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Blue Eyes Never Lie
“What do you mean, ‘There’s been a complication’?” I always knew something was wrong when my cool-as-a-cucumber mental health counselor mother turned into Ms. Heat Miser. She shuffled out of the room, her heels tapping on the white-grey tile floor, her dirty blonde bangs getting in her face. Dr. Matthews, one of the doctors at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, walked right behind her, the door closing slowly behind him.
“Ms. Ricci, there’s a problem with her lungs,” I heard him say softly; not realizing the door wasn’t fully closed yet. “The left lung has, in a way, given up. It isn’t all that common for MS patients but it is always something that can happen.” Then the door closed, blocking me from hearing what was happening to me. Why is my lung giving up on me? I watched from my grey, oversized hospital bed as they talked. Through that skinny window just above the handle of the door I watched her, listening to him, her bright blue eyes dimmed by the fear that washed over her like fog would over the ocean. She didn’t say a word, just listened intently; trying to understand what he was trying to say. After a few moments of just standing there, she slowly raised her right hand to cover her mouth and nose, as if the air suddenly filled with harmful toxins. She put her hand down and opened her mouth, looking for something to say...nothing came out. I didn’t know what the doctor was telling her but I had to figure that it wasn’t anything I wanted to hear.
“She’s only fifteen,” my mother said as the doctor opened the door again, holding it there with his black Nike sneaker. He was equipped with the usual doctor gear, white coat, blue scrubs, and stethoscope. There was one thing, though, that was different from any other doctor I’ve seen, on the collar of his coat was a rainbow colored pin with a smiley face on it, probably to make you feel good before telling the bad news. My mother walked past him and sat in the big beige, cushioned chair that was about a foot away from my hospital bed. He followed her and stood near the door, almost in the center of the large, private room.
He looked over at me, about to fill me in on what I missed when the door closed. “We have found the reason why you have been throwing up so much lately. You have something called End-Stage Renal Disease. It is a disease where the lung can’t function correctly and it’s too bad to treat with medicine. We are going to need to perform nephrectomy which is when we remove the kidney.”
“Is it possible to live with just one kidney?” my mother asked, I just sat there, not sure how to react.
“Oh yes. Many people live perfectly normal lives with one kidney with no issues at all,” he responded matter-of-factly. “The thing is that there is the risk of surgery, or that the other lung will have the same issue in the future, but you are on a list for a new kidney whenever we can get one for you.” He may have made it sound good but I knew that not many people on those lists end up actually getting the kidney. “We want to get the bad kidney out today so that it can’t cause any more damage.”
“Does it have to be so soon?” You would think that my mother had some plans today that she didn’t want to cancel. The sooner the better because I hate knowing that there is something inside me not functioning correctly.
Dr. Matthews continued, “I’m afraid that it can’t wait, she needs this surgery now, as quickly as we can get in there. If we don’t, there isn’t a chance that she’s going to make it.”
Tears had formed in my mother’s eyes, she was speechless. Then the doctor turned back to me.
“I’m really sorry Izzy; there isn’t much else I can do. I’ve performed this surgery before and I’m confident that if all goes well, we can get you back home soon.” He stood up and started towards the door. “I’ll give you some time to talk it over. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” With that, he walked out of the room, closing the heavy aluminum door behind him.
I looked down at the bucket in front of me, the one they gave me in case I vomited again. I got so angry and frustrated. I wanted to leave the stupid hospital, get out of the bed that made me feel like a five year old with the bars on the sides of it. I was so tired of this.
“We are going to get through this, Izzy. We just have to stay strong and fight.”
“What if I don’t want to fight?” I could feel the anger boiling inside me. “What if I am sick of ‘being strong’? What if I told you I wanted to give up?”
“I know you don’t mean that.” Her eyes showed how disappointed she was in me, the same look she gave my father the day that she kicked him out, but I didn’t care.
“I am so tired, Mom. My body already gave up on me, so why shouldn’t I just give up on myself.”
“Isabella Marie, I didn’t raise my daughter to be a quitter, so don’t start being one now. Your body hasn’t given up on you, in a couple hours they are going to take out that bad kidney and we are going to see what happens. We’re going to wait for any new kidney that they can give us and you are going to be back to normal before you know it.” She tried to make it sound all sweet and simple, but I wasn’t falling for any of that cr**.
“Who says it is all going to be alright,” I paused, realizing if I make it through the surgery I’m in big trouble for being so sarcastic. “What if I don’t even make it through the surgery? He said that there are always the risks. Then, if I do make it, who says that I’m going to get another kidney or that the one I have left isn’t going to fail on me too.”
“You’re…” She probably thought she was going to get a word in but I was too far into my rant to stop now.
“And even if all of that turns out practically perfect in every way, I’m still going to be stuck with the MS!” I was completely out of breath, and I could feel the steam coming out of my ears as I stared at my mother who looked like a deer in headlights. I plopped back onto my pillow and looked up at the white ceiling tiles. “Nobody knows what I’m going through,” I said at a whisper, my throat too sore to yell anymore.
“You aren’t the only one who’s had battles,” she sounded angry but she wasn’t yelling, probably so nobody would hear her yelling and she wouldn’t get embarrassed. “You don’t think I wanted to give up when your father left, of course I did. Instead I stood there, handed him his luggage, and shut the door.” She moved from her chair and sat by my feet on the hospital bed, leaning towards me, taking my hands in hers. Her voice became soft and solemn. “The reason that I didn’t was because of you and your brother. You know, your brother has been worried sick about you ever since you got the MS. Jarod tells me every single day that he wishes he had gotten it instead of you and hates going to UCLA and not being here with you.” She took a long, slow breath, as if exhaling all of the anger inside her. “No matter how much it seems like you’re alone, Izzy, you need to understand that we are all fighting this battle together.”
That moment was the first time that my mother and I actually saw eye to eye, although hers were still wet from tears, I saw the glimmer of hope I hadn’t seen in so long. I have just been mad at her for so long, for everything. I would blame her for my father leaving us, and for giving birth to a daughter who got MS. Now I realize just how stupid I was to be pushing all of that onto my mother, as if it were better just to blame her for everything wrong with my life when she really couldn’t be blamed for any of it. It was always just easier to put it on her shoulders instead of tackling it myself. I felt a tear form in the corner of my eye. It took all of the strength that I had to sit myself up and hug her, something I hadn’t done in months. In that moment, with her arms around me, I felt safe. It was like nothing could hurt me.
“Are you ready?” Dr. Matthews appeared over me, wearing scrubs and a surgical mask. I just nodded my head, too freaked out to say anything. “Ok”, he said and nodded to one of the nurses, the one with the gas mask. I was on the table in one of the surgical rooms, wearing a hospital gown and my chocolate brown hair up in what I figured was a shower cap.
“We’re going to put you to sleep now, ok? So just relax and keep breathing.” Her bright blue eyes reminded me of my mom’s, which were the only part of her face I could see since the rest was covered by that little paper mask. As I looked around the room, I noticed that there were a lot of doctors and nurses around me, some standing over just in case anything went wrong. In that moment, I was at peace and felt safe knowing that whatever happened, they were going to do whatever they could to keep me alive. Then I finally went to sleep.