“Mom, can we really just go on without Dad here? This isn’t a decision that we can reverse, something we can take back once it’s done. Once we’ve made the decision to…once we’ve made the decision, there’s no going back. Can we really handle that? Can we live with the choice we’ll have made?” Vicki countered wisely, emotionally. “I hear what you’re saying, sis, and I agree. I just think we have to consider the impact that this would have on Dad. How would he feel about being hooked up to machines for God knows how long just so we can spend a little more time with him? Are we doing what’s best for him or ourselves? Aren’t we being greedy if we tell the doctors to hold off?” “NO! Nick, I can’t believe this! I can’t believe what I’m hearing! This is Dad we’re talking about! We can’t just shove him out of our lives like he never existed, like he never mattered!” Vicki continued her impassioned plea, desperately hoping it wouldn’t fall on deaf ears.
“I hear what you’re both saying and I understand. I guess it comes down to one final question? Can we go on, can we live our lives without him? Do we want to take such a big risk if” Nikki corrected herself as she scolded herself sternly “when there’s every chance that he may come out of this. Doctors aren’t infallible. They make mistakes just like the rest of us.” ‘What am I saying ‘if’ this isn’t a case of ‘if’ it’s a case of ‘when.’ Victor will come out of this, he will fight to come back to us, he knows how much we need him! I can’t afford to let doubts creep in, not now! He needs me to stay strong and I will, I will stay strong, for his sake and the children’s sake. But most of all, I have to stay strong for Victor and myself. Dear God, I can’t lose him now! Please don’t let me lose him now!’ Nikki scolded herself and said a little prayer that she would be proven right in the end. Most of all, she prayed with everything in her that she wouldn’t end up losing the one thing that mattered most to her-Victor. “I’m not going to speak for the two of you, you’re old enough to speak for yourselves. But, frankly, I just don’t think I can do it. I don’t think I can go on with my life and pretend that everything’s fine; not if I knew that there was a chance that your father might have come out of this, that he might have been able to recover and come home and I didn’t give him that chance. If I knew that there was a chance that he could make it-and I know there is-and I took that away from him, I robbed him of the one chance he had to come back to us where he belongs, I could never live with myself, I just couldn’t.” Nikki’s voice broke as she tried her best to stem the flow of terrified tears flowing freely from her eyes.
Silently, wordlessly, her eyes filled with tears and regrets she could never put into words, no matter how she tried, Victoria sat beside her mother and wrapped an arm around her.
“Mom’s right, do we have that right? I don’t think we do. Besides, what about the effect this would have on not just us, but Mom, Abby, Uncle Douglas, Aunt Casey, Uncle Matt, and everyone who cares about Dad? What about the effect this would have on all his family and friends? What about Mom and the twins? Shouldn’t we be thinking about what’s best for them too? Doesn’t that matter? Doesn’t Dad deserve a chance to be here when they’re born?” Vicki agreed wisely, emotionally. “You’re right, Vicki, you’re right about all that. Mom, I don’t know what to tell you, I’m sorry, but I don’t. I don’t know what to do here.” Nick finally gave up.
“It’s okay, it’s alright. I understand, believe me, I’ve been turning this over and over in my head, trying to consider everything, look at it from all the angles.” Nikki tried to reassure them as she paced to the window to stare out it blankly, blind to the bright sunny day and the symphony of colours-bright greens, reds, blues and yellows just beyond the strangely cold, sterile building she was in.
“And?” Vicki gently probed as she rose from the couch and stood beside her mother, with Nicholas following suit. “I’m not giving up on your father!” Although her voice was firm, her chin quivered as she bit her lip to stem the flow of anguished tears. “Oh Mom.” Vicki murmured as she wrapped her arms around her mother, wordlessly trying to offer what little comfort she could. Nick said nothing as he wrapped his arms around his mom and sister and let his own bitter, terrified tears flow.
After a few minutes had passed, Nick told them, “I’m going to go call Sharon again, she needs to know what’s going on.”
“Alright. We’ll wait here for you. Hopefully we’ll hear something soon.” Nikki told him quietly as she tried to give him a comforting smile.
With a nod and a quick kiss on the cheek, he left.
“Damn it! Why didn’t I kick him out? Why didn’t I call security and have him thrown out and make sure he couldn’t get back in?! If I had, Dad would still be okay! If I had done something, this wouldn’t have happened!” “Victoria, what are you talking about? This isn’t your fault! Who paid your father a visit last night? Who are you talking about?”
“Bradley.” With that one word, Victoria said all she needed to say, with that one word, she communicated all her hatred, all her disdain and anger at the one person she knew to be responsible for her father being at death’s door.
“Wait a minute, you’re telling me he was there last night? He paid your father a visit at the office?” Nikki asked, unable to believe what she was hearing. ‘He’s either stupid or he thinks he’s invincible. Either way, he’s about to find out exactly who he’s dealing with! As soon as Victor’s okay, he’ll get a visit he won’t soon forget!’ “Yeah, I saw him in the hall, I was on my way to Dad’s office, but I got a call from Neil about something and had to go to his office instead. Now I wish I had just gone to Dad’s office, if I had, I could’ve at least warned him.” With a regretful sigh, she finished, “I didn’t even get to say anything to Brad, by the time I got off the phone with Neil, he was gone, probably already in Dad’s office.”
“What was he doing paying your father a visit? What the hell is he up to and what makes him think he’s going to get away with it?” Nikki said almost to herself as her temper grew, along with her suspicions. “I don’t know, Mom, what are we going to do about this? How are we going to handle it?” Vicki asked, hoping for some guidance. “We’re going to keep a very close eye on Bradley. Don’t worry, Victoria, I’ll get to the bottom of this, no matter what I have to do!”
“I can’t take this waiting, I’m going for a walk. Do you want me to get you anything?” Vicki asked tiredly.
“No thanks. I’m fine.” Nikki whispered just as tiredly.
“Call me if you find out anything.” Vicki told her firmly before giving her a quick hug and walking off.
“Don’t worry, I will.”
Once Vicki had left, Nikki forced herself to eat what was left of the meal she’d brought her hours earlier before continuing with the research. “Good, I’m finally on to section four. How does my brain work–You brain is made of billions of nerve cells. It controls everything you think, feel and do. The brain is divided into parts which control different body functions such as movement, speech and balance. The left side of your brain controls movement and senses right side of your body. In addition, it controls your ability to read, talk and do math. The right side of your brain controls movement and senses in the left side of your body. In addition, it controls your creativity, ability to enjoy music and art and your ability to recognize people and objects.
The Hindbrain–The major structures of the hindbrain are the medulla oblongata and the cerebellum.”
“You’re still at it?” Casey asked, trying somewhat to keep the annoyance from her voice as she walked into the waiting room and sat on the couch beside Nikki.
“Yes. And before you say anything, please don’t. I’m doing what I think’s best. Can we just leave it at that? Besides, we need to talk about what happened, about the argument earlier.” Nikki told her firmly.
“Fine. At least you ate something. Now I don’t have to worry as mush about you fainting from hunger.”
“No, you don’t.” Nikki couldn’t help but smile at the concern she heard in her sister’s voice. “Listen,” she began firmly but quietly. “I’m sorry I snapped at you like I did.”
“So am I. You’re so damn stubborn some times but I understand why you’re doing what you are. That doesn’t mean I like it, or that I agree with it. But, I don’t have any right to talk to you the way I did either.”
“And you don’t have to. I’m not asking you to like it or even to agree with it. All I’m asking is for you to support me. Casey, put yourself in my position, what if someone you loved were fighting for their life? Wouldn’t you want, need to do whatever you could to make sure everything turned out okay? Wouldn’t you do everything you could to make sure you didn’t end up losing the one thing that mattered most to you?” Nikki asked quietly, yet firmly, her eyes never leaving her sister’s.
“I said a lot that I didn’t mean. But, I need you to understand that I can’t just sit and wait, I can’t do that, Casey. I need to do something, and short of sneaking in that operating room and Victor’s hospital room–doctors be damned–this is the only thing I can do, so please, let me do it.” Nikki begged tearfully, emotionally, her voice barely audible even though they were sitting side by side.
“I’ll do my best, on one condition.” Casey told her firmly.
“What now?” Nikki asked, starting to get a little perturbed.
“That you’ll take care of yourself, and them,” Casey told her firmly, placing a gentle hand on her sister’s stomach as her niece kicked. “Nikki, they need you, you need to remember that. You need to remember how much they need you to stay strong and healthy.”
“I’ll do my best, but it won’t be easy. The longer I wait without any word on what’s going on, the harder it is.” Nikki told her honestly.
“I know and I’ll do everything I can to help get you through this, but you have to do your part. Doctor’s orders, got it?” Casey told her a little sternly.
“Got it,” Nikki said as she let out a shaky breath and wiped at her tears.
“Good. I’m holding you to it!”
“I’ll need you to.” Nikki whispered honestly as more tears began to fall.
Wordlessly, her heart breaking for her sister, Casey pulled her into a firm, comforting hug before whispering, “You can count on it. You can count on me. I’m not going anywhere, little sister.”
With a tearful smile, barely trusting her voice, Nikki whispered, “Thank you.”
As they pulled apart, Casey told her unexpectedly, “Alright, let’s see just how much more of a dent we can put in all this reading you insist on doing!”
“Really?” Nikki asked surprised.
“Yeah, someone has to translate it for you, remember?” Casey teased her with a little smile.
“How could I forget? I don’t know how I got through as much research as I did when you were checking in on patients and doing whatever else you needed to do.” Nikki told her before hastily explaining, “That wasn’t meant as an accusation or some kind of reproach.”
“I know, and I’m glad you got a lot of reading done.” Casey told her honestly before asking, “You sure you don’t want a break?”
“Yeah, let’s get through as much as we can, right now, it’s the only thing keeping me sane!”
“That’s just scary.” Casey said with another smile, this one cheeky.
“Smart mouth,” Nikki murmured smiling a little in spite of herself. “Yeah, but, hey, I’m not changing now.”
Shaking her head and chuckling a bit, Nikki told her, “I didn’t think you would.”
Sobering, she told her, “I just started the research on the brain. To be honest, most of it’s Greek to me.”
Unfazed, Casey grabbed the binder and said, “Let’s see what we can do to turn it into English.”
“Where’d you leave off.”
“The section about the brainstem. Hey, Casey, you’re a cardiologist, how are you going to explain all this research on the brain to me?”
“Oh, I talked to Dr. Hoffman and he explained everything to me, so, I should be able to do the same for you.”
“Oh, I didn’t know he was still here.” Nikki replied, sounding far from impressed or comforted.
“Nikki, just keep in mind why we’re doing this, alright?”
Satisfied that Nikki was ready to focus and listen, Casey began reading. “Medulla oblongata–The medulla looks like a swollen tip to the spinal cord. Nerve impulses here rhytmically stimulate the intercostal muscles and the diaphragm” she stopped for a moment to explain, “–those are muscles in the lungs” before finishing, “– allowing you to breathe, regulating heart beat and regulating the diameter of arterioles; veins in the body, thereby adjusting blood flow. Its destruction results in instant death.”
“This is the part of the brain that connects it to the spinal cord so that other nerves in the body, particularly the spinal cord nerves can get messages from and give messages to the brain.”
“Okay, so far, so good.” Nikki told her quietly as she let out a tired sigh.
“Any questions so far?” Casey asked carefully.
“No, keep going.”
“Pons–The pons appears to act as a relay station carrying signals from many parts of the cerebral cortex to the cerebellum. Nerve impulses coming from the eyes, ears and touch receptors are sent to the cerebellum. It also takes part in the reflexes which regulate breathing. So, basically, it’s like a telegraph station, if you want to look at it that way. It carries signals from different parts of the brain. And, it has a hand in controlling breathing reflexes.
“Honey, why don’t we just take a ten minute break so you can do something else to get your mind off of this for a little bit?” Casey asked concerned as she noted the fatigue etched on her sister’s face, in her posture.
“Okay,” Nikki whispered, somewhat exhausted, taking a book out of her bag.
“What’s that?” Casey asked curious.
“It’s a baby name book. Victor gave it to me awhile ago, it has the origins and meanings for each name. He and I haven’t had much of a chance to look at it.” Nikki told her quietly before saying, “Don’t ask me why I’m taking this out now to look at it, it just feels right. It feels like the right thing to do. I can’t explain it, but it’s the truth.”
“You do whatever you think’s best, whatever makes you feel comfortable.” Casey reassured her. Unable to hide her curiosity, she asked, “Have you got any ideas?”
“A few, Joseph, Alex, Michael, or Jonathan, for our son. For our daughter, it’s a little more tricky. Too many names I like.” Nikki said with a smile. “Anna, Clara, Cora, Mia, Melissa, Adrianna, like I said, it’s tricky.”
“Sounds like you’ve got quite a head start on your hubby.” Casey told her with a little smile. “Well, somewhat, yeah. It’s been one thing that’s kept my mind off of what might happen with him and with my daughter.” Nikki told her quietly, sadly.
“This is supposed to cheer you up, remember?”
“I know, I’m trying, Casey. I am, butt it’s not as easy as you think!”
“I’m sorry, I know it isn’t.”
“It’s okay. Ready to get back to it?”
“If you are, yeah.”
“Yeah, I’d rather sit here listening to you explain all this research than talk about baby names or anything else, all it does is remind me of what’s going on with Victor and what his chances are and-”Nikki cut herself off abruptly and said, “Let’s just get back to the research.”
Knowing enough not to argue, Casey began reading. “The reticular formation–This is a part of the brain that runs through the middle of the hindbrain and on into the midbrain. It gets sensory input like sound from higher in the brain and sends it back up to the thalamus. It’s involved in sleep,” Casey stopped and turned to her sister with a cautious warning, “Something you definitely need.” “It’s also involved in arousal– stimulating senses– and vomiting.”
“Lovely,” Nikki murmured, pulling a wry face.
“Hey, you’re the one who insists on reading absolutely everything,” Casey pointed out, with a smirk.
“Yeah, fine. Keep going.”
“Man, I’d forgotten what a slave driver you can be!” When Nikki only glared at her, Casey merely did as she was told. “Cerebellum–The cerebellum’s made up of two very complex hemispheres. Despite the fact that, it represents just ten percent of the brain’s weight, it contains as many neurons as the remainder of the brain put together. Its most clearly-understood job is coordinating body movements. Individuals with damage to their cerebellum can perceive the world like before and have the ability to contract their muscles, however their motions are jerky and uncoordinated. Therefore, the cerebellum seems to be a centre for learning motor skills (implicit memory).
The Midbrain–The midbrain (mesencephalon) takes up only a little bit of room in people.
The reticular formation– Gets input from higher centres–higher places in the brain– and relays them to motor neurons.
The substantia niagra–aids in making body movements ‘smoother.’
The forebrain–The human forebrain (prosencephalon) is composed of a pair of big cerebral hemispheres named the telencephalon.
Diencephalon– Due to the spinal tracts, the left hemisphere of the forebrain deals with the right side of the body and the left side of the forebrain controls the right of the body.
Thalamus–All sensory input (except for olfaction) goes through it on the way to the somatic-sensory parts of the cerebral cortex and then comes back to it from there.”
“Olfaction is your sense of smell.” Casey explained, trying to be as helpful as she could, considering this wasn’t her area of expertise.
“Okay, but what’s the cerebral cortex?”
“It’s a skinny covering of gray matter about the size of a formal dinner napkin covering the surface of each cerebral hemisphere. It’s crumpled and folded, making lots of curving folds and long narrow openings. It’s made of six layers of nerve cells and nerve pathways connecting them. It’s responsible for thought process, perception and memory and serves as the seat of advanced function, social abilities, language and problem solving.”
“All signals coming into the brain from the optic nerves–the nerves in your eyes– come into the cerebral cortex.”
“Hypothalamus–The seat of the autonomic nervous system. Damage to this part of the brain is quickly fatal because the homeostasis–balance in the body– of body temperature, blood chemistry, etc. goes out of control.
Posterior lobe of the pituitary– Gets antidiuretic hormone(ADH) and oxytocin from the hypothalamus and lets them go into the blood.”
“It’s a hormone found in mammals that also acts like a neurotransmitter in the brain. In the brain, it’s involved in social recognition and bonding and may be involved in forming trust between individuals.” Casey explained, hoping she was doing a good job.
“Okay, now I understand a little bit more. Thanks.”
“Good. I wasn’t sure I was helping.” Casey told her honestly.
“The Cerebral Hemispheres–All the hemispheres of the cerebrum are subdivided into four lobes you can see from the outside: the frontal, parietal, occipital and temporal lobes.
Limbic system–This part of the brain gets input from many association areas in the cerebral cortex and passes signals on to the nucleus accumbens.”
“Nucleus what?” Nikki asked confused.
“It’s the part of the brain thought to play an important role in reward, laughter, pleasure, addiction and fear,” Casey told her before continuing.
“The limbic system–is composed of the: hippocampus, which is fundamental in forming long-term memories, the amygdala, which seems to be the centre of emotions (i.e. fear) and sends signals to the hypothalamus and medulla that activate the fight of flight response–the response that increases your heart rate and the amount of testosterone in your body and blood stream so you can either get out of a threatening situation very quickly to avoid getting hurt, or fight your way out of it.” Casey explained before telling her, “Nikki, we need to put this aside for now. You need some sleep.”
“Casey, do you honestly think I can sleep?” Nikki asked unable to believe the suggestion.
“I know it’s hard. But, I’m worried. You haven’t gotten much sleep since you got here and that can affect the pregnancy. I know how much you want to help Victor, but I also know how important your children are to you.” Casey countered wisely.
“Alright, but wake me up on two hours.” Nikki reluctantly, exhaustedly relented.
“Don’t worry, I’ll wake you up.” Casey agreed, purposely not mentioning a time.
“Two hours, Casey.”
“I said I’ll wake you up. Now hush up and go to sleep.” Casey told her firmly.
Somewhat satisfied, Nikki lied down on the couch, with her head resting comfortably on her sister’s lap.
As the gravity of what Nick had told her only a few hours ago sank in, Sharon sank onto the couch in her livingroom in disbelief. “This is surreal! Victor was fine the last time I saw him and that was only a day or two ago. What could’ve happened?”
“After everything he’s done for all of us, for this entire family, he can’t die! He can’t go this way!”
“Ever since Nicholas and I started dating, Victor’s been the only one who always treated me with respect, he never made me feel inadequate or like I wasn’t part of the family. Nikki and, to some extent, Victoria and I have gotten closer, but Victor’s been like a father to me. Before I met him, I never really had that, not in the truest sense of the word.”
With hands that weren’t quite steady, she picked up a picture of Victor that sat on the mantle. She couldn’t help the soft, bittersweet smile that bloomed on her face when she thought back to two particularly tumultuous times in her life and her marriage. “Even when he could’ve been angry with me for keeping everybody in the dark about Cassie being my daughter, he wasn’t. He accepted her as part of the family. He and Nikki both did. They treat her as if she were their granddaughter, flesh and blood, and, as far as they’re concerned she is. And when Noah was so sick, when it looked like we were going to lose him, Victor had the best doctors in the country standing by, ready to fly here at a moment’s notice.”
As bitter tears slipped silently, heartbrokenly down her cheeks, she murmured, thankful neither Cassie nor Noah were around at the moment, “How do I tell her? How do I tell her and Noah that they might lose their grandfather? How can I do that to them?”
“Why is this happening? Why is this happening now, when this family is finally beginning to know some happiness, when we’re all really enjoying life for the first time in so long? Why?!”Sharon all but screamed, scarcely resisting the urge to throw something.
“Mom. What’s wrong?” Cassie asked as she and Noah slowly descended the stairs.
“Oh sweetheart, I didn’t see you there.” Sharon’s voice broke a little as she dried her tears and tried to pretend she was fine.
“Yeah, I know. Mom, what’s wrong? What did Dad say? I know it was him who called earlier. What did he say? What’s wrong?”Cassie pressed on, determined, despite the fear bubbling up inside her, to find out precisely what was going on with her family.
“Nothing.” Sharon told them as she cleared her throat and prayed she wouldn’t start crying again. ‘I can’t do that. I can’t start crying, not in front of them. I need to be strong for my children,’ she told herself firmly, doing her absolute best to remain stoic and strong for her children.
“Mom, we’re not stupid. We can see something’s going on. What is it? What’s going on?” Cassie pressed further.
“Is Daddy hurt?” Noah asked fearfully.
“No, no, baby. Daddy’s just fine. He’s not hurt. Come here, both of you. I need to talk to you.”
“Is it about that phone call from Dad?” Cassie asked suspicious.
“Yes. Come and sit down, both of you. I need to tell you something. You need to know what’s going on.”
Slowly, hesitantly, they did as they were told.
With the lump in her throat growing, Sharon took a couple of dep breaths, said a prayer for Victor, herself and her family and dug deep down for the strength to tell them the truth.
“Cassie’s right. That phone call earlier was your father. He was calling from Memorial Hospital.” Sharon began slowly, quietly. Seeing the fear in her son’s eyes, she reassured him. “He’s not hurt. He’s alright.”
Stopping briefly to compose herself, Sharon flexed her fists a couple of times before continuing.“But something happened to Victor.”
“What happened? Was he in an accident?” Noah asked, becoming fearful once again.
“Mom? What happened? Is it bad? Mom, is it bad?” Cassie asked, becoming more and more fearful and apprehensive.
“Oh sweetheart,” Sharon murmured as the tears she’d tried to hold back slipped down her cheeks. “Victor’s in the hospital, he’s had a heart attack and a stroke. The doctors said things don’t look good.”
“What? No, this has to be a joke or some kind of mistake! It can’t be true!” Cassie railed, furious at the blatant injustice. “This can’t be happening! He can’t be sick! Mom, he can’t be sick! He can’t die, Mom, Victor can’t die!”
“Mom?” Noah asked, his voice small and almost smothered by the tears falling fearfully from his eyes. “Is Victor gonna die?”
“No! No, he’s not! Victor will not die! He’ll be just fine! He’ll be just fine, we have to believe that!” Sharon did her best to reassure her children as much as herself before telling them, “Why don’t we say a few prayers for him while we wait for Grandma Doris? I called and told her what’s going on and she’s on her way over.”
With tears pouring down their cheeks, Cassie and Noah nodded and, laying their heads on Sharon’s shoulders, began to pray with her that, despite the odds being firmly stacked against him, Victor would somehow, some way get through this and come home.