In the meantime, I was going up and down the stairs in my house crying. I really just didn’t know what to do with myself so I called the one person that I knew who would know what to do and how to explain to me what was going on, my uncle Jonas. Jonas is a fireman and in my mind a hero and I was sure he would know what to do and what the doctor’s words meant. I told him what the doctor had said. He asked me if I had called Felix. Felix, oh, no. Felix. My husband and the father of my children. I got so frantic all I could do was think of was to get someone to be with Ronnie and to get Brandhi to the hospital. He said, In a very calm authoritative voice, “calm down.” He told me not to tell my mother without my father present, which was something I needed to hear. My mother had almost died a few years previous and we were concerned how she would handle this information. Not to mention, Brandhi was my mom and dad’s little girl. Their little girl! They are so close to my children. We only live three miles apart and my children see my parents every day. So Jonas told me that he would call Felix and my mom; that I should wait for my cousin and aunt and just take it easy. He told me I would be okay and that I should stay strong and calm for Brandhi. I started to calm down by this point only to see my cousin running up my front yard. As I opened the door I starting crying uncontrollably again. No, not my daughter. No, not my little girl. Please. Please. No!
My aunt arrived to take of Ronnie and my cousin drove me to pick up Brandhi who was still in school. I was trying to be strong. Strong for her. I knew I looked frayed to say the least. I told the lady working the reception area at her school that I had to take her to the hospital, that it was an urgent matter and that she was unaware of why I was coming to get her. About that time I turned, I saw Brandhi, my little girl holding the rail of the steps walking slowly down the steps toward me. At that point, all I could see was my baby, my little blonde haired girl struggling to place each foot on the next step and move forward. She asked me why I was there and what was wrong, I told her something had showed up on the MRI that it was probably nothing really big, but the doctors wanted us to go to the emergency room to be checked out. On the way there, she was asking, “Mom, what’s going on? Mom, am I all right?” My cousin started telling her that sometimes doctors just need to look into things more.
As we approached the entrance of the hospital I saw my parents. They had arrived before we did and they looked physically ill. Remember, Brandhi was so close to them. My dad is a big, quite, calm man and also the emotionally strongest man I know. The only times I had ever seen my dad upset or shaken was when my mom was in the hospital hooked up to a ventilator. My mom was so frightened. We pulled our strength from my dad yet when my dad arrived to meet my mom at home she said he let out the most terrifying cry that she had ever heard. She told me, “Kim, your dad is not doing this well. Brandhi is his baby.” I don’t think any of us knew what to do.
We were met at the emergency room by a neurologist. What I began to see and hear really threw me. He started doing a neurological exam on her. He told her to stand up, put her arms straight out to the side and close her eyes. When she did, she fell to the floor. What was this? Oh, my goodness. I had noticed her stumbling and falling around but after all she was at the clumsy age of thirteen. My daughter told him that her eye was almost better. She could pretty much see but now she felt weak in her right leg and was having trouble going up and down the stairs at school. I asked her why she didn’t call me, why she didn’t come home and she said, “Well, I was making it. I thought I would do all right.” Right then, the doctor looked at me and said, “I think she may have multiple sclerosis.” What! Multiple Sclerosis, you mean, MS. Uh, no way. It couldn’t be. Annettee Funicello is who I saw in my mind. I saw a wheel chair and my daughter’s future gone.
There was nurse in the emergency room that day, I don’t recall her name; I don’t even remember that she was there during the exam. Suddenly there she was, sent by God I believe. She was telling me, “It’s okay. She’ll be okay. There are treatments now.” She added, “Mrs. Russo. I have MS. Look at me. I am okay. I take a shot everyday. It’s manageable. It will be alright.” I looked at her as if to say thank you but I couldn’t say anything at all. Now, I was numb.
Brandhi was admitted to the hospital and during that week she endured many tests. It was apparent something was seriously wrong by this time. Brandhi could barely stand up let alone walk. Teams of doctors came in and out of her hospital room, poking, testing and not really saying much. As the week progressed I became more and more emotional, more and more agitated. They told me that they needed to do another MRI, this time with a contrast, so that they could really see what was going on. They needed to perform another eye exam and a spinal tap. My husband, Felix, and my dad both went in with Brandhi during her spinal tap. My mother and I opted to stay in the hall. I did not want to see Brandhi go through that. The one thing in my life that my dad could not do was to see my mom or one of his own in pain. Brandhi insisted that he go in with her; I was worried, but from what Felix said, God gave my dad the strength and courage he needed to see Brandhi go through this. The doctors told me it would only take about 20 minutes so my mother and I walked around the seventh floor of the hospital, looking out of the windows at the view. We talked and tried to occupy our time. When we realized it had been about a half an hour we walked on back to the room only to pas the door where Brandhi was and heard her crying and screaming. Still. So I asked what was going on and the nurse at the desk told me they were almost finished. They had almost gotten it. Well, another hour passed and Brandi was still crying and screaming. I could hear her from her room down the hall. A mother can only stand so much. I was pacing. I was walking in and out of her room. I’d had enough. I walked to the middle of the hallway and yelled down to the nurse’s station. I yelled. “Okay. That is enough! They have tried long enough! Stop them and stop them right now!” I had some nurses and different personnel rush me into Brandi’s hospital room, telling me to calm down. I insisted that they get a doctor to my daughter’s room right now and tell me what was going on. Was it MS . . ? Why can’t my daughter walk? I wanted answers and I wanted them immediately. By this time, a nurse peeked her head in the room where they were attempting the spinal tap and looked at my husband. He immediately looked up and said to the nurse, “Mom.” She shook her head yes, and responded, “Mom.” They were finished, the doctors were done. They knew it was time to stop. They could not get the spinal tap so they would have to try again tomorrow. The manager of the floor came to the room to talk with me and my husband. She told me that she agreed that it was time for them to stop and the doctors were coming in to talk with us.
Just as my patience was running thin and my adrenaline pumping, in walked a minister. For the record, we are believers. My husband is a youth pastor at the church where we attended. So please do not misunderstand what was about to take place next. As the minister walked in, I became even more agitated. I knew the doctors were coming to talk with us and I thought oh, no. It’s bad. It’s really bad. They wanted a minister here for when they told us. I couldn’t believe it. My mind was racing and I was thinking, she’s dying, this is not good. So, I yelled even more. I yelled at this poor minister who was unaware of the events that were unfolding. All he knew was the he had been asked by a nurse to come to the floor to try and calm down a child’s mother. Well, he walked in, introduced himself and I looked at him as if I were possessed. I had my head slightly bent down as I looked up at him, my eyes were flaming, my nostrils flaring and in a deep, calm voice I said, “What are you doing here? Get out of here!” He put his hands up as if to say, okay,stop-with one of those keep-your-distance poses. My husband jumped in the middle of us and pulled the minister aside. The nurses were just standing there, not making a sound, stunned. I think they were expecting my head to spin and green pea soup to spew out of my mouth.
The nursing manager came in at that time and informed us that the doctor was down the hall in a room and would like to speak with Brandhi’s parents. I walked out of the room into the hall where my husband was assuring the minister that everything was okay. I was just scared not possessed. I looked at my husband and said “Come on, lets go.” We took a long walk down a short hallway to the very same room where my daughter’s spinal tap was attempted. I could see the supplies still being cleaned up. We walked in, sat down and were told the doctor would be right in. I wasn’t saying much at this point. I actually think I was calming down. I wanted to hear this doctor and truly understand what was going on. For now, the drama was over. In walked Brandhi’s neurologist, the one that had been caring for her since we arrived on the seventh floor at the beginning of the week. She began to tell us that they were trying to rule out all other diseases and infections before they would be truly able to tell us if this was MS. She said they had blood work and that so far, from the tests that had come back, they didn’t think she had Lyme disease, or anything else on this list of illnesses and diseases. They wanted to start IV steroids, and they had to rule out infections and such. The doctor was so kind, so calm. She looked straight at me and said, “I am not worried. I think Brandhi has MS but I am confident that she is going to recover from this exacerbation.” She looked into my eyes and quietly said, “I will always be honest with you. I will tell you when I am concerned.” From that point on she gained my trust.
By the end of the week we were told that Brandhi did indeed have Multiple Sclerosis. They started her on a three day round of IV steroids to try to speed up her recovery. A social worker in the hospital came to visit us with an article she had pulled from the internet about MS and a couple of websites for us to check out. No one really could tell us a whole lot about MS. We were told it was an adult disease that it was unusual for someone of Brandhi’s age to get this disease. They told us they couldn’t predict the course of the disease and that to date there was no cure.
As I read the article I began to cry, feeling incredibly helpless. I was so scared and worried about my daughter’s future, the honor roll student, that want-to-be lawyer. What now? Would she pursue her career? Would she walk again? Would she die? I was getting so depressed, all the while still truly unaware of what MS really was. It was all a huge question mark.
For the most part Brandhi’s father was really strong. He’s the type of person who always looks at things exactly as they are. He doesn’t worry about what is to come and sees things in a positive light. I had been a real basket case. Felix, on the other hand, remained strong, never once shedding a tear until late one night, before we left the hospital. My husband thought that my daughter and I were asleep. But I saw him kneeling beside our daughter’s hospital bed, pleading with God. He was crying and begging God to please heal her, to let him take on the disease. It was at that moment that I realized that I had to snap out of it. I had to research and learn everything I could about MS. I knew that this was really happening and it was happening to MY daughter. We go through life never really thinking that these kinds of things can happen to us. Other people get MS, but not us.