Monday, February 21, 2005  

Doing Fine.

My grandfather had a stroke this weekend, on Friday (his 84th birthday of all days). I found out Saturday morning when my mom called and left a strained sounding message that she was just "Calling to update you and please call me when you can." Update me on what? When she picked up the line at home I immediately asked what was wrong.

My granddaddy is an unsocial man who lives alone in his house with just a little dog for company. On his birthday he sits by the phone to answer calls from his children, sisters, brothers and other relatives. My parents had called over and over on Friday and the phone just rang. They eventually called the sheriff's department who broke in the house and found him. He was taken to Crawford Long hospital here in midtown, where they ran tests, determined there had been a stroke and told my parents he would be in the hospital for evaluation over the next few days. After he's released he'll go to another facility for a few weeks of physical therapy. During this time, my parents, along with my uncle, have to find a new place for him to live as he can't live at home by himself anymore.

Andrew and I visited him in the hospital on Sunday morning. We brought a small box of Krispy Kreme donuts and as we walked down the street to the hospital Andrew kept reminding me to be cheerful and not to get upset.

I have a tendency to get upset.

My mom had told me that he wasn't in terrible shape but that you could tell that something had changed. When we walked in the room he was sitting in a chair by the window, looking slightly wild and unshaved and wearing the regulation hospital gown. He looked confused and I immediately thought, "Oh god, he doesn't recognize us! It's worse than I thought!" But then he waved and said in his blustery Granddaddy sort of way, "Hullo Mary, hullo Andrew."


We sat down with him, asked how he was, tried to make small talk. Everything Andrew said came out in a quiet voice and Granddaddy would turn to him, "What's that? Andrew, I can't hear you." Andrew went out and bought the Sunday paper, something Granddaddy had always read from front to finish every day. It sat untouched on the bed. I smiled a lot, talked loudly and tried to think of things to say that were positive. "You've got an adjustable bed! That must be nice! You have a nice view out of your window! That's good!"

And orderly brought in his lunch and Andrew and I were amazed at what they expected an 84 year-old recent stroke victim to feed themselves. Everything was individually packaged, a straw that he couldn't punch through the hole in the cup, crackers in a plastic wrapper that he couldn't open, a baked potato wrapped in tin foil and the toughest steak that I could barely saw through on my own. We unwrapped everything, cut everything up and I tried to not let tears come to my eyes as he spilled food all over himself and took twenty minutes to eat a few bites of salad.

Nurses came in to check on him periodically and he wanted to tell each one of them about us. When a black female orderly came in to retrieve dirty linens Granddaddy just watched after her with his mouth open and his finger pointing at her, not saying anything. "What?, I asked over and over, "Do you need something" Does she need to leave something for you?" I was horrified, waiting for my Granddaddy, stubborn and racist, to say something bad about the black nurse. Instead he finally got it out, "My granddaughter....this is my granddaughter" and the woman looked at me with a sympathetic smile and that time I couldn't help the tears in my eyes.

When I talk to Andrew/my mom/my uncle, everyone reminds me that he is old and this is part of life. And I know it and I guess I shouldn't be surprised. But sitting there yesterday I kept thinking "What If"...what if he just gets worse and worse and has to live in misery....what if my parents are like this in twenty-five years.....what if I had to watch my own Dad spill lettuce all over his gown and not be able to sign his name to sheet of paper....what if this is me one day and what is it that you keep living for? So many what ifs to consider.

I think about my Granddaddy’s life and wonder what he thinks looking back on it…. an adulthood spent as a functioning alcoholic, a husband and a father of four…. his role in my mother’s life as she tried so hard to make everyone happy…his bitterness, regret and isolation…mixed with the man I know who wrote sweet and funny letters to me for years and faithfully mailed a card for every occasion. Granddaddy read the Atlanta Journal and Constitution every day and remarked to my mother on the phone once, “I just read about that new Spice restaurant that’s opened up down by Mary Elizabeth. It’s brand new.” I always tell my friends that Granddaddy is more up to date on Atlanta nightlife than I ever was.

I hate to be so maudlin and really, I'm fine.

I've just never done the sick grandparent thing before. He's all I've got.

| posted by Mary | 2/21/2005 01:12:00 PM
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