Kevin and his mother arrived at the office that morning. The hard plastic chairs and lime green walls were offensive to almost all of his senses. His head pounded, he felt nauseous, his balance was still off and his speech was severely impaired. Despite his symptoms he was convinced he would go home with yet more pain medication because his doctor refused to listen to him. It seemed that in most adult’s eyes he was just an insolent teenager.
As luck would have it his doctor wasn’t in that day and Kevin was relieved. Perhaps someone would believe him. When he was called into the exam room he was surprised and embarrassed to witness his mom’s deliberate attempt to go with him.
“Mom!” he protested. She ignored him and followed the nurse.
Doctor Mackie stepped into the room. Kevin’s chart tucked under his arm. He smiled warmly at them but before he could begin with the usual rigmarole his mother went on the offensive. She was fed up with the constant rhetoric of migraines from the doctors. Enough was enough; she wasn’t going to leave the office without something being done for her son. His loss of balance and speech could only mean one thing. He was suffering from some sort of brain injury and she suspected it might have been brought on by the car accident he’d had a few months prior.
“So you can see why I’ve been frustrated by the numerous doctors we’ve seen. I’m not hysterical, I am a nurse. There is something wrong with him and it is not a headache.”
Their mouths dropped open. He agreed? Well finally! After a thorough examination Dr. Mackie decided to err on the side of caution and ordered numerous tests: an EEG, brain scan, and X-ray.
It took a few weeks to set up the tests and during that time Kevin saw a neurologist for a follow-up appointment.
The neurologist had him follow the light, asked him yes or no questions and also scoffed at his symptoms.
“Look Kevin, I know Dr. Mackie ordered these tests for you but I’m going to be honest. If they amount to anything I will eat my shirt.”
Finally, the tests were arranged. They had to take the ferry over to Vancouver as Victoria wasn’t equipped to perform such thorough exams. The tests were arduous and slow. He had to sit through numerous X-rays, and suffer through injection of dyes for pictures during the brain scan. Finally the tests were completed and he and his parents headed home. His father grumbled about the expense the entire time and Kevin couldn’t help but feel that if these tests revealed nothing his father would leave a permanent boot print on his ass.
The call that would change all their lives came during dinner. An icy atmosphere punctuated the room. His mother believed him but his father didn’t, the tension was palpable. The phone rang and he jumped up to get it. He’d do anything to avoid sitting through this heavy silence.
“Kevin?” the neurologist inquired.
“Well, young man we just got the results back and I was wondering what condiment you wanted me to use?”
“To eat my shirt with” the doctor let the implication hang between them. There was something wrong with him! Instead of feeling scared Kevin was elated.
He laughed out loud. Victory! Finally people would have to believe him. He did a few more whoops and fist pumps before his mother took the phone from him.
“I got your son’s results back and I have bad news. If he’s still in the room, do not react in any way. Do not let Kevin see your stress. His blood pressure has to remain stable. Do you understand?”
“Yes” she choked out.
“Your son has had aneurysm rupture in his left temporal lobe. An aneurysm is a weakened blood vessel that has swelled and filled with blood”
“Yes I know” she responded. She was a nurse and understood medical lingo better than most.
“Quite frankly it’s a miracle he’s still alive. He needs brain surgery as soon as possible. We are setting it up now. In the meantime you must not let him get upset. If his blood pressure spikes the ruptured aneurysm can kill him. Do you understand?”
“Yes” she whispered again. She had no idea how she might prevent her hot-headed son from losing his temper or getting too excited. The panic began to mount. She took a breath, she’d find a way. Her son would get through this.
“I’m going to be honest Marjorie. The likelihood that he’ll even survive the surgery is not very good. And if by some miracle he pulls through it… he’ll probably end up a vegetable. I’m sorry. We will phone you when we have a surgery date.”
She looked over at her son who was grinning at her and shovelling his face full of mashed potatoes. She wanted to scream. Her hand painfully gripped the phone and she imagined the satisfaction she might gain from smashing it into the counter. To shatter it into a million pieces – a mirror of her own heart. A lump formed in her throat and with great effort she swallowed it down again. She bit her lip and blinked the tears away. Her facade never cracked.
“I understand doctor” she said into the phone before hanging up.
She looked over at her husband and feigned a smile before sitting down to finish dinner. Her son was on his death-bed and neither he nor his father had any clue.