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Shut Up

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The following is an excerpt from a book I am working on about my daughter's battle against her diagnosis of Ewing's sarcoma, which is an aggressive bone cancer that most often affects the young. Read part one.

I don't know where I found the strength to go on. Everything was chaotic on the first day but time seemed to move quickly. The second day was much the same. I sat on the bed beside Natalia. The doctor confirmed that her condition had not changed, she was still in a coma completely unresponsive to any stimuli. With great effort I forced myself to speak as clearly and as naturally as I could. I tried to take us back to a better time.

We were back on a family vacation in Otmuchow. The twins were five years old, Lukasz was eight. Natalia would remember this time well from all of the videos we had recorded. Those were good times. I had always encouraged my children to watch these videos to keep alive the memory of their father, Zbszek, my late husband. They were so young when Zbszek had died in a mining accident that I knew I would have to work to preserve their memories of him. I reminisced about these moments as I sat beside Natalia. I spoke about the things that Natalia loved, fishing, lying by a campfire till dawn, going to see famous castles. I was losing myself in this narrative when suddenly I sensed Natalia's finger begin to tremble. I screamed out in delight. I had been praying for any kind of response like this. The doctor looked at me carefully, then he looked at my daughter. Calmly, without any emotion, he approached the bed and then began studying monitors.

"This is probably an unconditional reflex," he said.

Afterward he explained to me that sometimes the muscles will move without our volition and the readings on the monitor seem to confirm that. I refused to believe him. I told Natalia to prove this doctor wrong, to move her fingers again. The doctor stood behind me as I implored Natalia to give us another sign. Natalia did not move.The doctor went back into his place but after a minute Natalia responded again. The nurse called back the doctor. He seemed more open this time. He asked me to continue. I asked Natalia if she could open her eyes and then I saw an amazing sight. Natalia was attempting to open her eyes. She gave the impression that they were glued shut with Krazy Glue. She could not open them but the strain and the effort of her movement was clearly evident. I was so overwhelmed that I started to cry. I wanted to help her detach one lid from the other, to help her along.

After a while, the doctor decided that she could breathe on her own and decided to remove the intubation tube. I felt very anxious when I heard this. The nurse and doctor were on standby in case she stopped breathing. To return to normal after being so long on artificial respiration is not such a simple thing. The nurse suctioned away the saliva; it sounded terrible, I can still recall the sound to this day. After a while Natalia was able to breathe unassisted. I was so thrilled that I started babbling aimlessly. I must have been borderline hysterical, repeating the same sentence several times.

"You see, my girl it's not that difficult … Do not worry, soon from here gonna … How you feel? … Mommy loves you"… I must have sounded mad. The nurse carried out her routine and still I babbled on, and then Natalia said something in a thick baritone which we could not completely understand. It was normal, I was told, after intubation.

"As you say, would you repeat that?" The nurse repeated, but again we could not understand. Then the nurse started to laugh.

"What did she say?" I asked.

"You really don't understand? It's funny, really funny," replied the woman.

"No, I do not understand, please repeat it to me," I said.

"Shut up," she said.

"SHUT UP?" I repeated, confused. Is it the nurse who is saying this to me, I thought. I looked at her curiously, and at this time I realized that Natalia was telling me to shut up. She had not spoken to me in this way since she was much smaller and was going through a defiant stage. Natalia has no recollection of what she said but I still can't believe that she could speak to me like that. I joke with her now at times about what she said, my beautiful, rude little girl.

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