I jerk my head up from my latest nap and look around the media room. It’s quiet, too quiet. The television’s been turned off and there’s not a sound from anywhere in the house. Angie’s with Alice and Dana’s right next to me on the sof– “Dana?” She’s not there and I look around the room to be sure she didn’t just move locations. She’s nowhere to be seen. “Dana?!”
I hear a faint noise come from down the hall and rock myself into a more upright position, using the sofa arm to push up. I sigh heavily as I get to my feet and waddle to the door. “Dane?” I hear the breathless sound again and start to move towards it. It grows louder as I approach the powder room and I can finally make out the breathless whimpering of my name. “Dana…” I pick up the pace and push the cracked door open, peering inside to see Dana lying on the floor by the toilet. She’s shaking so hard she’s nearly convulsing and I feel the breath leave my lungs as a heavy weight settles in my stomach. “Fuck, Dana…”
I can feel the panic rise up in my throat but force myself put that fear into action. I hurry over to the linen closet and frantically start to grab towels, coming back to her and somehow managing to get to my knees. I lift her head and place one under it, noticing the vomit on the tile by her face. She could have drowned while I was asleep. Fuck… I start layering the towels over her to help her get warm. “Dana, I’ll be right back. I’m going to go get help.”
I use one of the towels to wipe the vomit from her mouth and neck, and place it over the mess in front of her. There’s no way I can lift her; I need help. Her wispy voice is barely audible and the shaking is so bad that I can barely hear her reply as she begs, “Don’t… leave me… ple… ase… I don’t… want to… die… alone…”
I close my eyes against the tears gathering in my eyes. “Shh, no, you’re not going to die. I just need to get help. I just need to get the phone and I’ll be right back…”
She grabs one of my arms weakly and tries to focus her rolling eyes on me, but she’s just too far gone. “M-my… pock… et… I couldn’t… get it… out…”
I look to her hip and see the bulge in her pants. I don’t waste another moment wrangling it out, finding that it was twisted up in the pocket lining. I feel the tears fall from my eyes and hastily dial 9-1-1. “It’s okay, Dane… I’m here, I’m not going anywhere.”
I stroke her clammy face and she closes her eyes as the operator answers. “9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”
“Yes, my name is Bette Porter-Kennard; I live at 1412 Harper Avenue, West Hollywood. I just found my friend collapsed in my bathroom. She’s a chemo patient. She’s sick, very sick. I need an ambulance.”
The operator’s voice is calm and I can hear the frantic typing in the background as she says, “An ambulance is on its way. Is your friend conscious and breathing?”
I look down at Dana. “Yes… please hurry.”
There’s more frantic typing. “The ambulance is about three minutes away. Is she bleeding or was she injured when she fell?”
I turn Dana’s face and her unfocused eyes meet mine. I smile at her with all the false confidence I can muster as I look her over. “No, there’s no blood. She doesn’t look like she hit anything. She’s been vomiting…”
“Okay, ma’am. Just stay on the phone with me. Help will be there in a few more moments. You need to be sure she’s on her side, her head propped on the arm under her and her top leg bent forward against the floor. You can set the phone down if you need to, but if she gets sick again, she could choke.”
I manage to say, “Okay…” but my hands are shaking as I set the phone on the floor next to me and start arranging her as instructed.
“B-Bette, I’m ssss… sorry…”
I stroke her back in what would be soothing circles if I weren’t scared out of my wits. “Shh, Dana, you didn’t do anything wrong. It’s going to be okay. Help is com–”
“No… I’ve be… en… ssss-such a b-bitch.” She starts to cry and I join her in her tears. “I’m sss-sorry…”
I feel my hate for this disease rise up in my chest and give me new focus. “Dana, you listen to me. I know you’re scared, but it’s not over. You’re not done here yet; I know it. You just stay with me.”
Her words are so garbled by illness and emotion that they’re almost entirely inaudible, but I make out a mumbled, “T-Tell Alice… I… I l-lo… ve her… I’m sss… orry…”
There’s a loud banging sound on the front door and I realize it’s locked. I grab the phone and scramble to grab ahold of the counter and pull myself up. Dana’s crying increases as she says, “N-No… don’t g-go…” Just as I’m about to reassure her she stops moving altogether and I cry hysterically as I run for the door as fast as my swollen body will carry me.
I fumble with the locks finally getting them open and throw the door back yelling, “Down the hall, second door on the left, hurry! She’s… she’s…”
The two men have already disappeared around the corner and I fall into a place of numbing serenity as I walk to the sectional in a daze and nearly collapse onto the surface. “Ma’am! Ma’am!”
I look down at the phone in my hands as if it’s an alien artifact and lift it to my face in a daze. “I’m here, they’re here. I need to go now and make some calls.”
I don’t wait for the voice on the other end to respond before I click the phone off and dial Tina. She answers on the second ring, her voice bright as she says, “Hey, babe! I was just thinking about you. How are you and the babies today?” The tears return and I begin to cry piteously. I have no idea what to say to her. There’s a long moment of silence and I hear her worried voice call out, “Bette! Babe? What’s going on?!” I still can’t answer her. “I’m on my way home now! Is everything, okay?!
I clear my throat enough to say, “T, it’s… bad. Just hurry…”
I hear her heels clicking as she runs and her breathless voice ask, “Are you and the babies okay?!” I nod my head and sob harder as I see one of the men run from the house, returning with a gurney. He doesn’t waste any time getting back to the bathroom. “Bette, please, talk to me! I’m scared… please, are you okay?!”
I close my eyes and pull myself together as I hear her start her car. “I’m sorry. We’re okay, T. It’s Dana. Just get home. I… I need to call Alice now.”
“No, wait until I get there. You’re in no shape to be talking to anyone. I’ll be there in ten minutes, tops.”
I scrub at my face as I see the men return, wheeling Dana’s unmoving body to the door. One looks to me but doesn’t stop his motion as he says, “We’re taking her to Cedars Sinai. She’s alive, but we need to hurry.” They wheel her through the door and in just a matter of moments, she’s been loaded and the ambulance doors slammed shut.
I follow them to the end of the drive and watch the ambulance scream down the road in shocked bewilderment for several long minutes until it disappears. Tina’s silver Lexus comes speeding up to the house, stopping with a screech. She doesn’t even turn it off or shut her door as she comes running up to me, taking me in her arms. The tears come again and leave a wet trail down her face as well as she checks me and the babies over, ensuring for herself that we’re okay. She takes Dana’s phone from my hands and returns to her car, turning it off and shutting the door. “Come on, babe. You need to sit down. I’m here now.”
I let her lead me back into the house and I lie down on the section in the front room. “T, we need to get to the hospital. Dana doesn’t want to be alone when she…”
I start to sob again and Tina sits next to me on the edge of the couch, wrapping me in her arms and trying to soothe me. She buries her face in my neck and whispers, “We’re not going anywhere until you’ve rested, Bette. Besides, I have to make some phone calls.” She leans up and strokes the hair from my eyes and I gaze at her incredulously. “I want to be with her too, but not at the risk of your health. You need to rest, and then I promise I’ll take us both, okay? I’ll call Alice right now and have her bring Angie home. I’ll tell her. Dana won’t be alone.” I release a shuddering breath and nod my head. She’s right. There’s nothing more to be done now. Besides, Dana needs Alice, just Alice, now more than ever.
Tina, Angie, and I walk into the hospital and take the elevator to the third floor. It seems like an eternity since I was here last, taking this very elevator to Tina’s floor to sit, worry, and wait. I had hoped to never grace these halls with my presence ever again, but life goes in circles. At some point, we wind up repeating things, and unfortunately, it’s usually the terrible moments that leaves such a deep, memorable mark. I’m beginning to hate hospitals.
We make our way towards the waiting room to find everyone but Alice, even Tom is here. He meets my eyes for only a moment, smiling sadly before looking away. I stare at him for a moment, letting my anger show and Tina strokes my back soothingly. She’s angry at him as well. How could he skip the baby shower? He actually had a gift delivered. It felt like a slap in the face. I smile at Tina and sigh as I let it go. This is about Dana. We’ll deal with his drama another time. I look to the clock on the wall to see it’s two o’clock. We’re just on time.
When we arrived yesterday Dana had been taken into surgery. For some reason they were removing her other breast ahead of schedule. We haven’t heard any news since, just that she’s in recovery, and that’s why we’ve all decided to meet here at this time to see her and to hopefully get some good news.
Ricky, Kit, Tasha, Shane, and Carmen are sitting on one of the sectional sofas, and Tina helps me over to the end so I can get settled. She hikes her leg up on the armrest and strokes my back. Tom is standing to the side, Malcolm gazing at him malevolently with this arms crossed. I can’t help but smile. At least one of our brothers has it right.
No one says a word as we wait, and wait. There are only comforting touches, sad smiles, and tense anticipation. Carmen even rubs Shane’s thigh in a comforting gesture. I’d smile if I could, but this place is making me sick to my stomach. I know my senses have been heightened by pregnancy, but I swear the smell of death hangs in the air like the perfume of rotting flowers. The atmosphere is thick with it, and while I can’t let go of my hope for the best, I am building walls in preparation for the worst.
Finally, Alice and Ming enter the room. Everyone stands anxiously as Ming greets Malcolm with a kiss and tight hug, and pulls us all together to listen. Alice walks quickly up to Tasha and gives her a tight hug. I hear a whispered, “I’ve missed you.” Tasha returns the sentiment as she squeezes Alice back. Alice finally pulls back and holds Tasha’s hand as she turns to us with bright but worried eyes and says, “Hey, guys…”
She gives Kit a half-hug and I lean in to give her one as well. I stroke her back and say, “Honey, you must be so exhausted…”
Alice doesn’t even acknowledge her own needs as she leans back and addresses us. “She’s really sick…” She lowers her head for a moment before continuing. “They were hoping to shrink this lump before trying another mastectomy to stop it from spreading again, but she was just too sick. She caught a weak strain of the flu and her immune system just couldn’t fight it.” Alice looks to me with watery eyes. “If you hadn’t found her when you did, she’d probably be dead.”
Kit starts to cry and covers her mouth as she turns away saying, “Oh, fuck. Fuck…”
I reach a hand over to her and stroke her arm before addressing Alice. “So what now? Is she going to be okay?”
Alice smiles a half-watt smile. “The bad news is that she’s really sick with the flu and has no immune system. On top of that, they had to remove the other breast. Her body just has too much to contend with.”
Everyone is dead silent as they absorb this terrible prognosis, the excess emotions it causes leaking out as silent tears. I look to Ming. “If she was that sick, why would they operate?”
Ming smiles patiently as she professionally explains, “Given her current condition, they would have to stop treatments. The cancer would spread very quickly, and all of it would have been for nothing. It was best to just get everything done and over with so she at least has a chance.”
I close my eyes for a moment and turn back to Alice. “And the good news…”
Alice smiles genuinely. “The good news is that even though they had to operate sooner than expected, they think they got it all. If she can get through this, she should be in complete remission.”
There is a collective sigh of relief and Tina’s hand slips into mine to squeeze it as she curls her other fingers around my arm. “Do you guys want to see her?”
Everyone agrees without hesitation and Alice says, “Okay, come on.”
Alice takes Kit’s hand and looks to Tasha questioningly. Tasha declines with a shake of her head. Alice eyes are pleading and Tasha says, “She’s recovering; I’ll only upset her. Don’t worry. I’ll be here when you come out.”
Alice walks back to Tasha and kisses her sweetly before saying, “I love you.”
Tasha smiles and her eyes are honest as she meets Alice’s gaze and says, “I love you, too.”
She releases Alice who puts her arm around Kit and heads out the door. I squeeze Tasha’s shoulder with a sad smile and she offers, “Do you want me to watch Angie while you go back?”
Tina sighs with relief as she hands Angie to Tasha. “Thank you so much. I’m not sure what we’re going to see back there and I don’t want her exposed to something she can’t understand yet.”
Tasha takes Angie and says, “No problem. She can keep my company.” I thank Tasha as well and cling to Tina as the rest of us follow Alice down the hallway towards Dana’s room. At least she’s in the recovery wing; that’s a good sign. We get to her door and Alice goes in, taking the seat next to Dana’s bed and taking her hand.
Everyone files in tentatively and Alice gets Dana’s attention. “Dane, everyone’s here to see you…” Dana’s eyes open into slits and she looks in our general direction, trying to focus.
Carmen sniffs and her voice is low as she says, “Hey, Dana…”
Dana’s voice is weak but her face brightens a little bit as she says, “Hi…”
She closes her eyes and I wonder if we should leave. She’s too exhausted, both physically and emotionally. Kit wipes at her eyes and assumes her confident, motherly voice as she asks, “What ya doin’ in here, baby girl?”
Dana looks like she might cry for a moment before she shrugs one of her shoulders, her eyes rolling up in her head before she regains focus. I walk around the group, approaching the bedside where my far too thin and destroyed friend is resting. Someone so strong and full of life shouldn’t be here, but she needs to know how much she’s loved. She needs to know that there’s life yet to be had.
I step up and take her other hand, gazing on her with all the confidence and love I feel for her. “Dana… sweetie…” It takes her a moment, but she focuses on me, closing her eyes and licking her lips to fight back the tears. “…we love you.” She lets out a shuddering breath. “Do you know that? Do you know we love you?”
She can’t fight the tears any longer and a single one escapes the side of her eye as she breathes out, “Yeah…”
She squeezes my hand as she nods her head before closing her eyes. She’s just too weak and she needs to rest. I look to Alice to see her worried eyes meet my own. My throat feels thick with the pain I see on her face and I swallow as I turn back to the group. “I think we should let Dana get some rest.” I place her hand back on the bed and look to Alice one more time. “You’ll call…?”
Alice nods her head. “The minute there’s a change, of course.”
I smile sadly at her. “Good. We’ll stop by tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that, for as long as it takes to walk out of here with her.”
Alice laughs genuinely through her tears and again nods her head, unable to form words. I turn back to see Tina standing next to me. She takes my hand and we lead the group from the room, quietly making a hasty retreat from this place that represents so much suffering.