a better dayPosted: April 21, 2011
I hadn’t visited my grandfather in a couple of days. I woke up feeling really guilty about that, so I darted up to Winnfield first thing this morning. Last night I got a couple of secondhand accounts about his improvement, but I didn’t put a lot of stock in them. I previously received a couple of phone calls from family members who were excitedly jabbering about seemingly miraculously progress, only to discover that there was no change when I’d see him. I braced myself for another heartbreaking day. That way, I wouldn’t be disappointed.
When I walked into his room, it looked like nothing had changed. He was in his bed. Eyes shut. He moaned and frantically flapped away at his gown, tubes, and restraining net. He has to wear mittens that look like mesh sleeved ping-pong paddles whenever he’s unattended. It was either that or slap on wrist restraints in order to keep him from yanking out his feeding tube and catheter. We decided the ping-pong mittens were more humane.
Isn’t dementia just lovely?
“Hey, old man,” I said. “You’re tearing yourself to pieces. I thought that was the hot blonde nurse’s job.”
My grandfather and I always traded sarcastic and ribald barbs when he was healthy. Even if it’s just a one-sided conversation these days, why should I stop now?
He responded with “…ehhhhhhh…” and more flapping.
Sigh. It looked it was going to be another one of those days.
“Hey, it’s Wayne. I love you. Do you want me to sit you up? Do you want some water?” If I ask him simple questions, I’ll usually get a grunting affirmative or a whine that means “no.”
“Get me out of here!” he moaned. Clear as day.
Come again?! I asked him if he wanted to get out of bed and sit up for a while.
“Yes, Wayne. Get me out of this bed now!”
“You got it.” I raced to the nurse’s station and asked for some help getting him out of bed. A few minutes later, I wheeled him out of the room. I asked him if he wanted to go sit out on the front porch, even though it was drizzling and windy.
“Yeah. Maybe I’ll catch pneumonia and die soon.”
I laughed. I couldn’t help myself.
“I’m serious! I’m tired of all of this!”
“So am I,” I replied. “I’m tired of seeing you helpless and unresponsive. I’m tired of seeing you with a bunch of tubes hooked in to keep you alive. But if you get yourself sick, I’m going to drive up here and punch you in the nose.”
That made him laugh. The only other time I was able to make him laugh since he got sick was when he grunted for some ice a couple of weeks ago. I told him I’d bring him back a blonde and a popsicle. That way he could have something hot and something cold. I know that’s hacky, but hey, it worked for my audience at the time.
I pushed him out onto the porch. He sighed with pleasure when a cool breeze hit us.
“Well, where have you been?” he asked.
“I’ve been around. You’ve just been asleep or out of it every time I come up here.”
We made small talk about my brother’s new job. Then he asked me when I had to go back to Iraq. I told him that I wasn’t going anywhere as long as he’s in this place.
“Please don’t go back there,” he pleaded. He opened his eyes and stared at me for a few seconds. Then he closed his eyes and sighed. “Please.”
“I’m never going back to Iraq. Stop worrying.”
“Alright! Now what time does our flight leave?” He slapped his chair’s clip-on tray. “The plane can’t take off if this is still down!”
He was dead serious. He thought he was strapped into an airplane seat. Then he asked me for the numbers.
The numbers? What did he mean? The lottery results? The imaginary flight number? The time? The date? I told him the time and date.
“Ah, good,” he said. “I never know the numbers anymore. They took my watch away, you know.”
The rainfall picked up, so I wheeled him back to his room. The nurse hooked in his feeding tube. Then she brought in a food tray for his roommate. He was not happy about that arrangement.
“I want some dinner!”
“I can assure that you’re eating right now.”
“I want what he’s having,” he muttered, as he waved a thumb towards his roommate’s plate.
“Well, I don’t think the doctor has signed off on solid foods yet. You’re getting lunch in a bag.”
“Well, what’s in the bag?”
“Uhhhh…looks like chocolate milk or brown gravy. Maybe it’s chocolate gravy. How does it taste?” Then I tapped his belly for emphasis.
He laughed again. Two laughs in one day. Alright, this day was already golden.
Once he started to “eat,” he got tired and spacey. My great-aunt’s pastor came in to visit for a few minutes. My grandfather smiled and told him that he was glad that he came to visit, especially since he had to walk all the way from Bunkie to Winnfield. The preacher and I both shrugged at that one. After he left, my grandfather asked me who the second in command was.
“Who are we talking about?”
“That man has a long walk back to Bunkie. Who did he leave in charge while he was gone?”
“I wouldn’t worry about it. I’m sure the folks in Bunkie are just fine.”
“Okay, good. What are the numbers again?”
So I told him the time and date. They did take his watch away, after all.
Then he started to doze off. I asked him if he wanted to get back in his bed. He said no. I told him that I’d let him take a nap in his chair, but I would have to put his ping-pong mittens back on before I left. He agreed to that, but he asked me to not strap them on so tight. Then he stuck his thumbs out whenever I tried to slip the mittens back on.
“Are you doing that on purpose, old man?”
“You know me. I’m a stubborn old man. I’m just sick of this situation.”
“Yep, I know.”
I don’t know how many more good days that I’ll get with him. In the meantime, I’ll savor days like this. I’ll try to dump the bad ones from the memory banks once he’s gone. And I’ll just try to keep myself together in the meantime.