For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.
This has long been my favorite scripture. It has brought me comfort in times of strife and it always reassures me that, even when I don’t understand what is happening or why it is happening, God has a plan for me and my life. A week and a half ago, I hit a rough patch. I questioned why, but I thought back to this verse and I realized that there must be a plan.
On Sunday, April 3, my Gram complained of excruciating shoulder pain that seemed to appear out of nowhere. As was always the case, she called my mother for support. My Mom, who had been dealing with her annual battle with bronchitis, told my Gram she would try to drive over on Monday but was feeling horrible. Later that night, Gram was taken to the hospital from her retirement home in Johnstown, Pa. She was admitted to the Conemaugh Medical Center and Mom, sick as she was, packed up and hit the road from Trafford, Pa. (outside of Pittsburgh) and headed an hour and a half away to see Gram. Luckily, when staying in Johnstown, we always stay at our cousin’s home just under 5 miles from the hospital.
After keeping Gram company all day on Monday and Tuesday, Mom called me and asked if I could come sit with Gram on Wednesday. Mom was hacking up a lung and sounded horrible, even after her second round of antibiotics. At the time I left my house in Mechanicsburg, Pa. on Wednesday morning around 8am, we knew Gram had an infection in her shoulder and that she was put on some pretty heavy antibiotics to help counter the infection. I had planned to just stay the day and head home. About 1 1/2 hours into my 2 hour drive, Mom called to tell me that the tests showed that Gram’s infection had spread to her bloodstream, resulting in sepsis.
I sat with Gram from 11:00am until about 7:30pm on Wednesday. During that time, she was moved from her room on the 6th floor into the palliative care unit to help keep her comfortable. The first thing I noticed in the new room was a large picture of a rose on the wall. This was incredibly significant for me, because Gram has called me “Rosebud” since I was a little girl. I have always been and will always be her “Rosebud.” I knew we were in the right place. For those who don’t know, palliative care is a bit different from hospice…the goal is comfort while still seeking treatment. At this point in our story, we still thought she would make a comeback. Even at 99, there was a fighter inside that small frame. Gram’s nurses in the unit were godsends to her and us. With each new nurse, we found another special soul. They cared for her with dignity and gave me the support I needed to deal with seeing my usually peppy Gram in this state.
After spending the day with her and seeing the impact of the infection, I knew I needed to go home — 2 hours away — pack up some things and return. After reaching my house around 9:30pm that night, I turned around and drove back to Johnstown early on Thursday. When I arrived to our cousin’s house that morning, Mom was in bad shape. She was short of breath and her cough was incredibly deep. We knew what we needed to do…we shuffled her into my car and I took her to the ER…at Conemaugh Medical Center, where Gram had been treated since Sunday. After some worried looks from doctors and nurses after hearing Mom cough, they quickly shuffled her in to receive a chest x-ray. The diagnosis: pneumonia. She was promptly admitted and, luckily, our request for a room in the same building as Gram — Good Sam — was granted. Gram was in the palliative care unit on the 4th floor and Mom’s room was on Good Sam 5. God had a plan.
As Mom got better, Gram got worse. Mom and I spent some of our days — when she could — down on the fourth floor in Gram’s room. Mom’s nurses from the 5th floor were nothing short of AMAZING. Instead of complaining about a patient who needed them to make a detour downstairs during busy rounds, they welcomed the opportunity to treat my Mom in Gram’s room so she could spend the time with her.
Mom and I spoke with the nurse practitioner early in the week and agreed that it would be best to transfer Gram back to her retirement home under hospice care. We discussed the potential move for Wednesday and started making the plans. All the while, my Mom was still receiving her treatment after a setback on Sunday night — thanks to a newly discovered medication allergy — so we knew she was staying put for a few days. I struggled to understand how I would juggle my Gram moving back to her home and my Mom still being treated in the hospital, but I figured I’d manage…somehow.
By Tuesday morning, we witnessed a sharper decline in Gram. She only had infrequent lucid moments and lost all interest in eating. She mostly slept…a result of potent fentanyl to manage her pain caused by the infection and Ativan to calm her. Even so, when she did open her eyes, she looked to the left to see if I was still sitting there…and I was. But one moment of lucidity that Tuesday morning was incredibly special. I had been in her room for about 2 hours when Mom finally made the trip from Good Sam 5 to Good Sam 4. Mom said to her, “It’s me, Camilla,” to which Gram mouthed a happy, “Ooooohhhhh.” Mom said, “I love you, Mother,” and Gram managed to say “I love you, too,” very softly. I said “Excuse me?! I’ve been sitting here for 2 hours telling you I love you with no response,” jokingly, of course. Mom said, “Do you love Ashley, too?” Gram quickly replied, “I love Ashley, too.”
On Tuesday night, I left the hospital after saying goodbye to Gram and Mom and walked in the door at our cousin’s house just after 10pm. Not 10 minutes later, my phone rang and my heart sank. It was Gram’s night nurse and she told me Gram’s oxygen level had dropped into the low 60s. I called Mom and told her to head down and I got back in the car. 4.7 miles never seemed so far. I parked at the ER (which is the only entrance open after 9pm) and ran the entire 1/2 mile from the ER to Good Sam. Mom was already with Gram when I arrived and we both just sat there, holding her hands and talking to her.
I said before Gram is a fighter. Mom and I took turns sleeping in Gram’s room that night. Around 3am, we decided to have a hymn sing of all of Gram’s favorite songs and we cried, laughed and cried some more. Later on Wednesday morning, the nurse practitioner told us they wouldn’t transfer her back, that room would be her final home. Throughout the day, we watched the process begin; we knew the end of her journey was near. We stayed with her until she took her last, peaceful breath at 10pm on Wednesday, April 13. We cried, but we also rejoiced, because we know where Gram is and we know that she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else now that she has met her Maker.
On Thursday, Mom was much better and she was discharged that afternoon. It’s almost like Gram knew that she needed to stay there until Mom was ready to go. Her timing — clearly directed by God — was perfect. God had a plan.
What transpired to make the events of this whole week and a half come together is pretty miraculous in my mind. Had Gram not been admitted to the ER in Johnstown, my Mom may not have traveled to Johnstown on Monday. Had Mom not traveled to Johnstown, she may have headed to a Pittsburgh-area hospital — 1 1/2 hours away — or even worse, not gone in at all. God had a plan.
At this point, you may be wondering how I factor into this plan…and how I had the flexibility to drop everything and run to Johnstown to be with Gram and Mom. Back to my rough patch. On Monday…just one day after Gram had been admitted — I worked my last day at the job I had loved and the organization I had built from the ground up over the past four years. Due to a national merger, my Pennsylvania-based team and I were let go. I was incredibly sad at the time, but little did I know, it was all part of God’s plan.
Because I lost my job on that Monday, I was able to drop everything to be with Gram and Mom during their times of need. I was also blessed — which is weird to say because a job loss is usually a sad event — to be able to spend Gram’s last week on Earth with her. And when you think about what God did to orchestrate this entire plan for our family, you have remember that we are just three people out of billions. His wisdom is infinite.
When you feel like you don’t understand what is happening in your life or you hit a rough patch like I did, reread the words of Jeremiah 29:11 and trust that God has a plan. I believe that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. He also puts the right people in our path to help us along the way…and I believe that more strongly than ever after meeting all of the amazing people at Conemaugh who went above and beyond for our family during our week and a half there and feeling the love and support of family and friends from near and far.
As for me, I’m confident there is something better around the corner. God has a plan.