Category: Family

The Queen of the Silver Dollar, Chapter 7: Blood Transfusion

Blood Transfusion

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.

Grandma with a pile of helmet liners she crocheted for the Marines. The proudest day of her life was when the Marine Corps awarded her for her efforts, with a flag that had once flown over Al Anbar province, in Iraq.

“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.

The Queen of the Silver Dollar, Chapter 6: A Vacation With Emma

A Vacation With Emma

Caring for my grandma, and taking her barhopping, was hard work for my wife. And she did this while operating a beauty shop at the same time. My job as a mailman was no picnic either, especially with all the overtime I worked. So once in awhile we got away from it all, and went on vacation.

We were never gone much longer than a week, but during those periods someone had to take over the job of checking up on my grandma, and assisting her with housework and other things she had difficulty handling. So my wife would hire somebody, usually a relative, to fill in for her.

But Grandma hated these absences from my wife. She’d grown very attached to her granddaughter-in-law, and didn’t want anyone else taking care of her. So when the hired help showed up at her door, she’d usually tell them she was alright and didn’t need any help, and send them away.

Thus, dishes would pile up in the sink, and other housework would go neglected, leaving a mess for my wife to clean up after returning from vacation.

One day my grandmother announced that since my wife and I had been going on all these vacations, she figured she was entitled to one, also. So she arranged to spend a week with her friend, Emma, starting on New Year’s Eve.

She was 88 years old at this time, and had recently recovered from a broken hip. In fact she was still hobbling around a bit, limping with one leg. Nonetheless, she claimed to feel footloose and frisky enough for this peradventure, about 20 miles away.

Emma was her son’s girlfriend. But her son, my Uncle Mike, was laid-up in a rest home now, having worn his body out partying a little too much with his mother and girlfriend.

It’s admirable that even though he couldn’t party with Emma anymore, Emma remained loyal to my uncle. She kept the relationship with him going, by always maintaining that he was still her boyfriend. And for this, my grandma would reward her with beer and cigarette money, whenever she saw her.

So naturally my grandmother was quite welcome to spend a week with Emma.

Grandma on the left, and Emma on the right, during one of their benders.

Emma had once been very attractive. In her youth she’d worked in Hawaii as a stripper, and more specifically, had been a bubble dance stripper. This form of burlesque involved holding a large, semi-transparent bubble in front of her naked body, while moving it around strategically, in order to tease the men in the audience.

Emma was very proud of her stripper past, and was quick to whip out a photo of herself that she carried around in her wallet, from her young, sexy years. I saw that photo once, and felt shocked at the contrast between then and now.

It seemed to me that over the years, the ravages of booze and hard living had taken a toll on her alluring, stripper looks. Now Emma was middle-aged, with a dumpy figure. I surmised that years of alcohol consumption had contributed to her red and dry complexion. I thought her long, squarish face, which once came across as unconventionally cute, in a jolie laide sort of way, now resembled an oblong box. And her neck and part of her face had unfortunately been scarred by fire in an accident.

Most people expect such changes to their appearance as they grow older. Even if they once were strippers. But apparently not Emma. Although time and flames had caught up with her body, they apparently had not caught up with her perception. It seemed she still saw herself as sexy. And she liked men in uniform, having performed for quite a few of them during her Hawaiian stripper years. So whenever she saw a good-looking male security guard, she followed a routine to try to gain his interest.

She’d walk near him and then suddenly act distressed. “Help me! Please, please, I need your help!” she’d plead. The guard would rush to her side and frantically ask what the problem was. That was her cue to deliver the line, “I’ve lost my phone number! Can I have yours?”

This got some laughs and broke the ice. But if the guard refused to share his number, she’d pull out her 40-year-old stripper photo and taunt, “See? Look what you passed up!”

Emma claimed to be the niece of Oscar-winning actress Joanne Woodward. According to her, she was the illegitimate daughter of the actress’ brother. She never met her father, and her mother didn’t want her, so she ended up being raised in a state-run group home, where she was frequently abused. I guess that helps explain a lot about poor Emma.

On New Year’s Eve, my wife drove my grandma to Emma’s house to begin her week-long vacation. Emma lived near a bowling alley that had a bar, so she and my elderly, hip-sore Grandma walked and limped over to it, to ring in the New Year.

My grandma was all dressed up for the festivities. Her hair had been done up real pretty by my wife. She’d found a gaudy Christmas tree skirt (the kind that wraps around the base of Christmas trees) at a thrift store, and wore this arboreal accoutrement around her neck, as a cape. She modeled a fancy, glittery thrift store dress, and had bedizened herself with fake diamonds and other coruscating costume jewelry. And on her feet she sported sparkling, golden tennis shoes.

They drank and wassailed at the bowling alley until midnight. After the Auld Lang Synes faded away, they decided to hop to a different bar. They called for a cab. But taxicabs are very busy on New Year’s, and none were available. So these two, old drunken ladies hitchhiked.

They soon got a lift, and found themselves whooping it up at the next bar. But after about an hour, they got a hankering to visit their other barroom buddies at another bar. So they hitchhiked on over.

Closing time finally arrived at 2:00 am, and they called for a cab again. But again, no cab was available on this very busy night. That left them standing by the side of the highway, sticking their thumbs out. After a bit, some old drunk from a bar recognized them and stopped and picked them up, and brought them back to Emma’s apartment.

They were hungry, so they munched on some old pizza, from Emma’s fridge. Finally at about 4:00 am, they decided it was bedtime. Emma retired to her bed, leaving Grandma to sleep on Emma’s love seat couch. But Grandma couldn’t straighten one of her legs, due to having recently broken her hip on that side. So she had to hook it over the back of the love seat, and try to sleep that way.

Sometime around noon on January 1st, my wife received a phone call from Emma. It was bad news. She informed her that Grandma couldn’t talk, due to singing all night, she had a terrible hangover, and she was sitting by the front door with her suitcase. She said Grandma was too exhausted to party any longer, and wanted to cut her vacation short and come home.

My wife felt disappointed. She’d been hoping to have a whole week off from caretaking, but instead her vacation had barely lasted 24 hours. She drove straight to Emma’s to pick her up, but experience told her to bring along a small wastebasket.

My hungover grandmother would need that, just in case she had to throw up in the car.

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 7: Blood Transfusion . Click here to read the last installation. Click here to start at the beginning.

The Queen of the Silver Dollar, Chapter 5: Fingerhut and High Finance

Fingerhut and High Finance

My grandma was 88 years old and living alone when she did what so many other old people do. She fell and broke her hip. Or maybe her hip broke, and then she fell. The order never seems clear.

Regardless, she was laid up in the hospital for weeks after, and I had to take over paying her bills. She’d had the foresight to put my name on her checking account, as Power of Attorney, so all I had to do was sign my name on her checks, and append the signature with “POA.”

So every day, I drove to her house and picked up her mail, and opened up all the bills and paid them. I was pleasantly surprised. The old lady had been doing a pretty good job of keeping up with her utility bills, as there were no late charges. But then I opened an invoice from Fingerhut.

Fingerhut is a company that sells all kinds of odds and ends, by catalog. They allow customers to buy on credit, at “low” monthly payments, and they tout these payments as a way to build one’s credit history.

My grandma bought little gimcracks and whatnots from Fingerhut, from time to time, so I expected her bill to be about $50 to $100. But when I opened the statement I nearly fell out of my shoes. Her current charges exceeded $800.

This seemed nuts. I figured there must be some mistake. So I studied the bill carefully. Apparently she’d been carrying a large balance, from month-to-month, with interest accruing at about 29%, and with additional penalties for always making late payments. And all this for about $200 worth of merchandise she’d originally purchased, months before.

Grandma didn’t have enough in her checking to cover the charges, and I assumed that this must be why the balance owed had grown so large. Somehow things must have gotten out of hand, and she’d been trapped in the predicament of having an out-of-control, runaway credit balance.

The charges exceeded what remained in her checking account. But I remembered that Grandma had about a thousand dollars in her savings account. She’d been slowly accumulating that nest egg to give to her drunken bum son, who lived in northern California. Well I was in charge now, and that drunken bum would just have to sober up and smoke a few less cigarettes.

My Power of Attorney extended to her savings account, so I transferred most of the savings into her checking, and then wrote a big check to Fingerhut, to pay their bill off. Now Grandma was freed from usurious interest rates, and there would be no more late-payment fees.

A few days later I visited her in the hospital, and proudly explained what I had done. I figured she’d feel relieved and thank me for freeing her from all that debt. But boy, had I miscalculated. Granny hit the roof!

“What?!” her eyes bulged as her head came off the hospital bed. “I didn’t want that paid off! I’m trying to build my credit rating, and the way to do that is to carry a balance and never pay off the account! Now you’ve ruined everything!”

Damn, was she fuming!

“I never told you to pay off my Fingerhut bill!” she ranted on. “Now how am I going to get a good credit score?”

“Grandma,” I protested, “that is not how to build your credit rating. You were being charged late-payment penalties, and that lowers your rating. You build your credit by always paying off your bill, not by carrying a balance or being late. Besides Grandma, why do you need a high credit rating? You don’t drive, so you won’t be buying a car. You rent, and you’re not planning to buy a house. So why do you want a high credit score?”

“You don’t understand,” my grandma pouted. “You don’t know anything about credit, and I never told you to pay off the bill!” She turned her face away from me and glared at the wall. This meant the conversation was over. Whenever Grandma got mad at someone, she would refuse to speak to them. And she’d do her best to pretend they didn’t exist.

This was not a sign of dementia. No, she’d handled conflict this way all her life. Her poor husband, my grandfather, sometimes endured her silent treatment for months on end. No wonder the poor bastard died at age 68.

This left my wife as the only line of communication between grandmother and grandson. So my grandmother explained to my wife something that her idiot grandson apparently was unfamiliar with. And that was, the art of high finance.

She pointed out that she was old. So obviously, she was likely going to die soon. But if she had a good credit rating, she could qualify for all kinds of credit cards and charge them to the max, while living high off the hog. And then after she died, the credit card companies would be left holding the bag.

Grandma had always loved to party, and she intended to spend her last days partying hardy while living like a queen. Debt be damned.

After the hospital discharged her, she moved in with us for about a month, until her hip convalesced enough for her to return home and resume living on her own. I was trying to make amends, so I promised my grandmother that I’d pay for all her groceries while she stayed with us, at no charge to her.

“Harrumph,” she replied.

Then she began going through a gallon of milk and 6-pack of beer, every three days. And she ordered up all kinds of expensive food from my wife, who did all the grocery shopping. She went on a big eating binge. And she explained to my wife that this was her way of recovering all that money her idiot grandson had wasted, paying off her Fingerhut bill.

This is the latest installation of my eight-part series, The Queen of the Silver Dollar. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 6: A Vacation With Emma. Click here to read the last installation. Click here to start at the beginning.

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