I’d been doing a pretty good job of concealing my ill state of health from the nuns who ran my dorm. Nobody noticed when I fainted in my room one morning, falling straight back like a log and striking my head on the wooden armoire before landing in the floor. I was lucky – if my hair hadn’t been pulled back in a bun, I’d have cracked my head open. As it was, it took me a solid 15 minutes to get out of the floor and drag myself back to bed. Luckily for me, the nun who lived in the room next to mine was the one who served breakfast every morning, so she wasn’t there to hear me crash into the wall we shared.
The nuns also didn’t notice that I was having increasingly intense headaches, although some of my classmates in Hebrew and my choir director did.
I ended up being incredibly lucky – the tumors in my brain were growing radically out of control and causing too much pressure to build up inside my skull. The day I finally had an appointment with the oncologist at the hospital, I was on Skype with my stepfather and incredibly sleepy. He managed to keep me awake until it was time for me to leave, although I wasn’t strong enough to pull off my pajamas and put on my clothes. So I pulled on my enormous, black, head-to-toe down-filled coat nicknamed the “Bibendum coat” by my friends since they thought it made me look like the Michelin man; then I made the five-minute downhill walk to the hospital where my doctor was waiting for me at the receptionist’s desk and dragged me immediately to the ER.
I was in and out of consciousness for a long time after that, but I do remember vomiting over the side of the bed and into the ER floor several times (at which point the nurses asked me, “Sweetheart, could you try not to throw up in the floor?”). Then I remember my adopted Swiss family coming to my bedside, and my Swiss Mom’s blissfully cool hands rubbing the back of my neck. From what I could hear, the staff tried to keep her husband from coming in, asking him, “Who are you?” “I’m her PCP!” he answered in a booming voice, and they let him pass.
After that everything went dark until I felt a sharp pain in my left hand and noticed that I was really warm. I remembered from my kidney surgery over the summer that the anesthesiology room in the hospital was particularly warm, so I briefly wondered Am I going into surgery? before passing out again.
Later I awakened in a dark room in the middle of the night with an intense pain in my right jaw. I began rubbing it, thinking that I had been clenching my teeth and that I needed to relax my jaw muscles, but the nurses quickly stopped me. “Don’t touch,” they said, “You’ve had surgery.” I quickly discovered the large, padded bandage around my head, not yet realizing that a piece of skull the size of the palm of my hand was missing underneath it.
The nurses were moving down the row of beds one by one, asking everyone if they knew where they were. When they got to me, I said, “Well, I guess if they’re all in the hospital, I am, too.” Then they asked me what day it was, which wasn’t fair since they hadn’t asked anyone else. I was two days off, thinking it was October 26th instead of October 28th. When they asked me if I had noticed anything unusual since I’d awakened, I told them I saw a heart floating in my right eye. “Well, given the season,” they said, “you’re lucky it’s not a ghost!”
Mom arrived later that day and snuck in the dorm — not to avoid paying, but to avoid having to answer any inconvenient questions. She offered to pay Sister Jessie for the week when she arrived, but Sister Jessie said, “Shhh! Soeur Odile doesn’t know you’re here! We’ll wait and tell her later.” Mom was going to be staying with me for a while, so we needed to figure out how to announce her presence without worrying anyone (the last time she was there, Soeur Odile had tried to make me go back to the States with her after I got out of the hospital).
I decided that since it was Halloween, she should announce her presence by dressing up as the elephant in my room.