?”
“Her first words were ‘that was crazy.’”
And we both laughed, because if my grandmother could recognize how strange this trip had been, maybe she’d be okay. Maybe she’d gotten her fight back.
When I went to see her this past weekend, I hoped to find her in good spirits. She was alert, looking around, and she had full function in her arms.
“Say hello to Em,” my mom said.
“Hello,” she responded. But there was no warmth in her eyes, no happiness, simply complacency.
I gave her a kiss and told her how happy I was to see her. Then I noticed that her wig was all askew. “Mom Mom, let’s fix your wig,” I said. “You look like Little Richard.”
And my father laughed. And the nurse laughed. And my mother actually snorted. But my grandmother didn’t even crack a smile.
And that’s what really worries me. I know that she can beat this if she puts her mind to it. She’s a tenacious woman who was patient enough to be my piano teacher for almost 10 years, and I’m not an easy student. Even if she can’t walk, I want her to at least wheel out of that hospital with her head held high and her wig on straight. But she has to want it.