what cancer feels like, part 4

First of all, I want to thank everyone for the amazing responses. I posted my blog on Twitter and asked some people to retweet it, and I received responses from Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and Dave Brown, all of whom I thanked personally. Pretty awesome, honestly. So I’ll be trying to get this part posted as well with the help of some twitter users.

I took some time in between posts because this will be the hardest post to make. Grammy’s health deteriorated so rapidly and so severely, it was hard to comprehend. So I’ll start right where I left off in the last blog. I’ll also say that this blog will probably be the longest, so feel free to take breaks, grab a drink or two, and come back. ❤

After Grammy fell and hit her head, we were all constantly on edge. I live about half an hour from my family and was out to visit at least once a week. I had a job as a nanny on the north side of the city, and I spent any free time I had with my mom and grandparents. On Friday, October 26th, I came out to visit and had one of the biggest panic attacks I’d had in a while. I remember it so perfectly. I was walking around their backyard with the dogs and felt my hands go numb. My mouth dried up and I began to wretch. I reverted to something I hadn’t done in years and I began to scratch my arms. I scratched the inside of my left forearm for 10 minutes. I scratched deep and hard. I bled for a while.

I wore a gauze wrap around my arm for a week after. It looked like I’d tried to commit suicide. I still have the scars. That same day I was fired from my nanny position because I was told I “didn’t have enough commitment.” I missed two days in three months, both were because Grammy was in the hospital. This is a story for another time.

October 30th. Grammy had a PET scan, which is a neuro-imaging scan similar to an MRI and tracks any issues she may have potentially had with the brain radiation. My mom went to their house to get Grammy ready and found her sitting in her closet.
Mom: “What are you doing? Are you ready to go?”
Grammy: “Oh, I’m just enjoying the lovely view.” (staring at hangers)

The results of the PET scan would take several days, so mom took Grammy back home and put her to bed. My grandparents have separate bedrooms purely for medical reasons, as they both have pain and need space and stillness when they sleep. Not long after Grammy went back to bed, she fell right out and hit the floor, hard. The EMTs came to put her back into bed and ensure she was okay. She didn’t have any injuries or head trauma, so they thought it best not to create more distress by taking her to the hospital. Grammy is one of the most social people, and even as she was losing her mind, she still made conversation with the EMTs. Grammy went to sleep while mom called the doctor to be sure she shouldn’t be taken to the hospital. Because of their Medicare coverage, the doctor suggested they indeed call the EMTs back and have her taken in an ambulance.
Papa woke up and went into Grammy’s room to check on her. He found her unresponsive on the floor. Papa told us later he was sure she was dead. This aged him. He shouted and she finally stirred. She was actually sound asleep on the floor, having rolled out of bed again.

Papa: “What are you doing?!”
Grammy: “Oh, I’m just sleeping, leave me alone.”

Papa called the EMTs again, this time with the aim to get her to the hospital. She said hi to them again, thinking they had only been there to see her the night before (it was only an hour or two since they’d been there.) They carefully loaded her up in the ambulance and took her to the ER. None of us knew she wouldn’t be back home for a very long time.

At this point, the Grammy we all knew was gone. Her mind was somewhere else, focusing on bright colors and noises. She was unable to communicate how she felt, where she was, or who we really were. They ran several tests on her brain over the next 24 hours, which made her physically ill. The doctors assumed that moving her up and down on the elevator caused her to vomit, but they weren’t sure. Still, we weren’t receiving conclusive results on any tests. They ruled out stroke immediately, but that still left countless questions.

I couldn’t go out to visit until the 1st of November because of night class. At this point, she was worse than ever. She was intubated from her nose to her stomach to pump out old stomach acid. The tube was taped to her, but she kept trying to rip it out. She was not allowed to eat or drink anything for fear of choking or making her more ill. She was attached to all kinds of IVs and fluids. She was becoming weaker by the hour, literally.

Have you ever seen someone you love in a hospital bed? They always look smaller. I sat on the edge of her bed and held her hand, and I felt like I was comforting a child. I noticed a smile whenever I stroked her arm or gently rubbed her bald head. Mom and I had long talks in the car, and we both resigned ourselves to this. Grammy was never coming back, but if we could keep her smiling, then that’s the best thing we could do.

I brought her a photo of my fiance and myself for her tiny hospital table.
She fiddled with it and tried to tear the edges. She asked me several times who the gentleman in the photo was. I often had to excuse myself and cry in the hallway. Mom made it very clear that we couldn’t cry in front of Grammy, because it would only confuse her more.

But somehow there were still funny moments. Grammy became obsessed with watching Animal Planet and Telemundo (she doesn’t speak Spanish.) She loved watching the cute animals bound across the screen and listening to the Latin music. We had to laugh a little. Once, mom and I were watching Animal Planet with her, and the program was about moose hunting. Mom and I watched in horror as these moose were shot and dragged across the woods, but Grammy seemed oblivious. We told her the moose were playing and sleeping. I actually felt like I was babysitting again. Yet, we laughed, because it was the only thing we could do.

She had moments that were worse than others.
“I’m on the beach watching the sunset.”
“Get this blanket off of me, I threw up on my legs.”
“I want this plane to land.”
“Call me a taxi, I’m going somewhere.”

Something that none of us could figure out was her anger towards Papa. She was rude to him for days, and, being amazing, he was patient and sweet. We finally theorized that the last clear memory she must’ve had was calling for Papa when she was on the floor in her bedroom. She called the nurse into the room just to see if she’d come, then glared at Papa. So we figured out that she was mad at Papa for not being there when she fell. We all laughed at this, including Papa (and sometimes Grammy), but I couldn’t mistake the look of unavoidable guilt in his eyes when she yelled at him.

Her back caused her the most pain, and she was constantly saying “ow ow ow!” whenever she moved her sides (as she had been since the beginning of October.) They did another MRI and found that she had a spinal fracture. In medical terms, it wasn’t too bad, but they estimated she could have had it for weeks.

Mom asked Grammy if the pain in her side felt familiar, and she was competent enough to answer “it feels like when I had that bowel obstruction a few years ago.” Mom pulled in the nearest doctor and insisted they check her. When the doctor said they would later, she lost it.
My mom is a patient person. She’s more patient than me, she’s more patient than my grandfather. When this doctor told her they’d have to wait, she screamed. She shouted and forced this doctor to take care of the problem NOW. I hadn’t seen mom that upset in years. She was shaking.

To be fair, the doctor was a bit of an idiot. He asked Grammy who her surgeon was years prior who had repaired her bowel obstruction. Grammy, having just watched a commercial for Hoekstra Heating and Cooling, responded, “Oh, it was Dr. Hoekstra.”

So. Within a week, Grammy had mentally checked out, they discovered a spinal fracture and a bowel obstruction, and had to perform surgery for the fracture. It was a relatively simple procedure, but given Grammy’s condition, we were all on edge.

On Election Day (Tues, Nov. 6), I voted across the street from my apartment and then drove out to see my family. Grammy was now officially gone. She recognized me a little, but not nearly enough. Mom had purchased baby toys for her, as she was always fidgeting and rubbing used Kleenex between her fingers. She looked as if she was constantly on the edge of a panic attack. We got her a Cookie Monster stuffed animal, which was her security blanket. She liked the color and rubbed the fuzzy thing on her dry, cold head.

She also told mom and me that she was voting for Clinton. Can’t argue with that.

That night, my two best friends came over to my mom’s house and we watched Obama win together. We celebrated by getting a drink at a nearby bar, which was occupied by 10 Republicans and Fox News (that did make all of us laugh pretty hard.)
As I sat at the bar and had the Blue Moon I didn’t really want, I came to terms with my new Grammy. This was how it was going to be. Change is change, and we can’t fight it, so I decided to embrace it as much as I could.

I went home the next day feeling melancholy but convinced that I could handle it. We visited Grammy and told her Obama won (to her credit, she did recognize that this was “the black guy with the beautiful family” who she would have voted for had she been able to), and the look that passed between mom and me signaled that she too had come to terms.

The next day, I got a frantic phone call from mom.
“Grammy’s back. She’s back, and I don’t know how.”

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