What happens next is just a collage of images- white sheets on an emergency room bed, the soft skin of her inner arm bruising from needles. Morphine hitting the veins, orange bottles of pills that rattle, a world kept muffled of sound, as if in a deep snowstorm. Miraculously, when she lies down, the pain ebbs, the ringing in her ears quiets. She feels...normal. Which is to say, she feels like she's living, not dying. But to stand up, lift her head, brings the pain crashing back- like a nightmare returning as you fall back asleep, or a train rushing through a quiet train yard.
So she spends the days horizontal,beneath earplugs and eye masks and closed blinds. Doctors give no answers, only medicine that works only slightly. Her family strokes her hair and murmurs. They have moved into the second phase of inexplicable tragedy- something like hopelessness? Acceptance? Are those things mutually exclusive? These are my words, not theirs. They would object to them I'm sure. Steph said it was very peaceful. They had those conversations reserved for people who are leaving, and the people love them and have to watch them go. You and I can only imagine what was said during that time. Molly said if it's a girl, I'll name it after you.
It's her mother who first figures it out, not the doctors. Her mother is a physical therapist in Louisiana, and as her plane sinks down into the glittering Seattle skyline, she puts it together. You have a spinal leak, she tells her daughter. It's the only thing that makes sense.
As you know- her mother is right. (Mothers are always right.) When Steph is lying down, her brain is cushioned, splashing in its bath of cerebral spinal fluid, just like my brain is all of the time, regardless of what position I am in. Hopefully yours as well. But when she is upright, her spine is leaking fluid- pints of it. Her brain becomes dehydrated, and sinks lower and lower on her skull. It starts to hit upon the cranial nerves, which are better left un-touched, because of all the important things they do.
For example, the control of eyes, of ears, of memory. And a lot of other stuff as well.
Picture your delicate spine, the section in your neck that holds your head up. Reach out a hand and touch it- aren't you fond of it? Now picture yourself running a five-tinged salad fork against the dura- the layer surrounding your spine. Dura in latin means tough mother- as if your spine is wearing a bad ass leather jacket with spikes on the cuff. Four of the tinges puncture the dura, one nicks the spine.
Remember now, to be thankful that your spine is only nicked. If it was punctured- if the wrist administering the blow had twitched or pressed just a little bit harder- you'd be dead on the table. Or a quadriplegic. Either way, you'd wish you hadn't been messing with your spine at all.
Which I'm sure is what Steph is wishing right now. But anyway, now they know what's going on. Which is better than not knowing.