My name is Amanda Halloway, but most people call me Mandy. I’m thirteen, an only child with two loving parents and currently reside at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles This is because I have a rare type of lymphoma and the doctors gave me a year or two to live if any of the treatments helped. They haven’t, but don’t feel bad for me because that was three years ago.
Don’t get me wrong, my cancer hasn’t gone into remission, nor has it gotten any better, it’s simply progressed slower than the doctors anticipated. This is fine by me since it’s allowed me to share my gift with others.
I’ll explain more about that later. Right now, I’ve got to go see someone. I lower the side rail on my bed and scoot off slowly. Unfortunately, everything is slow going when you feel like crap, and have an IV line running from your collarbone, down your pajama sleeve to a pole a foot or so away. You learn really quick to be very aware of that transparent tube and its relative position to everything.
The very nature of our diseases here mean that we aren’t the run-of-the-mill hospital patients that are stuck in the arm or hand with a needle, have the plastic catheter pushed in and ta-da, are done. Most of us here, in a very short time, have been poked, prodded, biopsied, irradiated by X-rays, CAT scans, PET scans, had bone density scans in nuclear medicine departments, and have been given drugs that are toxic and poisonous enough to kill us, and that thing inside that tries to kill us.
Sometimes it’s a race to see which will kill us first. Not that I’m complaining, I’m just trying to give you a clear picture.
Anyway, back to the IV line. For most of us, we don’t have a typical IV line; we have what’s called a central line, or PICC line. It’s a more permanent for that is run into an artery, usually in the arm, under the collarbone, or even occasionally in the upper thigh (femoral artery). I’ve even had one put directly into my neck in an emergency.
Talk about being paranoid about pulling that one out.
Most of these central lines are inside of you a good twelve to eighteen inches, so they won’t be pulled out accidentally. On top of that, they are usually sutured or heavily taped down, so pulling it isn’t exactly a pleasant feeling – it’s actually quite painful - so we are careful. And God forbid one is pulled out. I forgot to mention putting one in usually involves needles, scalpels, and not a small amount of blood or pain.
But again, I digress. I stand up carefully, holding on to the upper bed rail to steady myself as my knees are shaky when I first stand up. Taking a few deep breaths to give the pain and unsteadiness time to pass, I slide my feet into my slippers, which look like big bear paws.
For me, they are nice and warm, but to the younger kids, they are funny. They are dark brown with three time toes ending in small black plastic claws that click on the hospital linoleum floor.
Grabbing my IV pole, I shuffle over to the small sink and mirror in my room and sigh as I look into it. I see a gaunt face with the green eyes, offset by the dark circles around them. It’s the natural Goth look.
I turn the water on and wait for it to warm before splashing some of it on my face. Ignoring the brush lying on the sink, I run my fingers through my hair – what little of it I have. I think I look like a new military recruit, with an inch of dark black hair thanks to my chemo and radiation treatments.
Today is a beanie day, I decide.
Quickly brushing my teeth, both for the benefit of others and to try to remove the chemical taste the medicine gives me, I’m ready to do what I must do.
More awake and gaining some energy, walking isn’t quite so difficult now, so I moved over to my nightstand. My rolling IV pole was in hand, and a grab my purple beanie before pulling it over my military-looking hair, wishing I didn’t look so much like Demi Moore in G.I. Jane, and head out of my room.
Out in the hall is an amusing mix of sterile white walls and cheery pictures painted in vivid colors. I tried to figure out whose idea it was to have the pictures only go halfway up the wall. I get that we are only so tall, but did no one think that we might look up, or that up is the only view we get while lying on a gurney, which is a fair amount of time for us, going to and from various procedures. They really needed something on the ceiling.
One of these days, when I find a How are we doing? Card, I’m going to fill it out and put that on it.
I look up and down the hall to see who might be out this early. My room is about halfway down the wing, with a playroom at the end to my left and the nurse’s station and elevators at the end to my right. There are fifteen rooms on each side of the hall (I’ve counted) and each room can hold up to two patients, although each room is usually only occupied by one kid. We’re usually separated by illness rather than by age, although the smaller kids are typically kept in their own area. Anyone from newborn to eighteen is considered a kid in the hospital and by about fifteen, the kids start to resent it.
I start my walk to the right, towards the nurse’s station and elevators. Since it’s still early, it’s somewhat quiet on the floor and my claws click as I walk, just a little louder than the ambient noise of the beeping monitors and medicine pumps.
I nearly reach the nurse’s station when I hear, “And where do you think you’re going this early, Mandy?”
Spending as much time as I have here, of course I know the voice. To provide stability to the kids, most of the nurses are assigned long term to the same oncology ward.
I say,” To see Felix down on three,” turning to face the heavyset nurse.
“I’m not sure he’s in any condition to have visitors today,” Nurse Olivia tells me. I know she’s trying to tell me that Felix isn’t doing well and it might not be a good idea to see him in such a condition. It’s not as if we aren’t all depressed as it is, and I know Olivia is just trying to be helpful, but she won’t stop me if I continue on.
I shrug my shoulders and say, “I can’t make him any worse.”
She stands motionless for a few seconds and although I can’t read minds, I know she’s thinking, Honey, I’m worried about you getting worse, not him. Out loud she concedes and says, “No, I don’t see how you could. Just make sure you’re back for breakfast. You need to maintain your strength.”
“Aren’t I always?” I say and waggle bye with the fingers of my free hand before turning and continuing to the elevators. I press the down button between the two elevator doors and wait.
The buttons work for all four cars, but I’m not fast enough to make it to the last car if it’s the one to come, and the third is a gamble, so I just keep at it until one of the first two come. I’m sure it might annoy some people, at least until they look out to see why the elevator has stopped and no one tried to enter it. Once they look out (if they do), their annoyance disappears quickly when they see me. This is usually the only time I catch the fourth one – when someone will hold it for me. The ire turns to sympathy and people go out of their way to be patient as need be.
I’ve given thought to milking it and taking an extremely long time to get there if people start out especially rude, but I can’t make myself stoop to their level, and instead tell them to go ahead, I’ll just catch the next one.
Getting lucky, the first car opens about ten seconds later. Inside is a woman in her thirties, and a boy about six. I start forward into the car and the boy, which must be the woman’s son, moves to wedge himself behind her. He looks afraid like I have the plague and am contagious. The mother looks at me with a mixture of concern and pity.
I make my way in and turn around, moving my IV pole across in front of me, and press the button for the third floor.
The elevators are big, made for moving beds with extra equipment if necessary, and the mother and son were standing at the rear, but I still heard a light smack and the mom whisper, “Don’t be rude.”
The door opened with a ding at the third floor and I pushed my tall metal companion forward. Looking over my shoulder I say, “I don’t consider him rude. He doesn’t understand. But don’t worry about it here, we’re all used to it and try not to take offense. It comes with the territory.”
The mom stood there with her mouth agape like she was trying to find something to say to mollify me, but the doors closed before she was able to reply, which was fine by me.
The third floor was laid out the same as the fourth floor and I started to my left. As I got to the nurse’s station the unit clerk greeted me.
“Hey Mandy! Who are you headed to see today?”
“Felix,” I told her and she frowns. I quickly add, “I already know he’s not doing so great. Nurse Olivia told me as I was leaving.” I could tell she was contemplating telling me I couldn’t, so I just continued looking at her, rolling my IV pole back and forth slightly. It was a gentle reminder that I wasn’t doing so hot myself.
I see her eyes soften and she says, “Just don’t be too long, you look tired yourself.”
“I told Olivia I’d be back for breakfast.”
“Good, I hear the French toast is really good today if you ordered it.”
“You know I always do.”
The clerk tilts her head down the hall and says, “Beware of Erika today. She’s in a mood.”
I give her a thumbs up and start down the hall again. Felix’s door is the third on the right. I shuffle down the hall and into his room, plastic claws clicking all the way.
The curtain is partially open and I can see no one else was in the room, so I pass the curtain and pull it closed behind me, blocking the view from outside the room. Now someone would have to come into the room itself to see inside, which is what I want – warning.
Walking up to the chair beside the bed, I leave my IV pole slightly behind me so I can use both hands to scoot the chair up against the bed. With that done, I move my IV closer and sat down.
Felix Yrigoyen is deeply asleep, not quite in a coma but in a sleep he would not come out of. I know because I’ve seen it before. He was going to die, and sooner rather than later. That is what the adults were trying to get across to me without actually telling me.
The thing is, I already knew it. That’s why I was here. I actually have a better idea of how dire the situation was than the medical staff. That is part of my gift – the part that actually sucks.
I look over at Felix and his jungle of tubes and cords. Sadly, I can name all of them and what they do for the most part. Monitors track his heart rhythm, pulse, breathing rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygenation, to make a few.
He has a central line like I do, so his hand is free. I reach over and take his hand in mine, not worrying about catching a line or cord.
Felix is only eight, and like most cancer patients, small for his age, so my had encloses his smaller one. We sit like this for a few minutes while I regain my strength from the walk down here.
I will need all my strength for what was to come next, and my return trip back upstairs.
I let my mind wander while I relax. For some reason, I find myself thinking about a week ago.