Like most big sisters, Emily Overfield has no idea what is going on in her little sister Megan’s head.
However, unlike most big sisters, Emily cannot simply ask Megan what is wrong. She has had to pour a lot of time, energy, and effort into trying to figure out how to best take care of her.
Emily is a first year at Elizabethtown College, and she is studying for a major in actuarial science. She is 19 years old. Her favorite singer is Ed Sheeran, and her favorite color is mint green.
Megan is a student at Mary Cariola Children’s Center in Rochester, New York. She is 17 years old. Her favorite singer is Jack Johnson, and her favorite color is orange. In addition, Megan is in a wheel chair due to epilepsy and several other undiagnosed conditions.
“She basically functions as a six month old,” Emily said. “She doesn’t walk or talk.”
Living with Megan has come with several complications in the Overfield household. Her muscles are too weak to swallow or chew, so she has to use a tube that runs directly into her stomach to eat. One of Megan’s lungs half collapsed when she was a newborn, which complicates her struggle with reoccurring pneumonia. In addition, Megan is growing up. With her increasing size, comes bigger wheelchairs, and the Overfields have had to widen their doorways to accommodate her.
However, while Megan struggles with things like eating and breathing, she does not struggle to have a good time. Emily knows how to help her have fun and keep her smiling.
“She really likes when we count for her. So we count to five or ten and she starts laughing,” Emily said. Sometimes Megan wakes up in the middle of the night crying. To stop her tears, Emily likes count for her or find something with a zipper. “She really likes the sound of zippers!” Emily said.
In addition to simple things like numbers and noises, Emily and Megan also enjoy parties together. One of Emily’s favorite memories with her sister was going to her school prom. Just like at any other prom, Emily was able to dance, socialize, and pose for crazy photo booth pictures with her sister. She even picked out a prom dress for Megan to wear: white with tiny black polka dots.
“I could tell that she was having a lot of fun and was smiling a lot and laughing,” Emily said.
Of course, having as many undiagnosed problems as Megan comes with quite a few obstacles. One of these hurdles came during Emily’s sophomore year in high school.
Megan fell ill with her first case of pneumonia. While the problem is under control now, it was new to Emily and her family. Megan spent five days in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.
Since Megan only has one whole functioning lung, pneumonia made it nearly impossible for her to breathe. Furthermore, Megan has weak muscles that make breathing hard regardless of illness. “All of her muscles are very weak, so even the lung power she does have isn’t very strong,” Emily said.
Even scarier, Megan does not know how to cough to clear mucus from her airways. “If you tell her that she needs to cough to get the stuff out of her lungs, she won’t understand that,” Emily said.
Megan’s time in the hospital was one of the hardest things Emily has ever gone through as a big sister. For five brutal days, Emily could not be certain whether or not Megan would be able to come home from the hospital or survive the illness.
Unfortunately, even though Megan’s pneumonia is now under control, Emily still cannot be sure that her sister will make it through the night. “Her issues are so undiagnosed; we don’t know a lot about what she feels or her life expectancy,” Emily said. “We could lose her at anything, which is really hard.”
A lot of uncertainty comes with Megan. No one is sure what Megan thinks: her brain could function similarly to a baby’s or it could be completely cognizant. She may understand everything she sees and hears on an intellectual level, but is unable to communicate that to her friends and family.
Therefore, Emily does her best to treat Megan like your average teenage girl. For example, Emily likes to dress Megan like a regular teen in clothes from trendy stores like American Eagle and Aeropostale.
After all, Megan teaches Emily as much about life as Emily teaches her. She deserves the new pink Sperries Emily bought her and the cool leggings and tops she picks out.
“Growing up with Megan definitely made me see how everyone should be treated equally and that everyone has things that they are capable of doing, even if it’s just little tasks in a special needs school,” Emily said. “It gave me a greater appreciation for the world of people that have disabilities because if I didn’t have it in my immediate life, I probably wouldn’t have taken much notice of it.”
Emily does not know if Megan can read or not. But just in case, if you walk into Megan’s bedroom you will find a little sign on her bedside table. Angled so Megan can stare at the words every night before she goes to sleep, Emily has placed a box that reads: “I’m so glad you’re my sister.”