She went in to have her gall bladder removed and things spiraled out of control, as they tend to do with elderly patients; a serious kidney infection, blood clots in her lungs, a heart attack that went undetected in the hospital until her enzymes showed evidence of it, and now kidneys that have stopped functioning....though they show signs of possibly recovering.
The first time I visited her in the ICU, she was completely wiped out. She didn't realize that I was there. Helpless to do much, other than ask the nurses to bring her an extra blanket when she complained of being cold, I sat and watched her in the dim light filtering out of the fluorescent bulb overhead.
I listened as she struggled to breathe, worried about her high respiration count, and worried that she might stop breathing. She has a DNR order, meaning that if she were to suddenly stop breathing, that would be the end for her.
I thought of the all the dinners I had eaten with her during my father's visitation weekends when I was a child. She taught me to love butter...the real thing. My mother's house only ever had margarine, or the yellow oily spread plopped into plastic tubs by industrial machinery. Dinner would always be big and wonderful and generously flavored with butter, only to be followed by a swirled, marble cake served with hot tea poured out of a tall, white, china teapot.
When my brother and I would visit my grandparents, my grandmother would set an enormous pile of Sunday comics that she had saved especially for me to read. I would sit and pore through each paper while she made dinner and my grandfather watched the Cubs lose, yet again.
For the last two days I have spoon-fed my grandmother jell-o and pudding and small puddles of hot tea. I've been happy to do it, because there is nothing else that I can do. I think about my father, her son, who isn't here to help his mother...and I know that I am there, not only for myself, but as a stand-in for the son who isn't here any more.
I feel the weight of that representation to her and my father's siblings. I am him...by proxy.
Familial duty. It isn't a burdensome weight, but it does feel a little strange to carry it, knowing that this crisis, and my father's absence in the circle around my grandmother's bed, is an unspoken sentence hanging in the air.
Right now, the doctors think her kidneys may be on the verge of recovering, though only time will tell. It's been the only hopeful news of the past week.
Still, after I fed her tonight, she drifted off to sleep and I sat like a watch-dog ready to pounce as I watched her heart rate linger in the 120's and occasionally spike up to 150.