Saturday, January 31, 2015

Twist Of Fate Chapter 20

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?”
“…Matthew.”
 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.”
“Oh crap!”

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.
“Ten”
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?”
“Much better.”
That’s a slight overstatement.
“Come here.”
 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.”

Friday, January 30, 2015

Twist Of Fate Chapter 21


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?"
“Yes.”
“Have you been here long?”
“Six days.”
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.”
“No boyfriend?”
“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.”
“Thanks Babe.”

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.”
“I know.”
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.
“Nothing serious.”
I try to sit up and groan. The sheets uncover my chest and let the strapping show.
“And that?”
“Bruised ribs.”
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?”
“You Dad.”
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?”
“A little.”
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.”
“Ok Dad.”
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?”
 “Yes Dad.”
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.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Twist Of Fate Chapter 22

Recap of Chapter 21 
Matt is out of the hospital but still healing at home under the good care of Cassie. He has the visit of his friends, but also an unexpected one of his father. The latter is a bit angry at him, mostly upset. After spending some time together and Matt’s genuine remorse, they quickly sort things out.

Cassie finds me on the balcony and from her distraught face I’d better get back inside fast.
“Matt, what are you doing? It’s freezing out there. Shouldn’t you be in bed?”
I have a glass in my good hand and raising it to her I say in a quite dispirited tone,
“I slept all morning, then my dad paid me an unannounced visit which would be totally fine in other circumstances. I lied to him and hurt his feelings. I just needed some fresh air to clear my head, and as you can see I am dressed appropriately for the cold. Do you realize I didn’t go out for ten long days now? Does that answer all your questions?”
“Whatever. I’ll leave you to your moment of solitude then.”
She turns away, looking exhausted.
My irony and bad mood are swept away by her resigned reaction. I swallow my drink in one gulp to hurry back inside. I wince when I hastily grab my wheel with my wounded hand I forgot all about.
She is in the kitchen filling a glass from the fridge’s water dispenser.  
“I’m sorry Cass. I didn’t mean to be nasty.”
“You weren’t. You have the right to yearn to be alone sometimes.”
She gives me a forced smile. I pull her to me for a kiss. She kisses me back, but I can feel something’s wrong and it has nothing to do with me being a jerk or her fear of heights. She looks exhausted. Of course she didn’t sleep well because of me, but she also seems worried and down.
“Cass, what’s the matter?”
“Nothing. Just a ton of work, new patients, too many appointments and difficult cases.”
“Well, it sounds like you have your hands full. Let’s go out for dinner. Just down the building. I don’t think I can go further and you might have to push me.”
I wink at her mischievously, trying to cheer her up. She sighs, “I don’t feel like going out Matt. I am tired and I prefer to stay here with you.”
She is always up for a night out, and she should especially be after spending a week indoors and mostly by my side in a hospital.
“Please Cassie; tell me what’s on your mind. I know something is bothering you. Are you upset with me?”
She shakes her head.
“Did I do something wrong?”
“No! Of course not.”
Suddenly an upsetting thought crosses my mind, “Did your ex try to contact you again?”
“No! Not at all.”
“Ok. Now you are scaring me. Are you reconsidering to have a cripple as a boyfriend?”
“Oh Matt! Don’t be stupid and stop calling you a cripple. I hate that. You know I love you, but…”
“But what?”
“I have to move out.”
“Move out? From where? Chicago?”
“The building.”
“Why? What's going on?” I am confused and anxious.
“I can’t pay the maintenance anymore. It’s too expensive for my salary. All the days off I took for vacation and the hospital were deducted. I don’t want to call my uncle to ask him for an extension or a discount. Let’s be realistic, I have been too confident or too naïve and I just can’t afford this place anymore. In fact I never could. I send a monthly check to one of his companies, and he doesn’t even know how much I pay and when. He has other preoccupations than my insignificant stupid self.”

Whoa! I am so relieved. I was afraid it was going to be a more serious matter. I give her a lopsided smile. I like when she has this childish pout on her lovely mouth.
“Matt, please there is nothing funny about this. It means we will be separated. I won’t be able to see you as often as now, and maybe I’ll have to move to the suburbs, far from here.”
“Ok. First of all, sit down. To look up at you is not good for my self-esteem, and it gives me a crick in the neck, then we’ll talk.”
She sits on the edge of the sofa and I wheel in front of her touching her legs with my bony knees. I take both her hands and keep them in mine.
“You like Chicago, right?”
She nods.
“You like the building?
“Yes.”
“You like me?”
“More than like and you know it.”
“So, problem solved. You move in with me.”
She looks at me somewhat distressed, and once again doubts invade my mind.
“Matt, I know you like your independence and intimacy. You had a girlfriend for many years and you never lived together, so why would you change that with me on such short notice? We’ve met not long ago and I don’t want you to feel tied down with me.”
“Cass, we have been together long enough and more than close those past few days. I will always keep my independence as long as I can, especially more since I am bound to that chair, but you never took it away from me or interfered. I don’t feel compelled or obligated in any way and surely not tied down. You already share my intimacy with my paraplegic issues, and I don’t feel bad about it. You know all my strengths and my weaknesses. I’ve wanted to ask you to live with me for a while, but I was afraid of your answer. I didn’t want to pressure you. I wanted you to be sure and assess all the implications before going any further. For me it is a big step forward in my new life, and I don’t want to fail. My wish is to spend the rest of my life with you, and for this we need to be under the same roof. Do you have the same wish?”
This time ‘the big step’ is not a cynical pun. I am not in a joking mood. I am gazing at her, serious and stern waiting for her to say something, something I wish to hear. Her eyes are wet; she leans on me and slowly rests her head on my lap, “Yes that’s what I want Matt.”
We don’t speak for a while. My good hand brushes her cheek and strokes her hair tenderly. I am the happiest man on earth.
“What about my furniture?”
I grin. The change of subject is so radical, it sounds out of place in this particular moment,
“You can put it in storage if you wish to keep it, but I don’t think you’ll ever need it. You can sell it, or if you want some of your stuff here, it’s ok with me. We can replace whatever you like.”
“No, I like your apartment the way it is. I don’t want to change anything. I’ll sell it and use the money to share part of your monthly fees.
“Oh, please Cassie! Don’t offend me. You are not moving here as a roommate or a tenant. We are an official couple starting this minute. Besides, I told your parents I can provide for you and I am a man of my word.”
In the blink of an eye, she is on my lap.
“Ouch!” I wasn’t ready for this, neither were my ribs.
She jumps up embarrassed and concerned. Rubbing my painful flank I smile at her, “You took my breath away, but literally this time!”
She smiles back and the joy and happiness I see in those big green mesmerizing eyes of hers are the best healing remedy. I motion her to come closer with my index finger, “Come back here, Baby. I’m not done with you yet. You have to make it up to me.”
Her sexy smile is back and she looks all perked up.
“How about you lie down on the sofa for a gentle massage? Would that be a good way to be forgiven?”
I raise my eyebrows playfully, “Will see, but that sounds like an enticing start.”
I suddenly feel much better and I transfer more than willingly.
                                                                  ****
My friends and Abby give us a hand to move her personal things in, and she easily sells her remaining belongings as a package, putting an ad on the Internet. I can’t help much because of my arm and still painful ribs, but I manage to make room in my closets and drawers for her clothes. As she was already spending a lot of time in this apartment, she granted herself a few shelves, so I just add more space. Knowing it’s for good is a new feeling for me though. But I like the idea, I like it a lot.

A few weeks after Cassie’s moving, the accident is just a bad memory. My ribs are healed, the cast is gone, and if my wrist is still a bit weak I can push my rims just fine. I also got my car back so I can drive again, go out and work. Abby passed her nursing exam and Cassie seems to have better relationships with her parents. I proposed her to invite them for a few days in Chicago, and I am surprised to learn that not only she asked them, but they accepted to come and stay with us. Everything is for the best except for Cassie’s car which is not worth fixing. When she got the estimate from the mechanic, she almost had a heart attack. She doesn’t really need a car in Chicago. We use mine and I take her to work and pick her up every day. I made my schedule at the center match hers. I know she doesn’t like to rely on me for transportation, but I don’t mind to be her ‘chauffeur’ until she lets me buy her a new car.
Hockey is back into my life and I don’t miss a game. I also go to most of the trainings, and I hang out a lot in the locker-room. I practically became a voluntary coach assistant, and head coach Michael seems to be ok with it. I know he likes me a lot and I was his best player for years. If he chose me ten years ago to be the youngest captain in the Black Hawks history, he had his reasons. I passed on my addiction to Cassie and we really enjoy going to the rink together. If we were satisfied with the Chicago games up to now, Cassie convinced me to travel out of State to follow the team. I am a bit reluctant at first, but I try to overcome my recent fear of flying and Cassie is my motivation, taking care of all my needs. In my particular case it’s just a matter of strong discipline and organization. That’s how we fly to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Boston to root for our team. Those are close cities from Illinois, and for now I don’t take the risk to exceed the three hour flights yet. Pittsburgh is a hard test for me because this is where I was injured, and it brings back difficult and painful moments. I am a bit edgy during half the game, especially when Yuri Wasilov, the Russian player, is on the ice, and I am glad to have Cassie by my side. I never replayed the action that cost me my legs and my career, but she did. She asked me permission before, and then we never talked about it. I know she feels exactly what I feel just holding my hand, and she gives me comfort. At the end of the game, which we win, and as I am finally relaxed, I have the strangest encounter of my whole hockey career. Before leaving the stadium, the Russian player, still on his skates comes in the bleachers and approaches me with a serious, but embarrassed look on his sweaty face, “I know you hate me and you have good reasons for that, but believe me, I think about you each game I play, and I will be sorry for the rest of my life. You were one the best players and I was told to stick to you like glue. I was too rough and aggressive and I regret it. You know I didn’t mean to harm you that bad. I was just doing my job, trying to score. I hope you will forgive me one day, but I couldn’t leave the rink without talking to you, and let you know I am deeply sorry. I came to see you in the hospital to tell you, but your friends never gave me a chance.”
I am speechless for long seconds because I didn’t expect this, but I hold his gaze and see true and sincere remorse. I also notice a scar on his jaw and I know where it comes from. I point at it with a smirk. He brushes his fingers along his chin and flashes a nervous smile, “Yeah, they beat the shit out of me.”
“I know you didn’t mean it, and after all that’s part of the risks we take. Unfortunately I am not the first and the last player to be badly injured. It is the course of the game. I gave a few nasty blows in my career myself, and I could have been in your place or you could have been in mine. You know, I’ve made peace with myself, so I guess I can make peace with you as well.”
I extend my hand and he shakes it with emotion. Then he bends over me and gives me a bear hug. I can see Cassie is upset and doesn’t agree, and there are mixed feelings in the audience and among the other players from the clapping and the boos. What matters is I feel good, relieved of a burden.
                                                                   ****
Tonight we are on our way to New York, but there is an incident which dampens my enthusiasm a great deal. At the JFK airport we are still on the plane waiting for my wheelchair to be brought up. Because it is a small plane they had to check it in the baggage hold, and I obviously had a reason to be uncomfortable with the idea. The senior flight attendant comes to me with a concerned look,
“Mr. Vincent, we are terribly sorry but there was a slight incident. We had technical issues with the aircraft carousel. Some luggage fell on the tarmac, and your wheelchair is among them.”
I am totally dismayed, “How bad is it?”
“One of the small front wheels is broken. The big ones were pulled apart so they are fine. We never had that kind of issue with a wheelchair, and we are making all the necessary efforts to resolve the problem.”
Damn it! I need my four wheels in good condition to be able to get around. These things never occur, but it happens to me. It is totally impossible to use the chair with a missing wheel. I am pissed off, but there is nothing I can do about it, and I take a deep breath to relax. Before I can speak again, a very irritated Cassie anticipates my next question, “And what are you going to do about it? He needs his chair to move around.”
“I understand Miss. He can use an airport wheelchair for the time being; we will take care of the taxi fare and the repair, and we will deliver the wheelchair at your hotel as soon as possible. The company is calling shops right now.”
I sigh and take Cassie’s hand in mine to calm her down, “Ok, I guess I don’t have many other options.”
“I am afraid not Sir, unless you can use the braces and crutches you also checked in.”
“No I can’t. I use them only for very short distances.”
Obviously the woman doesn’t realize the extent of my disability. If I am upset about it I also feel a hint of pride that she could assume I can stand and walk with my crutches.
“On behalf of the company, I apologize again and we will recredit you the cost of the flight as a courtesy.”
Unfortunately their goodwill gesture is not going to settle my technical problem. I am helpless without my wheels. I am nothing. Nonetheless I try to suck it up and regain my self control, “Thank you. I appreciate it. I would like to exit the aircraft now if possible.”
“Of course. Someone is already there to assist you.”

First I have to sit in the aisle chair, which we, paraplegics call a human dolly, then a crew member is waiting for me in the walkway. I transfer in a regular wheelchair, which I also deeply hate, but at least I have my gel cushion for more comfort. The back is too high, the footplates are humongous and the armrests a total nuisance. I want to move on my own, but the airport rules don’t allow it. I have to let someone push me all the way to the exit, and I feel humiliated. I have the unpleasant impression of being a senile old man. We only have two small bags that I stashed on my lap with my braces, and Cassie carries the pair of crutches. When we pass the exit door I sigh in relief, “Let’s get a cab fast. I can’t wait to be at the hotel, and get rid of this horrid chair. I am so glad I took my braces. At least I can wear them while we wait for my chair. The good thing is we left Chicago early, and we have all afternoon before the game. Can you imagine me in that bulky, heavy, shapeless thing rooting for the Black Hawks?”
“Matt, I reckon it is not the most esthetic wheelchair, but we didn’t have any other choice. We have to deal with it and be patient.”
“It’s very nice of you to say ‘we’ but I am the one who’s ridiculous. My TiLite chair is my legs, an integral and inseparable part of me. I feel naked without it, and I am freaking out just thinking I won’t have it back.”
Cassie must have heard real panic in my tone, because she wraps her arms around me, and kisses my neck and collarbone several times whispering in my ears, “Calm down. Everything’s going to be ok. You don’t have to tell me how important this chair is for you because I know it. If we don’t have an answer in the next hour, I’ll go buy you a new one. You can customize it afterwards. Does that make you feel better?”
She is as upset as I am, but she wants me to relax and she is ready for anything to get that.
“Yes, I feel better but I will feel even better if you give me one of those kisses again.”
She smiles broadly and she grants me my wish.

As this chair can’t be dismantled and is heavy to handle, I let the taxi driver fold it and store it the trunk.
“Phew! I have never been so happy to transfer on a bed!”
The flight, the bad news, plus the ride in this foreign object made me tired and the mattress is welcoming for a nap.
“Would you care sharing it with me?”
Cassie jumps on the bed by my side giggling like a little girl. I take her in my arms and we decompress. If I am the tired one Cassie is the one to crash, and I watch her sleep with a hint of smile. When she wakes up I have my braces on and I already crutched back and forth to the bathroom. I forgot how good it feels to be tall again. Because of the car accident I wasn’t able to stand up for a while and it is my first time in weeks.
“I thought you were in for a full night. I am hungry and I’d like to grab something to eat in the hotel restaurant.”
“Why didn’t you wake me up? I hate sleeping during the day.”
She sounds sorry.
“Maybe my warm chest and my strong arms were a cozy nest?”
I am seated on the edge of the bed and I turn my head around to show her an innocent grin.
“Could be Mr. Wise guy!”
She gives me a smirk and I chuckle, “Come here and help me stand up instead of being witty.”
“Oh! Because I’m the witty one now?”
She gets up in a graceful move, and is beaming at me when she sees my braces, “No wheelchair to go out?”
“Not in this one for sure.”

I overestimated myself and forgot how hard it is to balance my pelvis and lifeless legs in those orthopedic devices, and I struggle a little bit before finding my pace. I wobble and almost fall getting in the elevator. My right foot gets stuck in the slight gap on the floor, and two pairs of helping hands on top of Cassie’s catch me at the last second. My pride takes another hit, “I am sorry. Thank you.”
Two young girls all dressed up and apparently ready to go out on a date were the ones to rush to my rescue. They both give me a once-over and I lower my eyes, humiliated as hell. From the killer look Cassie is giving them, I am not sure I should be so shameful. I lean against the cab wall and raise my head. Both women are still watching me, and I can decipher in their eyes cheek and audacity. They can’t see my braces well hidden under my dress up pants, and my crutches may suggest I am a daredevil recently injured in some kind of outdoor activity. Cassie moves closer to me and hooks her arm on my elbow in a ‘he is mine’ undeniable statement. The elevator stops on the lobby level and one of the girls shows me the open doors, “After you.”
“No please go ahead, I’m slow.”
“That’s ok, we don’t mind. We are not in a hurry.”
What? Do they want to see me make a fool of myself again, or do they wish to get a glimpse of my rear end? Well, I go first with Cassie behind me on the lookout. When they pass us I am entitled to a warm, “Have a nice evening.”
“Thanks, you too.”

“Did you see how they were staring at you? They’ve got nerves!”
“Well, I am a bit noticeable with my equipment.”
“Stop playing dumb Matt. You know what I mean.”
I chuckle, “Yes I know but believe me they wouldn’t look at me the same way if I were in my wheelchair. So you are safe.”
I brace myself on the forearms of the crutches to give her a quick kiss on the lips.
“I am not so sure.”
She has this hesitant but serious unfocused stare which tells me how jealous she can be. I really have to pay attention to whom I look at.

Considering how bad it started, the day ends well with a nice dinner, no more tripping, and I get my chair back just before the game.

After this trip I never leave without a spare tire, bearings, a small spare wheel and a complete tool kit.