Laughing in the hospital
No medication will fight off my grandfather’s sense of humor
I was 15 minutes too early for visiting hours, and I sat in the waiting room tapping away on my smartphone. I was there for the long haul, wanting to be with my grandfather for as long as I possibly could. Although the hospital was the last place I wanted him to spend his 95th birthday, I still brought a birthday card and planned to make the best of the situation. By the time I was allowed to go upstairs to his room, I was beaming.
I hate hospitals though. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been in one since birth (if you don’t count the fun and energetic stroke survival meetings I’ve been to with another family member). I hate the smell. I hate the look. I don’t even like the furniture. But I was going to fake my way to making this a good time like I’d done every single year on his birthday.
I knew him as the man who gave odd honeymoon advice about White Castle, flipped his eyelids up while talking to me, and chased me up his attic steps yelling “Rat! Rat! Rat!” while tickling my ankles with his fingertips.
But I knew something was off when I arrived in the room and he didn’t greet me with a big hug and cheek kiss. He wiggled around a couple of times. I said, “Happy birthday” and his response was, “Ain’t nothing happy about it.” Now this was the kind of snarky response I was used to, but I was confused about what his body was doing. He looked like he couldn’t sit up.
Fast forward through a short talk with a hospital tech assistant and a couple more visitors who came in shortly after me, and I found out that my grandfather kept trying to sneak his way to the bathroom by himself. Although he was a fall risk, he refused to push the button for assistance. (Or, more than likely, he refused to wait for them to come get him.) After multiple times when he kept trying to move around on his own, and once ending up on the floor, the nurse gave him some kind of medication that would make him be still. I was pissed.
While I understood why they did it to avoid a potential lawsuit, I would have much preferred that they called on one of his emergency contacts and snitched on his behavior. That way, we could have a reasonable conversation with him to get him to stop. Instead, the medication came first and the nurse (who dodged me for two hours) came later.
I sat in a nearby hospital chair and watched what looked like my grandfather but acted nothing like him. I knew him as the man who gave odd honeymoon advice about White Castle, flipped his eyelids up while talking to me, and chased me up his attic steps yelling “Rat! Rat! Rat!” while tickling my ankles with his fingertips. I knew him as the man who would argue with me about who got more almond cookies at Chi Tung restaurant. I knew him as the man who loved freaking me out with stories about a ghost in his house named Mary Drane. I knew his childhood stories of running up to ice trucks and stealing a few to chomp on, and mumbling to his father (my great-grandfather) about how much he hated brussels sprouts. This guy in the hospital bed? I didn’t know him at all.
That’s when the tears started to fall — hard. The tech gave me some privacy. His roommate turned away to focus on his phone. And I just sat there, crying my eyes out and looking out of the window. But out of the corner of my eye, I happened to notice an unfamiliar man come walking into the room. Shaped like a football player and really tall, I had no idea who he was. He quietly mentioned that he was a deacon friend of my father’s who stopped in for a visit. (This was normal. My father did it all the time for other church member’s family members and elderly people who could no longer get to his church.) I nodded, and I got ready to turn back toward the window.
But I noticed my grandfather, whose eyes had been closed to slits, opened them. As the deacon got closer, his eyes got wider. Then wider. I looked from my grandfather to the deacon to see if they knew each other, and if there was something I needed to know fast. When the deacon stepped closer to the top half of my grandfather’s body, my grandfather stuck his elbow out.
“Maaaaaan, if you don’t get away from me with that great big belly,” my grandfather yelled out loud.
My jaw dropped.
“Mr. Vaughn, now that’s not nice,” the deacon said. “I use my belly like a table. It helps me eat better.”
“Comin’ in here looking like Santa Claus,” my grandfather retorted.
And then I started laughing as hard as I was crying before. I tried to apologize to the deacon with the beer belly because my grandfather’s comment was so rude. But I had to admit I was happy to learn that not even a medication that could physically force him to be still could diminish his sense of humor.
“Mr. Vaughn, when you get out of here, you’re going to owe me an apology,” the deacon said.
“Biggole belly,” my grandfather mumbled.
That just sent me into another fit of laughter. I called my brother, who had been waiting for play-by-play texts, and he laughed, too.
Sometimes you don’t know who you need to see during the worst of times. As much as I appreciated the chatty chaplain (who made me appreciate plants), the deacon with the hearty appetite was who I really needed to see. It made what would have been a terrible visit turn into a comical one. When the deacon left after about 10–20 minutes of us chatting, I hugged him goodbye and thanked him for coming. With a big grin on his face, he shared a few pleasant words and headed out. Shortly after, my grandfather went to sleep but I hung around in the chair again — occasionally giggling.
Anytime since then, when my father brings up his church members, I always want to know how that deacon is doing. When I think of him, I think of my brutally honest grandad.
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