After a few minutes, the fire from inside my neck begins to cool. "Here," the nurse says, holding a glass of ice cubes in front of me, "take one of these to suck on."
I try to pick up a piece of ice, but my trembling fingers cannot grasp the cube. Without a second thought the nurse reaches into the glass and picks one out. "Open up."
I lower my head, trying to hide. The moment I do, the searing pain returns. "David, what's wrong? Come on now, open up," she instructs in a more commanding tone. I close my eyes. I know what's coming next: questions. I'd give anything to avoid another round of questions. All they do is make everyone at school upset and somehow Mother always finds out. Whenever the principal has called Mother, the staff at school would see the results the next day. As I continue to avoid the nurse's eyes, I fantasize about crawling into a corner so I can disappear.
I slowly open my eyes when I feel the nurse lift my head with her fingers. Her face turns chalky white.
"Oh . . . my . . . Lord! What in heaven's name happened to your neck?" the nurse exclaims as she peers from side to side.
I wring my hands, hoping she'll drop the subject. "Please!" I wheeze. "Let it go."
"The side of your Adam's apple is so swollen!" The nurse flies away to snatch a tongue depressor from one of her glass jars. "Let's have a look. Open up." I let out a raspy sigh before obeying. "I need you to open just a little bit wider. Can you do that for me?" she asks gently.
"Can't," I whimper. "Hurts too much."
At last the nurse allows me to close my mouth. Again, I try to avoid her stare. I bury my trembling fingers in my lap. She shakes her head before standing up and grabbing her clipboard. Every school day, for over a year, the nurse has inspected my body from head to toe before documenting her examinations. Now she mutters to herself as she scribbles her latest findings. Kneeling back down, she delicately massages the palms of my hands. I bite my lip in anticipation. The nurse stares into my eyes as if not knowing what to say.
Now I'm really scared.
"I'm sorry, David," she says as tears seep from behind her glasses. "I was wrong. You weren't hyperventilating. Your, ah, your larynx . . . your epiglottis is swollen and your trachea is inflamed. What I'm saying is: this is why you are having trouble breathing. The opening to your throat was cutting off your flow of oxygen. Do you understand?"
I take a moment to visualize in my mind the nurse's meaning. I don't want her to think I'm stupid.
"When did this happen?" she asks.
I look away from the nurse's gaze and stare at my shoes. "I was, uhm . . ." I fumble for the exact wording to Mother's cover story, but my brain still feels trapped in a fog bank. "I was . . . I fell . . . I fell down the stairs."
"David?" she replies, raising her eyebrows.
"It's my fault!" I snap back. "I was wrestling and I got out of control and my brothers--"
"Poppycock!" the nurse interrupts. "You mean your mother knew of your condition . . . and she still made you run to school? Do you realize what might have happened to you? For goodness sakes, you could have . . ."
"Uhm, no, ma'am. Please, I'm better now. Really, I'm fine," I say as softly and as quickly as I can, before the burning sensation returns. "Please! It's not her fault! Let it go!"
The nurse lifts her glasses to wipe away her tears. "No! Not this time! I won't let it go. I've had enough. This is the last straw. This has to be reported to the principal. Something has got to be done." She stands up and slaps her clipboard against her leg as she marches for the door.
"No! Pleeze!" I beg. "You don't understand! If you tell, she'll--"
From A Man Named Dave : A Story of Triumph and Forgiveness, by David J. Pelzer, Dave Pelzer. © October 1999 , David J. Pelzer, Dave Pelzer used by permission of the publisher, E.P. Dutton.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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