Some stories demand to be told. For example, there were two sisters, Susan and Joanna, who were so entangled in rivalry and resentment, drummed into them by their misguided parents, that when one of the sisters got sick, really sick, the other one was so jealous, so threatened, so terrified that she would somehow lose something, that she set out to discredit her sick sister and sabotage her treatment.
Susan’s first strategy was to convince her parents that Joanna was faking her illness. Joanna’s condition had been undiagnosed for almost ten years. Year after year doctors said they couldn’t find anything wrong with her. So when Susan suggested that Joanna’s swollen joints and muscular pain were attention-getting ploys, planned and premeditated with one objective: to extort attention and financial help from her gullible family, her mother began to believe it. She preferred to believe the lie than think her daughter was actually sick.
But then Joanna was diagnosed with lupus, a real disease, and doctors said there was no cure. That’s when Susan tried to convince her parents that Joanna would be better off fighting the disease on her own, that it would help her grow up faster, make her a better human being, if she learned to rely on her own resources rather than depend on help or support from the family.
“You’re not doing her any favors by paying her medical bills,” Susan frequently said.
“Don’t coddle her,” was another favorite line.
“She’ll never be a responsible adult if you’re always there to help her.”
Her mother was torn. A part of her agreed with Susan. Maybe she was right that Joanna has to figure out how to live a normal life and the sooner she learns to cope with lupus on her own the better off she will be. But Joanna’s father saw things differently. There was no way he was going to abandon his sick child.
That’s when Susan brought out the big guns. She told her parents that she was worried they wouldn’t have time for their new grandchild, when they are so preoccupied with Joanna’s health. So for the baby’s sake, to protect him from rejection, Susan was going to have to limit their visits. Threatening to withhold their grandchild almost worked. They couldn’t risk missing out on their only grandchild. So they swore they would cherish and adore Susan’s child above all others. They still helped Joanna with her medical bills, but they backed off. There were fewer visits and phone calls, and they tried to remember not to mention Joanna too much in Susan’s presence.
But then Joanna got really sick. The joint pain gave way to falling platelets. Lupus was now attacking her blood, making it much more serious and complicated than when it was mostly joint pain. By now the baby was a year old and everyone was gathered for his birthday. Joanna was on the couch unable to move. She had aches and pains throughout her body, and all of her joints were red and swollen. Earlier that day she began spiking a fever and by late afternoon it was up to 104. Her mother called Joanna’s rheumatologist. Dr. Konrad said Joanna could die if she didn’t get to the hospital quickly. Her mother ran around the house in a panic. Her father went out to the garage to make a bed in the backseat of his car for the long drive to University Hospital. Susan scowled and fretted. She said Joanna was ruining the birthday party, that she should find her own way to the hospital, like a responsible adult.