As I saw my sister’s chest rising and falling with each movement of air in and out of her body, I felt a sense of relief. I had never been so thankful for a simple body movement that we take for granted.
It’s never a good sign when the doctor on duty called my brother-in-law, my fifth sister and me away from the room and into the nurse’s quarter to talk about my sister’s progress. He outlined my sister’s condition and the prognosis is not good. Before I continue with the content of the conversation – let me just pause here and begin with what happened earlier.
When I visited my sister on Sunday morning, I noticed that her teeth were stained, especially the parts closest to her gum. I thought that perhaps she hadn’t brushed her teeth in a while. Then in the evening I brought it up with my brother in law as by then it was clear that her gum was bleeding. So my brother in law said that he would check with the oncologist who visits my sister every morning. I planned to be there – but well, I would have to get up at 4.00am in the morning so I could be at the hospital by 5.00am. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak – so I didn’t get up early enough for the visit.
My brother-in-law did bring it up with the doctor and she said that she would prescribe some medicine to stop the bleeding. When I visited my sister at 10.40am, it was clear that my sister’s bleeding gum was getting really out of control. The oncologist requested my sister to have blood transfusions and prescribed two bags of blood and eight bags of thrombocytes – in an attempt to correct my sister’s low thrombocyte level and to stem the bleeding. Unfortunately the hospital didn’t have any stock – and the local Red Cross also didn’t have any ready stock of the “O” blood type nor the thrombocytes.
I quickly contacted my siblings and broadcasted the situation, requesting anybody and everybody to contact the local Red Cross so they could donate. My blood type is AB so unfortunately I can’t help, even if I want to. It was a stressful and tense morning and thankfully several donors were found by midday, including my fifth sister, Suzanna. She had to come to the hospital first to grab a referral letter so the blood could be reserved for my sister. Even after the blood and the thrombocytes were ready, the hospital couldn’t get their act together to send a courier to pick them up – the excuse was? “Well, it’s 2.00pm now, and we’re changing shift soon. If I ask the morning shift nurse to go and pick it up, they’d go overtime. It’s either you pick it up or wait until 3.00pm.” I relayed the message to Suzanna who then took the initiative to plead with Red Cross so she could bring the blood over to the hospital. She was allowed to at the end – which is probably unheard of in Australia.
The drama continued when my sister arrived at the hospital – as the blood and thrombocytes would still need to be processed by the blood bank at the hospital. The nurses said that it would take about an hour to process. Within that period, blood continued to seep out of my sister’s gum and clots forming in her mouth – making her uncomfortable. She was quickly getting weaker as she couldn’t eat nor drink comfortably with a mouth full of blood. I was so frustrated outside – visiting the nurse’s quarter several times to see whether the blood was ready. At least if transfusion could be started, my sister would at least have a boost of thrombocyte and energy.
It finally happened nearly two hours after Suzanna arrived. By then, Erly was already quite weak and could only manage to be alert for five seconds before lethargy took control again. This was the moment when the doctor on duty called my brother-in-law, my fifth sister Suzanna to come along to the nurse’s quarter. She beckoned me to come along with them. The doctor said that the thrombocyte level was so low at 16,000 – way below the healthy level of around 110,000 and above. He said that even after the transfusions, she wouldn’t reach that level. He also reiterated that as the cancer had reached her liver, her level of consciousness would continue to deteriorate. Suzanna asked whether Erly should be kept awake when she started to doze off or whether we should let her sleep. The doctor said that we should let her have some rest, but for us to keep an eye on her breathing patterns – as soon as it becomes erratic, we should be on full alert.
Never had I been so thankful of seeing my sister’s thin frame with a bulging belly from her cancer rising and falling with each intake and exhale of air. We often take things for granted. It’s in this realisation that although we may not have much money, a massive mansion, or a fancy car – just the fact that our eyes can see, our ears can hear, and our lungs, heart, liver, brain, and limbs are working well – should be enough for us to be thankful.