Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

I just got back from a week of camping in Baja. It was an amazing, horrible, wonderful, terrifying experience. My sister, who is mentally ill, was traveling with us and ended up in the hospital. It's a very long story, and I've already told it quite a few times. Part of me is ready to move past it, part of me wants to record it so that people can witness the insanity that I have to deal with. I think I will just tell an abbreviated version here. There's no need to give every nitty gritty detail. Then I want to get on to what was fantastic about the trip.

My younger sister has a mental disorder. I'm not sure if it's manic depression or bi-polar or what. She refuses to seek treatment in any case. She deals with it, or rather avoids dealing with it, by being an alcoholic and bulimic. Both of these coping mechanisms wreak havoc with her health. My dad really wanted her to come with us on this family vacation and sort of decided not to think about the potential dangers of taking her out of the country for a week.

The first night, after we landed in Baja and got the rental car, my sister was very disoriented and didn't seem to know where she was. She couldn't answer simple questions. I thought that possibly she had taken something to deal with the anxiety of flying or perhaps she was dehydrated or had low blood sugar. I didn't pay much attention that first night. The next morning she appeared to be normal at breakfast. Again, I barely speak to her under normal circumstances, so I didn't pick up on anything. After breakfast, she went into the nearby town with my dad to get supplies for the campsite.

My dad returned a couple of hours later and was very distressed. While they were in town, my sister appeared to have some sort of breakdown. She was hallucinating, agitated, and even trying to get away from my dad. She kept talking about being dead. At one point, she took off her pants and peed in the back-seat of the rental car. My dad was ready to drive to Cabo and get on the next plane to Oregon. He tried to ask my sister some basic questions and she gave totally random answers. Like "Do you remember what happened in town?" She said, "violence and lechuga." I was thinking that maybe she was having a stroke or a brain aneurysm. I vetoed the plane idea and said we needed to find a hospital asap.

I'm going to skip over the next 4-5 hours here. My dad and I drove all over Baja Sur looking for a hospital with equipment to handle a problem of this magnitude and someone who spoke English. This turned out to be like the quest for the Holy Grail. We finally ended up in La Paz at a private hospital. Now I'm going to skip over the next 18 hours. It turned out that she had no sodium, potassium, magnesium, basically any electrolytes in her system. Without these electrolytes, your body can't send electrical signals properly, which was messing up her heart rhythms and brain function. Neat. She spent a total of 48 hours in the hospital getting pumped full of IV fluids.

When she came back to camp, she was going through detox of course. She had the shakes. She was crying one minute, yelling the next. Her feet and ankles were swollen so she couldn't walk. She was a complete mess. Plus, just so that none of us would forget, she continuously complained about how we made her miss 3 days of her vacation. I swear, if I didn't feel so horrible for my dad and how terrified he was, I would not have driven her around the countryside trying to save her ass. She better hope that she never has to ask me for help. She's gonna get a rude awakening.

The cherry on top of the whole thing was that when we flew home to Oregon, the attendant announced that they had some first class seats available if anyone wanted to upgrade. My sister jumped at the chance to get away from the rest of us. She sat up there, drinking of course, completely oblivious to the fact that she just slapped dad in the face after he'd been waiting on her hand and foot for days. She was tipsy by the time we landed.

So yeah, she generally made everyone around her miserable for the rest of the trip. One thing that I'm very clear about is that I'm not going to spend time around her any more. My parents are always trying to get us together, and I go along with it to make them happy. Not anymore. I feel bad that I'm going to do less stuff with my parents but I'm done with my sister. Enough is enough. I keep waiting for my parents to realize that they can't fix her, but it's time to stop waiting and move out of harm's way myself.

This drama has been going on with my sister for 20 years. No joke. 20 years! I'm ready to close the door. The problem is that I love my parents and she is her daughter. I know I'm going to have to help them deal with her continuing health decline and eventually death. The only question is when. How much longer can she hold it together?

Tomorrow I'll get to all the good stuff: the sun, the food, the plants, the animals, the water, and my awesome aunt and uncle.

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