Hope and Memory



Chapter Five: Teratoma

The days slowly ticked by one after another until finally the day of the operation arrived. Shirley had rarely left Keith's side, except for the occasional trip to the restroom or the cafeteria. Chris and Tracy; being the youngest members of the Partridge clan were beginning to feel abandoned by their mother. They understood that Keith was sick but what they didn't understand was their mother's need to stay close to her eldest son. Laurie, who was doing her best to care for the rest of the children, saw how sad and depressed Chris and Tracy were becoming and she had tried to tell her mother but it seemed to fall on deaf ears; it was almost as if Keith had become Shirley's entire world, which in Laurie's eyes wasn't right.

Keith, despite his illness, tried to get his mother to go home and spend time with the rest of the family, but she wouldn't, and after a time he just gave up on trying to get her to go home, realizing how pointless it was.

On the day of the operation, Keith was very scared but he tried hard not to let it show. Because of the operation, the nurses went against the posted protocol and let the younger members of the Partridge clan in to the ICU before Keith was taken up. Laurie had to hold on to Chris and Tracy's hands because they were pretty punchy with their hands and Laurie didn't want the two of them messing with the machines that Keith was hooked up to; mainly the nasal cannula. Danny stood off in the corner, arms folded as he studied his older brother.

When the orderlies came and removed Keith from the ICU, the entire family went to the waiting room that was across the hall from the surgery theater, so just as soon as the doctor knew one way or another, news could quickly be given to the family. Getting Keith to go under was a job and a half, but once that was done and he was well ventilated and stable, Doctor Ftesi and the rest of the team went in. After only ten minutes, Doctor Ftesi saw something that literally made him stop in his tracks and look up at the head nurse.

Wordlessly, Doctor Ftesi eyed the head nurse until she caught the look and leaned over to glance in the two person microscope lens.

"What on earth is that?" The head nurse, Jo Ann Miller, asked.

"It's a teratoma." Dr. Ftesi replied evenly. He was already sure of the identification of the object, but he wanted someone else to see it too, which was the reason he had gotten the attention of the head nurse.

"Is it evasive?" Jo Ann asked.

"I see no plane of separation between the tumor and the brain." Doctor Ftesi replied. After a moment, still eying the teratoma he said, "Suction please. Let's get this thing out."

Six hours later, Shirley was still in her seat, being held by Laurie. Chris and Tracy were asleep in their chairs; Chris leaning against Tracy and Tracy leaning against Reuben, who was leaning as far away from them as he could. Danny was by the large windows that overlooked the place. They were on the seventh floor so the view was pretty nice; the tops of buildings, trees and the highway could be seen below, as well as a small shopping center on the other side of the highway.

"Mrs. Partridge?"

Jumping with fright, Shirley glanced in the doorway of the waiting room to see Dr. Ftesi in his surgical scrubs. Thankfully she didn't see any blood on them so perhaps things had gone well?

"Doctor? How is he? How's my son?" She asked, rising from her seat; the rest of the family copying her movements.

"He's alive. Right now that's the most important thing." Doctor Ftesi replied.

"But, what does that mean? Is he blind? Paralyzed? Is he going to be alright?" Laurie asked, beating her mom to the punch on that question.

"Well, we will know a lot more tomorrow. Right now it's still touch and go." Doctor Ftesi replied.

Seeing the doctor's mannerism, Shirley realized that the doctor must be exhausted. "Thank you doctor. You must be completely exhausted." She said.

Wearily, Doctor Ftesi nodded his head before he excused himself. He was tired, but his day wasn't done yet. In the back of his mind he knew he should have told Shirley what he had found in her son's brain but honestly, if Keith didn't survive then Shirley wouldn't need to know the specifics, so right now, as he had said, it was touch and go.

That night, thankfully passed without incident. Reuben took the rest of the kids home while Shirley, as usual, stayed by her son's side. Keith was moved back to ICU to let the anesthesia wear off, but even after it had supposedly done so, Keith still didn't wake up. Shirley was worried about her son's lack of response but the nurses all told her that sometimes children were slow to wake up. They suggested that she talk to Keith, so in the early morning hours, Shirley quietly began to talk to her son.

At 11 AM, Shirley was getting tired, but she wasn't going to stop talking. If their was a possibility that Keith could hear her and snap out of his coma, then Shirley was going to keep at it.

"Keith, do you remember how excited you were when Tracy was born? I could tell that the minute you saw her you loved her so much. That's the same way your father and I felt when you were born. You were all wrapped up in that bright, blue blanket with a snow white cap on your head. You were so small and fragile and your father and I? We loved you so much." Shirley said.

She stopped talking and glanced out the window. It was another day. Another day of what? If's, ands and buts? The doctors were running test after test after test and they couldn't seem to come up with any answers.

"And I love you too…mom."

The voice was a whisper but it was one of the sweetest things Shirley had ever heard. Looking back, she saw that Keith was looking at her, his blue eyes searching her face intently.

A smile came to her face as she took Keith's limp hand and held it, marveling at it's chilled feeling.

"I had a weird dream." Keith murmured, "I dreamed that I floated out of my body and I was up in the air looking down at it. I saw all of the doctors working. Then I went through a tunnel. At the end it was bright; almost like the sun. Dad was there and he looked happy to see me. I reached out towards him but I heard you calling for me. That's why I came back. Funny dream."

Shirley listened intently to what Keith said, and while she agreed that it was a funny dream, in her heart she realized how close she had come to losing her son.

A few hours later saw Shirley and Laurie; who had decided to skip school that day, in Doctor Ftesi's office. The doctor looked grim and that sinking feeling that Shirley had had all the previous night came back with a vengeance.

"It's bad news, isn't it?" She asked as she took a seat next to her eldest daughter.

"Your son's tumor is very very unusual. It's a teratoma." Doctor Ftesi began. Hearing that, Laurie looked very confused. "A teratoma?" she asked, "What's a teratoma?"

"Yes, it's actually a living thing. It has hair, nails and teeth." Doctor Ftesi said.

Shirley, confused, just shook her head and said, "Wait just a minute Doctor Ftesi. This thing…this teratoma…is inside my son's brain?"

"Yes." Doctor Ftesi replied evenly.

Shirley sighed, obviously shocked and not knowing what to say. Seeing that her mother wasn't going to speak up right away, Laurie asked the question that was nagging at her mind.

"How did it get there, doctor?"

"We don't know. The tumors are usually congenital. We have never seen one in the brain before; they usually grow in the abdomen." Doctor Ftesi said.

Rising from her seat, Shirley started to pace the floor. She couldn't believe this. It was impossible! "Then…then you've made a mistake." She said, conviction dripping in her words.

Almost immediately, Doctor Ftesi shot down that notion. "No, we all got a very good look at it. I did manage to remove about 75 percent, but I was afraid to go deeper. It's in an area that controls important functions and it would have been too dangerous."

Laurie sighed and shook her head. "Doctor Ftesi, this is crazy. Why didn't you tell us this last night?" she asked.

"Miss Partridge, it would have seemed even crazier last night, and well…if Keith hadn't of pulled through then you all wouldn't have needed to know the specifics." Doctor Ftesi said.

Shirley, gaining some semblance of control over her emotions, asked "This thing? Will it grow back?"

"Yes." Doctor Ftesi replied.

"Is it cancer?" Shirley asked.

After a moment's pause, Doctor Ftesi replied "Yes."

Hearing that, Shirley lost it; her hand going to her mouth in a vain attempt to stop from screaming. Laurie, seeing how upset her mother was, went over to her and lovingly wrapped her thin arms around her mother.

"So um…what do you plan on doing about it?" Laurie asked.

"I have contacted our Cancer Institute about chemotherapy." Doctor Ftesi said.

Shirley shook her head over and over, mumbling "No, no."

"That's where we lost our father." Laurie explained to the doctor. The day after Shirley had told her about her father, Laurie had gone digging in the family files that Shirley had kept hidden, and there Laurie had found everything about her father's illness.

"Oh, I am sorry. Then you know that chemotherapy could be very hard and that Keith would be very sick. Quite frankly Mrs. Partridge. It's such a long shot you might prefer not to put him through it." Doctor Ftesi said.

Hearing that, Shirley couldn't believe he had said that. Biting back her emotions, Shirley figured it was now time to get tough. "You mean just let him die? Doctor Ftesi, I am not going to let that happen. I have waited 16 years for Keith and I am not giving up now!"

Seeing the determination in Shirley's face, Doctor Ftesi just nodded his head. Chemotherapy it was. He just hoped and prayed that it would work for Keith.