A Christmas Wish

Holly is the nicest person I’ve ever met. I don't remember the first time my friend Andrew introduced me to his new girlfriend - I think it was dinner somewhere - but I remember coming home and when asked by my mother and sister what she was like, I told them about how incredibly nice she was. Later, I also told them she was smart and articulate, may have admitted to being more than a little impressed with her career as a lawyer and told them how she was a warm, funny, generous and really, really good person.

Andrew and I had been best friends for years before he met Holly and much to my delight, she was the kind of person with whom it was easy to make friends, as well. I was privileged (and scared spitless) when they asked me to be a reader at their wedding - although I had done training sessions for a room of maybe 20 people, being on stage in a large church with many, many pairs of eyes on me on such an important day was a terrifying thought. But it was an honour to be asked and so, I girded my loins, practiced the essay about marriage from The Prophet by Khalil Gibran over and over again and shaking like a leaf, went up on stage, looked at Andrew (very handsome in his tux) and Holly (radiant in her mother's wedding dress) and proceeded to utterly mangle the text. I am not exaggerating, I am not being modest and self-effacing. This was the worst reading in the history of weddings. Ever. Later, Andrew made me watch the video and when mortified, I attempted to run away, he grabbed my wheelchair and held me in place (I had no idea he was that strong). However, I've been informed that the off-the-cuff congratulations I made after dinner when cornered by the videographer made up for it. I try to hold on to that. We danced a lot at that wedding and I still have the mental image of my father dancing like no one was watching - it's one of my favourite memories of him.

Five years later, during the week where we sat by my father's bed as he lay dying, Holly delivered their twins Ryan and Garrett in a hospital near the nursing home. I'm sure other considerations guided the decision of the delivery date, but being able to pop by and hold the children of my dear friends was a very welcome reminder of life during a hard week. It was also a beautiful week and not just because I spend it with my dad, but because it gave me another favourite memory of Andrew and Holly and their new expanded family.

Four weeks ago, Holly was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia and within hours, sedated and placed on a ventilator in the ICU. And for the next two weeks, we looked closely for signs of improvement, but aside from tiny, millimetres of signs that could maybe be interpreted as positive if you were desperate - and we were - there weren't any. The doctors kept telling Andrew how very sick Holly was, usually followed by "but she's very young and very strong", but mostly, they talked about how very sick she was. This, I have learned, is doctor code for dying. I had a very clear dream in which I saw her, Andrew and the boys, leaving the hospital, laughing and we held on to that, trying to believe it was prophetic, despite the doctors’ talk of the severity of her illness. And two weeks ago, they said the actual words, said that she was slowly dying and the only option was to perform surgery and scrape out the gunk in the lungs that used to be fluid, but now was solidifying. And then we continued to hold our breath while watching for improvement, an improvement that crawled slowly, with a snail’s pace, hard to see. But it was there, because about 10 days ago, one of the nurses told Andrew that Holly was doing much better compared to when she came in when she'd been "hanging by a thread" and our knees turned to water again as reality was brought home to us once more.

The way forward moved so slowly and being on a ventilator is bad for you, can damage the vocal cords irreparably and last week, they decided they'd have to do a tracheotomy to take her the rest of the way. They also started to lighten the sedation and things improved, so last Wednesday, the date of the surgery, they decided to wait a little longer. By Thursday, Holly was no longer sedated and on Friday, they took her off the ventilator and after 25 days of not breathing on her own, she did so again. And we all breathed deeply with her. Holly used an oxygen mask at first and by the next day, just the oxygen nose plugs. Sunday, the two chest tubes in her left lung were removed, she’s had solids, is talking and now we’re just waiting for the chest tube in her right lung to come out and for her to get to a regular room instead of the ICU. It’ll be a long recovery, but it doesn’t matter. Because there’ll be a recovery.

We got our Christmas wish. Welcome back, Holly!

Holly at her brother's wedding earlier this year
Photo by Andrew

A very happy holiday season to you all - may yours be as filled with joy as ours is.