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“HEY, I’M back. This time things aren’t too good,” Jeremy said. Jeremy, age seven years, was admitted in Sickle Cell Crisis.
Normal blood cells are round and roll effortlessly through blood vessels. Sickle Cells are sickle shaped and block the passageways of normal blood flow. Children with this disease frequently are hospitalized with fever, joint pain, and are acutely ill.
Being hospitalized was no stranger to Jeremy. He knew the routines and all about Sickle Cell Anemia. Getting to school was a problem because of his frequent hospitalizations. At seven, he had already had his gallbladder removed, his joints were deformed, and he had had a stroke that left him with problems of mobility.
“We need to start an I.V. Jeremy. Get you hydrated,” I said. It was important to get fluids and antibiotics into him. He wearily nodded his head.
Jeremy’s temperature lingered around 104 degrees. His joint pain was excruciating. “Nurse, it hurts even when you move the sheets. Please don’t touch my legs, OK?” He was understandably irritable. Being a young little boy, he wanted to run and play like his friends. Instead, he spent many days and nights in the hospital in crisis.
Jeremy didn’t respond to treatment this admission. He continued to run a high temperature and didn’t respond to attempts to cool him. Eventually we placed him on a cooling blanket. It was uncomfortable for the lad. “Do I have to lay on this thing? I’m freezing.”
“Sorry Jeremy but your fever isn’t coming down. I know it’s cold. We’ll remove it soon, I promise.” His temperature refused to budge and, on several occasions, rose above 105 degrees.
Jeremy shared a room with Bobby, aged eight. Bobby was admitted with juvenile diabetes. He and Jeremy quickly became friends and when Jeremy was having a good day, they’d play on each other’s beds with their toy soldiers.
One day Jeremy was telling Bobby about Sickle Cell Anemia. Bobby asked, “Is it catching? Can I get it from you?”
Sounding like a teacher Jeremy said, “No dude, if you don’t have it now you won’t ever get it. And besides it’s a disease that black kids get. And dude you don’t look black to me.”
Bobby looked puzzled and said, “I guess you can’t catch my disease either. Not because you are black but because it isn’t caught like a cold or the measles. My pancreas doesn’t work very well”
“Guess I’m lucky to just have one disease. At least I don’t have to worry about eating ice cream.”
They were buddies. They taught each other about their diseases and explained the treatments. Jeremy asked Bobby, “Can you die from your disease?”
Bobby said, “No, I don’t think so. If I eat right and take my insulin, I think I can live to be an old man.”
“That’s good. What I got, this Sickle Cell thing, is gonna kill me.” The two little boys were discussing disease and death with an understanding better than some adults. Neither was afraid. Jeremy said, “I’ll die soon.”
Bobby’s eyes widened and said, “I hope you don’t die. I’d miss you. But where do you think you go when you die?”
Jeremy replied, “Well for me, I’m going to heaven. That’s what my grandma told me. You better not get yourself into trouble or you will end up in that other place. The devil’s room.” Both boys doubled over in laughter thinking of the other place.
Jeremy improved for a short time and then fell back into crisis. His temperature climbed to 106 degrees. His fatigued heart failed. He was in poor condition.
Bobby was aware that his friend wasn’t getting better. He went over to Jeremy’s bed to talk to him. “I’m here Jeremy. When you feel better, we can play some more. I kind of miss you even though you’re in the same room, just a bed away from me.” Jeremy didn’t respond.
Jeremy’s parents were at his bedside constantly. “Would you step out for a few minutes so I can bathe Jeremy? It would be a good time for you all to take a break,” I said. They were exhausted and welcomed a break. I pulled the privacy screen around Jeremy’s bed as I bathed him.
Bobby stuck his head under the curtain and asked, “Can I say hi to Jeremy? He told me he had something important to tell me. It’s important.”
I asked the dying child if he was up to a visit from his friend. “Yeah, guess so.” I lifted Bobby up and onto the bed. I stepped to the other side of the curtain to give them privacy.
Bobby said, “Jeremy, can you hear me?”
Jeremy said, “Yeah.”
Bobby said, “Are you sicker?”
In a weak voice Jeremy said, “I’m gonna leave you. I gotta go away. I want you to keep my toy soldiers with you. They will protect you.”
“Do you really have to go? We still have wars to fight.”
“Yeah, my General is calling for me to come home.”
“Are you afraid?”
“Not even a tiny bit. I know where I’m going. And there are all kind of soldiers there waiting for me.”
I was choking back tears. Afraid Jeremy was tiring I stepped in. “Bobby, Jeremy is worn-out and needs to rest. You hop on back to your bed.”
Jeremy sat up in bed and hugged Bobby and said, “You’re my man” and lay back down in bed.
His parents came into the room. They saw their son was slowly dying before them. His heart was failing, he had trouble breathing, and his body temperature was rising.
His mother crawled up in the bed and drew her son close to her breast. His father on the side of the bed held his hand. Jeremy was ready to die. He wasn’t afraid. The parents and grandparents had prepared him for death. The next day Jeremy slipped into a coma. His loving parents surrounded him. His father read from the family bible as Jeremy slipped away.
Bobby’s mother was at his bedside. Bobby sat in his bed with both his soldiers and Jeremy’s gift of his collection to him. We quietly removed Jeremy from his room and did our final preparations in the treatment room.
I went back to the room to let Bobby verbalize his feelings about Jeremy. He was stoic and open with his feelings. “Last night Jeremy turned his head in my direction and said ‘bye’. “Nurse, I told him I’d keep his soldiers until I could bring them to him in heaven.” I hugged the small boy to acknowledge his statement.
Two young boys met in a hospital and forged a lifetime friendship. They shared life, soldiers, and death. They were friends for life.