T-1 Day: Part 1
** Some of today’s post is a repeat from this post, written the morning of my wedding, but with a additional details**
When my mom, dad, and grandmother arrived at the venue, I was shocked at the sight of my grandmother. Besides a few of the typical elderly ailments, like trouble with her hearing and sight, she’s in decent health (for an 86-year-old), has good mobility, and her mind is as sharp as a tack. But today, her color was weird, and her knees were buckling so much as she walked, I thought she would fall with every step she took. My brother-in-law and a family friend held her on both sides to support her as she walked.
I wasn’t sure what to make of the situation. There were some feelings of guilt. There were some feelings that she was literally just making herself sick with worry because she didn’t want to be there.
My grandmother is a very stubborn and cantankerous woman. She says what’s on her mind, even if it’s very hurtful. For instance, she has no trouble telling me if I’ve put on weight, got a bad haircut, or am wearing an ugly coat. If we get her a Christmas present that she doesn’t like, she’ll say, “I don’t want this, take it back.”
But at the same time, she is a very generous woman. She’s fairly wealthy and is generous with sharing with her family during holidays and special occasions. One time, I complimented her purse. She started dumping out the contents on the sofa so that she could give it to me.
She certainly has her quirks too. She hates the church, even though my grandfather (her husband) was a devout, church-going man. At my grandfather’s funeral home viewing a few years ago, the priest (who knew my grandmother had not been to a church in decades) asked my grandmother if she wanted to go to confession so that she could take communion at the funeral service the next day. She looked at him, said “yuck!” and walked away. She also FLIPPED OUT several years earlier when she found out my grandfather was about to donate $5000 to his church so the church could install air conditioning. She calls church “a bunch of mumbo jumbo.”
Ken likes to describe my grandmother as, “not very grandmotherly.”
I’m not sure why I’m sharing with you these details. But I guess it’s important to illustrate how I felt about having her at the wedding.
Would she even come to the wedding?
My grandmother was very conflicted about whether to come to the wedding, which was more than 300 miles from her home. I thought she had never left the state of Pennsylvania her entire life, but my mom reminded me that she worked at the Pentagon right after it opened during World War II, and that she had been to Ohio for a wedding in the 1980’s.
I was pretty convinced for about the first eight months of our engagement that there was no way she was coming to the wedding. And perhaps I was just making excuses to make myself feel better about it, or maybe I’m just a terrible human being, but I convinced myself that her not coming would be for the best. She would just be complaining the whole time and telling me how every wedding decision I made was a terrible one, and so on. So, I had resigned myself to the fact that she wouldn’t come to the wedding and had myself convinced that that would be a good thing.
But then things started to change. About a month before the wedding, she started shopping for an outfit to wear to the wedding. It seemed like like she would come to the wedding, although I wouldn’t believe it until she was actually there. I was torn. I even mentioned in this post that I would ask my mom to take my grandmother out of the room if she was being too negative. About a week before the wedding, I told my grandmother that there was to be NO COMPLAINING at the wedding. She told me I’d have to put up a sign to remind her. I said that I would print one out on the computer. She laughed and laughed. It was good. We had an understanding.
When my mom had told me the previous day that she had picked up my grandmother at her house and they were on their way to DC for the wedding, I was surprised. My mom said my grandmother had been complaining the entire drive, saying that she wasn’t feeling well and wanted to go back home. I was steeling myself for some very negative energy once my grandmother arrived.
And the entire previous night when my mom kept telling me that my grandmother wasn’t feeling well and just wanted to go back home, I was mad. I kept thinking to myself, “well, maybe she shouldn’t have come at all!” and things like “I knew this was going to happen. She can’t even keep from complaining for her own granddaughter’s wedding.”
The day’s events begin to unfold
But now, seeing my grandmother that morning, the day before my wedding, I was filled with feelings of guilt and worry. This wasn’t just some “act” to convince my parents to take her back to Pittsburgh, like I had thought it might have been.
I asked my parents if they wanted to take her to the Emergency Room. They said that there was an urgent care facility directly across the street from the hotel where they were staying, but my grandmother wouldn’t go. Ken said, “Then you don’t give her a choice. You should treat her like a little kid.” I happened to agree.
I took the thermometer out of my purse. We pulled up a chair for my grandmother and she sat down. She kept opening her mouth while taking her temperature, and taking the thermometer out of her mouth, and we kept yelling at her to stop doing that. It was like she was drunk or something.
The thermometer finally beeped. We knew it probably wasn’t entirely accurate because she kept messing with it, but it read 103.0 degrees.
The vibe in the room went from general worry to outright scared. She was still sitting on the chair, so we started to convince her that she needed to go to the doctor. It was an urgent care facility just six miles away. Please. We pleaded with her. She kept saying, “No! I’m not going to the doctor.” I started to think to myself how elderly people can die from something as simple as the flu.
Finally, I was fed up. I started to literally scream at her. “GO TO THE DOCTOR!! DO YOU THINK I WANT SOMETHING TO HAPPEN TO YOU ON MY WEDDING DAY??? NOW GO!!”
My voice cracked as I said those words. My mom and dad let out brief sobs as they heard my voice crack. It was the reality check my mom and dad needed. My grandmother is 86 years old. It doesn’t matter how good her health has been to this day. And in my family, where any uncomfortable topic is practically always left unspoken, I mentioned this brutally uncomfortable topic.
My grandmother could die from a fever like that.
She was finally convinced. She would go to the doctor. She said she had to go to the bathroom first. So, my brother-in-law and family friend once again helped her walk to the bathroom, a single-room facility, which was about 20 feet away.
While she was in the bathroom, we all started talking fast about what might be wrong with her. In one of my hypochondriac moments, I told everyone to wash their hands and to wipe down any surface my grandmother had touched. “We don’t know what she has, and we’ll be interacting with 150 people tomorrow, so if it’s something serious, we don’t want to give it to them.”
Ah, the weird things people do in moments like this.
After a few minutes, we started to wonder how long my grandmother had been in the bathroom. A different family friend opened the door to the bathroom (which is a single room bathroom) and yelled for my mom. My grandmother was laying on the floor in the bathroom.
We all jumped into “go” mode. Our family friends, my mom, and my sister, all rushed down to the narrow hallway by the door to the bathroom. In that same narrow hallway was the landline phone. I picked it up and dialed 911. I said, “We need an ambulance right away at Prince William Forest Park Cabin Camp #5 in the Mess Hall. My 86 year old grandmother just fell and she has a 103 degree temperature.”
While I was on the phone, my family had managed to get her off of the floor and seated in a folding chair they had set up in the hallway. The 911 operator was asking me questions like whether my grandmother was conscious. I said yes, she was conscious, but kind of “out of it.” The operator said, “Okay, I’m going to give you some instructions.” I turned my mouth away from the phone and said, “LISTEN UP!” and told the operator to go ahead. The operator said to make my grandmother as cool as possible because her fever was so high. I relayed the instructions. They took off her jacket and put cold bottles of water on her neck. Next, the operator told us to gather all of her medications and bring them with us to the hospital.
My heart sunk a bit. She was nowhere near home. She wasn’t even at the hotel with her medications. I relayed the instructions to my mom. My mom looked disappointed with herself. She turned to my grandmother and said, “Mom, do you still keep that list of medications in your purse?”
I never heard the response.
The 911 operator told me that we could hang up, but I should call back if my grandmother lost consciousness, stopped breathing, or came into any other distress.
I’m not sure how much time had elapsed. Probably not much, but it seemed like an eternity.
My nephew, with his typical 5-year-old curiosity, kept walking down the hallway to see what was going on, and we kept shooing him away. In retrospect, I feel bad about this. We should’ve tried to quickly explain what was happening and then asked him if he could go in the other room for a bit. I remember when my mom and dad used to keep serious information away from me when I was little. It was hurtful. I was 12 when my other grandmother had a massive stroke. My mom and dad had told me she was just in the hospital because “She wasn’t feeling well.”
I looked around for my sister. Someone told me that she had driven my mom and dad’s car to the entrance of the campground, about a mile down the road. She was afraid because the campground was in such a secluded location, that the EMS wouldn’t be able to find it. (There’s a back story to this. A few year’s back, the company that my sister worked for moved to a brand new building right off a brand new road. One day, one of her coworkers, who was a brain cancer survivor, started having a seizure. They called 911, but EMS personnel just kept saying they could not locate the building or even the road it was supposed to be on. So they had to keep giving them landmarks to go by. Luckily her coworker was okay, but it was still enough to make her paranoid for life about EMS personnel not being able to find the location of the emergency).
So she had driven and sat at the intersection of the nearest main road to the entrance of the campground. I asked if anyone knew if she had brought a walkie talkie with her. (We had brought walkie talkies with us because there was no cell signal at the venue and the campground was huge). They said no, she had not brought a walkie talkie with her.
I wanted her to be able to relay when the ambulance was arriving at the venue, so I hopped in my car and drove the mile or so to the entrance. I saw her parked there and got out of my car and gave her the walkie talkie. Although I felt bad, because she panicked when she saw me driving up that road. She told me that she thought my grandmother had taken a turn for the worse.
No sooner did I give her the walkie talkie, we saw a fire truck coming down the road. My sister started honking her horn, and I hopped back in my car and sped down the road. I parked in the parking lot, about 500 feet or so from the Mess Hall, where my grandmother was. I wanted to make sure there was enough space in the small parking area by the mess hall for the emergency vehicles. My sister parked in the same lot. We got out of the car and started rushing to the mess hall. There was an unfamiliar car driving down the road to the Mess Hall. (The only reason to use that road was to go to the campground. There’s nothing else there). We stopped her on the road by the parking lot. The woman in the car rolled down the window and said hi. I didn’t recognize her and Ken didn’t recognize her.
Not in the mood for exchanging niceties, I said, “Who are you?”
She said, “Oh, hi, we’ve met before. I’m Linda, the coordinator’s assistant.”
I smacked my forehead in embarrassment, quickly told her to park in the parking lot and that we had an emergency going on.
My sister, Ken, and I continued our brisk walk-run pace back to the Mess Hall.
My grandmother was still sitting on that same chair in the same narrow hallway that she had been when I left. The EMS personnel were surrounding her and were telling her that she needed to be in the hospital. There was a LOT of back and forth on this issue. The EMS personnel were great, and kept telling her things like, “There are a lot of people here that care about you and want to make sure you’re okay. Let’s just go have some doctors check some things out.”
At some point, I heard the EMS personnel say that they cannot force her to go. I interrupted. I said, “What my grandmother wants doesn’t matter. My mother has full power of attorney and will force her to go.” The EMS personnel started asking my mom about the power of attorney. Of course, all the documentation about her power of attorney was at my parent’s house nearly 300 miles away. But my mom said she has the legal authority to make decisions for my grandmother under the power of attorney.
I’m not quite sure what finally convinced my grandmother to go in the ambulance.
Much to my surprise, the EMS personnel had her stand up while they supported her, so that she could walk outside the mess hall. I hate to be one of those people who claim to know better than the experts, so I just figured they knew what they were doing and I didn’t ask why they couldn’t bring the stretcher into the mess hall. But I was definitely thinking it, especially as my grandmother took very slow, labored steps. Once she got outside, there were two small stairs that she would have to walk down. The EMS personnel were still supporting her weight, and my grandmother made it slowly down one step, but she was really struggling with the last step. At that point, the EMS personnel told her they were going to lift her up. My grandmother said no. But they told her that it would be easier for her, and they lifted her up and then put her on the stretcher. She weighs barely 100 pounds.
As my grandmother was laying on the stretcher, she told me to come over. She was holding her purse, and took out a paper Hallmark bag, which had a thick envelope in it. “Here,” she said. “I don’t want to take this to the hospital.” When we opened the card late that night, there was $500 in it.
The EMS personnel were not in any rush to leave, and they were giving details of what was going on to the National Park Police Officers. In fact, there was a bit of a disagreement that had occurred between EMS and the Park Police. Although I hadn’t actually witnessed it, my mom or sister (I can’t remember exactly who) told me about it later. Park Police were trying to question my grandmother at the same time that EMS personnel were questioning her about her health. The EMS personnel said to the Park Police, “Excuse me, but you’ll have to wait to take your report.” When I found out about that, I was like “Why on earth would Park Police need to be asking my grandmother questions anyway?” My mom said that it was very likely because she fell while on property and they wanted to get all the details in case there was a lawsuit. What a sad sign of the times.
Once it was clear to me that the EMS personnel weren’t that worried, I figured that my grandmother was not in any imminent danger, otherwise they would have been rushing off to the hospital with her. So, I started talking to them, and explaining that tomorrow was my wedding day and that my grandmother had left the state for the first time in decades just to come to my wedding. I told them I wanted to make sure I remembered the moment forever, and asked them if they would pose for a picture with me, the bride-to-be.
They happily obliged and posed for a photo with me
While we were waiting for the ambulance to leave, I noticed that Ken’s sister and her family had arrived. With all the craziness, I hadn’t even noticed their arrival. I wondered what they must have thought as they drove up to the campground and saw a fire truck and ambulance there. Ken and his sister were standing outside, but it was starting to drizzle.
I walked over the ambulance because the back doors were still open. I told my grandmother I was glad she was going to the hospital. She didn’t respond. I think it was because she was out of it, more than it was her being mean.
My mom was going to ride in the ambulance with my grandmother, but the ambulance cab was VERY high and she couldn’t climb the step. My mom is 64, but even I thought it was an insanely high step to get into the ambulance. So, the EMS personnel told my mom and dad what hospital my grandmother was going to and how to get there, but I made sure that my parents had their portable GPS. They both got in their car and followed the ambulance as it left.
I’m not even sure what time all of this happened, but I’m pretty sure it was around 11:30. Although I just checked the date stamp on the camera when Ken took the photos of the ambulance. It said it was 12:47 PM.
When the ambulance pulled away, I was just kind of numb. I reiterated to everybody that they should wash their hands and wipe down anything that my grandmother touched since we didn’t know what she had or what was making her fever so high. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time to recover. The coordinator’s assistant, who had arrived right in the middle of all the madness, and the coordinator was there, so I had to start to walk them through everything.
Wedding recaps will resume in two weeks! You’ll hear all about our rehearsal.