On 11 February, my little sister Sarah suffered a stroke. It was completely unexpected– she is relatively young & extremely health-conscious, with no obvious risk factors. But the stroke was massive & for a time she was very close to death, in intensive care with many complications adding to our worries.
I’m very thankful to the doctors & everyone else at Duke for seeing her through this perilous time, & for all the support from family & friends. I’ve been spending many nights in the hospital, & have seen first-hand the hard work of all the doctors, nurses & therapists that collaborate to care for someone in this condition. And I see how Sarah draws strength from the flood of cards & messages from her students & fellow teachers, her friends in the environmental education movement, & the many, many others who care about her.
Sarah is an amazing person, & in some ways also very lucky. Though her left side is still entirely immobile, & for weeks she was unable to talk, she was able to sign the word “stroke” on her first day after the operation (one of her many linguistic skills is ASL), & she could also write much sooner than the doctors had expected. Better still, it was clear that not only had she retained her ability to think & communicate, but also her personality, which is full of humor & a strong streak of mischief, along with great curiosity & caring about the world.
One night I was with Sarah, helping her do some guided meditation to cope with pain. Sarah had traveled to India last summer, a life-changing voyage in many ways, & Hindu imagery was particularly fresh in her mind. She wrote on her clipboard that she envisioned the goddess Durga cradling & supporting her with her many arms, & asked if I would draw her a picture to help her focus on that image.
For weeks I had been so consumed with worry & care for Sarah that I was unable to bring myself to draw or paint– I had tried sketching once or twice, but my heart just wasn’t in it. But having that “assignment” motivated me to make art again, & I must say, it felt good!
Sarah moved from the hospital to acute rehab this week, & of course this picture is decorating the wall of her new room. She’s able to talk now, to joke with everybody, even to sing a little! Yesterday she stood (with assistance) for the first time. It’s going to be a long & arduous journey back to health, but I’m certain that, just as after her voyage to India, she will come back full of new insights & energy.