Sister’s Keeper, iii (Time Slows)

(Note: This is part three of a series. Click here if you missed Part 1 or Part 2.)

The sun’s rays slant through the shutters. I couldn’t sleep in if I tried. I’m up and ready to go, although I have nowhere to go. It’s the morning after surgery, and we are in the thick of drug deals.

Because my sister’s jaw is wired shut (technically, her braces are bound together with strong rubber bands), she can’t talk. I’m her middle-man, brokering deals between nurse and patient. As for painkillers, she wants it all and she wants it now. It’s my job to watch the clock and make sure she gets her doses on the regular. Friends in the medical field have told me that pain is much easier to manage when you tamp it down with regular, clockwork doses, instead letting it break through and get out of control.

The night before I had to insist that my sister get some drugs that were left out of the doctor’s orders, except they actually were in the orders, just overlooked. I don’t enjoy confrontation, but I’m happy to advocate for her. Within a day, she’ll be texting to communicate her needs. For now, it’s hand gestures and trying to write with her eyes closed. I sit on the sofa-bed where I can see her hands move.

Pain is invisible. That’s the hard part, and maybe the hardest fact of life. No one can see your pain — you have to describe it, rate it on a scale of one to ten. Maybe scientists will invent technology that makes pain visible. Readily, easily, maybe even quantifiable. I wonder how different the world might be if we could see others’ pain.

My Fitbit tells me I’ve basically spent an entire day sitting. I hope to walk around the hospital at some point, but my peripheral vision is trained on my sister’s hands. Before all this, I had been walking farther than usual, knowing I’d be sitting a lot and not knowing how long the hospital stay would last. I forced myself to walk extra miles. When I’d take the extra block or go the longer way, much against my will, I told myself, “We do hard things.”

I can’t explain the plural “we.” Maybe it seemed less grandiose than telling myself, “I do hard things.” Sitting on my makeshift vinyl bed, I think about the hard thing my sister is doing. Maybe the plural “we” meant Amanda and me. Sis and I, we do hard things, admittedly sometimes because we are just hardheaded. But she has done many more hard things than I.

The hours wear on in the dim hospital room. Amanda is bothered by light, so the shutters stay closed all day. I’m passing the time with reading, podcasts, crossword puzzles, and Netflix movies. Also to entertain myself, I’m pretending we’re college roommates just chilling on a quiet weekend. Neither of us has been to the library. I did some reading while my roomie napped all day.

No, we are not college roommates, but maybe spending this time together will make up for our paths diverging way back then.

That was twenty-five years ago, and time moves steady as a river. Except in this hospital room, where we are suspended in time like fruit chunks in Jell-O. That’s how it feels anyway. But I know this: time is a river and a healer as well, and so we wait.

Psalm 23