Although there were two TV's in the room, one for each bed, I don't think that either one of them had been turned on while I was there. Joel hardly ever watched television unless it was a special program that we watched as a family. The boys used their TV's for the video games. I guess that Tony was not a TV watcher either.
After Tony had calmed down, I asked him and Joel if they wanted me to read another chapter or two of Sherlock Holmes. That met with instant agreement, so I took out the book and started reading. By the time I had read three chapters I was just about out of voice. I was saved by their food trays arriving.
About ten minutes before seven o'clock Dr. Barrow and Nurse Sharon returned to give Joel his second dose of chemo. The IV bag was hung on the stand and the needle inserted into the catheter and the drip adjusted. I wanted to get up and run out of the room but knew that I couldn't. Joel on the other hand was calm and accepted the IV so nonchalantly that my heart nearly burst with pride. I didn't want any of this to be true. I wanted to wake up from this terrible nightmare and for everything to be back the way it was.
"This medicine can sometime cause sleeplessness so we are going to give you a mild sedative to help you sleep," Dr. Barrow told Joel as he handed him a small paper cup with a couple of pink tablets in it. "These pills won't knock you out. They will only let you sleep."
When Dr. Barrow left I asked Joel if he would like to watch TV. He just shrugged. I turned it on anyway because I knew that there was a PBS program about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn that he would enjoy. The program was just beginning when I turned the TV on and switched to the correct channel. It didn't take him long to realize what the program was and his interest was immediate.
Tony saw what was on Joel's TV and asked his mother to give him the remote so that he could watch the program as well. The TV remotes also had the speaker built in as part of it so that the sound could be isolated to the bed of the person watching.
Before long both boys were totally engrossed in the program. I decided that this was as good an opportunity as any to tell Joel that I would be late coming to see him tomorrow because I planned to fly back to San Antonio so that I could bring the van back to Houston. It would probably be ten o'clock or so before I would be able to visit him.
"I'll see if Hildy can come early after she has given your brothers their breakfast," I told him as I leaned over and kissed his forehead. "I love you son."
"I love you too, dad. Can TJ come back tomorrow?"
"Yes, I'll bring all of your brothers again tomorrow afternoon."
With that I left but not before saying goodbye to Tony and Karen. On the way out of the hospital, I called the airline to see if I could get a seat on the 9:30 flight to San Antonio. They said that there were two first class seats available so I booked one.
I caught a taxi to the apartment. When I got there I confirmed that Hildy would spend the night in the apartment with the boys while I was gone. TJ was not happy that I would not be there all night but after I assured him that I would be back tomorrow morning he acquiesced reluctantly.
Jack answered the phone when I called. "How's Joel?" were the first words out of his mouth when he knew who was calling.
"He's doing okay. We won't know anything for sure for about two weeks. If he is responding to the treatments by the end of that time then a cure is pretty well certain. We have our fingers crossed."
"Be sure to keep us informed. That little guy means a lot to all of us."
"I will, Jack. I need to ask you for a favor and I don't know if it is really proper, but I'm going to ask anyway..."
"Go ahead, Crane. You know I'll tell you to get lost if it is something I'm uncomfortable doing."
"I want you to use your influence to try to find the whereabouts of a nine year old boy."
"Good God, Crane. You're not going to take in another one are you?"
"No," I laughed. "His brother Tony is in the hospital room with Joel. CPS won't let Tony's foster parents know where his brother has been placed. Could you check around with your contacts to see if they have any information on a Benny Clausen? His brother Tony and his foster parents live in Fort Bend County so the greater Houston area is probably where the child is. These two boys are potential candidates for the foundation that I'm setting up. If you can't find out anything I'll understand. But if you decide to set up your own private investigation business then this will be your first assignment."
"Crane, I'll do what I can. I have a few contacts in HPD (Houston Police Department) that I can check with. One of them works in the juvenile division. He is probably my best hope of getting information. More than likely I won't be able to find anything out this weekend. I'll start beating the bushes first thing on Monday."
"Thanks, Jack, I knew I could count on you," I told him and then before hanging up gave him the number at the apartment.
My next call was to Darcie. Unfortunately she was not in. She was probably out with Mel. I would have to call her again tomorrow.
Hildy insisted on fixing me something to eat after she learned that I had not had anything to eat since our foray to the cafeteria this afternoon for frozen yogurt. I quickly packed my shaving kit and decided that I didn't really need to pack anything else since I would be spending the night at home and had plenty of clothes there that I could change into.
By the time I left the apartment it was nearly eight o'clock. The trip to Houston Intercontinental took nearly an hour. The taxi dropped me off in front of the Continental Airlines terminal so I didn't have far to walk to the ticket counter. As the first class line was not busy I was able to get ticketed and off to the gate in only a few minutes. The plane was just beginning the boarding process as I got to the gate after passing through the security checkpoint.
The flight was quick and uneventful. It took me almost as long to get from the plane to the van as the flight took. It was midnight before I pressed the button to open the gate to the property. The house seemed so empty as I walked in the back door. This would be the first time that I had been alone in the house since that first night that Joel came home with me. "God I miss those boys," I muttered to myself as I prepared for bed.
Five AM came way too early but I wanted to get on the road by six. There wasn't anything to eat in the house so I decided to stop at McDonalds or Burger King to get something on the way. How they have the nerve to call what I bought coffee is beyond my comprehension. The only thing it had going for it was that it was hot.
I regretted my early start shortly after I turned on to I-10 at Seguin. The freeway heads in a direction just north of due east which put the morning sun directly in my face. Determined to get back to my boys I flipped down the visor and set the speed control at 75 mph and tried to make the best of it. The trip from Seguin to Houston would take about two and a half hours of sheer boredom. The towns are widely space and very few of them are within sight of the freeway. The only breaks in the monotonous scenery were the occasional exits with the obligatory gasoline station or Dairy Queen.
I was glad when the outskirts of Katy came into view. It meant that I was almost there. The worst part of the drive was to come. Even though it was Saturday the Houston traffic was miserable. It was made even worse because of the never ending road construction once I got past Highway 6. It took me just under an hour to get from the west side of Houston to the apartment.
My route to the apartment took me past the complex's swimming pool. I could see a number of people in the pool but I wasn't able to tell if any of them were my boys. That didn't last long. Before I had my seatbelt unbuckled after parking the van there were four dripping wet boys trying to get my door open.
I was nearly knocked over backwards as I stepped out of the van when TJ jumped up wrapping his arms around my neck. The others surrounded me and hugged us both. I was getting soaked but I couldn't have been happier.
"I missed you, dad," TJ said into my ear as he hugged my neck even tighter and wrapped his legs around my waist.
"I missed you too, little one. I missed all of you like mad," I responded. "Let's go into the house. Dad has to change his clothes and then go to the hospital."
"Can we go too?" Chris asked.
"I'll take you guys to see Joel this afternoon."
I carried TJ to the apartment. He didn't want to be put down even after we got inside so I sat down of the couch and held him for a few more minutes. That few minutes of cuddling seemed to help TJ. It certainly did wonders for me.
When I got to the hospital, I found Hildy reading the Sherlock Holmes book to Joel and Tony. Joel was so engrossed in what Hildy was reading that he didn't notice me standing in the doorway for almost a minute.
"Hi dad," he said when he saw me. "How long have you been there?"
"Oh, just a minute, I didn't want to interrupt Hildy's reading. How are you feeling today?" I asked.
"Pretty good, I got to take a bath this morning. They put this plastic bag on my arm so I wouldn't get this needle thing wet," he said pointing to the catheter. "Hildy brought me some clean pajamas, too."
"Thanks Hildy, I don't know what we would do without you looking after us," I told her.
Hildy stayed a few more minutes before she kissed Joel and headed back to the apartment. She hadn't been gone long when Dr. Barrow and Dr. Kerner arrived for their morning rounds. They went first to Tony's bed and pulled the curtain. I was talking to Joel so I wasn't paying any attention to what was happening on the other side of the room. That is until I heard Karen say, "Oh my God that's wonderful! But who? Why? When did this happen?"
A few minutes later the two doctors approached Joel's bed. After greeting us both they pulled the curtain around Joel's bed and began their examination. After poking and prodding him and taking his temperature and blood pressure they seemed to be satisfied.
"He has a slight fever. Nothing to worry about but we will give him some Tylenol to bring it down," Barrow said turning to me.
"Joel," Dr. Kerner started, "your next treatment will be an injection into your behind or thigh. The choice is yours. It has to be given in one of your larger muscles. Dr. Barrow will be back around four o'clock to give it to you."
Dr. Barrow was busy writing on Joel's chart while this was going on.
Before pulling back the curtain, Kerner approached me and extended his hand, mouthing the words, "Thank you," and nodded toward Tony's bed.
"It's my pleasure," I said quietly.
Before long the lunch trays arrived. It looked good. There was meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, green beans and a bread roll. Along with milk there was some pudding that looked like butterscotch. It disappeared quickly from Joel's tray. I think he would have picked the plate up and licked it if I hadn't been there.
"Are you still hungry?" I asked.
"Yeah, a little," he answered sheepishly.
"Well maybe we can go to the cafeteria again this afternoon when your brothers get here," I said.
Bill walked in as I was about to get up to go get the rest of the boys. He waved at us as he made a bee line for Tony's bed.
"Hi dad," Tony said as his face lit up with a smile that would melt even the coldest heart.
"How are you son?" Bill asked as he engulfed Tony in a bear hug. "I missed you so much."
Turning to Karen he gave her a hug and a kiss. "Bill, the most wonderful thing has happened. Dr. Kerner said that he has gotten a grant from an anonymous donor to pay for all of Tony's hospital bills. Isn't that fantastic?"
"Oh babe, that's wonderful. When did you find this out?"
"About an hour ago, I guess. It was when he came in to check on Tony," Karen said dabbing at her eyes.
When I got up to say my goodbyes to Joel he looked at me, then at Tony and then back at me with a quizzical look in his eyes. "Did you..." he whispered.
I put my finger to my lips to indicate that he not say anything.
He opened his arms indicating he wanted a hug. I obliged. "I love you dad. You're the best. Thanks!" he said in a low voice.
It was nice to have the van so that I didn't have to wait on a taxi. I rushed home to give the boys some of my time before we went back to the hospital. Everyone had finished their lunch by the time I arrived. When Hildy found out that I had not eaten, she immediately began scurrying around the kitchen to fix me something. While she did I took the opportunity to call Darcie. Thank goodness she was in this time.
After we got the formalities out of the way and the condition of Joel I asked her, "Have you given any more thought on my offer for you to run the foundation I'm going to set up?"
"Yes, Mel and I have discussed it at length. Although he would still like for me to stay at home and not work, he knows that I would not be happy just being a housewife. So I intend to take you up on your offer. I think it is a fantastic idea and I want to be part of it."
"Great! Now I want to ask you a favor. First of all, do you have any contacts in the CPS offices in the Houston area?"
"I know several people who work there, why?"
"I would like for you to find out any information you can on two foster children. Their names are Tony and Benny Clausen. Tony is 12 and Benny is 9. I think that they may be the first candidates for the foundation. Tony is in the room with Joel so I pretty much know his situation. I don't know where Benny is or under what conditions he is living. Tony's CPS case worker won't reveal where Benny is. This is causing Tony a lot of stress which he doesn't need right now."
"Sure, I'll do what I can. I'll call a girl friend who works there. I want to see if she can come to my wedding anyway so it gives me a reason to call her right away. We went to college together and were in the same sorority. How can I get in touch with you?"
I gave Darcie the phone number at the apartment just as Hildy placed my lunch in front of me. I ate the meal quickly and then rounded up the boys to go to the hospital. TJ was standing by the door waiting for us to leave.
It was nice to have the van available for the trip to the hospital. It might not be as luxurious as the limo but it sure gave us more flexibility. I had to restrain TJ to keep him from running to the hospital after I had parked the van.
"Hold on TJ, I don't want you to get run over by a car. You might end up in the hospital too," I said as I grabbed his hand.
"But dad, we gotta see Joel!" he said with a pleading look in those beautiful blue-green eyes that all the boys but Chris had. "Hurry!"
There was a crowd waiting for the elevator so we elected to walk up the stairs. When we got to the top of the stairs, TJ recognized where we were and began dragging me toward Joel's room. As we turned the corner of the corridor where Joel's room was, TJ let go of my hand and ran as quickly as his little legs would carry him down the hall and into the room. By the time the rest of us arrived TJ was in the bed with Joel just as he had been the day before. Hildy, Becky Sue and I stood back and let the boys say their hellos and get questions about how Joel felt out of the way.
Hildy was the first to approach. She leaned over the bed and kissed Joel on the forehead. Stepping back from the bed she opened her big purse and brought out a large plastic bag full of peanut butter cookies. "Do you think you could eat a peanut butter cookie or two?" she said with a giggle in her voice. "Crane, do you think you could get these boys some milk from the cafeteria?"
"I think that I can manage that. Becky Sue will you come with me to help carry it?" I asked. "Tony, would you like some too?"
He looked at his mom and when she nodded he said, "Yes sir, I like peanut butter cookies."
It didn't take us long to get six pints of milk, but despite that quite a few cookies had disappeared by the time we got back. The twins and Chris split their time between Joel's bed and Tony's bed.
Bill came over to me and we started talking. There was so much confusion in the room that we stepped out side the door so that we could talk at normal volume. "It makes Tony happy when your twins come to see Joel. His brother would be just their age. It also makes him sad when they leave. He misses his brother so much. I think it is down right cruel for CPS to keep them apart."
"Look, Bill, I don't want to interfere but I have a friend in the San Antonio Police Department and also a good friend who used to work with CPS. I have asked them to see if they can find out any information about Benny. I have had my problems with CPS and if there is anything that I can do to make them live up to their responsibilities to care for kids, I'll do it. I can't promise that they will have any success, but it won't be for not trying. Anything that you can tell me about the circumstances of Tony and his brother would be helpful."
I jotted down a few notes as Bill told me all he knew about Tony and Benny's background. It wasn't much but I would pass it along to Jack and Darcie. It couldn't hurt. By the time Bill and I stepped back into the room all the cookies were gone but the boys were still having as good a time as they could have under the circumstances. Tony and Joel were both sitting on the sides of their beds. TJ was glued to Joel's side. Larry and Lenny had taken positions beside Tony on his bed and Chris took a position beside Joel on his bed.
Hildy, Becky Sue and Karen had retreated to a corner of the room and were having an animated conversation about something or other.
"Hey guys, how would you like to get out of the room for awhile? It's such a nice day why don't we go out to the gardens?" I asked the boys.
That got an immediate positive response from all of the boys. I stepped out and down the hall to the nurses' station to see if I could get two wheelchairs for Joel and Tony. The large heavy-set black nurse wearing a nametag that said "Charlene" said she would have an orderly bring them to the room in a few minutes.
Shortly a young man arrived with both wheelchairs. Joel had decided that it was going to be too hot to wear his robe. He didn't care if people saw him in his pajamas so he only put on his slippers in preparation to go outside. Tony said that if Joel wasn't going to wear a robe then he wouldn't either.
TJ decided that he would ride in Joel's chair again today. As we all got on to the elevator I was glad that it was made to haul gurneys because the eleven of us with the two wheelchairs just about filled it up.
The landscaped garden area for the hospital was immaculately maintained and although the azalea season was over there were still a number of blooming plants. There were several benches scattered along the wide paths that wound through the area.
"Dad," Lenny whispered to me, "can I ride in the chair?"
"Well, why don't you ask Joel if he'd like to sit on the bench for awhile? Then you guys can take turns riding in it. Will that work?" I asked.
I knew that Joel could never turn down a request from his brothers so he took a seat on the bench next to me with TJ at his side while the other boys took turns pushing each other around the paths. They were having a great time but all too soon it was getting close to time for Joel to have his next treatment. Reluctantly we all went back to the room.
When we got back to the room I gave the keys to the van to Hildy and told her that either she of Becky Sue could drive it to the apartment. I would take a taxi later tonight. The boys began saying their goodbyes to Joel and Tony, each getting and giving a hug. Even Karen and Bill got their share of hugs. There were tears in TJ's eyes as he left the room looking back as long as he could to see and wave to Joel.
Karen was a little misty eyed when the troops left. "Crane, you are an extremely fortunate man to have such wonderful sons. I love this young man with all my heart," she said looking at Tony, "but I don't think I could cope with five active boys."
"I couldn't if it weren't for Hildy. She is an amazing woman. But I do agree that the boys are definitely wonderful," I said giving Joel's shoulder a squeeze.
Joel had laid back on the bed. I guess that the boys visit and the excursion outside had worn him out. I noticed that Tony was having a hard time keeping his eyes open also. Soon both boys were resting peacefully. Bill, Karen and I continued to talk quietly until Dr. Barrow and a nurse came in to give Joel his next batch of chemotherapy.
I gently shook Joel to wake him. He looked up at me with sleepy eyes. I explained to him that it was time for his treatment. He just muttered an okay and closed his eyes as if to go back to sleep.
"Where do you want the injection, Joel?" Dr. Barrow asked.
"Um, I think in my leg so if it gets sore I won't have to lay on it," he said waking up.
"Good choice, smart boy," Barrow said.
The nurse had pulled the curtain around Joel's bed while this conversation was taking place.
"Now Joel, I need for you to lower your pajama bottoms so that I can get to your leg. Nurse Carter is going to disinfect it. It will probably feel kind of cool," Barrow said.
Without hesitation Joel shoved his pajama bottoms down. I was surprised until I saw that he was wearing a pair of briefs under them.
"Good thinking," I said grinning at him causing him to giggle.
The nurse began scrubbing the thigh with first what smelled like alcohol and then with what looked like iodine. While she did this Dr. Barrow explained, "The injection will go into a group of muscles called quadriceps and specifically into the Vastus Lateralis which is the muscle that runs down the side of the thigh. We have to inject about 20 cc and we have to do it slowly. It will take several minutes before it is all injected. During that time I need you to lie very still. You will probably feel some stinging where the medicine goes in but it shouldn't be too bad. Are you ready?"
Joel looked at me and reached out his hand and grabbed mine. "Yes sir," was his only reply.
I saw him wince as the needle was inserted into the muscle of his leg and felt his hand squeeze mine more tightly. I turned to watch the medicine being slowly injected. I was both fascinated and horrified as I watched.
Suddenly Joel grabbed my hand and pulled it towards him and at the same time grabbed his throat with the other. There was a look of abject fear in his eyes that will haunt me until the day I die. A struggling gasp came from his throat.
"Doc, there's something wrong! He can't breathe! He needs help!" I yelled.
The next few minutes were a blur. I heard him say something about epinephrine and code blue and intubate and a lot of people rushing in the room and being pushed unceremoniously out of the way. I watched in horror as the fear in Joel's eyes turned from fear to sheer panic and then blank as he passed out.
The next thing I remember was Barrow saying "Let's move. We have to get him to ICU stat!"
With that Joel's bed was wheeled out of the room and down the hall and around several corners to the ICU. I was following in a daze. I couldn't believe this was happening. Just a few minutes ago he was lying there holding my hand and now... I couldn't let myself think that anything bad would happen to him.
I was stopped at the door to ICU by one of the nurses. I just stood there staring at the closed doors not really comprehending what was going on. "Why don't you come over here and sit down?" she asked taking my arm and leading me to a small room equipped with chairs and a couch. "As soon as the doctor knows anything we will let you know."
I sat there like a zombie, not feeling for several minutes. All at once it hit me that there was a real possibility that I was going to lose Joel. I completely lost it. I broke down and wept uncontrollably for maybe ten minutes. I wanted to do something but I couldn't think of anything that I could do that would help the situation. I got up and started walking. I didn't have a destination, I just had to walk. I passed a restroom and went in and bathed my face in cold water then I took off walking again. I must have walked every corridor on the floor at least once.
Passing one door I stopped. It was a door into a chapel. I hesitated and then went in. It was deserted. It was a small chapel with just three pews on each side of the aisle and a modest pulpit in front. I don't know why I went in there. I was not a religious person. I guess I thought it wouldn't hurt to ask for help.
Sitting down in the last pew I gathered my thoughts. It had been a long time since I had prayed, but if there was a God he would know that already. "God, I am begging You to let my son Joel recover. He is the kindest, gentlest, most loving boy that there could ever be. He has been tested more than any child deserves to be. I would gladly trade places with him if it were possible. He has so much to offer. Please don't take my son away from me and from his brothers."
I sat there for a few more minutes before getting up and making my way back to the ICU waiting room. I had barely settled into my chair when Dr. Barrow entered the room.