The Early Bird

Today started off like most of my work days: I awoke long before the alarm sounded, I got myself cleaned, shaved, and dressed, and I made it out of the door before 7 am.  There’s no need for me to leave that early; I’ve been doing it for years to make such departures a regular part of my habit.  Even though I don’t need to be on campus until 9 am, the extra time – really, just an extra hour – allows me time to drive in, to avoid any traffic-related delays, and it gives me “mental health” time before the craziness of my day officially begins.  It also affords me the opportunity to make a quick dash into Walmart, to stop at McDonald’s on that rare occasion I feel like breakfast, and the opportunity to find a space in the campus parking lot that’s in the same ZIP code region as the school itself.  Once on campus, I can buy a bowl of oatmeal from the cafeteria (assuming I don’t hit up Mickey D’s), put my lecture notes for the day in order, and do any office-related errands before class begins.  In short, I sacrifice an hour or so of sleep so that I can position myself to have the best possible day.

The extra hour has been especially helpful this last month because it affords me time to visit Baby Sis before I get to work.  The proverbial “early bird” – that’s me.  There are fewer people around, less activities going on, and less stress – for her and me.

I’d been called by my other sister the evening before, and she told me things that had occurred that were news to me:  That at one point, the hospital was concerned that Baby Sis had somehow contracted tuberculosis (tests did not support this), and that she had experienced a point during her stay where she needed resuscitation.  Again – this is the first time that I’ve heard any of this, so obviously, I’m shocked and angered over the hospital’s lack of communication.  I didn’t say anything because one of the hospital’s other problems is a lack of consistency when it comes to sharing news with us.  It’s as if they’ve just decided to make things up as the day progresses – their stories have been numerous and essentially glorified rumor.  It’s frustrating.  I just decided to let this go and move on – there are too many real issues to address right now.  I did, however, keep the idea of a “secret” resuscitation in the back of my mind – I’ll explain why in a moment.

As I have all week, I left the Interstate once I reached the exit that takes me to the hospital.  This is a backroad that meanders for about five miles before depositing me onto a pair of roads that eventually lead to the hospital’s front door.  The windstorms are no longer an issue here, but the cold is; visually, the day’s pale blue sky and sharp breezes remind me so much of that point in November just before Thanksgiving Day.  There are a few cotton-candy clouds in the sky, but they, too, look bleached and frozen.  The area around this backroad is mostly farmland, and with no snow, one is greeted by the dried, golden-brown remains of last autumn’s harvest.  I have to confess, it’s a pretty sight on a partly-cloudy day.

Once at the hospital, I went inside – I joked with the Valet Station attendant (who was firmly inside the warm waiting area and not at her ice-cold post – I tease her about that) – and made my way to Baby Sis’s room.  She was asleep when I entered, and had I been smart, I would have backed out of the room as quietly as I’d entered it.

But I didn’t.  As I turned, I made a sound that caused her to wake; I was caught.

Our conversation – if that’s the right word for it – was the same as it was two days ago.  She questioned me about the people who were watching her as she tried to sleep.  Wanted to know who was hiding in her bathroom, and if I could please let them out.  She wanted me to check her closet to ensure that no one was there, and told me that I’d nearly slipped and fell – when I hadn’t moved at all.  She talked about how everyone was conspiring against her, and how she’d outsmarted them.  About how our brother was hiding behind a mirror, and asking me about our parents (who’ve been gone for nearly two decades).  When a nursing assistant came to take her breakfast order, Baby Sis asked me what she should order – because she has no idea as to what she eats.

The whole thing was heart-wrenching and tragic, all the more so because I knew who she once was – a vibrant, funny, and very intelligent person.  And it crushed me to know that the person I knew may be lost forever.  Remember that resuscitation?  I’m wondering if she had been deprived of oxygen long enough to leave permanent damage to her mind.  I know that her physicians once believed that the staph infection had worked its way into her brain; but the sudden lack of breathing concerns me because I think it was worse than we’ve since been told.

Until this point, I’d patronized her, because honestly, there was little else I could do.  She told me about a recent birth, then cried because she could not see the baby.  But then she stopped crying, gave me a look of dismissiveness, and stopped talking.  She pointed to what she wanted, and when I could not guess, she gave me strange looks of disapproval – as if I should have known what she wanted.  I was getting frustrated – by her, by her constantly changing status, by her injuries.

Then she accused me of having taken her photo.

I stood there with my hands in my pockets, so I hadn’t taken anything.  But she insisted that I had (“You did it so fast, I almost missed it, but you did it.”).  When I protested that I had not – I would never take a photo of someone in the hospital, and certainly not one without permission – she angrily asked how I could deny something that she’d clearly seen.  When she declared for a second time that I’d committed this offense – and I again denied it – she got even angrier.

But then, so did I. 

I’m leaving,” I said, and I exited the room.  Once in the hall, there were a group of nurses talking, and a lab tech standing near the door.  I know that my sister is not in her right mind, but that wasn’t at the fore of my thoughts.  Rather, I felt humiliated – as if everyone there had heard the exchange.  Their expressions were somber – silent accusations that I’d done this horrific crime and wouldn’t own up to it.  This made me even angrier, and that’s when I saw my other sister coming down the hallway.

Apparently, I wear my emotions on my face because my other sister had a look of pure horror when she saw me.  I gave her a summary of what had occurred, and she started to question whether she wanted to face Baby Sis or just leave.  (She’s had it particularly rough because Baby Sis doesn’t recognize her.)  She decided to stay, while I fumed towards the elevators, my car, and to campus.  So much for making the best day possible.

I’ve been mulling this over all day.  Although I was angered, I did not lose my temper (I was close to it, though).  I know she’s not responsible for this, and I know that the weight of this mess is starting to hit me hard.  It’s difficult to want answers that are not forthcoming.  And it’s painful to watch someone you love become someone you don’t know.  I’ve been through this before.  That doesn’t make it any easier, though.

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