Let’s start with a quick recap of recent events, shall we? …. and let us all remember that quick can be a relative term.
I relinquished my full time caregiver status over Grandpa and moved into an apartment with a friend. I’d still swing by on my days off from my new job. We’d chat for a few minutes and he’d just doze off, but he’d wake up every few minutes to see if I was still there. Some nights, I’d stop on my way home from work at 1:00AM just to make sure he was sleeping well and breathing normally. It’s been a little over a month and everything seemed great, until two nights ago.
After the last day of my temp job, I stopped at my parents on the way home. (We were supposed to make plans to go to the James Dean festival in Fairmount, IN.) Before I could open my car door, my dad was knocking on my window telling me to go to Grandpa’s; Grandpa thought he was dying.
I then peeled out of the driveway and drove my Buick Rendezvous across town to his house at unreasonably high speeds as if I were Dale Earnhardt, reincarnated. I was actually hoping to be pulled over because I was going to ask for a police escort, if not a ride-lights blazing. –The police must’ve been busy chasing down donuts because there were none to be found.–When I pulled in, my mom and aunt were on the porch, smoking, and they gave me the run down. I knew from their account of things that he was just having one of his episodes, as he does after not sleeping for days, which explains his weakness.
For me, this was nothing out of the ordinary. For them, it was as if the world ended. He was crying and talking about how the ARMY doctor told him he didn’t pass his physical and was going to die within 24 hours. The only thing odd about this story to me was that he said ARMY. Grandpa was a NAVY man in his day, you know, back in the ancient times. I convinced my mom and two aunts that all was well, but I’d stay with him and keep him calm. He was up and down, talking to the invisibles until just after 3:00AM before finally crashing. I stayed until 6:30 AM to make sure that he was going to stay in bed so that both he and his daughter, who also lives there, could rest. By the time I was finished with errands and back at my apartment asleep, it was 10 in the morning. At 11:15, I woke up to the 6th call from my relatives telling me that Grandpa was shaking violently and uncontrollably, his blood sugar was only 40, he was vomiting, and couldn’t get warm. They’d called an ambulance.
—That’s the back story. I did say quick was relative, didn’t I?
I was at the ER as fast as I could fly. Conditions like congestive heart failure, fluid on the lungs, high white cell count, and pneumonia were being kicked around the room like a hacky sack in a high school parking lot. Congestive heart failure was a shock. While it’s true that Grandpa is 95 and his mental health is in shambles, his physical health has always been ship-shape, other than being a big wobbly from time to time. He’s never had any heart trouble and he gets a thorough check-up from his family doctor every couple of months.
Fluid on the lungs was far less surprising because within three hours, he’d developed what the family called “death gurgles.” He sounded like he was drowning with every breath. Before they could tell us what was wrong, they let us know that they would be admitting him. This hospital has never been known for its speed, but they got him upstairs in a nice, private room quicker than they’d ever done before. Once he was up here, his condition worsened. He went from being incoherent and barely responsive to not responsive at all. We couldn’t wake him no matter how much we shook our how loud we shouted. They eventually said to call in the family and prepare for the worst, so we did.
I had been forced to go home for an attempt at a short nap before that announcement was made, but after an hour, I awoke to my grandma and brother beating on my window. (We’ve discovered that it’s nearly impossible to rouse me after sleeping only an hour.) I drove back to the hospital and sat with him for a couple more hours. It was a morbid and terrifying sight. I knew what was happening, and I understood that it has been coming for quite some time, but saying goodbye is still difficult, as is watching your mother finally realize the reality of the situation–that may actually be the hardest part.
I didn’t want to leave, but no one wanted his daughter to be alone, so I was sent out to stay with her for the second night. Since I’ve moved everything to my apartment, my options were a recliner or the couch. I went with the scratchy, uncomfortable couch over the old, smelly recliner. As tired as I was, there was no way I could sleep. The couch could’ve been a pile of feather-filled clouds with Jon Bon Jovi sitting on it and I wouldn’t have been able to relax. My mind was all over the place; I couldn’t shake being back in that house and walking in his room to check on him out of habit every ten minutes. As I laid on the couch, I couldn’t help remember the way I used to fall asleep on it next to his recliner when I was young. I’d always stay with him and my grandma, and every Monday and Thursday night, they would watch wrastlin as they called it. When I was young, I hated it, but it was the only TV in the house and there was no way around it so I would try to watch it with them, but I’d always fall asleep. Grandpa would toss a blanket over me without ever having to get up from his chair and once his “program” was over, he’d tuck me in to keep me from rolling off the couch and go to bed. I’d never know I’d even gone to sleep until he would wake me up in the morning with the promise of fresh biscuits and gravy, sausage, and coffee. He had been giving me just a touch of black coffee to drink with him and grandma since I was four; it made me feel grown up and special. I hated it, but I asked for it every morning.
These memories made me so happy for a fleeting moment, but then the guilt came flooding over me. I had lived with him for six years and been responsible for him for three and a half. In all that time, he’d never been sick. I made sure his diabetes was under control; I made sure he was at all of his doctor’s appointments and that he had all of his medications. I kept him in the house when he was off the rails and thought he was going to hitch up the donkeys and go in to town to the general store or when he thought he was heading off to work. We made one trip to the hospital in that time, but it was to make sure he wasn’t concussed after falling out of bed and hitting his head. After that, we put him in a hospital bed with rails on it and he was fine again. Now, not even two months after I’ve flown the nest, he’s in the hospital with the worst case of pneumonia he could possibly have, on the strongest antibiotic they can give him, and it’s looking like the end. How could I have left him in the incapable hands of strangers? Maybe if I’d stayed, he wouldn’t be sick. He wouldn’t have gotten too cold and he wouldn’t have been given so much sugar. Maybe if I hadn’t abandoned him, as he had never done to me, he wouldn’t be in the hospital dying of pneumonia. The rational part of me knows that his time is coming to an end, but maybe if I’d stayed, he could’ve gone peacefully at home rather than suffering at a hospital. Maybe this is my fault.
It was these thoughts that drove me to prayer, something I don’t do often or lightly. It was these thoughts that kept me up all night and left me with eyes too swollen to drive here this morning. Imagine my shock when I finally made it to his room at 11:30AM and found him awake, alert, and grubbing on barely edible hospital food. Imagine my suprise when he said rather clearly, “Well, hello there,” the way he always does when I pop in. This doesn’t mean that he’s out of the woods and on his way home, but it’s enough to let me breathe easy for a little bit.
For the last week, I’ve been contemplating whether or not to apply for a full time position at the place I just temped, or to relieve some of the incompetent CNAs at his house and work there. Everyone has been telling me for quite some time that I need to live my life and go on about my business, and I had been leaning toward applying, but last night was a wakeup call for me. If I feel this guilty now, there’s no way I can’t go back there if he makes it out of here. I’m not moving back in, but I can’t work an hour away 5 days a week with him in this condition and as much as I wanted to get away and “grow up,” I know now that I’m going to be “stuck” here for a while longer. I’ve spent too much time ranting about my terrible relatives who can’t take the time out of their day to visit him to become one of them. I can’t explain it, and it doesn’t make any sense, but I feel like he’s mine. He and I have always been close, but after moving in and becoming his caregiver, I feel like we’re closest. It doesn’t matter that my mom, my aunts, and my great-aunt has had more time with him. It doesn’t matter that he’s mostly unaware of the extent of my presence. Somehow, he’s become mine and I have to be around, even if he doesn’t know it.