67 Sibling Check-In
Once I sign the consent forms, things move quickly. It appears Vir-Tech had Xiuying's transfer lined up in advance at the other hospital, since it takes them almost no time to verify the paperwork on that end and wheel Xiuying into an already-waiting helicopter.
Gee, almost like Vir-Tech knew I'd be willing to do anything for her.
Alice Hou tries to convince me to sit for my first round of tests while we wait for Xiuying to arrive.
I cut her off as savagely as possible and make it clear I won't be sitting for shit until I see Xiuying set up in her new medical digs, and a doctor explains every damn detail of how they're planning to help my sister.
Then I stalk off back to Room 8 to wait. A tiny superstitious part of me is stupidly glad this was the only available room in the ICU, since eight is a lucky number, at least according to Chinese tradition.
My sister deserves all the good luck she can get.
While I'm waiting, I snoop through every drawer and cabinet in the hospital room, steal a pair of rubber gloves, then stick a wooden tongue depressor in my mouth and say "Ahhhhhhh." Then I touch a button on the Med-Haven, and it starts beeping really loudly like someone's going into cardiac arrest, so I frantically mash it again until the sound stops.
I decide maybe it's best if I take a seat until my sister arrives.
Impressed as always by how uncomfortable visitor chairs are, even in a hospital as swanky as this, I take the time to check in with my endearingly worrywart neighbors.
Thankfully, Theo still has Deion's phone.
Me: Prompt and hearty check-in, as requested
Me: *image of me with blue doctor gloves on, hands pressed against my cheeks, hair purposefully mussed, doing my best Hot Asian Model pouty lips kissy-face impression*
Baby Dad-Dei ♥: My eyesss! some cursed sights can never be unseen
Baby Dad-Dei ♥: Dei says you look hot, tho (¬_¬)
Me: Don't be jealous, now. Our boy D's got a thing for mixed men. You know this
Baby Dad-Dei ♥: True
Baby Dad-Dei ♥: *image of shirtless Theo, with Deion's much darker arms wrapped tight around his light brown chest*
Me: You're a fucking math teacher, Theo. wtf with those abs and pecs?!
Baby Dad-Dei ♥: Don't be jealous, now. (¬‿¬)
Me: I'm literally an MMA fighter and I have half that amount of ab, what the actual fuck bro
Baby Dad-Dei ♥: Sounds like it's time to visit your old buddy Ken
Me: You should have left to me to die on the floor
The whoosh as the door slides open draws my attention, and I slide Theo's phone back into my pocket as two nurses wheel a gurney into the room.
She looks the same. She always does.
It feels wrong that two-and-a-half years can pass and yet Xiuying has nothing to show for it.
Every time I visit her, there's always a moment, the first time I lay eyes on her still form, that I can't help but think it's all a lie. My sister can't be in a coma. She looks no different from when she's sleeping, no different from the beautiful, vibrant, oh-so-alive person she was two years ago.
They were able to fix almost everything that broke when my sister collided with me.
It's hard to believe someone so very strong could also be so terribly fragile.
(That's something else I like about video games. No stupid human frailty holding you back. Build your strength enough, you become nigh invincible.)
Her mind, though. They couldn't put that together again. Not the way it was, not whole and free of cracks and scars. Xiuying had had one of the most brilliant brains in the world, but now the doctors can't figure out how to turn the switch back on to let that brilliance once again light up the world.
My life's been haunted by shadow ever since.
I stand, wanting to help, to do something right this time to make up for the time I did exactly nothing right and ruined my sister's life. But of course I end up in the way, so I quickly return to my seat and watch, useless as ever, as the nurses lift Xiuying from the gurney and gently lay her on the faintly glowing blue gel mattress of the Med-Haven.
A doctor comes in, then, and he looks a lot like Deion, which worries me for a second because Deion's a dumbass, but then he starts talking and he uses about a thousand words I don't know, and even though I'm lost and confused and frustrated, I'm also relieved because a neurosurgeon *should* know a ton of words and things I don't know.
He seems to recognize the glazed look in my eyes and takes pity on my barely-graduated-high school-brain.
"Let me start over," he says, motioning for the nurses to leave and reaching out a hand to me. "I'm Dr. Shawn Giles."
"Eric," I reply, and shake his hand. It's super soft and smells like beeswax. I don't know why my brain thinks this is important information. "Eric Lieu. Xiuying's brother."
"Eric, I've gone through your sister's medical history, and though I don't have a miracle remedy for your sister's condition, I do believe our facilities are the best possible place for her to be right now."
I nod, though my heart's sinking because not even Vir-Tech seems capable of making my sister whole again.
Dr. Giles demonstrates some of the capabilities of the Med-Haven, and I force myself to pay attention.
Using a holo-tablet, he types in a command, and with a hiss, a transparent "lid" closes over Xiuying. The holo x-ray device Alice Hou had shown me earlier is then hooked up to the Med-Haven, and suddenly, the entirety of Xiuying's internal structure is displayed on the clear lid above her.
My initial reaction is to look away because ew, gross, she's my sister, I don't want to see her innards all exposed like that. Plus, one time I accidentally walked into the bathroom while she was getting out of the shower, and Xiuying pelted me with a shampoo bottle, a handful of tampons, and a pair of fake eyelashes that I thought were giant spiders.
Pretty sure I screamed even more than she did, but in my defense, the eyelashes had this adhesive shit on them and I kept slapping at them to get off, but they were stuck, and I thought it was like extra-strength mutant spider silk or something, and it was horrifying.
It occurs to me it's less weird to see her bones and veins laid bare like this than her bare skin, and it further occurs to me that humans have really weird hang-ups.
Anyway, Dr. Giles seems unaware of my personal torment, and he enters another command into his tablet device that zooms the large display to highlight Xiuying's skull.
"Should it be all lit up like that?" I ask, concerned.
"Yes, this is a good sign. Your sister isn't brain dead. Her brain is still quite active."
I look through the clear lid down to her motionless body. "Then why hasn't she woken up?"
"Patients in a coma are not truly asleep, so they cannot be woken by external stimuli. We still don't understand everything about the brain, though we've come much further with our research into immersive deep-dive virtual reality technology."
He highlights a section of her brain, in the middle of the brain stem.
"This is the pons region of the brain. Your sister's pons was damaged in the collision." He marks a tiny section in red. "This is where a tiny piece of skull lodged itself into the brain tissue of her pons. Surgeons were able to take it out, but as you can see, it hasn't healed. Brain tissue rarely does."
"I've heard this before," I say, tiredly. "So you're saying the same as the rest. You can't fix this."
Dr. Giles clears his throat, and his voice is kind as he shakes his head. "Actually, I'm not sure we can't."
I make a strangled sound and involuntarily move closer to the Med-Haven.
"Vir-Tech researchers actually know more about the pons than possibly any other scientists in the world. You see, the pons is involved in the control of sleep cycles and inhibits movement during sleep. For obvious reasons, we at Vir-Tech were very interested in this ability, so we invested years of research into this part of the brain."
That makes sense, and it makes a vicious little bubble of hope rise in my chest before I can safely quash it.
"Honestly, your sister is a special case. At times, her previous doctors thought she might be experiencing something akin to Locked-In Syndrome."
"What's that? It sounds bad." I frown and clench my jaw. "They never mentioned this to me."
"Probably because they had no more than fleeting observations, so nothing worth telling. True LIS is a rare neurological disorder where a person has full cognitive function and awareness but is fully paralyzed, able only to move their eyes and hear."
Horrified, I stare even more intensely at my sister.
"Rest assured, your sister does not have true LIS," Dr. Giles tells me. "She spends most of her time in a comatose state."
Tch. Somehow, I am not "assured" by that.
The doctor has the grace to look apologetic about that particular word choice. "Now that we have her in the Med-Haven, we can constantly monitor her brain activity. That simply isn't possible without the Med-Haven technology, so her previous doctors had no ability to do so. They did send her for MRIs and CT scans frequently, but every time they thought she might be experiencing cognitive awareness, by the time she took the tests, they were negative.
We can actually discover for sure now whether she is, in layman's terms, 'waking up' intermittently. And all of our top medical researchers are dedicated to studying her pons and the rest of her brain activity, to see if anything we've discovered or researched might be helpful."
I really don't want to get my hopes up, but I want nothing in the world more than my sister's recovery, so I can't help it.
Her eyelids twitch, which I learned long ago isn't anything to be excited about, but I can't help the rush of adrenaline that spikes when I imagine her opening her eyes and waking up and yelling at me for not eating enough.
Dr. Giles explains a few more details of his intended treatment, then he opens the Med-Haven back up and leaves me alone with Xiuying.
I scoot the gods-awful chair to her bed and take her hand.
"So," I say. "Hey."
Hot damn. Look at that godly Charisma right there.
Laughing at myself, I maybe choke a little as my throat tightens and I push back all tears and sadness. I know Xiuying can hear me, and she'd kick my ass for crying at her bedside when she wakes up; it's exactly why I was terrified of Arachne spilling all my embarrassing secrets.
Speaking of Arachne, I make a mental note to let her know Xiuying's been moved and find out how to get Arachne onto the official visitor's list here. She's the only person who visits almost as often as I do.
Then I realize I'll have to call my parents, too, and I groan. They dutifully show up once a month, like clockwork.
I wonder how they'll handle the news that Xiuying's now being treated by a video game company.
The thought officially cracks me up, and I lean my head on the bed by Xiuying, gripping her hand tight and laughing like a maniac.
When I finally calm down, I take a deep breath and launch into a blow-by-blow account of my first official day in Viren's Refuge.
One day, I swear, she'll have her own first day in this game of dreams.
And it will be the Most Fucking Awesome Moment of them all.