At way too fucking early the next morning, the light in my room was flicked on, and I heard Jane's voice brightly announcing, "Wake up, Nick! Time to start the day!"
Unable to shield my eyes with my hand, I shut them as tightly as I could. I tried to tell her to go away, but I couldn't do it until she put the speaking valve in place a minute later. "Go away," I said.
"You had a day to feel sorry for yourself," Jane said. "Now I'm getting you up before you have a chance to wallow in self-pity."
"Too early," I said. "What time is it?"
"Seven," she said.
"Fuck," I said. I never got up before 10AM as a general rule.
When it was a little less painful, I opened my eyes and saw Jane in the process of dressing me. She had strapped the bag of urine to my thigh and was pulling a pair of sweatpants over my legs. It occurred to me that I was never going to be able to dress myself ever again. That was kind of a depressing thought.
Before I could focus too much on that though, Jane bent down over my leg to tug harder on my pants and I caught a glimpse inside her gray scrub top. She was wearing a black lace bra and she actually had some pretty nice cleavage going on. I was careful not to let her see me stare though—it was an art form I had perfected over the years.
"You ready to try the wheelchair again?" Jane asked me.
I just stared at her.
She sighed and put her hands on her hips. "The way I see it, Nick, you've got two choices. Either you can decide to spend the rest of your life in a bed, or you can actually get a little bit of independence back by learning to get around in a wheelchair. It's your choice. If you decide to stay in bed, that's fine. We'll discharge you right now, and your parents can put you up in a bedroom on the third floor of your house, since you'll never be leaving the house again. Except maybe to go to the hospital for bed sores."
"Okay, fine," I grumbled. "Get me in the goddamn wheelchair."
"That's the spirit," Jane said.
Sitting in the wheelchair wasn't any better this time than last time. I didn't feel any more independent, that's for sure. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Jane was right. I definitely didn't want to spend the rest of my life in bed. A wheelchair was better than that. Slightly better. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad... it would be like getting to drive a car all the time. Getting to drive a really, really, really lame car.
Jane took me out into the hallway again like last time. It was empty, which was the good thing about getting up so early to do therapies, I guess. I didn't like the idea of people gawking at me in this giant chair.
"All right, now if you give a long puff, you'll go forward," Jane instructed me.
I leaned my head forward just a bit and put my lips on the straw that controlled the wheelchair. I exhaled into it, and the wheelchair jerked forward. But not straight. I actually turned right. What the hell was wrong with this chair?
"So you've got to puff a little harder than that," Jane explained.
I put my lips on the control again and blew harder. The wheelchair lurched forward again, but this time it went straight. I kind of felt like a kid learning how to drive his dad's stickshift and looking like an idiot. I guessed I'd get better at it, just like I got better at driving a stick. Which reminded me, I guessed there was no chance I'd ever get to drive a real car again.
"Good job," Jane said. Lying bitch.
We spent the next hour just messing around with the wheelchair in the hallway. I managed to go all the way down the hall in my wheelchair, make a complete turn in both directions, and go backwards (almost running over Jane's toe in the process). I have to say, it wasn't quite as bad as I thought it would be. At one point, I almost caught myself laughing.
The next few days were busy ones. In addition to my sessions with Jane, I also saw an occupational therapist named Cam who got me into a shower for the first time since my injury. It felt great to finally get really clean and get some of that grease of out of my hair. What didn’t feel so great was seeing myself naked.
My last image of myself naked was that night when I had jumped headfirst into the swimming pool. My body looked like it belonged to another person now. My tan was completely gone, my skin now white as paper. I’d lost a lot of weight and my arms and legs had become downright bony. The muscles in my chest had faded away to nothing, and my torso looked just as thin as the rest of me. Aside from my belly, which bulged out like a drunk’s. Well, a drunk with a feeding tube in his belly.
I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter. It wasn’t like anyone was going to see me naked aside from my caregivers.
What made it worse was the fact that Cam was my age and had bulging muscles all over his arms. When he was scrubbing my arms and legs, I couldn’t help but hate him a little bit, even though he seemed pretty nice.
There was also an awkward moment when Cam was scrubbing my penis. I realized that from now on, people were going to be touching my penis a lot in a nonsexual way and it was something I’d have to get used to. I badly wanted to ask Cam if there was any way I might be able to get an erection again, although it was clear that wasn’t going to happen with a catheter stuck in there. The thought of never having an erection or an orgasm or sex ever again made me sick. But then again, even if I wanted to, how would I jerk off? I couldn’t exactly ask an aide to do that for me.
“Something bugging you, Nick?” Cam asked me, real casual. No big deal, just scrubbing another guy’s balls.
Something bugging me? Where did I begin? “Can guys with spinal cord injuries have sex?” I asked.
Cam grinned. “Of course you can. We even have a sexual education lecture we give to patients with spinal cord injuries.”
“Great,” I said. Although my next thought was, Who the fuck would have sex with me?
After showering with Cam, I had speech therapy with Kathleen. Mostly she was working on eating with me. She held out mashed food for me on a spoon and watched me swallow it. I felt about six months old, especially when the food dribbled down my chin and onto my shirt. But Kathleen said I was swallowing really well and gave the nurses the go-ahead to feed me.
When I asked her about it, Kathleen said that if I got some movement back in my biceps, I might be able to feed myself with set-up. It sounded like there was some possibility of that, so I clung to that hope. It seemed surreal that I might never be able to feed myself again for the rest of my life.
While I was in rehab, my parents were renovating the house for when I came home. I wasn’t that thrilled about the idea of living with my parents again, but I guessed I could deal with it temporarily. Eventually I expected them to buy me an apartment and hire people to help me with my needs.
My parents came to go over the plans with me. They took seats at my bedside, while I lay in bed, quarter-turned to the left. There was a pillow between my legs and Mary had applied cushioned boots to my ankles because she said my heels were looking a little pink.
“Your mother is interviewing candidates to be your primary personal care assistant,” Dad told me. “We have a guy who she thinks is very qualified and we’re just verifying his references.”
“I don’t want a male,” I said, thinking of how crippled I felt next to Cam when he was showering me. “I want a woman.”
“Nicky, honey…” Mom began.
“I want a woman,” I said, more firmly this time. “And I want someone attractive. Consider 120 pounds to be the upper limit on weight.”
My parents exchanged looks. “Fine,” Dad finally said. He cleared his throat and shuffled through some papers on his lap. “We also put in a ramp to the entrance and are widening the doorways on the first floor.”
“What about the second floor?” I asked.
“Honey, you won’t be going up there,” Mom pointed out.
“You mean, you’re not going to build me a lift?” I was shocked. “You’re just going to say, Too bad, you can’t go to half the house?”
“An elevator?” Dad stared at me. “You want us to install an elevator? Do you know how much that costs?”
“Boo hoo,” I said. “Just build it, okay?”
Dad’s cheeks turned pink. He put down the papers in his hand and stood up. “No, Nick, I’m not going to build it,” he said. “You know what? You’re a spoiled brat.”
I couldn’t believe he just said that to me. “I’m a spoiled brat because I want to go to the second floor of my house?”
“It’s my house, actually,” Dad snapped. “We are allowing you to live there because your only other option is to go live in a nursing home.”
“So you’d really let your only kid end up in a nursing home?” I said.
“Truthfully, I don’t give a fuck, Nick,” he said. “You already wrecked your life. What’s the difference?”
With those words, my father stormed out of the room. I was fucking shocked. He’d never spoken to me like that before in my whole life. Dad and I always got along really well. I asked for shit and he gave it to me. We had a great relationship.
Would he really put me in a nursing home? I was scared the answer was yes. He seemed pretty damn pissed off.
“Don’t take it personally, Nicky,” Mom said, rubbing my shoulder. “He’s just upset because the latest movie he backed was a huge flop.”
“You know,” Mom said. “That one where Adam Sandler gets stranded on a desert island and he falls in love with a coconut.”
“That movie flopped?”
“I know, it was quite a shock,” Mom said. “It had all the elements of a hit. In any case, we lost a lot of money, and your medical expenses have been very high. He’s pretty angry that you didn’t bother to get health insurance and we had to pay for everything out of pocket.”
“Well, it seemed dumb when I was never sick…”
“That’s why it’s called insurance, honey.”
“But what about the lawsuit?”
Mom frowned at me. “What lawsuit?”
“Against the people with the unsafe pool,” I said. “The one I broke my neck in. Can’t we sue them?”
“Nick…” Mom was giving me a weird look. “You broke into their yard and trespassed in their pool. You’re just lucky there were no charges brought up against you. You really think you could win a lawsuit against them?”
I stared up at the ceiling, trying to absorb what she was telling me. “So… what? We’re poor now?”
“Of course not,” Mom said. “We still have lots of money. But maybe just don’t talk to your father about building an elevator for you.”
“Okay,” I said. I was upset about my father’s outburst, but I guessed it was a long time coming. I tried to smile but it felt a little crooked. "So, um, does that mean I'm not going to a nursing home?"
"Oh, sweetie," Mom sighed, rubbing my shoulder. I really appreciated that she knew to touch me in a place I could feel. "As long as I'm alive, you have a place to live in our house."
Well, so much for getting my own apartment.