The world was spinning like a top around her and she couldn’t make it stop at all. It seemed everyone was talking to her from a great distance, and she couldn’t understand what they were saying. Her son had leukaemia, her Omar had leukaemia, that great big bad thing, the thing that hurts kills people much bigger and stronger than her 4 years and 2 months old eater of Rice Krispies and defender of the world from baddies. This was wrong. This was not right, they must have the wrong results, the wrong diagnosis, the wrong person!
‘Mrs. Kambal.’
She looked up from her shocked reverie at the faces around her. Her husband was looking at her in a strange manner, his face white and bloodless, mirroring her same disbelief. They were asking her if she would like to sit down, if she wanted a glass of water. She looked back in the same dumb silence; she couldn’t really hear them at all. The doctors looked at each other uncomfortably, and finally said something about needing to admit and run further tests, and something else about counselling and whatsnot. All this was coming through to her as if through a thick wall of glass. It sounded distorted and foreign. She nodded automatically and they fled. After roughly a hundred years she lifted her eyes and looked at her family. Omar was sleeping peacefully on the couch. Her husband was looking at the ground. She dragged her voice out from the bottom of her chest and said:
‘We need to get the hell out of here.’
He looked up at her and didn’t say anything. Four seconds passed in silence. Then he scooped up the sleeping child, took her hand and they walked out of the cubicle towards the door, their step quickening as they approached the light of the outside world, where words like ‘sick’ and ‘leukaemia’ were mentioned only in movies. Three metres away from the door they were accosted by a tall form in a white coat who blocked their way.
‘Where do you think you’re going?’
‘Out of our way’, her husband snarled. She looked at him in alarm; snarling was not a habit of his. The doctor put up his hands, showing he was defenceless, but didn’t budge.
‘You’re son is sick, if you didn’t know that you wouldn’t have brought him here. We need to run more tests and get him treated.’
Her heart felt cold in her chest as he stated the obvious, and she felt his words touch the edges of common sense in her mind, but before she could consider it she was pulled to the side, around the doctor and towards the door. This time they were actually outside before he managed to get in their way again.
‘Listen, give us the benefit of the doubt. Let us run the tests, they could always turn up negative and everyone would be happy.’
This time she stopped him herself, rooting herself to the spot. She held his hand tightly, silently willing him to stop and listen. They couldn’t deny the sense this man was talking. They could always be wrong; he said so himself. The doctor looked at them hopefully.
‘It was wrong of them to throw such a word in your face. They should have explained that the picture the results were showing showed a high... probability that it could be a malignancy, but it’s not the only thing that can give such results.’
They looked at him and at each other, still unable to say a word. Omar slept on. Now that they were outside he looked much paler and the bruises much darker than before. His eyes were a bit sunken and his skin seemed a little tighter than usual. He really did look sick. The doctor went on carefully.
‘There are a number of viruses that attack the bone marrow and cause reduction of the cell lines the same way leukaemia does. If do these... other tests, we can confirm our diagnosis either way.’
Her heart was beating terribly. So there was hope! She looked at her husband again but his face remained impassive. Again she summoned up her cracked voice to ask.
‘So it could be something else?’
He looked her straight in the eye, and said.
‘It could be something else.’
They stood together, hand in hand, clutching their son close. Their son was sick. But it could be something else. They could live with that.
In a hospital it always takes 10 times longer to do something than it would take somewhere else. By they time they made it to the paediatric haematology ward it was late in the evening. There they saw the tall doctor again, who turned out to be the paediatrician on call. They saw another doctor with him; an elderly lady with thick glasses and rubber soled shoes. She wasn’t wearing a lab coat or a stethoscope but there was no way she was anything else but a doctor. She just had that look. They were holding Omar’s results and discussing something closely. The lady doctor looked up at them briefly as they entered and smiled. She found herself smiling back. Her husband scowled and looked away. The ward was an array of coloured walls and curtains, with plastic toys and some scattered books here and there. It was almost nice. The nurse asked them to please step this way so she could weigh Omar. They stood in the corridor in front of the nurse’s station as they weighed her husband and Omar, then he handed him to her and stood on the scales so his weight cough be subtracted. He was still sleeping soundly. As she held him to her, it felt like she was holding him for the last time. She breathed his smell in deeply and tried to suck back the tears that were in her eyes. Her husband got down from the scales and put his arms out to hold him but she shook her head and turned away, and froze. At that moment, 2 people were walking down the corridor to the bathroom. An elderly lady pushing a metal thing with wheels and tubes hanging from it. The tubes were connected to a beeping thing, and that beeping thing was connected to a child. The child could have been a boy or girl; she couldn’t tell because it was bald, and a mask was covering its features. However, it was wearing a lot of pink so it must be a girl. The girl couldn’t have been older than 8 but looked about a hundred years old. She was limping, and walked with her head down, as if the weight of 20 worlds was on her frail, thin shoulders. This miserable procession passed by the family and doctors, and as they passed by her she clutched her son closer to her and turned away from that horrible scene, as if just looking at them would infect her child. Her eyes met those of her husband and she saw, again, the same shock and horror she felt mirrored on his face. This was not going to happen to their child.


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