On Tuesday night, Benjamin and I were at the Johnson’s home in Boerne, taking care of some bookkeeping that we do for them. I heard my cell phone ring, and it was the special ring I have programmed for my immediate family members, but I was busy so I ignored the call. We were in the car on the way home at about 10:30 at night, when I remembered the call earlier, and decided to check my messages. The first voicemail was from my mom at about 2:30 in the afternoon, saying that Gramma had been admitted to the hospital for some heart flutterings. I started to get nervous. The second voicemail was from my father, and before his voice started speaking, I heard his breathing shuddering as if he were crying, and my heart almost stopped as I thought… “Gramma’s dead and I missed it… I never answered the call..” But then my dad started talking, saying “Sorry I’m out of breath, I’m walking really fast, in a hurry to get something from my car on the break during my choir rehearsal…” He went on to ask me something about church, totally unrelated to Gramma. That incident scared me though, and I determined to visit Gramma at the hospital the following evening.
On Wednesday night after dinner, I headed out to the hospital to visit Gramma. When I arrived, she was resting in the hospital bed with her eyes closed. When I sat down in the chair next to the bed, she opened her eyes and looked up at me… “Joy! Oh Joy, how nice! I’m so glad you came!” I’ll never forget how she was always so excited to see me, or anyone who came to visit her. She just loved to be with her friends and family, and her face would just completely light up when we would come spend time with her.
That night at the hospital, we spent time just laughing and talking together. I told her a funny story about my co-worker’s son getting into things…. I told her a funny story about Isabel standing wobbly, holding onto the window ledge and looking out the window…Adia came over to look out the window too, and Isabel put her little hand on Adia’s head and pushed her away from the window! She wanted the view all to herself…
I read Scripture outloud to her… Isaiah 53, she particularly enjoyed the section about being healed by Jesus’ stripes…the blind will see… Psalm 23, 24, 25 about praising the Lord for His goodness…
Before I left, we prayed together. I prayed for her that she would be peaceful during the evening, and unafraid, that healing would come to her body…and that the Lord knows her time on this earth, and He will guard and protect her for that time.
She then prayed for me… to grow closer to the Lord, thanking me for all the things I had done for her, and also praying about my marriage…she said “And Lord, you know I have a lot to say about marriage, but that will have to be at another time…” I had this momentary sick feeling like, “Why didn’t I ever ask her about this, what if there wasn’t to be another time?” I promised myself to talk to her about this soon after she got out of the hospital.
It was such a sweet three hours of laughter and prayer. I felt very close to Gramma. I guess I knew going to the hospital to visit her, that she was having heart trouble, so it was possible to lose her at anytime…her heart could just stop and they might not get to her fast enough. So I had a small sense of worry and also urgency to be with her that evening.
It was also odd because as I was leaving the house, I was very close to taking our video camera with me, just to set in the room and record us being together, to remember a special time together, maybe even have her say something on tape to the family, just in case her heart trouble got worse. But I didn’t take the camera with me, I think the main reason was that I didn’t to admit that something could happen to her, and we could lose her. Like taking the camera would be a sign that life is short… of course now I wish I had taken it, but there is no changing what happened.
While I was there, a nurse named Heather came, to be Gramma’s attendant during the night shift. Heather changed out the IV on Gramma’s arm, and put fresh paper tape, since the previous dressing was with plastic adhesive tape, which Gramma is allergic to. Gramma was just so grateful to have the fresh IV, it just felt so much better with the new tape.
It was cute because when Heather was putting in the new IV needle, Gramma said, “Well you might have a hard time, the last lady had a hard time, because my arms are just skin and bones.” Then Gramma laughed, “Now, if you put it in my stomach, well you’d have a lot of places to choose from!” The three of us laughed together, and Heather said, “Well I’m actually pretty good at the bony ones; it’s the goosh I have a hard time with!”
After the IV and some oral pills that Gramma usually takes, Heather had to give Gramma a blood thinner injection into her stomach, of all places! Gramma said that the medication burned her stomach, and she asked what it was. Heather told her the name of it, and said that Gramma would be taking it twice a day until her blood thinned sufficiently. Gramma said, “Oh. So are you trying to say I won’t be going home tomorrow? I thought I would be going home tomorrow.” Heather said that she wasn’t the doctor, but from what she’d seen, Gramma’s heart condition made her look like she would be in the hospital for a few more days. Gramma said, “So you think maybe Friday?” Heather said maybe.
Heather said, “Now, it looks like you had a sleeping pill last night, did you want one again tonight?” “Oh yes!” Gramma answered emphatically, “that was great, I didn’t get up all night, and usually I get up two or three times a night.” Heather said she would bring the pill a bit later.
The whole evening, Heather was so gentle with Gramma – she was as gentle as I would have been, and I was really surprised. I thanked her for being so gentle and caring, and she said, “Well, it’s important. I hope that when I’m her age, someone will do the same for me.”
That evening I spent with Gramma, I will cherish as our last special time together. I am so incredibly grateful for that time.
As I was leaving, Heather brought Gramma’s sleeping pill in. Gramma and I hugged and kissed, and said goodnight. Gramma also gave me a list of thing she wanted brough to the hospital the next morning – clean panties, depends, toothbrush and toothpaste, and candy!
It was about 6 am the next morning when I heard a knock on my bedroom door. It was my mom. She was crying, and she told me that Gramma was not doing well, and they thought she might not make it. Apparently, Gramma had fallen down in the hospital during the night, and hit her head, and she was bleeding inside her brain. She was unconscious, and my dad was with her.
Back at my house at 6 am, I sat with my mom, and cried with her and held her for a while. Mommy said, “I’m not ready to lose her…” Mommy said that Gramma was bleeding inside her brain. There was a surgery that they could do to try to go in and stop the bleeding, but Gramma was already in a coma, and the neurosurgeon said that even if they could stop the bleeding, it would only prolong Gramma’s life in a coma state. Because the state she was in was being caused by the pressure of the blood on the brain, and it had already caused extensive brain damage to bring Gramma to the coma state she was in now.
While I was with my mom, I called Donna and Kathy to tell them what had happened. We also woke up Benjamin, Priscilla, and Mercy, to tell them what was happening. Mommy asked me to go to the hospital to be with Daddy. So I gathered together the things that Gramma had asked for the night before, and some things that my dad wanted (mainly warm clothes), and headed to the hospital.
I was so distraught and distracted over what was happening that I ended up on the wrong side of town. I had been driving on “auto pilot” to a hospital where my dad had stayed when he was ill a couple years ago. When I realized my mistake, I was stuck in rush hour traffic, going back the way I came, and heading to the correct hospital, North Central Baptist Hospital. I picked up breakfast tacos for my dad from Las Palapas on the way, and told Benjamin he should try to get the day off work to be with the family.
I was crying off and on that whole morning, and really for the rest of the day. It would come in waves, as I would think about what was happening, and realize that I was probably losing my wonderful Gramma.
When I got to the hospital, Gramma’s bed had been moved to ICU. It was interesting that the whole time, they kept her in the same bed she had been in when I visited her the night before. They would just wheel the bed from room to room, for the CT scan, stitches, and everything, even over to ICU, where she was now. When I arrived, Gramma’s eyes were closed, her face was relaxed, her mouth hanging open slightly to the side as she breathed, and her head resting on her own feather pillow with the teal colored satin pillowcase Priscilla had made for her. She laid on her back, in the same pale green hospital gown she had worn the night before, a small stuffed black cat was cuddled in her arm, and a thin white blanket and sheet drawn up to her chest. She breathed deeply and sort of snored periodically, but mostly seemed to be resting peacefully. She had an oxygen tube in her nose, to make her breathing easier, and there were several drips going through her IV.
Daddy told me more details about what had transpired that morning. Apparently, the hospital had called my mom about 1:30 in the morning, to say that Gramma had fallen down. My mom called my dad, who was at church working on his sermon, and Daddy went to the hospital to be with Gramma. When got there, Gramma was coherent, but a bit dazed. She didn’t remember that she had been in the hospital for two days, or why she was there, but she said she did remember that she had visited with me the night before. Within thirty minutes, the hospital had given Gramma stiches on the back of her head where it was cut, and had sent her through a CT scan. The nurse, Brenda, who went into the room for the CT scan, told my dad that there was “something there.” She immediately got on the phone and said she wanted a neurosurgeon to come see Gramma “now.”
That didn’t happen, and my dad didn’t know that this was or could be, a serious thing. He went with Gramma as they wheeled her bed back to the room she came from. It was a double room, and there was another elderly woman sleeping in the bed next to Gramma’s. That woman’s daughter was there, because she had been spending the night with her mom. She told my dad that she had woken up during the night to the sounds of Gramma getting out of bed to go to the restroom. She dozed off again, and woke up to some noise, and the sight of Gramma falling through the curtain that divided the room. She said she jumped up to try to get over close enough to catch her, but Gramma fell, hitting her head on the side of the other woman’s bed. The lady immediately went to go find a nurse to tell them what had happened. The lady was crying when she saw Daddy, and said she felt awful because she had tried to get close enough to her to break her fall, but she was too far away. My dad said that her told her it was okay, not to feel bad, it was not her fault.
The odd thing about it, is that Gramma must have been very disoriented. Because the side of the bed that Gramma was supposed to get in and out of was only about 4 feet from the bathroom door. The bed rail was down, to allow Gramma to get out of the bed to go to the bathroom (even though the nurse, Heather, had told Gramma to call her when she needed to get up to use the restroom, and not to go by herself). However, the side of the bed where Gramma fell was the opposite side of the bed, near the dresser and the chair I had sat on during the evening, so Gramma should never have been over on that far side of the bed. The sleeping pill she had wanted had probably made her not be alert enough to know where she was.
Daddy said that the first CT scan was shortly after 2:00 am, immediately after the stitches, and that was where the nurse thought there was “something there” and tried to get a neurosurgeon. The second CT scan had been at 4:30 am, and by then, Gramma was hardly responding, even to being pinched. They said that it was clear that her brain had continued to bleed, very fast, even though they had given her blood thickeners to try to counteract all the blood thinners she had been on for her heart. By 6:00 am, when Daddy called my mom, and my mom woke me up, Gramma was in a complete coma. Daddy said that in retrospect, he knows that he watched her go, he watched her pass from conscious and talking with him, to gradual unresponsiveness, into a coma. At the time, he didn’t realize what he was seeing, and the nurses even said that some of the typical symptoms of that process weren’t present (such as the eyes being dialated to different sizes).
At about 8:00 am, a few minutes after I arrived, the nurse, Vincent, came in and asked Daddy if he wanted to do a third CT scan. The nurse didn’t seem to think it was necessary, since the second scan had already shown what was happening, and Gramma’s condition had continued to show symptoms on the outside of what was happening on the inside. Daddy wanted to do the scan, and he asked me to go with them.
I followed them as they wheeled Gramma’s bed to a different floor, and into a radiation room. I waited outside the room, and cried. A police officer walked by and said good morning. Another female nurse walked by and just said “morning”. I wondered if she had learned that “good” is not always the most appropriate adjective to use in a hospital when describing the morning.
In a few minutes, they brought Gramma out, said they would have the results in about twenty minutes, and I followed them and Gramma’s bed back to ICU. Vincent came back in a while, and said that from what he could see on the scan, the bleeding had continued pretty strongly. At this point, Gramma’s brain was being pressed down towards the base of her skull, which would cause very serious damage. He didn’t really say it, but he seemed to suggest that she would pass away within the next 24 hours.
We began calling family members again to update them.
Esther arrived at the hospital in a few minutes, then Benjamin arrived. And after a while, Priscilla and Mercy arrived too, brought over by our next door neighbor Richard. We all took turns crying and comforting each other, and crying some more. Periodically, one of us would talk to Gramma, or read Scripture to her. She continued to rest peacefully, though her breathing was audible.
About 11:30 am, I suggested that we sing together for Gramma. First, we had to turn off the cassette player of Grandpa Homer singing, which had been playing near Gramma’s head, resting gently on her satin pillow.
Daddy, Esther, Priscilla, Mercy, Benjamin, Richard, and I all sang around her bed… Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God, In the Arms of My Father… it was beautiful all in harmony, and we hoped somehow Gramma could hear us. Then we prayed together, that the Lord would bring peace to Gramma.
Several of us went home then, to rest. Richard went home, Mercy and I drove home together, and Daddy drove home. Benjamin, Priscilla, and Mercy stayed at the hospital together. This entire time, Mommy had been at home with Isabel. Mommy really did not want to come to the hospital, she really didn’t want to see Gramma sick and dying – she wanted only to be able to remember her alive. So Isabel and Mommy played together, so that Esther could be at the hospital. When I had come to visit Gramma the night before, I had invited Esther to come with me, but she was tired and stayed home. She had told me that she had felt she really should come, but she didn’t. So I think she was upset with herself, and wanted to be at the hospital as much as she could, as long as Isabel was doing okay without her.
On his way out, Richard said that he had some extra batteries at home that he would give us, for “Homer” (the cassette player), because we didn’t want “Homer” to run out J. I’m pretty sure Richard actually went out and bought batteries, because he told me to give him 15 or 20 minutes to “find them” at his house, but when he came over, it was a brand new sealed package from HEB.
At the house, I spent a little time talking with Mommy, and filling her in on as many details as I could think of . Then I spent some time looking for Pam, Daddy’s sister. We knew from her roommate that she had gone camping, but the roommate didn’t know where or how long she would be gone. My mom had already tried calling Pam on Tuesday when Gramma first went into the hospital, so that’s when she found out that Pam was camping. My mom called Greg, Pam’s ex-husband, he is a police officer. She got ahold of the station where he works, and they were able to track him down, and have him call our house. But he didn’t know where Pam had gone. My dad had several ideas as to what campgrounds Pam might be at, that had been family favorites.
I called Refugio State Park, El Capitan State Park, and Goleta State Park and asked if they had a Pam McHenry there. No one did. Then Mommy called Pam’s roommate again, and the roommate said she thought Pam had said something about “Solvang,” and that she might be traveling with a friend named Ann. My mom thought this would be Ann Farson, and old friend of the family, so she looked in Gramma’s address book and found Ann Farson’s parents phone number. Her parents didn’t know where they had gone, but they did tell us that Ann’s married name was Hazel. So I called all those parks again, looking for Ann Hazel, but again, no luck. Then I searched the internet for Solvang Camping – and called three places that came up from that search, but none of them had an Ann Hazel or a Pam McHenry. Then Pam’s roommate called us back, and said that she had found a note from Pam saying where she had gone! It was LL LL Park, so I googled that name and called them. The girl took my name and phone numbe and said she would call back. She called back in a few minutes, saying that she had located the park ranger, and the ranger confirmed they were staying there, and he would find them and tell them to call me.
When Pam called me a bit later, she was frazzled because the gal she was camping with had left the campsite to drive back to Los Angeles to pick up Haley, to bring Haley back to the campground for the remainder of their trip. The park ranger found someone he knew who was willing to drive Pam and Kelsey into town to the airport for $100. Pam and Kelsey flew from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, where they met Haley, and all three of them got on a plane to San Antonio, but they werent’ going to arrive until 8pm or so.
By this time, we had contacted all of Gramma’s kids, and the rest of them were trying to get flights here as well, so we were just praying that Gramma would hold on long enough to see some of them. We kept telling Gramma that her kids were coming, and some of her grandkids too.
About 1:00 pm, Benjamin and Priscilla got to the house, and were resting. Esther called and wanted to come home too, so Benjamin and I gathered our things together to head to the hospital to relieve her. We arrived at the hospital about 2:00 pm. When we got there, Gramma was breathing much harder, and her heart rate was jumping all around. Esther said that the nurse had just put her on an IV drip to slow down her heart rate, because it was bouncing between 120 and 170. The nurse figured that Gramma’s heart medicine that she usually takes orally, and had taken the night before, had all worn off, and this was the result. Esther kissed Gramma, and went home to pick up Isabel.
About thirty minutes later, the cassette player of Grandpa Homer was dead, and we had forgotten to bring the batteries that Richard had so graciously purchased for us, so I sent Benjamin to go purchase batteries.
Benjamin ended up trying to get cash, and searching for several places in the area that might sell batteries, then he got stuck in traffic, so he did not return until after 5:00 pm…but before then….
While Benjamin was gone, Gramma’s breathing was getting much harder. She seemed to be struggling to get enough air, so I got the nurse, Victor, and he put an oxygen mask on her instead of the nose tube. Before he did, I put chapstick on Gramma’s lips, because they were dry and shrunken from her labored breathing through her wide open mouth. I also repositioned her head, because it had slid to the side of the satin pillow, and I could see blood stains underneath where her head had laid, and blood had leaked through the wound on the back left side of her head. I pulled the pillow under her head again, so that the stains would be hidden, and I fluffed up her hair, so that the curly parts would come over her forehead again, and look like the Gramma I know. I also got my toenail clippers from my purse, and trimmed two long white hairs that had grown from her chin. I had noticed them days earlier, but didn’t have the heart to tell her. Now I wanted them to be cleaned up for when her family arrived. Then I read some more from the Psalms, until I was too choked up to read any more.
It was about this time, that I saw that Gramma’s body temperature was rising. The catheter led to a container to hold the liquid, which sat inside another device which had several digital readings on it, one of which being the body temperature. When I looked down at about this time (maybe 3:00 or so), her temperature was over 100 degrees. I asked Victor about this, and he gently informed that this was an expected symptom of the pressure of the blood on her brain, and a sign that her condition was worsening. Within about 30 minutes, I asked Victor if he had any more oxygen for Gramma, and he put a full ventilator mask on her, which gave her 100% oxygen, the maximum amount they could give her. At that point, her temperature had continued to rise to above 102 degrees, and Victor said that I should call my father to come.
When I had arrived, her breathing had been labored, as if she were jogging. But it had gradually increased to where she was gasping as deep and hard as I could imagine someone gasping for air. Her heart rate continued to bounce between 140 and 170, her desperate breathing was awful to watch, and her temperature continued to rise. The machines were beeping constantly, because of her high heart rate. Once she stopped breathing for a moment, and then coughed up a mouthful of foam that had accumulated in her throat from her labored breathing.
By the time Daddy arrived, along with Juan Campos, a nurse had removed the temperature box for another patient, and the last reading I saw was over 106 degrees. Gramma continued to struggle for air, which became increasingly more painful to watch. The nurse said that she was not in any pain, other than not being able to breathe, and that there was nothing more they could do for her. This went on for another hour or so, and we got Grandpa Homer working again with Richard’s batteries that Daddy has brought. We talked to Gramma periodically, telling her to hold on, because her kids were coming to see her. We cried a lot too. Her face was flushed and her cheeks pink from the high body temperature, and her body shuddered with each long grating breath. I had to keep re-positioning the stuffed black Inky cat, because he would slide down from his perch as her body would shudder.
Daddy stood by the bed, right near Gramma’s head, and kept his hand on her forehead and hair, gently smoothing her hair and stroking her forehead. He talked soothingly to her, and held me in his other arm, and we cried together.
About 4:45 pm, we finally noticed a difference in her breathing and heart rate, as they both began to slow. But as it turned out, she wasn’t recovering, her body was just slowly quitting. Since it had been three hours of increasing high temperature and insufficient oxygen flow, she had struggled long enough. Shortly after 5:00 pm, her breathing slowed so much that there were gaps between breaths, the machines said “apnea”, and we weren’t sure if she had passed away or not. But then suddenly, she would take one deep gasp in and breathe again. Grandpa Homer’s tape started stuttering, and I desperately fussed with it, trying to get it work for Gramma’s last moments on earth. It started working again, and began playing the song “When Jesus Passed By.” A few minutes later, I looked down, and her eyes were cracked open. I asked Daddy if the pressure of his hand on her forehead had pulled her eyes open, and he said he didn’t have any weight on her. Juan stood up to look at her, and she breathed again, her heart rate having slowed to around 60. Benjamin came in, new batteries in hand, and saw us all looking at Gramma. Juan said he thought she was gone, and I went to get a nurse. A nurse came, and felt Gramma’s pulse at her wrist and throat, and said “It’s her time….” By 5:12 pm (Juan paid attention to the time, and the rest of us were not), there was no more breathing or pulse. Daddy gently closed Gramma’s eyelids, which were barely open, and we all stood together and cried. Daddy kept his hand on Gramma’s forehead, and he put his face to hers and kissed her cheek gently.
It seemed unreal to me that I had watched someone die. Benjamin said, “She doesn’t look real anymore…it just looks like a shell…I can see the difference….she’s in heaven now.”
We laughed and cried at the same time about all the people Gramma was saying hello to, and how she had all her vision back, just as she had prayed for, and all her health back for every ache and pain.
One of our friends told me the next day that he had been thinking about how sometimes our spirit knows something that our body doesn’t know. The Thursday before Gramma went to the hospital, we had a community group training session with almost 30 people present, to train about prayer for people for healing. During the meeting, Gramma had broken down and asked about why God wouldn’t heal people, even when they have prayed for a long time. She said that she had been praying for 15 years for healing for her eyesight, but it had only gotten worse. She asked if she was doing something wrong, or if she didn’t have enough faith, or if there was sin in her life, and that’s why she wasn’t healed. The person leading the meeting was so gently with her, and just said that sometimes God just doesn’t answer the way we would like Him to, and sometimes we just won’t understand, and that is a lesson in trusting Him. It was just unusual for me to see Gramma so broken down and crying and distraut. She doesn’t usually get like that, even when she’s talking about her vision, or other things that make her sad. Our friend that was talking to me about it was saying that it seemed to him, in retrospect, that somehow her spirit knew that her healing was coming, so she was longing for it even deeper and greater than she normally does. She had been getting lonelier too, for Grandpa, and for her sister who passed away earlier this year. She said she felt like she missed them now even more than she ever had before.
Mercy cried at and cried at 6 am when we found out what had happened. She said, “I always told Gramma that she had to stay around to see me get married, and at least have a couple kids!” She could barely choke out the words.
Esther said that she remembered driving by our house on Monday, and thinking that she should stop in to see Gramma. She took Isabel inside, and spent about 10 minutes together the three of them. Isabel wanted to try to walk around, so she grabbed Gramma’s finger. But Gramma wasn’t balanced well enough anymore to hold herself up, let alone an unsturdy baby! So Gramma held Isabel’s hand, and Esther held Gramma’s other hand, to hold Gramma up so she could hold up the baby. This is Esther’s cherished last memory together with Gramma.
We were also talking about how Gramma has just been on the greeter team at church the last two weeks. She had finally found a place in the church where she could serve, where she could fit, and she was SOOO excited. She kept telling everyone how excited she was that she had a job, and she could be useful. She would sit on a tall stool by the front door, and pass out programs, and say hello to people. She didn’t like that she could never remember anyone’s name, but she loved being able to serve.
5.26.09 Follow Up
As heartbreaking as it is to lose someone you love, the family had a general feeling of peace that it was “her time” to go. We were grateful that she hadn’t fallen and been injured this way in our home, because the torment and guilt of that may have haunted us. In addition, who knows how my dad’s family may have responded, because they did end up suing the hospital where Gramma fell and died. Also, the most recent “signs” such as her distress about her healing, her frustrations over the deterioration of her physical body, her sister (her last living immediate family member) dying earlier in the year, her ongoing comments that she was ready to go, and her insistence that she wanted to go easily and quickly rather than slowly and painfully (as she had watched her husband, Grandpa Homer, die of cancer)…..all of these things gave us comfort that her spirit was ready to depart this earth and meet her Creator.