Part V here! Apologies for the delay. I wrote an entirely different one, then wrote this one, then holidays happened. This, at least, is quite long. I left it ambiguous on purpose, and I'm not sure it counts as a "moment," but felt it was where the story was going more than the other chapter 5. I hope someone is still reading — let me know what you think!
The tableau that greets Teddy when she, Hannah, and Max walk through the door is frightening but eerily familiar: Henry, his shoulders bunched together tightly, gripping the counter and, though the kids don't immediately realize it, coughing blood up into the sink.
It had been a good, but long, day until then: She'd had three successful surgeries, then met Henry and Hannah at Max's JV baseball game, a doubleheader against Sacred Heart. She and Hannah had popped out of the second game to go quickly look at prom dresses (Max's team had won the first by 15 runs), while Henry had headed back to the office to grab some paperwork before going home. She and Hannah hadn't found anything and had swung by to pick up Max and a late dinner for the four of them from Padrino's (Sam is on a student-council retreat to Vancouver for the weekend). She'd texted Henry to say they were heading home. He hadn't responded, but that wasn't unusual.
"What? Oh my god. Daddy!" Hannah notices it first, and covers her mouth.
"Henry," Teddy lunges, pushes Hannah out of the way. She scoops a towel up and helps him cough into it. "You'll be fine," she says, looking him directly in the eye, because he has to be. "You'll be fine. Hannah, take my phone, call Cristina and tell her to meet us at the hospital. Max, dial 911. Tell them we need an ambulance stat."
He pauses, wheezing a little. "When did this start? Is there any pain?"
He shakes his head, his eyes fearful, and she helps him lean against the kitchen table. "I had some discomfort this afternoon, but other than that, nothing."
She nods. She's seen his latest scans (about three months ago, they were getting a little lax) and his latest blood-sugar checks, and there hadn't been anything that would alarm her. "Chest or abdomen?"
"Uhh…here. Chest, under the ribs, on the right," he motions. "Like kind of in the back."
She nods, presses two fingers onto his radial artery as he struggles for breath. His pulse is faster than normal — even though he regularly has his organs exposed to the world, Henry is still a former pro athlete who runs marathons as a hobby; his pulse usually barely goes about 50. It's at least 80 now. "It'll be okay," she breathes, more to herself than to him, and a look exchanges between them.
"Mom, Cristina wants to talk to you," Hannah passes her the cell phone.
"Okay, so what I could make out of your teenager's blubbering is that Henry's coughing up blood?" Cristina asks.
She nods even though she can't see her. "Yeah. We're waiting for an ambulance. Meet us at Seattle Grace? He's got some pain on the right side of his chest and — Hannah, go get my kit from your dad's office, please — and his pulse is fast but thready, Cristina."
"I'll be there in five," Cristina promises. "I'll tell Bailey and we'll meet you." Bailey has been Henry's surgeon since Richard retired, but this feels like it's in the lungs, hence calling Cristina. Cristina is an arrogant surgeon — she begged Teddy to keep being chief because she couldn't be bothered with teaching and paperwork — but is undoubtedly, unequivocally the best cardiac surgeon in the US. She is well beyond tumor extractions, flies to Tokyo and Mexico to perform surgeries that get her in newspapers and medical journals, but she is the only person Teddy trusts to touch Henry's lungs, and Teddy knows Cristina knows and respects this.
"Ambulance is coming in a few, Mom," Max says, hanging up the phone. "I'm going to call Sam."
"No, don't," she says, "No use worrying him until we know what's going on." Henry starts coughing again, so she reaches out again with the towel. The blood splatters onto her silk sweater, and Max flinches at the sight. She realizes her kids have never seen this terrible side to Henry's illness: Although he's had 26 surgeries since Hannah was born, his tumors and flares are always caught by scans; any pain or discomfort or sickness caused by the drugs and radiation are kept hidden from the children; surgeries, when necessary, are scheduled and during the daytime. All that aside, he's been on a pretty effective drug and gene-therapy regimen for the last several years and hasn't had surgery in 9 months, a personal best. He's collapsed or coughed blood seven times since Hannah was born, requiring emergency surgery; however, the kids had never been present during those. The disease has always simply been a backdrop for the kids, and now it's their father puking blood all over their kitchen.
They hear the wail of the ambulance coming down the street, and then there's a knock at the door. The paramedics come in, stretcher in tow. She introduces herself (Dr. Teddy Altman, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Seattle Grace), gives an authoritative run-down of the disease and the symptoms and explains in no uncertain terms that he is going to Seattle Grace. She then turns to her teenagers, almost forgotten in the hustle, as the paramedics hook up a mask and a heart rate monitor. "You guys follow in your car, okay, Hannah? You won't be allowed back, so just let the ED nurse know you're there, have her call me, and then sit in the surgical lobby, okay?"
"What's going on Mom?" Hannah asks nervously.
"It's your dad's VHL. There's probably a tumor that snuck up on us that we're going to need to take out, soon. It sounds like it's near his lungs. That's why I called Cristina." Hannah is pale and shaky, so she wraps her in a hug. "I promise it will be alright. But I have to go with your dad right now and take care of him, okay?"
"Banana," Henry calls, lifting up the mask. "It'll be fine. By morning, it'll be all over. Drive your brother and meet us at the hospital." He reaches out and squeezes her hand. "I'll be fine."
She follows the stretcher out to the ambulance blindly, sits down on the bench and leans back before taking a deep breath. Henry's coughing is getting much worse, and she tries to help him cough into the tub and help him breath and not freak out. She can focus on that. Truthfully, though, it's been years since this happened, and she is just as scared as Hannah right now.
"Hey," he says between coughs, and she can see fear in his eyes too, "It'll be alright."
She tries to smile, but the motion only brings tears to her eyes. "Yeah, yeah," she tries. "Miranda and Cristina will meet us there." She realizes that she's shaking, actually, physically shaking, and tries to clench her hands to calm her nerves.
"The nursing staff better hope that there's an awesome trauma right behind me," he teases, "Or else you're going to give them hell tonight." He tries to grin, but starts coughing again. The coughs are sounding deeper, more pernicious. She prays.
Cristina and Bailey are waiting for the ambulance, already suited up. The paramedic tries to deliver stats but she steamrolls over him, and Bailey quickly directs them to a private room in the ED. She gets an eerie sense of déjà vu as they work, work, work, and all he does is cough up blood. Eventually the coughing-up-blood does stop, at which point Cristina and Bailey agree to take him up for a CT. She's about to follow when he says, "Go check on the kids, please."
Cristina nods. "We'll page you when scans are up."
"Contrast and non-contrast," she demands.
"Of course. Now go," Bailey orders.
She checks her phone, but the kids haven't texted her, nor has the ED paged her. She wanders around for a little, checks the vending-machine area, when suddenly they come rushing in the front doors.
"What took you so long?" she demands, hugging them both.
"We — the kitchen," Hannah says. "We had to clean up the kitchen. There was so much blood, all over the kitchen."
Right. Hannah and Max would do that. "Of course. Thank you," she says, putting her hand on Hannah's shoulder.
"Where's Dad?" Max asks.
"He's going to a CT now. They have to see what's causing all this bleeding. They just took him up; I'm going to meet Cristina up there to take a look at his scans," she says.
"We're coming too," Max says resolutely.
She's a little taken aback. "No, honey," she says kindly. "This — this is doctor stuff. The hospital doesn't let family back there."
"They're letting you back," Hannah says.
"Only as a professional courtesy."
"We can come as a professional courtesy," Max says. His voice is stubborn, but her cocky 15-year-old baby boy just looks downright scared.
She flails. Internally, she flails. Somehow, she has never had to deal with both freaking-out children and a potentially dying husband at the same time. She's scared and she knows she's still shaking and kind of crying and that's only freaking them out more, and she needs to be dealing with Henry, not with her kids, right now, but her kids have never seen this happen and she needs to calm them down and reassure them, stat.
"Listen to me," she says, trying to quell her nerves. "I know it's hard for you to hear, and you're scared, but you guys going up to CT will just slow everything down. Your dad will have some time between the CT and surgery and if he's doing okay and can talk to you guys, you'll see him then, okay? It should be in about 30 or 45 minutes. You can see him in 30 minutes. Do you want to go to the attendings' lounge?"
The two look at each other and nod. They've spent plenty of time there waiting for her to finish surgery, so it won't be unusual, plus it's more private. She puts her arm around Hannah — Max pulled away — as she leads them upstairs.
"You know, Dad's surgeries have always been scheduled," Hannah muses. "Like, we would come in after school and do our homework while he recovered and it never made sense that you would flit in and out and yell at Dr. Bailey and be super-stressed out the whole time. Now it does."
She shrugs. "When your dad and I met the VHL was a lot less under control. It was why we got married, you know — he needed a surgery he couldn't afford. The gene therapies hadn't really been discovered. He had a few … close calls. One a lot like this, actually."
Hannah laughs. "I've always kind of thought you guys made up the insurance story."
"Who would make up such a stupid story?" Max interjects.
Hannah shrugs. "That's just it — it's so stupid. I figured they made it up to cover up something else. Because the insurance fraud makes more sense than, you know, something like love at first sight. But I always figured it was love at first sight and you just made this up so you wouldn't feel ridiculous, since you were old when you met and love at first sight is really stupid when you're not, like, 15 or in a Bronte novel."
She stares at Hannah incredulously. "So you think we made up a story about me doing something very ethically suspect in order to make us seem less ridiculous?"
Hannah holds up her hands as if to say What do you want me to say? "I mean, yeah, love at first sight is ridiculous, but so is 'I married him because he needed live-saving surgery and didn't have insurance and we met in an elevator the day before.' In fact, yours is more ridiculous, but I figured you guys were, like, ashamed of looking childish, since you were … you know … older."
She laughs. "No. We really did meet the day before, he really did need insurance, we really did get married because of that. He'd asked his ex-girlfriend to marry him but she said no so I volunteered. We didn't start dating for six months. I used to go over to his apartment and bring him leftovers from all my bad dates and complain. He confessed his feelings for me the first time hopped up on morphine in an MRI in front of Cristina and the old chief." She starts laughing so hard she starts crying, because what if she loses him tonight? She can't handle that. "We moved in together nine months after we got married. I promise. Hell, we didn't buy rings until our fifth anniversary."
Hannah stares at her. "So you really just married him like that? How did you know he would turn out to be, you know, Dad, and not just some skeevy creep who was going to take your money and run?"
"It's not like I had actual money to take, Hannah Cassandra, don't be dramatic," she says. She doesn't have time for this, but it's easier than going to the CT. "It just happened." They're at the lounge, so she reluctantly steps back. "I'm going to go check on them and call your brother. I'll come get you when you can see him."
On her way back to CT, though, it finally hits her. She gives herself five minutes before finally collecting herself and walking up to CT. The techs are still setting him up, so she goes in to do a final check.
"How are you feeling?" she asks, reaching for his hand.
He can't sit up, which is always a position that he hates — he feels trapped, lying down — but he nods. "Better," he says. "It's been so long since something like this happened, though."
"Yeah," she says, tracing the hairs on his upper arms mindlessly. "The kids are kind of freaked out. I'm kind of freaked out," she admits.
"No breaking into the OR this time, okay?" he teases. "It makes me look like a wuss in front of all the other patients, having my wife constantly thinking I can't pull through."
"Yeah, how do you think I look to all the interns, bursting in there?" she teases. "Richard Webber still gives me crap about how I handled your first so-now-we're-officially-married surgery."
"The speech was cute," he says. "Endearing even."
She laughs, then sighs. "You're going to be fine," she says forcefully.
"I know," he replies. Then, "how are the kids? I … Hannah …"
"They're both pretty shaken up. They tried to tell me they should come to the CT," she says. "I told them they can see you after, before we take you up to surgery."
"Sounds good," he sighs.
There's a rap on the window, Cristina signaling they're ready to go. She kisses him lightly, warns him to stay still, then joins them on the other side of the glass.
"How're the kids doing?" Bailey asks.
"Scared," she answers. "I put them up in the resident's lounge. I need to call Sam; he's in Vancouver for the student-council retreat." She checks her phone, finds a flight leaving Vancouver in 90 minutes, and books it. Then she dials Sam, stepping out of the room as the machines work their magic.
"Mom?" he says, slightly disoriented. After all, it is almost midnight, and he's in Vancouver, having fun with his friends.
"Hey, honey," she exhales. "How's Vancouver? Did you guys get there safely?"
"Yeah, we just got back from dinner and getting ready for bed … Sessions tomorrow. Everything okay?" Of course Sam would go straight for that. Max is their brash, bold, in-charge son. Sam is quieter, sweet and thoughtful and intuitive.
She inhales. "It's your dad, honey. We're not quite sure what's going on, but when Hannah and Max and I came home he was coughing up blood. We're at Seattle Grace now. He'll probably have to go into surgery pretty soon."
"Surgery?" he sounds mystified. "For what?"
"The Von Hippel-Lindau Disease, honey," she says. "The reason he's, you know, always having surgery."
"Yeah, but … coughing blood?"
"Yeah," she sighs. "It's … I don't know anything yet, I'm about to go look at his scans, but it sounds like Cristina will be taking him into surgery tonight."
"Is he … going to be okay?""
She pauses. "We don't know yet, honey. There's a flight out of Vancouver in 90 minutes. I booked you on it."
"So he's not going to be okay?" Sam's voice pitches up.
"I don't know, honey. Most likely, yeah, he'll be fine. But I also thought you might feel better with the option."
He doesn't hesitate. "I'll take the flight," he says. "Can I just take a cab?"
"I'll email you the flight confirmation and call Mrs. What's-her-face."
"Whatever," she says. "Call when you're at the airport."
"Teddy? In here. Scans are up," Bailey tucks her head around the corner.
"One sec — gotta make a call," she says, quickly dialing the prudish 50-year-old student-council adviser.
"No, come in here."
She quickly leaves a message on Mrs. Wasserfeint's cell — it'll have to do for now — and then goes in as the scans roll in. She starts texting Arizona to get her to pick up Sam from the airport.
"Oh my god," she says, staring at the images. She touches the clear screen twice quickly to get a zoom, but the image doesn't need any enhancement: There's a tumor webbed dangerously between his spine and right lung, threading near his pulmonary artery.
"Oh damn," says Cristina, smacking Enter to change the images to another, also not-good angle on the tumor.
"That can't be right," she breathes. "He hasn't had any pain — we had a scan two months ago. He's been fine."
"It's not too big," Cristina points out, and really, it's slightly smaller than a golf ball. "Depending on how far it's grown into blood vessels — and really it shouldn't be too attached if it didn't show up on a scan two months ago — it's a pretty straightforward resection. The major complication right now is its closeness to the spine."
"Page Grey, she's on call tonight. She needs to look at this," Bailey says grimly, and Cristina complies. "Let's get him out of the machine, then you and the kids can see him and the Wonder Twins will figure out how to get that damn thing out." Her voice is grim, and Teddy stares worriedly. Miranda turns to go grab Henry, but then notices that Teddy isn't behind her. "You coming?"
She nods, rocking her body, trying to will herself the courage to do this. She presses her lips together, stares at the speckling in the ceiling. "Yeah — just, give me a minute?"
"Teddy," Miranda says compassionately, "Look, the scans look scary. But Henry's had, what, 60 surgeries?"
"Sixty-six," she corrects. She almost feels nauseous, and is pretty sure that she's close to a panic attack too.
"Right. So that's 66 surgeries that he has pulled through. And he'll make it out of this one. It's tough but it's not inoperable, and he's had worse tumors. They'll get it. They will. And he'll be fine and you two can go back to raising all-American blonde children and making out in hospital beds when you think nobody is looking."
"Max has brown hair," she points out, not feeling any better. "And I don't know if I'd count Sam as blonde either, really." It's more of a sandy color.
"Whatever, Teddy," Cristina says. "We'll get this. It's me, it's Mere, it's Bailey. We've got this."
Still, they give her a few minutes to collect herself, before Cristina goes to find Meredith and she and Miranda go get him out. "What's the word?" he says, sitting up and reaching for the breathing mask again.
"There's a mass between your lungs and spine," Miranda says, as Teddy tries to focus on simple things, like breathing. "Due to the placement Cristina's gone to consult with Meredith. We're going to get you into a room and probably into surgery within the hour."
He stares at her. "Ted, that doesn't sound too bad," he says. "So why do you look like … well, how you look."
"Sorry," she says, trying to shake the demons out of her head. "Sorry. I'm just a little …" She swallows. "Sorry. The placement, the coughing blood, the kids, I'm just a little freaked out right now."
"Is there something you're not telling me, Miranda?" he asks evenly.
"The placement's pretty precarious — the girls aren't going to know what they're dealing with until they're inside really," Miranda says honestly. "It's not just a cut-and-dry thing. But right now she's just being more heart than head. You gave her a scare there, mister."
Teddy smiles tightly. "Come on. Let's get you in a room and then get the kids. Sam's on a flight back from Vancouver and I want to see what Meredith and Cristina's plan is." She's positively itching for a surgery of her own at this point, but knows that won't happen. She's never had to deal with the kids and the VHL at the same time, and she doesn't like it. "You're going to be fine."
Hannah and Max are grateful but anxious to see their father. His O2 levels are closer to normal, so he doesn't really need the mask, and other than looking a little wan and holding a tub, he seems alright, which throws both of them. Hannah sits on the foot of his bed, the way she used to do when she was a kid, and crosses her ankles to tuck her knees under her chin, making her lanky frame as small as possible. Her hair is thick and unkempt and curtains her face. Max leans against the wall, far away, his long, strong legs stretching in front of him. Hannah, who is a junior in high school, has been thinking about medicine for a while now, so she at least is asking timid questions, like "Does it hurt?" Max is just staring. Eventually Henry starts asking normal questions, like, "So did you finally decide which boy to go to prom with?" Hannah, her father's daughter and therefore completely charming, had received three invitations.
"Yes," says Hannah, beaming, her mind temporarily distracted. "Andrew Towson."
"Andrew? Ahhhhhh," Henry says, mimicking the sounds of an adoring crowd. Teddy thinks for a second why that is familiar, then bursts into full-on, belly-grabbing laughter. It's been a long day. Then she thinks of the kids' reactions earlier in the evening, and laughs even harder.
"The hell?" Max asks.
Wiping the tears from her eyes — it's been a long day — she says, "Henry, you will not believe what Hannah told me this evening. Apparently, she thinks we made up the whole we-met-and-got-married-because-of-insurance story. She thinks it's too ridiculous to be true."
"So, you think we made it up? What would it be in place of?"
"I don't know!" Hannah throws her arms up. "But it sounded so dumb."
"Literally," Max chimes in, "it's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Ever."
"I kinda thought it was old-fashioned and romantic," Henry counters. "Much better than meeting this Andrew — ahhhhhhh — at school and going to prom with him."
"Why do you keep making that obnoxious noise?" Hannah asks, exasperated.
"Because after we got married but before we got together, I was dating a guy named Andrew, who asked me to move to Germany with him. Your father hated him, of course, so he once made that noise after his name to be annoying."
"Dr. Andrew Perkins, rock star. Ahhhhhhh," Henry teases, lowering his voice to make it sound more dramatic.
"But then you stayed here and stayed with Dad."
"I finally came to my senses," she smiles at him. "Your dad can be pretty persuasive. Also, annoying." She wonders what happened to Dr. Andrew Perkins, rock star. She hopes he's happy somewhere.
Hannah stares at her father, worried. "You cannot do that on prom night."
Max snickers in the corner. "This is the lamest family, ever."
Meredith and Cristina come in then, both looking a little nervous. A cardio resident, Ty Wheatley, accompanies them but stands hesitantly in the corner. The laughter dies down, and Teddy quickly reaches for her wallet. "Why don't you two go check what's in the cafeteria? We never ate our pizza tonight."
"No way, we're staying," Max says.
"Guys, please," Teddy starts.
"When will you stop acting like you're the only person affected by this?" Hannah snaps. "Let us stay."
She deflates. The disease has, in many ways, literal and not, been the foundation of their marriage. It's something that they worry about and make decisions about, together, without anyone else. And they've spent the last 17 years not worrying their children about it. But now the kids are nearly grown, and they just want to know things. She looks at Henry, and he nods imperceptibly. "Okay," she relents. "But let them talk, okay?"
Meredith and Cristina do their freaky-twin-thing, and Cristina is elected to go first. "Okay, so what we're dealing with is a one and a half inch tumor located between your right lung and your spine. The placement is what makes it pretty tricky, so Meredith's been called in to handle the resection from the spine so there isn't any nerve damage. We took some blood samples when you were first admitted and, while your white count is a little high, there's no evidence of any other tumors on your scans so we're confident it's benign. Given the location we want to get a few more scans so we can see how embedded the tumor is in the spine and blood vessels before we go in, but we should start the surgery in the next hour or so."
"So he could be paralyzed?" Hannah demands.
"Hannah," Teddy sighs. "What did I say?"
"It's spinal surgery, which is always a risk," Cristina says. "But given that your father is on a very strict tumor-suppressant regimen and a scan a few months ago showed no tumors, it's unlikely that this is deeply embedded, which means that the chances of a complication like that are pretty minimal." Or it means that it's a nasty and fast-growing tumor, but they don't say that. "Also, most cases of paralysis due to operations are due to surgical error, not a result of the condition."
"And I don't make those," Meredith interjects, with her quirky little half-smile.
"We'll be using micro-surgical techniques, so recovery time should be one-and-a-half weeks to two."
"Why was he coughing up blood?" Max asks.
Cristina looks to Teddy, and Teddy nods, giving her permission to answer. "Tumors grow off organs, Max, they don't just grow in empty space and become a problem when they bump something. The tumor originated in the lungs. The blood means it grew too large and ruptured blood vessels, which filled the lungs. When there's blood in the lungs the body's automatic reaction is to cough it up. We cleared the lungs and did a chest X-ray in the ED, but we could figure that out without the tests."
She quizzes Cristina on the techniques and blades she will use, but her former mentee is a great surgeon now, even if Teddy isn't sure her lessons in humility ever stuck. She is still massively worried about the surgery: It isn't a complicated procedure, but she knows that it is entirely dependent on tumor placement and growth. Patients can still die during simple procedures, or Meredith and Cristina can get in there and realize that the placement is too much of a problem. Just because it's not an edge-of-your-seat, groundbreaking, marathon surgery doesn't mean it's 'safe.'
Sam arrives shortly after his father gets back, escorted in by Arizona, who announces she'll be staying, too, and drops her bag into a corner before wandering off to check in at something at the nurses's station. Not for the first time, Teddy is incredibly grateful Arizona appointed herself Teddy's best friend when they met. Sam looks around wildly, and she hugs him tightly. "Is he okay? Where is he?"
"He's getting a scan right now, he'll be back, then they'll take him into surgery."
"What the hell happened? Sorry," he says, for the swearing. She hates when they swear.
"There's a tumor between his lungs and spinal column; Meredith and Cristina are going to operate."
"How did he get a tumor?"
She stares at him. "Sam, you realize that's why your dad gets surgeries every few months, right? We don't just open him up for fun."
"Apparently, that insurance story is real," Hannah chimes in from the corner, where she and Max are finally eating dinner, sub sandwiches from the cafeteria.
"Yeah, yeah, VHL, test-tube babies —"
"Not me!" Hannah sings-songs.
"Whatever, Han, but he's never coughed up blood before."
"He has, it's just been a while. Sometimes complications happen," is all Teddy can come up with. "We've done a good job of managing it, most of the time. This snuck up on us."
Henry's wheeled back in, and Sam hugs him gratefully. Meredith and Cristina follow, announcing that the surgery's going to start in 20. Cristina tilts her head to signal that Teddy needs to follow her out, so she does.
"We did a highlight test, and it looks like the lines to the spinal cord are pretty clear. It's going to be tough in the lungs though. Some of the lung will have probably disintegrated due to the growth. The tumor appears to have flattened against the walls."
"So isolation won't work."
"No. I'm going to use the laser to scrape it off. It's riskier but I've done it dozens of times before and it's always been successful."
"Do you think you're going to need to remove a portion of the lungs?" she asks bluntly. She's suspected that since she saw the scans.
"I might," Cristina admits. "If the tumor originated on the inner wall and penetrated the membrane, then yes. I'm worried about its interactions with the pulmonary artery as well. If we can, I'll remove a portion, but we'll take cells to harvest for a transplant in about a month. With that surgery, his lungs should be at about 95 percent of their current capacity. I'll send someone out to update you every 20 minutes or so."
"No, don't do that, unless it's major. The kids will be there. Text me."
"Sounds good. He'll be fine, Teddy."
She shrugs because she's still not sure. She asks a half-dozen more questions to make sure the surgery is going to go the exactly way she would do it, then says, "Alright. Thank you. And Cristina?"
"Thank you. The way you answered their questions … thank you."
"You have smart kids, boss," Cristina says. "You two did good."
"Clear out, guys," Teddy says, walking back in.
"No, go now, Hannah, this isn't up for debate."
"You two are gross," Max says, his minds jumping to erroneous conclusions, but his brother and sister follow him out.
"What's up?" Henry asks. He knows it's not some kissy-face moment before surgery. They're partners. He can read her.
She sighs. "So the scan shows you've got good lines around the spinal cord but it's definitely an outgrowth from your lungs, so Cristina's going to scrape it off."
"Which is not how they normally do it."
"Nope," she sighs. "It's just a little different … Statistically, nothing too complicated."
"Quit talking statistics. This surgery has you more freaked out than I've ever seen you, and I've seen you pretty freaked out. You're freaking me out. What is it? Tell me."
She sighs. She can't freak him out before surgery; doesn't want to talk about what could happen to his lung. "I don't know. I guess I kind of tricked myself into thinking it was completely under control."
"One surgery a year is still pretty good," he points out.
"Yeah, I know," she says. "We're lucky." She hesitates for a moment, but crawls in beside him. They haven't done this in a while, but right now it's the only thing she can think of that might stop a full-on panic attack in front of her kids. It's mildly dangerous for her, considering he's still coughing up blood on the regular, but she'll brave it. "I got used to you not being in surgery, or the surgeries being scheduled, and me being able to be working instead of being the mom and wife. And we've never … the kids really had no idea what the VHL really means."
"That's a good thing. We tried to keep it low-key for them so they wouldn't freak out. We did pretty good with them."
"I know, I know. I just … I still. Every time. I still don't get how you get to be calm during all of this." She lets out a shaky breath as a few tears leak out of her eyes. The emotion of the night is beginning to get to her, and she really just has to keep it together for a few more minutes.
"It's just like sleeping for me," he says. "Listen. I promised when we had kids I wouldn't die and leave you with a pack of wild teenagers by yourself, and I'm keeping that promise. I'll be fine." He links his hand loosely with hers.
"I know. I know you will," she leans up for a kiss. "Besides, it's baseball season. Even if you didn't love me, you haven't seen the Sox play this year yet."
"It's going to be their year," he jokes. She twists her engagement around her finger. He starts laughing and she looks up at him. "Sorry," he says. "I just — what the hell were they thinking about us making up the story of how we met?"
She laughs too. "I don't know. Hannah thought we were embarrassed about how we actually met and we made it up."
"What did she think was more ridiculous?"
"Love at first sight. Because we were, 'you know, like old.'" She mimics her daughter, and Henry laughs so hard she's worried he's going to start coughing up blood again. She rests beside him, content.
"For what it's worth, I think our story's a lot more romantic than love at first sight," he offers.
"Hannah'll be jealous one day," she agrees.
A nurse knocks on the door then, and says, "It's time to take Mr. Burton up for pre-op, Dr. Altman."
"Of course," she says, rising. Two nurses come in, ready his bed for transport. "I'll walk with you to the elevator."
"No breaking into the surgery. Make Owen give you an appendectomy if you have to," he says.
"I need to stay with the kids," she tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. "I'll have Arizona. I'll be okay." She looks at the nurses and takes a deep, helpless breath. "He has a much higher pain tolerance than most people, and a much lower tolerance for the pain meds. Dose him slowly in post-op or he'll be stoned for the next three days. And have the anesthesiologist watch him like a hawk — the tumor suppressors make him easily woken so he's going to need higher doses of anesthesia."
"Teddy," he cuts in. "Miranda and Cristina know these things."
She picks some imaginary dust off the shoulder of his gown. "I know," she leans over, kisses him. "I'll see you in post-op."
"Get some sleep, okay?" he says, as they pause by the elevator. "I mean it. Find an empty on-call room and crash."
She nods. "I love you. I'll see you tomorrow," and the elevator takes them up.
She stares at the closed elevator doors for several moments, then slowly slides down the wall to sit, gripping her ankles. She doesn't have a good feeling about this surgery. The tumor grew too fast, she authorized Cristina to remove his lung, it's close to the spine, it is possibly close to the pulmonary artery. She doesn't know what she will do, if this surgery goes wrong, when a surgery goes wrong. She doesn't know where the kids are — probably with Arizona. But eventually Arizona finds her there. Shaking her head, she sits down next to Teddy, handing her a cup of coffee.
"Thanks," she says. "Where are the kids?"
"Sleeping in the attendings' lounge. They kind of crashed."
She takes a sip of the coffee and immediately spits it out. "Is this decaf?"
Arizona nods and shrugs. "It's two in the morning. I was hoping the placebo effect would kick in. You need sleep too, Teddy."
She shakes her head. "I can't sleep while he's in surgery. I never have been able to. You should sleep, though."
"What if you need something?" Arizona points out.
She smiles, gratefully, then goes back to mindlessly pulling a thread out of the hem of her sweater. Her phone beeps and she checks the text from Miranda: Started cutting. BP and heart rate steady. "You know, this is the first surgery I haven't double-scheduled over since Hannah was in first grade. He'd collapsed at work, tumor near the heart. He was still working at the hospital at the time. Cristina cut it out. And even then I was in surgery when he collapsed and didn't get out for another hour," she shivers. "I hate this. I hate having to think about this. I hate that he has to go through all this. I hate that he has to go through this with a wife who can't even sit in the waiting room, and he has to be the strong one as I freak out."
"Oh, cut the crap. You handle his disease for him every day, and he knows it. You found the treatments, the specialists, flew with him to Minnesota and New York to get him on those trials, to get the meds that have kept him out of surgery most of the time. He doesn't care that you can't sit through a surgery in a waiting room once every six months. I think he finds it flattering, even."
"Flattering?" she scoffs.
"Yes, you loon. That you freak out so much that you break hospital protocol and can't sit still and have to cut up someone else's heart so you don't pace a hole in the floor. He finds it hot that you love him so much. This isn't new."
She pauses. "I told Cristina it was okay to cut out his lung if she has to. If it started inside his lung and ate the lining she's going to have to cut out part of his lung. And I told her that was absolutely okay, that she should do that, destroy one of his vital organs. He'll need to have his lung tissue harvested and regrown, and I gave her the okay without asking him."
"Well, it wouldn't've killed you to run that one by him. But he trusts you. He's always trusted you. Remember right after you got married when Richard wanted to do that surgery, and he wouldn't let Richard do his job until he ran the surgery by you? He's always trusted you Teddy. You're the one who made it so he doesn't have to have surgeries every two months. Don't start freaking out now."
She shakes her head. Arizona's tone is very matter-of-fact and gentle, but she doesn't focus on that; Arizona isn't doing it, but her words remind Teddy of what people who don't know her and Henry sometimes imply — that she is his savior. She hates that assumption. He's done more for her than she could ever do for him. "There are huge risks to this surgery. Paralysis, loss of lung, the tumor may have already destroyed his pulmonary artery. And I just don't have a very good feeling about it." She looks at her phone, a text from Miranda. Grey pleased with lines around spine. "Come on," she stands. "Let's at least go make sure my kids don't wake up."
They find the children, flopped over furniture, passed out. She leaves Arizona quietly with them, then cannot help but go and observe his surgery. She slips into the gallery. Below, Meredith and Cristina and Miranda are working feverishly but efficiently. Teddy leans against the glass, and hopes. It's all she can do.