She slipped away from me. Right through my fingers. Right in front of my face. I thought granny would live forever – or at least far longer than her 74 years. After the initial shock of her Alzheimer’s diagnosis set in several years ago, I figured granny would be around well into her eighties or nineties, still fussing at her invisible friends and accusing them of stealing her underwear and Oreo cookies. At least she doesn’t have any medical problems, I often thought. Other than her Alzheimer’s and the accompanying delusions and hallucinations, granny was relatively healthy.
“What ya brought me,” she asked me almost every evening when I got home.
“How do you know I brought you something? You are so spoiled, granny poo!,” I always responded with a smile as I pulled out that day’s treats for her. We both knew that I always had something for her – a new pack of Oreo cookies, ice cream – butter pecan was her favorite, or meat-filled dumplings from the Spanish restaurant around the corner. I often ordered chicken wings with extra duck sauce or BBQ spare ribs from the Chinese restaurant. I called so often that the staff automatically recognized my voice and remembered our address. Granny loved chicken wings, and she plastered everything with duck sauce – meat, croissants, rice, vegetables, you name it. We had to put duck sauce on her broccoli just to make her eat it, because melted cheddar cheese no longer did the trick. Two nights before she went into the hospital, I came home to a very grouchy and agitated granny. I got something for ya, miss thang. I know just what to do to cheer you up. I ordered some spare ribs.
“Granny, do you want some ribs?”
“Yea,” she muttered from her bed.
“Well, then you have to get up.”
That did it. She slowly got out of her bed, and sat in her favorite chair – a blue plastic lawn chair with a black cushion in it. I will never understand why she insisted on sitting in outdoor furniture despite having two soft recliners in her bedroom.
I pulled her TV table up to her, and placed three big ribs and some iced tea in front of her. Granny chowed down and had a finger-lickin’ good time.
I know these chicken wings and ribs are probably clogging up her arteries, but she should at least be happy, I often thought. I pictured granny dying with a chicken wing or Oreo cookie in her hand. But, I never thought she’d leave me anytime soon, and certainly not in the manner in which she had.
I never imagined that granny’s sudden and inexplicable lethargy, and incoherent and slurred mumblings would lead to respiratory failure and two stints on a respirator, her fingers turning blue and cold from a lack of oxygen. How did that happen? The doctors had no clue, and called her “a miracle” when she finally regained consciousness. I was ecstatic when granny’s nurse told me, “She’s not the same sweet granny she was when she came in.” Although sedated and on a respirator when she first arrived on the Coronary Care Unit (CCU), granny was now breathing on her own and kept trying to climb out the bed to sit in a chair. When she saw me drinking a chocolate frosty from Wendy’s, she had even asked, “Can you spare any ice cream?” My feisty granny is back! It’s just a matter of time before they evict her from the CCU and transfer her to a regular unit. Sure enough, granny was transferred to a regular unit that night.
Who knew that the course of events would result in granny losing the ability to swallow and having a feeding tube inserted into her stomach? But, I remained optimistic. Yes, it’s harder for Alzheimer’s and elderly patients to bounce back and relearn tasks such as swallowing and walking, but granny was my superhero. She could do anything. With some feeding therapy, granny would be back home eating Oreo cookies, chicken and ribs in no time. Right? Wrong. Granny refused to open her mouth, making it difficult for nurses to clean her mouth or therapists to conduct feeding therapy. Thinking she would listen to me, I attempted to squeeze a lemon flavored q-tip between her lips to clean her tongue and lectured her about the possibility of her not getting any Oreo cookies if she didn’t cooperate with the feeding therapy. She simply looked at me and squeezed her lips even more tightly together.
However, I was still hopeful, even when granny asked about her dead sisters and looked into a corner of the room and told her deceased mother, “Ma Dear, get down from there!” I continued to focus on when she’d return home, rather than on whether she’d return home. I never caught on when I asked, “Granny, when are you going to get better so you can come back home to me,” and she replied, “First of all, I’m already home.” When granny calmly said to me, “Jodi, in three weeks, it’ll all be clear,” it never crossed my mind that I’d be sitting at her funeral three weeks later. Granny was out of the CCU and breathing on her own. Her CT scans and other tests were unremarkable. Surely, granny’s words were the ramblings of an elderly, disoriented patient with Alzheimer’s. Right?
The night before she went into the Intensive Care Unit, I noticed that granny’s breathing was quite labored and she was very congested. When I tried to leave her bedside to find a nurse to speak to about this, granny squeezed my hand so tightly that I could not move or even unwrap her fingers from around mine. So, I just stood there paralyzed with my right hand in her left hand until she released her painful grip. That encounter shook me to my core. That was the first time I allowed myself to consider the possibility that my superhero might not live forever and that she was trying to tell me goodbye. At 6:30 the next morning, a hospital employee called to tell me that granny was transferred to the ER because she could not breathe on her own.
I cried as the respiratory therapist wrapped granny’s cold, blue fingers in a towel to warm them up enough for her vital signs to register. They’ll figure out what’s wrong and fix her right up. They always do. Granny’s got more lives than a cat. And they did find the answer. Pneumonia in both lungs. High doses of antibiotics will cure her. And then her doctors told me she was in septic shock, as evidenced by her low blood pressure and kidney failure. But, I still thought she’d pull through. She’s not out of the woods yet, but she’s a fighter, a doctor said to me when he came to examine her one night. That’s right. My granny is my superhero and a fighter. Super bad. Super fly. So, she’d fight and she’d win.
And then reality began to slowly and stubbornly set in when the doctors started telling me things like, “We’ll continue to treat her because we have to, but there’s really nothing else we can do for her.” I often went into the bathroom right outside of the ICU and cried on the floor. God, I don’t want her to suffer. One night, as I spoke softly to granny and rubbed her face, and swollen arms and hands, a nurse said, “You remind me of myself when my mother was dying.” Why did she have to say the “D” word? Just because her mother died doesn’t mean granny’s going to die. Oh my God. My grandmother is dying. I thought another nurse was rude and insensitive when she told me, “I told your mother that if she wants to see her mother alive, she should come as soon as possible” and “In addition to the pneumonia and sepsis, your grandmother has a type of bacteria growing in her blood that is resistant to most antibiotics. We don’t know where it’s coming from. I’m sorry.” She was blunt. But, bluntness was just what I needed at this point. The day before granny passed, a doctor said to me, “Her lungs are very bad. They are too damaged. I’m sorry.” I knew. I finally knew. I knew all along, but I finally accepted the inevitable. It was only a matter of days, hours. Lord, let your will be done.
I arrived in granny’s hospital room the next day, three minutes after she had passed away.
“It’s finally over, sweetie,” I said as I stroked her hair and face. My superhero had fought a good fight during her month-long stay in the hospital. My superhero. The only mother and father I’ve ever known. My buddy. My best friend. My sister girl. My ace boon coon. My favorite person in the world.
She slipped away from me. Right through my fingers. Right in front of my face. I thought granny would live forever – or at least far longer than her 74 years.
She is still my superhero. She will live forever. Forever in my heart.