(Anh yêu em Tuyet...Tôi yêu con gái KaSandra... Semper Fi Jordan)
a novel by nicholas sheridan stanton
LA Trauma Center, Los Angeles, California…Feb 18, 2005…8am
Lizzie arrived early for rounds as had become her practice the past couple of weeks, ever since she met the Tate child, Katie. The two of them had become fast friends in spite of Lizzie’s better judgment. Technically she was breaking strict hospital policy by poking her nose in where it didn’t belong. Not to mention unprofessionally involving herself in a colleague’s open case, also a sin professionally speaking, especially when that case involves a terminally ill patient. Good advise when you can take it. However, where Katie was concerned Lizzie just couldn't. She stopped by the nurse’s station to pay her respects to the duty staff, making the usual small talk before they looked the other way and turned a blind eye at her little indiscretion. Everybody knew why she was there, it wasn’t exactly a secret. Actually, Katie’s physician was only too happy to have Lizzie around to help distract the child during her last stand against the cancer that was killing her.
Ryan Reynolds had been a doctor longer than Lizzie had been alive. Actually, he'd been a doctor longer than Lizzie and Katie’s combined years. His star rose early, beginning his residency in 1964 at the famed Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland before migrating west to practice medicine in an urban war zone in Oakland, California from 1968 to 1974. He thought that he had seen all the suffering there was to see, stitching up cops, mugging victims, rape victims, and whatnot. But he hadn't, not by a long shot. Courtesy Uncle Sam and an early collegiate mistake in judgment, goddamn ROTC, he wound up spending 1975 through 1980 in Southeast Asia, working along the Cambodian / Vietnamese border caring for refugees fleeing the killing fields of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. Having witnessed first hand the limitless bounds of man's cruelty to his fellow man, you'd have thought his education in misery was complete. But it wasn't. Arriving home to San Francisco in December of 1980 Doc Reynolds ran into to more shocks, number one was that Ronald Reagan, the actor, had been elected President of the United States? And number two was discovering a new passion/nemesis, albeit his calling in life, pediatric oncology.
For the next twenty-five years as he specialized in the care and treatment of children dealing with unconscionable challenges, many times futile in nature, he discovered that man’s cruelty to his fellow man was no match for the hell that Mother Nature could subject a human body to. Now and again he would wonder what led him to choose such a hopeless field. What indeed, he never had to wonder for very long. It was true that most chose this field of study on the heels of personal involvement, having either lost someone close, or witnessing someone close suffer the indignities of a condition that maliciously eats away at the very marrow of one’s existence. It's a horrible experience at best, one where death is welcomed begrudgingly, if not actually prayed for by family, friends, and clergy. Ryan Reynolds was no exception having shared with his mother and two sisters the burden and agony of his father's slow death from a rare form of bone cancer, the very same cancer that was now draining the life from the precious little girl befriended by young Dr. Andrews.
Katie turned her head toward the noise at the door to her room. She thought it might be Carl, her favorite nurse with her night time snack, the one he brought every night before lights out. But it couldn’t be him, it was too early. She pulled the covers close around her with one hand and reached for the buzzer with the other.
“Hello, Carl is that you,” she asked timidly?
“Nope, just your friendly neighborhood froggie,” replied a cheery voice accompanying the bright green Kermit the Frog puppet peeking through the small opening in her doorway. Katie giggled, recognizing the frog's voice.
“LIZZIE,” she squealed. Elizabeth Andrews jumped into the room quickly.
“TA-DA,” she shouted!
“How’s my favorite sicko today anyways?”
“Pretty good I guess. I just want to go home already,” Katie replied with a pout.
“I know you do honey, pretty soon though, I read your chart, pretty soon,” Lizzie lied reassuringly. Lizzie hated fibbing to the kid but she also knew that hope was a powerful additive for any long term treatment; and nothing hastened the end like the lack of it.
“Really?” the child replied suspiciously.
“Really,” Lizzie lied again, biting her cheek afterward to punish herself.
“Okay, enough doctor talk. What did you color for me today?” Lizzie asked.
Katie fished around on the tray next to her and pulled out a "Dora the Explorer" coloring book. She leafed through it quickly and the turned it around to show Lizzie a picture of Dora and Boots (Dora’s little monkey) walking through a forest that were raining nuts down onto them. Katie had used most of the colors in her box of sixty-four crayons, obviously taking great care to stay within the lines. She had followed the color scheme shown on the cover, adding a few enhancements of her own to suit her mood. She had given Dora some gold and silver highlights to her jet black hair and had changed Boot’s usual red boots to a rainbow motif. It showed real originality and must have taken a couple of hours to do at the very least. No small feat given the day that Katie must have had. Lizzie knew that she had been through radiation treatment the day before, as well as a booster dose of the current poison-cocktail the pharmacy had concocted. She smiled and took the book from Katie’s hand.
“WOW, this is so cool, thanks sweetie!” Lizzie raved.
“Why don't you sign it for me and I'll take it home to hang on my fridge?”
“Sure, will you really put it on your fridge?” Katie asked.
“Of course I will kiddo, Scout's honor!”
“I'll look at it every time I go to get a snack or a cold drink," she added.
“Wow, you must eat a lot,” Katie replied, her eyes opening wide in awe.
“Well, I would if there was anything actually in my fridge besides leftovers and science experiments,” Lizzie answered teasing.
“You’re funny,” giggled Katie.
“Yeah, I get that a lot.”
The two of them turned simultaneously toward the sound of a knock at the door. A tall, lanky, twenty-something African American man stood in the doorway. It was Carl the RN assigned to Katie. Carl worked the graveyard shift but always stayed over to bring Katie a breakfast treat. He was carrying a small tray with two oatmeal raisin cookies and a glass of milk. It was just a little mutiny as technically breakfast had been served over an hour ago, but Carl was soft hearted and resourceful. It was their ritual, his and Katie's, adopted shortly after she had been admitted for her treatment. Of course she couldn't actually eat the snack as it wasn't on her approved menu, so Carl would have to eat the cookies and drink the milk for her. Katie enjoyed his company and looked forward to his visits.
“Did somebody order cookies straight from heaven,” Carl asked, pointing at the tray with a big toothy smile?
“Oh, hello Dr. Andrews, I didn’t know you were here,” Carl said apologetically.
“No worries Carl, I was just leaving. I need to get to rounds anyway. Besides, I want to put this pretty picture in my locker before it gets wrecked,” Lizzie replied, holding up the Dora picture for Carl to see.
“My, that is a treasure!” he said.
“I’ll see you later little one,” Lizzie said as she passed by Carl to leave.
“BYE,” Katie hollered after her.
She left the two of friends to bond in private as she walked toward the stairway to submerge to the ground floor and the ER. Pushing through the door, she took the steps two at a time descending quickly, in a hurry to start her shift. She covered the three floors in less than a minute and shoved open the heavy door at the foot of the landing, almost braining me as I walked far too close to the wall, having ignored the caution signs overhead and the bright yellow words at my feet. I stopped just short of a broken nose, putting my hands up at the last second and blocking the door from hitting me square in the face.
“OH MY GOSH, are you alright?” asked a very surprised Elizabeth Andrews.
“No harm done, just a near miss” I replied sheepishly.
“I’m so sorry, I’m in a hurry as usual,” Lizzie offered up defensively.
“Hey, it’s my fault I should have been on the other side of the yellow line anyways,” I replied granting her absolution.
“Okay, it’s a tie, we’re both guilty,” Lizzie said smiling up at me.
“Are we good?” she asked.
“We’re good. Have a nice day,” I said, patting her shoulder as we walked past one another. I stopped suddenly and turned back toward her when I heard her voice call out, “Hey, do I know you?” she asked. I looked at her for a moment before answering.
“No, I don’t think so, “I replied, lying.
“Oh? I'm sorry, you just remind me of someone,” she said, blushing slightly.
“I see, well, good night again,” I replied, turning to continue down the hall toward the exit. I felt her eyes on me, watching me walk away, and imagined her tapping her forehead with an index finger trying to unlock a memory. I picked up the pace before she had a revelation and safely rounded the corner out of eyesight.
“That was close,” I muttered.
Of course I remembered Dr. Elizabeth Andrews. She was one of the doctors who had treated Gabriel during his last stand here. To be fair, she was the ER doctor who admitted Gabriel shortly before his death. Monica and I had brought him in suffering from convulsions due to very a high fever. One minute he'd been sitting in my lap, quietly watching television, and the next he was seizing in my arms, his eyes rolled back as if he were looking for something inside of his head, and his little arms and legs flailing wildly. It had scared the crap outta me! When we arrived at the emergency room we were rushed quickly inside, there wasn't any need to fill out forms, and they had all our information already. Besides, Gabriel's file was pretty thick by that time and he was well known among most of the staff on all shifts. Someone took Gabby from me and put him onto a bed, sliding the curtain shut. The bed next to him had some guy screaming bloody murder over his compound fractured leg. It looked painful too, both the tibia and fibula sticking out through his torn flesh. The sight of it was only a momentary distraction though, as we focused on Gabby and waited for the doctor to arrive.
Dr. Andrews arrived quickly, quite suddenly actually, like a genie out of a bottle. I swear she came out of nowhere! She immediately ordered an alcohol suit and ice bath to lower his temperature. I remember that night vividly. Our son looked like the day's catch from a deep sea fishing trip, pale, weak, wet, and ready to accept the inevitable filleting. I would have lost it if not for this woman’s kind and reassuring nature. She calmed Monica and I with her genuine compassion, slowly and thoroughly explaining what was happening at every stage of the end that was approaching fast. By the way, it doesn't matter how well you prepare yourself for the inevitable, when it arrives you just aren't ready! Her honesty was comforting, her explanations knowledgeable and sure, never giving us time for wild imaginings.
She kept us totally informed, every step of his final journey. The truly amazing part was how quickly they bonded, it was love at first sight, and I'd never seen that before, it was pretty cool. Monica appreciated how attentive she was, but seemed a little put off by it at the same time. I wrote it off as a minor case of jealousy and teased her about it later. The two of them had grown very close in those final days; it was a beautiful thing to see. I imagined her to be Heaven's gatekeeper. And then he was gone. I never saw her again, until now, and this couldn't happen again, she could spoil everything. I needed to be more careful. Where she was concerned I needed to be a ghost, just like Gabby!
I'm grateful that she came into what was left of his life. She brought smiles to his every day and inspired courage beyond his years. When he passed it was more like farewell then goodbye. We couldn't stop the tears from flowing but at the same time all the fears were gone, we had peace to look forward to now. Maybe I’m remembering more than there was to remember, I don’t know. It almost inspired me to forgiveness, and re-think this scheme of mine…almost.