“Beep…beep…beep, I hate hospitals,” I exclaimed, the sound of rubber soles squeaking hastily along the clean hospital floors. What a broad range of emotions in a single place. From the happiness of birth to the sadness of death, the place seemed almost maniacal in its juxtaposition. My Grandma was back in the hospital now due to complications with cancer, and I was on my way down the hall to her room. The pace of my feet was quickening to the seemingly endless maze of twist and turns within the hospital. Left, right, up a floor I went. My heart was beating very fast now and my shirt was visibly moving to my beating chest. “1431” I said, rounding closer to her room by two’s. The name of the tag on the board was slightly faded in blue expo ink. I paused and took a deep breath making sure I was at the correct room. “Helen Haynes” it read. That was her, and I walked in to the sound of nurses.
It was nothing I hadn’t seen before. Endless tubes were circling her hospital bed while machines resembling something in a scientists experiment, sounded off in the background. Nurses were poking and prodding my sick Grandmother concluding they needed to run more tests. “Awesome, “ I thought to myself sarcastically. “Just what she needs…more tests.” What I knew – and evidently what these doctors didn’t – was that running more tests would result in the same prognosis she had received for years, even back to the day she decided to take me into her home. The same prognosis from countless doctors that said the cancer she was fighting off, was soon going to kill her.
Like I said, this was nothing I hadn’t seen before. When I heard the same news from the doctor that had been treating her this time, he seemed genuinely remorseful. Just like all the docs before him, he took pride in his treatment of his patients and their families (evident by the perfectly clean and pressed doctors jacket he wore, and all his tools and apparatuses in his pocket at his side). It was as if he was off to battle, fighting a great war against the diseases and sicknesses that plagued his patients. He was the general who lead the charge with stethoscope in hand, while his army – the nurses – fought valiantly behind him.
He finished talking and I caught myself drifting off into the wall circling my Grandma, the doctor, and me. I could tell he had given me the same bad news. I could tell by his facial expression. I had seen it before. Yes, he did look contrite. But I had seen that same look of pity. I didn’t want pity, and I didn’t want answers. I had all the answers: she was going to die. What I wanted was her to be comfortable, and she didn’t look the part. She couldn’t talk now, and when she tried, her speech resembled more closely a three year olds habits than a seventy-year-old women’s. She was pale, and the wrinkles that once paved highways along her weathered face had lifted. A result of the steroids, however, which were pumped into her body since her immune system had shut down.
“She’s probably got only a few days left based on her current condition,” the doctor said.
I continued to stare. Not at the wall though, but at her. Into her shut eyes, hoping that she was somehow conscious enough to know that it was my hand holding hers. The doctor stood in the foreground, quite, allowing his white doctors coat to fade into the white walls. I was focusing all my energy on her, squeezing my hands tighter as a tear rolled down my cheek onto the backside of her hand. I wiped my tears off with my sleeve and sat her hands back by her side now, trying to make her seem as comfortable as possible.
My Grandmother always had visitors. Especially from church. She was a devout Roman Catholic and the priest seemed to make a daily visit. Personally I was indifferent on the issue, but I respected what the church meant to my Grandma, so I always liked it when the priest came in. Except for today. Today he was preparing to read her last rights. I had seen this done before and I didn’t like it. Preparing for death isn’t easy but it’s something my Grandma would have wanted so he carried on. I sat back in a chair while the priest stood bedside with his sacraments and bible. His movements were slow and deliberate, but with intention. Slowly he found his page in the bible bookmarked with a blue, apparently silk, piece of fabric. He began to read while holding the sacraments in one hand and the bible in the other. His voice sounded monotone and quite, but deliberate and powerful. He spoke directly to her, and only her, as if it was his duty to let her know she was allowed to die. But, I had seen it before. I had heard it before. We had prepared for death in the past and she survived, so I didn’t know what to think. He kept reading while I slowly dazed back off into the wall circling my Grandma, the priest, and me.
The priest had finished and was attempting to gain my attention from the grips of my stupor. I turned my head fast and blinked quickly trying to focus my eyes on his face only a few feet away.
“I wish only the best for my Grandmother, Matthew,” the priest said. “Your Grandmother is in God’s hands now.”
“Thank you Father,” I countered blurrily, thankful for his actions, even if I thought it was unnecessary. The truth is I didn’t know if I wanted my Grandma to live. I had been through the same rollercoaster ride before with her in and out of the hospital. I saw the pain she endured fighting cancer for so many years. I saw the endless medications and treatments prescribed to her, just to keep her on her last breaths. Her goal was to see me make it to college ten years earlier when she took me in, and she did. “So do I really want her to live?” I asked myself. It was getting late so I decided to head home for a couple hours and try to get some sleep.
I couldn’t sleep.
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if what I was feeling was right. “Should I really want my Grandma to die? It would be a relief to see her not have to go through all the shit she has been going through. But she’s practically my mother. She is my mother, she raised me. Do I want my mother to die?” I beat myself up, flip-flopping with every second that passed – concerned with how I should feel about the situation.
It was morning now and I was drinking coffee, trying to rid myself from the sleepless haze I had put myself under. I was looking through my kitchen window as the sun was peering through at just the right angle to warm my forehead but not blind me. I took another sip. The television was on nearby just to add noise and hopefully jumble my thoughts enough to take my mind off matters. Finishing the cup, I looked at the clock. I decided it was time to go.
I arrived at the hospital once again, apprehensive. I walked and went through the repetitively painful process of checking-in with almost robot like proficiency. “I’m pretty sure you know why I’m here,” I said to the receptionist with an adolescent attitude. I could tell she was a little taken back.
“I’m sorry for your troubles Mr. Abramson,” replied the receptionist stressing the Mr. as if she was expecting me to act more mature and with a little more respect.
Frankly I didn’t care. So, I took my visitors badge and continued down the ever so familiar walk towards my Grandma’s room. The pace of my feet was quickening again to the seemingly endless maze of twist and turns within the hospital. Left, right, up a floor I went. Rounding the corner towards her room I heard a voice that resembled my Grandma’s. I stopped for a second and it disappeared. I shook my head quickly trying to clear my mind as if it was a messy hetch-a-sketch that needed to be cleared. I got closer and I heard it again. “wait a minute,” I said to myself. This time I didn’t stop but walked quicker. I got to her room, saw her name on the board, and walked into the sound of my Grandma’s voice.
My Grandma woke up earlier, ate breakfast, and took a shower. I walked in and saw her sitting there talking to a nurse. I immediately ran up and hugged her, dumfounded by what I had just witnessed. “How is she better!?” “What the hell happened?” To the hospitals amazement, and myself, what had seemed to be a miracle had just occurred. My Grandma, who was on the brink of death, had somehow defied all of us again. How, I don’t know, and will never know. I don’t care to know. I hugged her once again, speechless, trying to understand the perplexities of the situation.
My mind was scrambled. I felt as if I was talking to a dead person. I fully prepared myself for her death and now she is better? I didn’t know what to feel. I didn’t know what to think. The next few days that ensued were confusing. Of course I was beyond happy that she had pulled through, but I had told myself that I rather her die than live the way she was.
“I honestly don’t remember anything from the hospital…at all,” my Grandma told me the night they finally released her from the hospital. “What matters is that I’m here.”
I cleared my mind from the gutter it was in and thought about what she said.
She was right. It wasn’t the experiences in that building she wanted me to remember. Nor was it her death that she wanted to define her. It was that she was still here and I should cherish every moment she had left. I stepped back and sat down slowly upon this insight.
“It was as if you were giving me a chance to prepare for the real thing Grandma.”
“Precisely honey. Precisely.”