June 20, 2005

He slept

I went back yesterday, on Fathers' Day, to visit my grandfather again at the rehab facility to spend a little time with him on the holiday. See two entries below this one to understand the background.

Unfortunately, he was napping and I did not want to wake him. Instead, I sat with him. I settled into the vinyl (?) covered armchair which squeaked like vinyl does when I sat in it and I watched him sleep for about 20 minutes before I wrote him a note telling him I had been there and then I left.

It was sort of peaceful. He lay there on his back and frightened me a little bit with his breathing, which seemed rapid and shallow, not deep and restful like it ought to be for a nap. He was restless in his sleep, twitching. I wonder if he was in pain. It was a lot like watching a baby sleep. They move a lot and breath in ways that can be scary.

I just sat there and let the sounds of the place wash over me as I contemplated my grandfather's face and his body. He has aged so much, so quickly. He is less. He is not eating and the nurses are concerned. One has told my father that she thinks my grandfather has made a conscious decision to not eat. If true, I don't know what we can do about it. But he has lost weight. He was once very powerful, broad in the shoulders and deep in the chest, like he was when he played fullback on the Harvard Freshman team in 1934. He never had his nose fixed from when it was broken in those days. The thing that intrigued me, as I sat there watching him sleep, was that even though he has shrunk, his hands are still large. The hands don't change and maybe they give you clues about the body they used to be attached to. Parenthetically, hands are very hard for painters to paint correctly. They are complicated little things.

I think that the things you both value and take for granted as you grow older, you lose when you get very old. Privacy is the big one. Not just the privacy you get when you shut the door, but the privacy of silence. It's never quiet at the rehab facility and this is a pretty swank place, too. Still, you hear other televisions, you hear other conversations, you hear other people moaning. You can't lock it out. Noise is a physical assault as it manifests itself in sound waves that crash against your inner ear and cause the ears to vibrate. You don't have the means to protect yourself from that assault. You have no privacy. Unless your hearing is impaired, a mixed blessing under the circumstances.

I left him there, asleep, his hands clasped over his once broad chest. I left him a note telling him that I loved him and wishing him a happy fathers' day.

I spoke to the head nurse about the disassociation of yesterday (again, see two posts below) and she took notes and promised that the doctor would be made aware of it and would evaluate him.

I didn't cry. But it was very close. Close enough, I suppose, that the nurse tried to comfort me.

Underlying all of this, you know, is the thought, the hope, the belief that he's going to snap out of it and get better and be his old self again. That maybe he's just confused because of the painkillers. Any other result I cannot bear to contemplate. And so I don't. I choose not to.

Posted by Random Penseur at June 20, 2005 09:38 AM

I am glad you went back to spend "quality" time with him. It is quite possible that the pain killers are affecting him that way. Don't give up hope RP.


Posted by: Wicked H at June 20, 2005 09:55 AM

Hugs RP.
Just keep in mind how much your visits do for him, and for you. You may not realize it or feel that way now, but it years to come you will realize how much you receive from the visits, even when all you did was sit beside a sleeping man.

Posted by: Rachel Ann at June 20, 2005 10:54 AM

I've been trying to think of something meaningful to say...I was in similar places with my grandparents...but words are failing me.
I'm sorry you are going through this.

Posted by: nic at June 20, 2005 04:39 PM

Sounds much like my father very near the end. People who get very old (my father was almost 93 when he died) often make the decision not to eat or to eat much, much less than every one who cares for them or about them would like. I've been told by hospice workers that it is a common thing for people to do when they are ready to leave this earth. And, in spite of what we've been told about the Schiavo debacle, starvation is not a horrible way to die but, rather, a calm and peaceful way. So, if your grandfather has decided not to eat, don't argue with him about it. Respect his wishes. I pray that if and when I am as old as my father was that the people around me will respect my wishes as I tried to respect his. By the way, my father did not die of starvation, but in his sleep from a blood clot to his lung from being in bed too long afer hip repair surgery. Try not to worry too much...

Posted by: Kathy at June 20, 2005 07:49 PM

I know the experience of sitting beside a sleeping grandfather very, very well.

There's nothing for me to say, really, but I understand, and my thoughts are with you and your grandfather, at least for a little while. It doesn't seem like enough.

Posted by: tex ritter at June 20, 2005 11:36 PM

RP, you have such a wonderful way of capturing moments. Often times, while so far away from home and family, I miss the chance to feel and see those things that you, unfortunately, are feeling and seeing. I wish I could.

Appreciating and feeling a moment like that is everything. I'm glad you see it.

Posted by: dr pants at June 21, 2005 04:30 PM

Sorry. This whole life->death thing bites, but it seems like serious life extension won't happen in this lifetime.

My parents spent a huge amount of time trying to get my great-aunt to eat. It probably helped some.

There are surgical interventions that are possible to help with nutritional status. I certainly would not recommend them in all situations.

Posted by: owlish at June 22, 2005 02:15 AM
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