Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I Got My Choppers In

September 09, 2007

As far as Sundays go, this one is nice. The Florida weather is usually stiflingly-hot through these months, and only tolerable in the winter, but this afternoon, at 1pm, it's only up to 88 degrees. Usually by this time it's in the low 90's. Perhaps the tilting of the Earth is about to bring some relief.

I hope so for my grandfather's sake. I'm hoping that he can remain as comfortable as possible in these days of his twilight. He was supposed to see one of his three doctors this past Wednesday, but instead it turned out to be the day he finally gave in, allowing my grandmother to call for EMS. He was succumbing to the fluid collecting around and in his lungs, completely immobilized at this point. His heart can't take much longer of this. I was trying to do something, anything, but I was completely helpless, watching my poor Poppaw turn grey, losing consciousness.

The EMS people came quickly. A team of five of them were strangely quiet and grim as they tried to prepare him to be moved. Watching them made me realize that poor Poppaw should have been in a hospital at least a week ago, before Labor Day's incident. It took them a half hour to get him out of his chair. His breathing was preventing him from the smallest of movements. My Granny was starting to become inconsolable. Frantic, panicked, and beside herself. I have been her watchdog and pincushion. I'm trying my best to build her up and console her through all of this. As they wheeled him out, I was standing there, holding onto my grandmother, as she called to him for what seemed like one last time. He didn't respond.

I saw him trying to throw back his head, involuntarily trying to make a gasp for air. The EMS folks had trouble rounding him by the corner on our patio, and I was a little upset when they just muscled him through it, jostling him to the point of visibly shaking his frail body. I told myself that they were probably worried about getting him to the ambulance quickly. Otherwise, in my mind, I saw myself grabbing the one who was pushing him, and throwing him through a window. Pure emotion at this point. "Don't you know that's not just some sack of potatoes, there?"

He took even longer in the ambulance to be transported to Cape Coral Hospital. After several minutes of standing with Granny, watching nothing but the side of the ambulance, I realized that I needed to take her upstairs to sit down. I guided her there, and we spoke about it all. She began to tell me everything that needed to be done. After letting her recite everything she needed to say, I saw her getting up, saying she was gonna drive herself to the hospital. She was worried about me being able to make it to my last night class that night, to take my last finals exam in order to graduate.

It was a silly concern to me, but I acted like it was kind of her to be worried about me, but that I was going to take her to the hospital. She gave in to allow me. "Granny, you need to change your slippers, and put on a pretty face for Poppaw in case he becomes cognizant. Give him something nice to look at." She got a look of determination on her face, and told me she'd be downstairs in ten minutes.

We got to the Cape Coral hospital, me carrying my grandmother's night bag and shawl. We came up to the lady behind the desk, and I could feel the trepidation from Granny as she asked about where he was. Would he be safely in a room, or already expired? The nurse behind the desk began to flip through paperwork on a clipboard, obviously not finding his name. Suddenly, a man appeared from behind her. They compared notes, and the lady looked at us. "He's not here, ma'am." I was alarmed. "He's at Health Park—they had complications along the way, and diverted him. It's his heart, isn't it?", she asked. "Well, it's his lungs, but I don't…", my Granny stammered back to her.

We drove twenty more minutes to Park Health, with my grandmother in a mix of emotions. "That's a good place, we've been there before", she was saying. "We wasted 30 minutes by going to Cape Coral! I don't know why they didn't call to let me know!", she said. I was trying to offer anything I could to keep her from losing it. "Maybe they called home while we were on the road", I said.

We made it to Park Health, and went past the grand piano player, who was set up in their atrium. They volunteer to come and play for us, I was told later. Nice touch, I thought. We were given sticky badges and allowed to enter the double doors into their critical care unit. Deep breath as we neared the rooms. I entered behind Granny, and was relieved to see him alive. Hooked up to massive amounts of machinery, but alive. We made it, I thought.

He looked pitiful. A once-proud, strong, Indian, shaped by 31 years of vigorous training in the US Army, resulting in a quiet, spiritual man who was thankful for his life, and always tried to look at the good in people. But also a man who would reach across a desk and put the fear of God in you if he thought you were doing him wrong. He was now shriveled, paralyzed, and had so many tubes keeping him alive. I eased myself around to the other side of his bed as Granny was seeing if he was in any pain. After a few hospital folks had come in and out, and Granny wasn't talking to him, it was ok for me to try to speak to him. His oxygen mask muffled his words, making an already-awkward moment even more so. I tried to keep a pleasant expression on my face while I had his attention, but I was awash in fear.

"How are they treating you, Poppaw?", I said, forcing something out of my mouth. "Oh, not bad, son", he said back to me. It was hard to make the words out through the mask. He suddenly looked at me with a sign of life and energy in his eyes, and wanted to say something to me.

"I got…chopper…in", he said with a smile, and it became obvious to me that he must be on some painkillers, because he didn't have enough consciousness an hour ago to even recognize me and Granny telling him goodbye as they wheeled him away. I didn't know what he meant by choppers, but didn't want to ask him to repeat it, due to his lack of oxygen. So I just smiled back and nodded to him. I assumed he meant that he had his upper teeth in ("I got my choppers in"). He hadn't been able to get them in for the past week, having lost so much weight that they wouldn't form correctly in his mouth.

About that time, my grandmother started talking to him again. They exchanged a couple of words, and then Poppaw repeated what he had told me, almost like an excited kid who's telling everyone that he's got a new tooth in. "I got choppered in", he said. Granny and I looked at each other with wonderment. The doctor explained that the ambulance had to call in for an airlift to meet them on the side of the road to transport him even quicker to a better facility. His heart had gone into arrhythmia within a few minutes of the ambulance ride, and the EMS folks were worried that they'd lose him on the way to Cape Coral Hospital.

Luckily, it's not just me and Phoebe here to help, anymore. My mother flew in that day. It was very questionable as to whether she'd make it to the hospital in time to say goodbye to him. The long and short of it is this: he can't walk, and his time here is short. The doctors are saying that if he can't walk, then he should be heading to a rest home. He is against that, and is preferring to die at home. His vitals are weak, but miraculously (their words) almost stable. They can't believe he hasn't passed, given his condition on Wednesday when he was admitted. He may come home in a wheelchair within a week.

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