Recap Chapter 20
Matthew awakens in a hospital bed after a short induced coma. He is in a bad shape with a concussion, a sprained wrist and a few broken ribs. As soon as he feels better and gets his wheelchair back, he convinces the doctor to release him.
I try to busy myself all afternoon waiting for Cassie’s visit. We called each other already five times today, and we can’t seem to be away from one another more than a few hours. She is thrilled to know I’ll be coming home tomorrow. It feels like ages but it will only be a week since the accident I had last Friday. I can’t wait to be out of here and spend the next week-end home. I watch TV for a while, I read a few magazines, and then I hang out in the hospital cafeteria for a couple of hours. Thank God, I am free from the IV and the leg bag and I wheel back and forth trying to move my wheelchair with one arm. It is not easy but the strapping around my chest helps. It is tight, from under my armpits to my mid-section and not very comfortable, but it eases the pain when I push on my rims.
A young girl, obviously depressed is seated in front of a table . She is leaned on her elbows with her face in her hands, and a pair of crutches is hooked on the back of her chair. As I wheel closer I see she is amputated of the right leg above the knee. She has a big bandage on her stump and she seems to be crying. I stop next to her and ask very gently, “Hey, are you in pain? Should I call a nurse?”
“No. I’m not in pain.”
She sounds irritated.
“Care for some company then?”
She raises her head slowly and looks at me; at my face first, then at my wheelchair and my legs. She looks young; my guess would be under twenty.
“Are you paralyzed?"
“Have you been here long?”
She looks puzzled and I realize the misunderstanding, “Oh no! I’ve been in this chair for over a year now. I’m here because I had a car accident.”
I show her my arm cast and point at the scar on my head as a proof. She stops crying and I see a lopsided grin appear on the corner of her mouth, “Same for me. I lost my leg three years ago, but I am here for an infection. Usually I wear a prosthesis but my stump got infected. I have to walk with crutches and it’s a bummer.”
“Yeah. I know the feeling.”
“You can walk with crutches?”
“Not really walk but I can stand for a while and take a few steps. You would definitely beat me in a race.”
She gives me a childish smile and I grin back at her adding, “So… is it the reason why you are crying? Because of the crutches?”
She sighs and looks at me impatiently, “No. You don’t get it.”
“I am sorry but I am no psychic. How can I know why you are crying, if it is not for your missing leg?”
She has a hard expression on her face as if she has been through a lot. She is not a beauty queen, but the freckles on her nose and cheeks give her a cute face. With her short red hair she has the look of a tomboy. She is tall and slender but heavily built, as if she exercises a lot. I can see her only leg is perfectly muscle-toned and she seems to have wide shoulders.
“What’s your name, wheeler?”
“Matthew. And you?”
She doesn’t answer and gives me an impudent look. What the hell is wrong with that girl!
Her response is replaced by another question, “Do you like sports?”
I take my captain’s bossy voice now, “I can’t know your name and you keep on asking questions? Yes I do, why?”
“So you can understand what it is like to miss a very important competition.”
“You are right. I can understand that.”
“My passion is swimming. When I lost my leg in a bicycle accident I was already having good results. Six months after my accident I was back in the pool. It was good for my rehabilitation and my mental health. I exerted myself like crazy to come back where I was before the accident. I am an athlete you know.”
She is really a piece of work, but I like her self-confidence. She’ll go a long way in life.
I reckon she is brave with a strong will. She goes on, “A few months ago a head coach noticed me and signed me up for the qualifying rounds of the Paralympics.”
“But that’s awesome!”
“It was. Except that it is happening right now, and because of this I can’t be part of it. I don’t even have a chance to qualify anymore.”
She hits her stump with her fist in a rage and starts crying again. I’m really sorry for her because I’ve experienced this frustration. I missed a lot of good games this past year, and I will never hold the Stanley cup again because my career is over. That’s the big difference between us.
“Hey, stop crying. Your life is not over. You are young. You will have another chance, and most of all, you can do something you like. You are a strong character. You will get what you want. If it is not the Paralympics, I bet you will accomplish great things. Look at me. I was an athlete too, if I can call myself so. I was a professional hockey player and I loved what I did. I may have my two legs, but they are both useless now, and they prevent me from doing what I like. I will never be able to play hockey again or win any trophies. But I don’t let this hardship defeat me. I’m a fighter and you are too. You will overcome this.”
I have the feeling to be in the locker-room, talking to my teammates to motivate them and cheer them up. Her eyes still full of tears meet mine and her look softens. She puts a hand on my shoulder, leans on me and hugs me. I don’t know what to do, so I just hug her back and we stay awkwardly like this in the middle of the cafeteria until she speaks again, “My name is Lisa and I will turn eighteen tomorrow.”
I grin, “Well Lisa, Happy Birthday. Will you have visitors to celebrate?”
“Just my parents.”
“I have one but he is also a competing swimmer, so he won’t be able to come.”
“Sorry to hear that. I am sure he will make it up to you.”
She is staring at me now in a way that makes me feel uncomfortable.
“You know you have beautiful eyes Matthew. And a sexy mouth. You are hot actually. If I didn’t have a boyfriend I would hit on you.”
I burst out laughing but my ribs aren’t in the mood at all and send me a cruel reminder. I wince holding my breath with my good hand clenched to my side.
“Matthew, are you ok?”
Lisa is holding my arm, her voice concerned. Before I can answer, Cassie is in front of me, “Matt! Here you are. You scared the hell out of me. Your room is empty and nobody seems to know where you are.”
“Well you found me, so I wasn’t that hard to find.”
I am still holding my side biting my lip and Cassie looks suddenly upset. Is it about seeing me in pain or the hand of the young patient still on my forearm? My guess is a little bit of both.
“What is happening here Matt?”
I catch up my breath in a laborious sigh, “Cassie, meet Lisa. Lisa, meet Cassie. It's Lisa’s fault. She is a funny girl and she made me laugh. Well, Lisa it’s been a pleasure talking to you. I think I am going to go back to my room now, but I will come to say goodbye before I leave tomorrow.”
“I’d like that Matthew.”
I wheel backwards with one hand, but when I spin around I bump into a table and two chairs. I groan and wince again.
“Ok Mister. Let me push you to your room.”
Cassie puts her hands in my back and helps me move in the right direction. Over my shoulder I give Lisa a wink and she gives me a thumb-up signing at Cassie.
“Matt who’s that girl?”
“Someone I have a common interest with.”
Cassie asked me casually, but I know she is curious about her, and my answer is not really what she wishes to hear. To ease her hint of jealousy I sum her up the whole conversation.
“Oh! Poor girl. I saw the crutches but I didn’t notice she was amputated. I am glad you could talk to her. You always find the right words to make people feel better.”
I know she is not done with me yet and has more to say. I could have guessed her next concern, “Is it my tortuous and suspicious mind or she was into you?”
I smile mischievously with a ‘I can’t help it shrug’, “Yep, she definitely was.”
And right away I get a flick on the cheek from behind.
“Ouch! I am going to file a complaint. You have no mercy for a poor injured cripple.”
We are back in the room and I transfer onto my bed. The strapping around my chest is really tight and if it helped before, I have trouble breathing again. Maybe I stayed too long in a sitting position, but I am not going to complain for fear of delaying my release. I just lie down hoping to ease the discomfort. We are both silent. Me, from the recurring pain I try to overcome and Cassie, undoubtedly trying to cope with my friendly encounter. She is nonetheless seated on the bed beside me caressing my face gently and it helps me relax. I couldn't say the same for her. I choose not to start any debate and don't mention anything. The least I need right now is entering into an argument and she is clever and tactful enough to let it go. I know though she is fighting hard her jealousy demons.
A little bit later, while we are eating our ‘not so mouth-watering hospital dinner’, we hear a knock on the door. Usually the nurses knock and enter without waiting for an answer, but this time the door doesn’t open.
“Yes? Who is it?”
I look questioningly at Cassie, and she gets up to open the door. A man we don’t know peeps his head into the room, “Mr. Vincent?”
“That would be me. Who’s asking?”
“I’m…er…the truck driver who had the accident with you. Can I come in for a second?”
“Hmm… I guess.”
Cassie lets him in. He stands in front of the bed looking at me timidly, and I smile inside. He is a huge black guy, beefy and tall and his bashful attitude doesn’t match his trucker look.
“Er…I wanted to see how you were doing…and…er… apologize.”
He is wringing his hands scrutinizing me awkwardly. I am in bed propped against pillows, my bare chest strapped in the heavy bandage, my right arm in a cast and my forehead purplier than ever. I must look terrible from the stare he is giving me. Then he focuses on the empty wheelchair by the bed, and can’t tear his eyes away from it. Oh no! I can’t let him think that. I need to set the record straight, “Hey man, you didn’t do this. I’m bruised here and there, but that’s all. I’ve seen worse. I’ll heal.”
He knows? He knows I was paralyzed before, or he agrees I am a little banged up? Now I’m confused.
“After I hit you I came to the hospital and they told me about your condition …that er…you were also paralyzed…but from before, not from the accident. Phew,... I feel so bad I got out of this without even a scratch.”
“What you’re saying is that having an accident with a cripple makes things worse? You would have felt better if I weren’t, or less guilty if I had been whole? Logically it should be the opposite. As I was already damaged, a little bit more would be a lesser evil.”
‘No… no! That’s not what I meant.”
I am thinking to myself: Yes, it is exactly what he implied, but how can I change people’s mind with their preconceived ideas of disability? We are not considered as human beings in their own rights. But this poor guy feels bad and guilty enough not needing a lecture from me. He came to apologize and I should just appreciate the gesture.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so harsh. None of this is your fault. It was bad luck due to a lousy weather. I just happened to be in the way. Wrong time, wrong place.”
“You know I tried everything to warn you I lost control of my vehicle. I slammed on my brakes but it’s a forty ton truck. It got out of hands and I was helpless. All I could do was flash my lights and honk.”
“And that, you did. You blinded me and pierced my eardrums.”
He looks at me completely baffled. I can be a real cynical jerk sometimes.
“I am just kidding. You warned me alright, but I was myself stuck in the middle of the intersection on a patch of black ice. I was as helpless as you. Anyway, thank you for coming by to check up on me. I am released tomorrow so I am good. We’re good.”
I extend my unharmed hand. He comes closer to the bed and shakes it. It is a strong shake and feel touching me gives him comfort. He leaves relieved with a better conscience.
I am all set and eager to leave. Cassie spent the last night at the hospital with me, supposedly on a rollaway bed added in the room, but pretty much curled up in my arms. As promised we say goodbye to Lisa wishing her a Happy Birthday and all the best, then we go home with a taxi. I denied the ambulance. It is Friday, already a week since the accident, and I am glad Cassie is with me for the next two days. I am not completely independent and I need help for transfers to the shower and in and out of bed. My ribs are still painful and my cast is making me clumsy. A few chores such as catheterizing and washing are delicate and I am limited with one hand. I can’t put my arm under water, so Cassie does these tasks for me. Being catheterized by my girlfriend is not fun but washed is. It mostly ends up in a sexy game. We spend the week-end hanging around, mostly in bed, watching TV and cuddling. I am not fit for anything cheekier yet. Being hit by a truck takes on its full meaning in my case. The only good thing out of this is I didn’t have spasms for the past few days and it feels really great. However, I know it is due to the relaxant drugs I was given at the hospital and it will be back soon enough. For now I take full advantage of the break idly in Cassie’s company.
Our quiet Sunday is interrupted by an invasion of cheerful and noisy guys.
“Whoa Matt! You didn’t tell us it was that bad.”
They all gaze at me with troubled faces.
“Come on, it isn’t that bad. Look at you; you all have bruises everywhere. That’s a nice shiner you got here Rob by the way. And Greg, with a busted lip like that, no kissing for a while!”
We laugh, but I can see they are concerned about me.
“Well, stop messing around Captain. We need our mascot on the bench. Oops! Sorry Garrett.”
That’s their new captain but I guess for them, it’s still me. They get along well though and I am glad he’s my substitute. I knew him from before, because we played against each other, and I could appreciate his skills as a player. He also respects my ability to motivate and the influence I still have on the team. That’s the reason why he is part of the gang tonight. For the sake of a solid team, adaptation and integration are keys to success.
“No offense taken.”
Garrett is quite cool, because I am not sure I will react so well to such a careless blunder. Obviously he is used to it. If I wasn’t sure of my friends’ integrity, I could think it’s provocation.
“I just want to remind you guys that I am out and on the sidelines for good.”
I hate spoiling the mood but they always sound like I’m coming back. Calling me ‘Captain’ makes me mostly uncomfortable now.
“Ok, cheer up and let’s have a drink. We’ll order pizza later on.”
I feel bad again for Cassie because all we talk about is hockey; the previous games, the next ones, the other teams, the coach who is retiring in a few months, and the mystery on his substitute. We even replay the last game to understand what went wrong and why. We use cans, glasses and bottles to recreate a hockey rink. Cassie brings some paper sheets, notebooks and pens and I draw diagrams on the table. For over an hour we discuss, chat, shout, get excited, angry, you name it. My living room became a locker-room during half-time, with six stimulated and pumped up guys who share the same passion. Cassie sits on the armrest of the sofa next to me, listening patiently to our weird language.
To avoid too many painful transfers I stayed in my chair, and I can move around to help Cassie clean the mess after my buddies’ departure.
We had a good time but such excitement and activity wore me out. The spasms come back as predicted and I have a hard time, unwillingly bringing Cassie along in my sleepless night. The next morning we are both exhausted and she wants to stay with me one more day. As she already missed a few days work because of me, I don’t want her to lose her job.
“No, you go. I’ll be fine. I’ll try to catch up some sleep and maybe we can go out tonight.”
“You’re sure? What about the shower and catheterization?”
“I’ll wait until you come back for the shower and I’ll manage for the rest.”
As she is looking at me not so convinced, I insist with a determined voice, “Go! Really. I’ve been much worse and I can take care of myself.”
She kisses me, “Do you need anything before I leave?”
“Yep. A cup of coffee, an empty bottle and my medical supplies’ bag.”
She knows I am going to stay in bed for a while with that list.
After she left I catheterize in bed and I doze off in and out. The spasms are so bad I have to take a Baclofen which I hate so much. When the convulsions subside I fall back in a deep sleep, until I dream of my dad’s face leaned over me. I am startled because it is not a dream. My father is really in the room, a hand shaking my shoulder softly, “Matt...Matt! What’s going on?”
He looks scared, so it must be bad.
“Dad? What are you doing here?”
I am disoriented and still under the influence of the drug.
“Mom told me you have a cold, Abby told me it’s the flu, you don’t call for days because of a supposed lost phone, so we were kind of worried. I decided to drop by to see for myself. What really happened to you Matt?”
I am still lying down trying to come out of my lethargy, “I had a little accident but I am fine now.”
“Fine? What’s this? He is pointing at my forehead and my injured hand.
I try to sit up and groan. The sheets uncover my chest and let the strapping show.
Oh Matt, come on. Don’t lie to me any longer.”
My father is really angry with me now. I am going to be chewed out. If he is not the lecturing type, he deserves some honesty and explanations.
I sigh, “Ok. Two are fractured and one cracked. I had a car accident ten days ago, but everything is under control.”
“Ten days? I knew something was wrong. Since the accident you never left us without news for so long. You didn’t lose your phone, did you?”
I sigh again looking away shamefully, “No.”
“How could you not tell us Matt?”
“Like you needed that! You had enough trouble with me for some time. Anyway, there is nothing more you could have done.”
“How about helping? Being with you? Not letting you down?”
“Dad, you never let me down, and Cassie was with me the whole time.”
“Where is she now?”
He sounds reproachful. I can’t let him think badly of her, “I literally forced her to go back to work today. She took too many days off.”
“Well, I am staying here until she comes back.”
“No you’re not. You go to work too. I really appreciate your concern, but I can handle this by myself.”
He doesn’t answer but his silence speaks volume. I hurt him and I feel bad. Why am I so tactless sometimes? He looks at my nightstand cluttered by my medical stuff, “Need to go to the bathroom, Son?”
“I could use a shower.”
“Ok, let me help you.”
My body is all limp again. I wince and groan in pain while I transfer in my wheelchair. My dad has to do all the work. Why on earth am I feeling worse than yesterday?
“Matt, you should be in the hospital.”
“No way. I was there a whole week and glad to be out. Just help me to get in the shower and I’ll be fine.”
“You are a real stubborn man if you want my opinion. I wonder where you got this from?”
I manage to crack a smile and he smiles back.
He helps me transfer on the shower bench, wraps my cast in the plastic bag supplied by the hospital, and delicately removes the bandage from around my chest. I can take a deep breath without too much pain. For the first time I have a good look at my bare chest in the mirror, and it’s not the best thing to comfort my father. All my right side is black and blue and impossible to hide. Thank God he didn’t hear about my fight with Cassie’s ex on top of that. He frowns and cringes at the discovery of my more damaged body, but he doesn’t comment. He knows this subject is closed. I am thinking that ironically a few weeks back, it was the state of my other side.
“Are you hungry Son?”
In fact I am starving. It’s already afternoon, I slept for five hours since Cassie left. The coffee and the two toasts she brought me in bed have long been digested.
“Ok let’s see what I can find in your fridge and wait for me here. Don’t do anything foolish. You don’t need any more bruises.”
The hot water feels good on my skin. I let it run on my shoulders, along my back and my bruised chest, and I lean back closing my eyes. I stay like this until my father returns. I don’t know how long it was because I’ve lost track of time.
“Ok let’s get you out of here now. Lunch is ready and hot.”
He dries me off, being super cautious on my side, “Matt, I am not sure how to put this bandage back. I’m afraid to hurt you.”
“Don’t bother. Cassie will do it tonight. The nurses showed her how. In any case, it was too tight and I feel better without it.”
Then he helps me dress and wheels me to the kitchen. I let him do everything without protesting. I am still a bit lethargic, and I know he feels good helping me.
“Wow! That’s a real meal you prepared here. You are fast.”
I am truly amazed and he looks proud of himself.
“Everything was ready to cook; a bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables and a steak to grill one minute on each side. You still like your meat rare, don’t you?”
Moved, I smile at him. He is the best dad ever. He even made a salad and when I point at it questioningly, he keeps on, “No need to be a Chef to open a ready-to-eat bag with croutons and dressing to add.”
He winks at me and I grin wishing to clear one point, “Well, we have to thank Cassie for this. She is the one who takes care of groceries.”
We eat together and I am glad he came. We talk about our mutual trips, his work, and hockey of course. I tell him about the visit of my friends, the tactics we discussed, and the series of guidelines we put together.
“You were a good captain Matt, and you would do a great coach.”
“Well, it’s a bit too late for that now.”
I put my plate and glass on my lap and clumsily head to the dish washer. I don’t want to pursue this conversation anymore. My dad got the message and changes the subject, “We are waiting for you both next week, if you can make it.”
“Dad, my car is at the body shop for a while, and I don’t think Cassie’s can be fixed.”
“I’ll come pick you up or Abby will.”
“What about this? What am I going to tell Mom?” I am raising my hand’s cast.
“Hmm…I was going to tell her what happened.”
“Oh no, please don’t do that Dad. It’s not a good idea at all. She’ll freak out and be upset because I lied.”
“Ok. Maybe you’re right. I’ll just tell her you sprained your wrist doing some work out, but you know how she is; she will still make a fuss about it.”
“Better a fuss than she barges in here devastated.”
Believe me, if you really knew my mother you will see I don’t exaggerate.
“You sure you don’t want me to stay?”
“Yes Dad. I am clean and fed, so you can leave with a peaceful mind. Thank you. I am glad you came and I am sorry for not telling you. I feel really bad for lying to you.”
He pats me on the shoulder silently and leaves.