The room falls away and I’m in a featureless white landscape dotted with open doors that lead nowhere.
He’s looking at me expectantly when I finally come back to my body. “I’m sorry, did you say something?” I ask.
“Yes. You must have some questions for me.”
“Why did I get sick in Hawaii?
“People get sick, Madeline. Normal healthy people get sick all the time.”
“But my heart stopped.”
“Yes. I suspect myocarditis. I spoke with the attending in Hawaii as well. She suspected the same thing. Basically at some point in your past you probably had a viral infection that weakened your heart. Had you been experiencing any chest pain or shortness of breath when you were in Hawaii?”
“Yes,” I say slowly, remembering the squeezing of my heart that I’d willfully ignored.
“Well, myocarditis seems like a likely candidate.”
I don’t have any other questions, not for him anyway. I stand. “Well, thank you very much, Dr. Chase.”
He stands, too, agitated and seeming even more nervous than before. “Before you go there’s one more thing.”
I sit back down. “Because of the circumstance of your upbringing, we’re not sure about the state of your immune system.”
“What does that mean?”
“We think it’s possible that it’s underdeveloped, like an infant’s.”
“Your immune system hasn’t been exposed to a lifetime of common viruses and bacterial infections. It hasn’t had time to get experience with fighting these infections. It hasn’t had time to get strong.”
“So I’m still sick?”
He leans back in his chair. “I don’t have a good answer for you. We’re in uncharted territory here. I’ve never heard of a case like this. It may mean that you’ll get sick more often than people with healthy immune systems. Or it may mean that when you do get sick, you’ll get very severely sick.”
“How will I know?”
“I don’t think there’s any way to know. I recommend caution.”
We schedule weekly follow-up visits. He tells me that I should take it slowly as I start to see the world—no big crowds, no unfamiliar foods, no exhaustive physical activity.
“The world isn’t going anywhere,” he says as I leave.
After the Death of
I spend the next few days searching for more information, for anything that will explain what happened to me and what happened to my mother. I want a diary with her thoughts laid out in legible ink. I want her madness clearly delineated so that I can trace its history and my own. I want details and explanations. I want to know why and why and why. I need to know what happened, but she can’t tell me. She’s too damaged. And if she could? Would it make a difference? Would I understand? Would I understand the depth of grief and fear that could’ve led her to take my entire life away from me?
Dr. Chase tells me that he thinks she needs a therapist. He thinks it might be a long time before she’s able to tell me exactly what happened, if ever. He guesses that she suffered some sort of a breakdown after my dad and brother died.
Carla uses all her persuasive powers trying to convince me not to leave home. Not just for my mom’s sake, but for my own. My health is still an unknown.
I consider e-mailing Olly, but so much time has passed. I lied to him. He’s probably moved on. He’s probably found someone else. I’m not sure I can endure any more heartbreak. And what would I say? I’m almost not sick?
In the end Carla convinces me to stay with my mom. She says I am a better person than that. I’m not so sure. Whoever I was before I found out the truth has died.
One Week A.D.
I have my first weekly visit with Dr. Chase. He urges caution.
I install a lock on my bedroom door.
Two Weeks A.D.
Three Weeks A.D.
My mom tries to enter my room, but the door is locked with me in it.
She goes away.
I draft more e-mails to Olly that I don’t send.
Dr. Chase continues to urge caution.
Four Weeks A.D.
I paint each wall in my room a different color. The one by the window is a pale butter yellow. The shelves are sunset orange against a peacock-blue wall. The wall by my headboard is lavender, and the final one is black with chalkboard paint.
My mom knocks on my door, but I pretend not to hear her.
She goes away.
Five Weeks A.D.
I order real plants for the sunroom. I deprogram the air filters and open the windows. I buy five goldfish and name them all Olly and let them loose in the fountain.
Six Weeks A.D.
Dr. Chase insists that it’s too soon for me to attempt enrolling in high school. Too many kids with too many illnesses. Carla and I persuade him to let some of my tutors visit in person as long as they’re well. He is reluctant, but he agrees.