Bobby and brother Matt play a video game called Rock Band that simulates an actual band. Matt has appeared in school productions including Seussical—based on stories by Dr. Seuss—in which he played the lead and sang.
“This is incredible,” he told his parents, grandparents, Dr. Jallo, and everyone else who came into his room. “It’s the best I’ve seen since the eighth grade.”
For the next four days in the ICU, nurses checked on Bobby hourly to make sure he remained conscious and oriented. At night they woke him, shined a light in his eyes, and asked him questions.
Bobby grew weary of the awakening and grilling. Late one night, a nurse came to his bedside.
“What is your name?”
“Where are you?”
“Johns Hopkins Hospital.”
“Who is with you?”
“The aliens are with me, and they’re taking me back to see Elvis.”
The nurse didn’t know what to make of that.
“I’m kidding,” Bobby laughed.
Another night, a nurse woke him and asked his name.
“Dr. Sigmund Freud,” he answered.
He watched a TV segment on monkeys trained to help disabled people and told his nurses he’d like to train a monkey—to be named Bobo—to hit the monitors with a hammer to stop the constant beeping.
Bobby and his brother, Matt, have different temperaments. Bobby is shy and contemplative while Matt is outgoing and impulsive. They’d had the usual sibling arguments, trading insults and picking fights with each other—Judy called these “their brother moments.”
They had shared a bedroom since they were little. When they became teenagers, Judy asked if they wanted separate rooms, but they said they wanted to stay together.
Three years younger than Bobby, Matt seemed not to want to know the details of his brother’s medical ordeal. He held back when he visited him in the hospital, but when he saw his brother surrounded by a bank of monitors and the IV lines going into his arm, the seriousness of his brother’s situation seemed to overwhelm him.
“I’m sorry for all the mean things I ever did to you,” Matt told him.
“Thanks, Matt,” Bobby said. “It means a lot.”
Five days after his surgery, Bobby went home. A week later, he returned to school.
Little more than a month after his sight had been restored by the tumor’s removal, Bobby woke one morning and looked around the bedroom to check his vision.
Something’s not right, he thought.
He stood, looked straight ahead, and stretched his hands out to his side. He couldn’t see his fingers. He moved them in closer, but they were still outside his field of vision.
He stared into the mirror. His face no longer appeared distinct. The gauzy haze that had disappeared after surgery had drifted back. He rubbed his eyes, but the fuzziness wouldn’t go away.
Bobby looked at his arms, still black and blue from needle punctures. He had never felt so keen a sense of defeat.
I just went through brain surgery, he thought. What’s happening?
He slowly walked to the kitchen to tell his parents.
When Dr. Jallo studied Bobby’s latest MRI scan, it looked as if he had never operated at all. A spherical, fluid-filled cyst as big as, if not bigger than, the original tumor now filled the space it had occupied. During the operation, Jallo had left a small cystlike portion of the tumor that pressed against Bobby’s optic nerve and pituitary gland and was too risky to remove. Jallo had warned the family of the possibility of regrowth, but it seemed remote. Cysts can remain dormant for years if not permanently. Bobby’s had grown with astonishing speed.
Jallo knew he had no choice but to go back into Bobby’s brain to remove as much of the cyst as he could. He also knew that once Bobby healed from the surgeries, he would need to undergo radiation therapy to kill the remaining cyst-forming cells.