Sitting around, playing video games in the dark
The past month has been brutal. Grandma, stoically leveling up different classes in her Blue Dragon party, is waiting for me to come from work to tell me about something she read in EGM, about an e-mail from one of you, tell me about a part of whatever she's playing or to pass along a message from someone who called about a job- someone needs senior portraits done before some yearbook deadline; someone else liked a photo in the paper and looked me up for a copy, etc.,. and just to talk a little and find out about my day. She's waiting to tell me how, yet again, her doctors can't tell her what's wrong with her shoulder, why she was sick, when chest-pain is severe enough to call 911, which prescription drug is deteriorating her nervous system, and various other things about which they seem to have nothing to say.
I know this because Grandma is consistent. When I leave for work at 7:30am and finally come into the game room sometime around midnight, 1:00am, 2:00am, Grandma is always in her chair, listening for the sound of the keys hitting the desk; waiting for that thump of my camera gear hitting the floor, to arch her head around and say "hey! You made it home!"
She's always there, playing whatever she's into at the moment, waiting to say hello.
Lately, it's seemed as though we both had cause to worry that, when the day was over, one of us wouldn't be there to complete that perfect little ritual.
Earlier this month, on the way between assignments, a car pulled out in front of me on a back road. The thing cut out into the street like a deer from the woods; bolting from hiding the moment the beam of the headlights cuts away from its field of vision.
This was the result:
After the police had been called and my fingers stopped shaking, I was able to dial the house on my mobile. The first question my mom asked- "are you okay?"
-"Yes. I think so. The car is fucked up; Jesus Christ- it's gone. The wheel well, it's just.. Jesus fucking Christ..."
She didn't even hear anything past the word 'yes,' that's all she wanted to know. She didn't give a shit about the Jeep. While I was bawling into the phone about the car; the Jeep- that beautiful SUV that was the very first newish, non-clunker, dependable vehicle we had ever been fortunate enough to finally scrape enough together each month to afford- destroyed now no matter how careful I had been- she was talking to Grandma.
"Tim has been in an accident, said the car is gone."
-"Fuck the car, is he alright?" (like daughter- like mother)
And they were on their way.
With the Jeep awaiting insurance approval for repair, mom secured a rental car so she could get to and from work while I drove her car to my often sunrise to early morning shifts. Meanwhile, Grandma was stuck at the house without a vehicle until everything was resolved.
Being without a vehicle, especially for Grandma, produces a feeling that goes beyond boredom. She feels trapped. She can't go for walks because we live in a big house on top of a big goddamned hill that she wouldn't be able to ascend on foot on her best days. The kids are in school, mom is at work, I am at work, all she had left was her Wii, 360, PS3, broadband internet access, and a telephone. She needed a friend to talk to; or at least something to break the monotony.
So she got a dog.
She fell in love with a cream-white husky taken in by a rescue and made her decision that day.
Meet Grandma's dog:
Now, you know Grandma. You know her very well. You see a beautiful animal like that with its wolf-life back and kind face and you know of a recent, magnificent PS2 game featuring such a creature and you're already figuring out what she named it. You know EXACTLY what she named it. You would think you would, and so would I.
But you and I are wrong.
She named it fucking "SHILOH."
Shiloh! EVERYONE knows a dog named Shiloh. Neal Diamond wrote a song about it for fuck's sake. It's about original a dog name as "Sadie" or "Shadow." When I saw it I was about to playfully scold her for naming it Amaterasu or Shiranui or even just 'Okami' even though she didn't understand Japanese, but then she laid it on me. SHILOH.
Nevertheless, Shiloh is a great dog just perfect for Grandma. They love each other. He cries when she leaves the house. He's a powerful dog but he doesn't fight her. He is, without a doubt, Grandma's dog.
Now that Grandma had at least some companionship that didn't come from the speaker of a headset during a game of Catan, we kept up with our routines, undaunted by the accident; the kids drudgingly back in school, Grandma with her new friend plugging away at Blue Dragon, mom in her rental car plugging in her work week and me in her car plugging away at mine. Of course, when we're all so focused on keeping things as normal as possible with only one car of our own until the storm passes, a nasty wave is bound to toss our ship.
The inevitable occurred at last about a week ago.
On this particular day, Grandma was in pain. Severe pain. As our long time readers will know, she knows the drill. Chest pain = a trip to the emergency room, no questions asked. They see her immediately, do bloodwork, hook her up to heart monitors, eliminate the worst of scenarios one by one until they reach that shallow end of that Spectrum of Cause, at which point they shrug their shoulders and pass her along for followups with family doctors and a re-analysis of any prescription drug interactions and complications. She was tired of this predictable and often useless pattern of repetition. Pain, ER, tests, home, wait, doctor, nothing. Pain, ER, tests, home, wait, doctor, nothing. Pain, ER, tests, home, wait, doctor, nothing...
I was unreachable, on assignment somewhere that required quiet; the vibration or ringing of a cell phone would be enough to disrespect some politician or speaker or lecture. My cell phone was on silent. Not that it mattered, because instead of calling 911 and commencing the familiar pattern, she called her doctor first and asked what to do. No surprise there: "go to the ER!!" Then she called mom. "Call 911!" On chance, I arrived home to get some flash batteries just as the decision to finally call 911 was made.
Emergency vehicles arrived quickly (the cities and villages around here have excellent response times) and she was taken to the same hospital she's been to many times since the creation of this site, Robinson Memorial Hospital.
Like the other times, the time before a heart catheterization where we brought up her Xbox so she could play Psychonauts, or the time she played Size Matters on PSP so much that her stay seemed to fly by, everyone knew her name; the doctors, the nurses, everyone. Unlike those times before, however, it made her nervous. She didn't know if it was because of her small bit of fame or her familiar laugh or unique last name.. she began to think of it another way. She remembered stories from nurses about hypochondriacs, about how everyone at the hospital knew them because they were there so often, how sometimes they were there because they convinced themselves they were ill, or they did it for attention, or for company, or to debate with medical professionals to make themselves feel smart...
She got scared.
The pain she felt was real, she's had the surgeries, bloodwork, stress-tests, and a medicine cabinet filled with legitimate non-placebos sanctioned by many people who confirmed her medical problems, all of it vindicating her honesty to anyone who lazily raised their eyebrows to ask "well maybe it's psychosomatic..." But they had no answers. They couldn't tell her what was wrong, really. And everyone knew her name. She's been brushed aside to specialists, been prodded, poked, and scanned in more ways than is possible to view an environment in the entire Metroid series, and yet they only had a list of maybes and perhaps and possibly. And everyone knew her name. "Hi, Barb! Back again, huh? Still playing your video games?" "Hey! It's Old Grandma Hardcore again! Back to see us?" "Oh, I remember you! You're Barb!"
And everyone knew her name.
"I wonder what these people think of me" she said flatly as I sat next to her hospital bed, wondering if I read the schedule right; that my next assignment was in the same town as the hospital and that I had time to be there with her as she was going through this; and wondering who I would call if I didn't. Fucking hospitals with their 'no cell-phone' policies... "They do the same stupid shit every time I come here, and every time it's the same."
-"They're just as frustrated as you are when they can't figure out what's wrong."
"Yeah, I know. Still.. I wonder if they think it's all in my head."
-"Did it hurt today?"
"Yes I hurt today! It hurt like hell!"
-"When did it start happening?"
"When they put me on that fucking medication."
-"Did you tell them that?"
"I don't know if they even listen. I don't know anything about this shit, they're supposed to know."
-"Still. You should tell them."
That night when I got home from work, she wasn't there waiting for the sound of the keys or the thump of the camera bag. It's not uncommon for the omission of something expected is just as jarring as something explicitly surprising. It was especially strange for her not to be in her chair that night. They had admitted her to the hospital proper. Apparently, she told somebody. They were looking into it. In some kind of misplaced sense of priorities, I knew that now would probably be the only time I would have to play any games I had missed over the weeks, but ironically enough- I was too tired. Besides, I knew that once she got out of that place, it would take her a little while to get back in track with where ever she was on the Blue Dragon second disc. RPGs are notably difficult to regain one's orientation within the story after a break. I didn't want to fuck around with that even further by putting BioShock or the Darkness in.
I was able to see her again the next day and again it was in between assignments. When I finally found the room up on the third floor, tucked away behind a bustling nurses station, I found her holding her arm, bleeding.
"What the fuck?!"
-"Forty goddamn minutes" she said, her eyes tearing up in panic. "I told them the thing had come loose or something and was spurting blood but she just said to put pressure on it. It's been forty minutes and no one has come in here to help me or clean it or anything." Her IV lock was still sticking out of her arm, a stream of slowly drying blood staining the blanket under it.
"Don't they know you're on fucking blood thinners?! Jesus!!" I went to find the chief nurse for that floor. I explained that she was taking motherfucking Coumadin to prevent blood clots, that she had a motherfucking alert tag hanging around her motherfucking neck explaining this and was told by her motherfucking doctors that if she ever had so much as a slightly deep cut on her motherfucking hand she could bleed to death. So here she was, after the idea that the smallest of cuts could be a big deal with that particular medication was pounded into her head, being told to hold her hand on the needle in her arm in an uncomfortable position, in pain, for forty goddamn minutes without anyone coming in, lest she bleed herself into shock.
They sent someone in right away, removed the IV and cleaned her up. I found out later that very soon after I had left, they said her stress-tests came back alright and she could go home to followup later with her doctor.
Pain, ER, tests, home, wait, doctor...
Now she is home. She just finished the second disc of Blue Dragon and is quickly approaching the end of the thing. Vic Ireland called to make sure he sent her a PSP game he had. She's been emailing Evan about Blue Dragon and Halo 3. Playstation Magazine UK wants to do a story on her. As we sit and talk for a few minutes every night about Halo 3, Metroid Prime 3, the new PSP, Jack fucking Thompson, how David Jaffe should be allowed to say that he hates Utah without getting pounced on, etc.,. etc.,.. I realize that this time we have isn't enough. We'll take it, but it's just not enough.
Time together is a difficult thing to procure right now, it's true. Time to update the site after we do talk is even more difficult, but it isn't forever. This month has been brutal, but it's just a month, and another, hopefully better one will follow. So no, to respond to some one of the comments on the previous post, we're not going to give up on the blog. The function of this blog is sharing this wonderful, cool woman with everyone. I'm not about to give up on that, no matter how hard it gets ;)
Grandma sits still in her chair, waiting for me to come home from work, playing video games in the dark; waiting to tell me all about them.
And just like you guys, I can't wait to hear what she has to say.
The winner of the "One Year Xbox Live Gold Subscription Giveaway... Thing" is.... Gamer Named Tim! We sent Tim his subscription card so he'll be getting it soon (California mailing address, so it shouldn't take that long.) Thanks for the postcards everyone, and as a way of saying thanks- I'm sending everyone who sent us a postcard a little somethin-somethin to show my thanks. Grandma LOVES getting postcards and e-mails and letters and photos and it just makes her feel awesome so I really, really need to say thank you to everyone in my own little way. I haven't been much of a grandchild recently with the work schedule, so you have all acted as her extended family by proxy of the United States Postal System, and that's damned cool.
So if you sent her something, expect something from me in the mail in the next few weeks. It won't be much (I'm poor) but it shall be awesome :)
More posts on the way!