The ominous clouds had covered the sun and lingered in the wintry November sky. Inside the dim hospital room, Joey sat on the bed crying. Mrs. Bauer, his mother, had summoned Dr. Carla Mackie to Joey’s side. As Carla entered the room, his mother was consoling him.
“Dr. Mackie,” she said in an anguished tone, “Joey hasn’t stopped crying since this morning. Please do something to calm him down.”
“Mrs. Bauer, would you please step outside while I speak to Joey?”
The woman nodded looking away painfully, and Joey began to cry once again when his mother tried to disengage her hand from his grasp. As Carla approached him, she noticed the colorful balloons and cards on the wide windowsill. Joey looked up and became silent as she pulled up a chair.
“I don’t want a blood transfusion, Dr. M! Why are you ordering it?”
“Joey, we discussed this yesterday when I admitted you,” Carla said. “You’re bleeding inside, and we must replace the blood you’re loosing.”
“But what if the transfusion makes me sicker? I’m going to die of…” He began sobbing as she reached to hug him and thought of her first encounter with Joey.
Carla met Joey one year ago while making rounds on the pediatric floor. He was showing one of the nurses a small, colorful clown figurine and talking. Because of his size, she remembered thinking he couldn’t belong in the pediatric ward. She later discovered he was a twelve-year-old with leukemia who had a creative side——he enjoyed making small papier-mâché clown figurines.
His magnetic personality attracted everyone and before long, a beautiful friendship flourished between them. Since Joey was rather chubby, it was often difficult to perform a blood draw on the first attempt. He had come to know Dr. Mackie’s knack at doing this procedure well on him, and you’d hear him say, “I only want Dr. M to take care of me. I don’t want anyone else taking blood or putting in my I.V.” The medical staff always honored his request.
Throughout his numerous treatments, Carla had seen all facets of Joey’s changing physique. The rigors of chemotherapy first caused him to lose his curly, dark brown hair. Loss of appetite followed, and finally, a sallow and dull appearance replaced the rosy color of his skin.
Throughout this ordeal, Joey showed tremendous courage and strength. He never lost the impish gleam in his big, brown eyes, his good sense of humor or contagious laughter.
On his better days, he gallivanted around the pediatric floor corridors with his I.V. pole rolling by his side. On his more creative days, the playroom was his refuge. You’d find him absorbed in painting his unique creations of papier-mâché little clown figurines.
Joey’s diminishing whimpers catapulted Carla to the present, and she saw he was calmer. Leaning him back on his pillow, she said, “The transfusion will go well, Joey. It’ll be no different from others you’ve had in the past.” She kissed his forehead and left the room to speak with his mother in the hallway.
“Mrs. Bauer,” Carla said, reaching for her shoulder.
“Joey’s quite ill. This complication has affected his system and has caused a major relapse. He’s been brave all along, but scared now. He needs you in there.”
“Thanks, Dr. Mackie,” she said, hugging Carla. “You’ve been a godsend to us.”
The transfusion was set to take place that afternoon, and Carla decided to visit Joey while it was taking place. Making the long trek to the pediatric ward from her office, she smiled at the thought of Joey’s last hospital visit. The day before his discharge, he surprised her with a small aluminum foil wrapped package. “I made this just for you, Dr. M!”
When Carla unwrapped it, she held in her hands one of the colorful clown figurines he had made during that last admission. With tears in her eyes, she embraced him and said, “Joey, it’s beautiful! I’ll treasure it forever!”
Now, as she entered Joey’s room, Carla realized she was still smiling. “How’s my favorite patient?” she asked.
“I’m sleepy, Dr. M.”
“I’m not surprised. Crying can tire you, but also relieve tension. That’s why you’re sleepy now.”
“I guess you’re right. That’s why I love you, Dr. M.”
Taken aback by this, Carla caressed his face. “I love you, too, Joey.” She walked to the door, turned, and smiled at him. He waved back with a sad look in his eyes.
That evening, while Carla prepared to go home, an overhead page summoned her to the pediatric floor. Running down the corridor, she thought of Joey. She froze in her tracks when she saw Mrs. Bauer crying outside Joey’s room.
A light tap on her shoulder broke her trance-like state. She turned and saw Mrs. LaRue, the nurse assigned to Joey that evening.
“Dr. Mackie, are you all right?” she asked.
“Yes, but what happened?”
“Joey died in his sleep. I came to check his vital signs, and when I took his arm, it was limp and cold. That eerie coldness made me realize he was dead…”
Carla approached Mrs. Bauer. The tears began to well up in her eyes, and the knot in her throat wouldn’t let her utter a word. Looking at each other, they embraced, succumbing to their feelings of pain and defeat.
That night, Carla was in a daze when she arrived at her apartment. She sat in the dark living room thinking about everything that occurred that day.
After some time, she mustered enough energy to get up and go into her bedroom. Turning on the light, she sat at the foot of the bed.
There, on top of her dresser, was the colorful little clown that Joey had given her. She picked it up with trembling hands, held it to her breast, and cried like a child who had just lost a best friend.