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Lisa Vogel


Lisa VogelStroke of Time

“What’s grandma going to be like?” I said as I sat in my dad’s car on the way down to Cincinnati.  It was the week of Christmas and I was on my way to visit my grandmother in a nursing home for the first time since she had a stroke.  My husband, mom, dad, and twin brothers were all in the car making the hour drive from Dayton to Cincinnati to see her.  She suffered the stroke in October, but living in Minnesota, I hadn’t had a chance to visit my family in Ohio until now.

The answer was very evasive, but I had heard things about what had happened to my grandma from my mom.  My mom said that grandma was in the hospital getting an angiogram to make sure that her arteries weren’t clogged.  She had the stroke in the hospital and it caused her to lose all movement on the left side of her body. I found it ironic that she had been proactive to make sure nothing was wrong with her, yet this “helpful” procedure had actually triggered a stroke. Had she not had the angiogram, she probably would have had more years to enjoy her life; she was only eighty.  I kept waiting and hoping that she would make a full recovery, but there had been no changes or improvements in her condition. 

My grandfather had been amazing and went to the nursing home every day to see her.  My grandparent’s devotion for one another became apparent.  In my youth, I remembered my grandparents fighting back and forth and despite any arguments that they had over the past fifty years, their love for each other became very clear.  They were supposed to take a cruise before this happened, and I felt bad that they never got that chance to really travel to see things before she ended up going in the nursing home.

Living an hour from my grandmother meant every time we saw her it was some sort of special occasion: a holiday, a birthday, a camping trip, or a vacation to Florida.  She was the life of the party and the caretaker of the family. She cooked all of the holiday meals and all the birthday cakes.  It was a family joke to pretend to like the ice cream she served us and that it tasted delicious.  I learned what freezer burnt meant, but I found it endearing that she was a product of the great depression and could never get rid of things. 

She attended to us and made sure we were happy and comfortable.  She fussed over what I wore and bought me outfits.  She was always interested in what I was doing and asked me questions. She was a true woman who put our needs before hers.  As I got older and got married, I remembered her and my grandfather so vividly at my wedding during the anniversary dance when they were the only couple on the dance floor after being married for over fifty-seven years.  How tragic it was that less than a year later she couldn’t dance or walk again. 

When we arrived at the nursing home, it was strange because it seemed more like a hospital.  After signing in at the nurse’s desk, I was immediately hit with a smell like dirty diapers. My palms grew sweaty and I felt uncomfortable, not like I was entering my grandmother’s home.  As we walked up the stairs to the third floor to my grandmother’s room, I saw get well cards, plants, and stuffed bears on the windowsill and tables.  I could hear the sound of a nurse’s cart and the TV coming from the room next door. 

I saw my grandfather first.  “Hey Lisa,” he said, giving me a hug and a kiss.  “It’s good to see you.” 

“You too, grandpa,” I replied. We crowded in the tiny room, not having enough chairs to all sit down.  Then I finally looked at my grandmother, who I saw sitting in a wheelchair.  The left side of her face was droopy and her lip sagged.  Her hair, normally worn in curls, was flat and lifeless.  Her face always in red lipstick, blush, and blue eye shadow, was colorless and pale.  She wore a white hospital gown with little green dots with strings that tied behind her back.  Her left arm was rendered useless and hung limply at her side.  She looked like a zombie.

“Hey grandma,” I said weakly.  I was shocked to see her like this.  It wasn’t grandma. She couldn’t be so weak and sick looking.  She was supposed to be in the kitchen making pineapple upside cakes or helping me color in my coloring book or asking me about how I was doing in school.  I felt a little dizzy so I sat next to my mom.   At least her mind is still sharp I thought.

As I sat in the chair I felt more lightheaded.  I didn’t want to say anything about how I was feeling.  So I kept quiet and tried to take deep breaths, hoping the weird sensation was going to go away.  I had never felt this funny before.  Things started to lose focus.  The people in the room seemed further and further away, their voices drifted in and out like waves in a sea. 

Then the room started to fade to black and I slumped over in my chair.  I couldn’t see anything but I heard the sounds around me.  My mom exclaimed, “Lisa are you okay?” I wanted to talk to her, but nothing came out of my mouth.  It was like I was frozen.  “Look at her, she’s white as a ghost.   Lisa!  What’s wrong with you?”  I felt like I couldn’t breathe.  The world was closing up around me and I couldn’t do anything about it. 

My grandfather spoke with a worried voice, “I’ll go get the nurse.”  Oh jeez, I thought.  What is happening to me?  I couldn’t talk or see and it was hard to inhale.  It was like someone had put a black cloth over my eyes. I thought that maybe I was going blind.  Is it possible for me to actually have a stroke? I wondered to myself. I heard a nurse’s voice and a slap of a blood pressure cuff on my arm.  “Her vital signs are dropping. Let’s get her downstairs immediately.”

I could feel myself being lifted into a wheelchair and taken downstairs. During my next conscious memory, I had a cold compress on my forehead.  As I gradually came to and began to feel normal again, I felt a little sheepish.   I had never passed out in my life.  I slowly returned to my grandmother’s room.   “Lisa,” she said.  “I’m sorry I scared you.  I didn’t do my hair today.  I didn’t mean to frighten you.” It was ironic that I was feeling what she was feeling for a while.  I thought that I was the healthy one who came to visit her for having a stroke. Suddenly we were back to our old roles.  She was the caretaker, and it was me who needed the comforting. 

I just smiled but I didn’t have the words to explain what I was really feeling. Here I was thinking that her life was over, yet she still was my caretaker.  Even though her role in my life would be different, she was still alive. She was still my grandmother and she would do the best she could to take care of me, even though she couldn’t cook me pineapple upside-down cakes, or send me birthday cards, or buy me clothes.  She was still my grandmother, still a sage, wise old woman who will take care of me until she has no breath left to do so anymore.