Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Great Big Glittering Party

My sister Carla is in the intensive care unit, has been since last Wednesday night when she blacked out after getting out of her car. She'd been having, apparently, severe headaches for about 7-8 weeks. These were not ordinary headaches by any stretch of the imagination, though I suppose if you'd never had a migraine, you might think that's what they were about. But no, these would come out of nowhere, like a bolt of lightning, and come on blindingly strong. To the point where she'd be awakened from her sleep by the pain, then have to feel her way along the hallway walls to the bathroom, too dizzy to stand on her own, fumbling for ineffectual tylenol. They were working with her doctors to figure out what it was. Then the black-out came and she wound up in the emergency room.

Where they did a battery of neurological tests and discovered the headaches were caused by a back-up of cerebrospinal fluid in her skull caused in turn by an obstruction at her brain stem, a mass of something. Two days ago they installed a drain on the right side of her skull to relieve the pressure of the backed-up fluid. They're testing the fluid to see what it might contain that could indicate what is happening in there.

All of the possibilities are bad. They've mentioned multiple sclerosis, lymphoma, glioma. The glioma is what they keep coming back to. Of course, I've googled and read everything I could find about glioma - none of it is good. All of it is bleak.

After a few hours at the hospital Friday afternoon with my dad, keeping Carla company, doing what we could to keep her spirits up, I found myself out with friends at a club, listening to music and dazzled by the sparkle of the holiday decor and the conviviality of everyone in attendance. And it struck me, as the music washed over me, as I leaned into the sound of everyone singing lyrics they knew by heart, their voices louder than the singer's on stage, that life is a glittering amazing party that we are so privileged to attend. It's so easy to forget how remarkable is the body we walk around in, how sweet the friendships and food and colors and everything else. And it breaks my heart, absolutely and utterly, that my baby sister might have to leave this party early.

Carlita's prognosis, at least right now, is bad. Because it's the weekend, we are in a holding pattern. And in the absence of information, she is terrified, and we all breathe, trying to go moment to moment until we know something for sure. And when we know something for sure, we will keep breathing, moment to moment, figuring out this new situation as we go.

Meanwhile, the party is still going on and we are all of us, even Carla, still there. Every breath, be grateful.

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