Grandmother was discharged last Monday from the hospital for recovery at home but she had to be rushed back again because of liver and respiratory problems. She's in the ICU right now. Her arms and legs are swollen with fluids -- weeks worth of medication which she could no longer expel or process on her own, according to the doctors. She also has aspiration pneumonia, again. We're not sure if the liver problem is a side-effect of a medication she's taking for a lung ailment but tests show that her sodium, potassium, albumin etc levels are alarmingly low. Plus her blood pressure just keeps dropping. They're trying to raise it back up through yet more medication, which contributes to her continued bloating.
I think that even if she does beat pneumonia, sooner or later, something will get her. Liver's failing, kidney's failing. Heart is still thankfully functional but how long will that last? After she fractured her hip, everything else started going wrong. From being a sturdy, loquacious and stubbornly independent old lady, Lola has become a frail and vacant-eyed shadow. When she was first taken to the hospital for her hip replacement operation, she still had the strength of mind to smile at me. I remember standing in front of the ER, watching the van pull up, and my cousin Lloyd lifting Lola with the help of nursing assistants from the van to a wheelchair. She kept flinching all throughout. When at last she was sitting in the wheelchair, I noticed that she was barefoot so I looked for her sandals. They were mismatched. I knelt to put them on her feet and couldn't stop crying. But she smiled and called me by name.
Now, of course, she can't even talk. I stayed with her throughout the previous week and she could still recognize us. Before I left last Saturday she touched my hair and pulled me down to embrace me and patted me on the shoulder as if between the two of us it was I who needed comforting. During ever rarer moments of lucidity, she would hold my hand and frown because it was too hot for her sensitized nerves. Perhaps I had a fever? I should rest. I should see a doctor. These were familiar words, familiar actions, the bedrock of a relationship which has been my center of gravity ever since childhood.
When I slip in to see her in the ICU I hunt obsessively for signs, hints, for some certainty that my grandmother could recognize not so much our names, or our faces, but the feel of our hands, the kiss on her cheek and forehead. My grandmother has always been an affectionate person, especially with her grandchildren; she depended on the physicality of gestures to carry a message. My message is love, and also, goodbye. But I'm afraid that what I'm really telling her is, please hold on. Please don't leave.
Am I so selfish? She's very old. And I think that I've been preparing for this moment since I was eight and realized that one day I would lose my grandmother. I sat up in bed instantly and asked God to take her away if he must when I was older, maybe in twenty years or so, because then it would be more bearable. A selfish child, yes, who now comes to the also blinding realization that it is not bearable, after all. Thirty, forty, one hundred years down the line, it would never be bearable.
My sister and I talked earlier and she told me that she had so many regrets about Lola, that, for some reason, losing our grandmother like this was more painful than losing our grandfather. Lolo, at least, wanted to go and in his own fashion he left on his terms. When he died, we all felt that we should have done this, done that, but then we still had our grandmother. "I told myself, Lola, you will be the most precious thing in the world to me," said Bai. "But there were times when instead of treasuring her, I put her away for safekeeping, but then would forget."
I forgot too, countless of times. I stayed in Manila, didn't call as often as I should, didn't say I loved her always and always. Always.