Nate quietly let himself into Lauren’s room expecting to find the little girl sleeping.
Instead, he found her sitting up in her bed, an open coloring book on her tray.
“Hi, Dr. Nate,” she beamed, her voice very raspy.
“Hey,” he whispered. “I thought you’d be asleep. Where’s your mom?”
“She went home to see my brother. He has a cold and he’s not allowed to come see me.”
“Well, that’s a bummer.,” Nate frowned. “It’s important to keep germs away from you right now. You understand that don’t you.”
“Uh huh. You want to color with me?” she asked, sweetly. Her little curls matted to her forehead.
“Yes,” he laughed, nearly tearing up. She was improving. Not quickly but he didn’t need quick, just a move in the right direction.
“Did you eat dinner?” He already knew she hadn’t.
“No, my throat hurts.”
“I know, kiddo. You have to eat though.” He shined a light and leaned over her. Opening her mouth as wide as she could without him having to ask, she noticeably cringed at the effort. The dryness and sores in her mouth were a side effect of the radiation. It was, understandably, very hard to eat but keeping her strength up was very important.
“Okay, here’s the plan. I am going to smuggle some ice cream in here and we’ll color together until your mom gets back or until it’s time to go to sleep. I need you to eat, Lauren. You won’t get strong if you don’t. Will you try for me?” he asked, winking at the small girl.
“Okay.” she smiled weakly.
He punched a few buttons on his phone, and then asked, “Okay, which one is mine.” in reference to the coloring book.
“Here,” Lauren coughed. “Her mane looks like a rainbow and so you have to use all the colors.”
“You paged, Dr. Dorough?” an intern popped in and asked quietly.
“Yes, I need a favor.” He scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it to her. “I need you to run to Peds Oncology and ask dietary services for three of these.”
The young doctor looked at him a little confused.
“It helps with the radiation burns in the mouth,” he informed her, drawing a circle in the air around his lips.
“Oh, that’s smart,” she said and trotted off.
“Two spoons,” Nate called after her leaving Lauren giggling again.