Sunday, July 23, 2000

In/Exhale - January 30, 2001 - Part III

Note: This episode features an interpreted conversation. I've chosen to italicize according to the original language, so if a character is speaking English (even if it is then interpreted into ASL), the dialog is not italicized. Likewise, if a character is signing, I've italicized the dialog even if it is then interpreted into spoken English. This is a format I've chosen to follow throughout the season.

January 30, 2001 - Part III

Kai had been floating in a delightful dreamless sleep when he felt someone shake him. He opened his eyes slowly, still feeling the grogginess of the drugs, to an unfamiliar face. A man who looked like he was in his mid thirties, with dark hair and wire-rimmed glasses, dressed in slacks and a wrinkled button-up shirt with no tie, and a white coat. A second, clearer look told Kai the man was actually probably younger, maybe only in his late 20s, but the fact that he was almost completely bald made him look older. A quick glance at his ID told Kai he was a psych resident, probably the one Jon had warned would come to evaluate him.
“Kai? I’m Dr. Trent. I’m here to ask you a few questions, OK? I understand you’ve been having some hearing issues.” He flipped through Kai’s file. “You know American Sign Language, it says here. Would you like an interpreter?”
Kai was so stoned right now, all he could really do was stare at Trent’s ID since his face took too much effort to look into. Kai mused on what a silly last name that was. Even though it stated clearly his first name was Clark, Kai couldn’t help thinking how funny it would have been if his parents had named him Trent Trent. Although Clark Trent was bad enough. Was it supposed to be a play on Superman’s name? Kai couldn’t help giggling, and struggled to cover his mouth to stop himself. Random laughter in front of the man who held Kai’s freedom in his hands was not a good beginning.
Trent frowned and pulled out a notepad from one of his pockets, along with a pen. He scribbled something on it and showed it to Kai. Do you need an interpreter?
Kai held out a hand for the notepad and pen, careful to keep boundaries. He wasn’t restrained, and he didn’t want that to change if he could help it. George working today?
Trent read the note, confused, and circled George’s name, writing a question mark above it.
My favorite interpreter here, Kai wrote back once Trent offered him the pad and pen.
“Ah,” Trent realized, reading Kai’s note. He held up a finger. “I’ll go check and see.”
It turned out George was working today, and he was available, but it was going to take him a few minutes to get to Kai’s room, so Dr. Trent said he’d be right back. Once George arrived, they’d page him.
Kai drifted again until he was nudged awake once more, smiling faintly when he recognized George’s face. The man hadn’t changed much since Kai had seen him last, still a friendly, round face with eyes so dark they were nearly black. He’d trimmed his hair so it was almost a buzz cut, but he still wore the familiar dark navy scrubs that Kai had always associated with him.
What trouble have you gotten yourself into now?” George asked teasingly. Even though George was an interpreter, and he was very professional when he was working, Kai had known him so long, and used him so often growing up they were able to loosen those strict boundaries when George wasn’t actively interpreting, usually before and after, if they had time. In fact, Kai had even asked George for advice from time to time since he hadn't exactly had any kind of father figure growing up.
Kai shrugged and found the remote to shift the bed up a little, making sure he didn’t move it too fast or too high so he wouldn’t get dizzy. “I had some blood drawn today, and I think my crazy leaked out.
George chuckled, but he grew serious. “I don’t understand why you need me today.” In the past four or five years, Kai had only used George a few times, most of them immediately before or after his transplant, when English had either been impossible for him or extremely difficult. Jon had mentioned that George had interpreted for David when Kai was so sick back in December, but Kai hadn’t needed George for himself in years.
The medicine they had to give me when I had my fever has damaged my hearing. Plus, I’m drugged up the ass.” The truth was, Kai could hear fine right now, and he wasn’t so drugged he couldn’t speak or understand English, but he’d decided he might as well get used to using an interpreter, even for psychiatric evaluations, situations he’d normally prefer not to have one. Besides, he was so groggy it would be nice to default to his native language instead of having to work in his second.
George frowned. “I’m sorry.” George paused. “Do you want me to voice for you?
Kai hesitated. Now that he could speak, he had that option. Kai had always turned the speaking over to George anyway, but there was a certain freedom in not needing to worry about proper English grammar or pronunciation. Kai nodded.
OK. Anything I need to know before the doctor shows up?
Kai sighed. “I’m crazy, but please don’t let him commit me. I’ll stay here in the hospital, but don’t let him lock me up. Help me.
George sighed. “You know I can only interpret once he gets here. I can’t fudge your answers.
Kai sighed. He knew this, he had just hoped maybe if he started to answer wrong, George could point it out so he’d have time to correct before the interpretation went through. “I’m really tired.
George nodded. It must have been obvious in the way Kai was struggling to keep his eyes open. He sighed. “All I can do is double-check I understood your signs right before I interpret. Just to make sure I’m not misunderstanding you. You know, since you’re so drugged and your signing is a little lazy. Get it?” George raised his eyebrows even higher than normal for a yes/no question. He was saying, as ethically as he could, that he would give Kai time to change his answers.
Kai breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you.
A moment later, Dr. Trent returned. “Ready?”
Kai kept his gaze on George, as was appropriate and polite, and once he saw the interpretation, he nodded. “Yes,” George replied for Kai as he got into place beside the doctor. It made Kai a little uncomfortable to have them both standing over him. “Could you both sit down?” He was about to add that it made him nervous having the two men looming over him while he was trapped in the bed, but he decided at the last minute that wouldn’t do him any favors. He hoped George would simply read Kai’s slow signing as a consequence of the drugs he was on.
“Of course,” Dr. Trent said, excusing himself for a moment. He disappeared around the other side of the curtain, and Kai had to give George credit for patiently waiting where Kai could see him, interpreting the conversation going on the other side, which was essentially just Trent asking Kai’s previously snoring neighbor if he minded if they borrowed a couple chairs.
A moment later, Trent returned, arranging the chairs side by side to Kai’s right. “Will this work?”
Kai pushed the bed up a little more, using his hands to adjust his position a bit. It wasn’t ideal, but the way the room was set up, it would have to do. He nodded.
“OK. I have a few questions for you, and some of them may seem a little strange, but I want you to answer honestly, OK?”
Kai watched George’s interpretation, which put emphasis on numerous things being asked, then his expression changing to show how some may seem weird, but to still be truthful, George nodding for emphasis. “I understand.
“How are you feeling right now?”
Maybe it was George’s interpretation, or maybe it was Kai’s drug-soaked brain, but the question struck him as strange. “I’m tired and drugged.
Trent chuckled faintly, but not unkindly. “No, I mean, emotionally. What are you feeling right now? Happy, angry, sad, confused, that kind of thing.”
Oh. Duh. Kai shrugged. Honestly, he hadn’t gotten much past tired at the current moment. Maybe if he had time to reflect, that would change things. Well, he was a little nervous, scared, worried. He knew if he blew this, he could end up in white scrubs in a quiet white room for the next three days. That suddenly made his stomach start to churn, and Dr. Trent obviously read that in his facial expression. The perils of opting to sign; it’d be much harder for Kai to hide his emotions.
“Are you anxious right now?”
Kai could lie, but Trent would probably see through him. After a moment’s hesitation, he nodded.
Trent nodded, as if he’d expected that. He shifted Kai’s file in his lap, and poised his pen on the paper. “How would you rate your anxiety right now? On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the highest.”
Kai stared at George for a long moment even after he’d finished interpreting, as if hoping the man would give him some answer. Kai didn’t often quantify his anxiety. He had in the psych ward, by necessity, since he was constantly being asked, but outside, Dr. Miller didn’t put much value on that and felt it often made Kai focus too much on his anxiety, which only made it worse. Kai was silent long enough George asked him if he’d understood, and Kai was forced to nod. “I don’t know,” Kai finally replied.
“All right, that’s OK. Let’s talk a little about how you were feeling earlier today. My understanding was that you had some blood taken this morning, and then after you had an appointment with your dermatologist. Is that correct?”
Kai watched George’s interpretation, grateful he was there, because Kai’s ears had started ringing again and it made focusing on the English difficult. He confirmed his schedule, and when Trent followed up with how he had been feeling, he reluctantly admitted he’d been anxious all day and that he’d had a panic attack before he went to see Dr. B. Kai was normally really good at reading shrinks. They tried to put up a stoic face, but Kai was Deaf and excellent at reading hearing people in particular, plus, he’d seen so many therapists of some kind throughout his life he’d learned their tricks. But today he was struggling to see through Trent. Maybe it was the drugs. Maybe it was because he was using an interpreter. Maybe Trent was just really good at his job. Or maybe it was that Kai was so worried about saying the wrong thing that he couldn’t focus.
“Take a few deep breaths,” Dr. Trent said. And Kai vaguely realized that the monitor had let out a few warning beeps; they’d mingled with the tinnitus at first, but now he realized, glancing over at it, that his heart was racing. The light was flashing. No way he could lie about his anxiety now, right? Damn. How could he be anxious with all the drugs they had him on? Had they tapered them off? He realized they must have, or he wouldn’t be so conscious. Dammit, Kai. Stop overthinking or he’ll definitely lock you up. Kai’s hands were growing numb, and he was gasping for air. No way he was going to have a third panic attack in one day. Kai put a hand on his chest. It hurt. A fierce pain that made breathing even harder.
Kai’s eyes flew to George, pleading for him to help, but what could George do? Kai was the one freaking out here. How could Trent, in good faith, not commit Kai if he was going to go all crazy right in front of him? Kai squeezed his eyes shut, not caring if he was being rude to George right now, focusing on blue, on calm. Dammit, he wished Jon were here. Or maybe Renee. Someone who could calm him down and assure him everything would be OK. Kai lost it. The tears he’d avoided all day finally burst through, and the only good thing about them were they interrupted the building panic. But randomly bursting into tears was definitely not a way to stay out of the nuthouse, unless you were a pregnant woman or something. Kai was definitely not pregnant, so insanity was his only excuse.
“Let’s talk, Kai,” Dr. Trent said in a soothing voice that George mirrored in his facial expression. Kai had to admit he didn’t viscerally hate Trent the way he did most shrinks, which was funny because it was likely that within the next sixty minutes, Trent would be signing the order to have Kai put on a 72-hour hold.
That thought made Kai cry harder. He couldn’t go back there. “I won’t hurt anyone,” Kai struggled to sign, his hands trembling. “Please don’t make me go back.
Trent looked at George, confused.
Upstairs,” Kai signed, pointing enthusiastically toward the ceiling. He struggled to take slow, deep breaths, to calm himself, to stop acting crazy.
Dr. Trent finally seemed to understand. His face became sympathetic. “You attempted suicide more than once while you were an inpatient in the psychiatric unit a couple months ago.” George didn’t sign it like a question, and Dr. Trent didn’t really give Kai a chance to respond, flipping through Kai’s records, but Kai interrupted anyway, which was awkward in a mixed conversation like this, but George did a good job of speaking up for Kai to get Trent to listen.
I’m better. Really. I know it doesn’t seem like it after . . . today, but please. Upstairs doesn’t help me.” Kai knew that even in sign he wasn’t articulating himself well, but he was so desperate to get Trent to understand how bad for him the psych ward was. He wanted to admit the truth: if Trent sent him up there, despite not having had suicidal thoughts in weeks, he couldn’t guarantee he wouldn’t try to kill himself if he were locked up in those disturbingly white, still rooms, alone. But if he said that, that was like admitting that he was a danger to himself, which would be a ticket upstairs. A huge catch-22. Admitting he would be suicidal if they committed him would be the best way to get himself committed.
Dr. Trent didn’t say anything, one of those pointed silences shrinks loved, which George signed to make it clear that Trent wasn’t talking on purpose.
Kai wanted to be honest--maybe it was the drugs, or maybe it was Dr. Miller’s work--and tell Trent that he did think of hurting himself a lot, but not suicide. And today was the first time since the hospital Kai had lost control of himself so egregiously. But if he admitted to his self-harming thoughts and behavior, Trent might commit him. Kai began to feel himself shutting down, hopelessness swarming him. Damned if he did, damned if he didn’t, or at least it felt that way. At least he wasn’t crying or panicking. Honestly, right now he just felt numb. Like a meaningless cog in a wheel that would turn whether he wanted it to or not. Kai had to force himself to maintain eye contact with George, when all he wanted to do was stare at the curtain dividing his half of the room from his neighbor’s until his vision blurred.
“Kai. Tell me what you’re feeling right now.”
He wished he were talking to Dr. Miller instead of Trent. Dr. Miller would understand. And he didn’t have to be afraid of being honest with her. She knew how hard the psych ward had been on him, and even though she stood by their joint decision for him to go there back in November, she’d agreed with him that she would do her best to keep him from another inpatient stay as long as he wasn’t on the brink of suicide.
A few stray tears traced down Kai’s cheek. He wanted to give Trent the silent treatment. After all, if he didn’t say anything, he couldn’t incriminate himself, right? The problem with that logic was not saying anything could potentially be even worse than being honest. He could see Trent’s report now: Patient was emotional, anxious, sullen, and withdrawn. Not communicative.
Does it matter?” Kai finally said, weary. “You’ve already decided what you’re going to do with me. What I say won’t make a difference.
Trent had the decency to look surprised. He obviously hadn’t been doing this long enough to maintain his poker face, and it gave Kai a little satisfaction to know he’d thrown the man. “I haven’t decided anything. That’s why I came to talk to you.” Trent closed the file he was taking notes in and set it aside, on the edge of Kai’s bed. “I’m not your enemy, Kai.”
Kai blinked away a few more tears. “Really? Because all you have to do is sign a form and I’ll be forced to stay upstairs for the next three days.
Trent sighed and leaned forward a little. Kai didn’t like that. It felt false, like Trent was trying to play up the, “Trust me, I’m your friend” angle.
Kai reflexively pushed against the mattress to shift a few inches away, reaching down to adjust his legs so his feet weren’t near Trent. Kai noticed Trent watch him do this, and Kai felt strangely vulnerable, helpless, in that moment, a gnawing in his gut that reminded him he was trapped in this bed. He couldn’t leave it even if he wanted to.
Trent must have sensed something, maybe realizing Kai was pulling away from him--literally and emotionally--and so he relaxed back into his chair and softened his expression. “Kai, do you remember what happened in the dermatology exam room?”
Kai remembered being anxious. Remembered not being able to hear well enough to understand unless he was facing someone. Everything else was a blur. He shook his head.
“Dr. Bertov explained that you were anxious during her exam.”
Kai paled. Had she told Trent, or someone else, about his self-harm scars? “Yes. I have an anxiety disorder, and even normal people get nervous for something like that. Cancer could kill me pretty quickly because of the medicine I take for my transplant.Stay logical. In control, Kai told himself, taking measured deep breaths. He wanted to pull his legs to his chest, keep them away from Trent, keep them in his control, but he didn’t want Trent to see that as weakness.
Trent nodded. “She said you didn’t get panicked, though, until the second nurse, Hector Lopez, came into the room. Do you remember that?”
Kai shivered reflexively as the memory hit him. The overwhelming fear that had engulfed him as soon as the male nurse had entered the room, that same fear filling Kai now as if he were reliving the moment, itself a reliving of another moment from long ago. Kai shook his head frantically, gave up on his attempt at composure and pulled his legs to his chest, shaking. “Stop. Please stop,” Kai said with his own voice. “Stop.”
Both Trent and George seemed surprised by Kai’s speech, but quickly recovered. “It’s OK, Kai. You’re safe. Breathe with me, OK?”
Kai felt the grip of cold fear flooding him, as if it were some slimy creature crawling around inside him. More tears fell as he saw flashes of darkness, of scrubs, felt cold hands on him. . . .
A sudden strong scent of mint snapped Kai back to his current reality, a hospital room, George and Trent. Kai was soaked in sweat, his hospital gown sticking to his back, and he was shaking subtly. No. No no no no, Kai thought as he realized he’d dissociated in front of the man who was deciding how crazy he was.
But Trent looked sympathetic, slowly backing away, a tin of mints in his hand which he showed Kai before slipping them back in his pocket. He must have been the one to recognize Kai was gone and try to bring him back with the only thing he’d had on hand. “Are you OK?” Trent seemed to be genuinely concerned for Kai, and not simply trying to get him to give himself up more than he already had.
“If you promise you won’t commit me, I will be,” Kai replied with his voice, even though it trembled slightly. He hugged his legs tighter to his body. He wanted Jon. He wanted his stuffed fox. He didn’t want to remember.
Trent nodded. “I’m going to call your primary psychiatrist. I think you need a session with her asap to talk about what happened today. But as of right now, I don’t think you’re a danger to yourself or anyone else. All right? Try to relax and get some rest. Stress increases your chance of dissociating.”
Kai inhaled a huge breath, so relieved. “Thank you,” he said, switching back to sign. “Call my brother? Please?
Trent nodded, gathered up his paperwork, and left.
George rose to follow, but Kai waved for him to get his attention.
Do you still freelance? Interpreting?
George blinked, surprised. “Not often. The hospital keeps me pretty busy. Why?
Kai fidgeted. “Would it be possible to hire you to interpret for me when I go to my psychiatrist? If I decide I need an interpreter?
George sighed softly. “Mental health isn’t really my area, but we can talk about it, if it comes down to it. There are a few interpreters I know who are very good in that field I could introduce you to.
Kai nodded, a little disappointed even if that was essentially what he’d expected.
George stretched out a hand, and they shook. “You’ll be OK,” he said, offering Kai a supportive smile. “You’re too stubborn not to get through this.


“Hey,” Jon said in a soft voice, sitting on the edge of Kai’s bed, smoothing his hair. “Here.” Jon pushed the stuffed fox into Kai’s hands.
Kai was lying partially on his back, partially on his side, his legs tucked up, pillows supporting him, groggy from the extra drugs Trent had ordered for him after their visit. Kai was grateful he had avoided the psych ward, but it felt like a hollow victory. He put the fox to his nose and inhaled. The fake fur scent comforting.
“I’m here if you want to talk,” Jon said, being conscientious and ensuring Kai could see his lips, not realizing Kai’s hearing was fine at the moment. “But if you don’t, I understand.”
Kai was silent a long time, his eyes closed, clutching the stuffed fox, trying to see how his life had gotten to this point. Trying to see a way past all this.
“Your blood pressure is a little better. You’ll probably be able to go home in the morning,” Jon said, still smoothing Kai’s hair. “The nurse will bring you some food in a bit. I know you’re probably not hungry, but you need to eat some of it, OK?”
Kai sighed. “OK.” He shifted, opening his eyes and turning his head so he could see Jon better. “I’m so messed up.”
Jon smiled fondly. “Maybe. But you’re a lot less messed up than you were a couple months ago.”
“Am I? I thought I was, but after today, I’m not so sure.” Kai took a deep breath and stared at his brother intently. “What if I can’t get better? Maybe I’m too dangerous to be around people.” Kai let his head fall back to the pillow, staring blankly ahead of him.
“Hey,” Jon said, nudging Kai’s chin to get him to look up. “You fight so hard every single day to get better. It’ll take time, but you can’t give up because you had one bad day.”
Kai sighed. “I just. I hate that people who hurt me in the past didn’t just hurt me then, they’re still hurting me. It’s not fair.”
Jon shook his head and laid a reassuring hand on Kai’s shoulder. “It’s not. And I wish that things had been different, but we can’t change the past. Even the past that still haunts us. All we can do is live now and hope to make the future better. Just remember you aren’t alone, even if it feels that way sometimes. Any time you need to talk, even if it’s in sign, you can talk to me, OK? About anything. Anything,” Jon said, emphasizing the word.
Kai offered his brother a weak smile. Reached for his hand, squeezing it. “Just stay with me tonight? Please? Help me find my way back if I get lost.”
Jon looked sad, but he nodded, giving Kai’s hand a squeeze. “Of course.”


Jon had insisted on cleaning the hospital phone obsessively before letting Kai use it, and even then, he wouldn’t let Kai dial himself. Kai was too tired to fight Jon. They had weaned the drugs down, but Trent had ordered more after Kai's panic attack. These were different than before. Took away his nausea and were like a soft pillow around his mind. Even if they were intended simply to keep him sedate, he was hoping they'd help him sleep and keep the nightmares away.
The phone rang for awhile before Renee answered. He’d been worried he’d have to call Lost Apple, and he didn’t know their number by memory, because Renee normally didn’t keep her phone with her while she was working. Finally, Renee picked up with a confused, “Hello?”
“Hey,” Kai said tiredly.
“Don’t freak out, OK? I’m in the hospital.”
He heard her take in a sharp breath. “Did something happen?”
Kai hesitated, making eye contact with Jon. Then he fudged the truth. “I had some tests today for my anniversary and my blood pressure was low so they wanted to keep me overnight. I’m fine. I’m just tired. Really.”
She sighed. “Is Jon there?”
Kai nodded before he remembered she couldn’t see him. “Yeah.”
“Can you put him on for a minute?”
Kai offered Jon the phone.
Confused, Jon took it. Kai could only hear Jon’s side of the conversation, although Jon kept his eyes on Kai most of the time, his face saying he didn’t like lying to Renee as he supported Kai’s untruth. “Yeah, I’m going to stay with him. He’ll be asleep soon. He’s fading. Yeah, he may not be up for school tomorrow. OK. Say a quick good night and then he’ll probably fall asleep.” Jon gave Kai the phone back.
“I love you, sweetie. Listen to your doctors, OK?” She made a sound that was probably a kiss, and Kai realized she didn’t know about his hearing issue. He’d have to tell her soon enough. But definitely not now.
He yawned. “I will.” Kai’s eyes drifted closed.
Jon chuckled and plucked the phone back. “He’s out. Be safe driving home and I’ll update you in the morning.”


Jon watched his brother sleep. Today had been rough for Kai. Maybe even the most difficult since he left the hospital near Christmas. Jon was relieved the psych resident hadn't insisted on holding him. Jon remembered vividly how most of Kai's delirium and confusion as a result of his fever had come from believing he was still in the psych ward. Or worse, that Jon would send him back. Kai didn't really talk about his experience as a psychiatric inpatient, and Jon hadn't pushed him, but Jon suspected it must have been bad. He'd read the terror in his brother's eyes when he'd realized he might have to stay for three days. How much he'd needed Jon to spend the night with him.
Kai was genuinely worried he wasn't ready to face real life. School. Being around other people. The three of them--Kai, Jon, and Dr. Miller--had discussed whether it would be better or worse for Kai to skip the spring semester, take the time to recover. In the end, they'd all decided Kai with too much free time, without the motivation of class, without goals, was a dangerous thing, and it would be detrimental to his recovery. Yet here Kai was, after only one day of class. And even with Vicky's support, despite all his promises and reassurances he'd whispered to Kai before he'd been lulled to sleep by drugs, Jon honestly didn't believe he was capable of helping Kai through the inevitable storm to come.



  1. Incredibly well written!

  2. Thanks a lot for the chapter! Trent is actually pretty nice. Hope to see more of him.

  3. Thank you for the new chapter! I like George a lot. Jon's thoughts kind of scare me at the end for Kai, but at least he's with him now. Thank you again.