I woke up with a start, my heart pounding. For a few seconds, I had trouble figuring out what had awakened me until I heard worried voices from my grandmother’s room. Every morning, she wakes me up, worried I have slept through all my alarms. In fact, she insists that my siblings and I give her a print-out version of our schedules every semester so that she can keep a tab on when we start school in the morning and when we will come back home at the end of the day. My heart still pounding, it dawned on me that it was not my grandmother standing at the door with her walker that had woken me. I glanced at my clock it was close to 3AM in the morning. Something was wrong.
I bolted out of my bed and ran into her room. She was lying on the floor moaning with her mouth closed as if it was locked. My heartbeat sped up further. It took me a few seconds to notice that my parents, my brother, my sister, and my aunt were all hovering over or kneeling beside my Daddi Ammi, trying to make her speak. Someone was trying to insert a spoon with water in her closed mouth. I heard snippets of the conversations, fear blocking my ears. I had to force my brain to concentrate. With much effort, I understood that she had been trying to get back to her bed from the bathroom when she had fallen.
Then she said something. Everyone leaned forward to catch it.
“Bed…I want bed,” she managed to voice in Urdu after several attempts. There was a sigh of relief.
There was some discussion between my family about whether it was safe to bring her to the bed. No one was sure how she had fallen and whether she had broken any of her bones. My heartbeat had slowed down a little. I was able to breathe. I realized that I had been holding my breath.
My dad and brother grabbed hold of my grandmother’s arms, helping her to stand. She fumbled, but took about three steps and then she collapsed into their arms.
She had lost all tone in her limbs. Her eyes were open but it was as if she could no longer see. She did not look like she was breathing and her lips turned blue. They lowered her to the ground and everyone began to panic, calling her name and rubbing her hands to bring her back. My heart was racing, time was blurred, I could not see anything but her blue lips, her wide empty eyes and my ears seemed to only hear that abrupt latching-type sound when she had stopped breathing.
A fear consumed me. I was scared of not ever having the chance to talk to her again. In that moment of frenzy, I could feel regret filling my heart. I wished that I had spent an extra five minutes with her before she went to sleep a few hours ago. I wondered if I’d ever get to see her standing at her bedroom window as she watched me leave for school every morning. My mind was racing, I was trying to envision the last time we had had a conversation and what we talked about. That would be my last time. I was feeling a void, imagining her room empty and what life would be like without her.
I was brought back to the present when someone shouted my name:
“Fayeza, call 911!” I don’t recall who was giving the order. I rushed to the phone beside her bed and dialed the number with my trembling fingers, but when the operator answered no words could come out of my mouth. I was too scared to speak. My sister, who was then a medical student, took the phone from me and gave the details needed to be transferred to the paramedic dispatcher.
Everything was a blur and I do not remember how much time went by before my grandmother’s breathing restarted. I was told it had been about one minute and I later wondered how my brain was able to think of so much in such a short amount of time. Her breathing was deep and laboured, as if I could hear every breath go in and out of her lungs. The blueness of her lips began to disappear and her eyes started moving. She was back.
We later found out it was not death, but something the doctors call a vaso-vagal reaction. For me, it did not matter what it was. It had been a surreal experience that changed my view on how I value the people in my life. Not just Daddi Ammi, but everyone else as well.
I will never forget the blue lips and how they changed the way I wave her goodbye before school every morning.