My brother, James, had a rough time as a child. He was quite socially awkward, showing many of the characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome (without ever being formally diagnosed). He was constantly teased and left out, which made for a desperate need for attention from his family. Sometimes, trying to always be his friend grew tiring, but I tried my best to be a good example and a loving older sister to him. I can remember countless hours of videogames (he’d decide on one as his favorite, and play it incessantly for months, encouraging the family to join him), the fights, the talks… but what stands out most is the fact that he always looked up to me. I specifically remember a day when we were very young… I was perhaps ten, and he, seven. We were sitting on the bus on the way home from school and he showed me that his knee was bleeding. I wrapped his knee in my skirt and applied pressure to stop the bleeding, and when we got off the bus and began walking towards our house, he told me I was the nicest nurse he’d ever met. Little comments like those made my day, since I was trying so hard to be good to him.
We had our fights, of course, but for the most part, we were quite a team.
Throughout middle school, he struggled with his social awkwardness. He started getting into fights at school, which he never understood because he felt he was defending himself against his tormenters. In seventh grade, he was placed in a special school for behaviorally-challenged children and absolutely hated it there. His medications caused him to balloon up to almost 260 lbs, which was very heavy, even on his 6” frame. He developed severe acne, became very argumentative, and fell into a severe depression. I tried very hard to be supportive of him, but sometimes I faltered. It was hard for me, as a teenage girl, to sit and listen day in and day out to his banter and arguments.
Everything changed when my brother was accepted to his dream high school, a private school about two miles from our house. He was able to get out of the school he hated so much, slowly come off his medications, and finally begin to have a chance to fit in. He discovered his love for wrestling, tried out and made the team. Over the course of his freshman year of high school, my brother worked out tirelessly and religiously every single day. He made friends, lost almost sixty pounds, was told by his English teacher that he should publish his poetry, and even started dating his first girlfriend. Things seemed to really be turning around for the best for him!
Tragedy struck my family on the night of July 20, 2005. My brother had been at a summer football camp session in preparation for trying out for the team in August. He’d just made varsity wrestling and was on top of the world! I remember him running out the door to jump on his bicycle and ride off to Trinity that afternoon, and I told him I’d cook him some buffalo wings (one of his favorite foods) when he got home. He gave me a big hug, picking me up and swinging me around before taking off. Little did I know that would be the last big bear hug he’d ever give me.
On the way home from his school that night, at approximately 8 PM, my brother was crossing the street on his bicycle and was hit by a car traveling almost sixty miles per hour. His body was flung almost one hundred feet before hitting the ground, his bicycle twisted and tattered. A neighbor who lived nearby called 911, and my brother’s best friend (who lived around the corner and had heard the crash) called our house to let us know there had been an accident. I didn’t drive at the time, so I sent my mom, who had just gotten home from her 12.5 hour shift as a nurse at a local hospital, up to the high school to see what had happened.
By the time she called me, around midnight, I had been sitting on edge for hours wondering if he was going to be okay. She called me with tears in her shaky voice, telling me that it didn’t look good, and we should come to the county hospital, a few towns over. My brother, she said, had been admitted to the PICU. My then boyfriend packed my sister and I, shaking, into his car and drove to the hospital. He waited outside the PICU as she and I entered, not knowing what to expect. There lay my brother, 6’0” tall and 206 pounds of muscle, flaccid in the bed. He was hooked up to a ventilator and a heart rate monitor, as well as an ICP monitor. I didn’t know what any of this equipment was at the time; I only knew it didn’t look good. I ran over to him and flung myself on him, crying and holding him as close to me as I could. His face was so warm, his tousled curls so soft as I ran my fingers through his hair. There was my brother, who was finally growing into the handsome, athletic, intelligent, incredible man I always knew he’d be… laying on the bed in a coma. He looked so peaceful, and yet.. so empty. I couldn’t believe the situation unfolding was real.
Everyone kept saying, “Oh, you never know.. he could pull through”, but somehow I knew it wasn’t that simple. One of the PICU nurses came over, looked me in the eye, and said, "You need to talk to him. Let him know you're here." I looked at my brother, knowing full well that he would never want to live through the accident if he would be even a fraction less of the athlete he had been. I took a deep breath, and whispered in his ear, “James, if you need to let go, you go. I’ll stay here and take care of everyone.” Somehow, deep in my heart, I knew he wouldn’t make it through.
My little brother died the next morning, two days before his fifteenth birthday, at approximately 7 AM. My heart broke with that knowledge, but somehow I pulled myself together, knowing how devastated my mother would be. I spent the next two months of my life trying to deal with my own grief and help my parents and little sister cope with theirs. At some point during that time, I realized that I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing what I always tried to do for my brother and my family: help people return to health and live to their fullest potential. When I made that decision, I felt an acceptance come over me, as though I’d found my life’s calling. I knew then and there that I would be a nurse, and although I took a few years dealing with my grief and pulling myself together, I have been pursuing that dream since September 2007.
I know how proud my brother would be, and I know he would tell me I did the best I could in caring for him. He taught me that although some people can’t be saved, they can live on forever in our minds and our dreams. I will always love him and cherish the relationship we have, and remember that he always told me to give everyone a chance. I see him in the eyes of some of my younger patients, and I realize how much more there is to a patient than just the person lying in the bed. Every time I look into the eyes of my patients, I see their families, their wives, husbands, daughters and sons, mothers and fathers; I see my patients for who they are as PEOPLE, not just cases I have to deal with. I try my best to help my patients become open to communicating their feelings, discussing their lives, and sharing their worlds. I am so grateful for the short time I was able to spend with my brother, and I know that in my toughest moments, he is behind me, cheering me on. I see him in the eyes of the children I’ve met, the men unsure of themselves, the women pining for their sons. I see him everywhere, and I know I’m meant to let him live on through me and to help me be the best nurse, and person, that I can be.
Last edit by Joe V on Apr 14, '08