On Friday I went to visit my Grandma and brother. I knew she hadn’t been doing too well, so I wasn’t surprised as she kept giving us updates on how she was now not feeling well. And I wasn’t too surprised when she over-dosed herself with her nitro and dropped her blood pressure by a hundred points; you’d think I would be, but the last time she had just come back from the hospital and I was visiting, she’d done the exact same thing. It’s like we’re starting our own bazaar little tradition. Go to the hospital. Come back. I visit. Take to much nitro. A perfect repeat from earlier in the year.
But this time, having her sit down and taking her through the next 15 minutes while her blood pressure came back up didn’t work. This time, an ambulance was called.
More ambulances than I can count have been called for Grandma, so this shouldn’t have been a surprise, either. But I’ve never been there while the ambulance was called before. I’ve never called 911, and now things began to fade into the surreal as I listened to my brother matter-of-factly talking to the dispatcher. Is this how you call 911? Somehow I always equate “911” with “barely holding down a panic,”–but then, my grandma seemed to have that base covered.
She was alternately sobbing from fear, and directing me to get her PJs to take with her. The pink ones. They were clean.
The surreal feeling intensified. Is this how one prepares to die of a heart attack? Making sure they have clean PJs with them?
I continued to (futilely) attempt to calm her down. Being upset does nothing to help lower your blood pressure nor provide your heart with enough oxygen. The sirens started to come into hearing range.
“I can hear them coming!” Grandma said, and broke down anew. All I could think of were the valkyries riding in, and it did nothing to take away from the surreality.
“They’re coming to help you, Grandma, not–” I blurted out, and then stopped a second short. Saying “kill you” didn’t seem like a good idea.
The EMT people arrived. They looked strangely familiar, but I couldn’t place any of them. My brother could; the head of the team had been Grandma’s nurse at the Emergency Room—oh, I don’t know, a day or so ago. Yes, we are frequent fliers, why do you ask? Awkward!
They started hooking her up to the portable EKG, and then they did something else. They put her on oxygen. It was the weirdest thing; as soon as the oxygen was put on her, Grandma was gone to me–there was only A Patient. The Patient did not have an abnormal EKG (for her, anyway), but the Patient was still to be taken to the hospital. The Patient was transferred from her chair to the EMT wheelchair; once they had the Patient downstairs, they transferred her again, this time to the stretcher. They took the Patient to the ambulance to get an IV started.
When we got to the hospital, the Patient was being examined. The Patient’s EKG had changed on the ride in; it was likely the Patient was having a heart attack. The doctor informed me that the heart specialist would down, and that cath lab notified that they needed to see the Patient.
Maybe it is because I have so rarely been inside a hospital to actually use it; instead, the majority of my hospital time has been sent working in it. Maybe I am too used to making hospitals happen.
Because when the lady came to draw vial after vial of blood, I started helping her as though I were her aide. And when we got the Patient transferred up to the Chest Pain Center, I was so prepared to do what I always do with patients–reposition them in the bed–that the nurse had to gently chide me, teasing me that she couldn’t let me do that since she wasn’t prepared to put me on the payroll. But this is what you do in hospitals; this is what you do with patients. There is a Patient in the bed, and I don’t know what else to do about it.
I went up again on Sunday, and the Patient was slouched so uncomfortably in bed. I couldn’t sit down till I got that fixed. She is crying, complaining of chest pain, certain she will soon die–and I hear myself saying, “Grandma, you’ll feel a lot better once we get in a more comfortable position.”
Yes. Right. I am a staunch believer in Rehab, but even I don’t believe we’re going to cure angina by repositioning the Patient in bed. But what else are you going to do?
I wasn’t all wrong; after getting her repositioned (I was a good girl and asked the staff to do it) and spending 15 minutes helping to convince her to take her meds. . .she did start feeling better. We left her in much better shape than we found her, but I. . .I could not shake the peculiarity of being so distanced from the decline of my grandmother.
It is true that I was always closer to my Grandpa than my Grandma, if nothing else by virtue of our personalities being more similar. And it is true that even with Grandpa, I didn’t always feel the weight of the situation. But I never lost Grandpa. . .Grandpa was Grandpa was Grandpa, right up to the last time conversation I had with him (we were discussing the likelihood of mine ever taking to coffee–slim to none), right up to the last time I saw him. But Grandma is somehow becoming a Patient. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Grandma is existing in a medical setting, whereas Grandpa spent his days at home. This isn’t a complaint; I think Grandma needs to be where she’s at.
But it feels so odd, like talking matter-of-factly on the phone with 911. Matter-of-factly discussing how the doctors tell us now how she is likely to die of a heart aneurysm, her heart literally breaking–rupturing–within her chest. Matter-of-factly considering how her heart is literally failing in every conceivable way, and some was I hadn’t even conceived of. Sitting here thinking about these things like I’m reading them off of A Patient’s chart.
I know it’s my grandmother. I know it is. But I keep seeing A Patient.