Storms have a way of looking worse through windows.
It was a sudden thought as a torrent of rain outside the hospital drummed like a carwash rinse down the long and narrow plate glass windows at my left. Outside, the streets were probably empty, everyone indoors, cursing the rain, but celebrating the Fourth of July Weekend, all the same.
The stormy Sunday afternoon skylight over New Cambridge had darkened to a faux twilight that exaggerated the artificial lighting inside the anteroom of the hospital’s Radiology/Nuclear Imaging floor, which made the sterile white walls glow almost ghostlike.
Next to me, Mom sighed from a matching green, plush chair. She leaned against the chair’s left arm and pushed at the keypad on her smartphone. Worry lines still creased her brow where strands of auburn hair curled and rested against her forehead. She wore a red blouse, black slacks, and black pumps—her usual “business casual” outfit.
“It shouldn’t be much longer,” I said. The digital clock behind the empty receptionist area read 3:49. I was the last patient after seven hours of body scans, and I was out of the hospital gown and in my street clothes after residing at New Cambridge Mercy Hospital for fifteen days.
Worry that there was something life-threatening wrong with me crept into my thoughts. Thinking about eating Chicago-style hotdogs and fries afterwards provided a form of anesthesia that helped me relax. I sat back and closed my eyes, my hands folded on my lap until
“Hello, Karrie,” Dr. Carlyle said. Then, “How do you feel, Verawenda?”
I put my hands to my side and sat up straight. This was it. Soon I would know why I had developed seizures and severe migraine headaches after waking from my coma.
The doctor stood next to Mom’s chair and peered down at me. Even though Dr. Carlyle was probably Mom’s age, I found myself attracted to his handsome, good-natured face.
“I’m good,” I lied at the same time Mom said, “What have you found out?” The strain in her voice made its pitch sound higher than normal.
Dr. Carlyle sat next to her, away from me.
Silence fell and I found the sound of rain disturbing. With each breath, I waited for Dr. Carlyle’s revelation. A long moment passed before he leaned forward and peered at me. His expression no longer held the good nature from a moment ago.
“The tumor pressing against your brain is inoperable but likely treatable with stereotactic laser ablation.”
“What’s stereotactic laser ablation?” Mom asked.
Dr. Carlyle turned back to her. He answered but his voice sounded far away and muffled as though he were underwater. Had the lightning that struck me and put me in a coma caused the tumor? Or had the tumor already been there?
I focused again on Dr. Carlyle.
“The procedure concentrates on the tumor itself,” he said, “while preserving neighboring healthy tissue.” He looked at me, which caused me to lean toward him. “Some patients have seizures afterwards, but they’re mild and happen less often than if you were to have surgery.”
“Do you do the ablation?” I asked. “And how soon can I have it done?”
Dr. Carlyle smiled and shook his head. “No. Our hospital’s not equipped for that.” Then to Mom, he said, “It will mean traveling to New York City or Philadelphia. Both have excellent hospitals.”
“She will get better,” Mom said. “Right?” Hope flickered around the sadness that etched her eyes and mouth.
“That’s what we’re aiming for. Meanwhile, Verawenda can continue her meds for now.”
Mom nodded but the glimmer of hope in her eyes vanished. She said, “You mentioned yesterday that brain tumors are commonly caused by cancers elsewhere in the body that later spread to the brain.”
“Yes. But let’s take care of the tumor first. Get Verawenda feeling better.”
“So you haven’t ruled out cancer?”
“Your daughter is young. Secondary brain tumors usually occur in patients with a history of cancer. We’ve checked her kidney, colon, skin and lungs, and all her tests have come back negative. If you’d like, we can schedule her to have a breast exam tomorrow.”
“Yes. That would be best.”
“I agree.” Dr. Carlyle looked sorry when he looked at me, but he looked back at Mom and returned talking about me as though I were invisible.
I left my chair, walked to one of the narrow windows, and stared out at the rain, down at the headlights of cars driving past on the street five stories below. The people in those cars weren’t celebrating the Fourth of July like I thought they were.
What’s wrong with them?
What’s wrong with the world?
A white crow walked into view. It stood on the concrete ledge and peered at me with black eyes. It cawed from a black beak, though the rain striking the glass muffled its sound. It cawed again, then vanished as though it had never been there.
What’s wrong with me?
“It may take three or four months. It all depends on what we find.” Dr. Carlyle stood and said goodbye. I watched his reflection in the glass leave the room.
Life has a way of looking worse when you start poking at it.
I turned and followed Mom to the elevator bay. I prayed I wouldn’t faint or have a seizure on the way down.