Last Thursday I went to visit Baba (my grandmother) at her assisted living facility where she returned after her hip surgery the previous week. As is usually the case now when I got to visit her, I had no idea what to expect when I went in there. Before I even enter the facility, I always take a few minutes to gather myself together, put myself at ease, and prepare myself for the possibility of dealing with a grandmother who might not recognize me. Especially less than a week after her surgery, I really had no idea what to expect when I entered. Thinking about it now, I can understand why some people don't want to go visit their family members in an assisted living facility, especially if they have dementia or Alzheimer's or some other disease that robs them of their mind. It can be incredibly disheartening to see a loved one slowly lose their mind, get stuck in loops, not know what day it is, why they are there, who you are, and on and on and on. For some people, I can imagine it is easier to simply try and forget about their loved ones, keep that image of who they once were in their mind instead of seeing someone who is sometimes merely a ghost of why they once were. Yet if someone is truly connected to their family, it shouldn't matter what their mind is like, who they remember, or what they look like, they are still family no matter what happens and to just desert them at a facility is akin to locking them in prison without visitation rights. While I might partially understand why some patients at Baba's "home" never get visitors, it still bothers me that they don't, that their "family" doesn't have enough "time" to get down there and visit them. In any case, perhaps I understand why people don't get visitors because of my visit last Thursday. When I went in to see Baba, I was a little taken aback. I walked into her room and she had a new room mate, one I had never seen before who just stared at me as I walked in front of her. When I got to Baba's side of the room, she was sleeping on her back, mouth hanging open, hair slightly disheveled and in a hospital gown. To put it simply, I had never seen her like that before. Almost every time I have seen her, even previously at her "home", she was always dressed nicely, her hair as neat as she could make it, and always awake. Its not easy to see someone in their 90's sleeping like that as the first thought that comes to mind is, "are they alive?" I know it might be horrible to think that, but sometimes its not so easy to see.
In any case, I didn't want to wake her, so I checked with the nurses and they assured me I could, so I did. She didn't wake right up, but after about a minute of rubbing her hand, she pulled herself out of her slumber and came to. Soon after she woke up, she seemed to recognize me as she asked how my son was doing. I have no idea if she remembered my name, but that is not important to me anymore. I showed her the most recent pictures of our son and it seemed to be the highlight of her day. She was so excited to see him, even remembering his name, that it made me happy. Its funny to me sometimes that she won't remember much else, but she always remembers our son's name. I have no idea why that is or how it works in her mind, but that's the way it works with her. Yet, soon after seeing the pictures of our son, she quickly retreated into a very tight knit loop that was impossible to get her out of. She had a few bunches of flowers on top of her dresser and when she saw them, she just had to have me rearrange them for her. So through the process of deciphering her gestures and her attempts at directing my movements, I got them in the proper places and she couldn't stop talking about the flowers and how they were "good" now and that she had made the decision to move them around. That was her loop, talking about moving the flowers and interspersed in that, making sure that I sat on a corner of her bed. Even when I sat on the opposite corner that she wanted me to, she couldn't get herself off the idea that I should be sitting on the other side. I assured her that I was OK and comfortable and that seemed to be enough every 30 seconds. While I was there I did have one minor incident, and trust me, it was minor. About half way through my 50 minute visit, she said she needed to go to the bathroom. She was trying to get me to help her out of bed and to walk over to the bathroom. As she just had surgery on her hip, I didn't think she should be getting out of bed so again, I checked with the nurses and they confirmed my suspicion, no getting out of bed. So they got a couple of nurses to bring her a bedpan so she could relieve herself. After a few minutes of the nurses fighting with her to move her onto her side and get the bedpan under her, they realized that she didn't really have to go. Like I said, a minor incident, but one that comes with the territory I guess. All in all, she seemed worse off than the last time I saw her, but after talking to my mom afterwards, I guess that the older you get, the longer it takes for a person to come back fully from anesthesia, with her it could be as long as a couple of weeks.
From what I heard from my mother, I picked a good day to go down a visit Baba. The previous day, when my mother had gone to visit Baba, she could only speak and understand Spanish. Up until the surgery and I am sure once she fully recovers, Baba can speak Russian, Spanish, and English. Last Wednesday, however, it was Spanish only. So when I went on Thursday, I am glad she was back to understanding English as I am not fluent in Spanish. Even the day after I went to visit, Friday, my mom said that Baba was wondering why her leg hurt a little bit and why she had a big cast on it. So my mom had to go through the whole explanation of what happened and why and reiterate the fact that she needed to use her walker when going anywhere, even to the bathroom. At least she is recovering, though, and her mind is slowly getting back to where it was before the surgery, not great, but better than now. Its a tough road for her to go down and it isn't always easy to see her in her current condition, yet that doesn't temper the love that I feel for her in any way. I still see the personality in her that I have known for years and even if and when that goes, I will still have those memories of her and I will still go visit her even if just to make her feel a little more at ease that she has visitors. For now, my only hope is that she comes back fully from her anesthesia and recovers what she had left of her mind. Hopefully I can make it down this week to visit her again, yet I don't know if that will happen. If not this week, then definitely next week.