“Megs, when am I going to get to meet Bryan?” Kelly asked over lunch a Wednesday afternoon in the beginning of August. Meaghan had been spending most of her free time with Bryan lately and she had finally found time to have lunch with her best friend. She’d been at a meeting not far from Kelly’s workplace.
“You’ve already met Bryan.”
“Very funny. You might have introduced us at the speed dating session, but how about really meeting him? You’re my best friend and it would be nice to know the man that’s kept you to himself for the past month.”
“I’ve been busy with work.”
“And then you’ve spent the little free time you’ve had with Bryan. Come on Megs, can’t we have dinner together this weekend? Maybe he has a cute doctor friend he can set me up with?”
Meaghan had a sip of her latte and thought for a moment. She realized that Kelly had a point; she’d been dating Bryan for little over a month now, they spent most of their time together and she had been ignoring Kelly. It was time to properly introduce them.
“Well, do you have any plans Saturday evening?”
“Bryan and I figured we’d give a new Mexican restaurant down the street from his place a try. Want to join us?”
“I’d love to!”
“Awesome. I’ll call you with the time when I’ve talked to Bryan. He’s working on Saturday and I’m not sure when he gets off duty.” Meaghan paused, realizing she should tell Kelly about Bryan’s disability, to hopefully avoid an awkward situation when they met. “Um…there’s one thing you should know about Bryan though.”
“What? He’s married? Has a kid?”
“No, nothing like that. He’s in a wheelchair. Paralyzed from the waist down.”
“Why haven’t you told me this sooner?”
“Because if I’d told you right after I met him you would’ve told me to dump his crippled ass.”
“I guess you have a point,” Kelly reluctantly admitted.
“Trust me, my jaw dropped when he came around the table that first evening and revealed he was in a wheelchair, but there was something about him that made me give him a chance. I’m glad I did, he's really a great guy.”
“Hmm…” Kelly didn't sound too convinced.
“Give him a chance Kel. I’m sure you’ll like him.”
“Okay, I will,” Kelly said with a small smile. Meaghan had a feeling she wasn’t entirely convinced though. They finished the meal in a slightly awkward silence and Meaghan felt a bit uneasy about inviting Kelly along to dinner with her and Bryan. She hoped Saturday evening wouldn't be too awkward.
“Kelly will join us for dinner on tomorrow, I hope you don’t mind,” Meaghan told Bryan as she got ready for bed Friday evening. They’d been out to dinner and Bryan had invited her to spend the night apartment. This was only the second time they’d spend the night together, but Meaghan hoped it would become more of a regular occurrence.
“Really? You decided it’s time I get to know your best friend?”
“Well, we had lunch together yesterday and she sort of demanded that she got to meet the guy that’s been keeping me to himself for the past month.”
“I see. Did you tell her about this?” Bryan gestured to his wheelchair.
“Yes I did. Didn’t want it to come as a surprise to her. I’m sorry, would you have preferred her not knowing beforehand?”
Bryan sighed and transferred to the bed. “I don’t know. Part of me would, but at the same time her knowing will probably make things less awkward. Damn, I hate how complicated my disability makes these things.”
“Honestly, I think you’re complicating things in your head. You tend to overthink things,” Meaghan said as she settled in next to him. He turned to her with a surprised look on his face.
“Yeah, I think you assume that things you’re self conscious about will bother other people.”
“Hmmm… You might have a point. It’s just…most women don’t want to be with a guy that need to catheterize himself every four hours, can’t get an erection that lasts for more than a few seconds without Viagra and needs to wear these to bed.” Bryan leaned down and fished out two ankle braces from under his bed; they were made of white plastic that was padded with sheepskin and had three straps padded with sheepskin to keep them in place.
“What are those?”
“They’re AFO braces that keep me from developing drop foot and prevent pressure sores on my heels. I got a couple of bad sores on my heels the first year after my accident because my shoes were too small and they were a bitch to get rid of.”
“What’s drop foot?” Meaghan asked, staring at the braces.
“The muscles and tendons in my calf contract and make the foot point downward. The braces keep the muscles stretched. To be honest I’m more worried about pressure sores though, they can cause infections and worst-case scenario is amputation. I know I can’t walk, but I’d still like to keep my legs.”
“Well, why aren’t you wearing them now? And why didn’t you wear them when I spent the night a week ago?”
“I didn’t want to freak you out, figured I’d wait a while ‘till I introduced them. They’re not exactly sexy…” Bryan was fingering with the Velcro strap on one of them and he wasn’t looking at her. Meaghan didn’t disagree with Bryan, but she realized that if she wanted to be with him she’d have to get used to stuff like that and since he seemed very self-conscious about it she wanted to show him she was fine with it.
“Stop being silly and put them on. I always were these thick, fuzzy socks to bed in the winter, my feet get cold real easy. That’s not sexy either, but you'll just have to live with it.”
Bryan looked over at her with a skeptical look on his face. “You could be wearing your Ugg's in bed and I wouldn't feel the difference. Seriously though, you’re comparing these with fuzzy socks? It’s a difference there…”
“I don’t want you to feel like you have to hide anything from me. If this relationship is going to last we can’t hide things from each other. I know your disability involves more than your wheelchair, but I don't know exactly what. It's up to you to tell me and I expect you to be honest.”
Bryan made quick work of putting the AFO’s on his feet and secured the straps. Then he quickly pulled the comforter over his legs so they were out of sight.
“It’s just…this is the first relationship I’ve been in since my injury and my ex sure as hell couldn’t deal with it. She left me while I was still in the hospital.”
“Oh babe,” Meaghan scooted over so she was closer to Bryan and lay on her side so she was facing him. “You have to pull out something more scary than a pair of leg braces to put me off.”
“Absolutely. Now, lets get some sleep, I’m completely wiped out.”
“Good idea. I'm glad I got Richards to cover for me tomorrow, it has been a tough week. Come here,” Bryan motioned for her to move even closer to him and she happily obliged.
When Meaghan woke up the following morning Bryan was already out of bed; she wondered where he was. The bathroom door was open and there was no sign of him in there. She quickly relieved herself and after washing her hands and brushing her teeth she pulled on a pair of yoga pants and padded down the hall toward the living area. Bryan was in the kitchen, cooking something and Meaghan couldn’t help smiling at the sight of him. He was shirtless, wearing the pajama pants he’d slept in and to her surprise he still had the AFO’s on his feet.
“Morning handsome,” she said in a slightly flirty tone, leaning against the doorframe. He looked up from where he was working and wheeled over to where she was standing.
“Morning beautiful,” he said with a smile as he pulled her down into his lap. They shared a passionate kiss and Bryan held her close. “I’m so glad you’re still here.”
“Where else would I be?” she asked as she got to her feet. “Anything I can help with?”
“Set the table?”
“Sure, just tell me where to find stuff and I’ll take care of it.”
Twenty minutes later they had finished eating their breakfast and put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher. Meaghan grabbed their coffee mugs and refilled them before they headed into the living room and settled down on Bryan’s couch. Meaghan realized she hadn’t felt this relaxed and comfortable in a long time. Bryan seemed pretty relaxed too and as she leaned into his side he wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer. About halfway through the meal she worked up the courage to ask the question she’d wanted to ask for the past month.
“Bryan, can I ask you something?”
“You can ask me anything,”
“How did you get injured?”
“I fell off a ladder when I was helping my brother paint his house. I landed on the edge of his deck and broke my back.”
“Shit! How long has it been?”
“It was two years in May. I was in the hospital and rehab for about five months, I went back to work full time about seven months after the accident.”
“In the ER, right?”
“Yep, I was determined to go back to my old job, I loved emergency medicine. The adrenaline, the action”
“So why did you decide to get into oncology?”
Bryan leaned back in the couch and sighed. “Well, after a few months back on the job I realized that it wasn’t the same as before and it never would be. I missed not being able to be right there at the bed with my co-workers. I could still do a lot of stuff, but the more physical part of the job was gone. I talked to my boss and my mentor from college and they suggested oncology or cardiology. I started in January and so far I love it. I feel like I’m making a difference and it’s a good feeling. I feel like I can fill my job description, despite my disability.”
“It must have been hard though?”
“Toughest time of my life, and it sure as hell didn’t help that my fiancée left me while I was in the hospital.”
“You were engaged?” Meaghan was surprised. Bryan hadn't mentioned that the girlfriend that left him while he was hospitalized after his accident was actually his fiancee.
“Yeah, she was my college sweetheart and I thought she was 'the one'. We were actually supposed to get married the Memorial Day weekend, had invited about a hundred people and had a huge party planned. My accident happened a couple of weeks before the wedding. Her mother was so pissed when we had to call it off.”
“Seriously? You broke your back and she was pissed because you had to call off a wedding.”
“Yep. Jennifer was upset too, but to begin with she was pretty supportive. What changed her mind was when she walked into my room while a nurse was changing my diaper.”
“Before I got my bladder and bowel routine settled I wore a permanent catheter with a legbag to collect urine and I had to wear diapers. There were plenty of accidents, and it was totally humiliating. I’m sorry, I can’t believe I’m telling you this…TMI, right?”
“No, it’s fine. I’m actually honored that you trust me enough to share this stuff.”
“Anyway, Jennifer stormed out of the room and came back in after the nurse finished changing me and helped me get dressed. When she returned she told me that she couldn’t be with an incontinent, diaper wearing cripple and pulled off her ring and gave it back to me.”
“What? She did that?”
“I tried to explain that these things were just temporary, that I was already working on a bowel and bladder routine and by the time I was discharged from rehab the diapers and permanent catheter would be long gone. She just said she was sorry; she couldn’t deal with it all and walked out. We’ve barely had any contact since then.”
“Which I can understand. I guess she didn’t take the ‘in sickness and in health’ part of her wedding wows too serious.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you guys were married she would’ve promised to stay with you ‘in sickness and in health’.”
“Oh, right, I haven’t thought about that,” Bryan shrugged.
“Just something that occurred to me. I can’t believe she did that to you.”
“I was pissed and hurt when it happened, but I had so much going on that I didn’t really dwell on it. I just put all of my focus and energy into my recovery and rehab. Am I happy about the hand that I’ve been dealt? No, but it could’ve been worse. I’m still able to live independently, I have a great job and a circle of family and friends that care about me and support me. And as of lately; an amazing girlfriend.”
“I’m hardly amazing,” Meaghan snorted. “But thanks for the compliment.”
“Well, I think you’re amazing for taking all aspects of my disability in a stride.”
“As long as you’re open about it I can deal with it,” Meaghan assured him. “So, are you ready to meet my best friend tonight?”
“Yeah, she didn’t look too intimidating – she is the one that likes to wear dresses that looks like my grandmothers curtains, right?”
“I’m kidding,” he grinned. “But I do prefer your style.”
“Glad to hear that,” Meaghan said and placed a peck on his cheek. “Umm…you wouldn’t happen to have a single buddy?”
“To set her up with? Sheesh Megs, don’t you think it’ll be plenty awkward without throwing in a set up between two of our friends?”
“She asked if you had a handsome buddy to set her up with and I promised her I’d ask you.”
“I could call Josh,” Bryan suggested.
“Yeah, I’m sure he’s game.”
“He seems like a nice guy, so that sounds good to me.”