I was going to have a real post, honest. I didn’t want to just have (what was supposed to be) a short post about this, even though it’s important.
But despite having started a different post… My heart just isn’t in it. Because on Thursday I lost one of my favorite readers.
How it began
I mentioned last week that my grandfather had been hospitalized for COVID-19. The day after he went in, his fever broke and it was just a matter of his being too weak still to go home — a positive update I believe I mentioned in some comments.
Unfortunately, he didn’t respond to the steroids they gave him on Friday. On Sunday, I asked for an update and was told he was on light oxygen. And I started to panic, but Mom seemed calm. So I told myself it was nothing, really.
On Wednesday, Mom texted to say she’d sent an email with a longer update and to read that. His oxygen levels had been dipping the previous day, but the doctor waited a day to see how he was doing. They stabilized over night but…
His afibrillation was back — I hadn’t known he had it in the first place — and the rapid, shallow breathing was damaging his lungs. Plus he’d apparently contracted pneumonia. So they were putting him on the ventilator provisionally for five days and were going to do x-rays multiple times a day to see how the lungs were doing and if he could get off.
Knowledge I didn’t want
I knew his fate as soon as I read “ventilator” — though admittedly I thought it would take longer. But I knew how it would end because there were articles back in the spring and early summer about how most of the people who went on ventilators never got off the machines.
Of course, I tried to tell myself the stats might have changed, and Mom was forcefully optimistic about the level of care he was getting. But I knew.
So when Mom called on Thursday — she never calls, lest she wake me from a nap — I knew what was happening before I even picked up.
The beginning of the end
His blood pressure had apparently shot up overnight, and his organs were failing. We were having a family Zoom call later that day to say goodbye.
I didn’t stop work because, frankly, I needed the distraction — and it’s not like I was slammed with emails, anyway. Around noon, my mom texted with the Zoom information.
I’m not sure how long the call had been going on when I joined in, but everyone was already there: Mom’s siblings (two sisters and a brother) plus three of my cousins.
In true Fisher fashion, they were joking and laughing. My family is very good at being simultaneously grim and irreverent. My mom and her siblings teased Pop-Pop occasionally and reminisced with childhood stories. They traded later-life anecdotes as well.
A shock to see
I was told to steel myself for how he would look. And I thought I had. But I still wasn’t ready.
He looked so frail whereas in the rest of his life he had always been… Robust seems like a weird word, perhaps, but it’s fitting. On Zoom, he looked weak (understandably), and his eyes never opened during the call.
Apparently, they had lessened the sedation (while still trying to keep him comfortable), which they assured us meant he could hear us. But he never stirred.
It was happening so fast
The nurse came in partway through the call and said we should let her know when we were ready to end the call. She promised that she would turn on country music — he loved the stuff, even was a line dance instructor for a while — and that she’d stay with him until he passed.
That hit hard. For some reason (I have no idea why), I’d thought the process would take a few days. The idea that shortly he’d die, watched over and accompanied only by a strangers… It was a lot to digest.
Not ready to say goodbye (for good)
There was a pattern to the call.
After exchanging two or three anecdotes, everyone would be silent for a beat, and we’d all sniffle and wipe our tears and say goodbye and that we loved him. Then someone would start in again. No one was ready to end the call.
About an hour after I joined the call, the nurse came back and said that, while we could take all the time we needed, did we perhaps prefer she hang up so we wouldn’t have to?
We all agreed that would probably be best — then started talking again. She had to mention it two more times before we all finally said yes, it’s time. Even though none of us truly felt like it was time.
Before ending the call, the nurse promised to call his wife one more time to make sure she was ready. Then she’d take him off the machine and sit with him.
He died about 90 minutes after the call ended.
He lived a good, long life (but screw that)
Logically, I know that 84 years is a good long while.
He lived long enough to see his oldest great-grandchild turn 19. He traveled extensively in his later years. He took cruises, went abroad, visited historical U.S. sites — including Deadwood here in Arizona. Which is when he also saw Tim and me. And took us to Home Depot to buy quite a few tools — and two fans that he installed, God love him.
So yeah, I know he had a full life and a loving family (albeit one who teased him and one another mercilessly whenever they gathered). I know that COVID probably only took a few years from him. But that doesn’t comfort me.
The only two things that comfort me are that they kept him heavily sedated after intubation (because that’s a miserable experience) and that the chemo/radiation he had for his cancer August to October had very little physical effect on him.
So he didn’t spend his last three months (or his last few days) miserable.
How I’m doing
I’m of course concerned about my mom, but she has DF, who I know will take good care of her. Still, I’m trying to check in with her daily.
As for myself… Well, I’m better than I was on Thursday, when I called a coworker fighting back sobs (poorly), asking her to take the last hour of my shift. She had to have me repeat myself three times before she understood what I was asking. And she apparently still didn’t get it completely because the next day she emailed to ask how he was.
I’m calmer now. The tears come less frequently. But I still have pangs.
And my brain keeps flashing to him in the Zoom image: in the bed, looking gaunt, a tube down his throat. When I see that, I make myself picture him from the last time I saw him. He was still around 77, I believe, but he was hale and hearty and jovial.
That’s how I’ll remember him. But I’m angry that I have to.
A personal plea
So please please please wear your masks and wash your hands — even if you think it’s silly. Please don’t go to parties. When you do see friends, please stay six feet apart.
Do it for yourselves. But if that’s not enough reason, do it for me. Because I’m not ready to lost any more readers.