I’m in shock.
I admit it, I like Chloe. More than like her. I think about her. All the time. I know I say that I’ve convinced myself that nothing could ever happen between the two of us, but I guess that’s not quite true. Every time she smiles at me, I get a little jolt. I can’t turn it off. At first I thought I liked her because she reminded me of Liz, but it’s more than that now. I’m falling for her.
Then I saw that asshole Graham put his arm around her and I felt sick. I’ve seen him around a lot, enough to know what he’s like. Superficially, I admit it: he’s a little like I used to be. The whole wannabe surgeon mentality. But I don’t think I was that bad. I really don’t. I was a good guy deep down. Or at least, I became a good guy. Liz made me want to be a good guy. I changed for her.
It was obvious by the way Graham casually put his arm around her and she didn’t push him away or slap him, they’re an item. They’re dating. How the hell could she date him? What is she thinking? What’s going through her head??
After I saw them, I ran out of the elevator and went to the bathroom. I needed a minute. I leaned over the sink and stared at myself in the mirror. My reddish brown hair was kind of sticking up. I remember the first time they let me see myself in the mirror after my accident, it was a shock. The scars on my face were still fresh and my left eye was gone. I looked like a freaking Halloween costume.
I’d been wearing a helmet since part of my skull had been removed, and the therapist tried to convince me it was a bad idea to take it off in front of the mirror. But I really just had to see and I promised I’d stay in my wheelchair. The therapist, a cute young woman with a blond ponytail, gently pulled the helmet off, and I almost threw up when I got a look at myself. My hair was gone, shaved, and I could clearly see the thick scars on my scalp. Where the piece of my skull had been removed, my head was sunken and misshapen. My left eyelid was sealed shut and the entire side of my face seemed collapsed.
“They’ll do surgery to fix it, Noel,” the pretty therapist assured me when she saw my horror, but I had been a surgeon and I couldn’t envision any procedure that would fix the mess that was my face. For the rest of my life, I was going to look like the kind of guy that would make children scream and run away.
But amazingly, she was right. One cranioplasty, a few facial surgeries, and several years later, I almost look normal again. You can’t see the scar on my skull because of my hair. You can’t see the scar on my chin because my stubble hides it. The glass eye looks real enough. I’m not someone kids on the street would run from screaming anymore. I look almost like my old self, as long as you don’t look too hard.
Maybe it would be better if I didn’t look normal. It would be better if girls like Chloe were just afraid of me. If there was no way I could delude myself into thinking I had a shot with her. I mean, I should just stop thinking about women altogether. Women don’t want a guy who routinely gets lost on the way to the grocery store. They want a guy who’s confident and treats them like dirt.
It is so incredibly sweet dating Graham. I mean, I like him and all, but just the act of dating him is really what’s amazing. For the first time in my life, I’m popular. Well, I’m not really popular. But people invite me places because they have to because they’re inviting Graham. And the girls respect me. They think I must be awesome in bed or something, because I’m sure they think I’m not pretty enough to be dating him.
As for Graham himself… well, he’s…
He has a lot of good qualities. First, he’s good looking. I think I’ve mentioned that once or twice before, ha ha. Second, he’s very smart. Third, he’s very good at kissing. I’m sure he’s good at other stuff too, if we get to that point. Fourth, he’s funny. Or at least, he can sometimes be funny. When he wants to be.
He does have bad qualities. He’s kind of a jerk. He’s ridiculously competitive. He very obviously looks down on me and thinks I’m nowhere near as smart as he is. He says things that are blatantly patronizing and then acts like I shouldn’t be bothered because it’s so obviously true. He studies nonstop so it’s hard to convince him to do anything else. He talks about being a surgeon way too much. He’s still debating between ortho and plastics. Do you want me to list the pros and cons of ortho versus plastics? Because I could do it.
Okay, so like today, I said that maybe we should study together. He kind of laughed and said that he didn’t think that would useful for either of us. Whatever that means? Then he said that I could come by and we could watch some TV after 10PM, when he was done.
Also, he brags a lot. Everything from what an amazing skier he is to talking about his publications from college. It’s like he’s always trying to impress me. But maybe that’s a good thing. He wants to impress me. That’s good, right?
All right, he’s a crappy boyfriend. Oh well. I guess I need to end it.
Noel’s Memory Book:
Rose made me an appointment with my neurologist for tomorrow to discuss my seizures.
I’ve been with my neurologist Dr. Coulter for a while now. He’s a nice guy. Very friendly and he listens to me. A lot of doctors talk like I’m not even there. Like I’m too brain damaged to understand their fancy doctor talk. Dr. Coulter doesn’t do that though. He seems to respect me.
My first visit with Dr. Coulter was soon after I was discharged from inpatient rehab. I had just gotten my prosthetic and had started something called “pre-gait” therapy. Basically, it involved two therapists standing me up and encouraging me to take a few steps.
Before I got the prosthetic, somehow I’d been under the impression that as soon as I got that leg, I’d basically take off walking. But when I saw that it took two therapists supporting me just to walk a few steps, I got discouraged. Actually, if I could walk a few steps, I was lucky. A lot of times, we’d just stand there. Or march in place. It occurred to me that I was never going to actually walk again except in a gym with at least one person supporting me. I thought I’d been kidding myself, thinking I’d ever not need my wheelchair anymore.
I hadn’t realized until then how hopeful I’d been that I was going to walk. I started to hate my wheelchair, hate everyone else for being able to walk like it was nothing, and I just lost interest in everything. All I wanted to do was stay in bed.
My mother brought me to Dr. Coulter. I remember how worried she was. “He’s not acting like he did when he first came home,” she said, wringing her hands together. “He hardly talks and he just wants to sleep all the time. I don’t know what’s wrong.”
Dr. Coulter asked me a bunch of questions. Questions about where I was, the date, my birthday, the names of my brother and sister, little logic puzzles, phrases he wanted me to repeat. When he asked me to count backwards from a hundred by sevens, I just stopped answering him. I had enough.
“Well,” Dr. Coulter said, after he was done examining me. “I think we should scan his head.”
My mother was horrified. “You do?”
“He may be developing a posttraumatic hydrocephalus,” Dr. Coulter explained. “If that’s the case, I’d want him to see a surgeon.”
That perked my ears up. I’d just been through so many surgeries. My hair was finally starting to grow back. The thought of going under the knife again made my throat go dry. “No, I don’t want a head CT,” I pleaded.
“Noel…” Dr. Coulter began, then he stopped and frowned. “Wait, what did you call it?”
There was a long silence and my mother finally said, “He used to be a doctor.”
Dr. Coulter scratched his graying head of hair as he looked at me. He pulled up a stool and sat down. “Noel, why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”
I confessed to him my fears about not being able to walk again, and then I cried because just about everything brought me to tears back then. Dr. Coulter decided against scanning my head and that’s how I ended up with my antidepressants.
I owe that guy a lot. If he hadn’t given me those pills, I wouldn’t have felt motivated to keep doing my therapies and finally get out of that damn wheelchair.
So Graham is getting slightly better at the whole boyfriend deal. Today I was studying early in the morning in this classroom near the anatomy labs where a lot of med students study. I was just about ready to blow my brains out when Graham showed up with breakfast for me. Eggs and hash browns from the cafeteria. And coffee!
So I guess I’ll keep him. After all, Olivia isn’t bringing me breakfast.
Noel’s Memory Book:
Rose just dropped me off from my neurologist visit. We’re barely speaking. She was yelling in the car.
Aside from prescribing my antidepressants, Dr. Coulter has been managing my seizures as well. I was having a few seizures a month initially. Now no seizures for six months. Well, until last week. It’s still pretty good. The trade-off is I have to take a medication that makes me feel even more tired and confused than I already am.
When Dr. Coulter got into the room, immediately Rose launched into a detailed account of my seizure. Before the doctor could even open his mouth. I was just sitting there, not listening. Rose loves to describe my seizures like they’re the end of the world. It’s kind of embarrassing.
“So it sounds like you had a generalized seizure,” Dr. Coulter said. “What are you up to on your medication?”
“Keppra 1000 milligrams twice a day,” Rose said before I could answer. She looked at me accusingly, “You’re taking it, right?”
“Yes, I am,” I said. I’ve got an alarm set on my watch to remember.
“And is anything different?” Dr. Coulter asked. “Any new medications?”
“No,” I said.
“Alcohol? Have you been drinking at all?”
Rose looked horrified. I quickly answered, “No.” Why would I drink? I already feel like I’m kind of drunk most of the time.
“Well, Noel,” Dr. Coulter said. “One seizure in six months isn’t that bad. But if it really bothers you, we could go up on your dose of Keppra.”
“I don’t want to go up on the Keppra,” I said, at the same time Rose said, “Let’s increase the Keppra.”
Dr. Coulter smiled. “Seems like we have a difference of opinion here.”
“I don’t like Keppra,” I said. “It makes me feel fuzzy. Tired.” If the seizure hadn’t happened, I’d been hoping I could taper it down. So much for that.
“But you could have another seizure!” Rose said.
Rose looked at Dr. Coulter, aghast at my answer.
“I don’t think that’s unreasonable,” Dr. Coulter said. “You don’t drive or do anything where you’d be in danger. So if you want to stay on your current dose of Keppra, then I think it’s fine. As long as you don’t have more seizures.”
“He could injure himself during a seizure!” Rose protested. “He could injure his head.”
“Too late,” I said. I could see a smile touch Dr. Coulter’s lips.
“You operate heavy equipment,” she pointed out.
“I operate an elevator,” I said. “The worst that could happen is someone misses their floor.”
Rose huffed. “You shouldn’t be making these decisions. You don’t understand the implications. You’re like… a child.”
I stared at her. That really really went too far. But unlike her, I wasn’t going to start acting like a lunatic in front of the doctor. “Dr. Coulter gave me a choice,” I said. “I get to make my own medical decisions. If you don’t like it, next time I’ll take a cab.”
That shut Rose up temporarily, but in the car, she started up again. It was pretty insulting. About how I couldn’t take care of myself and the seizures are really scary and I needed to listen to her. She was almost crying. I may be impaired but I’m not as bad as three years ago. I can hear what a doctor says and make a decision. I’m not like a child. I don’t even know how she could say that.
We are finishing up the dissection of the thorax this week. We had our last quiz on the thorax yesterday. I’m 99% sure I failed it.
I should be studying, but what’s the point? I’m at Graham’s apartment, sitting on his bed and flipping through the anatomy atlas kind of halfheartedly. Graham’s got his last two quizzes lying on his desk. Let’s just say, he has no reason to be worried about this exam.
“I don’t understand the female pelvis,” I say.
“You don’t understand the female pelvis?” Graham repeats, smirking.
“It’s not funny!”
“It’s a little funny,” he says. He sits down next to me on his bed. I love Graham’s bed. He’s got one of those really expensive ultra-pedic mattresses or whatever, that conforms perfectly to the shape of your body to maximize the quality of your sleep. I feel Graham’s hand sliding down my back and going dangerously close to my own (female) pelvis. I hold my breath. “You’re tense.”
“A bit,” I admit.
“Would you like a massage?”
I lie down on Graham’s bed and I let him slide his fingers under my shirt and over the bare skin of my back. His hands are very smooth and strong. I remember the way Elizabeth’s fingers felt, all dry and cracked from so many surgeries. I wonder if Graham’s hands will get like that eventually.
“You’re really tense, Chloe,” he says. “You need to relax.”
I feel his lips on my neck and that doesn’t help me much to relax, but it’s pretty nice. Ah, Graham.
Noel’s Memory Book:
Rose called me. She’s sorry. She asked me if she could come over and do my laundry. How could I say no?
Olivia and I are alone in lab today. Graham and Claire are off together studying. It seems like all the smartest people in our class have decided that cracking the books is more important than being elbow-deep in a cadaver. Maybe we should leave.
“You’re putting the liver back wrong,” Olivia says to me.
I look down at the solid organ in my hands. The liver is actually a really interesting organ. It does a lot of things, none of which I entirely understand. “How do you know?” I say.
“Well, does your liver jut four inches out of your chest?”
“I guess not.”
I try to shove the liver into place, but it seems like a lost cause. I sigh and drop my hands to my sides. “Are you okay?” Olivia asks me.
Olivia has no idea I’ve been failing the quizzes. I like Olivia but I don’t feel close to her in that way. I don’t want to confide in her. There’s no one here I feel that I can talk to about intimate things. The only person who even comes close is Noel, who hates me now. And that just makes me so sad, I want to cry all over this dead body. We’ve got to spray it with water to keep it from drying out anyway.