Saturday, June 20, 2009

Chapter 3

Chapter 3
Three days after the funeral, Arthur returned to the hospital. There was one particular nurse named Frances that had been quite attentive in caring for his wife. She always seemed to be at her side, keeping her comfortable and clean. Arthur wished to thank her and brought a two-pound box of See’s Candy. He never bought the pre-packaged assortment; rather he would hand pick the box, usually with his favorites. This tended mostly towards dark chocolates. He spoke briefly with Frances, thanking her and turned to leave when something caught his eye.
He noticed a man, sitting in a wheelchair in the hallway around the corner and out of sight from the nurses’ station. There was a green mask on his face supplying him with oxygen as the man struggled to breathe. Something about him drew Arthur inexplicably toward him. Arthur slowly walked down the hall in the direction of the man, not directly looking at him, so as to not indicate his curious purpose. As he approached and slowed, however, his intent became clear. The man looked up from his chair directly at Arthur. His gaze contained both a powerful focus, fixed directly upon his subject while simultaneously seemed to look beyond at some distant object, maybe real or metaphysical; Arthur couldn’t tell. But something about it seemed hauntingly familiar. He could not, however, place it. His eyes belied a tortured longing, something desperate and vacant. As they regarded each other, Arthur stretched his memory, frantically trying to recall where he had seen that look; seen those eyes before. In a moment, it came to him, and its realization shook him to his core.
Suddenly, without warning, and seemingly not in control of his own movements, Arthur was kneeling before the man; the fixed gaze never broken. The labored breathing was the only sound. With one hand on each of the sick man’s knees, Arthur did the unthinkable. He gave him life. Instantly, the look he saw changed to that of unimaginable astonishment. The man knew what had just transpired. As his eyes searched Arthur for an explanation, which would not, could not be found in this strange benefactor, Arthur stumbled up and backwards. In his previous experience with Randy and his wife, the recipient of his ability had no knowledge whatsoever of what they had received. This stranger somehow knew. Unable to process what had just occurred, Arthur, in a state of total confusion, turned away and half walked, half ran out of the hospital; his mind fixed upon those eyes that had captured him in the power of that terrible moment. He knew those eyes only so well. They were the ones that each morning looked back at him from his mirror.
What had he done? This question plagued him for the next month. How could he just give away 7 years of his rapidly diminishing life to a total stranger? It was not an accident, however. In that moment, his intentions were clear, no matter how mysterious the rationale. Who was this man? A week later, Arthur went back to the hospital, hoping to find the man, hoping for some answer, but he was not there. He did not know his name and knew that the nurses were legally prevented from giving him any information. He was confused. He had just lost and wife and a part of his life. The river now carrying him had push-pulled him in directions where he had no desire to go. Nothing could be changed now. He tried to convince himself that there was some greater purpose in this and received a little consolation. But this little consolation felt true, and it was all that he had, so he held onto it with the hope that, some day, he might understand. He returned to work.
Life slowly inched back to a sort of warped normality. People were kind at acknowledging his loss, but never quite knew what to say. They remained distant. This did not bother Arthur. His conversations with others remained superficial and consisted of cordialities and business transactions. His house never really felt like it belonged to him alone. It was not a house intended for one person. There was nothing in the house that did not remind him of his wife. He only felt at home when he was visiting his daughter in law and his grandchildren. It was there that he was finally alive again. He visited as often as he could. Eva and Mark were growing up so fast. Eva was becoming a young woman of grace and kindness. Mark was forever absorbed in exploring, reading and building.
There are those days in life, individual days, that become implanted in your memory because everything changes in a single moment. Images, frozen in time, like a painting on a wall. Arthur had too many paintings hanging already, only now to add one more. The call came on a Tuesday morning. He had just come back from the store and was making a grilled ham and cheese sandwich for lunch. His daughter and law spoke, although he barely recognized her voice. Through her broken speech he learned that Eva, now 13, had just been diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. She couldn’t continue through her sobs. Arthur promised to come immediately and hung up the phone. He slumped into a chair, sobbing, as the smell of burnt bread filled the room.
He thought, is God punishing me? Have I not suffered enough? How can a child, so pure and beautiful be made to suffer? Over the years, Arthur’s belief in God had grown. He did not blame God for his losses, but he wished that he understood what it was that God required of him. On this question, the heavens had remained silent.
When he arrived in Seattle, Eva was already in the hospital. The pediatric oncologist explained that they wanted to take an aggressive approach and start the process for a bone marrow transplant immediately. Eva continued, as usual, to be forever positive. She reassured her Grandpa that everything would be alright. A search for a suitable donor was initiated. Family members were tested first. Arthur hoped that he would be a match. As it turned out, the best match was Mark.
The bone marrow harvest was done as Mark lay on his stomach, his mother wanted to hold his hand, but Mark was too big for that. They heard the crunch as the large needle broke through the bone in his pelvis. Mark winced as they aspirated the bone marrow sending a terrible ache throughout his lower body. But he never uttered a sound. He knew that this meant life for his sister. He was the man of the family, and needed to act as such.
A week later, Eva received the chemotherapy that would kill her bone marrow, and hopefully the cancer cells as well. Two day later, Mark’s bone marrow was placed into her body. Initially she felt fine, however, a week later, things got worse. With a white count of zero, she developed pneumonia which then progressed to acute respiratory distress syndrome. Her lungs were filled with infection and fluid. She could no longer breathe on her own and was placed on a ventilator. Arthur was devastated. This sight was only too familiar. He remembered Randy has he suffered similarly. To see Eva like this was more than he could handle. The doctors would briefly rush in twice daily and say what was happening clinically, attempt to provide some hope, but their faces belied their fears. Arthur could hear them talking outside the room as they mentioned her less than 50% chance of survival. The next day she worsened as the ventilator, now at high pressures, could barely keep her adequately oxygenated. Arthur knew that it was his turn to intervene. The decision was no decision at all. Arthur could do the math; it was always and ever present in his mind. To give seven more years of his life meant that he would die soon; a few more years. To him, however, it was no sacrifice.
Eva’s mom had taken Mark to the cafeteria to get some dinner. Arthur stayed behind. Alone with Eva, he simply took her hand, spoke her name and gave to her the majority of his remaining time. Within two days, she began to improve. She ‘turned the corner’ the doctors would say and they removed the breathing tube. As her lungs healed, Mark’s bone marrow began to grow within her and replace the cancerous cells with healthy ones. She recovered completely. What Arthur did not know was that if he had not intervened, she would have recovered on her own. She would have remained healthy only to have a recurrence three years later. She would have died at age 16. His gift to her was to add seven years to her life from the time that she should have died. Eva would live another 10 years.


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