Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I cried in class today.

I received word late Monday night that my Grandmother, with whom I am very close, had been airlifted to the regional medical center with a ruptured abdominal aorta. She underwent emergency surgery where they patched her aorta back up. The family was relieved to hear that she was stable and on pain meds by yesterday morning. This morning (Wed), the nurse informed me that she had not made any urine in the last 24 hours. I know enough to know that is very serious. They may have "killed" her kidneys when they had the aorta clamped off. It was looking like renal failure was a possibility.

I have three classes today. The morning class, I was OK for. I did not share with the class the status of my Grandmother, thinking it was TMI. The afternoon class I was grading group presentations (with my co-teacher) when a call from my uncle came in on the babyphone. I left the room and took it. He was asking if Grandma and I had ever had a talk about end-of-life issues, because a decision needed to be made ASAP as to whether to put Grammaw on dialysis. She was heavily sedated with pain meds and in and out of alertness.

She's 85 and has had a long life. She was a nurse, and pretty savvy to end of life issues. I told my Uncle to ask the renal specialist if we could get her awake and alert enough with a short bout of dialysis to make her own end of life decisions, (and allow me to get there to say goodbye). So then I went back to class while my Uncle waited to talk to the renal specialist. I apologized to the students for missing part of their presentation, and explained, because I felt in necessary to make clear that it was absolutely necessary that I walk out in the middle of their presentation.

My last class on Wednesdays is seminar style with 3 students. I informed them at the beginning of class that I had an urgent family situation that may affect my availability and their final. Then during class my Uncle called. I left and headed to the lobby, asking them to present the figures to each other in my absence. My uncle then informed me that there wasn't much hope of her getting better and that if I wanted to say goodbye I needed to book a flight right away.

I cried in the lobby and tried to pull myself together. I went to the bathroom and splashed my face, and went back in to lead them through the last figures. As class was ending I said, "I have to go to Homestate. I will be available by e-mail." But I couldn't make it through. No sobs, but clearly choked up, red faced, with tears. I apologized, and slipped out and down the hall.

I feel like that was really unprofessional. I would have rather not it happened. I've never had a professor "lose it" in one of my classes, and I would probably be really wigged out. On the other hand, students cry in my office all the time, and it doesn't faze me. I empathize with them (mostly). It just doesn't bother me one way or the other.

I'm a bit if a softie anyway, something I hate, but my husband says he loves. I hope, hope that maybe it made me more human to my students in a good way. Can any good come of this?

Off topic, but man, a trip right before finals is soooo ill-timed. Maybe that's a post for next time....


  1. I am so sorry about your grandmother. Good thoughts with her and everyone who cares about her. Don't worry about your students, or about "looking unprofessional". Professionals are allowed to be human, have emotions, and care about people too. These things happen. They will understand.

  2. I'm so sorry! AA is right. Don't worry about this being "unprofessional"-because it's not.

  3. I'm sorry to hear about your grandmother and I agree with AA's comments. Go be with your family. Your colleagues and students will understand.

  4. I'm sorry about your grandmother. This is one of the things that sucks about mid-life...

    As to the other, don't worry about it at all. AA and BB are exactly right. It's not unprofessional and the students understand.

  5. Thank you all. You have all comforted me. :)
    I am leaving at 2:30 this morning, and I may be out of range of the Interwebz for a while...

  6. I am so sorry about your grandmother :(

    And I agree with everyone else - you are allowed to be human, and your students will understand.

  7. There's nothing wrong with reacting to a personal situation in front of students. They should be mature enough to realize that you have a life outside of the classroom.

    Life doesn't wait for our schedules. Be with your family and don't worry about what is going on at school.

  8. No way is it unprofessional - and it sounds like you did a wonderful job of telling then what they needed to know and why it was necessary.

    My first husband died (at age 30) from a aneurysm of the aorta. When I returned to my office after leaving the hospital to pick up my laptop, I checked my email and went to send a message out to my students that I would be unavailable. I found a heated message from a student with whom I'd missed an early morning appointment. She was apologetic when she found out why, but it was good for me to tell them why I would be out of class and not available to them for the next days. And they did see me cry.

    My thoughts are with you. I hope travels are smooth, and that family is a comfort.

  9. I'm so sorry to hear about your Grandma, too, and like everyone said, don't worry: your students will definitely appreciate your personal needs here and will have all the sympathy in the world for you.

  10. I'm sorry to hear about your grandmother. I'm sure your students understood.

  11. My condolences. I hope it's comforting to be together with family and that you can all share some wonderful memories of your grandmother.

  12. I'm sorry about your grandmother. I hope you can make the trip and don't worry about mundane things like students thinking silly thoughts. They know for sure that life is precious and somethings throw you into unplanned things.

    As you said, they have things happen to them to, and we are all human.

    Take care!!

    (btw, there is a huge difference with "choking up and having trouble talking" and "behaving like a crazy person sobbing uncontrollably the whole class etc"... the latter is a bit aqkward..)

  13. Thank you all so much.

    Grandma passed this morning as I was holding her hand. I was the only one there, and it was sooo important to me to be with her. I feel very good about the decision I made to drop everything and leave.

  14. I'm so sorry about your grandmother. Sending good thoughts your way...

    One of the professors I work with choked up once while discussing the recent death of a colleague. It only made me think more highly of her. She is an extremely successful researcher and a MacArthur fellow. It was encouraging to see that she could be so successful and still be a caring individual with real emotions. I suspect your students feel the same way.