30. Premature Goodbye

April 19, 2005

Grandpa was getting worse and worse.  The last time we saw him he was in more pain than ever.  A couple of the nursing home staff came over to pull him upright in his wheelchair, and he let out a holler when they did.  That’s really saying something, because Dad said Grandpa was never a complainer.  But between the nursing home staff, Dad, Grandma, and my uncle, nobody had any information as to what the problem was.  I didn’t think he was going to last much longer in there.

Then we got a call from the nursing home, telling us that if we wanted to say goodbye then we’d better come quick because Grandpa was on his way out.  Dad had to convince them to take him to the hospital because they were just going to let him die where he was.  But they relented and transported him, and when we went to see him he was very much alive.  Very lethargic, unable to speak, but alive.  He did have a couple of infections and they still had to run a battery of tests on him. We had no idea why the nursing home said he was dying.  Of course, if it weren’t for the obvious lack of care he was getting he wouldn’t have ended up in the hospital in the first place.

Grandpa was doing much better by the next night, and even better the following night.  Within a few days he was back to his old self, the way he was before he went into the nursing home.   Mom and my sister Mary stopped by the house and we all took Grandma to visit him.  Grandma was happy to see he was doing better, and when Grandpa saw Mary he told her: “Let’s make love.”  His mental faculties were obviously still in decline, although we later found out that he’d been saying the same to the nurses.  Damn, Grandpa.  You horny old bastard.  He even took a swipe at me, just like old times, but I couldn’t tell if it was playful or serious.

Unfortunately, within a few more days he was back in the nursing home and back to square one.  I took Grandma to see him but he was nearly unconscious.  I strongly suspected that the nursing home drugged him and the other patients so they wouldn’t have to deal with them.  We tried to talk to him but he could barely open his eyes, and then we noticed that his false teeth were missing.  Nobody knew what happened to them, either.

Dad and Grandma wanted him out of there, but that didn’t look like it was happening anytime soon.  And Dad was infuriatingly hard to understand. He told anyone who would listen how his mother was getting old and forgetting things and “her mind is not what it used to be….” etc.  Yet at dinner he’d yell at her for not taking her pills that day.  Meanwhile I’d sit there shaking my head, wondering if he was even listening to himself.  If she were my mother I would have just given her the pills myself, rather than leaving her to her own devices.  What if she forgot to take them?  What if she forgot she took them and accidentally overdosed?

And Grandma was still hearing voices.  I didn’t know if it was due to dreams about Grandpa or what, but she told us that she heard somebody in the house one morning, calling her name. We did hear her yelling nonsense in her sleep before we left the house, so I was confident in my dream theory.  However, when she brought it up at dinner, I racked my brain to come up with an explanation.

I’d learned that with old people you have to validate their thoughts and feelings. You don’t do what Dad did, which was to argue with her or tell her she was dreaming.  So I said to her, “You know, you probably heard the ice cream truck going around. They have one with a big loudspeaker and a woman’s voice calling out ‘Hello?’” There actually was such a truck, but it wouldn’t come around at 8 o’clock on an April morning.  Nonetheless, Grandma’s expression cleared and she said, “Oh yeah! Maybe that’s what it was!”

I’m getting better at this stuff.

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