by Aviva (Goldish) Spotts
When I received a call from my parents that Grandma was in the ICU, I was very upset. Though I know that Grandma is “old,” I guess I somehow assumed she would always be around. This call made me realize that it’s just not the case. As the days went on and the reports came in from my parents, Shua and I decided that I needed to go as soon as possible. So I booked a one way ticket to Cleveland, not knowing at the time what would happen and when I’d return. Tamar (my one year old) and I flew out of BWI Wednesday morning and by Wednesday afternoon, my father and I were in the ICU with Grandma.
My father warned me about how painful it was to see her in the state she was in, but I don’t think you fully fathom what you are going to see, until you see it for yourself. I stood there looking at my beloved Grandma and just couldn’t believe it. Here a woman who was always full of life and spunk, was lying in this hospital bed, very thin and frail, with tubes flying in and out of her and a huge mask covering half of her face. Her arms and hands were more black and blue then skin color and they were tied down at her side, for her protection. Part of me wanted to cry, but something inside of me took me back to when Grandpa was in the hospital at the end of his life. I remember asking my mother if he can hear me and she had told me then that we don’t know what they can hear but that we should act as if he hears everything. Well, that’s exactly what I did with Grandma. I told myself that I was going to be happy and positive throughout my visits with her. As she moaned and winced in pain, I took her hand and I rubbed it, I brushed back her hair and I kept talking to her as if I were the Grandma and she was the granddaughter – telling her she’s going to be fine and that the doctors and nurses are taking such good care of her. When she wasn’t upset – I would tell her that I came all the way to Baltimore to see her and her to open her eyes already. I would remind her who I was, “David’s daughter” and her “favorite granddaughter” (sorry Esther and Mindel, that’s what I always told her!)
The nurse took off her oxygen mask briefly to give her some children’s Tylenol (she is 80 pounds after all) and she tried talking to us and told us they were poisoning her…we told her they were trying to help her pain. As my father said later and it resonated with me, that’s why halacha is so complicated, on the one hand you see this foreign body laying there with her organs shutting down but that she says something that sure seems like a sign of someone who wants to live. My father and I sat there and watched her as she slowly calmed down; the Tylenol seemed to be helping. We were comforted by the mere fact that she was in less pain. We never could have anticipated what would come next. After about a half hour of a calmer state and about 7 minutes of a cat nap, Grandma opened her eyes – wide. I ran over to her and looked into those small gray eyes of hers and said, “Grandma, it’s me, Aviva, David’s daughter.” And she smiled at me through the mask. I went on to tell her I came from Baltimore just to see her and I was here with David etc etc. I kept talking and she kept responding. Sometimes we could understand her, sometimes it was difficult. But she was most definitely hearing and understanding us and I was going to take advantage of this visit. So I pulled out my digital camera and started showing her pictures of my kids, Shua and I on our vacation a few weeks ago, of Ezzie and Elianna on my recent trip to NY. I talked to her about Marilyn’s recent visit. And I just kept going – talking and talking (as we all I do quite well) about anything and everything meaningful to Grandma. She was so animated and so excited. I tested her – Who is this? What are your kids names? Where does this one live? What was your address? It was unbelievable! She looked down at her ring finger and noticed her wedding band was gone. I explained to her that the hospital gave it David for safe keeping because she dropped it (it flew off her hand when she was upset and trying to pull out her IV). I showed it to her and she kept asking me to put it on her. I explained to her again why I can’t give it to her (my father signed off that he took it). I showed it to her and she said “I’d feel more comfortable if it was on.” I apologized and changed the subject to other memories of her. I went back to my parents feeling like Grandma was back…but was she?
The next day, my father and I went back again. When we arrived she looked similar to our first meeting, lying there moaning and tied down. But I knew that it was just temporary, or so I told I myself. And I came armed with a CD that my mother quickly put together with lots of pictures for her to look at. Well, once again, she “woke up” as I like to say it, but this time she wasn’t quite as chipper and her numbers weren’t quite as good…as much as we’ve been told not to obsess with numbers, it’s hard not to. But I was determined. I don’t know how we got to this point but my father and I were both sitting up next to her trying to get her “back” again. I threw out all the phrases and names I could that would make her speak. We “kibitzed” about how my baby is a “doll baby” and how I am always on time like her and not late like my father. I don’t know what inclined me to start singing to her, but I did and my father joined in. We sang all those melodies (with no words) that she loved…and she hummed along with us through her mask! We sang Shalom Aleichema and others we knew she liked. I talked to her about Grandpa and how he was a lawyer, to which she said, “right, he was an attorney.” I said and “he never charged anybody, right?” to which she laughed. I asked her if she watched jeapordy to which she responded that it’s on at 7:00. We talked again about how Marilyn visited from Israel and how she has all these grandchildren and great children. After a few minutes of talking about Grandmpa and her 3 kids and grandchildren and great grandchildren, she paused and had the look she had when she used to, as she called it, “have a spell.” It lasted about 3 minutes and my father and I didn’t know what to make of it. She then said something to me about having not thought about all these things for a long time…and she had tears in her eyes. She seemed quieter and more withdrawn and definitely more tired. Over the past couple days she told my father a number of times, “I love you, David.” I said jokingly, “what about me?” to which she shrugged. We always kissed her when we left and I silently prayed that I’d see her again the next day.
We were told that the oxygen mask was a short term solution and couldn’t be left on indefinitely. The problem was when she didn’t have it on, she wasn’t getting enough oxygen. The other methods of giving oxygen, we were told, may not be as effective. You can therefore imagine my surprise when I arrived with Shua (who drove with my three other kids, on a fast day, almost 8 hours to (hopefully) see Grandma and be there for moral support – G-d bless him!) to find Grandma with a small oxygen mask which Shua pointed out wasn’t even covering her mouth and nose. The nurse said she must have pulled it off but that she was doing pretty good maintaining a comfortable oxygen level with it. Since she was pulling it off, they switched to the kind that goes in her nose…this was on top of the feeding tube that was already in there…not fun. Once again, the initial visit was watching her numbers on the screen and a strange woman in bed, who was not the grandmother I knew and loved. While she was resting, Shua and I just looked at her and each other, we didn’t have to say a word, we were both pretty worried about her… But once again, she “woke” up. I prayed each time it would happen, but I didn’t take for granted that it would. This time I had old pictures. She knew Ben was “my husband” and that David was David, Rena was Rena, Larry Frankel was “what’s his name” and next to him was “his mother.” She knew Alyssa was “my best girl friend” and that Helen “is my sister.” She knew Tuda is her sister too…what was strange to us was that for days during her moaning she seemed to call Tuda’s name over and over again. We had a wonderful visit with her. Though she didn’t remember Shua, she thought we made a “good looking couple” so she liked him. She said “you must find me really boring” since she had nothing more to say. So we told her all about our life in Baltimore and our kids. She really wanted to see them but we explained that the hospital won’t let kids in. I showed her the pictures of them again from my camera, and she loved them, again. We left the hospital amazed at how well she was doing and I was amazed at how much better she looked. She wanted to sit up. She told me she was starving. And she was just acting so “normal.” A little while before Shabbos my father received a call from the hospital that they had some concerns and were running a test. Of course this made us all nervous, but when 2 minutes before Shabbos, the test results came out normal, coupled with the experiences we witnessed the past few days, I went into Shabbos cautiously optimistic.
Thank G-d, we got a positive report from the nurse about Grandma’s Shabbos, they had tried to give her applesauce (since she pulled out her feeding tube) and she took it. Her oxygen level was good, but to be honest, I just wanted to see her again for myself. For a variety of reasons, I wound up going by myself to see Grandma before we left for Baltimore on Sunday. I WISH that others had been there with me to witness what I witnessed. A Grandma I have not seen in many years was sitting there. Her hearing is better then it has been in years (and this is without hearing aids), her color is good, her humor is there, the twinkle in her eye is back, she kept looking at the time and asking me if I ate something yet (it was lunch time). There was thick liquid food sitting next to her. I asked the nurse if I can feed her and she wished me luck. She couldn’t get her to eat more than 2 bites of anything. I told Grandma I was going to feed her. I gave her some fruit, she didn’t love it, but ate a bit, two, three, four. Then I tried her apple juice. She liked that better. She must have had half of it. I asked her if she’d like ice cream, knowing she always loved it, and she said, “I used to eat it every night.” I told her I’d ask the nurse. The nurse got me some chocolate ice cream, her favorite. Grandma was thrilled! She kept eating more and more and more. She told me that she hadn’t had anything to eat or drink in days. When I asked her why, she said, “ I just couldn’t.” She thanked me over and over for everything..I said “for what?” She just couldn’t explain. She just thanked me. She asked if she could give me a kiss (as she always used to). Of course I obliged and then she looked at me and said “I hope I see you again.”
These visits with Grandma were awe inspiring, miraculous, special, momentous and eye opening to me. I believe fully that she is alive by some miracle from Hashem. In my heart, I didn’t think I would actually “see Grandma,” not the one I knew anyway, but I forced myself not to give up and to try anything and everything. I am grateful to have had these very special visits with her. I am only sorry that she did not get to see my kids and meet my baby, Tamar. Life is a gift. Family is precious. Miracles happen every day. I just witnessed a big one. I hope and pray that Grandma continues to have these moments and awakenings with no further pain and suffering.
I want to thank Ezzie for telling me to write this all down while it’s fresh. My little brother was right. I hope you’ll all get some chizuk reading this. May Chaya bat Pessel have a refuah shelaymah.