A/N: Thank you to my girlfriend, who was there for me when I asked, even though she had no reason or obligation to be.
When I came into the room, he was already fully hooked up. An IV drip and a blood transfusion attached to left arm. The monitor behind him showing three distinct, moving graphs: a green blood pressure graph, a blue heartbeat graph, and a lighter blue amplified image. A high-pressure oxygen mask was attached the face, and you could tell that oxygen was being forcefully pushed in through the humming and whirring of nearby machines. Essentially naked, he laid on the hospital bed, covered by a thick white blanket so as to hide from us the various wires and pads on his body. While he was breathing, his eyes were open. Though it pained him to speak, he was perfectly aware, perfectly lucid of his surroundings and those of us who were here. My father, my mother, my father's brother and his wife; all of us were here in that hospital room. Lying on the bed was my grandfather.
The previous day had not been special in of itself. Nothing amazing of note, or any forewarning of the events to come. My grandfather's condition had slowly degraded over the past couple of months, to no real extremity. There had been problems with his kidney, and a small bout with shingles had left him weaker than before. But he had overcome that. With the help of modern medicines and his own personal tenacity, he had recovered, albeit with some lasting weakness in his legs. Ever since I had gone off to school in Waterloo, there had been murmurings from my parents as to his weakening condition in recent months; we had intended to move him to a retirement soon, to join my grandma at his own personal request.
The evening of the previous day was when we had decided to call an ambulance to take my grandfather to the hospital. My parents had discussed it much of the day, citing that it was probably safer for him and that we really could not wait until a retirement opened up a spot for him; his condition warranted the extra care we could not provide for him at home. It was not until the evening, around 8 pm, that his condition worsened to the point where a 911 call was necessary.
He was having trouble breathing.
Up until this point I was still relatively uninvolved. The process of moving my grandfather to the hospital was straightforward with the help of paramedics. My dad went with them. The rest of that evening for me was uneventful as usual.
When I went to bed at 2.00 AM, I was harshly awakened at 2.40 by the shouts of my mother. Telling me to get dressed and hurry, that we had to go the hospital soon. That his condition had worsened. She had called my uncle to come and drive us.
From what I could pick up from conversation, and what my mother told me, the doctors had indicated there was a high chance my grandfather had lung cancer. They had asked my father if we wanted to (and if my grandfather wanted to) be moved to an intensive care unit (ICU). Considering his old age and the traumatic experience usually associated with the ICU, we had declined.
Do you understand what that means? I did. After all, I'm not an idiot.
It meant they expected him to die.
We arrived at the hospital just a little after 3 AM, to the scene I described above.
To say what I had been feeling up to this point is complicated. In many ways, I had felt nothing. As cold and emotionless as I always was, I began to truly wonder if I was human. Even seeing the scene of my grandfather on that bed was not necessarily enough to draw the emotion from me. Even knowing the reality had not been enough. Then my mother began speaking. While of course she spoke in Cantonese, I will do my best to translate some of it while retaining the correct feeling.
"Look, father, everyone is here to see you! Here, your son, and your grandson, and your other son as well. And my brother, remember him? Just like the last time you were here, he drove us straight away."
"Don't worry about anything, just relax. You don't have to worry about anything."
All the while he was lucid, able to respond with short "hmphs" of affirmation, while looking at each of us. The pain and effort that it took for him to speak was obvious, but his mind was clear.
A nurse came by to see us at some point. She updated us on his condition, and got our affirmation that we did not want the ICU. She said that we still were not absolutely sure what had caused his condition and scheduled for a CT scan to provide some more information in the next 24 hours. She indicated that his vitals were looking better, and that we should try to remove him from the high-pressure oxygen mask in the next hour, switching him back to a regular mask. The high-pressure mask was unsustainable, she said, and not meant for long-term care.
All the while, my mother continued to talk to my grandfather. She talked to him about how he would be fine, how we had set up everything with the retirement home and that given his condition, as soon as he was released tomorrow he would be able to go to the retirement home. She talked to him about the blood transfusion and all the things the doctors were doing to make sure he was better. My father, his true son, spoke very little. As did I.
To me, it was horrible what my mother was doing; to straight up lie in his face about his condition and his wellbeing. Did she think my grandfather was an idiot? Did she think he wanted to hear the lies? I don't know if I'm absolutely right, but to me, my grandfather certainly knew. He was smart, and exceptionally capable. If it was me on that bed, I would not have wanted to hear such things.
I think that's what broke me. It was at that point that the first tears fell from my eyes, releasing the wave of emotions I had almost doubted existed.
I cried, and did not stop crying.
My uncle, my father and I took the approach of telling my grandfather to not worry about anything. That we would take care of everything. That he could relax and feel as comfortable as possible. My mother chimed in that he wouldn't have to worry about his grandson; after all I had just come back from my first term at university with a pocket full of 90s. We spoke while I clasped his cold hand.
But even all that was temporary. My father's brother and his wife left at some point. The uncle as well. At around 5 AM, my grandfather was moved to a hospital observation room, one of the curtained affairs to the side, shared with other patients. He was removed from the high-pressure mask, and reapplied with a new one. This one made it far easier for him to talk. When we asked him, he only told us it was even harder to breathe now.
The nurse came by again to check on his condition and told us that his vitals were dropping again; it was unsustainable for him to breathe at regular levels without the high-pressure mask. She told us that at this point, given our decisions, we should try to make him as comfortable as possible. That she would shut off the monitor at some point so that we could focus all our energy on him, instead of a couple of wavy lines and a number on the screen.
Time continued to pass. At certain points, his breather was steadily improving. Using the arbitrary measure on the screen which had put him at 90-92% while on the high pressure mask, he had dipped to as low as 55%. I had no idea what that percentage under BPM measured, but it was certainly an indicator of his ability to breathe. At some point, it climbed from 60% to 82%.
I could see how the number affected my father. How much hope that climb gave him, to think there was a chance my grandfather would recover. Though I hated myself for it, I never once thought that that would be the case. It was an atmosphere for the end, and a countdown to the point.
I hadn't said much the whole night. My crippling lack of ability to speak canto was not the only reason for that. I remember only distinctly that among the generic crap I said, I told my grandfather this:
"Yie Yie, today is your birthday! Your 84 years today (by Chinese calenders)! Can you believe that? You've lived 84 years, that's how amazing and smart you are! How many other people can claim something like that, ey?"
My mother expounded on my thoughts, saying how amazing my grandfather was to go out everyday at his age, to read a newspaper and buy things from English grocers at his age. I continued to think to myself how amazing he was, to have kept his mind and all its faculties for 83 full years, without suffering a single beat. This was in sharp contrast to my grandmother, who suffered from various mental conditions.
He nodded at my words, accepting them. He struggled to say out how he had only a year and a half of education. That he had had to learn everything by himself. How his father had been a scholar, and that he wanted his family to produce at least one university graduate. My father had only finished high school.
At some point I walked out of the observation room and tried to sleep on the outside chairs for half an hour.
We were called back in at about 6.40 AM because his condition had worsened. It was nearing that time.
The monitor had been unplugged. He had been injected with hydromorphine. From this point forward there was no talking. We were there for him, that was that.
The rhythm of his breathing repeated itself one after another. His eyes were still open, but I could sense the lucidity of him disappearing. The sharp clarity that he kept until the very end, faded in this last hour. Final words and last thoughts; my mother kept trying to push them out of me. I refused to say anything. It was not worth saying, my grandfather and I were not that kind of people.
At 7.32 AM, he had a final convulsion, and vomited up tar and blood. Not peaceful, not tranquil, not in the slightest bit pure. It was a violent, stupid, and disgusting death. I took solace in the fact that he probably wasn't aware in those final moments.
After the nurses had cleaned him up a bit, I saw him with my father one final time. My grandfather of 84 years, today, laid on that hospital bed, mouth slightly open, not breathing or moving, silent as a stone.
My father cried, breaking out in a real sob for the first time that entire evening. He said
"Now Ba, there's nothing else to worry about. We're going to be ok. We'll make sure we're ok. You can go in peace now. You can rest easy now. We'll...we'll look after everything."
I said nothing aloud. In my heart I said the things I couldn't bring myself to say aloud:
I said how sorry I was that I had not listened to him more as a child. I said how I regretted not seeing him more these last few months, caught up in the flurry of new university life. I said how I would keep the things he had taught me close to heart, like never wasting anything and valuing everything.
My grandfather, born on December 23rd, turned 84 years old today. With a tenth of my education and twice my intelligence, he raised a family three times the size of my own. He lived through two World Wars and saw starvation, suffering, and poverty before eventually settling in Canada. He saw an amazing lifetime of experiences, and I will always remember him as the healthy, active, and strong person that he was for the majority of my life.
Happy Birthday Yie Yie.