Friday, October 19, 2012

Nurse the Hate: Hate The Hospice

My grandmother was a glamorous woman in her youth, and matured into an attractive upper class Chicago housewife.  She was born in an age when women's goals were relegated to securing the right man and tending a respectable house.  She was always very pleasant to everyone she met, though slightly reserved probably from spending a life of biting her tongue in the company of my grandfather.  Still, she lived a life of privilege and by all outward appearances had everything a woman could want.  Successful businessman husband, three children, house in affluent Chicago suburb, and was by all accounts attractive and always stylishly dressed.

Like all people of means in colder climates, they moved to Florida after my grandfather's retirement.  The Big Lie of retirement did not spare him either, and he became debilitated by several horrifying strokes shortly after arriving in The Sunshine State.  My grandfather slowly passed away,  bedridden for years, left a shadowy whisper of who he had earlier been.  My grandmother spent a few more years afterwards in Florida, yet another widow looking for ways to manufacture a new identity and a sense of purpose.  As her health began to fail in her eighties, it was decided that my Aunt would care for her by her home in rural Wisconsin.  In short order she went from independent living to assisted living to hospice. 

As she approached the end of her life, my brother and I joined my father for what we knew would be our last visit with her.  I had not seen my grandmother in a few years.  She had become evasive as she aged, avoiding opportunities to see family members when they traveled near her home.  It was like she had become embarrassed that things had fallen apart from what had been such a carefully constructed outward appearance of The Good Life.  The last time I saw her she had been a dazed woman at her husband's funeral.  She seemed confused and disoriented.  Who could blame her?  Being his caretaker had been her full time job from the dinner parties of the 1940s through the assisted living care towards the end. 

The assisted living/hospice where she had been placed was a small facility.  It was like something from a John Irving novel, with eight to ten beds.  Most visits to assisted living facilities are built around the idea that the visitors pretend that nothing is odd to see Grandma looking frail as a little bird wilted in her bed.  You put on the brave face and speak extra enthusiastically "Hey grandma!  It's me!  It's Greg!  How's it going?"  The key is to offer that stupid unanswered question.  You never know for sure what the patient is hearing and understanding, but if they have any wits about them you know they must be thinking "How am I doing?  I look like a dusty old puppet and I don't have the strength to move my head.  How the hell do you think I'm doing Junior?"

I was gathering up my energy to ask whatever stupid question was going to pop out of my mouth as I ascended the stairs.  You can imagine my surprise to see on the first door to the right what looked to be a ninety year old man in an Indian headdress.  His eyes were closed and his mouth slacked open, withered arms placed at his sides.  It was obviously a pretty off kilter look for a facility like this.  Let me stress that he wasn't an American Indian.  He was some very elderly man probably named Carl.  What the fuck was he doing in a full Indian headdress?  I tried to work out a scenario that made sense as I walked down the hallway.  Looking back, that should have prepared me somewhat for seeing my grandmother.  Still, I was not in the correct mental place to walk in and see my little grandmother in a blue cowboy shirt and straw cowboy hat, eyes closed and head propped up on a mountain of pillows.  My Aunt, not behaving as if anything was unusual, tried to wake her.  "Mom!  Mom!  Look who's here!  Mom!"

Her eyes fluttered open and her head tilted back, her face showing fear.  She had no idea who we were.  Of course, it must have thrown her that her grandkids were also wearing faces filled with confusion as the woman they had always known as the stylish cosmopolitan maven had been replaced by a cowgirl.  Yippee-Ki-Hi-Oh!

It was explained to us it was "Western Day", and they dressed the poor patients as either cowboys or Indians.  I could not imagine any circumstance in which my grandmother would have previously dressed as a cowboy, but it wasn't like she had a say on it now.  Imagine sitting there in bed thinking "I feel like shit and now I'm being dressed to go to a hoedown?  I can't even walk.  How am I going to square dance?"  Thank God I didn't walk in during "Wizard of Oz Day" or "Allies and Axis Day".  Seeing my grandmother dressed in a Nazi SS Stormtrooper uniform would have been too much for my mind to bear.  Can you imagine walking into a hospice room to see your dying grandmother dressed as the Tin Man?  It really seems like a questionable policy on the part of the facility.  "Hi grandma!  It's me!  It's Greg!  Let me adjust your tin cap!  Do you have your little woodsman's axe?  Grandma?  Blink once if you know where the axe is..."

We had a brief awkward visit where I don't think my grandmother figured out who we were, though my Aunt graciously said that she did.  I don't think my Aunt wanted us to feel we traveled all those hours and miles for nothing.  She's a nice lady like that.  We left town after a quick lunch.  My grandmother died later that week.

The only thing worse than dying too young is dying too late.  If anyone reading this sees me dressed up in a wild costume in a hospice facility, help me out.  Don't let me go like that.  Unless I am in a cowboy shirt.  I may have worn that one on purpose.    


At October 30, 2012 at 11:59:00 PM EDT , Blogger AZ said...

Amen and you would be 100% Apache.


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