I Was Five.
I was four years old when I got a baby brother. I don’t remember much. He was a baby, and I was four. I had two security blankets; I kept my favorite and gave him the other one.
He was only eighteen months when he became very sick. I remember being woken in what felt like the middle of the night. “Your brother is very sick, and we’re going to the hospital.” Still in my pajamas and wrapped in a robe, I pretended to sleep in the backseat of the car while my brother cried.
Days passed, I was home. Sometimes I’d visit the hospital to see my brand new baby brother attached to wires and tubes, my mother sitting beside his crib either asleep or looking worried and scared. I slept on the floor in my brother’s empty bedroom on sleeping bags. I asked my father when my brother was going to be coming home. “He’s going to be in the hospital for thirty days. Or longer.”
I was five.
So I Prayed
My father would stay with me as I laid on the floor of my baby brother’s empty bedroom beside his empty crib. He’d leave after I’d fallen asleep, but I only pretended to sleep. After my father left, I’d cry silent tears for my absent, sick baby brother.
I was five, and I was scared.
By this time, I had only been a big sister for eighteen months, but I kind of liked it. It felt good, it felt like it was what I was supposed to be. But even though Mom and Dad never expressly said it, inside I knew that I was dangerously close to not being a big sister any more. I was five; what could I do?
I prayed to God, asking Him to make my brother be well again; he belonged home with his family and not in the hospital with strangers and tubes and wires. I promised, I promised God that I would take care of him, watch over him, protect him, help and teach him. I promised to be the best Big Sister in the world; if only He would let me keep my baby brother.
I don’t remember much, but I remember crying myself to sleep, silent tears, nearly every night.
Turned The Corner
Then one day as I was visiting my baby brother in the hospital, the scene was different. He wasn’t in a crib connected to wires and tubes any more. He was in a playpen, bouncing and laughing as the nurses teased and cooed over him. My mother was smiling again, and he looked absolutely wonderful.
They still needed some time with him in the hospital, but it was going to be soon that my baby brother would come home with us.
At home I was helping to clean the house; I was organizing all of my brother’s favorite toys so he could play with them when he came home in a couple of days. Mom and Dad sat me down to talk, very seriously.
“Your brother is going to be coming home soon.”
“But there’s something you need to know. Your brother was very very sick. So sick, that he is going to have to learn how to crawl, walk, and talk all over again.”
Okay. I’ll help him.
“There’s something else. Your brother, his fever got so hot that it burned the insides of his ears. He cant hear anymore. He’s deaf.”
So. He’s Deaf.
I was five. I didn’t give a care that my brother was coming home deaf. All I cared about was that he was coming home. I was the luckiest big sister in the world, and I would uphold all of my promises to be the best big sister I could possibly be.
I was six when the first lady from the local Intermediate Unit came to our house to teach my brother, and my family, how to sign. He was two. We learned words like “milk” and “dog”, “toilet”, and “sleep”. We all learned sign language together as a family.
Over the years, the triumphs and the challenges brought us closer together. My brother and I fought and argued, as siblings do, but we also played together. I went to all of his program events, he came to my band concerts, I kept score for his little league baseball team as Dad was the assistant coach and Mom led the cheerleading from the stands. I helped teach him how to drive. And I got to pick on him when he got his first part-time job when he was 16.
He did everything I did. The only thing he couldn’t do was hear.
So what if he was?
It was Spinal Meningitis
He was eighteen months when he contracted spinal meningitis. I am thirty-seven years old now and I STILL cannot bring myself to read about the awfulness of that disease. I can only get so far before I become overwhelmed.
I do know how incredibly lucky I am that I am still a big sister. My brother came home from the hospital deaf; many babies who contracted spinal meningitis didn’t come home from the hospital at all.