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ASTHMA

-by Len Rely

 

 

The light, the figure and that ever-nearing syringe were all that eight-year-old Katherine could see from the hospital gurney. The light overhead was so glaring and yet it did not improve upon the darkness surrounding her. Each shallow breath made the light and therefore the sight more of a blur, and then the figure stepped up with the needle in hand. The black silhouette stood over her obscuring the overhead lamp but for a glow encircling its horrible head. This corona was not round like that of a saint but fiery and twisted in an aura of blond-red tendrils surrounding the black space that should have been a face.

 

She gasped and was startled back to life by the full intake of air.  She took a couple of quick breaths to make sure, and everything seemed to be in working order. The hospital room was bright and orderly.  Her dear mother stood at her right hand as her trusting face swept back into focus.

 

"Kathy, how are you feeling sweetheart?" she asked.

 

Katherine put a small hand to her heart and gave the room a quick look to orient herself. She nodded as if it had a been a yes or no question, but the meaning was clear.

 

"The Doctor is ready to see you." her mother said.  "Are you up for a visit or shall we rest here a while longer?"

 

She cringed slightly at the word doctor but gave a quick nod that it was all right. Her mother let go of her hand and walked to the open door.

 

"She has never had a fear of doctors before." she whispered with concern to someone just out of sight.  "This may really have affected her."

 

"I can take it from here." the Doctor said with condolence as Katherine's mother swiped a quick tear.  "Perhaps you should wait outside."

 

She nodded, and seeing that Kathy was deliberately looking the other way, departed without a wave.Kathy was terrified to look at the open door and the man who was now

approaching with a clipboard.  She held her breath, but as he came to her bedside the

blurry image of what she was about to imagine suddenly dissolved and a short,

pleasant-looking man smiled at her.

 

"Katherine, my name is Dr. Sobol." he said.  "I'm going to be your pediatrician. Is that okay with you?"

 

The man had short, dark hair and tan skin like a man who spends his time at the beach.  When he smiled a pair of dimples appeared that he would probably be unable to hide all his life.  He was probably thirty, but his face and his height were youthening and put Katherine at peace like when a girl sees her first crush.

 

 

"You're breathing easy, that's good." he said.  "Do you know what happened to you last night?"

 

"I had an asthma attack." she said.

 

"Can you tell me about it?" Dr. Sobol inquired, putting down his clipboard.  "It's okay if you don't want to."

 

"I don't mind." she said, swallowing.

 

She described the nightmare to him in every detail she could muster.  The light, the

darkness and the syringe.  He sat attentively on a tall stool at her feet, his white jacket

buttoned perfectly to his neck.  When she was done he sat in silence and then finally spoke.

 

"An interesting story." he said, his eyebrows raised.  "You're certain that someone came at you with a needle?"

 

She nodded, afraid that by his puzzled look he did not believe her.

 

"You say it was blurry..." he said.  "Blurrier with each breath.  Do you know what it means to hallucinate?"

 

She nodded.

 

"It's normal to see things when you pass out," he said, "or to see a dream-like version of what is actually happening."  "It's called being in a semi-conscious state.  It doesn't mean there is anything wrong with you, Katherine."

 

"Then it didn't happen?" she asked positively, sitting upright.

 

"It's true that you were lying down with an overhead lamp above you." he replied.  "That much is certain.  But these hospital lamps are not so bright that you can't see past

the glare, nor is it too dark to see either, and you did say both were the case if I heard you right."

 

He reached for a harmless lamp nearby, turned the long neck so she could see the

bulb and flipped the fairly dim light on and off a couple of times.

 

"And finally, you can rest assured that there was no needle." he said as calmly as he could.  "Asthma patients are not injected with anything.  When you arrived, you were

moved directly to this room and this little tube was put in your mouth to help the breathing, that's all."

 

She smiled at him, relieved that her nightmare was over.  She breathed easy and

they watched each other in reassurance for as long as Dr. Sobol deemed necessary.

 

"I'm okay now." she said, sighing.

 

"Then you're not afraid of doctors?" he asked.

 

She shook her head vigorously.  Dr. Sobol smiled and returned to the open doorway to get a prescription.  He passed Katherine's mother as she returned to the bedside.

 

"He's not so bad." Katherine stated.

 

She could have walked or even skipped briskly down the hall to the parking lot,

but she wanted to ride the wheelchair anyway.  Her mother pushed her down the

busy thoroughfare, and as they passed the front desk she had to stop because the

amount of bodies in white coats heading left and right was too crowded at the moment to

pass through.  In the midst of those white coats Kathy drew a faint breath and for

a moment thought that the world was growing pale around a writhing mass in the corner

of her eye, but in another moment it was gone.

 

"Are you all right?" her mother asked, noticing her expression.  "You look like you

saw a ghost."

 

"I'm fine." she said.  "It's stuffy in this place, that's all."

 

They returned home with an appointment for later in the week to see Dr. Sobol again.  He was confident that he knew exactly what happened, but had run a couple of tests on Katherine just to make sure.  By the time she returned for the  results, there had been no further episodes.

 

"I'm glad to see you again, Katherine." he said.  "No more nightmares I hope?"

 

"I don't even remember it all that well." she replied.  "Didn't happen, don't need to

worry about it."

 

Dr. Sobol and her mother exchanged a glance at her confident, if not comical answer.  He pulled the results from her test, and announced that everything was as he expected.

 

"When your brain is not receiving enough oxygen," he explained, "it goes into a shut-down mode."  "You lose consciousness, and it's natural for everything to go white or

blurred until the oxygen returns.  With the right medication, we can prevent this from

happening again."

 

Kathy wanted to ride the wheelchair again, which made Dr. Sobol laugh and he even volunteered to give her a push while her mother went to start the car. Katherine was

starting to enjoy Dr. Sobol's company, and he appeared to enjoy hers as he  wheeled her down the hallway faster than her mother would have.  The other white-smocked

professionals looked at the two of them as if in envy that some fun was actually taking

place on the premises.

 

The junction near the front desk was as crowded as usual so they wheeled to one

side of the hallway to let the traffic pass.  Katherine watched the medical personnel hustle about, and began to wonder if Dr. Sobol was really one of them amongst the crowd of faceless smocks.

 

 

 

 

Suddenly, she gasped and some unknown thought made her breath halt for a

frightening instant.  The world was growing pale again as if from some light source above,and some of the colors she was seeing started to blend inward like running

paint.

 

"Katherine?  What's wrong?" Dr. Sobol asked as he kneeled beside her. 

 

"Are you having an attack?  Just tell me."

 

She was pale as a sheet.  Something in this busy corridor had frightened the breath out of her and she had no idea what it was.  A white smock passed right in front of her with a large syringe held in its hand.  There was definitely something moving in the corner of her eye, and by the shape of it she knew what is was.

 

"Kathy I can't help you unless you tell me what's wrong." Dr. Sobol said with concern.

 

She was definitely staring at something in the crowd.  She lifted her arm slowly and pointed across the way.

 

"Who is that man..." she whispered faintly.

 

Dr. Sobol turned around and saw only the white smocks passing in front of the main desk and behind it, and more passing in and out of rooms on the far side.  Katherine was visibly scared to death.

 

"Which one?" he whispered in reply.

 

"The one with the long hair..." she said breathlessly.

 

He rose to his feet and looked carefully, straining to see so many faces, and finally

spotted a smock with a long mane of reddish-blond hair sweeping past the collar.  The

figure was on the far side of the busy intersection about twenty yards away, facing the

other direction and was obscured by desk counters except for the hair, and in another

second was gone.

 

"That would be Dr. Lang, the asthma specialist." he said, relieved to see that her color was returning.  "Why, do you know him?"

 

"No." she stated, taking a deep and welcome breath.  "I've never seen him

before."

 

"Then why were you frightened?" Dr. Sobol asked, scratching his head.

 

Katherine paused and was faced with an impasse no child would be prepared for.  She had been so reassured, and yet the thought could not be denied.

 

"Because he is the man with the needle. she stated clearly.

 

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