Eddie hadn't expected to hear from Belinda on Halloween; she'd be out partying. The 3 a.m. November 1 call came as a surprise. She was in the hospital, she told him; she wanted him there.
He caught the first morning train and arrived about 9 a.m.
The scene reminded Eddie of a Stephen King horror movie. A man in a wheelchair stayed stuck in the hall for two hours; nurses seemed to ignore the patients, who moaned in pain to no avail. Not only was the phone jack broken, the nurse call button was too. So when Belinda would vomit, Eddie would empty her basin - then the nurses would notice and snap at him. Sometime that day Belinda wanted to check out of the hospital - against medical advice - and go to Cedars. Jonathan and Eddie talked her out of that plan. Eddie still regrets that. "If I'd known what would happen ahead of time, I would have gotten her out of that hospital," he said.
Instead he stayed all day, watching over Belinda. She seemed scared, but most of all, exhausted. She spoke, but drifted off, mentally slipping away. "It was like the flame of a candle dying out," Eddie remembers. Eddie stayed as long as he could, past visiting hours, but left around 11:30 p.m. to catch the last train home. He'd come back tomorrow, he told her. "I think ... the last thing she heard was me saying 'I love you.'" Belinda whispered back something he couldn't understand. He hugged her goodbye.
Belinda would be OK, Jonathan told his mom. She was OK the last time he'd seen her on Thursday. So when Jonathan called Sharon on Friday with comforting news, Sharon put off her plans to fly in that day. That afternoon, November. 2, Sharon dialed Belinda's cell phone. No answer. Still dead. She called Belinda's nurse. Could she come to the nursing station? No, the nurse said. What about a portable phone? Not possible, Belinda wasn't lucid. Frantic and crying, Sharon called her son. "We're losing her!" she told him. Jonathan rushed to the hospital and saw Belinda in restraints, convulsing.
"[T]he patient's condition was changed, like comatose," her charts note. "The patient was transferred to ICU for weakness, seizure, with twisting body and hyperventilation." Someone at HCH decided that Belinda had taken extra medication and that either her brother or a friend had smuggled it to her. Nurses angrily accused Jonathan and Eddie of dosing her behind their backs. Never mind that HCH prescribed her Dilaudid the previous day - someone else must have given it to her. HCH attributed her "altered mental status" to "possible overdoses" of Dilaudid." Her charts also mention acute liver failure, but fail to mention altered mental status is a symptom of acute liver failure.
Sharon booked the quickest flight out of Asheville North Carolina. A long flight and a fight through L.A.'s notorious rush-hour, brought Sharon to the hospital at about 8:30 Saturday night, November 3. By then, Belinda was in the Neuro ICU at UCLA - the only of three area transplant centers that would take her. "The first thing I wanted to do was see my daughter and they wouldn't let me see her," Sharon said. Sharon signed reams of papers for all sorts of procedures, including a Swan Ganz: a pulmonary artery catheter threaded through the heart.
Hours later, Sharon and Jonathan finally saw Belinda. Unconscious and on a ventilator, she looked so different from Sharon's pretty daughter. Her face and neck were grotesquely swollen. Her arms and legs were swollen too. By then, hepatic encephalopathy - a sign of severe liver impairment - had set in. Belinda was suffering global swelling of the brain. A transplant surgeon, Dr. R. Mark Ghobrial, pulled Sharon aside. Belinda's brain swelling was severe, he told Sharon. She was unlikely to survive. Yet he offered her one hope: A transplant. A liver, a tissue mismatch, was suddenly available. Another patient scheduled to receive the liver was unable to use it because he had developed a respiratory infection. Belinda was young, the doctor told her. The transplant was her only chance.