Carl Brother’s Funtimes Carnival.
38 minutes later . . .
We’re sitting at a bench, eating hotdogs as Angela looks at me with curious, introspective eyes. Like she’s doing math on a higher level.
“You fooled me, Jack.”
She takes a tiny bite of her otherwise untouched hotdog. “You had me thinking you’d never done that before. But you’re like some knife throwing expert or . . . I don’t know. Did you work at a carnival or in a circus?”
Now I have to laugh. I tell her, “No way. Remember . . . I’m scared of clowns?”
There’s a big bag of multicolored fluffy horses in a see-through plastic bag on the table next to us. She just looks at the bag for a moment, a pleasant grin on her face, and she’s about to say something important, and then we both hear her phone ringing.
For a second she doesn’t react, she just blinks her brown eyes at me. But then she reaches back, apologizing by holding up one of her fingers. I turn back to my hotdog and she answers her phone.
I hear her saying, “This is Angela . . . what!” Her face drains of color, “ . . . when did this . . . ” and she’s just nodding. “Um, alright . . . okay . . . I’ll be there as soon as I can.” And then she looks at me, terrified.
What is it, Angela? What’s wrong?
“It’s, um, Jesse . . . ”
“ . . . she’s at Parkland Memorial Hospital. An ambulance just rushed her there.” And she’s starting to tear up, her eyes getting watery, “She collapsed, and they don’t know what’s wrong, yet. That was her mom, they’re on the way.”
I jump up, grabbing the plastic bag of horses that suddenly doesn’t seem so heroic a gesture, and I say, “Let’s go!”
She nods blankly, sniffing a few times as a tear start to escape the delicate edges of her beautiful sad eyes.
41 minutes later . . .
We’re walking to the reception desk, past people with power tools and kitchen cutlery sticking out of their heads.
We get to the desk and an overworked nurse looks up, her brow moist from sweat. It’s freaky cold in here, but she’s been racing around, still breathing hard. “Yes?”
“We’re looking for Jesse Taylor, she was just admitted by ambulance,” I say. Hospitals are my thing. On our way over here I called Ms. Josephine and told her, in my coded kind of way about what had happened, and what I saw at the book store. She said she’d be on her way. I figured, if this girl is about to pass to the Land of Sorrows, the best thing for her would be a soothing voice to remember. Maybe Ms. Josephine could do something for her, I don’t know.
The nurse typed quickly on a monitor, “Third floor, Observation Room Three.”
I grabbed Angela’s trembling hand and led her to the elevators. See, I’ve been to this hospital before. They had a fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imager) that was used to look for problems in my screwed-up brain.
We made our way to the third floor, and as soon as the elevator doors opened, a group of people noticed Angela. All of them seemed beaten, without hope. They were all huddled together, most of them crying or on the verge of tears. Angela ran to them, and I walked slowly behind her, giving them space. I felt like an outsider.
I absolutely, one-million percent, do not want to see Jesse in the Observation Room. They’ll be spooks all over the place . . . or worse. I’m trying to be positive.
As I approached, Angela grabbed my hand, “This is my friend Jack.”
A few of the women glanced at me and nodded. I didn’t know what to say, so I asked, “What do they know, so far?”
“She was working at the book store and she just collapsed.”
That makes sense because the spooks were milling around that store. Like they already knew it would happen there. That’s an unnerving prospect. But, I don’t say anything. I just listen.
One woman, who I gathered to be Jesse’s mother by her big blue eyes and blond hair, she was talking between tearful sighs, “She . . . might . . . be . . . in . . . a . . . coma . . . ” And then she just slowly dropped as people grabbed her. It was like she didn’t have the energy to keep herself standing.
I can’t imagine what it must feel like to watch your child die.
I whispered to Angela that I would be right back, and I approached an orderly. See, like Ricky when he worked at the hospital, the orderlies usually know as much as the doctors do, especially at the early stages of a diagnosis.
I pulled a young, chubby kid aside. His name tag said, Clark. He looks just like a Clark should look. “Hey, Clark . . . what can you tell me about the Taylor girl they just brought in?”
He looks at me quizzically.
“In Observation Room three?”
His eyes show signs of recognition as he searches furtively to make sure he isn’t going to get into trouble.
I’m a family member, I reassure him.
He nods, “We’re just getting her medical records, but it looks like she may have had a pre-existing heart abnormality, from when she was a baby. The collapse was a massive myocardial infarction.”
“But they would have fixed that right after delivery . . . right?”
He shrugged, “If it was large vessel failure it would have been, but it didn’t look like she’s ever had circulatory failure, or tetralogy of fallot.”
What’s that? I ask, two spooks hobbling past me heading in a different direction.
“That’s blue baby syndrome, where there is ventricular septal defect, pulmonary valve stenosis, right ventricular hypertrophy, you know, overgrowth, and a shift of the aorta from the left to the right side so that it receives blood from both sides of the heart.
“The more it constricts, circulation has to rely increasingly on accessory connections between the aorta and the pulmonary vessels.” He crosses his arms, “The pulmonary trunk may even be transposed so that the aorta emerges from the right ventricle and the pulmonary trunk form the left ventricle.
“ . . . but in a case like that, she would have had several other abnormalities just to be alive.”
Clark purses his lips, his eyes looking upward as his brain scrambles for answers, “ . . . okay, like, she’d have to have a ventricular septum defect that permits oxygen to reach the tissues. It’d mean that her defect was allowing for some mixing of venous and arterial blood. But that is so rare. Possible, just rare.”
I asked him, Is there anything they can do?
“When her records come in we’ll have a better picture. Right now we’re just guessing. They don’t know for certain what it is that caused the MI. If it’s something like early-onset arteriosclerosis, and there’s not too much damage to the myocardium . . . ”
He grinds his teeth together unsure, “ . . . maybe she comes out of it. We keep her out of v-fib and we’ve got a good chance. She’s young. Strong.”
Thanks, Clark. I’m Jack, by the way.
“Okay, Jack. If I hear anything else I’ll find you. Your going to be here for a while.”
I nod, and Clark disappears into the crowd of people zig-zagging and criss-crossing in every direction. All of them racing towards or away from pain and suffering. All of them walking right through a gaggle of spooks that just appeared from another room.
This place is busy. There’s representation from every group: The living, the dead, and the creatures in-between.
I look at Angela, and since I’ve been talking to Clark, she’s been crying. She walks over to me and places her arms around me, hugging me as her head rests on my chest. This is the tainted side of tenderness and affection. This is her needing something warm to hold on to as her friend passes into the long goodnight.
I just hold her.
We probably stood there for an hour, spooks ambling by, people with their heads hanging low on their shoulders, her sobbing, and me just holding her. My job right now is to just be something solid for her to grasp. My hands are cupped behind her head so that I can protect her from this. Inoculate her from the pain, as if she’s a small fragile child.
And really, she is.
Out of the blurry crowd I see Ms. Josephine making her way towards me. I look up, both happy to see her, and sad that she has to be here. Usually, when Ms. Josephine’s at a place like this to read your charts, it’s check-out time.
Angela, I whisper, I want you to meet my, well, Ms. Josephine. She’s family.
Angela looks up, her eyes puffy and swollen, “Nice to met you.”
“Come ’ere, child,” Ms. Josephine says as she pulls Angela to her and they embrace.
She’s whispering things into Angela’s ear while she nods. And while she’s doing this she looks up at me, and I know she’s helping Angela deal with all this. I don’t know exactly how. I just know.
A few minutes later Clark comes back, his head low, his cheeks full of air like he’s holding his breath. This is the look you get right before the bad news comes.
“Jack,” he says, pulling me to the side so the others can’t hear. “The doctor’s going to come out in about five minutes, and it’s going to be rough.”
I swallow, “Okay. Give me the deal.”
He searches the periphery again, clearing his throat, “Her records came in. She had a . . . basically a heart block. It’s a lack of synchronization of the contractions of the upper and lower chambers of the heart—the atria and the ventricles . . . ”
The whole time he’s doing this he’s holding his left fist as if it’s the heart and pointing with his right index finger.
“ . . . the complete lack of ventricular contractions caused the heart block. Now the ventricles are contracting more slowly than the atria.”
What caused that?
He sighs through his nose, “Disease of some portion of the pathway where the contractive impulses travel through the heart.”
Can that be treated? I ask, already knowing that it’s not going to help.
He squints, “Yes, but . . . you either need heavy drugs, or a pacemaker. Something to regulate the heart.”
But you don’t seem so optimistic.
He steps a bit closer to me, lowering his voice to almost the point where I have to read his lips, “She seems to have progressive destruction of the myocardium. This has been slowly killing her for years. She just never had a heart attack, and it was missed during her physicals. I’m sorry, man. I don’t know what to tell you. We’re sure going to try.”
I look at him, my hand on his shoulder, “It’s really important that she’s comfortable right now. Will she gain consciousness?”
“She’s awake right now,” he says. “But if you need to tell her something, do it soon. We’re talking hours, not days.”
“Sorry, Jack,” he says as he turns away and disappears into the crowd again. And now, there’s more spooks than there are people . . . and there are a lot of people.