My grandfather had a stroke last night. It was a shock despite his history of medical problems and the fact that he has a brain tumour. The tumour, which has been chilling in his brain for about as long as I have been alive if not longer, seems unrelated to this event but it is just one of his many medical problems. He’s getting older and so it was a matter of time before something bad happened I just didn’t really stop to think about the likelihood of it. Yes, he's ill, but when did that ever stop him?
There are two types of strokes apparently: clots and bleeds. It was a catastrophic bleed deep in his head. That sounds as un-reassuring as you can get. Not mild. Not "mysteriously fluffy." Outright catastrophic.
It was weird visiting him. I haven’t really been in many hospitals in my life. The smell was... sterile. That's an obvious way to describe it but it was. The faint stench of chlorine wafted through my noise as I walked the halls. I felt out of place in this unfamiliar world of nurses and equipment that was foreign to me. I didn’t even realise there was such a thing as a bladder scanner but the sign on the wall said thank you in advance to whoever would return it to its proper position after use. I made sure not to touch that.
They were keeping him in the high dependency section. Only two visitors allowed at a time so my mother and father went in first and talked to him while my brother and I waited outside, standing in the corridor. Eventually my parents came out, their eyes watery, and the nurses led us to him.
He was paralysed on one side and lying to look towards a single chair that had been placed next to his bed. His left arm was the only arm he could move and he didn’t seem to have much control over it. It would just move occasionally, his hand waving indistinctly in the air before placing it down again. He grabbed the bed a few times and squeezed before letting go. Half of his face didn’t move and so his mouth was crooked and the left side acted independent of the right. It made it impossible to tell what exactly his expression was meant to be. Was he uncomfortable? Was he in pain? Was he even paying attention to me as I awkwardly told him how I had recently finished with my University degrees and needed to get a real job now? I couldn’t tell.
That was the terrible part of it: not knowing. Not being able to interact properly with this man who had been around my entire life. What do you say when you're the only one who can talk? It felt like I was talking at him not to him. I didn’t even know if he could hear me because he kept on squirming where he was even when I stopped talking. His one working eye opened and shut randomly and his breathing was heavy and laboured. I kept trying to think of new things to say because I couldn't just walk out that door. Even though it was awkward and at times I just stood there in silence with him I knew it would hurt both of us if I just left him without a good reason. It must have been painful for him to watch, trapped in a dysfunctional body that was falling apart, unable to communicate as he watched me struggle to find words to say. How horrible must it be to be incapable of reassuring a family member who is made uncomfortable by the very way you are? I couldn't imagine how frustrating it must have been for him confined to a bed, unable to move, just... being there as everyone worried over him... his son exiting the room, teary eyed.
It's incredibly difficult to talk to someone who is unresponsive but I had to anyway. I told him about the novels I was writing and about how I did really well in my final ever exam for my degrees. I hope that made him proud deep down inside. My parents were off talking to the doctor about the medical details of his condition and just how bad everything was. Eventually my grandmother came into the room to talk to him and my brother and I left. I had brought my laptop to work on my novel while I was waiting but couldn't think of anything to say as I stared out the window and watched the construction across the road. Words were few then and there from either party. It was then I realised that I hadn't said enough.
I went back. The rules were you had to be escorted in by a nurse so I waited for one to tell me it was OK to go in. It was 15 minutes before visiting hours were about to end. There was the reality that he might not get better and this was the last I would see of him. Right now we're not sure if he'll get better or worse but I didn't want to let me optimism come off as apathy and make the mistake of not having said goodbye properly. His eyes were closed when I came in and said hello but they opened enough for me to know he had heard me start talking.
I told him I was leaving now but I just wanted to tell him that he is a really good grandfather and that I hope he gets better. Not exactly the emotional "I love you" farewell but it was still something.
If those were my final words than I will be content to know that I at least let him know that I cared about him and that he did a good job. That, I cannot regret. He's lived to see at least one of his grandchildren marry and I have finished University so he has seen a few miles stones. I hope he gets better. I really want him to get better.