“Noël, I’m wanted to let you know that I’m at the hospital with Grandma. She kind of fainted this morning but she’s okay now. They’re just running some tests.”
“Noël, the CT showed something suspicious so we’re on our way to St. Al’s.”
“Noël, you better come down here…”
Sunday, early November 2007 I got those calls that no one wants to get. My beloved Grandma Tishi had been helping her church with their annual Japanese food/harvest bazaar. When she sat down to rest, she slumped over.
By the time I joined my family at St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, I knew in the pit of my stomach that this was not good. There was an early skiff of snow on the ground. “Apologize” by One Republic was on the radio. The lights couldn’t turn green fast enough.
The neurosurgeon (yeah, it’s never good when they’re involved) came by and talked about breast cancer and metastasis and tumors and used all these words that I use at work all the time, except now they were kind of meaningless. I was numb. I knew Grandma had gone through radiation for her breast cancer back in ’02 or ’03 or wheneverforever ago. I took care of her. But it didn’t occur to me that it would come back. I mean, this was MY grandma. Those things weren’t supposed to happen to MY family.
But it did. It happened in her head and lungs and bones and chest. I saw the scans so I couldn’t argue. I felt like a black hole was swallowing me up.
“…do it. If God wants to take me home, then so be it,” she was saying.
She’d agreed to a craniotomy at the age of 85. She didn’t want to faint anymore. Well, it was fairly rational. Except that she was 85!! But since she was of sound mind (despite a BRAIN TUMOR!), none of us could argue and make decisions for her. Very soon after her decision she had the surgery. Afterwards my petite grandma looked even tinier there in her too-large-gown and ICU bed. Her usually white hair was partially and unceremoniously dyed orange from the iodine used to clean her skin. She had a bulky dressing at the back of her head. IVs, oxygen, intracranial pressure monitoring, urine catheter–all manners of tubes had been inserted into her body.
Surprisingly quickly she moved to a general floor and then to rehab. She didn’t want to eat. She was tired. She looked hollow. Her head hurt.
Life had a new routine. Head to St. Al’s after work. Every time I stopped at that red light coming off the Flying Y, “Apologize” was playing. I drove in sun, rain, snow. We ate a lot of hospital food. We tried to cheer Grandma up. Tried to coax her to eat, to smile, to put clothes on, to walk.
We had Thanksgiving at the hospital that year. I’ll never forget the nurses and techs–they brought us, the family members, home-cooked Thanksgiving food so we could try to enjoy the holiday with our loved ones. They knew my grandma’s name and teased her even though she didn’t feel good and barely ate her food. We sat around the visiting area and gave thanks for being family together despite this huge cloud of uncertainty hovering over our futures, her future.