Old Grandma Hardcore

This blog is the chronicle of my experiences with Grandma, the video-game playing queen of her age-bracket and weight class. She will beat any PS2, XBox, GameCube, etc., console game put in front of her, just like she always has. These are her stories. She is absolutely real. She lives in Cleveland.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

And the fun just keeps coming!

Grandma and I haven't posted anything in a little while. It's only fair that you folks know why.

The short of it is this:

Grandma has been in and out of the hospital since just after the holidays. Her back pain got to the point where something had to be done. She's been to several specialists to see if anything could be diagnosed, let alone treated. The medication wasn't helping, so under the advice of her doctors, the nerves around her spine were jabbed and selectively electrocuted to death to alleviate the discomfort. Before the second series of shots could be administered, her now familiar chest pain became unbearable, and she was taken to the emergency room. After a series of tests and a heart catheterization, it was determined that the endless fucking around with stress tests and routine EKGs at her previous hospital over the past four years had failed to uncover the now 80% blockage that threatened to give her a massive heart attack.

She would need open heart surgery.

Let's back up:

Grandma's back problems are nothing new to you guys; you'll remember that due to osteoporosis, a George Foreman rotisserie grill and a particularly steep staircase, Grandma went through a bone-fusion operation that made her rock a cane at E3 2006. There are other factors that we didn't fully understand until very recently, mostly dealing with possible nerve damage as a result of knee-replacement surgery.

She had switched doctors from Robinson in Ravenna to a family doctor here in Mantua affiliated with the University Hospitals of Cleveland system. It's a much shorter drive and she likes the man. He referred her to a pain management specialist in Beachwood. He was somewhere else, so she met with a different guy and let's just say they "didn't get along."

Okay: Grandma has this card she carries with her; a laminated piece of paper with a typed list of all of her allergies to medications. Only they aren't allergies- well, not most of them anyway. A long time ago a receptionist somewhere at someplace we don't even remember typed it up from the information in her file so it would be easier for her to fill out forms. The bulk of the list comprises of sensitivities she has to medications taken orally- the pills make her stomach uneasy and nauseous. Taken intravenously, it ain't no thang. It's the pill form she can't handle.

Well this guy didn't have time for that explanation. He spoke in that unfortunate medical habit of treating older folks like children; yelling his questions in frustration and rolling his eyes when she stumbles the answer. Honestly, I think by the end of it she just wanted to fucking punch the dude. His accent didn't help, either. He sounded like Ricky Ricardo if Ricky Ricardo freebased cocaine.

Her doctor referred her to someone else. A much nicer guy. But he was a surgeon, and didn't recommend surgery. She would either have to go back to the asshole, or find someone else who was particularly good at the asshole's craft.

She found someone else.

We drove to the surgical center in the middle of a goddamn lake-effect blizzard. The first procedure was purely diagnostic. She had to lay on her stomach, awake, as they prodded different nerves to map the worst of the pain. The next week, Lake Erie decided to shit out another foot of snow on Rt. 271 and yet we still managed to get there early. Too early. Nobody else was there yet. This procedure was much longer, as they carefully either destroyed or deadened the nerves that seemed to only have one purpose: causing Grandma pain. When it was over, the doctor told us "okay! Next week, we'll do the other side!" Grandma groaned.

Before each procedure, Grandma has to stop taking her blood thinners for five days, then drive the night before the surgery for a blood test that makes sure she isn't going to bleed to death or get paralyzed. The constant roller-coaster of on again/off again Coumadin levels were pissing her off. She couldn't eat or drink anything for twelve hours before surgery, so they scheduled them early in the morning for convenience, which meant that if mother nature didn't destroy us, rush hour could always have a shot too. Before the second surgery, the waiting room didn't fill up as fast as usual, because people were calling off their own surgeries. From hospital beds. From getting in car accidents.

The only thing she had to look forward to was the first cup of coffee after surgery, when I would drive her to Solon to Panera Bread. The second surgery was the day after Obama's inauguration, so we bought a few Plain Dealers for souvenirs while we ate our bagels, drank our coffee and talked politics before the drive back home.

Last week, when Grandma got out of bed, her chest pounded with pain. It was a bad one. Mom drove her to the emergency room. Common or not, you don't fuck around with chest pain. I was used to this; I've driven her there before for the same reasons many times. But we had always gone to Robinson in Ravenna. This time she went to UH Geauga, which is just as far- just in the other direction. I expected the same drill. She gets hurried back to a bed, they place a heart monitor on her right away, do a chest xray, possibly an MRI, wait to see what happens, she gets better, they schedule a stress test and send her home.

But not this time.

Mom came back to the house alone. They were admitting Grandma to keep her overnight for observation and further testing.

That night, I drove up to see her. The 'further testing' was a heart catheterization, and we worried about her Coumadin levels. They were too high for such a thing. She could've bled to death if they went too soon. They waited another day.

The morning of the procedure, I drove up early so I could see her before she went in. It helps when you know people are waiting just outside to find out the results, so we had other family coming as well. It was scheduled for 1:00pm, I got there at 11:00am. She wasn't in her bed. They had already started. I gave my name at the information desk and told them where I would be sitting so the surgeon could speak to me when it was done. If you're unfamiliar with such a thing, a heart catheterization is when they stick a tiny camera on a wire and push it through your veins, usually from the leg, up into your heart and look around for a bit. If something is clogged a little, they can place ...things inside the vein or artery to keep it open. It isn't pleasant to think about.

The surgeon met me in the waiting room. It was bad news. She had 40% blockage when she had a similar procedure done in 2005. It was now at least 80%. They couldn't do anything there without damaging the heart. She would need bypass surgery. They would transport her to the hospital downtown tonight or possibly over the weekend. The surgery would probably be Monday. Did I have any questions.

I didn't know what to ask.

In retrospect, I should have simply asked "what are the questions I should ask?" but I wasn't very quick on the draw after being hit with it. I could only revert to what I really wanted to know.
"Is she going to be okay?"
"What kind of risks are there for something like this?"
"Will this take care of the pain as well?"
"Will she be alright?"

I should have asked about recovery times. I should have asked what kind of bypass surgery would be done. I should have asked about where the blockage was, whether there was a problem with the valves, which surgeon would be performing the surgery, if we needed a second opinion, what her options were, etc.,..

All I could ask is whether or not she would be okay.

Which is fine, I suppose, but it's a bullshit question for a surgeon. What's he going to say, "no, she will never be able to love again, you twit."?

But I was the only one there to ask the questions at the moment. And there I was feeling sorry for myself because I was alone dealing with this when Grandma was laying flat on the bed in a hallway somewhere trying to come to terms with how close she came...

I called Mom and everyone else I could. Other family started showing up, expecting to see her before the procedure that was already done. After a lot of anxious waiting, I finally got to see her. She was petrified.

And who wouldn't be! A heart cath is one thing, even with the blood thinners at the levels she had, but bypass surgery is no fucking joke. They cut you from your neck to your stomach, saw open your ribcage, crack that shit apart like a motherfucking lobster shell and poke around your goddamn heart while you're on life support.

"I don't know if I want to do this" she said, obviously scared out of her mind.
"Yeah, but you have to. This is serious shit," I told her, like I knew anything about what had to be done.

The next few days were a mess. We were taking care of things at the house and trying to stagger schedules so we all had time to go see her downtown. The kids took care of the dog, who would only sleep at night if Grandma was next to him in her bed. I'm not even kidding, that dog is nuts- every night when Grandma goes to sleep, she just.. looks at the dog, and he goes running next to her to be with her in her room. If someone doesn't mimic this routine every night, he shits all over the goddamn house in confusion. I picked up a book for her to read in the hospital, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. (We have a dark sense of humor.)

Unlike the week before, we were ALL there the morning of her surgery. We were there as they wheeled her back to prep and just before they began anesthesia.

It was a long day.

University Hospitals has this terrifying beeper system during major surgeries like this where the family sits out in the waiting area and one person has a pager. One of the nurses in the operating theater gives updates to the desk outside, who pages us with new information. Surrounding the waiting area are these little 'consultation rooms' with heavy doors. You can imagine what sort of news is given in those places.

The pager intrigued me in these, the post-Twitter days.

I imagined some resident clumsily typing on an iPhone as the surgery progressed.

SexxxyManNurse12: ok, knoking her out now...
SexxxyManNurse12: peple luk so stupid when we knok them out
SexxxyManNurse12: iodine stains everything. jesus
SexxxyManNurse12: ok, cutting now...
SexxxyManNurse12: oh shit.
SexxxyManNurse12: oh SHIT. there's BLOOD EVERYWHERE. OH FUCK.
SexxxyManNurse12: Okay, stopped the bleeding. j/k, still bleeding
SexxxyManNurse12: vacuums r so cool. I wonder where all this stuff goes.
SexxxyManNurse12: ok, cutting ribcage now
SexxxyManNurse12: omg that smells so bad
SexxxyManNurse12: surgon got bone dust all over him
SexxxyManNurse12: lol

Sadly, it wasn't that fun. Our updates were limited to "they are starting surgery now", "they are starting the bypass now", and "they are finished with the surgery, everything's fine, someone will be out to speak with you in a moment."

The surgeon was in a happy mood and pleased with the result of the surgery. That was good enough for me at this point.

We waited a while longer while they wheeled her up to ICU. She was still unconscious and still had the breathing tube and all manner of drainage tubes and IVs stuck in her neck, chest, stomach and arm. She looked rather silly, but I thought taking a camera into the ICU was probably a bad idea.

When she finally woke up, she was still pretty stoned from the drugs. She fought the breathing tube (everyone does, from what I understand) but was out of it enough that I hope she doesn't remember that particular horror.

When I spoke with her the next day, she was in a lot of pain. She now sports a gnarly looking scar down the center of her chest. She has to stay mobile and eat, but her appetite is non existent and finding help to get out of bed so she can walk has been difficult lately. Her heart has had periods of fibulation since the surgery that make her feel dizzy and weak, and as of yet I don't know what that means or if it's normal.

If everything goes as planned and she can kick her own ass into gear, she'll be home tomorrow. If not, she might be in for a few more days.

Either way, it's going to suck for a couple weeks.

On a positive note, if I understand the surgery correctly- Grandma is now technically a zombie. She is now counted among the legions of the 50+ demographic of The Undead. It should give her a unique perspective of Resident Evil 5.


On January 12th, I was laid off from my job. I am no longer a photographer, nor am I a journalist. I'm ex-media. In a hand delivered letter from the general manager, my editor and the publisher of the newspaper, I was told that the state of the economy has been particularly hard on us all, and the job cuts were inevitable. Even though we all saw it coming on some quiet, subconscious level, it particularly hurt to come, of all times, now. I miss it already. I had built so many professional relationships with all the people I photographed, during the good times and the bad, that being laid off from the newspaper feels like I've been fired from the entire county. I see these people everywhere and I just.. don't know what to say.

Finding work, ANY work, has been tougher than I thought. Even WalMart isn't hiring.

I still have this persistent (and perhaps pathetic) hope that maybe things will get better and they'll ask me to come back.

I don't know.

Normally, after all this, gaming would be a natural stress reliever- but there isn't really much out there right now. Not yet. Grandma is looking forward to some games, I'm looking forward to some games, but all we can do is look forward. When she had a little extra cash, she went to the store, several times, looking for something, anything to play- but nothing really interests her at the moment. She's just waiting for Killzone 2, Resident Evil 5, Fatal Frame 4, Final Fantasy XIII, God of War III, etc.,.. She's waiting for the good stuff.

Until then, we've become addicted to utilizing the Xbox 360's streaming Netflix feature. She bought herself a bigger hard drive after the trusty ol' 20GB finally filled up. Evan sent her a transfer cord and the rest was easy.

It's been nothing but movies and older games for the past few weeks while Grandma marches back and forth between trips to the hospital and I keep sending out resumes.

Around here, the fun never stops.

Still, even as I write this, I don't need to tell you that things could be a LOT worse.

Game on!

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