I’d been lying in bed for about four months. I almost died about a dozen times. I had pneumonia, urinary tract infections, skin infections. I had so many surgeries that I had lost count. For much of that time, I was drifting in and out of consciousness, not really aware of much going on around me aside from the fact that I was really sick. I’d never been sick before. I’ve gotten stitches and broken bones before, but I was never seriously ill, like life or death kind of sick.
So what happened? The pool turned out to be much more shallow than I thought, or so they say. I broke my neck between the C3 and C4 vertebrae. I’d gotten mixed messages on what that means exactly long term, but for now, I knew it meant that I couldn’t feel or move most of my body. So I was pretty happy when I found out I was going to a rehab facility, so I could start moving around again and eventually walking. My father had ensured that I would be at the most expensive and best facility around.
Soon before my transfer to rehab, I had my halo brace taken off. It had been screwed into my skull for three long months and it was intensely uncomfortable. In its place, I just had a collar around my neck. It was also uncomfortable, but it felt like a cloud compared with the halo. I almost felt normal again without that fucking thing.
I was transferred to the rehab facility by ambulance on a stretcher. Lately, I couldn’t go anywhere without a stretcher. I knew I’d probably have to use a wheelchair for a short time while I regained sensation and movement, which I wasn’t exactly looking forward to, but I was willing to deal with it. Anything to get out of the fucking bed.
It was hard to see much from the vantage point of the stretcher, but I could glimpses of things as I was wheeled past. The rehab place looked very modern. Dad had shown me some photos before we decided on a place, and I picked this one mostly because the nurses and therapists in the photos had looked so hot.
As I was lifted from the stretcher into my bed, I could hear the paramedics giving report about me to the nurses: “Nicholas Edwards, 25 years old, complete C3/C4 quadriplegia… got a trach and PEG, Foley catheter…”
She was referring to all my various tubes. Due to my multiple pneumonias, they couldn’t quite get me off a ventilator and therefore did a tracheostomy. I still had extra oxygen going in through my trach, but I was told I’d eventually be able to breathe on my own. But since I couldn’t eat with all this going on, they put a tube in my stomach to feed me. And one in my bladder, since I wasn’t exactly able to get up to go to the bathroom.
Admittedly, I wasn’t sure if that catheter in my bladder came out, that I’d know when I had to go. I couldn’t tell when I had to go number two. I just went and someone would clean me up. I guessed that would get better with time. Nobody told me so explicitly, but I knew for sure I wasn’t going to be incontinent for the rest of my life at age 25.
As soon as she finished getting report, the nurse came into the room to see me. It was hard to hide my disappointment. This nurse didn’t look anything like the women in the photos. She was about fifty years old with close-cropped brown hair, and was built like a bull. “Hello there, Nicholas!” she boomed. “I’m Mary.”
I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t because the trach didn’t allow me to talk. If I could have talked, I’d have told her to go away and bring back her hot daughter. And scratch my nose please, because it was itching like crazy.
“Do you like to be called Nick?” she asked me.
I nodded, which was not easy with a hard collar on my neck.
“Well, Nick,” she said. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to go ahead and do my assessment. I’ll forego the questions, because I know you can’t talk.”
I was actually used to the drill by now. Mary rolled me over on my side to inspect my back as well as checking the padding underneath my butt to make sure it was clean. She pulled off the bag of urine hanging from my bedside and replaced it with a fresh bag. She listened to my chest with her stethoscope, then rolled me on my other side. This time she propped me up with pillows on that side, as well as putting a pillow between my legs. She also placed two small rolled up washcloths in my hands, noting that, "Your fingers are getting stiff!"
When she was done, she bent over me so that I could see her face. "You have a visitor already, Nick. Did you want to see him? He says his name is Mason Lunt."
I nodded. Mason had beat out my parents getting here, which made sense considering he drove 90 miles per hour in his Porsche. I couldn't wait to ride in Mason's sweet car again.
"How about if I deflate the cuff on your trach so you can talk to him a little?" Mary suggested.
I nodded again, more eagerly this time. It was really frustrating not being able to talk. Anyone who tells you they can read lips? They're lying.
Mary motioned for Mason to enter my room just as she was deflating the cuff on my trach. "Get in here so you quit scaring everyone in the waiting area," she said to him.
She was referring to the fact that Mason is 6'3", three inches taller than me, and nearly 300 pounds. He played football in high school and college and had more tackles than any other player. Despite his sandy blond hair and blue eyes, he looks like he could crush you. Possibly by sitting on you.
"Nico!" Mason grinned as he entered the room, nearly bashing his forehead on the doorway but remembering to duck at the last second. "Nice place! Your dad must be paying through his nose."
"Not worth it," I said. My voice was low and just a bit above a whisper, as opposed to Mason's booming baritone.
"What? Why not?"
"Nurses aren't hot enough."
Mason snickered as he pulled up a chair by my bed. "They're not that bad."
"Hey, it's for you," I retorted. "How many hot nurses' phone numbers have you gotten in the last four months? Twenty? Thirty?" Mason had come to visit me at least twice a week since my injury and notoriously hit on every attractive nurse he saw.
"Thirty plus one!" Mason said, triumphantly yanking a post-it out of his jeans pocket with ten digits scrawled onto it.
"Someone here?" I asked in amazement. He was fast. I'd always been better at hitting on women than Mason was, but clearly he was getting better. I had to work on getting out of here, so I didn't lose my touch.
"Uh huh," Mason said, shrugging. Then he crumpled up the paper and tossed it in the trash.
"You're not going to call her?"
He shrugged again. "I don't know. I'm kind of too busy."
“Got it, she’s a dog,” I said. I yawned, noticing that I felt just a bit short of breath. But I wasn’t ready to have the trach cuff inflated again. I could handle being a little short of breath.
“So when are you going to get out of bed?” Mason asked me.
“Hopefully today,” I said. “I plan to be walking again by Christmas.”
Mason’s eyes widened and he leaned forward eagerly in his seat, which creaked under his weight. “You mean your legs moved?”
“Not yet,” I said. “But I’m guessing that will happen pretty soon. It’s been long enough, right?”
Mason got this look in his eyes that I couldn’t read. And that says a lot, because like I said, I’ve known the guy since we were kids and he’s the closest thing I have to a brother. I could probably make a list for you of every piece of pussy that Mason has ever nailed, that’s how well I know him.
At that moment, a tall bearded man in a white coat with a stethoscope slung around his neck entered the room. I have great eyesight and I could read his badge all the way from across the room: Daniel Greenly, MD. When he spoke, his voice was scratchy, like he’d been battling a sore throat for the last twenty years. “Nicholas Edwards,” he said.
“Yep,” I said.
“My name is Dr. Greenly,” he said. “I’ll be your doctor during your stay on our rehab unit.”
Mason stood up and hovered over my bed awkwardly. “Should I go, Doctor?”
Dr. Greenly nodded and I felt disappointed. Mason’s visits were the highlight of my week. But before he left, Mason gave my hand a squeeze and said, “I’ll be back in a couple of days, Nick.”
Dr. Greenly rolled me onto my back and proceeded to give me the most thorough exam I’d ever had in my entire life. He took a safety pin and stuck me about twenty times on both sides of my body, asking me what I could and couldn’t feel. The answer was usually the same: I couldn’t feel it at all. Until he got to my shoulders. There I could feel the pinprick and accurately distinguish it from the dull edge of the safety pin.
After that, he said he wanted to see how strong I was. The answer was, not very. There were times when I could have sworn I was moving my muscle, but I could tell from Dr. Greenly’s face that I wasn’t. When he got to my arm, I watched him place his hand on my right biceps. “Come on, Nick,” he said. “Bend your elbow.”
I closed my eyes and focused all my energy on my right elbow. What did I used to do to make it move? I concentrated as hard as I could, and then finally there was a twitch. I opened my eyes. “It moved, right?”
“Didn’t feel anything,” Dr. Greenly said.
I was getting pissed off. How could he not have felt that? Was he hard of feeling?
Lastly, Dr. Greenly wanted to do a rectal exam. He rolled me back onto my side and he… well, I don’t really know what he was doing back there. I couldn’t feel anything. He asked me a few times, “Do you feel this?” And I had to answer no. Then he asked me to squeeze, like I was having a bowel movement. I heard him mutter under his breath, “No voluntary rectal tone.”
Dr. Greenly peeled off his blue rubber gloves and washed his hands. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and offered me a thin smile. “I hope you’ll enjoy your stay here, Nick. I expect you’ll begin your therapies tomorrow. Your physical therapist Jane is getting a wheelchair for you.”
“I don’t want to focus too much on the wheelchair stuff,” I said. “I’d like to be walking as soon as possible.”
Dr. Greenly stared at me. “You can’t move your legs. How do you expect to walk?”
“I mean, when they heal,” I clarified.
“You’re a quadriplegic, Nick,” Dr. Greenly said. His brown eyes appeared magnified behind his lenses. “Did someone explain to you what that means?”
“I’m not an idiot, Doctor,” I said.
Dr. Greenly didn’t say anything for a long time. “Later this week, I’d like to have a meeting with you and your parents,” he finally said. He glanced at a monitor at my bedside, “But for now, I’m going to have to reinflate your trach cuff.”
“No, I’m fine,” I said.
“No, your oxygen levels are getting low.”
“Excuse me, Doctor, but I don’t think my parents are paying you to tell me what to do. I want to be able to talk.”
But you know what? That fucking doctor just went and inflated the cuff anyway. By the time it hit me that he was really doing it against my wishes, I couldn’t even yell at him. I attempted to call him a fucking prick, but it really doesn’t have the same impact when you’re just mouthing the words.
To be continued...