He wasn't sure what tore him from a numb slumber, but the one thing his mind resgistered when his senses kicked into gear was a tingling sensation over the entirety of his body. It took moments for him to gather the strength to pry his eyes open, but when he did, Brian immediately felt the pain once again that was draining his body into a weak exhaustion. He glanced around the room slowly. His mother was gone and for an instant he felt a childish fear of abandonment, but swallowed the insecurities soon after. The room was cast in a dull grey glow that spilled from the open-draped window, the after math from the rain storm the night before.
"Good morning, Mr. Littrell," a quiet voice called out from the doorway. Brian craned his neck back towards the door to see the same nurse step into the room who had accompanied Dr. Henrich from the day before. She offered a genuine friendly smile and moved over towards the bed. "How are we feeling this morning?"
Brian watched her for a moment as she stepped sideways from the bed and busied herself in checking the assortment of IV bags feeding fluids and medications into his body. "My mother was just here...do you happen to know where she went?" he questioned, his tone scratchy and hardly projecting. Then he realized just how childish he had sounded.
But the nurse smiled none the less as she turned back to him. "She went down to the cafeteria about thirty minutes ago for some coffee and breakfast. It was doctor's orders and you were still sleeping. She should be back shortly though."
"Oh." The nurse worked in silence severl long minutes and Brian's eyes never left her every move. It never phased him that she hadn't spoken her name. He couldn't have cared less. His mind was finding enough difficulty processing all other information as it was, let alone being able to make new aquaintances. He tried to blink the remainder of sleep from his eyes and continued to watch the nurse work. When she was finally finished and had shifted the IV tubing down the side of the bed, she placed a few markings on a sheet next to her and fixed the blankets covering Brian's body.
"Dr. Henrich should be in soon to see you. Until then, try to rest more," she mentioned.
"Well I don't think I'll be getting up to run a marathon anytime soon," Brian replied with a short roll of his eyes. "I'm sorry...that was a little rude..."
"Don't apologize, Mr. Littrell," the nurse answered with a smirk. "My husband has never been a morning person either." With that, she winked and excused herself from the room.
Brian sunk back into the mattress, allowing his head to rest comfortably against the double pillows. He sighed, wincing against each tremor of pain that just wouldn't seem to vacate his body. He listened to the silence, forcing his ears to catch each beat of his heart. He could hear it echoing and tried to imagine everything the doctor had told him the previous day. It sent a sickening ball of dread into the very pit of his stomach and he bit at his bottom lip to keep his nerves in check. It wasn't long after that his solitary was once again interrupted. Much to Brian's distaste, he watched Dr. Henrich allow himself into the room and he found himself wondering why he held such distaste for the man. Afterall there was no calling for it when the doctor had done absolutely nothing wrong, but all Brian could keep recalling was the sentence of death the doctor had predicted and he just stubbornly didn't want to believe it. The act of denial was nothing more then a slow and painful torture.
"Up and awake already?" Dr. Henrich greeted with an eye of concern. He carried a clear fluid filled IV bag in one hand and a folder of some sort in the other. He walked over to the IV machine and withdrew an empty bag, replacing it with the one he brought in. When he was finished, he placed the folder on the bed at Brian's feet and pulled the stethescope from around his neck and proceeded to place the cold end beneath Brian's gown against his bare chest. The contact alone sent shivers down Brian's spine as he kept his eyes trained on the doctor. "Your heart is sounding decent for what we are working with right now, so that is good. Especially after the surgery," Dr. Henrich mentioned a moment later and stood up straight. He grabbed the folder from the foot of the bed and walked to the opposite side, lowering himself into one of the two chairs that had been placed.
Brian wanted to tell him otherwise, but quickly bit his tongue to refrain himself from speaking anything he might eventually regret. Instead he blinked stupidity, feigning a continuing exhaustion. He wasn't exactly in the mood to be holding a conversation at that very moment, but it was all too apparent that the doctor wasn't fixing to leave the room anytime soon. "When can I go home?" he bluntly questioned and immediately detested the frown that passed over the doctor's face.
"That is what I came in here this morning to speak to you about," Dr. Henrich answered, draping the stethescope over his neck again. "I spoke with your parents yesterday when they first arrived about what we are being faced with here and about the options that are open to us. I want to discuss those options with you right now and try to devise a plan of action so we can tackle this obstacle head on."
Brian's eyes narrowed. "When can I go home?" he repeated.
"Until I feel you are completely stabilized, I would not recommend releasing you from the hospital," Dr. Henrich explained. "Your blood pressure has yet to level out and I'm still a bit hesitant towards the stability of your heart so soon after the surgery. I can't authorize a release until those are safely in check. However, I have you scheduled to be transfered to a regular room later this afternoon. But I don't recommend a release any time soon with the severity of the level of deterioration of your heart, Mr. Littrell."
"Staying here for an extended period of time is unacceptable," Brian replied. "I have a family to take care of and a job to do. I can't spend my time being stuck in some hospital because you are theorizing that my heart is going to fail and I'm going to die."
"It is not a theory, Mr. Littrell," Dr. Henrich pressed tightly, clutching the folder in his hands. "I know learning of this must come as a shock, but it's imperative that you realize what we are dealing with here and that it's not something that a short stay in the hospital can mend. As I told you yesterday, further surgeries are not gonna be the answer. It would only cause further stress and damage to your heart and I'm afraid your heart would not be able to handle it. The ultimate solution would be performing a transplant, but not only is finding a viable heart match a struggle, donor hearts are not easy to come by, unlike other organs to be donated."
"So you're telling me I need a transplant but won't be able to get one because hearts don't grow on trees?" Brian replied in a tone dripping with sarcasm. He could feel the anger radiating from the outside of his body, but on the inside he could feel himself crumbling in terror. He realized it wasn't the doctor he was holding so much hate for, but rather the fate that was being shoved in his face and the fact that he couldn't do a single about it but lie there and wait. To die?
"Rest assured that we have already placed you on the national donor recipient list and have a head start on that. In the mean time, however, we need to carefully map out a plan of medical treatment to keep you functioning for if and when we receive a donor heart to perform the transplant," Dr. Henrich explained.
"If..." Brian scoffed quietly and glanced towards the window. The ball in his stomach tightened further.
"I'm going to be straight forward with this and not lie, Mr. Littrell... the chances of you receiving a new heart any time soon are very slim. But it is no reason to be losing hope. We have two options in the meantime. After we get your vitals stabilized at a comfortable level we can have you transfered to our cardiac unit where you will be carefully monitored until a donor heart arrives. Or...there is a well acclaimed and accredited cardiac rehabilitation care center located a few hours from here that we can transport you to where you will remain thus said until a donor heart is found."
"A hospital prison..."
"I know it might sound like it, but the center specializes in the care of patients such as yourself and carries further medical equipment that we do not have here. I recommend that we look into that option. I can have them contacted this afternoon and made aware of your situation and have you set up to be transported there within a few days-"
Brian shook his head sharply. Being shipped off to a medical imprisonment was something he had never thought of considering. He refused to believe that the situation was as bad off as the doctor was making it out to be. He was healthy, so there was absolutely no reason for him having to be faced with such a problem. His previous team of doctors had promised to of fixed the problem years ago and now he was being told otherwise that along the line somewhere through out the years something had happened and things weren't fixed liked they had originally believed. "That's out of the question."
"Mr. Littrell...I advise you to not be so quick to disregard this option," Dr. Henrich started.
"My family is here. I'm not gonna let myself be shipped away to some care facility that's gonna keep me from my family."
"It would only be a few hours away-"
"I can't leave my family."
"They're going to want you to receive the best care that is available to you."
"Then if it's as bad as you say it is, find an option here," Brian snapped, his voice faltering in his throat. He felt the tears stinging the corners of his eyes as his heart palpitated roughly in his chest. "I can't leave my family..."
"All I'm asking is that you give it some serious thought Mr. Littrell, because time is of the essence," Dr. Henrich said. He rose from his seat a few seconds later. "Get some more rest and we'll get you transfered to a regular room sometime this afternoon. I'll be back to check on you later."
As if they hadn't seen enough of it the day before, the weather had kicked back into gear and was unleashing a second dosage of watery fury. The rain seemed to fall harder, playing a symphony of drum beats against the window; shadows of the droplets streamed down the inner walls of the room. Brian watched it carelessly, his eyes hardly focusing on much of anything. As tired as he was, he couldn't find the energy it took to actually fall asleep. Not that he wanted to anyway. He almost feared closing his eyes, with the thought sending a chill to his very core. They had finally moved him to a regular room, as Dr. Henrich had informed him that morning, and the trip had been nauseating. Just the motion of watching the ceiling tiles fly past over head made him sick to his stomach. He had been somewhat relieved when they had him settled in the new room and finally left him to his peace.
On a tray that spanned the width of the bed, a cold lunch consisting of soft foods sat untouched. It was all unappealing; the green jello, the chocolate pudding, the juice and milk. Brian had scrunched his nose in disgust when the deliverer had brought it into the room, but he received it nonetheless with plans to save the pudding for his son when the child come to visit that day. He knew Baylee would be absolutely delighted with the offer and it would satisfy the child for the time being. Turning his vacant attention from the window, Brian looked up towards the clock on the wall. The seconds seemed to tick by slowly. Although with each second that passed, another moment of his life was gone.
Tick...another moment passed...
Tick... he was one second closer to dying...
His heart jumped at the thought and he squeezed his eyes shut tightly, inhaling short gasping breaths. Tick...tick... If he had been capable, he would have torn the clock from where it was mounted on the wall and smashed it against the hard floor until it lay in a pile of unfixable pieces. But he could hardly move in the bed, let alone cause any sort of destruction.
"Daddy! You is awakes!" Baylee cried out with a cheeky grin as he came tearing into the room, his grandfather lagging closely behind in his wake. The child burst forward with an explosion of energy and nearly tripped over his own feet in the process before he reached his father's bedside. He grinned further as he came to an abrupt halt, peering mysteriously at his father. Brian held his breath as his child as his child seemed to study him. "You take nap like doctor tell ya?" Baylee questioned sternly; his bottom lip pouted outward as he attempted seriousness.
"Yes sir," Brian answered with a small nod, silently recognizing the fact that he was thankful for the humor in his life that his son never failed to deliver.
Baylee's eyes sparkeled towards the response. "I bring you 'prise!"
"For me?" Brian repeated. He glanced shortly at his parents and felt his gut wrench towards their sad smiles. But Baylee stole his attention back as the child struggled to climb up and sit on the edge of the bed. Harold stepped forward to object, but Brian lifted a hand to wave his father off. "He won't hurt me," he whispered and allowed Baylee to scoot closer. Baylee held both hands out and Brian realized his son had been clutching two objects the entire time. He recognized the tattered brown dog with the floppy ears upon eye contact and smiled softly. "You brought me Nuggles?"
"So you won't be sad no mo'," Baylee answered.
"Why do you think I'm sad?" Brian asked in surprise, although he knew Baylee read people like a book.
"You no smile..." Baylee answered quietly. "Nuggles make you feel better and make you smile..."
Brian felt the breath catch in his chest with astonishment as his son pressed the stuffed animal into his grasp. "I love it, buddy...Thank you."
"He insisted on bringing that to you from the moment he woke up this morning," Harold mentioned. "How are you feeling?"
Brian stared at his father for a moment, wondering how he could ask a question as such. He detested the sound of each word. "As best as could be," he finally answered, hoping his father wouldn't catch onto the fact that he was lying through his teeth at that very moment. He would never admit openly that pain had surgered through his body when Baylee climbed onto the bed, but somehow he figured from the reflection in Harold's eyes that they hadn't been fooled for a second. He refused to risk the chance of shattering his son's heart though and cause the child's smile to fade, though. He turned his attention back onto Baylee. "I have a surprise for you too. It's under that lid right there," he mentioned, pointing at the closed lunch tray.
Baylee's mouth formed a tiny 'o' as he tentatively reached out for the tray and slowly lifted the cover. Ignoring the liquids and the jello, his hand instantly shot for the small pudding container. "Choco' pudding!" he gasped in awe and held it up for Harold to see. "I share with yous Daddy!"
"That's alright, buddy...I'm not very hungry right now," Brian replied. He watched his father take a seat in an uncomfortable manner. "Where's Mom?"
"She went to your place for a couple of hours to rest. She will be back later though," Harold answered. He watched in silence for a moment as Brian interacted with Baylee, prying the lid to the pudding open and presenting the child with a white plastic spoon. It pleased Baylee enough, causing him to fall into a silent stupor as he indulged in the sweet treat. "I ran into Dr. Henrich a few minutes ago...I think we need to talk about the conversation the two of you had this morning..."
Brian winced. "This isn't the right time, Dad..."
Harold frowned. "You can't avoid this, Brian. As much as any of us don't want to face it, especially you...it's not something that can be pushed aside and forgotten. We need to not waste anytime in mapping out a plan of-"
"We are not going to discuss this in front of Baylee," Brian snapped in a light headed daze. He brought a hand up to his face to shield his eyes from the light of the room and focused on catching his bearings. "He doesn't need to be hearing this."
"Brian..." Harold started.
"Baylee doesn't need to be hearing this," Brian repeated sharply. It wouldn't be fair to push such a delicate matter on the child, and in all honesty, Brian didn't want to hear anymore about it. Harold sighed with a tight nod.
"Want some more company?" a hesitant voice, laced with familiarity, called out from the open door. Brian and Harold turned their attention across the room to find a haggered looking Nick sticking his head through the doorway cautiously. "I mean, if you're having family time, I understand-"
"No, that's quite alright, Nickolas. I was just about to take Baylee down to the cafeteria for a bite of lunch," Harold explained to ward of Nick's odd uncomfortable stare. "I'm sure Brian won't mind if you come in and keep him company while we are gone."
"Don't wanna go," Baylee whimpered as he finally looked up from the chocolate substance, dark brown smudges along the outline of his lips. "Wanna stay with Daddy."
"It will only be for a little bit, Bubba. It's time for lunch and Nana will be mad at me if she thought I let you eat only pudding for lunch," Harold explained.
"Choco pudding, Papa!" Baylee corrected.
"Even worse. We'll go eat lunch while your daddy talks to Nick."
"Uncle Nicky be here still when we get back?"
"Maybe, but only if we hurry."
Brian watched as his father raised Baylee up into his arms and the two of them departed from the room. A thick silence draped over the atmosphere, leaving the ticking of the clock on the wall to once again echo against his ear drums. Brian focused on Nick, noticing the way his friend seemed to refuse to look in his direction at all costs. "Are you just gonna stand there all day or are you actually going to come in?" he questioned with as much of an attempt at teasing as he could possibly manage.
Nick looked at him slowly. "Yes...I mean no...well, I want to, but...I mean, what if you're-"
"Just because I'm dying doesn't mean I'm contagious," Brian blurted before he had a chance to give his words of choice a second thought. He watched Nick visibly wince towards the comment.
"Don't...don't say that," Nick sputtered as he moved his body fully into the doorway.
"I'm sorry...I didn't mean it like that," Brian whispered in an awe of disappointment towards himself.
"Well, just don't say it," Nick repeated, finally taking a step forward into the room. He hesitated once again, shoving his hands deep into the pockets of his pants and he stood there staring at his dirt stained Nikes. Brian noticed just how disheveled his friend actually looked, going as far as to guess that he appeared as bad as Brian himself felt, like absolute crud.
"Really Nick, you don't have to stand the whole time. There is a not so comfortable chair over here, but it's a chair none the less," Brian spoke, his brows raising slightly. "You at least gonna take a seat and stay a while?"
"Sorry," Nick mumbled and slowly began to drag his body over to the chair. He lowered himself into it and stared at the window, past Brian, where the rain continued to fall furiously.
"I hate the rain," Nick interrupted.
"That...was random," Brian replied.
"I really hate the rain."
"Like I said, that was random."
Nick turned to him, his eyes vacant of their usual spark of life. There wasn't a trace of mischief hidden in his blue orbs. A dismal mask of emotions covered his face and he seemed to try to hide behind it. "How did this happen?" he whispered, leaning forward and unevenly resting his elbows on his knees. "You've been healthy for years. They promised that they had fixed your heart when you had that surgery."
"Don't think I haven't given that any thought," Brian returned quietly.
"Maybe there's been a misunderstanding. Medical files get mixed up sometimes. It doesn't happen often, but it's not unheard of. So maybe they mixed your file up with someone else's file," Nick suggested, but even as he spoke, his voice waivered. It was only obvious he didn't even believe his own assumption. He was just looking for some other way, one that would provide a logical explanation as to how his friend's life was suddenly hanging in the balance.
"I think you watch too much tv..."
"No. I'm trying to make sense of everything, because none of this makes any sense," Nick fired back, his shoulders trembling. "You can be perfectly healthy one day then be dying of heart failure the next."
"Maybe I haven't been as healthy as we all thought," Brian shrugged.
"How can you be acting so nonchalant about this?" Nick demanded.
Brian stared at his friend in surprise. Nick's chest heaved as he breathed heavily and tears brimmed the edges of his eyes. "I'm not acting non chalantly about this, Nicky," he wheezed. "I'm scared to death about what is going to happen."
"Then we need to do something about it. What did the doctor say?"
"I need a heart transplant, but-"
"So we have to find you a new heart-"
"It's not that simple, Nicky."
"We can't just let you lay here and die!"
"You don't think I understand that?" Brian burst. "I don't want to die! God, I don't want to die!" He gasped out and instinctively reached for his chest as pain started to explode.
"Brian, what's wrong?!"
"What should I do?!"
"Just..." Brian continued to gasp and let loose a cry of discomfort. He clutched tighter at his chest. He tried to focus on Nick's expression of panic, but his vision blurred from the tears that were streaming down his cheeks and the bursts of pain that intensified in his chest. "It h-hurts...Nicky...G-get...get the doctor...p-please!"