"Mom!" Cody screamed, his nerves resembling a wicked hurricane swirling in the depths of the ocean, threatening to cause much harm. "MOM!"
There was no answer, just the deafening silence of the unconscious household. "Mom, help!"
Help. That word seemed to spark a deep panic in the pit of Theresa's stomach as the cry in the night jarred her from her slumber. It was the same word she'd heard her husband cry out three years ago before he was gone forever. She instantly shot up to her feet and scrambled out to the hallway, narrowly missing the corner of the wall as she swerved around it, still in a daze. She could hear the uncomforting sound of sobbing coming from the bathroom, followed by the sickening tone of violent retching. "Honey, is everything alright?" Theresa called, stepping clumsily into the bathroom where her son lay, spewing everywhere.
A stupid question it was to ask, but she needed to hear his voice, to hear the story from his point-of-view. At the sight displaying itself for her eyes to see, she could feel her insides slowly collapsing with a mixture of sympathy and grief, and for a quick second, she thought she might faint. A trickle of blood made its way down his chin in a seemingly straight line as the rest spilled out from his mouth as he heaved, and within seconds, she was by his side, her hand circling around his back in comfort. She struggled to catch a breath from the little panic episode she was struggling from, and she knew she must get Ryan and the girls up so she could call 911.
Ryan was awaken by the firm hand that shook his shoulder, and he immediately sensed something was wrong, as it was not a gentle shake, rather it was strong and desperate. Quickly sitting up in bed, he rubbed his brown eyes and squinted at the intense light that shone into the bedroom. Seeing the light was all it took for Ryan to gasp softly, and he could almost feel himself trembling. It was like going back to the night before, when they'd been driven out of bed to take Cody to the hospital. Ryan glanced over at Cody's bed to assure himself that he was still dreaming, that none of this was really happening, but sure enough, the bed was empty, the blankets parted messily on the lumpy mattress.
The first words Ryan was able to utter from his shock was, "I told you something was wrong."
Theresa sighed as she tossed loose strands of her brunette hair behind her ears, stressed. "I know, Ryan, I know. But this is much worse. There's blood. He's throwing up blood. I have to call 911, this is serious."
She wasn't aware that she was speaking in the least comforting tone. She was convinced that everything was screwing up, that nothing was ever going to be okay, which only caused Ryan's face to burn with alarm as he came to the realization that Cody was not going to be okay. He placed his feet on the floor and scurried out of the room quickly, entering the bathroom and stopping dead in his tracks at the sight of Cody. "Mom..." he said worriedly.
Theresa waved Ryan away as she dialed the emergency number, cautiously pacing back and forth in the hallway as the melody of the ringing phone played softly in her ear. "Come on, pick up," she muttered, feeling her heartbeat make its way into her head.
"Mom, he's purple again," said Ryan, noticing the giant purple splotches on both of Cody's arms and the little one on his right cheek. He looked like he had lost a fight in a gang, the marks resembling bruises left from tough, tattooed men. He knew his mother wouldn't answer him, but he was glad she was calling 911, glad that help would soon be on its way. It was like living in a nightmare, only he couldn't squeeze his eyes shut and find himself lying safely in bed within seconds. He'd already tried that, and much to his disbelief, he was still standing in the bathroom, listening to the gut-wrenching sounds of Cody's vomiting. He watched the clumps of blood pour into the toilet, and wondered how it must feel for Cody. What if he lost too much blood? Wasn't that a bad thing?
The sound of Theresa's voice filled the hallway, and Ryan breathed a sigh of relief as he realized that she was on the phone with someone who was offering to help, someone who would send people out to get Cody and bring him to the place he needed most. Her voice was filled with terror, and at times, Ryan could even hear it cracking. He knew she was worried, and he knew she'd never seen anything so severe in her entire life. Doctor Mom had lost once more, and it was time for a real doctor. "Please hurry," he heard her say more than once.
Theresa soon entered the bathroom, her eyes glazed with fresh tears threatening to spill out. "Cody, the ambulance is on its way," she said gently, kneeling down next to him. "You'll be okay, trust me."
Cody wasn't sure who he could trust with his health anymore. He'd trusted the doctor when she'd said it was only a "little sickness that should go away within a week or so." He'd trusted the doctor when she'd said he would be fine. He'd trusted his mother when she'd told him the hospital would help, and it had only been true for a couple of hours. Should he trust her when she said he was going to be okay? Was he really going to be okay, or was she just trying to calm him down? "No," he mumbled, referring to Theresa's earlier comment. "I'm... not okay..."
Theresa shook her head as she met eyes with Ryan. "Ryan, I need you to do me a huge favour," she said. "I need you to get the girls for me. Get them dressed if they can't do it on their own. Make sure you get dressed too, we're not going to the hospital in our pajamas again. And please, watch for the ambulance. They won't have the sirens on because there's no traffic around here even in daylight. Please." Her eyes begged and pleaded with Ryan, and he knew that his responsibilities of being the oldest child in the family would pay off. He needed to help his mother out, she had to keep a close watch on Cody.
Ryan nodded, stepping out of the bedroom and crossing the hall to arrive in the girls' bedroom. He knew they'd be annoyed with having to wake up early for the second night in a row, but this time, it was a real emergency, an emergency that required an ambulance. Ryan slowly placed his small hand on Shirley's shoulder, gently nudging her until her eyes barely managed to flutter open. Inside, his heart was pumping wickedly with fear, while Shirley was too young to understand, and she didn't even know what was going on. She stretched out on her bed, her face twisting as she did so. She managed a simple grunt, but didn't say anything, just wondered why she was awake in the middle of the night again.
"Shirley, you gotta get dressed," Ryan said quietly. "We're going back to the hospital."
Shirley rose up from her comfortable position, rubbing her eyes deeply as she yawned. "Why?" she said.
"Cody's sick again," said Ryan. "The ambulance is coming."
"The ambliance?" said Shirley, her eyes going wide. She'd seen an ambulance before, actually many times while on the road, their colourful lights flashing brightly as they sped along, cars diving out of their path. But there was one coming to their house now? Shirley smiled at the thought, standing up on her mattress and gripping the sideboards on her bed as she attempted to climb over, wanting to see the "big truck" pull into the driveway.
Ryan carefully lifted her over the sideboards as he'd done the night before, and as soon as her bare feet came in contact with the carpet floor, she rushed excitedly out of the bedroom as fast as her little legs could carry her. She greeted Theresa in the doorway of the bathroom, her smile nearly stretching from ear to ear as the thought of the ambulance crept into her mind. "There's an ambliance!" she shrieked.
"It's here already?" said Theresa, a stroke of hope flashing in her eyes.
Shirley nodded, but Ryan shook his head as he exited the bedroom alone. "She's just excited because I told her there's an ambulance coming," he said.
Theresa turned her gaze to the floor sadly. "Have you gotten Jodi up?"
For a moment, Ryan had almost forgotten about Jodi. He'd been so caught up in the frightening moments, his heart still pounding hard in his chest at the memory of Cody's pained face, and he'd almost thought that Jodi was already awake. He quickly headed back inside the bedroom, wanting to get her up fast so he could watch the ambulance arrive as he'd been told to. Before he even laid a hand on her to gently bring her back to consciousess, she moved ever so slightly, and her eyes opened just barely, leaving little slits for her vision to allow itself to see. The bathroom light resembled a strobe light as it cast shadows over certain objects and shone down upon Jodi. If it wasn't Ryan's presence that woke her up, it was certainly the luminous light doing the job for him.
Jodi groaned loudly, and attempted to roll over and face the wall, but Ryan caught her by the arm before she could do so. Of course, he did this as gently as possible, but from the way she reacted, it told him that she was overexaggerating. "Oww!" she cried, still groaning.
"Why do you gotta be so hard to get up?" said Ryan. "We're going back to the hospital, you have to get up."
Ryan was't sure how his mother had the ability to get Jodi out of bed every morning for school. It seemed truly impossible. The night before, she'd been fine with cooperating, but this time she craved the sleep more than the hospital. "The ambulance is coming," he said. "You have to get dressed before it gets here."
He could hear the sound of excited footsteps traveling into the bedroom, and it was Shirley, still fantasizing about the ambulance and the possibility of riding in it. "I get to ride in the big truck," she said, wandering through the bedroom as she searched for something to wear.
"Well, if Jodi doesn't get up soon, she won't be," Ryan taunted, and Jodi whined.
"No!" she said, scrambling to her feet and tossing the blankets on the floor. Taunting really was a convincing technique to use on a five-year-old. "Not without me!" She nearly fell out of bed in the process, as her feet were nowhere close to the floor, and she was desperate to get to the "big truck" before it left her in the dust. Just like Shirley, it fascinated her more than anything, and she acted as if it were a celebrity strutting down the red carpet while it passed cars along the highway. The two didn't understand that the ambulance was on its way because of their brother's medical emergency; they thought the drivers were coming to pick them up to provide them with a free ride in the night while no one else was around to be jealous. While the girls were hoping desperately not to miss the opportunity of seeing an ambulance up close, Ryan was hoping they could save his brother's life and get him the care he needed before fate struck.
Flicking the bedroom light on, Ryan took over Shirley's job and tossed her the first outfit he found in her drawer; black leggings and an oversized grey Niagara Falls hoodie she'd obtained while the family had visited the place last summer. He tried his best to encourage her to put them on herself, but she insisted he do it. Jodi had gotten to the age of finally learning how to dress herself, and from her drawer, she selected a pair of baggy grey sweat pants and a white hoodie. Ryan didn't have to worry much about Jodi, but he wasn't sure he knew what he was doing with Shirley. He hadn't even found time to dress himself, and time was ticking quickly. He'd never had to dress someone else before, and being inexperienced, he knew it would be time-consuming.
He called Theresa in the room to save the time, and she rushed in, her face still displaying a panic he'd never seen before. "Why aren't you dressed yet?" she said, and Ryan could hear the stress in her voice.
"Can you dress them while I go get my clothes?" said Ryan. He knew Cody shouldn't be left unattended, but he promised himself to be quick as lightning, and he rushed back to his own room, searching through the drawers for something, anything, that he could wear temporarily. Several sweaters and pairs of jeans tumbled to the floor below, but he never bothered to pick them up as he continuously let them go. He quickly dug out a royal blue hoodie and black jeans from the bottom of the drawer, throwing them on as if he were preparing to destroy the world record. Outside the door, he could hear the girls wandering around, and he assumed they were also fully dressed, but he knew there would never be enough time for Cody to do the same. Too sick, too weak, time running out as every second passed by. Poor Cody was out of luck once again.
Theresa rushed back into the bathroom to check on Cody, who hadn't had much changes in his sickness, and Ryan rushed out to the living room to look out for the ambulance. "Is it here yet?" said Shirley, following Ryan like a lost puppy.
"No," Ryan said nervously. Why wasn't it here yet? It had already been a while since they'd promised they were on their way, how much longer could it be? If they waited any longer, his condition could plummet even worse than it already was, and even the worst could strike, such as death. Glancing over his shoulder, he could see Theresa carrying a fragile Cody in her arms, and then slowly but carefully placed him down on the comfort of the couch. Immediately, he cuddled up against the cushion, moaning as another feeling of nausea washed over him.
"Try not to get too comfortable," Theresa warned. "The ambulance is -"
"It's here!" Ryan cried, watching as the paramedics came up the lumpy driveway. A grin spread across his face as relief overcame him, each nerve slowly taking its time to relax. With shaky legs, he rushed to the bottom of the stairs to greet the paramedics before they could knock, and the two entered the house quickly, gazing around the dark household in search of the emergency. Theresa appeared around the corner to show them where Cody lay, and Ryan switched the living room light on so they could get a better look at his brother. He could see one of the paramedics drop her jaw at the poor sight, and she rushed over to him as he caught more vomit in the circular bowl.
"Oh my, I've never seen anything like this," she said, placing her hand on Cody's head once he finished. "Has he been to the hospital recently?"
"Just last night," Theresa answered. "They told us he has mono."
"Mono? Are you sure?" The woman appeared to be puzzled, and Theresa was suddenly unsure the doctor had diagnosed him correctly. "This seems to be far more serious. Usually you don't vomit blood when you've got mono."
Standing in the corner, Ryan listened to every word the paramedic said, and he suddenly felt the urge to cover his ears and run into a separate room to hide. This couldn't be happening, this all had to be some fake thing his mind made up. He didn't want to hear anymore, and certainly didn't want to believe that Cody's earlier diagnosis could lead to something much worse. He watched as the other paramedic hurried over to assist his partner, checking Cody's temperature and observing his every move, feeling the splotches that covered much of his body. "Looks like we better get him there soon," the paramedic said, motioning for his partner to get the stretcher. "Fatality could play a role in this situation if he doesn't receive medical help."
Theresa looked like she was about to drop dead upon hearing the words. "How are we going to fit all the kids in the ambulance?" she asked, visualizing the ride to the hospital being crowded and uncomfortable.
The paramdedic shook his head. "We won't," he said. "There can't possibly be enough room. They'll need to go with someone else."
As much as she tried to avoid it, Theresa's breath would not come smoothly. She truly believed she would suffer from too much panic to stay conscious, and every bone in her body trembled with fear. What would she do with her other three children? There was no one else she could call to take them, and she couldn't leave them here by herself. "But who will I call?" she said, her voice rough and scratchy. "I can't leave them here by themselves. The oldest just turned ten a month ago!"
"Relax, ma'am," the paramedic said calmly, noticing the beads of sweat on her forehead and the way she trembled. "You have neighbours, don't you? If they are willing to help you out, you could give them a call and see what they can do for you."
The only neighbour she really ever talked to was Lynn, Quincy and Tara's mother. She didn't think Lynn would feel up to driving at three in the morning, but it was worth the shot. Quickly snatching the phone from the receiver, Theresa slowly paced back and forth in the hallway, not allowing her eyes to wander anywhere else. She kept them firmly glued to her son as he was carefully looked over. "Come on, come on," she breathed, praying for Lynn to be awake and answer her call. She answered any other time, and she should surely clue in to the emergency if her phone was ringing at three in the morning.
"Hello?" a sleepy voice said, and Theresa breathed a loud sigh of relief, not noticing how loud it was until Lynn spoke again. "Are you alright? You sound relieved to hear me."
"Uh, yeah," said Theresa. "Look, I know this is way too early in the morning to be thinking of even getting out of bed, but there's an emergency, and I have no one to help me out. Cody's about to be taken to the hospital in the ambulance, and they won't let my other kids come with us..." Her voice trailed off as tears sprang to her eyes and spilled down her cheeks in crooked lines.
"Oh, gosh, I'm so sorry to hear that. Do you need me to give them a ride there? I'm willing to help if you'd like."
Theresa sighed once again, her breath shaky this time. "Oh, thank you so much! I'm assuming you knew that was what I called for. Thank you so much, they're bringing the stretcher in right now, and without your help I would have had no other way to bring the rest of the kids." She didn't realize that she was still crying, but it was almost a relief to be doing so. After holding it in for so long, she could finally release her emotions despite what others would think. She was suddenly so thankful for Lynn's existance, which caused her tears to be a mix of both sorrow and relief.
Within moments, Lynn was standing outside, and Ryan beat his mother to the door as he rushed downstairs to let her in. Cody already lay on the stretcher, and Lynn could see the hurt in Ryan's eyes as Cody was wheeled outside. "Ready to go?" she asked, and almost immediately, Ryan nodded in response.
"Once again, thank you so much for offering to do this for me," Theresa said as she came down the stairs to greet her. "I seriously couldn't thank you enough, and I have no idea how I should repay you."
"Don't worry about it," Lynn responded with a smile. "I'm okay to do this, don't worry."
With that being said, Theresa reached out to hug Lynn, and then trudged after the paramedics as they headed to the ambulance. Lynn called for the girls, and they were at her side within seconds, unsure of why they weren't leaving in the ambulance. "Cody's sick," Shirley stated.
"Yes, I see that, sweetie," said Lynn. "We're going to follow the ambulance to the hospital and meet up with your mom there. I hope Cody'll be okay."
"It doesn't look like it," Ryan said worriedly.
Lynn sighed, the worry beginning to nag at her as well. "Well, let's go and see," she said, opening the door. "We'd better hurry before the ambulance leaves without us."
Unlike the first time around, the waiting room wasn't as quiet. There were quite a few people in the ER, just kind of sitting there and seeming unrattled. They didn't appear to be bothered in any way, but of course, you never knew what was going through their heads. But Theresa's anxiety was easily noticeable, beads of sweat forming on her forehead and hands unsteady. Cody was off receiving plenty of tests, and the only thing Theresa could focus on was the possibility of something much more severe.
The girls squirmed around in their chairs, now fully awake and feeling ready to play. They hadn't fallen asleep in the car this time around, which provided them with much more energy. Theresa was so worried about Cody that she had no time to deal with the girls, although they were being much louder than she wanted them to be. "Girls, please be quiet," she told them, barely paying attention to their behaviour.
"Okay," said Shirley, climbing back into the chair as told. "Where did Cody go?"
"He's getting tests," said Ryan, half asleep. "They're gonna find out what's making him sick so we can just go home and sleep."
Around them, doctors continued to walk by with their medical equipment and clipboards that held important information, leaving Ryan to wonder if maybe one of the doctors who'd walked by was seeing Cody and correctly diagnosing him. He could only hope Cody was going to be alright, because from the looks of it, he wasn't. Considering his mother had been forced to dial 911, things were getting pretty severe. How could mono have gotten that bad so quickly?
"He might have to stay in the hospital a few days," said Theresa. "Your dad had it when he was around six or seven, and he told me the hospital stay was four days. But it depends on the severity, I guess."
"I hope it isn't too bad," said Ryan, "'cause that would suck."
"Well, we'll just have to wait and see." Theresa's eyes wandered around the waiting room, and landed on a family similar to her own. They seemed grief-stricken, like they had lost someone special to them or were awaiting tragic news. After all, it wasn't a surprise to see that in the emergency room, but the thought brought back the haunting memory of what had happened just three years earlier in her own family.
Ryan could see it too, and the sight brought back the memory of his father the morning he died. He could remember lying in his own hospital bed after being treated for smoke inhalation, and his mother walking in to break the life-changing news to him. He remembered how her face had been soaked with fresh tears, and he had instantly sensed that something was wrong. He was almost reliving the moment and feeling the same grief he had three years earlier at the memory of when she'd spoken the words, "Daddy didn't make it." Just meeting eyes with a member of the family sitting across from him was too much to bear.
He had been focused so much on the past that he hadn't noticed the flurry of nurses rushing down the hallway, the hallway in which Cody had disappeared through an hour earlier. Theresa was suddenly stricken with more panic and grief than Ryan had ever seen her, and he watched a tear leak out of her eye. "Are they for him?" Ryan asked innocently.
Theresa nodded sadly. "I just overheard something a nurse said. I heard something about 'throwing up blood,' and then another one said that the diagnosis wasn't good." She was trembling terribly, and Ryan could swear she was ready to rip her hair out. "Oh no, oh no, this cannot be happening, no, no."
"Well, it might not be about him," said Ryan, looking on the bright side. The tables had turned and now he was the one thinking positively while his mother thought the world was officially coming to an end. But in his heart, he knew that Theresa wasn't lying. Denial was just what he'd chosen.
Theresa watched a doctor call the family across from them into a separate room. "Maybe it's for them," said Ryan.
Theresa shook her head as she watched another doctor enter the waiting room. "I'm looking for Theresa Wheldon," she called out, his eyes scanning the room for someone to identify themselves.
She carefully rose her shaking hand in the air to prove to the doctor that she was the mother of the severly sick child who was uncontrollably vomiting blood. Her stomach twisted and turned in ways she'd never thought possible, and she was sure she would vomit as well. "I'm... here," she managed, her throat attempting to close up on her.
The doctor motioned for the family to follow, and Theresa could only stare at the floor as she walked and hoped for the best. Her heartbeat rose to her head, and she felt like her eyes were preparing to close themselves after her body was unable to handle the activity in her nerves. Her steps were unsteady, as was Ryan's, but she forced herself to stay conscious and hold her emotions inside. If she encouraged herself to stay clear and focused, it would most definitely work.
Ryan watched the girls skip along behind him, wishing he were like them and couldn't understand what was occurring. Maybe if he kept his thoughts positive, there would be a positive outcome. Maybe he was just overreacting, and really there was nothing to worry about. Maybe the situation was minor, and they'd be sent home soon after. He was suddenly confident that everything was going to be alright, and it wasn't too big of a deal, unlike his mother, who was trying not to die of a heart attack. As the family entered an quiet, empty room with the doctor, Ryan prepared himself to hear the kind of news that would later have him wondering why he'd ever been so scared. He'd probably look back on it all in the future and laugh at himself for the ridiculous feelings of worry.
"I'm Dr. Johnston," the doctor said politely, shaking Theresa's hand and smiling warmly at the three children who followed her. "You can just have a seat."
The family lowered themselves into the first chairs their eyes landed on, and they kept a close watch on the doctor. It was at that moment that Theresa realized that something wasn't right with the way Dr. Johnston fixed her eyes on them. She didn't appear too confident, and she looked like she hated to be the one to bear bad news. But Theresa shrugged it off and adjusted her posture in her seat as she attempted to cover up the frightening thoughts with positive thoughts. "So, how'd it go?" she asked quietly.
"Actually..." Dr. Johnston's voice trailed off, and Theresa's heart threatened to rip itself out of her chest. "The diagnosis seems pretty accurate this time, as the last one was unfortunately a misdiagnosis. Often, this type of illness can be mistaken for mono, which was the case in this situation."
Ryan suddenly decided he wanted to be part of the conversation, as he suddenly came to the realization that thinking positive thoughts wasn't going to do any good. His heart dropped at the thought, and he felt he must say something before he exploded. "Is it good or bad?" he asked.
"Well, I hate to admit it, but it's not exactly good." Dr. Johnston slowed down at the last word, as if she didn't want them to know. "The results showed that... acute lymphoblastic leukemia is almost definitely what it is. He's going to have to be sent out to the nearest Children's Hospital for further tests. As you might know, this is a fatal illness, so he will have to be sent out immediately before it gets worse."
It was like Theresa had been shot in the face, and then in the chest multiple times. Ryan could feel it too, as the heartbreaking news hit him harder than he'd ever imagined it would. The positive thoughts were all for nothing. His little brother, the one he'd known for eight years, the one he'd been so close to from day one, had cancer. It felt as if a vicious tiger were attempting to claw his heart right out of his chest, and he was sure if it were real, it would succeed. Surely none of this could be true; he had to be having a nightmare. But once again, after he furiously rubbed his eyes multiple times, he was still sitting in the chair.