Sunday faded into Monday and Emmy continued to sleep. Holly returned in the morning to run her blood work again.
“How is she really doing?” Brett was concerned by her complete lack of energy and hoped it was normal.
“Great, better than could be expected. She fought a terrible illness that would have taken many in her condition. She’s a fighter and that’s all there is to it. Her urine output is good. With one kidney that’s one of the worries we had. We’ll run blood work again to make sure that all the side effects of the sedation are reversing. Her blood pressure is much more stable and most importantly her O2 saturation remains steady. With the amount of lung issues she’s had its amazing that she’s recovered this quickly.”
“Now the NG tube and central line will stay even when she leaves. The more nutrients we actually get into her the quicker she’s going to recover. Her body was at such a deficit when this hit that its going to take several more days before we even get her back to even. As you saw she still has some nausea. It’s hard to tell whether its lingering effects of chemo or if it’s the slurry of medications she’s been on. It may even be just sitting up after laying down for so long.”
“Holly, the nurses were great downstairs, but it sure is great to be back here.” Holly covered Stephanie’s hand with her own.
“Its good to have her back here, because it means we are one step closer to having her picture on the other side of that wall.”
As they talked about the prognosis and the challenges they still faced there was a light knock on the door. Brett opened it and a small quiet cheer rose from the hall. Jake, Tyler and Kim had come for a visit.
Holly put all her things away and the left to get Emmy some ice chips. The throat was in good enough shape to begin allowing her to suck on a few at a time.
“So how is she?” Kim was the first to speak. Jake and Tyler couldn’t tear their eyes away from Emmy’s little form in the bed.
“She is doing so much better. Guys how do you think she looks?”
Jake wasn’t sure what to say. She looked so pale and small and there were wires everywhere. “She looks so little.”
“This bed is bigger than the one she was in before.”
Tyler asked, “What is the tube in her nose?”
“That’s the feeding tube.” Brett
“Does it hurt?”
“I don’t think so. She hasn’t mentioned it.” Brett looked at Stephanie knowing that they should ask her because even if it did she wouldn’t say.
The boys sat on either side of Stephanie on the couch and she put her arms around them. Careful to miss Tyler’s shoulder. “I know she still looks bad, but she really is doing a lot better. Aunt Kim can attest that this is a step in the right direction.”
Kim nodded. “Guys she really does look better.”
They had been there about thirty minutes just watching her sleep when Holly came back. “Still snoozing. That’s good. Sedation isn’t really the same as sleeping so we don’t know how much real rest she’s gotten over the last few days.” Holly did a few things on the iPad she carried with her and then pulled a small cylinder from her pocket. She held it up for the boys to see. “Time for dinner.” Attaching the end of Emmy’s feeding tube to a machine she put the cylinder in place and turned it on.
“What is that?” Jake asked.
“Its like baby formula
“The pump pushes a tiny bit in at a time that way Emmy’s stomach is better able to handle it.”
“How long will she have to eat like that?”
“She can eat normal as soon as she feels like it. This is to supplement what she’s losing by throwing up so much.”
“When she goes home this will go with her and Dr. Hatcher will check her weight when she comes back for a checkup. Once she’s gained enough and your Mom and Dad feel like she’s keeping enough of what she’s eating down then we’ll take it out.”
“So its not permanent?”
“Oh no it and the central line are just there until Dr. Hatcher thinks she’s recovered enough to take them out.” The boys were absorbing everything.
“So Holly, what’s a central line?” The boys had often wondered about all the stuff Emmy went through during chemo but were afraid to ask. Emmy was asleep and Holly seemed OK with answering them so they just let them all out.
Holly looked at Stephanie who nodded. She walked over to Emmy and pulled the shoulder of her gown open just a bit. “A central line is just a permanent IV.” The boys stood to look.
“Is that in her heart?”
“Kind of but not really. It’s attached to her subclavian artery which comes out of her heart and runs just under the collarbone.”
“Does that hurt?”
“Not really. To go home we will tape it to keep the ports from getting hung on anything.”
“Wow she’s been through so much.” Tyler wanted to reach out and hold her hand but he didn’t want to wake her.
“Mom, I just keep thinking what if we hadn’t found out about her not having a family. She’d be here alone right now.”
Holly knew she’d been here alone enough. “When she had her first surgery she was alone the whole time, except for a few minutes here and there when Mr. Case or someone from the home would visit. For kids like Emmy we try to be in the room more often. For her whatever nurse was on duty would stay 30 minutes or an hour after shift to play cards or a game or something with her.”
Kim was sitting across from them listening to the nurse talk. She had always thought that her childhood had been hard, but now hers seemed like a bed of roses.
As they talked Emmy began to stir. Stephanie stood up and smiled as she opened her eyes. “Hey you took a good nap. You’ve got a couple visitors.” The boys stood up.
“How are you?” The boys stood and came up to the bed. Emmy shook her head to let them know she was OK. Kim stood and came to the other side.
“Sweetie, its good to see those beautiful blue eyes.” She mouthed thanks.
“She’s not supposed to talk much.”
Brett pulled out the iPad like he’d done earlier when she had woken just after lunch. He opened an app then handed it to Emmy. “Here just write on this.”
She smiled and used her finger to write Thanks.
Tyler asked, “How are you feeling?”
Emmy wrote “Tired.”
Jake asked “Are you in pain?”
This time she thought about it and decided to be honest. “A little in my chest.” He looked at Holly.
“Emmy is it where the chest tubes where?”
“Yes, not bad.” She quickly wrote back.
“Holly, what are chest tubes?” Tyler was trying to figure out everything he could. After all this with Emmy he was seriously thinking about being a doctor so he could help kids like Dr. Hatcher had done for Emmy.
“When Emmy collapsed at the game she wasn’t getting enough oxygen. The infection had caused fluid to build up around her lungs. Her left lung had even collapsed from the pressure. When she got here they took her into surgery and the doctors placed a tube between her ribs and into the space around her lungs and they drained all the fluid out. They did it on both sides and left the tubes in to drain anymore fluid. Yesterday the fluid had stopped developing so they removed them and stitched everything up. So now that’s probably a little sore.”
Emmy nodded, this was the first time she’d ever heard what had happened. She wrote on the board “What day is it?” Stephanie smiled they really hadn’t talked to her at all about everything that had happened.
“Its Monday night.” Holly told her. “You were brought into the Emergency room on Friday morning. They did the surgery and since you were on a ventilator they put you in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. You were there from Friday afternoon until last night when they moved you here.”
Emmy nodded and her eyes went down. Stephanie and Kim knew exactly what she was feeling. She felt bad for causing them trouble. “Aunt Kim, what are you doing here?”
Kim knew she couldn’t say she’d come to help out. “I came to check on the how the boys were doing and to see Stephanie in action on the side line.”
Emmy’s eyes got big and she began feverishly writing on the iPad. “Did we win?”
“We made it all the way to the championship and lost on a last second shot.”
Emmy smiled. “You don’t remember us talking about this before?” Brett asked.
Emmy shook her head. Holly quickly explained. “The sedative has amnesiac effects. She probably doesn’t remember anything from the last few days.” Emmy shook her head and wrote.
“I remember having trouble breathing and then nothing.” Stephanie was glad that she didn’t remember the agitation and pain she’d experienced over the past three days.
Emmy thought about something and quickly erased and wrote again “Coach does the team know?” Those big blue eyes were near tears when she looked up at Stephanie. “Yes. They were so scared when you collapsed.” Emmy nodded. “Sweetie they were all shocked and couldn’t imagine how you had played while undergoing all that.”
Emmy looked at Holly and wrote, “How long do the central line and feeding tube have to stay?”
Holly knew how long and hard Emmy had fought to keep them from placing them. “Until Dr. Hatcher thinks you’re getting enough nutrients on your own.”
“I have to go to school with them?”
Holly didn’t know how to answer so she turned to Stephanie. “Sweetie everyone knows. It will be just fine. They are going to be so happy to see you it won’t matter.” Emmy drew in a deep breath which was a mistake. She felt the rattle deep in her chest and felt the need to cough, even though it hurt so bad.
Everyone stepped back and let Holly do her job. She placed the stethoscope on her chest through the open gown in the back. “Sweetie there’s some fluid in there again. You have two choices we can do another breathing treatment and see if we can loosen it and let you cough it out. If that hurts too much we can get Dr. Hatcher to suction it out.”
Emmy laid back “Breathing treatment.”
Holly got everything together and the boys and Kim said goodbye. Brett gave her a kiss on the forehead and said he was going home to rest but would be back first thing in the morning. Emmy wrote “Coach why don’t you go too. I’ll be fine.”
Coach thought for a minute and there was no other way to say it. “You’re my daughter and I’m not leaving you alone. We haven’t for the past three days and I’m not about to start now.” Tears were creeping into Stephanie’s eye. “I know you haven’t had adults you could count on for most of your life, but we are here now and we are not going anywhere. Emmy you have a family and we love you very much.” Emmy couldn’t speak or write tears began to roll down her cheeks. Stephanie put her arms around her and Emmy hesitated and then embraced her, hugging her as tight as the sore, tired little body would allow.
As they finally separated Brett stepped forward “Could I give you a hug too.” Emmy shook her head yes. He hugged her gently and she tried with everything she had.
The two boys just gave Emmy fist bumps. It was interesting to watch Jake try to maneuver up to the bed on his crutches. Then Kim stepped forward and took a seat on the bed beside Emmy. “My mother died when I was born and my dad died when I was 7. I grew up in the system just like you. So if you ever want to talk I’m just a phone call away.” Emmy wrote Thanks. Kim leaned over and gave her a kiss on the forehead. “Welcome to the family. They are a crazy bunch.” Emmy smiled looking around the room they did look like a crazy bunch. Stephanie and Brett looked worn out, Tyler was still sporting the sling for his arm, and Jake was hopping around on crutches with a cast on the lower part of his leg.
Emmy began coughing. “We better get out of here and let Holly give Emmy the breathing treatment before we end up back in ICU.” Brett was ushering them out. He stopped and kissed Stephanie on the lips, Kim hugged her and whispered something in her ear that Emmy couldn’t hear. Stephanie kissed each of the boys. They had to lean over for her to get their foreheads.
When everyone was gone and the excitement faded Holly slid the mask over her face and turned on the nebulizer. “Why don’t you go shower and I’ll stay with her?” It was well after 7:00 and Stephanie knew that Holly should have been off the clock. “We haven’t gotten to talk for a while.”
“Ok, that would be great.” Stephanie grabbed her bag and headed into the little bathroom attached to her room. They had missed that when she’d been in ICU.
After Stephanie was gone Holly sat on the edge of the bed. “Remember breathe deep.” She let her take a few more deep breaths. “So how are things going at home?”
Emmy wrote “Good.”
“They seem really nice.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
Emmy wrote “?”
“It’s just that you’re still keeping them at arms length.”
Emmy looked down and avoided eye contact for a moment. Holly was her friend, probably the only real one she had, but even Holly didn’t understand. She slowly wrote, “They’ll get tired of this eventually.”
“Emmy, I really think these two are different.”
“Maybe.” Emmy wrote and gave a half smile. Holly didn’t know about the six times before this that Emmy had gone into a home hoping that this was the one. Several had lasted six months or so, and she’d only been with the Miles’ for four months. There was still time for them to get frustrated and send her packing. In fact she figured that this would do it.
“Emmy, I know you’ve been hurt more than any child should ever be, but you can’t go through all this alone. Give them a chance OK. I think the Miles’ will surprise you. They haven’t left your side since you came in.”
“I wish they would.”
“If I wasn’t so much trouble maybe they wouldn’t get tired of me.”
Holly felt her heart break right in her chest. Emmy took another few deep breaths of the medicine flowing through the oxygen mask while Holly tried to think of something to say. Before she could the door to the bathroom opened and Stephanie came out.
She stopped Holly’s face immediately told her something was wrong. “Everything OK?”
Holly wanted to say something, but didn’t. “Yeah just talking.”
Stephanie let it drop but she hoped that Holly would let her know later what they had talked about. Holly went around to the machine and checked to make sure Emmy had gotten all the medication. “Here you go.” She removed the mask from Emmy’s face and put the oxygen tube back under her nose. Then back to the computer to type in some more. “Emmy on a scale of 1-10 how’s your pain.”
Emmy waited a second. Then held up 1 finger. Holly knew there was no way she was in no pain.
The nurse feared she’d made things worse by saying anything. “Its time for pain medication if you’d like any.”
She shook her head no.
“Ok you’ve got about three hours left on this feeding. Are you feeling nauseous?”
Again Emmy shook her head.
“Well I guess that’s it for tonight then. I’ll be back in the Morning. You get some rest tonight OK?” Holly took her hand and squeezed it. Emmy held it a moment and mouthed Thank you. Holly wasn’t sure what she was thanking her for, but nodded and said “my pleasure.”
“Emmy I’m going to run grab a drink and have Holly show me where the ice chips are OK.” Emmy nodded. She reached for the remote to turn on the TV.
Once the door closed Stephanie reached out “Holly, what’s wrong?”
“Stephanie every time I talk to her another little piece of my heart breaks.”
“I just asked her to give you all a chance. I told her I thought you were different. She said that after all this it would probably be too much for you all too. I told her you and Brett hadn’t left since she was brought in and she said she wished you would that maybe if she was less trouble you all wouldn’t get tired of her.” Holly’s eyes were brimming again. “What kind of child thinks about herself like that?”
“A kid who has been beaten and abandoned again and again. How much of Emmy’s story do you know?”
“Only that she was orphaned several years ago and has been in the system a while.”
“Kim explained that orphaned kids either act out in order to get attention, or they become invisible. Emmy’s mom disappeared when she was 7, they think. From that point on she’s tried everything to be invisible. She avoided everyone and lived on her own for a while. When it got cold she tried to hide in the school she was attending and the police found her. At 8 fell into the system. In the system she’s been in two group homes and we are her eighth foster family. None of which lasted longer than seven months. She’s been abused by a foster parent or another kid in the home three times.”
“Through all that she’s never seen herself as anything more than someone’s burden so she does everything is can to lessen that burden. I don’t know how we change that.”
“Love. You can see it in her eyes, the kid wants so desperately to be loved by someone.”
Holly found her a water bottle and showed her the ice chips. After a hug Holly finally headed home and Stephanie back to Emmy. In the room Emmy was laying back watching something on the Disney channel. Stephanie got a cup and poured the water into it along with some of the crushed ice. “I love this kind of ice.” She got another cup and poured a second glass of ice chips. “Do you want to try some?” Emmy reached out for them, smiling. Steph noticed how her hand trembled as she did.
“Now that everyone’s gone be honest with me, how are you doing?”
She picked up the iPad waking it up it went directly to the sheet of paper where Emmy had been writing her responses to Holly. Her last response “If I wasn’t so much trouble maybe they wouldn’t get tired of me” was still there. Emmy tried to erase the page but Stephanie saw it.
She took the iPad from Emmy and sat it to the side then and took both of her hands in her own. “Emmy there’s no getting tired of you. You’re a part of us now.” Emmy looked away, wanting so badly to believe her, but knowing how this usually went. She let go of one of Emmy’s hands. With her hand under Emmy’s chin she lifted her head until their eyes met. “Emmy I know we haven’t made the adoption final yet. But you are my daughter no matter what a piece of paper says. And I will never get tired of you and send you back into that system.” She knew that all the words in the world weren’t going to change Emmy’s mind or her heart. Long ago she’d erected a wall around her heart to protect it from the pain of losing another family. “I know it’s going to take time for you to trust us. And that’s OK, we’ll be right here when you are ready.’
Emmy began to cry and Stephanie couldn’t take it. If words weren’t going to do it then it was time for action. Maybe allowing Emmy to keep her distance had been part of the problem. Stephanie kicked off her shoes and climbed into the bed with her and just held her until she felt her relax. “How about we watch the tournament games.” That brought a smile to Emmy’s face.
Stephanie skipped the first game. She wasn’t sure how Emmy would react to seeing her collapse or how everyone reacted to it. After the Titan’s game Emmy whispered, “you coached a heck of a game coach.”
“Thanks. You know after the game the coach asked how my daughter was doing. Everyone there was shocked that I hadn’t actually given birth to you. Do you think we really look alike?”
“I don’t know. Everyone at school thinks that you are my real Mom.”
“What do you remember about your Mom?”
“She had dark hair that was going grey and blue eyes.”
“How old was your Mom?”
“She was older when I was born. I think she was close to 55 when she disappeared. Her birthday was right after the New Year.”
“Wow, I figured she was really young. But now that Emmylou Harris thing makes more sense.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well if she had been as young as I thought she would have been obsessed with Taylor Swift or Miley Cyrus, not an older singer like Emmylou Harris.”
“I’m not sure about Taylor Taylor, but think I would have liked Miley better as a name.”
“I don’t know, you seem like an Emmy to me.” Emmy shrugged. Coach longed to know more. “Do you know what kind of job she had?”
“She worked a lot of different minimum wage jobs. School was always important to her, she always said that she never got to finish school so it was up to me to finish high school and go to college to have a better life.”
“Do you know what happened to her family?”
“No she never mentioned them she just said they were gone. I remember in kindergarten we did a family tree project and she had to send in a note that we didn’t know where our family was from.”
“Was she an orphan too?”
“She never said it, but that’s what I always thought. There were no pictures of her as a baby or kid.”
“What about your pictures?”
“I don’t know what happened to everything. We lived in a trailer and one day there was a note on the door that the lease was up and that we were being evicted. I put a few things in a bag and hid it in a shed in the trailer complex. The next day I went to school and came home and everything was gone.”
“Emmy do you want to know what happened to your Mom?”
“I don’t know.” Emmy thought about it.
“One of the nurses in the ICU said that her brother is a private investigator and could look into it for us. To try and find her. Mr. Case said that we have to find out where she is. If she’s alive we have to get a termination of parental rights before we can officially adopt you. If not we have to wait a longer period of time while they try to contact her.”
“Well they have to make sure that you didn’t just run away.”
“It will be five years, tomorrow since she disappeared. I showed up at school everyday, don’t they think if she was alive and wanted me that she’d have shown up before now?” The kid’s logic made sense to her.
“I think it’s just the way the system works.” She paused before asking the next question, “Emmy, where do you think your Mom is?”
She took a painful deep breath again. “I think something happened to her.” Then she paused, “But I’m afraid maybe she got tired of me too.” Tears again formed in those bright blue eyes, tears that were quickly mirrored in Stephanie’s nearly identical eyes.
“Emmy I can’t imagine anyone who really knows you getting tired of you.” She pulled Emmy close and hugged her.
“I want to know.” Emmy whispered and Stephanie smiled
“I’ll text Brett right now.” She pulled her phone out and did just that.