Recap of chapter 19
Cassie and Matt are back in Chicago to their routine and their jobs. Matt learns Tim is sick and pays him a surprise visit. On the way back to pick up Cassie at work, due to terrible weather conditions he has a car accident.
I’m cold, I feel drowsy and I have a throbbing headache. Where am I? I try to open my eyes but my sight is blurry, and I feel a sticky liquid pouring down on my face. My left hand is jammed against something, so I heavily lift my right hand to touch my forehead. I look at my fingers and they are covered in blood. Suddenly the vision of the truck getting dangerously close pops in my foggy mind. I have been in an accident and I am still alive. I turn my head on the side to assess the damages and I let out a groan. The upper part of my body I can still feel is aching in every spot. My head is pounding as if I have been hit with a hammer. Shivers and cramps invaded my back and when I breathe a sharp pain stabs me in the chest. Through the broken side window I squint, and I can see lots of flashing blue and red lights. I also hear loud sirens. Police cars and an ambulance are surrounding the intersection. They are only a few feet away between my window and the truck’s huge hood. Firemen have towed my car from behind to have an access to my side. My door is completely crushed and I’m jammed between it and the steering wheel. I can’t move, I feel terribly weak and I close my eyes again.
“Sir…sir! Listen to me, stay with me. We are going to get you out of here but we need you to stay alert.”
“I am… tired… I’m… so cold.”
I vaguely hear a voice shout, “BRING A BLANKET. HURRY! THE DRIVER IS INJURED BUT CONSCIOUS.”
It is dark but two men and a woman rush with flash lights between the narrow space by my side. One of them passes a blanket through the window and carefully covers me, “Hang on sir. We are EMTs. What’s your name?”
The woman wipes the blood off my face and I can see clearer.
“Alright Matthew, you have a deep cut in the scalp and you need stitches. I am going to stop the bleeding and put a temporary bandage for now. You stay focus, ok?”
I can barely keep my eyes open. A second male nurse is already by the passenger’ side and gets in the car next to me, “Sir? Can you tell us where you are hurt, where you feel pain?”
I’m confused, “I don’t know. My chest…I think my left hand… but I can’t get in out.”
I am slouched against the door and I don’t have the strength to move. All the windows are covered with mist, except mine which is broken.
“Let’s me see this hand. Try to move your body a little bit toward me. Can you do that?”
I nod slightly. I don’t have a lot of room. The airbag even deflated is taking space, the door is completely crushed on my left side pushed toward the interior, and there is the center console between me and the paramedic. I try to scooch over the right and I scream in pain.
“Ok. That’s it. Don’t move anymore. We’ll take it from there.”
My rib cage hurts like hell and I have trouble breathing, but I managed to free my hand. I lift it out and the EMT who put the blanket over me takes it cautiously to examine it. I can see my wrist is very swollen. He moves it up and down, from side to side and bends my fingers one by one. Each time I cringe with a groan.
“Sorry but I had to do this. I don’t think it’s broken but it’s badly sprained.”
While he is securing my arm in a brace, the other nurse who is in the car with me is taking my vitals. After a complete check-up I try to focus on his voice updating me, “Matthew, we have to take you to the hospital now. Your blood pressure is too low and your breathing is not right. I believe you have broken ribs and you can have respiratory complications. We can’t open your door. You will have to slide to the passenger’s side to move away from the steering wheel. I’ll help you. We’ll go very slowly. You think you can do that?”
“No... I can’t move my legs.”
“Are they stuck?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Do they hurt?”
He seems puzzled.
“I wouldn’t know. I am a T10 paraplegic.”
Then I hear whisperings around the car and more action. They eventually see my wheelchair disassembled on the rear seat. Another fireman slides on the back behind me after pushing away the two wheels and the frame of my chair. He puts a reassuring hand on my shoulder, “Don’t worry Matthew, we are going to help you out of here. Try not to move. We’ll do it for you.”
I nod wearily but with the best will in the world I couldn’t move an inch. My whole body is paralyzed and numb, even my ribcage seems to have shut down. My breathing function is limited and each breath I take is a nightmare. Two doors are now wide open and through the broken window I feel the cold engulf me. I shiver and it makes the pain in my chest worse. They slip a brace behind my neck and back before they both start pulling me out cautiously. They lift me very gently freeing my legs one at a time with careful concern, but I feel bad, really bad. I moan in pain, my head is pounding, my breathing is shorter and shorter, and my hand hurts. I am tired, so tired, I can’t keep my eyes open.
“Sir…Matthew…stay with us, don’t fall sleep… not yet…”
Those are the last words I hear before passing out for the second time.
I wake up in a hospital bed with an IV stuck on the back of my hand and a terrible headache. I am confused. How long have I been here? I turn my head sideways and through a haze I make out a shape seated in a nearby armchair. Cassie. The first person I see when I open my eyes and I am so relieved she is here. She must have been so worried to learn about the accident. But who told her so quickly? I hope she didn’t wait for me too long. She is asleep, her head backwards and I feel bad for her. She is going to have a painful neck when she wakes up. I do a brief assessment of my condition without moving. I am too weak for that anyway. I am dressed with hospital clothes; a large band-aid has been applied on my upper forehead. Another scar to add to my messed up body, but Cassie won’t mind. My hand and my wrist are in a cast and I curse in a low voice. It means I am going to be really handicapped and need some help for a while. I am terribly thirsty and I try to roll on my side to take the glass of water on the side table. A stabbing pain tears my chest apart and takes my breath away. I gasp and fall back flat on my back.
Cassie wakes up all of a sudden and jumps close to me, “Matt! You’re awake, finally. You worried me sick.”
She has tears in her eyes and I am really fed up worrying people. I start speaking, but my voice is altered and I can only whisper, “I am alright Baby. Everything’s going to be ok. When did they bring me here?”
“Three days ago.”
“What? But that’s impossible.”
“It’s the truth though. You were strongly sedated after you arrival in the ER because you had a concussion. They feared a brain hematoma, but you are out of danger. Your MRI is clear. You were not breathing right and they had to intubate you. They removed it a few hours ago when they decided to wake you up. Right now our concern is your ribs. Your broke two and cracked a third. It is going to be painful and you are not allowed to move but you are out of danger. That’s the most important.”
With a desperate and questioning look, I show her the cast.
“I know Matt, that too. Your hand is not broken, but you tore some ligaments badly in your wrist and you have this cast for a month.”
I close my eyes in despair. She sits on the edge of the bed and kisses me gently on the lips,
“I am here Matt and I will help you.”
“I can’t stay here Cass. I hate hospitals. I want to go home.”
My voice is hoarse and I am out of breath.
“We will see in a few days what the doctors say. For now you have to rest and try not to worry about anything else.”
When did you know about the accident?”
“When you were in the ambulance. I didn’t stop calling your cell and a paramedic answered it. I came as fast as I could to join you in the ER.”
“I don’t remember anything. Was I out all the time?”
“No. You had some periods of consciousness and you talked to me, but then they gave you a sedative and took you away for all kind of tests. I waited for you here in the room. You have been sleeping until now.”
“Oh my God, Cassie! Don’t tell me you have been here since they brought me?”
“Yes. I stayed at your bedside all the time, but I slept a little bit.”
“What time is it?”
It is dark outside and I realize it is my third night in the hospital.
Now I notice her wrinkled clothes, her disheveled hair and her dark circled eyes.
“Please Cassie. Go home and get a good night sleep.”
“I just need a shower and a change of clothes and I’ll be back.”
Suddenly I glance around the room in panic, “Mon fauteuil? Où est mon fauteuil roulant?”
Cassie looks at me puzzled.
“Where is my wheelchair Cassie?”
I try to lift myself up pulling on my arms, but I fall back helplessly with another groan.
“Calm down Matt. Your car has been towed with your chair in it. They will deliver it tomorrow. Anyway, there is not a chance you can use it right now.”
She has one hand flat on my chest and the other is brushing strands of hair away from my forehead.
“You didn’t call my parents, did you?”
“No. But I told Abby, and she was here every day with me. She left only half an hour ago. She is coming back tomorrow morning. We decided to wait until you wake up.”
I sigh in relief, “Oh, good. Please tell her I don’t want my parents to know. They had enough worries with me for the rest of their lives.
“Ok Matt, but please relax and try to get some sleep.”
“That’s all I’ve been doing for the past seventy two hours. You are the one who needs rest. Where is my phone?”
In the closet with your clothes but the battery died. I’ll bring your charger.”
A nurse and a doctor enter the room.
“Well, Mr. Vincent, it’s good to see you awake. You are a very lucky man. You have been in a real bad accident, and it’s a miracle you didn’t suffer more serious injuries. Other than your hand and ribs and this nasty cut in your scalp, everything looks fine. With your condition we x-rayed your entire body. Your lungs are clear and the fusion in your spine is still in place. Your concussion is minor and you don’t have any leg fractures.”
I snicker cynically and it makes me flinch, “Well, I would rather have both my legs shattered than a hand in a cast and this jabbing pain when I breathe. How am I supposed to push my wheelchair like this?”
“I understand your frustration Mr. Vincent, but you are in this bed for a while I’m afraid, so you won’t be needing your wheelchair for a while.”
Cassie already made this fact clear so I don’t need a confirmation. I am about to protest vehemently but I decide it’s a waste of time and energy. I am going to sleep on this and tomorrow I’ll handle the situation. While the nurse checks my vitals and hooks me up with a new IV pouch I close my eyes again. I hear the doctor leave telling me he will come back tomorrow morning. I feel Cassie’s hand on my cheek and I whisper, “I am going to rest now. Please go home.”
I try to sound confident but I can’t fool her. In fact, I am desperate and pissed off. She kisses my temple, “I won’t be long. Do you need anything before I leave?”
“I’m thirsty. Can you just hand me the glass of water please?”
One of my hands is in a cast and the other one stuck to the IV. I can’t grab the glass, neither can I sit up. Cassie lifts up the bed slightly with the remote control, and she helps me dip my lips in the glass. I take a sip of water but I choke and spill everything on me. The following cough brings back the stabbing pain in my chest. I can’t breathe for a few seconds and I hear Cassie’s panicky voice call the nurse. I am panting when she hurries by my side. I am all wet and between two laborious breaths I whisper, “I am sorry.”
“Don’t worry Sir. We will change you, but first let me help you with that glass.”
She refills it, sticks a straw in it and cautiously I can swallow half of the water. Then she lowers the bed back to a flat position and removes the sheets. My legs are bare but I have some socks on and I painfully notice I have adult briefs on. I didn’t wear those since my last hospital stay and I could avoid them on the plane. To top it all off I also see a small drain running along my leg meaning I am equipped with an indwelling catheter. As I can’t go to the bathroom on my own yet, there is no other option, but that doesn’t bring me any comfort. The nurse starts to undress me and I ask lowly, “Can my girlfriend do it?”
She gives a friendly smile, “Of course, I’ll be back for a last check-up in half an hour. If you need anything before don’t hesitate to bip me.”
Then, she adds to Cassie’s attention, “Be gentle Dear, he can’t move at lot.”
Cassie nods knowingly at the nurse who leaves the room. She has no trouble to remove the hospital gown which is completely open on the back, just fastened with a few snaps. I am relieved I don’t have to lift my arms up to take it off. She puts the clean one back on, and she only ties it in my neck so I don’t have to sit up.
“Thank you Cass, you can go now.”
Thank God I am at the Northwestern Memorial hospital which is five minutes away from our building. If the weather wasn’t so bad, it’s even within a walking distance. Cassie’s car broke down, my is a wreck, so I have to let her begrudgingly take a cab. This whole conversation and my attempt to move took its toll on me. I also suspect the nurse of adding something in my IV to make me sleep again, because I sink back into a hazy state.
When I wake up the next morning, I find Cassie curled up in the armchair next to my bed. She did exactly what she intended; take a shower, change and come back. She is such a stubborn girl but I like this side of her too. I try to move cautiously and I feel a little bit better. I slept well and my headache is gone. I can breathe deeper without this excruciating pain in my chest, and I am able to sit in the bed with the help of the remote control. The sound of the electronic bed lift wakes Cassie up. She rubs her eyes and stretches sleepily. Then she looks at me with a reserved smile, “How do you feel this morning Matt?”
That’s a slight overstatement.
I pat the edge of the bed. She is by my side in seconds and snuggles up to me.
“I can’t stay long today Matt. I don’t want to leave you but I have to go to work. I already missed yesterday and I have to catch up my sessions. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
I give her a reproachful look, “There is nothing you could do. I am in good hands. You shouldn’t have missed work.”
“But I wanted to be there when you wake up.”
“And you were. This was a pleasant vision, thank you. But I don’t want you to get in trouble or let your patients down because of me. Anyway, I am going to be out of here in no time, as soon as I get my chair back.”
We are kissing when the day nurse enters the room for my morning check-up. She shoots a knowing smile at us, “Well Mr. Vincent, no need to ask you how you are doing this morning?”
I return her smile and raising my arm connected to the IV, I ask pleadingly, “Can you unhook me from this, please?”
“This, I am afraid I cannot do. You have to see the doctor first.”
“How about those?”
I sign at my private parts with the drain and the diaper.
“Same as the IV. I am just following the doctor’s orders.”
“What’s in there anyway?”
“Pain killers and Valium.”
“I don’t need them anymore. I slept for three straight days and I can breathe much better.”
She grins, “Wait until my colleague comes to help me take you to the bathroom for a nice shower. You will be the one to beg me for more painkillers!”
And she is right. When Cassie reluctantly leaves for work after more cuddling and kissing, two nurses come with an ugly hospital wheelchair to help me get out of bed. When I transfer I see stars for a good five minutes and almost pass out again. My reputation of a tough cookie being numb to pain is shattered. I have been bedridden for over three days now, and I am probably weak, but the pain is so sharp I pant and gasp like an expectant woman in labor. I’ve had broken ribs before, and a lot more without suffering so much. I guess my disabled body doesn’t react the same way anymore. What I can’t feel below my waist seems to have moved up to my upper body and heightened. My sensitivity to pain is much more intense. Right now, that’s what I am experiencing the hard way.
I am a total wreck and can’t take care of myself for the following days. Cassie is here with me every day after work, and I bet she cancelled a few appointments to spend more time with me. She only leaves when the nurses have to kick her out at night. I let her help me when I can’t do otherwise, but I have the unpleasant feeling of starting back from square one. I can’t transfer on my own, can’t push on my rims, have trouble to sit up in my bed, and I willingly accept her help for those degrading tasks. I am ok with that because she doesn’t do it that sense. On another hand, when it comes to intimate necessities, I let the medical staff take care of it. After almost a week I insist on washing up and doing my bowel routine on my own. I also shave but all those chores are an assault course with a useless arm, another one connected to an IV pole and a urine bag hooked up to the wheelchair. I struggle to put regular underwear on but I can’t wear a t-shirt because of the IV. I slip the hospital gown back on. I take a quick glance at my face in the mirror, and now that I am freshly washed and clean-shaven I think I don’t look that bad, considering. The nurse removes the bandage on my forehead and I can see it is badly bruised to my temple. I count eight stitches on the cut, but as it’s close to my scalp, it can be hidden under strands of hair. My spirits are high again and I can’t wait to be released.
When I come out of the bathroom I have the good surprise to see my wheelchair has been delivered.
“Ok Mr. Vincent. Let’s get you back in bed.”
“Oh, no. My chair is here and I am using it now. No more lying down.”
As they are looking at me skeptically, I show a charming begging face and add, “Please?”
“As you wish, but you are not going anywhere before the doctor’s daily visit.”
“I’ll stay locked up in my room, promise!”
I want to transfer by myself, but I can’t do it because of the built-in armrests of the hospital chair in my way. The nurses have to lift me up and cautiously sit me back in my own wheelchair. I try not to breathe too deep and the pain in my chest is more bearable. It feels like I have my life back. I eventually check my cell phone and I feel bad for not answering the dozens missed calls and messages from my hockey friends and my parents. I previously asked Cassie to call the center to let them know what happened and tell them I won’t be coming for a while. I asked Abby to lie to our parents telling them I lost my phone because I didn’t talk to them for a week. I was too wiped out and my breathing was still too labored. I finally call them with a lame excuse to postpone the week-end gathering, before they rush in panic to the hospital or to my place, “I am sorry Mom, but something came up and I have to work all week-end. This is an emergency I couldn’t ignore. It will be for another time. I call you back in a few days. Give Dad a hug for me.”
“Matt? Are you ok? You haven’t called all week. Don’t tell me it took you that long to get a new phone, and your voice sounds broken as if you have problems breathing.”
She is terrible. I can’t hide anything from her. I guess it’s mother’s instinct.
“Yes, I’m good. I just caught a cold that’s all. Nothing to worry about, and as I told you I have been very busy at work.”
I hate lying but it’s for a good cause. After that I call Henrik who already left me four messages. I explain him the situation briefly minimizing my new injuries.
“Oh man! Glad to hear from you. We knew something was wrong when you didn’t show up for the game. We didn’t stop calling and were about to go check your place. I’ll call the others and we’ll come to visit you this afternoon after training.”
“No, no. Please don’t. I might already be released, so why don’t you wait until I’m home. How was the game?”
“Don’t tell me about it. It was a shitty one and Coach Michael was so pissed off he broke a stick in two on his knee.”
“Whoa! That sounds really bad.”
“Yeah. Glad you didn’t see this. We were lousy and we deserved the shame. If you’re on the bench next time, maybe we’ll be more motivated. We play the LA Kings and there are all juiced up this year!”
“Have faith. We are going to destroy them. Come to my place with some beers and we’ll discuss tactics.”
When the doctor enters the room, I put on a relaxed face. He checks my chart, deeply absorbed for a while and he says, “Your vitals are good and frankly your speedy recovery amazes me. I can see you got your wheelchair back. Your also went to the bathroom by yourself this morning?”
He seems bewildered.
“Yes I did.”
“Good. I’ll ask the nurse to remove the indwelling catheter and the IV today.”
I am relieved. No more tubes and needles sticking out.
“When can I leave Doctor?”
“I will review your case again in a few days. For now let’s wait until your fractured ribs allow you to transfer and move on your own.”
“Oh, but I can do that now.”
I push on my rims with one arm, do a ‘not so perfect 360 spin’, but don’t forget I still have the IV and an arm in a cast. The doctor chuckles, “Not so fast young man! You have been in a nasty accident and you need time to recover.”
“I promise I will take it easy if you release me. I have a ton of things to do: missed appointments, meetings and work. Really, I feel much better. Please?”
He looks at me straight in the eye with a severe stare, “I called the surgeon who operated on your back, and he told me you are a very stubborn and determined patient. I have to admit you are surprisingly fit and strong for the injuries you sustained and considering your preview condition. I guess you are going to harass me and my entire service if we keep you here any longer. How about a release for tomorrow afternoon?”
I am a little bit disappointed but it’s better than ‘a few days’.
“It sounds great, thank you Doctor.”
“On one condition though. You leave with a chest strapping to stabilize your thorax wall, you stay quietly home and I want to see you in my office in a week, or before if anything worsens.”
“Everything you want Doc.”
His stern look is replaced by a friendly smile and he pats my shoulder, “Hockey players are tough guys. You know I’m a Black Hawks fan and I watched you play every season. You were a hell of a player. Well, take it easy. I’ll prepare the release papers for you to sign.”