My sister(-in-law) Tiffani is always there with her camera, always wanting to document moments and capture memories, but Mom put her foot down when I was in the hospital…especially when I was in the coma. She felt the need to protect me in every way when I was at my most vulnerable, and she didn’t want pictures taken of me when I was in that state. I have never disagreed with my mother’s decision, and I always admire and aspire to her diehard devotion to her children…but there is a part of me that hopes Tiff snuck in and snapped a picture when no one was looking. I’ve heard how terrifying I looked when I was in the coma: head shaved and wrapped from the brain surgery, so swollen that my eyes were popping out from behind my eyelids. For those who had only ever known me to have long blond hair, the lack of any at all was enough of a shock. Add to that my freezing body, laying underneath a cooling blanket, hooked up to a ventilator that was breathing for me and all sorts of other beeping machines. IVs and central lines were coming from my groin, chest, and who knows where else…oh! And the catheter I would eventually pull out whilst in my twilight state. There was also the intracranial pressure monitor coming out of the top of my head, which Mom says looked like a light socket sticking out. It would be that monitor which would alert them when my ICP (intracranial pressure) spiked into the sixties – something the doctors told my family people don’t survive. Considering what I’ve read says that normal ICP can range from 0-15 (depending on the source I read), and they all agree that anything above 20 is considered abnormal and needs to be treated, I see why this was just another instance that gave the doctors little hope of me ever awakening, much less coming out the same as I went in. It was already such a terrifying time for my loved ones, and looking down on my seemingly lifeless body only made it more so. There is a morbid curiosity in me that wants to see what I looked like, even if it does make me lose it. However, all I have are the somber recollections of the ones who love me, who hated that dark time and shudder at the memories.
While I’m curious about how I looked in the most critical of times, I remember how much I hated the way I looked when these pictures were first taken. I thought I looked like a boy, and hated looking in the mirror, as the sight of that big scar running through my buzzed hair would often reduce me to tears. No amount of my Daddy assuring me that I was “the girliest looking boy” he’d ever seen could make me feel better. Hearing his business partner had looked at the pictures and asked “WHY does this girl think she’s ugly?” didn’t make the empty-feeling pain go away. I gave those follicles way too much bearing over my self-worth: something about my experience which I hope can help other women going through similar struggles.
Now when I look at these pictures, I may still think I look like a boy (which my husband thinks is crazy), but I see something I didn’t see before. I see a girl who was so much stronger than she thought. She had so much more still to go through, so many hurdles still to tackle…not knowing she was going to come through them all even stronger than before.
I see me getting to sit with the woman I idolized one last time, both in our wheelchairs, watching the traffic on the highway. She epitomized the strength I wanted to emulate, and she was everything I wanted to be…she always was. When I was little I actually wished I had a limp and crooked walk like my Grandma, because I thought it would make me tougher…well, I guess I wished too hard, as my walk is all sorts of funky now, but I was right about it making me tougher. When I left after Thanksgiving was over, I threw my one good arm around Grandma’s tiny shoulders and broke down…I knew this was the last time. She said “I love you Baby,” and all I could do was sob. I tried to tell her I loved her through the heaving wails of someone with emotional lability, I just pray she heard me. I wanted to be able to tell her she meant the world to me, was everything I wanted to be, and would live on as long as I was alive, but I could only cry. I cried off and on most of the way back to Houston.
A few weeks later we would get the call that Grandma was on her way out. Dad and Mike rushed up to Dallas, as Mike hadn’t made it there for Thanksgiving. It was almost like she waited for them so she could see her son and grandson one last time…she passed not long after they left.
Her death and funeral was one of the hardest things I’ve ever dealt with, and I know the same can be said for much of my family. When I knew I would no longer be able to take the walk with her that I’d promised her in the hospital, I determined I would walk for her at her funeral. I talked to my physical therapist and asked if she thought I could walk if we strapped enough gizmos to me. It turned out all I would need was a wide four-footed cane and a safety belt with a strap that wrapped around my left toe, to help lift my foot off the ground.
On the day of the funeral, after visiting with family and friends in the front of the chapel, Dad wheeled me to the start of the aisle. He put the brakes on my wheelchair so I could stand up, and Mom kept a hand on the safety belt. As I slowly began to take my first steps out of the hospital, Dad followed behind in the wheelchair. He wanted me to know it would be okay if I had to sit down, but I have too much of my Grandma in me: I was DOING THIS. About halfway down my toe caught on the carpet and my cousin Jimmy jumped up to grab me, but Dad said “It’s ok, Jim.”
I made it the rest of the way down the aisle, and when I got to the end that whole place erupted in applause. I looked around and I was getting a standing ovation, probably the only one I’ll ever get! Everyone there knew all we had gone through, and as I broke into tears of appreciation I looked to my right to see my Aunt Judy, her daughters Debbie and Kathy, and all my girl cousins lined up, all beaming with pride. I looked at my cousin Jami and said “How could y’all make me cry? It’s the first time I’ve worn mascara since I got hurt!” I had never felt love from my family like I did that day. If one good thing came from my injuries and Grandma’s death, it’s that it brought us all closer.
The strength I got from Grandma got me through that day, it’s gotten me through rough times since then, and she helps me every day. I notice all the things I got from all four of my grandparents as I get older – the sense of humor and goofy smile I got from Poppa, the facial features I got from Nonni, and Grandpa’s why I like ketchup on my eggs, and he’s probably the reason I think the world’s going to hell and “these damn kids” don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground – but I am my mother and Grandma combined and made-over…a potent combination. I thank God for it every day. I wouldn’t want to be anyone else, miss out on the struggles that made me who I am, or be anyone else’s daughter or granddaughter.
I love you Grandma. Thanks for putting your hand on my back whenever I lost my balance. :)