‘Your life can change in the blink of an eye.’ It may seem like an overused cliche, but my life was completely turned upside down in under an hour. In hindsight, it really was in the blink of an eye.
We were all at my uncle’s house. Almost my entire large family was there. Everyone but my parents and brother. It was my Grandma retirement party and I was there alone. Everyone was there playing games and talking. Everyone was having fun, everyone except me. I was in fifth grade, and too worried to do anything. My parents were taking Ryan to the eye doctor after school, then they were supposed to come to the party. They should have been there, then we all could’ve had more fun. Instead, I was stuck sitting by the fire, with the pit in my stomach getting deeper with each passing second.
When they finally got to the party, I was worried so much I thought that I would get sick. My mom came to me first and we walked around the house. She told me what they did and what was wrong. For the life of me, I can’t remember what she said. All I remember her saying was that Ryan had a brain tumor. It felt like I just ran into a wall. My life was forced into a different direction and I had no idea where it was going. Then I was filled with a feeling of helplessness. My brother was in eighth grade, with a brain tumor and there was nothing I could do to help him. My life was spiralling out of control and all I could do was try and hang on.
What they actually did was take him to the eye doctor. He had no peripheral vision, but the doctor could find no other problem with his eyes, and had no explanation for the loss of vision. They were sent to an eye specialist that sent them for an MRI. This is when they found the source of the problem. My brother had a brain tumor that was pushing against his pituitary gland, causing the loss of vision. The tumor was also keeping him from growing because of something to do with testosterone. I don’t know all the medical terms for what the problem was. I do know that the tumor was non-cancerous, but it could cause him to completely lose his vision if not treated.
The next day, my parents headed to Iowa City. For some reason, which I also don’t remember, I couldn’t go. I was stuck again, helpless. I stayed with my aunt, Pam, for the day. I would say I’m pretty lucky to have someone like her in my life. She was willing to help us in any way that she could. She had three kids, two of which were close to my age. We played games all day, so I really didn’t think, or worry about Ryan all day, but it was always in the back of my mind, waiting to pop up.
They returned to East Dubuque that night with the news that they were going to operate and remove the tumor on Monday, this being Saturday. I was able to sleep at home one more night. I was never told what the risks of the surgery were, probably because they didn’t want me to worry about it. I was able to eavesdrop on a few conversations and pick up that the tumor could cause complete loss of vision, but I wasn’t able to figure out anything other than that.
I was barely awake, or knew what was happening that Sunday morning when they left to go back to Iowa City. I was sent back to Pam’s because I had to go to school the next day. This was probably just an excuse because they didn’t want me in Iowa City, even though I could have missed a day or two of school. At the time I just did what my parents said without thinking, so I went along to Pam’s. They left with no idea of when they would return.
It was the middle of October, so that day I got up and went to school like any other day, except I was at a different house, and nothing was the same. I had to ride a different bus at a different time and my whole routine was thrown off. Beside that, my brother was having brain surgery and I was in school! That’s not how I thought of it, but I didn’t really have any idea what was going on. No one at school asked me about him, probably because they had no idea what was going on either. I wouldn’t have had anything to tell them anyways because I was stuck out of the loop. The only thing I remember from that day at school was my heading. Every time I wrote the date on my paper, I scribbled Ryan’s Surgery next to the date so it was never out of my mind completely.
For me, the rest of the week was just a big blur. I went to school everyday and wasn’t asked about him because I didn’t know anything. I’m sure most of the teachers at the school knew more about him than I did, but part of me was alright with that. I didn’t want to have to worry about him. I was told a couple small updates like the surgery went well and that he was in the intensive care unit, but that was it. Ryan was always there in the back of my mind, no matter how hard I tried to put him out, he stayed.
That Saturday, just five days after the surgery, I made my first trip to Iowa City. I can’t say it was the first of many because I hated to sit in the car that long, but that day was a different story. All I did the whole ride was think, and worry, about Ryan. It was the first I got to see my family in over a week. I followed Pam through the hospital. We got to his room, but because he was in intensive care, I wasn’t allowed in the room. I guess they thought I would get him sick. I stood helplessly at the window in the hallway while Pam went in the room. Ryan turned and looked at me through the window. A feeling of guilt washed over me when I saw him, like I had done something wrong, even though there was nothing that I could have done. I couldn’t help but cry. He had an incision from the top right side of his head, up and over to the back of his right ear. I didn’t get to say anything to him before we left the hospital, not that I had anything to say or would have known what to say anyways. I just felt helpless.
The next week also passed by in a blur. I was at school and with my aunt, and I was able to put it out of my mind for the most part. I didn’t get to see my family the entire week. Again I was able to pick up a few updates like in the middle of the week he was moved to a regular room. Then I was eavesdropping when I heard that he had a seizure, which was on Thursday of that week. I really didn’t know what a seizure was, but I knew what intensive care was, and thats where he was sent, without any hesitation.
That Sunday afternoon was a day I remember vividly. It was the first time any of us had been home in just over two weeks, and I was happy to be back. I remember watching him take his first, weak step through the front door with a huge smile on his face. That feeling of guilt flooded over me and I started to cry again. I couldn’t help it, I just felt like it was my fault. We were finally back home, together at last, but it would never be the same again.
The surgery left him completely blind in his right eye and with no peripheral vision in his left. He also had a huge scar on his head, but he was in good spirits. The next step in finishing off the tumor was radiation. He needed to go five days a week for a total of thirty times. My parents had the option of staying in Iowa City, but they really weren’t up for two straight months in the hospital so they decided to drive down every day.
It took a month and a half to get through all of the radiation therapy, but there was only a trace left of the tumor. Physically, Ryan was not able to go to school, so he had to get a tutor, that ended up being Mrs. Nauman. She was always one of our favorite teachers. With her help he was able to finish eighth grade with the rest of his class, despite the setback. I learned so much from this experience, but the most important being that family comes first. You will do more than you think for your family and they are willing to sacrifice for you too. I learned that there is nothing more important in the world than family.