88

Bed sheets changed, dextrose line checked, patient’s comfort ensured. The room is quiet again, save for the trickle of sterile water that the patient needs for breathing. It’s as if there is an aquarium by the bed meant to ease her mind into a relaxing sleep.

The patient is the closest I have to a grandparent. The real ones died when I was a little girl. The only memory I have of them was my grandfather’s funeral. I remember sitting in the bus and imagining my grandpa’s ghost running after us all the way home.

She will turn 88 in 20 days. Yesterday, she was in the neuro-Intensive Care Unit due to a mild stroke that lessened movement in her left arm.

She would eat only her favorite Hawaiian pizza, the one with pineapple chunks amid the cheese and tomato sauce. Her eyes lit up as we gave her the first bite. It’s probably not the healthiest meal for someone who just had stroke. But as Bee said, it’s better than not eating at all.

Four other patients had surrounded her in the ICU. One was born in 1924, too. The youngest, at 48, has been there for 18 days. There were tubes in and out of his body that made speech impossible. He communicated by pointing at letters printed on paper. Yesterday, he said ‘Sorry’ to the nurse who would clean up his bed. ‘No need, that’s my job,’ the nurse replied.

His wife and daughters have made a home out of the benches outside the ICU. They bathed in the toilet, slept on the bench, and watched ‘Gossip Girl’ on their laptop while sitting cross-legged on the floor. The wife cried while updating her daughters on their father’s condition, yet she appeared strong and calm the rest of the day.

I’ve been to this same hospital in the same ICU exactly a year ago and making similar observations about the people in it. Beyond talking to the patient and tending to the needs of his caregiver, I was waiting, like most of the people there, for things to change–for better or worse. Only last year, I was helping keep watch over the youngest patient in the ICU.

He was 50 and had been battling lung cancer for two years.  He had the same tubes in his body as the 48-year old man yesterday.  He also couldn’t talk and would write down his thoughts on a beat-up notebook.  The last thing I wrote to him was something like, ‘Hang in there.  We love you.’  I promised to come back in two days, but he died as I made my way to the hospital.

I didn’t think he was ready to go.  He still wanted to go back to work and do so many things.  Fifty is too young to die.  That was why there was a sense of desperation and deep sadness during his last days.

Emotions that I don’t sense this time.  Sure, there’s the sadness and worry, but none of the despair and regret.  Maybe 87 is enough time to really live one’s life.  It’s beating the Filipino woman’s life expectancy by 15 years.  It’s recovering from a mild stroke in less than 24 hours while eating nothing but Hawaiian pizza and Sunkist orange juice.

The only wistfulness I sense comes from me and the other people surrounding Lola (grandma).  We’re all wishing we could live to her age.

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