For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For the want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For the want of a horse, the rider was lost.
For the want of a rider, the battle was lost.
For the want of a battle, the war was lost.
For the want of a war, the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a threepenny nail!
-- Mother Goose
Sunday, January 24, 1999
My grandmother had been described by doctors as a "walking miracle" months before she passed away. She had had a number of serious medical problems in the past, most of which were probably related to her lifelong smoking habit. ("Habit." It sounds so innocent. It's only a habit... Lemme tell ya, when you're informed that you had better quit smoking, or you're gonna die, and you find yourself unable to quit, it's more than just a habit. But I digress.) A couple of months ago, her doctor was unable to find her pulse. Her arteries were messed up, ditto for her heart, she had trouble walking... fact is, we're lucky to have had her for the past dozen years.
What set the final stage into motion was apparently a sore throat. Which somehow ended up causing congestion. Which sent her to the hospital. Where they vaccuumed her out, and took care of a few other things, and had a machine doing 3% of her breathing. She was due to leave on the Monday before last.
Then she had a bit more trouble, and had to stay a bit longer. Then she got pneumonia. She hit her penultimate low point on Tuesday night (the 12th). The doctors said that if she lasted 24 hours, it'd be a miracle. My grandmother was a fighter. She was on the upswing by the following afternoon, although she was still much worse off than she'd been a couple of days earlier.
From the time that my grandmother entered the hospital until the end, one of her relatives was always there with her. (Excluding the occasional few minutes when they were shooed out of the room while doctors or nurses did their stuff.) Her husband, children, and grandchildren were present around the clock, not to mention visits by a great-grandchild or two.
Of my grandmother's three children, two were at hand, in Queens. The third, my aunt, lives in Israel. On Tuesday night my mother and my cousin (said aunt's daughter) decided that it was time to call her and tell her to come over ASAP. My sister-in-law was also called; she and my brother came on the same flight.
My grandmother was very happy to see her eldest daughter. She also seemed happy to see my brother, his wife, and all of the other misc. relatives who stopped by during the following week or so. She couldn't actually speak, being on a respirator, but she was communicating, and smiling, and sometimes even laughing, and was definitely on the upswing. She was fighting, and winning. She was getting over the pneumonia.
She had been up pretty much all night and day this past Wednesday, and had been working hard; after a bit in which most of her breathing was being done by machine, they had its assistance down to 35%, if I understand that correctly. (I'm a bit sketchy on the exact details.) She developed a low fever, after having been fever-free for two days, but was expected to get past that.
This is the point where I finally stopped by. I'd had a bad cold during the preceding week, and had been advised to stay away, as there was no point in possibly giving it to her. And I wasn't really feeling up to it, and, frankly, I didn't really want to go, being uncomfortable around hospitals. But by Wednesday, I was feeling fine, and I went, along with a brother and a sister.
I am so glad I did so. She didn't look too good, obviously. She had a tube in her mouth, and stuff stuck in her all over the place, although this was apparently much better than all the apparatus she'd had in her earlier.
She was, I'm told, not responding as well as she had earlier in the week, but she did see me. I read her a poem I'd written about my relationship with my younger sister, which she seemed to like bits of, although I couldn't swear to that.
She fell asleep shortly after that, and I have the impression that she slept the entire next day and change, until the end. During this time, another illness hit her, and this time around, she was no longer up to the challenge. It seems that she and a patient in the next bed both came down with the same thing at the same time; goodness knows who spread it to whom, and it doesn't really matter.
Late Friday afternoon, with all of her children singing to her around her bed, my grandmother left her medical problems behind forever. She was in her early seventies, I think. And I can't see the screen as I type this.
On the plus side, I'd hardly seen her in the past few years, and never really knew her. On the minus side, dammit, I'd hardly seen her in the past few years, and never really knew her. And now I never will, except secondhand.
My apartment is only about a half hour from my grandparents' -- strike that, my grandfather's -- house, by foot. I'd always planned to visit them every now and then. Since moving here in mid-September, I never got around to it. I almost did once, but then it started raining, so I cancelled. The one time I did see them of my own volition, I hitched a ride with them to my parent's home, on Thanksgiving. After which, I retreated to what had been my room, from which I was still clearing out my stuff. Who knew that would be the last time I'd hear her speak?
Goodbye, Bubby. I'm going to miss you. And I hope to do you proud someday.