The One Where Devika Gets Sick (the first time) 4/29/18
I figure it’s probably important that I start off my posts with the background story of the Devika we know today. I talk about her a lot, but I forget that not everyone knows what happened. She’s changed a lot since then, we’ve seen her high-highs and her low-lows— but the one takeaway I would want anyone to get out of her story, is to never give in, and to never give up.
Over the years, I’ve found myself retelling this story countless times. I was only a baby when everything happened, so anything I describe from these early stages is purely taken from my mom and sister’s retelling of the events. I’ve cried almost every time I tell this story, but now I realize that Devika hasn’t cried even once. She lived through the worst part of it, and I’m the one crying about it.
Our story begins on a summer weekend, when I was two and she was two weeks shy of her first birthday. We were just moving out of our house in Norwalk and into the new one in the Inland Empire. Devika and I were both a little sick, leaving my mom to deal with not only moving, but also with two thirds of her kids having fevers in the summer heat. Only, Devika stayed sick. Her fevers weren’t breaking, and she wouldn’t stop crying. A few days went by, and when they realized the cold medicine wasn’t working, my parents took her to the hospital. In the emergency room, the Doctors ran blood tests, and found irregularities. They decided on transporting her to Loma Linda Children’s Hospital for further testing— my older sister, Meera, in the ambulance with her, and my mom trailing close behind in the civic. I wasn’t there, of course, because I was still a toddler, and toddlers weren’t allowed in the ICU.
After taking another round of tests, her Doctors came to the conclusion that Devika had Acute Myeloid Leukemia— a cancer in the white blood cell that, at the time, was more common in 40-50 year old Caucasian adults. It was an abnormal situation from its core. Even just the concept of cancer was so foreign to my Mom and sister that they sat in disbelief for a few minutes before asking what their next steps would be.
Devika didn’t leave the hospital for a year and a half after that. She spent her first birthday in Intensive Care at the Pediatric Oncology Ward at Loma Linda. She spent it in a hospital crib, surrounded by nurses and doctors, but not her sisters. I think about this a lot, and still feel guilty about it, even though there was nothing Meera and I could do about it. The months went on, and after the summer was over, I stayed with my Aunts and Uncles, and Meera had to go back home with our Grandma Dadee and finish the eighth grade. My mom left her job at the bank to be with Devika full-time, and my Dad worked extra shifts throughout the week to take care of the bills. To this day, I use this period of our lives as a testament for what family really means, because even though everything in our lives felt like it was falling apart around us, it was our family who helped glue together the pieces just enough for us to feel like everything might be okay.
My aunt, Harsha, took a job at the local Montessori so that I could go there at a discounted price, and took a job at the Foot Locker so that at the very least, even though my parents couldn’t buy me all the toys I wanted, I could still rock a fresh pair of Jordan’s. My Aunts, Raju Mami, Arti Masi, my Fai Sandy, Shashi Kaki, and the very pregnant Darshna Masi, made us dinner every night, got us clothes, taught us right from wrong, and stepped in as my alternate Moms. My Uncle, Pritesh Mama, would try to teach me how to read with his X Men Comics— while his younger brother, Sameer, would teach me normal kid stuff, like how to convince our aunts to take us to the 7-11 for Coke Slurpees and Hot Cheetos. My Aunt, Krupali Fai, would play boardgames with us to distract us when the adults talked about changes in Devika’s treatment, and her parents, Dr. Tejura and Hansa Auntie, would check in on Devika every day in the hospital. None of us could’ve predicted that this chubby little ball of sunshine would be like the kids we’d see from those St. Judes ads on TV. We knew it was bad, but we never could’ve imagined it’d get worse.
Devika’s Leukemia required a harsh round of Chemo treatments, that given the unique situation— was entirely experimental. My parents agreed of course, because our end game was to just get my baby sister back home. Turns out, with experiments, comes risk. Devika’s brain began to react to the massive amounts of Methotrexate in her chemo rounds, and because of that, she would experience almost every side effect that comes along with chemotherapy. So, a baby who went into the hospital for fevers and what we thought was an aggressive cold— ended up coming out year and a half later with Mild Cerebral Palsy, Lennox Gestaut Syndrome, Mental Retardation, and Extremely Severe Epilepsy. The Doctors told my parents to give up on her, because she’d never be able to walk or talk again. One even joked with my Mom and told her it wouldn’t matter because she’d be a vegetable anyway. The fucking audacity. Well, my Mom doesn’t go down with a fight, and neither does Devika. No one in my family does. I’ll talk about that later though, in “The One Where We Stick It To The Man.”
So here it is, the one where Devika gets sick— the first time. In timespan of a year and a half, my healthy little sister was changed forever. I’d also like to note that a lot of other things happened in this period, like my Grandmother’s Murder in Kenya, Meera’s life-saving Bone Marrow Transplant, the birth of my baby cousin, Shivani, and the rewriting of our family dynamic. But, we grow through what we go through, right? It wasn’t the first time my family had been through the wringer, and it wouldn’t be the last. All I can say in reflection is that I’m entirely grateful to every individual who helped us during that time— even the one’s I’m sorry to not have mentioned yet by name. I’m entirely grateful because every single one of you has had an impact on who I am today.
Also, thank you to my readers for reading through my first post. I’ve got a lot of room for improvement, so I’m open to any and all criticisms you’ve got. HMU in the DM’s, and stay tuned for next week’s post.
Thank you thank you thank you.