Two men in long, white coats strolled in. Doctor Raj followed from behind. Puffy sandbags under his red glowing eyes. His movements were slow. This just confirmed my theory that hospitals were places where people got sick. Poor doctor Raj, looked like he’d worked way over normal, human, working hours. I mean, what a horrible job. Seeing people that are sick or dying every day. Sometimes being able to help, other times, not. Couldn’t be good for the mind. Definitely not worth the pay check, which judging by doctor Raj’s flashy wrist watch and Mercedes key fob, attached to a keyring on his belt, wasn’t bad.
They stood there for a moment and all three of them looked intently at a clipboard. They mumbled things to each other for a moment before turning to mother.
“This is Doctor Robert and Doctor Lee.” Doctor Raj said. “Fortunately, they were working on a research project in the local university and when I sent them the email with regards to Jake, they kindly offered to come in and assess the situation.”
“Hi, Mrs Turner.” Doctor Robert said.
“It’s Miss Rowan actually.” Her words cut through the air.
“My apologies, Miss Rowan.” He scribbled on the clipboard. “We have seen the reports and would like to discuss them… maybe in another room.”
“No.” I interrupted. “You’re going to be talking about me and I’d like to be there.”
“Son…” father said, in a soft voice. “Don’t you think it would be better if we discussed this whole thing first. You know, us adults, we’re complicated beings. We think a lot. Talk a lot. Worry a lot. Is it OK just to have a few moments… please?”
It was difficult to not comply with father’s requests. He had a certain charm and charisma. I hated it.
“Fine… but just a few minutes and you have to promise me that you’ll tell me exactly what was said… and I mean everything.”
“I would have it no other way! Sir!” He saluted and stamped his foot. He completely ignored the odd looks he got from the doctors. How on earth would they understand humour. They had spent most their lives learning about people’s problems and now they’re spending the rest of their lives dealing with them.
Father marched out of the room, knees raised high. His shoes clanged as they pounded the ground. Typical pops, never afraid of making a fool of himself and doing whatever it took to make me smile. And smiling I was.
I looked over at the round white clock on the wall. It was just like the one in the maths block, in school. And just like in school, I thought if I stared at it long enough, I could make it move faster. It didn’t, if anything, it just slowed things down. I never realised how exhausting sitting around and doing nothing could be. He leaned back against the headboard of the bad and crossed his arms.
“They sure are taking a long time.”
Mother and father looked like they had seen a ghost when they walked back in. Father’s hair was a mess, as if he had been pulling it. His tie was hanging loosely. Mother cheeks were like tomatoes and she looked like she’d had a fight with her mascara. Her lips quivered. She avoided eye contact with me. She sat down next to my bed. Father hovered around as if he were busting to go to the loo.
“This isn’t right.” father said. A thick vein formed on his forehead. Small beads of sweat emerged on his nose and above his top lip. “Maybe they’ve made a mistake. We need another opinion, from another doctor!”
“You heard what they said… and these guys are the specialists!” mother said. She looked like was losing the battle in holding back her tears.
“Well, maybe we should go private?”
“Private?! We don’t have the money for that! You already re-mortgaged the house to pay for your failing business!”
“What!? I did whatever I could for our family!”
“Really! And yet, here we are—”
“Please stop it!” I yelled. “Just stop it!” This is exactly how the last 7 months had sounded. I just couldn’t stand the fighting anymore. “Look, it seems pretty obvious that things aren’t looking good for me. And that’s fine, it’s no one’s fault. It is what it is! We just have to deal with it! But if you expect me to die here, listening to you two go at each other like raging bulls, then I’d rather go it alone.”
The expressions on their faces changed. I was certain that they weren’t expecting that. But it had to be done. I could handle the cancer but there was no way I could stomach the fighting.
Father sat on the bed next to me and put his hand on my shoulder.
“You are not going to die. Not now and not here!” father said. His eyes were opened wide. “You do trust me, right?”
“Of course.” I responded. Just glad that they didn’t initiate World War 3. I never understood most of the stupid things adults argued about. Especially money. I really began to despise money. It was the cause of so much drama. It was the cause of fighting and wars. I know people talk about religion being the cause of wars but I don’t think that’s true. I studied religious studies in school and all the religions we covered promoted peace and love. Helping the poor, looking after the planet – living in harmony. People may have used religion as an excuse but it was all about money and power. Any fool could see this.
“So… what’s going on?” I finally asked.
“The doctors have looked through the results and they are…” Father paused.
“They’re not sure about things.” Mother jumped in.” We are looking at getting further tests and looking at possible treatments.”
“So, does that mean I can go home?”
“No.” mother said, cutting father off.
“I mean no.” father then said reluctantly.
“We need to keep you here for a while and we have to push the doctors—”
“But, you promised that after the doctors had seen me we could get out of here. You promised.”
“Actually, I said, we stay put until the morning and then speak to the doctors.”
“So, we are going home tomorrow morning?”
“I am not sure whether I like the sound of this.”
“Louise,” father said. “OK to have a quick word?” He stood up and gestured towards the door.
“I don’t have time for this.” Mother began typing away on the computer. “I need to send an email to this specialist in America.”
“It won’t take more than a few minutes.” Father’s expression suggested he wasn’t taking no for an answer.
Mother reluctantly stood up and stormed outside. Father gave me a smile and then sighed before following her out. I kind of had an idea of what was going to be discussed. The door to the room was not fully closed and I could hear them talking outside.
“Louise, you heard what the doctors said…”
“I know what those idiots said! And I tell you what, bet they wouldn’t be saying that if that was one of their kids, lying there on that bed!”
“look, I want to help him as well, he is my son too.”
“Really?!” she said and then lowered her voice. “You sure as well don’t act like you want to help him.”
“What the hell are you on about?”
“I know why you asked to talk to me! You agree with those twits and you’re going to try to convince me to let him go home! Typical you! Always wanting to be the good guy.”
“That’s not fair!”
“No! I’ll tell you what’s not fair. It’s not fair that my beautiful little boy is ill. It’s not fair that he’s dying.” I could hear her voice breaking. “He’s just turned 16, his entire life is in front of him. He’s smart, he’s talented, he’s kind, he’s funny, he is everything! And everyone is telling me that there’s jack all we can do about it. So, don’t you dare talk to me about being fair! You can all go to hell.”
“Louise, listen, you’re being unreasonable.”
“No! I’m being a mother! And I’m done listening!”
I grabbed Lee child’s novel, 61 Hours. Probably my best birthday gift. I pretended I was reading when I heard her burst back in. She sat back down and continued typing away. After a few minutes father walked back in.
“OK, son… I will be back in the morning.” He smiled. “I love you.”
“I love you too dad.” I really didn’t want him to leave. I just wanted to say stop. Or better yet, ask him to take me with him. “Dad. Wait!” I called before he walked out of the door.
He stopped, his eyes opened wide as he waited for me to say something.
“Don’t forget my sandwich!” I said with a grin.
He smiled, “sir, yes sir!” He saluted and then marched out.
After he left I turned to mother who had stopped typing and stared at the door. Love was complicated. Definitely not as simple as the rubbish you saw in the movies.
I looked through the image gallery on my phone. So many pictures of us as a family. Smiling – laughing – happy. It made me realise that going from one happy family photo to the next took patience, tears and hard work. We never took pictures of that part.
I spent the next hour reading and then fell asleep. I was sinking. The ground was chewing me up. I could see my mother. She was reaching out trying to grab me but she couldn’t. I kept plunging until my eyes opened. I took in a deep breath. I woke. Covered in sweat. My heart was thumping the inside of my chest like a wild beast battling to break out. I looked over at mother. She was asleep on the keyboard. The dream left me disorientated. I looked at the clock: 3.07am. A good few hours before daylight. Sunrise wasn’t until 6.30ish in these winter months. I didn’t want to go back to sleep. Really didn’t want the dream to continue from where it left off. Although waking up in this place and in my situation, was a nightmare anyway.
“No! No!” mother said. I looked over at her. Her eyes were still closed. She was talking in her sleep. “No! I won’t let this happen! No! I got you Jake! I got you.”
It was almost like she was having the exact same dream. I was tempted to wake her. Save her from the torment of the nightmare but she hadn’t been sleeping much lately. In fact, she seemed like an insomniac these days. Best to let her sleep, I convinced myself. But her mobile phone’s ridiculously loud message tone overrode my decision and woke her up. She quickly sat up straight. Eyes glazed over. She grabbed the back of her neck and squeezed. She stared at the mobile screen. Her eyes opened wide and she threw the phone on the table and began bashing the keys on her MacBook wildly.
“Mum…” I said. “Are you OK?”
“I am better than OK!” She smiled goofily. “He responded! He actually responded!”
“Who? The American specialist?”
“No, the Queen of Sheba. Of course, the American Specialist!”
“What did he say?”
“Well, he said that he’s willing to look at your case!”
“OK… that’s good, right?”
“Good? That’s amazing! In fact, its bloody miracle!” She began typing away again. “I just need to respond to him and then get these muppets to send the reports to him.” She paused for a moment. “Perfect! He’s even left a number in the email. I will call him as well.” She rubbed her tired eyes. “Finally! Some results.”
“Does that mean I get to go home?” I asked. While she was in celebrating mood.
“Well there’s no point sitting around here with Doctor Gloom is there?”
“Yes!” I hissed.
“Awesome. I’ll gather my things.”
“Ok matey, take your time. It’ll take me a little while to get things sorted before we can just leave.”
“Nonsense. I’ll look in the other direction while you pull this stupid thing out of my arm.”
“I think it’s best a nurse does that and we should probably get officially discharged.”
“You’re no fun!” I said with a sigh.
“I’m your mother. I’m not supposed to be fun.”
Her phone buzzed. “Talking about fun… it’s a message from your dad. He’s asking how you’re doing.”
“He can’t sleep either then.” I said faintly.
“Hey, look at me.” mother said. “Stop beating yourself up. We’re fine. We are all going to work together to get you through this. And you are going to get through this!”
“Mum, I… I just don’t want you getting all, you know… I don’t want you getting your hopes up. This whole cancer thing is pretty bad. And the docs are trained and experienced with this sort of stuff. And—”
“Jake, doctors are trained in medicine, they are not God. And this cancer may be pretty bad but I’m real bad! Like the cool bad… you know what I mean.”
“Sure.” I rolled my eyes.
“You know… Michael Jackson bad.”
“I got it. You’re bad!”
Mother pressed the button to call the nurse. She began putting my things in my bag.
“Is everything alright?” A ginger-haired nurse poked her head into the door.
“Ah, yes. We need to speak to Doctor Raj straight away.”
“Erm… sorry Doctor Raj is very busy at the moment. Is there anything I can help with?”
“I really need to speak to the doctor.”
“As I said—”
“I know what you said but we really don’t have the time to mess around. Mother began squiggling on a bit of paper. “Can you please get this message to him as soon as possible!”
“I will do my best.” the nurse said.
“That’s all I ask!” mother said. Miss Sarcasmo strikes again!
“What was that… on the note?”
“Details of the American specialist that’s gonna look at your case and where numb-nuts needs to send the case info.”
“But he is going to be here a bit later…”
“Yup. But we’re not!”
“What? What about your whole we have to discharge responsibly and all that… aren’t you supposed to be setting an example for me?”
“I know… but a deal is a deal. Now turn around and I’ll get the cannula out of your arm.”
“Do you even know what you’re doing?”
“Relax. I’ve seen like a million episodes of Casualty. I’m practically a doctor.” She grabbed hold of my arm. “Besides, how hard can it be?”
“It was damn painful when they put it in.”
“I’m sure you’ll live.”
“Ok fine, do it on the count of three…”
“Three!” she said and pulled it out fast. I felt like screaming just from the shock.
“See, all done!” She grabbed a tissue and said. “Here, hold this on it to stop the bleeding.”
“Who are you?!” I said staring in shock.
“A woman on the edge. Now let’s go before doctor Misery Guts gets here.” She grabbed her MacBook and put into her bag. “You’d better let your dad know. He’ll be making his way here shortly.”
“Can I tell him to come to the house?”
“I would never stop him from seeing you. You know that, right?”