Writing about the day to day mysteries of life.
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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Morphsuit and False Teeth

That is a morphsuit.  Ned put it on and tore around the house, so excited with his costume.  He wore it to school and had so many comments that he got embarassed and was sad he chose it.  He wore a football costume to trick-or-treat. 

Grandpa's False Teeth

In the summer of 1978 I was 13 years old, and my grandfather was diagnosed with leukemia.  My grandpa was 76 years old or just before his birthday.  He had gone in for minor complaints and came back with a serious condition.  It was not a disease any of my family had heard of and probably never really understood.  I did not understand it at 13 and no one could explain it.  He went from well to sick in a span of days.  The doctors told my grandma and mom they had a new treatment they wanted to try, it was called chemotherapy.  It would destroy the bad cells and then he would be better, remember he was 76.  Seven weeks we spent all day sitting by his side, my grandma, mom, sister (11), brother (5).  He got worse and worse and in more and more pain.  The chemo was terrible and there were no palliative care meds, no nausea meds, no steroids - straight chemo.   I remember hearing doctors discussing the treatments with only clinical interest, technical information not understood by us.  My grandpa was the glue that held us all together.  He was the only one who could keep my mom from being crazy.   Seven weeks was all from the day he entered the hospital until the day he died.  He was begging to stop and let him go home.  The doctors agreed and they were making the arrangements to release him when he died.  The day he died my mom had decided to leave the hospital for some reason I still can't remember.  We had sat by his side all that time and while we were away, he died alone.  I was devastated by this.  I couldn't believe I wouldn't see him one more time.  While all the grown-ups were talking I slipped behind the curtain to look at him.  The nurses had tried to put in his false teeth, but his mouth had changed shape from all the weight loss.  The teeth were sticking straight out, like something from a scary movie.  He looked very dead and ghoulish.  I was absolutely terrified and have never been able to get rid of that image.  I ran back into the waiting room and never told anyone what I had seen. 

The veil thrown down here is my deep fear of hospitals, doctors and medical treatments.  Between the age of 13 and 30 I set foot in a hospital maybe only a handful of times.  I have been to the hospital in the last 5 years countless times and have had what feels like millions of treatments and I have never gotten over my fears.  Every little cancer thing makes me think of my grandpa and how much he suffered.  Medicine and medical ethics have come a long way thankfully.  I am scared of hospitals from the first whiff in the door and I know there is nothing I can do about it but suck it up and endure.    It is hard to have a voice as a patient, hospitals and doctors are intimidating.  No matter how much I learn about my cancer or cancer in general, it is still not really comprehensible. This makes patients vulnerable and easily confused.  I know this and yet every time I get the scary nurse I don't speak up and ask for a different one. 


  1. It may not make much sense but having looked after so many people as they are dying, the one thing I do know is that most people die when they are ready. I've seen people hang on to see the dog one last time, and I've seen people slip away when their family member stepped outside for just a moment, having spend days at the bedside waiting. This may seem presumptuous but your Grandpa was probably ok at that one moment. The family may have wanted to be there, but he didn't need them there. Like I said, it is presumptuous of me but it's the one consistency that I have found in medicine.

  2. Most of us are also handicapped by our ignorance of how our bodies work and how medical treatments affect us. We have to rely on and trust the doctors, who, bless them, are just as human as we are. They have education and knowledge, but aren't perfect. They make mistakes. Sometimes, with the best will in the world, they recommend things that wind up not being the right thing for a particular person.
    I admire your courage, you've had so many hospital visits, and not once did I ever hear you express your dislike of the hospital. You are a brave woman. If you ever need someone to go and hold your hand or help you ask for the nicer nurse, you know how to reach me!

  3. We left the hospital because mom wanted to go swimming. We were in the apt building swimming pool when the hospital called and said we should come over right away. I remember jumping out of the pool and into some dry clothes in a flash. Mom however, did not want to go until she fixed her hair. I remember standing in the hallway and giving her the stink eye in the bathroom mirror while she ratted her hair and rubbed pink lipstick on her cheeks. We arrived at the hospital 10 minutes too late to say a final goodbye. The missed goodbye and the polaroid photo mom instisted be taken were devestating for me. I have it packed in a box somewhere. It disturbes me every time I come accross it, but I cant seem to get rid of it. I dont have any photos of me as a child, but I have that photo of grandpa. If I try hard I can still feel my tiny hand in his as we walked to the corner grocery store for an ice cream.

  4. Toni, Your writing is so powerful. Thanks for making time to write and for being brave enough to share your veil dance with your adoring friends. And the good thing is, even though we are miles apart and out of touch, I do feel like I got to know you better by reading these tonight. And if you ever want to truly shed your Modernist image, I'd be happy to take your Saarinen table for you (always loved that thing! :-) Sending you love, Jane
    P.S. Does it help if I tell you Anna recently rubbed my face and asked, "Mom, why is your skin dry and waxy, not soft like mine?" I'd better buy some of that cream as well!