Sunday, November 30, 2008

One Year.

(Written Sunday, November 30th, but didn't get around to posting it until today)
A year ago today, my world came crashing down on me.  

A year ago today, my nightmares came true.  

A year ago today, something I never thought would happen, happened.  

A year ago today, my little cousin Nicole . . . the light of my life since I was eight . . . was hit by a car and severely injured. The pain, the desperation, the hopelessness I felt that night and in the months after that is indescribable. I almost feel guilty talking about my pain . . . knowing that the physical pain that Nicole was going through was so much more than I could even imagine . . . which hurt me even more.  

Looking at the early pictures is painful, too.  

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I remember so well the hours and hours I spent standing at her bedside, praying she'd wake up. I remember so well the doctors and nurses telling us not to get our hopes up. I remember the 'V' word being mentioned, in hushed tones. I remember all of those times I made that hour long drive home, navigating the entire way through tears.  

I can recall how happy I was when she started opening her eyes . . . even though she couldn't focus them on anything.  

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And then very slowly, more and more signs of recovery. How great it felt when she started holding tight to my hand, and looking at me, not through me.  

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She fought through obstacle after obstacle, from MRSA infections to siezures . . . it was a struggle, but nothing stopped her.  

The first time I saw her respond to direction (look at the thumbs up!) I spent another tearful drive home . . . only it was tears of joy this time.  

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And just look at those gorgeous eyes.  

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There were so many nights I went home totally emotionally drained, thinking I couldn't feel any more empty . . . dead inside . . . it was those little milestones that kepts us all going . . . that fueled that faint glimmer of hope we all clung to so desperately.  I can't tell you how many nights I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning pouring my heart out to my friends and loved ones who held me up through the entire ordeal. But Nicole's strong will pulled us all through.  

After 5 months in the hospital, Nicole was transferred to the Walter Lawson Children's home, where she was expected to live until she turned 18 (which was only a little over a month away). The doctors told us she would need lifelong skilled care.  

Little did they know that within the first few hours at Walter Lawson, the angels that work there helped Nicole to prove the doctors wrong.  They began testing her abilities, and we quickly found out that she had the capacity to do way more than any of us had dreamed.  

And then came the happiest day of my life.  The first day I visited her at Walter Lawson.  Her mom, dad, and friend Ryan were all on thier way, but I got there a couple of hours earlier.  She was worn out from therapy, and slept for a good portion of the time . . . but I can so clearly remember when she took my hand and brought it up to her face and kissed it not once, but three times.  When Mom, Dad, and Ryan got there, they had a suprise for her . . . they brought her puppy, Gypsy, and her Guinea Pig, Cocopuff.  

When they came in, Nicole's eyes lit up, and she smiled the biggest, most beautiful smile I've ever seen in my life.  Seeing her smile for the first time made my heart burst with joy.  

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That alone was enough to make it the best day of my life, but it didn't end there.  

She fed herself, and drank by herself . . . 

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. . . and no, that still wasn't it.  After dinner that day, I thought she might like to color . . . I thought it might help with her motor skills.  I figured she might be able to scribble around a bit. 

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But much to our surprise . . . 

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If you can't read it, it says "I love you guys so much." 

Indeed, Nicole was not destined to stay there forever.  After only a few short weeks, they moved her to Marionjoy Rehabilitation Center, not to live out her days, but to rehabilitate her enough to go home.  

Home!  That's a word we never thought we'd hear in reference to Nicole.  

She soared at Marionjoy, and we had a lot of fun on our visits . . . from watergun fights, to board games, to playing "hide Dad's hat." 

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We spent her 18th birthday in Marionjoy . . . 

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She started getting anxious to come home.  She'd beg us to stay, and she'd get really upset when we left . . . but that strong will of hers kept showing through, and she got better and better . . . 

July 3rd, after 7 months in hospitals and rehab centers, she came home.  How symbolic, coming home the day before Independence Day! 

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. . . and everyday since then has been a miracle for all of us.  The old Nicole shines through more and more each day . . . 

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Recently, Nicole had surgery to try and correct the atrophy that was bending her foot up into a pretzel.  So far, so good . . . we're hoping her foot continues to stay straight, and we won't have any problems with that anymore.  In the meantime, she's starting to put weight on it, and slowly starting to use crutches to get around more and more, relying on her wheelchair less and less.  

Now to backtrack a bit . . . 

When Nicole first went into the hospital, we were basically living in the Neurological Intensive Care waiting room . . . the morning after we set up camp, a wonderful man named Alberto joined our family, too.  He, his wife, and his son had all been in an accident, leaving his wife paralyzed from the waist down.  Just as in our case, those first few weeks were very difficult for him and his family to get through.  Our families bonded, supported each other, took care of each other, and cried with each other.  Alberto is from Chicago, and owns a mexican bakery.  

Before Nicole ever woke up, I told her about him.  I told her that when she was better, we were going to go up to Chicago and go to Alberto's bakery for some tasty treats.  

It'll be more than a year in the making when it happens, but, as you can see by this long photo story I've written out . . . it WILL happen.  

Nicole is a living, breathing miracle, and not a day goes by that I don't thank the heavens that she is still here with us.  Not a day goes by that I'm not thankful for the hundreds of people that rallied around her and prayed for her and cheered her on and never gave up on her.  

Not a day goes by that I don't cherish every moment that I have with her.  

November 30th, 2008.  One year since that horrible accident.  I spent the day with Nicole, cuddled up on the couch during a snowstorm, watching movies, eating good food, and helping her set up her new Myspace page.  A boring day to some, but I had to keep myself from getting choked up on several occasions.  I never thought I would be so thankful for such simple moments.  

Here's to a year of sorrow and joy, tragedy and triumph . . . and miracles upon miracles.  

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1 comment:

Alison said...

What an amazing journey this past year has been for you all. Thank you for sharing Nicole's story in words and pictures, she is such an amazing person and so lucky to have such a great family!