Monday, September 1, 2014

Based on a True Story: Gram's Black Cloud

Renee knew she should cry or scream or something. As usual, she just moved forward because really what else is there? Renee felt the familiar tug of obligation mixed with loathing mixed with love. This particular cocktail is exhausting physically, mentally and emotionally.

How did Renee land in this spot at this moment? The reasons go back over eighty years: the number of years since her grandmother was born in a small Texas town. So does the story start at the beginning or does she work back from the present? Neither is a good answer. There is no one cohesive narrative. There are too many tales pounding in Renee's head. The too comfortable feeling of chaos swirls around Renee.

Today will be the starting point. A decision is made. Renee will write it all down. The rest will fill in over time. The characters and settings and places are vast and sometimes illogical. It is best to simply start somewhere.

This very morning Renee admired the beautiful sunrise in the blue sky of Oklahoma as she crossed the border from Texas. Renee considered stopping the car to take a picture but focused forward instead. She wanted to make sure she arrived at hospital in time to meet with Gram's doctor. Renee expected her Gram to be unconscious suffering from the effects of a stroke. Upon arrival, Renee found Gram was conscious and Gram's companion, Grey, greeted Renee with a hug and genuine fondness. Grey is a fit and feisty 86 year old man who exudes kindness and good nature. 

Renee surveys the situation in the critical care unit. Gram is awake, breathing on her own and can move her hands and feet. Gram is talking but it is virtually impossible to understand what she is trying to say. Renee is surprised and quickly confers with the nurse, Marla. Marla lets Renee know that Grey has not brought in Gram's medications yet so Renee dispatches Grey to retrieve them. No doctor has arrived.

Grey returns with two prescription medications and two over the counter medications. One is Xanax with 25 of 60 pills obviously taken in the last ten days. There is Benadryl and Melatonin which hints at sleep issues. Renee is starting to feel uneasy. Where are the rest of the prescriptions for hypertension and diabetes?  Grey insists that there are only the four. Marla manages to capture the full list of Gram's medications by calling the drugstore. Along with the expected routine pharmaceuticals are the dreaded pain meds and sleeping pills. Renee lets Marla know Gram has a history of prescription drug addiction and landing in the hospital for over medicating has occurred previously.

As the day slips away, Renee sits wrapped in a blanket watching cooking shows while occasionally talking to Gram and monitoring Gram's comfort level. Grey lovingly pets Gram making Gram smile with clear joy. Grey asks the exact same questions to Renee every twenty minutes showing obvious short term memory lapses. A couple arrives and introduces themselves as friends. They show Gram affection and inquire on her health. The woman mumbles something about someone finally showing up. Renee ignores the comment and does not take it personally. This well-meaning woman has no idea of the complexities simmering out of sight. 

Is it a minor stroke? Is it an overdose? Is it a little of both? Where is THAT doctor? Renee ask Marla to page the doctor again. The doctor finally shows up in the afternoon. Renee is not terribly impressed but he does relay that no infection is obvious and an MRI will be needed to rule out stroke. The doctor suspects there is a medication issue and it could take two to three days to clear out. The doctor keeps asking a Grey for information. Renee discretely pulls him aside to let him know Grey cannot be counted on for fully reliable information.

Marla half jokes about August: Osage County to Renee. Renee had the same thoughts but somehow having the nurse come to that conclusion independently is unsettling. Renee provides phone numbers to medical staff and calls relatives. There is nothing more to be done and Renee heads South. 

Renee's tries desperately not to feel disappointed but she does. She fights the feelings of resentment but they are there. The cycle of addiction never ever lets up. Everyone wants to pretend it is no big deal but it is. There is the soul crushing realization that it will never ever change for Gram or for Renee.

Renee arrives home. She literally collapses into a deep motionless, dreamless sleep.


  1. Wow! What a difficult situation. I have a brother that has substance abuse issues. My mother hides it from me and doesn't tell me about the times he's not sober again. I hear about it sometimes through my father. Sorry to hear about this situation.

    1. Heather, Thanks for your note. It is so very hard. As you pointed out, it always creates a situation of lies and secrecy. My thoughts with you as well ...

  2. Eloquent. Poignant. The beauty and complexities of saving a life. Addiction is insidious. My prayers are with you.

    1. Sallie, "beautiful and complex" - I like that perspective ... and my heart is with you as you travel your own beautiful, complex path :)