No amount of explaining, leaflet-reading or support could’ve prepared me for the moment I saw him.
He looked pale against the white walls of the hospital ward. The left side of his face appeared to have drooped, and his left arm and leg were basically foreign to him. He tried to speak – the sounds which managed to escape his mouth were familiar – but his speech was incomprehensible and slurred. It took him a lot of effort to utter a single word, not that it meant anything to us at the time. In return, he would only hear us if our voices were raised, and this would be predominantly through his right ear. It was like someone had gone in and tampered with certain functions in his body, and hit the ‘off’ switch. Many other problems would soon arise for my 87-year-old granddad – this was only the beginning.
It was hard to digest. He’d had a massive stroke, he was paralysed down his left side, and his life had crumbled within a few minutes.
The first time I saw him, I quickly averted my eyes to the floor, hoping that he couldn’t see the tears streaming down my face. I looked back at him every few seconds, to check that this was actually reality; that it was actually him sitting there before me. I shook and shivered and hoped he couldn’t sense the quiver in my voice as I tried to make bland conversation to fill the silence. “How are you?” I asked dumbly.
Warm tears pricked the corners of my eyes as I realised I was asking him questions, the replies to which, I could not understand because of his deep slur. I’d been used our a language barrier; he spoke and understood Gujarati, and a little English, and despite my GCSE in Gujarati, I still had some issues when communicating with him – often I’d forget a specific word or phrase and its Gujarati translation, and had to discard the conversation topic or think of an alternative way of explaining it, which didn’t require the use of the troublesome word! Having trouble understanding what he was saying reminded me of those instances.
From the world’s most active granddad, who couldn’t sit still for more than half an hour, he had become bedridden and incapable of doing anything for himself – all of this happened overnight. He was unable to do anything for himself at all, and became dependent on the nurses in the ward. A lot of his time was spent waiting for them to do things for him – whether he wanted to have a sip of water, have his clothes changed, or simply have his bed covers pulled up over him.
Within two days, the frustration was evident – he desperately wanted to get out of his bed so he could go to the toilet, he wanted to come home, he wanted things to go back to the way they once had been, and kept asking why this happened to him. He couldn’t accept what had happened to him – he wouldn’t accept that he’d lost his ability to use one side of his body, his coordination, or that his back was weak and that was why he could barely sit up straight. He insisted that he could walk and claimed to walk around the ward and do allsorts when we’d all gone home! I wished that was true.
Day in, day out, he sat or lay in his bed, which he’d called his ‘prison’. He found it hard, sometimes, to ignore the need screaming out from inside him to get up and run from his imprisonment, and would shout in Gujarati, “Get me out”. He’d been robbed of his independence, his dignity (as the nurses forced a new nappy around him every few hours), and he was robbed of his mobility. We still don’t know if any of these will be restored.
He developed bed sores and various other rashes from the constant sitting and lying down. He was often in pain, complaining that his muscles were aching, and complained about his lack of sleep and restlessness. He developed a chest infection and MRSA during his 8 weeks in hospital. Bouts of diarrhoea complicated things further as he was often uncomfortable and needed constant changing by the nurses. There were days where his blood pressure and haemoglobin levels were worryingly low and he was being pumped blood through a drip. As a result, he was often angry, tired and in agony during visiting hours, I couldn’t blame him. He could barely swallow, and any food had to be mushed to liquid.
He had his good and bad days. Some days he would sit there silently, not wanting to make any conversation, seemingly consumed by his own thoughts. Other days he would ask some questions, about what I did during the day, how I was feeling, where the family was. And on the worse days he’d be spouting all kinds of unpleasant things about wanting this to end and wanting to leave this world. But what he never said or accepted was that he’d lost his ability to walk and do things for himself.
His great resilience was admirable but conflicted with his ability to accept the consequences of his stroke. This made some days difficult – he would want to climb out of bed, and sometimes make a failed attempt, but there was no way we could let him out as the physiotherapists had already said that he’d be unlikely to walk again and his recovery, if any, would be small. Nevertheless, he still put up a great fight, asking each time I visited, to get me to help him out of bed. Each time I had to politely refuse, and could sense that this wasn’t going down too well with him. It didn’t stop him from trying each time he saw me! How much I admired his strength and determination.
Rather than a necessity, showering and having a clean shaven face became a luxury for my granddad. He was weak and couldn’t support himself, so the nurses decided it was a risk to give him regular showers.
Last week my granddad was discharged and admitted to a nursing home. The hospital claimed that bringing him home wasn’t really a possibility as care at own home would be impossible. They said that needed my granddad’s hospital bed for another patient, so he had to be moved, even though he wasn’t completely better – he had a cough and chest pains. He was still bed-ridden, and showed few signs of any full recovery. But he was still adamant that he’d walk again, that he’d show the nursing home staff that he could do it.
This week, he’s back in hospital. He was readmitted after experiencing breathing difficulties and has developed a nasty chest infection. I visited him today – he lay there, with an oxygen mask strapped around his head. He drifted in and out of sleep and barely acknowledged I was there. I can’t help but feel sorry for my poor granddad, and it breaks my heart to see him like this.
Each day presents a new turn – we can only wait until tomorrow to see what will happen next.