At home the boys and Kim were watching a movie. Stephanie kissed the boys on the head but refused to sit with them. She knew if she did she’d fall asleep there a she needed sleep in a real bed.
She showered and laid out clothes for tomorrow and then changed the sheets on Emmy’s bed. There was a chance that the virus was still lurking on them and Stephanie didn’t want to take any chances. Brett had already changed the sheets on their bed and told Kim it was ready for her. They overlooked that last night and Kim had slept on the couch.
Snuggling down in the bed Stephanie was asleep in about twenty seconds. Her body won out over her mind and she fell into a deep sleep undisturbed by dreams or worries.
That sleep wasn’t to last. At just after 4:00am her phone rang. She bolted up in the bed, scared by both the suddenness of the call and the bad news that call must carry with it. Brett would only wake her if something were really wrong.
“Hello.” She hadn’t even thought to look and see who it was.
“Steph, Emmy’s taken a turn. Her blood pressure has dropped. They are running some tests now to see what caused it. They think it might be the sedation so they have cut that off.” He paused. “She’s going to wake in pain and I’m not sure I can take that alone.”
“I’m on my way.” She hung up threw the clothes on she’d laid out. A little makeup and her hair in a ponytail and she was out the door ten minutes after she’d ended the call.
She drove the speed limit, but barely. It was Saturday night and the roads were teeming with police, just ready to pull over someone who’d spent too much time at a bar to be driving. Steph knew that getting pulled over now wasn’t going to help Brett or Emmy.”
Twenty-four minutes after Brett called she was in the elevator heading up to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. She stepped off and headed down to Emmy’s room. It was full of people. There was the respiratory therapist they’d seen the night before, the nurse she had met last night, and a doctor.
Stephanie sanitized her hands and stepped around behind everyone and joined Brett by Emmy’s head on her right side. “Is this Mom?” The doctor noticed her slipping in. “Yes.” Brett must have had them waiting on her. She had texted him to say she was pulling in.
“Ok well here’s where we are. Emmy’s blood pressure has dropped. We’ve done some blood work and determined that the sedation itself is the cause. This can happen sometimes with Propofol. Now Propofol is already our second choice the drug we usually use can be hard on the kidneys.”
“So what so we do now?”
“We give the drug a chance to clear her system and see how her blood pressure responds.”
“Without the drug isn’t she going to get agitated again?”
“Yes. That’s why you’re going to be really important for the next few hours. Nancy won’t leave this room. We cannot sedate her again until her blood pressure comes back up. We’re still alternating acetaminophen and ibuprofen every four hours for her fever. Those will give her some pain relief. Once the pressure starts coming back up we can start the morphine back.”
Stephanie was terrified. She’d been there earlier when they had done the sedation interruption and while she understood it was necessary it broke her heart.
The doctors left and Nancy stayed, constantly monitoring Emmy’s vital signs. Slowly her blood pressure began to rise but so did her agitation. Emmy began to rub her legs back and forth under the sheets. Then her head began to move back and forth. Like earlier Stephanie began to talk to her. Her arms came up to pull at the tubes and Stephanie and Brett took hold of them. “We can restrain them if we need.” They looked at each other over the bed and both shook their heads. They would hold onto them all night if they had to there was no way they were strapping her down.
“Emmy listen I need you to calm down OK. Brett and I are right here. Squeeze my hand if you understand.” Stephanie waited but felt nothing.
“She squeezed mine.” Brett looked up smiling. The smile quickly withered. Emmy’s eyes opened and they were full of tears. “Sweetie we are right here. Baby this will be over soon. You’ve got to hold on OK.”
Brett looked up with tears in his own eyes, and Stephanie knew that she had to distract Emmy from the pain and the inability to communicate with them. “Emmy, we won yesterday. We beat the Titans. You would have been so proud of the team. They played so good.” Stephanie then took the next hour describing the entire game to Emmy. When she was done she talked Emmy through her game plan for the championship.
Nancy and Brett were amazed at the connection the two shared. Two hours later the same doctor returned. “OK her pressure seems to have stabilized. Its actually a bit on the high side now.” He walked up to the bed Emmy was watching his every move. “Are you in pain?” She looked at Stephanie.
“Be honest. Don’t tell us what you think we want to hear.”
Emmy blinked once for yes. “Can you tell me what hurts the most?” Again one. He started with the vent. Emmy blinked twice. He touched her side and she blinked once. “OK. The chest tubes hurt the most?” Again one blink. “Emmy we are going to do everything we can to get those out but if we do it too soon your lung will collapse again. OK?” One blink that she understood. “I’m going to start the pain medication back first. We’ll watch the blood pressure over the course of the next hour and then we’ll slowly introduce the new sedation medication.” He typed some stuff in her chart then unlocked the morphine drip attached to her IV and turned it back on. After about three minutes it beeped and Emmy’s eyes crossed and then closed. They all watched as her blood pressure was taken and the numbers had returned to normal. “The blood pressure going up is a sign of pain. She might be really good at hiding the outward effects but physiologically her body is still reacting to it. Now we watch and make sure it doesn’t drop and then we’ll go back to the sedation.”
“If the morphine does this, why can’t we just use it?”
“Morphine is extremely addictive. I gave her a big dose right now just to relax her and because she’s been awake so long her temperature is ticking back up, her other vitals were going down. Once we start the sedation we will cut that dose in half. Sedation is much easier to wean a patient off of then a narcotic like morphine.”
“I can assure you that right now she’s very comfortable. You two should get some rest also. I’ll be back in about an hour for rounds with the day shift doctors.”
“Will Dr. Hatcher be there?” It was a Sunday morning and she wasn’t sure.
“He is on call this morning so if an emergency arises he may be busy but otherwise yes he’ll be there.” Stephanie was glad to hear that. This doctor had been great so far but she had come to trust Dr. Hatcher and she wanted to hear his take on the events of this evening.
The doctor left and Brett and Stephanie resumed their posts. One on each side holding tightly to Emmy’s hand. They fell asleep quickly and didn’t wake again until the group of doctors and interns were one room away.
Dr. Hatcher had been called away to do an emergency surgery. The surgery was slated to last at least five hours. Stephanie and Brett said a silent prayer for the family of that child.
During rounds a determination was made that the chest tubes had not collected much over the last twelve and her pain would be greatly reduced if they were removed. Surgery was scheduled for 5:00 this afternoon. Hopefully Dr. Hatcher would be available if not one of the other surgeons would step in. Thankfully it was the only time an operating room was available. It should give Stephanie just enough time to get through the game.
With the day pretty well planned Brett ran home to shower and change while Stephanie stayed. At home Kim was worried when Stephanie wasn’t there this morning. Brett recapped the night for her and the boys. Then showered and fell asleep on the bed.
Stephanie did the same on Emmy’s bed. The PICU was so quiet that it was easy to sleep even during the busy daytime hours. She was so sound asleep that she didn’t hear Barbara come in and give Emmy her nutrition supplements. She didn’t even wake at noon when Brett came back. He had to pat her on the shoulder kiss her head.
“Hey, whoa what time is it?”
“I guess I fell asleep.” Barbara walked in as they were talking.
“You’ve been asleep about 2 and a half hours. But I’d say you needed it I heard about last night. You guys did fantastic.”
“Thanks. It was rough on Emmy I know.”
“Kids are resilient though, she’ll bounce right back from this. You watch.”
“I hope your right.” Stephanie kissed Emmy and whispered something in her ear. “Well I better get going. We’ve got a State Championship to win.”
“Good Luck Coach.” Barbara was quickly becoming their ICU Holly.
“Thanks, we are going to need it without that one.” She looked at Emmy one more time.
Brett pulled something from his coat pocket. Steph saw it was the wristband. He slipped it back over Emmy’s hand and positioned it on her wrist. “We’ll be right there with you. Make sure the boys text me the score. I’ll tell Emmy.” She pulled Brett close and hugged and kissed him.
She stopped downstairs and grabbed a coffee before the drive home. The little rest this morning really had helped, now all she needed was a shower. Instead she was again greeted with food. If it wasn’t for Kim Stephanie didn’t think she’d have eaten anything other than coffee and fast food for the past three days. She walked through the door to a homemade chicken salad sandwich, which she devoured without speaking. “Kim that was amazing. I can not tell you how much I needed that.”
“Mom, Aunt Kim’s a really good cook maybe she could just stay with us after Emmy comes home.” Stephanie caught the wink at Kim and threw a dishtowel at him.
“Or you could just move down to Kentucky with her.”
“Oh burn.” Tyler laughed at Jake. Everyone knew that her boys would never make it on the farm. They were city boys born and raised and while they loved visiting they weren’t cut out for the amount of work Kim’s boys had done growing up.
“OK you guys get ready. I’m going to shower and we’ll leave about 1:00.”
“Got it.” The boys took off downstairs. Well Tyler took off and Jake slowly gathered up his crutches.
“How is it feeling?”
“The ankle is great, my armpits are getting sore though.”
“We can tape some towels around the top to give you some more padding.” He gave her a dirty look.
“No thanks I’ll just tough it out.”
“That’s my boy.” More concerned about his appearance than comfort. He was truly a teenage boy.
At exactly 1:00 they all loaded up in Stephanie’s car. The full impact of today hadn’t hit her until she closed the door of the car and started the engine. She was coaching a team in the championship game of the State Tournament. This was the pinnacle of her career as a coach and yet it really didn’t seem to matter. Life and death was so much more real this year then basketball. Really she had never felt that way before.
Her parents had both died in back to back years during basketball season but it was nothing like this. She cried, attended their funeral and then went back to playing. They were older and both sick and suffering, her father had smoked cigars most of his life and it had lead to heart problems and eventually a stroke. Her Mother had developed Alzheimer’s early and fought valiantly for five years. In some ways it was good that her father went first. Her mother had already advanced so far that she didn’t even know who they were, and she didn’t even know when her husband was gone.
Their illnesses and deaths were nothing like what they’d experienced this season. To see a child suffer was something different all together.
At the gym the team was again waiting and they were excited and very worried about Emmy. Coach hadn’t texted them any updates and the parents had begun to worry that was a bad sign. Even though they could have gone on and taken the court since they were the only gave that day, they headed to the corner where they’d started each game. It just felt like good luck. They all sat down and Coach joined them. “Coach how’s Emmy doing?” Sophie was team captain and everyone looked at her prodding her to be the one to ask.
Coach looked down at the clipboard, wiping away a remaining black mark from the previous game. “Emmy had a rough night. Things just aren’t turning around like the doctors had hoped. So she’s still in the ICU and they are still pumping her full of stuff hoping her body will start fighting.”
“But Coach she’s still with us.” Maria was the eternal optimist on the team.
“You’re absolutely right she is. Brett put her wristband back on this morning before I left. So she is definitely with us, right here.” Stephanie patted on her chest. “Now girls I’m not going to lie. This is going to be a tough game. They are every bit as good as the Titans. They run a crushing man-to-man defense and they are tall. If you get the ball in the paint they are going to swat at it. We are going to spread the floor, pull them away from the basket and then you have to move without the ball and break them down. Force them to help on drives and pass to the open person. Rick watched some of their game on Saturday and they switch on picks. So we will run some sets to get a guard on Maria or a post on Sophie and Maisy. Then you guys make them pay.”
Stephanie looked down at her phone. She’d gotten texts from several other coaches giving her little tips about North Summit. “Guys they run our stack play out of bounds and a box like ours but the guards cross on the blocks. Be ready and 4’s and 5’s don’t get beat on the blocks. You know where they are going.”
“On defense we will run our 2-3 zone and pack it in. Make them hit outside shots. If they do we’ll extend it, but we are much smaller as a team if it turns into an inside game they’ve got the edge. Don’t let them do that. OK lets go warm up.” Stephanie stood and Rick patted her on the back. She turned and hugged him.
“Really rough night?”
“The worst I’ve ever experienced.”
“Its a good thing you and Brett are in her life.”
“I can’t imagine her going through this alone.”
“Remember she’s not. You all are there and we are here. Every one of those parents and players are praying like crazy for that little girl. God’s got to hear them eventually.”
“I hope so I don’t know how much more she can take.” Stephanie sat on the bench and watched both teams warm up. She had a sinking feeling about the game as her team was missing everything, while everything seemed to go in on the other end.
The other coach approached her with a few minutes to go before the game. “Coach Miles…” He extended his hand. “Hope your player is doing better?”
“Still in ICU but holding her own.”
“That’s good to hear. Our girls have been praying for her. She’s one fantastic player. You daughter right?” He’d heard she was and she wasn’t. Another coach thought that she had played at a different school last year, but he knew Coach Miles had been coaching the Bruins for a long time now. He also had seen Emmy play on Friday and knew that she looked just like the coach.
“Yes.” She didn’t explain.
“Makes it even harder.” She nodded. “Good luck today Coach.”
“Thanks, you too.” Stephanie wondered why coaches said that. She really didn’t wish him good luck. In fact she really wished him bad luck. If his team didn’t hit a basket all game it would be her dream come true and she knew that he really felt the same about her team.
She’d never played against him before. He was just a few years older than she was and he’d been at North Summit his entire career. Over the years they had won the state title several times, twice they’d even done it in back to back years. She had heard whispers that he was tyrant to play for. There were even several players that had transferred schools because they didn’t want to play for him.
He got results though. In addition to the numerous titles his students always got serious looks by college recruiters, even at the middle school level. He had former players at Connecticut, Tennessee, and South Carolina right now. His players were always highly recruited by top high schools. Some of that was that his school was right outside of Cleveland and was much larger, probably three times more enrollment than Lincoln. That gave him a much larger talent pool to choose from.
The clock ticked down to two minutes and the team huddled up. “Alright girls this is it. All the blood, sweat, and tears of the past five months got you here. This is what you’ve been fighting for. Now no matter what the score at the end of 4th quarter I could not be more proud of you guys. You all have fought through more than any team I’ve ever seen. You all have stuck together and picked each other up, you’ve picked me up and kept me going this weekend. Now I’m going to tell you. Keep believing. Believe in yourselves and believe in this team.”
The girls did just that. They believed. They ran every set perfectly. They got back on defense. They drove and passed and scored.
But they came up short. Exactly one point short.
With seconds to go they were up by one with the ball. North Summit’s coach screamed for them to foul and they did with five seconds left. They fouled Sophie who had just had the game of her life. She scored 23 points, had 12 assists, and 11 rebounds. She had also shot a perfect 8 for eight from the line. As a team the Bruins had only missed two free throws all day.
Stepping up to the line Sophie had hit the first. Stephanie yelled out before her second shot. “Pressure but don’t foul.” In a perfect world Stephanie would have had them foul, but five seconds to go the length of the court and hit a shot was a chance she was willing to take. Sophie hit the second and North Summit took the ball out of bounds. They ran a well-rehearsed play where they picked for their point guard. She got open dribbled twice and threw up a hail mary from three quarter court. The ball hit the backboard and went in. The Bruins lost by one.
Amazingly, among the screams and pileup by the other team there were no tears from the Bruin players. They simply walked back to the bench and lined up to shake hands. They waited several minutes while North Summit celebrated and finally the other team got it together. After shaking they all huddled around coach. “I am amazed by each and everyone of you. Those of you on the bench, that have played very little in this tournament, have been cheering your team on, talking to the players on the floor, helping them out, making sure they had water during time outs. Thank you. To the subs who came in off the bench ready to play. Thank you. To the starters who played the best middle school basketball game I’ve ever seen. Thank you. If this were on ESPN they’d been saying ‘Instant Classic.’ Each and every member of this team has worked this year to shape this team into what its become, the 2nd place team in the state. Girls that is something I am very, very proud of.”
Over the speakers the announcer began. He announced the all-tournament team first. Maria made it and then he announced the tournament MVP and Sophie got the award. The look on her face was priceless. She grabbed coach and they hugged for what seemed like forever before she walked out to center court to receive the award.
Then they announced the runner-up trophy and the whole team walked out. Sophie whispered something to the announcer and he handed her the microphone. Wiping tears away she spoke, “We made it here, to this championship game because of someone who couldn’t be with us today. One of our teammates played all season while going through something pretty dramatic. She played all season long while going through round after round of chemotherapy and even with that she ran circles around us. She taught us how to play hard and how to play together as a team. Often throughout the season she carried us. Scoring 35 points in one of our games this season, racking up 15 steals in another, and then finally when we made it here her body couldn’t take anymore. She collapsed in our first game on Friday and has spend the last three days in ICU at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.” Sophie stopped and wiped more tears and composed herself. “But through these last three games she was here with us. All the things she taught us over the course of the season helped us get to this point. Emmy this is for you.” Sophie raised the trophy and the rest of the team lifted five fingers in honor of Emmy. Stephanie couldn’t take it she had to sit and let the enormity of the moment wash over her. She buried her face in her hands and cried.
The team came back and everyone one of them had tears in their eyes. Stephanie hugged each and every one of them and thanked them again for their work this season. They didn’t really pay any attention to the other team’s trophy presentation. There were very few in the gym who did. Most were so moved by the little team from Lincoln Middle School that they wouldn’t remember next week who’d actually won. But Sophie’s speech was something that would be talked about for years to come.
Coach took her time with the players and their parents, but she was also watching the time. Her sons and Kim came down and congratulated them. She could tell that Kim had been crying also. Stephanie even suspected that the boys had as well. “Mom the parents wanted to know what they can do to help you, Dad and Emmy out.” She nodded.
Everyone had heard Jake ask and they all gathered around listening. “Parents and players, thank you again for the most amazing season I’ve ever had as a coach. Players thank your parents.” The players all clapped, “We would not be here as a team without them behind us.”
“Girls today is special. When you get home tonight write down how you feel. Trust me twenty years from now you’re going to reread it and live it all over again. Enjoy it you earned it.”
“Now we will eventually get together but unlike most years the tournament fell later and Christmas is coming up. So I will get something together after the first of the year.”
“I will continue to let you know how Emmy is doing. Right now she can’t have visitors. In the ICU they are only allowing Brett and I in the room with her.” She glanced down at her watch again. “She has not been doing very well with the sedation. Imagine that.” The parents and players laughed knowing how hard it was to slow her down. “They are going to do another surgery this evening in a couple of hours to remove the chest tubes. They hope that will make her more comfortable maybe she’ll rest and give her body a chance to fight the infection. I will keep you updated. Now you guys go enjoy today and the Christmas break.” They all began to gather their things and several parents hugged her and thanked her for all her work with the team. Once they were all gone she helped Rick get everything together and loaded in his truck. He was going to take it all back to school for her.
“Stephanie, you made this team what they became. You see that right.” She didn’t respond. “Stephanie your care and love for those girls have shaped them since the moment they walked into that gym. You molded those girls into a team three years ago as 6th graders. Then Emmy came along and they folded her right in, because that’s the kind of team you created. There wasn’t any jealousy or rivalry, they all just became a team and that’s what got them here.”
“Thanks Rick. But you have to remember you and Brett were a big part of this too.” He nodded like she had. “This is a lot more than a one person job. You’ve been here for the bad and now the good.” She stopped. “Lets hope there’s a lot more good coming.”
“There is. I can feel it.” Rick knew in his heart that Emmy was going to recover and next year was going to be even more amazing.