So one morning my grandmother checks my grandfather’s oxygen levels, and they’re low. He’s lightheaded and kind of delirious. We call the ambulance, and we get him into the ER at the hospital. This day stands out to me incredibly because of what they allowed my grandmother and me to see. They had to suction the phlegm from his throat with a tube through his nose and his septum, and they had him laid in one of the ER “rooms” with oxygen. It was the first time I’d ever seen my grandfather with oxygen on, which is a huge part of what makes the day stand out for me.
In the “room” next to us were two men, about 40, who were there for their dad who had just collapsed on the golf course with them. I remember him having a repeat attack while we were there. This only contributed to my fears of hospitals, rather than being comforted by the fact that the guy was tended to as quickly as possible. My aunt showed up shortly after, and I had to give up my pass to let her back to see my grandfather.
She eventually left, and I returned to sit with them. With oxygen, my grandfather was doing a lot better, though he couldn’t remember the episode from earlier. They finally checked him into a room on another floor, where he would spend the next two weeks. My uncle and his fiancé came down from Atlanta to spend some time with us, and keep me company at the house.
My grandfather’s doctor had been on the phone relentlessly trying to get in touch with the neurologist we had visited in Houston to determine what he may have known. When she finally got in touch with him, he told her that he told my uncle that my grandfather had all the signs of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS; Lou Gherig’s Disease) and that it was my uncle’s duty to tell us. When probed, my uncle insisted he was asked to keep it a secret (we know he’s not great with those kinds of burdens, so we knew he wasn’t lying when saying he was told to keep it a secret because my grandmother apparently wasn’t strong enough).
We finally got him out of the hospital and set up at home with Oxygen. He was placed back with his physical therapist, to be treated now for ALS. We spent the next couple weeks doing okay with life back at home (he returned to completing crossword puzzles with the physical help of my grandmother and enjoying Monk). Later in August, my uncle came back down from Atlanta and we went back out to Houston for our follow-up visit. When we got to the hospital, we worked out where to go, and my grandmother and grandfather went in for the early tests. My uncles and I had a breakfast at one of the restaurants in the building. We met up afterwards and waited for the tests to finish. We had time to kill, so we had lunch, and relaxed for a while.
We finally went up for his appointment, and were all invited into the room with him. When the doctor walked in, he stiffened up as though he were shitting his pants, acted as though he had the wrong room and walked off. He returned with a group of nurses (he knew he could have gotten his ass kicked just by the tempers of the Irish in that room) and started with his checkup and discussing the results. They dodged every question we had, which really made me sick and convinced me that nobody there had a clue what they were doing. We finally left convinced it was ALS, and that was all good and fine as far as we were concerned. We had a diagnosis, fatal as it may be, and we didn’t have to deal with the jackass in Houston any longer.
My grandfather ended up back in the hospital again, and my uncle left on the first Sunday of the football season. My parents, brother, and one of my aunts were arriving later that day. They finally got there, saw my grandfather, hung out for a while and then we went back to the house together. We relaxed a bit for the next week, and my grandfather got to come home; this time he was hooked up on a BiPAP machine with a full mask… looking like a fighter pilot. My family and aunt left and we still continued on through October and most of November. My uncle and his fiancé came back down again for Thanksgiving, arriving Saturday night before Thanksgiving. We had to tell him we didn’t think my grandfather would make it past Thanksgiving.
My uncle made the most of it joking with my grandfather, getting him to laugh. My grandfather said the next night that the Saints were going to win the Super Bowl after watching them terrorize the Buccaneers 38-7. He spent the day on the phone with all of his children who weren’t there. He played a prank on my grandmother and Aunt, which I do believe was fully intended, consciously done, and pulled off perfectly.
The next morning, my uncle’s fiancé woke me up… my grandfather had just taken his last breath. We spent the morning cleaning the house, meeting and praying with the pastor, and preparing to go handle everything at the funeral home. We had lunch at Pizza Hut, and spent the day trying to settle everything. We went to pick up his ashes on Wednesday, and when we brought him home, there was a hawk sitting on the tree outside of the house. I’m sure it was a sign from my grandfather. I cannot be convinced otherwise. We went to my Aunt’s house for Thanksgiving, which felt odd not having my grandfather there.
Things settled down a bit when my uncle and his fiancé left for home the following week. My grandmother and I tried to stay occupied, even doing some Christmas shopping (in shorts, I might add) and spending Christmas with my uncle’s family. We awaited the NFL playoffs more than anything else. We spent those nights cheering ‘em on against the Cardinals, coming within 2 beats of a heart attack against the Vikings, and then celebrated joyously when they defeated the Colts in the Super Bowl.