Sometimes the smiles come easily

Other times, you’ve got to force them until you feel them.

“Held for so long
Are you wasting time as it marches on
And as you intrigue with your smile
That’s what we have to believe.”

Supine, “Smile Until Further Notice”

I don’t even know where to begin today. I guess with the good, which was that the boy I met like a thousand years ago? We’ve finally, finally gotten to touch base. *happy dance, genuine smiles*

And then? There’s everything else.

You can tell a lot about my family from the things I type in this space — the grace, the gratitude, the strength, the selflessness, the love. And usually all that in the face of events that make you question your very will to get up and face another day of whatever idiot safari you’re going to be dragged along on.

At any rate, I feel like I’ve aged 10 years in the past 12 hours. And I’ve got the best end of the deal. …

So my grandfather was taken from the hellhole division of the VA hospital to the nicest of the three VA hospitals. In the nicer place, they seemed to care. (Note that “seemed” word.) But he also came in as a fall risk as he’s shaky from being left on his back for weeks in the shithole VA.

So what happened? Yep, one day into his stay, he buzzed for the nurse to help him to the bathroom (the prior place gave him a UTI and had him cathed so they wouldn’t have to get up off their lazy asses to take him to the toilet). But no one ever came and he is a proud, proud man — he’s not going to soil himself or the bed or anything ungentlemanly like that, so he got up.

And this frail little man took a tumble.

Here’s cruelty in action. This was Friday. Saturday he’s delirious from pain. Why? They didn’t have X-ray capabilities, nor a doctor on staff on the weekend, so they let him rot in bed and WITHHELD pain meds. WITHHELD them, you read it right.

Mom flipped out on the nurses and tried to describe that the NEW pain he’d acquired from the fall was different than the usual level that they’re already unable to treat, but as this is the VA hospital and not a real one, he’d tried his best to become accustomed to the fact that he has to be in pain because nobody CARES.

Long story short, “good” VA (ha) arranges to have him sent back to University Drive (hellhole) for an X-ray. He was put on a flat board and had a collar put on him, which University Drive refused to take off. Which meant they wouldn’t do the X-ray. Which meant six hours in THAT snake pit of an ER as everyone nestled their thumbs up their collective asses, wondering what ever should they do with him?


Six and a half hours after the initial transfer between hospitals (note that this is all within a fucking seven-mile radius), someone gets the bright (I mean it — best idea yet!) idea to take my grandfather to a “real” hospital, as Oakland is full of ’em.

Six and a half hours to ship him DOWN THE FUCKING BLOCK.

I’m not religious, but my happy dance at that was the equivalent of a church choir belting out “Praise the Lord.” Because he was out of that horrid place and into one that I happen to trust because I’ve been there myself.

My grandfather was not there five minutes at the good hospital before a team of doctors/nurses took one look at him and shot him up three times with pain meds. They asked why the fuck he was in so much pain — i.e., why had no one actually thought to, oh, sedate him instead of letting him writhe like a wounded animal?

The VA’s explanation is that he needed to be free of pain meds so that everyone could get a better gauge of where the pain was coming from. The hell? I’d heard that song and dance from them before, but the bottom line is that they are just too goddamned cruel-hearted to actually want to let the poor man’s suffering abate so that he can actually survive this odyssey.

In any event, everyone’s questioning the VA’s practices, but is anyone going to DO anything about it?

I was appalled to hear he was being sent back to University Drive, even if only for an X-ray. I feel like we got him out of there just in the nick of time — it’s almost like they were hellbent on killing him, and sending him back would have given them the opportunity to finish the job. But luckily, their incompetence prevented them from taking the chance when it was handed to him, and the “real” hospital is looking to be his only hope.

The short version of the story is that it’s looking like he’s fractured something in his neck and pelvis, so he’s still on the board and has the collar. They’ve done initial X-rays but they’re fairly inconclusive. He cannot weigh much more than 100 pounds at this point; I asked Mom (as I am still in D.C.) how an X-ray on a skinny person can be so inconclusive. I can understand needing the super-strength one to see past my own muffin top, but he’s so emaciated these days that I would think you could see with the human eye through his paper-thin skin what’s cracked.

They’re going to do a more comprehensive X-ray today, but my biggest fear is not a fracture from which he won’t recover (both my great-grandmother and my grandmother had broken legs in their “golden” years that never really healed) but that the good hospital will ship him back to the VA.

Between the Highland Drive locale pulling his meds (which started this adventure) to University Drive leaving his pain untreated as well as the infections that filthy place DID cause, and then the Aspinwall division not answering his page (not that University ever acknowledged the call buttons either — I used to follow up his calls with a visit to the nurse’s station after 15 minutes had passed), it’s like a tag-team of incompetence. And that everyone at the VA refuses to treat his pain because they think he’s DEPRESSED? They gave him fucking PROZAC because they think his pain is imaginary? Jesus H, wouldn’t YOU be depressed if THAT’s the best treatment you could get?!!?!


Anyway, my hope is that the good hospital keeps him for awhile. This shuttling among three locations isn’t good for anybody, and last I checked, elderly people shouldn’t have to take the trauma and disorientation. This is a man who’s accustomed to — nay, dependent on — routine. But the only routine he’s getting is assholitry everywhere.

I told Mom to fight to keep him in the good hospital. The thing is, the “care” (there I go with those air quotes again!) at the VA hospital is substandard at best, and I think everyone’s operating under the guise of “Well, it’s free anyway.” Well, to that, I raise two points. One, that I pay a fucking hell of a lot in federal taxes, and last I checked, that system is one big beneficiary of it. And two, these men paid with their lives and their health in the military, and for all they did to keep this country’s safety and freedoms intact, giving these heroes a little bit of dignity wouldn’t kill you people.

I don’t know how we’re going to afford the surgeries and whatnot that the good hospital can provide. Medicare comps 80% of it — I’ll get another job if I have to, to pay for the rest. (Anyone hiring between midnight and 6 a.m.? Heh.)

But here’s the thing: With him in the good hospital, I can rest. I can think. I can breathe and believe and focus on other things. Like, for instance, Mom.

Aspinwall had told Mom that she’s going to be unable to take my grandfather home and that she has to figure out how to afford a nursing home for him. Which, sure, money grows on fucking trees for this family. NOT.

The thing is? I don’t think I disagree with him. I mean, she wants with all her heart to have him home to dote on. (The woman was born to be a mother and a caregiver. It’s her talent. How I can turn it into an enterprise, however, is the eternal question.) But what she’s hiding is her own poor health, aches/pains, etc.

So right now, I worry about her.

I feel bad because from the adventure from Aspinwall to Oakland, she was actually able to ride in the ambulance with my grandfather. Which meant that at Hospital #3, where he was for the night, she was stranded with her car in another part of town. She and I both called people we knew in the area, but no one could take her to her car.

And that pisses me off in a huge way, because my grandfather, my mom and I will drop everything to help anyone who asks. But when it’s our time of need? *crickets chirping*

So I told her to give me 20 minutes to get gas in my car and I’d drive up there myself to take her home.

Note that my drive is 255 miles each way. I can do it in just a hair more than three hours (with no cops. haaa) but I admittedly have terrible night vision so maybe four would be more reasonable.

But really, it’s for Mom, y’know?

I already have my toiletries packed from my last four out-of-town trips (and my next one is in a few days) so really, my butt was scrubbed and all I needed to do was feed the kittehs and be gone.

She refused, of course, although in the time it did take her to go from hospital to car to home, I would have been there with time to spare. As she took a cab to her car and got home at 5 a.m. — we’d last talked at 2 a.m. — I so could have made it!

Mom’s so sweet, she told everyone at the hospital about me, how she has no friends who can come through for her to pick her up but that I’m three states away and willing to come through. How can you not love my family — how can you not want to help people like this?

Even at the good hospital, the nurses are so impressed with my grandfather. He’s polite, sweet, gracious, etc. They love him. I hope they use that sentiment to fight for him because no one else seems to. They called my mom this morning for two reasons, one of which was to say that no matter how much pain he’s in — and it’s a lot — that he is an absolute joy to care for.

Now, that brings me to the reason they did call. Someone asked Mom, “Is your dad a diabetic?” He has been for decades, so she said yes and asked why. “Well, we’re going over the VA’s charts on him and nowhere in there is it mentioned.” They got a list of meds he’s supposed to be on (which I highly believe the VA never actually GAVE him) and insulin wasn’t on it, but they vaguely remembered Mom mentioning that he takes shots twice a day.

Proof positive — don’t ever go into a hospital without an advocate. Because trusting the idiots at the VA? You’d have better luck playing Russian Roulette, although, let’s face it, they’re one and the same.

Now here’s where I get selfish. There may need to be some surgery done on our little man in response to Humpty Dumpty taking a fall. Mom is terrified that he won’t make it because he’s not strong enough.

I’ve already reconciled with myself that she’s going to come live with me if he doesn’t, and I’m fine with it, really. I’m almost looking forward to having someone in this city who actually gives a shit that I’m in it, and I’ve been trying to talk to her about how to make enough money for her to keep her car/insurance because I’m not financially able to keep myself afloat, let alone two of us. We’re going to make it work; but I’d so very much rather it happen later rather than sooner.

But more in the “all about me” files: My trip. I want my trip. I need my trip. I cannot stand another minute on the East Coast right about now. I do not want to be lying in a hospital bed being mistreated and having meds withheld and depending on someone to take me to the potty when they don’t want to look at me — I don’t want to be thinking about these precious moments in which I had a chance to escape and have a little bit of goddamned fun for once in my life.

I spend my days smiling. I sing to myself all day long. I try very hard to be pleasant and helpful and supportive and sweet to everyone who crosses my path — I make sure to mean it when I do it, too. But when people are hurting, I ache right along with them but try not to let it show. But my insides are filled with boo-boos right now, not for me but for my family.

I can’t show them anything but strength, though. When I say things are going to turn out just fine, they look to me and believe me. They want my input, my take, my list of to-dos to get them to that point. And if I give up on my faith in the medical community, in Karma, in Fate, in Miracles … so do they. Because I’m the only one with any of that faith left right now.

My plan is to go away for a week, come back to Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving, work in D.C. for a week and then return to Pittsburgh to attend the Irish-Polish hoedown Wedding of the Year. My life is good right now — it’s great, even. And I want it to be here when I get back. But if I don’t get a chance to give my aching heart a break, the only thing it’s GOING to do is break.

I need that chance. God, Goddess, Higher Power, Mary, whomever — take care of my family while I’m gone. I’ll pick up where I left off when I get back. Please just give me the chance to heal myself in the interim, and give me something to come back to. …

One Lonely Response to Sometimes the smiles come easily

  1. Erica :

    I’m appalled. i don’t even know what to say. I can’t believe how poorly (to put it mildly) they’ve treated your grandfather. I hope somebody catches a clue before it’s too late.