Outdated as of April 26, 2016. Rewritten and posted [ here ].
The next morning I wake up on my own, hearing the soft droning of a set of voices somewhere in front and above. It’s only the television that has until this point been off, tuned to a cooking channel from the amount of recipes being made between overly long advertisements. After a while Dr. Matthews comes in, does a checkup on my progress for the day, and then leaves just before Trent comes in. Over the next couple of days it becomes routine, getting more sleep each night through a new prescription and Trent working me to the point of exhaustion.
After suggesting some way to track the days Dr. Matthews brings in a small calendar and some writing materials. A few days later he brings in some more and lends me a clipboard – I remember him saying something about mental stimuli at one time. Not that I mind; I’m still mostly bedbound. On the following Saturday I’m permitted to use the laptop Jacob gave me – at some point they moved the bag into a locker across the room – Dr. Matthews has the keys. I’m given two hours to talk with my father and daughters. For their sake, I keep the camera covered even after turning off the webcam setting. Can never be too careful.
The following weeks are the same, weekdays with Dr. Matthews and Trent, Saturday with my remaining family, Sundays by myself. All coloring or puzzle book end up eventually on the floor by the bed, stacking higher week after week – Dr. Matthews keeps bringing in new ones.
“Thanks, I was about done with this one,” I tuck away the new set of activity books. Even though I had things to do now, there was something that still bothered me. “You’ve said something about another alternative of this mask, right?”
Dr. Matthews was halfway out the door. “Yes?”
“How long will it be now. I’m already mostly healed, right?” The calendar on the side table reads May 13th, 2075. It’s been nearly a month. “And what about the apartment?”
“It’s going to take longer than your superiors would like, and I guess you too, but it’s getting there.”
“And the mask alternative, so I can actually eat?”
“You want it?”
“Of course I do! I can only have so much liquid meals.”
“You won’t be able to have hard food for a while afterwards; you’d have to gradually start from soft foods.”
“Okay. How long will I be in here, am I mostly healed up?”
“No, you still got a few more weeks to go before it’s safe to have you walking around.”
“But how many more weeks?”
“If I have to put a number to it, two or three, give or take.” And then he’s out the door, lock clicking. Alone again, I sigh. Back to the coloring or puzzle books then.
I’ve been able to walk around under Trent’s supervision – and he said once that there is only so much I can do in the one room. The pencil in my top right taps through the empty boxes, middle right scratching in tiny numbers in the various corners and sides. Only a few hours until Trent is to come in, I’ll ask him later. Top right doodle out questions for later, middle right tapping between the boxes of the sudoku puzzle.
Ask what he thinks about how far along I am in legs. How much more my arms need worked. Maybe should ask him about himself, since he’s gotten a lot more quiet – it won’t hurt to ask. The limited space on the page barely has enough room for the questions – and I rip out a blank section of a child’s coloring book. The doctor must be having trouble finding new ones.
A few hours, and a couple puzzles and coloring pages, later Trent comes in with the basic things; Therabands, various weights, measurement tools, and such. Today will probably be a repeat of yesterday.
“Good evening.” I straighten up and push the papers off to the side, the tiny scrap of paper left on top.
“Evening,” Trent puts the things on the unoccupied bed I’ve shared the room with, laid out in a specific manner. “How are you feeling today?”
“Fine,” he gestures me to sit off the side of the bed, an angle-measurement thing in one hand, a clipboard and pencil in two others. It takes a few minutes to get the range of motion of all six arms, which he scratches down with one set while another takes the measurements. When Trent is done he takes a moment to write them down on other piece of paper with his back to me. “Which ones need more work?” I stay seated on the bed.
“Hm, bottom left could have more movement on the X and Z axes, and the middle set still have a limit to their Y range – but there’s only so much room,” he huffs and turns back. “I should probably explains what I mean.” There’s a half-hearted smile. “Your bottom left has difficulties in moving in and out, and around. The middle set still have issues moving up and down.”
“Oh, okay. Anything I should work with them specifically?”
“We’ll get to them later. Stand up.” I do so, and he takes a few more measurements – most that he doesn’t try to write down. “Well, they seem to be in great shape.”
“That’s good to hear. Any idea how much more the arms need?”
“Depends on how much they move around. You’ve been doing the stretches, right?”
“Good,” he pulls a yellow theraband off the other bed. “I’ll be teaching you a new one today. I recommend doing two or more sets per arm.” For the next hour Trent has me doing various exercises, sometimes doing multiple exercises in one go. The new one he has me do a couple times, finding the right angles for the lower two sets to get the maximum exercise out of. At the end there’s pain in almost all the joints – not a searing pain but a dull ache Trent had explained before that meant the exercises were working.
“When you say ‘two sets per day’ do you mean during each daily session?”
He looks away from the clipboard and the various papers he brought in. “This will be the last session for the week; you’re being moved to three therapy sessions per week. The doctor thinks you’re doing well enough for a change. You’ll be in charge of most of your daily exercises, don’t skimp on them.” And then he’s back to the papers, writing things out with one hand while others hold the papers and clipboard. “If you need, I can get a print out of all the ones we’ve been doing.”
“I guess it wouldn’t hurt.”
“Good, I’ll be getting them to you tomorrow.” He flips through the papers, sat on the other hospital bed.”If you do all of them each day, it should take a little under an hour to do all of them, less if you multitask.” He holds the pen in his mouth as he flips through some more papers and reorganizes them.
“I’ve got another question.”
“Hm?” He looks up from the papers.
“Has something happened since the therapy started?”
He sighs, picking the pencil out of his teeth. “What do you mean?”
“I can’t help but notice that you’re a bit different from before. Your mood isn’t as … bright.”
“Well things change, Andrew. Nothing more to be said about it.” He goes back to the papers.
“Isn’t there a gym here, for therapy I mean.”
“None built into the building, but there is one in the outpatient building.”
“Why not go there?”
“Your superiors don’t want to risk anything. It may be because they don’t want to risk someone recognizing you.” A tune starts playing from his pocket. “Give me a minute.” Trent pulls out a phone and walks to the opposite end of the room – farthest from me. “Yeah, got it.” Another sigh. “We’re done for today, Andrew. I’ll get the papers to you tomorrow.” In only a couple minutes he collects his stuff and leaves; the metal door slams.
I lay back on the bed, top set behind my head and lower two crossing each other, staring at the near mute TV screen sat across from the bed. Until the aching stops I got nothing else better to do, so a few minutes mindlessly staring at the TV won’t hurt. The rest of the day went on like any other; some coloring, some puzzling, getting to sleep before 8 – something Dr. Matthews emphasized.
The next day Dr. Matthews walks in with Ryan. I haven’t seen him for a while. “How are you feeling, Andrew?”
“Fine,” I’ve spent most of the day watching the TV. “Something besides daily checkups today?”
“Yes. After considerations between me, the team, and your superiors, you can be cleared for an operation to remove the face mask and another solution in place.” Ryan was flipping through a file, I pay no mind.
“Oh, that’s great. When can it be done, how long would it take?”
“Later today; the procedure should only take a few hours at most.”
“Do I need to prepare or anything?”
“No, the team will take care of everything, Andrew. If you are certain about it, we can get you ready in a couple hours.”
“Why wouldn’t I want it?” I catch the look Ryan gives Dr. Matthews – it looked like unease. Why?
“Alright. If you don’t mind can you clean up the area around the bed? The team will be in a few hours to pick you up, Ryan here,” Dr. Matthews puts a hand on the assistant’s shoulder and gives it a squeeze. “Will introduce you to the Anesthetist in a little while.” The assistant just nods. The ever present flat expression frowns – then they are both gone.
Did I say something wrong?
I push the thought away and pick up a puzzle book as a distraction, flipping through the pages for one I haven’t yet done. Almost all of them were filled, except for a couple I couldn’t understand. A pencil taps on the front of the mask – can’t wait for it to be removed. One set of hands hold the book open while two other arms work on it – the lower set folded on my lap and crossed legs. It was a while ago that I took a look at them, like anyone else’s except for the patterning. The bed sheet was bunched up around my waist – the air’s a tad too cold for me. Hopefully after whatever they have planned they’ll move me to an apartment or something. The room is too small, as Trent said. Outside there were trees being pushed around by the wind and a strong whistling, and I watch the wind throw them about.
Back down on the paper, one hand has already doodling in the margin. Can’t concentrate.
It’s been, what, a bit more than a month since I last saw the assistant. I can remember the assistant being around for the first couple days, then stopped coming altogether except for the one time he brought some drinks. He was probably just not needed. But even then, why their odd interaction? They’ve probably worked together for a while. After a few seconds I shrug, picking up one of the few remaining coloring books and the stubs of colored pencils – will need to ask for more after the surgery.
Ryan returns a couple hours later with another person, whom he introduces as my anesthetist.
“Nice to meet you, Andrew,” the anesthetist holds out her hand for a handshake which I take. Ryan’s eyes meet mine, a piercing stare that goes from me to the anesthetist. The anesthetist takes back her hand, “so I assume it’ll be the standard dose, correct?”
“Yes, the same dosage as before,” it was Ryan. The anesthetist doesn’t look amused, eyes directing towards Ryan’s location and then back to me.
“Since we have not had the pleasure of meeting each other like this, let me introduce myself. I’m Erin Wesdel, your anesthetist since you’ve arrived here. It’s great to see how much you’ve recovered.” She pulls the chair over and sits upon it, shooing Ryan to a farther distance from both of us. While he walks away his arms are crossed, and a hand goes to his ear when he comes to a stop. “You’re going to having another jaw replacement, correct? Do you have any idea what the procedure is going to entail?”
“No? Dr. Matthews just told me that they’ve agreed to get me one.”
“Typical. Give me a moment.” She gets up and goes across the room to Ryan, where they have a short conversation before she comes back. “Since you do not know how your current status is, I’ll explain what they’ve done with your current operation and what the new operation will be.”
“Since a large portion of your jaw was destroyed, the quickest and safest fix was to do a quick replacement of your frontward throat and lower jaw – as you had other life threatening injuries. The one Dr. Matthews has planned is a complete reconstruction – which should in the end give you back the ability to chew and eat a non-liquid exclusive diet.”
“Oh, okay. How long will it take?”
“A surgery of this nature will take anywhere between 9 to 11 hours, depending on if there is any complications.”
“What sort of complications?” Echoes of the first time I woke up digs in the back of my mind.
“Most of the complications would not be anything that would be life-threatening, mostly depends on the speed and precision of the doctors on staff.” In the corner Ryan looks back to us. “It’s nothing you should worry about, Andrew. Some of the staff here have done this sort of operation before several times, so it may just take a little over nine hours.”
“Well, that’s good to hear.” I give a small smile. The grey boxes from when I first woke scratch at the back of my mind. Erin smiles.
“Good,” she turns to Ryan, “how long will it be till the team is ready, Ryan?”
“Within an hour,” he’s looking at something in his hands, back still to us.
“Fantastic. Well Andrew, I’ll be seeing you again soon.” She leaves with Ryan, the lock makes a heavy click. A few seconds later I breathe a sigh, relief. I must be overreacting, Dr. Matthews said it’s a normal reaction. I might as well be doing something while waiting for… a team to get me? Middle left and right pull over a couple of the partly filled books, holding a pencil in top right as the middle hands flip through the pages – bottom set holding them. It was after a few minutes that the whole set lands back on the small stack of incomplete books and I stare out the window. The wind calmed down while the two came in for a small talk. For a couple sets I set focus on the leaves outside the window, then to one of the wall looking for something, anything to distract me.
I could still feel the clawing around my throat, the downward pull and needles in my chest. Was it not just a dream, that one time? The doctor said they had to replace one of my lungs, and my throat was torn up.
I saw the pictures, I can’t just believe they made everything back to the way it was, right?
Another headshake, forcing one hand to take one of the newer puzzle books from the pile and pour all my focus into it. The ones made for children help a lot, as it’s easier to sink into. They might use more of each pencil, sure, but there was room to fill them in with whatever. Sometimes I just doodle some things within them, a couple of them get drawn over eventually. With the little mazes I fill in the dead ends, sometimes scouting out the path along the way. It’s satisfying to see. Then it’s time for the surgery.
“Hello again, Andrew,” Erin Wesdel walked in with Dr. Matthews and some other doctors.
“Oh, ah, hey,” I set the book and pencils down on the side table. A pencil falls to the floor.
“Did Ms. Wesdel fill you in, Andrew?” Dr. Matthews move the stack of completed books onto the other bed, picking the pencil off the floor. I nod. “Great. How are you feeling?”
“Good, a bit nervous.” With the books away he crosses to the other side of the bed.
“It’s okay be to nervous,” he motions me to lay back on the bed, pulling the sheets down a bit. I lay down. Off on the left Ms. Wesdel is interacting with the induction machine – when was that brought in again?
The middle and bottom set where under the sheets, the tops moving to lay over the sheets. But as Dr. Matthews was still holding the sheet up, I lay them down by the others. “Is this fine?” He nods, and he pulls the sheet all the way up to my chest. Ms. Wesdel was still working with the machine, Dr. Matthews held one hand over my chest. I shuffle, his hand presses down firmer. Swallowing back a lump among the tubes, looking between the two of them and a quiet conversation. Some arms cross to others, fiddling over thumbs and wrinkles of sheet and fabric.
“Give me one more moment,” and then there’s a low hiss, and off to the left stood Ms. Wesdel with a tube with a screw ring. “It’s okay Mr. Poc-Pottarus. This will only take a minute and it won’t hurt – I promise.”
“Oh, okay,” the pressure on my chest lowers and increases, it wasn’t from the doctor’s hand on my chest. It was from my breathing rhythm.
“Take slow breaths, Andrew. You’ll feel better.” I follow, breathing in slowly then holding for a few more, and a slow exhale. “There you go. Okay now?”
“Yeah, I think I am.” Partly lying, still breathing in slow through a heart thumping in my neck.
“Good. Ms. Wesdel?” A hand removes itself from my forehead – when did it land there? To the left Ms. Wesdel had a hand on the pillow beside me. She doesn’t retract it, using it to lean over further and move the tube to the mask. Dr. Matthews held my head still as she screws in the blasting tube. Ever so slowly, I see less of the ceiling. Hands release the twists of sheet and cloth, muscles relaxing, and the last thing I see before closing my eyes is the ceiling, and feeling a sheet lie over my face.
A burning from somewhere …
Stinging from muscles and bone. There’s ties, holding things in place.
A weight over my chest. Skin pinched between metal and leather. A stale taste lingers around my mouth. It tastes of copper, soft meat on tongue, and chew. Ringing skull, landing on sheets. What’s happening?