I was actually getting used to the idea of being bathed by another person all the time. My occupational therapist Cam was fast and efficient, and while he scrubbed me down, he’d talk to me. Just about casual stuff, to make it seem like we were two friends hanging out, rather than one man bathing another.
The way I got bathed was in a shower chair. Cam would undress me down to the plastic diaper, then transfer me into the chair from bed, usually using a slideboard rather than a Hoyer lift like the female therapists. Cam was strong, so he could give me a lot more support than a woman. The shower chair kind of looked like a fusion of a toilet and a wheelchair, and I’m not even kidding. Most of it was made of plastic and the seat was shaped like the seat of a toilet bowl. There was a footrest with little holes in it so the water could seep through. And of course, it had plastic straps that went across my chest, to keep me from falling out.
Once I was in the shower chair, I couldn’t wheel it myself, so I was dependent on Cam to get me into the shower. Usually he wheeled me right in, but today he discovered that nobody had replaced the towels in the bathroom, so he had to leave me to make a towel run. Out of respect for my privacy, he shut the door before he left. I sat patiently in the shower chair, waiting for him to return. I heard him knock and said, “Come in.”
Naturally, it wasn’t Cam. It was Savannah.
I guess this was the first time she’d seen me naked since my injury. Of course, I wasn’t completely naked. I was still wearing a fucking blue plastic diaper with the catheter tube snaking out. I couldn’t look her in the eyes, so I looked down, but that was even worse. Looking down at my body, I looked so crippled. My legs had gotten really skinny, and my hands were curled up, my wrists turned in. My stomach bulged out and it was clear there were no muscles left in my chest.
At that moment, Cam came back in. He gave Savannah a big smile. “Well, hi there!” he said. “You must be Nick’s girlfriend.”
“Uh huh,” Savannah said, her voice barely a whisper.
“Do you want to help with his shower?” Cam offered.
I prayed she’d say no. “No,” she said.
“I’ll be done in half an hour,” I told her, still unable to look her in the eyes. “Maybe you can come back.”
“Okay, that’s fine,” Savannah said.
I felt intense relief when she hurried away. It’s funny because I’d never been even the slightest bit self-conscious about my body. I mean, I was skinny dipping when I broke my neck. But now I didn’t want anyone to see me naked. Which fucking sucked, considering practically everyone saw me naked these days.
Cam wheeled me into the shower and got the water going. “What’s your girlfriend’s name again?” he asked me.
“Savannah,” I said.
“Nice,” he said. He got out a washcloth and soaped it up. He started to scrub at my chest. “How did you meet?”
“At a party,” I said. It was actually the party of some stand-up comedian who had just won his own pilot. Bill Something-or-other. Anyway, the pilot eventually failed, but at the time, he was so excited, he bought a bunch of coke and threw a pretty intense party. I was so high, I only vaguely remember meeting Savannah. I definitely fucked her that night though. I remember that part. We were in a closet. We were literally fucking in a coat closet. I remember a hanger poked Savannah in the eye and she got really upset, especially when I couldn’t stop laughing.
It went without saying that I was never going to be able to have sex in a closet again.
Cam was prying apart my fingers and trying to clean between them. “Do you and Savannah want to use the apartment?”
“You know, to have some alone time…” Cam winked at me. I remembered hearing about a room that was set up like an apartment, where patients could have complete privacy for a night.
“I don’t know,” I mumbled.
“I know you’re nervous,” Cam said. “But you shouldn’t be. I’ll help you get into bed and get undressed, and then we can let Savannah in. I think it’ll help the two of you reconnect.”
“Yeah, maybe…” I felt weird saying no. I mean, what guy wouldn’t want to be alone with his girlfriend? Except this would be the first time I’d be alone with Savannah since my injury and things were really different now. There were a hundred ways things could go wrong.
Cam finished bathing me, and got me dressed and into my regular wheelchair. I hated that wheelchair so much when I first saw it, but now I felt happy whenever I saw it. Without that wheelchair, I was really helpless. It was frustrating not to be able to move from Point A to Point B.
Savannah came into the room just as Cam was combing my hair. I forced a smile, trying to forget what happened earlier. Her smile seemed equally forced.
“Nick, tell her about the apartment,” Cam said.
“Um, okay,” I said. I swallowed hard. “So there’s this apartment in the hospital that’s a place where you and I can be alone together to… um… you know…”
“What?” Savannah asked blankly.
I was too embarrassed to finish the sentence, so Cam filled her in: “Have sex.”
“Have sex?” Savannah looked utterly shocked. “You can have sex? But you’re paralyzed.”
“Don’t worry,” Cam said good-naturedly. “We’ll slip him a Viagra and he’ll be fine.”
Viagra. Great. Even though I was 25 years old, I was going to need a medication taken by 70 year old guys who wanted to fuck old ladies.
“Oh,” Savannah said. She looked a little pale. “I guess we can. That would be okay.”
Well, don’t get too excited, sweetheart.
“Great,” I said. I don’t think it’s possible either of us could have been dreading this more.
Savannah patiently waited for Cam to finish up with me. It was true that Savannah had a lot of not so great qualities and maybe she wasn’t dealing with my paralysis as well as she could have. But on the other hand, she wasn’t such a bad girlfriend. Not every girl would stick around when her boyfriend because a quadriplegic. I couldn’t blame her for not wanting to, say, learn to bath or dress me. Why would she?
But I know Savannah had strong feelings for me, because she came to visit me all the time. Why would she waste her time doing that if she didn’t really like me? And if she liked me a lot, I wasn’t going to take that for granted. I wanted to be in it for the long haul with this girl. Maybe we’d even get married someday. I just needed to keep from scaring her off.
After Cam left, Savannah sidled closer to me and laid one of her milky white hands on my chest. I thought she was being affectionate until she said: “Nick, do you really need this strap here?”
She was referring to the strap across my upper chest. Yes, I fucking needed it. What did she think—it was decorative? I had no strength in my upper body, so without it, I’d pitch forward. “Yeah, I do,” I said.
“It just looks really bad,” Savannah said. “It messes up the way your shirt looks. Like, what if you wanted to wear a nice shirt and tie?”
“When will I need to wear a nice shirt and tie?” I was having trouble imagining a situation like that.
“I don’t know… to, like, a movie premiere?”
I always hated going to movie premieres and I didn’t think going as a quad was going to be any more fun. “Well, I don’t know what to say. I really need it.”
Savannah pouted for a second, then her face brightened. “Maybe we could hide it.”
Before I could ask what she was talking about, she ran off. When she returned, she was holding a huge pair of scissors. Fuck. “Please don’t cut the strap,” I said anxiously.
“I’m not going to cut the strap, silly,” Savannah said. “I’m going to cut your shirt.”
I didn’t really want her to do that either, but it didn’t seem like she was going to listen to me, so I tolerated her snipping a two-inch long slit on either side of my shirt. Luckily, I was just wearing a random T-shirt that had appeared in my closet one day.
Savannah inspected her handiwork and smiled. “Great. Now we just need to thread the strap through your shirt.”
Before I had a chance to process what she was saying, Savannah had ripped open the Velcro on the strap across my chest. The effect was instant: my whole upper body pitched forward and slightly to the right. The fact that my arms were strapped down helped a little, but I felt very unsafe. “Savannah, strap me back in!” I yelled at her, lifting my head so I could look at her.
Savannah looked a little panicked. I don’t know how she didn’t realize this was going to happen, especially since I asked her not to undo the strap. But instead of doing the intelligent thing and actually strapping me back in, she ran off, screaming, “Cam! Help!”
It was hard to keep my head up in this position, so I let my head sag down. I stared down at my lap, where I noticed I could see my legbag through my sweatpants. Great. I’d have to get Cam to adjust it.
A minute later, Cam and Savannah were back. Cam held my upper body up while Savannah threaded the straps under my shirt and then re-secured the Velcro. Then she brushed her hands off on her tight navy blue skirt and stepped back to examine her handiwork. “That is so much better, Nick,” she declared.
I looked down at my chest. It did seem a little better, not having that strap visible. I actually looked slightly less crippled.
“I have a flair for this,” Savannah said proudly. “Now we just need to find you a shirt that hides that pooch on your belly and some decent thick pants to hide your legs. After you get out of here, we’ll go shopping together. I could totally make you look almost normal.”
I didn’t let her see how much her words stung me. My girlfriend just declared that I didn’t look like a normal person anymore. And she just said it so matter-of-factly, like it was a given that I looked like a freak.
“Sounds good,” I said, swallowing a lump in my throat.
“If this acting thing doesn’t work out, I could become a clothing designer for the disabled,” Savannah said.
I was really beginning to question Savannah’s feelings for me. It was becoming more and more obvious that she thought of me as something less than an attractive man. And if that was the case, why was she still my girlfriend?