Faculty Instructor: Tara Roeder
“Have her drink orange juice,” he said typing away, the sound of the keyboard clacking, filling the sound of the room. What an idiot, I thought. Something is clearly wrong with me. Something I knew that a glass of orange juice could not cure, even at twelve years old. But, I won’t admit it aloud. Admitting it would make it seem like I have a problem, which I clearly don’t.
The clock in the room has been annoying since I walked through. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. It lulling me to sleep, a sleep to which I crave with all my being. I succumb to a dreamless sleep.
I’m supposed to be at school. Recess, I glance at the clock. But my mom forced me out of school, all because of the teachers and my best friend, Azaz. Azaz is also my cousin, who lives with us and is in the same class as me. Apparently, I’ve been sleeping a lot in class lately. At first, I didn’t think anything of it. Drifting off to Mrs. Geoffrey’s voice seemed like a good idea. She was so boring, going on and on about gravity, Newton, and blah blah blah.
My mom nudges me and whispers, “Doctor nu apni problem phair das” – “explain to the doctor again about your problem.” It was futile, but I tried. I tried again, focusing my eyes on him.
“Mrs. Arif, I think your daughter is not getting enough sleep at home. Have her sleep early and drink plenty of orange juice,” he proclaimed.
“But she sleep too much. Her teacher complain to me,” my mom says in her broken English.
“Does she sleep at home a lot?”
“Then, she’s sleep deprived. Orange juice should do the trick.”
I guess I won’t be watching TV tonight. As we shuffled out of the room, collecting our jackets, my mom scolds me for sleeping too much. I tune her out, watching the rain fall angrily. New York winters were infamous. I so was going to move out to a sunny place in the winters, when I grow up. I hate winter.
Suddenly, I wanted to dance in the rain, like we do in a Pakistan monsoon. Just feel and dance to the imaginary music. Chase my cousins through the alleys. I wonder why we never dance in the rain here.
My mom tries to shove me under the umbrella, blocking the rain. She’s coddling me by hugging me and kissing. I missed her.
Ever since, my brother was diagnosed with renal kidney failure, she’s always with him, attending to his every need. I miss them both. I miss the way our house wasalive, with my older brothers and cousin playing tag, hide and seek. Now it feels like atotally different house. It’s always somber. Sometimes, I just want to laugh aloud randomly.
As we pull up to the brick house, I want to sleep again. This time I fight the urge, but it’s hard. Nothing is wrong with me. I’m fine. Just a little tired. The house is quiet with my dad at work and brothers at school. My mom makes me my favorite lunch of all time, which consists of homemade paratha, omelet, and mango pickle. It is divine. She forces me to drink a huge glass of orange juice.
Two Weeks Later:
Things are as usual. Teachers are complaining and Azaz is tattling. Guess whose secret crush will be revealed at dinner tonight. I’m still sleeping in class. But now it has transcended into me sleeping at home. I have a bedtime of 8:00 now. From 10P.M. to 9P.M. and now to 8P.M.
Another Week Later:
February 14, 2004
“Happy Valentine’s Day!”
“Do you have a valentine, Jannat?”
“I got chocolates for everyone!”
“Happy Valentine’s Day!”
It’s Valentine’s Day. My friends are handing me roses, cards, and chocolates. There are hearts and balloons everywhere in school. I never understood Valentine’s Day. Why do people show their love only on one day? Don’t they love them the other 364 days? I would rather get chocolates every day than one day.
I want to sleep. It’s so hard trying to stay awake, because nothing is obviously wrong with me. I guess I just really, really like to sleep. If there were a job in sleeping, I probably would be a millionaire by now. No, make that a billionaire. control the urge to sleep, but I just can’t.
I still slept in class amidst the cacophony of giggles and chatter. I should really control the urge to sleep, but I just can’t. Again, the teachers are fed up and complain again to my mom.
I guess my mom has had it, because right now I’m sitting in the backseat of our car, going to ER with my mom, aunt, and uncle. The weather is horrible with polluted snow everywhere, and the movement of the car slowly trying to lull me into sleep. But this time I don’t succumb. I can hear them talking about me.
The wait is excruciating in the ER. It is very loud with monitors beeping, nurses running up and down the corridor. It feels like forever before the nurse ushers us into an examining room. She starts to take my vitals.
“How are you, Jannat?” she says as she putting the blood pressure cuff on me.
“How are you feeling on this beautiful day?” It’s a beautiful day? What world does she live in?
“What brings you to the ER today?” She snaps off the cuff and puts the thermometer in my mouth. The reading flashes on the monitor: 100/70. No blood pressure for little ol’ me.
“I’m sleeping all the time in class.” I mumbled.
“You only sleep in class?” she takes the thermometer out and its 97.1. At least, I don’t have a fever. So far so good.
“No, she sleep at home also” my mom says as she cuts me off.
“Your vitals are looking good. Let me check your oxygen and pulse.” The nurse says.
She puts on thing that goes on the finger. The monitor beeps signaling the reading is ready. I look up to see the reading.
“Let go of me”, I say as I try to pull my arms out of her grasp. People were swarming around us due to the chaos we were creating. There was this Barbie set I wanted that I saw in the windows we passed. But, my mom kept pulling me along.
We were in at a mall. My brothers went to the food court, while I was trailing along with my parents windowshopping. A really pretty Barbie set caught my eye and I had to have it. It had pretty pink ribbons wrapped around the dollhouse. Barbie was wearing a red dress, my favorite color.
As soon as my parents were occupied with clothes, I ran off and went into the Barbie store. It was three stores down. I stopped at the window and gazed at it. It was so pretty.
I don’t know how long I had been gazing at it, because when I went back to the store my parents were at, they weren’t there. I kept calling for them to no avail.
After a couple of minutes wandering around, it hit me. I’m lost.
The bottom pit of stomach dropped and I was terrified. Terrified of not being able to see my parents again. Terrified of not seeing my brothers again.
I felt that bottom pit of my stomach drop again and the feeling of being terrified, as I gazed at the monitor. This was not good.
66 and 140
140 and 66
Oxygen was 66 and heartbeat 140.
“This is not normal,” the nurse claimed. “Wait for Dr. Santiago to come.”
The anxious waiting started for the doctor. Tick Tock Tick Tock Tick Tock. My mother and I sat in silence in the white, sterile room.
After what seems like an hour, the doctor made his rounds to my room.
“You ready for a ride upstairs?” The doctor asked
We’ll take your ultrasound to see what’s going on.”
As I went upstairs and being wired to the ultrasound, I felt groggy and light-headed.
February 16, 2014:
My eyes peel open against the harsh lighting and the white ceiling. It’s too bright. There’s something in my mouth. I turn my head and see my dad. Huh. Wasn’t he supposed to be in Pakistan right now? Why can’t I say anything? What happened to my voice? I squirmed, trying to be heard.
My dad leans over, “Jannat, you have a endotracheal tube through your mouth to help you breathe. You won’t be able to talk with that. There’s a notepad here. Write with your hand.”
He passes the notepad. I take the notepad and scrawl, “what happened?”
My dad takes a deep breath before answering.
“You have scoliosis. The curve is about 54°.”
That sounds ominous.
What is scoliosis?
“It’s when the spinal cord curves abnormally.”
Why is there a tube in my mouth?
“The scoliosis curved into your left lung. You were sleeping a lot because of lack of oxygen. You fell unconscious from this lack of oxygen when they took you for the ultrasound. Thank god, you were in a hospital when you fell unconscious. I flew back from Pakistan as soon as they called me. You were unconscious for two days.”
I was slowly processing, like a slow reel of a movie.
“She’s barely holding it together. She can’t see you like this. She’s in the waiting room composing herself. This has truly broken her.”
What’s going to happen now?
“They’re going to remove the tube today to see if you can breathe on your own.”
I see the doctor behind my dad, waiting for approval. I nod.
“Alright ‘Jannet,’ it will be a slight pinch. It won’t hurt too bad. Just keep your mouth wide open.”
As the doctor puts his gloves on, the nurse comes to my bedside. He places his gloved hands on the tube. As he slowly pulls out the tube, I feel my breath leaving my body with the tube.
“Papa. I…can’t…breathe.” I gasp for breath, but there is none to be taken.
The doctor slowly puts the tube back in.
April 24, 2014:
That action has sealed my fate. Ten years later, I still have a tube, but it has been upgraded to my neck, so I can have the fun privilege of using my voice. The months flew into years trying correct the scoliosis. Another idiot doctor thought the scoliosis would be corrected with a brace. It was a 54° curve! It was way past the brace period. After three years in 2007, I had my scoliosis surgery. I thought the scoliosis surgery would have been an instant fix. I would breathe on my own and have a straight spine. Things didn’t work out that way. I did get the straight spine. The surgery left me with a shuffled gait and a stunted height. It also weakened me. It sent me into depression.
But now I’m wide awake. I am graduating in May. I will take a year off to focus on my health, which has been ignored in favor of middle school, then high school, and now college. It’s time to put a smile on my mother’s life.