December 28, 2004
Grandpa was in the nursing home. Two months ago he fell and broke his hip, and after the surgery he went into the nursing home for recovery and rehab. He was supposed to come back home once they got him up and walking around, but that didn’t seem to be happening. And as much as I hate seeing anybody in those places, I was selfishly glad because it was a nice break from his nastiness. I just couldn’t take him shuffling around the house like Kreacher from Harry Potter, cursing and shouting at me and shooting me malevolent looks.
Another plus was that he finally getting washed. Grandpa was with us for six months before Dad finally took some initiative in bathing him. Grandma managed to get him to take his clothes off, but when they tried to get him into the shower he started yelling “Dammit to hell!” and escaped from the bathroom. The last thing I saw was Grandpa running naked around the house. I decided that was a good time for me to take my leave for the rest of the evening.
And no, that was not when Grandpa fell and broke his hip. That came a few weeks later when he tripped on the thick carpet in the bedroom. It was only then that Dad figured out that thick carpets under the feet of the elderly was not a good idea. Elder-proofing our house was still a learn-as-you-go process for him. At first he thought Grandpa only bruised his hip. He used a walker to get around the house, and while he didn’t complain it was obvious he was in a great deal of pain. Dad left him like that for two days before he finally decided he’d better have Grandpa checked out.
Grandpa had a stubborn and arrogant streak a mile long, and Dad thought that if he called 911 Grandpa would tell him to get fucked. Ahh.. so that’s where Dad got it from – when I was little Mom took him to the hospital because she thought he was having a heart attack. They found nothing wrong with him so they sent him home. Dad was enraged and hissed at her through clenched teeth: “Don’t you ever do that again…” Mom then promised to step over his lifeless body if she ever found him on the floor.
Anyway, Grandpa was a fireman back in the day, so Dad thought if he called the fire department Grandpa would be a little kinder seeing his brothers in uniform. So Dad rang them up and requested an ambulance to take Grandpa to the hospital to get checked out. “Take your time, it’s not an emergency,” Dad assured them.
Turns out those are the magic words to get emergency personnel to your house in a hurry. They sent not one but two ambulances, two police cars, the fire chief, a fire truck, and I could have sworn I even heard a helicopter buzzing overhead at one point. When my friends saw all the commotion on our street they thought a SWAT team was raiding our house. But Grandpa went quietly, much to Dad’s relief.
Now Grandpa was in the nursing home. I was left with the task of taking Grandma to see him, but Grandpa was never one for conversation so it was always an awkward and quiet visit. He’d just sit there in his wheelchair looking glum or angry, grunting or shrugging in response to anything we said.
Then a fire drill broke out during one of our visits and we had to stay in the room. Unfortunately Grandpa had to go the bathroom just then and he couldn’t hold it. He got so irate that I had to fetch a staff member who displayed as little patience with the situation as Grandpa did.
“You can’t keep doing this every time you have to go to the bathroom,” she told him as she wheeled him down the hallway.
“TELL IT TO MY PECKER!” he roared at her over the clanging bells, jabbing his finger towards his crotch.
Fast forward to this day, the 28th of December. I was upstairs recording some music when I heard someone entering the house. I went to the top of the stairs and heard my uncle Chuck’s voice. He had come for a visit, which was no small thing since he lived in North Carolina. Although knowing him it was more likely that he just happened to be in the area on business. Ironically he’d stopped by to visit more times than my uncle Tim, who lived in the next county.
I stayed upstairs listening to their conversation. Dad came upstairs twice to fetch things but he said nothing about Chuck being downstairs and I continued feigning ignorance. Even if he had asked me to come downstairs to say hello I would have refused. “Why, Dad?” I would have asked him. “I’ve never heard you say one good thing about your brothers. You make them out to be such horrible people – why would I want to see them?”
I had another reason for staying out of the way. When Grandpa was in the hospital with the broken hip, Dad discovered that Chuck had gotten Grandma and Grandpa to sign a DNR form. He investigated further and found out that the form said DNR in any case – whether their heart stopped, or their breathing stopped, or whatever. When Dad asked her, Grandma didn’t remembering signing any such thing (although she didn’t remember much of anything anymore). And Grandpa had Alzheimer’s so we couldn’t ask him. Except Dad was in denial about that. “He doesn’t have Alzheimer’s, he has dementia! Doctors just like to put labels on things!” he yelled at me whenever I dared to remind him.
In any case, Dad knew that his parents were strong Catholics and didn’t believe in DNR forms and would never knowingly sign such a thing. Therefore, Dad was convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that Chuck got both of them to sign these DNRs without really telling them what they were. So while Chuck was over at our house, I was on tenterhooks as I listened from my perch upstairs. I knew there was going to be a big blow-up about it and I sensed Dad was ready to pounce.
“I want to ask you a question,” Dad began. “If Mom were choking on a piece of chicken, should someone try to help her?
“Well, if the person is still breathing, then someone should do something,” Chuck said.
Dad: “I know my father.”
Chuck: “I know him too.”
Dad: “And I know that if he knew what it was that you wanted him to sign, he would have smacked you upside the head.”
Chuck: “I know that he’s been saying for a long time that he wants to die.”
Dad: “Yes, but he doesn’t believe that someone should help him along and take the first opportunity to let it happen. I’m going to go to hell if I just sit here and let you let him die… What if Dad had a heart attack? Are we just going to let him die?”
Chuck: “I made that decision because there’s a good chance that if he went into cardiac arrest, there’s a good chance that he would come out of it in a vegetative state.”
Dad: “But there’s a good chance that he may not.”
Chuck: “At his age, and in the shape he’s in, the probability is that he will die.”
Dad: “People in cardiac arrest are not dead… don’t you know what the definition of dead is?”
Chuck: “But there’s a good chance that’ll he die.”
Dad: “But you don’t know that. You don’t have a crystal ball. You can’t make those kinds of blanket assumptions.”
Chuck: “That’s why you have doctors. They can tell you what the likelihood of him surviving or ending up in a vegetative state is.”
Dad: “He doesn’t have a crystal ball either, Chuck.”
Chuck: “But you have to look at the statistics…”
Dad: “My father is not a statistic! And who were the witnesses that signed the DNR?”
Chuck: “Tim, and my daughter.”
Dad: “And I wasn’t told about this.”
Dad: “Why not?” Silence. “Because you knew how I would feel about it, and what I would say to Mom and Dad about it.”
Chuck: “That’s correct.”
Dad: “So you snuck around behind my back and bamboozled Mom and Dad into signing this.”
Chuck: “I didn’t bamboozle anybody. Mom made a decision that this was what she wanted.”
Dad: “No, this is not what she would have wanted. And you know that… No, don’t sit there and shake your head. And Tim can’t even get his fat ass out here to see his parents in nine months, piece of shit that he is. Excuse my language.”
Then they started arguing about what the Catholic Church has to say about end-of-life matters.
Dad: “That’s not what the church teaches… you said you have a Catechism at home, I’m sure you’ve read that part where it says ____.”
Chuck: “No, it doesn’t say ____, it says ____.”
Dad: “Fine, I’ll get it and I’ll show it to you…” He ran upstairs to get the Catechism and after he went back down and read to Chuck what it said, Chuck stormed out of the house – both of them still shouting at each other.
Sheesh. No wonder uncle Tim had only visited three times since Grandma and Grandpa came to stay with us. Bit of a hostile environment, although you would think he might still want to see his parents…?
I finally went back downstairs and saw Grandma sitting in the living room. Apparently she had been there for the entire fight. She’s such a nervous wreck as it is, and watching her two sons yelling with her in the middle certainly didn’t help. She was visibly very upset by the whole thing. Great going, Dad.