Sunday, September 25, 2011

"They tried to make me go to rehab, but I won't go because they're trying to kill me."

I know I shouldn't joke about this, but my grandmother is in the hospital and thinks the doctors are trying to kill her. She fell and broke her hip, and she's going to have to have rehab after her surgery, but she's Not Pleased.

I would say it was a symptom of mental deterioration related to old age, but she has always been, as my dad said in a moment of understatement, "suspicious." Her motto in life might just be "Trust No One." Nobody knows more than her about anything, and the fact that the doctors were not letting her go home, and were giving her treatment that she did not agree with, that could only mean one thing: they wanted to kill her.

My mom was not having it. "What information do you have that they need to kill you to keep you quiet?" she asked. My grandmother did not have an answer. She also did not have an answer to my statement that yes, she's right just because people are doctors does not mean they know what they are doing, but "they know more than you do." I am quite certain that she is still, days later, thinking up a response to that, which I will hear about later.

She was so indignant the other night about the fact that on the day she was admitted, the medical staff had referred to her as "uncooperative." Apparently, at some point they had to strap her down just to treat her. She referred to this as "putting [her] in handcuffs." She's a little free with the hyperbole.

"Can you imagine?" she asked me the next day, shaking her head. "Calling an 85-year-old woman 'uncooperative?'" Y'all, she was so offended. I mean, the very idea.

Oh, but I can believe it, alright. That's basically what we've been saying about her my whole life, only we don't say "she's uncooperative." We say "That's How She Is."

But I resisted saying anything. I'm just glad that my mother had warned us that our grandmother was being a tad difficult. She doesn't think of herself as difficult, of course. She thinks it's everyone else.

I know I shouldn't make jokes about the subject, especially since my grandmother is not in the best of shape right now. But that's the family way--do whatever grandmother wants, but gather in groups behind her back and complain about how she is not inhabiting the same plane of existence as the rest of us.

She really is being ridiculous, y'all. As far as I know, her sisters (the eldest of which, in traditional Southern style, she has always referred to as "Sister") do not even know that she is in the hospital. I don't know why, I didn't ask, I just obeyed my mother's frantic early-morning text (waking me up while I was on vacation, I might add) telling me not to say anything on Facebook. Oh yes, my great-aunts, who are all over 80, use Facebook more than I do. So, yeah, we have to protect the news like some secret family shame.

Of course, this is the same grandmother who, only a few years ago, asked my mother if my sister and I, since we were then over 30, were old enough to be told that one of my relatives had been divorced. So what would be shameful to my grandmother really doesn't have to be that shocking to anyone else in the country.

On the upside, this whole thing has provided an opportunity to see my uncle who lives out of state. He flew in to be here from my grandmother's surgery, and it was nice to see him again. He asked at one point if we were Facebook friends with his daughter, my cousin. He's a nice man, so I said only that I rarely go anywhere near that site. I also thought but did not say, "dude, we are not any kind of friends with her as she does not see fit to associate with this side of the family, and we only ever mention her in connection with that time she got attacked by the alligator and how we were glad she wasn't permanently injured because that way we can say how she kinda had it coming after skipping out on our grandparents' fiftieth wedding anniversary just so she could have a slumber party, and yeah that probably makes us terrible people, but she hasn't visited in at least 12 years, even though during that time period when she apparently had the time resources to fly around the country exhibiting pugs in dog shows. The End."

Spending time with my family can be very stressful because I never know when one of them, particularly my grandmother, will say something that I disagree with, or even something that I find horrifying, which will put me in the awkward position of choosing between being rude by contradicting an older family member, or not saying anything, thereby indicating apparent agreement, which kills me. Thus the reason I have the reputation in my family for having "a little bit of a mouth on me."

At one point yesterday, my grandmother proudly told her nurse, who is Vietnamese, that my sister and I were learning Korean. My sister, the nurse, and I all just looked at each other, the nurse with a look that said "How do we get out of this conversation because I am not sure how to react to this" and us with looks that said "We know that Korean and Vietnamese are not the same so please don't hate us." I gave a slight shrug and shook my head a little bit.

In her defense, I know that my grandmother was just searching for safe small talk topics and that she knows that they are not the same language. But I don't think she knows that Korean and Vietnamese are so different that identifying her nurse as Vietnamese and then following up with a remark about Korean was a total non sequitur. And I don't think that she realizes that assuming that a person from Vietnam would give a damn about someone learning Korean, when the only thing those two languages have in common is that they are spoken on the same continent, is a teeny bit racist.

The nurse just said, "I . . . don't speak Korean. [pause] But learning another language is hard."

She's a really tactful woman, that nurse.

Then my grandmother helped a bit by saying that we also spoke French, which allowed us to move the conversation to learning languages generally, a topic that I'm always happy to talk about, seeing as I would like to learn every language ever spoken. And it enabled us all to pretend that she was only bragging about her grandchildren's language learning abilities and not implying that all Asian languages are the same.

But that brief awkward moment? That's what hanging out with my family, and in particular my grandmother is like, all the time.

I guess I should just be relieved that that's all she said. It really could have been anything. I mean, it could be anything. My grandmother is what is sometimes referred to as a "loose canon."* Going out with her in public has always been an adventure because her sense of humor and her sense of propriety, though generally proper to the extreme, has a tendency to go off at the most inconvenient moments. This is not because she's old. She's just like that.

Oh, she also asked the nurse if she was a Christian. That was a tense moment. I wanted to quickly divert the conversation to something else, or shout out, "You don't have to answer that!" but I was frozen in horror at what might come next. The nurse said that no, she was a Buddhist, but she would pray for my grandmother (that's what started the conversation--my grandmother asking us if we'd pray for her). My grandmother thankfully waited until the nurse's back was turned to roll her eyes.

I'm from the South, and we respect our elders, but I was fully prepared to either walk out of the room or apologize for my grandmother right in front of her if she had started trying to convert that poor, patient nurse. But for once, my grandmother let the awkward conversation drop.

I bet the nurse is totally used to that kind of thing if she works around old people a lot, so I guess I shouldn't worry about her being offended. But it was exhausting trying to stay one step ahead of my grandmother. Grandmothers! You can't live with them, and you can't go out in public with them, but they sure do make life interesting, n'est-ce pas?

할머니 사랑해! But please spend the rest of your time in the hospital in quiet reflection.

So, anyway, that's what's going on with me. Next post: my recent trip to Portland. It was fun!

*EDIT: My grandmother is sometimes referred to as a "loose cannon," not a "loose canon." We never refer to her as a clergyman or an authoritative set of written works, loose or otherwise.  Nor do we refer to her as a body of principles, although she kind of is, but in that way she is more rigid than loose, if sometimes somewhat contradictory.  Sorry if that caused confusion.


RW said...

I have an uncle who never leaves tips. When we went to the ballgame this summer I followed ten feet behind him leaving tips at all the counters for him and making excuses. I don't know who was more nuts; him or me.

JLR said...

Oh, man, I would totally do the same thing. I hate it when people don't tip!