My friend Anna is only 50 years old. She was actually my son's babysitter when he was a child. He is ten years younger than she is and over the years became like a part of our family.
When Anna was in her early twenties she went to work for a large power conglomerate. She had gone to school to be a chemist and they placed her in the Radiation Waste area of the plant. She was young and enjoying life. And then, one day, it was all over.
Anna had a massive seizure one day at work. She had never before had a problem and it was very unexpected. We all thought she was the picture of health. They rushed her to the hospital and by the time she got there she was unconscious and they had no idea what was going to happen next. I remember the day perfectly because it was my birthday.
I was on a trip but I hurried home and drove the 280 miles to join Anna's mother at her bedside. When she woke she couldn't remember how to do anything for herself. The neurologist who treated her said she would be a vegetable the rest of her life. Anna and I decided she wouldn't. We began small at first. Coloring books and crayons to color inside the lines. In the weeks that followed we worked to relearn how to stand, how to walk, how to form words. Then we graduated to feeding herself. Her doctor was so surprised at her determination and her recovery. Within a month she was allowed to go home to start her new life. We had no idea what kind of life it would be but she made it a good one for many years. She managed to fall in love and get married (although it eventually ended in divorce and his suicide). She went back to college for two years and learned to speak Italien. She bought her own house and lived alone for many years. Her life wasn't what she had thought it would be but she was happy and she had friends and family who loved her.
One day she couldn't walk any more. She had to be confined to a wheel chair. Her health began to fail and she eventually required the care of a nursing assistant. She moved back in with her mother. About two years ago, her care became more aggressive. She had to be fed. She choked a lot and had to be careful what she ate. She began to have seizures again daily and they grew worse each week. Last summer her mother got sick with lung cancer. She died just before Thanksgiving. Anna was sent to live in a nursing center. She is the youngest person there.
I don't live in that town any more so I only see her when I come home to visit. I went to see her today. Her hands were balled up in fists and her arms were taut and bent at odd angles. She was having terrible muscle contractions and couldn't drink her coffee without spilling it all over her. I sat with her for two hours talking and listening to her garbled words that only I and a few close friends can even understand. She is still a beautiful and intelligent girl but her future is totally in the hands of her family and God. She says that her family no longer wants her but God takes care of her. At least she still believes that God cares. My heart breaks as she tells me that her aunt "inherited" her from her mother after her death and that "she doesn't want me". I know the woman and wonder how she can treat Anna so badly. it is difficult to be around a person who is deteriorating daily; I know that. it kills me to look at her, too. I try to joke with her and make her laugh. I hug her and pat her and try to make her feel wanted but I know that I cannot make up for the treatment of her family and her feeling that she has been thrown away.
She is a brave woman; a girl child, really, who never had a chance to grow up. Her life was decided for her without her input. It isn't fair; but life isn't.
We tell silly stories. I tell her jokes that make her laugh. She says "You still treat me like ME". I say, 'who else would I treat you like?" She laughs and says "you know what I mean" and I do. Everyone else treats her like she is "sick" and she resents it. She wants the fun she used to have.
I tell her I will see her in a couple of days and she knows I will but she also knows I will have to go back to Florida soon. OPCA...Olivia Ponta Cerebellum Atrophy. Those words were her diagnosis and her death sentence. It will be a long slow death.
I know God has a plan and that Anna has a part in it but it seems to me that he has given her the most difficult role in the play. I hope he allows her to live the rest of her life with dignity and some happiness. I pray he is kind to her and touches those around her so they will be, too.