The surgery took longer than expected and it took me a while to wake up. The doctors told my parents not to expect me to remember them once I did, due the effects of the anesthesia. My parents later told me that I opened my eyes and said, “Hi Mommy, Hi Daddy, I love you.”
I was placed in the ICU and the doctors prepared my parents for a long stay at the hospital. It was said that I would be there for at least 3 months. I wasn’t looking forward to that.
My Mom stayed with me every single day and night. She slept on two fold-out chairs because she was afraid she would pull out one of the tubes from my head or one of the needles from my arms if she slept in the bed with me. I use the term “sleep” loosely because let’s be honest, how could she get any rest on those chairs while worrying about her daughter. Sometimes, when I would close my eyes to try and sleep, she would gently place the back of her hand up to my face to make sure I was still breathing. I would order food mainly for her because otherwise she wouldn’t eat. My Dad would come visit me after work, stay until visiting hours were over, then drive home to sleep for a few hours, to then get up and head into work early just to get off early and go see me again. What my parents sacrificed is something I will never be able to repay them.
On one of the days, my dad had a Hershey kiss in his shirt pocket. When he took it out to eat it, I looked at it and said I wished I could eat one. He gave it to me (against my mother’s wishes) and with a smile, I made a comment about eating more. I hadn’t been able to eat just anything and when they did give me “non-hospital” food, it was in tiny portions. The next day, my Dad walked in with the biggest bag filled with those same exact Hershey kisses. They weren’t your regular kisses but the ones with the white chocolate stripes on them. I was so excited! You see, my Dad is smart, he’s a saver. Growing up, he didn’t buy us things we didn’t need unless it was our birthday or Christmas. Luckily, we were spoiled with love more than material items. So this bag of Hershey kisses meant a lot to me.
My parents would show me pictures of our house and our pets. I didn’t remember either. It was like Christmas for me, I had a cat and a dog! These pictures were taped on the side rail of my bed and I would stare at them as if hoping to remember. It felt odd not knowing my own home. I was feeling a little lost and definitely out of place.
Visitors were allowed in small doses and for short periods at a time. When my Aunt and 3 cousins went to visit me, one of them took me an apple in a little basket and told me it was to keep the doctors away. My sister came to visit and I remember having to cover the tubes coming out of my head with a towel because she would get queasy with those types of things. So I would lay on my side with this towel over my head and stay still so that nothing would show. She had brought grapes and started feeding them to me. I don’t remember what we talked about or if we talked at all. It was just nice to have my family there with me. I also have a cousin who, at the time, lived in the city. She visited me every day. She would play games with me, keep me company, wheel me around in the wheelchair (once that was allowed). My mom was afraid we would get in trouble because she would push me quickly down the hallway but she didn’t care. I truly believe she just wanted to make me laugh. She relieved my Mom so that she could go take a shower, nap or get something to eat. Of course my mom would shower as quickly as possible and come back to our area but I know she appreciated that someone in the family was with me during that time.
The nurses were truly fantastic. They would quietly come into my curtained off section to check up on me and bring me little snacks at 2 or 3 in the morning. I remember there was one specific nurse that brought me a few Cheetos in a dixie cup and would tell me what channel the good movies were on. I wasn’t in the clear yet, they still had me in the ICU and it was extremely hard to sleep. Looking back, I was very uncomfortable. I was out of my element and in a lot of pain. The doctors came in (what seemed like) every hour, they drew blood from me on a daily basis, there were children who would cry throughout the night… As much as they tried to make me feel comfortable, I just felt out of place. Everything had happened so quickly.
By the third day, I was already getting sick of all the doctors coming in with the residents to poke me and explain my story. You see, the girl that had passed with the same brain tumor as mine, was the daughter of a government official. So my story was followed and shared. They would come in the morning and then throughout the day. Even if I could fall asleep, they would wake me up constantly to check everything. Headaches were very much there, I couldn’t move because of the tubes, wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t eating and I couldn’t feel anything on my left side. The doctor later told me that a nerve had been damaged during the operation, leaving me with no feeling on that side.
They agreed to let me get up and walk but after about 5 steps, I thought I was going to throw up, I was exhausted. We turned around and they put me back in bed. An hour later, I was ready to get up and try again! This time, making it farther than before. The hardest part was not feeling the floor under my left foot. It felt odd because I had no strength and it was almost as if I had forgotten how to walk. On one of the days, they came to remove the tubes from my head. To this day, I remember the pulling, awkward sensation I felt as they did it.
Thinking about this part of my life now, gives me a rush of emotions. The love I felt and support I received from my parents is something that I can’t imagine having gone without. I was so young and fearless as we tend to be at that age, I knew no better. The little stories I don’t go into here, such as my mom holding my hand as the nurses washed my stitched up, hairless scalp; the tears I shed while looking at the pictures on the side rail; the way it effects you to hear someone right next to you crying all night… these are things that, to this day, are hard for me to relive. It’s said that once you can tell a story and not cry, you have overcome it. Well, I guess I’m still working on this one…
On the 6th day, they finally moved me out of the ICU and into a regular room. I was so happy that my Mom would get an actual pullout bed! I can only imagine how hard all of those nights were for her. Two cold, very hard fold-out chairs. Barely any room and to top it off, worrying about her baby girl falling asleep and not waking up. She’s never told me that was a fear but the back of the hand over my nose and mouth to feel for breathing pretty much gave it away. That room meant I was better though and that’s all that mattered.
The doctors had prepared my parents for a long stay there, but on the 7th day, I was discharged. The doctors asked me if I was ready to go home, did anything hurt? Did I have any concerns? Nope! I was more than ready. I was leaving and much earlier than anyone had anticipated because I had pushed myself and was going to continue to do so until things went back to normal, or at least I thought.
Now, I don’t remember being wheeled out, getting into the car or the ride home. Looking back, I had no idea the challenges that lied ahead. I do however, remember pulling into the driveway of a house I barely recognized, but knowing that I was home.