He walked into the hospital.
It was clean and sleek. The atmosphere was light, an unusual trait for a hospital. The bright colors from a few modern art pieces on the walls brought color into the building, and the large glass windows allowed ample sunlight onto floor the entrance hall.
He carried a violin case in one hand, and a basket of different colored common garden iris in the other.
The flowers were grown in a green house. After all, it was only the beginning of February, and spring is far away.
This was his first day for volunteering. When his school announced that all juniors and seniors must have a community volunteer activity, he chose to play violin and piano, if the hospital has a piano somewhere, for the patients at the Cardiovascular Institute Hospital in Tokyo. C.I. is well known for excellent treatment for heart diseases, as it's name implies.
He walked into the lobby.
It was a Monday.
."Hey everyone! My name is Damian and I'll be playing violin for you today," he addressed the third floor central area.
There were only a few people. Most of the patients were in bed right now for an afternoon nap.
A couple who looked like visitors had sat down after seeing him take out his violin. Three to four other patients looked at him expectantly.
Damian lifted the instrument up to his chin and began the first notes of Medication from the opera, Thais.
."Ooooo! Do we have a visitor today? What do you think he's gonna do, Amanda? Is he gonna make cool balloon animals like that guy, Jonathan? Or is he going to draw us pretty pictures like Sarah? Oooo! Or maybe teach us to dance? Or maybe-"
."Hush please Sakura, Mr. Damian is going to play his violin for us."
A young girl with long golden blond hair walked out from a hallway, eagerly tugging the hand of a nurse with copper red hair.
Damian had stopped playing upon hearing her voice.
He smiled at the girl.
."Hello, I'm Damian, you must be Sakura," he turned toward the nurse, "and you must be Amanda."
The girl, Sakura, laughed.
It brightened up the whole room.
."Isn't he so smart? Say, Mr. Damian, could you play something by Vivaldi for me?"
Yes, she was absolutely charming, and she acted a bit like a child, though she looked about his age.
."Please, just call me Damian, I'm only 17. And of course, would the first movement of the Mandolin Concerto be alright?"
."Wow Damian! I'm only two years younger than you! And yes! I love the solo from the first allegro of that piece!"
And so they met.
Clap clap clap.
Sakura applauded after each of Damian's pieces. After an hour of performing, he was putting his violin away when Sakura walked up to him.
."That was really pretty Damian!"
."Thanks. Here, would you a iris?" He reached over to the basket of flowers he had brought with him into the hospital. He had given away a few already in between pieces to patients or other visitors walking by.
She smiled and nodded.
."Are you going stay for a while longer?"
."Yup. I've got about 20 minutes before my bus gets here."
."Great! This is your first time here right?" He nods. "I'll show you the gardens! They're so pretty even in winter! There is this little glass gazebo greenhouse thing connected to the first floor east wing. They've got all sorts of pretty flowers there!"
He came back on Friday and visited her room after performing on the fourth floor. He didn't have his violin with him since the fourth floor had a keyboard piano that was in one of the chemo lounges. He had asked someone at the third floor nurse station for her room number.
."Good afternoon Sakura."
She was sitting cross-legged on her bed, a notepad in her left hand and chewing a pencil in her right. A textbook laid on the bed before her. Her hair was braided in a single braid that hung down her back and curled around toward the side facing him. He hadn't noticed her hair was this long.
."Damian! You came back!"
."Mhm. I'll be coming every Monday and Friday to play for the patients. I'm on your floor on Mondays and fourth floor on Fridays."
He noticed that the iris he gave her a few days ago was tucked into a part of her braid. Reaching into the basket that he had once again brought flowers in, he held up a sprig of bluebells.
."Here." He tucked it into her braid .
."Thanks Damian, it's pretty," she proceeded to chew on her pencil a bit more. "Could you help me with this problem? I don't really get multiplying matrices."
He missed his bus that day.
(His mom scolded him for not paying attention to the time.)
The third week of February, Damian came early to visit Sakura before heading up to the fourth floor. He happened to walk in right before afternoon rounds got to Sakura's room.
."Hi Dr. Suzuki!" Sakura looked up from the book she had been reading with Damian, "this is Damian."
The doctor who just walked through the door with an entourage of three interns smiled. "Hello to you too Sakura. And you as well Damian." Looking at Damian, she said, "I've seen you in the common area a few times. Thank you for volunteering you time."
."Oh it's nothing. I enjoy doing it." Damian replied.
."Well the patients certainly enjoy it as well. Now Sakura, care to give us the update?"
."Ok! Patient, Sakura Mayonaka, age fifteen. Sakura began showing minor signs of cardiomyopathy, potentially caused by myocarditis, around January when taken to the Kameda Kyobashi Clinic for a check-up. She was transferred to the Cardiovascular Institute Hospital for further investigation. Her condition deteriorated near the end of January and a pacemaker has been inserted. She is...." Sakura paused here.
."Stable," a random intern inserted.
."Yes, stable. Though she is currently stage II on the heart transplant list, due to a request made by the family over concerns of possible congenital causes, she has been kept at the hospital for observation after post-op. Cardiomyopathy has been observed in other family members according to medical files." Sakura recited professionally.
Dr. Suzuki walked over to Sakura and ruffled her hair slightly. "Couldn't have said it better myself. I'll see you tomorrow for morning rounds Sakura."
."Bye Dr. Suzuki!" Sakura waved as the interns filed out after the doctor.
Damian felt slightly conflicted. They had talked about a lot of things but... he had never asked her what her condition was. Well at least she's fine right now.
Though, he couldn't help but feel guilty at the fact that he didn't even think to ask.
They went back to reading Le Petit Prince
together, alternating who read out loud every page, with Sakura occasionally asking Damian what a certain French word meant.
On first week of March, Damien started visiting Sakura on Wednesdays.
They had started tutoring, or gardening, or random chatting session every time Damian visited the hospital, and more than once, Damian had lost track of the time.
Damien decided to just come visit Sakura normally, though their before and after-performance talks didn't stop either.
(He missed quite a few more buses.)
Damian and Sakura were debating the role of fate in Tess of the D'Urbervilles
when Mr. and Mrs. Mayonaka waked in.
This was the first time Damian had met Sakura's parents. (As he later learned, that was because they usually visit on the weekends.)
Mr. and Mrs. Mayonaka were happy that Sakura had someone other than the hospital staff to talk to, and that Damian was helping Sakura with her education as well.
They invited him to join them for an early dinner in the hospital cafeteria.
Mr. Mayonaka was a botanist, and he and Damian hit if off especially well. They discussed various flora and fauna throughout dinner.
One day, Damian walked in on Sakura crying into her pillow.
."Sakura what's wrong?"
She gave a muffled sniffle.
."Nothing. I'm fine. They needed a spinal tap, and it hurt a lot. Plus I don't like needles."
He sat down next to her and patted her hair.
."You're not fine. You don't need spinal taps, you're a cardio patient. They don't give cardio patients spinal taps."
Sakura looked at Damian quizzically. How had he known that?
Damian scratched his head in an embarrassed manner. "I did some research after I heard your afternoon rounds the first time. And Amanda keeps me updated too. I know you definitely do not have symptoms of meningitis so they don't need cerebrospinal fluid from you to diagnose anything. Plus, you have nothing against needles, and you're too strong of a person to cry about getting physically hurt. What happened?"
Red puffy eyes looked up at him.
Sakura sat up and proceeded to tackle Damian into a bear hug, before starting to rant about a certain intern who had offended her greatly when they asked why she was even in the hospital if she's stable and perfectly fine.
."I am not
a waste of space!"
Damian patted her head comfortingly before frowning. "Of course you're not Sakura. But that was really inappropriate of the intern. Did you tell anyone? Do you want me to tell Dr. Suzuki?"
Sakura gave an impish smile. "Oh no it's fine. I told Dr. Suzuki already and she chewed out the intern in front of the nurses' station. I told her about the incident when she was bringing her interns down to the labs. They passed by the nurses station and there was no way I would've given up that perfect opportunity."
."Meaning that all the other interns will know about his breach of propriety and embarrassment within the day."
."Yup! This is stereotypical, but our nurses do so
like to gossip."
."You're so devious." He shook his head, though he had a approving smirk on his face.
."Awww. You still like me anyways."
."That I do."
."Wheeee!" A bundle of energy shot down the hallway.
."Kara wait up!" The young man, familiar to many of the hospital's staff by now, chased after a little girl.
."Gotcha!" He scooped up the girl in his arms. She looked about six or seven years old.
."Come 'ere you little troublemaker."
."We gonna go see Sakura now Dammy?" He gave her a mock glare at the nickname, and walked toward the elevator.
After reaching her door, he used his elbows, since his hand were occupied with Kara, to knock on the doorframe.
This time, the girl was lying on her belly and reading a book. Upon hearing his voice, she glanced up before she rolled off bed and stood up.
."Hi Damien! Who is this little cutie?" She walked over and tickled Kara cheek, causing her to laugh.
."She's Kara, my little sister. My parents told me to take care of her today since they have a business dinner tonight and Mom couldn't pick Kara up herself."
The little girl poked Damien cheek a few times and gave a dimpled smile toward Sakura.
."You're really pretty," she said, making Sakura coo at the cuteness, "Dammy, you never told me she was so pretty!"
."Don't even think about it Sakura."
The two girls present burst into hysterical giggles.
Near the end of March, Damian started visiting Sakura on Saturday mornings as well.
Sakura wanted to spend time with Damian and her parents at the same time.
The two of them can talk about nothing, and everything at the same time. Mr. and Mrs. Mayonaka were surprised at the closeness between their daughter and this young boy. They talk to each other like they've been friends for years. Sakura had even told him about how she got her fear of jellyfish and the ocean! It was a memory she didn't like remembering, much less tell other people about.
They were also quite amused when Sakura started finishing Damian's sentences for him.
Damian and gave her a fake glare before reaching over and beginning to tickle her mercilessly.
That had started a tickling war between the two of them.
Sakura and Damian got into a lot of trouble around the middle of April.
It wasn't that serious really...
They had gotten permission to make brownies one Saturday morning.
Sakura's parents had to go out of town for the weekend so it was just the two of them.
Everything was fine... until Sakura decided to throw some flour in Damian's face after they had put the brownie batter into the oven.
That of course, required Damian to retaliate in some manner, so he took the piping bag of melted chocolate, (they had drizzled it all over the top of the batter) and squirted a bit at her nose (or the general directing of her face) while Sakura took to evasion tactics to avoid the attack.
The chocolate ended up in Sakura's hair.
And that meant war.
A food fight followed with sugar, flour, eggs, melted chocolate, and chocolate chips being flung every-which-way.
They ended up sticky, covered in baking ingredients, on the floor, and laughing their heads off.
A cook coming in to start lunch service found them like this, and, needless to say, they got throughly chewed out.
They had a fun time cleaning up together though.
There was a small bubble skirmish that ended with Damian with his head in the sink.
They got permanently banned from the kitchen after that.
When Mr. and Mrs. Mayonaka visited Sakura the following Monday, they found Sakura and Damian together again. This time working on a history paper Damian had to finish by Thursday.
Damian had already performed for the third floor.
When they asked the two of them how their Saturday was, they said simultaneously said, "He did it!" "She did it!"
Mr. and Mrs. Mayonaka were confused of course.
But, the two of them vehemently denied any troublemaking.
the two grown-ups got that idea? They had been perfect angels.
April showers may bring May flowers. But it also brought some terrible developments in Sakura.
Her pacemaker wasn't enough anymore.
."Patient, Sakura Mayonaka, stage B heart failure. Transplant status 1B. There is a family history of the disease, the cause is still unknown. Sakura has shown signs of minor cardiomyopathy since January and is being kept at the hospital for observation due to the possible congenital cause. She began deteriorating about a week ago. Current symptoms include shortness of breath, trouble breathing when lying down, fatigue and swollen legs. She is scheduled for a LVAD implant later this week."
Damian visited Sakura almost daily now.
Sakura couldn't go anywhere so they just talked.
They talked about their lives, family, friends. They talked about funny anecdotes, and odd eccentricities.
One day, Sakura asked Damian for something that had been on her mind since she was diagnosed with stage B heart failure.
He was instantly alert. Sakura had dosed off it about an hour ago, and Damian had been working on some homework.
He shuffled his chair closer to her. "Yes Sakura?"
."Damian, if I die-"
He looked like he was going to cut in.
."No, listen. If I were to die, please promise me that you won't cry for me."
His face was blank.
."Damian. Please, promise me."
."I... I promise."
Sakura visibly relaxed. "Good. Now don't worry too much. I have plenty of time to wait for a donor heart. I'll be fine. There's no point spending time needlessly worrying."
Damian wasn't convinced.
She had sounded like she was reassuring herself.
But he nodded anyways. His heart stuck in his throat.
."Patient, Sakura Mayonaka, end stage heart failure. Transplant status 1A. There is a family history of the disease, the cause is still unknown. Sakura has shown signs of minor cardiomyopathy since January, but has deteriorated rapidly since three weeks ago. A LVAD implant was unsuccessful. An attempt to put in a Berlin heart failed due to clotting. The patient is currently on ECMO and is stable."
Mrs. Mayonaka had tears in her eyes. Her husband had his arms around her, supporting her. He was rubbing circles on her back, trying to calm her down as Dr. Suzuki delivered the latest information.
Damian was in shock. His insides felt mushy, stiff and empty, all at the same time. If he tried to talk now he doubt he would be able to make a sound.
She was fine only a few weeks ago! She was perfectly fine! They were about to discharge
her because diagnosis and research found that it was unlikely for her to get worse!
."H- Ho- How long can she survive on ECMO?" Mr. Mayonaka managed to stutter out.
Dr. Suzuki was hesitant. Her voice was even, but it was laden with hidden sadness. "With sweep counts this low... at least a week. We are aggressively looking for other solutions..."
Mrs. Mayonaka shook off her husband's support and walked out of the room in a daze.
Mr. Mayonaka followed her out after giving Damian a pat on the shoulder.
Damian himself... he still felt empty.
He couldn't lose her. She had become a best friend. More than a best friend.
She knew him almost as well as he knew himself.
Or was it the other way around?
."You said she was stable!" Mrs. Mayonaka was yelling at Dr. Suzuki, shaking her hands desperately, "You said she had at least one more week on ECMO!"
."We thought we had it under control, we didn't expect for her to clot-"
."And eight months ago, we didn't expect any of this!" Mrs. Mayonaka interrupted.
Damian was sitting on a chair next to Sakura's bed.
He had brought a basket of a variety of flowers and was braiding them into her hair. He's been doing that a lot lately. Just coming in every day and re-braiding Sakura's hair with new flowers.
Sakura herself was hooked to numerous machines. She's been hooked to them since a little more than three weeks ago. Her eyes were closed in slumber, though it was clear that she was far from comfortable. She rarely had the energy to hold long conversations now. She mostly either dosed in a place between waking and unconsciousness, or she slept.
Mrs. Mayonaka continued, " Sakura was well on her way to the Intel International Science Fair after passing regionals! And I was waiting for her to call and tell me she's done with whatever after school activity so I could pick up my beautiful, healthy
child! And now, now her pacemaker can't even keep her alive anymore, and nothing you do is helping her, and she's in end stage heart failure! An- and you can't even tell me why she's sick! You can only say that it was possibly caused by a congenital attribute, but you're not even sure of that! You even said it seem like she was going to be perfectly f-fine! She was going to have a long happy life! And now
you're just shaking your heads and telling me that, that there is nothing we could do for Sakura except wait?! Just wait for a heart to pop up out of nowhere? Wait for her to die while you wring your hands and do nothing!?"
Dr. Suzuki's face was filled with compassion. Not that it helped at all. Not to the three people in the room that were reeling at the news.
."Sakura is first on the transplant list at 1A. There is... I'm afraid there is nothing else we can do right now. I'm truly sorry Mrs. Mayonaka... Truly..."
Sakura's parents pretty much live in the hospital now.
Damian still comes every day with more flowers.
He also brings a book with him. He reads three chapters a day to Sakura after he braids her hair.
Her parents leave them alone to give them some sort of privacy. They come back after he leaves.
The nurses say he sometimes just stares at her until his mom drives to the hospital.
She comes up to get him personally.
(And she doesn't scold him for missing the bus anymore. She's just there for him to lean on if he needs it, because this girl clearly meant a lot to him.)
Dr. Suzuki walked in with her usual group of interns.
The three people in the room looked up upon their entrance. Surely, surely it cannot get any worse now right? Surely it cannot be more
."I have some good news," Dr. Sizuki began.
The three people took a second to process that. They allowed themselves to hope. To just hope
It's been two days. Two hopeless days.
Were they really lucky enough to have such a miracle?
The doctor continued, "A heart has become available in Kawasaki General Hospital. They're just waiting for confirmation from our side. Do you consent t-"
Mr. Mayonaka cut in, "Yes! Yes, we consent!"
Mrs. Mayonaka just nodded in shock. Damian was grinning like a madman.
Dr. Sizuki turned to an intern. "Alright then. Tell Kawasaki the heart's a go. We're going to begin prepping Sakura for the surgery."
."A heart has become available.... A heart has become available.... A heart has become available...." Damian's brain slowly processed that tidbit of information.
His heart was hammering away in his chest.
The operation had been a success.
Sakura had went into the OR with a diseased heart and came out with a functioning, healthy, new one.
She was still in post-op though. It's barely been a week since the surgery.
Damian rushes to the hospital every day after school. (And he stayed the whole day on weekends.)
They've been talking again, sharing corny jokes, including the the oldest one of all.
."Damian, why did the chicken cross the Mobius strip?"
."To get to the same side!"
They've shared this joke at least five times already over the months they've known each other.
They still laugh at it each time.
Damian stuck with the tradition of bringing flowers every time he visit.
He still braids her hair every day, though Sakura helps him with it now.
Now, instead of his reading to her, they go back to alternating who read out loud every page.
The staff comments on how cute they are on lunch breaks.
Sakura had a slight cold. It's nothing too big though.
Dr. Suzuki is keeping a look out for possible rejection.
It was a beautiful near the beginning of June. It was finally starting to feel like summer.
Spring had hung around for much longer than it usually did, and many flowers were still in full bloom, though they will soon fall away to reveal the leafy greens of summertime.
It was Tuesday.
A young man walked into the hospital. He was holding a small basket of lilies of the valley, aster, and orange blossoms.
He whistled a small tune that had a melody which kept repeating. It was a small part of "Requiem for a Dream".
He stepped up to the nurse station and placed the plants on the counter.
A young nurse with copper curls pinned on her head turned around. Her face was guarded, wary.
."Damian," she forced a smile, "Hello."
."What's wrong? What happened?"
What could possibly be wrong? Damian was running through his research. What were the post-surgical risks of transplants again?
Amanda's face fell.
."Sakura's rejecting her heart."
Damian stood here. His face as white as a sheet. If he hadn't put the basket down it would have fallen to the ground.
."No," he said with a slight tremor in his usually smooth voice.
Amanda patted his shoulder gently.
When had she moved?
."Why don't you go up and talk to her."
But he couldn't, she was asleep.
So he just sat down at a open chair next to her bed and took her hand in his.
Her parents sat across from him on the other side of the bed.
Her mother was holding her other hand.
Mrs. Mayonaka's face was tear-stained. Her husband was trying to hold it together for her sake.
Damian just nodded blankly at the doctor's words, not really processing anything. The eerie, never-ending beep of the heart monitor rang in his ears.
He stood up and walked out of the waiting room. To the elevator. Out of the hospital.
Sakura Mayonaka died nine days after a successful heart transplant surgery due to acute rejection which caused sudden cardiac arrest during a heart attack.
In memory of Sakura Mayonaka,
a loving daughter,
and a kind friend.
He stood, decked out in black.
He did promise after all.
Someone gave him a letter.
I know you don't like that nickname, Damian, but indulge me please?
I don't know if you will ever get this letter. I'm not sure if this letter is even necessary at all. Maybe you're reading this now because Amanda or my parents gave it to you. I hope you don't ever read this though.
It's me, Sakura Mayonaka.
It's the middle of May now. Hopefully they can find a heart soon. I'm sure you know the risks involved in surgery and organ transplants. But even with the risks, I shall head into the OR with my head held high. Obviously figuratively since I'm being wheeled in on a bed.
Because death is the force of equality, I will look into its eyes and stand proud.
I have high hopes that a miracle will happen. Hope. It's keeping me quite bubbly. I know it doesn't seem optimistic right now but, if I have enough will, maybe it'll push through. Plus, I'm stage 1A, I'm on the stop of the transplant list. And I have O positive blood! I have a high chance for a match if a proper sized heart comes in.
You probably know all this already since you've done so much research.
My condition... have been a source of both happiness and sadness. It's because of the cardiomyopathy that I am in the hospital. I may have met you otherwise... but I doubt we would have been able to know each other this well. So... silver lining I guess.
I'm glad I've lived this long. I'm so much happier than I could have imagined!
Just like you told me at once, "life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away."
It was incredibly cheesy, but sweet. And if life is really measured like that, you have made my life quite long.
I'm writing this letter to you with the threat of death hanging above my head. But it's not actually this bad you know? There is definitely hope. I sincerely wish right now, that you would never have to read this letter. Though if you see this... I suppose the worse has come to pass.
But anyways, just in case do you end up needing to read this, thank you Damian. Thank you so much.
."I didn't know white camellias were so pretty. Thanks Dammy."
."Sorry. Thanks Damian
."We should make Easter eggs for all the staff!"
."Sakura, there are over a hundred staff members in the hospital."
."Come on! It's not hard! Plus I have so much free time and it's getting boring..."
."I'll bring some paint."
."Yay! I'll ask Amanda get some plain plastic egg shells!"
That easter, every member of the hospital staff received a hand-painted plastic Easter egg with three assorted Heresies kisses in them.
."Why are you doing that?"
."Hmmm? Doing what?"
."Staring at me like I'm a ghost."
."Oh come on! I am
feeling better! So smile, please?"
."Well it's true! It should count for something that I'm personally feeling better. No matter whatever counts they have say. Plus, if anyone is going to be gloomy, shouldn't I be one sulking around here? And don't you dare just up an leave me now 'cause you're too scared and- shoot, now I'm rambling- what I mean is-"
."Huh? Oh. See? That's a nice smile."
."Damian? If I feel all warm and my heart is racing, and I almost feel like a unicorn that pukes rainbows when I'm near someone... is that love?"
."Yes. But be careful with your heart. You only have one afterall. Be sure to not let anyone steal it from you."
."Oh. Well then I'm giving it to you, now no one can steal it."
."Dammy, your face is all red."
."Oh hush you."
I love you too.