“Is that what you’re saying or is that what the doctors are saying?”
It is my eldest sister’s response after I excitedly deliver the most awaited, or so I thought, piece of good news. My brother responded! His left hand squeezed mine! He is waking up from his coma!
My brother is being kept alive by machines and equipment. Tubes plugged into his lifeless body. A gruesome scene welcoming me every single day each time I visit him at the hospital ICU.
My brother had ruptured aneurysm due to drug abuse. He’s been in a comatose state for several days.
So it sure is such a delight, to say the least, and without a doubt, a reason to jump for joy — to feel my brother squeeze my hand! The answer to my prayer. His very first bodily response that we experience.
The much-dreaded decision
Dr. Robert Dodd, one of the neurosurgeons who assisted in the surgery doesn’t mince any words. My brother isn’t going to make it. Even if he does, he’ll be a vegetable. He has grade five aneurysm, the worst of its kind.
Dr. Dodd explains that only 50% survive. Of the 50% who do, 50% end up in a vegetative state, and 50% live with major disabilities including loss of major bodily functions and total memory loss.
Because of the severity of my brother’s condition, and the very slim, if at all, chances of him surviving, the medical team wants us to start thinking about what will be the family’s plan of action. Do we want to continue keeping him in that state and condition?
Uh-oh…The much-dreaded decision of whether or not to pull the plug!
And what have I got to do with this? It starts to get clearer what my purpose and mission is for being here.
I have just flown in to San Francisco from Manila, Philippines. When our family first hears the news and receives the phone call in the morning from my ex- sister-in-law, I take the first flight out later in the evening, with only one pair of shoes which I have on. I really don’t know what’s awaiting me. All I know is I’m being called to do whatever it is that I need to do.
During the flight, I calmly pray and ask for my brother to please wait for me. To at least pray for him, pray with him — for forgiveness, of himself and all those who wronged him. I prepare myself for the worst — that I am to take my brother back with me to Manila for his funeral. Morbid but I expect the worst.
What I didn’t expect though is to be the recipient of the news that the family soon needs to decide to pull the plug or not! And to be the one to ultimately call the shots!
I go to the hospital chapel and pray. I pray hard; I cry really hard. I don’t know what my brother’s wishes are; I don’t know what God’s will is for him.
And there’s a part of me rebelling, questioning — this is supposed to be a private conversation between God and my brother. So why am I part of this?!?!
Yet this much I know and this much I ask for —
If my brother were to only become a ‘vegetable’, please take him. But if he will serve as an inspiration to others, and be an instrument to demonstrate God’s love and healing power, please give him a second chance.
My other older sister and I carry out our usual four o’clock daily visit to my brother at the ICU. At five o’clock, we are scheduled to have “the conversation” with the doctor.
The momentous yet incredulous squeezing of the hand
“I don’t know what you want and I don’t know what God wants for you. Whatever it is that you want, please talk to me and let me know what it is,” I talk to my brother silently, telepathically, soul to soul, as I hold his limp left hand. Cold. Lifeless.
Even if I didn’t even recognize him when I first saw him, as his body lay motionless, I just know he is there. My brother is there somewhere. I know he is listening. I know he can hear me.
But I don’t know if he is going to respond. I don’t know what his response will be; I don’t know how he will.
Then the unexpected happens. The momentous squeezing of his left hand! It certainly is such a thrill!
Yet, to be filled with hope and excitement, and then to be met only with incredulity — especially from my eldest sister, a medical physician, as well as from all other medical doctors and members of the medical team from Stanford Medical Center, where my brother is confined — it surely is a huge let-down, even if only momentarily.
My shoulders begin to stiffen. I am gritting my teeth. I shake my head in disbelief. I sense the lack of enthusiasm. Misgiving. I don’t feel any emotions behind her words. There isn’t any tinge of excitement from the other end of the line.
“Is that what you’re saying or is that what the doctors are saying?”
I contain my own emotion. I hide my disappointment and anger behind the veil of silence, my habitual response when I get hurt. For a moment I regret making the phone call as I listen to my sister’s words, travelling through the phone line, piercing my ear, heading straight to my gut. My stomach clenches.
The skepticism is quite understandable, given their background and training. Still, I feel hurt that they doubted what I experienced, questioning its accuracy, the reality and the truthfulness of what I sensed and felt. My other sister who was with me at the ICU experienced it too. She also felt my brother squeeze her hand.
I did feel it. I did sense it. My brother heard me. He heard my plea. I know he did. And I heard him too. I know it was my brother’s plea.
It isn’t just reflex; It is my brother’s response, dammit!
There may be disagreements over my brother’s bodily reaction. One thing clear though which we were in agreement on — It isn’t time to let him go; It isn’t time for him to go.
* * * * *
That was 10 years ago. It happened just around this time. And it is an experience I cannot forget. An experience I have no intention of erasing from my memory.
In fact, it is one experience that I have no qualms replaying and revisiting. Each time I look back at my caregiving experience, despite all the hurt, the pain, and the family drama, and my eventual estrangement from my family, I’m filled with much gratitude and appreciation for all that I’ve learned and all the growth opportunities that were presented.
Being my brother’s caregiver is one of the major turning points in my life. I experienced so much joy and fulfilment that it made me finally embrace the healing arts, not simply as a lifestyle but as the next field and career to pursue. A calling that I had been ignoring and dismissing for a few years.
But when my brother started to take out his anger and frustration on me as he was getting better, it pushed me to practice tough love. To learn to say no. To say enough. Even to my very own brother. Especially to my very own and only brother, the one to whom I devoted my life, thinking and believing it was my purpose and life-long mission to look after and care for him.
And the most important lesson that I learned is to love myself. I found the strength and the courage to make a firm stand, that I deserve and am so worthy of so much more love and respect than I was allowing, and had been allowing all of my life.
- I Am So Over My Caretaking Days
- Loving Myself: My Caretaking Days Are Over
- “That’s because of his aneurysm!” – The Beginning Of the End Of My Caretaking Days and Rescuer Role
- The Effects of Compassionate Presence on People in Comas
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