One day at a fuckin' time
Grandma's bypass surgery was February 16th. It's now almost May and and the first glimmer of normalcy is creeping into Grandma's overstressed life in the form of getting utterly pissed off at Professional Mode in Resident Evil 5 on her 360. The past month and a half of never-ending hospital visits, close scares, and doctor's appointments definitely rank as the most pain she has ever felt in her 73 years on this weird little planet. It also probably came close to the lowest she's felt emotionally in the past few decades.
Maybe I don't need to tell you, some of you already know, but goddamn if it wasn't your cards, letters, phonecalls, emails.. or even just your presence out there in the world that made her feel as though everything would be okay.
Hold on. That sounds like a line of bullshit. That sounds like one of those things people recite out of courtesy. I'm not making myself clear enough.
Let's start at the point where Grandma got out of the hospital.
I'm trying to find the best way I could describe University Hospitals Cleveland to you and I can only come up with a single word:
The UH Campus is a series of buildings and hospitals connected on multiple levels with a giant tower connecting everything at the center. Construction cranes surround the North East side, building something new after Avalanche or whoever destroyed what used to be there. The gleaming buildings of steel and glass squeeze a tiny row of houses down beneath them like a forgotten shanty town. There is a parking garage on Cornell Rd off Euclid that's usually full during the peak hours, but its worth it to scope out departing cars because of the pedestrian bridge connecting it to Mather Pavilion.
When Grandma first arrived at the hospital, usually the only available parking in this garage was on the top floor. When I lived in Cleveland, I remember my friends and I taking the stairs to the top of that garage for a view of the skyline in the distant valley. It's quite a view. The automatic sliding doors to the elevator waiting area was busted; I'd like to think some silly fools with access to the hospital-provided wheelchairs ramped down from the very top of the garage and smashed into it, but my YouTube searches haven't turned up anything.
The day I was finally able to bring her home, however, the door was repaired. That's how long she had been there. The place was already changing around her. The week before that had been a series of tiny steps. She would, with the assistance of a walker and oxygen, walk a few steps beyond the nurses' station and back again. And then a little further the next day and so on. We planned to eventually help her walk all the way to the elevators, down the long corridor in the lobby, into the atrium and eventually into the cafeteria as sort of a Grand Journey that would symbolize her readiness to start life again.
They discharged her before we had the chance. Maybe that was an omen of things to come.
When I reached her room, she was reviewing a video game of sorts. The UH television network has these little games you can play using the remote control; games like word puzzles and trivia and Bejewled knock-offs that had kitten heads instead of jewels.
"I can't get the goddamn cursor to choose the right kitten.." she said.
At least nothing has changed, I thought.
After a bit of waiting, a nurse removed the IV from Grandma's arm while another began to go over a list of medications and instructions for me. More contradictions.
"She's going to have a lot of surgery pain for a little while."
-"What kind of pain?"
"Pain where they opened the ribcage, mostly. In the chest. Perfectly normal."
"If she has any chest pain, go the emergency room immediately."
"When should she go back on her Coumadin?"
-"Tonight. INR levels are good."
"Have her talk to her doctor before going back on Coumadin."
There was a lot of that.
I fetched the car from the garage and they wheeled her to the front lobby so I could pick her up. Of course, they released her at exactly 5:00pm on a weekday for some sadistic reason so it took awhile to get home. Even in the winter, the cold air from the vents in the car made her feel good.
At home, we cleaned up the walker she used after one of her knee replacements if she needed it. She was able to get in and out of bed easily, which was a relief. We bought her one of those super tall toilet seats for the bathroom in her gameroom so she wouldn't have a problem getting up again. I had installed it just that morning, so I felt like I accomplished something. The kids had shoveled the snow from the driveway to the front steps, but a fresh coat had made it look slick again. Luckily, she didn't have any problems using the walker.
I moved her chair out of the gameroom and replaced it with my computer chair from the office which was higher up for her; less effort getting up and down. After unfolding a seat for the shower so she could bathe, we were set. For the first couple weeks, I slept upstairs, just outside her room on the couch in case she needed something. If anything split open, if something went wrong, if she couldn't reach her walker, somebody needed to be there.
Grandma was in a lot of unbelievably uncomfortable pain during those nights. I could hear it from outside her door. She couldn't sleep for more than ten minutes without grimacing audibly. Perhaps it was because of the medication she took before going to sleep, but she couldn't remember doing it. Because she couldn't sleep, I couldn't sleep. Not with those noises coming out the room a few feet away from me. Most frustrating of all was that I couldn't do anything about it. If I opened the door and asked her if she was alright, she would wake up annoyed. I'd say "Let sleeping dogs lie" and all that, but The Dog didn't seem to care. Shiloh was passed out next to her bed, his paws flat on the carpet, just as he had always done before she went in for surgery. Everyone else was stressed the fuck out.
One bit of reprieve came from the visiting nurse assigned to Grandma during her initial recovery. She's this unusually cheerful person with a contagious laugh that had the unfortunate task of filling out mounds of paperwork every time Grandma would go back to the hospital or one of her doctors changed instructions, which, as you'll come to find out, meant she had to fill out a lot of goddamn paperwork.
Soon after she came home, she was back in. The pain was too great. She was too short of breath. She felt light headed. She couldn't sleep at all. If you can imagine how you would feel if you ran until your body would absolutely not allow you to run anymore, when you collapse onto the track, vomiting and cramping and breathing as though the oxygen levels had suddenly dropped to Everest Summit levels, well.. that's how Grandma felt from the action of putting on a shirt in the morning. She called her doctor but the doctor was in surgery. The nurse on the line advised she go to the emergency room. She was told to come to the Cleveland emergency room so if she was admitted, the doctor would be able to see her.
So we drove back to Midgar.
I dropped her off at the Emergency Room doors and went searching for a place to park. For reasons I don't fully understand, even now, I was angry. I was angry at the hospital for having three parking garages marked "full" when there were a line of cars exiting them. I was angry at Cleveland for only having a set number of parking meters behind Rascal House Pizza. I was angry at University Circle traffic for existing. I was angry at the tourists in Little Italy gawking up at the church, crossing the street slowly; happily to the Frank Sinatra tunes being pumped into the air outside any number of restaurants nearby. I must have drove around a small, four block radius for an hour trying to park. I was angry at the nurses for contradicting the doctors. I was angry at the kids for hugging grandma and coughing with their mouths open, getting her sick and setting her back.
Most disturbing of all: I was angry at Grandma. I was angry at her for feeling the way she did. I was angry she wasn't jumping around, yelling at the kids to cut the bullshit and behave like she used to. I was angry at her for not listening to the doctors, that it was an expected pain. I was angry that she breathed the way she did, hyperventilating when she hurt, making things worse. I was angry that I had to focus on all of this, on the medication, on the appointment times, on the scheduling. I was angry that it was up to me to repeat to her what the doctors told her not because she didn't understand but because they spoke too quietly and too quickly, and her hearing aids weren't working. I was angry that I had to watch her suffer instead of retreat into some safe state of self-pity.
And I was angry and ashamed that I felt that way.
I finally found parking on the Case campus next to the hospital. I walked a familiar route along the road in the rain feeling sorry for myself. When I finally found the Emergency Room door, I also found a sign next to it that read "Free Valet Parking for ER patients as a courtesy of University Hospital" with a dude in an uniform next to it taking people's keys.
I asked my way around and finally came across Grandma stuffed in a back room already hooked up to an IV that would buzz a piercing, loud alarm until some passing nurse would come in and push some buttons. We sat there for awhile.
"Are you still mad at me?" she asked.
-"I'm not mad at you," I lied.
I knew my passive-aggressive bullshit was easy enough to see through for Grandma, but I couldn't even begin to explain myself. I knew I was being a jackass, but I didn't know why.
"You think I'm not trying hard enough, is that it?"
"It fucking hurts, Tim! I'm trying!"
-"I know! But it's gotta be the deconditioning they talked about! Look, they said it was going to be like this and just.. take it easy for awhile! If it hurts when you do something then don't fucking do that thing right now!"
"Don't do what? Get dressed? Walk to the bathroom?"
-"No, I don't mean that..."
But I didn't know what I meant. What was she supposed to do?
They admitted her to the hospital for testing and I drove back home. I was able to get over myself and stop being an asshole. She was in for a couple days. They changed her medications a little and let her go.
Things did not improve for Grandma.
Her doctor told her to take pain pills for the pain, but she doesn't like pain pills because they make her feel stoned. She hated the way she was treated by pain management clinics in the past, like some druggie just out to score some Oxycontin to snort, so she had always done her best to just avoid them. The pills helped her at night but not as much during the day.
The physical therapist came out to the house all of one time and then promptly left saying that Grandma was doing exactly what she needed to be doing at the moment and she wasn't required.
Her cardiologist seemed to be as leery of her symptoms as Grandma.
The problems she described, she was told, warranted another heart catheterization. Worse case scenario: the heart bypass didn't take, and they would have to place stints to open up the blockage, something they didn't want to do in the first place, which is why they did the heart bypass.
I don't even know how to tell you how scared she was.
She opted to have the procedure performed in Cleveland again, for if something was wrong and they had to fix it, she would have to be transferred there anyway.
So we drove back to Midgar.
This time, the hospital was a bit more tricky to navigate. I couldn't drop Grandma off at the front door like we did in the Emergency Room because the surgical center was too far away for that. I'd need a wheelchair. So! I parked the car on the top floor of the Cornell Rd. garage, took the stairs to the bridge, crossed the bridge, found a wheelchair, asked permission to use it, got a funny look, took the wheelchair back over the bridge, waited for the elevator, let some people go ahead of me that looked like they couldn't stand too long, waited for the next elevator took the elevator to the top, collected Grandma from the car, wheeled her to the elevator only to find a whole mess of wheelchairs for those who needed them.
They have an entire area all set up for heart catheterizations at UH Cleveland. This is some common shit. They took Grandma back and offered me a bagel. That's fucking class, right there. When they let me back to see her before they got started, a resident-fellow (which is a silly title) comes over to Grandma to make small talk and answer any questions before the procedure.
"How long will the heart-cath take, usually? I have to make some calls to the rest of the family but I want to be in the waiting area when she's done," I asked.
And as nonchalantly as a man pondering the metric weight of his own balls, this guy says to us "Oh.. let's see, best case, nothing's wrong, we're in and out in no time flat, and worse case, she'll need another heart-bypass."
Grandma starts to cry. Douchebag starts to retrace his steps.
"I mean.. well... that would be done.. later, I guess...."
-"I'm not going fucking through that shit again. No fucking way," Grandma tells me.
He scared the everloving shit out of her.
"You have time for lunch if you leave now," they told me. So I did. I hurried down to Rascal House, horked down a couple slices of pizza and ran back upstairs, but she was already in. So I waited.
When they told me she was done, they didn't tell me anything else. The cardiologist who performed the thing was busy doing another one, so I went back to see her and asked her if she knew the result. But nobody told her shit either. Finally, a dude comes out and says the bypass took very well, there's no fluid to worry about, and everything's groovy. That livened Grandma up a bit, albeit as lively as one can be as they are told to lay perfectly still lest the artery in their leg bursts, killing them. Okay: she smiled. Which was the first legitimate smile I'd seen in a long time, it seemed.
"But there's one thing we did find," he continued. "You have a serious blockage in your leg that we found going in, so some people from the vascular department are going to come up and have a look."
And then a dude pushing a cart comes up and performs an ultrasound on Grandma's leg. I think he actually whistled as he did this. Then some other 'resident-fellow' comes by to make small talk and answer any questions about the procedure they just did.
"So there is blockage?"
-"Yeah, but it's weird, you've been able to create paths around the blockage so your circulation is okay. Otherwise, we'd have to amputate with blockage like that, it's like 100% totally blocked."
Either these guys haven't figured out the art of bedside subtlety or they just watch House M.D., too much. Luckily Grandma didn't hear that one, I had to tell her about her freakishly cool vascular system later.
But the good news was she was fine. Follow-up appointments with her surgeon would confirm it. She was completely deconditioned from the surgery. Physical rehabilitation was something they were planning to get her into from the start, she just hadn't been ready, yet. She had joined the zipper club with flying colors and just had to work to get back on her feet. But that shit's not easy. It's not like the thing they made you go through before you could join the swim team in high school, it's much, much harder.
She visited the cardiac-rehab center for the first time last week; a cramped room of torture and treadmills in a dark corner of UH Geauga. It took her a lot of work, and a lot of stress, just to make it that far.
But she had encouragement.
Her friend Evan at Edelman/Microsoft sent her three games: Scene It: Lights Camera Action, Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise, and Halo Wars, along with some Microsoft Points for something in the Arcade (she has her eyes on Crystal Defenders). She immediately tore the SHIT out of Halo Wars. It was her first bit of gaming she could focus on. An RTS that didn't stress her out as much was perfect.
Thank you, Evan.
That package was waiting for her when we got home from the hospital after her trip to the ER.
Her friend Gamer Named Tim made her this awesome goddamn card. You should have seen her eyes light up when she got that one.
Thank you, Tim.
That card was waiting for her in the mail after her trip to the cardiologist after he told her she needed another heart catheterization.
Her friend Jenny sent her a motherfucking boomerang and a little book of Australian slang, so it will be fun for Grandma to take out her clackers, job one of those ratbag quacks so hard in the date, they can't do nothing but stand there like a stunned mullet.
Thank you, Jenny.
That package was waiting for her on our porch after her last trip to the surgeon after he told her she was ready for rehab.
And there have been others. Vic Ireland (!) called her last week to make sure she was okay because I hadn't posted in awhile. She was tickled to hear Vic was still doing his thing (she fucking loved Working Designs, so she's all about whatever Vic is up to.) That was after her first day in rehab.
Your emails, your comments in the last post, everything you guys have done for her..
You see? You were with her every step of this horrible goddamn trip. You were with her when she found out it was possible the bypass didn't take. You were with her after the emergency room meltdown. You were with her when she was frustrated and not getting any answers. Whenever things were bad, the moment she got home she could carefully lower herself down onto her computer chair, log in to her email, and there would be something to cheer her up. And more! You guys were fucking with her.
That's what I meant, up on top of the post.
And you were with me, too.
Which brings me to this morning:
We live at the top of a huge goddamn hill. Our little village is on the banks of the Cuyahoga River, which dips down into Kent, then Munroe Falls, then Akron, then it curls into the valley and divides Cleveland before spilling out into the lake. The river is way down there, and our house is way up here. We can see for miles from our back window. If you are crazy sensitive, you may feel your ears pop if you drive up to our house from the park.
Between all the doctor's appointments and hospital visits, Grandma has either spent her time here or with me at the store, grocery shopping. Because of how weak she's been, she has relied on those weird little scooter thingies you often see lazy people use so she could shop as much as she liked. It's a big deal if she can make it to the pharmacy inside the grocery store without using the electric carts. If she can walk there by herself without aid, she comes back to the car with me, sits down, breathes heavy and says "...I DID IT!"
A couple weeks ago she went grocery shopping without using the scooter. She was having a good day. She kept walking and kept walking and was commenting about it saying "man, this is nuts! I feel fine!" By the time she got home, she was a wheezing mess. It almost put her back in the hospital. Her doctors had her agree to take things slow from that point on. So she started using the scooters again, as she did just a couple days ago.
Today, it was beautiful outside here. 70 degrees, sunny, a little breeze.. It was fucking gorgeous. Mom decided to take the dog for a walk.
"You should come to!" she told Grandma.
-"Pfft.. Yeah. Sure."
"Why not, if it's just down the hill? Once you get down there, Tim could come and pick you up so you wouldn't have to walk back!"
-"I don't think so, Linda."
But she thought about it.
It really was pretty outside, and the sun would be good for her and she needed to walk, so.. why not?
And so she did.
Grandma, who was just a month ago couldn't dress herself without sitting down afterwards and focusing her breath, walked past the first block, then the second, passed the police station, crossed the highway and went further on to the post office and then further to the store to get something to drink. This isn't something she would have attempted before the heart surgery.
But she did it today.
Afterwards, she did NOT collapse from exhaustion into the car. She did NOT wheeze and hyperventilate. She fucking made it.
And do you know what she's doing right now?
She's upstairs, in her original gameroom chair, b*tching about Licker β's in the sixth chapter of RE5, which she has beaten on Veteran Mode, collected every figurine, activated the infinite launcher, all the costumes and filters, scored a number of infinite ammo weapons and now she's focused on Professional Mode.
"This is fucking IMPOSSIBLE. I can't DO THIS SHIT. And this bitch is STANDING THERE DOING NOTHING- NOOO! GOD DAMMIT! SHOOT SOMETHING! You WHORE!"
After seeing what she has accomplished recently, I'd say she has a fighting chance.
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