Exactly 2 and a half years ago, I was sitting in a small ICU room gripping my parents’ hands trying to make sure my sobs weren’t too loud. My sister’s brain was swelling at an alarming rate and any extra stimulation (i.e. noise or light) might have killed her. No words can describe the fear I had on May 13, 2012. I can without a doubt say that 2 and a half years ago from this moment was the worst day of my life.
Today, I woke up and helped my mom get Sherrin ready for therapy at Mount Vernon Hospital in Alexandria. I put on her arm braces, brushed her hair, told her how freaking sexy she looked, and buckled her into the wheelchair van. If you told me on May 13, 2012 that in exactly 2 and a half years from now that my sister would still be alive and that she would be able to talk to me and give me hugs, I probably would have fainted.
I recently have been back at Inova Fairfax Hospital (the first hospital that Sherrin went to) this past week because of my grandpa. He has been battling cancer for a couple of years now and has been recently having a lot of difficulty. I went to visit him Monday afternoon and was told he was in the ICU. If you have ever been to Inova Fairfax Hospital, you know that place is so confusing. There are 8 buildings attached to one another and different elevators take you to different floors and it takes about 5 minutes to get completely lost.
However, for me, my muscle memory kicked in and I knew exactly where to go to get to the ICU. Go in through the women’s center, take a right under the escalators, left, second right, go all the way down and it’s on your left. This was the same place that I was told that my sister was probably going to die. I looked at this one particular corner in between the old waiting room and the emergency doors where I had my first panic attack. I remember it was right after the doctors said that Sherrin might have had a stroke in her brain stem, and if that were the case, she would have been brain dead, and if she were brain dead, she would not come back to life. I remember sitting in that corner calling my closest friends and screaming with fear. I remember sitting in the fetal position on the floor and dry heaving until a random man said that whatever it was, “It was going to be okay.” I normally don’t get all mushy gushy over sentimental locations like this, but just looking at that corner overwhelmed me. The only way I can describe it was like watching a movie of myself.
But, enough with the emotions. I don’t know if you can tell by keeping up with this blog over the past couple of years, but I have hardened a lot with my feelings. I guess this is what they mean by ‘staying strong.’ FYI, people don’t mention that when you go through a traumatic situation you tend to be more selective of what you put your feelings in. It’s weird.
Sherrin is doing phenomenal. Her biggest progress within the past 2 months has been predominantly her mental capabilities. She remembers tiny details of something I mentioned in the morning, she remembers what day it is, and she asks more complex questions. Sherrin’s mind is progressing faster than her vocal chords, which is why it’s so difficult to understand her sometimes. Cue a beautiful piece of technology called an iPad. Sherrin types paragraphs of her questions and sometimes (most of the time) they are so unbelievably funny. She types her demands, which normally sound like, ‘I want my hair up,’ ‘put make up on me,’ ‘pluck my eyebrows, or ‘I want to wear cuter clothes.’ Her being aware of what she looks like is a big step. She can recognize that she didn’t always look this way. If you knew Sherrin pre accident, you know that she had killer eyebrows and always had her eye make up to perfection. Now, she wears mostly gym clothes and one streak of eyeliner (it’s so hard to put it on her and then put make up remover on her later, that’s why we don’t do it all of the time) and she hates it! When she’s really cranky I tell her to put it on herself, and she tries!
She’s been trying to jump out of her wheelchair a lot recently, which is good but terrifying. She figured out how to unbuckle herself and uses her legs to pull herself out of the chair. We’ve had to put the buckle to the way side of her lap so she can’t reach it. If we keep her unbuckled and walk away for a minute, she could seriously injure herself, the unfortunate reason why we have to torture her like this. I tell her that she will only be unbuckled if she’s able to get up and walk by herself. She gives me this devil stare but then I make her laugh and everything goes back to normal, except for the fact this happens every 20 minutes.
We have completely stopped using the sling to get Sher in and out of her bed and chair. I have got to say, my arm and back muscles are stronger than ever lifting her 115 lb, 5’0 dead weight body when I’m about the same size myself. Since I know I can spot her completely on my own, I let her try to stand up without my help. I put my arms around her (it looks like I’m hugging her), dangle her feet over the side of the bed or chair, and tell her to stand up. I can feel her leg muscles pushing to stand herself up. She can manage this for a few seconds and then I do the rest.
I want to give a huge thank you to those that have been present during this entire experience. Over the past 2 and a half years, my family has lost not only so much of our sanity, but friendships and family members who don’t reach out any more. Hardly any of Sherrin’s friends still keep in contact with me and I personally have lost some of my best friends because they don’t know how to deal with this (news flash: neither do I). But for those that have chosen to remain relevant, I owe you everything. You are the ones that make this journey easier, you’re the ones that give Sherrin something to look forward to, and there is no other way to express my gratitude.