The bed seemed awfully crowded when my alarm went off. When my eyes were able to adjust to the morning light, I discovered the reason. Some time during the night Larry, Lenny and Chris joined us. My king size bed was overflowing with sleeping boys. I slipped out of bed trying not to wake any of them and went to take my shower. They were still sound asleep when I finished in the bathroom.
Slipping on a pair of slacks, polo shirt and sandals I went to the kitchen to see if Hildy was preparing breakfast. We didn't have to be at the airport in San Antonio until after nine.
Hildy had breakfast well under way when I got to the kitchen. I could see that she had tears in her eyes. I went to her and without a word hugged her shoulder. She told me she needed about ten more minutes before she would be ready for the boys so I went to wake them. As I stood in the doorway watching my angels sleep I could hardly contain my pride in them and the love I had for them. But at the same time I cursed the disease that had the potential for taking one of my sons from me. Before this overwhelmed me I started shaking the boys and telling them to get up and get ready for breakfast.
It didn't take long after I mentioned breakfast that they were up and off to their bathrooms to wash up. They did take just long enough to give me a hug before disappearing.
"Is Samson going to come with us?" Joel asked as the boys finished eating.
"I'm sorry son, but we can't have pets in the apartment where we will be living in Houston. I had forgotten about him in the rush to arrange everything for our trip. Do you think it would be alright if JR took care of him while we were gone?"
"I guess so. I wish Samson could come with me."
"I'll call Eric and see if it is okay with him if Samson can stay with them. I know JR likes Samson and would really like a dog of his own."
I hoped that I would catch Eric before he left for the office. As luck would have it he was still there and agreed to keep him. When I heard him ask JR if he wanted to keep Samson you could have heard the answer all the way from their house without the benefit of the telephone. Eric said that he would have Mary Jane bring JR over in a few minutes to pick him up.
The goodbye scene with Samson was enough to tear your heart out. As each boy hugged Samson he got his ear licked. Joel's goodbye was the longest as he tried to explain to Samson that he would be back soon and that he was to behave for JR while we were gone. Samson looked into Joel's eyes as he received his instructions and you would almost believe that he understood what Joel said. As Mary Jane and JR drove away with Samson looking back all the time they were in sight there was not a dry eye in the group.
The van was stuffed by the time we got all eight of us inside plus what luggage that would not fit on the roof luggage rack. We finally got started for the airport shortly after eight. Our plane was scheduled to leave San Antonio at 9:15 for the 53 minute flight to Houston's Hobby airport.
The boys were all excited about flying since none of them had ever been in a plane before. Becky Sue was a little nervous too. She had never flown either which was surprising since she was twenty-one. Hildy had only flown once and that was a long time ago back when the planes were all propeller driven. I knew that they were all in for a treat.
I parked the van in the long term parking lot and called the jet service to pick us up and transport us to the general aviation area and our plane. The boys had their noses glued to the windows of the van carrying us as they took in everything. Every plane that they saw was a new cause for excitement. When the gate opened and we approached the plane that would take us to Houston I thought the van would explode from their enthusiasm.
The van drove up to the jet and our driver got out and helped Hildy out of the van and then started unloading our luggage. The boys exited the van and stood transfixed at their surroundings.
Thankfully our flight attendant stepped out of the plane and began ushering the awestruck boys up the steps into the plane. Hildy and Becky Sue followed, although I detected a little reluctance from Becky Sue. After seeing that the luggage was stowed, I followed them into the plane's interior.
Captain Burleson greeted each of the boys and asked them if they would like to see into the cockpit. That was a foolish question as they all hollered their answer. So he took them two at a time into the cockpit and showed then the array of instruments. As they came back into the cabin area their mouths were literally open in amazement. Joel and TJ were first in with Chris and Becky Sue being the last.
Hildy and I saw that they got into their seat with their seat belts fastened. Their eyes got as big as saucers when the pilot started the engines and the plane started to roll toward the runway. You could hear the intake of breaths when the plane began picking up speed as it raced down the runway. Once we were airborne you could see the look of surprise when the landing gear retracted and there was a loud thump when the wheel well doors closed. After that the smiles returned to their faces.
A few minutes later the captain announced over the speaker system that we were free to unfasten our seatbelts and move around the cabin. I don't think the boys even heard the announcement. Their noses were pressed against the windows trying to take everything in as we continued to gain altitude.
The flight attendant got their attention when he started through the aisle with donuts and cartons of milk for the boys and Becky Sue and coffee for Hildy and me. It must have been the excitement of everything that was happening but about 15 minutes after we were airborne, TJ began to squirm in his seat.
"What's the matter, TJ?" I asked.
"I gotta go to the bathroom," he whispered.
"Come with me, I'll show you where it is."
"They got one on the plane?" he asked with surprise.
I led him to the small restroom and showed him how to flush the toilet and stood outside the door while he took care of business. When he finished he ran back to the other boys and extolled the virtues of the in flight facilities. This caused each of them to have to inspect and use the restroom whether they needed to or not.
It wasn't long before our captain announced that we were beginning our descent into Houston Hobby and for everyone to take their seats and fasten their seatbelts. Our flight attendant helped TJ get his fastened and made sure that the others were buckled in as well.
The boys became saucer-eyed again as we made our descent and they looked out the windows and saw the tall buildings of downtown Houston. The thump of the wheel well opening startled them as did the change in the engine noise the closer we got to the end of the runway. Our touchdown was smooth but there was a collective "Ooooohhh" as the wheels touched the concrete.
It took a while to taxi from the end of the runway back to the terminal area where our pilot parked the aircraft. The limousine was waiting as we walked down the steps from the plane.
Becky Sue, who had been very quiet all through the flight, came up to me and said, "Crane that was fantastic. I can't wait to tell Mary Jane and mom. Thank you!"
The ground crew removed our luggage from the plane and stowed it in the trunk of the limo. I shook hands with the pilot and co-pilot before I walked to the limo and got in.
"Wow! This sure is a big car," Joel said. There was agreement from the rest.
"It's called a stretch-limo because they cut it in two and add several feet of car and then put it back together. That way it has room to hold all of us," I told him.
On the way to our apartments I pointed out the Astrodome and Astroworld to the boys as we past them. Our apartment was in an area call the Museum District which was only a mile or so from M.D. Anderson. It didn't take us long to get there since Hobby was not too far from the apartments.
I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of room that we had in the apartment. The three bedrooms were equipped with queen size beds. Two of the bedrooms shared an adjoining bathroom while the third bedroom had its own. The kitchen was well equipped with everything that you would need to fix meals. The only thing I saw that we might need was another chair for the table. There were only six and we would need at least seven. There was a large TV in the main living area plus another one in what would be my bedroom. All in all it was going to be comfortable but not as spacious as home.
The driver had helped us to carry our luggage from the limo to the apartments. When he finished I told him we would need him back at noon so that we could go somewhere to eat and that we would need a smaller car and driver to take Hildy grocery shopping and to take Joel and me to the hospital.
We hadn't gotten our suitcases fully unpacked when the courier service arrived with the rest of our stuff. The closets were full by the time we got everything put away. I was hooking up the PlayStations to the TV's when our driver arrived back to take us to lunch. The boys were ready to eat. It had been almost two hours since they had the donuts on the airplane.
I herded the boys into the limo followed by Hildy and Becky Sue. I told the driver to go to the nearest or most convenient Ninfa's. (Ninfa's is a famous Tex-Mex chain of restaurants mainly in the Houston area.) He took us to the one on the southwest freeway. I had never been to this one but I was sure that the food would be good. The boys loved Tex-Mex food so I knew that they would be happy with my choice.
When we got there the place was fairly crowded so we had to wait about ten minutes before we were seated. The aroma of all the food made the boys impatient. The chips and salsa started to disappear as soon as we sat down at the table. I wanted to order one of the Ninfaritas (Ninfa's version of a strong frozen margarita) but thought better of it because of the doctor's appointment later today. While we waited the boys watched the tortillas being made by two of the restaurant employees. They were fascinated at how quickly they could turn them out. We did manage to put away a good amount of food when it arrived.
It was almost two o'clock by the time we got back to the apartment. The boys wanted to go see the pool. I knew that they wanted to go swimming but told them they had to wait an hour to let their lunch settle before Becky Sue could take them for a swim.
As the time for Joel's appointment approached I became more and more nervous. I thought I knew what to expect but didn't know whether I was ready for it. Joel had been very much himself all day. If he was nervous he didn't show it. I think that I was nervous enough for both of us.
Our smaller car arrived at 2:30. Hildy decided to ride to the hospital with us and then have the car take her to do the grocery shopping. I would probably be at the hospital with Joel for quite a while. I didn't know if I would be able to force my self to leave him in the hospital by himself. I knew he was going to have to stay but I hadn't worked out in my mind how I could be there with him and still be with his brothers. They needed me too.
Before we left Joel took Chris and TJ aside and I heard him tell TJ that he was not going to be able to sleep with him for a while and that he wanted Chris to take his place. "I'm going to be gone for a while and I don't want you to be lonely," he said with tears in his eyes. "Chris will take good care of you. He promised he would. Didn't you Chris?"
"Yes, Joel, I'll take good care of him. I promise," Chris said.
"I don't want you to go. Please don't go," TJ cried.
"I gotta go. They have to make me well again. You can come see me. Can't he, dad?" he asked looking at me.
"Yes," was all I could get out.
Our driver dropped us off at the hospital and then took off with Hildy. The reception desk was very helpful and gave us a map of the hospital layout with Dr. Kerner's office clearly marked on it. We arrive at his door a couple of minutes before our three o'clock appointment. His nurse greeted us as we entered the office. She told us to take a seat that the doctor would be right with us. She also handed me a clipboard with several pages of forms that I needed to fill out. Joel sat beside me and read the forms along with me as I filled them out.
"Why do you need to fill out all that?" he asked.
"I don't know son. It probably just gets stuck in some filing cabinet somewhere," I said smiling.
I was working on the last form when Dr. Kerner arrived. He apologized for being late but that he had been responding to an emergency.
"Hi, there, I'm Dan Kerner and you must be Joel," he said as he put out his hand to shake Joel's. "You're a fine looking young man. We have to get you well and out of here as soon as we can. Alright?"
"Yes, sir," Joel responded.
You could tell immediately that Dr. Kerner had a way with kids. He talked to Joel as an equal not as adult to kid. After the preliminaries were out of the way he began telling Joel what was going to happen. He spoke directly to Joel. I was just an observer although a very interested observer. He told him about taking a sample of his spinal fluid to see if there were any signs of leukemia in the central nervous system. He told Joel that if they didn't find anything there that it would be a good sign and his treatment would be much simpler.
When he stopped and asked, "Do you have any questions, Joel?"
Joel paused a moment before he replied, "Am I gonna get well?"
"Son, if I were a betting man I would bet it. The odds are in your favor. Your leukemia was found early, you are still in good health and your dad can get you the very best of care."
Turning to me Dr. Kerner said, "I see you requested a private room for Joel. Is that correct?"
"Yes, is there a problem?"
"No, no, it's just that sometimes it is better to have someone that he could share his experiences with while he is here. A private room can be a lonely place. I noted on the information that I got from Dr. Greene that you have four other sons. Are they and Joel close?"
"Another argument for sharing a room. I have another patient about Joel's age who is going through the same thing. He has been here undergoing treatment for a little over a week now. His background is somewhat similar to Joel's also. I know that you can afford a private room and I won't object if that is what you want..."
I could tell by the way he trailed off that he really would object. "You're the doctor. I just want to make sure that nothing is spared to make sure that Joel gets the finest treatment available. There is no amount of money that I won't spend to help him get well."
"I think I'd like somebody, dad," Joel said quietly.
That was settled. Dr. Kerner got up and asked that we follow him. He led us up to the second floor and down the hall to a small examination room. We went through the same procedure that we had gone through with Dr. Darwish. Joel got undressed, donned a hospital gown and got up on the table. This time Dr. Kerner swabbed the area of Joel's lower spine himself. The needle that he removed from the packaging was not as large or menacing as the one used for the marrow biopsy but it was not small by any means.
"Now, Joel, I want you to curl up in a ball. Bring you knees up to your chest and hug them to your chest. You are going to feel a slight prick as the needle goes in but it should not last very long. But, I don't want you to move until I tell you. Okay?"
Joel did as he was instructed and only flinched slightly as the needle was inserted and the fluid withdrawn. God, I was so proud of him all I could do was brush the hair from his forehead and kiss it. He was handling this a whole lot better than I was.
"Joel, you can get dressed and I'll show you to your room and then I'll explain what is going to happen next. You're doing great," Kerner said. He then left with the needle but returned before Joel was dressed.
We followed the doctor down the hall to a room on the south side of the building. When we walked in there was a young boy in one of the beds and two middle aged people, who I assumed to be his parents, at his bedside. I placed the overnight bag with Joel's stuff that I had been toting around on the empty bed as Dr. Kerner started to introduce Joel to the other boy.
The boy's name was Tony Clausen and as he said "almost 12." The middle aged couple was introduced as Bill and Karen Boise. When I asked what their relationship to Tony they told me that they were his foster parents. We chatted a few moments before Dr. Kerner started to tell Joel what was going to happen.
He started by showing Joel the IV in Tony's arm and said that they would be placing a catheter in his arm just like it so that they could feed the medicine into his veins. I noticed a frown appear on Joel's face but he said nothing. He told Joel that he wanted him to talk to Tony about anything that he had experienced to find out what the treatment is really like from the patient's view.
He then sent Joel into the bathroom to change into his pajamas. While Joel was in the bathroom another doctor arrived and showed Kerner a paper which he read for a moment before he looked at me with a smile.
"The preliminary examination of the spinal fluid showed no abnormalities. That is good. It simplifies the treatment options," he said taking out a pad and writing something on it before handing it to the individual who had brought the report.
Joel reappeared dressed in his pajamas. I took his clothes and hung them in the little closet. Dr. Kerner began explaining what was going to happen this evening.
"Soon one of the nurses will come in and insert the catheter. Then after you have had a light meal one of them will come back and hook you up to all kinds of wires so that we can monitor you for any reactions to the medicine we will start giving you through the IV. We will also give you a mild sedative to help you sleep. The doses of medicine that you will get tonight will be tests to see if you can tolerate the drugs before we start the full regimen. I will be back in to see you when you get the first dose of medicine."
I held Joel's right hand as the nurse put the catheter in his left forearm and attached an IV. She told us that the IV had a mild sedative that would probably make him drowsy within an hour but probably not before his food arrived.
When it arrived I was somewhat surprised that it looked quite good. It did not contain the quantity that he was used to having. He ate up and looked for more. I told him that they didn't want too much food in his stomach because the medicine that they were going to give him might make his stomach upset. He accepted the explanation but clearly did not like it.
The nurse returned and taped a number of electrodes to Joel and then hooked them up to a monitor that was wheeled next to his bed.
It wasn't long after his food tray was taken away when Dr. Kerner returned with a resident to begin the treatment. Joel was beginning to feel sleepy as the resident hooked up a new IV. Dr. Kerner handed Joel a tablet and a cup of water and asked him to swallow it, which he did.
Turning to me he said, "The IV contains a dilute chemotherapy agent that some patients have reactions to. That is why we are not giving it full strength until we know how he will react. If there is no untoward reaction by morning we will start him on the normal strength dose. From his medical records I don't suspect that there will be any problems but there is always the possibility of anaphylactic reaction. I always error on the side of caution when beginning a patient's regimen."
I watched Joel intently for another half an hour or so before I saw that he had drifted off to sleep. I decided that this was a good time to go back to the apartment to let the others know what was happening.
Dr. Kerner was walking toward me as I left Joel's room. He stopped briefly to talk to Bill and Karen Boise. They had left a few moments before I did. As I approached the trio I heard Bill say, "What are we going to do? Isn't there some way he can stay here?"
"Bill, we will just have to figure out how to get the money. We can't let him be transferred to Herman. They would try to care for him but they are so overcrowded with charity patients," Karen said, tears starting to run down her cheeks.
"Crane," Kerner acknowledged me as I stepped up to them. "I was just about to check on Joel."
"He was sleeping when I left just now and had been for maybe twenty minutes."
"Good, that is a good sign. I'll just slip in and check. He should be out for at least eight or ten hours if you need to get out of here for a while," he said and started for the boys' room.
I caught up with the Boise's who had departed when Kerner and I talked briefly. "I'm sorry that we didn't get to talk much today. There are a lot of questions that I have about what you have been going through and how you have managed to cope with the stress."
"I don't know if we have been doing a good job at that," Karen said. "We do try to keep up a brave front when we are with Tony but it is getting harder to hide the strain this whole business has put on us."
"I wasn't trying to eavesdrop earlier," I began. "Ah... well... I couldn't help but overhear your conversation with the doctor. I didn't quite understand exactly what you were saying. Did I hear you correctly that Tony might have to be moved to another hospital?"
"Yes, but not if we can find a way to get the money to keep him here. You see the money that the state provides is nearly exhausted and they don't pay for everything. We are not rich people. We mortgaged our house and all that money is just about gone. Tony is like our own son and we will do everything that we can to see that he get the best available treatment. Bill has to get back to work. His vacation is all used up. I just don't know what we are going to do."
By this time we had reached the front of the hospital. I hailed a cab and while I waited for it to pull up to the door I asked, "Do you need a ride somewhere or do you have your car?"
"Thanks, but our motel is just over there on Old Spanish Trail. It's not that far. The walk lets us clear our heads. We appreciate the offer. I'm sure that we... at least Karen will see you tomorrow. Good night," Bill said.
The moment I opened the front door of the apartment I was surrounded by all four of the boys asking questions about Joel. I gave each of them an extra special hug and a kiss before I convinced them to let me into the apartment and close the door. I ushered them into the living room and we all sat down on the couch. It was barely big enough for the five of us and wouldn't have been if TJ hadn't climbed on my lap.
Hildy and Becky Sue joined us from the kitchen area where they had been cleaning up from the boys' evening snack. When everyone was settled I explained what had happened at the hospital and what was happening to Joel. I tried not to be too graphic but when they asked how they were putting the medicine into Joel's arm I had to be a bit more descriptive. This caused TJ to turn his face into my neck and I could feel the wetness of his tears.
"I wanna go see him," TJ sobbed.
"I know, son. I know," I said rubbing his back. "If he is feeling okay tomorrow I'll talk to the doctor and see if you can go see him tomorrow afternoon. Is that alright?"
He didn't answer but I felt him nod his head.
"Can we go too?" Chris asked which was quickly echoed by the twins. All I could do at that point was to shake my head.
After a few minutes of our cuddling I said, "You guys need to get started getting ready for bed. Go take your showers. Chris you and TJ can use the shower in my bedroom while Larry and Lenny use the other one."
"You look tired, Crane," Hildy said. "Why don't you go to bed too?"
"I will, but I need to fix a sandwich. I haven't eaten since lunch and I need to make some phone calls and let the office know how they can get in touch with me. This has been the most draining day of my life. Trying to be brave for Joel and feeling so inadequate has taken its toll on me."
"I'll fix you a sandwich before we go back to our apartment," Hildy said getting up and heading for the kitchen. Becky Sue followed her and got a plate and glass from the cupboard.
Hildy and Becky Sue sat with me while I ate my sandwich wanting to know all the details of Joel's treatment and the hospital and the boy in the room with him. It wasn't long before a fresh smelling TJ approached and insinuated his way onto my lap.
"My you smell good. Did Chris make sure that you got all clean?"
"Yeah, but I miss Joel."
"I do too, but he has to stay at the hospital so he can get well."
"Why did he get sick?"
"Son, I wish I knew. He just did. Now I think it is time to get to bed. Say good night to Hildy and Becky Sue and then I'll tuck you in."
It was firsts all around. The first time since Chris joined our family that he and the twins had not shared a bed and the first time that Joel hadn't shared a bed with TJ. I wasn't sure if there would be much sleep tonight for the boys but we went through the bed time ritual anyway.
I called Gerald to let him know what was going on and how I could be reached. I discussed several other matters of a financial nature. Before I hung up I apologized again for calling him at home so late. I also made a quick call to Carlos to see if there was anything new on the buyout. When he said there wasn't and that as far as he knew everything was on schedule for the end of next month.
I called the office and left a message for both Foster and Carol letting them know how to get in touch with me. I left a proviso that during the day I could only be reached by pager.
Exhaustion finally overcame me and I collapsed into bed around ten o'clock.
I was not ready for the alarm to ring at six but I wanted to try to get to the hospital before Joel was awake if possible. I thought it was important that I be there when he opened his eyes.