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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Doctor Beware

When you live into your nineties you're going to rack up of plenty of visits to the hospital. Though Vovó Flora didn't need to go often she was infamous at Hayward Kaiser. She would not take pills. She howled at the sight of a needle. She slapped nurses. (Not surprisingly  nurses did not find this amusing.) When Vovó's pacemaker battery needed replacing she kept her purse clutched at her waist and refused to remove her pants before the surgery. Arguments were doing no good, so finally the nurse suggested that they just proceed with the anesthesia and finish undressing her after she was knocked out. Somehow that never happened, so Vovó won in the end. She kept her pants on during heart surgery.

Count her out at 86? Not when you see her at 90.
Because didn't speak much English and pretended to understand even less it put a burden on my uncle and mother stay near and serve as translator. When any hospital staff entered the room Vovó Flora complained in Portuguese that they were trying to steal her purse. She might throw in a few disparaging remarks about their ethnicity for good measure. Some people think that a language barrier allows freedom of conversation, but let me assure you that even if a person can't understand a single word it's pretty obvious when you're talking smack.

She learned this lesson well after making a stink about getting an IV. Flora's children could not always be around so there were times when the staff had to handle her on their own. When she saw the nurse planned to stick her with a needle she fought back, screaming in Portuguese and slapping at anyone who came near her.  My uncle Lourenço was called, and in the meantime they called up a Brazilian orderly from a different floor to translate. Lourenço arrived first and firmly explained that she needed the medicine, that the staff was here to help her and she needed to do what they told her. The Brazilian orderly walked in just as Vovó Flora snapped back, "So if they want to have sex with me, I should just let them?" He immediately busted up laughing and all the staff clamored to know what she'd said. Vovó cast an accusing eye around the room, demanding to know who else secretly spoke Portuguese.

It's precisely this type of irrational logic, this distrust of just about everyone, that lead to her continued survival. Had she seen herself as old or frail she would have to acknowledge her dim odds for recovery. In her mind she didn't need these doctors and their treatments. She was going to be fine. And she always was.  Just weeks before she died she had been admitted for pneumonia. At 92 it wasn't likely that she would survive but this was Vovó Flora. She was released and on her way to a full recovery at home when the fire struck. It was such a shocking tragedy, but I take an odd comfort that she defied all prognosis and continued living for ten more days when she wasn't expected to last a single night. To the end, she proved 'em all wrong.

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