Fifteen minutes ago, my dad’s eyes rolled and his body dropped dead weight. He landed on his side and immediately started convulsing. If ever there was a time I was grateful for my training, it was then. I fell to my knees, held him lightly to keep him on his side should he vomit, and I rode it out. I even had the sense to look at my watch and time the seizure.
Sixty-seven seconds of pure hell and torture.
When his body relaxed and his eyes started to flutter open, I was already on the phone calling 911. Ordinarily, a single-episode seizure may not warrant an ambulance trip to the hospital, but my dad is no ordinary person. He has a brain tumor and an active, live virus attempting to do battle with it. His poor brain is the battlefield, the enemies fighting without regard for the tender tissue surrounding them.
I was cool, calm, and collected. I attended to my father as only a daughter with medical training can do. I kept him assured, watched him carefully, and only left his side to unlock the door when the EMTs arrived. I efficiently filled them in on his medical history, and I even shot off a quick email to Dr. Furhman, his oncologist at Duke. I did all of this without a single quake in my body.
But the minute they started loading him onto the stretcher, an almost shattering weakness gripped my body and I felt my knees buckle. I was fortuitously standing at the foot of Dad’s bed and I sat down on it hard and heavy. My hands immediately started shaking, and I thought to myself, I can’t do this. I can’t just sit by and watch my dad possibly die.
My hands automatically worked to dial Hawke, the one and only person I thought to call.
“Where are they taking him?” Hawke says, and I hear the jingle of car keys.
“To Duke,” I whisper. “I’ve emailed his oncologist.”
“Ride in the ambulance with him,” Hawke orders me, and I hear the opening and closing of a car door. “Don’t you dare get in your car.”
As if I’d leave my dad’s side, but I understand what he’s saying. He can tell by my tone of voice and the mere fact that I reached out to him that I’m in no shape to be driving a car.
“Okay,” I say softly.
“He’ll be fine,” Hawke says reassuringly as I hear his car roar to life. I then hear the creaking of a garage door and I envision Hawke backing out.
“Okay,” I say, distrusting the confident statement. Because really, wasn’t this potential miracle cure just too good to be true?
“Vale?” Hawke says, and I blink my eyes to dispel the tears starting to form. “He’ll be fine.”
“I’m scared,” I say, my voice cracking under the weight of my fear.
“I know, baby,” he says gently. “But I’ll meet you at the hospital and you won’t be alone. Okay?”
The EMTs have Dad fully strapped in and he gives me a weak smile. They start to maneuver the stretcher to the front door. “I’ve got to go. They’re loading him up. I’ll see you at the hospital.”
I don’t wait for his response, but disconnect him immediately, afraid that any more soft words from him will be my complete undoing. While Dad is watching me, I need to remain strong for him.
I can always fall apart later.
I’ve only seen Vale look this way one other time in her life. The normally assured, confident, and self-aware woman is barely holding it together tonight. She looks lost.
And my heart aches for her.
The other time I saw her this way was on the morning she broke up with me. Lying in her bed, covers up to her chin. So vulnerably small and delicate.
Dave was admitted to Duke a little over seven hours ago. I arrived about five minutes after the ambulance to find a shaken Vale sitting alone in the waiting room of the emergency department.
Her head was bowed, her eyes closed, lips moving in what I believe was a silent prayer. As I approached, her face tilted upward and I know I shouldn’t have derived pleasure from it, but fuck…I did. She was relieved to see me.
She stepped into my arms as if she had never left them seven years ago. She laid her head on my chest, wrapped her arms around my waist, and I couldn’t help myself. I embraced her back, relishing in every inch of her touching me. I found solace in the familiarity that still existed between us. I kissed the top of her head and murmured words of assurance to soothe her. She shuddered once, and then went still except for her fingers, which clutched at me harder.
Ordinarily, waiting in an emergency room can take hours. Hell, sometimes it feels like days. But when you are a patient in an exciting and almost miraculous clinical trial that could eradicate cancer from the face of the earth, you tend to get treated like a rock star. Vale and I were still in midhug when a nurse collected us, gently ushering us down halls until we reached the emergency-room bay that held all the beds. She put us in a room separated by curtains with an empty bed, telling us that Dave was receiving an MRI and that Dr. Furhman was on his way in. She offered us something to drink, which both of us politely declined.
Vale and I sat beside each other on plastic chairs, clasping hands and silently ruminating. Dr. Furhman found us there twenty minutes later, looking serious as only a doctor can, but without that grave look that spells death.
“Your dad’s MRI looks good,” he said first, and Vale let out a shuddering breath of relief. “He was due to have one this week anyway, and as we had hoped, the prior inflammation caused by the virus has reduced significantly. The tumor itself hasn’t, but we don’t expect to see that start to shrink for another month at least.”