In a photo taken earlier this year, Jordan demonstrates the “million dollar smile” .
It was as if someone fired a flash bulb. The room lit up when the smile erupted on her face; the toothy smile that’s become part of her beauty and charm. The smile that IS Jordan. It was partially obscured as she lay sideways on her pillow, but its potency was unabated. That smile pumped oxygen into the room and provided her family a chance to breathe in hope. And the triggering event was the appearance of her brother. She even tried to say his name. It came out as a long vowelled sound, but there was no mistaking what it meant.
Luc can be guarded with his emotions. On matters relating to his sister’s health, the defenses are more extreme. He is reticent to discuss her condition, and when he does he is always careful to have another activity to distract himself.
In the past, we’ve been quick to brief Luc on Jordan’s progress. This time, things happened too fast, answers were scarce, and neither of us had the emotional fuel to broach the subject. Finally, a few nights ago, we decided it couldn’t be put off any longer. As I sat in his room going over what we knew, he continued playing his guitar, being careful not to make eye contact with me. I asked him a couple of times to stop playing, which he would do momentarily. But as soon as I began talking about the hospital or her seizures or anything that he found uncomfortable, he’d return to his picking. The most verbal response I could muster from him was a “yeah” or an “okay.” It’s been this way all week.
Yesterday, when Jordan’s condition deteriorated so steeply, I knew I had to level with him. He needed to let it out, or at least let it sink in. And, he needed to pay her a visit. For one, seeing her might make what he imagined less daunting. But there was more to it than that. Jordan’s seizure yesterday was potentially life-threatening. For the first time during her journey, we now have to consider the possibility that she might “code”. We felt Luc needed to spend time with her to reconnect so that there were no regrets if her condition worsened. And, of course, we believed his visit might lift her spirits … and it did.
I cornered him on our way out the door yesterday. I can’t say it was my smoothest performance. I told him Jordan was in bad shape and he needed to go and be with her. At first, he tried to deflect and refocus on another subject. But he received tough love from me. The gravity hit him hard. He wrapped his arms around my waist and let it all out, sobbing and clinging to me with force. After several minutes, I sat him down, fetched a cold washcloth for his eyes and gave him time to adjust. He was silent for a bit, then he said, “Dad, she’s going to be ok. She always gotten better before. You know she’s tough.”
He didn’t say these words with question marks. There was no sign of him looking to me to reassure him. This was him turning my attention to a point of fact. And just like that, Luc helped me tap a well of faith I was beginning to think was running dry.
We agreed that he would go and see her with me today.
Luc hates the hospital. He hates anything that has to do with the body or medicine or biology. His anxiety was palpable the minute we turned left and entered the hospital parking lot, although he played at being upbeat. As we walked the winding corridors to her room, he made small talk while his eyes searched for signs of distress. But when we got to her room, he entered ahead of me with firm resolve.
Jordan didn’t notice him right away. She was awake after a long night of restful sleep. Her strength is coming back. She tries to talk quite a bit, but it’s very difficult to understand her. She is starting to move her right arm some, although it is very weak. She attempts to sit up at times but tires very quickly and wants to lie down again.
I walked up to her bed and pretended to climb over the rail. I told her I had a message from one of her cats. Then I pushed my head into her side like he always does. This provoked a mild grin. And then I told her I brought somebody along with me. That’s when she saw Lucas. And that’s when the million dollar smile surfaced.
Luc was great with her. He reminisced about some of their favorite television shows, acting out scenes they both found funny. She loved it. After a few minutes, her energy subsided. Her eyes sometimes roll up until she wills them back into focus. Luc took this as a cue and settled down in a chair near her bed. Jeanette hadn’t eaten and needed some basic supplies, so she and Luc went down to the market while I stayed with Jordan. I crawled into bed with her and snuggled. She grabbed my free arm and draped it over her. After a few minutes I heard her mumbling but I couldn’t make out what she was saying. I moved my ear closer to her mouth and barely made out the words. They came in a half-whisper.
“I want my own bed.”
I reassured her that she would get back to her own bed soon, but she needed to get better first. She looked away from me.
The attending oncologist paid her a visit while we snuggled. He was impressed by the progress she has made in 24 hours. Yesterday, he was “concerned" about her condition and challenged us to consider what our plan would be if the next seizure led to respiratory failure. Today, when he saw the change in her, her attempts at speech, the strength in her arms, her movement, he described it simply as "awesome.” He repeated this characterization as he passed Jeanette and Luc in the hall.
We visited for a few hours and then it was time for Luc and I to go. Luc gave her a kiss (rare, indeed) and allowed his mom to dole out a massive hug. I smothered Jordan in kisses and ribbed her about giving the nurses such a hard time. She keeps removing her pulse/ox sensor and tries to take off the heart monitor leads whenever she can. The nurses reposition everything when they come to take her vitals, but in the interim she removes them again. She gave me a sly grin.
Then I leaned in and quoted a line from one of her favorite books. I said, “I love you all the way to the moon." She smiled again and tried to speak. The words were unintelligible, but I knew exactly what she said.
"I love you to the moon – and back."