This week, I started a new chapter in my life. I got a new job in a new location; I still had my other 3 jobs so I never had to worry about income; I had a new support system in my new home. But two weeks before I left my hometown, my grandfather had his third stroke while I was sleeping next to him.
Earlier in the summer he’d fallen down in the garage and couldn’t get up, and stayed on the ground for hours until my cousin found him there. He fractured his lower back and couldn’t be as independent as he once was. My aunt, mother, cousin and I all lived there with him for various reasons, but the common one was to keep a lookout for grandpa. Over time, he grew stronger. Slower, but still stronger. The first two strokes he suffered in ’96 had delayed his thoughts, speech and mobility. Imagine a more articulate and handsome Frankenstein; that’s grandpa. Always a flirt with the nurses at doctor visits and cashiers at grocery stores. Always quick on his feet and will lie with a joke to save his hyde from my aunt. Always content with small-talk, sports or westerns on TV, and a bowl of beans and ham. But this last stroke from two weeks ago slowed him down even more.
The morning of his stroke, around 5AM, I could feel him shuffling around in the bed, so I figured he was ready to get up and get his day started. So I got up, ignored the darkness outside the window, and flipped on the light. I asked him if he was ready to get up and he couldn’t respond. All he could mumble was, “I gotta pee.” Seemingly, no one else was awake, so I started getting him up myself, which was my usual task so that my mom and aunt could sleep in a little longer. but his back was spasming, and his words weren’t making sense, so he’d just say “I gotta pee” over and over again. I handed him his urinal, but he wouldn’t use it. I looked down and noticed he’d already soiled the bed, an unusual thing for him to do.
My aunt was already awake and was coming back in the house from the smoke room. She, being the neurotic one, frantically asked him what the matter was, and got frustrated when he didn’t answer. In her frustration, she woke my mother up. My mother isn’t as frantic as my aunt, at least not when she’s half sleep. They’re both asking him questions he can’t respond to with anything but “I gotta pee,” and ignoring the fact that the left side of his face was twisting. I remembered an infomercial about strokes, and the signs were facial twisting, confusion and something about sweat. Well grandpa had all those symptoms, so I said “His face is twisting. He’s having a stroke. We need to call an ambulance.”
There was no delay when my aunt told the EMT that I would be riding in the ambulance with them. The whole ride seemed surreal. I didn’t say a word. I didn’t cry because I told myself not to, especially in front of male strangers. We arrived at the hospital, and all the specialists and nurses were looking to me for answers, of which I could handle, but there were maybe 2 questions I couldn’t. My mother came shortly after, coffee-less, and my aunt soon after that, complaining that she didn’t like the facility. As usual, mother and I tuned her out. We asked grandpa easy questions and he kind of answered, and kind of didn’t. He kept falling asleep, and for the next 2 and a half days, all he did was sleep.
I felt so guilty because I was still preparing for my move. My grandpa had done so much for me that I would never be able to repay him and here I am, abandoning my family when they need me the most. Had it not been for my (other) aunt, who also doubles as my godmother, I would still feel guilt in my heart. “Little Bit,” she started with (one of) my family nickname(s), “YOU take care of you. I know right now it’s bittersweet, but it will be ok…Now it’s your turn to spread your wings!” She assured me that if I needed anything, she’d be there for me, as well as my uncles.
I am an impulsive decision maker at heart, but this move has been brewing for approximately 2-3 months before I decided, which is progress for someone like me. Had I not heard those encouraging words from my family, or had my sister not given me The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho for Christmas AND if I never had read it, I would never have left home. And while grandpa is still moving slowly, he’s improving more and more everyday.
“My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer,” said the boy. “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself, and no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams,” replied The Alchemist. -Paulo Coelho