Ma was still waxing nostalgic about my days as a little girl and the joy I’d brought to her and my father. She had gone through an entire box of those hospital-sized mini boxes of tissues.
Her melodramatic old stories were beginning to drive me bonkers. “Christ. Where’s the call button? I need some morphine. STAT!”
“Yeah? Make mine a double,” she snapped. “You rotten kid, you mean the world to me. What’s wrong with me getting a little emotional?”
I told myself, Let it pass. You can’t blame the woman for being a little bent out of shape. “Okay, let’s hug it out, but then can we please change the subject?”
She smiled and leaned in for a tight squeeze.
We were still in each other’s arms when I heard the sound of a man clearing his throat. I looked up and saw Gus at the door, holding Max. My eyes lit up. Max’s did likewise. I threw my arms open and the little guy went nuts. Gus put him in my arms, and I smothered him with kisses and blew raspberries on his cheeks and neck.
He giggled for all he was worth and gave me an enthusiastic chorus of, “Ma, Ma, Ma, Ma,” the only word in his vocabulary.
“Oh my God, I missed you. I missed you so much.” A second round of kisses, tickles, and raspberries pushed every ounce of Ma’s melancholy tales out of my head. “Were you a good boy for your daddy?”
“Ma, Ma, Ma, Ma.”
I glanced up at Gus. “He said yes.”
Gus sat down, bringing the total number of people on my bed to four. The bed was definitely crowded, but it felt wonderful to have my family so close. Gus leaned in and gave me a big warm kiss. For a very brief moment I began to feel like myself. I grabbed Gus and pulled him back for a second smooch, then put my arms around the three of them and pulled them all close.
“It’s so good to have you back with us.” There was something in Gus’ voice. He sounded grateful, of course, but there was something more, a hint of desperation I found unnerving.
I looked into his eyes and saw that he was on the verge of tears. “Hey, cut it out. I woke up, right?”
Ma interjected, “Just like Sleeping Beauty.”
He nodded with his eyes closed.
“Hey, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” he replied. “I’m just so—Stephanie,” he began in an alarmed voice, “are you okay?”
“Your eye. It’s …”
And then I felt it. My eye felt weird, as if my eye was wandering, and my focus went out of control. “That’s not good,” I said in a comical voice belying the true extent of my worry. I sensed that something bigger was coming, something far worse. My head began to shake. “Oh God.” I tried to lift Max but couldn’t. My arms felt stiff and they began to shake as well. “Take Max,” I said with urgency.
Ma gasped. “Oh my God.”
Gus quickly plucked Max out of my arms and handed him to Ma. “Take Max out of the room,” he said in a tone so emotionally charged that it made me worry all the more. “Get a doctor, quickly.” He grabbed the call button and pressed it.
I felt tremors build in both of my arms. “Hold me, Gus. What’s happening? I’m s-s-scared.” My throat tightened and began to ache terribly. It became an effort to breathe. I heard footsteps racing toward me as my body began to rock in spasms.
I was gasping for air as Dr. Efram came into view in front of me. He placed his hands on my shoulders and turned me on my side just as my arms began to thrash. “Easy now. Try to relax. This should pass in just a moment.”
A nurse grabbed my arms and pressed them firmly against the bed. A second nurse injected something into my IV.
“Easy now,” Efram continued in a soothing voice. “Breathe, Stephanie. Breathe.”
But I couldn’t breathe. My throat was frozen. My head began to spin and I could feel the world ebbing away. I saw Gus’ face. He was petrified. Then my forehead became cold and clammy and everything went black.
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