Dr. Greenly’s response was to set up a meeting with me and my parents. My parents, by the way, absolutely agreed with me. They didn’t like Jane any better than I did. Also, Dad said that the view in my room was unacceptable. Considering how much we had paid for this hospital, we ought to have a view of the Eiffel Tower (even though the hospital was in Southern California).
The meeting took place in my room, since I wasn’t willing to get out of bed until the Jane issue was addressed. It was Dr. Greenly, my parents, and to my dismay, Jane. They each took seats around my bed. Dr. Greenly was holding a skeletal of a human spine and I wondered if I was about to get an anatomy lecture.
“Does she have to be here?” I said, glaring at Jane.
“Yes, she does,” Dr. Greenly said.
“Now, hang on a minute,” Dad said. “If Nick says he doesn’t want her here, I think she should leave.”
Dr. Greenly gave my father a hard look. “Mr. Edwards, Jane is Nick’s primary therapist. She’s one of our best therapists. I think her input here is crucial.”
I started to protest, my Mom patted my shoulder and said, “Just ignore her, dear. Don’t worry, we’ll take care of this later.”
“Take care of this” was the code for saying they would make sure her ass was fired.
“Now, Nick,” Dr. Greenly began, “I’d just like to clarify with you what the goals of your therapy is. It seems like you’re a little unclear on that. The reason you’re here is to help you breathe on your own, get you eating again, to learn to be mobile in a power wheelchair, and to train your future caregivers to participate in your care.”
I shook my head. “No, I don’t think so. I’m here to learn to move and walk again.”
Dr. Greenly glanced at my parents then back at me. “Nick, I thought someone had already spoken to you about this. You are most likely never going to walk again. The best chance you have is to gain some functional movement in your arms, but that’s not very likely either.” He held up the skeleton of the neck. “See, you had your injury right here, between the C3 and C4 vertebrae, so—”
“It’s only been a few months,” I interrupted him. “I haven’t had time to heal.”
“Your spinal cord was completely severed, Nick,” Dr. Greenly said. His voice wasn’t gentle. “The spinal cord does not heal.”
“Well, fine,” I said. “My father will get me into some experimental treatment then. I’m sure there’s something with stem cells that I can do.”
“No, there isn’t,” Dr. Greenly said. “Not right now. Maybe years in the future, who knows. But right now, the overwhelming likelihood is that you’re not going to regain any movement in your arms or legs.”
Dr. Greenly meant well, but he didn’t get it. It’s different for people who have a lot of money. “Dad, can you tell him?” I said.
There was a long awkward silence. I have to say, that silence fucking terrified me. There had never been a moment when I wasn’t 100% confident that I would recover. But when my father didn’t immediately jump in and reassure me, I realized for the first time that I might be in trouble.
“Nick,” Dad said. “I looked into it with Dr. Greenly. There really aren’t any promising studies right now. Most of them are still in the early stages, with the rats and all.” He paused. “There was one study that you might be able to do in the future, where they implant a chip in your brain and it helps you operate a computer with your thoughts.” He flashed me an overly wide smile. “Sounds pretty cool, huh?”
“No, it does not sound fucking cool,” I snapped. “This is horseshit! Are you really saying that after one little injury, I’m not going to be able to do anything ever again?”
“That’s not what we’re saying at all, Nick,” Dr. Greenly said. For a second, I felt reassured, then he added, “You’ll be completely independent with mobility while you’re in your wheelchair. You’ll have a lot of independence with the use of voice activated software. But yes, you will be completely dependent for all your other care, including dressing, bathing, toileting, and transfers into your wheelchair. And most likely for eating as well.”
I couldn’t talk. I mean, I could, because I had my speaking valve in, but I felt too sick to say anything.
“This is why you need to get serious about your rehab, Nick,” Jane jumped in. “I’m going to help you to maximize your independence and direct your caregivers.”
I realized then that I had started to cry. Mom noticed first and she put her hand on my shoulder and cooed, “Oh, Nicky. Don’t worry. Your father and I will take care of you.” And that just made me cry harder, because I realized that I was going to be dependent on my parents and other people for the rest of my fucking life. I was going to be a fucking cripple in the lamest fucking wheelchair I’d ever seen.
“Maybe we should give him some time alone,” Jane murmured to Dr. Greenly.
“Oh, you think?” I managed to croak.
Jane and the doctor left me with my parents, although not before putting me back on oxygen. That was fine because the last thing I wanted to do was talk about any of this. My mother sat by my bed, stroking my hair and saying annoyingly cheerful things, like about all the automated equipment they were going to buy for me. I mostly tuned her out, focusing on the soothing sensation of her hand against my skin. It made me remember when I was a kid and my problems were small and she really did have the power to make it all right, usually by buying me shit.
My father hovered in the corner of the room. Like me, he was used to feeling in control. Despite my drug use and laziness, I know he always liked showing off his only son to his buddies and figured someday I’d take over his company. Now that I was a quadriplegic, I don’t think he was going to want to show me off anymore.
I was given the day off from therapy, since it was clear that I wasn’t up for it. My parents stayed with me in the room for a while, then left to get some dinner. Around that time, Mary announced that Mason was here to see me. She didn’t ask me if I wanted to see him, which I didn’t. She just let him march right in, then put on my speaking valve afterwards.
“Nico!” Mason said, like he always did as he bounded into the room. Mason had always been taller than me, even when we were kids, but I realized now the height differential was going to be a lot bigger. I was going to have to look way up to talk to him from now on. We’d never be even close to eye to eye unless he was sitting like me. “What’s going on, man?”
I cut right to the chase. “Did you know that I’m paralyzed permanently? That I’ll be in a wheelchair the rest of my life? Are you aware of that?”
That wiped the smile of Mason’s face. “Um, yeah,” he mumbled. “I mean, I heard that, yes.”
“So why didn’t you fucking say something to me?”
Mason scratched his sandy hair. “Well, they told you. They told you lots of times. So I thought…”
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
Mason’s blue eyes widened. “No! What are you talking about? Why would I be enjoying this?”
“You’ve always been jealous of me,” I said.
That was a fact. Mason was jealous of me. His parents were very wealthy, but mine were wealthier. I was better looking than he was. I was better at getting girls. The only thing he was better at was football and who gives a flying fuck about football? He’d spent his life being jealous of me and now he was here to finally gloat.
“I was never jealous of you, Nick,” Mason said.
“How could you say I’m happy to see you like this?” Mason shook his head. “You’re like my brother. This sucks for me as much as it does for you.”
“There’s no way in hell this sucks for you as much as it does for me.”
“Okay, okay…” Mason chewed on his lower lip. “I know you’re feeling like shit right now. What can I do to cheer you up?”
“You can get the fuck out and never come back.”
“Nick, come on…”
Mason was blinking his eyes, and for a second, I thought I saw a tear well up. Except he wasn’t that great an actor.
“Get out,” I said again.
He hung his head. “All right, if that’s what you want.”
I watched Mason’s hulking shoulders sag as he walked out the door to my room. I felt a twinge of regret. Maybe I had said some untrue things… Mason wasn’t the jealous type, not really. And out of all my many friends, he was the only one who’d been there for me through this whole ordeal. I heard the others came to visit early on, but it was Mason who kept coming two or three times a week through the entire time I was in the hospital. Sometimes it felt like his visits were the only thing keeping me alive.
But either way, it just hurt too much to see him right now. And that was the truth.
To be continued...