I rolled out of bed dreading the day ahead of me. I didn’t expect that Hildy would be up but when I finished in the bathroom and prepared to leave for the hospital, she was there with the coffee ready for me.
"If you’ll wait a few minutes I’ll fix you a couple of eggs and sausage," she said brightly.
"Thanks, I don't know if I'll get anything to eat at the hospital. Joel's food looked good but the quantity was not to his liking. I don't know about their cafeteria," I said.
"You know all the boys miss Joel and want to go see him."
"I know. I don't know what the visitor policy is but I'll find out and see if they can't go this afternoon. I assume that you will want to go also."
"Of course, I miss him desperately," she said as the tears began to fall. "I just can't understand why he has to bear this cross. He has suffered enough. I pray every night that he gets well. He has to!"
"Yes, it's all that I can do to keep from breaking down while I'm with him but I don't dare let myself. So far he has been a lot braver than I could under the circumstances."
Through her tears Hildy dished up my eggs and sausage then buttered my toast. The rest of breakfast was eaten in silence.
I left for the hospital a few minutes after seven. I was of two minds. Part of me wanted to get there as soon as possible and the other part of me wanted to go back to the office and totally forget about what was happening. The responsible part of me won out. When I got to the street the taxi that I had called was waiting for me. If this continues I would need to rent a car to get back and forth to the hospital and save the limousine for the rest of the family when we needed bigger accommodations.
Joel was still sleeping when I got to his room. I was thankful for that. However it was not long before he woke up. He was still a little groggy from the sedative that they had given him.
"Hi, dad," he mumbled. "Did you stay here all night?"
"No, son, I had to go tell your brothers how you were. They miss you very much."
"I miss them too. Is TJ okay?"
"Yes, but he wants to come see you. I'm going to ask the doctor if he and all your brothers can come this afternoon."
The water in his thermos carafe was barely cool but he didn't seem to mind. I kissed his forehead when I handed him the cup of water. His forehead felt warm as if he had a fever.
"How are you feeling this morning?" I asked trying not to show concern.
"Okay, but my stomach feels kinda funny."
"Maybe you are just hungry."
As Joel and I were talking, Karen Boise walked into the room. She briefly acknowledged us and went directly to Tony's bedside. He appeared to still be sleeping. Joel and I had kept our conversations low in order not to awaken him. She leaned over the bed and kissed his cheek.
He stirred opening his eyes, "Hi mom."
"Good morning son. I love you," she responded.
"Me too," he murmured.
"How are you feeling this morning?"
"My stomach aches and my head hurts. I think I'm gonna throw up."
"That's okay, baby," Karen said reaching for tissues and the crescent shaped bowl on the nightstand.
She just barely made it in time before Tony began to vomit. There was very little that came up but he continued to have the dry heaves for another minute or so as Karen held him with one arm and the bowl in the other.
Joel watched all of this, his eyes getting wider the longer he watched. "Is that gonna happen to me?" he asked with fear and pleading in his eyes.
"It might, son. I hope not, but they can give you medicine to ease the stomach problems," I said. Turning to Karen I asked if she wanted me to get the nurse. When she answered in the affirmative I pushed the call button.
A nurse arrived shortly and approached Joel's bed. I told her that Tony was the one who needed the attention. After talking briefly with Karen and Tony she checked his chart and then left. She returned a couple of minutes later with a small white cup which she handed to Tony along with a glass of water.
The breakfast trays arrive a short time later. The food on Joel's tray looked good but again it was quite a bit less than what he would normally have had at home. There was a bowl with an individual serving of Wheaties, a carton each of skim milk and orange juice. Taking the cover off the dish revealed scrambled eggs, two pieces of bacon, toast and some grits.
"What's that, dad?" Joel said pointing to the grits.
"Those are grits, son."
"It looks like paste. Hildy never makes that for our breakfast."
"Try it, you might like it."
Tentatively taking his fork, Joel scooped up a tiny bit of the grainy white material and gingerly brought it to his mouth. After touching it with the tip of his tongue and sniffing at it he put it in his mouth. I could hardly contain my amusement at his actions especially when he turned up his nose and made a sour face.
"Do people really eat that stuff?" he asked. "It tastes like stale popcorn flavored paste."
"Some people eat that every morning. I have never liked it and that is why Hildy doesn't make it at home. If you don't want to eat it you don't have to," I told him.
The rest of the breakfast disappeared quickly and he even took another look at the grits before deciding that even though he was hungry he was not that hungry.
"Dad, can I call John? He wanted me to come over to his house on Saturday and I didn't get to tell him I wouldn't be able to."
"Sure, but let's wait until we know that he is out of bed before you call. He probably hasn't had breakfast yet."
As we were talking a very large black orderly entered the room to remove the breakfast trays. He had to be over six foot four and must have weight a good 275 pounds. "Good morning, good morning," he said brightly looking directly at the boys and ignoring Karen and me. "And how are you fine young men this glorious morning?" Turning to Joel he said, "You're new here. I'm Rodney. You'll see a lot of me."
"Hi Rodney, I'm Joel."
"Joel, I'm very pleased to meet you. If you every need anything, you just ask for Rodney. Ain't that right Tony?"
"Yeah, he got me some ice cream on Tuesday, chocolate too," Tony responded with a giggle.
"Sssh! Somebody might hear." Rodney said with a grin. "See you guys later," he said as he picked up the breakfast trays and left the room never once acknowledging Karen or me.
It was almost eight thirty when Dr. Kerner arrived followed by a young man whom I assumed to be a resident. They first went to Tony's bed and pulled the curtain around the bed while they examined him. Maybe ten minutes later I heard Kerner say, "Well, Tony, today you don't have any medication scheduled, so if you want to go down to the lounge or TV room or go out to the grounds it's okay. That is as long as you are in your wheelchair and someone is with you. You're too weak to try and walk that far."
The curtain was pulled back and Dr. Kerner stepped over to Joel's bed. "Good morning Joel. I'd like you to meet Dr. Barrow. He is going to be assisting me. This is Crane Johnson, Joel's father."
I stood and shook the new doctor's hand. Dr. Kerner drew the curtain around Joel's bed and began his examination. He concentrated on the lymph nodes under his arms, under his jaws and in his groin. He then began pressing on Joel's stomach. "Does this hurt?"
"No," Joel answered.
"Good, I don't find any significant enlargement of any of the lymph glands. Sometimes they enlarge when we start the chemotherapy. But then again we haven't given you a full dose yet. That will come later this morning. Dr. Barrow will be back to administer the agent."
"Will it hurt?" Joel asked apprehensively.
"There might be some stinging around the place where the IV goes in your arm, but it shouldn't be too bad," Dr. Barrow answered.
"Will it make me sick like Tony and throw up?"
"Just to be on the safe side we'll give you something to calm your stomach. I'll be back later and we'll start your treatment," Dr. Barrow said giving Joel's shoulder a squeeze.
Before the doctors left I asked about whether the rest of the family could visit him this afternoon. At first they didn't think it would be a good idea but when they looked at Joel's pleading face, they relented and said that they could come, but just for a little while.
"Can I call John now?"
"Sure, son," I said and picked up the phone and handed it to him. "Dial 9 then 1830 and then John's number. Do you know what it is?"
"Yeah, I call it all the time."
"Okay, dad's going to get a cup of coffee so that you can have some privacy. Don't talk too long. I'll be back in a little while." Turning to Karen I said, "May I buy you a cup of coffee?"
"Thanks, I could use one. I didn't make any this morning because it was just me. Bill went back home last night so he could get ready to go to work this morning." Turning to Tony she explained that she would be back in a few minutes. "Why don't you and Joel get better acquainted when he gets off the phone?"
We walked in silence part of the way to the cafeteria.
"I'm sorry that Bill and I unloaded our problems on you last night, but we are at the end of our rope. We love that boy," she said dabbing at her eyes. "We want to adopt him, but now..."
We arrived at the cafeteria and I pointed out an empty table and told her I would go get the coffee. I had to wait a moment while the two customers in front of me paid for their purchases which gave me time to check out what else the serving line had to offer. I spotted these huge blueberry muffins and I couldn't resist. I added two of them to the tray and several individual packets of butter. I figured if Karen didn't want it I could always take it back to Joel.
She did not refuse the muffin. They were delicious. I think that they made it easier for us to talk. I have always believed that good food paves the way for good conversation. She was able to answer a lot of my questions about the effects that the chemotherapy was having on Tony. I hadn't noticed but she told me that Tony's hair was beginning to fall out and his stomach problems were becoming more frequent.
During our conversation, her handkerchief was always at the ready and frequently used. When I looked at my watch I noticed that it had been a good half hour since we left the room. We agreed that we needed to get back there.
Approaching the open door to the boys' room we heard the sound of giggling boys. Joel was sitting on the edge of his bed facing Tony who had the head of his bed raised. They were talking and laughing like old friends.
"Hi, dad, Tony was telling me about this funny nurse that comes around. She wears a red clown's nose and does magic tricks."
"That's great. I'm glad that you two are getting along. Did you talk to John?"
"Yeah, he didn't know what leukemia was and I tried to tell him but his mom had to explain it to him. He was scared, but I told him the doctor said I was going to be okay. That's right isn't it?"
"Yes, son, that is right," I said and hugged him to me. "Has Dr. Barrow been back in?"
"No," he said.
He no more than got that out of his mouth when Barrow walked in with a nurse wheeling a cart.
"Hi, Joel, are you ready for your first treatment?" he asked.
"I... I guess so," Joel responded.
"This is Nurse Sharon. She is going to start the IV drip to put the medicine into your vein. As Dr. Kerner said you may feel a slight stinging in your arm as the medicine goes in. It usually goes away after a bit but if it doesn't we can give you something to lessen it. Do you have any questions?"
Joel looked at me and shook his head. I took his hand as the nurse hung the IV on the stand and before she inserted the needle into the catheter and started the drip she made sure that Joel's forearm was securely attached to the board designed to keep his arm straight. After she had adjusted the drip rate she handed Joel a small paper cup containing a white pill and poured him a glass of water.
"Dr. Barrow, are there any food restrictions while Joel is on chemo?" I asked.
"Well he can eat pretty much anything. However, I would advise staying away from highly spiced foods because they might irritate his stomach. Nothing too greasy either. Anything that would normally upset his stomach would be a good thing to stay away from. Why?"
"Well, he usually consumes more food than he has been getting on his tray and I just wondered if it would be alright to bring him something from the cafeteria. The blueberry muffin that I had there this morning, I'm sure that he would have liked."
"I think something like that would be fine. But because of the possibility of stomach upset from the medicine, I wouldn't recommend that he stuff himself. It would be better if he ate several times a day instead of a lot all at once. The pill that he just took is to help ease the nausea. It varies in effectiveness from patient to patient. We should know in a couple of hours whether it is working for him. I'll be back in after lunch to check on him," he said.
Rodney came in the room shortly after Barrow and the nurse left pushing a wheelchair.
"Hey there, Tony, you ready to go for a ride. It's a beautiful day outside, but it's gonna get hot, hot, hot this afternoon. It's s'posed to be 95 in the shade and no shade." (That's 35 C for you metric people.)
He had both boys snickering as he prepared the chair for Tony and then lifted him from the bed into the chair. Rodney was a clown but you could tell by the way he picked up Tony as gently as a piece of fine china that he loved kids. He made sure that Tony was secure in the chair before he began pushing it.
"Let's go get some color in those cheeks, we can't have you looking like some snowball," Rodney said as they left the room with Karen trailing them.
"He's funny," Joel said. "I like him."
The rest of the morning went by rather quickly. I had brought a book with me to read to Joel as he lay in bed. Tony joined our reading session when Rodney brought him back from his outdoor excursion. It was a Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet. Joel had become fascinated by Doyle's quirky detective. I thoroughly enjoyed reading them again.
About an hour was all my voice would last before I had to give up, but I had to promise that I would resume my reading tomorrow. I called the apartment to let Hildy know that the other boys could come to the hospital this afternoon. I would come home for lunch and then we would all come back later. A call to the limo service confirmed a pickup at 1:30.
When Joel's lunch came I got up to leave telling him I would be back after lunch with his brothers in tow. There were no taxis at the front door as I exited so I had to wait a few minutes before one showed up. That made up my mind. I was going to rent a car to use until I brought one from home.
Hildy had prepared a mountain of sandwiches and a pot of vegetable soup for our lunch. To top it off she had baked a couple of apple pies which the boys insisted be served with large scoops of ice cream. I chose a small piece of pie without ice cream.
The limo arrived about a minute after we got to the parking lot of the apartment complex. When TJ saw the limo coming he grabbed my hand and said, "Come on, dad, we gotta go see Joel. Hurry!"
"Hold on, son, we have to wait until the car stops before we can get in."
All the boys were excited as we drove to the hospital. Their seatbelts could hardly contain them. As we approached the hospital I impressed on them that they had to stay with us and not run in the halls or be too loud. They all shook their heads indicating that they understood. I just hoped that they would remember.
We took the elevator to the second floor. As we stepped out of the elevator, TJ grabbed my hand. "Where's Joel?" he asked in a whisper.
"His room is down the hall and around the corner. You don't have to whisper, just don't yell or talk too loud. Some of the patients might be sleeping."
TJ never let go of my hand until we entered the room and he saw Joel. In a flash he was at Joel's bedside and climbed into the bed with him before I could stop him.
"I missed you," TJ said and threw his arms around Joel and kissed his cheek. "I want you to come home. I don't want you here." At that TJ broke down and sobbed uncontrollably.
Larry, Lenny and Chris had by that time crowded around Joel's bed and were trying to touch him and grab on to his hand. Hildy was trying very hard to keep from crying. Seeing Joel lying there with the IV in his arm was almost more than she could stand. Becky Sue was somewhat less affected.
Joel cuddled TJ in his one free arm. "I want to come home too TJ, but they gotta get me well first. I miss you. I miss everybody. But you can come to see me every day if you want to."
Hildy approached the bed from the other side, the one with the IV stand. She brushed the hair back off of Joel's forehead before leaning down and kissing him lightly. "How are you feeling Joel?"
"Okay, I guess. My stomach feels funny and my arm where that needle thing is feels like a mosquito bit me."
"Your dad said that you didn't think you were getting enough to eat so I sneaked a sandwich and a piece of apple pie in. Do you want to eat it now?" Hildy said as she opened her large purse and took out the napkin wrapped sandwich and a foil package containing the big slice of pie.
"Oh, yeah! Lunch was okay, but it was awful small," Joel said.
Kissing TJ on the forehead, Joel disengaged his one good arm and took the sandwich from Hildy and began eating it. TJ moved himself so that he was positioned with his head on Joel's chest leaving Joel barely enough room to get the sandwich to his mouth but he managed.
While Joel was eating, I guided Larry, Lenny and Chris to Tony's bed and introduced the three of them to him. They hit it off right away and within minutes were gabbing away like old friends.
I heard Tony tell my boys, "I wish I knew where my brother Benny was. He went someplace else when I came to live with mom and dad. He was eight. He is nine now. I wish he could live with me."
The boys would alternate between Tony, who was becoming their new friend, and Joel. TJ stayed snuggled up against Joel.
Dr. Kerner was surprised when he came in to check on Joel and found two people in the bed, but took it in stride. "Hi there young man, I'm Dr. Dan. What's your name?"
"This is my little brother TJ. Say hi, TJ."
"Hi," came a barely audible response.
"I'll tell you what, TJ. I need to examine your brother. If you will just move over a little so that I can listen to his heart and check him out, I'll be done in just a minute."
TJ looked into Joel's eyes and getting a nod from him scooted over to the side of the bed but watched closely as the doctor went through the exam. Noticing the piece of pie that Hildy had placed on Joel's table he said, "Oh, that pie looks good. Do you know what would make it even better? Some of that frozen yogurt they serve in the cafeteria."
That got the attention of the six young men in the room. "Can we get Joel some of that stuff that Dr. Dan said?" TJ asked.
"Sure, if Dr. Dan says it's okay, we'll all get some," I said turning to Karen. "Would you and Tony like to join us?"
She agreed, but then it dawned on me that we would need to get a couple of wheelchairs for Joel and Tony. When I mentioned it to Kerner he said it would be no problem that he would see if Rodney could bring a couple and help us go to the cafeteria.
The IV had nearly finished when Dr. Kerner came in and he had removed it from Joel's catheter after the exam so he was free to move about more freely.
I was getting Joel's robe and slippers out of the wardrobe when Rodney came in pushing one wheelchair and pulling the other. "Good heavens, they're multiplying," he said. "Where did all you guys come from?"
"Rodney, they're my brothers," Joel said. "This is TJ and the twins are Larry and Lenny and the one over by Tony's bed is Chris."
"My, what a fine looking bunch of boys. Are ya'll ready to go?"
I helped TJ out of the bed and then guided Joel into the wheelchair. TJ stared at Joel in the chair. "Do you gotta sit in that thing?" he asked.
"Yeah, they don't want me to walk around. The medicine can make me dizzy," Joel said. "You want to ride with me?"
There was no hesitating on TJ's part. He immediately jumped up on Joel's lap. If he had smiled any more he would have injured his face. Joel wrapped his unencumbered right arm around TJ to keep him from falling out of the chair and also to keep him from wiggling around. I turned the chair around and started the procession of the Johnson clan out of the room and toward the cafeteria. Rodney pushed Tony and Karen followed close behind. We were quite a crew, all eleven of us heading down the hall.
Hildy had thoughtfully picked up Joel's piece of pie and brought it along. When we got to the cafeteria we found a large round table that would seat all six of the boys and a smaller square one next to it that would seat the four adults. Rodney had to go about his duties and was not able to join us.
Becky Sue and I went to get the frozen yogurt after finding out what flavor the boys wanted. Making a decision from the three flavors, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry was a major undertaking. When I saw that it was going to tax their brains to the maximum I suggested that we get each one a little bit of each. That met with approval from all of them. I didn't tell them that there were toppings that they could have on the yogurt. I didn't want them to have a melt down.
All the boys were having a great time when we returned to the table with their yogurt. They were all talking and laughing at the same time. It didn't seem that anyone was listening. That all stopped when the yogurt was passed out and the spoons began making round trips between bowls and mouths.
Karen's eyes were moist as I place the adults' yogurt on our table. "He hasn't been this happy since he came to live with us. He misses his little brother all the time. They won't tell us where he is so we can even take Tony to visit him. I wish we could adopt them both but CPS told us we couldn't qualify because Bill doesn't make enough money. They may not even let us adopt Tony." With that the tears really began to flow down her cheeks.
"Look, Karen, I know of a foundation that is set up to handle just the kind of situation that you describe. It provides yearly grants for good people who want to adopt but do not have the financial resources to qualify. The grants continue until the adoptee finishes their schooling provided it is accomplished within a reasonable time. Let me have them contact you and see if they can help out," I said trying not to let on that it was my foundation that would be contacting her.
"Oh, yes, please that would be wonderful," she said drying her eyes.
I had convinced TJ to sit in his own chair instead of sitting on Joel's lap while they ate the frozen yogurt. He chose to sit on a chair between Tony and Joel. As they were finishing their treat, I saw TJ looking at Tony with a strange look in his eye. Finally his curiosity got the better of him and he asked, "Why do you have spots with no hair?"
Tony turned to TJ, his face beginning to redden, "The medicine does that. Dr. Dan said it all would fall out."
"Oh," TJ said looking even more confused. Turning back to Joel, "Is your hair gonna fall out, too?"
There was silence as the other boys sat there wide eyed waiting for Joel to answer.
"Yeah, that's what the doctor says."
We stayed in the cafeteria for another twenty minutes or so before it became apparent the Tony was beginning to tire. Becky Sue and I cleaned up the tables before I told the boys it was time to go back to the room.
"Can we push Joel's wheelchair?" Lenny asked.
"Yeah," Chris and Larry chimed in.
TJ had already resumed his place on Joel's lap. "Well, I guess you could. How about if you take turns? Maybe someone could push Tony also."
"I will!" Chris volunteered.
Once we got the two wheelchairs out into the hall we let the boys begin pushing them. Larry and Lenny each had a handle of Joel's chair while Chris pushed Tony. Joel's chair was heavier due to TJ's added weight.
Back in the room I call the limo driver and told him we would need the car in about fifteen minutes. I thought that would give the boys enough time to say their goodbyes to Joel. TJ had climbed back in bed with Joel and didn't want to leave. I finally convinced him that Joel had to have another treatment tonight and that he couldn't stay. He wasn't happy about it but gave in reluctantly.
One by one the boys took turns giving their brother a hug. Then to my surprise they did the same to Tony. I think it surprised him also. I know it did Karen.
I walked our family down to the front door and helped everyone get into the limo and saw that their seatbelts were fastened, gave them all a hug and told them I would be back to the apartment later. Becky Sue was going to give them all a swimming lesson before supper.
When I returned to the room Tony was crying and being comforted by his mother. I asked Joel what happened. He told me Tony was sad because he hadn't seen his brother in a long time. I guess seeing all of my gang and getting hugs from the boys was too much. It had surfaced old memories of happier times.
I made a mental note to call Darcie and Jack when I got back to the apartment.