Chapter Twelve

I won’t beat around the bush the way everybody did with me. I had leukemia.

Of course, I had no idea what that was. But the look in my father’s eyes, my mother’s eyes, made clear it was bad. They nearly always seemed to be on the verge of tears. Their faces were drawn.

I got on the computer that night and read about twenty articles about leukemia. Some of the early symptoms include loss of appetite, night sweats, frequent infections, and weight loss. It was true, I hadn’t had my usual appetite lately, and I had lost a little weight, as the scale in Dr. Scherzer’s office confirmed. I had assumed these things meant nothing. Now it seemed they had meant something after all.

My next stop was Dr. Singh, a children’s hematologist and oncologist.

Dr. Singh’s receptionist, Mary, was a very attractive woman with long blonde hair and very small glasses. I sort of gave her the eye when my mother was signing me in. She

smiled encouragingly.

There were other children in the office with their parents. It reminded me of the dentist’s office. The children were sitting in chairs, swinging their legs back and forth, reading comic books or coloring in coloring books. It could have been any office in the world, except that some of the children were bald.

A couple of the mothers looked stricken, like my mother. The others looked relaxed, as if they did this every day.

“Come on in, Max.” said a nurse, opening the door. I followed her down the corridor to an examining room.

“The doctor will be right with you, Max.”

There were no magazines, no coloring books in the examining room, so I just sat there looking at the medical instruments, the wooden swabs, the diplomas on the wall. On the desk was a picture of three small children, all Indian. They must be Dr. Singh’s children, I thought. They didn’t surprise me, I had had lots of Indian children in my schools.

Dr. Singh came in after knocking on the door. He was incredibly tall, well over six feet. He gave me a big smile which obviously hurt him, and then his face returned to a serious expression.

“Max, I’m glad to meet you,” he said. “I’ve heard you’re a big star at school. What’s it like to be so smart?”

I smiled, but didn’t answer.

“I’ve always wondered what it’s like to have so much imagination,” he said, sitting down on the rolling stool beside me. “I’m good at what I do, but I don’t have much imagination.”

I realized he was a nice man. He was trying to make me comfortable.

“I’m going to examine you, Max, but nothing I’m going to do is going to hurt, so don’t worry.”

He began by feeling my armpits. He shined a light in my eyes and ears, felt below my cheeks, tapped in several places on my back, had me open my mouth and say “Ahhhh.” Then he listened to my heart and lungs, put an ophthalmoscope up to my eyes, and sat back.

“Fantastic,” he said in his slightly accented voice. “You’re a champion patient, Max. Now, the nurse is going to take a little blood. I hope that won’t bother you.”

He gave me a lollipop and walked me down the hall to the nurse’s room. “See you later, Max.”

The nurse wrapped a tight rubber band around my arm and stuck a needle into me above my wrist. I hated this. My eyes closed, I whimpered a little.

“I know, Max,” she said. “It hurts for a minute, but after that you’ll be fine.”

She left the needle in and changed the little bottle the blood was going into. She did this about three more times. I kept my eyes closed and my teeth gritted. Then she pulled out the needle and put a bandaid over the hole in my arm.

“All done, Max,” she said. “See you next time.”