Friday, January 25, 2013

January Thanksgiving

** I was going to ask my sister if she minded if I wrote this post, but seeing as she posted the pictures that follow on Facebook, I’m thinking she’d be OK with it. If this post disappears...well, this introduction won’t even be here to read, so it won’t matter. Warning: the pictures are a little (OK, a lot) graphic. If you’re squeamish, please don’t scroll down. **

A little over three years ago, my sister started complaining of headaches. They got so bad that she couldn’t sleep, and we watched as the circles under her eyes got bigger and darker. She threw up a lot. Sometimes she came close to passing out, but she doggedly continued to ride and attempted to go to school, until my mom finally made a doctor’s appointment. She thought it had something to do with Zoe’s wisdom teeth.

I still remember saying to her, “Well, at least you don’t have a brain tumor or something.”

The MRI came back later that day. My sister was admitted to the ICU that evening. And early the next morning, her neurosurgeon inserted a stent in her brain to relieve pressure caused by the spinal fluid building up there, blocked by the tumor no one could have imagined possible.

My dad called me that first night to tell me the news. I sat shaking in the hallway of my dorm, my roommate happily working away in our room, and whispered, “What does that mean?”

As in, is she dying?

In the following days I came to know the ICU as a third home. There was home, there was my dorm, and there was Zoe’s room. I did my homework in there. We played countless games of Trivial Pursuit and Skip-Bo, always trying to let Zoe win because it seemed wrong to beat the girl with the tube coming out of her head.

Zoe’s attitude was amazing. She made jokes about it. She told me once that a nurse came in as she was studying for finals and asked if she needed anything. “I almost said, ‘A brain,’” Zoe said, but she decided that might be in poor taste. Nevertheless, we had a laugh.

Finally, a week later, on January 25, 2010--three years ago today, Zoe went into surgery. I waited on pins and needles all day. It wasn’t until the middle of my riding lesson, as I was walking Sydney without even feeling the bone-numbing cold, that my dad called my riding coach. “It’s out,” he said when he hung up, and that’s all I heard, because then I started crying.

During surgery
A week later, she was home. She only missed three weeks of school, and was riding again not long after that. No one could believe how fast she bounced back. It was some freakishly inhuman feat, and I mean that in the best possible way. My sister is amazing. I can’t imagine facing death, going into the operating room knowing that you might not come out the other side, but also that if you don’t go ahead you’ll die. She made the best of a really terrible situation (and that’s an understatement). I think we all have something to learn from her.

The scar
I am so grateful to everyone who helped my family through those long weeks--the hospital staff, everyone who visited, comforted, pitched in, and sent gifts. We were eating Edible Arrangements and cakes and cookies for weeks after Zoe came back home. It was touching how much everyone pulled together to help us come through.

I am not religious, but when I think about everything that could have happened--that if she hadn’t been diagnosed, Zoe could have just gone to sleep one day and never woken up, that there might not have been such an amazing surgeon right here in State College, that the surgery could have gone wrong...I can’t help but think there was someone watching over our family. Again, thank you to everyone who helped. These words aren’t enough.
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