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The Hospital Visit MAG
It was the day before Rosh Hashanah, but I wasn’t Jewish. I was heading into the hospital, but I wasn’t sick.
The lobby was like the starting gate at a racetrack: a line of wheelchairs filled with former patients, a group of healed people with their blinders on, chomping at the bit to go home. Many of them had balloons, teddy bears, and family members for their entourage. Lucky ducks.
My back pocket buzzed; I paused in a corner neatly arranged with cushioned chairs to take the call. It was Mom: “Honey, she’s not in the best shape right now. She may be asleep the entire time you’re there, but, you know, that’s okay.” After a few sighs and a good-bye, I managed to move my cinder block feet toward the elevator.
“Oh, he’s just doing so much better. It’s unbelievable! I mean, just yesterday he was practically comatose and now he’s up and walking,” a young woman with a colorful paisley scarf said into her cell phone as she exited the elevator. Lucky duck.
My fellow elevator riders were an older woman and two kids, presumably her grandchildren. The woman pressed the button for the third floor; I was going to the eleventh. I did the usual routine of gazing at anything but the other people in the elevator. Finding nothing terribly interesting about the certificate of inspection, I threw a quick glance toward the children. Their eyes glimmered with excitement. One hugged a teddy bear and the other grasped a construction paper card, complete with stick figures that, as children, we thought comparable to “Mona Lisa.” The elevator crept to a stop, the doors opened, and the kids bolted; the sign for the floor read “OB-GYN.”
“Let’s go see your baby sister.”
The elevators opened with a ding on the eleventh floor. I walked to the nurses’ station and asked for directions to Room 1155, her room. 1151 … 1153 … 1155. I waited outside for a few seconds, becoming my own coach for a pep talk.
“We have to be strong for her,” my dad had told me the last time we visited. “She’s going through a lot right now, so we have to keep smiles on our faces.”
With a quick exhale, I entered the room. The woman on the bed had white hair and wrinkles. Her eyes slowly noted my presence and then lazily drifted back to the ceiling. The whiteboard next to her read, “Smith, Evelyn.” She wasn’t my grandma.
I stepped to the other side of the curtain. The woman on the bed was sound asleep, her mouth agape, her head tilted to the side. The cancer treatments left a halo of curly hairs on the pillow. Her nails were manicured, but her hands were swollen. She was hooked up to a menagerie of machinery and had a growing collection of bracelets on her left arm. A picture of the Virgin Mary and a rosary sat on her bedside table. Her whiteboard read “O’Donnell, Adonai” with a lopsided smiley face underneath. She wasn’t my grandma.
My 5ƈ" grandma had the heart of a lion and the fight of a tiger. She would tell stories about Boobie and his sister Boobette, troublemakers in the same league as Dennis the Menace, who always managed to cook up mischief. My grandma would sit us in front of her vanity filled with bottles of perfume and makeup, and brush our hair with her silver-handled brush, a makeover of sorts. She would run her manicured nails through our hair and ask my sisters and me who our boyfriends were. When we told her we didn’t have any, she would throw out a few names, her way of “giving” us boyfriends. Mine was Templeton.
A cough roused me from my daydream. She wheezed twice and then settled back into her slumber. I rubbed her swollen, latex-like forearm.
“You lucked out with your room, Grandma. You got the window seat.”
The only response was a low grumble from her respirator.
Dad said conversation usually helped her, so I kept the news coming: Major League Baseball, my classes and activities, the details of the homecoming festivities.
Leaving the hospital, I felt slightly reassured. While I had been there, she hadn’t taken a turn for the worse, she wasn’t put on more medication, she didn’t develop further symptoms. She slept. With each of her breaths, each beep of the heart monitor, I felt more certain that she would pull through and be back to her normal storytelling self in no time.
That Thursday, Grandma’s game of ping-pong between the hospital and her nursing home added a new destination: hospice.
It was the day after Yom Kippur, but I wasn’t Jewish. We were saying good-bye, but I could barely speak a word.