This week I’ve been thinking a lot about family and family values. I always felt like when we are born into a family, we have a duty to take care of each other, to protect and help each other and when I fulfil that duty it brings me great happiness and satisfaction. I don’t do it because I have to, I do it because it brings me joy. I never really understood how it could be different for others when they tend to talk a lot more about how much they love their friends and family. If they love them so much, why are they not there when that person needs them?
I think I was probably born with a strong sense of loyalty, and honestly, many people on the spectrum that I have met so far, seem to be a lot like that too.
Love is such a strange thing and to me it was often too complicated to grasp. I never use the word love without thinking now, even though when I was younger, I often did. I thought I was supposed to say it back when others said it to me, so I would say it to make sure the other person didn’t get hurt. Of course, I soon discovered that saying I love you when you don’t really love that person often ends up hurting that person more than the truth.
Deciding never to use those words without loving the other person was a bit difficult, but after making that decision I felt a lot less stressed and when I finally said ‘I love you’ to someone I love, it felt much more important and real than ever before. Not surprising, you might think. Now, I only say it when I mean it, but that doesn’t mean I never say it at all. I say it whenever I feel like it and some days, that can be quite often.
With family I never considered these things, but perhaps family members use words like love without really loving each other.
A week ago, my grandmother fell and broke her hip. She’s a really old lady with Alzheimer’s, dementia, COPD and pretty much everything you can possibly get as you grow old. She’s frail, but still strong as well. She walks more than most young people, because she has this drive to always be in motion. She can’t bear to sit still too long; she’ll always get up and move. The only time I ever saw her sit still, barely moving, was when she would play piano when I was little.
Breaking her hip was a great blow to her, not just physically but mentally too. She was suddenly stuck in bed, in pain and moved to a hospital without anyone she knew around her. She got scared, but then again, she always hated hospitals. My mum and me, we visited every day she were in the hospital and it was so visible how she became more relaxed by having a face she knew around her.
She came in on Thursday night and on Saturday they finally operated on her and we thought the worst was over. The operation was a simple one, one that they do all the time at the hospital.
Of course, my grandmother tried to get out of bed when she woke up from the anaesthesia, but it was too soon, and we had to make her stay in bed. They said she could start training with physiotherapy the next day, Sunday, but she needed to stay in bed and rest that day. We did our best to keep her calm and in bed, but it was a challenge, to say the least.
She is stubborn, like many in my family I think, and would try to escape the moment she saw an opportunity. When she wants to go home, she wants to go home.
We talked with the nurses and staff at the hospital and they promised they’d keep an eye on her and that they would make sure she didn’t try to run away or try to get out of bed too early. I felt uncertain that they really understood what we were trying to say, but I felt some comfort in the fact that it was a hospital and that they probably all knew how to help my grandmother if something happened. Besides, it’s a hospital. The staff there must know how to deal with elderly people with dementia.
The next day, it was a Sunday, we came back. My mother had talked to the hospital on the phone earlier and they had told us everything was fine. They said my grandmother was going to be walking in no time and that she was starting physiotherapy that day. They sounded optimistic and carefree, which made both my mother and me relax noticeably. When we left, we thought we were going to visit her and plan how to get her home. Neither my mother or me has a car or even a driver’s license which can be a bit problematic at time like these.
My grandmother was supposed to go home on Monday.
I don’t like hospitals either. I hate them, in fact. Hospitals have odd smells and sounds, they all look similar which is good, but when I’m there I can’t help but think back on all the times I was in hospitals when I was younger. I hate feeling trapped and I feel so scared when I’m in places with many people. Being trapped with a lot of people, like on an aeroplane or a hospital elevator is pretty horrible.
My grandmother was in a surgical ward and everyone in that particular ward seemed to be elderly with dementia. The noise and the amount of elderly people who tried talking to you was already a strain on me, because I’m not good with these situations. In my opinion, however, that is irrelevant. When someone in your family needs you because they are hurt and scared, then you have to be there, no matter how uncomfortable you get yourself.
When I came into her room that day, I was at first confused. I couldn’t see my grandmother in her bed. The bed was there, so she couldn’t have been taken to some examination, because she couldn’t walk that well yet.
In the bed next my grandmother this elderly woman, let’s call her Mrs. Red-button. Her children had lived in Africa, but one of her sons had gotten sick and passed away there when he was only twenty years old, many years ago. She missed him and talk a lot about her children. She was a kind woman, but she too was uncomfortable in the hospital and a little scared. She pulled on the alarm thingy quite often either asking for water or something else.
Mrs. Red-button loved when we pulled away the blue hospital curtain and talked with her as well when we were visiting my grandmother. When I could, I helped her get water or change the channel on TV or whatever she needed, something she appreciated a lot. It’s never easy to be in the hospital and I wanted to make it easier for her and did what little I could.
Unfortunately, because she had been ringing the alarm thingy a few times too often for the staff to take as seriously as before, they had not noticed or maybe they had simply been too busy to listen to Mrs. Red-button. When I came into the room that day, she was talking right away, but I didn’t really listen at first. Then I realised what she was saying and moved slowly further into the room.
‘She’s on the floor. She’s not supposed to be on the floor. They treat us so horribly at this hospital. She’s on the floor.’
My grandmother was sitting on the floor, leaning slightly against a chair behind her. She was only wearing a shirt of some sort and a diaper, arms resting aimlessly at her side. Her legs sprawled out underneath her, but her left leg was bend or twisted all wrong. It was bend at an angle I would have thought impossible had I not seen it with my own two eyes.
The most terrifying thing was the look in her eyes. It was the blanc stare of someone who has given up. She turned her head a little, eyes barely recognising anything. Then she saw me, and I promise you, if you’ve never seen that look, you can’t imagine it. It was the look of someone waiting to die.
You may call it dramatic; you may say I am exaggerating. You can say anything. All I can tell you is that if you’ve seen that look, if you had that look once before, you’ll know exactly what her face looked like at that moment, even if you don’t have any idea how her face looks normally. I was so surprised that I turned around and when I got to my mother in the hallway and all I could say was:
‘She’s…sitting on the floor.’
I didn’t know how to tell my mum that my grandmother’s leg was not right, that it had clearly fallen out of its socket or broken all together, because only then can her leg be turned like that. Only then can her toes point in the opposite direction than they are supposed to point.
My mother came in, looked as surprised as me, and then we went and got the nurses.
First one came, then she got one more and then another one. They got this thing, a little lifting machine thingy, but moving my grandmother was so difficult it took a while. Once they touched her, she started screaming. She was screaming in pain and crying worse than when she broke her hip in the first place.
I’ve never heard my grandmother cry out of pain like that. I was a bit relieved though, because hearing her react meant she was still there, fighting. When she had looked like she was just waiting to die, she must have been in so much pain and yet, she was quiet like a corpse.
Hearing her yell at the staff made my heart ache for her and yet it made me happy too. I may not always show my affection like others do, but I care very deeply about people. My grandmother can still live many happy years, even if she isn’t living the life she used to.
One of the doctors came in and threw his hands up in the air exclaiming that it didn’t look good.
The staff all seemed to be in a bit of a panic and confusion. I was not surprised. We had told them that they needed to be careful with my grandmother because she might try to walk on her own and they left her alone, unattended in a chair. She has dementia. Of course, she forgot and tried to get up. She forgets.
They had her sent to get x-rayed, but forgot to give her proper painkillers, so the people who were supposed to do the x-ray refused and sent her back. Then she got more painkillers and they sent her down later that day. The x-ray showed that the leg was out of its socket and she was scheduled for another operation the next day.
The hospital finally understood that they needed to keep my grandmother under observation which was a relief. Even with her leg that way, out of its socket, she still tried to get up and wanted to walk away. Her pain was too great, however, which made it impossible.
The operation went well and now my grandmother is finally back home at her nursing home, a lovely place where the caretakers truly care for her. She was supposed to walk right after, but her leg is too painful and weak, and she was told to stay in bed for three weeks.
It was a difficult week and I’m completely exhausted every morning. I’m tired all day, in fact. All week, out of all the people closest to my grandmother, it was only me and my mother at the hospital. My uncle came the first night, but that was all. No one even asked for us to tell them how she was or if she was getting better. I think, this hurt me more than anything that week. I wish someone, anyone, would have just asked ‘How is she doing?’
No one did. I texted people and when confronted with my slight annoyance that no one came or seemed to care, they responded appropriately and expressed a certain amount of concern.
I suppose family values are different, not necessarily from family to family, but from person to person. I didn’t really know that.
I’m not upset about it, but I am a bit sad even now. I wish that everyone, or just someone, in my family would come together and support and protect each other during times of trouble, but because everyone has their own life and their own problems, perhaps it is too much to ask for.
This is what I want to know. What do you think? How is your family? What is too much to expect or hope from your family?