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A true story of my experience dealing with a life threatning disease that attacked my brother.
[1,292 words]
T Shanell Penniton
Single black female college student.
[April 2001]
T Shanell Penniton

Journey back in time with me to a place in my life, I felt would never end or end in tragedy. It was the prime of life for most members of my immediate family. I had just started a new job and was attending college. My mother was laid off from her job and went back to college to pursue her degree and start a new career. You may ask, “ how can losing your livelihood be a prime event in a person’s life?” Well, my mother was at her climax in life when she returned to college. I think I’ve never seen her happier achieving in a task so difficult in obtaining but once received--rewarding. Both of my brothers’s were doing well. My youngest brother, Jerrell was small, skillful, and innocent to life, I never met someone who loved and cherished me more than he did. Nobody could tell him anything bad about his “Big Sis”, or your would have a fight on your hands--more difficult than trying to get your ear back from Mike Tyson. My other brother had more important things on his mind, his first girlfriend and beginning his senior year in high school. Life could not be better, until unforeseen tragedy struck my family and left a mark that can literally be seen to this very day.

Each evening at my home was like a romper room--friends going in and out, I guess my other got her enjoyment from sitting back and watching the different worlds of her three children unfold. Wondering what innovative ideas would we scheme up next? We were her comedians and she was our one-woman audience. My older brother was the best-- he had jokes for days on in and would have you laughing so loud and hard that your belly felt as if it was being churned like homemade butter-- from scratch.
Friday night July 1995, my mother and I were in the living room talking when my older brother walked in from a night out with his friends. He wasn’t himself, talkative and
fooling around (since his early childhood he would always get notices sent home from school--for too much talking and clowning in class). He told us he had a headache and wasn’t feeling well, he went upstairs to go to bed. Odd as it may have seemed, in retrospect, we didn’t pay much attention at the time. After all, typical teenagers are moody, right?

Remembering my thoughts of dismay bring tears to my eyes today. I heard my brother call out to my mom, I said to myself “here he goes again, another prank.” Until I heard him again, this time his cry for my mom pierced my soul and blew my mind. I something was dead wrong. I ran upstairs to find my brother crawling in the floor, temporarily blinded with pain. He lay there like a wounded animal, not able to walk or focus. All he could muster up was “ Mom, pray for me, I’m dying.” When the thought of my brother dying hit me my heart fell a thousand flights like I was on the on top of Space Mountain plummeting to the bottom--unbelievable. This situation was serious, my brother was deathly ill, and we needed to act quickly.

Overlooking my own personal safety, I jumped from the top of the staircase to the bottom, got the keys to the car and watched as my mother and dad tried to carry his limp body downstairs. He was delusional and suffering from dementia. Needless to say my fears turned into hysteria. Once at the hospital emergency room, he was getting worse. It was like he had Alzheimer’s; his body and mind had deteriorated 100 years in 10 minutes. My mother went back with him for testing, after what seemed like hours she returned. Her faced looked as if she took a walk through HELL, her hair was messed, her eyes were sunk in and her face was beat red--I knew it could be nothing but bad news. My brother had a ventricle in his brain that was leaking fluid causing great pressure equivalent to a car on top his head. The outcome looked grime, on the inside I lost it.

My turn to visit him was next, walking down the hall with 10-LB weights on my hills, I was scared. His room felt like the coldest day I could remember, he didn’t know my name, and his eyes would not focus--running as if lost in a familiar place. His body was blanketed with charcoal, they wanted to rule out drugs and alcohol as determinate factors of his condition--I knew my brother never experimented with such activities--he was a good kid. I stood in disbelief, was my brother, the fun loving, carefree boy who made everyone laugh--yes. In my eyes at that moment he had been stripped of every life living functions. I coached myself not to cry in his presence even though he wasn’t aware. When I couldn’t stand anymore, I left the room with the speed of an Olympian in the 100-meter race. The tears flowed hard and heavy--I could not

protect or help him. This was a battle he had to fight alone. He would have to be the star player in this game, and I would be on the sidelines as his loyal, dedicated fan cheering him on. His prognosis was not promising at first-- he may not walk and eat by himself-- he probably would not talk the same--he would have no short-term memory preventing him from graduating from high school. At this point as a family you have two choices--feel subjected to the Doctor’s final call or pray and believe in the miracles of God. We choose to pray.

Everyday he was hospitalized, 31 days total, in the ICU he was connected to machinery to help his daily functioning. What I remember most were the two tubes departing his head removing the fluid causing the pressure on his brain. The family was in good spirits on the day of the surgery, Jerome seemed scared. One high point of the day, the tubes were gone he no longer resembled “Gazoo.” Upon entering the surgical unit he grabbed my hand as if he would never see me again. I told him “ you’ll be back” with a smile so big and bright it would put a circus clown to shame. Twelve hours later the surgery was completed he was doing much better then previously expected (The DR’s). I walked into his room and saw the familiar smile, that had been lost for over a
month. All I could think was--thank God, he’s back. Back from a world that today he doesn’t remember--which is probably best. My brother, smiling, joking, back to normal, no longer seeing us through eyes wide shut. After going through a vigorous

Rehabilitation program, he started his senior year in high school on time and graduated.
Today he is a young man with many aspirations, he is ambitious and strong-willed more so now than before. This struggle with death cultured him into the pearl he is today. Jerome, my brother is an inspiration to me, our family and friends. The scar on his head is an everyday reminder to him and our family of the tragic time we encountered and overcame. The real accomplishment is Jerome’s own personal will to live out the rest of his life. This could be a lesson to everyone, the tunnel of life can be dark and gloomy, but when you reach the end of the tunnel and the light strikes the mirror of your soul and reflects it like colors in a kaleidoscope-- beautiful. Through his tragedy he allows the flame in his heart to shine.


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© 2001 T Shanell Penniton
April 2001

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