Sheila’s life changed in the early morning hours of July 15, 1984 when she lost control of her car in a curve and hit a telephone pole. In ICU, I look down at my little sister, my sidekick through life.
Our Sheesh. A beautiful young lady with plans to attend college and become a pharmacist. We called her Doll when she was born because she was so beautiful.
She is still beautiful. I try to process the shock of the accident. A portion of her honey blonde hair is shaved. They had to remove a piece of her skull as her brain swelled. Her beautiful blue eyes are closed. A tube is in her mouth, a mouth made for smiling and singing. All I hear is the sound of the ventilator as it breathes for her.
Her manicure and pedicure are perfect. One small cut on her chin, a broken collarbone are her only other injuries. My sister is in a coma, not expected to live.
Our parents, in the midst of an acrimonious divorce, must now make a choice. Do they keep the ventilator on, or do they turn it off? For the first time in years, they agree on something. The ventilator is turned off.
Sheila keeps breathing on her own and after three months in hospital she is home. Get Well Soon cards cover one wall of her bedroom. Her bed is now a hospital bed, surrounded by medical equipment and visitors.
Months pass. Her friends and family visit less. Years go by and her friends don’t visit any more as they get on with their lives. Family visits become few and far between.
More time passes. Sheila and my mother now live in government housing with no insurance and no support from International Deadbeat Dad. They spend most days alone.
Our mother works with Sheila, teaching her to communicate by blinking once for yes, twice for no. Sheila smiles sometimes. The only sound she makes is when she cries. It breaks my heart.
I wonder why she cries. Is she missing her Daddy who never visits and is now defrauding her? Sometimes she cries when she wakes up and I wonder if she’s been dreaming of life before the accident.
I cry when I wake up from dreams of us together, sharing our secret language and laughter.
Survivor’s guilt consumes me. I feel I should not enjoy a normal life with my sister and mother housebound.
Our mother keeps working with Sheila. One day she tells me that Sheila started blinking three times. She asked Sheila, “Are you trying to tell me something?” Sheila blinked once, “Yes.” Our mother says, “Let me think about this awhile.”
Later in the day, they’re doing Sheila’s physical therapy. Our mother asks, “Sheila, are you saying I love you?” Sheila smiles her little smile and blinks once. “Yes.”