CHAPTER 5
 

The next day starts out better.  They all wake up, Mel included, in reasonably good spirits, even though they still have pneumonia-like symptoms.  We're trying to get them to eat.  Dannon La Cremes have become popular, Dulce de Leche being the favorite.  Smooth, easy to swallow, sweet.  Gives them some calories, although not nearly enough.  They all look so thin.  Mel's delightful little paunch is gone.  Byers' bones are all sticking out, and Langly's skin hangs loose on him.  We've still got them on IV fluids—they don't drink enough, and without the IV's, they'd rapidly become dehydrated.

Devi'd gone to Walmart and gotten them some sweatpants and T-shirts, the sight of which made them cheer.  The hospital smocks are easy for us in an emergency but I think they just remind the guys that they're sick. We've been going in the shower with them as much as possible, bathing them in bed when that's not an option.

"Oh man, get me out of this, like now,"  Ringo tries to maneuver out of bed. We have been keeping them moving around as much as possible.  It may seem cruel, as they are still extremely sick, and everywhere they go they have to drag their 14 miles of tubing, but it's actually necessary.  They get irritated with our trying to assist them, insisting they can do it themselves, so the best we can do is stay close and make sure nothing goes catastrophically wrong.  Still, dragging themselves to the bathroom or to just alleviate a little boredom is good.  We don't know that they have pneumonia, but if they don't get up, they're going to develop it, and their muscles are going to completely atrophy.  I don't think that's what they had in mind.

Ringo is trying to get himself up.  It's a challenge with the limitations of illness and IV lines, but today, he's doing far worse than usual.

"Lemme give you a hand, babe,"  Deborah says to him as she tries to take his hand.  He pulls it away, protesting that he can do it himself.  I smile to myself.  Those two are so well suited for each other—the tetchiest humans ever to walk the planet.  Thank God they found each other.

Ringo's trying, of course, and Deborah, being the same way he is, will respect his need to do so, but after a few minutes, he concedes defeat.  Deborah and Sari and I all glance at each other, and our looks all say the same thing: this is not good.

"Okay, you win,"  he croaks to Deborah, his thin voice rich with irritation.

She usually has a good comeback for his cracks, but this time, she simply says, "I think this is something I'm going to need to look into more, babe."  She takes his arm and guides him to the bathroom.

Mel wakes up.  "I feel like shit.  And I'm dying of thirst."  I head for the portable fridge and produce a bottle of Arrowhead.  Devi's been keeping us supplied.  One thing about the consulate, there's never a shortage of beverages, both of the alcoholic and nonalcoholic kinds.  I'm getting to the point where I'm ready to ask Devi if she minds breaking out a good single malt.  Or at least some J&B.

"Dear heart, this is normal.  You went into cardiac arrest.  You're going to feel like hell for a few days,"  I say gently to him, smoothing his hair.  "I can give you a bed bath if you'd like."

"Think I'd prefer to get in the shower.  And what's Langly carrying on about?"

John is also awake.  "When is Langly not carrying on about something?"  He shakes his head.

"That would be never,"  Mel concedes, sipping his Arrowhead.

"He's in the bathroom,"  Sari says to him.  "He was having trouble getting up and getting there."  Quite honestly,  I was unnerved at how wobbly he was.  You expect patients this sick to not be totally sturdy on their legs, but Ringo was in far worse shape than I'd seen him.  Just when the respiratory symptoms were starting to mildly abate, then this sets in.

A few minutes later, a sweatpants and T-shirt clad Ringo emerges on Deborah's arm.  The clothing makes him look more like the Ringo I know, but also drives home how thin they've all become.  The clothes just hang on him, even more than usual.  He looks intensely unhappy—and scared.  Deborah just looks concerned.

"Mel, we need to do basic neurological on all these guys,"  she says.

"Oh please.  I'm so tired of being prodded," John uncharacteristically is the one to complain.

"Sorry, dude.  It's not over yet,"  Deborah groans.

"Let her do what she needs to do,"  Sari urges gently.  "Then I'll read you some Rumi, if you'd like."

"The ballgame's on in an hour,"  Mel reminds them, having memorized all the games of the season in advance.  He may not be clear on some things in life, but he never forgets the baseball schedule.

"And we're watching,"  Ringo snaps.

Sari sighs.  "Maybe I'll go visit with Devi during the game."

"That would be a good idea,"  I urge her.  Deborah and I have taken short breaks and gone to chat with Devi and indulge in some of her marvelous cooking.  If all Indian food tastes as good as she makes it, she could make me a believer.  Though I'm not sure I could ever give up the idea of a great cheeseburger.  "Besides, I think Cardinal Richelieu misses you."  One of the pleasures of going upstairs is visiting with Sari's cat.  He's a friendly boy, and I find the tension drifts right out of me when I pet him. Animals are always a source of relaxation for me, unless they happen to be young boys.

Deborah and I perform the basic neuro exam.  The results aren't drastically off, but enough that we're concerned.

"Okay, are you done now?"  Ringo snaps as I finish him.

The phone rings.  Deborah picks it up.  It's Maggie.  The conversation is short, and the gist of it appears to be that Maggie needs something from us.

"She needs blood and tissue samples,"  Deborah confirms my suspicions.

"Oh no.  You're not sticking me again,"  Ringo says to Deborah.  "Where'd you learn to draw blood, anyway?  The Vampire School of Bloodsucking?"

I'm waiting for a sharp retort on her side, but instead, she stands in semi-shock, just before she bursts into tears.

Sari turns to Ringo, hands on hips, her voice chiding.

"That was uncalled for, Ringo.  Deborah is doing everything she can, and you have no right to talk to her that way!"

"Maybe you'd feel a little differently if you were on this side,"  John is keeping his voice as even as possible, but you can see that even he, patient man though he is, has totally had it.

This irritates Sari.  "Listen, I've spent plenty of time laid up and being poked and prodded and stuck, and I'm a lot more sympathetic than you think."

John is hanging by a thread, and a frayed one at that.  "I think it would be a good idea if you went up and hung with Devi for a while.  You've been down here too long.  You haven't taken a break—"

"And you talk during the ballgame!"  Mel mutters.  I don't think she heard that one, but I certainly did.  I glare at him.

Sari looks intensely hurt.  She really has helped a lot, clinically as well.  She's actually a pretty good phlebotomist—and yes, she's better at it than Deborah, who has since left the room and is probably off crying.

"Sari,"  I say to her quietly.  "Go talk with Devi.  Have her make you some of whatever she last made me.  I don't know what was in them, but they were delicious."  And have a shot of whatever while you're up there, I add silently.

"All right, I can take a hint."  She leaves without so much as kissing John.  I shake my head.  I'm sure they'll be fine in a while, but they really do need a break from each other.

I turn to the three of them.  "If you gentlemen will excuse me."
 

Deborah's in the other room, which is more comfortably furnished, her long frame curled into the corner of the sofa.  She is sobbing inconsolably.

"I'm doing everything I can!"  She wails at me.

I sit next to her and put my arm around her.  "I know dear, I know.  We all are.  Let's face it, we're all getting worn a little thin.  I could smack all of them right now."  Her and Sari included, but I don't say that.

"Do you know what today is?" She continues, her sobbing not abated.

"It's Baltimore versus Cleveland?"  That's what Mel told me, anyway.

"No, it's May 7th!   It's my birthday!  I'm 30 today, Mel!"

Oh dear.  And I'm so horrible at remembering birthdays.  I can't even remember my own half the time.  I know it's in October.  Close enough for government work.

"Oh, you poor thing."  I hug her closer.  And she doesn't resist me.  "I don't suppose saying Happy Birthday would help much at this point?"

"This is the lousiest birthday I've ever spent!  I mean, even when I'm on service, there's always something!  Ringo didn't even remember!"

"I think they're all having a hard time concentrating on dates per se,"  and I'm sure this is the case.  They've been measuring time by TV programs.  "I don't think it would hurt to remind him."

"For what?  He's being such a bastard to me today!"

And you, dear child, are no day at the beach.  "Listen, like it or not, I'm going to remind him.  And I'll tell Devi.  I suspect Devi would let no occasion go uncelebrated."  Devi is a person who feels, any excuse for a party.  Well, it's time to let her play hostess with the mostess.  Not that she hasn't already.

"I think we can salvage the occasion."  I'm an eternal optimist.  I have to be.  How do you think I've made it through all this time?

"It's not just that.  Maggie needs blood and tissue samples."

"I'll do the blood."  I can draw blood very efficiently.  I've taken from the worst veins in one shot.

"The blood's the easy part.  What she wants are cartilage, muscle, and lung tissue."

"Do you have a bronch?"

"Yeah, I thought to steal one of those.  I'm going to have to do it blind, though—no way was I going to get a Xillix out unnoticed."

"No, I think someone would have discovered that in a hurry."  Xillixes are expensive and most hospitals have no more than three.  And they're touchy creatures as well.

"It's really not harder than intubating and I can do that blind.  I worry a little about doing the tissue samples without visuals."

"You could just do lavage and get the cells that come up in that."

She shakes her head.  "Lavage isn't going to give her what she needs.  I'm just gonna have to be really careful.  And since it's conscious sedation, with you  and Sari, monitoring shouldn't be too hard.  But what worries me is doing the muscle and cartilage punches.  I've got a chondrotome.  But that's really a general anesthetic procedure, and needless to say, that's not an option here."

"Do we have NO2?"

"Nope, and I wouldn't use it on them right now, anyway.  Only option is conscious sedation and lots of local  in the punch site.  They're going to hate me."

I chuckle.  "They hate all of us already, dear."

"Mel, you're not making me feel better!"  But she does laugh a little.

"Maggie probably wants these as soon as possible,"  I sigh. "And the game's just about to start."

Deborah leans back.  "Y'know, I know time's critical right now.  But maybe if I let 'em watch the ballgame, they'll be more cooperative."

"Unless the Orioles start losing."

"Yeah.  Then we're screwed."
 

We return to the guys.  The game's just about to start, but I don't feel too bad about interrupting Dennis Miller.

"Excuse me, but we have a birthday girl today,"  I announce.

"Who?"  Ringo asks.

"That'd be me,"  Deborah says, her voice thick from crying.  "I'm 30."

jerk—"

She goes over to him.  "Yes, you have.  But you could make it up to me."

He takes his free arm and pulls her close.  "Babe, I'm like so sorry—"

"Look, I know, it's not your fault, I just don't wanna be yelled at, I'm doing everything I can,"  she whimpers.

He whispers something to her, and then pulls her into a sweet kiss.

"Okay, you're gonna miss the opening pitch, you two, if you're gonna do that, get a room,"  Mel growls at them, but winks at me.

And the game opens up, with Baltimore at bat.  For a while, we can pretend it's a normal spring afternoon, and we're just all hanging out, watching the ballgame.

That will end soon enough.  I'll enjoy it while I can.
 

Have to say, it's a good game, and distracts the guys from their discomforts.  I keep monitoring—inconspicuously, and I know Deborah is doing the same.  Mel has a few arrythmias here and there, but nothing that concerns me till the bottom of the 7th inning, when the three of them are yowling in disagreement with a play that was called.

"Totally safe.  It was a totally good play,"  Mel groans, somewhat breathlessly.

"Mel, take it easy, your saturation's down,"  I admonish him.

"Screw that!  It was not a foul ball!"

"That umpire deserves to be taken out and shot,"  John declares coldly.

"Yeah, right along with him and Morris Fletcher,"  Ringo sneers.  Everybody winces.

After some considerable whining from the beds and a lot of arguing on screen, the 8th inning is about to commence when the phone rings again.  I reach for it.

"It's me,"  a male voice says, a bit breathlessly.  I freeze for a moment, then realize it's Jimmy.  I look at the number.  It's got to be a pay phone.  Good.  The brain donor is learning.

"Yes, Jimmy?"

"Dr. Rose says she needs bone marrow samples, too.  And she says don't send 'em to her."

"Where should we send them?"

"I got a PO Box in one of those mailbox places.  Under a different name, of course."

"And what name did you use?"

"Uh…Morris Fletcher?"

"I'm not sure that was such a good idea, Jimmy."

"No, you see, it's perfect.  We figure, we can get the guys better and nail Morris's butt all at once.  Anndie thought it was a great idea."

"Does she know Morris Fletcher?"  I don't, and I don't care for that situation to change.  Mild-mannered though I might be, the temptation to strangle the man might be too intense for even me to resist.

"Dunno.  She's in the lab, she's kinda scared still.  But she was teaching me how to pipette."

I shudder at the thought of how many broken pipettes are lying there in his wake.  I've heard about some of the more interesting uses for devices he'd found at the guys' place.  I'm not even going to go into the toaster story.

"Okay, Morris Fletcher it is.  Give me the address."  I grab a sheet of paper and scribble down the information.  I hope someone can read it.  I'm not sure  I'll be able to.  "I'll let Deborah know.  Be careful, Jimmy."

"Gotcha."

The guys and Deborah are back to enjoying the game.  I hope the Orioles win, because otherwise, they're going to be in a really bad mood, especially when they find out what the postgame activities are.
 

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