14 October 2003

Death comes at the strangest times

This summer I lost my grandfather to lung cancer. I am almost 30 and still had all my grandparents. Quite unique in my circle of friends I realised then. Both my grandmothers have minor health problems. My father’s mother had a hip replacement shortly after the death of her husband. Due to complications, she is still in hospital but will be out this Wednesday. My mother’s mother had heart problems and can not be home alone because she might get another heart attack. The only one without problems is my mother’s father. Until yesterday.

After I came home from work, my mother called me. You know something is wrong when mothers say: Hello Marieke, this is mum Usually she says Haaaaai, it’s me. Granddad had a heart attack whilst on his bike. Bystanders tried to help him. They managed to get his heart beating again but they did not get the breathing right. So now he is in hospital in the Intensive Care. His heart works but he is more or les brain-dead from the lack of oxygen. He has convulsions every once so often and calms down again. There is no response to the every-important pain-test. When you stick him with a pin, there is no response. He feels no pain.
My whole family was there but only 2 were allowed at his bedside at any given time. My mother took me to see him. I have seen enough ER in my lifetime not to be shocked by people on ventilators. But when my mother leaned over and told my grandfather to go to sleep and that we would take good care of Nan, that he could let it all go, I cried. My Nan sort of smiled when she later sad: You will see that he is just going to sneak out on me. We all expected Nan to be the one who would end up in hospital first, with her heart problems. Turns out granddad had blue lips for a while now and shortness of breath. But he did not want any help. Because what would Nan do without him? He could not get ill. And so eventually is heart decided it had given enough ignored warnings and it just stopped.

And now? The doctors say they do tests for 72 hours and if there is no change whatsoever, they will let him go. We all agree that is the best for him, but still. Seems strange that it is the decision of the doctors. They said that of course they discuss it with the family but ultimately it is their decision to make when they consider treatment more harmful than helpful. It is now Tuesday. 72 hours is on Thursday. Feels strange to think my granddad will probably die on Thursday. Felt weird to call my work and tell them I would not come in on Thursday......

I used to think I was lucky to still have all 4 grandparents at my age. Now I see the downside of it: they all die very close to each other. I feel there is a lot of pain and sadness in store for us all in the next few months.

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