I was hit by a car when I was sixteen. I've written about it before, it's old news, it happened a long time ago. I broke my left fibula in 14 places, broke my collarbone, my cheekbone. Took the Percocet, the morphine, dreamed the dreams, had the visions. Learned the lessons of the hospital. Morphine burns when it goes in. When they ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10 it is meaningless. Percocet makes you nauseous but it is pretty. Nurses are nice when you are nice to them.
[Be nice to them. They are the lifelines. They are the angels and the demons. You get to choose which form they take for you.]
Ask for the food your caretakers want because you won't be able to eat it when it comes. No one cares if you shit or not, but they will ask. Understand that you are the center of the universe, but be a benevolent god. It hurts worst in the morning but don't worry about crying. Everyone does there. Buckle down. Wait.
I understand pain and hospital and drugs. At sixteen. I do not know what it is like at 86. I think it is hell. I now understand that I have not yet gone to hell. I appreciate that.
My grandmother, my Granny, fell on Sunday and broke four ribs. Four ribs. Just think how much they move, how much they contain. All your guts, all your gizzards. Every breath and yawn and cough are inside those ribs. Hiccups? Shut the fuck up. At 86. I spent 8 and 1/2 hours with her today. I watched. I remembered.
I remembered how it was with my broken collarbone, and how every breath hurt. So you don't breathe deep. So you develop a cough. So it hurts more. Like a knife in you. Like a stabbing. The drugs they give you (I still feel nauseous when I hear about people using these for fun) are not perfect, they all have their tricks. A burned out vein or seasick dreams? A waking sick smile and an all-forget or a heave-ho and the knife we go? You get to choose. Or, I suppose, nothing, and wanting to please-let-me-die every minute. You ask for relief and they give you something. Something.
So. When my Granny laughed and then moaned, or when she forgot and tried to use her bad-side arm and then moaned, I knew. But.
She's got a touch o' the dementia. We don't have a name for it really, she just gets the forgetfuls in a bad way. Also a case of the out-to-get-mes. We all (and by all I mean family and hospital staff) have a part in the paranoia play in her reality, and it is, it is her reality. I didn't have that. I had the pain but I knew where I was. I knew I was loved. I dreamed of the ocean, and of falling, but I woke up and knew it wasn't real. She dreams that she's been forced to go in a locked room in a building half finished and it is dirty and cold, she dreams that she's been strapped down, she dreams that she's been bad and so she's been left out over night to sleep outside and she cannot sleep. She wakes and believes it is real. It is real. She experienced it. She has never been treated like this. She cannot believe that this is happening to her. And yet, she can. She does.
I am in on it, but she still loves me. This made it easier for me because I could get her to tell me stories. I even mimicked her because I didn't know what to do. At one point, when a nurse was doing something she didn't like she said, "This is a change of subject, but where did you go to school?" and the nurse humored her and talked for a while about college and eventually forgot that she was supposed to get Granny to pee. I used that. When Granny would start to talk about being in restraints I would say, "Hey, this is a change of subject, but why did your parents move to Roseland?" and we'd be off. I learned a lot. I have no idea how much is true but I heard some wonderful stories.
At one point she even told one about me. She said, "One of you girls was in an accident. I was there, at the hospital, and something was sticking in her head. She kept saying that her head hurt, her head hurt. And then it turned out that something was. It was her hairpins! They were sticking into her head!" "That was me, Granny," I said. "I was lying there all broken up and it was those damn hairpins that were irritating me the most." "Yes," she said, "I remember. I was there."
She is very bitter, my Granny. Very angry. She is wrasslin' those demons of the past and blaming everyone and herself too. That is something I have to think about now. I don't want to end up like that, so bitter and blaming about things I could have changed. I need to seek satisfaction and contentment. I am luckier than her, I don't need to seek love, I just need to hold on to it. I need to understand my disappointments rather than swallow them and hold that poison. God forbid I blame those I love for my own sadness. I don't judge her for doing so. She taught me songs about fishes and how to wash my hair in a lake. She's teaching me this now. She made a lot of mistakes she didn't know how to rectify, and now she's stuck in a bed and all she has is time to think about that. It sucks. A lot.
Today she said:
"If it's this hard to die I don't think I'm going to make it."
She's actually very strong. I love that quote, it's so her. I wrote it down when she said it to make sure I got her words right. Mama told me tonight that even though Granny wants to be cremated, she does want a stone somewhere saying that she was here, she existed. I think we should do that and inscribe it with her name and birth and death dates, and maybe the words, "She made it."
Death is hard but we'll all make it eventually.
I learned more hospital lessons today. Dirty jokes are okay. In the face of dementia and paranoia there are no right answers, but I Love You doesn't make you feel bad at least. If you are itchy they will give you lotion. Talking in a baby voice to a Grandma makes you sound like an ass. Bring your own coffee. Steal all the tape.
We have good genes in our family. I told her, "You think you feel bad now? Think how you'll feel when you're 96! Or 106! Just wait 20 years and tell me about pain then!" This is not the end, not nearly. This is just the end of the beginning of all of this.