Note from the editor(a.k.a. Daniella): This post is brought to you after a hard weekend full of prayer and a roller coaster of emotions. It was traumatic for my mother to write and for us to read and reread it over and over again during the editing process. If you are sensitive to topics like death, this post may be too vivid and triggering for you. As I told my mom, “The writing is good. A little too good.” I felt like I was in the hospital experiencing it all through my mothers eyes. It feels a little weird posting these stories in a blog format, but my mothers stories are finally being shared and I hope you enjoy taking this journey with us.
My Big Sister Patty
My sister Patty was older by two years, but our relationship didn’t sit on the hierarchy tier, or like my sister Marina likes to put it “the chain of command”. In case some of you don’t know it, or if it is a thing of the past, listening and respecting your older sibling is a way of life, at least it was with the Zepedas in Calipatria. However, Patty and I were peers, we shared our hearts alike, I didn’t consider her to be older, nor did she treat me like a little sister.
Since we were little girls, we shared a room and for a while a bed. More importantly we shared secrets and dreams. We coined our gibberish word “Kernitos” when our nephews came along and later definitely saw our own kids as little kernitos, so sweet and chubby.
We had our demons and insecurities to fight about but we always came together to compare notes, me echaba un ojo, we checked on one another. Oh! what a rest I had with this sister friend of mine. Middle school, boys and drama were such a pain and I was so glad to have her so close.
Middle School Love… and Heartbreak
During my season of boy craziness, I was “madly in love” with a boy since 5th grade, but he didn’t know I existed. My mind always conjured up wonderful tales on those rare occasions when he happened to look in my direction, I always told Patty that he had looked at me and we would plan a strategy on how to get him to keep looking my way. On that day, when he would finally notice me, I would be nonchalant, throw my hair back as if he were just like all the other boys who looked my way, insignificant.
Patty knew how much I loved my boy and it bugged her. She didn’t think I was too plain or ugly, in fact she thought he was stupid to not notice me. she thought I needed to move on. I agreed, but I didn’t know how.
One day, she said in the taboo english mode “I have to tell you something”. Bad news. I imagined it was about her. Like the great sister and loyal friend she was, she said “vamos a tirar la basura” Both of us, mi ama and I were shocked, that she was volunteering to throw out the trash. Our backyard was a short walk, enough for her to tell me her secret, she even carried the can! Hijole, it was gonna be serious. She didn’t waste time, it was always her way to put the bottom line first.
“Rosie I heard that someone else likes like him”
I mean, I shouldn’t have been surprised he was the cutest guy in our whole middle school, maybe even the world (rolling eyes), but it worried me.
I told her “He looked at me today.” We were walking back from our trash throwing and Patty put her arm around me. Maybe because I was almost taller or maybe because I could feel her pity I was uncomfortable.
“She’s going after him, I saw them talking at the park today… He’s stupid anyway. If he likes her, he’s not worth it Rosalba.” She rarely called me that. I was feeling like the stupid one, and she was trying to help take that weight off me.
The Path to Adulthood
Through the years our hearts entwined and she learned to read me like her favorite book. Our paths parted as we made life choices, but being on different roads didn’t separate us. We needed each other, and I’m thankful we continued in adulthood as when we were little girls; true friends.
We shared our lives, like sisters often do. Nothing was too sacred; boyfriends, friendships, marriage, or lifestyles. Our insecurities; too ugly, too fat, were a constant topic, you name it we talked about it! When I got married she was with me, when I had each of my kids she was with me. Patty had a different response to each one of them, amazed at how very much she could love them like her own.
A Girl For Patty
When Daniella was born, it was a time of crisis for Patty, her life was unraveling and for a moment it was difficult for her to notice my beautiful girl. When she settled down and as she picked up the pieces of her broken life, she looked at Daniella and pulled her so close. At the ripe old age of 30 she was feeling that perhaps she would never experience a child of her own.
A Married Woman
She met her husband David and was married very quietly, inviting only family to their union. I had the honor of signing her marriage certificate. Things settled down to normal. Ya sabes, that unspoken order of things that are supposed to happen as we grow up, Patty and Dave bought a house. They had some nice things they enjoyed and life was good. Then in my older years (36) I had my last baby and my little guerito stirred up desires in her that she never thought she would have, she had been quite satisfied to enjoy my kids and splurge on Daniella. Suddenly, at 38, Patty wanted a baby of her own.
That was crazy! I had dug deep into conversations with her asking if she wanted a baby, she always said no. It was probably for the best because Patty suffered from several ailments which caused a lot of pain and stiffness. Some days it was hard for her to even move.
I ached for her. I was beginning to avoid conversations about the baby and mothering. Then one day, as it was her habit when she had big news or bad news she called and said “ I have something to tell you” Oh no…. “Rosie I’m pregnant!”
Can you feel the glee in her words? It was a miracle. We had concluded in our extensive diagnostic conversations that she probably couldn’t have babies!
We were off on the pregnancy journey. She was “extra” about everything, but so far it was an easy time, going in monthly for doctor appointments and different tests. In her 4th month appointment, when she was excited to be feeling the baby soon, the doctor measured her and noticed she was smaller than she should be. When he went to check the heartbeat, he couldn’t find it. She called me. “Rosie, they can’t find the heartbeat, I’m getting an ultrasound” Neither of us considered what could have happened.
I went as soon as I could find a babysitter. What devastation, she had lost her baby weeks before and carried it for almost a month. Why hadn’t a problem been detected? She had to schedule a D&C procedure to remove the baby. Can I describe my feeling and reaction as none? Numb? She had questions and I had no answers. Why? What if?
Hospitals have too many procedures and medical needs to address one woman as her world is caving in around her. When I saw her, we spoke with our eyes. She would have a couple of days to recover and then resume her regular living. What was that supposed to be like now? Patty’s body recovered faster than her spirit, but our God was faithful and Marina was there…
Before long, Patty was pregnant again. She carried Andrew James to term and held him in her arms. (In another post, when I’m feeling inspired, perhaps I’ll share the dramatical story of her pregnancy, labor and delivery)
El Amor de Una Madre
Patty was in love, just imagine! El amor de una madre. She wanted to do all that she could for him and as he grew she turmoiled over the weight of life as a new mom. It hit her hard one day when he began crawling, then walking, that it was getting very difficult to keep up with him, she almost couldn’t.
Our Ever-present Weight loss Battle
She believed that much of her ailments would be controlled or dissipate if she would only take her excessive weight off. More importantly to her, she’d be able to enjoy all those things that little boys like to do. Weight loss was always a conversation we circled. The weight battle has always been in the forefront with the Zepedas. Through the years we had seen some victories and felt the heavy weight of defeat.
As Andrew quickly grew she was talking more and more about doing something drastic; a gastric bypass. It made total sense to her, a quick kick start to a new life. I was vehemently opposed, cutting away a portion of her stomach wasn’t going to check her habits. We were both extreme in our arguments and fought about this for a year. She was moving forward hoping I would see her side because she needed my support. How could I support something I didn’t believe in?
Patty was well into the Bariatric program, having been assessed and taken classes and controlled her eating, everything was moving forward but I wasn’t onboard. Just as she had lost weight in this program to prepare for the surgery, she could keep taking off the weight and change her habits. It was our battle to fight!
She Needed Me
For Andrews birthdays I always planned the partys with Patty’s pocket book. Her continuous pain and fatigue made things difficult and I was used to these occasions. Everything was completed in her program and she just needed to set her date. One day, I’m there in Party City getting decorations and she calls me. “Rosie I have something to tell you” Really? I stopped. “Que paso?”
“Why won’t you support me in this? I need your help, I’m tired of this pain and weight. It’s an opportunity to get better for Andrew. Rosie please” And to my constant regret, between theme choices for the party, I caved. I told my beautiful sister to go ahead with her plan. What did I need to do? I did just exactly what she needed, she just wanted to hear my words of approval. That was that.
The party went off with only a few glitches and the surgery was scheduled for August.
Life Altering Weight-loss Surgery
It is a common surgery, and it was very popular in those days. She had friends that were grossly obese and suddenly very thin and seemingly without complications. I on the other hand had known a couple of ladies who were quickly gaining their weight back, besides all the diarrhea and vomiting they experienced.
On the week of the surgery, Patty made all her arrangements. She went out and bought all the needed liquid vitamins for days ahead. Andrew would be with me and his dad. She went to a hotel to make sure she wasn’t late for the time of registration and preparation for the surgery early the next morning. It was one of those rare occasions that my blingy beautiful sister was undone. No make up, her hair in a ponytail. No dinner, just quiet solemn conversation on what to expect. The doctor had warned her that it would be difficult in the beginning with only a liquid diet.
She came out of surgery fine, but recovery was slow, she stayed longer than the 3 days. She was weak, which they said was all normal. Then she went home to recover and adjust to her new way of living. Not Marina or Lupe or I; her sisters, were able to go home with her as she recovered. She was having a difficult time and she was immensely discouraged that hardly any weight had come off after two weeks of a broth and soft food diet. Her doctor wanted to see her, but in the meantime she decided to go out for a cup of soup, consuming only the broth. In the middle of her dinner she needed to throw up, she was very weak and slowly managed to make it to the bathroom. Throwing up continued through the night, in the morning her husband drove her to E.R. She was admitted because she was dehydrated. She called and left me a message that she was in the hospital. She said she was fine just dehydrated. I gathered myself together and so did my sisters and we went up to see her. Things happened so quickly and severely it couldn’t be happening!
It was Monday, she was coherent and things seemed ok. My older sisters went home to get organized and plan a strategy to be in the hospital with her and help her. As the hours passed she was becoming incoherent. Nurses came in to explain in medical terms the problems in her blood. Low platelet count, low white blood cell count. a blood transfusion was needed. My brain wasn’t registering, and in those days, before taking care of my apa, I allowed myself to be intimidated by the professionals and their medical terminology. But what was wrong with my sister? Why was this happening? Finally! A nurse said that she had an unknown infection that had compromised her blood or what had caused it. By Tuesday night she was completely incoherent and agitated despite her little strength she pulled on tubes, she tossed and tried to turn. The hours passed as I watched my sister fight for her life. Every once in a while I would run out to get a nurse, because something beeped or she pulled a tube, by this point she had so many tubes and she was on so much medication. Ativan was the drug used to calm her down, her heart rate was dangerously high.
Rare Blood Infection
I still wouldn’t believe she was in danger of losing her life, I simply could not register this. This happened to other people. By Wednesday blood transfusions were increasing as the unknown infection had finally been revealed. TTP, a rare blood infection that prevailed over her body. I was keeping ominously calm. “Yes” I texted my friend, “She is getting dialysis, her kidneys have failed, they called it sepsis because the infection has spread to her organs. Please keep praying” I watched helplessly through the night as her blood pumped through the dialysis machines to clean it from the dangerous toxins that had invaded her. Patty had her eyes open but she wasn’t seeing me or anything physical, but she was afraid and anxious, she spoke incoherent words and mumbled. I updated my sisters. It was late Wednesday night, Marina was trying desperately to return but her own husband had gotten into an accident and needed her help also, my calm responses made her feel that we would get through this and Patty would be fine, and she would be back in the morning.
A Dark Night
When dialysis was complete, we went back to her room. During a long dark night, my sister fought for her life, her blood being attacked by this infection that permeated her body. In the early hours of Thursday, Patty loudly grunted like she was choking as she arched her body, I screamed for the nurse, she came rushing, pushing me out of the doorway. The entire hospital sounded the Code Blue alarm. Several other staff ran in filling the room with equipment and roughly giving orders. They caught her. They brought Patty back and rushed to get her into ICU. As we rushed to the ICU area and into a room, where she was going to get intubated the doctor told me I would have to step outside. No! I didn’t want to separate from her, but they couldn’t let me stay. I pleaded with them to call me back as soon as they were done.
While I waited I called my Benjamin, I called my sister Marina and I called my bestie, all those conversations and they weren’t calling me back in! I asked to go in and I was told to wait. I now know that my sister had gotten transferred around shift changes, just before 7am and all those preliminaries of the day had to be squared away. When I asked to go back with my sister again, they allowed me. I found Patty with A tube down her throat to help her breath. Monitors for her heart, drip medications going into her and my sister oblivious to what was happening. The nurse encouraged me to talk to her, it might be possible that she would hear me and calm down. You see, even though she seemed to be sleeping her heart was bursting with work effort, despite the ativan medication. Soon her husband arrived, I couldn’t tell him anything, then a friend of hers came in. I encouraged her to talk to her and let her know she was there. Marina was on her way back, a two hour drive. All we could do was stare at her, I tried to speak words, to get her to recognize me, Rosie, I was there with her. Patty had barely been in ICU a couple of hours, nurses came and went. Another nurse came in to check her heart rate and it was dangerously high again. She went to give her more medication and I stopped her. “What are you giving her now?” The nurse glanced over at me, “Oh it’s ok, it’s just medicine to calm her, it’s ativan” “Wait, she just had some, it’s too soon.” But the nurse hadn’t stopped, she was following doctors orders as she emptied the syringe into the IV tube. “It’s ok the doctor ordered it.” She went around her bed and continued her routine check up. Within minutes, I watched her blood pressure drop rapidly and the nurse saw it too. The machine went off again, and her heart had stopped. Doctors came rushing in, my brother in law and I watched as they manually pumped her heart, it was keeping her heart going. The doctor looked at me and said “We’ve been working on her for 13 minutes, she’s not responding” “Don’t stop!” I yelled “You can’t stop!” The doctor looked at Dave and they stopped. They let her go. I couldn’t believe they stopped. They stopped, she was gone. All that were in that room cleared out, the doctor was no longer addressing me, I was out of control. I ran in to help Patty. I climbed on top of her, as much as I could, put my face on her face and now my voice and prayers were being heard. “God! Like you heard Elisha, hear me! Bring my sister back. Give her life here again. God please bring her back.” I climbed on her a couple of times, so sorry to be hurting her some more, I was desperate. Maybe I had prayed wrong? Maybe I should line myself to her eye to eye, nose to nose… “Bring her back”. I groaned for my sister, how did I let this happen? I sat there, weeping. My sister Marina walked in, staring, frozen. Patty’s hair was a mess, who let that happen? She had to fix it. Patty wouldn’t appreciate people seeing her like this. As the news got out to the family they came into that little ICU room.
Three days, before her hospitalization, Patty and I had discussed death and dying. I was always the practical one in these discussions and she was always worried about the details of these things. She was feeling very emotional that night. “How should we get buried? Who would take care of our kids? Promise me that you’ll always keep Andrew close to you and your kids. Should we let our husbands take care of the details of our burial?”
Before we ended the conversation we prayed and asked God to give us his salvation and peace.