Wednesday, January 9, 2013

And They Swam And They Swam All Over The Dam

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.


A said...

Man, this is a great post. Lots to think about.

Petit fleur said...


I am sorry your granny is suffering in so many ways. She is so blessed though, to have all of you who love her and will see her through it. Not everyone does...

To me, your instincts were right on to mirror/mimic her. That is actually a cognitive behavioral technique used to build rapport. My guess is that it put her at ease or at least distracted her for a bit. :-)

Lots to think about indeed. I'm so glad you are peeking out in blogland every now and then. I've missed ya.
xo m

Ms. Moon said...

Yesterday was a day in which my mother was as lucky as she's ever been on earth because she had you there with her. You are able to love her in ways that I, her daughter, never can. I see such a miracle there. You. You are the miracle.
You always have been.
And guess what? You don't even have to hold on to love. It is stitched into every cell of you. It is like bubbles blown deliberately in glass. You couldn't get rid of it if you tried.
All of this is to say- I have loved you forever. I love you. I will love you forever. And thank-you for being born.

SJ said...

You are my favorite kind of person, my May. I love you to the sky.

Mel said...

May, you are an angel. I don't even have the right words, but this post made me cry three times and I can't stop just yet.

We've been down this path with the grandma's and the great's and now my mom is travelling that road, the one that is sad and bitter and weepy and needful and painful and I don't know how to be. I just try to get her to tell her stories, to remind her how much she matters to the many who love her. It's all we can do, in the face of pain, suffering, illness.
I love your granny's quote, I am going to memorize it. My mom keeps saying she's lived too long, and what does a child say to that?
You did good, being there, helping her through the confusion, getting her to change the channel in her confused mind.
Yes, you are an angel. A smart, compassionate, intuitive angel.

Angella said...

May, you are a luminous writer and a luminous soul. Your granny is having a hard time but in the midst of it all she has you, what a gift you are.

Steph(anie) said...

My grandpa will be 94 tomorrow (if he makes it I half jokingly whisper to myself). It scares my mom to watch him be in pain all the fucking time and slow down and take so fucking long to wither away. No longer walking really at all. Wimpering and crying in pain, this man used to be so strong and proud. Now day in day out wondering why he's still alive. But he is, whether he likes it or not.

You did good by your granny.

May said...

Granny moved on tonight. I may write about it tomorrow. I love her. I love my family. Thank you for your sweet words.

Maalai said...

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May said...

Maalai- I think you are a dirty spammer. But that's cool, thanks for stopping by and upping my comment load.

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Juancho said...

Damn girl. You aren't even really trying and your writing still hits right between the eyes.

Those hairpins!

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