About a little over a week ago, my mother spoke to her mother on the telephone and found out that she was feeling “different”. She had been having dinner a night or two before when she felt a strange bodily twinge, and since then she had been feeling “different”. She could offer no elaboration on what this “different” felt like, so my mother nagged her into using her neighbour’s blood pressure cuff to check on things. Adult blood pressure should be somewhere around 120 – hers was at 220.
My mother urged her father to take Grandma to the hospital in a neighbouring town, which he did, thank god. They’re old farm folk, and they sometimes need a little urging to consider taking care of their health. I also feel that it is important to add at this time that Grandma is eighty-four and that Grandpa is eighty-six, so my mother also instructed Grandpa to drive slowly despite his desire to get her there as quickly as possible.
I will skip much of the über-boring nonsense that is the medical system and jump ahead to the major points. Despite the fact that an eighty-four-year-old woman was experiencing really high blood pressure that drugs didn’t seem to be affecting, her doctor there was hesitant to ship her to Cosmopolis as an emergency patient. She was also hallucinating from whatever strange and unnecessary drugs he gave her. In Cosmopolis, they forgot to monitor her blood pressure for an hour-and-a-half, during which time it rose back up, making her ineligible for the emergency surgery she was to have. She was made ineligible again because she was given a blood thinner that she wasn’t supposed to have before the operation. It’s maddening. It’s a wonder that they don’t kill more people than they already do.
Oh, yes. You might want to know how the high blood pressure thing jumped to being a surgery thing. She was finally diagnosed in Cosmopolis with suffering from a completely blocked artery in her neck. This condition was causing stroke-like activity (not strokes, mind you, just stroke-like activity). She had a good chance of having a massive stroke on the operating table, but it was a given that she would have one if she didn’t go through with it, which she did at 6:00 pm yesterday evening.
This was what a lot of my weekend revolved around. My family was spending all their time either together at the hospital or together at my parents’ house. I am not good at totally immersing myself in an environment of high emotional stress, so I ducked out a few times just to be away from it. I did spend an hour-and-a-half visiting with Grandma in the hospital, which I am so glad I did. I have not been close to that side of the family for many years, and so I have only had polite and terribly infrequent conversations with her since I left childhood.
No one is ever singularly at fault. Along with my general lack of interest and effort to communicate with her, she made an effort to stay out of my life in some ways. She is a woman who is very concerned to never impose herself on others or pry into their lives in any way, which is commendable in certain circumstances and appreciated by her family. It did not work for her and I. I pulled away from my family in my teenage years and cut off most of my communication with them in my early twenties. My withdrawal coupled with her desire not to interfere resulted in putting a near halt to our social relationship.
Visiting with her on Saturday was almost like meeting a new person. She smiled and joked around with the nurses, she leaned in and said they’re talking about me again, aren’t they when my mother and aunt were whispering about her five feet from the bed, she was looking forward to going to the lake on the weekend. I had only ever seen her being reserved and quiet and non-intrusive, so the vibrant woman in that hospital bed was a pleasant surprise.
Yesterday, I found out that she had come through her surgery and was doing well. The surgery itself was incredibly risky, but the recovery time is only two or three days, so she will be at the lake on the weekend. When my mother gave me the good news, the sense of relief in her voice was palpable, and I was surprised at the level of my own relief.
It’s not that I’m cold. It is just that, for various reasons, I have been detached from my family for many years, and I forgot the strength of blood ties. It is at once disconcerting and a comfort, revolutionary and marrow deep. I don’t know what to do with it.
I wish that I had something poignant to say about the whole experience, but I don’t. On the one hand, I wish that I could report that the floodgates of my familial love had been torn open upon rediscovering my Grandma, and that so much has become clear to me now about who I am and my place in the world. On the other hand, I’m kind of glad that I don’t have anything of that magnitude to report. It would seem false to suddenly discover a windfall of enthusiastic emotions. Realizations are almost always short-lived and quickly forgotten.
I am glad to report, however, that my mother called me today to tell me that my grandmother is chatty and already feeling better than she has in a long while. I look forward to seeing her again this summer and hanging out and drinking tea (she skips the tea part and just has hot water) and having grown-up conversation. She is a sweet woman who is partially responsible for the fact of my existence, which sort of makes her not only a part of my present life, but also a major player in my pre-history, a good portion of my life’s prologue. My years of detachment made me forget the complexity of my own history and that it matters as much as it does.
Is this growing up? It seems like every phase of development in the younger years is noted by new growth in understanding greater levels of complexity. There should be a ritual for stuff like this. I should find myself standing in a field somewhere for days, no food or water around to slake my appetites, waiting for a wound in my head to open up, allowing the wind to fill my skull, sweeping out the old and making room for the new. I would drag myself back home with too-bright eyes and know that something was changed, that something had transpired both without and within me. When you’re an adult, there are no longer milestones such as graduations, driver’s licenses, and reaching the drinking age. I feel as though I have been set adrift.
I know, I’ll have my own Yay-for-me-I-have-achieved-a-new-level-of-complexity party. There will be cake, beer, and we’ll even have Stella-in-the-bottle for Friday, and maybe some girlie pink drinks for her and Laili and Ladybug. The Fiery One will have haircurlingly hot food to gorge himself on. Gordon will have all the tortilla chips he can eat, and Elliott can have one of his rare and splashy birdy baths. Me, I’m going to be floating on a sea of blissful joy, knowing that there are new things under the sun.