"Mom!" a voice screamed, jarring Ryan from his sleep once again. At the sight of the light on in the bathroom, his nerves began to resemble 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. Ryan couldn't utter a word. "Mom, help!"
Help. That word alone sparked a deep panic in the pit of Ryan's stomach. Within seconds Theresa was running out of her bedroom and into the bathroom, narrowly missing the corner of the wall as she swerved around it, seemingly still in a daze. Ryan could hear the sound of sobbing coming from the bathroom, followed by the sickening tone of violent retching, and he knew his mother heard it too. Hell, Jodi and Shirley probably even heard it. "Cody, are you okay?" Theresa called, stepping clumsily into the bathroom where her son lay.
Another few seconds passed before a firm hand shook Ryan's shoulder, and it was officially confirmed that 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. He could feel himself tremble. 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 yet again, the blankets parted messily on the lumpy mattress.
The first and only words Ryan could utter from his shock were, "I told you something was wrong!"
Theresa sighed as she tossed loose strands of her brunette hair behind her ears. "I know, Ryan, I know. But this is worse. He's throwing up blood. I have to call 911. This is serious. Now get up."
Blood? No, he's not throwing up blood! Ryan's breath hitched in his throat, and his face burned 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.
He could feel his insides slowly collapsing with a mixture of sympathy, grief, and worry, and for a quick second, he thought he might faint. A trickle of blood made its way down Cody's chin in a seemingly straight line as the rest spilled out from his mouth as he heaved. Theresa was at his side within seconds, running her hands along his back in slow, smooth circles. Ryan continued to squeeze his eyes shut, in the hopes that the next time he opened them he'd be lying back in bed again, but his heart shattered into tiny little pieces as he realized it was actually real. Nothing was happening.
Theresa got up and waved Ryan away as she cradled the phone in her hands and dialled 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," Ryan heard her mutter.
"Mom, he's purple again," said Ryan, noticing the massive bruises 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. Paramedics knew exactly what they were doing. 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 millions of times in the five minutes he'd been awake, 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 he turned away, feeling nauseous himself. If Cody lost too much blood, wasn't that a bad thing?
The sound of Theresa's voice filled the hallway. 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 trembled, and even cracked sometimes. It looked like Doctor Mom had lost once more, and it was time for a real doctor. "Please hurry," he heard her say more than once.
When he could no longer hear her voice, he watched her shadow on the wall in the hallway, noticing she was practically running to get back to the bathroom. Within seconds she had returned, her eyes glazed over with fresh tears. The sight of it made Ryan's heart hammer in his ears. Cody's sickness was bad enough that their mother was crying, something he had never seen before, didn't think was possible. “Cody, the ambulance is on its way,” she said reassuringly, kneeling down next to the nearly-dying Cody. Her hand went to his back. “They're gonna be here soon, okay? You're going to be okay.”
Cody's eyes watered. He said nothing. Ryan was suddenly no longer sure who he could trust to take care of his brother 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 his brother get better, and it had only been true for a couple of hours. Cody had to have felt the same way. Should he trust her this time when she said he was going to be okay? Was he really going to be okay, or was she just trying to calm everyone down?
“No,” Cody mumbled, but couldn't continue saying anything else.
Theresa dismissed Cody as she shook her head and met eyes with Ryan. "Ryan, I need you to do me a favour," she said. "I need you to get the girls for me. Get them dressed, please. Make sure you get dressed too, because we're not going to the hospital in our pajamas again. And please, watch for the ambulance. It's going to help out a lot. Please." Her eyes looked beyond desperate, 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 watch of 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 looked confused.
"Shirley, you gotta get dressed," Ryan said quietly, gulping down the lump of fear rising in his throat. "We're going back to the hospital."
Shirley rose up from her original position, rubbing her eyes deeply as she yawned. "Why?"
"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, and it was clear by the smile on her face that she was ecstatic. Shirley stood up on her mattress and gripped the sideboards on her bed tightly as she attempted to climb over, making it obvious that she wanted to see the "big truck" pull into the driveway.
“Don't, Shirley,” Ryan warned, reaching for her as she swung her leg over the sideboard. “You're gonna fall.”
Instead, he lifted her above the sideboards as he had done the previous night, and once her bare feet hit the floor, she took off out of the bedroom shrieking, “There's an ambliance!”
"It's here already?" Theresa shot up from her position on the floor, hope flashing in her eyes.
“There's one coming to our house!” said Shirley, nodding and pointing down the hallway.
Theresa was about to say something more, 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. “It's not here yet.”
She looked incredibly disappointed now, and he felt bad. “Did you get Jodi out of bed yet?” she asked as her gaze turned to the floor.
Ryan shook his head. "Not yet."
For a moment, he'd 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 whirled around and darted back into the bedroom, wanting to get her up fast so he could watch the ambulance arrive as he'd been told to do. Before he even laid a hand on her to gently bring her back to consciousness, she moved ever so slightly, and her eyes opened just barely, leaving little slits for her to see. If it wasn't Ryan's presence that woke her up, it was certainly the luminous light doing the job for him, for which he was suddenly glad. He really didn't want to have to wake her up again. Not after last night's little episode.
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 over exaggerating. "Oww!" she cried, still groaning. She looked ready to burst into tears.
"Why do you have to be so hard to get up?" Ryan complained. "We're going back to the hospital, you have to get up."
Ryan wasn'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 travelling 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. "I wanna ride in it too!” 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 ambulance before it left her all alone in the dust. Ryan rolled his eyes. She and Shirley both acted as if it was a freaking celebrity strutting down the red carpet. They obviously didn't understand that the ambulance was on its way because of their brother's medical emergency; they probably thought the drivers were coming to pick them up to give them a free ride in the middle of 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'd show up and do something before Cody nearly died and his mother had a heart attack.
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 gotten while they'd visited last summer. He tried his best to encourage her to put them on herself, but nope, she apparently had no idea what she was doing, and he was forced to take over. “I can't do it,” she kept saying, and each time the words left her mouth, he wished she were fourteen and not four. Jodi, however, insisted she had gotten to the age of finally learning how to dress herself – thank God for that – and from her drawer, she selected a pair of baggy grey sweat pants and a white hoodie. Ryan didn't have to worry about Jodi, which he was perfectly fine with, 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.
“Mom!” he called, and within seconds she was there, 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 while his mom took over for him. Several sweaters and pairs of jeans went flying through the air as he searched his drawers for something, anything, that he could wear temporarily. It wasn't like he was going anywhere special, so there was no need for anything too fancy. 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 at the same time as Ryan bolted out of his room. There were no changes in Cody's condition yet – he still remained pale-faced, and kept mumbling “I don't wanna go to the hospital” over and over again as he sobbed. Tears, snot, and blood all mixed together as he lay there, staring off into space. Ryan couldn't bear to look at him, so instead he headed for the living room to watch for the ambulance. Shirley trailed behind him like a lost puppy. “Is the ambliance here yet?” she asked.
"No," Ryan said nervously as he reached the picture window. 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, something worse could happen to Cody. Glancing over his shoulder, he could see his mother carrying a fragile Cody in her arms, and then slowly but carefully she placed him down on the comfort of the couch. Immediately, he cuddled up against the cushion, moaning through the pain.
"Try not to get too comfortable bud," said Theresa, patting his shoulder. "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 open the door for 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. As soon as the light was on, Cody gagged, and the vomit bowl was there just in time to catch it. Ryan could see one of the paramedics drop her jaw at the poor sight. That had to mean it was bad.
"Wow, I've never seen anything like this," she said worriedly, placing her hand on Cody's head once he finished. "Has he been to see a doctor yet for being sick?"
"We were at the hospital just last night," Theresa answered. "They told us he has mono."
"Mono? Are you sure?" The look of confusion on the paramedic's face sent a deep chill down Ryan's spine, and he was suddenly unsure that the doctors had even diagnosed his brother correctly. He didn't think he could look at his mother's reaction just yet. "This seems to be far more serious. Usually you don't vomit blood when you've got mono."
Standing in the corner, he 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. Ryan felt his heart drop. Didn't “fatality” mean death or something? "How are we going to fit all the kids in the ambulance?" she asked.
The paramedic shook his head. "We won't," he said. "There can't possibly be enough room. They'll need to go with someone else."
“But I have no one to call!” she said, her voice rough and scratchy. "I can't leave them here by themselves. My oldest just turned ten a month ago!"
"Relax, ma'am," the paramedic said calmly, holding out his hands to reassure her. "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. Ryan was so scared he felt like he was about to vomit, and the thought of having to stay the night at Quincy's house while Cody was at the hospital increased his fear. Unless Lynn felt like driving he and his siblings all the way to the hospital in the middle of the night, which he felt was highly unlikely. She hated driving. Ryan had only ever slept over there once, and it had been okay, but with Jodi and Shirley this time, he knew they'd both spend the rest of the night crying because they missed their mother and wanted to go home. It was going to be disastrous. His night was now officially ruined.
Ryan took a seat on the couch next to Cody as he watched his mom turn away with her cell phone pressed against her ear. Within seconds, he heard her voice. "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 an ambulance, and they won't let my other kids come with us..." Her voice trailed off as fresh tears sprang to her eyes and spilled down her cheeks in crooked lines.
She was crying yet again, and the sight made Ryan's stomach twist. He averted his gaze away from her and focused his eyes on Cody instead, which wasn't much better; if anything, it was a million times worse. One of the paramedics was lifting him onto the stretcher, and he hung almost limply from her arms, as if he was too weak to hold himself up. His entire body was still heaving with sobs. Each gasping noise that escaped him was like a knife to Ryan's chest, and he wanted to run away from it all, pretend like none of this was really happening. Not knowing whether his brother was going to live or die was hell. He wanted the positivity to return.
Within moments, Ryan caught sight of Lynn crossing the front yard, and he beat his mother to the stairs as he sprinted to let her in. Cody was quickly wheeled out the door past her. "Oh, God,” she said, as if it would make Ryan feel any better. “You ready to go?”
He nodded forcefully. He definitely wasn't ready to go anywhere.
"Once again, thank you so much for offering to do this for me," Theresa said as she just about fell down the stairs in her rush to greet her. “Are you wanting them to spend the night with you or –”
“I can drive them there if you want,” Lynn said non-hesitantly.
“But they might get stressed out and tired,” said Theresa. “I don't know if they could handle it.”
“I wanna go.” Ryan didn't realize he'd admitted it out loud until both his mother and Lynn glanced down at him, appearing a bit surprised that he'd spoken up.
“Are you sure?” Theresa asked.
He nodded. “I think so.”
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. “Cody's sick,” said Shirley, pointing at her brother on the stretcher.
"Yes, I see that, sweetie," said Lynn. "We're going to follow the ambulance to the hospital and meet up with your mom there.”
“But I wanna ride in the ambliance,” said Shirley.
"We're not allowed,” Ryan cut in. “They won't let us.”
“But why?” She looked like she might cry from her disappointment.
“There's not enough room.”
“But we're going to follow them there,” Lynn added, patting Shirley's head. “The paramedics need room to help your brother out.”
“Is he going to be okay?” Ryan heard himself ask.
Lynn sighed, sounding like she really didn't want to have to deal with their questions right now. "Well, let's go and see," she said. “I think he will.”
Ryan's chest tightened. He was pretty sure everyone was lying.
Unlike the first time around, the waiting room wasn't as quiet. There were quite a few people in the ER this time, 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 her hands unsteady. Cody was off receiving plenty of tests. It was no wonder she could hardly hold still.
Her visible uneasiness was killing Ryan inside.
Jodi and Shirley were, as always, clueless, which was making Ryan wish he were their age. He didn't want to understand anything right now. He sat back in the chair and watched his sisters as they played with Barbies on a small table, shrieking at times as they pretended their own voices belonged to the dolls. Any other time, their innocence annoyed him, but tonight it fascinated him more than anything. For the first time ever, he wanted to be exactly like them.
“Guys, be quiet please,” Theresa said to the girls, and they stopped. Their fun, as well as Ryan's temporary fun, was over.
Shirley put down the doll she was holding. “Are we being too loud?” she asked.
A hint of a smile crossed Theresa's face, but it only lasted a few seconds before it returned to her petrified expression. “Yes,” she said. “Just keep it down over there.”
“Where's Cody?” Jodi asked out of the blue.
Ryan beat his mother to the answer. "He's getting tests,” he said. “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, leaving Ryan to wonder if maybe one of the doctors who'd walked by was seeing Cody and doing things right this time, if they'd been wrong the first time. He just wanted Cody to be all right. What if he wasn't going to be all right, though? 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, though," 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."
Ryan's eyes wandered around the waiting room, searching for comfort of some sort. Across from him, a family was in tears, completely grief-stricken, so he definitely wasn't going to be looking at them. He wanted to see happiness, contagious happiness, not terror. He couldn't help it, though, and he kept shooting glances at the other family, who dabbed their eyes and sniffled every five seconds, it seemed. For some reason, the sight brought back the memory of his father the morning he'd died. Ryan 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. An intense panic suddenly gripped him, and he whirled around in the seat, watching them go. “Mom, are they going to his room?” he asked, his voice wobbling.
Theresa turned around to watch, too. “I don't know,” she said. “They might be, though.”
"Well, they might not be for him," said Ryan, trying to look 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 was pretty sure he knew that those nurses were for Cody, and something was wrong. Denial was just what he'd chosen.
He watched a doctor call the family across from them into a separate room. "Maybe it's for them," he suggested.
Theresa shook her head as another doctor entered the waiting room. "I'm looking for Theresa Wheldon," the doctor called out, her eyes scanning the room for someone to identify themselves.
It felt like a bullet had pierced Ryan's heart. His eyes went back to his mother as she carefully rose her shaking hand in the air to prove that she was the mother of the severely sick child who was vomiting blood. Ryan's stomach twisted and turned in ways he'd never thought possible, and he was sure he would throw up.
"I'm... here," Theresa managed.
The doctor motioned for the family to follow. Ryan could only stare at the floor as he trailed behind his mother, who was still visibly shaking. His heartbeat rose to his head, and he felt like his eyes were preparing to close themselves after his body was unable to handle the activity in his nerves. He watched his mother's unsteady footsteps ahead of him, which only increased his fear. She was scared. Mother's didn't get scared. They were brave; they held everything together during the worst of times, and they made everything okay even when things seemed improbable. Mother's didn't mask things; they were all about the truth.
At least, that was what Ryan had been led to believe up until this point.
He watched the girls skip along behind him, wondering if maybe they understood. The thought made him fight the urge to laugh out loud. That's a big, fat no. The only thing they knew was that they were at a hospital, on an adventure in the middle of the night. For them, they had every reason to be happy.
That was it. 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 only minor, and they'd be sent home soon after. Leave it up to his little sisters to teach him something so...peculiar, so unexpected. 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 could just hear the doctor's words ringing in his ears: He just has a fever, so there's nothing to worry about. And the blood? It wasn't blood, it was just the colour of the vomit, that's all. You can go home now.
"I'm Dr. Johnston," the doctor said politely instead, shaking Theresa's hand and smiling warmly at he and his sisters. "You can just have a seat."
Ryan lowered himself into the first chair he set eyes on, as did the rest of his family. Maybe it was just his over-analytical brain, but something wasn't right with the way Dr. Johnston fixed her eyes on them. She didn't appear too confident. In fact, she looked like she hated to be the bearer of bad news. But Ryan shrugged it off and adjusted his posture in his seat as he attempted to cover up the frightening thoughts with positive thoughts. A quick glance at his uncomfortable mother told him the feeling was mutual. “So how did everything go?” Theresa asked quietly, breaking the following silence.
"Actually..." Dr. Johnston's voice trailed off, and her tone made Ryan's heart threaten to rip itself out of his chest. His mother squirmed next to him. "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. Although we couldn't find an exact diagnosis, we do know that it is serious and requires treatment this hospital doesn't have. We know he had a bone marrow biopsy done the other day as a result in abnormalities from a complete blood count, and we wanted to discuss the results with you.”
Theresa gasped. Loudly. She covered her mouth, probably to prevent screaming. “Oh my God,” she breathed.
"Cancer,” Dr. Johnston finished. “We were able to determine it was leukemia, but we have not done staging yet, which is why we are going to send him by air ambulance to Meadowview Children's Hospital for further assessment.”
Theresa immediately dissolved into sobs, but Ryan just sat there, letting the word rattle his brain over and over again. Cancer. 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 that 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, Dr. Johnston's eyes fixed on him.
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