Thursday, January 13, 2011

A defining moment.

I don't mind hospitals. Probably because I've never had a really traumatic or terrible experience in one. But there is one thing for sure: you can expect only so much privacy and only so much modesty in a hospital emergency room.

I spent all day yesterday in the ER with my grandma - she was the patient - and it was very enlightening. Or ... educational? Maybe "memorable" is the word I'm looking for.

Yes, definitely memorable. As in, I will never forget the events of the day and how they impacted our family.

I've been visiting granny and taking her to doctor appointments and picking up prescriptions and communicating with her caregivers while my parents and my aunt and uncle are in Florida for the winter. I wrote a little about that here and here.

While this has been hectic at times, I am happy to do it. She is my only remaining grandparent and I feel blessed to have her close to me and to have a great relationship with her.

Yesterday's visit to the ER was not all that unexpected, as grandma has been having some pretty serious pain in her back and ribcage and the prescription pain killers were helping her less and less. We had been waiting to hear from her doctor's office about scheduling a procedure to drain some fluid off grandma's lung; we believed that fluid was causing the pain. When she asked me to take her to the ER I figured it would at least put her on the fast track to getting the procedure done.

Boy, was I wrong.

While we waited for results of all kinds of tests to come back I couldn't help but overhear the maladies of the patient on the other side of the curtain. It was a (probably) middle-aged woman who had brought her mother in. The mother had been diagnosed with cancer two days after the daughter's husband lost his battle with cancer.

Can you imagine? The love of your life dies of cancer, mom comes to comfort you and within days she is diagnosed with cancer. It's a cruel world.

Cancer. The ugly "c" word.

It made me think of all the people I've known - too many - who have struggled with this disease. Some won, some didn't make it. It's never pretty and never easy.

I thought to myself, "At least grandma doesn't have cancer. Thank God she doesn't have cancer."

The hours ticked by. Nurses came and went. I finished reading a magazine. Grandma snoozed when she could get comfortable enough. I played games on my cell phone. Two IV doses of the strongest narcotics they had didn't touch grandma's pain. Calls were made. Vitals taken repeatedly. I sent Steve a text. CT scan done. I called my mom. Grandma told the nurse on a scale of 1-10 her pain was a 10. I kept wondering why they couldn't find something to get her some relief.

And then grandma's family doctor appeared.

The three of us - granny, doc and me - talked about the morning's events and everything granny's been through in the past few months leading up to this week. The doctor reminded her of how previous tests showed a mass on one of her lungs, and when further testing revealed the mass was most likely not cancerous the doctor still felt there was something a little off. At the time grandma declined further testing because she was not interested in any more surgeries or poking or prodding or cutting.

Doc said these latest tests from the ER indicate the mass has grown a bit and she's pretty sure that's what is causing grandma's pain.

Grandma asked the question.

"Do you think it's cancer?"

The doctor's answer: "I do."

This is one of those defining moments. I thought I had somewhat prepared myself.

It still felt like someone punched me in the gut.

There was time to take a breath, and then the conversation immediately turned to grandma's options for treatment. She is not interested in biopsies or chemotherapy or any of that; she just wants the pain to go away. We talked about hospice care and the doctor directed one of the nurses to make a phone call.

I had to call my mom and tell her.

The rest of the day was a blur of phone calls and consults and doing my best to comfort grandma and address her wishes and - finally - another dose of medication that numbed the pain enough to let her sleep. She was moved to a room and admitted for the night. I left after the doctor came in to check on her in the evening and I was glad for the quiet 30-minute drive home.


Cancer without treatment, no less. We're probably talking months left with her. Maybe a year. Nobody has a crystal ball, of course, but I think it's only human to wonder about a time line.

No bones about it, cancer sucks. Interestingly, I don't think grandma gives a flip. She's tired. She's been saying for a while that she's ready to go. She said yesterday she just doesn't want things to drag on and on with her body in the shape it's in. I believe her. I pray that with help from hospice she can at least enjoy the time she has left, free of pain.

After a good night of sleep I'm eager to see her today. I plan to take her back to the adult foster care home when she is discharged from the hospital this afternoon, and we will meet with a hospice nurse there to get grandma signed up.

As I've talked with family members I tell them I am taking my cues from grandma; she's OK and handling things with dignity and grace, so I will, too. That's all I can promise for today. Tomorrow and the days after? We'll deal with them one at a time.


  1. Cancer is probably the most horrible disease there is. I'm sorry to hear about your grandma Jen...I'll pray for you and your family.

  2. This took my breath away. You are a good granddaughter, Jen. We are praying for you.