The hospital building was shrouded in a thick cloud of mist. It seemed ominous.
Taylor and her mother sat in the waiting area, clutching each other’s hands, glancing at each other every now and again. There were hordes of other sick people gathered around them.
Daimhin did not particularly like hospitals. He spent most of the last three hundred years always in close proximity to one or another hospital.
He nodded in greeting when Gustav, a covert operations guardian, walked past him while escorting a reluctant middle-aged woman. Gustav had to pull the woman by her arm while her slippered feet slid across the tiles. Gustav stopped and looked at him puzzled until Daimhin inclined his head toward Taylor sitting in the chair in front of him. He stood behind her chair, his hands resting casually on the metal frame of her backrest, making sure not to touch her.
Taylor looked especially pale today and this morning, after she got out of bed stiffly, he witnessed her taking another hand full of pills. She was saying so little, he had no idea how she felt.
Half an hour later, her mother brushed a kiss on Taylor’s temple, then whispered something in her ear when her name was called. Taylor smiled and leaned closer to her mother.
They led the way to the office of a tiny, forty-something doctor. As Daimhin followed Taylor, he kept his eyes fixed on the back of her head, not allowing his gaze to drift down her body.
The doctor, her name on the plastic plaque on her desk said she was Dr. Dunne: Neurologist, smiled reassuringly, as she said, “We’ll need some more blood from you today, Taylor. Is the new medicine making you feel worse or is the nausea better?”
Taylor took a sip from the water bottle she was clutching nervously between her two hands in her lap, and then wiped her mouth. She had been through this so many times before, and each time she had a glimmer of hope that she would be miraculously cured. “The new medicine is better with the nausea, but the pain in my head used to be only sharp and erratic jabs now and again, but since I started drinking this new medicine the pain is dull and persistent. It never seems to go away.”
Dr. Dunne said sympathetically, “I can try to up your dosage. We have discussed this, remember?” Taylor nodded, while Dr. Dunne continued, “This type of cancer presents several symptoms. However, as I have told you, you will experience more and more headaches, double vision, facial pain, changes in hearing, difficulty swallowing and a feeling of dizziness.”
Taylor knew her symptoms, she had to live with them each and every day for the last few years. She did not need a run-down of them again. The tumour at the base of her head was in a very close relationship with her brain and her spinal cord. The only thing keeping her going was her schedule seven pain medication and her mother’s will to keep her alive, which Taylor feared might not be enough.
Daimhin moved around the desk and stood behind Dr. Dunne’s chair. He peered over her shoulder and read the file opened up in front of her. He scanned her hasty scribbles and he studied the black and white X-rays. Taylor’s brain was presented in little black and white slides to build a three-dimensional picture of the inside of her head. There were CAT scans and MRI scans. No wonder she was so fragile and pale and that is why her name appeared on his list yesterday. This time the system corrected itself in such a way that Daimhin no longer had the option of not touching her and ushering her away.
He moved away from Dr. Dunne’s chair to stand behind Taylor.
Dr. Dunne smiled encouragingly while pushing her chair back from the desk. “Go ahead and get changed, Taylor.”
Her mother rose from her chair to follow Taylor, but the doctor put a hand on her arm to stop her. She waited for Taylor to close the examination room door behind her, and then she insisted softly, “It’s time for Taylor to go into hospital, Michelle. She won’t be able to manage her pain for much longer. Soon she will need medication which I cannot prescribe for self-medication.”
“Can you give us another few days?”
“It’s Wednesday today. Spend the weekend together, but I am going to make all the arrangements for her to be booked into hospital by Monday, and I am sorry, Michelle, I am not sure she will last that long without stronger pain medication. I just want to make sure you understand the odds of keeping her at home.”
“We’ve been through this before, doctor. And I have read the statistics, it is not as if we have an alternative, do we?” Michelle’s voice got caught in her throat as she said, “I just want her to feel as normal as possible for as long as possible.”
“Then we’ll hope for the best.” The doctor walked toward the examination room. She knocked at the door, waiting for Taylor’s soft, “Come in,” before she entered the room.
Taylor lay on the thin metal bed in a hospital gown. She looked incredibly fragile.
Her mother took her place next to the bed, smiling down at Taylor encouragingly. A strand of her hair clung to her cheek and her mother brushed it back behind her ear.
Taylor asked worriedly, “Are you okay?”
“You are the one on the table.”
Taylor laced her fingers together on her flat belly. “Been here, done this. It’s the results, I’m worried about, but I shouldn’t think too far ahead.”
The doctor started testing her reflexes, took her temperature and her vitals. Stuck a needle in her arm and drew vial after vial of blood.
When Taylor and her mum arrived back at their home, Taylor asked, “Can we have take-out for lunch?”
“I don’t want you eating junk food.”
“Mum, I heard Dr. Dunne when she thought I couldn’t. I know I have to go to the hospital on Monday, so can we just have pizza tonight. Please?”
Her mother sighed and smiled. “Fine. As always you have me wrapped around your little finger.”
Taylor hugged her mother to her chest tightly. “Oh, Mommy, I love you so, so much.”
Her mother smacked a wet kiss on her cheek.
Taylor stepped back hurriedly, laughing. “Gross, Mum!”
They split ways at the stairs. Taylor stopped on the first step. “I am going to read a little, or do you need help with anything?”
“No. Now that we are having pizza, I don’t have much to do except pick up the phone and place an order for delivery.”
“Remember. Hawaii for me, with triple cheese, please.”
“I’ll always remember.” Her mother hurried down the short corridor toward the kitchen. “I’ll call you when the pizza gets here.”
Taylor rushed up the stairs and then across her bedroom. She skinned out of her jeans and pulled on a pair of comfy boxers. With a sigh of relief, she crawled into bed. She was feeling a little dizzy and breathless, but she did not want her mum to notice. She wanted to enjoy the last few days of normality, because she had a feeling that once she checked into the hospital, there was an enormous possibility she would never return to the comfort of her room, and her welcoming bed, with the comforting pillows, and the perfect body-fitting hollow in the mattress. After she fluffed the cushions behind her, she stretched over the edge of the bed, her t-shirt sliding up her waist, to reach for her book on the bedside table.
Daimhin should have turned his back the moment her t-shirt slid up her waist. He wanted to brush his fingers over the pale skin exposed by the crumpled up shirt. He wanted to kiss her just to see if her lips were as soft as they looked. His rampant thoughts jolted him. He tried to order his thoughts, and he had no idea how he was going to concentrate on anything for the rest of the day, but he had to get to work.
Taylor pulled the book from the bedside table and plopped it on her lap. Her gaze lifted to him, and for a brief moment he thought she could see him.
Daimhin pulled his list from his jeans pocket and scanned it. He returned to the same hospital he was that morning with Taylor and her mother.
He stood next to the hospital bed in the Emergency Room. Doctors and nurses were running around the room in a frenzy. A motor car accident. The young man on the bed was covered in blood, his left arm was ripped in various places and his one lung was collapsed.
Daimhin reached for him and touched him.
In the flicker of an eyelid, the young man stood next to him.
Christopher smiled as his hands patted down his own body. “I survived. I cannot believe it.” Then realization dawned on him, as he saw his body still on the bed. He turned to Daimhin and asked in disbelief, “I died? I’m dead?”
“I am sorry to say Christopher that you are, but no need to worry, this is not the end.”
Daimhin put his arm around the young man’s shoulder as he turned him away from the bed. The doctor was trying so frantically to save Christopher’s life; he did not yet notice it was over.
The young man asked, “What happens now?”
“Come, I’ll show you the way.”
When the young man was safely escorted across to the other side, Daimhin worked like a mad man to complete the rest of his list for the day.
As he escorted the last soul across, he saw Violet.
She did not look amused. “I am not even going to ask because I can see in your face that you have not shepherded Taylor yet.”
“I’ll have it done, before next week. Before the audit.”
“I sincerely hope so, Daimhin.” She walked away from him. “I’m tired. It’s been a long day.”
He watched her walk away.