I arrived in Lubbock on the 28th of April at just after 6pm. Jeff, Laura and I walked through the hospital towards the ICU and happened to see my parents and grandparents at the opposite end of the corridor. All four of them looked like they had been in a relentless boxing match for days – and were losing BADLY. They were slumped over, walking almost aimlessly and their clothes hung off of them – almost as if even their clothes were exhausted. My mom looked up and saw us walking towards them, and froze. She immediately lost her composure and basically ran to hug us. When it was my turn, she hugged me so tight that I thought her nails might draw blood of they dug in any further.
I knew that I had made the right decision in going. Even if we were going to be there for several more days, weeks, months or years (and none of us really knew what the future held at that point) ... I knew that going to Lubbock was the best decision for me.
Because it was 6pm, ICU visiting hours were over until 8pm for the nurse’s shift change. So after days of waiting, worrying and wondering, and 6 hours of travelling, I would have to wait 2 more hours to finally see my sister. We went to eat barbeque at a place in town, and once again you could tell that everyone was trying to talk about ANYTHING except the giant elephant sitting in the seat next to me, the giant rain cloud hanging over us. I remember being antsy all the way through dinner and just ready to get back and see her. I wasn’t expecting to see her looking awake, responsive, happy … her laughing and joking self. But I guess part of me just wanted to see the sister that I grew up with – the relaxed, calm girl who wasn’t afraid or too proud to ask for help. I could finally sit down and talk to her and say everything I felt weighing on me, everything I needed to say while she still had a pulse. At least that way, I could justify to myself that on some level of consciousness, she heard me.
FINALLY it was 8pm and we headed back to the hospital. I told everyone that the first time I went in, I wanted to go alone. I wanted the freedom to respond or react however I felt like it. I didn’t want to be judged for not crying, and I didn’t want “sympathy” if I fell apart. I just wanted to be real. For over 24 hours, I had been having to “tow the company line”: tell friends and family we’re doing ok, and ask/thank them for their prayers, and that we know God is in control. I guess I just wanted a moment to be able to feel – out loud, in public- EXACTLY how I felt. So we got back and my parents went in first to check on her, then my grandma, and then they came and told me that I could go in.
Immediately, I felt nauseous. Coming face-to-face, literally, with a reality you’ve been fearing and dreading for so many years was enough to almost knock me off my feet. During this whole experience, I had several “this is it” moments. Several times where I had to buckle down and brace myself for whatever the new “worst” was. Up until this point, this was the worst. I walked into that room counting my breaths to make sure they didn’t stop, or get hung up somewhere in my chest. I finally looked up from the floor to see my big sister, my Holly, laying in the hospital bed, dependent on life support. She was intubated, had oxygen in her nose, monitor leads stuck all over her, and IV’s coming out of everywhere. I’ve never in my life seen something like that – so many tubes and wires that were ALL vital to keeping her alive. I started to cry, but was interrupted immediately by an alarm on one of the monitors. It scared me the first time I heard it; I thought she somehow knew I was there and it caused a reaction. Over the course of the next few days, those alarms and the sound of the breathing machine were pretty much all we heard.
I had one of the eeriest feelings of my life that night. Every time I would go in (by myself or with others) to try to talk to her, hold her hand, etc… I couldn’t do it. I had this overwhelming feeling like “She’s not in there anymore.” That thought did everything from scare me, to devastate me to wig me out a little bit. How am I supposed to talk about her? Present tense or past? How am I supposed to say the things I need to say to her? How will we ever know how much she heard? It even made me mad, admittedly, when I would see my mom and grandma holding her hand, and stroking her hair, and talking to her. Not mad at them, but at myself. How could they do it, and I couldn’t? Because they loved her more? Because they wanted her to make it and I didn’t? I left the hospital that night when visiting hours ended feeling so inferior and guilty. How could I have “given up” on her so quickly? It seemed to me like all it took was one glance at her, and my brain told me, “She’s gone.” But she’s my SISTER! You don’t give up on family .. ever! You fight with them until they can’t anymore, and then you fight for them!
Needless to say, I barely slept at all that night. Friday and Saturday were pretty much a blur of waiting, doctors, crying, sitting, waiting, nurses, cafeteria food, silence, and more waiting. We kept getting different reports from different nurses and doctors. Some would say “things REALLY don’t look good, she’s exhibiting signs of severe damage” and others would look at us like we had 9 heads and say “It’s WAY too early to determine any sort of prognosis. We’re still in the testing stage.” By Saturday at lunch we were thoroughly confused, frustrated, exhausted, beat down and basically without hope of every going back to “normal” – whatever that was.
I decided I needed to go home and re-pack, relieve the dog sitter for a night, go see my friends and have some normalcy, and just not be there for 24 hours or so. I needed a break; I guess is the best way to say it. Again, I felt an enormous amount of guilt. My parents and grandparents had been there non-stop since the day before me with NO plans of leaving. They wouldn’t dream of it. Did they need one? Sure. Would it have done them a world of good? Absolutely. But my mom wasn’t leaving my sister’s side, and my dad wasn’t leaving my sister or my mom’s side. Eventually the mental wear-and-tear beat out the guilt. I booked a plane ticket home Saturday evening, and I would fly back at 6am Monday morning, to be there in time for the doctors’ morning rounds.
Before I left Saturday afternoon, I had my first talk with Holly. I had no idea what I would be coming back to, if anything at all, so I felt like I needed to say it before I left. I told her that I loved her, no matter what and always have. Through all the pain and heartache and anger and scare, that never changed. I never stopped loving her. I told her that I forgave her. (To be honest, there were parts of me that were still working on that and I wasn’t 100% there, but that didn’t matter. In my opinion, I needed to know that she heard me say “I forgive you.”) I told her not to worry about me and Sam – we were going to be ok. I can be a good big sister to him, and take care of him like she did for us so much growing up. I told her that I would stay close to mom and dad, and grandma and granddad and help them through this grieving process, because I know she wouldn’t want to cause them an ounce of pain intentionally. I told her I would help them get through it. By the time I got through it, I was talking to fast that it was almost like “if I just say enough words, if I say it fast enough and say all the things I know she needs to hear, maybe she’ll come back.” But I finished talking, wiped my eyes, kissed my fingers and put them to her forehead, and walked out of her room.
I’ve never been so scared in all my life. What if something happened while I was gone? This could be the last time I see my sister and I’m CHOOSING to walk out of this room, leave this town and go home just so I can have a “break.”
What I am about to say, I am not proud of. But from what I hear, it is pretty normal. I didn’t pray. I couldn’t. Not when I first got the call, not when I was waiting anxiously by the phone for updates, not during those first few days in the hospital, not at all. I was begging other people for their prayers, but I couldn’t even pray myself. I don’t know what it was, or why not. I just felt SO far away from God, or maybe like He was SO far away from me. But sitting in the Lubbock airport waiting to get on that plane, I prayed my guts out for God to PLEASE just let me make it back here before she goes. At this point, it was pretty much a certainty that she would never have a quality of life again, and her vitals were SO unstable all the time that it was difficult to say that even life support could keep her alive for too long. So I prayed and prayed and prayed, almost all the way home. Just the same words over and over, nothing eloquent or awe-inspiring. All I could muster up was “God please.”
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