I was sitting outside on Easter morning, April 20th, 2014. It was one of those absolutely serene mornings. The air was still and the sun was warm, but it was still early enough to be slightly brisk. I held my hand over my belly to feel the baby inside me moving. I began to feel happy for the first time in weeks. And then I immediately began to feet guilty for that happiness.
Several weeks earlier, I’d been IMing my friend Erin on Communicator at the bank where I worked. Erin and I had become close since we’d started together as temps, sorting through return mail (and yes, that’s as fun as it sounds). She had been my comic relief at work. When we were hired on permanently (for more interesting jobs, thankfully), we ended up in different departments, but we usually kept an IM window going—a space to laugh and commiserate over our respective departments’ dramas which, for me, always had something to do with whether or not the blinds should be up (“The sun is glaring off of my screen!” “It’s so dark and depressing in here!”) You would think people would be happy with a window seat. First world problems, I assure you.
But this day, Erin had the flu. She was working from home. When Erin didn’t show up the next week on IM or at lunch, where we usually met, I assumed that she was out with the flu. But when an entire week went by, and every text, phone call, and email went unanswered, I became very concerned. When my baby shower came and went, and she didn’t show up or call, the silence began to scare me.
I wasn’t on any social media at the time, so I couldn’t connect with any of her family or friends outside of work. When I approached her boss, she only replied that she couldn’t share any information with me, but that I shouldn’t expect her to return to work for quite awhile, if at all. As I walked past Erin’s desk on the way back to my department, I noticed the plant that I had given her on her birthday, wilting away.
I finally heard from someone that Erin might be at Buffalo General. Not knowing what to expect, or if I would even be allowed to visit, I went to Buffalo General that night and gave her name at the desk. I was led to her room, and found her lying there, hooked up to all sorts of machines, presumably asleep. What happened? Is she in a coma? Is she going to be okay? I know nothing. I pleaded with and questioned the nurse. I’m sorry, but I can’t share that information with you, she said sympathetically. Of course, I thought. So I stood there crying at Erin’s side, not knowing what was wrong, not knowing what to do, but knowing my good friend was in a very bad situation, and I couldn’t get in to help her.
I finally managed to find out who they could give information to: her grandmother. But of course, they couldn’t give me her grandmother’s phone number, because… you guessed it…that information is private. So the best I could do was to leave my number with a nurse, in hopes that she would give it to her grandma, in further hope that her grandma would take the time to call me, a person she didn’t know at all, and give me information about Erin. When I finally got in touch with Erin’s grandma, I was told what they knew.
The day I had been IMing her, the day she had the “flu,” she had a seizure (her first ever), and was found, unconscious, that evening. She was rushed to the hospital, where she had more seizures, and a coma was induced. They did not expect much in terms of a recovery. If she did wake up, there was not much hope for a normal life, outside of the hospital, outside of her bed. Evidence pointed towards some sort of infection, which spread to the brain, but everything was still quite a mystery, and the seizures continued to come.
I did the only thing I could. I visited her regularly, I played her music, I tried to be hopeful when I talked to her, and then I went home and cried. I poured out how I really felt on my husband—how hopeless it all seemed, how lifeless she appeared.
I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse, perhaps, to be locked in.
– Virginia Woolf
So on that Easter morning, when I took a break from my sadness for just a moment to contemplate beauty, to appreciate the outdoors, and to anticipate the new life growing in me, I was immediately brought back into the stuffy hospital room, with its sterile smells, and I thought of how Erin was locked in her mind, whatever might be left of it. She could not leave that hospital, that room, that bed; she could not enjoy the things that I could. And I would need to learn how to enjoy them again knowing this.
The story is not over. Read the rest of Erin’s story here.
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