Friday night was a struggle. After several hours of relative peace Emmy became agitated. Never really regaining any meaningful consciousness she became restless. The resident on call suspected she was in pain and upped her pain medication. Thankfully that seemed to calm her. It did nothing to calm Brett and Stephanie. After the resident left they both looked at each other knowing that Emmy had been in a lot of pain and unable to speak or even wake to tell them. The resident assured them that they would discuss it during rounds in the morning and see if there were any other adjustments the attending wanted to make.
Her temperature had stayed high and the tubes continued to remove fluid. Despite all Brett’s pushing Stephanie refused to leave Emmy’s side. They had both slept off and on with their heads on Emmy’s bed with her hand held tightly in their own.
At 8:00 am, after the doctor’s rounds, no new information and with no signs of any change Stephanie relented. With a kiss on the forehead for both Emmy and Brett she headed home to change for the game. Her heart wasn’t in it but she knew that the team needed her. At this point as much as she wanted to be there for Emmy there really wasn’t anything she could do to help her. When Emmy recovered she would be angry if Stephanie chose her over the team.
Pulling in she could see that lights were on in the kitchen. Walking in the door she was greeted with the smell of coffee and bacon. Almost as soon as the smell hit her Kim’s eyes were on her. Stephanie laid down her keys and jacket and Kim pulled her into a hug. The two women stood like that for a long time. Stephanie cried the tears she didn’t want to shed in front of Emmy while Kim held her up and renewed her strength.
Once she regained her composure she took a seat at the table and Kim fixed her a coffee and some breakfast and then sat with her.
“Kim I can’t tell you how thankful I am for you right now.”
“Sweetie that’s how we Miles roll.” Stephanie put a hand over Kim’s and smiled at her choice of verbiage. The boys would have been proud of Aunt Kim for sounding so hip. “So how is she?”
“No real change. I guess that’s good. But there isn’t much room for her to get worse.”
“So they still think its a virus yes and no?”
“Yes Dr. Hatcher did come back with the labs around midnight and the preliminary tests that they can do there showed a virus and bacterial pneumonia. It was not the flu but that Enterovirus 68 that got so much news coverage early in the year, before the flu got going.”
“And what is it?”
“A super cold that most people don’t have an immunity to. Which for you and me isn’t a big deal. We have a cold and our bodies produce the antibodies to fight it. Emmy’s body is so beaten down by the chemotherapy that it isn’t producing enough antibodies to fight. So once the virus took hold the bacterial pneumonia moved right in with it.”
“So how do they treat her?”
“Well antibiotics for the pneumonia and there isn’t an antiviral drug for this. So they treat her symptoms, the worst is the fluid on her lungs and the fever. And they try to get her body to fight from within. They’ve given her transfusions of everything, white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. Trying to her blood chemistry closer to normal.”
“Is she awake?”
“Not really and as much as I’d like to talk to her I can’t help but think it’s for the best. Maybe she’s sleeping through all this pain.” Stephanie took a few more bites. “Kim they have tubes everywhere. She fought against the feeding tube for so long and now they’ve had to put one in. Dr. Hatcher said that they had to use a different type of scope to put it in. Her mouth and esophagus were so full of sores from the chemo. She never said a thing about it. They were so bad he thought the blood loss might have been contributing to her being anemic. I don’t understand how a child can live with that pain and not ever say anything.”
Kim took a long drink of her coffee. “Steph, Emmy’s been in a lot of different foster homes hasn’t she?” Stephanie nodded. “Was there any abuse?”
Kim waited and again Stephanie nodded. “Its a coping mechanism. It’s a way to avoid being hurt, physically. Foster kids get really good at hiding and being very quiet. If the abuser forgets your there then there’s less abuse. She knows you all aren’t going to hurt her, but its just part of who she is now. It took me years to get past that.”
“She also likes living with your family and doesn’t want you to send her back. Foster kids see themselves as burdens. In order to lessen that burden on you she’s going to try to need as little as possible. The problem with Emmy is that makes her not tell you when something is wrong.”
“You know I don’t think she’s ever asked for anything. Never pain medicine, or for something to eat.”
“Took me years to get past that.”
“What did it?”
“Love. Unconditional love from David and his parents. I remember right after we got married I was helping David do something out in the barn and cut my hand on something. It started bleeding like crazy. He hadn’t seen me do it do I so I said I had to go to the house for something. It was really deep and wide but I knew we didn’t have much money and I didn’t want David to have to stop his work to drive me somewhere to get stitches. So I put a bandage over it and headed back out. Later, I didn’t notice but the bandage was actually dripping blood and Rose saw it. She took me inside and looked at it and drove me straight to the hospital. They had to do all kinds of extra work to clean it up before they could stitch it because I waited so long. On the ride home I remember Rose saying that I had to take care of myself that losing me would rip David’s heart out.”
“It was like a light bulb went off in my head. This was the first time in my life that I realized that someone needed me. Before that day I’d been a burden wherever I’d been.” Stephanie put her head in her hands and began to sob. “What is it?”
“Oh Kim I’m afraid I may have made it worse.”
“When we found out about Emmy’s situation and the cancer and we tried to get her to let us be her foster parents she refused. She said exactly what you just said that it would be too much trouble for us. So I tried to make it about the team. I said that I needed her to live with us and get healthy for the team.” Stephanie took a deep breath. “That’s why she fought so hard to keep playing, to pay me back. That’s why she pushed herself until the breaking point.”
“Oh Stephanie, that little girl was fighting to keep playing before you ever even knew she needed anyone. You said she refused a feeding tube and a central line, before you were even in the picture.” Stephanie knew she was right. Dr. Hatcher had told them that when they’d first began fostering Emmy.
“So what do we do?”
“Love her. Be there. And most importantly never give up. We don’t know exactly what she’s been through and it’s going to take time. Sending her back can never even enter your mind.”
“It never would. She’s part of the family now.”
“Good. Then you do everything you can to get her through this. And we support you all while you change that little girl’s life, and give her a future.”
Stephanie pulled Kim into another hug. “Thank you so much. I’m so sorry for everything that you went through as a child. But you were here at this moment for a reason. We couldn’t do this without you and your insight.”
“Mom, how’s Emmy?”
“Well look at that he’s up and its not even nine o’clock on a Saturday.” Stephanie teased. “There wasn’t any change overnight. So she’s holding her own.”
“That’s our girl.”
“Get Tyler and you guys eat while I clean up. Then you all can go to the game with me.”
“What about seeing Emmy?”
Stephanie didn’t really want them to see her like that. She looked so bad that it was something she’d never be able to forget. The boys didn’t need to ever think of Emmy like that. “Right now they are really worried about other infections. They are only allowing adults. Once she moves out of ICU then the rules will be much different.”
“Mom, you’re hiding something. I can tell.”
Jake was the one that could always read her. “They are really strict with visitors in the ICU and the room is small.”
“Mom, the truth.”
“Jake…its bad. Its really, really bad to see her like that. Sweetie she’s on a ventilator, there are tubes and wires everywhere. Nurses and doctors are in and out all the time. You don’t want to see her like that and I know that Emmy doesn’t want you to see her like that.”
“What about giving Dad a break?”
Aunt Kim stepped in, “I’ll take care of that. Once you all leave I’ll go down and sit with her and your Dad. That way he won’t be alone and he can leave for a while. OK?”
Stephanie didn’t object she knew that they were going to have to lean on Kim. She’d dropped everything and driven all the way up here to help out. “Thanks Aunt Kim. That sounds good.” Jake relented and headed back downstairs to get Tyler.
“Thanks.” Stephanie took Kim’s hand again before heading to their room. On the way back she passed Emmy’s and stopped, pushing the door open for a look inside. Despite the fact that she’d felt horrible and had rushed that morning getting ready the room was perfect. Her bed was made all the clothes were put away. Opening her drawers the few articles of clothing she had were all folded so neatly and stacked perfectly in the drawer. If only Jake and Tyler were that neat.
Emmy simply had to make it through this. Stephanie would never be able to come in this room again. She’d only been there for a few months but this was her room and would never be anything else.
Thirty minutes later Stephanie was showered and ready to go. Her cell phone had died overnight but once she charged it 12 different messages popped up. They were all from the team. She quickly sent out a group text to let them know that there’d been no change and that she’d see them all at the game. Grabbing another cup of coffee for the road they all left the house.
Kim followed the directions on her phone and found a place to park. Stopping by the coffee shop downstairs she got Brett a cup. Stephanie’s eyes had looked so tired that Kim knew Brett had to be running on empty too. She walked upstairs and found the ICU. Stephanie told her where Emmy’s room was so she just walked in like she knew what she was doing and no one said a thing.
Brett was looking at Emmy with her hand in his when he noticed Kim standing by the door. He stood and embraced her. “How is she?”
“Dr. Hatcher was just in here and seemed happy that she was just holding her own.”
“That’s good. Her body just needs some time.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Well the boys went with Stephanie so I said I’d come here and see if you needed a break, or maybe just someone to talk to. Stephanie said how quiet it was.”
“It is. The quiet is almost deafening. I just need to hear some voices or basketballs bouncing. Maybe a video game. Something to remind me that these are kids in all these little rooms.” Kim turned and looked at Emmy. Realizing for the first time that Stephanie was right she really did look bad. Kim was glad that Stephanie wasn’t going to let the boys see her like this.
She began rubbing Emmy’s forehead, much like Steph had done the night before. “Emmy, its Aunt Kim. Sweetie I need you to fight and get better. I was planning on making a huge mess of mashed potatoes for Christmas and I need someone to help the boys eat them.” Stephanie had told her about how much she liked them at Thanksgiving.
Kim didn’t tell Stephanie but she knew why Emmy liked them. It was a poor kid thing. Mashed potatoes are a comfort food for a reason. Potatoes, at least the box kind, were a cheap and filling food. It was something they almost always served at the soup kitchens that her father had gone to after he’d lost his job and their house. One would think that you would get tired of potatoes if you had them all the time. But really it was one food that was almost always there, would take away the pain of hunger, and something that just about anyone could fix and make edible.
Her father had often tried beans, because they were protein and cheap. But he’d never figured out how to fix them right. They were always horrible. Beans were also hit and miss at food kitchens. Some were good others were even difficult for Kim to eat.
The nurse came in interrupting her thoughts. “Oh a new visitor.”
Brett introduced her. “Stephanie had to go coach the team in the state tournament. This is my sister-in-law Kim.”
The nurse shook her hand. “Well Kim it’s very nice to meet you.”
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to take your girl for a few minutes. Dr. Hatcher wants another set of x-rays to check on the fluid in her lungs.”
“Isn’t that what the tubes are for?”
“Yes, but those drain the fluid around her lungs. Where it was yesterday. He’s afraid that there may be some in her lungs now.”
“If there is?”
“Well it’s a setback for sure. Being on a ventilator can cause some of it. So the doctors trying to avoid it getting out of hand by getting on it early. If it’s bad enough they can drain the fluid from inside also. Hopefully it won’t be to that point and that fever will come down soon so we can get this thing out.” The nurse unhooked all the machines. Undid the tubing coming from her lungs and then called for someone. A male transport assistant came in and the nurse unhooked Emmy from the ventilator and attached her to a manual bag.
“Be back soon Dad.”
Kim elbowed him. “Dad?”
“Just the nurses. Emmy hasn’t gotten further than Sir or Coach.”
“Give her time. It took me forever and I could never call your parents anything but Mr. And Mrs. Miles.”
“I remember that. I just thought it was a respect thing.”
“It was, but it was also me and my past and insecurity all rolled up into something so simple as calling someone by their name.” Brett thought about all of the ways Emmy was just like this. “Brett, Stephanie and I talked about this earlier. Emmy isn’t hiding things from you on purpose. She’s trying not to be noticed. Stephanie mentioned that she’d been abused at some point.”
Brett shook his head. “We didn’t know at first. A doctor found it when she dislocated her finger in one of our games. I called her case worker.” He rubbed his hand over his eyes. “It was bad Kim.”
“It usually is.” She patted him knee and sat down beside him.
“It was the father in the home she was living. Her fingers were broken so many times that the doctor couldn’t even get a real count. The other kids were younger so she always took the abuse to protect them. Apparently it went on for five months before it got bad enough and a neighbor called the cops. They found her in the basement with her entire hand broken and one of the other little ones had two broken fingers too. Her case worker had met with her three times during that period and she never said a thing.”
“Foster kids, especially abused ones, try everything they can to be as invisible as possible. If the abuser forgets they are there then maybe they won’t get hit again.”
“We would never,” Brett began but Kim stopped him.
“Of course not, and Emmy knows that. She’s not afraid of you its just who she is now. I also bet that she really likes it with you and Stephanie. The best way for her to get to stay with you all is to not be a burden. She’s going to take that talent for being invisible and multiply it so that she will never put you all out. That way you all won’t ever send her back.”
“That’s why she acts like she’s fine all the time.”
“Yes.” Brett remembered back to the night she’d dislocated her finger and he’d been so mad. Seeing her asleep on that bed with all her belongings packed had broken his heart and now he understood.
After an hour the nurse returned said everything was going ok with Emmy but there was some fluid they were going to remove and she needed some paperwork signed. Then after two hours she finally returned with Emmy. “Well Dad here is your girl back. Dr. Hatcher will be down in a few minutes to explain everything.” The nurse hooked everything back up and then left. Brett resisted the urge to life the gown to check for signs of more surgery. Thankfully Dr. Hatcher was only a few minutes behind.
He shook Brett’s hand again and looked at Kim. Brett stepped in, “This is my sister in law Kim. Stephanie had to go coach the girls in the state tournament this morning. She hated leaving but the other girls were pretty torn up over Emmy. I thought Steph being there would help them.”
“Being away for a while will be good for Stephanie too.” Then he looked at Brett. “You need to take care of yourself also.”
Brett understood the message. “As soon as Stephanie gets back I’ll head out for a while.”
“That’s good to hear. OK now to Emmy.” He pulled the chart up again. “Last night I thought I heard some fluid in her lungs. The tubes are draining the fluid from around her lungs but not inside.”
“This is new but not unexpected. The pneumonia was in the early stages yesterday it progressing was something we were watching for. It is a setback, but one we were prepared for. We drained the fluid from inside her lungs.”
“How do you do that?”
“We just use suction through the tube that’s already down her throat to remove the fluid.” Brett nodded glad there hadn’t been another surgery. “We will watch her over the next four hours and see if there is a recurrence. The ventilator isn’t helping but we can’t get her off it until she’s stable.” He noted some more in the chart and then went back to Emmy adjusting something on the machine breathing for her. “Smile Dad, she’s fighting and we’ll stay on top of this.” Dr. Hatcher patted Brett on the shoulder as he left.
Stephanie and the boys arrived at the game a few minutes early. Walking through the door to the gym she checked in at the tournament desk and walked toward court four where they were to play. Sitting in the stands waiting was every member of the team and their parents. They all looked up and she knew they were hoping to see Emmy with her. Several of the parents came up to her and they embraced her without a word. Then each player did the same. Coach was moved to tears. The boys also found themselves with tears in their eyes.
Stephanie and Rick lead the team over to a corner while they waited for the first game to finish. The parents normally would have taken a seat, but this time they all followed too. “Coach how’s Emmy?” Maisy finally got up the courage to ask.
“She’s hanging in there.” She sat down with them on the floor. “The doctors did blood work last night and determined that she has a virus that has turned into pneumonia. They can treat the pneumonia but the virus is like a super cold there isn’t anything they can give her for it. So they are waiting seeing if her body can fight it.”
“Coach, is she awake?” Sophie asked.
“No, the doctors have sedated her to let her body rest.”
“Then she doesn’t know that we won?” Sophie was smiling.
“Coach,” Sophie, who had served this season as the team captain, stood. “We talked last night and this game, every game from now to the end, is for Emmy. She carried us this season and now it time for us to carry her.” Sophie handed coach a wristband with the #5 on it. Then the entire team pulled out identical wristbands.
Stephanie’s breath stuttered as she tried not to cry. “Guys this will mean a lot to her.”
Maisy’s mom stepped forward. “Guys let’s get a picture and we can let Coach Miles show Emmy” They all got together and held out the wristbands. The two coaches stood at the ends. Stephanie had to hold back the tears. Emmy would absolutely love that.
“Can I post this?” Maisy’s mom wasn’t sure if she should. Stephanie and Brett were on Facebook but they never posted pictures of Emmy. It had something to do with her being a foster child. Stephanie knew that Emmy wasn’t in it so it’d be OK.
“Sure. Tag Brett, maybe he’ll see it this morning. The boys are going to text him the score.”
The parents began to go find their seats as the other game ended. The girls all put on their kneepads and shoes and began to stretch. Coach watched them. How different would this game have been if Emmy hadn’t walked into the gym that day.
The team had made it to the state tournament last year for the first time ever. Several of their leading players had been 8th graders and Stephanie worried that this season would be a let down after the success of the previous year. Then open gyms had started and the team met Emmy. Each and every one of the players had grown tremendously this year. She knew that’s what happened when you played with someone with that much talent. She made everyone better.
The buzzer sounded and the team gathered around her. “Girls this is it. This is what we’ve worked for all year. Go out there and fight.” Then the team all put their arms in. Each player put the arm wearing their blue wristband in, so even in the hospital, Emmy was there on the court with them.
The ball went up and the girls did exactly what Coach had asked, exactly what Emmy was doing lying in that hospital bed. They fought. The team from Wrightsville was big and the Eagles’ shots weren’t falling. But they kept fighting. In the second half two of Stephanie’s starters got into foul trouble and two of the younger players stepped in. Amazingly they made shots then the others’ started falling. Down by 15 when the second half started they began coming back. Chaos proved to be their friend. They began pressing full court and the Wrightsville players began to lose their composure. A couple steals here, four 3-pointers there and they found themselves up by four.
Then coach had them hold the ball. Suddenly they spread it out and passed it around. The other team was bigger and slower and had a hard time catching up to the ball as they passed it around. Wrightsville ended up resorting to fouling. The Bruins went to the line and in the last two minutes of the game three different players shot six for six from the line. They ended up winning by 9.
As the buzzer sounded Coach Miles sat down on the bench. She had never been more proud of a team. Everyone in the gym, including herself had counted them out and these girls had risen to the occasion. More than that they had honored Emmy in an amazing way. Sophie was the first one over to her, “Coach we aren’t done yet.” Every player patted coach on the shoulder before shaking hands with the other team.
The Wrightsville coach came by. “Coach Miles,” she looked up, embarrassed she stood and shook his hand, “How’s your player?”
“In ICU but holding her own.”
“We’ll be praying for her and your team. That’s a heck of a thing to go through this time of the season.”
The girls finished shaking hands and headed back to the corner where they’d stashed their stuff. Coach really wished they’d had a locker room for this. “Girls,” she had to stop and wipe tears. “I’m going to be honest. I counted you all out. I came in here this morning expecting this to be your, to be our, last game. I was wrong. You all showed me a courage that I had lost.” Then coach had them all lean in and she whispered, “With courage like that, even without Emmy, we can win this whole thing.” Smiles lit up on tear stained faces. “Now I’ve got to get back to Emmy. You all can stay and watch this next game if you want. If you do watch their plays learn their habits. Break them down like Emmy would. Then I want everyone to go home. Eat a good lunch and dinner and rest. We will play the winner of this game tonight at 7:00 on the main court.”
They all got dressed and began to go their separate ways. Coach Jameson came up to her. “Take these with you. For Brett and Emmy they need to be a part of this too.” She hugged him. “I’ll stay and watch this one. I’ll call and let you know if I see anything different. You go give her a kiss for me.”
“Thanks Rick. We couldn’t do this without you.”
Stephanie headed over to where the boys were waiting. “Mom, Dad texted they had to take Emmy to clear stuff out of her lungs.” From a high to a low. Stephanie and the boys left quickly. In the car Stephanie called but didn’t get Brett.
At the hospital Stephanie rushed back to the room while the boys waited outside in the car. Rushing down the hall she slowed just outside the ICU doors. Pushing them open and walking down the hall she could see lots of activity toward the end. Thankfully as she got closer it was the room next to Emmy. As she approached the bed was being wheeled out. A smiling mom and dad followed. The little boy, who looked about five, was talking to the young man pushing the bed. Stephanie smiled and prayed that that would be them soon.
Inside Emmy’s room, Stephanie could see Brett and Kim sitting near the bed. Thankfully Emmy was lying there, looking just like she’d left her. She stepped inside and Brett saw her. Standing and coming to her they embraced sharing the weight of the world for a moment. “How is she?”
“Dr. Hatcher said she’s got fluid in her lungs now too. Its from the pneumonia and a setback, but not unexpected. Other than that she’s holding her own.” He continued talking while Stephanie sanitized her hands and then took Emmy’s in her own.
Kissing her on the forehead she leaned over. “Emmy, you’d have been so proud of the team. They fought so hard and we won. Emmy we are still in the tournament. Sweetie they all want you to get better so they can tell you all about it.” Stephanie reached into her pocket and pulled out the wristbands. She tossed one to Brett. “Emmy, the girl had these bands made. It’s a wristband and its Bruin blue with the number 5 on it. They all have one and so do Brett and I. Sweetie you might not be playing but you’re there with them.”
Brett was smiling ear to ear as he put his on. Stephanie slid Emmy’s on her wrist just about the hospital bracelet. Brett pulled out his phone and took Emmy’s hand in his own and then took a picture of both their bands. He sent the photo to Stephanie. “Fuel for the Titans.”
“We are going to need it. The girls were amazing today but it’s going to take a lot to overcome their size.”
The afternoon passed slowly. Brett took the boys home, showered and took a nap while Kim kept Stephanie company. While he was gone Dr. Hatcher came back to do her daily interruption of sedation. Before he began he warned them that Emmy may become agitated. They were unprepared what that agitation might actually look like.
Once the medication wore off Emmy began to pull at the ventilator. The nurse quickly had Stephanie talk to her while Stephanie and Kim held her hands down. Once she regained some semblance of consciousness the nurse began to ask her questions. She was to blink once for yes and twice for no. Amazingly she understood. The nurse asked some simple questions to determine her level of consciousness and brain function. Emmy answered each question correctly and Stephanie began to cry.
Then the nurse moved on to her level of pain. Emmy said at first there was no pain. Then Stephanie spoke for the first time. “Emmy you have to be honest with her. Sweetie we really need to know if anything hurts.” The nurse asked again and a tear slipped from Emmy’s eyes. The nurse finally determined that she was in pain and that the chest tubes were the place it hurt the worst. Emmy looked at Stephanie who mouthed “Thank You.” The nurse explained to Emmy that they would remove those as soon as possible. Then she gave Stephanie a few moments to talk to Emmy while she prepared the next doses of the sedation and pain medication.
Stephanie told Emmy about the game and showed her the wristband. She also touched the one on Emmy’s wrist and told her that they had given her one too and that she was wearing it. More tears slipped from Emmy’s eyes. “Emmy, sweetie you keep fighting this OK.” Emmy blinked once. “I’m going to tell the girls that you are waiting to see that trophy.” She blinked once again.
The nurse interrupted. “Her heart rate and blood pressure are heading up again. I’m going to go ahead and push the medication.” Stephanie knew this meant Emmy wouldn’t be awake much longer.
“Emmy, Brett is going to be so sad he missed you. He’s been here the whole time holding your hand. I just sent him home to get a shower, he was beginning to smell funny.” Emmy’s eyes fluttered as the pain medication went in first. “Sweetheart we love you so much. We will be here when you wake up. You get better OK.” Stephanie leaned over and kissed Emmy on the forehead. With that Emmy’s eyes closed and her arms and hands finally relaxed.
The nurse noted things on the chart. “So did she do OK?”
“She did OK. Neural function was great. It took her a little longer than we like to arouse. So we will try to cut back on the medication some. We really have to be careful with the amount we are giving. This medication has a tendency to accumulate in the body. With her impaired kidney function, we are being extra careful with how much we are giving her. We should be able to back way down once the chest tubes come out.”
“When might that be?”
“There has been no drainage this morning and that’s a good sign. We’ve still had to remove fluid from inside her lungs, but the antibiotics really haven’t had a chance to work yet. I’ll talk to Dr. Hatcher and see what he thinks.”
“Thank you so much.” Stephanie was really grateful for the professional care these nurses were giving to Emmy. She knew that upstairs in oncology Emmy has gotten special treatment because of her situation. Down here she doubted the nurses knew all that this little girl had been through. Now the constant attention was probably more a sign of the critical nature of Emmy’s condition. Either way she was glad they were watching out for her.
When the room was calm again Stephanie wanted so bad to call Brett to tell him Emmy had woken for a few minutes. She didn’t want to wake him and she felt bad that he hadn’t been there for it. At least he’d missed seeing her struggle when she first woke.
The afternoons passed slowly. Kim left about 2 o’clock to go by the grocery and then home to fix the boys something to eat. She was going to feed them and then bring them to the game this evening.
In all the years she’d know Stephanie she had never seen her coach. David had taken her to see her play one time. It was senior night and Brett had asked his parents and everyone to come so that Stephanie would have someone there. Kim remembered seeing Stephanie as a kindred spirit at that point, knowing that both of her parents were gone too. Stephanie had been recognized that night and walked out on the floor alone.
At 5:30 Brett returned. “So any news.”
“A little, Barbara came in earlier and did some kind of test where they stopped her sedation to try to get her to wake up.”
“How did it go?”
“Good and bad. When she first started to wake she was agitated. I think is was in pain and confused. She started grabbing at the tubes for the ventilator. Barbara had Kim and I grab her hands and hold them down. She just kept fighting and tears were running out of her eyes. I tried talking to her and it was like she finally came to enough to realize I was there with her. After a while she opened her eyes and Barbara got her to answer some questions by blinking. She asked if she was in pain. Of course Emmy blinked twice to say no. So I leaned over so she could see me and I told her she had to be honest that it was OK to say yes.”
“She started crying again and then blinked only once. Barbara went through some other question and finally got her to say the chest tubes were hurting her.”
“Did you get to talk to her?”
“For just a minute. I told her that you’d been here the whole time but that you were starting to smell funny so I made you go home for a while. Then I told her about the game and showed her the wristband but her heart rate and blood pressure started going up. So Barbara had to give her some more medication. Brett, she was in so much pain that she actually cried.”
“She’s never done that before.”
“No.” Brett came over to where Stephanie was standing and put his arms around her. Without letting go of Emmy’s hand, she turned and buried her face in his chest. At 6:00 Stephanie finally agreed to leave and get something to eat, before heading to the game.
Stephanie stopped for a chicken sandwich at a fast food restaurant on the way to the gym. Her stomach was so knotted and full of butterflies that she didn’t really feel like eating. Just like this morning all the players were there waiting for her when she arrived. They all found a corner and the parents all followed. Before she began talking Kim and the boys, Taylor limping along on his crutches, came up behind her. “Well I have some good news this evening. Emmy actually woke up for just a minute this afternoon. I got to show her the wristband and she’s waiting for you all to bring the trophy to show her.” All the players and parents began clapping. Several of the players even hugged each other. They were so excited for the perceived improvement in Emmy’s condition. Stephanie didn’t need to tell them why she’d woken up. It was enough to just let them know Emmy was hanging on.
While they were talking her phone buzzed. Brett had sent the picture of his and Emmy’s hands wearing their wristbands. She smiled, “In fact Brett just sent this.” She passed the phone around and everyone got a chance to see the photo.
They talked about the game and Rick talked about some of the things he’d seen in their earlier game. The Titans had absolutely run over the team they’d played. Stephanie hoped this would work to their advantage. Rick also mentioned that their star guard had turned her ankle in the second half and that she hadn’t really played afterward.
“So Sophie we are going to test that ankle at the beginning of the game. Take it at her on offense and make her work it on defense. I want her sliding laterally every play.” Sophie nodded, understanding exactly what coach wanted.
“Inside we are going to shot fake every time. We found out last time that they love to block shots. Lets show the ball and get them off their feet, then take it up into them. Foul trouble might just give us a shot at this. So the keys to us winning this. Sophie and the guards make number 12, their point guard, work. Shot fake the inside and make them foul you. Finally, we are going to push it. Chaos will again be out friend. If we don’t really know what we’re doing then they won’t either. Fly around on defense and be unexpected on offense. If they aren’t pressing, Maria you bring the ball up the floor. Brittany go outside and take your girl away from the basket. Sophie’s bigger than number 12, so if we can’t post the post, we’ll post the guards. If they switch fine we’ll break them down on the drive.”
The buzzer sounded and the game before ended. “Go warm up. Take this serious, but girls have fun.” They all smiled and nodded.
She and Rick moved all their equipment over to the bench. This time they were playing on the main court. It was very different from the one they’d play at earlier. This time there were real stadium style seats and there were walls at each end, instead of a net that separated them from the next court.
The girls were taking it very seriously. They all shot some layups from each side and then the five starters shot while the others rebounded. Coach was glad to see shots going through the hoop. Maybe they wouldn’t be as cold as this morning.
With two minutes they gathered all the balls and headed back to the bench. They all clapped and then coach went over the game plan again. Then the starters sat while they announced them. Stephanie had a hard time not hearing Emmy’s name then the announcer did something unexpected. “Fans please join me in recognizing injured Bruins starter Emmy Taylor. Emmy was taken to the hospital during a game here last night. Our thoughts and prayers are with her as she recovers.” Coach Miles nodded to the announcer as the entire gym went quiet. Then the Titans were announced and the fans went crazy. Their entire side was full while on the Bruins’ there were really just the player’s parents there to cheer them on.
On the tip they ran Emmy’s play and trapped the player that got the tip. Sophie stole it and they scored two quick points. On the other end Maisy and Sophie went to work on the point guard. She was clearly limping on that ankle. Her moves were not as sharp as usual. Down low coach had made a decision to double team #44, their best player and make someone else beat them.
The ball went into the post and two people were immediately on 44. She quickly passed to the player left open. Number 25 mishandled the quick pass and Bruins ran the other way. Passing ahead they got another quick layup.
Following the same plan this time when 44 got the ball and passed to 25 she caught it but missed the wide-open shot. Then the fun began. Number 44 was getting frustrated and took it out on 25 she was yelling at her loud enough that everyone in the gym could hear.
Lincoln made the guard work again and ended up with a wide open 3-pointer for Maisy. The gym erupted. The Bruins were up 7 to nothing. Then the chaos started to pay off. They pressed full court and Brittany shot the gap leading to another steal. Instead of waiting for Sophie or another guard she dribbled the ball up herself. One of the big players for the Titans was guarding her and they stayed in the paint so Brittany stopped at the 3-point line and let it fly. Nothing but net.
At 10-0 the Titan coach called a timeout. The Bruins players ran to the bench where the subs gave them all high-fives. “Guys this could not be going any better. They are frustrated and starting to get mad at each other. Keep it up. Brittany, fantastic decision on the press. Now next time stay back, they are going to be hesitant on the pass and that may give the guards the time they need to get the steal. They underestimated you, make them pay.”
The rest of the 1st quarter went the same. The Titans did finally score with 2 minutes left on a forced shot from the wing. It did nothing to change their frustration.
In the second quarter the post went to work. Sophie passed it into Maria, who head faked and got #44 in the air, she then took it up drawing a foul. Number 44’s second. She’d already gotten a charge trying to force the ball in the paint. Coach winked as Maria went to the line. She was so proud of her players for following through with the game plan. Maria hit both free throws to give them a 15-point lead.
As the clock ticked down to half time the point guard landed funny on her ankle and took a seat next to 44 on the Titan bench. With both of their main players out, the Bruins took advantage. They were flying around on defense and got three steals in the last two minutes and were up 34 to 12 when the buzzer sounded.
At half-time Coach had everyone sit and relax. They were all breathing heavily and she feared they’d used everything in the first half. If Lincoln had scored 34 in a half there was no doubt that the Titans could score that, or more, if they let them back in this. Several of the parents must have felt the same way. Sophie, Maisy and Maria’s Dad’s came over with an armload of Gatorades. They passed them out to everyone, including Stephanie and Rick. Then with a pat on the back for the coaches they hustled back across the floor. Coach could only smile. If they pulled this off it would truly be a team win.
The buzzer sounded. “Alright guys, here we go. Stay loose, stay wild. Bruins on three.” As the Bruins players headed onto the floor the referees blew their whistle again trying to get the Titans to break their huddle. When Stephanie saw this she grabbed her team. “Lets really rattle them.” It was Bruins’ ball and they lined up on the wrong end. Only Sophie stood beyond half-court ready to take the inbounds pass. The referee started to say something but Sophie winked. Brittany was standing beside him ready to throw in the ball. The referee blew the whistle one more time while the other one told the Titan coach time was up they were handing the ball to the other team.
The Titan players rushed onto the court and without thinking ran to play defense on the Bruins players where they had lined up, on the wrong end of the floor. The referee blew the whistle and handed Brittany the ball. She threw it in to Sophie who ran, unguarded to the other end, the right end, for an uncontested layup. The other coach who hadn’t been paying attention looked down at Stephanie and gave her a bow. She just smiled. The Titan head coach was about forty years older than her and had been doing this a long time. Not to mention that he made about three times her salary and wasn’t a teacher. He got paid just coach.
He stomped his foot and yelled out plays to the Titan players. It didn’t matter though three minutes into the 3rd 44 got her third foul and took a seat. With her out the Bruins went to work on the point guard. They ran her all over the gym on offense and defense. She ran into pick after pick and finally seemed to just give up. With a minute to go in the quarter she limped over to the bench and the coach was forced to sub for her. Stephanie watched as the coach and the guard had a heated discussion and she took a seat at the end of the bench, three seats from any of the other players.
When the buzzer sounded indicating the end of the third quarter Lincoln was up by 24. Coach knew that they couldn’t let up. She’d seen teams like the Titans turn it around in a hurry. A trip to the state championship game would be just the motivation they needed to get it together.
“This is it, 6 minutes to our season goal a chance to play for the state title.” Then she looked at Sophie “Don’t let up!” Then to Maisy, “Don’t let up!” Then Maria “Don’t let up!” Stephanie continued this way until she’d told every single player, even the ones that hadn’t actually played yet. Taking a cue from Sophie every single player said back to her “Emmy wouldn’t!” By the end Coach was fighting tears that were threatening to spill over.
The referee blew the whistle and this time both teams ran onto the floor. Both 44 and the point guard were back. There was no tricky play to start this half just hard-nosed defense as the Titans got the ball.
On the first play they tried to isolate 44 in the post but the Bruin chaos did it again. They didn’t just double-team her they triple teamed her and Sophie grabbed the ball. Angry and frustrated 44 intentional threw an elbow at Sophie and connected with her face. The referee immediately blew the whistle and all three of the referees ran over to separate them. There was no need Sophie had played it perfect. She’d gone down with the ball and lying on the ground she’d smiled. This made 44 go nuts. She went after her with her arm drawn back like she was going to hit her. The referees had been right there and grabbed her.
Needless to say #44 was ejected from the game and asked to leave the building. Rick and Stephanie rushed over to Sophie who popped up once the threat was removed. She had a small cut on her cheek just below her left eye. Coach Jameson took her over to the sideline and cleaned it up and held some pressure on it. Five minutes later with a couple butterfly bandages she was back in the game.
Without 44 the Titans wilted and Lincoln began to pull even further away. Coach waited until there was three minutes left and they were up by 28 to begin subbing out the starters. She started with Maria. As each starter came out they turned to the crowd and held up five fingers, honoring Emmy. The last one to come out was Sophie. The crowd went crazy and she gave Coach a big hug.
In the end the Bruins won by 18. They had twenty-two steals and 10 three pointers. The Titans had thirty turnovers and did not have a single offensive rebound in the entire game. They also did not hit a single three pointer. Coach knew that a lot of things had to come together today to allow her team that kind of win over a team like the Titans.
“Well, well, well, the little team that could. You all just beat the #1 ranked team in the state by 18 points. What do you think about that?” Cheering erupted from the team. “As good as this feels. And yes this feels really good. We’ve got one more game to go. So here’s what we do. Tonight you bask in the glory of this win. Go out to eat, get some ice cream. Tell everyone what happened. But at 12:00 am this day and this win is behind us. You get to bed. This team laid it all out there tonight and you’re going to need rest for tomorrow. Sleep late eat a good breakfast and lunch tomorrow. Stay off your feet until noon then start working out the sore spots. I need you here by 1:30 tomorrow. The game is at 2:00 here on center court. We play North Summit. They are from all the way up near Cleveland and they’ve come here to win.”
Stephanie stepped back and Rick stepped forward. “I watched them play yesterday and they look a lot like the Titans. They’ve got a great inside player #23 who is about 5’9”, and a guard #0 who is as quick as Emmy. Good news is that the rest of the team is gigantic and slow. They run a motion offense and drive and dish, again a lot like the Titans. They are big and don’t shoot the three very well.”
Stephanie stepped back “So we are going to play them just like we did today. Chaos on the press, keep the ball away from the guard and pack it in on defense make them shoot from outside. On offense we are going to shot fake everything, they don’t have a deep bench so fouls are our friend, and shoot the three.” Coach stepped in the middle and had them all stand around her. “We can do this. You can do this.” The all did the Bruin cheer and then went to find their parents. Stephanie went with Sophie to find hers. She wanted them to look at her face make sure they didn’t think she needed stitches. Then she turned and found Kim and the boys.
“Oh my. I sure wish my kids had played. That was so exciting.” Kim was giddy with energy.
“Great job coach.” Jake patted her on the shoulder. “Dad will be proud.”
“Sometimes no plan is the best plan.” Stephanie smiled.
“The best part was watching their coach stomp and yell at his players. He was so smug last year.” Tyler put his good arm around her. “So what now?”
“Well you guys go with aunt Kim and celebrate.”
“I was thinking a movie.” Kim chimed in. Both boys nodded in agreement, even though all they really wanted was to go see Emmy.
“I’m going to head over to the hospital to check in and then I’ll probably come home tonight. Brett’s not going to let me stay again after I made him go this morning.”
At the hospital Brett was all smiles. “How in the world?”
Stephanie squirted the sanitizer again on the hands and went straight for Emmy. Kissing her forehead and taking her hand she looked at Brett. “I have no idea.” They smiled at each other. “We just didn’t run anything. It was a free for all and it worked.”
“I would have given anything to have seen Coach Brigham’s face.”
“It was classic. He got all red and stomped. He even messed up his hair.” The Titans coach had this snow white hair that was always perfectly in place, until tonight. “How has she been?”
“The same. They sucked some more fluid from in her lungs about 8:00. There hasn’t been any coming from the chest tubes though. Barbara said that was a good sign before she left.” Brett decided not to tell Stephanie about Emmy getting agitated again. Barbara had come right away and given her another dose of the sedating medication but it had scared Brett. Emmy’s head had started thrashing and her hands came up trying to pull the ventilator out. Unlike this morning it wasn’t time for her sedation test so they didn’t allow her to wake. Brett tried talking to her and held her hand throughout but it was like she wasn’t really there.
Stephanie took some time with Emmy while Brett walked around at while. She had been able to get out a couple of times going to games while he had been here in this intense place for almost two days straight.
After a walk, a cup of coffee and a candy bar Brett came back. He stopped at the door and watched Stephanie interact with Emmy. Brett remembered how great a mother Steph really was. The boys were so grown up now that it wasn’t everyday he got to see Steph like this.
The new nurse came up behind him and stopped beside him. “You guys are doing great. Not all of these little ones have parents like you.” She looked around the PICU as she said it.
“You know three months ago and she’d have been one of those.” The nurse looked at him confused. “She’s a foster child.”
“You mean she’s not her mother?”
“Nope we just met Emmy in August when she started playing with our team. Then we didn’t know about her needing a family or having cancer until September.”
“Its just amazing. They look so much alike.”
“Everyone says that. You should see Emmy with her eyes open. They even have the same amazing blue eyes.” The nurse smiled at Brett describing his daughter and wife.
“Are you going to adopt?”
“We’ve been trying. Emmy isn’t sure what happened to her mother. So there is a waiting period while CPS tries to locate her.”
“You know my brother is a private investigator. I could give him a call. He’d do this for free.” She paused and smiled at Stephanie still talking to Emmy about something. “This is important. A great family adopted my brother and me when I was 6 and he was 4. Their love and encouragement got me where I am today. I’ll give him a call.” She patted him on the back and walked toward her other patient.
“Thanks.” He whispered after her. This was a great thing and if he found something a big step forward. First they had to get Emmy out of here or it might not matter. Second he wondered if Emmy really wanted to know what happened. It was a conversation that they would have to have as soon as she was strong enough.
At 10:00pm Brett finally talked Stephanie into leaving. “Look go home and rest. You’ve been on an emotional roller coaster for the past two days. Tomorrow is a big day for the team they need Coach Chaos in top form.” He was teasing her about her new coaching philosophy.
“You’ll call if anything happens?”
Still unsure she stood there holding Emmy’s hand debating the merits of sleep in a real bed. Then the amazing happened. Emmy squeezed her hand. Shocked she looked up. “Brett, Emmy just squeezed my hand.” They tried to get her to do it again buy they couldn’t. She had received a dose of the medication just a little while ago. So Steph took it as a sign. With a kiss for Emmy and Brett she began to leave.”
“You can’t go out there by yourself. Let me find the nurse and have her stay with Emmy.”
Stephanie gave him a look. She was small but mighty he knew but they were downtown and her car was not close to the building.
He returned in just a moment with Emmy’s nurse in tow. “She’ll stay while I walk you out.” Steph looked at the nurse who nodded in agreement. Relenting she kissed Emmy again and grabbed her coat.