Jan 30, 2004 - 1:23 pm
Hi, I just wanted to tell my experience.
My grandfather died last month on December 23rd of lung and stomach cancer. He was a doctor himself and had diagnosed his own condition in December of 2002. But his dream was to live and die as a doctor and didn't tell us, his family, until the day he checked himself into the hospital. I'm currently living in the U.S. and my family is overseas in Japan. I was at the end of my school semester when I received a call from my mother informing me that my grandfather was in the hospital with the flu but I could tell that there was more to the story than she was telling me. She asked me to come home as soon as school was out. Two days later, my older brother called me and told me to sit myself down and try to stay calm. He said "Grandpa is dying from lung and stomach cancer. I went to go to the hospital today and the nurse said he may only have a week to live. Try and make it home soon." My grandfather had refused to eat from the day he entered the hospital saying that he knew his condition and wanted to choose how long he would live. He didn't want to fight the cancer and live for six more months to a year in pain. I flew home two days later and went straight to the hospital from the airport. Every since I was young, the image of my grandfather was always of him in his white doctors uniform with his stethoscope around his neck, always smiling but never talkative. My grandfather, lying in his hospital bed, was thin, frail, and had difficulty speaking a few words without suffering a coughing fit. But as soon as he saw me, he said "Welcome home" and smiled his characteristic gentle smile.
I only had two weeks to spend with my grandfather before he passed away but those two week were so full of different experiences, emotions, and thoughts that now that I think about it, it seemed more like two months. I visited him every day from morning until lights out and sometimes stayed overnight. His condition fluctuated from good days to horrible days but he never complaigned and seemed at peace with his fate. My family all worked and my grandmother couldn't stand to see him in his condition for an extended length of time so I was usually alone with him. There were many times when I wished I could be somewhere else, not because there was somewhere I wanted to be but because I was scared that during his many coughing fits, he would die suddenly. I knew better but I felt scared that it would be my fault. Sometimes when he had an especially prolonged and painful coughing fit where his entire face turned scarlet and contorted, he would grab his oxygen mask and rip it off saying "I want to die." Those were the moments I didn't know what to say and wished I could be somewhere else or that someone else could be me. I didn't know the right words to say and I felt inadequate and useless. But the moments when he was peaceful and smiling, sometimes joking and laughing quietly, made up for all the bad times. Especially when the entire family was crammed in his little hospital room laughing and joking, I felt at peace and I think my grandfather felt at peace also. The nurses were wonderful and there professionalism was amazing. They say a doctor is the worst patient but my grandfather trusted the nurses completely. There kind words not only helped my grandfather but touched our hearts also.
The day before my grandfather passed away, he lost conciousness but seemed to still be able to hear our voices. The doctor informed us that he probably wasn't going to last past the next day an that we should be ready. My family went home to take care of business and left me in the room to watch my grandfathers condition and to call as soon as it started deteriorating. All throughout the night, his blood oxygen level fluctuated and each time the nurse would come to suction out the phlegm accumulating in his throat. Then in the morning his blood oxygen level dropped suddenly and there was a flurry of doctors and nurses running in and out of the room. I called my family to come as soon as possible. His breathing stopped and his heart rate weakened but he and my family had agreed that no resucitative measure would be taken so the doctor told me to sit next to him and hold his hand while he quietly passed away. My grandmother and brother arrived fifteen minutes later and my parents a few minutes after them.
Sometimes I can't help but feel regret that I hadn't spent more time with him, or that I hadn't said enough to him. I wish I could hear about his life and his childhood through his own voice. I also sometimes wonder if I did enough for him, or if anything I had thought I'd done out of good intentions while he was in the hospital had been a burden to him. But through this experience, I also learned that each member of our family had some strength and weakness and we all administered to our grandfather in the best way possible and relied on others in our weakness. I don't think any one of us could have taken all the burden on our shoulder. There were moments of conflict within the family but we all realized that the circumstance made our emotions feel more acute than usual and all of us were trying to manage the stress, grief, and fear.
But beyond all these thoughts, I believe that he had died with little regret other than wishing he could have lived longer. He was seeing patients as a doctor until the day before he himself became a patient. He never talked much but preferred to sit among his family and smile quietly while listening to us talk, argue, and laugh. While I was caring for my grandfather in the hospital, I was scared that the grandfather I saw before me was the grandfather I would rememeber after he passed away. However I know now that I remember both my healthy and vibrant grandfather as well as my sick but resilient grandfather. Even in his illness, he maintained the character and personality that we all loved. In an instant that I think of everyday since, I remember I had been crying as quietly as I could as I sat next to his bed, thinking he was asleep. Suddenly he opened his eyes, smiled gently and said "Is the roof leaking?" I still miss him so much and cry sometimes thinking about him and thinking about the time spent caring for him in the hospital. But in some ways I think my grandfathers last gift to us was in bringing our family together and strengthening our bond to each other. In all my life, I've only seen my grandfather become angry once, and even then he never raised his voice. He was always a gentle and peaceful man and in my final thought, I hope with all my heart that I could live and die as well as he did.
p.s. sorry this post was so long!