My grandmother M is in a nursing home. Several years ago, she had a brain tumor the size of a lemon removed, and she never really recovered. The tumor caused memory problems, and impaired her cognitive abilities on many different levels. She’d been physically weak before that, with crippling arthritis preventing her from getting adequate exercise. Grammy was a stubborn one, too, refusing to even consider the knee replacement we all nagged her about.
Now she is in a wheelchair, too weak to stand, even with assistance. She gets day and night confused, and has no memory of the deaths of her parents or her grandparents or her husband. She has no idea she is 83 years old. Some days she thinks I am her mother; other days her daughter; on occasion, she knows exactly who I am. To me this matters little, as she always knows I am someone she likes, someone she is happy to see.
Her three children live faraway: in Colorado, Maine, and Michigan. Sis and I are the only grandchildren in the area, the only local family of any kind. So she doesn’t get as many visitors as anyone would like.
When she was first hospitalized, I was the one to meet her ambulance at the emergency room and haggle with the doctors about keeping her overnight, about getting her into rehab. I was at the hospital, and then the rehab facility virtually every single day. Rehab didn’t work out: Grammy refused to do her exercises, and couldn’t remember basic safety issues like setting the brake on the wheelchair. She was transferred to the long-term care division of the nursing home.
Once she got settled, I had to pull back a little bit. Visits there can be quite draining, physically and emotionally. I was working a terribly demanding job at the time, and between work and the nursing home, I was feeling stretched too thin. I decided I would try to visit once a week. It seemed like a reasonable frequency. There are a lot of variables, though, and I’m not always able to keep the schedule. And then I feel terrible. This week, for example: I haven’t visited.
I spent all of Monday night, then much of Tuesday afternoon at the hospital with T and R. Due to the nature of R’s condition, the hospital had them quarantined. They couldn’t leave their private room, and all attending nurses and physicians added extra papery disposable robes over their uniforms before entering. They were obviously considered to be highly contagious, and it was exactly the sort of sickness that is most dangerous for the very young and the very old. I didn’t want to carry those microbes up to the nursing home and risk infecting Grammy and her elderly compatriots, so I stayed away.
Now, several days later, it seems unlikely that I am still a contagion for that particular intestinal illness, which I luckily never developed (knock on wood). I have developed a slight cold, however. It's nothing major: runny nose, coughing, difficulty breathing, general weakness. I probably picked it up in that interminable hospital waiting room. And once again, I don’t want to share my germs with Grammy. The unfortunate result is a week with no visits.