My sister’s near death from ED

My sister Paulie nearly died several times from anorexia nervosa in the late 70’s. Back then there was really no therapy for it, no magic pills or counselors who knew shit about it. No inpatient places, no specialists. You were nuts and when you got too skinny and your body was shutting down you would go to the hospital where they’d ge you over your immediate health crisis then pack you off back home. And wait for the next time you would physically fall apart.

I went away to college in the fall of 1978. It was my goal to get as far away from my family as I could. Mom would write me short letters with my monthly allowance and that was my only contact with any of them.

Mom had mentioned in her first note to me in August that my sister’s husband had hit her and she immediately filed for divorce. Mom’s primary concern seemed to be that my dad kept trying to hunt the bastard down and beat him up. Which idea was rather amusing to me since my dad’s a really big weenie when I comes to that kind of thing.

Anyway. Imagine my surprise when I came home for winter break and called on Paulie and she lost lost around 40 pounds. At 5’4″, she was always pretty thin but so was everybody in my nuclear and extended family. Last time I’d seen her in July she was somewhere around my weight, 125 or so.

When she answered her door on that frigid December night I fell into complete shock. Standing before me was a skeleton who weighed I’d discover soon about 85 pounds. She said hi how are you how’s school let’s go weigh ourselves. And literally ran from the door into her kitchen, where she kept one of five weight scales. Dammit she said I just weighed 84 like an hour ago. Fucking water I swear I will never drink water again.

Now you she said what do you weigh get on the scale. I said no that’s okay I’m okay. She whingex about me
Not getting on her scale for awhile then said okay how about this one. Walked to the scale in her living room. Stand on this one. No, really, thanks. And on to the other three she had laying about in various rooms.

I asked Paulie why it was so important for her to know how much I weighed. She said well how else will I k ow bow good you are? I said how good I am like if I weigh more than you then you’re a better person? Why yes she says, of course.

I could not wrap my head around what I was looking at. My sister looked like a ghost. Her eyes were black and sunken into her face. You could cut an apple with her jawline. Her wrists were so thin I couldn’t imagine how they held the weight of her hands, which were merely skin-covered bones. She was wearing a sweatsuit kind of a thing popular in those days that hung off her. Her shoulders were sharp angles. She was covered in fuzz.

Paulie had always been a very well put-together gal. Gorgeous some would say. But this thing that stood before me, crying over tha gaining of a pound from drinking some sips of water, was barely recognizeable as a human being.

I asked Paulie when was the last time she’d seen mom or dad. She said it had been months. How about Ginny of your other friends? Not in “awhile”. Everybody just wants to go out to eat. And my friends just bugged me about my weight so they don’t understand. I have to be good. I have to be good. I have to be good.

I don’t know how long I stayed there that night, just sitting and holding her hand between times she weighed herself. It seemed that she had an entire ritual around it all. She would stand up, say oh I hope I’m good, go to each of the five scales and comment after each scale what it’s number was and what that mean about her essential badness. It seemed that this ritual took place every fifteen minutes or so. She’d go do it then come back and si down and cry that she still wasn’t good enough for ten minutes or so then jump up to do it all over again.

That first night was one of the worst of my life to date. Excepting foe my rapes and all. Maybe worse really because I was coMpletely dissociated from my stuff but this was terrifyingly real. My sister and I had never been close. We were 4 years apart and I loathed her because she was my big sister and she hadn’t saved me from my pedophiles.

But all that va ished as I witnessed this fuzz-covered walking skeleton before me.

Paulie fainted twice that night. She seemed to think nothing of it said ah that happens all the time it’s nothing. Turns out that she wasn’t working either anymore and had food delivered–what food she’d tolerate in her house. She hDn’ left the place she said in weeks. She was of course teeth-chatteringly cold where the thermometer was set to 80 degrees.

I went back to my parents’ house in a fury. Stormed in do you know what’s going on with Paulie? Well she needs alot of rest for what she Has been thru says my mentally screwed mother. Dad takes notice as he rarely does. Is the Bastard there is he bothering g her because I swear to god if he touches my baby again…..

No I said. She is skin and bones. She weighs 85 Pounds and is covered in fuzz. Oh come on says mom why do you come up with this kind of crap? Come with me I say I think she really needs help. Dad says what kind of help do you mean? I dezcribe her ritual thing and say that she thinks a number on a scale determines show bad she is. She is so thin she can’t stop shaking. I couldn’t get her to ingest anything. She kept showing me her hipbones that look like a
Concentration Camp survivor, pointing at fat that isn’t there.

Paulie needs help. Gak says mom you mean like a shrink? Or whatever? Those people are quacks it’s all a
Pile of bullshit. No, I said, she needs to be in a hospital she’s fainting for God’s sake.

So. Next morning Dad goes with me to my sister’s house. She opens the door and he immediately bursts into sobs. Oh god honey he says I am just so sorry. You are so thin, do you know that? She smiles and says I am good today I’m at 83 and a half. I’ll really be good enough when I get down to 79. Until then I don’t deserve to live.

Needless to say dad and Paulie talked and talked and talked. He Waited until she fainted then rushed her into his car and got her into the ER. Nobody seemed to really know what to do with her at first. Remember, this is the 70’s.

In any event, she refused to eat or drink. Dad had to get some emergency power of attorney or had her involuntarily committed or something I don’t really know. All I know is that eventually she had IVs for food and water because she was of course dehydrated as well. She kept ripping out the tubes I’ll be bad you are making me be bad I am bad bad baaaaaaad……she was given something that knocked her out for several days. Like a fog thing as tests were done and all.

Paulie’s kidneys were a mess. Her liver was thinking of going on strike. Her heartrate was all over the place. There was something of a jaundice thing. She had had a little respiratory infection that now was pnuemonia. Her hair was falling out. Her gums were threatening to give way. Her skinwas so paper-tbin the slightest brush would bruise.

It was touch and go for my sister for quite awhile. Her body was near collapse and it seemed that when one thing started getting better another would start a shutdown. But after weeks in the hospital my sister did somehow survive. Her illness hadn’t been touched of course so as soon as she got home it started up again, only this time she was more wary with her information.

Because my parents were utterly incapable of dealing with this situation, I took off the next many months and nursed my sister back to health. I read all there was to read about this weird anorexia thing. I went to a counselor because she wouldn’t and learned how to help change her patterns of thinking. I learned that you cannot reason with ED. That it is a brutal monster that will devour your to your death unless you understand the essential truths in what it does to your mind.

My sister had to go back to the hospital twice again, but her stays were much shorter I’m proud to say. Remember this was in the days before personal computers and cell phones. There was no Internet. So I did all I knew how to do. I found somebody who understood my sister’s shit and found out how to get her better.

Ittook nine months for me to get my sister to the point where she agreed to see “my” therapist. Within a year she was still not at a healthy weight but enough to keep her body functional.

To this day Paulie has very complex relationship to food. She’s vigilant when she feels the EX Monsters knocking at her door but she always has an unusual food pattern happening. She’ll be vegan, then just a vegetarian. Then she won’t do cheese. Then it’s all about free radicals or yeast or or or. It’s always something but at least she takes care of herself. And luckily she’s taken great pains to ensure that her daughter is healthy. My niece has regular therapy and I’m happy to report that she’s a good well-balanced kid.

I will never forget seeing that skeleton who first drew me into her door that cold December night. I will never forget the months and months and months I spent nursing her back to a reasonable facsimile of health.

ED is no joke. If you are suffering go get help. If you don’t help will be forced on you eventually or you’ll die. I know that you cannot understand where you are right now. But lemme tell you it is no fun being force-fed and committed involuntarily. But understand this: help will
Eventually be forced upon you. So you might as well do it under your terms.

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14 Comments

  1. Tiger said,

    May 20, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Wow. Powerful words, here. Thank you.

  2. May 20, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Wow, you are an amazing sister. My sister goes to great lengths to help me and it means the world to me. Thanks you.

    • May 20, 2010 at 12:37 pm

      Yeah. My folks were totally incapable, and you’re supposed to take care of your own. So. What choice? Glad your sis is there for you.

  3. Afterglow said,

    May 20, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Oh Splint, thank you for this post. You’ve made an impression on me. I understand that this happens – that it’s really not about control, or food for that matter. It’s he’ll though taking that step. I KNOW what I need to do, it’s just the ‘doing it’ part that I can’t seem to grasp.
    I am so happy to hear that she is at least getting along. What you gave up to be there for your sister was obviously monumental in her road to recovery. You are sooo giving and self-less. I can’t thank you enough!

    • May 20, 2010 at 12:40 pm

      I’m glad this resonated with you hon. It’s some pretty hard shit to hear, I know. But it comes from a very loving place. I just hate ED so, so much.

  4. Ravin said,

    May 20, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    You and your sister are strong and striving human beings. What you did for her was such an act of compassion of the deepest kind.

    Ravin

    • May 20, 2010 at 12:43 pm

      Well, what choice, really? We really don’t keep in touch. It was just a blip on the radar screen really. She’s not tough enough to return the favor and frankly I don’t want it. And even though no one in my family was there for me you take care of your own and so. She’s doing well enough to take good care my niece doesn’t get impacted and that’s all j need to know.

  5. kelsanne87 said,

    May 21, 2010 at 2:01 am

    I wish I had a sister like you. My sister doesn’t give a rats butt about me. Yet, she’s my twin. We’ve never gotten along. She had an eating disorder for attention in hgih school ,and shebelievest hat is why I do it. Little does she know, I’ve had issues since I wasFIVE YEARS OLD…and with her and my relationship, it doesn’t make anything better. Hope to hearback soon

    • May 21, 2010 at 5:40 am

      I am so sorry that you’re in such pain. Actually my sister and I touch base maybe 3-4 times a year over tha phone. We are not at all close. It was just a little space in time in which I was rather trapped by the rifght thing and I did it. Hope you start feeling better soon 😉

  6. May 21, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    Hey darlin’,
    You are a wonderful sister. She is blessed to have you as a sister, regardless of the amount of time you spend together then and now. When she needed you, and her life depended on it most; you were there, leading her back to health. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Ciao,
    Joy

    • May 21, 2010 at 3:15 pm

      Thanks. I take care of my own.

      • May 21, 2010 at 3:23 pm

        I have no doubt. 😉 It’s very cool to know that there are people out there who will tenaciously fight for those they care about. Sometimes I feel so silly bc I do, and it’s not reciprocal. I know reciprocity is totally not the point, but it would be kinda nice to have someone have my back. Especially within the fam. But, alas expectations lead to disappointment, so … I am in a not-so -mindful or skilled way, trying to let go.

      • May 21, 2010 at 4:10 pm

        Yeah. Suppose I have just always had such ambivalence toward my family…but watching my sister die was not on my to-do list and so.


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