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Popsicles, Doctors, and Lyme Disease
My sister had Lyme disease.
She was only ten when the first symptoms started to arrive. Her chills and fevers plagued her nightly. She ate nothing. Her appetite was substituted with a stomach full of mucus. Throwing up became ritual if we managed to get her to eat anything at all. The white bowl that was once used for our Orville Redenbacher popcorn every movie night was now used as her vomit bowl.
It became somewhat of a new way of life. At night I was asked to put only four plates on the table. We ate in silence while the T.V blared in the living room and my mother believed she was in there watching it, but really she had sneaked off to our bedroom where she had fallen asleep. Later, I would crawl into the bottom bunk and listen to her ragged, labored breaths above me.
My father believed it was a sickness that would pass. He said that we had all gotten chicken pox and lived. My case was worse than my sister’s was. I was covered from head to toe and I remember standing in our kitchen naked while my mother applied generous amounts of medicines to my sores. She constantly told me not to scratch as she constantly begged my sister to eat. The only thing she would touch was a Popsicle. Our refrigerator was quickly stocked with frozen treats.
A week after she lost her appetite, my sister did not go to school. Her domain became our living room couch and she only left it when nature called. Even as she walked to the bathroom, she teetered like an old woman and struggled to turn the door knob. At 2:30, when I returned home, I would sling my backpack on the chair in our living room and expect her to be there, looking at the screen but not really watching.
I would ask her to come outside with me. We had a grassy hill in our front yard where we once took blankets, laid them out, and stared at the sky. I liked when I would point out the shapes I saw in the clouds and she would draw them in her unicorn diary that she got for her birthday.
The cool, California breeze that she had once adored now seemed to unsettle her and blow right through to her weak bones, so she could not come outside and spot the fawns and rabbits frolicking in our wooded backyard with me.
The warm water now burned her skin, so she could not take our evening baths with me.
The smell of food now gagged her, so she could not taste the fresh apples and cinnamon pie crust my mother and I had baked for her in an effort to feed her.
The sound of music hurt her head. She said it thumped and reverberated and gave her a forceful head ache. My sister used to dance with me to our loud, blue karaoke machine, now she laid on the couch like an old dog; too restless to move, waiting for death.
The days went by and my sister was getting worse. After a week without bathing, my mother said that was enough and managed to wash her. My sister could not lift the comb. I combed her hair as she sunk into the couch that had molded to her frail figure.
We checked her into the hospital a few weeks after she stopped going to school. We had obviously been to the doctor before, but the answer was she was depressed and bulimic, or she was having an allergic reaction to something.
My father and mother took turns staying in the hospital with her. They refused to leave her. But because my mother was pregnant with my third sister, my father ended up most times sleeping on the creaky pull -out couch in the corner of her room.
My second sister, who was just a baby, and I were dropped off at our mother’s friend’s house while our parents stayed at the hospital.
I barely saw my sick sister for a while. I was told many tests were being done and they were all coming back negative. The purple bags under my parent’s eyes scared me as they came to pick us up and take us to visit her one day.
I walked in and I did not recognize her. The needles were shooting out of her arms like fireworks into the sky. Crimson bags hung from metal rods and attached onto the needles threaded around her body.
The monitor beside her spiked and beeped and I let out a tearful cry that I tried to stifle. I came over and I handed her a drawing of our family I had done for her. She took it, though her fingers could barely grasp it, and she stared, but her eyes were glazed over and milky.
I thought I heard her say my name when the doctor came in and hinted I should leave. I felt the tears spilling over my cheeks and my parent’s dead eyes on me. “My sister doesn’t like needles,” I cried and I was taken away and driven back to my temporary home.
The doctor said she had a month to live.
It had been a hunch for a while; but my mother figured it had to be the only test that hadn’t been run. My sister was like a mouse in the hands of mad scientists. They ran every test they could, running up a large bill on the way. Things that couldn’t possibly be wrong with her they tested her for, and when my mother first suggested Lyme disease in the first week of my sister staying in the hospital, the doctors scoffed and refused to run the test.
But finally, my exhausted parents were handed back the positive test by the same embarrassed doctors that had ridiculed my mother for proposing it.
Gradually, she became healthier and the hospital agreed to lower their bill. “Probably because they didn’t want to get sued,” my mother commented angrily later on.
When my sister was released from the hospital six months after the disease had gripped her, she consumed two tuna fish sandwiches, gulped a large, raspberry smoothie, woofed down three fudge brownies, devoured four black-bean stuffed burritos and asked my all-too-willing parents for another chocolate-chip cookie.
After half a year of not eating hardly anything, my sister was hungry. My sister had survived.