How is she hanging on?

The question of the hour for the doctors, nurses and our family is, how in the world is she still hanging on? She’s 19 days past a blood clot in her superior mesenteric artery, she’s 13 days post stroke- neither receiving medical treatment; and she hasn’t had food or water in 13 days. She’s been totally nonresponsive for 8 days. It’s a medical mystery and an interesting journey in watching the human life cycle.

But, here’s what I know about my grandmother’s health journey, and it shines a great big spotlight into how in the world she’s survived this long. Grandmother was most likely born with infant rheumatism and a hole in her heart. She was sick most of her childhood, not expected to live beyond her teen years. As a teenager, she developed severe migraines that led to her getting shots in her skull. (This is where I am glad that I was a migraine patient in the late 90s-2000’s and not the 1940’s.) Not only did she live beyond her teen years, she was a hard working productive member of society. She delivered a child. In her later years, she stripped tobacco for a living in hot and terrible working conditions.

In 1997 the hole in her heart opened up, leading to emergency heart surgery. Several hours into surgery, the doctor came into the waiting room to let us know he was closing up, but didn’t expect her to come off the operating table alive. It was a hard couple days, but she survived. Four days later, a stitch pulled loose from her valve replacement, tearing the valve, and they had to go back in and do the surgery over. Again, the doctor said she was absolutely too weak to survive this surgery. We left the hospital a couple weeks later. In April 1999 the “cow tissue” valve failed and she had a “pig tissue” valve inserted. The surgery went well, no complications. At the time the surgeon told us that this would give her 7-10 years life at most.

In 2003 Grandmother had a heart attack, and needed a pacemaker installed. Again, this bought her a couple years at most. In 2010 her pacemaker was replaced with a pacemaker/ defibulator combination device. I can’t even tell you how many times the defibulator has activated after Grandmother suffered a heart attack. At least 10 times in the 2 years she has lived with me. It’s the craziest thing in the world.

In February 2014, the day after her 80th birthday, Grandmother watched her only daughter die. If anything would destroy a heart, I’d pretty much expect that to do it. I honest to goodness expected to bury my mother and my grandmother that week. And, yet, she is a survivor. She continued to live on her own for another year before moving in with us.

In the time that Grandmother has lived with us, we’ve been told she would not leave St. Thomas Hospital alive 4 times. Four times I have mentally and emotionally prepared for my grandmother to die. Yet, I sit beside her and type, and she is totally alive.

We have racked our brains as to what in the world she could be waiting on. Every family member has been here to tell her goodbye. We’ve all told her it is okay to go be with Jesus. I’ve asked her to go give my mom a hug for me and tell her that I love her. I even brought the dog up here to be with her last night. For the love of Pete, I went and made funeral arrangements for someone that wasn’t dead so I could tell her it was taken care of and not to worry about me.

But, she’s not suffering. She is comfortable, and her time on this earth is not done. So, for whatever she’s clinging to, I accept that she has something else to live for. Her time and journey on this earth is not done. By my math, she’s been defying death for 83 years, and 20 of those very actively defying the odds. She’s a fighter, she’s a tough old bird. And, she reminds me daily that there’s no struggle on this earth I can’t overcome. For goodness sake, if she can beat the hell out of death, I can conquer a few little work problems or parenting issues.

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