My parents, who god bless them, work very hard and deserve to do whatever they want, have taken to flying off to random locations to attend bizarre events, see certain buildings or stay at some hotel they read about. Thus, when they’re gone, I tend to show up at my folk’s house, eat their food, drink their booze, hang out with my brother, and order movies on cable. As neither Alex nor I had plans on Friday night, I headed over after work and opened a bottle of wine. Alex made a huge dinner and we sat around the TV room watching the Usual Suspects and debating the plot. I fell asleep in my parent’s huge bed and planned to tan myself on their deck the next day.
At 7:30am, the phone starts ringing. By 8:30, Alex’s cell begins to go off, shouting its annoying ring-tone over the valleys of Marin until he had no choice but to get up and answer it. From my parent’s room, I hear the following one-sided conversation:
“When did the ambulance take her?”
“No, they’re at Spring Training in Tucson.”
“Oh, uh. Okay. Well, Beth is here now, so we can go over to the hospital this morning. No, no, no, it’s no problem. Don’t worry about it. We’ll handle it.”
Alex walks into my parent’s room. “So, Grandma’s in the hospital, screaming about some kind of pain. They don’t really know what’s wrong with her, if anything. We have to go to the Emergency Room and visit her, so she knows she isn’t entirely forgotten about.”
We put on a pot of coffee, down some scones, and head out the door.
“15 minutes, Beth.” says Alex, as we walk into Marin General Emergency Room. “In and out.”
Of course, when we arrive, they’ve taken her off to get a CT scan, and she’ll be gone for half an hour. We get comfortable in her room and begin to play with the various emergency room accessories now at our disposal. Alex immediately steals some rubber gloves and begins to make strange objects d’arte with them. I peruse the heath care propaganda strewn about and discover how to work the x-ray viewing lights on the wall. Alex, needing to pee, heads to the toilet across the hall. Upon his return, he looks at me and says, “That toilet is so high off the ground, I felt like a lifeguard.”
Finally Grandma gets wheeled back in, just as we delight in the foam hand sanitizer and its fabulous scent. She’s screaming in pain, heard all the way down the halls, and is at first virtually oblivious to our presence. In between screaming at orderlies and ripping out her IV, she becomes aware of us and calms down. Sort of.
My grandmother and I have had a tumultuous relationship, sharing a love of art, booze, and the Ritz, while holding on to a constant need to judge one another. My grandmother has famously moved hors d’oeuvres away from me when she’s felt I’ve gotten too fat, or ripped up unflattering pictures of me in the middle of cocktail parties. She once insisted I change clothes before heading to dinner, only to be punished later when she introduced me to her fancy pants friends, whereupon I loudly apologized for my hideous appearance. Yvonne and I have struggled to come to an understanding and while she often drives me nuts, my grandmother is a character. And there’s nothing I like more than a character.
It took forever to get the test results, and forever to find the damn doctor. This 15 minute visit was dragging on into hour 2, and I fucking hate hospitals. The benefit to being in the emergency room, however, is that there’s no shortage of action. I saw a man vomit repeatedly in the middle of the hallway, a drunken vagrant stumble in sporting handcuffs and a collection of various maladies ranging from sprained ankles to hallucinations.
During this time, I also came to love my baby brother even more. As I am adept at grabbing doctors and relaying information to my uncle or my mother, sitting at Spring Training with an ear pressed to her cell, Alex has a talent for dealing with the horrible crap I simply can’t handle. From my grandmother announcing that she had to “wee wee” to her attempting to remove her gown, Alex dealt with it all. I would be freaking out at the dreadfulness of the situation and Alex simply took charge, reaffixing her oxygen tubes and re-explaining to her, over and over, just where she was and just what was happening.
At one point, feeling like she wanted to scream expletives in response to the pain but simply unable to bring herself to say anything other than “OUCH!” repeatedly, my grandmother instructed us to swear. We happily obliged, although when I yelled “Cunt!” down the hallway, I got the distinct impression it was time to stop.
Grandma's morphine was kicking in and she really was starting to lose it, so we said our goodbye’s, checked in with the staff, pre-apologized for any inappropriate behavior on her part, and got the fuck out of there.
The long and short of it is that no one really knows what’s physically wrong with her. Her meds could be off, she could be “mentally declining”, or she could be suffering from 91 years of gin consumption. We have no idea. She’s still in Marin General, attended to by a patient staff and my vigilant mother who called me at work this morning to vent.
“Oh, good Lord. She’s stolen a knife from her breakfast tray and is threatening the staff. Every time someone gets close, she waves it at them. She is convinced her food is poisoned and is making me test it. She thinks she’s been in here for weeks and is trying to call 911. Her greatest complaint is that her room is smaller than Martha’s cell.”
As a family, I find we rely a great deal on gallows humor. I can’t remember a funeral or deathbed or horrible tragedy where we haven’t found something to laugh at. It is quite simply the only way we know how to survive this crap. I’d do anything for my family and they’d do anything for me. That being said, when I’m 91, waving around butter knives and calling the cops for no reason, just put me in a caftan and drug me up. I think we’d all be a lot happier that way…