Mind Over Matter

This post is a continuation from the last three and details my sister’s brave battle with cancer. To read from the beginning, please start with the post called The Club.

* * *

I don’t think the nighttime nurse liked us very much. She had a valid reason. Generally speaking, shaking martinis in a hospital room is a no-no. But we didn’t care. Not because we’re raging alcoholics, but simply because that’s what we do. We drink two martinis before dinner. Well, I don’t. I mean I sometimes do, but only when I’m with my parents. Because that’s what they do.

With Dad withering away in his hospital bed, the task of shaking our drinks fell to yours truly. I brought in the ice needed via a large Styrofoam cup and smuggled the vodka, vermouth, olives, and glasses in my backpack. When the nurse caught me red-handed, she gave me a look of admonishment, one that all but asked me to stop. Before she could articulate her thoughts, I shot her a look of my own.

“He’s dying,” I told her with my eyes while slowly shaking my head. “So why don’t you let him live a little?”

Dad’s behavior had become increasingly erratic. He had rummaged through his bed covers for five continuous minutes earlier that day, as if looking for something before seemingly finding it, scooping it up, and showing it to Mom.

“Look, Martha Lee. A diamond,” he said, proudly displaying cupped hands which contained nothing.

In spite of such episodes, that fiercely intelligent man fought hard to maintain control of his mind. You could actually see him willing it to perform like it was supposed to.

“What’s the date, Dr. Osborne?” one of his nurses had asked earlier.

“Oh, c’mon, lady,” he said with disgust, if not embarrassment.

“What about the year? What year are we in?”

“1959,” he answered confidently.

“Not quite. Can you try again?”

“Look,” he began, his voice just on the cordial side of angry, “maybe I don’t know what year it is, but I sure as hell know this. UT plays Miami this weekend.”

You’re damn right we do, Dad. You tell her.

I wasn’t sure if he’d even be able to drink the martini I was shaking for him. He wasn’t in good shape. His speech had become quite slurred, his off-and-on dementia even worse than before. And he was silent as a mouse. The sound of ice slamming against stainless steel felt good to me. Hearing something was better than hearing nothing. So I kept doing it. When I finally stopped and poured our drinks, the quiet came back. I broke it nervously by asking Dad a question which I didn’t expect him to have the energy, or perhaps even the capacity, to answer.

“Do you think I bruised the vodka by shaking it too much?”

“Es ball-shet. Yu kahnt bwooze vong-ka. Yu kahnt. Es ball-shet. Bwooze gin? Yus. Bwooze vong-ka? No.”

He took his glass with an unsteady hand and held it to his mouth which was opening and closing uncontrollably, even spastically. I was amazed he didn’t spill it. Not even a drop. It wasn’t pretty, but after nearly a minute of trying, he managed to get a sip down.

“Ahh. Dots goood. So goood.”

Way back when, my dad made me my very first martini. That night, I made him his very last. It was obvious that he was but a shell of himself. Yet he still managed to teach me something I didn’t know. You can’t bruise vodka. My dad had a mind like a steel trap. And he fought to keep it until the very end.

The week after my trip to Houston, I was obsessed with the state of Holliday’s mind. Where was it leading her during her time away from us? What was it telling her? Peaceful things, I hoped. Things that made her happy. Would it ever let her wake up? As of last Friday, the answer was still no. It was that day we got some devastating news. If Holliday didn’t come back to us by the upcoming weekend (the one that is now nearly upon us), it would be time to consider pulling all of her life-sustating tubes. Even if she did wake up before then, the doctors feared her brain may have been damaged by what they described as “seizure-like activity.”

That night I was despondent. I suddenly worried that if Holliday’s brain was, indeed, damaged, perhaps it was unable to take my sister to the peaceful and happy places I had hoped. At midnight, after hours of waffling, I finally made a difficult decision. I wouldn’t accompany Mom the following day to Houston. I would wait until the next weekend to go. After all, from what the experts were saying, that’s when it sounded like the end might be upon us.

But Mom phoned on Sunday with some incredible news. Holliday opened her eyes! Mom had just entered the room, and Holliday clearly opened her eyes and fluttered them about and even tried to lift her hand! The nurses were blown away. This was, by far, the most encouraging signs Holliday had shown since she had been moved to the ICU.

We tried not to read too much into it, but it was hard not to. You have to remember that my sister had been unconscious for almost NINE days. Initially, we were all but told she wouldn’t make it through the holiday weekend. But Holliday, true to form, did just that. Then forty-eight hours after talk of brain damage, and bleak discussions pertaining to end-of-life scenarios, she opened her eyes.

I went to bed Sunday night with hope, though, realistically, I knew the situation was still dire. Yet Monday night, Mom reported more good news. Holliday was able to nod her head to answer yes and no to simple questions. She was still sleeping the vast majority of the time, but able, nonetheless, to open her eyes and actually communicate.

Tuesday, Holliday upped the ante and was trying to speak. Sometimes she’d move her mouth, but no sound would come out. Other times, she’d not move her mouth at all, yet still emit faint sounds. Then, on Tuesday afternoon, Mom returned from lunch only to find Holliday’s room empty. She feared the worst. When she asked the nurses where her daughter was, she couldn’t believe their response.

Holliday had been moved out of the ICU and was back in her old hospital room.

Today is Friday, and my brave sister has continued her slow but steady improvement. She’s now able to put together entire sentences at a time. She’s no longer on a feeding tube, but rather ingesting a liquid diet. The physical therapist helped her sit up for a few moments, and even had her doing arm exercises. It’s now clear that the doctors were wrong about the horrific forecast of potential damage to her brain. Holliday’s mind remains as beautiful as ever.

Still, much unknown remains. The doctors aren’t yet able to tell us what, exactly, happened to her. If and when they ever can pinpoint a cause, it still won’t make Holliday’s cancer magically go away. What’s more, she’s in such a weakened state, there’s no clear-cut plan as to how they should proceed to attack it. So she hasn’t exactly won the battle of her life just yet.

But the fight is still on.

I know that some things aren’t supposed to make sense, but that never stops me from trying. As I ponder these borderline miraculous developments, my mind keeps taking me back to my dad. And his mind. The one he kept fighting to maintain. The one that refused to go quietly into that good night. The one that told me that bruising vodka was “bullshit” mere hours before he died.

When asked what year we were in, Dad had thrown out 1959–a year which represents the prime of his life. I get it now. When you’re fighting as hard as he was, there’s nothing but now. For without it, both your past and your future would cease to exist. So by default, each passing moment is the prime of your life. No matter how old or how sick you are.

Holliday, both literally and figuratively, is in the prime of her life. And tomorrow I’ll catch a flight to Houston where I’ll have the privilege of living some of it with her. And I’m so thankful to have that opportunity. Because people like her know more about living than the rest of us could ever even hope to know.

I think it’s something about the way their mind works. I’m proud of my sister, y’all.

To be continued.

Related Posts with Thumbnails
About john cave osborne

John Cave Osborne is a writer whose work has appeared on such sites as DisneyBaby, Babble, YahooShine, TLC and the Huffington Post. He was also referenced by Jezebel one time, but he’s pretty sure they were making fun of him. He and his wife, Caroline, live with their five children and spastic dog in Knoxville, TN. Nothing annoys him more than joke-heavy bios written in the third person, with the possible exception of Corey Feldman.

  • http://wwwjackbenimble.blogspot.com/ Jack

    Beautiful as always. WIshing you all the best.

  • http://wwwjackbenimble.blogspot.com/ Jack

    Beautiful as always. WIshing you all the best.

  • http://Www.tempestbeauty.com Mandy

    I couldn’t sleep tonight.

    I’m glad I couldn’t. I’m thankful to have stayed up late enough to read this. I read it with tears in my eyes, I’m still blinking them away.

    I hope you enjoy your trip, and I hope you come back and share wonderful news with us. I hope Holliday knows how many people are pulling for her, and – in our own ways – love her.

    I think I can sleep now. Thanks John. :)

  • http://Www.tempestbeauty.com Mandy

    I couldn’t sleep tonight.

    I’m glad I couldn’t. I’m thankful to have stayed up late enough to read this. I read it with tears in my eyes, I’m still blinking them away.

    I hope you enjoy your trip, and I hope you come back and share wonderful news with us. I hope Holliday knows how many people are pulling for her, and – in our own ways – love her.

    I think I can sleep now. Thanks John. :)

  • Hugh

    At a loss for words John – Thinks of you and the family

  • Hugh

    At a loss for words John – Thinks of you and the family

  • Nicki

    Safe travels and continued prayers for all of you!

  • Nicki

    Safe travels and continued prayers for all of you!

  • Melisa Wells

    Wow. Amazing. Have a safe trip and a wonderful visit with Holliday!

  • Melisa Wells

    Wow. Amazing. Have a safe trip and a wonderful visit with Holliday!

  • http://www.fabricmarketknoxville.com Laura Higdon

    Oh, John, that is wonderful news. Traveling mercies to you and I know you will soak up every minute with Holliday and have some more beauty and courage and love to write about when you get back.
    Fondly,
    L

  • http://www.fabricmarketknoxville.com Laura Higdon

    Oh, John, that is wonderful news. Traveling mercies to you and I know you will soak up every minute with Holliday and have some more beauty and courage and love to write about when you get back.
    Fondly,
    L

  • http://www.blogonkevin.blogspot.com always home and uncool

    Wow. Moving story. Best of luck, J.

  • http://www.blogonkevin.blogspot.com always home and uncool

    Wow. Moving story. Best of luck, J.

  • wendy

    Such great news for Holliday and your family! Safe travels my friened and enjoy your precious time with Holliday!

  • wendy

    Such great news for Holliday and your family! Safe travels my friened and enjoy your precious time with Holliday!

  • Rachel

    Really enjoy reading your blogs…there are many reasons I can think of to thank you for sharing the tribulations you are your family are navigating…

    And no matter what happens, your sister is such a FIGHTER! How could anyone not be inspired by her??

    “I know that some things aren’t supposed to make sense, but that never stops me from trying.”

    Ohhh me too…me too.

  • Rachel

    Really enjoy reading your blogs…there are many reasons I can think of to thank you for sharing the tribulations you are your family are navigating…

    And no matter what happens, your sister is such a FIGHTER! How could anyone not be inspired by her??

    “I know that some things aren’t supposed to make sense, but that never stops me from trying.”

    Ohhh me too…me too.

  • Patrick (yeah, that one)

    And I am suddenly reminded of something from years ago. A memory of sitting in the student lounge at our high school playing cards of some sort, and someone teasing you that they were going to win, and you should just give up. I remember you giving them a glare and a heated “Osbornes don’t give up.” Obviously that hasn’t changed.

    Good for Holliday for never giving up, just like your dad didn’t, and just like you haven’t. Even when and if things don’t work out they way we want, the worst thing to do is give up.

    Keep fighting. Success is in not giving up, not in always winning.

    Peace to you my friend, and my prayers and best wishes too.

  • Patrick (yeah, that one)

    And I am suddenly reminded of something from years ago. A memory of sitting in the student lounge at our high school playing cards of some sort, and someone teasing you that they were going to win, and you should just give up. I remember you giving them a glare and a heated “Osbornes don’t give up.” Obviously that hasn’t changed.

    Good for Holliday for never giving up, just like your dad didn’t, and just like you haven’t. Even when and if things don’t work out they way we want, the worst thing to do is give up.

    Keep fighting. Success is in not giving up, not in always winning.

    Peace to you my friend, and my prayers and best wishes too.

  • http://surprisedmom.blogspot.com SurprisedMom

    I hope you have a wonderful visit with Holliday. I hope she keeps on improving and gaining strength. Y’all should be proud of your sister. She’s a tough cookie.
    Beautiful post and wonderfully written.

  • http://surprisedmom.blogspot.com SurprisedMom

    I hope you have a wonderful visit with Holliday. I hope she keeps on improving and gaining strength. Y’all should be proud of your sister. She’s a tough cookie.
    Beautiful post and wonderfully written.

  • http://www.myspellingsucks.com Kevin(TheDADvocate)

    John, What wonderful news. We’ll keep praying for your sister, you and your family.

  • http://www.myspellingsucks.com Kevin(TheDADvocate)

    John, What wonderful news. We’ll keep praying for your sister, you and your family.

  • Meg

    Safe Travels buddy, we all wish and pray the very best–take care of yourself and your Mom too!

  • Meg

    Safe Travels buddy, we all wish and pray the very best–take care of yourself and your Mom too!

  • http://www.almightydad.com Keith Wilcox

    One of my biggest fears is losing my mind. I can handle sickness, but I’m not sure how I would take knowingly losing my mind. Worst of all is watching someone you love forget you or become someone else overnight thanks to brain damage. While you’re dad clearly went a little bonkers towards the end, it’s nice to hear how well he took it (UT Miami!). Hey, at least he remembered the salient points, right! :-) And, thank god your sister has cleared this latest hurdle with such flying colors. That’s really good news.

  • http://www.almightydad.com Keith Wilcox

    One of my biggest fears is losing my mind. I can handle sickness, but I’m not sure how I would take knowingly losing my mind. Worst of all is watching someone you love forget you or become someone else overnight thanks to brain damage. While you’re dad clearly went a little bonkers towards the end, it’s nice to hear how well he took it (UT Miami!). Hey, at least he remembered the salient points, right! :-) And, thank god your sister has cleared this latest hurdle with such flying colors. That’s really good news.

  • http://barbaramanatee.wordpress.com barbaramanatee

    What wonderful news!! I hope and pray that she continues to improve. I hope you are having a wonderful visit with her this weekend.

  • http://barbaramanatee.wordpress.com barbaramanatee

    What wonderful news!! I hope and pray that she continues to improve. I hope you are having a wonderful visit with her this weekend.

  • Lynjoy Baack

    what a fighter! somehow I am not surprised..and as long as her brilliant mind is intact, she deserves the opportunity to fight on. It amazes me sometimes how quickly the medical community can take you down a totally different road only to discover that they had made a wrong turn. Many prayers sent your way!

  • Lynjoy Baack

    what a fighter! somehow I am not surprised..and as long as her brilliant mind is intact, she deserves the opportunity to fight on. It amazes me sometimes how quickly the medical community can take you down a totally different road only to discover that they had made a wrong turn. Many prayers sent your way!

  • http://www.irrationaldad.com Irrational Dad

    She’s obviously got a strong spirit. I hope to hear more good news soon.

  • http://www.irrationaldad.com Irrational Dad

    She’s obviously got a strong spirit. I hope to hear more good news soon.

  • http://stardreamingwithsherrybluesky.blogspot.com Sherry Blue Sky

    This is such wonderful news and I hope it continues. Happy you will be with her now she has woken up. Good luck to all of you – you truly are ALL fighting the beautiful fight. Such love!

  • http://stardreamingwithsherrybluesky.blogspot.com Sherry Blue Sky

    This is such wonderful news and I hope it continues. Happy you will be with her now she has woken up. Good luck to all of you – you truly are ALL fighting the beautiful fight. Such love!

  • http://lifeofanewdad.blogspot.com Otter321

    I just read the entire series of posts. I am so sorry! My prayers will be with you, Holliday, and all your family. Praying for a continued recovery.

    These posts were amazing John. Terribly sad, but beautiful.

  • http://lifeofanewdad.blogspot.com Otter321

    I just read the entire series of posts. I am so sorry! My prayers will be with you, Holliday, and all your family. Praying for a continued recovery.

    These posts were amazing John. Terribly sad, but beautiful.

  • http://www.margeryraveson.com/ kim

    “Skeptics won’t believe me and I’m sad for them. Because it’s true. And so’s this– Holliday knew I was there. If not her unconscious mind, then certainly her undying spirit.”

    I feel as if I’ve just met a soulmate.

    There are many beautiful mysteries in ICUs… where loved ones teeter on the bridge between worlds. I’ve experienced some of these holy moments as well.

    You have expressed the experience brilliantly and movingly.

    I will keep you and your family in my prayers. And I’ll say a special one that you will have an opportunity to say what you need to say to your valiant sister.

    Kim

    (p.s. As a grandmother helping to raise a 2-year-old boy, my hat’s off to you.)

  • http://www.margeryraveson.com/ kim

    “Skeptics won’t believe me and I’m sad for them. Because it’s true. And so’s this– Holliday knew I was there. If not her unconscious mind, then certainly her undying spirit.”

    I feel as if I’ve just met a soulmate.

    There are many beautiful mysteries in ICUs… where loved ones teeter on the bridge between worlds. I’ve experienced some of these holy moments as well.

    You have expressed the experience brilliantly and movingly.

    I will keep you and your family in my prayers. And I’ll say a special one that you will have an opportunity to say what you need to say to your valiant sister.

    Kim

    (p.s. As a grandmother helping to raise a 2-year-old boy, my hat’s off to you.)

  • http://www.alaurilee.com Lauri aka @grnladybug
  • http://www.alaurilee.com Lauri aka @grnladybug
  • http://worldofweasels.blogspot.com WeaselMomma

    I haven’t been commenting through this series, but just want to make sure you know that I have been following closely.
    Hang in there, man.

  • http://worldofweasels.blogspot.com WeaselMomma

    I haven’t been commenting through this series, but just want to make sure you know that I have been following closely.
    Hang in there, man.

  • http://liayf.blogspot.com Seattledad

    Such good news John. Beautifully told as usual.

  • http://liayf.blogspot.com Seattledad

    Such good news John. Beautifully told as usual.

  • TheMagicalMom

    John, hang in there and enjoy your time with your sister. They are moments to be treasured. I lost my mother recently to a long battle with Primary Peritoneal cancer. I had the gift of spending her last month with her in the hospital. I Highly recommend the book “Grave Expectations”. She and I had some belly laughs in her final days, filling in the blanks of the book. I learned a lot of things about her and I now have a wonderful keepsake for my children. Hugs to you and your entire family.

  • TheMagicalMom

    John, hang in there and enjoy your time with your sister. They are moments to be treasured. I lost my mother recently to a long battle with Primary Peritoneal cancer. I had the gift of spending her last month with her in the hospital. I Highly recommend the book “Grave Expectations”. She and I had some belly laughs in her final days, filling in the blanks of the book. I learned a lot of things about her and I now have a wonderful keepsake for my children. Hugs to you and your entire family.

  • Pingback: My Christmas Poem to You

  • Pingback: The Beautiful Fight