Note: This is a personal post that I have never fully shared with anyone before (aside from my therapist).
January 6th 2018 started like any normal Saturday for me. I woke up, I headed to Real Deals for our weekly photo shoot for their clothing line. My parents were in Bend (only 2 hours away) and at 9:05am I got a call that would forever change me, and I had no idea.
My Mom called to tell me that Grandma had been taken by ambulance to the hospital and asked if I would please go down and find out whats going on. I dropped everything and headed straight there. We were lucky that we’d managed to persuade her to move into a care home a lot like lakeside assisted living, where staff could keep an eye on her and alert us when something was wrong. I dread to think what could have happened if she’d got her own way and stayed at home alone.
The backstory of Grandma: About 5 years ago on memorial day, she got sick and my Mom got the call that she wasn’t going to make it. So she and I left our family vacation and flew to Arizona to be with her during her last moments in ICU. To our surprise, she fought hard and came out of it. She was going into kidney failure, and when they started her on dialysis, she slowly bounced right back to her witty self. Fast forward 2 years, the scenario. My mom was already down there to surprise her for her birthday, and I was the lucky one to get that call. I hopped on a plane and flew straight there. We knew it was real this time, there was no way she could make it through that again. Well guess what, she did! And in the time between 2013 and 2018 she got breast cancer, had a double mastectomy and the cancer still came back. She was a fighter! She went through chemo and extensive radiation, and fought through the pain every single day.
On January 6th, she went into the hospital for “chest pains”. When I arrived they were in the middle of doing every test known to man, fearing it was her heart. She was crying in so much pain, they were having a hard time calming her down. When she saw my face it was like I watched all of her worries head out the door. I stood by her side, holding her hand and helped to keep her calm. The chest pains……. were from her radiation burns. Her entire torso was one massive burn. no skin, just raw painful flesh. All of her tests came back normal, with the exception of fluid on her left lung which they already knew about because she had been in there 3 days prior and they sent her home.
The ER Doctor was AMAZING and so were all of the nurses. He decided he wanted to keep her in the hospital until Monday so they could drain the fluid off her lung and just keep her comfortable. Nothing to worry about, all was well. She was feeling so much better with pain meds, it was like she was a whole new person. As she relaxed all of the alarms in her room started going off which freaked me out. The nurses came running in, sat her up and did their thing and I held my breath. Due to the fluid on her lung, they couldn’t lay her down as it was putting pressure on her heart dropping her blood pressure. Ok, noted, she can’t lay down!
At that point, the ER was so full that they ended up moving us (and her) into the hallway while we waited for a room. You guys, it was like an episode of ER. The halls were lined with hospital beds, people crying in pain, throwing up, you name it. And here we sat with Grandma, just patiently waiting for a room upstairs. At this point her husband Jim joined us and sat with me the whole day. The doctor from the Cardiovascular unit (where she was being moved to) came down to see us and went over everything with her. And jokingly (but of course serious) asked her “what do you want me to do if your heart stops” to which she responded with a chuckle “don’t try too hard to save me” She had a DNR and that was her wish.
At 2:30pm, they took her for dialysis (routine for her every three days) and told us to head back to the hospital around 5:30 as it usually takes 3 hours. Jim stayed there while I ran home to check on the family and grab a little bite to eat. The whole day I had been in contact with my Mom reassuring her that everything was fine, no need to come home. She was coming home the following day anyways and Grandma was in good hands.
I headed back to the hospital at 5:00 and was told she finally had a room upstairs. I met Jim up in her room and we sat together chatting as we waited for her to get back from dialysis. 6:00 rolls around and we kept thinking “any minute” then 7:00 and finally 7:30 she arrived. She looked the same way she did when I first arrived at the hospital. In excruciating pain, falling out of her bed, moaning and crying in sheer terror. I was absolutely shocked at what I was seeing. it was as if they just left her in a room for those 5 hours and never checked in on her…….
Her nurse came into the room and helped another nurse move her into her bed. When they asked to lay her down she said “not for long because I can’t breathe”. So they quickly moved her and I was able to go stand by her side and calm her down. I ran my fingers through her hair which was the key to calmness all day.
This is where the things got worse. Her nurse got her some pain meds on board and then in walks a technician to do an EKG. No notes in her chart, no mention to the nurse from a doctor and the tech says “I was told to report to this room immediately”…. she took one look at my grandmas open wound to her chest and refused to touch it. I assured her that they did the EKG in the ER and that it was ok to do. She refused and left the room. The nurse went out of the room to get a hold of the doctor to see what was going on.
During this time, the CNA was left in the room to get my grandma hooked up to all the machines and to get her vitals. Grandma was comfortable with the pain meds finally, so I went to sit down next to Jim. The CNA was having a hard time getting a blood pressure reading and kept laying her down more and more. I told her several times that she can’t breathe when she lays down. To which she replied “she’s very relaxed right now”. I noticed my grandmas breathing was not right and I brought that up to the CNA and she responds with “she is resting which is a good thing, she tired after today”.
The next part of the story is what I have struggled with for the last 12 months. Over and over again in my head.
As my grandma laid there on the bed she said “Jenn” and I replied with a “I’m right here Grandma” thinking she was just making sure I was there. Little did I know that would be the last word I would ever hear my Grandma say or that it would come to haunt me for the months following.
Finally the CNA gets a blood pressure reading of 60/30 at 8:40pm, then stands at the foot of her bed with a smirk on her face and says “now that can’t be right” and continues to mess around. At this point I text my Mom and tell her whats going on. I didn’t know what to do. She finally walks out into the hallway at 8:59 and grabs a nurse (not my grandmas nurse) and if I could have captured the look on his face, it was sheer terror. He listened for her blood pressure, ran into the hall and got a doppler, still nothing. He then listened to her heart, felt for a pulse and then yelled for help. He hit the code button on the wall and immediately began chest compressions. Jim is hard of hearing so he didn’t know what was going on until he sat and watching his wifes lifeless body get thrown around like a ragdoll. I heard all of her bones breaking, the alarm calling over the loud speaker for the trauma team to report to her room. Sounds that never leave your head.
The first wave of medical staff ran into the room and told Jim and I to just stay put as they worked hard to revive my Grandma. I was in shock, still not believing what I was seeing. Then a man and woman dressed in suits entered the room and demanded us to go into the hall. I remember crying, terrified and just trying to stay calm for Jim as he watched the love of his life slip way. We sat outside the door as we watched the masses of medical staff enter the room. The halls filled with standby staff, security guards, social service workers, the chaplain of the hospital and then finally the doctor we met earlier. He stopped to talk to me before heading into the room.
He was only in there for a short time, long enough to let them know that she has a DNR, and that they needed to stop. He came out and stood with us and explained to me that even if they did revive her, that it had been over three minutes and she would be brain dead. It was over, that was it, she was gone. It happened so fast, 20 minutes to be exact.
The nurses placed her on a ventilator so that we could go in and say goodbye, which I now appreciate more than anything. I texted my Mom who said “are you sure, she always pulls through” No Mom, I am sure. I called my brother and sister and hoped they could get there fast enough to say goodbye. Then one by one the entire medical staff left the room with their bags of trauma gear, stopping to offer their condolences to Jim and I. It was like a receiving line at a wedding, just very depressing. Looking back, it is a very respectful moment, but when in shock , you don’t know how to respond. Jim and I entered the room as the last nurses removed the breathing tube and we sat with Grandma and cried. My brother was able to make it in time and I let him take my spot holding her hand and I went and held onto Jim. We watched her take her last breath. That was it. This is how it ends.
The nurse came in and pulled me aside and told me to take as much time as we needed and not to let anyone rush out of there. I do remember the masses of beds lining the walls in the ER, there was a room shortage. Then came all of the hard questions that I was not ready for. What to do with her, do we do an autopsy, is she a donor…… between texting my Mom we got it done. At this point I went out into the hall and I remember standing against the wall and breaking down into tears. Like it just hit me what I had witnessed. My Grandmas nurse saw me and came straight towards me, wrapped his arms around me and held on tight as he apologized for what had happened. A moment I will never forget.
Jim’s kids came down, my Mom had called my husband, and my sister also came down. After everyone said their goodbyes, it was time to go home. After everyone left the room, I went back in, closed the door and just cried. I remember sitting next to her just crying saying I am sorry, I should have helped her. I could have saved her life if I would have just sat her up. I kissed her on her cold clammy forehead, said I love you and turned and walked out of the room.
Jim’s son went home with him, and my hubs took me to get some food. It was 12:30am and I remember sitting at Shari’s just sick to my stomach. My face was so red and puffy from the tears, I couldn’t even see straight. I told Allen I just needed to go home. We left my car at the hospital, and he took me home and got me into bed.
I woke up the next day to a phone call from my mom asking how I was doing. That’s when the horror started. The days events played back in my head for DAYS…. the sounds, the sights, the what if’s. It was like I was drowning in my own thoughts. It.Was.Hard. The guilt for not stepping in. The guilt of telling my Mom everything was fine. This was all my fault. I should have done something more. She would still be here. These are the thoughts I would battle every.single.day.
I finally went into my doctor who sent me straight to a therapist and diagnosed me with PTSD. WHAT?!?! It all made sense to me after, but at first I thought there was no way.
The following week Jim would end up in the hospital, and I had pure anxiety going anywhere near that place. Then later in the year, my Dad ends up having emergency surgery, thankfully not at that hospital, but it still sent my PTSD into overdrive. I just wanted to find a way that would help me to feel more relaxed, especially in situations that I knew could potentially start my PTSD. My friend even went as far as telling me that I should try looking at some types of cannabis strains that have been known to have an effect on the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, (you can Read more here if you want further information about this type of treatment). It was just hard to focus and care for Jim and my Dad when I was having one of these episodes, as I couldn’t do anything for them. It’s just a horrible feeling.
In the coming months, we made it through Grandmas service, and learning how to go on without her. We took care of Jim, and to be honest I grew closer to him every single day. We now had a bond that no one else would ever understand. I felt most at peace sitting in my grandmas chair in their living room just talking to him. I would take him to Doctors appointments, go to lunch or dinner and just spent good time with him.
Fast forward to August 11th 2018, just 7 months later…….
to be continued……….