posted by Melody
I’m up early even though I have the day off. I couldn’t lie there dreading my first Lupron shot any longer.
So for the past several weeks, my grandpa has been very ill. Even though he’s 96 years old, this is the first time I can say that I believe the end is near. Up until a few weeks ago, he was living independently in an apartment in Beech Grove. He was driving his Cadillac to the Ponderosa (lately with my dad driving behind him white-knuckled at the steering wheel but driving all the same) and sharing meals with his long-time girlfriend who lives upstairs from him. It might have taken him an hour to get to and from the bathroom, but he was getting there on his own steam.
Then a few weeks ago he got to the bathroom and couldn’t get himself back out. He stayed there until morning when his girlfriend came down and found him. She got him back to the living room somehow and stood vigil over him all the following night before calling my parents. He went to the hospital and never got back to his apartment again. The little muscle in your throat that keeps the food from going into your lungs when you eat had decided to stop working. Food and water had been getting down his trachea. He had developed a bacterial infection and, subsequently, pneumonia. He was too weak to do anything for himself anymore.
At the hospital they got him on antibiotics and drained liters and liters of horrid stuff off his lungs. Then the doctor sat down and gave him a choice– death by starvation or a feeding tube. He could never eat again without his lungs filling up. Grandpa thought about it overnight and decided to make his own third option. He would eat and risk death by choking, but he would have only pureed foods. The family and doctors respected his position, and a speech therapist helped him with some ways to improve muscle tone in his throat to perhaps get the food to go down the right pipe. Still very weak and now completely incapable of living independently, the family moved him to a convalescent center.
Grandpa hates the pureed food. He can’t eat enough at a time, without getting exhausted or choking, to keep up his strength, and his senses are shutting down one by one. His motor skills are degrading. He often can’t feel it when he’s touching something. He can hardly smell. It’s difficult to understand him because his speech is slurred. He can’t even really get back in his wheelchair this week since now they have him on constant IV, and the nurses don’t seem to want to move him other than to turn him from side to side to avoid aggravating the bedsores that developed while he was in the hospital and won’t heal up. I don’t think they will ever heal. Apparently it was very difficult to get the IV in him, and they’re afraid to do anything to jarr it. It goes without saying that the family is afraid, too.
Even though he’s very old, it’s shocking to see him in this condition when only a few weeks ago, he was walking around and feeding himself. I go to see him as much as I can, and a family member is there for most of his meals. Because he complains about the food so much, I’ve tried making him some homemade pureed dishes. About the last one (yesterday’s split pea soup), he said– “No offense to you, Melody, but this doesn’t taste much better than what they’ve been feeding me here.” He only ate 5 bites of it anyway, and most of it came back up in a napkin. Other than some butternut squash puree I’ve got up in the freezer for him (he didn’t like it either, though– no matter how much butter or brown sugar I added), I probably won’t try again.
The family has adjusted to this really quickly, but I keep thinking about what a shock this must be to his system– to be walking and eating one day (even if slowly) and in your own apartment and just a few weeks later to know now that you’ll never see home again. I wish it could be different. I wish one of his children had kept him at home with them, but I’m trying hard not to judge that decision and thinking already about the decisions we’ll make for our parents when the time comes. At this point, I wish him a quick and painless death. I think it’s what he wants. Every time I say my goodbyes, I tell him that I love him, and I think to myself that this is probably the last time I’ll see him. I’m OK with that because I’ve had time to make a good goodbye. I just wish this didn’t have to be so drawn out and scary for him.