Last week I was with a friend when I got an email from my grandmother saying that she thought grandpa wouldn’t survive the day. We raced home from volunteering as medical staff for the World Senior Games in southern Utah so that I could help if at all possible.
I called my mom who had my kids and she told me to just go straight to my grandparents house. Once I got there and saw how much weaker my grandfather was than the last time I’d seen him days before my mind switched from granddaughter mode to nursing mode. I made detailed lists of his medications left by hospice and when they were last given and the next dose could be given. I sat next to him while grading anatomy tests to try to help notice when medications might be wearing off faster, and chatted with my grandma while holding grandpa’s hand if he was agitated. At one point I asked if he was in pain and got a slight nod so I put all my papers down to go get him medication. Before leaving the room I turned to him and said, “Grandpa if you want to finish grading those tests for me while I get your meds I wont object.” With whatever strength he had left he turned the corner of his mouth up into a slight smile, it was last time I saw his sense of humor shine through his fragile mortal body.
At one point I went home to spend time with the kids since I hadn’t seen them all week and talk to them about Grandpa. Once they were asleep and Jeremy was home from work I went back to my grandparents house. Grandma assured me she would be okay through the night but I knew I’d not rest at home anyway and I might be of help more there.
Mom, grandma and I talked for a while as I would periodically administer medications to grandpa and listen to his breathing. I remember turning to my mom at one point and telling her that I doubted her dad would survive the night. Eventually grandma and mom went to bed. I stayed on the couch and listened to his breathing while grading papers, checking in every hour or so while he and grandma were sleeping and giving medications if he seemed agitated. The following morning, I checked on him and saw his rest become more and more peaceful and within the next hour he had passed. It is a blessing to know that when his spirit left his mortal body he was at rest and comfortable. I grabbed my stethoscope and listened to his heart and lungs for the last time, shaking my head to my grandmother when the erratic beating I’d heard the night before had stilled.
I am a very emotional person, sensitive to a fault some would tell you, but in this case I was able to focus on my grandmother and what help she needed at that time. My uncle, mother and I helped her call church members she wanted to contact, family, friends, hospice and the funeral home. I helped the RN who came from hospice take care of the left over medications and talked about how he passed. I only cried once when my aunt showed me this picture of me as a child with my grandfather:
I went home in the afternoon and the minute I was alone with my husband it all came crashing down on me. The first time I checked for a heart beat with my stethoscope and had it absent, the first time I listened for the whooshing of air entering and leaving the lungs and was met with almost absolute silence…it was my grandfather; my hero, my teacher, and one of the best examples of how to serve more and judge less. I was so happy that his brilliant mind was set free of the stroke damaged body he’d been living in for almost 5 years. I knew he’d be singing, running and hugging those he loved in heaven. It wasn’t a shock that he was gone, but it was much more devastating for me, and much of our family, than I think we anticipated.
The following day I was getting a school book out of my bag and noticed my stethoscope sitting there. A thought crossed my mind that I didn’t ever want to touch that stethoscope again and I left it right there in my bag. I avoided homework and curled up crying for most of the day debating if I had what it took to actually be a nurse.
At the funeral my nephew swallowed a lifesaver whole and got it stuck partway down in his throat. It was not blocking his airway but he was panicking afraid that he wouldn’t be able to breathe since he could feel it in his esophagus. I grabbed the stethoscope from my bag and listened to him, and the familiar whoosh of the air entering his lungs, then I let him listen so he could hear that he was in fact breathing just fine. When I went to put my stethoscope back in my bag I realized Grandpa would be so disappointed if I had never touched it again.
Instead of being sad when I see my stethoscope I will always think of my grandpa and how excited he was when started to go back to school for nursing. I will look at my patients more as loved grandparents, children, aunts, uncles and parents and always treat them with the same care I did my own grandfather. I have been blessed to learn a great many things these last years and I’m so thankful that I could help grandpa much more than either of us anticipated.
Many years from now I will hug him in heaven and thank him for all the amazing things he has done for me. Till then I find comfort in knowing that my kids cheering section beyond the veil just got bigger.