Tuesday, December 29, 2015
We arrived at the hospital to relieve my uncles that had spent the night at my Grandmother's bedside. It had been determined quickly and seamlessly that she would not be left alone at anytime. The nurses spoke of physical signs of looming death: mottled skin, a change in nail color, something about the feet. I had never heard of these things before.
A hospital administrator arrived and announced what everyone feared: Medicaid was bucking at the daily cost of the hospital and wanted my Grandmother moved to hospice.
"We are afraid of moving her," my mother said, "all of the jostling. It's not that we don't want her in hospice, we are afraid of transporting her in this condition.....".
"I understand," the administrator said, "but we can only push Medicaid so far....".
Shortly after, the paramedics arrived. I felt a seize of terror. I didn't think I could watch them lift her, watch them move her, but I felt like I had to. The bundled her carefully in blankets until only her head poked out like a little cotton ball. The moved her gently to the gurney and rolled her out as we followed. I still felt terrified, but was surprised by how smoothly they had moved her. My mother went in one direction with the paramedics to ride in the ambulance with my Grandmother and I went toward the parking lot. I passed the massive, larger than life manger scene by the parking lot and looped around a huge camel to my mother's compact rental car. I bumped my head on the ceiling, started the car and followed the ambulance to the hospice.
I drove through Saginaw. The sky was still very gray. I started getting worried about what the hospice would be like after taking a turn at a county juvenile lock up and driving past a large, impersonal hospital. I was surprised to see things suddenly become pastoral and after passing a large barn, a nice looking building with white columns came into view. I could see the ambulance pulling into a side garage. The garage seemed ominous to me, the place where everyone arrived and left, shielded from view because death is so uncomfortable. My uncle paced the parking lot until I parked the car and we went in the front door together.
The hospice administrator spoke about their services with my mom and uncle while my Grandmother was made comfortable in her room. I looked at my mom and uncle, seated next to each other on a couch, making decisions about my Grandmother's care. It seemed like an odd coming of age moment that had never occurred to me before, one of the important moments in life that you don't spend with your spouse, but with your sibling. I saw similarities in their faces and thought processes that I had never noticed before.
I was relieved that my Grandmother was at the hospice the minute we were permitted to enter her room. It was comfortable and lit with lamps. She was tucked in cozily; the oxygen thing that had irritated her nose was gone. A small dose of morphine, "the heroin" as one of my uncles would later call it, had relaxed her breathing and she seemed much more natural and comfortable than she had in the hospital.
Others arrived and my mother and I returned to my uncle's house. We viewed and made recommendations about the clothes my aunt had bought for my Grandmother to be buried in. I again had never really realized that people went shopping for that. The clothes were all red. My Grandmother had requested to be buried in red.
Later, my mother and I made preparations and returned to the hospice. We were going to be taking the night shift. It was Tuesday evening.
Monday, December 28, 2015
"Grandma has had a stroke." the text from my mother read.
I was obviously taken aback but really wasn't sure how to react. My grandmother is ninety-six years old. She has had various ailments, but somehow always comes out of them. A stroke obviously wasn't good, but I couldn't really digest what this might mean.
As I left school, another text came through.
"Grandma is having seizures. I am flying to Michigan tonight."
My breath seized in my chest. I found myself hoping that my mom would make it to Michigan before her mother died.
Gruesome images of my delicate Grandmother having seizures filled my mind. The horror. The pain. I cried. I didn't want her afraid, I didn't want her to hurt. The images would not go away.
My mother flew into Flint, Michigan that evening. It was a Friday. Flint is the sister city of my hometown, Saginaw. It was made famous by the Michael Moore film "Roger and Me" that detailed the economic collapse of the city after General Motors moved out. Most remember the scene where a Flint resident skins and eats a rabbit she caught, because there wasn't other food. It is one of the more memorable scenes.
"She is still unconscious." my mother texted.
"But does she seem comfortable?" I replied.
"Yes. She is not in pain."
"They are going to do CT scans to determine the amount of brain damage."
I spoke with my mom on Sunday.
"The test results are back. She has lost her ability to speak. Her left side is paralyzed....the stroke was massive, she has a lot of brain damage....".
My mother sounded awful.
"They are going to send her to hospice, we are hoping that she won't wake up, that she won't know the shape she is in.....".
"Alright, that's it." I responded, "I'm coming up there. I can arrive around four or around eight tomorrow, which do you prefer?".
I called my job. My boss sounded amused that I was trying to call in sick for a Monday, on a late Sunday afternoon. I didn't know how to explain.
"I need to accompany my mom while they move my Grandmother to hospice." I said, without giving other details.
"Oh, Ms. Wagner, I am so sorry. Start by putting in for three days, put bereavement as the reason."
Three days seemed like a long time. When I think about it now I can tell I wasn't really thinking clearly or at least that my boss was thinking more clearly than me. I just wanted to help my mom through this. I knew her extended family was up there, brothers and and step-brothers and sisters, all of the spouses. My mom wasn't there with her husband, and she seemed very alone to me. I felt like she needed her own wing man; everyone else had one.
I bought a one-way ticket to Flint. When I arrived at the airport the following morning, my plane had already been delayed five hours because of weather in my layover, Chicago. I would miss my connection to Flint. I was surprised when the gate agent switched me to a direct flight on another airline that would get me in only an hour later than my original flight. I looked through the windows at the gray December sky and ordered my first of many Bloody Marys as I waited the five hours until take off.
My mother was waiting for me at the airport. We got on the highway and drove to Saginaw. Christmas lights lined the small old houses and yards. It looked northern, different than Atlanta in every way. My mother seemed a little scattered but purposeful, and was attempting to put on a happy face for me. We drove straight to the hospital.
As we walked to my Grandmother's room, I saw a small crowd outside of her door. My cousin and her partner, my aunt and uncle... I am not sure who else.
I gasped when I saw my Grandmother through the open door. She lay still, but her mouth was open and pulling in air. She did not have her teeth in. I knew that she would hate to be seen that way and wished someone would close the door. As I walked through the doorway, my cousin's partner looked at me with his eyes full of tears. I can't remember what he said, but I knew that he was in pain.
I hugged my Grandmother. I kissed her face. I stroked her arm and I talked to her. I smoothed her hair. I was never that affectionate with her when she was alive, wait, I told myself, she is alive. I was never that affectionate with her when she was...conscious. But now she just seemed so small and delicate, almost childlike but not infantile.
I wanted her to know that I loved her, in all of the ways I never expressed when she was conscious.
Sunday, December 13, 2015
"Yeah totally! My dad knows a guy that was in the concert hall!"
"You're kidding, is he okay?"
"Yeah, yeah. You know, seventy years ago, there wasn't really terrorism like this....."
"Yeah, you're right. I guess people were persecuting Jewish people..."
"The Nazis weren't the first to do that," he answered. "It was just a fad."
Haven't really heard of antisemitism referred to that way before, but, I guess he is like, ten years old.
He looked up at the sky.
"There didn't used to be all these pissed off middle eastern people...." he added wistfully and trotted away.
Thanksgiving passed in a whirl. I had a couple of days off, made a shit-load of food, and then went to New Orleans for a few days. My Monday return to work felt oddly out of place.
"Yes ma'am," my new little morning duty friend added, whenever I asked him a question. He stands with me on my distant corner duty station every morning now, making the station a little less of the most pinche, Loneliest Duty Station in the World. I am not used to the southern-ness of constantly using "ma'am" or "sir" with adults. It is kind of cute but I kind of want to tell him that we're friends and that it isn't necessary.
"So I can't wait to put my little brother's hand in warm water while he sleeps...." he continued.
"Oh my gosh, so he pees?"
"Why are you going to do that to him?!" I asked, laughing.
"Because he sucks, ma'am. I kick him in the nuts sometimes too, ma'am".
His eyes were rolling and twinkling, unaware that half of what he had just said is not in "ma'am" territory.
By the end of my week back to work, disaster was striking again. I started arranging a sub, thinking of the last time I had had to use one. She showed up wearing an oxygen mask and sat with her head on the table in our office with the lights off. She also went AWOL in the middle of the day and no one could find her. The kids had wild stories about the classes she did show up for. One group said she kicked back in a chair, took her shoes off and started shaking some sort of debris from her shoes all over the rug. She spent the rest of the class texting people and rubbing her bare feet on the rug, only stopping to randomly call out "Be quiet!" without looking up from her phone.
I pulled the trigger on ordering a sub and rapidly found a flight to Michigan. I really did not know what was in store for me.