51) Miracles do Happen!

My twin sister, Tina 2012

My twin sister, Tina 2012

Thursday April 23rd 2009 is a date I will never forget.  On the Wednesday evening Simon and I were supposed to be going away to Dorset  for a mini-break, but as Simon had a headache we decided to go down on Thursday morning instead.

We were up bright and early, just putting the last bits and pieces in the car when the phone rang.  It was my daughter Kristie, who lived with my twin sister Tina and her husband, Woody, and their family.  She told me that Tina was in hospital about to have an emergency operation.  She had suffered a brain haemorrhage late on Wednesday night and was due in theatre any minute to have life saving brain surgery.  I felt my legs go to jelly and I could hardly speak.  I had been speaking to Tina only the evening before and she had been totally fine.

I went straight to Tina’s house as her children all needed to be cared for and I wanted to be with Kristie too.  Tina and Woody had been unable to have children and had adopted seven learning disabled children over the course of several years.  They ranged in age from three to seventeen at the time.  It was an unreal morning, trying to hold myself together for the sake of the children, but desperately waiting for the phone call from Woody, who was at the hospital, to find if she had made it through the surgery.  Finally just after lunch Woody rang to say she was in intensive care but that the surgery had been successful.  I was over the moon.  I had been praying so hard and felt that my prayers had been answered.

Within a couple of days Tina was moved to the High Dependency Unit and was doing well.  She complained of the most dreadful headache but the staff told us that was quite normal due to her brain surgery.  After just a few more days Tina was moved to a general neurological ward and appeared to be making excellent progress.  She was able to walk and talk quite normally and  have a shower and walk around the ward. The expectation was that she would be home within the week!

Kristie and I were visiting her daily and on the Thursday, just a week after her operation,  we had all been sitting chatting about the programmes she would be watching that evening when the nurse brought her tea, which included a small bowl of ice cream.  Within minutes Tina’s speech was becoming confused and then I noticed that she was having problems eating her ice cream.  Her hand was making odd movements and she was unable to hold the spoon.  I alerted the staff on the ward and they explained that she might have some fluid on the brain and would carry out a lumbar puncture to release any fluid.  When I left the hospital that evening I was obviously concerned, but the staff had been very reassuring and it seemed that this was quite normal and that the lumbar puncture was routine.

The following morning I rang the hospital and they asked me to visit urgently.  They explained that Tina was once again in intensive care.  I was not at all prepared for what faced me that day.  The consultant explained that Tina had suffered a massive stroke due to having a vasospasm, a rare side effect of the brain surgery.  In layman’s terms, the blood vessels within her brain had gone into spasm and no blood had been able to reach the frontal lobes.  I was warned that they fully expected her to die.  I don’t know how I managed to physically stand by her bed, I was shaking and crying so much.  She was lying there covered with wires and tubes, buzzers kept going off and she was fitting, which was terrifying to watch.  The machines that were keeping her alive required almost constant attention by the special nurses who were with her.  I couldn’t believe that she had been doing so well and now they really thought she would die.  I prayed so much that day, I asked God why this happened and kept telling Tina over and over again how much I loved her and that she would come through this ok.   When I eventually left the hospital that evening I emailed every healer I could find on the internet asking if they could please send Tina healing.

I really didn’t think I’d be able to sleep that night, but nervous exhaustion thankfully sent me straight to sleep. I awoke in the morning dreading the news from the hospital.  I phoned and they said she was ‘stable’, but added that there had been no improvement.  I went to the hospital as soon as I could and was met by the ward sister who told me to expect the worse.  She explained that only the machines were keeping her alive, and even if she did survive the prognosis was that she would be severely disabled and unable to enjoy any quality of life as her brain was so badly damaged.  Yet again I sat with her, talking to her, stroking her hand gently.  I prayed that she would not leave me.  I had lost my Mum, my Dad and my brother all within the space of three and half months just a few years before, and I just couldn’t bear the thought of losing my twin sister too. I talked to her about our childhood, about the fun we used to have, about family memories, even about the battles we’d had.  I just felt that I could not give up.

I was sure one day that she had lightly squeezed my hand as I was about to leave, but the nurses assured me that she wouldn’t be able to do that.  They said that her brain was unable to distinguish my voice and that she most probably did not have the ability to understand anything I said to her.  I ignored their advise and just carried on chatting to her right up until the moment I had to leave in the evenings.  Days went by and there was no progress and it became more and more likely that she would just fade away.  I was totally heartbroken.  I had never lived through such a time.  Being an identical twin is impossible to really understand unless you are a twin yourself.  We had been together since before we were born.  We had shared virtually every part of our lives, most of our childhood and teenage experiences, and even though we had fought dreadfully at times, we were always there for each other and loved one another more than can be explained.  Now, days in to her stroke, I was trying to come to terms with the real possibility that this was the end.  That I would not have my twin sister anymore.

They decided to carry out a further operation to install a shunt, a drain in her brain, which would release the fluid from her brain into her stomach.  The operation was in itself risky, but without it she didn’t stand a chance, the fluid in her brain was building all the time.  Again there was the dreadful time of waiting to see if she had pulled through and thankfully she did.  We waited for a couple more days to see if there was any improvement, but still Tina just lay there motionless, on full life support, with every vein in her body seemingly linked to some needle to give her life saving fluids and drugs.  They even had to start using the veins in her feet as they were running out of veins in her arms, her hands and her shoulders.

I continually asked God why this was happening and what more could I do to help her and her family through this, but I was too upset to hear any answers.  Finally, in desperation, I called a medium that I found on the internet. I didn’t want to phone anyone who knew me, I really wanted someone who had no previous knowledge of who I was.   Immediately she began speaking to me, she described our Dad in the most wonderful detail,  and told me that he was talking about someone very close to me who had suffered a bleed on the brain.  She said this person was in a critical condition and was literally between worlds.  She then went on to describe our Mum, both  physically and her character, and said that she was with both of us.   Amazingly she also described our brother and said that he was looking over us and that he was giving me the strength to cope with it all.  She told me that Tina was aware of them with her.  I asked her why this was happening and she said that Tina had chosen to go through this before she was born.  She explained that it was an experience Tina’s soul had wanted and importantly it would show who would support her and who wouldn’t, who would be able to understand, and who would turn away due to the severity of the situation.  I did ask if Tina would survive and the medium told me that she couldn’t answer that, but said that Tina had a very strong spirit and that whatever happened was supposed to happen. I was stunned by such an accurate reading, but still had wished that I could have been told what would be the outcome.

The next day I went into the hospital again and as I walked in I said my usual ‘Hi Sis’ and took her hand.  I was sure her eyelids moved and then thought I felt her gently squeeze my hand again.  I didn’t mention it to the nurses, who I felt sure thought I was imagining it, but inside I felt a warm glow and a real sense of joy.  Something in me realised that she had turned the corner, that she would be ok.

For the first time in weeks I felt an inner calm, an inner strength,  I knew I could cope, as if I had been shown there was light at the end of the tunnel. I was full of optimism for her future.  Tina’s small movements became  almost like a secret code between her and I.  Many times that day her eyelids moved as I said something funny and her fingers softly brushed mine.  I gave her a kiss goodbye before I left and said I’d see her the next day.

The following day I was over the moon to see that Tina had her tracheostomy tube removed.  She could breathe on her own!  That was a  huge hurdle.  As usual I said ‘Hi Sis’ when I arrived and I  almost fell over when a few moments later she uttered, in a very hoarse voice,’ Hi’ – she was back!!! The nurses were laughing and clapping and the whole atmosphere in the unit was lifted.  She didn’t say anything again for a few days, but she still kept moving her eyelids and through her squeezing my hand I could feel her strength grow day by day.

After several more weeks Tina slowly made progress to the point where she was transferred to a neurological rehabilitation unit within the hospital.  She was paralysed on her right side, still doubly incontinent, unable to even turn herself, unable to swallow food, and only able to say a few words, but she could laugh, and we would share afternoons laughing at the times we had been through together.  I would sit with her and we would watch comedy shows and it would lift her spirits.  It really did seem that through joy and laughter she became better and better. Through everything that had happened to her she had managed somehow to  keep her sense of humour.

Over the two years Tina spent in two specialist rehabilitation hospitals, she showed incredible inner strength and courage, overcoming the most enormous obstacles. Learning to do even the most basic things from scratch which most of us take for granted.  She suffered dreadful setbacks, crippling pain in her paralysed arm and leg, frustration of a damaged brain that would not function as she wished, and the agony of a broken hip from falling over when trying to use a walking stick.  She had to be admitted to a normal hospital for a hip replacement operation and this caused even more problems as people didn’t understand her speech and her understanding of language, having had such a serious brain injury. Everytime they asked her if she required painkillers she said yes, even if she didn’t, and by the time she was returned to the rehab unit she was totally bombed by the amount of morphine in her body.  It took weeks for her to get back to some sense of normality. She suffered incredible loneliness and depression whilst trying to come to terms with the fact that most importantly,  she had lost her independence.

There were so many experiences that had me in tears over the time she was in hospital, but one of the most memorable occasions for me was when she was first able to stand, albeit with support, and we could have a hug. It was the best hug I’d ever had.  We were both in tears as for the first time in many months I held her in my arms and she could hug me back too.  Another wonderful memory was just before her first Christmas in hospital.   The nurses organised a Carol Service  and arranged for a local choir to come along and we all sat singing the carols.  Many of the patients sang too, including Tina, who still has a beautiful singing voice.  They gave her a microphone and she sang Once in Royal David’s City.  With tears streaming down my face it took me straight back to when we were both five and were angels in our school nativity play and we had sung that very song together back then.

I was amazed by the most wonderful work the teams at the rehabilitation units undertook to get Tina as far along the recovery route as possible.  Their patience and understanding was incredible.  I was overwhelmed by the gentleness and kindness of other relatives visiting their loved ones who were also going through the most traumatic times and yet there was a camaraderie between us all, all supporting one another and all living for the time when those dear to us would regain even a little of their lives.  The love within the rehab units was so strong. They were  places of both immense sadness and unbelievable joy, much laughter and sometimes, sadly, unbearable heartache.

I was stunned by the kindness from the wonderful worldwide community of healers, many of whom stayed in contact with me throughout her two years  in hospital.  The strangers, literally scattered across the globe who showed an interest and continued to send their healing thoughts to Tina. I will never be able to thank them enough.  I was so saddened by the lack of support from the friends and relatives that Tina had.  I would never have thought that those whom she had loved and considered close backed away and found themselves too busy to even phone to find out how she was.  I was appalled by the total lack of support from social services who I had assumed would be able to offer some kind of help to Woody and the children, but who in reality basically told me that as the children had been adopted and not fostered there was nothing they could do.   Just as the medium had said, it was an experience which  showed people’s true colours.

It was an eye-opener where friends and relatives were concerned, but it has made us both realise who really matters and who had only been there for the good times. The marriage vow, ‘for better, for worse’, often comes to my mind when I think of the people in Tina’s life who moved away from her and her family during this time, when they needed the love and support the most, and sadly received it the least. Some people even voiced that they felt it would have been better that she had just died. It is something I have tried to understand, but just can’t grasp.  Maybe the lessons are for all of them, maybe they too one day may require those they hold dear to have the patience and understanding to deal with such a trauma, who knows.  Some things are beyond my comprehension and maybe I will find the answers when I am once again back with my family in the spirit world.

Tina amazed all the consultants and specialists involved in her care. They said many times that her recovery was a miracle, that it should have been impossible for her to make the progress that she has. Although paralysed on her right side she is still improving.  She has learnt to walk again, to eat again, has regained her speech, kept most of her memories and importantly has made new friends through her involvement in stroke clubs that she regularly attends. She has become an avid reader, has learnt to master her i-phone and laptop, how to use Spotify to listen to her favourite music, and can play a mean game of scrabble! I feel blessed that I still have my sister  and that I have been able to share in such an enlightening experience.

I thank Mum, Dad and our brother Ray, for the continued love and support they have given us, without which I am sure I would have crumbled. I thank God for Tina’s ongoing recovery and for the strength I was given to cope with this.  Most of all I thank Tina for being my twin, she is an inspiration.

22) It’s good to share!

I obviously thought for this life-time I would choose not to be born alone and would instead have the fairly unique experience of being a twin.  When I was born there were far fewer twins than are born today, largely due to the fertility drugs that are available now, and so it was more unusual.  In all the schools we attended there was Monoamniotic-Monochorionic twinsonly ever  one other set of identical twins!

I wonder if my twin and I, in our soul existence, were in on the plan together, or whether having made the decision, separately, the higher powers decided who we would be conceived with.  It will be very interesting to find out one day. There are so many different facets to being a twin that one blog would be far too long, so for this posting I am just going to write about one aspect of twin-ship, if there is such a word!

Having shared my Mum’s womb for the nine months before my birth, I can actually say that I am a born sharer, as is my twin sister.

From my very first memories, I had no choice but to share.  Obviously we had to share the love of our parents and brother, but more of that in another blog sometime.  My identical twin sister, Tina and I, were born in the period after the war when, for most, including our family, money was still very tight.  For the first few months of our lives we had to share a cot and a pram, and it was only when we grew too large that we had our own.

Most  twins were always dressed the same in those days, but, unless it was for a special occasion,  Mum and Dad just couldn’t afford to buy two of everything, so we often had to wear  the very odd clothes that Mum made from old clothes that family or friends donated.  I remember Mum showing us a revolting pair of trousers that a rather large friend  had given her and thinking how utterly horrible the pattern was, a blend of browns and blues, totally yuk in my eyes.  The next thing we knew was that Mum had transformed the trousers into a couple of skirts for us – she was so delighted that she had managed to make two identical skirts, we weren’t – they were awful!  We used to sit for hours holding old jumpers whilst Mum would be undoing the wool and rolling it into a ball which she  would then use to knit us misshapen jumpers and cardigans.  She always said the next ones would be better, but they very rarely were.  I often wonder what we would have worn if Mum hadn’t been such a dab hand at sewing and knitting.  Damn that treadle sewing machine she was given!

At  school we had to wear a uniform, so we did look the same.  We were always put in the same class and strangely treated like one person.  It was quite bizarre.  If one of us did something wrong they would tell us both off – we would be in trouble. One teacher actually admitted to my Mum that they couldn’t tell us apart so that’s why she would discipline both of us – we both thought it was jolly unfair.

In the ballet school production of The Nut Cracker, we were both chosen to be butterflies, in the junior school Christmas play, we were chosen to be angels, in the school choir we were always given the same pieces to sing.  I think that everyone felt that we had to be treated the same, that there could be no distinction between us. There was also no favouritism.  Whatever I had, my twin sister had, and visa-versa, and what we couldn’t have individually, we shared.

Mum and Dad actually managed to save quite a lot of money by having us twins. Instead of having to buy two of many things, they just bought one, and we had to share.  We had one pram, which we would take in turns pushing round the garden, one tricycle, which again, we would take in turns riding, one scooter, one pair of roller skates.  Looking back I suppose that was a bit odd, but it felt normal because it was all we had ever known.

Christmas and birthdays were the same.  My brother would get his own presents, which he could use or play with, all by himself.   Tina and I  would often receive one present between us and we’d open it together and play with it together.  Our Nan always bought us joint presents, but, what we loved, was that she would also buy a dress for each of us for Christmas, always the same style, but maybe in a different colour – wow!

We even shared our baths until we were about ten years old, again, I thought nothing of it.  Dad was a frugal soul and wouldn’t for one minute have considered running two baths for us. We shared our bedroom, our clothes, our toys  and our books.  It was easy, we just took it in turns.  It never seemed a problem to me.  It didn’t bother me one jot.

There were very few differences between Tina and I.  At school our results tended to be neck and neck, our skills were normally at the same level.  However, when we were about eleven we went along to Richmond Ice Rink to learn to skate.  We were both put in the beginners class but Tina had her eye on another class where they were practising their spinning skills.  The teacher told Tina it normally took months until a student could get to that class.  Well by the end of the class Tina was in the spinning group – she was a natural-born skater – whilst I on the other hand never ever got the hang of it and spent the next three years of Saturday mornings hanging onto the edge of the rink or falling over.  Because Tina was such a good skater Mum and Dad bought her all the proper skating kit including her own white skates.  As I was such a klutz on the ice no investment was made in my kit at all and I had to make do with the dreadfully uncomfortable brown hire skates.  My ankles were so weak I even had to wear calipers that were attached to the skates – I looked a real treat!

Well, as I said, Tina had these beautiful white leather skates.  One winter it was particularly cold and we had the worst snow and ice for years.  I was  delighted when Tina suggested we could go out skating on the road and we could share her boots.  Imagine it, twins of about twelve, each with one skating boot on, what a pair of total nitwits, but we went out and had so much fun that day.  She thought nothing of sharing her wonderful boots with me.  Funny thing is I don’t think it even crossed our minds to take it in turns to wear a pair at a time – we were enjoying ourselves too much – how very odd we must have been!

On our seventeenth birthday Mum and Dad bought us a car between us. It was an ancient Ford Popular, 27 years old.  We called her Poppy .. how very predictable!   ‘She’ was green with white leather seats.  Sounds like a  luxurious interior, but I can assure you it wasn’t.  She always smelt like a jumble sale, had three forward gears, with no synchromesh, which meant we had to learn to double de-clutch – which was a nightmare, and she had those funny indicators that were like little arms sticking out the side of the car. The heater was a huge tube thing in the middle of the car where you either opened the flap and had very smelly hot air blasting over you, or the flap was closed and you froze.  The hand brake was very hit and miss on anything that had a slight incline, so was pretty scary when you are learning to drive.  We saved up together until we could afford driving lessons, which we took together too. She was our car for a couple of years and we lavished much love and care on her until one dreadful day her big end went and we couldn’t afford to have her fixed. We watched with sadness as she was towed away to the scrap heap.

We left home at an early age and rented a flat just outside London.  We shared the flat with two other girls.  They each had their own bedrooms but Tina and I shared ours.  Since we were about twelve  Mum had given us a clothing allowance, and we had always bought everything between us, clothes, shoes, make up etc.  We had one wardrobe  which we put our clothes in, and we always discussed each morning who was to going to wear what.  Even our shoes were shared as we had the same shoe size. It was fantastic because we had such a choice and I had never even thought of going out and buying a dress or pair of shoes on my own.  Fortunately we both liked similar clothes and colours, so it was easy. There were very few arguments and I never felt either of us really had to compromise that much either.   Our flat mates thought it was amazing that Tina and I shared everything, and it was the first time I had ever really considered that it was unusual.

We always saved up together for larger items, like our first record player, which we put by in a local hi-fi shop and paid off weekly until it was ours and we could bring it home. We went  together to buy our very first LP (long-playing album to those too young to remember), which was Dark Side of The Moon by Pink Floyd. We bought all our LP’s between us and ended up with an enviable collection.

We went along for interviews together and worked together for several years.  We shared jobs.  If they gave one of us a pay rise we would share it.  For a long time we had one shared purse with all our money in, and two separate purses that we would take out when we went out on our own.  When we opened our first bank account, it was a joint account and looking back they seemed to think that was a bit odd, but we didn’t. Everything was equal.

When we were twenty we decided that we had had enough of renting flats and decided to downsize to a very small one room bed sit to enable us to save a deposit to buy somewhere.  We shared a single bed for months, me one end and Tina the other.  We both had three jobs on the go and lived on cereals because they were cheap, but it meant we could save. The upside was that we were both really slim!

We both had day jobs, evening jobs working together in a wine bar where we would swap being either the cook or the waitress on alternate nights, and then we had a market stall on the weekend where we sold, of all things, children’s slippers.  We loved selling on the market, it was such good fun.  We would set targets for our sales and increase it every week.  When we were twenty-one we had saved enough for us to buy our first flat together in Twickenham.  It was a one bedroom flat as it was all we could afford, but one bedroom was fine for us.  We bought a double bed and shared it.  It was a dream come true and one that would have never come together had we not shared our dream and shared in the making of it.

Being a twin, and an identical one at that, is an adventure that I am so very pleased I chose, and one of my greatest pleasures has been learning  that sharing is the most marvellous experience.  I really think that if I could wave a magic wand everyone would be born a twin.  Sharing would become the most natural way for us all to be and I really believe the world would be a better place for it.  How many of the worlds problems are caused by selfishness, jealousy or possessiveness?  Those emotions just don’t work if you’re a twin.  Sharing is an easy form of generosity where you don’t have to give everything away, just share it with who you choose.  It truly is a soul growing  positive experience to share what you cherish, what you love.   I ‘think it would be great if people could try thinking like a sharer for just one week and see the difference it could make to their lives and those they love.   It would be interesting to see how much they could find to  share.

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