“How’s Michael?” James asks when Elizabeth comes to visit him.
She sits down heavily beside his bed. “He’s okay, I think. It’s hard to tell with him. He claims he’s not in any pain and that he feels alright, but…”
“He’s a liar,” James finishes.
Elizabeth sighs. “Unfortunately yes when it comes to things like this. I keep trying to tell him that the doctors can’t help if they don’t know there’s a problem, but…” She shakes her head. “They’re watching him closely. They know he isn’t thrilled about being on painkillers and isn’t going to admit to being in pain.”
“Are the new antibiotics working?”
“Too soon to tell. It’s only been a day.”
James bites the inside of his cheek. All this waiting is agony.
“How about you?” Elizabeth asks. “How are you doing? It’s day four today. They might have your results back.”
“I’m going out of my mind,” he says honestly, staring out into the hallway through the open door. Someone runs past. “The videos help a little, but this waiting, not knowing what’s happening, not being allowed to see Alexander or Michael…”
“It’s for the best,” Elizabeth says. “You can’t see Alexander until you’ve been cleared and visiting Michael is too risky for you right now. If you don’t already have the bacteria going there could expose you and they will have to do your tests again before you can see Alexander. The only reason I’m even allowed to visit you is because I wear the protective clothing in Michael’s room. Gown, gloves, scrub cap…And even with all that and being at a low risk for contracting MRSA, I’m not allowed to see Alexander either. They are doing their best to keep him safe.”
“I know,” James says quietly. “I understand. But that doesn’t make it any easier. It seems like every time I think things can’t get any worse…They do.”
Elizabeth puts her hand over his. “I know it’s hard, sweetheart. I know. But remember…It’s always darkest before the dawn. You can’t have the sun without a rainy day. These are just the rainy days. You’ll be back in the sun before you know it. I know you will. You just have to have faith.”
“Yeah,” James says bitterly. “Faith is all we need.”
Another person runs past the doorway. James sits up, craning his neck to see what’s happening.
“Where are they going?” For some inexplicable reason, dread fills the pit of his stomach.
“Who?” Elizabeth turns around as a third person runs past.
“Room 209!” the woman yells as she flies past. “Page Dr Phillips!”
Elizabeth realizes a split second before James does.
“That’s Michael’s room.” She knocks her seat over as she leaps up and races out the door. James is close behind her and together they run down the hall.
“Stop,” Violet growls, appearing out of nowhere and grabbing James by the arm as he reaches Michael’s room, stopping him from going inside. “If you go in there we have to test you again. If you go in there, the clock restarts.”
“Let go of me!” James yells, pulling away. “That’s my brother in there!”
Violet lets him go but blocks his path. “Mr Axton,” she says, holding up her hands in a gesture that says stop. “James. You don’t want to do this. You don’t want to spend another five days away from Alexander. Away from your son.”
The sound of his name is enough to give James pause. He looks past Violet into Michael’s room. A team of nurses and interns are swarming around Michael, who appears to be struggling to breathe. His heart rate monitor is beeping so rapidly that there’s barely a gap between each beep.
“Michael,” James whispers. “Oh God, Michael.”
“You can’t help him by going in there,” Violet says, lowering her hands. “And chances are the nurses will tell you to leave anyway. Stay here. Stay with me. Your mom is with him. He’s not alone.”
James feels his resolve splinter and crack as he watches Elizabeth hurriedly tug on the protective gear shoved at her by one of the interns. The thought of having to spend another five agonising days without Alexander keeps him in place.
“What’s happening?” James asks, trying to hear what’s been said above the squeal of the heart monitor. “What’s wrong with him?”
“Tachycardia,” Violet says, peering inside. “His heart is beating too fast. They will give him something to slow it down.”
As she says that, Thomas pulls a syringe from a drawer and turns towards Michael. Moments later the beeps on the heart monitor begin to slow down.
“His heartrate is returning to normal,” Violet says beside James. “They’re giving him oxygen to help him breathe.”
James watches as Thomas puts an oxygen mask over Michael’s face. Michael grabs it gratefully and holds it over his mouth and nose. Dr Phillips pushes his way into the room. James strains to hear.
“Mr Axton,” he says to Michael. “You gave us a bit of a scare. How are you feeling?”
James can’t hear Michael’s answer, but by the look on Elizabeth’s face, he has a pretty clear idea of what he said.
Dr Phillips frowns. “I somehow doubt that. You had something called tachycardia. It’s a heart arrhythmia which makes your heart beat too quickly. We gave you a beta-blocker to slow your heartbeat to a normal rate, but it won’t prevent it from happening again. We need to run some tests to find out what is causing the arrhythmia so we can treat it.”
Elizabeth whispers something James can’t hear. Dr Phillips turns to her. She says something else. James can just make out the word please. Dr Phillips glances between her and Michael.
“It’s…It’s possible that the MRSA infection has spread to your heart,” he says to Michael. “But I don’t want you to worry. If it has, we’ve caught it early and will treat it as aggressively as we can.”
Elizabeth covers her mouth with her hand. She looks like she’s crying.
“We’re booking you in for an echo later today. A nurse will be in to draw some blood samples throughout the day. The echo will allow us to see your heart with an ultrasound and give us a clear picture of what we are dealing with. The blood tests will help us rule out other causes.”
Elizabeth hangs her head in her hands. Dr Phillips stands up. He says something James can’t hear and puts his hand on her shoulder. He turns to Michael and says something else James can’t hear. Michael nods. Dr Phillips leaves.
“Please,” James says, rushing over to him as he takes off his gown and gloves. “Is he going to be okay?”
Dr Phillips looks up. “Mr Axton.” He sounds surprised. “You shouldn’t be down here.”
“Is he going to be okay?!” James demands.
Dr Phillips glances at Violet. “We’ll know more after the tests,” he says, returning his gaze to James. “I’ll let you know as soon as we know something. I’m sorry I can’t tell you more.” He turns and leaves, hurrying down the hall.
James wants to scream.
Every time I think things can’t get any worse…They do.
He stares into Michael’s room, desperately wanting to go inside and be with his brother. With his mom. With Alexander.
He whips around to face Violet. The realization hits him hard enough to knock the air from his lungs.
“Why are you down here?? Is Alexander okay?? Is he alright? Did something happen??”
Violet gives him a small, broken smile. “I was on my way to see you. It’s the end of my shift, but I wanted to be there when Dr Anderson told you. She’s probably in your room right now, looking for you.”
“Tell me what?? What happened? Is Alexander okay??”
Violet’s smile widens slightly. “Why don’t you go upstairs and ask him for yourself?”
“James…Your test results came back. You’re in the clear. You both are, actually. You don’t have MRSA. You can go upstairs. You can go see your son.”
James stares at her, unsure if he heard correctly.
“What?” he repeats.
“There you are,” Dr Anderson says, coming over to them. “I’ve been looking for you. What are you doing out of bed? Never mind; I wanted to talk about your test results.”
James turns to her, expecting her to say you have MRSA and can’t see Alexander until it’s been treated.
Instead she says, “Based on the look on Violet’s face, I’d say she already told you. Your tests came back clear: you don’t have MRSA. I’ve checked with Dr Williams; neither does Alexander. You can see him.”
James feels weak. “What?”
“You can go see him,” Dr Anderson repeats. “Right now if you want.”
James looks into Michael’s room, feeling torn. Michael and Elizabeth are talking quietly. They haven’t see him.
“Now?” he whispers.
Dr Anderson nods. “Yes. Now. Violet will take you up if you’d like.”
You can’t go in there and you can’t help him. He’d want you to go see Alexander. He’d understand.
“Okay,” he says, turning to Violet. His voice sounds strange. Too high. A combination of excitement and terror. “Take me to see my son.”