The rest of what Xander says is lost to the noise inside James’ head.
The infection is in his heart.
“I need to see him,” James says, interrupting whatever Xander is saying. “Where is he? Take me to him.”
Xander looks at him sadly. “You know you can’t go there. It’s too risky.”
“I need to see him!”
“James?” Alexander wakes up. “Why are you yelling?”
James takes several deep breaths before he answers him. “I’m fine, buddy. I’m sorry for waking you. Go back to sleep.”
Alexander tilts his head back to look at him. “You look scared,” he says, winding his hand into James’ hair. “Are you scared? Is that why you’re yelling?”
“Go back to sleep, buddy,” James says as evenly as he can. “We’ll talk about it in the morning, okay?”
Alexander yawns. “Don’t be scared,” he says, resting his head back down. “It’s not scary when we’re together.”
He is asleep again in seconds. James returns his attention to Xander.
“Please.” His voice trembles. “Please. I need to see him. He’s my brother. I can’t…” His voice cracks. “I haven’t seen him in days and now…” He swallows against the lump in his throat. “I have to see him.”
Xander runs his hand through his hair. “Look, talk to Dr Anderson and Dr Williams in the morning. They’ve left for the night, but they might agree to it. But…” He glances at Alexander. “You might need to choose between staying with your son and visiting your brother. I’m not sure you can do both.”
His words hit James like a knife to the heart.
“I’m sorry,” Xander says sincerely. “I wish I could help.” He checks Alexander’s chart and leaves.
James stares blankly ahead.
Your son or your brother.
What if Michael…
James stops himself from finishing the thought. Alexander mumbles something and wriggles closer. James knows he won’t cope if he has to leave him again. Neither of them will. The thought alone is enough to break his heart.
You promised him you wouldn’t leave.
He wants to scream. He wants to leap out of the bed and go running through the hospital with Alexander in his arms. He wants to find Michael and take him home. Take them all home. Take them all out of this vile, evil, wretched snow and never look back.
He wants to cry.
It’s in his heart.
The antibiotic resistant bacteria is in his heart.
Alexander grips him tighter.
“James,” he murmurs in his sleep. “Don’t…”
James sinks down under the covers and curls his body around Alexander’s tiny frame. Alexander’s breath tickles his neck.
You promised you wouldn’t leave.
You promised Alexander you wouldn’t leave.
“I don’t know what to do, buddy,” he whispers in the dark. “Tell me what to do.”
He closes his eyes, praying for a solution that will allow him to stay with Alexander and see Michael.
But there isn’t one.
He’s going to have to choose.
He doesn’t sleep at all.
By the time morning finally arrives, he is ready to storm through the hospital and tear down the walls in search of Michael. He feels on edge, like he might snap at any moment.
Violet’s voice makes him jump.
“Dr Anderson is here to see you.”
She moves out of the doorway to allow Dr Anderson inside. Dr Anderson smiles warmly at him.
“Mr Axton. I suspected I’d find you here.”
James stares at her smiling, happy face.
Do you not know what’s happening? he thinks. Do you not know that the world is falling apart?
Dr Anderson comes over to him. “Good morning. Can you sit up? I need to check your shoulder.” She smiles down at Alexander. “Sorry about that.”
James sits up. Alexander wakes up briefly then curls up across James’ legs and goes back to sleep.
“Michael,” James says as Dr Anderson unwraps his shoulder. “How is Michael? Can I see him?”
She doesn’t answer. She examines his shoulder, poking and prodding it gently.
“Does this hurt?” she asks, pressing on his arm. “What about this?”
“I need to see Michael,” James says, ignoring her. “What’s happening? Is he okay?”
“I have some good news for you,” Dr Anderson says after a moment, re-wrapping his shoulder and putting his arm back in the sling. “You’re being discharged.”
James blinks. “What?”
“Your shoulder is healing nicely. There’s no sign of infection, no need for any further surgery. There’s no need for you to remain a patient. Which means you can safely go visit your brother. You will need to take the necessary precautions of course, but provided you wear the gown and gloves and thoroughly wash your hands after each visit, going to see him does not pose a significant threat to your health.”
“Oh thank GOD,” James says, running his hand over his face. He looks up at her. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
She smiles, but there’s something hidden behind it that James can’t quite understand.
“I’ll get the paperwork started. You should be a free agent by nine am. Of course you’ll want to stay here with your son, so Violet can organise a parent’s room for you.”
“A parent’s room? Why can’t I…”
He realizes what he can see behind her smile.
In his relief at being told he could see Michael, he’d temporarily forgotten what it meant for him and Alexander. It hits him like a kick in the stomach.
“Can’t I still see him too?” he asks desperately. “I’ll be wearing the gown and gloves…Can’t I still see him, too?”
Dr Anderson looks at him sadly. “That’s something you’ll have to discuss with Dr Williams. I’m sorry.” She turns to Violet. “Get that room organised, please. I’ll get started on his discharge papers.” She pats James on the arm and leaves.
James watches her go. He feels sick.
“James,” Violet says gently. “Alexander is leaving the ICU today.”
James snaps around to look at her. “What??”
“That’s what I wanted to tell you yesterday. His lungs are doing much better and he’s almost off the oxygen support. His arm is healing well and the leaked bone marrow has been cleared out of his system. He’s not ready to be discharged yet – he needs to come off the oxygen first – but he’s not a critical patient anymore. I don’t want to get your hopes up, but there’s a chance that you’ll still be allowed to see him even if you go see Michael. Dr Williams will be here soon to discuss it with you, but…Don’t give up hope.”
“He’s leaving the ICU?”
Violet nods. “He’ll be moved down to the general paediatrics ward this afternoon, and once he is off the oxygen, he’ll be discharged.”
“He’s okay?” James stares at her, almost expecting her to tell him that she made a mistake. Almost expecting more bad news. More heartache. More pain.
Violet nods again. “He’s doing more than okay, James. He’s doing well. The worst is over. For both of you.”
But not for Michael.
“Good morning,” Dr Williams says, entering the room. “It’s good to see you again, Mr Axton. Alexander missed you.”
“Is it true?” James asks, turning to him. “Is he leaving the ICU?”
Dr Williams gives Violet a chastising glance. “Yes,” he says, smiling at James. “I see Violet has told you the good news already.”
“I need to see my brother,” James says. The words come out in a rush. “If I go, can I still see Alexander? I’ll wear whatever you need me to. I’ll wear a fucking hazmat suit if you want, just please…Please say I can still see Alexander. Please.”
Dr Williams frowns. “Alexander’s lungs are improving, but he’s still on oxygen. If he contracts MRSA now, it will likely negate his progress. I’m not sure it’s a good idea.”
“Please,” James says, hearing the desperation in his voice. “Please. I just got him back. Please don’t take him from me again.”
Dr Williams picks up Alexander’s chart.
“Please,” James begs. “Please.”
Dr Williams reads the chart. “I’m sorry, Mr Axton. It would be irresponsible of me to risk exposing your son to the bacteria while his lungs are still compromised. Even though you are now at a low risk for contracting the infection, you can still carry the bacteria and transfer it to your son. Maybe in a few days when he is off the oxygen, but for right now…” He looks at James. “I’m so sorry, but if you go and see your brother you will either need to be screened again or wait until Alexander is breathing entirely on his own. Until his lungs are functioning as they should be. I hope you understand that it is for his safety.”
James looks at Alexander, who is still sleeping soundly across his legs.
“How am I supposed to explain this to him? I promised him I wouldn’t leave. I promised. And now…” He turns back to Dr Williams. “How am I supposed to leave him again??”
Dr Williams sighs. “I’m sorry,” he says again, replacing the chart. “I wish I had better news. The interns will be down in a few hours to move him down to paeds.”
He gives James a sad smile and disappears down the hallway.
“James,” Violet says after Dr Williams leaves. James looks up. “He’ll understand. He would want you to go see your brother. He will be upset, but he’ll understand. He’s a compassionate kid. He’ll be okay.”
“But I won’t be,” James says. “I won’t be okay.”
Violet sits down on the chair beside the bed. “Yes you will be. You will all be okay.”
“How can you be so sure? How can you possibly know that?”
Violet smiles. “I’ve worked here for a long time. I’ve learnt to recognise the signs. No matter what happens, you and your family will be okay. You’ll get through whatever gets thrown at you. Together.”
Alexander’s words play in his mind.
It’s not scary when we’re together.
But what about when we’re not together? James thinks bitterly. What then?
He takes a deep breath, trying to be strong. He knows Alexander will feed off his emotions. If he’s calm, maybe Alexander will be calm, too. “We got through it once. We can do it again, right?”
Violet nods. “Right. And it won’t be as long this time. Just until he is off the oxygen. Really it will probably only be two or three days.”
Two or three days has never sounded so long.
“I’ll tell him when he wakes up,” James says, trying to control his breathing. He feels like he is suffocating. “I don’t want him to wake up and find me gone.”
“That’s probably best,” Violet agrees, standing up. She walks over to the door. “I really hope your brother is okay,” she says, pausing in the doorway.
James doesn’t take his eyes off Alexander. “Thank you.”
He hears the door close.
He slides down into the bed and pulls Alexander into his arms. He closes his eyes, committing the moment to his memory.
He’ll need it to get through the coming days.