Stage Two – Road east – Chaos is my name

 „I will be hiding in the shadows until I see you lowering your guard, once you feel safe. Then, when least expected, I will attack you with all my power. Fear me! Fear the people I control! As he will not help you, he will not save you from me, from your destiny!”

 We got to the point where confidence overshadowed our senses. We felt good with how the training was going so far, how much we were off the initially set course. So confident to the point where we started to feel that there are less and less obstacles on our way to win this battle. There was still uncertainty in our hearts, nevertheless we felt more and more empowered by God. Ensured by him that nothing is happening without His will and it is not to harm us.

 “Before going to the next stage we need to first send you to one of our cooperating facility located in the east from here.“ Captain Wild invited us to her room and explained the next steps of our training. “Based on the protocol this should happen in the next few days, once they will confirm readiness for your arrival. Main reason for us sending you there is to take from your son stem cells. They will be later on used in the third stage when you will come back from the fitting.”

“I read about this,” Mag interfered, “but from what I learned the best moment to start the process for us would be now. Normally, after the last chemo, you monitor cadet’s results to see when he hits the bottom and the moment you see a sign of recovery you start the process of collecting the stem cells. This is the moment when its body produces the most amount of them. Once his result are close to normal, stem cell lower their presence in the blood and it’s much harder to collect them. To the point where, in our case, it could be not enough. I saw Szymek results from today and we are starting the recovery phase. Why are we not going there now? Ideally in the ambulance to be much quicker?! Why we need to wait those few more days? With each day there is higher probability we will miss the moment. “

“I would like to reassure you that we are in constant contact with the facility leading this stage. All is in accordance to the protocol. I had similar doubts and I have raise them to the leading Captain. She confirmed few days more will not negatively affect your collection. Please do not worry about it, as all should be fine,” Captain Wild tried to calm her down. “Additionally, just to give you more comfort I would like to inform you that I have called the facility and person, who will lead you through the training, unfortunately, when you will arrive there, will be on the annual leave. Nevertheless, her back up should take care of you. And in case of any questions feel free to call me.”

 We left the room feeling down. We had a lot of doubt in our hearts. Sensing that something was not right, but we could not tell what. We took a wrong turn again, but when? Moreover, how can we get back on track?

 Few days passed and we were heading east. Road was unpleasant, as there were many construction sites and one lane road through most of the way. Distance, which normally should take no longer than 1,5h, took us almost 3h to drive. Tired and stressed we parked in front of the facility. It was 10 a.m. in the morning and we already had enough of this day. Little to our knowledge this was just a beginning of another nightmare.

“Who?” Asked the captain to whom we were pointed to from the reception.

“Szymon W. We were asked to come here today to get listed for 2-3 days stay, during which you will take his stem cells.”

“I have no record of you, nor any info that you should be coming today.” Captain responded.

He was a man in his late 50, quite skinny, giving an impression of being experienced.

“Do you have any blood result with you?” He asked.

“Yes.” Mag took couple of papers from her bag.

“Shit, you are too late…” he replied after a moment of studying the tests. ”I am not sure if we can collect required amount stem cells from your son blood. Not sure, who have send you here, but there was no point of you coming here with those kind of results. It you ask me, you can go home. ”

“What? What do you mean?” I stated to be a little nervous.

“I mean that there is no chance of us succeeding at this stage. We can run the procedure but it will fail, as there is little to none stem cells in your son’s blood at this point. Therefore the only thing I recommend is for you to go back home.”

“Is there really nothing, which you could do?” I have asked having at the back of my head that, us going back home without having stem cells collected is not an option.

“I will call Captain Dorothy, one who is leading the stem collection procedure, and see what she has to say about it.” He took the results with him and went back to his office.

“Fuck! I will strangle her.” I just waited for him to close the door and I exploded.

“I will call Captain Wild and see what she has to say,” I was trying to find a solution or at least some answers.

“I will not let it go like that.” Mag suddenly turned into lioness fighting for her little one. “I will not rest till we will have those stem cells, as this could be our only chance to sabotage the training. Let me try to call some people and see what they recommend.”

 You read about this, mother who gain unnatural strength seeing their babies in danger, ready to move mountains. This is what I saw happening to Mag. She started to call people she knew, who can help us, and soon she was on the phone with Major from one of the southern facilities. We knew there was a bit of competition between our CSD and her Place of Hope, and we took the chances that when she will hear what has happen to us she will use this opportunity to prove her value. Major linked Mag to one of her best Captains to consult our case. Saying that, if the east do not want us, she is happy to take us in and lead the whole stem collection. We started the political game, which we did not liked and tried to avoid as much as possible, but in the case of saving your child’s life, you leverage all the means you can.

 In all that chaos which we encounter in the East, where they were trying to find out who we are, and if there is sense to do the stem collection, me yelling at Captain Wild, why she allowed this to happen, Mag fighting the political battle between facilities, she comes – the angel of peace, little, quite, fragile – Captain Dorothy.

“Dear Mrs. and Mr. W., my name is Captain Dorothy. I am leading captain for the stem cell collection, and I would like to apologize for all your troubles. I would like to reassure you that it is not too late and we will do all our best to make sure we will manage to collect those stem cells. Let me please consult the approach with the captain who welcomed you here and I will come back shortly to you. ”

 While Captain Dorothy was consulting us, we also had a confirmation from the captain working at the Place of Hope that is not as bad as it looks. There are still two options how those stem cells could be collected, either by boosting leukocytes with neupogen or there is a special drug, which cost much, but can help to generate enough of stem cells in the body. This brought back peace into our hearts that one way or the other we will get the required amounts from Szymon’s blood.

„We agreed that we will use neupogen for few days and see if it will help to stimulate stem cell production in your son’s blood.” said Captain Dorthy after leaving the office. “Before doing the collection, we will needed to install two lines into Szymek femoral arteries. First one to collect the blood and second one to return it to his body once the stem cells were extracted from it. As this is painful procedure, it need to be done under narcosis. We will perform this procedure once we will see the required amount. Until that time, you will stay in a room with other cadets.

 We have started long three days of waiting and stimulating the white blood cells. These were very long three days, as this place was not even close to standard, we were used too. We really felt like nobodies here, where even the cleaner had more power, as she was asking you to leave the room and not to disturb her while she was wiping the floor. Later she was using same rag to clean your cupboard where drugs and food was laying.

 When seeing this for the first time, I did not reacted due to shock of what I was seeing.  Next time I saw her, I made myself clear, that I don’t want her to touch my son’s cupboard, which caused a surprised on her face of how I dared to tell her what she can and can not do. Lucky for her she listened.

 All of those small things caused tensions, which did not help. It was already hard to cope with all those horrible things, which our child need to face. Instead of support from the staff, like the one we got used too, we needed to fight the battles with them of who is right and what is the right way to do things. Things we got used to like changing Szymon’s bandage on Mag’s laps and not him lying on the cold bed and forced to stay still. Things we heard about but never experienced until now. And even parents were different here. You could see that their minds were poisoned with this atmosphere.

“Look what you did! Just look!” an angry father started to yell at his 3 year old staying in the bed next to Szymon’s. “I just changed your clothes and you vomited again! Now, I need to do it again!”

 I looked at him and was wondering, where the hell are we. What is this place doing with people? They should know better, that is not their child’s fault. And in a year time, he may not even have this problem anymore. He may not even have a child to yell on anymore.  Still he can not find patience in his heart. And we saw those kinds of behaviors quite often here.

“We have enough of stem cells in your son’s body to try the collection.” Said the captain while entering the room, the same one who wanted to send us back home. “Before so we need to do the procedure of installing those two lines you were told in the beginning. We will do this tomorrow morning and later during the day start the procedure.”

“Ok, thank you.” I replied shortly before him leaving our room.

 Next day showed us how much more terrifying this place could be. Mag assumed that procedure, which she knew by heart due to number of times Szymek was put to sleep, will not differ across all the facilities. Reality showed her how much she was wrong. We were shocked to see how much human aspect can impact it.

 To ease the stress, before giving the meds causing general anesthesia, there is drug injected, which makes the child sleepy, loose. In some cases, Szymek even has fallen asleep at this stage, which was way more comfortable for him and us to pass him over to the corporal. And in many cases, in the CSD, Mag was still there with Szymek, holding his hand, until he has fully fallen asleep.

“I need to take him.” Corporal doing the anesthesia said to Mag.

“What?” She was surprised, that there is a change to standard procedure. “He is not out yet, just give him two minutes and he will fall asleep, and then you can start the procedure with no issues.”

“I know better what I need to do. Please give him to me.” Anesthesiologist took Szymek from her arm and carried toward the door. It was then, when Szymek fully woke up. Saw a stranger holding him and started to cry.

„Muuuuummmm!!!! Muuuuummmmm!!!„ He screamed throwing his hand to Mag, trying to come back to those arms, which a second ago gave him peace and comfort.

 She saw him reaching out to her, she saw him crying, she saw him bagging for her, and she could not do anything about it. She could only watch, as her child suffers. Few more steps and the door go shut. Few more seconds and his voice weakened and weakened and finally silenced filled the room. Mag was standing there, watching the doors where Szymek was taken and all she could do was to cry. Bite her lips and allow tears to fall on her cheeks.

“I will not leave it this way!!! You hear me!?! I will not leave it this way, I will not allow anybody to treat my son like that!” Mag started speak with a loud voice, and if it was not from the fact that she knew innocent children surrounded her, who needed much rest, she would scream. Scream so that heaven and hell could hear her.

 In moments like those, I could understand people who kill to take vengeance. Hunger for blood fills every inch of your body. Blood of the person, who just harmed your innocent child. You silence any rational thinking, and like an animal hunting for its prey, you whole body is just filled with one thought. Make her suffer like she made my son suffer. Luckily for her I did not know how she looks otherwise would use a chance tell her what I think about her next time I would pass her on the corridor. Procedure was soon over and Szymek was back in Mags arms.

 Stem collection began. Two long days and us in huge stress not knowing if they will succeed. And all in this horror house, which instead of giving us comfort caused even more anxiety. This place, where even going to the toilet was a nightmare as there was nothing available for parents in the room and even on the corridor. It was showing that you are not really welcomed here. They were forced parents to walk 5 minutes down the corridor, outside of the hospital section where their children were staying, to the common bathroom. Most of the time in our case this was not a problem. Luckily there were two of us, but I felt sorry for the those parents where there was only one staying with the child. They needed to put the side of the bed high, metal bars, and leave their child, like an animal in the cage, for couple of minutes, as they need to go and pee.

 “We have it!” said the Captain, entering the room. “After last night we gather enough stem cells, for the next stage, which means you can go home. “

 This was the news we were waiting for. This was the news, which on one hand gave us a relief, that we can finally leave this place, but on the other hand, we could not be fully happy, as we knew we would need to come back here soon. For much longer and much more strict conditions.

“I will show you his face and allow him to touch you. Not to scare you, but to let you know who is on the other side and what are his intentions. I will not allow him to harm you if you will seek shelter in my arms as I am God almighty and all the creations, which are not following my will, should fear me!”

Round Eight – Meadows of tomorrow

 “It was so unimaginably beautiful,” Kate whispered to us. Late in the evening we were standing on the corridor. She lowered her voice not to wake up kids sleeping in nearby rooms. “One moment I was walking down the stairs to the kitchen, I fell on the floor and next thing I see was this remarkable meadow. I was not traveling through any tunnel, nor light just a blink of an eye…”

“I see you already packed,” Captain Wild entered the room with papers in her hand.

“Yes, can’t wait to go back home,” Mag replied.

“Congratulations, you have finished first stage of the training. We will still need to run the full scan to see how much of the uniqueness we manage to keep and how much we lost due to drugs side effects.” Captain Wild paused for a second, looked at Szymek playing Hot Wheels in his bed and said with slightly lowered the voice, “Now, that you managed to go through the whole 8 runes without any serious issues, I can tell you. There was a high chance of Szymek flying to heaven in the first three months. We hoped that due decreased immunity Szymek would catch an infection, which he would not be able to fight off and automatically made the cut for the fly. Unfortunately, none of that happen and you passed to the next stage. “

“We are also happy that he did not catch anything,” I said with a little sarcasm.

“Regarding the next stage, surgery, please confirm if you would like to have it done in our premises or somewhere else as we need to make sure all formalities are done in time.”

“Ok, we will inform Captain when we come back for the tests,” Mag replied.

Captain Wild left our room and we started to head back home. With a relief in our hearts, finally after such an intensive past few days of not leaving the Center we have a break.

“…meadow was full of flowers, and the grass was so intensively green. I did not see any colors like that on earth. What we have here looks so pale, dull, lifeless while there it was so much richer, so much livelier. It is hard to explain. I laid on the grass and I felt so good. I felt loved, I felt the way, I have never experienced before. And I heard somewhere in the back of my head my parents screaming to me – Kate come back, come back to us – and believe me, I loved them with all my heart, but I could not go back to them, I did not want to leave that place…”

And again, same road back home, same corners, which we knew by heart, same stop light, no surprises. Luckily Szymek was feeling much better and we did not need to stop urgently due to him vomiting on the way. Felt good enough that when we were passing our well-known bakery he asked for his standard order.

“Old roll, small pizza and croissant.”

Not sure, where did he got this old roll thing, but order was placed and we needed to stop to buy what he asked for. Stopped and buy it as this was one of the few chances he will have an appetite to eat it. Once done, we could go back on the road.

“…and the whole meadow was covered with white light, it was not bright, more like a milky light. Rays of God’s love. And there was no time there, I felt like time was irrelevant, like I was there always, like I had finally wakened up from the dream. Dream, which was my previous life, dream that was finally over and now I could start to live again…”

“Who is there?” Well known voice of aunt Monic asked the question from house intercom.

„Simon” Replied eagerly as he could not wait to see his aunt again. She came to visit him, as this was her first cousin, son of older sister, he was also her whole world. “Kiko!” Szymon screamed with joy seeing her opening the front door.

“Look what aunt has brought to you, new box of blocks to play with.” Blocks, Hot Wheels and trains were his top toys. “Let me help you, said Monic and they both sat on the rag and start playing.

We are finally back home. Back to the place where we could again, for at least short while, pretend to be a normal, average family. Family, which eat breakfast together, go to church on Sunday, have some friends over. Remind ourselves how it was before the training. Yet, still with the thought in mind, that there is no sense to plan for the future. We lived like there was not tomorrow.  And we did things that normally you would not do, but the thought the soon we might not have a chance to do it again we took full advantage of them. One of it was three of us sleeping in one bed. It started with a fear that something may happen to Szymek, while he will be in his room sleeping, and ended with us needing to be close to him. Those were moments I would not exchange for anything. I cherished those moment deeply in my heart to remember them always.

“…and when I felt so blissfully, laying there on the soft grass a creature approached me.  It was full of light, I could not see his face, nor body as he was shining too brightly. Only his whole silhouette, with light passing through. Then he said to me…”

“You, need to go back”

“I don’t want to,” I replied “I feel so good here. I don’t want to leave this place”

“You need to go back to your parents,” he insisted.

“I love them so much, but I want to stay here…”

“You will come back here, but not now. Now you need to go back”

“…and this is when I woke up in my house, surrounded by my parents.” Kate paused for a second. ” I was so angry at them, furious that they brought me back to this horrible place. I rush to my room, shut the door and did not talk to them for couple of days.  Time went by and I forgot about this story. What has happened to me when I was a child, but for some reason I felt inside that I need to share it with you. I felt in my heart that you need to hear this story…”

Those few days home ran fast, too fast. Szymon was feeling much better, looking healthier, giving us hope for a better tomorrow. It also gave me a chance to play with him more. Assembling some wooden train tracks for his choo choo train, playing Hot Wheels, where he was saying which car is fast and which not, doing what other fathers do with their sons. The small difference between us and any other father was time, more lack of it. I knew things can not wait, if I wish to do them with my son I need to do them now, otherwise I might never have a chance.

“Wake up, honey we need to pack for the facility,” I tried to wake up Mag.

She looked at me and said with worried voice, “I had a dream.”

„What kind of a dream,” I’ve asked.

„I saw Szymon and Misia, our best friend’s daughter, dancing together and having fun on the meadow…”

 „Well, maybe they will listen to our prays and both will be healthy. Miracle will finally happen,” I replied trying to make her feel better.

“No, those meadows looked strange…they were not on earth,” She replied with tears in her eyes.

End of stage one.