I have an OBGYN exam coming up, and a deck of 836 flashcards to study for it. I review a few cards at a time during small breaks during rotations, and try to spend a couple hours every day reviewing them when I get home.
In between the cards about pregnancy and childbirth, I come across the cards for ovarian carcinoma. I read about ascites, hypercoagulability, exploratory laparotomy, and CA-125. I can’t help thinking these are very inelegant bookmarks for the story of ovarian cancer. They don’t capture the anticipation leading up to diagnostic testing, or the frustration and disappointment when results are inconclusive. They don’t explain how to make decisions about rehab and hospice care.
These flashcards are important. One day, I’ll use this knowledge to help other families understand diagnoses and treatment options. But for all their value, they never told me much about my grandmother. After all, storytelling is not their job. It’s mine.
I type this in bed, wrapped up in one of my grandmother’s handmade quilts.
My earliest memories of her were of staying in her house on furlough. She always gave us gifts of miniature flocked teddy bears. I remember pressing every single button on her electric organ, and going on long walks down the lane next to the neighboring farms. I remember begging her to let me touch the electric fence, which she finally agreed to…on the condition that I only touch it with a long piece of grass. I remember how her house always smelled like fresh laundry.
My next memories are in Kenya, when my grandparents visited after my youngest sister was born. I remember trying to teach her how to say Nakuru with a roled “r”, but the best she should do was, “Nakulululu!” Another time, when my grandparents came to visit with my cousins, we all spent the night in a tent in Maasai Mara. I remember my grandparents loudly whispering about cough drops late into the night.
Grandma: “Let me get you a cough drop.”
Grandpa: “I don’t need a cough drop!” *cough* *cough* *cough*
Grandma: “Yes you do need one!”
Grandpa: “No,” *cough* “I don’t!”
Grandma: *coughdrop wrapper crinkling* “Here you go.”
I remember the cards Grandma sent on birthdays and graduations. I remember her dedication in the difficult years after Grandpa’s stroke.
After her own stroke in November, I was able to visit her in the hospital. She asked me to pray for her to be able to go home, and that is what family worked toward until she came home on hospice in December. Her priority when she got home from the hospital was to recruit her sons to help her finish Christmas cards she had not been able to send out and to pass out gifts for the great grandkids that she had already set aside and labeled. She spent her last weeks at home with family, resting and playing Scrabble.
I wish I could have had more time with her.