Tomorrow is my sister Brenda’s birthday, but I won’t mention how many candles are going to be on the cake for two reasons. One, I adore my sister. And, two, I’m not that much younger. But this birthday is very different. You see, a little more than a month ago,  my sister spent 11 days, four in a coma, in a small hospital while on vacation in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

At 2 a.m., Brenda was found on the floor of her hotel room unconscious. Her kidneys had failed completely, she had cardiac arrest and sepsis. She was rushed to the hospital where she “flat-lined” for 5 minutes before being revived and intubated to restore breathing. Brenda’s family was told by doctors that they didn’t think she was “going to make it.”

But thankfully, my sister is a fighter. So it was, on a medical evacuation plane, she finally flew to Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, where she spent the next 12 days. They discovered she had a rotavirus infection and salmonella. Miraculously, she’s home now and on her way to a full recovery. Thus, this birthday is special and deserves a special column. (Now if only I knew a good writer.)

Married 51 years, Brenda was a teacher, counselor, and administrator with L.A. Unified for 44 years and a therapist in private practice, meaning she touched lots of people’s lives. Seemingly all rallied through emails, prayers and phone calls. Brenda’s husband, Dave, flew down and then their two adult daughters, Jennifer and Erin, followed.

Brenda first opened her eyes to see Dave in hospital garb. “If you know who I am, blink twice,” he said, and, to his sheer relief, she did. In a few days, when she first spoke, doctors were worried about brain damage from the 5 minutes her heart had stopped. Frankly, when she asked Dave, “How much is all this costing?” I knew immediately she was OK. (Or, in my family, worrying about money is the last thing to go.)

While Brenda was battling for her life, I was flooded with memories from when we were kids. For example, when Brenda couldn’t sleep, she’d ask me to announce a make-believe baseball game. (Generally, she’d be asleep before the end of the first inning.)

When I was 11, my sister included me in going to James Dean and Marlon Brando movies. When I was barely a teen Brenda brought me to coffeehouses in Venice where people would drink coffee and smoke more than just cigarettes while listening to beat poetry and bongo drums.

Considerably less esoteric, Brenda also introduced me to Pinks, a 24-hour hot dog stand on La Brea. There, creatures from the night would congregate to eat deliciously greasy chili dogs, which were 20 cents.  (Today they’re $4.40!)

At 16, it was my sister who taught me how to drive in her 1954 green Ford. One weekend, when my parents were in Palm Springs, Brenda lent the Ford to a friend who, unfortunately,  got into an accident, leaving the the car smashed.

While we were panicking, a group of gypsies knocked at our front door and said they could repair all the damage for $50. Immediately afterwards we went to Earl Scheib for a one-day $19.95 paint job. When my parents got home, my dad asked why the car looked so good. We told him we had just waxed it. (Sometimes parents don’t want to know the truth, and I don’t blame them.)

When I was 17 and in my first semester at UCLA, I was flunking out. Rather than tell my parents, I hid out at Brenda’s apartment in Hollywood. The next day, she took me back to UCLA and arranged for me to get “incompletes” rather than flunk out. Then I went to summer school and righted the ship. Eventually I graduated, but I don’t think I would have without Brenda.

As it happens, my sister’s family moved to Santa Monica well before I did. (Eventually moving to Encino Hills.) It was here she gave birth to her second child, Erin, but she struggled mightily to lose the post-pregnancy weight. To help, I introduced her to jogging, or an unreasonable facsimilie.

Each day we’d go 50 feet slow jogging, 50 feet fast walking and gradually increase the distance. At first, it was was brutal but, as always, Brenda never quit. Sure enough, eventually she she was entering 10k’s and beyond!

I’m eternally grateful that my sister is such a fighter that she’s alive today. And, judging from her house full of flowers and cards, lots of other people are, too. I love you, Brenda, and wishing you the happiest of birthdays! (As for the cake, with all those candles, just be careful you don’t start a fire.)

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