DeliaBlack's Blog

OCTOBER 14, 2009 10:21AM

Crazy Keeps Happening: Tango Near the End of Life

Rate: 31 Flag

I cannot even make an intelligent post of all this, but when has that ever stopped me before?

 Several weeks ago after a long car trip to see her lone surviving brother, my grandma had problems with her right leg, which was swollen and red.  She is a thin person, delicate because of injuries and age, so it is hard to help her get around.  We took her to the doctor.  He sent her to the hospital.  They said that she had blood clots in both legs.  They wanted her to stay there overnight.

In case you haven't read much of my award-winning blog (it was voted Blog of the Year by, you should know that my grandma and I have never gotten along.  I could go into horror stories, but suffice it to say I have it on good authority that twice before I was born, she turned to people (once to my dad's sister, then later to my dad) and said, "I'm afraid it might be a girl."  My aunt's response:  "Well, we'll love it no matter what." 

My dad's:  "What do you mean afraid?"

I miss that man.

Anyway, in the elevator at the hospital when they told her they wanted her to stay the night, "Granny," whom my cousin calls "Critter," clutched at my hand and looked up at me.  Her pitiful eyes--a deep gray/green/blue I was not fortunate enough to inherit--were pleading.

She has a childish, somewhat stacatto way of speaking, as if she is always nearing a tantrum, and a grating, nasal voice.  "Can. you. stay. with me?"  Previously she'd told me how "Granny" (yes, she speaks in third person at times) had stayed with this one and that one in the family while they were at the hospital, but no one ever stayed with Granny.  I cursed myself and tried to free my hand from her clutches, but the woman has a vulture-like grip.


"Ok.  I'll stay."

If you ever want to experience broken sleep, have a child or spend the night at the hospital.  Or do both!  But I digress.

She needed to go to the bathroom several times a night, and when she didn't, that was just the time they needed to check her.  I had an article due, but that wasn't such a big deal.  I did get it in.  I had to learn how to give her subcutaneous injections in the belly, so the level of blood thinner could be brought up.  (The doctor mulled it over with me--should we or shouldn't we put her on blood thinner?  If we don't, she could have an embolism.  If we did and she fell, she could bleed to death.  He'd had a 50-year-old patient on blood thinner die when she fell while dancing.  Even if we called for help, it may be too late.)

We decided to risk it but hope that they could get her off the blood thinner in a few months. 

The nurses babied her in the beginning, saying how sweet and precious she was.  I am not sure if I warned them or not, but when I left in the morning after staying overnight and came back in a couple of hours, a nurse told me Granny had been "very adamant" that she wouldn't take a certain medicine until noon.  Just then I heard my mom trying to cox her into taking the medicine. "I'LL TAKE IT AT NOON!" she snarled, twitching on the last word.  I stood back, waiting for her head to spin, projectile vomit to issue forth, and a big armoire to lurch across the room at me, but she must not have felt well enough to use the full extent of her black magic.

She got out the next day, because, of course, most  hospitals won't keep you two days unless you are literally coughing up a lung.  When she heard that I would have to give her injections, she volunteered to stay in the hospital so they could give them there.  But they sent her home.  And the fun began.

"Oh, I need some milk--NO,  NOT THAT MUCH!"  "Now git me somethin' to COVER THAT OVER!"  "Oh, I need a heatin' pad!"  "Oh, Lord, help me, JESUS!"  "Oh, God, oh, God!"  And always, always, the whining, "I don't know why things have to happen to me!"

My mom, who is in her 70s and has trembling hands and some other damage from years of psychotropic meds and shock treatments, does most of the gophering while I try to make it to tutoring appointments or work on articles I freelance for the local paper.  I realize she has it worse, but the whole house is strained.

I  had to keep taking Granny back to the doctor, because the level of blood thinner hasn't been right--first too low, then waaaay too high.  Each time we go, there is an ordeal, but yesterday was worse than before.  She can't walk much without tiring, and the doctor's office might as well be an Olympic level-obstacle course. Barely make it to the waiting room.  Plop into a chair.  Wait.  Heave up to go back through the doors, climb on scale.  Wait.  Sit to have blood pressure.  Heave back up to get to an examination room.  Wait.  Trudge down the hall, panting,  to get blood drawn.  Wait.  You get the picture.

They have said she needs to walk, so I try to be patient and help her, thinking--until yesterday--that it is good exercise since she sits all day except for brief bouts of movement.

But after yesterday's appointment, we finally had to admit that she needed a wheelchair.

I park at the front doors of the doctor's office, get out, and walk her in.  She is desperate to sit down as soon as possible.  I don't remember it ever being this bad before, but I know the medicine she is on is supposed to make her weaker.

I go back out and park the car.  I come in  and see a woman who is there with a 10-year-old girl and a man on oxygen.  I notice that she is picking up something brown and peanut-shaped from the floor, holding it with a paper towel and taking it to the bathroom.  I try not to look too hard at the poor man on oxygen, who can barely manage a toiling walk, but I don't see him eating peanuts.

Granny barely manages several brief stints of walking that are required for the visit.  We finally come to the checkout counter, where I am having to explain (again) that she wants to change doctors.  (She was polite in front of her old doctor last week when she told him that she wanted to see a different one in the practice, but behind his back, she's called him "an old cuss!")  While we are setting up her next appointment, I notice that Granny is holding on to the counter, but sinking.  Her legs are beginning to buckle, and she has a look in her eyes that is near-fainting.  I grab her, someone gets a chair for her to collapse into, then they get a wheelchair to put her in, so I can get her to the car.

But, the worst hasn't even happened yet.  Remember how I said that she is on blood thinners, and a fall could kill her because she could quickly lose so much blood?  When we got back to the house, she thought she needed to hurry into the bathroom.  She calls out for my mom to help her with this and that as she makes her way back there. 

(the throne)


My mom is nearest her in the bathroom, and I am behind my mom, worrying, probably telling my mom to get her hands out to steady my grandma.  Everything happens so fast.  Granny is making demands.  I am barking orders.  My mom is inching forward.  CRASH!  My grandma is on her back, her head having hit the tile.  A broken glass is scattered about. 

What had been chaos is now dead silence.  My grandma is mum, unmoving, her eyes staring at the ceiling.  My eyes widen.  I can't get to her with my mom between us, but I am trying to  make my mom move, so, frightened and frustrated,  I say something dumb:


"I think she's dead!"

(There is a reason I could never be a nurse.)

My mom still  stands there, silent as the grave.

(There is a reason she could  never be a nurse.)

Surely this all happens in a few seconds, but it feels much longer.  Finally my grandma, still looking up at the ceiling, drawls, "Where did I fall?" 

Miraculously, Granny does not even have a bruise.  We help her up.  She seems good has she has been.

I kick myself for not having gotten her a wheelchair before, but she never seemed this bad before and, when you commit someone to a wheelchair....I don't know, it seems like they go downhill even faster because they don't make a point of walking.  We will have to make her walk more in the house.   Since Medicare won't cover unskilled nursing, I am checking into getting everyone to chip in to help get someone here to relieve my mom a few hours a week.  I help when I can. We are trying. 

Everything I have gone through these last few years--caring for my mom and grandma--has changed my perspective.  Overfamiliarity with the end of life can make its beginnings seem suspicious.  The time when we are independent adults seems so fleeting.  If I let myself think too much about the brevity of life, it seems we move out of diapers, then right back into them.  My mind lights on a memory of my uncle whispering to me as my mom, then locked in her own world, was experiencing one of her many hospitalizations.  "If people could see how their baby would end up," he said, "you know, while they was making it, I 'spect most wouldn't have it."

But people do.  The rich, the poor all over the world continue to make babies, who may now reach 100.  But what are they reaching for?  Last week at the doctor's, I saw a 95-year-old man, still chatty and funny, very positive, who had driven himself there.  So much is happening to me lately.  The girl involved in my dad's murder was considered for house arrest.  I wasn't expecting it and almost had a heart attack.  A recent death has rocked my family ties.  But I guess I should strive to be more like the old man.  He kept saying he had a lot to be thankful for.  I do, too.





My Granny












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First I hope you are not offended when I say that I was laughing my ass off a couple times.
Second, you hit on one of the (many) problems in health care management: figuring out how grandma can be taken care of and the family doesn't have to go broke doing it.
Yes we do have much to be thankful for. Frenetic family life can be challenging — amusing? But I do know I'm thankful for retaining my ability to read DeliaBlack's cool, witty writing! ~R~
Oh, how painful these issues are to deal with. But you seem to be doing as well as can be expected with them (the issues, your mother, your Granny, etc). It sounds like other family members are close by--can't some of them help to give you and your mother a needed break? It's especially hard to deal with a sick/dying person when said person isn't very nice/sweet-natured to begin with. My thought and prayers go with you as you continue to juggle all the parts of your life. One day it will be better. One day. Rated. D
I loved this: "If people could see how their baby would end up," he said, "you know, while they was making it, I 'spect most wouldn't have it." Insightful, poignant post. Life is a thrill ride.
Bad (and completely wrong) opening sentence. This is more than an intelligent post. Don't denigrate yourself like that, Delia, especially not in the opening line.

You got my vote. R
Take grandma out behind the barn and shoot her. Is that too harsh?
That's a lot to ask of someone your age (that means young, btw). The field of nursing is wide open, but now way I could be one. It takes a very special type of person to go into that.Still, with all of your trials you manage to keep your head AND your sense of humor.

"I think she's dead!"

(There is a reason I could never be a nurse.)

My mom still stands there, silent as the grave.

(There is a reason she could never be a nurse.)

That one slayed me. Wish I could help make your life a little easier. How about a nice foot rub?
Thanks for all the comments!
I would take a foot rub, believe me!
Lady, I don't know how you do it, but I'm awfully glad that you do! That applies both to dealing with the challenges, and writing about them - I laughed, yet felt guilty for laughing, but knew that you were trying to laugh, too, so I let myself off the hook. You're pretty amazing, really.
Very funny. Oh so true. It seems like we are independent adults without illness for about 10 minutes in our thirties and then it's all downhill from there. Buddha didn't lie when he said: "Life is suffering."

Excellent writing.
I love everything about this one, Delia, from the title to the honesty to the humor to the top-notch writing. Hang in there with granny, girl. Caring for an elderly relative is the hardest thing ever.
Wow! I thought she was dead too when she hit the floor. Some people are just too stubborn to die.
I will spend the rest of (at least) this day counting my lucky stars Delia!
Made me think of my Grandmother and my Granny. My Grandmother in Tennessee was a storybook grandmother who loved me unconditionally. She never said a harsh word, and I adored her, still miss her 30 years after her death, and was sure I was her favorite grandchild out of twelve. Turns out most of the twelve thought her/himself to be Grandmother's favorite.

My Granny was a farm wife in Arkansas in the first half of the twentieth century as was my Grandmother. That was about the only thing they had in common as Granny was downright mean and hostile. She could be lots of fun and would physically play with, tickle, etc. her grandchildren. She was also an abusive parent who had physically abused two of her children while openly favoring the youngest of the three. She was very cruel to me and to my sisters when we were ages six, four, and three, and left in her care while our parents went into town. Poor miserable, hateful Granny who hated herself most of all.

I took care of my dad in his last years when my children were young. My husband used to ask me why I spent so much time taking care of my dad who had, as he put it, "used me like a tool". And yes, he was not only an awful father, he was also an awful human being. But as I told him, the best revenge, so to speak, is to be a better daughter than he was a father. Why screw with my karma by sinking to my dad's pathetic level?
I think your Granny and my Gramma are long-lost sisters. I could just HEAR that whiny, nasally voice and feel the vulture claws. Gramma swears like a sailor at her doctors and nurses, and her day isn't complete until someone has broken down in tears.
delia, this would be an award winning blog if I was giving out awards....your mom is lucky that you're getting some support for her. being a caretaker is an extremely exhausting and draining position, and most need the support from others....

(and I laughed too about the dialogue after your grandmother fell. but glad she's okay).
I hope to have the sense to go before everything falls apart, but I suppose I'll be like all the other old ladies, hanging on and having to be dragged kicking and scratching. This was a delight to read.
Man, this was truly excellent writing!

I guess one becomes the caretaker now instead of one being taken care of. The role is reverse.

As long as you make time for YOU, it won't be so bad. Believe me, I know from experience.
you have quite a way of telling a story my dear. This could be so boring if written by someone else but the way you tell it is brilliant (there is a reason I could never be a nurse). So funny. I believe that you need to find the humor or the heaviness will consume you. so well done.
Go easy on yourself. You are under tremendous stress right now. You are doing the best you can -- keep reminding yourself of that.
Wow. What an ordeal. I'm glad you survived.
You and my sister suzie need to talk. She is camped out at the "home" where our mom is oh so slowly dying and she can't be saved and the rest of us sit with mom and send suzie home...when we can get away from work and we can get her to leave. You really need to talk to her. Great story telling!
This is so well-written - a fascinating read. How you manage to keep your sense of humor (I think she's dead. There's a reason I could never be a nurse. Killer humor) in the middle of everything raging around you is ... well, simply amazing. You are an amazing woman. And this is top-notch writing.
Great story. I like your Granny and you do a marvelous job of taking care of her. My mom is in the hospital for the 2nd night in a row for suspected internal bleeding. She and my sister keep telling me not to come down there, but after what happened with my dad, I am reluctant to listen to them.
HI I'M JAMES FRIEND LOOPY. I WOULD LOVE TO TALK WITH U ABOUT BIPOLAR SOMEDAY SOON. i;M 32 AND BEEN LIVING WITH THIS ILLNESS SINCE i WAS 15. To me the definition of bipolar is going insane and then coming back from it. That's what has happened to me.
hey there...a friend of loopy's....

the old will ask of us: do unto us well,
though we never did a doggone thing good for you..
well, except...
and then...

The Old are sacred, they are. To care for them
when they are helpless, after a lifetime of being real mean
and not terribly helpful in your own life,
is unfortunately,
what u gotta do
if u are gonna
someday be
the person
you are

That person has alot to do with this old creature...
plenty...she is in yr bones and in yr gray matter...she is
what u are made of, and u have a responsibility, unfortunately,
to honor yr damn ancestors. No matter how much u really dont
personally care about em at the moment. When Judgment Day comes, and it will, u will be put on trial for this,
and yl pass...and yl glide into heaven and be-
come a saint...

worth it.

done it.

oh wow, this is great writing. i miss it when you don't post often. we could probably have a great competition over who had/has the worst grandmother but i concede the title to you for what you're goingn through lately. shit, girl. i always forget that you've been caring for these women. you are a saint. oh, that is so suckatitious about that murderer being up for house arrest!! shit, is murder considered a light thing these days? and of course you miss your dad with all this family carp is going on. i love love love you and i love this post.
I know I'm late, but I just read your comment on KOB.

I enjoyed reading this post very much.