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Friday, June 6, 2008

The Ejection Fraction of Love

Little Helen. That's my grandma to the left. She will be 90 years old on June 23.

This photo was taken of her when she was very young, maybe three or four years old.

She's sitting perched atop a lush fur blanket, legs crossed demurely at the ankles, wearing her best dress. My grandma grew up in Brooklyn, where her dad (at the time this photo was taken) was a furrier. Legend has it that Little Helen once owned a tiny coat made of ermine.

But the family was always poor, and like other recent immigrant families, my grandma's father had a variety of jobs. He later became a grocer. Perhaps the Depression killed off the furrier business, I don't know. Little Helen worked hard as a child to help earn money for her family. I remember her talking about doing piecework after school, gluing ribbons and decorations on cards. She gave her meager earnings to her mother.

The photo was for a Beautiful Child Contest, and she won. I think my grandma and her parents receieved a small cash prize of $5.

My grandma has always been a little girl, in stature and in heart. She takes pleasure in the tiny, simple things, like a child, and she also worries about everything. She can be very stubborn and also extremely sensitive and emotional. I think being a child of the Depression took more of a toll on her than perhaps on some other people. There is a part of her that still seems shadowed by the threat of poverty, of some vague loss.

When she is upset or worried, sometimes you can distract her with a new story told with a lot of enthusiasm or some show-and-tell, just like you would a six-year-old with a sparkler.


Last week, my grandma ended up in the hospital and she missed the birthday party. Of all of the people not to be there, that was the cruelest blow. She lives for Little Curly Girl. Because she was in the ICU, we couldn't take Little Curly Girl to see her either and there was no phone near her bed to even call.

First we got really terrible news from one doctor. And then we got much better news from the second doctor, who concurred with my grandma's old cardiologist. The first doctor, with his dire predictions and perfunctory manner, sent the entire family into an emotional tailspin on Sunday night, only for our hopes to be revived when he went off duty and all of his conclusions were quietly moderated for the better by the new cardiologist on duty.

In evaluating her condition, the doctors try measure the amount of blood her heart can pump out, which is called an ejection fraction.

A normal heart's ejection fraction is 50% or better. My grandma's is between 35%-40% but that other doctor told us it was only 20%, which scared the crap out of us.


When we first saw grandma in the bed, she was sleeping soundly, her chest rising and falling quickly, looking almost like she was panting. Her mouth drooped, her lower teeth were askew. Her face looked pale, almost like it was covered in a fine powder. We didn't want to wake her, so we just watched her, for the better part of an hour, and mimed and signed and whispered to each other.

One of the nurses came in to wake her up to give her her medication: the tiniest chip of a pill you ever saw in your life, and some orange liquid that looked like soda but had potassium in it. My grandma awoke, hair afluff like little downy feathers all over. She looked surprised, puzzled and happy to see my mom, my sister and I seated around the bed. "Did you just get here?" she wanted to know. You could see the happiness building up in her inside: the color came back to her cheeks and lips, bringing pinkness to her face.

Grandma would not take her medicine. She had every reason in the book not to do it, just like the little kid who wants a glass of water, wants a story, has to go to the bathroom in order not to have to go to sleep. The nurse said she would come back in a few minutes to make her take it. She kept coming back and my grandma kept dilly-dallying. Grandma flirted with the handsome doctor who came in to examine her, complained that the orange soda stuff was too sour and made everyone else taste it. We told her not to be such a baby, that it wasn't that bad.

It was funny, like bad little kid funny, but after a while she really did need to take her meds and we could see that we were encouraging her misbehavior. Finally my sister and I instituted Tough Love on her, and we turned our backs on her and wouldn't talk to her until she drank everything down. She did, with a grimace. The gig was up.


Grandma got released from the hospital yesterday, and sounds as good as new on the phone. She's staying with my mom, and Little Curly Girl and my sister are still there so Grandma couldn't be happier. I called her this morning and she's watching her two-year old great-granddaughter eat bits of sunny-side-up egg, and putting jam on her toast. "All by herself!" she tells me. "That little girl is so smart!" I hear Little Curly Girl squealing in the background, obviously doing something exciting, which may or may not have involved jam.

"I love her so much," my grandma tells me. "That little girl is like my food. I could just eat her up."

What the doctors can't measure is the ejection fraction of love. No matter what tests they do on her, Grandma's heart will always be loving us at 100% of capacity.


Keep getting better, grandma. Big and little girls are expecting that.


Mary-Laure June 6, 2008 at 12:23 PM  

I am really terribly sorry to read all this. It's terrifying to have a loved one in the hospital... I hope she gets better very soon.
And that picture is so adorable...

tangobaby June 6, 2008 at 12:25 PM  

Hi Mary-Laure,

Please don't be sad...she is out of the hospital and my mom is taking good care of her.

She is surrounded by people who love her and she sounds very happy.

But I will tell her that a lovely, talented girl in Paris (who has a very cute doggy) sends her best wishes and she will be THRILLED!


P June 6, 2008 at 1:34 PM  

Bless her. I wish your grandmother a speedy recovery.

paris parfait June 6, 2008 at 3:17 PM  

So glad she is home! That photo looks a little like you (or you look a little like that photo). And I can imagine that Curly Girl is the best medicine ever! Much love to you all. xoxox

P.S. Miss Hobby Blogger - Please go and vote for me in the Political Blog category of the Bloggers Choice Awards. No, I am not too proud to beg. Did you say you wanted chocolate from Paris? : )

tangobaby June 6, 2008 at 3:41 PM  

Hi Paris Parfait,

Perhaps it is the haircut that is making the similarity greater. ;-)

Yes, I think Little Curly Girl is great medicine for almost anyone, as long as you're not catching her right before she needs a nap. And then she is more like the *other* little girl who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead (from the nursery rhyme).

Of course I will vote for you (in fact, I'll do it posthaste, after I finish this comment). You don't have to buy me chocolate--just vote for me, too!


tangobaby June 6, 2008 at 3:47 PM  

Dear p,

Sorry, I didn't mean to jump over you like that! (must be the Junior Mints sugar high)

I will be sure to give my grandma your best wishes, from one New York gal to another.


TheElementary June 6, 2008 at 5:04 PM  

I treasured every word of this story. Your grandma sounds like a super, super person and I wish her well.
I just accidentally wrote "wish her werrl" but you can wish her that too for me, as I am sure that 'werrl' is a magical blessing on some other planet where nobody ever gets sick and people can dance all day long until the sun goes down. So wish her werrl from somebody who loved this story.

tangobaby June 6, 2008 at 5:32 PM  

Dear TheElementary,

"werrl is a magical blessing on some other planet where nobody ever gets sick and people can dance all day long until the sun goes down..."


You are adorable.

Of course I will tell Grandma that for you. In fact, I'm sure I will tell her in just a few moments.

I think we ALL should be in 'werrl'!


Vanessa June 7, 2008 at 11:27 AM  

I am going to say a prayer for your grandma, who sounds like a truly wonderful character. It is only too obvious how much you adore her, it's radiating off the screen, jumping from each line.

I'm sure that kind of devotion and love will help keep her strong.

dutchbaby June 7, 2008 at 4:02 PM  

What a lovely tribute to your dear grandma. The sepia photo is adorable and I see a family resemblence beyond the haircut (those eyes!). Of course she won the beautiful child contest! I wish her continued healing and strength to her and the rest of your family.


Christina June 8, 2008 at 6:34 AM  

Through your words I could feel the love you have for your grandmother. I send you and your family many blessings and smiles:)

tangobaby June 8, 2008 at 8:55 AM  

Dear Vanessa,

Thank you so much, for your wishes and thoughts sent from from half a world away. I will read to her what you wrote, and I know it will make her happy. Thank you.

Dear dutchbaby,

Again, the words just came out...just like that. It's so easy to put the words down sometimes. My grandma has very pretty brown eyes and dark lashes. I will tell her that you liked her photo. She still loves it very much and likes to show it to people.

I'm wishing you the same love and healing for you and your special Oma.


Dear Christina,

Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting. I think it will make my grandma feel wonderful that kind hearts like yours are truly thinking of her (and us)!

Maryam in Marrakesh June 8, 2008 at 2:34 PM  

This was so beautiful and made me get all teary, esp the parts where she wakes up in the hospital and her description of her 2 year old great grand daughter. Make sure to do an oral life history of her on tape!!!

koolricky June 9, 2008 at 3:25 AM  

Hi tangobaby:

Your granny is a survivor. She'll do it once again! And as I am going to have an exam on cardiology tomorrow, it was the best revision I could do. Thank you!

tangobaby June 9, 2008 at 7:05 AM  

Dear koolricky,

Oh, how I wish YOU were my grandma's doctor. I know she would adore you, and then after you get off work, I could dance with you.

Good luck tomorrow with your test. I know you will ace it!


studio wellspring June 9, 2008 at 9:06 AM  

my grandma's name was helen too ~ so this story hit home in more ways than one. our family all agrees she stayed alive as long as she did {against all odds & expectations} just to get to know her great-grand daughter a little before she passed. seeing the connections between two hugely different generations, when they aren't even able to speak to each other, was a heart-warming joy beyond description. even still, 5 months after her passing and after only seeing her for a few days, my niece will call out my grandma's name whenever she sees her in a photo {she is 21 mo's old}.

tangobaby June 9, 2008 at 9:44 AM  

Dear Maryam,

Thank you for your visit from so far away. I know you can relate, with your beautiful little girl wandering around Peacock Pavillions, how much magic they can spread about them.

I really do need to get more stories from my grandma. I know some of them but not all, to be sure.

Hi Ms. Wellspring,

So we both have grandmas named Helen too? That has always been one of my favorite names. ;-)

I'm so glad your little niece made your Grandma Helen so happy. I know exactly what you mean, how you can see it on their faces. It's amazing how these little people are so aware and remember faces and names. Our Little Curly Girl is the same.

koolricky June 9, 2008 at 4:02 PM  

Hi tangobaby, it would have to be a very late dance, I wouldn't leave your granny until she was absolutely fine!

tangobaby June 9, 2008 at 4:23 PM  

Koolricky, you just stole my heart away. Now I don't even care if you can dance.


d i a n a m u s e June 10, 2008 at 5:21 AM  

It's high time I let you in on something: I've got a crush on you. The wit and poignancy of this story - like so many others here at your place - touch a deep chord. [The fact that you report from and about my hometown (born and raised in SF - haven't lived there for decades) makes the attraction all the stronger.]

There's nothing like the love and devotion of family (esp. the magical charms of LCG) to restore strength to body and soul. Happy birthday - a tad early - to your beautiful grandma.

tangobaby June 10, 2008 at 9:52 AM  

Dear dianamuse,

Wow. A crush? *Really?!* (looking down shyly at floor) Because I already have a crush on you.

I am thrilled to see you here and am feeling very special right now!

I will be sure to give Grandma your special birthday wish. She is still having her ups and downs and I know that your thoughts will bring a smile to her face.

Al_Pal June 14, 2008 at 1:12 AM  

So sweet, this post! I hope grandma is doing better.

tangobaby June 17, 2008 at 9:42 AM  

Welcome to my blog, Al_Pal. I'm glad you stopped by and happy to say that my grandma is feeling better day by day. Knowing that people are thinking about her makes a big difference, so thank you.

Petunia Face June 19, 2008 at 8:09 PM  

What a beautifully written post for a beautiful girl turned grandma. My thoughts are with her and your family...

tangobaby June 20, 2008 at 12:00 PM  

Thank you for the well wishes, Petunia Face. I think if I told my grandma that someone named Petunia Face stopped by the blog to say hello to her, it would totally make her day!

So I will do just that!

Anonymous September 23, 2008 at 9:45 PM  

i am so touched by this loving post. what a beautiful generational sequence of love; the ejection fraction of sisters abounds in this family. true sweetness, none measurable!