I have had my share of the agonizing wait in the hospital waiting room. About three years ago, when I was still in middle school, my sister had suddenly collapsed during dinner. One second she had been complaining about a girl in her class who always took her eraser without asking for permission, another second she had been down on the floor, her body limp, her face pale as a sheet of paper. My mom had screamed and clung onto her body like it was the end; my dad had kept trying to do everything to help except call for an ambulance. I was the only one who had kept a calm head and grabbed the phone.
The wait at the hospital had been both frightening and exhausting. It had felt like every time the second hand of the clock ticked, a lifetime had passed. My parents and I had been huddled up near one of the small tables, each with a cup of water in our hands but no one actually aware of it. Truth was, we hadn’t known exactly what we had been waiting for. Would the doctors walk out with a healthy Samantha beside them and let us go home, or would they bring out her body and say it was too late? Would they even bring her out? Or would they be leading us in to see her? All they had told us was to wait in the waiting room.
Finally, a doctor had appeared in front of us and had told us that everything was fine. Samantha had gotten a heatstroke and hadn’t been drinking enough water. This had been when the three of us became aware of the cups in our hands and had gladly downed the lifesaving liquid contained in them. That had been three years ago and it had a happy ending, so I had long pushed the torture of the hospital waiting room out of my memories. This day, however, on the fourth Thursday of November, it all came back like a storm as I sat alone on one of the chairs, a cup of water in my hands again. Tutto had already lost consciousness when I returned to him after calling for help. Luckily the agent on the line had told me to massage the left side of his chest slowly but firmly. He had managed to regain some consciousness when the ambulance arrived, and whatever happened after that was all a blur. Next thing I knew, I was sitting where I was, thinking but trying not to think too much.
"Mr. Ryan?" A nurse had come out from the emergency room.
Upon seeing her, I jumped up and sprinted to her, nearly bumping into her. "Is he alright?"
"We're still trying everything we can. He's stabilized a bit now but his condition is still unpredictable." The nurse gestured for me to sit down. "There are some questions I hope you will be able to answer. How do you know Mr. Freeman?"
"We're classmates." I answered quickly. After thinking over it a bit more, I added, "We're friends."
"How long have you known him?" The nurse was quickly jotting down notes.
I thought back bit. Tutto had started pestering me around the time I started dating Leona. "About a year, I guess."
"Has he ever had an attack before that you know of?"
"No." I shook my head. "Was it a heart attack?"
"Did you know about Mr. Freeman’s heart condition at all?" The nurse lifted her head to look at me.
I gaped back at her. "Heart condition?"
The nurse put down her pen. "Mr. Freeman has pulmonary valve stenosis." When I blinked at her, she added, "It's a type of heart disorder."
"No." I twirled my cup. "No, he's never said anything about that..." My voice trailed off as I recalled the day when Tutto was sitting in our living room, tracing his finger on the world map on our living room table. He had been talking about the Third World War happening in his father's chest. Or, was it his own?
"Do you know if Mr. Freeman has any family or relatives who may know about his condition?" The nurse had picked up her pen again and continued scribbling in her binder.
I thought hard about this question. Besides his father, Tutto never talked about anybody else. No mother, no siblings. "He talks about his father a lot, but I've never met his father."
"No one else?"
"Do you know where he lives?" The nurse raised an eyebrow at me, acknowledging my uselessness.
"No. I'm sorry." I hung my head. If only I had paid more attention to my friend.
"It's alright. We'll contact the school." The nurse tucked her pen away and closed her binder. "Do you have any questions for me?"
I nodded my head. Everything! "What's wrong with Tutto’s heart exactly?"
"Pulmonary valve stenosis is when the entrance from the heart into the artery that carries blood to the lungs is narrowed. It's a defect of the heart structure that occurred when the patient was still a fetus developing in his mother's uterus. Not enough blood flows to the lungs, the body doesn't collect enough oxygen, thus the patient would be gasping for breath, have severe chest pains, appear pale or even bluish in complexion, and eventually collapse." The nurse stood up. "Mr. Ryan, I can see this was a big surprise for you. Right now too much information might not be the best. I'm going back to see how the doctors are doing, but I want you to do your best to calm down, drink lots of water, and try not to think too much. I'll let you know when it's alright to go and see him."
I nodded. My mouth suddenly felt unbearably dry, but I couldn't call up the energy to even bring the cup in my hands up to my mouth. The nurse walked away, her hasty footsteps echoing loudly in the empty hallway.
My head felt like it was about to burst. Individual questions popped out from the mist of confusion one by one. Pulmon- what? But how could Tutto have a heart disorder? How could he have been dancing and running and everything? The first time we went up to that roof, he climbed the stairs without even panting! Not enough blood going to the lungs? That doesn't make any sense. And why did he never say anything about this? Or maybe he did? When he was talking about World War Three? Was that what it was? But I thought he was talking about his father. Or maybe his father has this disease too. Is this thing genetic? Is his father alive or not? Why does Tutto always have to talk in code?
I must have fallen asleep accidentally, for the next thing I knew, someone was tapping me gently on the shoulder. I opened my eyes and saw that it was the same nurse from before.
"He's awake now." She said quietly.
I followed her to the hospital room. The nurse stood at the doorway and turned to me. "Try not to upset him." When I nodded, she opened the door and let me in.
Walking into the hospital room was like walking into a whole new world. The atmosphere smelled of medicine and chemicals, but it was somehow peaceful, even serene, as if I had stepped into an impressionistic painting. The room was quiet except for the pumping of the ventilator and the soft beeping of the heart monitor. A large window with light blue curtains was situated on the far side of the room, and in front of it stood a nightstand which held a small desk lamp with a light blue shade. The soft light of the desk lamp shone onto the bed, where Tutto lied under a couple light blue blankets. Beneath all the tubing and machines, the amber-haired boy looked unusually small.
I slowly walked up to him, making my footsteps as soft as possible so as not to disturb the silence. He must have heard me anyway, for he opened his eyes and peered over to me.
“Hey, buddy.” I said, as if talking to a four-year-old. “How’re you doing?”
Tutto smiled behind the ventilation mask.
I sat down on the seat beside the bed. “Man, you really gave me a scare there.” I chuckled a bit, trying to keep it light.
Tutto gestured to his throat, pointing at the tubes and waving his hand.
“Oh, you can’t talk with that thing on?” Tutto shook his head slightly. I looked around the room. On one of the counters there was a clipboard with some pieces of paper and a pen. I could see that the doctors had tried to make Tutto write information down for them, but, of course, Tutto being Tutto, didn’t write a word.
“Hey, Tutto.” I handed the clipboard and pen to him. “Write what you want to say for me, alright?”
Tutto slowly started writing:
Sorry for scaring you Jamesy
“It’s alright.” I laughed. “Do you know what happened?”
Albert helped Tutto out of the turkey costume and told Tutto about the party
Tutto wanted to find Jamesy first but his stomach suddenly started screaming really loudly
I paused a while in realization. So that’s what he means when he says his stomach is screaming. It’s when he has a heart attack. “Well,” I placed a hand gently on the other boy’s shoulder. “Good thing you found me eventually.
Tutto doesn’t remember finding Jamesy…
“You did.” I assured him. “Just in time too.”
Tutto smiled again.
Jamesy saved Tutto?
“Nah. I just called for help.” I waved a hand in front of my face out of embarrassment. “The doctors saved you. I had no idea what was going on.”
Tutto let out a small laugh. He winced a bit; the laugh must have hurt.
“Hey, Tutto.” I was still seeking for answers. “Sorry I didn’t know about your heart problems.”
Tutto gave me a look of confusion.
Tutto has heart problems?
I looked away from him, taken aback. He doesn’t know?
“The doctors said you had a heart attack.” I explained. “I thought you knew…”
Tutto continued to look at me questioningly, his head tilted a bit. I thought back on the day when Tutto told me about how he had lost his father’s heartbeat and promised him not to go looking for it. When I had pointed out that his father might have had a heart attack, he had repeated the words “heart attack” as if it were something he had never heard before.
“Tutto, when was the last time you saw your dad?”
About a year ago
So his father did pass away. It seemed like the boy never understood that his father was gone. His father had talked in metaphor all the time, I doubt Tutto ever understood anything concretely. However, I fought the urge to explain things to him, remembering the nurse’s words before she let me into the room.
I opened my mouth to ask another question, but the boy had fallen asleep.
Suddenly, the door behind me opened, and a slender, blond woman stepped into the room. My eyes widened as I began to recognize who it was.
-羅寗 Michelle Ning Lo