They call them flashbulb memories, events tragic enough to be engrained in your brain, incorporating all the fine details. February 10th, 2012 was certainly one of those for me.
My little sister was born with Cystic Fibrosis which is a genetic disease. It's also chronic, so it gets worse over time. The life expectancy for CF used to be around 10, but with all the advancements, it has changed to 30's+. However, the leading cause of death for CF patients is still pulmonary infections and lung failure. In a normal body system, the mucus found in our lung helps move bacteria out of the airway before we get an infection. With CF, the mucus is thickened in the airways and instead makes it easier for infections to occur. For this reason, it's not unusual to see CF patients at the hospital a couple of times a year due to infections.
That February, my sister was admitted into the hospital because she had pneumonia again, and they wanted to start antibiotics on her. The first week, she was doing pretty fine for someone with pneumonia, and an x-ray showed that besides the pneumonia, her overall condition was improving. Hearing that, a new-found hope came to me, that maybe she would become healthier and wouldn't have to struggle with as many medications.
But for some reason, everything just went down hill from there. The antibiotics stopped working, and neither did any of the other drugs she used. She started needing more and more oxygen, and her breathing kept staggering until they had to put her on a respirator.
This was all going on while I was forced to stay at school, so I was unable to see her the week the respirator was placed on her. And I knew when I came home Friday, there would be little chance I could see her tomorrow, due to the fact that she was in the Intensive Care Unit. What I was not prepared for, was everything that happened the hours after school was over.
Throughout this week, my mom would come home at 11pm and later, and when she would get home, she was either crying or staring at a blank TV. I remember her crying while mumbling a story of my sister grabbing her scarf in her unconscious state, and it just reared me on the inside to look and hear all of this. One night, I saw a packet of copy paper with scribbled letters over it, and it was instinct for me to grab it and read it. It was from my sister's Pediatric Pulmonologist and it stated that once you are on the respirator, it becomes extremely difficult. It point blank stated that there is the possibility that she may never be able to get off. The other sheets went on to describe the condition of her lungs and words like "advanced lung disease" "lung failure" "respiratory complications" spring out to me, making all of this seem so much more real. I did not sleep well that night, and an ominous feeling started to swarm me.
When I was out of school and the bus ride, my dad was at home which was extremely unusual. He typically comes home two hours after I do, so I figured something was up. All he said was, "Go eat."
So my sisters and I did just that, while he lingered around the table.
My dad was always a serious man, and he neither laughed or cried a lot. But the way he caught my eye sometimes while I was eating, did not bode too well. For this reason I rushed through the lunch as well as my other sisters.
Once he saw that we were all done, he matter-of-factly stated that they were going to pull the plug on the respirator and we would go to the hospital. But even my dad, with his normally unemotional state, was affected by this and sneakily wiped tears away from his eyes after the message.
I think my memory chose to skip over this scene because it was an hour of everyone I loved crying their eyes out and a lot of shut doors. I remember pacing around the house since they took all the other rooms, and fighting my own tears. As I was pacing, the only items in my head were all those great memories of my little sister and me looking at all her toys scattered across the house.
What got me to burst into tears, was her personal collection of Littlest Pet Shop toys. It was her personal goal to collect all of the pets along with all the environments. It was a fact she proudly announced to anyone who asked. And I cried, because she was so close to reaching there it was only a few more pets and even fewer environments.
The ride to the hospital was silent, and I can easily state, it was the worst car ride of my life. We were still leaking out some tears that were left behind. When we got there, it was an immediate rush to her room. I saw her there, with the long tube going to her lungs and the mechanical breathing her body was being forced into. I also noticed the Littlest Pet Shop Blanket draped around her, which never really left her side.
And that was when the doctors and nurses started coming in to take out all the tubes and wires, something I personally did not want to see. So I exited the room along with my father and we waited. The nurses, doctors, dietitians, and janitors that I've sen through the years at that very hospital, passed me by with their sympathetic eyes. It was something that I couldn't take then, so I just left my eyes looking at the ground.
Once they were done with all the machinery, I went back in to see that they placed her on my mom's lap in the green sofa I've gotten so used to. She started rocking her and Mali g prayers, something we ally were doing at the moment.
My little sister was always a brave fighter. It was irrefutable fact for my family and the doctors there. She certainly proved that in the 23 minutes she spent struggling to breathe on her own. There were rare moments when it looked like she was trying to open her eyes, trying to tell us something, and it brought me to an unbelievable amount of tears.
I remember looking up to see the static line on the EKG, and my mom who finally released the tears she was holding back while she rocked her. My mom started crying through a whole list of regrets like how she shouldn't have pulled the plug, or she should've signed her for the lung transplant.
And I knew it would be selfish of me to let her go on this accusing route while I just cry in peace. So I held in my own tears that desperately needed out and I attempted to console her. We all tried to console her with whispered encouragement and various embraces.
Then a man came to get my little sister so they could transport her to the funeral home for the funeral we would have the next day. My mom was adamant to stay with her and it took a lot of convincing to make her relent. I remember going home that night with this horribly empty feeling that brought a queasy stomach, blurry eyes, and contagious insomnia.
The next morning, we would be giving her a final bath. This is one of the important rituals in my religion and it is done by the females. My mom wanted me to go with her and wash her hair, and I could not refuse. When we got there, I saw an image that will never leave my mind. It was of my little sister so pale and cold on that silver table where we would give her bath. I remember washing her hair as everyone else washed the rest of her, and them putting her in a white gown. They then placed her down in a casket, and it brought an emotion I hope to never experience in my life. I then helped them push her to the area where the funeral would be.
The funeral was open casket, so people could see her when they pray. My adorable little sister touched the hearts of many on the short time she spent on Earth. She had her family
there, her friends' families, teachers/administrators from her school, and every single doctor, nurse, and dietitian who ever had the pleasure of knowing her. It comforted me a little then to know she would always remain in the hearts of the many who were there and not just her family.
I then looked over at my sister who used to share the middle sister status with me, and whom was now the little sister. We met each other's eyes, something I was avoiding that morning. She mentioned the fact that everyone who was crying also had been making creepy stomach noises. And it was this moment that gave me the reassurance that we will be able to move on. So we gave each other a genuine smile and some forced laughter, and that was that.
When it was time to carry her to the actual burial site, I remember everyone standing outside the building on that windy day. As they said the last prayer for my sister, the leaves were swarming around us following the wind. I then watched my sister being carried farther and farther away until she was no longer in my sights.
And from that day to today, so much has changed, and yet still, some remain the same.
I still have that empty feeling, but instead of barraging me on a daily basis, it will come to me at moments when I least anticipate it. The silence at night after all of your machines were removed from the house still occurs and suffocates me with the quiet.
What has changed was that I no longer get stabbed in my foot by demonic looking pet shop pets because they were all donated to charity. I no longer get to see the bottom bunk bed pulled out for you. And I no longer get to hear you say, "Bibi . . ." in that quiet, little voice of yours asking me to play a game with you.
Not a day has come by where I haven't thought about you once. The amazing memories that I've shared with you, are what keeps me going. And I hope will all my heart that there will never be a day where I don't remember you, because that would break me inside.
Something that I didn't tell you then, was just how much you really influenced me. I kept telling all of you I wanted to be a pediatrician, when in reality I wanted to specialize in Pediatric Pulmonology, so I could specifically work with others like you.
And now, whenever I tell anyone my career choice, I remember you sticking out your tongue and saying, "Ew. Medical is gross."
Rest In Peace my crazy, intelligent little sister.