My Brother Matthew
When I was 5 years old, my brother, Matthew, was born with undetected down syndrome and a lot of medical complications.
Tritroglogy of flow, due to a hole in his pulmonary valve in his heart was the worst of the medical issues.
Matthew was rushed into emergency open heart surgery at 8 months old.
The surgery was a failure. Within a few days, my brother’s pulmonary valve ripped open again. Too weak to endure another surgery, he stayed in the hospital until he gained the strength for another try.
The second surgery was a success, but Matthew was weak and contracted pneumonia in the hospital. What was supposed to be a max of 6 weeks turned into 6 months of living at Children’s hospital.
My parent’s changed shifts staying with Matthew in Denver and watching me/ taking me to school in Greeley.
Matthew made very little progress at Children’s and was eventually sent home for in-home palliative care with 2 ‘round the clock nurses - Linda and Donna.
Donna and Linda, our nurses, quickly became family, helping to take care of me along with my brother.
Our house was a hospital. Matthew was in a hospital crib with a trachea, a 1,000 lb. oxygen tank, CPAP, Pulse Ox, and much more.
At age 6, I was trained to operate all of these machines, give emergency assistance to my brother, and change major medical equipment - including his trachea (which was a very dangerous procedure.) But his trachea had to be changed out every week as the old one would get dirty.
We had the hospital at our house for about 4 years. Doctors did not expect Matthew to live past 10. In November of this year (2021) Matthew will turn 21 and is free from all medical equipment including a trachea, and oxygen.
Although Matthew cannot walk, talk, or eat independently, he has taught me more about life than anyone else.
All throughout school I was in “gifted” classes. (A special designation to students that teachers arbitrarily chose based on BEHAVIOR and not intelligence.)
Being a “gifted” kid, I was brainwashed into believing that I and the other gifted students were better than our peers.
In 7th grade, a non “gifted” student was put into our advanced English class. All of us “gifteds” scoffed at the idea that she would be able to hang with us intellectually.
Kelsey was a bit of a slacker. Sleeping in class, never turning in assignments, always late. We all wrote her off.
One day, our teacher, Mrs. Morris, had us read a poem and asked us what we thought the poem was about. Students enthusiastically raised their hands and answered incorrectly one after another.
Ten students had answered by the time Kelsey sheepishly raised her hand and then put it back down again - not in time for Mrs. Morris to have missed the attempt though.
“Kelsey, what do you think? It looked like you raised you hand.”
Kelsey shook her head, “No” and looked down at her desk unconfident. We all stared at her.
“Come one Kelsey! I know you know it. I really want to hear your thoughts.”
Her answer: “I think it’s about Aliens, like from their perspective looking down at Earth.”
The class erupted in boisterous laughter. How stupid, or high, could she be?
Mrs. Morris patiently waited for the class to calm down.
“Why do you think that Kelsey?”
Even less confident than previously, she said, “I don’t know, I just do.”
Mrs. Morris waited again as a smile crept across her face.
“You should really be more confident Kelsey because, you’re right!”
The entire class sat, stunned in silence as Kelsey beamed with excitement.
Monday is Tortilla Day
Monday was tortilla day growing up.
Every Monday morning, my Grandma would get up early and make tortillas for the week.
She took care of my cousins and I while our parents worked.
I’d run to the kitchen as she juggled multiple tortillas and rolled them out in a soothing rhythm.
I’d ask my Grandma if I could have one. “Don’t eat them all! Only one.”
I’d ultimately ask for another.
“Just one more so we have some for the week.” She’d say.
Again, I’d ask for another. By the time I was finished, I had eaten 10 - 12 tortillas.
She never told me that I couldn’t have another, but always reminded me that there had to be enough for the week.
I begged my parents to take me to Grandma’s at 5:30 AM so I could help with the entire tortilla crafting process.
I was disappointed in my tortillas because they always looked misshapen, like South America or some other continent. Grandma used to ask, “Does it taste good?” It always did, to which she’d reply, “Then it’s a good tortilla.”
4) Trapped On A Sinking Ship
I am an Eagle Scout.
The Scouting program taught me many life skills throughout my 11 years in the program.
For one summer camp, our Troop went to Coeur D'alene Idaho. There is a huge lake there, which is where the camp was located.
I took as many water merit badges as I possibly could, even though I was not a strong swimmer.
I had already been in sailing merit badge classes when one of the dads in our troop came up to a group of us and asked if we wanted to go out for a sail.
All of us were taking the sailing merit badge, so we were excited to go.
Bob told us he was a sailor for some time in his 20’s and 30’s and that he was experienced. He believed that we could have a leg up in our classes if he showed us some “secrets”.
We followed Bob to the marina like a gaggle of geese, squawking and cooing over positions on the boat.
Bob went to the Harbor Master and smooth talked him into letting us borrow a 20 foot sail boat.
We were all used to sailing 13 - 14 foot sunfish sailboats, but Bob wanted a larger boat to fit all 6 of us.
As we set off on the lake, it became clear that Bob had no idea what he was doing. Every “tip” and “secret” he told to us was the exact opposite of what we were taught by our instructors.
Regardless, our crew was able to sail competently, despite the “captain’s” orders, which we mostly ignored.
As we got ready to head to the marina, Bob decided to abruptly turn the rudder before alerting us or releasing the boom. We were tacking (a method of zig-zagging against the wind) and the mainsail caught the oncoming gust, capsizing the boat in the blink of an eye.
We splashed into the water, stunned and frightened at the sudden cold. One of my fellow scouts got hit in the head with the mast (he was ok) as our gear slowly descended into the depths around us.
Fortunately, this was a fairly small sailboat that floats, leaving it bobbing up and down in the waves. We attempted to right the boat as we had been taught in our classes, but it was too heavy given that we had practiced with much smaller boats.
A nearby crew came to our rescue and towed us, and the capsized boat, back to the marina.
In all, we only lost one water bottle, three pairs of sunglasses, and the daggerboard.
When we finally got back to the marina, the Harbor Master was livid. He demanded to know what happened as this boat was nicer than the sunfish we usually took out, and was not meant to capsize.
Before any of the scouts could talk, Bob said, “Oh, these scouts are new to sailing and they didn’t know what to do. I tried to stop us from flipping, but was too late. It’s hard to instruct 5 new scouts perfectly.”
We were all in shock. Bob has thrown us under the boat. The harbor master said everything would be fine but the daggerboard was gone, and if we didn’t find it, we would have to pay for a new one. $500 split five ways. (Of course he left Bob out of the penalty.)
Luckily another boat retrieved the daggerboard and we didn’t have to pay.
We all got our sailing merit badges and luckily, I got to go sailing many more times, without Bob.