Sunday, 26 April 2015

Orange Sky: Part Forty-Three

[Parts 1-42 are here. Let's pretend that the sporadic posts are intentional to keep you all guessing, okay? Okay. Friendly reminder that I was originally going to post once a week, so missing a couple of days here and there isn't too bad, right?

Thank you so much for reading Xo]

There’s a knock on the door. James looks up eagerly.

“Come in,” he calls as loud as he dares without waking up Alexander. Violet opens the door.

“Did you call my Mom?” James whispers. “Call Michael? Where are they? Are they coming…up…” James stares at her, taking in her yellow paper gown, scrub cab, surgical mask and gloves. “What’s going on?” he asks, immediately panicking. “What’s happening?”

Violet doesn’t answer. The expression on her face makes James’ stomach drop.

“What is it??” he asks, sitting up straight. Alexander tightens his grasp on James’ hair, making it necessary for him to tilt his head to the side to avoid his hair being pulled. “What is it?” he repeats. “What’s wrong?”

Violet seems to steel herself before she answers. “It’s Michael. A few hours after he left here he started complaining about pain in his leg. When his doctor unwrapped the bandages to check, he found that his leg was infected. Is infected. He's...He’s in surgery right now. They are draining an abscess caused by the infection.”

“An abscess?” James tries to keep up. He feels like the walls are closing in on him. “I don’t understand. I saw him a few hours ago and he was fine!”

Violet eyes are full of sympathy. “The infection must have been developing for a while, but he didn’t tell anyone he was in pain. I checked with Thomas. He didn’t touch his morphine drip and every time he was asked if he needed his pain medication adjusted, he said he was fine.”

“And they BELIEVED HIM?!”

Alexander jumps and wakes up. He adjusts his grip on James’ hair.

“Daddy?” he whispers sleepily, coughing. “Why are you yelling?”

James swallows and makes himself calm down. “I’m sorry, buddy,” he says. “I’m sorry. Go back to sleep.”

“Is Uncle Michael here now?” Alexander asks, struggling to open his eyes. “I want to see him.”

James feels like he’s been kicked in the stomach. “Not yet, buddy. Not yet. Go back to sleep. We can talk more when you wake up.”

Alexander yawns. His eyes slide closed and he’s asleep again in seconds.

“Where’s my Mom?” James asks in a quieter voice. “Is she okay?”

“She’s down in the waiting room, waiting for Michael to come out of surgery. She wanted to come up and see you, but since she’s been with Michael, she may have been exposed to the infection. They wouldn’t allow her up into the ICU. They couldn’t risk spreading it.” Violet shifts on her feet and looks down at the floor. “Actually, Mr Axton…That’s really what I came in here to tell you. The type of infection your brother has is called M-R-S-A. Mersa. It’s a strain of the staphylococcus bacteria that is resistant to most antibiotics. It spreads quickly and is the most common infection found in hospitals, especially amongst surgical patients. It is also one of the most deadly because of its resistance to treatment.”

She glances at Alexander. All the blood drains from James’ face.

“No,” James says, vigorously shaking his head. “No. No. No. No. No.”

Violet swallows. “Dr Williams will be up shortly. He will talk you through what is going to happen next.”

“He doesn’t have it,” James says, still shaking his head. “Tell me he doesn’t have it. Tell me he’s okay.” His heart feels like it is being ripped apart. “Please…” His eyes fill with tears. “Please tell me he doesn’t have it.”

Violet looks a little like she wants to cry, too. “Dr Williams will be coming up to examine him. But MRSA…It can spread to the organs, including the lungs. Alexander’s lungs are already compromised, so…” She lets the sentence hang. James feels like he is trapped in a nightmare he cannot escape from.

“But he doesn’t have it, right? Dr Williams is coming to check, but he doesn’t have it, right??” He can hear the desperation in his voice.

“We’ll know more after Dr Williams arrives,” Violet says, just as Dr Williams enters the room. He’s wearing the same paper gown, mask, scrub cap and gloves as Violet.

“Mr Axton. I am so sorry about your brother. Unfortunately MRSA is quite common in surgical patients.”

“Alexander,” James whispers. Terror grips his heart, making it difficult for him to think straight.

Dr Williams sighs. “Unfortunately your son is at risk of contracting the infection, given that he was in contact with your brother. We will run some tests, which will hopefully come back clear.” He pauses. He is wearing the same sympathetic expression as Violet. Like he thinks James might break.

“Mr Axton…The MRSA bacteria can spread to the lungs quite quickly. Obviously with your son’s lungs being compromised already, we need to take every action to prevent that from happening.”

James stares at him. “Yes. Okay.”

Dr Williams glances at Violet and clears his throat. “There’s…There’s uh…There’s a chance that you may have contracted the infection from your brother, too, Mr Axton. You also need to be checked out.”

James blinks. “Okay.”

Dr Williams clears his throat again. “Given the aggressive nature of this infection and it’s potentially life-threatening effects…Alexander can’t be exposed to people who may have contracted the infection.”

James blinks again. “Okay.”

“James,” Violet says gently. He turns around. She’s never used his first name before. “You need to leave. You need to go back downstairs. Just until they’ve tested you and made sure that you don’t have the infection. The culture test takes two to five days to perform. If it comes back clear, you’ll be able to come back.”

James suddenly finds it very difficult to breathe. “You want me to leave?” His voice comes out strangled. “You want me to not see him for two to five DAYS?!”

“We have to take every precaution to ensure his safety,” Dr Williams says. “You, your brother and Alexander have all had surgery. We don’t normally isolate MRSA patients but in this case, it would be too risky to allow you or your brother near Alexander until we are sure your brother’s infection has cleared and you either don’t have one or yours clears too.”

“I can’t leave him.” The tears building in James’ eyes spill over. “I can’t leave him alone. He’ll be so scared and he, and he, and he…” James starts to hyperventilate. Violet comes over and gives him an oxygen mask hooked up to the spare oxygen tank.

“Just breathe,” she says, rubbing his back. “Just breathe, James. It’s going to be okay. Chances are you won’t have contracted the infection and you’ll be back up here in a couple of days. It’s going to be alright. It’s going to be okay.”

“He needs me,” James says, still struggling to catch his breath. “He needs me and I need him. He just woke up! I just got him back and I, and I, and I…”

“Shhhh,” Violet murmurs. “Breathe. It will be okay. Just breathe.”

An intern appears in the doorway with a wheelchair. “Dr Anderson told me to come up and get Mr Axton,” he says, nervously looking into the room. “She’s waiting for you.”

“Come on,” Violet says, trying to help James stand. “Let’s go.”

Despite every inch of his being screaming at him to throw himself across Alexander and refuse to ever let him go, James unhooks Alexander’s hand from his hair. The movement wakes Alexander for a second time.

“Daddy?” he says sleepily. “Where are you going?”

James doesn’t know what to say. He puts down the oxygen mask and tries not to let his expression show what he is feeling.

“I have to leave for a little while, okay buddy?” He tries to keep his voice from shaking. “I have to leave to keep you safe. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Alexander’s eyes widen. “No,” he says, shaking his head and reaching for James. “No. NO! You can’t leave me!! You can’t go!”

James swallows the scream building in his throat. “It’s okay, buddy,” he says, losing the battle to keep his voice steady. “It will be okay. Uncle Michael isn’t feeling well and there’s a chance that I caught what he has. I just have to go until they are sure I am okay. If I’m sick and I stay here I’ll make you sick too, and we don’t want that.” He tries to smile.

Alexander is distraught. “I don’t care if I get sick!” Tears gather in his eyes. “I don’t care! Stay with me! Don’t leave me!” He dissolves into a coughing fit. James very nearly falls to the ground.

“It’s like when your friend Sam had chicken pox at school, do you remember?” James says unsteadily, trying to give Alexander a cup of water. “Do you remember how he had to stay home until he was better so he wouldn’t make everyone else sick?”

“But he did make us sick,” Alexander sobs, pushing the cup away. “I got the chicken pox and so did Alicia and Ian and Sarah and half the class!”

“Exactly.” James’ hand shakes, spilling the water. He puts the cup down. “He came to school while he was sick and he made everyone sick. If I stay here I could make you sick too.”

“I don’t want you to be sick,” Alexander says, crying harder. “I don’t want you to be sick!”

“It’s okay, buddy,” James says, desperate to hold him but terrified to touch him in case he really does have MRSA. “It will be okay. You got better from the chicken pox, right? I might not even be sick, but even if I am, I’ll get better.”

“Then I’ll get better too!” Alexander sobs. “It won’t matter if I’m sick because I’ll get better too!”

James doesn’t know what to do. He stands there helplessly as Alexander sobs.

“You’re already sick,” Violet says gently. “And you’re getting better. If you get these new germs, you’ll be even sicker and you’ll have to stay the hospital even longer. You want to go home, right? You want to sleep in your own bed and run outside and play?”

Alexander stares at her. He sniffs and nods.

“Then this is what we have to do,” Violet continues. “It won’t be forever. It will just be for a couple of days. Then you’ll be back with your daddy and your uncle and you can all go home.”

Alexander turns to James. “Is that true?”

James nods, barely holding it together. “It’s true, buddy. It’s true. So I need you to be brave for me, okay? Can you be brave?”

Alexander’s lip trembles, but he tries to stop crying. “Please don’t go,” he whispers. “It’s scary without you.”

James grips the bed rail. “I get scared without you too. But we both need to be brave. Can you do that? Can you be a brave boy?”

A memory plays in James’ mind about the last time he asked Alexander to be brave.

It makes him want to throw up.

Just as he did the last time, Alexander closes his eyes and nods. “Okay,” he says, trembling. “I can be brave.”

James is simultaneously relieved and terrified. “Alright,” he says. “Okay. I’ll be back as soon as I can. Dr Williams and Violet will look after you.”

“And Astro?”

James feels even sicker. “Astro…Astro will be with you in spirit.”

Understanding blooms on Alexander’s face. “Oh,” he says quietly, wiping the tears from his cheeks. “He’s still in the snow.”

James doesn’t know how to answer him, so he doesn’t. The intern clears his throat.

“Alright buddy,” James says, trying to be as brave as Alexander. “I’ll see you soon, okay? I love you. Remember that.”

Alexander’s eyes fill with fresh tears, but he nods. “I love you, Daddy.” He gathers a handful of blankets and squeezes it so tightly that his hand trembles. “Tell Uncle Michael that I love him too and I hope he feels better soon.”

“I will,” James says, gathering the strength he needs to make himself leave. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. Violet will tell me how you’re doing every day, won’t you, Violet?”

She nods. “Of course.”

James takes a deep breath and lets go of the bed rail. He very nearly collapses, but Violet is there is to help him into the wheelchair. He had been refusing to use one for the last few days, but he doesn’t refuse it now. He knows he won’t make it out of the room on his own.

“I love you,” Alexander calls.

James doesn’t trust himself to speak again. Instead he keeps his eyes on Alexander until the intern wheels him around the corner and he can’t see him anymore. As soon as they are out of sight, James puts his head in his hand and stops fighting the sobs building up inside him. And just as Dr Williams and Violet suspected he would…He breaks.