When my grandma was 89 years old her son, Michael, lay dying in a rest home. My uncle had partied hard with my grandma for 20 years, while chauffeuring her around to bars. But his constitution wasn’t as stout as hers, and now at age 62, it was all catching up with him.
My wife had taken over the role, as my grandmother’s caretaker and chauffeuse. Every day, she drove Grandma to the rest home. There, they would spread a special blanket that my grandmother had crocheted, over her son’s dying body. Then they would hold his hands.
One day they felt his spirit leave his hands, as Uncle Mike drew his last breath. The ordeal was over, and he moved on to that great Distillery in the Sky. Or to the center of the Earth. It’s not for me to judge which direction he went.
Four years later, and now my grandma had advanced to age 93. Her health was declining fast. No more could she go bar-hopping every day, to booze it up with her friends. About the best she could manage was maybe once a week. So we knew something was seriously wrong.
Her doctor told her she could no longer live on her own, and threatened to notify Adult Protective Services if she continued to do so. But Grandma did not want to waste away in a rest home, like her son, so my wife and I decided to sacrifice our privacy and space. We allowed her to move in with us, to live out her final days.
Her doctor had run a blood test on her that revealed a low red blood cell count. Based upon this, she had diagnosed her with leukemia and given her three months to live. So we didn’t expect Grandma to occupy space in our house for very long.
About a month after moving in with us, her anemia took a turn for the worse. She grew so weak she could barely make it out of bed. She wanted to see her doctor, but my wife had a better idea. She called 9-1-1, and had the EMT’s take her to the hospital. She was betting that the Emergency Department would run a whole battery of tests and figure out whether or not the issue really was leukemia.
And she was right. They poked, probed, and X-rayed, and finally diagnosed her with colon cancer. She had a malignant tumor in her large intestine that had advanced to the point of making her bleed internally. Hence, her low red blood cell count. She didn’t have leukemia.
Surgery was in order, to remove the tumor. But their most immediate concern was that she was bleeding to death in her bowels. She required a blood transfusion, stat.
My grandmother adamantly refused. She claimed she was a Jehovah’s Witness, and didn’t believe in blood transfusions. It was against her religion, she asserted. Now this is somewhat true. Grandma had been in and out of the JW religion many times over the past 60 years. She was what you might call a jack-Jehovah’s Witness.
She was very patriotic, and worshiped flag and country. And she drank like a fish and flitted from bar to bar like an archetypical barfly. And I’d never known her to attend the Kingdom Hall for worship services. This sort of behavior is anathema to her professed religion. But she still maintained that she was a Jehovah’s Witness.
The hospital called my wife and advised her of my grandma’s impending doom. They told her they had to honor her religious convictions and withhold the transfusion, and that meant she probably wouldn’t make it to the next morning.
My wife replied, “Get the blood ready! I’m coming down there. She’ll want the transfusion after I’m finished with her!”
My wife had been caretaking for my grandmother for more than ten years, and she knew her very well. Within the hour she was marching down the hospital corridors, heading for Grandma’s death bed, with a blanket under her arm. She stopped at the nurse’s station. “Have you started warming up the blood for her?” she inquired.
“No, ma’am, she’s absolutely refusing a blood transfusion. We can’t give her blood. We have to honor her religious wishes.”
“Start warming it now! I guarantee she’ll be wanting a blood transfusion in just a few minutes.”
Into Grandma’s room, she marched on her mission. The first thing she did with Grandma was put her hearing aids on. Then she covered her with the blanket she’d brought with her. This was the same crocheted blanket that they’d spread over her dying son, four years earlier. Then she sat down next to her, held her hand, and reassured her.
“Don’t worry, Grandma” she spoke with tender solicitude, “I understand that your religion forbids you from taking a blood transfusion. It’s okay. I’m going to stay by your side, just like we did with Michael. They told me you won’t make it to morning, but I’ll be right here the whole time, to help you through this.”
“What do you mean, I won’t make it until morning?” my grandmother appeared startled. Apparently, when the doctor advised her of her need for a blood transfusion, she hadn’t been wearing her hearing aids.
My grandmother was practically deaf without her hearing aids. She’d fake it and pretend to hear, while trying to read lips. So when the doctor warned her she was going to die without a blood transfusion, she simply answered him the same way she answered everyone else when she couldn’t hear them. She smiled and nodded, and said, “Okay, honey!”
Grandma began protesting. “But-but I’ve been praying to God, and God told me that He wants me to make more hats!” My grandmother had been crocheting caps for the Marines at the nearby military base. Marines used these caps to line their combat helmets, for cushioning their heads. This was my grandmother’s way of helping with the Iraq War effort.
“Well,” my wife repeated the warning, “according to your doctor, you won’t make it to next morning without a blood transfusion. But since you’ve declined that transfusion, I’m here to support you.”
Grandma went into panic mode. “I’m not THAT damned religious!” she sputtered. She frantically pressed the nurse’s call button, over and over. “Nurse! Nurse!” she shouted. “I want blood! I’m not that religious!”
The nurse rushed into the room, and was confronted by my grandma, begging for blood. This was the same nurse whom my wife had advised to warm up the blood, just a few minutes earlier. She cast an accusatory scowl at my wife. “What did you do?! Did you threaten her?!”
“No,” my wife explained, “I put her hearing aids on.”
Grandma got the transfusion, and then the surgery. And after that she managed to squeeze out another three years of life, and partying, and maintaining her reign on the barstool as the Queen of the Silver Dollar.
This is the latest installation of my nine-part series, The Queen of the Silver Dollar. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 8: Where’s My Money! Click here to read the last installation. Click here to start at the beginning.