I was sitting in bed watching TV when the phone rang. Baba never calls after nine; she’s usually asleep. So we answered it. She told me my grandfather (the donut stealer, if you follow me on Twitter) had fallen twice and the ambulance had arrived to take him in. She was going to drive to the hospital herself. I said no way.
When I arrived at the house, one firefighter had stayed behind with her until I arrived. “What were his vitals?” I asked, and he told me that he had been unresponsive when the ambulance had left. His heart rate had been 100 bpm, but his blood oxygen was 66.
If you’re unfamiliar with vital statistics, 66 is not good.
We drove to the hospital with a bag of his prescriptions and a bag of clothes. All the way there, Baba kept accusing him of not eating right, of having too much candy and crashing his blood sugar. I didn’t tell her what the fireman said. Partially because I didn’t want to upset her and partially because I truly believed that when we arrived he would already be in surgery, and the doctor could tell her.
At the emergency room, I went up to the nurse at the window and told her that my grandfather had been brought in by ambulance. I tried to hand her the bag of his prescriptions. She said, “We don’t need those right now.”
They had already taken Baba into a private waiting room. When I entered, the doctor was sitting down.
If you’re unfamiliar with doctors, sitting down is not good.
When Grandpa had arrived, he was already in cardiac arrest. They were working on him, doing chest compressions. Baba wanted to see him. We waited for a nurse to come, and she prepared Baba for what she would see. That he’d been intubated. That there would be wires on him. That they were still doing chest compressions but that he didn’t have a pulse. The doctor told me they’d been working on him for thirty minutes.
If you’re unfamiliar with hearts, thirty minutes without a pulse is not good. You’re probably familiar with hearts, though.
I called my uncle and told him, “Your dad isn’t going to make it.” He said, “What does that mean? How do you know?”
Because I know. I worked in the very hospital my grandfather was in right then. I was a CENA in a nursing home. I was raised by an RN, in a family of EMTs. And that’s why, when I walked into the room and saw the red-faced, sweating nurse pumping my grandfather’s chest, that it wouldn’t do any good.
I told the doctor that they should stop. There were already signs of biological death; his feet were pale, his eyes were open and flat. Baba said no, that I was wrong. “You’re wrong, you’re wrong!” I keep hearing that over and over. And I wished I was wrong. I wanted to knock the nurse out of the way and take over compressions, because surely I could make his heart beat if I wanted it enough.
I thought of that scene on Buffy, of all things, where she sees her mom lying on the floor, the paramedics working on her. Coming back to life, being rushed to the hospital.
If you’re unfamiliar with brains, they totally work like that.
My phone rang. My totally inappropriate Rick and Morty ringtone went off in the room as they noted the time of death. I went to the hallway to answer it. Instead, I threw my phone on the floor. I threw my purse on the floor, I threw everything as hard and violent as I could. There was a crash cart in the hall, a big, metal thing. I kicked it hard.
If you’re unfamiliar with feet, heads up. That’s how you break them.
A nurse came and put her arms around me. I apologized and asked where the bathroom was. I limped there, while she said I should really let them look at my foot, that I shouldn’t be walking on it. I told her I would be fine. I went into the bathroom and vomited while the nurse picked up all the stuff I’d thrown in my rage.
I asked the chaplain to contact an Orthodox priest. He didn’t know any. I didn’t know my grandfather’s priest. A half hour later, the chaplain informed us that he’d found a Greek Orthodox priest who was on his way. Russian, I kept insisting. Russian. It’s important. His father was a priest, it has to be a Russian Orthodox priest like his father. I ended up googling the name of the priest at their church, and thankfully I found his home number. He and Matushka were in their car. “What does that mean, he’s died?” They were as shocked as we were. They arrived only shortly after the Greek priest.
If you’re unfamiliar with priests, they’re apparently like buses. What’s that saying about two of them showing up at once?
They both stayed to recite prayers to release my grandfather’s soul, and to comfort my grandmother. My biological dad arrived. I’d told him on the phone that he had to come, that I needed reinforcements. My uncle arrived. We didn’t know who we should call next. I was running a high fever from an ill-timed bought of pneumonia that set in during the week. My foot hurt and I couldn’t walk on it. I didn’t know what do or what the next steps were. I had no plan, and grandpa had no plan. Not even a plot to be buried in.
The last time my grandfather and I spoke, it was weeks ago. Weeks and weeks. We got into a huge fight about something serious. I screamed at him. I told him to get out of the house. The next time he came by, I wouldn’t talk to him.
I don’t regret our fight because it wasn’t something that could be dismissed. Family business, family secrets, things that had ruined my love for him forever. I don’t regret telling him, shouting at him what I felt. I do regret that the last thing I ever said to him was, “Get the fuck out of my house. I’m done with you.”
If you’re unfamiliar with grief, that’s not an ideal last memory to have.
I left Baba at the hospital with her sons and drove to the house. I cleaned up the bathroom where my grandfather had collapsed. He’d hit his head on the toilet. I wiped up his blood. I threw his underwear into the trash. I washed the rug.
I told his dog. His stupid, ugly little shih tzu with its homely underbite and weird, bulgy eyes, who can’t figure out why the invisible fence shocks him but keeps trying to run away, anyway. I said, “Steve isn’t coming back.” The dog curled up on the rug in front of the door. I think he understood. He doesn’t understand not to pee on the carpet, but he understands death, I guess.
It was two in the morning before I got home. It was three when I went to bed. I didn’t sleep until six, and woke up at ten. I wanted to get up earlier because my daughter had planned on seeing her baba and papa. She’d planned to call them as soon as she got up. Thankfully, she opted to watch Netflix instead. I sat between my kids on the couch and told them. My husband took them out to lunch and an arcade to distract them.
I don’t know what else to do for them. I don’t know what else to do for my family. I don’t understand why we didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I don’t understand how he could go to bed at 9:30 and be dead at 10:30. I don’t understand how I could be so hateful as to never see my grandfather again after our fight. I don’t understand why I broke my foot, why I told them to stop working on him, why my father called me “kid” and gave me his phone number for the first time in my life. I don’t understand why I close my eyes and see my grandfather’s, bloodshot and dead. I just don’t understand.