This is important.
My sister texts me this while I’m at work but it takes me ten minutes to see it. When I check I notice that she’s said the same thing in a Facebook message with no more clarification.
I don’t know what’s important. All I can see in the Facebook message is an article from a few weeks back about some creep near my old university breaking into women’s houses. So I ask if it’s about the article, and she tells me she’s going to the hospital. She was having shortness of breath, she coughed up bloody phlegm, and one of our best friends was driving her. Her boyfriend was going to meet her down their so she wasn’t alone.
I don’t know how normal people react to a family member being in a hospital. There would be panic of course, worry, fear. It’s all expected, and maybe I’m overthinking it and really we’re all thinking and feeling the same things, but when I find out my sister is going to emergency I do two things simultaneously: panic and keep calm. The two things oppose one another, but after years of IVs, emergency rooms, and that smell of antiseptic and sickness from my sister’s illness and my mother’s cancer, my family is no stranger to hospitals. I’ve learned how to make a box for panic in my body and to let the calm, or what looks like calm, take over and ask the right questions and get what needs to be done done.
My sister has an autoimmune disease, Wegener’s Granulomatosis, though it has a different name now because Wegener was a Nazi. It started with joint pain that was initially dismissed as growing pains, only they were so bad my sister almost couldn’t walk. And then she started losing her hearing, and then she started coughing up blood, or maybe I have the order wrong. I can’t remember what happened first and last, only what happened and the end result. So she was diagnosed, and after a few years of adjustment and flare ups we found a new normal and my sister has been in remission for ten years. We had a little scare in May for a flare up, but her doctors didn’t have enough evidence to prove that it was so we’re still sticking with ten.
I can’t really go into what it was like for me except that it was hell, that it is absolutely horrible And maybe it’s worse as a twin, because when people learn about her illness they ask if I have it, and when they find out I don’t they sometimes ask if she must be jealous because of that.
But this isn’t about that.
This is about Sunday and how I was at work when I found out my sister was alone in the house with shortness of breath
And all I wanted to do was scream. I don’t know if there was any emotion attached to it, a psychologist would have to tell you that. But I just wanted to scream because my chest was tight and I felt like crying but I couldn’t show it and maybe screaming would help, it felt like it might. Which of course you can’t do in a restaurant, even if it is just you and your co-worker for a majority of the day. And to be honest I didn’t work as hard as I should have when I found out about my sister and the hospital. Maybe that’s shock, maybe its laziness. But I was glued to my phone and texting my sister, my friend, her boyfriend for any information I could get. Not an excuse of course, but it’s what I did.
That was at one o’clock, and my shift ended at three-thirty, so I just sort of wandered and tried to process what was happening, counting down the clock to when I could go to the hospital. I tried calling my dad but he was out. My sister didn’t have a chance to write a note telling him where she was. She said she almost called an ambulance, same with her boyfriend, because she couldn’t breathe.
She was alone in the house and she couldn’t breathe.
And I wasn’t there to help her.
That’s what I focus on for the rest of my shift. That she was alone, that I wasn’t there, and that she could have died. Which is maybe my mind spiraling, because while I’m waiting for three-thirty I can feel my mind slipping and imagining all kinds of nightmares. She was alone and I wasn’t there she was alone and I wasn’t there she was alone and I wasn’t there and she could have died.
Which again sounds dramatic, but my sister’s illness is serious and unpredictable. She’s been lucky to have been in ten years remission, and we hope for a hundred years more, but I remember when my sister was sick and we didn’t know what was wrong with her. I remember my nightmares. I remember her diagnosis and the truth that if we had waited, if we had ignored her symptoms that this disease would have killed her. I’ve already lived that fear and I don’t want to again.
But that’s where my mind spirals, but there’s a new thought too that is comforting. My sister couldn’t breath and she was alone, but our best friend dropped everything she was doing and came to our house to drive her to the hospital. Her boyfriend was willing to call an ambulance for her, met her at the hospital and spent a good portion of his day with her. They did it because they love her, and I can’t even describe how that makes me feel. Comfort for sure, so unbelievably lucky, and with so much love it feels like it’s radiating off of me, because these people love her just as much as I do.
And finally it’s three-thirty so I rush to my car, calling my dad while I’m walking to keep him updated. I get in the house and three minutes pass of more updates when we’re in the car and heading to the hospital. We get there fast and find my sister and her boyfriend easy. She keeps us updated on what happened while we were gone, which wasn’t much. She put her bloody phlegm in a sample jar which was smart, something learned from too many visits to the E.R., and she got a chest x-ray that she was still waiting to hear back from. So we do what most people do in waiting rooms: wait.
We’re across from one of the t.v.’s and I start thinking about my earrings. They’re new, silver skulls with heart shaped eye sockets; you can see the skin of my earlobes through the sockets. And Cash Cab is on and the woman across from me is wincing in pain as she bends into herself as she sits and all I can think about is how I shouldn’t have worn these earrings to a hospital. Skulls, skeletons, death, or tempting it.
Because how could I have known we were going to a hospital and skull earrings would be inappropriate? And of course, who was looking at my ears anyways? I was still in my work uniform, and I still smelled like onions. That was more to talk about then the skulls in my ears. But it’s that that my mind turns to, anxious superstitions, one thought spiraling into something ridiculous.
My sister’s boyfriend leaves a little while after because of homework and we thank him for coming, and obviously because he left my sister is moved to the next waiting area not five minutes later. Sometimes leaving is the only way to speed things up. After that things move faster: my sister sees a resident, they listen to her lungs and look at her throat. And like many things with her illness, they don’t entirely know what’s wrong. Most obvious case is that it’s a viral infection; the other is that it’s a flare up. The best thing to do is to up her prednisone for a week, get an appointment, and see what’s going on. Which is a bit annoying because we don’t know what’s wrong, but we have a plan, and we know what we’re going to do.
My dad and I are thrilled about the prednisone, and to a lesser extent my sister is and I understand why. It’s a steroid, and it’s a good and powerful drug that has kept my sister in remission for ten years. But it makes you hungry. That’s an understatement of course; according to my sister it’s more like becoming ravenous, insatiable, like no matter how much food you eat you know you’ll be starving afterwards. My sister kept a food journal when she was first sick, when she was first on prednisone. It was an attempt to control herself while the medicine worked.
And on top of the appetite prednisone also makes you gain weight, which would also happen from the appetite which doesn’t help. And she doesn’t want to gain weight or go through all that again and I understand her, even if it’s only a week of upped meds I understand. Or I empathize I guess. I’ve never been on the medication, but I’ve seen her, and I know how hard it is for her. But I’m just happy we have some sort of solution.
And now I want to cry.
Not because I’m sad, or for any particular emotion really (thought you’d have to ask a psychologist to be sure of that) but because now that we’re home and now that we have a solution and now that we have no reason to panic I don’t know what to do with all I’ve kept inside. It’s buzzing around, it wants out in a scream or in tears but I can’t let either happen.
So I sit and I write, hoping that I can put all that is buzzing on this screen, to ease that panic in my throat, in my eyes, and stop focusing on what has happened today and focus on tomorrow.
And maybe it will work.
(Image of spiral found here.)