The Magical Woods

Posted on: December 16, 2012
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By Veronica Oniro

“She may not make it through the night. The next 24 hours will be the most crucial and if she makes it through, she still will not be out of the woods for quite some time after.” 

Those words resonate in my head almost 35 years after they were said. Within a period of just one week, my sister went from a ten year old little girl playing outside, to laying in a hospital bed fighting for her life. This was the first of many uphill battles she would have to fight. Within the first twenty-four hours of being hospitalized, she was diagnosed with a very rare disease called Wegnersgranulomitosis, a connective tissue disease that would end up damaging her left lung beyond repair and leaving her right lung with only 80 percent use. 

The years that followed her first hospitalization, I recall doctors saying she may not make it through each surgery required so that she could survive. Having to undergo over fifty laser surgeries on her lungs to clear away the scarring tissue caused by her disease, and amputation of fingers on her left hand, my sister handled her pain and physical challenges with all the grace someone three times her age. Finally at age 23, her disease had gone into remission. But five years later it eventually took its toll on her kidneys.

At twenty eight years old, having surpassed all the milestone ages the doctors claim she would never live to see; thirteen, sixteen, eighteen, twenty-one, a new battle had begun. I recall hearing her begin every morning in the bathroom vomiting. Eventually, mental confusion would prove that she had succumbed to renal failure, having to start dialysis immediately. It would take three years on dialysis before a donor was found.

Today at age forty-five, she’s endured over one hundred surgeries and even more hospitalizations than we could count. Even as I write this, she is lying in a hospital bed, once again, fighting to prove the doctors and nurses wrong; proving there is still fight left in her. After going in for a standard procedure, she ended up on a ventilator in the ICU due to flash pulmonary edema, a condition where the lungs quickly fill up with fluids. Being a nurse myself, I try to convince the residents she is not the typical patient. She needs to get that fluid off of her lungs quicker. After pleading my case, they concede to my request to increase her diuretic and get the fluids off quicker. Low and behold, the fluid begins to get pulled off and her oxygen saturations improve.

After succeeding in my first mission of getting them to increase her diuretic, I plan for my next move. I request for my sister to be moved to the Medical Intensive Care Unit. Again faced with apprehension on their part, they respond with ”That is not typically done,” or “We can manage her here in the Surgical Intensive Care,” I remind them she is not a surgical patient, and what she needs is for the lung specialists to be on her case, not surgery. After a bit more persuasion, they once again surrender to my request. 

Once moved to the MICU, Pulmonologists take her case over. Within twenty-four hours, her medications were changed, her lung functions began to improve and she shows that same spunk she had every other time she was in such a medically delicate state and pulled through. She is not out of the woods yet, but is showing signs of improvement. As long as we continue to move forward, that is all we can hope for.

Her life pans out in my mind and I can’t help but feel such sorrow for a childhood that was robbed of this sweet, freckled face little girl. If I were to say such things to her, she would merely roll her eyes and say, “It’s better than the alternative.” Anyone who knows her would say, “Resilience is at the very core of her being. Her faith and fight, refusing to give up, that has given her all these years of life.”

After all, at ten years old she made it through the first twenty-four hours in the ICU after being coded two times. Every birthday that followed, doctors told us that she may not be around to celebrate the next one. But she did, and is still here to celebrate them. She just turned forty-five in September, and as she lies in the hospital bed, we are once again being told, “she is not out of the woods yet.” Maybe the woods she so often has visited are magical. She deserves a magical place of safety. Maybe all these years they have kept her safe, helping her to get strong and only allowing her to leave once she is able, once she is strong enough to face the fight she must endure in our world. For now, all we can do is sit and wait for her return.


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