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.