Mito, Medical Kidnap Files #1, p.9P.D. Workman
HE FELT LIKE HE should be excited to leave the psych ward, but Gabriel just felt bad about it. He didn’t want to go to a foster family that he had never met before. He was worried about all of the things that could happen to him there. Not only would he not have his mother to take care of him, but all of the doctors and nurses would be gone too. How could a family that he had never met before, without any medical training, be expected to take care of him properly?
He hated the psych ward, but he was surprised to realize that it had become sort of a cocoon for him during the time that he had been there. He didn’t like it, and he wanted Keisha, but at least he felt safe and protected. If something really bad happened, they would be able to look after him. Getting ready to leave the hospital, he had stomach cramps and a sort of vertigo, like he was going to fall off the edge of a cliff.
Gabriel waited all morning for Renata to come visit him and say good-bye, but she didn’t. He felt a little like he needed to apologize for kicking her out the previous day, but he was also outraged about the things that she had said. Now that he wasn’t going to have to listen to her craziness anymore, he felt bad about leaving her behind.
Breakfast came and went. Lunch came and went. No one seemed to know what time he was being moved. Gabriel was on edge the whole time, his whole body tense with waiting.
Finally, he heard high heels clicking down the hallway. No nurse would ever wear heels to work. And visitors, the few that came to the psych ward, were usually casually dressed, in walking shoes or sneakers. The high heels approached his doorway and then stopped, Mrs. Scott framed in the opening.
“Well, Gabriel, are you ready to get out of here?”
It was weird wearing street clothes again. They felt scratchy and tight and uncomfortable. But they also felt more… secure and protective. Gabriel ran his finger down a seam of the jeans.
“Let’s go, then.”
She waited while Gabriel turned, sliding his feet off the side of the bed, and got to his feet. He wasn’t sure how they were expecting him to be able to walk all the way by himself. But there was a nurse behind Carol Scott, shooing her out of the way and pushing a wheelchair in.
“I don’t think he needs that, does he?” the social worker asked.
“It’s routine for discharges, especially if they have any kind of mobility challenges. We wouldn’t want Mr. Tate tripping and injuring himself on the way out.”
Gabriel sat down when she positioned the chair behind him. At least he wouldn’t have to embarrass himself by collapsing on the way to the car.
“But he doesn’t need it after he leaves here,” Carol said. “He can get around on his own.”
“He’ll get tired fast,” the nurse said as if Gabriel wasn’t even there. “He can walk around if he puts his mind to it, and he’ll continue to get more stamina now that he’s on the proper medications, but he’s still going to tire quickly.”
Carol nodded. “Good. The house isn’t wheelchair user accessible.”
Gabriel swallowed as the nurse pushed him out of the hospital room. Was it not wheelchair user accessible because there were a couple of steps up to the front door? Or was there a whole flight of stairs? Maybe even an apartment, with three flights of stairs to get to it. But Mrs. Scott had said ‘house.’ So it probably wasn’t an apartment. And most apartments had elevators.
Goosebumps prickled on Gabriel’s arms when the nurse swiped her security card and pushed him into the elevator. He was getting out! Despite his fear of the unknown, he was overtaken by feelings of relief and excitement over finally getting free of the secure ward. He turned his head to look at the nurse behind him.
“Will you tell Renata I said good-bye?” he asked, suddenly regretting that he hadn’t made the journey down the hall to tell her himself. He should have put his annoyance aside and just done the right thing. Friends didn’t treat each other like that.
The nurse nodded and smiled. “I’ll tell her.”
“You made some friends at the hospital?” Carol asked. She was wearing a brilliant yellow blazer and skirt. Keisha would have liked it. Would have looked good in it. Social workers usually wore tweeds, plaids, and muted colors. Gabriel had never met one who was so flashy.
“A couple,” he said. He looked away from her, watching the floor lights count down slowly. “Other kids with mito.”
“Mito?” she repeated. “Oh, your disease. Interesting.”
“It’s a rare disorder.” Gabriel looked back at her again to see her reaction. “Why do you think they would take us all away and put us in psych?”
She didn’t look at him. “I’m sure I don’t know,” she murmured. “They had their reasons. It’s a small world, isn’t it?”
Gabriel frowned, trying to figure out how ‘small world’ explained anything.
They got down to the main floor, and the nurse pushed Gabriel right out the big front doors. “Where are you parked?”
“I’m just here, in the loading zone.” Mrs. Scott gestured to her car. Not a station wagon. Gabriel knew stamps better than cars, but even he could appreciate the sleek lines of the aqua blue car sitting there with its blinkers on.
The nurse applied the brakes, and Mrs. Scott unlocked and opened the car door for Gabriel. Gabriel only had to take one step and turn around to get into it.
“Bye, Gabriel,” the nurse said with a smile. “You take care of yourself, okay? Be well.”
Gabriel nodded. There was a lump in his throat, but he wasn’t sure why. He was happy to be leaving. No more monitoring, no more security, no more arguing over meals and snacks and meds. It would be better for him. Back on almost exactly the same chemical cocktail he’d been on before being apprehended, he would get his strength back, so that he could live a normal life. As normal as he could, at a foster home. There was no reason to be sad about leaving the hospital, or sentimental over a few kind words from a nurse on his departure.
He pulled the door shut.
“Are you excited?” Carol Scott asked, after pulling out into traffic.
“Not excited… I’m glad to be out of the hospital…” he hesitated about how much to say to her. “I’m… kind of nervous.”
“Of course you are. Anyone would be. Don’t feel badly about that. But everything is going to be okay.” She flashed him a bright white smile. “You’re going to like the Foegels, and they are going to take good care of you. They are an experienced foster family, and they are used to kids with medical needs.”
Renata had been right about that part.
“Do they know about mito? Are they in the city?”
“Oh, yes. They’re familiar with mito and have taken care of kids at the clinic before. They’re a little ways away, but close enough to get you back here for check-ups and treatments.”
Two more checkmarks. Considering how many times the nurses had told Gabriel not to believe anything that Renata said, she certainly seemed to be right a lot.
“Are all the kids at the mito clinic in foster care?”
A small line formed between Carol’s brows as she navigated through the traffic. She made a clicking noise with her tongue, and her mouth made a few different shapes before she answered him. “Of course they’re not all in foster care. There are lots of kids at the clinic. I have no way of knowing how many are in custody.”
“But you’ve taken mito kids away before, to get them into the program?”
“That’s not the way it works. Most parents want their kids in the program. Why wouldn’t they? They want their kids to be as healthy as possible. DFS never removes a child just to put them into a voluntary program. That would be… unethical.”
She looked unhappy, her pretty lipsticked mouth forming a frown. She tapped her nails on the steering wheel. After a few minutes of silence, she turned the radio on and found a light rock station. If the foster home was ‘a ways away,’ they were going to have to either get used
“The mito clinic…” Gabriel started, “…is it an experimental program? I mean… there’s not an established protocol for mito… it’s all individualized.”
“It’s not experimental… I wouldn’t use that word. They are at the forefront of research… they have grants to run drug trials that are vital for kids with mitochondrial disorder to live a normal life…”
Gabriel wondered how she could consider that not experimental.
“These drugs have been proven to be very helpful for patients with mitochondrial disease,” Carol explained. “Life altering.”
That sounded exciting and for a split-second, Gabriel wondered what it would be like to live a life without physical limitations. What if he had all the energy he needed to get through the day, doing whatever he liked? What if he didn’t have to rest so much, watch what he ate, and to budget out his limited energy for daily living tasks? What if he could run and play, maybe even be on a sports team?
Gabriel tried to pull his mind away from these thoughts. It was never going to happen that way. He had to live with his broken mitochondria his entire life, however long that was. “If they’re proven, then why are they still doing trials? Why aren’t they on the market?”
This answer seemed to come to Mrs. Scott more easily. “The regulating authorities require vigorous drug testing. Drugs can remain in trials like this for years before the government approves them. Which means that the only way to get them is for you to participate in the trials.”
That sounded reasonable. Even if they found a cure for mito, heart disease, or cancer; even if it blew everyone away with its effectiveness in the initial drug trials, they wouldn’t be able to put it on the market right away. They would still have to test it out to make sure it didn’t cause horrible side effects for some people. To make sure that there weren’t negative long-term effects, or didn’t actually make the disease more resistant, stronger the next time it came around.
“I get it,” he said.
Carol gave a smile of relief, turning toward him for an instant to express her approval before facing forward and concentrating on the traffic again. “Won’t it be great?” she asked him. “Wouldn’t you like to live like a normal kid, without all these issues?”
“If it works,” Gabriel said cautiously. “It might not work for everyone.”
Gabriel kept an eye on the dashboard clock. It took about an hour and a half to get to the Foegels’ house in one of the outlying small towns. ‘Bedroom communities,’ Keisha always called these suburbs. It always made Gabriel feel kind of weird about them, like the bedroom and what happened in it was the focus of these homes. They weren’t places to work, or eat, or entertain. Just bedrooms.
But the house that Mrs. Scott pulled up to was definitely not all bedroom. It was a big house with faux-brick siding. It looked like it had started out as a rectangular bungalow, but had been added onto and renovated four or five times, with rooms and wings jutting out in various directions that didn’t quite match the original homestead. The sidewalk was long and sloped upward, and the front door was just one step up, not a whole flight like Gabriel had worried. As Gabriel got out of the car, a woman opened the front door and called out hello to them.
She was a medium-sized brunette with mid-length hair that curved around her face. A white woman. Gabriel hadn’t even thought about race when he was wondering what kind of home he would be put into, but he realized now that he had pictured a black family. Father a bit round, mother petite like Keisha, but strong and good-humored. Maybe one or two little kids of their own, and one of those side rooms would be Gabriel’s. But the mother did not fit the vague picture in his head. Probably nothing else would either.
Gabriel made his way up the sidewalk. There was no handrail to hold onto. Gabriel had been working on walking, but he always had something to steady him and take his weight when his legs got tired. Walking up the sidewalk was like running a marathon after training for a 5K. Or he imagined it was, having never run either a marathon or a 5K. Or even a one hundred meter.
Carol walked behind him, and Gabriel could feel her impatience at his slow progress. She didn’t say anything, but she was standing too close behind him, dogging his heels. When Gabriel was about halfway up the walk, the foster mom walked down to meet him.
“Is there anything I can do to help, Gabriel? Do you need…” she looked around helplessly for inspiration. “I could bring a chair for you to rest on for a few minutes… or we could sit on the lawn here together and have a little snack or something. Like a picnic.”
Gabriel tried to laugh, but it was an effort to do anything on top of walking. “Don’t know if I could get back up.”
“Oh.” She measured him with her eyes, but she could see that even though Gabriel was skinny, he was taller than she was, and even together, she and Mrs. Scott might not be able to get him back on his feet.
“Maybe if that chair’s not too heavy, I could lean on it… use it like a walker…” Gabriel suggested.
She nodded and went back into the house. Gabriel struggled to keep moving. His legs were vibrating with fatigue. Mrs. Foegel was quick, rushing back out of the house with a kitchen chair. Not a heavy wooden one, but one with tubular aluminum legs that made it lightweight. She put it down in front of Gabriel, and he leaned on it, taking a deep breath.
The longer he took, the more tired he was going to get, so Gabriel moved forward as quickly as he was able, shuffling the chair forward, leaning his weight on it, and dragging his feet another step each, then repeating the arduous process. By the time he got to the end of the sidewalk, he was huffing and puffing, drenched in sweat, with black spots pulsing in front of his eyes. He couldn’t get the chair up that last step, and he couldn’t raise his feet high enough even with the chair to lean on. He used the chair to lower himself to the sidewalk and crawled over the last step and over the doorstep into the house.
For a few seconds, he just lay on the floor, exhausted. He’d hoped not to embarrass himself, but to appear as strong as a normal kid. He’d failed miserably at that. Gabriel pushed himself back up to a sitting position and leaned against the wall.
“Are you okay?” asked Mrs. Foegel. “Can I get you a drink? Help you up?”
“A drink,” Gabriel agreed between breaths. “Not milk.”
She disappeared down the hall. Gabriel didn’t look at Carol Scott, acutely aware that she was standing there staring down at him.
“I need my braces,” Gabriel told her. “And crutches. And sometimes a wheelchair.”
“The doctor said you didn’t need those things. You just need to believe in yourself and build up the muscles with exercise.”
“Yeah,” Gabriel sneered. “I just got this way by being lazy.”
Mrs. Foegel returned with a glass of orange juice. Gabriel took a long sip.
“Nobody thinks you’re lazy,” Mrs. Foegel said. “We can see how difficult that was for you. I will talk to the doctor about what we can do for your mobility issues.”
Gabriel drained the glass. He looked around. He was at the edge of the living room or family room. With the last of his energy, he crawled over to the couch and climbed onto it.
“Gabriel… Gabriel, it’s time to wake up…”
Gabriel opened his eyes and blinked, trying to clear the stickiness and figure out where he was. He looked around the unfamiliar room, and into the unfamiliar face. White face, brunette hair curving around it. Mrs. Foegel. Gabriel rubbed his eyes. He was curled up in a ball on the couch, with a thick, fuzzy blanket tucked around him. He didn’t remember the blanket.
“Hi,” he greeted.
“Hi.” Mrs. Foegel gave him a genuine, warm smile. “Have a nice nap?”
“Good. It’s time for supper. Do you think you can join us?”
Gabriel straightened and stretched. He rubbed his cramped legs for a minute and nodded. He used the couch for
“Bravo,” Mrs. Foegel applauded. “Why don’t you lean on me? It’s not far.”
Gabriel was hesitant to touch a stranger, much less lean on her for support. But she had offered, and the only other option was to lean on the walls. He ended up doing both, holding onto his new foster mother and leaning on the wall so that he was supported on both sides. They walked toward other voices, and Gabriel saw the other members of the family as they entered the dining room. Mrs. Foegel helped him into a chair. Gabriel hunched over, resting his body.
Mr. Foegel looked older than Mrs. Foegel. He was a tall man, graying, with glasses and the beginning of a double chin, even though he didn’t have a big belly. He was talking to a little black boy with tight black curls, maybe four or five years old. There was a baby carrier on the end of the table, containing a fat blond infant with Coke-bottle glasses that made her look bug-eyed. And a skinny girl of about eight, also blond, her hair stringy, whose unfocused gaze made Gabriel wonder if she was blind.
“This is Gabriel,” Mrs. Foegel introduced. “Gabriel, we didn’t get a chance to talk before you zonked out. I’m Heather. This is Matt,” she motioned to her husband. “Josiah, Luce, and baby Alex.”
Gabriel nodded. “Hi.”
“Welcome to our home, Gabriel,” Matt Foegel said cheerfully. “We’re glad to have you!”
Gabriel didn’t know what to say. He certainly wasn’t happy to be there. “Is your name German?” he asked, remembering Skyler’s comment at the hospital. “Um—for bird?”
“That’s very smart of you. Yes, it is! Now how did you figure that out? Do you know any German?”
“No, just a friend. He mentioned it.”
“Well, you’re right. It’s a variant of Vogel, that’s the German spelling, but I guess they pronounce Vs as Fs. So that’s how it was translated when they emigrated.”
Gabriel nodded politely. Mrs. Foegel was passing the supper dishes around, though Gabriel was the only child dishing up for himself. Mrs. Foegel put a few bits of food on Luce’s plate, and Mr. Foegel put food on Josiah’s plate, carefully ensuring that nothing touched. The baby was making gurgling noises, and after the serving dishes had all been passed around, Heather Foegel got out a bottle of formula and connected the tube on the end with a tube that she pulled out from inside baby Alex’s sleeper. She set the bottle down, made sure it was flowing properly and turned her attention to her own plate.
“Oh, I hope this doesn’t gross you out,” she said, seeing Gabriel’s gaze on the baby’s feeding apparatus. “She has a gastric tube for feeding. Some people would think it wasn’t appropriate to do at the table with everyone else…”
Gabriel blinked. “Why wouldn’t you feed her at the table?”
She made a little shrug, smiling.
“My friend at the hospital had one of those. I never saw her use it, but she showed it to me.”
“That’s unusual for a teenager. But sometimes there are certain conditions, or if a child never learns to eat properly after having had one…”
“Yeah. She had mito, like me. But I can eat. Most things.” He looked down at the meat and vegetables he had put on his plate. “Did they tell you that I have allergies? And I have to have snacks to keep my blood sugar stable? They hospital had trouble with giving me stuff I could eat.”
“They gave me some guidelines. But you’d better give me more details later, so I don’t poison you.”
Gabriel nodded and began to eat. He watched the smaller children. The little girl paid no attention to anyone, but he saw that he was wrong about her being blind. She could definitely see the food on her plate. She picked at the food and held it close in front of her eyes before eating anything. Josiah, the boy, chattered away, eating copious amounts and making Mr. and Mrs. Foegel laugh.
“So why don’t you tell me about your family, Gabriel?” Heather suggested. “Are you an only child?”
“Yes. My dad is overseas, mostly. We don’t see him much. So it’s really just me and my mom.”
“I bet you’re close.”
Gabriel stared down at his food, not letting himself think about how much he missed her.
“We’ll try to get some visitations set up,” Heather assured him. “You should at least be able to have supervised visits with her. Now that you’re out of the hospital and ready to live your life.”
Gabriel thought of a hundred things to say. But anything that he said would just bring the tears. Or anger; and Heather didn’t deserve that. She had been kind and understanding with him so far. She said that she would try to get him visitation, so it wouldn’t do for him to be whining to her about how he had so far been denied any visits by the hospital or DFS. She obviously knew that much already.
“My mom—” Josiah piped up. “My mom is visiting me next weekend. I get to go to McDonalds!”
Gabriel wasn’t sure whether Josiah was more excited about his mother or McDonalds. “That’s very nice.”
“That’s tomorrow, Josiah,” Matt told the little boy.
“Tomorrow? I get to see her tomorrow?” He bounced in his seat, wreathed in smiles. “Oh, boy! I get to see her tomorrow!”
They all laughed at his excitement.
Gabriel could hardly wait until he could say the same.
After dinner, Matt took Gabriel to his bedroom, which Gabriel was relieved to find was on the main floor and not down in the basement. He glanced around the blue room, feeling suddenly queasy. It was obvious which bed was empty and which one was taken. But it was also obvious from the posters and the items jumbled on the top of the dresser that the other occupant of the room was not a five-year-old boy. Gabriel looked at Matt, feeling a frown creasing his forehead.
“Your roommate is Collin,” Matt offered. “He wasn’t around for dinner tonight because he had an away game.”
“What does he play?” Gabriel sat down on the neatly-made bed, looking at the ominous posters on the other side of the room.
“Football. He’s quite good. He won’t be back until late. Depending on what time you head to bed, you might not see him until morning.”
Gabriel had had enough run-ins with football players and other jocks when he went to school. Now he was stuck in the same room as one of them. But surely DFS and the Foegels wouldn’t have put a skinny, defenseless, medically fragile teen together with a bully who was known to be abusive? Not all football players were like the jerks who had teased and bullied Gabriel in the past. That was just a stereotype.
“I know you had a nap before supper,” Matt said, studying Gabriel’s face. “But you’re still looking pretty wiped out. Do you want to have a rest? Early bedtime? Is there something else you need?”
Gabriel looked around the room. “I think I’ll just lay down for a while. Maybe find a book or watch TV or something later…?”
“Sure. Now, clothes…” Matt frowned. “Heather can give you a hand later. We try to keep a few things on hand, in different sizes, for when we get new kids who might not have anything. Sometimes they arrive with nothing more than a nightgown, or t-shirt and boxers. I’m not sure what we’ve got. You’re taller than I expected, but you’re thin. Any of Collin’s things will just swim on you. But Heather is in charge of clothes. She’ll see what we’ve got for tonight and can pick up a few things tomorrow.”
“Okay.” The segue hadn’t done much more than reinforce to Gabriel how much bigger than he his roommate was.
“All right. Give a shout if you need anything,” Matt said and walked back out of the room.
He had thought that he would wake up after an hour or so and find a book like he had told Matt, but the next time Gabriel woke up, the room was completely dark. He could tell from his sluggishness that he had been asleep for a long time.
There were voices and banging down the hallway, and then a large figure filled the doorway and flipped the light switch on. Gabriel covered his eyes, blinded. He squinted through the cracks between his fingers.
The other boy put down his big bag of equipment with a crash and turned to look at Gabriel’s bed. He swore.
“Sorry, man. I forgot.”
He thumped over to the lamp on the dresser and turned it on, then turned off the bright overhead light. Gabriel pulled his hand away from his face. “Thanks.”
Collin began to shed his clothes. “I thought they said you were fifteen.”
“Uh-huh.” Gabriel rubbed his eyes. “I am.”
“You’re fifteen? Sheesh. Lightweight, are you?”
“I’ve been sick,” Gabriel explained. It wasn’t as if he’d been built before his stay at the hospital. But it wasn’t lying to say that he’d been sick, and let Collin think what he liked about how hefty Gabriel might have been before his illness.
“Yeah, they mentioned that.”
Collin stripped all the way down to his shorts. Leaving his clothes on the floor and not stopping to brush his teeth before bed, he pulled back the covers of his bed and climbed in. He reached over and turned the lamp off, plunging the room into darkness.
Gabriel closed his eyes, expecting to fall back asleep immediately. But instead, he lay there awake and restless, the smell of Collin’s sweaty clothes and football equipment taking over the room. Collin’s breathing was slow, rough, and regular. He’d obviously been spent by his game and travel. Gabriel tried to imagine what it would be like to have that kind of energy every day.
Mito, Medical Kidnap Files #1 by P.D. Workman / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.8 out of 5 / Based on19 votes