I’ve never written about my grandmother at length before. Not till now anyway.
Her name is Lim Geok Lan. She’s old enough to remember singing the Japanese imperial anthem at school assemblies and the subsequent Communist unrest. If there’s anyone more Malaysian than my grandmother, I can’t think of it.
On Saturday, 28 Feb, she became incoherent and started rambling about things that had taken place eight, ten years ago. My parents tucked her in worriedly, thinking her blood sugar levels was the culprit (she didn’t eat much that day).
The next morning, she wouldn’t wake up or respond to our calls. She tossed and turned a lot, but she wouldn’t open her eyes. My mum called for the ambulance.
It was almost 9.00 a.m. then.
A brief examination by the doctors of Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun, Ipoh confirmed that she had had a stroke. She would need to undergo brain surgery to save her life. 40% chance of success, they told my parents.
My mother was distraught. But what choice did she have? And so my grandmother went under the knife.
After lunch, the surgeon told us that the operation was a success. My grandmother would live to see the dawn of another day.
If I thought our family’s troubles over then, I was wrong.
The next day I got to see my grandmother. She was still sleeping – she still wouldn’t wake, though we got soft mumbles when we tried to call her. The doctor told us the news – her right side was paralyzed. She may not be able to talk. She may not remember events, people in her life.
It was then I broke down.
* * *
carrying and arranging pots with you in our house garden,
helping you beat eggs in the kitchen as you whipped up a scrumptious meal for the family,
spooking you with tales of disgusting rats and mice (which you’ve always hated),
hearing your voice over the phone when I didn’t get to come home from campus for a few weeks, asking me how I’m doing,
reading the news to you when I get the newspaper,
watching Chinese TV dramas with you in the living room,
listening to your stories and experiences, and the valuable lessons that you would impart at the end of each one,
cursing a certain dog-cat pair that annoys the heck out of the both of us,
giving you ideas for nombor ekor everytime you asked me to buy some,
holding your hand when crossing the road.
pretending not to hear you when you nagged me for something I didn’t do,
talking back to you angrily when you didn’t understand what I was trying to say,
letting out a long sigh of contempt when you asked me to fetch something for you,
not liking what you sometimes cooked for us,
harbouring anger towards you when you told mom I’d misbehaved,
making you worry by not calling home when I’m away for days on end,
not being there enough to show I care.
Seeing you lie there on the hospital bed, hooked up to machines to sustain you, so helpless, was my breaking point. It’s such a far cry from the fiercely independent woman who gets up before everyone else just to do housework. Who still walks actively to stay healthy. Who doesn’t let the fact that she’s aged hamper what she does, and how she enjoys life to the fullest.
When you woke up momentarily on Monday, when you looked around at each of us around you, trying to speak as your eyes flitted from person to person, I couldn’t take it. I could only guess what went through your mind at that moment. Did you realize what had happened? That you were in hospital, and that you might no longer be the grandma whom I grew up with?
I have never cried so much in years now.
* * *
Tuesday was the turning point.
My grandmother could speak. She was breathing without a respirator tube (though she must wear a respirator mask). She had regained her movement in her right side. She recognizes all our family members. The doctors are nothing but surprised by her rapid recovery. She does need to undergo physiotherapy to help her regain her movement and she is a little more forgetful now than she usually is, but..
If there is indeed a higher power watching over us all.. you have my gratitude and thanks for this second chance.
Come Friday, I will fly back to her side in Ipoh from KL and make up for lost time.
Grandma, I love you so much.