Thursday 10 April 2014

Sunrise, Sunset

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.


  1. Life is so mixed up with endings and beginnings and often we don't even know where or what they are until later. Hoping all the best for both your Grammy and the transferred embryo.

  2. I'm glad your grandma made it through her surgery, and you made it through your transfer! Happy thoughts for both of you.

  3. I'm sorry you didn't get back in time. When my mom was dying, all my 3 brothers were at the airport to pick me up, which was unprecedented. Neither of them really said anything and I didn't want to ask... we drove to the hospital and my mom was still alive, still awake, and recognized me and H, although it was clear things were bad. She didn't wake up again after that evening.

    Hoping for good family news from your side, especially on beta day!

  4. Another great post - such beautiful storytelling. My period was a week late during my grandma's funeral, and I was sure I was pregnant. I thought it was sort of poetic--one person who I loved so much leaving me, but gaining someone new. Of course, it didn't turn out that way.

    I hope your grandma remains comfortable and that you get good news on your beta! Thinking of you, Jane.

  5. This post perfectly demonstrates how life can be so juxtaposed. One life ending while another begins, one of the saddest moments occuring alongside happy ones... and all within one family. I find it hard to balance these moments in my mind (and heart) when I am struggling with my own stress and challenges.

    I am sending you so many good vibes for your embryo and for your health and happiness. xo

  6. When I was in junior high, my mom showed up to pick me up from school. She had a full time job and I was a latch key kid so I knew something had to be wrong. My grandmother lost her battle with cancer and was gone by the time we got to the hospital. I so vividly remember that- walking out and seeing her in the parking lot.
    I'm sorry about your grandmother. I lost my last grandparent about a year ago. I am grateful to have had them as long as I did. I was already pregnant when he died and he did know about it before he passed away. Wishing you will be able to tell your Grammy some good news in her final months. When's beta day?

  7. I'm praying so hard for your Grammy and for your beta results. I pray you'll be able to share the best news ever with her!!

  8. Both of my grandmothers were long lived, and both declined pretty precipitously in their final years to the point that it was hard to be really sad about their passing, as it was almost a relief that they weren't suffering anymore. It's so hard to watch a loved one go downhill like that. I hope your grandmother recovers well, and that beta day brings good news.

  9. Your story of your grandmother passing the exact minute you were landing gave me goosebumps. My grandfather was in a coma for a week, passing away only hours after the last of his 20+ grandchildren were able to get into town and say goodbye. I agree, both of these situations seem more than just coincidental.

    I'm glad to hear that your grandmother's surgery went well and I hope it does provide her with some comfort in her final days/months/etc. It's never easy watching loved ones if they are suffering in any way. I will be wishing her well and thinking of you on your beta day.

  10. How ironic with the timing of the 1st grandma incident and also this transfer coinciding with your transfer. Fingers crossed that grammy will have stuck around for a really good get some good news from the two of you very soon! C'mon positive beta!!!

    1. *meant to say your transfer coinciding with Grammy's surgery this time. You know what I mean! GL girl!

  11. Life beginning and really doesn't make sense sometimes. My Grandpa would have absolutely loved to see my babies, but he passed just after our first IVF and chemical pregnancy. Thanks for sharing your story. Makes me remember my Grandpa. Fingers are crossed for this embryo being the one.