Thursday, June 2, 2011


In the late Winter of 2000, I flew home to Upper Michigan to visit my family and to see how Mom was doing in her new nursing home. She'd been on a few waiting lists to get her into a facility closer to home to save Dad the hour drive. This new place was conveniently next to the hospital and right across the street from my grandmother.

Grandma Sophie moved into her assisted-living condo after Grandpa Bill passed. She'd been taking care of him for the years he'd been ill, having suffered a stroke brought on by his diabetes. Now Grandma was helping taking care of her daughter who was struggling with the same illness and the same complications.

It surprised me when Grandma sold the old house. She'd obviously been planning for the time she knew she'd be on her own. It made sense and she impressed me with her strength and independence. Now eighty, she was still active and vital and funny as ever.

Grandma just didn't feel eighty to me. Sixty maybe but not eighty. I found it ironic she chose to live in an assisted living facility when she was still always the one doing all the assisting. Or maybe that was her way of continuing to fulfill her nurturing instinct and feel useful. I stopped at the condo on the way to visit Mom.

Grandma was typically cooking when she was at home, if not for herself then for Dad or a friend or a neighbor who would surely appreciate it. She was an awesome cook and I used to spend hours in the kitchen with her, especially as I got older and realized I needed to learn as much from her as possible in the time we had together. So it was unusual to see her lying down. She got up when I arrived and tried to resume cooking my favorite meal, but it was obvious she wasn't feeling well. She was having a heart attack.

Fortunately the hospital was next door and the damage was minor. It wasn't long before she was back on her feet, back to taking care of my mom and and anyone else who needed her. A few months later I got a call from Dad. Grandma was sick. She'd been feeling pain in her back and legs and was no longer able to push a wheelchair. Dad said it wasn't her heart, and her doctors were still running tests. By the time I got up there, things had gotten worse and it appeared that her kidneys were failing. She died the next day.

It turned out that after her heart attack, my uncle called in a favor and took Grandma to the University of Michigan to see an eminent cardiologist. The cardiologist placed her on a standard regimen of medications intended to prevent her from having another heart attack. One of these medications was Lipitor. Grandma's local doctors either didn't know she was taking Lipitor or failed to recognize she was experiencing a well-known side-effect of statin drugs. They didn't stop the Lipitor before it was too late.

At the time, I never heard of Lipitor, Zocor, Crestor or any of the other statin drugs. Since then it's been impossible to avoid the advertisements for them. I can almost recite the warnings from memory. (Change to  low, concerned voice.) "Tell your doctor if you experience unusual muscle pain or weakness, as this can be a sign of a serious side-effect..."

I didn't expect it would eventually become difficult to avoid actually taking them myself.

Grandma Sophie and me at my brother's wedding. I'm guessing
this was taken about 20 years ago when she was around seventy.


  1. This really gives us an insight into some of your earlier posts and highlights the importance of knowing our family histories and stories.