It was nearly 8,640 minutes ago that I got that phone call. Ashort 144 hours ago in which our life drastically changed. The past 6 days blew by quicker than I can even explain. I am having a hard time putting into words about the amount of feelings that has spewed out of every family member around me over this time. I can only begin to imagine what the next few days will bring. The so-called personal “cocktail” of our own complications was served up well; mixed with 1 part anger, 2 parts confusion, and 3 parts sadness. We all downed our very own remedy; a drink that was more than bittersweet. For some, it made us stronger and for others this self-medication made them worse. Even when death is expected, no one can prepare you for how your mind, body, and spirit will react to it; not exactly anyways.
As I entered the hospital, I watched my father lose grasp of his own reality as he blurted out under his own drunken stupor “I watched my own mother die on our kitchen floor right there in front of me!” His eyes were filled with tears and his face wasstricken with sheer panic. I couldn’t even begin to imagine the pain that he was feeling. To feel completely lost and uncertain about what the future would hold. As he bounced back and forth between laughter, tears, and a nervous twitch here and there, I started to wonder how he was going to make it out of this one. Throughout the past 20 years, as his son, I have been watching him on his very own downward spiral; now laying wounded on the losing side of the battle against his own addictions. His blood shot eyes, stumbling steps, slurred speech, and fist full ofexcuses; I started to feel sick to my stomach knowing that the end of my grandmother’s life could very well be the demise of my own father. But in this moment there was also a brief minuteof hope.
As I looked around the hospital’s intensive care unit I saw my family; some of them that I have just recently spent time with and other’s that I haven’t seen for quite a while. As all of us held back those harder to deal with emotions, most of us tried to make a small attempt to smile, walk across the room, and hug one another to bring some sense of comfort to what was happening; it was nice seeing us all together for once. I quickly found out, along with the others, that my grandmother went into cardiac arrest early Friday morning.
At the time, the paramedics nor the doctors where too sure how long she had gone without proper blood pressure. Was it 10, 15, 20, or 30 minutes without oxygen to the brain? As every minute passed, so did the possibility of recovery. My grandmother was resuscitated, brought to the ICU, and placed on life support. For the next 72 hours she would lay in the coma; twitching as themyoclonic seizures worsened over time. Throughout these past few days our family dreaded going in and out of the hospital waiting rooms. Everyone desperately searched for answers. Everyone hung onto idea that she may live. Deep down inside though I believe everyone knew what was about to happen.
She wasn’t moving voluntarily. The doctor told us that no voluntary function was a sign of significant brain damage to the cerebral cortex; the housing unit where conscious decision making takes place. The only time she would open her eyes is when the seizures would happen. This forced the eyelids to open as the jerking movements took place; still a sight I would rather erase from my memory. Throughout those first 24 hours her condition worsened. There was still no spontaneous eye motion, pupils weren’t dilating, and no cognitive function. These were all poor prognostic indicators. It was then, upon this knowledge from the doctor, that our family concluded to place my grandmother on as a ‘do not resuscitate.’ As heavy as this was, we didn’t want to allow things to get worse for her. We loved her and we were trying to do our best with the situation at hand.
After a long 24 hours, we all traveled home wondering how much more she would have to suffer. The chatter of the doctor’s voices, the constant flow of the ventilator, the more silent moments that filled with distant sobs, the cussing, the swearing, and even some of the yelling, rang clear in my head that night.My mind slowly wandered alongside thoughts that were filled with fear. As much as I wanted to give my respects to my grandmother, the constant worry of my father, and even some other close family members, kept on repeating in my head.Would he kill himself tonight? Would he drink himself into his own coma? Would he hurt somebody else? How much longer will he last? I wasn’t the only who had these questions. These concerns where held by many that were close. I am not sure if that made it easier to deal with or worse because we all recognized the reality that this too could be the end of my father.
Moving into the first 48 hours I woke to discover that my father got into a domestic dispute and was taken to jail; I am sure the bottle of Kessler’s didn’t help that night. It was frustrating to think that my father would now not be alongside his dying mother as he should be. There is much more I have to say about this but I will leave that for a different time. More importantlythough, the family learned that my grandmother was given an EEG. After the neurology consult, we learned that under further examination the doctor’s found no spontaneous motion within the brain or any significant signs of recovery; identifying a deeper brain stem problem. The family had to be brought together again to make all final decisions. We had to face that our loved one was getting worse and not any better. We unanimously agreed, with the doctor’s recommendation, to remove her off of life support on Sunday. Tears filled the room throughout that time as we slowly watched her slip away. She passed away Sunday night; June 7th, 2015.
Sure my grandmother was known to drink like a fish, be a heavier smoker, and a past long-term abuser of prescription pain killers, which all for surely contributed to the health concerns she had, I still saw her as much more than that. Over the 78 years of her existence she truly was a special person. She loved unconditionally. In fact, she was known as one of those ladies that would have given anyone the world if she had it. Over the past few days, as traumatic as they were, there was also a breath of fresh air as family traded memories of who she really was. It was in those moments, within those stories, that are family started to heal. Stories of her as child were brought to the table from siblings. Caring moments were rediscovered from her children and we all shared those funny times that we could remember. We remembered her for the not so recent past but instead for her ability to make anyone laugh, her long conversations, her wicked good cooking skills, her artistic talents, her knowledge on life, her loving marriage, and even her funny stories she often shared with us grandchildren. As the laughter healed our souls, our smiles grew bigger knowing that we were all in this together. That everything was going to be ok even if it was going to take some time.
They say a loss can either tear a family apart or bring them closer together. For us, I believe there is a little bit of bothgoing. For me personally, it’s a great time to completely clean and sober for once. I am actually coherent and know what is going on. I can now be there for my family as I should be; to help out wherever it is needed. It has been a great joy for me to see the support from my uncle, my cousins, my brothers, other family, my children, and all my great friends. Together, they have all made these harder times easier to deal with. Like I said in the beginning, even when you expect death nothing can truly prepare you for how you are actually going to feel about it all when it is happening.
As for my father, and some of my other family members, I guess only time will tell. Not really sure where everything will end up for them; I am an optimist though. Knowing that recovery is possible for anyone I know I can at least offer guidance, listen, and support, to some extent, for those in my family that are struggling. I would want them to do the same for me. It’s the one commendable attribute that we all can offer; treat othershow you would like to be treated.
I wrote this article for me; to help me reflect on the past few days and prepare me for what is about to come. I am actually looking forward to having our family come together and pay respects to her. In love and passion I know we will be able to find hope. As we pray together I know we will find our own internal peace; I smile knowing that my grandmother has found hers. In part, I also truly hope this helps someone else out there that may be going through a similar situation. Remember to never give up, ask for help, and lean on others for support. You’ll get through this. I promise.
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