Grandma in the Hospital
If you’ve ever seen the movie Driving Miss Daisy, that’s a good place to start for picturing my grandma. She’s a feisty, cranky, southern lady who is accustomed to giving orders and having them obeyed. Only now she’s ninety-two years old and in a hospital where decisions are made for her all day long. She doesn’t have the physical strength to resist anything. We’re all glad to see her crankiness resurface. It means she is feeling better. For five minutes at a time she’ll tell us that hospitals make people sick and we should just take her home, there is nothing wrong with her. My mother repeats what she’s said multiple times per day, that we’ll take her home as soon as the doctor allows. Then Grandma’s gaze sharpens for a moment and she says. “He’s just a little doctor. Beat him up and take me home.” Then the sharpness fades, her head drops back to the pillow and she is asleep again, exhausted by her own wilfulness.
Mother and I sit in silence while Grandma sleeps. We don’t want to talk and wake her up. If she does hear us talking, she’ll want to know what we’re saying. Then we have to speak loudly and in short sentences so she can hear. Even then, most things are too complicated for Grandma to retain. I tried to show her a flooring sample from my office and she seemed to think I was telling her that it was a toy building block, that I was going to be making and selling toys now. The conversation about my book went better. I gave her a copy of Cobble Stones, fresh from the printer. She petted it with her hands, so pleased to hold a book that I wrote. Grandma was my first paying market for writing; a penny per word for any story I wrote. Grandma opened the pages and looked over the words, running her fingers along them. “I’ll read it later.” she said, “When my eyes are working better.”
Grandma argues with my Mom. My mother is the caretaker, the one who is constantly trying to get Grandma to take pills, do physical therapy, telling her she has to stay in the hospital. Grandma doesn’t argue with me. I am a grandchild and thus cherished. My coaxing to get Grandma to eat results in her eating, one wobbly spoonful at a time. The worst argument she gives me is an eye roll. We’re pleased that I get her to eat three quarters of a pudding cup and six bites of mashed potatoes. Later, Grandma tells the nurse about how I badgered her into eating, but she’s doing it happily; bragging about her granddaughter who can make a cranky old lady eat. Grandma calls herself a cranky old lady sometimes. Other times she is convinced that her hair is still brown, that she is completely well, and that there is just a conspiracy to keep her in the hospital so that the hospital employees can have jobs. Toward the end of the evening Grandma starts noticing my yawns. “You need to take that girl home and put her to bed.” She tells my mom, as if I’m still four-years-old and needing tending. “Then come back and get me out.” Grandma adds.
“Have you had breakfast?” Grandma asked at six p.m. Her long afternoon nap had confused her into thinking it was morning. I assured her it was dinner time and that I would go eat soon. We had the same conversation many times over the next hour. The late afternoon light from the window seemed like morning sunlight to her. We also told her what day it was and how long I would be staying. Once she counted the days from Thursday until Sunday on her fingers and I promised to come and visit her every day. Hospitals are time vortexes. She’s been in one for 18 days now, this particular confusion is completely understandable. Most of our conversations are five minutes or less before Grandma drifts to sleep again. But twice during my time there Grandma was alert and focused for ten minutes. I told her about my kids, showed her pictures. I gave her the painting that Kiki made for her and the colorful hat that Gleek made. We took pictures of her wearing the hat. Grandma smiled and asked questions about how old they are and how tall. I held her hand and we talked for awhile. Then the nurse arrived to give Grandma a breathing treatment. Hopefully the treatments will help stop the rattling rasp Grandma makes with every breath.
Being here is very hard. It is also good. Three more days to go.
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