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Kids Coming of Age Suspense

“Speak now,” Papa said after I gulped down my third glass of water. My throat was dry, and I had woken up for probably the third time in an hour needing to pee. The situation had gotten so bad that my dad pulled the couch next to the bathroom door since I was too tired to go down the stairs every time I needed to use the bathroom. My dad's girlfriend Ming kept giving me little sugar pills, insisting that it was some holistic medication that would help whatever my ailment was. 

“Papa,” I squeaked. “I really need to see the doctor.” I begged. He finally agreed. It was Friday morning, a sunny day at the end of February, almost Leap Day, 1996. Two weeks after my thirteenth birthday.

The sun shone brightly on the crisp white snow. The appointment wasn’t until four, he told me after hanging up the phone. That wasn’t going to work–I knew I needed to go now. Something deep in my gut told me I was dying.

“Papa, come on.” I grabbed the key to his red pick-up. He had taught me how to drive in the field behind the house in that same truck. I went outside and started the ignition by pushing on the brake and the clutch. I was very proud of myself.

Papa came running out, still pulling his jacket over one arm. The sun shone so brightly on the snow that I had to squint.

“Are you crazy?” He asked me. “I told you the appointment’s at four.”

“We have to go now,” I told him in between my short, shallow breaths. “I don’t feel right.”

“All right. Move over,” he said.

Down the long driveway, the doctor’s office was located just a few blocks from the bottom of the hill. I could feel the anger boiling up inside me as I realized just how close the doctor had been all along.

I could barely walk on my own. The nurse listened to my breathing for about five seconds before quickly exiting the room. Less than a minute later, a woman in a white coat and glasses came in to see me.

“What are her symptoms?” She asked my dad. She shone a flashlight in my eyes.

“Really tired and short of breath. Last night, her breathing became shallow and rapid. We thought it was the flu but it’s lingering.”

“These symptoms don’t match the flu. Is she using the bathroom a lot?”

“All the time. Like every hour.”

“When did it get more acute?”

“Wednesday night. We went to Friendly’s. She didn’t have much except a milkshake. She was pretty exhausted after that.”

She picked up the phone and spoke rapidly. I couldn’t make anything out, and the lights overhead were blinding. I laid down on the exam table as a stream of people rushed in.

“Astrid, are you cold?” I couldn’t make out a face but the question came through clear enough. I nodded. My thoughts faded in and out as I lay there.

“I’m going to call the hospital. It will be quicker for you to drive her.”

Papa was speeding down the road, rumbling back up the hill, up the hospital’s entrance. Ironically the hospital property bordered his house that had been the site of my decline over the past two weeks.

February vacation was turning out to be the worst. I can’t believe my mom and stepdad didn’t bring me to California with them.

He swerved into a diagonal parking spot labeled “emergency only.”

Two paramedics rushed out with a gurney. They put their arms around the back of my shoulders and under my thighs and laid me down. I could probably have moved on my own, but I figured I would just go with it. The sun was glaring in the sky. They lifted me onto a crinkly sheet of aluminum foil and talked reassuringly to me as they pushed the gurney across the parking lot, to the helicopter that was already running its blades.

Was my dad still there? The sun blinded me even more, but the foil was warmed by it. The inside of the helicopter was loud. I could see out the side as we lifted off. I had never been in one before. I could feel the weightlessness as we lifted off. I gulped for air as the craft raced across the sky, heading off to some destination unknown to me. It felt like no matter how much I breathed, I couldn't get enough oxygen. The foil blanket kept me warm. I hoped that wherever I was going, Papa was going to be there.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

I may have been sleeping, but I wasn’t really sure. I could sense someone nearby. I was in a bed, but the covers were so thin. I wanted my aluminum foil blanket back. My eyes peeled open, my lashes crisped together. The room was surrounded with clear glass, and I could glimpse a calm flow of nurses and doctors milling the halls. The panicked feeling was dissipating. My body calmed down and I slept.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

A loud snort snapped me out of sleep. I could recognize that sound from a mile away. My dad was snoring on the upholstered chair in the corner.

“Papa?” I crowed. I was parched. There was something lodged in my throat.

He shook himself awake. “Daughter.”

“Kkkkk-hh,” I tried to speak but the obstruction was going down my throat.

Papa glanced out the glass window scanning for someone. “I think I should wait for the doctor to come back.” He reached over to the side of the bed and pushed a red button, giving me a kiss on my forehead. “You gave us quite a scare, kiddo."

A smiling nurse came in holding a clipboard, followed by a gray-haired doctor.

“There she is! Did you have a good sleep, Astrid?” The doctor’s tone sounded optimistic. It gave me comfort, a far cry from the sinking, treacherous feeling I held the day before. Was it the day before? I could not totally be sure.

My dad sat next to me, holding my hand. He looked up at the doctor, “I haven’t talked to her yet. She just woke up.”

“Oh, I see.”

I looked back-and-forth between the doctor, nurse, and my dad. My mouth was still full of this plastic device.

“Well, great news. We know what made you really sick. More good news. It’s very manageable.” He drew in a deep breath, and let out a resigned sigh. “Astrid, you have type one diabetes.”

I finally let out the breath I had been holding in for the entire conversation. I scanned my brain for information. My friend Katie. She had type 1 diabetes. Her mom always had special snacks for her. She needed to take some special medicine.

“Kahhhh oo…” I said, motioning to my mouth.

“Oh right!” The doctor said, and he swiftly moved to remove the tube from my throat. I gagged, and then could breathe. I took a deep breath for the first time in days.

“Speak now,” Papa said as he squeezed my hand. 

March 18, 2023 02:47

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