What Went Down
⚠️ Content warning: Blood, attempted suicide ⚠️
My mother was across town when she got a call from my teenage sister. From what I know, the call essentially consisted of distressed crying and words that made no sense before she quickly hung up. My older brother and I were house-sitting a few blocks away from our home when we got the call from mom.
At first I didn’t know what had happened. My brother had answered his phone, then he was gone running. I was a few blocks behind him when mom called me.
“Get home now.”
I opened the door to unintelligible crying. My older brother was in the kitchen with our little sister, who was crying, woozy, and bleeding from deep self-inflicted slashes on her left arm. Blood was smeared on two walls and collected in puddles all over the kitchen. Our many foster dogs were doing their best to lick up all the blood; looking back I think it was probably their way of trying to help fix things. Scattered around at random were empty bottles of ibuprofen and, worse, the emptied containers of my sister and mother’s anti-anxieties.
While my brother stayed with my sister, I called for an ambulance. The people on the other end were of course very clear and professional, which actually helped me keep my shit together. At their instructions I wrapped a clean towel around my sisters arm – as I did, she slumped down into a corner and threw up a puddle of dark pink pilly mess into a dog food bowl. In the state she was currently in, I had to keep stopping her from trying to pick it up and swallow it again. Somehow I realised I needed to tell the dispatcher about my sister’s trauma related to people in uniform – growing up in the foster system plus some less than perfect hospital experiences are given to do that to a person – and that later turned out to be one of the more important things I could have done.
The EMTs, when they arrived, were calm and gentle with my sister, going as slow as they needed to with her and not pushing her in any way. I tried to be helpful without getting in the way; I think with slightly mixed results. Mostly I just tried to let my sister know she was safe. I promised her she wasn’t going to be taken away, and that no matter where she went, I would go with her. She wasn’t going anywhere I wasn’t.
So I wound up riding in the ambulance to the hospital. I had to sit in the front where she couldn’t see me, but I tried to let her know I was still there by calling back to her and telling her the same things over again: She wasn’t being taken away anywhere, I was still with her.
When we got to the hospital, I was incredibly relieved to see my parents waiting there for us. After some brief waiting, my sister was admitted, then my parents called in afterwards. I realise now that they probably wouldn’t have let me in, and I knew my parents were probably still with her as much as they could be, but I still feel ashamed that I didn’t go all the way in with her.
I am so grateful I didn’t have to stay in that waiting room alone. A friend from several years ago, who my older brother and I had recently reconnected with, had been in the car with my mom when she got the first call. (He’s been doing renovations on the house we will soon move into.) Instead of leaving to attend his own business, he wound up staying with me for the three or so hours I was stranded in the room. We talked about video games, TV shows we both liked, the usual stuff. Basically anything except for what was going on.
I probably seemed strangely giddy to anyone else in the room, laughing more than anyone waiting in that place should. But I knew that if I tried to deal with what was happening, tried to acknowledge it, it would break me and I’d become no good to anyone. So I stuck it behind a sharp wall of glass in my brain, where I could see it and almost feel it, but not quite.
It was hours before my parents came out again, and I am truly thankful I didn’t have to spend them alone. He said he knew what it was like to wait in a place like that and drive yourself crazy, and I know my own mind well enough to understand that being alone there honestly might have wrecked me.
Instead, I managed to hang on long enough to see my parents come out again, and to hear the news that we simply didn’t know if my sister was going to be okay. So while my parents waited at the hospital in the paediatric ICU, my brother and I watched the house, and we all tried very hard not to fall apart.
The first two days were the worst. The pills my sister had taken would take their fullest effect over that time, after which they would slowly peter out. In the meantime, my sister was on life support. Even after those first days passed without incident, and bit by bit my sister started to improve, things were still somewhat dicey. We’d been told by the doctors that one of the life support machines she was on had a 20% rate of negative side effects in patients. I can’t tell you the name of it, but essentially it was a machine that pumped some of her blood for her, out then in again through her leg. Since the blood was moving through places unlike the inside of the body, it tended to clot. They used a clot-preventing agent to protect against this, but as a result the blood might not clot when it was supposed to. One of the possibilities was internal bleeding into the lungs, which could be fatal.
No one slept much for the six days my sister was unconscious.
Then, after she’d been improving gradually for some time, we received the news: She was off life support, and would be waking up soon.
Since then, things have slowly become more stable. My sister is awake and aware again, and she’s come home – at least for a while. It’s understood by everyone that there is a long road ahead of her, and us, before this can ever be put behind us. She’s seeing doctors and talking to psychiatrists about what needs to be done. But at last, we are slowly putting things back together.
I cannot thank enough the many people who have been kind to my family during this time. My mother would not have eaten without people bringing her food, right to the hospital. Others brought food straight to our house, almost all of it considerate of the many dietary complications of our family. And many were simply present, lending us their support and kindness, letting us know we weren’t alone. One good friend, the same one that stayed with me in the waiting room, spent the night at our house with my older brother and I, playing cards and just helping us keep our minds on literally anything else.
I have never been so thankful for the presence of others, not least because of my constant, irrational, anxious feelings that I will always be alone. But in this case, I am most grateful that my family, so often resigned to suffering in silence, was able to draw much needed strength from the people around them.
Thank you to everyone who bore with us through this crisis. Words cannot express what you have done for my family.
And finally, thank you for reading. At the worst of times, it can feel like this story is the only thing I have. Thank you for supporting it by giving it a read.