Soul Doubt: 05/2009 - 06/2009

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Warm and Free. But What About Us?

After watching a former shadow of my grandmother fade faster and faster, as the hospital stays became more frequent and of longer length, she finally was granted her last wish- to be released from KMC and their endless pokings, proddings, inside lines and CT scans; catheters and brochoscopies... to be released. And not just from the hospital.

See, she was just too ill in too many areas, not the big C, no, but renal failure coupled with two strokes, neither of which she could quite recover from. Diabetes, extreme edema and dysphasia toward the end. And all she wanted was to go home. To die, yes, she knew that. But at least away from the bright lights and endless visits from the sharpest of the many-initialed specialists down to the lowliest of aides and housekeepers. All she wanted was us- her family. Around her, loving her, keeping her comfortable, kissing her wasted cheeks and trying our hardest not to cry around her.

So that's what we did. Thanks to a wonderful Hospice administrator, he pulled some strings and in one whirlwind of an afternoon, got her de-IV'ed, signed out of what she considered a neverending nightmare (no offense, KMC- of the many hours I spent there by her side, I considered everyone to be at the very least competent, and most very compassionate as well) and sent home. Equipment magically appeared in her living room- a special hospital bed to ease her pressure ulcers, nurses available 24-7 by merely picking up the phone, and just the right amount of comfort measures for her to still recognize us but not be in pain.

The nurses were awesome, the aides cheerful, the Social Service worker empathetic and obviously capable. I'm sure had Grandma had need for a longer relationship with them, we would have been just as grateful as we were for the short time they assisted.

She passed away yesterday morning, at 5:20 am. I was holding her hand at the time, as she was unable to speak by that point. She had been home almost two full days, and we had time to assemble a full platoon of her descendants, siblings and of course her husband. My mother, aunt and I took the night shift, all sprawled out on various couches and me on the recliner (being the youngest, and assumedly the most spry). As I was a medical tech in the military- although it seems like ages ago- my family seems to rely on me for most of the translation of medical jargon, opinions on sudden symptoms, etc. It was my mom who shook me awake a bit after 5, saying Grandma didn't seem to be breathing anymore, labored and raspy as it had been. I rubbed my eyes, stumbled over to Grandma's hospital bed, and spoke first quietly, trying to get a response, then louder, shaking her, even tried to get a response by the hand squeezing method we had worked out the night before. Nothing. Then I checked her pulse, which was weak, thready but existent. Not like mine, which was racing and causing my head to throb. I had Mom immediately call the emergency Hospice line, from whence a nurse was summoned, and laid my head on her chest, trying to feel the lift and fall of breath. I felt a couple breaths, then nothing. The pulse had ceased as well.

Funny, no, ironic I suppose would be a more fitting term, at that point everything for me got very calm. Whereas before the days and nights had been full of tears and emotionalism, this time I just felt myself grow numb. I knew she was gone, I knew what had to be done, so I just gave her hand a last squeeze and got to it. Woke up Grandpa. Told him his companion of over twenty years was gone. Called next door to my dearest, sweetest aunt; the daughter of this woman who'd just passed away, who was her caregiver, champion and even the toughie when she'd had to be. That was the most difficult call to make, because I knew she would take it the hardest. Mom and my other aunt were both crying softly, Grandpa W. more rackingly. Downstairs, my cousin and his wife stuttered up the stairs, knowing somehow already and leaning on one another for strength. Thankfully their toddler slept through it.

My auntie arrived, panicked- all I'd said is come now. She saw it in my eyes and simply collapsed. It was one of the most heartwrenching things I've ever seen. All of us gathered together in that little upstairs living room, red carpet matted with their elderly Husky's dog hair, dawn just creeping in... it was unreal. I'm crying now while writing this, but it's a cleansing sort of cry; at that point it just didn't feel quite real. Grandma was still so warm, dammit! She was pale, but I could feel sweat at her temples when I stroked back her hair. How could life, even a bare approximation of one, be so there at one moment and gone the next?

When the nurse arrived, she was only able to confirm what we already knew, which started a whole new round of sobbing and everyone talking above everyone else. I tried to distance myself from it, feeling too empty to participate. So what did I do? Made a pot of coffee. Peed. Brushed my teeth. Called my husband and told him the news. Mundane fucking things that just didn't seem fair in the face of such of an enormity of sorrow.

Once reentering the room, the nurse took me aside and quietly asked if I would help her clear the room for a moment and if I could assist her in repositioning and cleaning up the "body" (me thinking, this is my grandmother, you heartless bitch! Not a body!), but outwardly smiling slightly and agreeing, yes, that would be a good thing- don't think anyone else would be up to the task. And of course she would rather me wash her gently down and put fresh jammies on her than some stranger struggle with it alone.
So I herded the others out on the deck, most of them furiously smoking cigarettes and sucking down coffee between sobs at that point, and did what needed to be done. Afterward, I actually felt some of the numbness secede; Grandma looked so much more peaceful with her pretty blue-striped pajamas on, the angel pin I had bought her at the hospital pinned to the lapel- she could have been sleeping peacefully.

The nurse thanked me profusely, made what phone calls she had to make, collected the unused medication and left.

For some odd reason, I felt compelled to pull out my little pocket Bible and stand over her and read Psalm 139. It had always been one of my favorites, and for some reason just seemed to be the right thing to do, although in my own ears, the words were ringing hollowly. While I did so, everyone sort of filed back in and listened, then we all just stood in silence after I'd finished. I felt like a fraud, or at the very least an actor in a bad movie, and sort of slunk away to where my backpack and purse were shoved under the kitchen table. No one noticed as I headed out, but I just didn't feel like I could handle it another minute, the air was oppressive and I was maybe a little more out of my mind than I thought at the time.

Ironically (yet again) my husband and son were pulling up right as I was getting into my car. I hadn't asked him to come, in fact, expressly forbade his bringing Jameson. But perhaps by some sort of spousal telepathy, he showed up exactly at the right moment- just in time to escort me home, where I held my son and cried into his hair until he squirmed to get down, confused at his mommy's bizarre actions.

Tony tucked me into bed, where I blissfully, dreamlessly slept most the day away, waking ravenous and groggy around three-ish. Fortified by donut holes and coffee, I determinedly set upon acting as "normal" as possible, only failing when an errant thought would send me back into the memories of the unrealities of that morning.

Am I grieving correctly? Is there a way to do so? Scores of books and articles are available on the subject, pages of shrinks in phone books rubbing their sweaty palms together in breathless anticipation of my call.

I think it's cheaper and more suited to my warped personality to just spew it out here, on my aptly named little blog. And let time and experience take care of the rest. I've been touched by death often, but never like this, sober, with a loved one growing cold under my touch. I'm forcing myself to think of her in Heaven, warm and free.

I love you, Grandma. Goodbye.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Be Careful What You Pray For?


Looking at the date of my last post on here, I was stunned to realize it had been a solid three months since I'd even plopped one little nugget of wackiness or wisdom on here- a site I swore to myself I would use faithfully to purge my overactive brain of its most pressing and/or interesting (at least to me) thoughts, fears, doubts or plain ole pontifications. Shit, I've had New Year's resolutions that were more successful than this has been lately.

What a Grade-A flake I've turned into. Not only here, either, in just about every aspect of my life except taking care of my little boy. At least some vestige of motherly instinct has overridden this oppressive case of the blues which has turned my oh-so-blessed life to crap. Which brings to mind the age old chicken/egg question: did I stop posting due to my depression? Or did my ceasing of not only online activity, but everything else in my life remotely recreational- hiking trips, church group activities, visiting friends and relatives- lead to the depression? Hell, at one point I didn't answer my phone for three days, didn't leave the house for nine, and refused to even step foot in my office (A month ago I was put on a "leave of absence", which I fear is p.c. for gently being replaced by someone who can do the job I had- actually, most likely it's taken several people to replace me... before my 'breakdown', I was working sixty and seventy hour weeks, and since I was being paid salary, this was just considered part of the job- some months were easy, the last couple were absolute hell).

Come to think of it, that might've been one of the catalysts for the "I can't take it any more" mantra I finally muttered to her... trying to juggle a multitude of home office duties, run a household while my husband works out of town Monday thru Friday, and care for an extremely active and energetic two-year-old I suppose pushed me to the breaking point. I have this problem, see- whenever my boss would ask me if I could tackle yet another project on top of the myriad other duties I was working on, I found myself incapable of admitting that no, I could not. I'd tell her, "Boss, I thrive under pressure!" and grit my teeth, put Jameson to bed and burn the midnight oil til it was done. Finally, I started slipping, though- boxes for food expos and demos weren't making it on time, I was forgetting to check the phone and internet inquiries from confused Celiac groups, cookbooks were getting mailed to the wrong addresses... I was losing it. And cumulatively, it was enough to have my boss send over her husband to pick up all the files, Pitney-Bowes mailstation, cases and cases of product, and all the other miscellany that I'd acquired over the last almost two years of my Namaste Foods employment. Employment that, unfortunately, was on a 1099 basis so I can't even collect unemployment. Haven't talked to her since, either, although her husband hinted at the possibility of my resuming partial or full employment once my mental state was back to its former (relative) stability. Being a fairly perceptive sort, however, that little aside, with the accompanying obligatory shoulder pat, registered pretty high on my bullshit meter. Bottom line, I'd become more of a liability than an asset, and no matter how much we all liked each other as people, our working relationship was kaput. I still greatly admire my former boss- she's one hell of a lady and I will never forget her belief in me when I was fighting my case so publicly- belief strong enough in my intellect and ethic that she hired me straight after of the end of the whole mess. And I think overall, I proved her right- I just got overwhelmed there at the end. If you're reading this- sorry, D.

Moving on...
See, now, the thing is, although I have been going a bit nuts from an entire month of doing nothing except tend to my son, clean my house to an almost ridiculous state of sterility and organization, and other borderline OCD activities I won't bore you with by listing, I'm not so sure I WANT to go back to working from home. My son is extremely demanding of my time when I'm here- it was a challenge to fend him off while attending to my work duties. Couldn't just ignore the little guy for eight hours straight, so multi-tasking took on a whole new definition. Plus- and anyone whose ever worked on a self-created schedule can attest to- it takes some serious discipline some days to force oneself into a home office to slog through the day's duties, rather than say, read a good book or sleep in just because you know you CAN.
So, working from home I think was a good idea on paper- and was wonderful when my son was still a little thing that would gurgle happily on a blankie on the office floor while I worked- it's no longer feasible for me, even once my mental faculties are all relatively stable again.
'Cause they're not, you know. I still sleep waaaay too much- when Tonydaddy's home, and can look after the boy, I will sleep 15 or 16 hours at a stretch, no problem. And wake up grumpy because I want yet more. My eating habits suck: I cook meals for my family, but pick at my own plate, when I even bother making one for myself. Usually I just subsist on cinnamon sugared donut holes from Super 1, endless cups of coffee liberally doused with French Vanilla creamer, and when I start worrying about scurvy, I'll steam up an entire broccoli floret and salt and butter the heck out of it and eat that for a meal. Not exactly a stellar food pyramid, I know.
So. I've regurgitated my symptoms for the blogosphere to hopefully just absorb with equanimity, as I do NOT want your pity. God knows, I don't deserve it. If anything, pity my family for having to put up with this senseless form of entropy I've lapsed into... for NO FREAKING REASON!
Yes, I was working too hard. Okay, no more job. Depression gone? Hell no, worse than ever. Now, I mope around the house, read an average of nine crappy novels a week (I go for the 500 page plus ones- they're at least lengthier so I can escape reality a bit longer) and do my best to fake smiles for my son who shouldn't have to see his mommy like this.


So, to touch on the relativity of the title of this post, I should explain the events of the last two weeks. If anyone recalls, there was another post from last year where I detailed my maternal grandmother's failing health: a couple of strokes, a fall which the resulting broken rib caused pneumonia, general weakness and malaise... to put it succinctly, she is a very, very sick woman.
Week before last, Saturday, she was so ill the ambulance rushed her to the hospital for a blood transfusion and some other life-saving measures due to her renal failure. Since at that point, her symptoms were about as stable as one could expect, they discharged her with the hopes that she would rally better at home, since her only statement (slurred, due to the post-stroke aphasia) she would make, repeatedly, was, "I want to go home. I want to go home."

This was a big mistake. She is also diabetic, normally non-insulin dependent, but her blood sugar began testing out in the 400's. At one point it was too high for the reader to give an answer: it simply flashed "HIGH- HIGH- HIGH". At that point, we again rushed her to the ER, where she was placed on multiple machines- respirators, cardiac monitors, an IV administering blood thinners, steroids to help her lung function, fluids to help her dehydration. An entire team of specialists was assembled, and even after a solid four days of working on her, when I cornered each one of them individually (I can be confrontational when it comes to those I love!) and asked them, "What is wrong with my grandmother and what are her chances of getting through this?" my only answers- with very little variation from each- was "Your grandmother is a very sick woman- we are basically at a loss as to what could be causing the multiple organ involvement and shutdown; of course, we are doing every test we can think of and treating each crisis as it arises, but there is no way we can answer whether she will get through this or not at this point."

Surprise, surprise. Doctorspeak for "we don't know what the hell is going on". Because of my recent unemployment and therefore having the most flexible schedule of the family, I've been spending the most time at the hospital; spending nights with her (man, those benches are uncomfortable!) and translating her slurred speech to the nurses and CNA's as needed. Basically, just being there for her- I think her greatest fear is being left alone to die; either at a hospital or at a "care center" (PC for nursing home these days). Yes, there are some good ones, but we as a family are determined to respect our loved ones wishes and just want to get her home to pass on in dignity, surrounded by those who love her. As skilled as the nurses, doctors and other caregivers in those facilities and hospitals may be, none of them love her like we do, therefore, none of them can or will go the extra mile to make her as comfortable and happy as possible during her journey to Heaven. And after some one-on-one time I had with her the other night, I do feel like she has accepted Jesus back into her heart and will be reunited with Him upon her passing. I was actually pretty worried about that- my Grandma has led one helluva hard-drinking, hard-living, well-traveled life, and fell away from her childhood Lutheran faith a looong time ago. So I hope the little bit of Scripture I read her and the conversation we had after has made the difference- if anything, I know it made ME feel way better.

I guess that's what Part Two of this blog post is really about- with my grandma being sick, I've felt better than I have in weeks. I know it's because I've been too busy dealing with her, organizing family shifts of who's staying when with her, translating the more confusing medical terms for the rest of the family, and all that... but is that really solving my depression? or just putting a Band-Aid on it, if you will?

I am under the care of a doctor- she's tried four different antidepressants on me to date and none of them have worked worth a damn. So the next step, besides counseling at Genesis as soon as this crisis with Grandma has passed, is an eval with a psychiatrist, who'll hopefully be able to rule out something more serious like manic depression or something of the like.

But what if that doesn't work either? Should I search out other people's problems to focus on rather than my own? Will that "solve" this super-funk I've slipped into? Or is it just a result of extended sobriety: actually all the way clean of chemicals that for most of my life have numbed all the negative feelings I've encountered.

Any comments or advice would be very welcome. Thanks for listening, blogosphere.