Mito

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chapter-1

drop-cap-it wasn’t the first time in his life that Gabriel had woken up in hospital. He’d been in and out of hospitals as long as he could remember. But his head was thick and sluggish, and he couldn’t remember what had happened. He looked around for his mother. Keisha would tell him what had happened and why he was there again.

She wasn’t there. There was a visitor chair pushed against the wall beside his bed. That seemed like an odd place for it to be. Keisha would pull it out and push it as close as she could to his bed so that she could hold Gabriel’s hand and look into his face. That’s what she always did. She might leave his side to go to the restroom, or get coffee, or talk to a doctor, but it wouldn’t be for long, and she would sit beside him again when she got back. Why wasn’t her chair close to the bed?

A nurse came in. She had a flowered smock, and her stethoscope was pink. She had blond, curly hair, and a broad red face.

“Oh, you shouldn’t be awake,” she commented, seeing Gabriel’s eyes open. She flipped through his chart for a moment; then she prepared a syringe to inject into his IV.

Gabriel tried to clear his throat and talk to her before she could finish the injection. She pushed the plunger slowly and glanced aside at him as he grunted.

“There, now. This will put you back to sleep,” she told him. “You’re going to be just fine, Gabriel.”

He wasn’t able to raise his voice before the whirling darkness swallowed him up.

When Gabriel awoke again, he was dizzy and nauseated. He tried to sit up a little, hoping that it would help him to regain his equilibrium. He listened to the hospital noises. A patient yelling down her hall. A young female voice, tones strident, very angry. The tired voices making announcements over the PA system. Footsteps and wheels up and down the corridor. It was all familiar, but that didn’t reassure him. The chair beside him was still empty.

A nurse came in. The same one as before. For an instant, Gabriel thought maybe he should play possum. If she didn’t know that he was awake, she wouldn’t drug him back to sleep again. But there had to have been a reason that they had wanted him to be asleep. They would explain it.

He cleared his throat and tried to wet his dry, sticky mouth as she approached him again.

“Where’s my mom?” he croaked.

“Everything is just fine, Gabriel. You need to stay calm and relaxed so that you can get better, okay?”

“But I want to know.” He looked at his body for signs of injury. Had he been in a car accident? Maybe Keisha had been hurt too. Maybe she was also in hospital, in a bed somewhere close by. Maybe she was badly hurt. “Please tell me why I’m here.”

“You’re here to get better. You need to listen to what we tell you so that you can get better.”

“But where is my mom?” Gabriel raised his voice insistently.

“You need to calm down. Just stay relaxed, everything will be all right.”

“It’s not all right!” Gabriel looked at the untouched visitor’s chair. “I want my mom!”

The nurse shook her head, frowning in disapproval. She injected another syringe into his IV.

“Don’t do that!” Gabriel shouted. “I want to talk to the doctor! I want to know what’s going on!”

“Go back to sleep. Everything is fine.”

Gabriel didn’t know how long he had cycled between sleeping and waking. Whenever he was awake, he felt nauseated, and muscle cramps racked his limbs. He was confused, sometimes not able to remember what was going on, and sometimes remembering the nurses and being put back to sleep again. He was exhausted just from lying in bed, unable to get up or to think straight. He stopped asking questions about why he was there or where his mother was. Whenever a nurse came in, he just closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep.

A doctor and a nurse came in and talked at his bedside. He knew that one was a doctor, not because he was a man, but because of the authority in his voice and the nurse’s subservience to him.

“How’s our young Mr. Tate coming along?”

“He seems to be calming down. He’s less agitated when he wakes up. Not so confrontational.”

“Good. How are his vitals?”

The nurse made a tsk sound. “Up and down. His body is still adjusting to the withdrawal of all the medications he has been on. I’m afraid it’s going to be a while before we have any kind of baseline.”

“Well, continue with the demedicalization protocol. There’s no way of telling what he really needs until we can see how his body behaves without any intervention. His system has been poisoned for too many years.”

“It would be easier if we could get his cooperation.”

“You know that’s not likely. Just continue with what you’ve been doing.”

“Yes, doctor.”

They walked back out of the room, rustling papers and talking in low voices. Gabriel opened his eyes a crack to watch them go.

He wanted to stay awake, but a headache throbbed in the back of his neck. Even the painful cramps in his legs were not enough to keep the darkness from closing in again.

chapter-2

drop-cap-when Gabriel regained consciousness next, the chair had been moved and was occupied. He breathed a sigh of relief at first; but raising his eyes, he quickly realized that the chair was not occupied by his mother. She still wasn’t to be found.

Instead, sitting in the chair was a girl around Gabriel’s own age. A bit younger, maybe fourteen, dark straight hair, dark eyes. Hispanic. Was Hispanic the right word? He couldn’t remember whether it was more polite to say Hispanic or Latino. Not ‘them Mexicans’ or ‘dang illegals’, like Mr. Murray next door said. Not that she really looked Mexican. Her skin wasn’t very dark. But he was pretty sure she wasn’t Caucasian. He felt a bit of kinship with her right away. There wasn’t a high population of non-whites in the valley, so Gabriel’s black skin stuck out like a sore thumb.

“Hi!” the girl greeted. “I’m Renata.”

He just looked at her, his lips parted slightly, not sure what to say. She was another patient, obvious from her blue gown and plastic wristband. But he wasn’t sure what she was doing in his room. He looked around to see if they were sharing the room. The hospital didn’t usually mix genders in rooms, but with overcrowding, sometimes they had to for a day or two. It was better than being stuck in a hallway.

“This is where you say, ‘Hi, Renata. I’m Gabriel,’    ” the girl pointed out.

Gabriel looked back at her mischievous smile. He tried to smile back with the right amount of warmth. Finding his tongue took a few minutes, the silence drawing out awkwardly.

“I’m Gabriel,” he echoed, lips and tongue thick and uncertain.

“Nice to meet you, Gabriel.”

He looked to see if she was holding out her hand to shake, even though he wasn’t sure that he could find his own hands right now. But she wasn’t. Her arms were folded tightly across her chest in a closed-off gesture, in spite of her friendly voice.

“Mito?”

“What?” Gabriel was taken off guard.

“I said, have you got mito?”

So few people had even heard of mitochondrial disease. He’d never known another patient with it. People just looked baffled if you said you had it. Like you had two heads.

“Yeah,” Gabriel said. “How did you know?”

“It’s sort of the specialty around here.”

“Really?” Gabriel studied her, looking for something familiar in her face or body. He could never sit like she was, with her feet tucked under her. It would hurt too much. The thought brought his attention back to the muscle cramps in his legs, and he wanted to rub them. But first he’d have to sit up, and he didn’t think that he could manage that. Renata was looking at him expectantly. Gabriel’s words came out slowly. She was going to think that he was stupid. “You have mito?” he asked.

“Yeah. Is this your first time here?”

Gabriel looked around the room. “At the hospital? No.”

“In this ward. In psych.”

Psych? Gabriel tried to push himself up, but his body was too weak and wouldn’t cooperate. Why would they put him in psychiatric? He was sick in his body, not his head.

“Psych?” Gabriel’s voice was hoarse and squeaked up and down as if his voice were just changing. “I’m not in psych! I’m not crazy!”

She grinned. “None of us are. At least, none of us think that we are.”

Gabriel tried to reach the call button for a nurse. “Why would I be in psych?” he protested.

“That’s where they put you when you’re first apprehended. Because it’s secure. And because they can use chemical restraints.”

He managed to reach the button and pressed it several times. “Apprehended?”

She raised her eyebrows and laughed at him. “You’re pretty new at this, huh? Apprehended, amigo. Stolen. Kidnapped. Taken away from mommy and daddy.”

“No!” Gabriel protested. He tried to comprehend what she was saying. Taken away? Put into psych like a crazy? Chemical restraints?

A nurse came into the room at a leisurely pace, scowling. “What’s the problem, Mr. Tate?” She saw Renata sitting beside the bed. “Miss Vega, you know better than to bother the other patients. Out of here. Go on.”

Renata didn’t move. “I can talk to him if I want to.”

“You are bothering him.”

“He doesn’t know why he’s here. I’m just filling him in.”

The nurse’s eyes were dark. She looked at Gabriel, assessing him. Then back at Renata. “Out, Renata. Do I have to call an orderly?”

Renata uncurled herself from the chair and got up. She smiled at Gabriel and gave him a conspiratorial wink.

“Now,” the nurse insisted, reaching out to hustle Renata along.

Renata avoided her. “Don’t you touch me,” she warned. “I’ll scream bloody murder.”

The nurse watched Renata walk out. She shook her head. “Don’t you listen to anything Renata Vega has to say,” she warned Gabriel. She moved the call button just out of his reach and tucked the sheets around him, making it more difficult to move. She slid the visitor chair back against the wall again. “Renata has a lot of issues.”

“She said this is the psych ward.”

The nurse didn’t confirm or deny it. “Try to get some rest.”

The nausea had turned to a relentless pain in his stomach. The headache had grown worse, which he wouldn’t have thought possible. He started to shiver, chilled down to his bones. The nurse had pulled the call button too far away, out of Gabriel’s reach. He inched his body over on the bed, trying to get close enough to grab it. It was like crawling across the desert, starving and parched, the distance impossible. He finally managed to touch the cord and knocked it off the side table. But he managed to keep a hold on the cord. He pulled it up.

Gabriel pressed the button, but no one came for a long time. He pushed it a few more times. Nurses didn’t like it if you pressed it more than once. It irritated them. But Gabriel needed help. Eventually, a nurse shuffled in, covering a yawn. Gabriel glanced the other direction and saw the dark window. It was night.

“What seems to be the problem?” she asked, approaching Gabriel’s bedside, but looking at the IV instead of at him.

“Blood sugar,” Gabriel had difficulty pushing the words past his chattering teeth. “Hypoglycemia.”

She was in no hurry to do anything. She took his wrist and felt his pulse. Tapped the electronic thermometer in his ear to check his temperature.

“What makes you think your blood sugar is low?” she asked.

“Headache. Nausea. Cold. Know how it feels,” Gabriel insisted. Did she think that he would just make up something like that?

“You are a bit cold,” she acknowledged, looking at the thermometer and writing it down on his chart. She went to the skinny cupboard and pulled out a blanket, which she spread over him.

“Hypoglycemia,” Gabriel insisted. “I need a snack.”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. She walked out of the room without a word. Gabriel’s chest tightened. Why wouldn’t she help? If his blood sugar got too low, he could be in real trouble. Keisha would tell them. She’d get it straightened out. But where was she? Gabriel sniffled, trying to hold back tears, but there was no one to see him cry and he didn’t know what else to do.

The nurse returned with a blood glucose monitor. Her eyes went to his face. “You’re a big boy,” she snapped. “Quit your blubbering.”

Gabriel sniffled and tried to stop the tears while she lanced his finger and checked his sugar level. She made a noise and shook her head. “Why is your level so low? You should be stable on IV.”

She had apparently come prepared, though. She pulled a vial and syringe out of her pockets and prepared it for injection into his IV.

“I should have a snack,” Gabriel repeated. “Better than just sugar.”

“It’s the middle of the night. I’m not getting you a snack. You’re not getting babied here.”

Gabriel sniffled. “I’m not being a baby.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “No? Then stop complaining. A grown boy doesn’t need night time feedings. You don’t have diabetes; there’s no reason for you to be hypoglycemic.”

Did she think that he wanted to be hypoglycemic? That he was just looking for attention? He couldn’t control his blood sugar by his attitude.

“I have mitochondrial disease,” he told her.

She waved his argument aside. “Plenty of kids who come through here do and they don’t have low blood sugar. That’s no excuse.”

Gabriel was silent as she injected the sugar into his IV. He closed his eyes and waited for the warmth that would tell him it was working.

In the morning, Gabriel was shaken awake by another nurse. She had dark hair and eyes and gave him a brief smile.

“Breakfast time,” she announced. Gabriel saw the plate on the rolling dinner tray. “Do you want some help sitting up?”

Gabriel shifted his weight. “Yeah.”

She adjusted the head of the bed so that it was higher, propping him up slightly. She leaned him forward to adjust his pillows, then pushed him back again. She wheeled the tray to position it over his lap and took off the cover.

“There you go, bud.”

Gabriel looked down at the pancakes and eggs with whipped cream and berries. “I have allergies. Special diet.”

“Sorry, no special treatment here. Everybody gets the same.”

“But I’ll get sick.”

“You’re in a hospital. But I don’t think you will. I think you’ll be just fine.” She gave him a determined smile. “Won’t you?”

Gabriel frowned, confused. Like the nurse the previous night, she was acting like he was in control of how his body reacted. It wasn’t his choice to have food allergies. He couldn’t decide whether he was going to have a reaction or not.

“How severe are your allergies?” she persisted. “Are you going to go into anaphylactic shock and die?”

“No… but I’ll get sick.”

“We’ll see.” She patted him on the shoulder. “I think you’ll be just fine.”

She turned and walked back out of the room. Gabriel looked down at the plate of food. He knew that he needed to eat to keep up his energy and keep his blood sugar stable. But Keisha always made sure that he had safe food, and he didn’t know what he was supposed to do about not being given food that he knew wouldn’t make him sick. If he didn’t get safe food, how was he going to manage his illness?

“Knock, knock!”

Gabriel looked up at the cheery greeting. Renata stood in the doorway, grinning at him like they were best friends. Gabriel was happy to see someone other than a nurse, and Renata seemed to have more answers than anyone else, so he gave her a smile that he hoped didn’t look too forced and beckoned to her to come in. Her face lit up and she bounded over to the visitor chair.

“They’ve got you on solid food today,” she observed, scraping the chair across the floor to a comfortable vantage point. “That’s good news.”

Gabriel nodded. “Controls my blood sugar better.”

He cut off a piece of egg with his fork and looked at it.

“Then why do you look like someone just shot your mother?” Renata laughed.

Gabriel grimaced at the mention of his mother. Where was Keisha? Why wasn’t she there at his side? “I’m just…” he put the sliver of egg in his mouth and chewed it slowly. “I’m allergic to stuff… I don’t want to get sicker…”

Renata rolled her eyes and sat down in the chair. “Don’t tell me about food allergies. Look at this.” She pulled her gown open and Gabriel averted his eyes. Renata laughed. “I’m not flashing you! Look!”

He slid his eyes over to her reluctantly, his face getting hot. Renata held her gown to the side so that her belly was bared. She had some kind of tube going into her stomach. She pulled the gown back together again.

“I can’t eat anything by mouth. Had a tube since I was a toddler. And there’s only one formula that I can take without throwing up. How would you like that?”

Gabriel shook his head and took another bite. He scraped the whipped cream off of his pancakes and took a tentative bite. “That would really suck.”

Renata nodded cheerfully. “It does. They’re not very good at feeding you here. Hopefully, they’ll get you out of here and put you under Dr. Markey’s supervision before too long.”

“Dr. Markey?”

“Markus De Klerk. I like to call him Dr. Markey. But I wouldn’t recommend you do; he hates it. He’s the big boss over at the Lantern Clinic. That’s where they send all the mito kids.”

“All of the mito kids? But mito is rare.”

“Yeah, well, they’re well-paid to find them and get them into Markey’s research program.”

Gabriel’s stomach was not happy with him eating so slowly. It let out a long, loud growl that made both of them laugh; Gabriel in embarrassment, and Renata with glee.

“Why would anyone pay to get us into a research program?”

“We’re like gold for the drug developers. They pay millions.”

“Millions?” Gabriel repeated doubtfully.

“Millions. They pay millions just for keeping the program full. That doesn’t include all the rest of the kickbacks going around. How else would they get everyone to agree to kidnap us?”

Gabriel sandwiched a piece of egg between two pieces of pancake and swirled it around in the syrup—which he was sure was flavored corn syrup rather than maple syrup, but it still tasted really good. Keisha was so hardline about only giving him food that was good for his cellular metabolism, and not letting him have junk food that would just make him more tired. He didn’t get pancakes for breakfast. And when they did have pancakes, they were heavier, wholemeal pancakes, with fruit and no syrup.

“I wasn’t kidnapped,” he said.

“No? Why don’t you tell me what happened, then?” Her eyebrows arched up, as if she really were curious what he had to say about it, but didn’t expect him to tell the truth. Kind of like the way that he would talk to a little kid that he knew just stole a soda at the corner store, knowing he was about to tell a whopper.

“I…” Gabriel tried to remember what had happened. The events leading up to his being in hospital were a blank. Where he should have memories, there were none. “I don’t remember.”

“It’s the drugs they’ve got you on,” Renata sighed and leaned back. “Chemical restraints often cause temporary short-term memory loss. Which is one of the reasons that they use them. Makes it easier to control you, if you don’t even know who you’re supposed to be fighting against, or why.”

Gabriel watched her as he ate the rest of the first egg. If this was the psych ward and the nurse who said that Renata had a lot of problems was right, then she could be completely bonkers. Chemical restraints? Kidnap? She was completely crazy.

“When they wean you off, you’ll start to remember,” Renata said. “Some of it, anyway.”

Gabriel said nothing. Maybe if he just ignored her ravings, she would give up and go find someone else to talk to.

“What’s the last thing you remember before coming here?” Renata asked. “There must be something. School? Supper? A visit to a doctor?”

“I don’t know…” Despite himself, Gabriel was drawn in by her questions. He wanted to remember. He had been to the hospital plenty of times and he didn’t always remember how he got there, but this time it was different. Everything was different. “I did school work… I don’t remember supper… We did go to one doctor’s appointment. Well, nurse, I don’t think we saw the doctor…”

Renata nodded encouragingly. “What was the schoolwork? Do you remember? All of the details. What subject was it? Do you remember going to school, or just doing homework?”

“I homeschool… because I can’t really manage school… I don’t know. I remember doing history. Underground railway. Really interesting…”

“Yeah, I’m sure. So did you go to the doctor after the history lesson? Or before?”

“I don’t know…” Gabriel rubbed his forehead, then put down his fork and rubbed both temples. “I need to sleep.”

“You’re not going to finish that?” Renata gestured to his breakfast.

He would have offered her the rest, but she’d already said she couldn’t eat anything. “Smaller meals are better for blood sugar. I’ll have more later, in a couple hours.”

Renata shook her head. “Is it good cold? They’ll take it away if you don’t eat it.”

Gabriel rested his head back. “I need to sleep.”

“Okay,” Renata agreed. She moved the tray out of the way where he wouldn’t bump it, and touched the syrup with the tip of her finger, then touched her tongue to it. She closed her eyes, savoring the single drop.

“I’d like to eat pancakes someday.”

Gabriel was groggy, but feeling a little more like himself, when one of the nurses awoke him to take his vitals. Gabriel rubbed his eyes. He was still sitting most of the way up, with the head of the bed raised. He was quiet while the nurse took his pulse and temperature.

“Why am I here?” he asked, as she pumped up the bulb of the blood pressure cuff.

“You’re here to get better,” she said, and her lips pressed together in a long, thin line, signaling that it was time for him to be quiet.

“Why? Where’s my mom?”

“Shh.” She listened to her stethoscope as she released the pressure valve. She made a note on his chart. “Your pressure is high,” she noted. “You need to stay calm and quiet so that it will go down.”

“Then tell me what’s going on.”

She blinked at him. “Nothing is going on. You’ve been in hospital before. We’re just trying to get you stable.”

“That’s a lie! Where is my mom? Why won’t you give me my meds or the right food? That will make me sicker!”

She made a calming motion. “Shh. There’s nothing to get upset about. Sometimes, you need a med vacation to get everything straightened out and working again. We need to make sure that they have you on all the right things. I’m sure your mom would be here if she could be, but there are strict rules during the intake period.”

Gabriel opened his mouth to speak. She held up her finger and shook her head.

“The more cooperative you are, the sooner you’ll be through the initial phase and will be able to see her again.”

Gabriel closed his mouth. It didn’t make any sense that his mother wasn’t allowed to visit. Keisha was the one who took care of him. She was the one who knew all the medication protocols, and the food that he should be eating to be as healthy as he could be. She was the one who had done all the research and could tell the doctors what was the best for him.

As she wrapped up the blood pressure cuff and put it back in the little cage mounted to the wall, Gabriel had a tiny awakening of memory. The nurse that he had seen before his arrival at the hospital. The dark, distrustful look in her eye. She had not been happy with Keisha. Gabriel had thought that she would be delighted that he had been able to put on some weight, and had a little more energy than usual. But she hadn’t been. She’d been angry with Keisha about all the research that she had done.

“You are not a doctor,” she had snapped. “Knowing how to use Google does not entitle you to a degree. You need to follow the protocols that you’ve been given, not choose your own.”

“But it’s helping!” Keisha pointed out.

“You could be causing irreversible damage. You must follow the doctor’s protocols.”

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

Mito, Medical Kidnap #1

By P.D. Workman

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