There is no one like a sister. During childhood, she’s your best playmate, and if you’re fortunate, when you’re both grown, she remains your closest friend.
I thought a lot about sisters while my older daughter was hospitalized in June. Sisterly pairs, and their dynamic relationships, seemingly swirled all around us that week. First, there were Anna and Elsa, the sororal stars of “Frozen,” who pranced across the TV screen in my daughter’s hospital room. Next, there were my own daughters, who were kept apart by the logistics of hospital visitation. And lastly, my relationship with my own younger sister, who overcame physical distance to be a constant presence and source of support.
That moral support was crucial. Spending several days in the hospital with your preschooler is significantly worse than being hospitalized yourself. I write this as someone who was hospitalized seven years ago in India, where I knew nobody, save some fellow interns I’d met maybe three weeks earlier. Even that experience, which was terrifying at the time, was more pleasant than watching my feisty four-year-old cooped up in a toy-filled children’s hospital.
On the plus side, Lila wasn’t bedridden. She could leave her shared hospital room for the cardiac unit’s playroom, but only while wearing an IV and a mobile heart monitor, which the nurses thoughtfully tucked into a yellow, floral hippie purse. My first thoughts, when I raced into the hospital that Monday morning, were that the purse screamed “Berkeley student!” and looked enormous slung across my accessory-adoring daughter’s chest.
Lila and my husband had arrived at the hospital the day earlier, after Lila passed out for the seventh time in six months. It was a Sunday morning, and at a quarter to nine, my husband ran into our bedroom to rouse me. “Get up! It happened again!,” he shouted. Tired and confused, I grabbed my glasses, slid out of bed, and chased him into the living room.
There was Lila, convulsing on the floor. “Did you press the blue button?” I asked. “What button?” my husband replied agitatedly. “This one,” I said, while groggily pressing “record” on the heart monitor at her waist.
The cardiologist-on-call insisted that Lila report to the hospital as soon as possible for additional monitoring. Lila wasn’t thrilled about spending more time at the hospital but was most upset that she would now miss a classmate’s birthday party. Her consolation prize was much more dessert than she’d eat at home, an endless loop of “Frozen” on her roommate’s television, and Skyping with her little sister on Daddy’s phone.
Meanwhile, I stayed home with our 10-month-old. The baby sister spent Monday and Tuesday with babysitters, while I supported her big sister at the hospital. The whole experience was draining. Waiting for doctors and nurses, trying to understand Lila’s fainting condition, and attempting to stay calm for Lila’s sake.
Thankfully, my own sister grew up to be a talented doctor and devoted aunt. Ever since we were little, we’ve been there for each other through everyday things, love’s ups and downs, and various health issues. Now, every time a specialist arrived, I immediately dialed my sister. She joined every medical conversation via speakerphone, asked detailed questions, and then translated the doctor’s comments into English.
At bedtime each night, Annabelle looked around our apartment, especially at Lila’s empty bed, clearly wondering where her beloved big sister might be. Annabelle, who typically spends her days with Lila and me, knew something was amiss, and she didn’t like it. Our typically joyous baby conveyed her distress by crying much more than usual.
On Tuesday, my parents traveled from New York to help. They watched Annabelle at home, while I tended to Lila. The doctors finally decided to discharge Lila on Wednesday afternoon. When my mother told Annabelle the good news, she stopped crying, stood up, and started clapping. That warmed my heart when I heard it, because it was precisely how I felt too.
I hated driving home from the hospital each night without Lila. It didn’t feel like home with only one daughter under the same roof. Both girls were thrilled to see each other that Wednesday evening, and though I was thoroughly exhausted, I felt overjoyed too. Even at this young age and early stage in their relationship, my girls clearly understand: There’s no one like a sister. I hope that their close connection, like the one I share with my own sister, lasts a lifetime.