Friday, December 05, 2008

bg/ish: Meeting Sasha

It's been an interesting week to say the least. Some ups, some downs. "A lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-you's, a lot of strands to keep in my head, man. Lot of strands in old Duder's head." At any rate, I thought I'd end this week on a more personal note. My life changed for the better yesterday, and I feel compelled to share.

Quick back story - A little over 10 years ago I had somewhat of a falling out with certain members of my extended family, so there are some aunts, uncles and cousins of mine that I either haven't seen in over 10 years or have never met at all. Yesterday I met Sasha, my 11 year old cousin, for the first time.

Sasha was born with Spinal Meningitis. She has been in a wheelchair her entire life, and will never walk. A heavy burden for a child to bear under any circumstances. I'd heard stories of her resilience, courage and maturity from other members of the family. "An amazing little girl", they would say. Now I know from experience, they were right.

Sasha's body has developed in such a way that her spinal cord and ribcage are essentially crushing her lungs. It was determined that she would need either an entire titanium rod fused to her spine or individual titanium pieces fused in between several vertebrae in an effort to straighten it out and alleviate the pressure on her lungs. She was brought from Sacramento to the UCSF Children's Hospital here in San Francisco for the operation.

Several family members came into the city to support her and her parents and siblings, my mother included. I had planned on stopping by the hospital after work and checking in on the family, but around 2 o'clock I received a phone call from her brother, my cousin Christian.

"How come you're not here?", he asked.

"I'm at work, but I'll come by when I get off".

"Hold on", he said, "Sasha wants to talk to you."

I was all at once nervous and excited, unsure of what to expect from a child who was facing such a major surgical procedure.

"Hi!", she said, "I've never met you!"

"I know, but you sound lovely." And she truly did.

She thanked me and we went on to talk for a few minutes about how much she was enjoying a book she was reading in the waiting area. My mother had found an old Shel Silverstein book that my late grandmother had given to me as a child. She brought it with her to give to me, but had let Sasha read it while she was waiting to go into surgery.

Then she asked me if she could possibly meet me before she went into surgery. They were scheduled to take her in at 2:45. I looked at the time, it was 2 o'clock.

"Yes", I said without hesitation.

I left work and rode like hell across the city. When I reached the hospital, I saw my mother and sister-in-law waiting outside the main lobby. We said our hellos and I went inside to meet Sasha.

She is an amazing little girl. Her courage was more than evident, her confidence and joy were infectious. You would have never guessed she was facing such a serious, painful procedure. She started right in with the questions...

"How tall are you?"

"What size is your shoe?"

"Why is your hair like that?"

She tried to return the book.

"Sasha, that book is yours" I said. She clutched it to her body and was genuinely excited.

Before they wheeled her upstairs to surgery she asked, "Do you want to take a picture?"

Of course I did.

And that is how I met Sasha, one of the strongest, most inspirational, and beautiful girls I have ever met in my life.

Today, she is recovering in the hospital with her family at her side.

I can't wait to go and visit.

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