I was living in England in the late 90s when I received a call from my mother informing me that my 97 year old grandmother (my father's mother) was hospitalised with pneumonia and congestive heart failure. I hadn't completed my medical training at that time, but I knew that didn't sound good. I was scheduled to fly back to the States in two weeks for the Christmas holiday. "Should I come home earlier?" I asked my mother. "No, that's not necessary" she replied. "I'm a home health nurse on the hospice team and I don't think she's that close to the end." Apparently, over-confidence in one's professional skills runs in the family.
When I arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport and saw my parents waiting for me in the International Arrivals Hall, I knew her prognosis was poor. No one used to pick me up at the airport and I would have to schlep home on a Metro North train. "How's Nana?" I asked as soon as we hugged and greeted each other. "Leave your suitcase in the car tonight. We'll drive up to Boston first thing in the morning." was my father's answer. As we drove along the Hutchinson River Parkway and I was snuggled under a blanket and enjoying the snack that my mother had packed for me, I knew that my grandmother had already died.
There were five messages on my parent's answering machine waiting for our arrival (pausing for a second, remember answering machines?). The first one was from the skilled nursing facility, "Mr Allen, I am sorry to inform you that your mother passed away at 5:38 this evening. Two of her close friends were by her side and she was in comfort. It was very peaceful." My parents and I hugged again as we absorbed the news. "What time did the nurse say she died?" I asked. We played the message again. "My plane landed at 5:38" I told them. "I was setting my watch to that time when I felt the wheels touch the ground." My parents just looked at each other. "She knew you were coming home today." my father reported. "However, we didn't tell her any of your flight details." my mother acknowledged.
As both an atheist and a woman of science, I find it hard to accept that this is merely a coincidence. Of course, the version we like to believe is that she knew that I had arrived safely and felt that she was able to go. Perhaps, she was being spiteful and wanted to emphasize that I should have flown home earlier. The next morning I heard my dad on the phone discussing her details, presumably for the obituary, "Two surviving children, three grandchildren. No great-grandchildren, but there is one on the way, and she knew about it." This was news to me. Man, I was kept out of the loop in the days before Facebook. I have since done the math based on when my nephew was born and I figure she must have been barely six weeks when she disclosed. Oh, to be thirty-one years old and so confident in your first pregnancy...
I received an email from my father on the night before my transfer. "Grammy (my mother's mother) fell and broke her hip, going for surgery tomorrow. Please call your mother when you can." I love the fact I am almost thirty-eight and my Dad still calls my lone living grandparent 'Grammy'. My grandmother reached ninety years in January, and for many of those years she has enjoyed good health. About 10 or 12 years ago, she sustained a stroke, which significantly affected her speech and gait. However, she was able to maintain good humour about it. "I walk and talk like a drunk," she garbled, "but I'm a respectable drunk!" As a natural left-hander, her Catholic school upbringing forced her to use her right hand, which really aided her recovery and she did quite well in rehab. A year after my grandfather died, she had another stroke. This one didn't impair her physically as much, but it completely altered her personality. It was as if she lost the ability to laugh and she fell deeper into a depressive state. Four years ago, she moved into an assisted living facility, an event my cousin described as taking a kid to University. She initially thrived in her new environment, winning prizes at BINGO games and counting hours until her next meal in the dining hall. However, in the past year she really started to decline and was moved into the dementia unit.
I spoke with my mother later that evening. Not surprising, she was in nurse mode. We discussed the potential complications she could face after her surgery. Pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, sundowning in the hospital. Possibly falling again. We both weren't afraid to say what the other was thinking. Maybe it wouldn't be the worst thing if she doesn't make it out of surgery. She would be comfortable and would avoid a difficult rehab course. We all will leave this world one day, maybe this is her time.
The morning of my transfer, I was nervously waiting by my phone. I know it is really selfish, but I was more worried about getting a call informing me that my embryo didn't thaw, than getting an update on my grandmother. Fortunately, my phone stayed silent until my mother sent me a text letting me know my grandmother's surgery would be at 4 PM eastern time. That would be the same time as my transfer. I couldn't help to think that life could be starting to develop inside my uterus at the same time as my grandmother's life could be coming to an end.
This transfer process did not go quite as smoothly as the previous ones. My bladder was too full and I had to partially empty, which is a very challenging task. The tech was adapt with the ultrasound, but my RE struggled with the catheter placement. Seriously, after a mock transfer, five IUIs and two prior transfers and a hysteroscopy, he hasn't figured out how to navigate my uterus yet? We had a different embryologist, but Husband wasn't too disappointed about not seeing his crush, as we haven't had much luck with her service. Our remaining blast was listed as a "grade 2" and required assisted hatching. I had a bit of cramping during and after the procedure. Oh, when I was taking my feet out of the stirrups, my foot lightly grazed my RE's inner thigh. Awkward.
Soon after we returned home, I received texts from my mother and cousin letting me know that my grandmother made it through her surgery and was in recovery. We'll have to wait and see how she does in the next few days, but I think her procedure may have bought her a few more months at most and I can only hope that she will be comfortable in those final months. Meanwhile, we'll wait for our verdict on beta day.