AN: I hate to miss deadlines or to disappoint so... I'm posting this unbeta-ed. Forgive me. All mistakes are mine. Also, this got away from me. 15 pages in and I decided to post, do some housework and finish this at another time.
Thanks to ctoan for coordinating this once again!
My sentence from helen_c was - Ryan has a headache; someone offers some TLC.
The main house was buzzing with activity when Ryan entered the kitchen early Monday morning. Sandy was huddled in a corner with the phone pressed to his ear. He was “uh humming” a lot, taking copious notes as the person on the other end prattled on. Kirsten was sitting by the kitchen table with a set of blue prints spread out in front of her, leaving no room for anyone else. She bowed her head in concentration, biting on the end of the pen as she followed the architect’s drawing and notations with her finger. Seth seemed not to notice that both his parents were deep in concentration, and he chattered on between bites of his Captain Crunch cereal. It didn’t seem to bother him that no one was listening.
Ryan’s eyes cautiously flitted around the room, wondering if there was the time to bother either of his guardians. The coach had been on him about getting a doctor’s physical exam so he could play on the team. He’d given Ryan some leeway about the school’s policy because he was new in town and new to Harbor, but the coach had said Ryan couldn’t play in the upcoming game if he didn’t have the form in his hand before the weekend.
Ryan wasn’t very fond of doctors and didn’t relish the idea of visiting with one, but despite his bumpy start, he was starting to enjoy being part of a team. He had even started to make a few friends outside of Seth and Marissa and he liked the feeling of belonging. He also knew that the coach had not been kidding and would not coddle Ryan any longer, even if he was starting to emerge as one of the strongest players on the team.
Snatching the box of cereal from Seth’s hand and sliding into the tall stool by the island, Ryan tried to zone in on what Seth was saying. But Seth was going too fast and talking in too many circles to really make sense before his morning cup of coffee. Ryan sunk his hands into the cereal box and grabbed a fistful of the sugary food.
“Please use a bowl, Ryan.”
Kirsten’s directive startled him. He hadn’t thought she would notice, but apparently Seth was right, The Kirsten was omnipotent. She saw and heard everything that went on under her roof.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, getting out of his seat to find a clean bowl and spoon.
She looked up from what she was doing and smiled at him to show she wasn’t upset and that it was just a friendly reminder. “Did you sleep okay?” she asked.
“Yeah. Thank you.” He eyed the coffee that was percolating in the machine and decided to start his morning with a caffeine-high rather than a sugar one. As he took down a mug and poured the hot drink he said, “Kirsten, the coach said I needed a doctor’s physical in order to play. If I don’t do it by the end of the week, I can’t be on the team anymore.”
“Did you get hurt?” she asked, suddenly concerned.
Ryan shook his head. “I’m fine. Coach said it was routine and that all players do it before the start of the school year.”
“That’s a relief.” She smiled at him. “For a minute, I thought you had gotten hurt and had forgotten to mention it. I’ll make you an appointment with Seth’s doctor this afternoon. Hopefully, we’ll get an appointment within the next day or two. I wouldn’t want you to have to give up your extra curricular activities.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I guess that’s something I should have known, but Seth never played on any teams and—“
“That’s okay. I knew about it for a while now. I was sort of trying to avoid the whole doctor thing,” Ryan grinned sheepishly.
“Oooh,” Seth interjected. “You don’t have to worry about Dr. Delaveris. Dr. D is cool. He gives out lollypops at the end of the visit.”
Rolling his eyes, Ryan said, “I’ll save mine for you.”
Seth grinned, delighted. “You do that, man.” He eyed his watch. “We better jet, or we’ll be late.”
Reluctantly, Ryan put down the bowl he was holding, but made sure to gulp down the coffee before he grabbed his school things. The hot drink burned going down the throat, but he knew without time for nourishment, the caffeine would be the only thing to get him through the hectic and intense Harbor day.
The coach spotted Ryan weaving his way through the crowds congregated on the quad and stopped him. He once again asked about the medical note again, barely hiding his irritation, and Ryan told him that Kirsten was making him an appointment later that day.
“Good. There’s a game Friday night and if I don’t have all my i’s dotted and t’s crossed, I can’t let you play. I think having you part of our team will be a real asset to us and I don’t want to lose you.”
He patted Ryan’s shoulder and smiled, opening his mouth to say something just as the bell rang. Instead the coach said, “You better get to class. See you at practice. I want to see you suited up and on the field at three thirty sharp!”
“Yes, sir,” Ryan answered automatically as he started to push his way through anxious freshman afraid of being late to their first period class.
The headache hit Ryan during fifth period PE. It came crashing through his skull like a runaway commuter train roaring through a dark tunnel knocking everything in its way. Ryan was in the weight room completing the weight regiment assigned by the soccer coach in lieu of the regular class, a privilege afforded to team members. The room was bustling and noisy with metal clanking upon metal. He tried to block out the pain by closing his eyes. Then he took some deep breathes, filling the air through his chest and up to his head and slowly letting it out, just like Ryan had seen on Kirsten’s yoga video.
The pain only grew in intensity and caused Ryan to drop the 20-pound weight he had been lifting. The thud of the weight was like a jackhammer drilling a hole in his skull.
“Atwood, you okay?” He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. Mr. Bixler, the assistant coach who managed the weight room, was standing over him. “You look white as a ghost all of a sudden and your face is contorted in pain.” He scrutinized Ryan’s demeanor looking for signs of the trouble. ‘I’ve seen you lift a hell of a lot more than twenty pounds like it was no effort,” he explained. “Did the weight slip? Did it hit your toe? Are you okay?” Mr. Bixler repeated.
The sound of her voice added to the pain, as did the bright lights of the room when he opened his eyes to focus on the person in front of him.
“Not so good,” he admitted in a shaky voice.
“Ward.” Mr. Bixler turned and called the first student she spotted. “Help Atwood to the nurse’s office and make sure you make it back here before the bell rings. There’s a good twenty minutes left to the period.” He swiveled back to face Ryan. “Feel better,” he added in a concerned and almost paternal voice.
Luke grabbed Ryan’s elbow to guide him out of the room. He wasn’t fond of Atwood, but had to admit that the kid looked like death was at his heels. He thought about saying something, but decided that Ryan probably didn’t need any extra noise.
It felt like an eternity to get to the nurse’s office. Luke deposited Ryan in a chair and mumbled an explanation to Ms. Gordon before turning back to class.
“If I don’t see you by practice, I’ll explain things to coach,” Luke offered as a goodbye.
“Thanks man,” Ryan choked out in a hoarse voice. He put his head down, and the pain roared again, so he lifted his chin and closed his eyes.
The nurse sat down and asked Ryan what was the matter.
“It’s just a really bad headache,” he managed. “Can I have some Tylenol?”
The woman beside him sighed. “I’m sorry, but I’m not allowed to give that out. Do you want me to call home? Maybe someone can pick you up?”
He started to shake his head, but that just intensified the hurt. He couldn’t bother Kirsten or Sandy at work! “Can I just lie down here for a bit?”
“Of course. But Ryan, you really don’t look good. I think we should call someone.”
“Let’s wait a bit,” he pleaded and the woman agreed.
It was hard to get comfortable on the narrow cot that was in the corner of the office. The pain subsided a bit, but it still felt like the worst headache ever. It now felt like a sledge hammer pounding at both sides of his skull over and over again. He felt sick to his stomach.
Ms. Gordon had offered a warm compress for his head and she suggested that he keep it over his eyes. She also put a bottle of water next to his cot and urged him to drink it. “Sometimes it’s a simple case of dehydration.” But Ryan was worried that even a simple bottle of water would cause his stomach to revolt. He heard the bell ring signaling the end of fifth period and the next bell four minutes later that started sixth period. He jumped from the pain caused by the bell, which felt like it was rattling on the inside of his head, instead of just overhead.
As a result, he felt Ms. Gordon sticking a thermometer into his hear. It beeped a second later and she muttered something about no fever. She coaxed him to drink the now room temperature water and while the liquid felt good going down his throat, it did nothing to alleviate his headache.
When he reacted the same way to the bells at the end of sixth and the start of seventh period, he could hear Ms. Gordon shuffling over to the filing cabinet and pull something out. Each sound was intensified and caused Ryan pain.
Ryan, who had always tried to avoid the nurse’s office at his old school, was surprised at how busy a spot it was. Every few minutes girls came in asking for feminine products or complaining of cramps. A number of students wanted to be excused for PE for the day. One student had an allergy attack after lunch. He had a notation on his file so the nurse was allowed to administer Benadryl that his parents had left at the start of the school year. Another student came in, gasping for breath, clutching an inhaler, that wasn’t working. Ms. Gordon had been on the verge of calling the paramedics, when the attack subsided and the kid caught his breath again. A concerned parent came rushing in a moment later.
Ryan wished someone would come get him. He knew if he asked, Ms. Gordon would call either Kirsten or Sandy, but he just couldn’t imagine pulling them out of work for a little old headache. Even if was like no other headache he had ever experienced before.
When the nausea overtook him, and Ryan turned to his side hurling into the wastebasket nearby, the decision was taken out of his hand. Ms. Gordon was already armed with his emergency contact card and dialing the first number she saw. Ryan could hear her murmuring into the phone, the sound reverberating inside his head like she was speaking with megaphone right to his ear.
“Your foster mother is coming to pick you up,” Ms. Gordon whispered as she put another compress to his head. “I wish you had told me how bad this was. I would have called earlier.” She sighed. “Fifteen year-old-boys are way too stubborn for their own good.”
Fifteen minutes later, Kirsten bustled into the nurse’s room, her heels clicking on the linoleum floors. “Are you okay, Ryan?” She ran a hand over his forehead. “Did you take his temperature? Is he running a fever?”
Ryan groaned as Kirsten talked right into his ear.
“I’m sorry, honey. Are you okay?”
“Not really,” he admitted.
“He’s not running a fever, Mrs. Cohen. I checked about thirty minutes ago. But like I said on the phone, he’s been in a lot of pain and he vomited right before I called. I’m sure it’s nothing serious, but I would check it out.”
“Well, I already called Dr. D earlier today and had an appointment lined up for after practice, but I’m going to call again so that they squeeze us in as soon as we get there. Do you think you can manage to walk out of here on your own?”
He carefully swung his legs down onto the floor and with both hands forced himself up from a sitting position.
“I’ll be fine. But we should probably get my stuff.”
“Ms. Gordon, do you think you can get word to my son Seth Cohen and ask him to bring Ryan’s belongings home?”
“Thank you. That takes care of that. Let’s get going. This has me worried.” She rubbed Ryan’s arm, as she guided him out of the room. “Thank you again, Ms. Gordon. I appreciate your concern.”
They arrived at the bustling doctor’s office twenty minutes later. Kirsten kept shooting these looks at him that reminded Ryan of the day Sandy had brought him back from Chino a second time and announced that Dawn had abandoned Ryan. It was a mixture of pity and concern. This time, though, the concern seemed to outweigh the pity. Kirsten rubbed Ryan’s arms hoping to comfort him, and if asked he would admit that it did feel sort of good. Like she cared.
The sign on the door said that Dr. Delaveris and his associates were doctors of pediatrics and adolescent medicine, but the office looked like it was geared for little kids. The walls were painted with cartoon characters. The low coffee tables were scattered with Highlights, National Geographic Kids, and Spider Magazine. The toys were geared for the toddler crowd. That toy where you shifted the beads from one end to the other had a prominent place in the center of the waiting room. That had always frustrated Ryan when he was younger, as he wanted to take the beads off to play, but they didn’t go anywhere except for one end to another. Nothing about the office said, teenagers welcome. Yet Ryan sat in a small uncomfortable chair holding his head in his hands as Kirsten went up to the secretary to announce their presence.
A minute later, Ryan felt Kirsten sit down beside him. She immediately started to rub his back, her hand moving over his tee shirt in circular motion.
“I wish you had called me right when you started feeling ill.” She spoke softly. “I know your being part of our family is new to all of us, but you are part of us. I signed on to take care of you just like I take care of Seth. You don’t have to hesitate calling me out of work. You got that?”
He swallowed, trying to get rid of the lump that had formed in his throat. “Yes,” he finally answered.
“Good. The doctor will see us as soon as he finishes with his patient.” She spent the rest of the time filling out his paperwork, asking him questions every so often. Like when did he have the chicken pox? (He was pretty sure he was eight – it was right after they moved to Chino.) “No food allergies, right?” she confirmed. “But what about to penicillin? Are you allergic to that? Or any other drug?” He answered and then she asked about broken bones.
“Lots, do I have to list them all now?”
“That’s okay, honey.” She patted his shoulder. “I’m sure we can do that later.” Inwardly, she cringed at the thought of the cause of all those broken bones.”
Unlike the clinics he had visited when he lived in Chino, they were swift and efficient in the doctor’s office. The medical assistant led them into a small room, handed him a gown, and told him to strip and put it on. When he had managed to cock his brow and tilt his head in a semi glare, she conceded by saying it was enough to take off his tee shirt.
Kirsten had turned her back as he changed, but she didn’t leave the room. He wondered if it would have been the same if this had been a simple sports’ physical. Ryan couldn’t imagine talking to the doctor about what recreational drugs he had used in the past, and how much alcohol he consumed in front of Kirsten. He imagined that there might be some personal questions, but he’d figure out a way to conserve some dignity while answering the doctor. Between the determined and concerned look on Kirsten’s face and the lecture he had received in the waiting room, Ryan knew she would not leave the examining room so easily and he didn’t have the energy to put up a good fight.
“How’s the head?” she whispered as he scooted onto the examining table.
“It hurts, but not like before.”
“Well, it’s a start.”
Time dragged in the small examining room. Ryan kept his eyes closed most of the time, but resisted lying down even when Kirsten suggested it. He didn’t want to admit how uncomfortable he still felt. Finally, the doctor, a tall, plump man with salt and pepper hair and a large handlebar mustache, came into the room. He was wearing a traditional white doctor’s coat with a stethoscope around his neck and a finger puppet sticking out of his pocket in middle of the pens and assorted tongue depressors stuck in there.
“Mrs. Cohen, it’s good to see you again.” He stuck out his hand for a handshake. He looked down at his chart. “And you are Ryan?”
“And you’re here for a sports’ physical.”
“Well,” Kirsten interrupted before Ryan could speak for himself. “That’s why I originally called, but then Ryan’s school called that he was sick. The school nurse was concerned enough to say we should see a doctor immediately, so I asked to push up our appointment.”
“I see,” the doctor hummed, scanning the incomplete medical history. “What’s the matter, Ryan?”
“My head. It hurts. A lot.”
“Did you wake up with the headache?”
“No. It started while I was in the weight room.”
“Do you ever get headaches?”
“Sometimes. Not like this. I never had a headache like this.”
“Can you describe the pain?”
He swallowed, his throat felt scratchy and sore from not using it much. “It started like a jack hammer. Now it’s more like a sledge hammer going at both sides of my temples.”
“He also threw up in the nurse’s office,” Kirsten interjected. “The nurse said he came to see her about,” she glanced at her watch, “three hours ago.”
“That’s a long time for such an intense headache. Since you were in school, I imagine, they couldn’t give you any Tylenol or Advil.”
“Right,” Ryan agreed.
“What did you have for breakfast?”
“I had cereal and coffee,” he stretched the truth a bit.
“A handful of sugar cereal,” Kirsten corrected. “I know I was busy this morning, but don’t think I didn’t notice you didn’t have time to eat.”
The doctor smiled. “What about lunch?”
“I didn’t have time today. I had to finish up an assignment in the library and I can’t eat there. Besides, today I have lunch right before PE and I don’t like to eat much before I exercise.”
The doctor sighed knowingly. “Did you drink anything besides the coffee?”
“Only the water the nurse gave me.”
“I see.” Ryan could feel the weight of disapproval in those two words. “How much coffee do you drink a day?” the doctor continued, pulling out the stethoscope from around his neck. Not waiting for an answer, he instructed Ryan to breathe deeply as he moved the cold metal piece from his chest to his back. “Caffeine intake?” The doctor reminded, as he listened to Ryan breathe.
“Um, I sometimes have two cups of coffee a day.”
“What about caffeinated soda?”
“It depends. One or two cups a day? Sometimes less sometimes more.” Ryan avoided Kirsten’s eyes. She was always telling him and Seth to drink water or juice rather than soda.
“Sounds good,” the man commented. “Not the soda and coffee intake. The breathing.” Dr. D then pulled out a blood pressure cuff and strapped it around Ryan’s arm. He squeezed the little black air puff at the end until Ryan thought his eyes would pop out of their sockets. “It’s a little on the high side. Ryan, is there a history of hypertension in your family? Do you smoke?”
“Hypertension? You mean high blood pressure? I don’t think so. And Sandy and Kirsten made me stop smoking when I moved in with them a few months back.”
“That’s very good.” The doctor chewed on his lip and tapped on his clipboard. “I’m inclined to say that this is a simple case of dehydration and that some liquids, food, Tylenol and rest will make this go away. I’m slightly concerned about the elevated blood pressure. I’m going to send you home.” He turned to Kirsten. “Give him Tylenol. Lots of liquids and some light food. Nothing too heavy since he threw up earlier today. If the pain doesn’t get better and of course if it gets any worse I want you to go straight to the emergency room and call me immediately. I’m on call today, so I can meet you there.”
“Okay,” Kirsten slowly agreed. “But what are your concerns?”
“The fact that this happened while Ryan was exercising and the fact that he barely ate or drank today, this is probably an exercise headache or dehydration… What’s keeping me cautious is how suddenly and severely the onset of this headache came and that Ryan’s blood pressure is slightly high. Severe headaches like the one Ryan’s experiencing are at times, but not often, an underlying cause for something more severe.”
“Like?” Kirsten prompted.
“Bleeding in the brain,” Dr. D offered cautiously. “I’m not trying to worry you. If I seriously thought this was the problem, I’d be checking Ryan into the hospital immediately. I don’t want to panic you.”
But Ryan could see the panic in Kirsten’s eyes. He felt like whatever little blood was left in his face had drained completely.
“Mrs. Cohen, I’ve known you since Seth was this high,” he held his hand at level with the examining table. “I’ve always been upfront and honest. I want us to be cautious but not alarmed, okay?”
“In the meanwhile, much of Ryan’s medical history is incomplete. Let’s try to fill in as much of this as we can before the next visit. We need you better so I can complete that sports’ physical for you. What sport do you play?”
The man smiled reassuringly. “By next week, we’ll have your form all filled out. For now, get some rest. Follow my instructions and next time we’re also going to review some healthy eating habits, okay?”
“Good. Get dressed and go home.” The doctor turned, but stopped suddenly. “I almost forgot. He dug into a pocket under his lab coat and pulled out two red lollipops. For being such a good patient.” He winked.
Kirsten followed the doctor out the door, leaving him alone to change. A few minutes later, she knocked and stuck her nose in the door asking if he was done. She led him out to the reception area, guiding him with her hand on the small of his back. The pain hadn’t subsided much and now he also felt the worry emanating from Kirsten at his side.