"Tell me about your day," she would ask. I knew what she was doing. She was trying to distract me in a hope that I wouldn't notice her pain level rising, causing her eyes to roll to the back of her head and her body go motionless. In those moments, I stopped telling her about all the homework Ms. Tulli gave or what I ate for lunch. Instead I sat there and watched as the pain overtook my sister's body. I sat there and held Emily's hand until she finally regained consciousness. But mostly, I sat there helpless, I finally realized there was nothing I could do to take away her pain.
Eighth grade is all about learning how to wear make up, getting nervous when a boy speaks to you, and trying to suppress all of the thoughts about the oh so scary reality of high school. But when Emily broke her foot the summer before her eighth grade year, her year was anything but normal.
Two months of Emily's foot being in a neon cast, it was simply not healing. In fact, the pain became immensely worse. My mom brought her from doctor to doctor trying to see if anyone had an explanation for what was happening to my 13-year-old sister. When they finally decided her foot wasn’t broken, the cast was removed but her pain remained. It got so bad that even the slightest touch or the weight of a bed sheet would cause her to burst out into tears. Emily was as fragile as glass and if I even slightly touched her, she would break.
Emily's condition worsened by February of that year. After being forced to become a homebound student, I found myself searching the halls, constantly looking for my sister's smile in all of the empty faces that passed me by. It was as though I was missing a piece of myself; I felt alone.
For minutes at a time, the pain in Emily's body would become so great that it caused her to shut down. Our “afternoon chats” began to consist of me shaking her shoulders, praying she’d open her eyes.
The cold snow soaked through my shoes as I ran away from the sirens that were headed to my house trying to see why Emily couldn’t stay conscious. I wanted to run to the family we used to be, one that wasn't worried about how much pain a drive to the grocery store would cause. I wanted to stop blaming Emily for what happened to us. I wanted my sister who was addicted to scary movies and yelled at me when I wore her clothes back, not the stranger that now occupied her body.
My nights were echoed with the sounds of my parents footprints as they rushed down the hall to Emily's room trying to at least ease one ounce of the unbearable torture she was under. I felt frozen with emotion as I prayed to God that the noises would stop. As I laid there in my bedroom next door, covering my head with my pillows trying to block out the noise, I was helpless, I was scared, and I was failing, failing her.
Finally the word “diagnosis” were uttered from the doctors mouths nine months later and from that moment on, our family began healing.
Emily was diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy and qualified to attend an intensive program at the Boston's Children's Hospital for four weeks. Through that time we communicated with letters and phone calls but the distance from Richmond, Virginia to Boston, Massachusetts felt like a world away.One hundred and seventy-five. That is the number of steps Emily had to take to reach me when she got off the plane. I realized I had been holding my breath. I was waiting to see the tears roll down her cheeks or hear the cries of pain that I knew too well. To my surprise, she was smiling. It was that moment that I realized although I could not take away her pain, I was there to hold her hand and support her, I did not fail. I was able to be the thing she may have needed the most during that time, her sister. So now when Emily calls me up and says "Tell me about your day" I tell her every single detail.