A Promise of Home
Daniel didn't like hospitals. They were too cold, too loud, and too bright. People always wanted to stick you with needles and tell you it would "only hurt for a second," but they were lying. It hurt way more than a second.
"He was brought in from the children's home. Stomach problems. Been going for a few days, but was brought it after he started vomiting. Insists he's fine."
He closed his eyes and heard the hushed voices of the nurses around him, treating him as if he couldn't hear. And he was fine. For the past few days, he had a tummy ache. Mrs. Parker had finally noticed and kept him home from home that day and told him the rest would make him feel better. But it didn't and the pain got worse. He started running a low fever around lunchtime and by the time lights out rolled around, he couldn't sleep because it hurt. Then, he made the mistake of telling Mrs. Parker that when she asked during her nightly check.
Of course it didn't help when he threw up all over his sheets. Mrs. Parker had cleaned him up and taken his temperature. She was worried. Mrs. Parker was nice. Most of people that ran the home were nice. But there were a lot of kids there and Daniel was just another one of them. He didn't doubt that they cared and they treated him well enough, but they weren't his parents.
His parents were dead.
"What have we got here?" That was a new voice, he noticed. Male.
"Eight-year-old brought in from Midland Children's Home. Complaining of pain in the lower right quadrant. Temp's one-oh-one even and bp's ninety over seventy."
"Well, that's all good and dandy, but why don't we start with his name. He's eight, for crying out loud. What med school did you just graduate from?"
The voice was annoyed. Daniel opened his eyes. A gray-haired man in a lab coat stood next to his bed, flipping through a chart. Off to the side of him was another younger man in a white coat. The other doctor smiled when Daniel had opened his eyes.
"Daniel," he whispered. "My name is Daniel." His stomach was really starting to hurt now. Maybe Mrs. Parker was right to be worried.
"Okay, Daniel," the doctor said. "I'm Doctor O'Neill, but you can call me Doc Jack if you want. It says here you're not feeling too well."
"Mrs. Parker brought me here. She said the clinic's not open at night."
O'Neill nodded. "She's right. But you're in luck because this place is open 24/7." He put the chart down on a stand next to the bed. "Now, I'm going to take a look at your belly. I'm gonna to poke and prod a bit and it's probably going to hurt, so just let me know if it gets too bad."
Daniel nodded and the doctor pushed the blanket down and the hospital gown up. He put his hands on Daniel's stomach and started pushing down gently. It wasn't too bad until he reached the right side. Daniel gasped as he touched the skin, but it wasn't until he pulled away that it really hurt. Daniel stifled a cry.
"It's okay," O'Neill soothed. "You can cry out if you want."
"It's appendicitis," the other doctor stated, folding his arms across his chest.
"Not so fast with that trigger finger," he said over his shoulder. His annoyance at the other man in the room was obvious even to Daniel. "Have you ruled out everything else, yet?"
"Not everything. Tests aren't back."
"Well, then I suggest you go check on them, then. And tell Shirley I need an ultrasound machine."
Daniel watched the man walk off in a huff. "He's new," O'Neill explained. "We're still working the kinks out."
Daniel frowned. "What's appendicitis?"
O'Neill picked Daniel's chart back up again, opened it, and began writing across it. "It's when you appendix decides it wants out."
"Wants out?" Daniel repeated. "Don't I need it?"
O'Neill smiled, flipping the chart closed then tucking it under his arm. "Nope. It's one like one of those extra Lego pieces that comes in the package, but you never actually use."
"Legos?" Daniel was confused. What were Legos?
Jack raised an eyebrow. "Never heard of Legos?"
Daniel shook his head. "I don't think we have any of those at the home."
"Legos are great. You build with them. Can build houses, ships, even airplanes. The playroom here has some great Legos."
"Oh." He absently put a hand on his stomach. "My stomach really hurts," he muttered, shifting around, trying to find a comfortable position. He wasn't lying, his stomach really did hurt, even though in the beginning he had fibbed and told Mrs. Parker he was fine. He probably would be missing school again tomorrow and though he hated that idea, he was secretly glad that she would probably come and sit with him tomorrow. That meant she'd spend time with just him and he could pretend that all the other kids were gone and that he was back in Egypt in his mother's arms.
O'Neill didn't have a good look at his face and Daniel noticed the blanket was pulled up again. And Daniel was cold. Really cold. And his stomach hurt more than it had just a moment ago. Daniel heard a nurse wheel something in and the doctor had moved to his feet and was bending Daniel's right leg at the knee.
"That hurts," Daniel gasped, as his hands went to knock the doctor's grasp from his leg.
"I know. But I have to," O'Neill said sympathetically. He turned to the nurse. "After the ultrasound confirms, locate Peters and get him and his behind in here with those test results. And start an IV. Saline."
Daniel wasn't sure what an IV was, but it sounded like it might involve a needle. "I don't like needles," he whimpered, pulling his arms tight against his aching abdomen. "No needles."
"Sorry, kiddo. This is one needle you need. We have to get some fluids inside you."
"Why? I can drink water." Daniel didn't understand. He was scared. The only hospital he'd been to in Egypt didn't make him do this IV.
"Because you might throw it up. An IV lets us get some good stuff into you and the bonus is that we don't need to stick you with any more needles once it's in."
"Scouts honor," Jack said giving the Boy's Scouts' salute, then pointed a thumb over the nurse hovering by his side. "Shelly here is a pro with the sharp stuff. Much better than I am. It'll only hurt for a second."
The doctor laughed. "Okay, you got me. Maybe it'll hurt for two seconds."
Shelly moved into his line of vision. "You want an OR?"
"Not yet," O'Neill said. "I want to see his labs first."
Daniel swallowed. There were so many words and abbreviations he didn't know. Combined with the fact that nurse Shelly was approaching him with some equipment he just knew had to include the dreaded needle, he was terrified. "OR?" he whispered. It didn't sound like a good word.
O'Neill patted his hand. "Sorry, kiddo. I know I'm speaking another language here. OR means operating room. I could tell you not to be scared, but we both know that's not going to work, since hospitals are pretty scary places."
"Operating room?" He'd heard that word before. On the TV at the home. One of the kids there liked to watch ER reruns. "Do you need to take out my appendix?" O'Neill walked around to the other side of the bed to sit in a chair to Daniel's right and Daniel took his gaze off of Shelly to follow Jack's movements. The sneaky nurse took that opportunity to stick him. "Ow." He whipped his head around, fixing her with an angry glance.
"All done," O'Neill said. "Not so bad, huh? Nothing compared to the pain in your gut, I'm sure." He crouched down a bit so he was more on Daniel's level. "Yes, I might have to take your appendix out. I'm waiting on some test results to came back, just to make sure."
"Will it hurt?" Daniel asked.
"Nope. That's the beauty of it. We'll give you some medicine that will make you sleepy and you'll snooze through the whole thing. When you wake up, you'll feel pretty yucky at first, but your stomach won't hurt as much."
"Really?" His stomach not hurting so badly sounded like a good thing and Daniel realized how much nicer this Doc Jack was than the rest of the people in the hospital.
"Really." O'Neill pushed himself up from the chair, slowly, and Daniel noticed he groaned and put one hand on his knee as he moved. "Shelly. Give Daniel here three mgs morphine IV push." He looked back towards Daniel. "That will help the pain a bit. And it will go right into the IV – no new needles, like I promised."
"Thank you," Daniel whispered.
The doctor – Dr. O'Neill, Doc Jack, Daniel wasn't sure which to call him – left briefly after Shelly came back and stuck another needle in the IV line. It didn't hurt, just like O'Neill promised, and it helped the pain a little. His stomach still hurt, a lot in fact, but it was slightly better.
Daniel hoped the doctor would come back soon. The eight-year-old wasn't sure why, but he really liked Dr. Jack and felt empty when he left. There was a connection, something he hadn't had in the eight foster homes he'd been through already. And Nick, well, Nick didn't care. Even at eight, he knew there was no connection between him and his grandfather. Nick had a life to lead and it didn't involve a little boy.
Daniel missed his parents. He missed his mother's perfume and how his father always smelled like soap. He missed Egypt and the sand. New York was loud, New York was crowded, and New York was cold, in more than one sense of the word.
And now his stomach hurt and they may have to cut into him. He could just see Tommy, from the children's home, pointing at him.
"You're gonna die," Tommy'd say. "Like that kid did on ER."
No, he told himself. ER wasn't real and Dr. Jack wouldn't let him die. He was a doctor and he knew what he was doing.
Still, Daniel was suddenly very, very scared.
He tried everything not to think about his stomach or a possible operation, but it wasn't working. He couldn't help back think about it. It won't hurt, he told himself. The doctor said so. The doctor won't let anything bad happen.
He was still trying to tell himself that when Dr. Jack came back in, chart in hand. This time, a stethoscope was hung casually across his shoulders.
"Sorry, kiddo," he said. "Looks like that appendix does want out after all."
Daniel swallowed. "No, it doesn't. It can stay there." Your appendix didn't do anything the doctor had told him. So maybe it could stay put.
Dr. Jack shook his head. "Nope. Doesn't work that way. We don't take it out, it'll revolt. Explode and leave nasty little surprises in your insides. You don't want that, do ya?"
"No." That didn't sound good. But neither did surgery. "Are you gonna take it out?"
The doctor smiled. "Of course. You only get the best and if you don't mind me bragging a little, I am one of the best pediatric surgeons in New York. And tell you what."
"When it'll all done and you're feeling better in a day or two, I'll personally take you down to our wonderful little playroom and properly introduce you to the world of Legos."
"Really?" Daniel's eyes lit up. This doctor was willing to spend time with him? Just the two of them?
"Sure, kiddo," he promised. "But first, you gotta do something for me."
"Okay," Daniel agreed. That sounded fair.
"You have to be brave. The next couple of hours are going to be scary. I'll do everything to try and made them not be, but an operation's not a hell of a lot of fun. But, by this time tomorrow, you'll feel a million times better. We got a deal?" The doctor held out his hand.
"Deal," Daniel agreed and shook Dr. Jack's hand.
"Great. You're going go on a little trip in a few minutes. Upstairs to a place we call pre-op. There you're going to get the opportunity to have a chat with one of my favorite people in the hospital, Dr. Sam Carter. She's what we call an anesthesiologist."
"Ana-what?" Daniel wasn't even going to try out that word. If it had been in writing, he might have been able to sound it out. He was an excellent reader for his age. Light-years ahead of the other kids, his teacher told him.
"Anesthesiologist," O'Neill repeated. "They are the type of doctors that make sure people stay asleep through surgery. In my opinion, they are the most important person in the operating room. Well, next to me. And it doesn't hurt that Dr. Carter's easy on the eyes. But, shh." O'Neill put a finger to his lips. "I did not say that. She'll never let me forget it and I don't think her husband would approve."
Daniel laughed but winced as it sent new waves of pain through his stomach.
"Oops. What kinda of doctor am I, making the patient laugh when he's hurting?" Daniel looked up. Dr. Jack had wonderfully kind and sincere brown eyes. One thing Daniel noticed was how often people tried to be nice, but their eyes always gave them away. Eyes don't lie.
"I've got to head out and get ready. Next time you'll see me I'll be all dressed up in green. You might not recognize me."
No, Daniel thought, he would. The eyes would give him away.
If Daniel wasn't feeling so poorly, he might have enjoyed the ride upstairs. He got to lie down while someone pushed him and he could watch the lights above flash by, blurring into a kind of light show.
He was disappointed that Dr. Jack hadn't come along for the ride, but he'd promised Daniel he'd see him. Hopefully before they gave him the medicine that was supposed to make him go to sleep. Daniel was still confused about that one. It had to be morning by now, and he wasn't tired. How was something supposed to make him fall asleep when he wasn't tired?
He got pushed into a room with a bunch of moving beds like his – gurneys, he remembered that word from ER. He tried very hard not to be scared. But without Dr. O'Neill around it wasn't so easy. His stomach was beginning to hurt worse than before and he wanted the whole thing to be over.
Be brave, he told himself. You told Dr. O'Neill you were going to be brave. He said it wouldn't be fun, but that you'll feel better. And he promised to show you Legos.
He really wanted to see what Legos were.
Daniel heard footsteps and saw a blond woman approach his bed. She was dressed from head to toe in green with the exception of a white lab coat. She gave him a smile when she approached. Daniel immediately looked to her eyes.
Blue, and clear.
"I'm Dr. Carter", she told him. "You must be Daniel." He noticed she had a chart in her hands. He wondered how she'd gotten it. It hadn't come with him. At least, he didn't think it did.
"You're the an-es-thes-iologist?" Daniel asked, saying the last word slowly and hoping he got it right. He wanted to show he'd been paying attention. That he was good.
"That's right. I'm going to make sure you sleep through your operation."
Daniel frowned. "It's morning now and I'm not tired. How am I going to sleep?"
Dr. Carter laughed. "Oh, trust me, you will. I've got a special trick or two up my sleeve." He saw her eyes scan the bottom of his chart. "Not a fan of needles, are you?"
Daniel shook his head. "No. I didn't want this one, but Dr. O'Neill said I needed it and that I wouldn't have to get any other needle 'cept this one. You're not going to use a needle are you?"
Carter put down the chart. "Well, I don't have to if you don't want me to. You want to know how my magic works?"
Daniel nodded. Maybe it wouldn't seem so scary if she told him what was going to happen. Dr. Jack told him what was happening and it sorta helped. Helped him be brave. He needed to be brave.
"I'm going to give you a little something while you're in here. It's going to make you feel relaxed."
"Relaxed?" Daniel didn't understand. He sure didn't feel relaxed.
"Floaty," Carter expanded. "And probably a little sleepy. It will make things seem a little less scary."
Less scary was good. Very good. "Is it a needle?"
"Yes," Carter admitted. "But it will go straight into your IV here."
"So, no more sticks?"
"No, no more sticks."
"Okay." He could deal with that. He was brave.
"You'll wait here a little awhile, then someone will come and bring you into the OR."
"Operating room, right?" Daniel remembered that word. He was good at remembering things. Good and brave.
"Yep. There, I'm going to have you breathe in some air through a mask like this one." Dr. Carter held up a clear mask with a very thick rim. Daniel hadn't seen her come in with it, so he wasn't sure where it had come from. He frowned a little.
Brave. Be brave, he reminded himself and reached out towards the mask. It was made of plastic, like the bowls at the home.
"It goes over your mask and nose like this." Carter held the mask a few inches from her face to demonstrate, but it was too small for her. He told her as much.
She gave him a smile. "That's because it's for you, silly. Do you want to try?"
Daniel swallowed. He wasn't sure. But then his stomach groaned he found himself looking for any way to chase the pain away. It was really starting to hurt again. That couldn't be good.
Be brave, he repeated for what seemed the hundredth time.
"Okay," he agreed and let Carter place the mask a couple of inches from his face. It wasn't so bad. It smelled like the new shoes Mrs. Parker had bought him last week for school. But he still wasn't sure it was going to make him sleep.
"How will it make me sleepy?"
Carter lifted the mask and placed in on the gurney next to him. "You'll be breathing in a special gas called anesthetic. It puts people to sleep."
Daniel still wasn't so sure about that one, but Dr. Jack had assured him he'd be asleep the whole time so it had to work.
Carter smiled. "Don't worry, Daniel. It hasn't failed yet. Now," she reached behind her and produced a syringe. "I'm going to give you this and go make sure things are ready for you."
Daniel closed his eyes as she picked up his IV line. He didn't want to see the needle in action, despite the fact that it wasn't going directly into his flesh. Almost immediately though, he felt a warmth flow up his arm and his head started to get a bit fuzzy. He shook it, hoping to clear it. He felt Dr. Carter pat his hand.
"I'll be back shortly," she promised and he closed his eyes. The pain in his stomach felt very far away and that was nice.
His eyes popped open, both the bed and the lights were moving again. There was noise all around.
It was time, he realized.
He could feel his heart beating through his chest.
There were double doors. He saw them close and the lights stopped moving. Instead he saw lots of metal. It was shiny.
"Up you go," someone said and before he knew it, he was lifted in the air by a sheet and transferred onto another surface. It was narrow. And cold.
Daniel was scared. Terrified, even. He scanned the room. Everyone was dressed in green and had a white mask covering their mouths and noses.
The eyes. Daniel started looking for the eyes. He was beginning to panic.
"Hey there, Daniel. Told you I'd be back."
Dr. O'Neill. Sincere, brown eyes. The doctor leaned over him and Daniel couldn't see him smile, but could read it in his eyes.
"I'm brave," he mumbled, the words coming out soft and scared.
"I know," O'Neill agreed. "And you're almost over the hump. This is the worst part, kiddo. It gets better from here, I swear."
Daniel saw something moved behind him. Another face peered down at him.
Blue eyes. Dr. Carter.
"Dr. Carter is going to take good care of you, Daniel. After all, I can't trust just anyone, can I?"
"I'm not sleepy," he told him. He was floaty, yes, but he wasn't tired. It wasn't going to work.
"You will be in a minute," O'Neill assured him.
"Daniel?" Dr. Carter was talking to him now. She held another version of the mask she'd shown him in her hand, only this one had a couple of clear tubes attached to it. Daniel looked back towards O'Neill.
"A couple of deep breaths and you'll be sound asleep," O'Neill said, and then turned over his shoulder. "No, wait a minute."
Carter had the mask closer to his face now. "Can you count backwards from one hundred yet, Daniel?"
He nodded. He could do that. He learned that in school. He could count higher than a hundred. To a thousand, even.
"Good. This is going to smell a little funny, sort of like apples. But just breathe in and count backward from one hundred out loud, okay?"
This wasn't going to work. This was going to hurt. He didn't want them to take out his appendix. He could keep it. He needed it.
"Daniel." Dr. Jack's brown eyes were back and bore into his. "Still a little scary, huh?"
"Not so much fun," he whispered. Dr. Carter took that opportunity to bring the mask closer to his face. It hovered about an inch away from his mouth and nose. He felt air coming out of it and sure enough, there was a faint smell of apples.
"Try and count for me," Dr. Carter urged, but Daniel wasn't sure. The mask was a bit confining and he wanted to close his eyes and hope it was all over.
"We'll do it together," O'Neill suggested. "I'll start. One hundred."
"Ninety-nine," Daniel echoed. "Ninety-eight." He started to feel lighter and his eyes were drooping.
"Ninety-seven," he and O'Neill said together. Daniel vaguely realized that Dr. Carter had lowered the mask and it now completely covered his nose and mouth.
"Ninety-six..." Daniel trailed off. He was so tired all of a sudden. But it was morning and he wasn't sleepy...
Dr. O'Neill's eyes were the last thing he remembered seeing.