Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Orange Sky: Part Forty-Five

[Parts 1-44 are here. Thank you so much for reading, and I am impressed if you're still here Xo]


Thomas is waiting when they get inside. “You can’t keep doing this,” he says, shooting James a disapproving look. “I’m going to get in trouble if I keep losing patients.”

“Sorry,” James says, grimacing as he sits down on his bed. “I needed some air.”

Thomas’ face darkens. “What’s wrong? Is it your shoulder?”

James grimaces again and nods. “It’s probably nothing,” he says, lying on the bed. “It’s just stiff from the cold.”

“And from all the movement,” Thomas says reproachfully. “You shouldn’t be putting on sweaters and jackets yet. You shouldn’t be moving your shoulder so much.”

“I haven’t been putting my arm through the sleeve.”

“You still move your shoulder to pull the sweaters on whether you intend or not. You have to let it heal more before you start doing things like that. You already ripped out your stitches once.”

“That wasn’t from putting on a sweater.”

Thomas looks at him quizzically. “Then how did it happen?”

James dodges the question. “Any news?”

Thomas sighs and helps James back into his gown so he can check his shoulder.

“Michael is in his room. He seems to be doing okay, all things considered. They’ve started him on a round of antibiotics that have been successful in treating MSRA before, but it mutates so quickly that there’s no guarantee they will still be effective. He’s being closely monitored and they will change his medication if he doesn’t start to improve.”

Thomas takes off James’ sling and begins to unbandage his shoulder. James winces. “And Alexander?”

“Sorry,” Thomas says, trying to be gentler. “Violet called about fifteen minutes ago. Alexander is asleep and doing well. She said he may even progress from the oxygen mask to the nasal cannula in a few days.”

“The what?”

“The nasal tube. It means his breathing is improving and he may not need as much assistance.”

James’ face brightens. “Really? That’s good, right? That’s good news?”

“It is GREAT news,” Thomas says, smiling as he re-bandages James’ shoulder. “By the time you are able to go see him again he will probably be on the cannula if he continues to improve.” He helps James to lie back against the pillows. “Your shoulder looks good,” he says, picking up James’ chart and writing something down. “It’s a little tender, but I’d say that’s from pushing it further than you are ready for. The incision is healing well. Has Dr Anderson spoken to you about physio?”

James is barely listening. “So if his lungs are getting better that means he can’t have MSRA, right? That means he’s going to be okay, right?”

Thomas stops writing and looks up. “It is good news,” he says, less enthusiastic than he was a moment ago. “But it can take up to ten days for the symptoms to appear.”

James’ face falls.

“I don’t want to give you false hope,” Thomas says gently. “There is a good chance Alexander doesn’t have it. It is only spread through direct contact – it isn’t airborne – and he didn’t spend much time with your brother. But that being said he could have it. I just want you to have all the facts.”

James’ glimmer of hope dies out.

“We’ll know more after the tests come back,” Thomas says, replacing James’ chart. Hopefully that will be in the next day or so.”

He gives James a sympathetic smile and leaves the room. Elizabeth sits down in the chair beside James’ bed.

“How are you feeling?” she asks softly.

James answers without looking at her. “Like I’m ready to wake up from this nightmare.”

Elizabeth sighs. “Yes,” she says, looking out the window. “I am, too.”


An hour before visiting hours end, Elizabeth stands up.

“I’m going to see Michael before I have to go back to the hotel,” she says, gathering her things. Her voice sounds much too loud after a couple of hours of silence. “I’ll be back tomorrow. Do you need anything?”

James shakes his head. His neck feels stiff.

“Alright,” Elizabeth says. She comes over to his bed and slips her hand into his. “It is going to be okay.” She squeezes his hand. “It will be okay.”

James doesn’t answer, but he squeezes back.

“I’ll see you tomorrow. Try to get some sleep.”

James nods, but he knows he won’t be sleeping tonight.

He can’t sleep without Alexander.

Elizabeth leaves.

Without her, the room seems much bigger. Emptier. He lies back and stares out the window. He watches the sunset, wondering if Alexander is still asleep. If he ate dinner or if it is lying cold and untouched on the tray like the dinner beside him. If he is scared. If he is okay.

You have to be okay.




James watches the sunrise and rubs his tired eyes. The nurse who took over from Thomas offered to get him something to help him sleep, but he had refused. Every time he closes his eyes he is back in that cabin, trying desperately to breathe life into Alexander’s limp body. The thought of being in a drug-induced sleep and unable to wake up from that nightmare...He may never sleep again.



“I have something for you,” Thomas says, coming in a few hours later with a tray containing toast, fruit and cereal.

“I’m not hungry,” James says, barely glancing at him. “Any news?”

“Good morning to you too,” Thomas says, setting the tray down. He puts something on James’ lap. “Here,” he says, smiling. “I think this may help.”

It takes James a few seconds to register that it is an iPad. He turns to Thomas. “What’s this for?”

“Turn it on,” Thomas says, still smiling.

James can’t see how an iPad could possibly help fill the hole in his heart, but he switches it on anyway. Alexander’s face stares back at him. His heart skips several beats.

“What…” he starts, looking up at Thomas. 

Thomas beams. “It was Violet’s idea. There are no phones in patient rooms in the ICU and you aren’t allowed to use mobile phones or wireless devices…Unless they are in flight mode. An iPad in flight mode is still a camera. It can still take videos.”

The word videos makes James’ heart pound. He looks at the iPad, noticing the play button across Alexander’s chest for the first time. He presses it and turns up the volume.

“He’s just downstairs?” Alexander says to the person behind the camera. James recognises Violet’s voice as she answers.

“Yes. As soon as we’re done here I’ll send this down for him. I’m sure it will make him very happy.”

“Can he come see me today?”

Violet hesitates. “Not today, no. But soon, okay? Really soon.”

Alexander’s face falls. “Is he sick?”

The camera shakes. James imagines Violet shaking her head. “No, he’s not sick. But he misses you. That’s what this video is for. To help you both feel a little better about being apart.”

Alexander looks at Violet thoughtfully and turns his attention to the camera.

“I miss you, James,” he says, staring right into the lens.

James touches the screen with trembling fingers. “Alexander,” he breathes. “Buddy.” Tears well up in his eyes. All he wants to do is run upstairs and pull Alexander into his arms. He wants to hold onto him and never let him go. Keep him safe from harm. Keep him safe.

“I miss you a lot.” He sounds like he is trying hard not to seem sad. James’ heart hurts.

“I had a dream about you.” Alexander glances at Violet self-consciously and drops his voice to a dramatic whisper. “We went ice skating. I fell over and hurt my arm, but it was okay because you were with me. You kissed it better and bought me a cupcake. Uncle Michael was there, too. He was the best ice skater of all.”

He looks at his cast. His whisper loses the dramatic quality. “Then we went home. Back to our house. You carried me inside and into my bedroom. You tucked me into bed and sang me a song and read me a story you wrote just for me. You did all the voices, just like you always do.” When he looks up, there are tears in his eyes. His voice trembles. “I wish the dream was real.”

James waits for him to say more, but he doesn’t. Instead he stares into the camera lens until the recording stops.

“That was ten minutes ago,” Thomas says when the video is over. “You can see he’s doing okay. He’s eating a little and gaining back his strength. He’s doing better.”

A tear splashes onto the screen. James makes no move to clean it.

I miss you, James.

I wish the dream was real.


“Mr Axton?” Thomas says, coming closer. “Are you okay? Didn’t the video help?”

James doesn’t answer. He doesn’t know how.

Yes.

No.

No.

No.

“We thought it would help.” Thomas’ voice has changed. He sounds worried. “We thought it would make you both feel a little better since you can’t be together right now.” Thomas reaches out to take the iPad back. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

James pulls the iPad towards himself. “Don’t take it,” he whispers. “Don’t…Don’t take him from me.”

“Oh. I thought…” Thomas’ voice trails off. He drops his hand, trying to read James’ expression. It is a mixture of pain and relief. Joy and fear. Happiness and heartache. “I’ll be back later,” Thomas says, turning to leave. “Take as long as you need.”

As soon as he closes the door, James plays the recording again.

And again.

And again.

He watches it on a repeat loop until Thomas comes back to check on him, one hour later.

******

Monday, 27 April 2015

Orange Sky: Part Forty-Four

[Parts 1-43 are here. Are you really sure you want to read on?? It's not going to be rainbows and butterflies...]


“Mr Axton?”

James looks up. Thomas is standing in the doorway.

“How are you doing?”

James turns away. He looks out the window. It’s snowing.

He hates the snow.

“How’s Alexander?” he asks, ignoring the question. “Is he okay? Has he shown any symptoms?”

Thomas comes over and picks up James’ chart. “No,” he says, reading it. “He’s fine so far. He misses you.”

James feels empty. Numb.

“Has he had the culture test done?”

Thomas nods and puts the chart back in the holder on the end of James’ bed. “Yes, but it’s only been a few hours, same as yours. Dr Williams put a rush on it, but the lab has to wait for the culture to grow before they can test it. They can’t make it grow faster, unfortunately.”

James wonders how he’s going to last a few days away from Alexander when the last few hours have been pure hell. He vaguely considers asking to be sedated until he is allowed to see Alexander again.

No, he thinks. If I’m sedated and something happens to Michael or Alexander…He can’t bring himself to finish the thought.

“How’s Michael?”

“He’s out of surgery now. Your mom is with him, but he hasn’t woken up yet. They drained the abscess and have started him on IV antibiotics. I’m sure someone has told you that MRSA is resistant to most antibiotics, so it may take some time for Dr Phillips to find the right treatment.”

James doesn’t want to ask the question, but he makes himself do it anyway. “Do…Do people die from this?”

Thomas hesitates before answering. “Yes,” he says quietly. “They do.”

James doesn’t think he can handle much more. He falls silent. Thomas lingers as though he expects James to ask more questions, but when it becomes apparent that he isn’t going to, Thomas leaves. He closes the door behind him, leaving James alone with his thoughts.

He closes his eyes. A series of worst-case scenarios plays in his head, making him weak with fear and dread. He desperately wants to get out of bed and go somewhere, anywhere, but he’s afraid to leave the room in case there’s news about Alexander or Michael. He opens his eyes and chews the inside of his cheek. He obsessively checks the time, staring at the clock on the wall as the seconds trickle into minutes and becoming more and more agitated with every tick of the second hand. The metallic taste of blood fills his mouth. He releases his cheek from his teeth and counts the seconds as they tick by.

Finally he can’t take it anymore. He kicks away the blankets and pulls his own clothes back on. They’d made him put on a hospital gown when he came down to his room.

He’s about to leave when he decides to write a note in case someone comes looking for him. The last thing he wants is to make anyone worry about him. He hunts around for a piece of paper, eventually pulling an unused sheet from his chart and scribbling a quick note on the back.


I can’t stand just sitting here waiting for news. I’ve gone for a walk outside. I’ll be back soon. I won’t go far.

Don’t worry.

- J




He leaves the note on his pillow and slips out of the hospital unnoticed.



The cold air hits him with enough force to knock the air from his lungs. He tucks his hand into his pocket and walks quickly, venturing further out into the cold. The icy wind finds its way underneath every layer of clothing he’s wearing, making him shiver. He briefly considers the intelligence of being out in the cold when he may be fighting an infection, but he dismisses the thought. He’d rather be out here feeling so cold that his limbs ache than sitting uselessly in his bed. At least the cold gives him something to focus on. He’d rather feel pain than the fear eating away at his heart. He’d rather feel anything than what he is feeling right now.

He spots a snow-covered bench and walks over to it. He brushes away some of the snow and sits down. He watches the people around him going about their day. Going inside the hospital to visit loved ones. Going to work. Taking someone home after their stay. Carrying on like the entire world isn’t falling spectacularly apart.

He turns away.

His eyes fall on a bridge overlooking the freeway. He stares at it, watching the cars drive by. They are going much slower than usual because of the snow. Slow and cautious. Wanting to make it home to the families unscathed. Wives. Husbands.

Children.

James swallows. He tries to imagine being part of that world. A world where he, Alexander and Michael went to the snow for a week and had a wonderful time. Where they drank cocoa every night and tortured Michael with bad renditions of Do You Want To Build A Snowman? Snow angels and ice skating. Cupcakes and snowflakes. The way life is supposed to be.

A world where he isn’t sitting outside in the snow wondering if the bridge is high enough should he need to…

No, he thinks, turning away. It won’t come to that. He is awake. His lungs are doing better. His brain is okay. He will be okay. He will be.

He has to be.


He looks down at the snow gathering inside his boots. He couldn’t do them up with only one hand. A memory swims to the surface of his mind of the first time Alexander managed to tie his shoelaces on his own. His happy little face. The way he puffed out his chest proudly and declared he didn’t need help anymore. That he was a big boy.

And now? James thinks, watching the snow fill his boots. Do you still feel like a big boy now? Or do you feel small and afraid like I do?

“I miss you,” James says quietly. “I miss you so much.”

His breath comes out in vaporous puffs, hanging in the air for a moment before dissipating. Insubstantial. Just like the words they carry.

“I never wanted this for you,” James whispers. “I wanted so much more for you. I wanted to be better for you. I wanted to be good for you. But everything I’ve done…Every move I’ve made so far…” He breathes out. “I don’t even know what to do anymore, buddy. I don’t know how to help. I would do anything to help. To take away all the things that hurt you. The nightmares. The memories. The demons that live inside your head. I would give anything to take away your pain.”

But I’m the one causing it.

He closes his eyes. “Being away from you is torture. Please don’t be sick. Please don’t have MRSA. Please God…Don’t let him have MRSA and please let Michael be okay. Please. You owe me this much. You owe them this much. Don’t hurt them any more. Don’t put them through anything else. Please. Please. Please.”

“James?”

James opens his eyes. Elizabeth is standing a few feet away from him, hugging her arms across her body in an effort to stay warm.

“I came up to see you and found your note. What are you doing out here?? It’s freezing!”

“Mom.” He’s not sure how to explain himself. “I…I needed to get out of that hospital for a while. I needed some time to think.”

Elizabeth shivers.

“Come on,” James says, standing up. “Let’s get you back inside.”

Elizabeth shakes her head and sits down on the bench.

“No,” she says, shivering more. “I need a moment, too.”

James stares at her for a few seconds before sitting down beside her. The wind blows a flurry of snow around their feet.

“How’s Michael?”

“He’s awake,” Elizabeth says. “He’s doing okay, physically. Mentally…” She shakes her head. “Dr Phillips told him about you and Alexander. He took it really hard. He blames himself.”

“That’s ridiculous,” James says, watching a snowflake drift down from the sky. “It’s not his fault.”

Elizabeth laughs humourlessly. “Yes well it seems that both my boys have a talent for blaming themselves for things that aren’t their fault.” Her voice drops. “I guess when you are told that everything is your fault for most of your childhood....”

“Stop it,” James says, turning to her. “He has no bearing on our lives whatsoever. You are all the parent we’ve ever needed.”

Elizabeth doesn’t say anything. Instead she looks down at James’ boots.

“Your boots are undone.”

James tries to smile. “Yeah. Hard to do them up with only one hand.”

Elizabeth gets off the seat and crouches down in front of him, shaking the snow from his boots and doing them up for him. It makes James feel five years old and gives him an overwhelming desire to crawl into her lap and cry himself to sleep.

“There,” she says, sitting beside him again.

“Thank you,” James says quietly.

“We better get inside,” Elizabeth says. “It isn’t good for you to be out here in this cold. You’ll get sick.”

“Yeah,” James says.

Neither of them move.

“Mom,” James says after a few minutes. “What would…What would you do if something…If something happened to me or Michael?”

Elizabeth pales. “I wouldn’t cope,” she whispers. Tears spring to her eyes at the thought. “I wouldn’t cope at all.”

“But what would you do?”

She turns to him. “What could I do? There’s nothing that could be done. All I could do was hold onto every memory and try to make you proud.”

Yes there is. There is something to be done.


She stares at him so intensely that he feels as though she is reading his thoughts. He turns away, but he can still feel her eyes on him.

“Alexander is going to be okay,” she says, burning him with her gaze. “He is going to be okay, James. He is.”

James doesn’t meet her eyes. “I can’t lose him. I can't lose him and I can’t lose Michael.”

“Nobody is losing anyone,” Elizabeth says, unfolding her arms and putting her hand on James’ cheek. He looks at her. “Nobody is going to lose anyone,” she repeats.

James nods half-heartedly.

“James Joseph Axton, you listen to me: We will be okay. All of us. There is simply no other option. Do you understand?”

James nods again with slightly more conviction.

Elizabeth brushes the snow out of his eyebrows. “Good.” She smiles at him. “Now let’s go back inside before you add pneumonia to your list of ailments.”

She stands up and holds out her hand. James takes it and she helps him to his feet. She slips her arm around the crook of his and together they walk back to the hospital, leaving the snow behind.

******

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Orange Sky: Part Forty-Three

[Parts 1-42 are here. Let's pretend that the sporadic posts are intentional to keep you all guessing, okay? Okay. Friendly reminder that I was originally going to post once a week, so missing a couple of days here and there isn't too bad, right?

Thank you so much for reading Xo]


There’s a knock on the door. James looks up eagerly.

“Come in,” he calls as loud as he dares without waking up Alexander. Violet opens the door.

“Did you call my Mom?” James whispers. “Call Michael? Where are they? Are they coming…up…” James stares at her, taking in her yellow paper gown, scrub cab, surgical mask and gloves. “What’s going on?” he asks, immediately panicking. “What’s happening?”

Violet doesn’t answer. The expression on her face makes James’ stomach drop.

“What is it??” he asks, sitting up straight. Alexander tightens his grasp on James’ hair, making it necessary for him to tilt his head to the side to avoid his hair being pulled. “What is it?” he repeats. “What’s wrong?”

Violet seems to steel herself before she answers. “It’s Michael. A few hours after he left here he started complaining about pain in his leg. When his doctor unwrapped the bandages to check, he found that his leg was infected. Is infected. He's...He’s in surgery right now. They are draining an abscess caused by the infection.”

“An abscess?” James tries to keep up. He feels like the walls are closing in on him. “I don’t understand. I saw him a few hours ago and he was fine!”

Violet eyes are full of sympathy. “The infection must have been developing for a while, but he didn’t tell anyone he was in pain. I checked with Thomas. He didn’t touch his morphine drip and every time he was asked if he needed his pain medication adjusted, he said he was fine.”

“And they BELIEVED HIM?!”

Alexander jumps and wakes up. He adjusts his grip on James’ hair.

“Daddy?” he whispers sleepily, coughing. “Why are you yelling?”

James swallows and makes himself calm down. “I’m sorry, buddy,” he says. “I’m sorry. Go back to sleep.”

“Is Uncle Michael here now?” Alexander asks, struggling to open his eyes. “I want to see him.”

James feels like he’s been kicked in the stomach. “Not yet, buddy. Not yet. Go back to sleep. We can talk more when you wake up.”

Alexander yawns. His eyes slide closed and he’s asleep again in seconds.

“Where’s my Mom?” James asks in a quieter voice. “Is she okay?”

“She’s down in the waiting room, waiting for Michael to come out of surgery. She wanted to come up and see you, but since she’s been with Michael, she may have been exposed to the infection. They wouldn’t allow her up into the ICU. They couldn’t risk spreading it.” Violet shifts on her feet and looks down at the floor. “Actually, Mr Axton…That’s really what I came in here to tell you. The type of infection your brother has is called M-R-S-A. Mersa. It’s a strain of the staphylococcus bacteria that is resistant to most antibiotics. It spreads quickly and is the most common infection found in hospitals, especially amongst surgical patients. It is also one of the most deadly because of its resistance to treatment.”

She glances at Alexander. All the blood drains from James’ face.

“No,” James says, vigorously shaking his head. “No. No. No. No. No.”

Violet swallows. “Dr Williams will be up shortly. He will talk you through what is going to happen next.”

“He doesn’t have it,” James says, still shaking his head. “Tell me he doesn’t have it. Tell me he’s okay.” His heart feels like it is being ripped apart. “Please…” His eyes fill with tears. “Please tell me he doesn’t have it.”

Violet looks a little like she wants to cry, too. “Dr Williams will be coming up to examine him. But MRSA…It can spread to the organs, including the lungs. Alexander’s lungs are already compromised, so…” She lets the sentence hang. James feels like he is trapped in a nightmare he cannot escape from.

“But he doesn’t have it, right? Dr Williams is coming to check, but he doesn’t have it, right??” He can hear the desperation in his voice.

“We’ll know more after Dr Williams arrives,” Violet says, just as Dr Williams enters the room. He’s wearing the same paper gown, mask, scrub cap and gloves as Violet.

“Mr Axton. I am so sorry about your brother. Unfortunately MRSA is quite common in surgical patients.”

“Alexander,” James whispers. Terror grips his heart, making it difficult for him to think straight.

Dr Williams sighs. “Unfortunately your son is at risk of contracting the infection, given that he was in contact with your brother. We will run some tests, which will hopefully come back clear.” He pauses. He is wearing the same sympathetic expression as Violet. Like he thinks James might break.

“Mr Axton…The MRSA bacteria can spread to the lungs quite quickly. Obviously with your son’s lungs being compromised already, we need to take every action to prevent that from happening.”

James stares at him. “Yes. Okay.”

Dr Williams glances at Violet and clears his throat. “There’s…There’s uh…There’s a chance that you may have contracted the infection from your brother, too, Mr Axton. You also need to be checked out.”

James blinks. “Okay.”

Dr Williams clears his throat again. “Given the aggressive nature of this infection and it’s potentially life-threatening effects…Alexander can’t be exposed to people who may have contracted the infection.”

James blinks again. “Okay.”

“James,” Violet says gently. He turns around. She’s never used his first name before. “You need to leave. You need to go back downstairs. Just until they’ve tested you and made sure that you don’t have the infection. The culture test takes two to five days to perform. If it comes back clear, you’ll be able to come back.”

James suddenly finds it very difficult to breathe. “You want me to leave?” His voice comes out strangled. “You want me to not see him for two to five DAYS?!”

“We have to take every precaution to ensure his safety,” Dr Williams says. “You, your brother and Alexander have all had surgery. We don’t normally isolate MRSA patients but in this case, it would be too risky to allow you or your brother near Alexander until we are sure your brother’s infection has cleared and you either don’t have one or yours clears too.”

“I can’t leave him.” The tears building in James’ eyes spill over. “I can’t leave him alone. He’ll be so scared and he, and he, and he…” James starts to hyperventilate. Violet comes over and gives him an oxygen mask hooked up to the spare oxygen tank.

“Just breathe,” she says, rubbing his back. “Just breathe, James. It’s going to be okay. Chances are you won’t have contracted the infection and you’ll be back up here in a couple of days. It’s going to be alright. It’s going to be okay.”

“He needs me,” James says, still struggling to catch his breath. “He needs me and I need him. He just woke up! I just got him back and I, and I, and I…”

“Shhhh,” Violet murmurs. “Breathe. It will be okay. Just breathe.”

An intern appears in the doorway with a wheelchair. “Dr Anderson told me to come up and get Mr Axton,” he says, nervously looking into the room. “She’s waiting for you.”

“Come on,” Violet says, trying to help James stand. “Let’s go.”

Despite every inch of his being screaming at him to throw himself across Alexander and refuse to ever let him go, James unhooks Alexander’s hand from his hair. The movement wakes Alexander for a second time.

“Daddy?” he says sleepily. “Where are you going?”

James doesn’t know what to say. He puts down the oxygen mask and tries not to let his expression show what he is feeling.

“I have to leave for a little while, okay buddy?” He tries to keep his voice from shaking. “I have to leave to keep you safe. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Alexander’s eyes widen. “No,” he says, shaking his head and reaching for James. “No. NO! You can’t leave me!! You can’t go!”

James swallows the scream building in his throat. “It’s okay, buddy,” he says, losing the battle to keep his voice steady. “It will be okay. Uncle Michael isn’t feeling well and there’s a chance that I caught what he has. I just have to go until they are sure I am okay. If I’m sick and I stay here I’ll make you sick too, and we don’t want that.” He tries to smile.

Alexander is distraught. “I don’t care if I get sick!” Tears gather in his eyes. “I don’t care! Stay with me! Don’t leave me!” He dissolves into a coughing fit. James very nearly falls to the ground.

“It’s like when your friend Sam had chicken pox at school, do you remember?” James says unsteadily, trying to give Alexander a cup of water. “Do you remember how he had to stay home until he was better so he wouldn’t make everyone else sick?”

“But he did make us sick,” Alexander sobs, pushing the cup away. “I got the chicken pox and so did Alicia and Ian and Sarah and half the class!”

“Exactly.” James’ hand shakes, spilling the water. He puts the cup down. “He came to school while he was sick and he made everyone sick. If I stay here I could make you sick too.”

“I don’t want you to be sick,” Alexander says, crying harder. “I don’t want you to be sick!”

“It’s okay, buddy,” James says, desperate to hold him but terrified to touch him in case he really does have MRSA. “It will be okay. You got better from the chicken pox, right? I might not even be sick, but even if I am, I’ll get better.”

“Then I’ll get better too!” Alexander sobs. “It won’t matter if I’m sick because I’ll get better too!”

James doesn’t know what to do. He stands there helplessly as Alexander sobs.

“You’re already sick,” Violet says gently. “And you’re getting better. If you get these new germs, you’ll be even sicker and you’ll have to stay the hospital even longer. You want to go home, right? You want to sleep in your own bed and run outside and play?”

Alexander stares at her. He sniffs and nods.

“Then this is what we have to do,” Violet continues. “It won’t be forever. It will just be for a couple of days. Then you’ll be back with your daddy and your uncle and you can all go home.”

Alexander turns to James. “Is that true?”

James nods, barely holding it together. “It’s true, buddy. It’s true. So I need you to be brave for me, okay? Can you be brave?”

Alexander’s lip trembles, but he tries to stop crying. “Please don’t go,” he whispers. “It’s scary without you.”

James grips the bed rail. “I get scared without you too. But we both need to be brave. Can you do that? Can you be a brave boy?”

A memory plays in James’ mind about the last time he asked Alexander to be brave.

It makes him want to throw up.

Just as he did the last time, Alexander closes his eyes and nods. “Okay,” he says, trembling. “I can be brave.”

James is simultaneously relieved and terrified. “Alright,” he says. “Okay. I’ll be back as soon as I can. Dr Williams and Violet will look after you.”

“And Astro?”

James feels even sicker. “Astro…Astro will be with you in spirit.”

Understanding blooms on Alexander’s face. “Oh,” he says quietly, wiping the tears from his cheeks. “He’s still in the snow.”

James doesn’t know how to answer him, so he doesn’t. The intern clears his throat.

“Alright buddy,” James says, trying to be as brave as Alexander. “I’ll see you soon, okay? I love you. Remember that.”

Alexander’s eyes fill with fresh tears, but he nods. “I love you, Daddy.” He gathers a handful of blankets and squeezes it so tightly that his hand trembles. “Tell Uncle Michael that I love him too and I hope he feels better soon.”

“I will,” James says, gathering the strength he needs to make himself leave. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. Violet will tell me how you’re doing every day, won’t you, Violet?”

She nods. “Of course.”

James takes a deep breath and lets go of the bed rail. He very nearly collapses, but Violet is there is to help him into the wheelchair. He had been refusing to use one for the last few days, but he doesn’t refuse it now. He knows he won’t make it out of the room on his own.

“I love you,” Alexander calls.

James doesn’t trust himself to speak again. Instead he keeps his eyes on Alexander until the intern wheels him around the corner and he can’t see him anymore. As soon as they are out of sight, James puts his head in his hand and stops fighting the sobs building up inside him. And just as Dr Williams and Violet suspected he would…He breaks.

******

Friday, 24 April 2015

Orange Sky: Part Forty-Two

[This is now the second most read thing on my blog. I heart you all so damn big. Hugs and puppies all 'round <3

Parts 1-41 are here. Thank you SO much for reading Xo]


James.

Alexander giggles, winding his hand into James’ hair.

Your face is furry.

Oh? Is it?

James rubs his face against Alexander’s neck.

Does that tickle?

Alexander squeals and tries to squirm away.

Stop it, James, he says, giggling. Stop it. James. James. James.

James.



James opens his eyes. For a moment he has no idea where he is. He sits up and looks around. He registers the sound of the heart rate monitor, beeping out a steady rhythm. His brain catches up.

I’m with Alexander.

He lets go of Alexander’s hand and rubs the sleep out of his eyes. He turns towards Michael. He’s gone, but there’s a note scribbled on the back of a blank chart on the chair beside James.

They made me go downstairs to get back into bed. I tried to refuse, but you know how persuasive Mom can be. I told her the good news. She cried. She didn’t want to wake you, but she said she’ll come up to see you both when you wake up. Just tell Violet to call her.

You better come see me today. While I’m conscious.

- M



James smiles and folds the note, putting it in his pocket.

“James.”

The word is so quiet that James isn’t even sure he heard it. He looks over at the door, checking if anyone has come in.

“James.”

James’ heart skips several beats. He’d know that voice anywhere. He whips around to face him.

“Alexander,” he breathes. “Alexander.”

Alexander clumsily reaches for the mask on his face and tries to take it off.

“No buddy,” James says, stopping him. “You need that. It’s helping you.”

“James,” Alexander says again, coughing. “Daddy.”

“I’m here,” he whispers, holding Alexander’s hand against his heart. “I’m here, buddy. I’m here.” He closes his eyes, silently thanking God. “I’m here,” he repeats. “I’m here.” He opens his eyes. “Are you in pain?” he asks, searching Alexander’s face for any sign that he might be. “Are you okay??”

“Daddy,” Alexander says again. His eyes fill with tears.

James starts to panic.

“I NEED HELP!” he yells in the direction of the door. “I NEED—” He remembers that there is a call button beside the bed and he lets go of Alexander’s hand long enough to slam it with more force than necessary. Within a few seconds Violet rips open the door and races over to them.

“What is it?!” she asks breathlessly. “What’s wrong?!”

When she sees that Alexander’s eyes are open she gasps, covering her mouth. “I’ll page Dr Williams,” she says, pulling her pager out of her pocket. A moment later she puts her stethoscope on Alexander’s chest, listening. James holds his breath.

Dr Williams arrives. “Fill me in,” he says, striding over. He stops short when he sees Alexander. “Alexander!” he exclaims, beaming and coming towards them. “Welcome back!”

“Where are we?” Alexander looks fearfully between Violet and Dr Williams.

“We’re in the hospital,” James says. “It’s okay, buddy. You’re safe. We’re safe. The doctor just needs to see how you’re doing.”

Alexander looks at Dr Williams uncertainly. “Can I have a drink first?”

“Of course.” James reaches for a plastic cup on the tray beside Alexander’s bed. He fills it with water from the jug on the table and helps Alexander move his oxygen mask aside to take a few sips through the straw.

“Hello Alexander,” Dr Williams says kindly, approaching the bed as James puts the cup down and adjusts Alexander’s oxygen mask. “I’m Dr Williams. I’ve been taking care of you. I need to ask you a few questions to see how you’re feeling. Is that okay?”

Alexander looks at James. James gives him a reassuring smile. He turns back to Dr Williams and nods.

“Great,” Dr Williams says, pulling a light out of his pocket and holding it in front of Alexander’s eyes. “See if you can follow this light for me.” He shines it into Alexander’s eyes and moves it slowly. Alexander tracks the movement. Dr Williams’ smile widens. "Your throat is probably a little sore right now so I don’t want you to talk much, but I have a few questions for you, okay?”

Alexander stares at him. After a moment, he nods. His fingers curl around James’ hand.

Dr Williams puts the light away and glances at James. James understands.

Please buddy, he prays, squeezing Alexander’s hand. Please.

“Alright,” Dr Williams starts. “Can you tell me your name?”

Alexander’s voice is barely above a whisper. “Alexander Saunders-Axton.”

“Good,” Dr Williams says encouragingly. “Good. How old are you?”

Alexander coughs. “Nine.”

“Can you tell me who this is?” Dr Williams asks, pointing at James.

Alexander stares at James. “My daddy. His name is James. He loves me.”

Dr Williams nods, still smiling. He picks up the cup from the tray beside the bed and holds up. “Can you tell me what this is?”

“A cup.”

Dr Williams puts it down and points to a giraffe sewn onto the pocket of his lab coat. “Can you tell me what kind of animal this is?”

Alexander squints. “A giraffe. But giraffes walk on four legs, not two.”

Dr Williams laughs. “Very true,” he says, walking over to the foot of Alexander’s bed. He pulls back the blankets, exposing Alexander’s feet. He pulls a pen out of his pocket and runs it down the sole of Alexander’s right foot. Alexander jerks away.

“Does that tickle?”

Alexander nods. Dr Williams smiles and does the same on Alexander’s left foot. His foot twitches, but he doesn’t jerk away in the same way. James tries to read Dr Williams’ expression, but his face gives nothing away.

“Did that tickle?” Dr Williams asks.

Alexander hesitates, then nods slowly.

“What does that mean?” James asks.

Dr Williams moves to the top of the bed.

“I’ll need his hand,” he says to James. James lets go and Dr Williams puts two fingers against both of Alexander’s palms. “Squeeze my fingers as hard as you can,” he says. He glances at Alexander’s cast. “But if it starts to hurt, stop.”

Alexander looks at James. James gives him an encouraging nod. He squeezes Dr Williams’ fingers.

“Okay,” Dr Williams says after a minute, taking his hands away. “Great job, Alexander. Well done.” His smile has faded slightly. He picks up Alexander’s chart and writes something down. When he’s finished he turns to Violet.

“Soft food only today,” he says, putting the chart away and changing the settings on Alexander’s IV drip. “And check his catheter. We should be able to remove it later today.”

Violet nods. Dr Williams turns to James. “Can I see you outside for a moment?”

“I’ll be right back, buddy,” James says to Alexander, even though the thought of being away from him for even a minute is horrifying. “I just need to talk to your doctor.”

“Are we home now?” Alexander asks. “Are we out of the snow?”

James’ heart breaks. “Not quite, buddy,” he says, brushing the hair out of Alexander’s eyes. “But soon. We have to stay in the hospital for a little while longer, okay? Then we can go home. I will take you home soon, I promise.”

“A James soon?” Alexander whispers, coughing.

James tries to smile. “No, buddy. Not a James soon.”

Alexander nods. His eyelids begin to droop. James forces himself to follow Dr Williams into the corridor.

“How is he? Is he okay??” James asks as soon as they leave the room. “He was answering your questions and speaking well and he knew his name and who I was so his brain is okay, right? His brain is okay?”

“Yes,” Dr Williams says, putting his hand on James’ arm. “His cognitive brain function seems to be okay.”

“Oh thank God,” James says, doubling over and leaning his hands on his knees for support. The relief knocks the air out of his lungs. “Thank God.”

“Are you okay?” Dr Williams asks.

“Yeah,” James says, breathing deeply. “I just need a moment.” After a few seconds he straightens up. “His foot,” he says, still breathing unevenly. “His left foot didn’t move the same way as his right. What does that mean?”

Dr Williams nods. “When I asked him to squeeze my fingers, I noticed a similar weakness in his left hand. It could be nothing, but it’s something to keep an eye on. There’s no need to panic about it right now, but we do need to watch how it develops. It may go away on its own, or it may be something we need to address.”

“Okay,” James says, feeling slightly less relieved. “Alright.”

Dr Williams smiles kindly. “Mr Axton, I can assure you that this is good news. If he did suffer some damage to the right side of his brain, we will address it and work to minimise the effects. But as I said, his cognitive skills are undamaged. That is the most important thing.”

James tries to breathe normally. “He’s still coughing. Why is he still coughing?”

“His lungs were damaged by the embolism. They should heal in time, but he’ll need to stay on oxygen until they do.”

“How long will that take?”

“It’s difficult to say. We’ll know more once we run a few tests. Now that he’s off the ventilator we will get a clearer picture of how his lungs are doing.”

James nods and looks at the door. The knowledge that Alexander is awake on the other side makes him want to rip it off its hinges and burst inside. “Is there anything else?”

Dr Williams shakes his head. “No. That’s all I wanted to discuss for now.” He opens the door. “Go on. Go spend some time with your son.”

James doesn’t need to be told twice. He walks in just as Violet is leaving. Her face reflects the happiness he feels. He holds her gaze for a moment.

“Thank you,” he says softly.

She smiles. “I can give your brother and mother a call if you’d like.”

James’ heart practically soars at the thought. The look on his face gives her his answer.

“I’ll go do it right now,” she says, holding the door open. “Congratulations, Mr Axton. I knew he’d pull through. I could feel it.”

James wants to hug her. He just wants to hug someone. He wants to jump up and punch his fist in the air. He wants to sing. He wants to dance. He wants to weep with joy.

“James?”

Alexander’s voice is louder than it was before. James practically runs over to him.

“I’m back, buddy,” he says, dropping into the chair beside him and taking his hand. “I’m right here.”

Alexander smiles. His eyes close, but he forces them back open. “Where’s Uncle Michael? I heard him before.”

“You did?”

Alexander nods sleepily and yawns. “He said…He said he missed me. You both did.”

The desire to weep intensifies. “We did miss you,” James says, leaning over Alexander’s bed in an effort to get closer to him. He wishes he had use of his left arm. He wants to gather Alexander into his arms and never let him go. “We missed you so much.”

“It was dark,” Alexander says, starting to drift off. “It was dark but I wasn’t scared. It’s not scary when we’re together.”

“Where was dark?” James prompts. “What could you see?”

“Nothing,” Alexander mumbles. “But I could hear you.” He yawns again. “I’m sleepy.”

James awkwardly puts his arm around Alexander’s shoulders, careful not to disturb his IV or heart rate monitor. “Go to sleep, buddy. I’ll still be here when you wake up.”

“I know,” Alexander mumbles. “You never…” His eyes close. “…Leave me.”

He snuggles closer to James and winds his hand into his hair, twirling it around his fingers as he drifts off to sleep.

******

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Orange Sky: Part Forty-One

[Parts 1-40 are here. Thank you so much for reading Xo]



“HELP!” James screams, standing up. “HELP! I NEED HELP IN HERE! HE’S SEIZING!!”

Violet bursts through the door just as Alexander’s heart rate monitor starts to squeal.

“Move!” She rushes over to the bed and places her hand over Alexander's chest. “Page Dr Williams!” she says to the interns who have followed her in.

“He’s choking,” an intern says, racing over. “Hold him still.”

Violet keeps her hand on Alexander’s chest. The intern starts to remove his breathing tube.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” James screams. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO HIM?!”

The intern pulls out the last of the breathing tube just as Dr Williams runs into the room.

“What happened??” he demands. Alexander’s convulsions start to decrease.

“HE CAN’T BREATHE!” James screams, wildly tugging at his own hair. “PUT IT BACK! HE CAN’T BREATHE!!”

“He was choking,” the intern says, tossing the breathing tube aside and pulling out her stethoscope. “He was choking so I—”

“MOVE,” Dr Williams says, pushing her out of the way.

Alexander stops moving.

“HE’S NOT BREATHING!!” James screams, close to collapsing. “HE CAN’T BREATHE!!”

Dr Williams holds his stethoscope against Alexander’s chest, listening. The squealing on the heart rate monitor stops. James whips around, terrified that he’s going to see a flat line running across the screen.

But he doesn’t.

The monitor shows a steady, rhythmic beat.

He turns back to Dr Williams. He’s putting an oxygen mask over Alexander’s face.

He is smiling.

James tries to make sense of it, tries to understand why his choking son would make Dr Williams smile, but he can’t. He looks at Alexander. At the oxygen mask on his face. At the gentle rise and fall of his chest as he…

“Breathes,” James whispers. “He’s breathing.” Tears fall from his eyes. “He’s breathing. He’s…He’s…”

“Breathing on his own,” Dr Williams says, still smiling. “He was choking on the breathing tube because he can breathe on his own. Mr Axton…He’s waking up.”

James’ legs buckle and he drops to his knees. He covers his face with his hand.

“He’s waking up,” he sobs, sinking further. The relief is overwhelming. “Oh God he’s waking up. He’s okay. He’s alright. He’s okay.”

He feels a hand on his shoulder.

“He’s waking up, J,” Michael says. James didn’t even see him come back into the room. He sounds like he is crying, too. “He’s waking up.”

James takes a shuddering breath in and drags himself to his feet, gripping the bed rail for support. Dr Williams is shining a small light into Alexander’s eyes.

“His pupils are responsive,” he says to the intern, straightening up. “Good work, Dr Cameron.”

The intern smiles and picks up Alexander’s chart, writing something down. Dr Williams puts the light into the pocket on the front of his lab coat and turns his attention to James.

“This is an excellent sign,” he says, glancing at Alexander’s heart rate monitor. “His heartbeat is strong and steady. His oxygen levels are good, as is his blood pressure. But Mr Axton, while this is cause for relief, it is still possible that he has suffered some brain damage from the lack of oxygen. Unfortunately we won’t know for sure until he wakes up. This is a wonderful sign, yes, but you do need to be aware that he is not completely out of the woods yet.”

“What are the chances that he’s suffered brain damage?” Michael asks quietly.

“It’s hard to say without knowing exactly how long his brain was deprived of oxygen.”

“But if you had to guess…”

“I really don’t feel comfortable making guesses.”

“Okay, if you had to take an educated guess,” Michael says, sounding slightly annoyed.

Dr Williams sighs. “Well based on how quickly he’s come off the ventilator, and the fact that he is responding to stimuli…I’d say it’s fifty-fifty. He could wake up and be fine. Or he could wake up and display anywhere between mild to severe evidence of a brain injury. There’s no way to tell until he is awake.”

Michael turns back to Alexander. “He’s going to be okay. I know he is. He's a fighter. He has overcome everything that has been thrown at him so far, and he will overcome this. You’ll see. He’s going to wake up and ask for cupcakes. You’ll see.”

“I hope so,” Dr Williams says. “I really do.”

He glances at the intern and cocks his head towards the door, gesturing that they should leave. She follows him out.

“Can I get you anything?” Violet asks once they leave, adjusting Alexander’s blankets. James shakes his head, still gripping the bed rail. “Okay,” she says, checking the monitors one last time. “You know where I am if you need me.” She walks over to the door, but pauses in the doorway.

“Mr Axton?”

Both James and Michael look up.

“I agree with your brother. Your son is a fighter. He’s responsive, he’s off the ventilator…He’s going to get through this. You all will. I know you will.” She gives them a small smile and leaves, closing the door behind her.

James sinks into a chair beside Alexander’s bed, suddenly feeling exhausted. He hasn’t used the bed they set up for him and subsequently has barely slept. Being across the room felt too far away.

“He’s going to be okay, J,” Michael says, wheeling himself closer. “He’s going to open his eyes and demand cupcakes. You’ll see. He’s going to be just fine.”

James nods. “I know,” he says, watching the rise and fall of Alexander’s chest. “I know.”

Michael falls silent.

James takes Alexander’s hand and leans forward. He closes his eyes. You’re nearly there, buddy, he thinks, resting his head on the bed beside Alexander. You’re nearly there. Open your eyes. That’s all that’s left. Just open your eyes.

He stays like that, holding Alexander’s hand against his chest. Against his heart.

Listening to him breathe.

******

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Orange Sky: Part Forty

[Hi. I missed you. I'm sorry I was gone.

Parts 1-39 are here. If you're still reading even after I keep disappearing, you are my favourite. Thank you Xo]


An hour later, there’s a knock at the door.

“Come in,” James says, just barely loud enough to be heard. Violet opens the door.

“You have a visitor.”

James looks up. “My mom?”

“No,” Michael says, wheeling into the room. “Your brother. Or did you forget you have one?” He looks up at Thomas and grins. “I’ve got this. I’ve driven one of these before.”

Thomas smiles and both he and Violet leave and close the door.

Michael wheels over to James. “So, brother,” he says, stopping beside him. “I was beginning to forget what you look like. You’re hairier than I remember.”

James almost manages to smile. He runs his hand over his beard. “Yeah. I need to shave. Maybe I should have asked Mom to get me a razor from the store.”

Michael smiles and looks over at Alexander.

“God,” he says quietly, taking in all the tubes and monitors. “Mom told me what to expect, but…God. I’m so sorry, J.” He turns to James. “I’m so sorry you both have to go through this.”

What about what you have to go through?

“I have been coming to see you,” James says, avoiding his gaze. “I’ve been down every day.”

“I know, brother. I know. Apparently you have Thomas on sleep watch. He told me he calls whenever I’m asleep so you can come down.”

James bites the inside of his cheek. “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

James tries to word his explanation in a way that doesn’t sound completely selfish.

“Mike, I…”

“I get it, man. I get it. I know you too well not to understand what’s going on inside that head of yours. I would have been up here sooner to kick your ass for being such a dumbass, but they wouldn’t let me out of bed until now.” He breathes out heavily. “James, if you think for one single second that I could ever blame you for what happened—”

“Michael please don’t give me a pep talk on how this isn’t my fault. Mom already tried today, and I just…I can’t hear it.”

Michael’s eyes narrow. “Well too fucking bad. You don’t get to avoid me for three days and then not listen to what I have to say.”

James can’t argue with that, so he doesn’t.

Michael takes a deep breath. “This is an awful situation, J. This past year has been the hardest year of both our lives – which is saying a lot, considering our childhood. But James, for God’s sake try to get it through your head that this is NOT YOUR FAULT. Believe it or not, you are not God. You do not control the universe. You do not make the sun rise, you do not make it rain and you definitely do not make bad things happen. I’m not saying you don’t make bad choices. Hiding away from the world and stewing in your own misguided guilt, for example, is a fucking terrible choice. But you don’t get to feel guilty for this. You don’t get to blame yourself for this and retreat into the dark place in your mind. You don’t get to shut me out. You can try, but I will take a goddamn sledgehammer to any walls you build. Every time.”

“Michael,” James starts. “You don’t—”

“I didn’t say I was finished,” Michael says, cutting him off. “What happened out there…What’s happened to my leg…I won’t lie: it is awful. It is horrible, but James, if I’m not sitting here wallowing in it, what the hell gives you the right to do that? Why do you get to feel my pain? Don’t you think you have enough of your own? Don’t you think you have enough to worry about without adding me to that list?”

“I—”

“I’m not done. Wait your turn. God!” Michael almost smiles. “Now if you want to talk guilt, let’s talk about me. Let’s not forget that I was the one who insisted on going up the slope rather than taking the streets. I was the one who chose the location for the snow trench that got swept away in the avalanche. I was the one dangling from the cliff which was why you told Alexander to go stand across the frozen lake! If anyone should be stricken by guilt right now, brother, it’s me. Not you.”

“We were at the snow in the first place because of me,” James says. “It was my idea.”

“And yes, what a terrible father you are. Trying to take your son on a nice holiday; how very awful. Let me ask you this: If we had been drinking cocoa in our unit when an avalanche hit, would you blame yourself? Or if we were at home in LA and there was an earthquake, would you blame yourself then? Or if we went hiking and—”

“Stop,” James says. “It’s not the same.”

Michael glares at him. “Actually it’s exactly the same; you’re just too stubborn to see it.” He sighs. “Look. Here’s the thing. If you want to declare yourself the winner of the blame game, nobody is going to be able to stop you. But just know that I will be here every step of the way, calling bullshit on your every word. Because right now, brother, you are full of it.”

James looks at Alexander. “I don’t know how to forgive myself,” he says quietly. “I don’t know how to not blame myself.”

Michael’s voice softens. “Well for starters, you stop avoiding me. You stop lying to Mom about how you’re doing and you stop punishing yourself. It will take time, brother. It will. But you have Mom and you have me. We won’t let you go through this alone. You can’t push us away. The harder you push, the harder we will pull. And I hate to bring this up, but I am more built than you. I could take you down.” He grins and raises his eyebrow.

Despite himself, James smiles. “I’m sorry, Michael,” he says, meeting his eyes. “I really am.”

“This is the point,” Michael says. “You need to stop being sorry. You don’t have anything to be sorry about.”

“Yeah,” James says softly. “Okay.”

Michael smiles. “Good. Now I would hug you, but…” He gestures to his leg. “I was told that if I tried to stand I’d be chained to the bed until my incision heals.” He chuckles.

James stands up and gives him an awkward one-armed hug. “Thank you,” he says earnestly. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“Yeah,” Michael says, releasing him. “Me too.”

James sits down, feeling some of the weight in his chest lift.

“So,” Michael says. The tone of his voice changes, as does the atmosphere in the room. “Mom’s told me what’s been going on, but…How’s he doing?”

James’ stomach drops. “He’s stable.” His voice changes, too. “He’s stable, but he’s not getting better. Not getting worse. But not getting better. I don’t know, Mike.” He leans forward and takes Alexander’s hand. “This is a special kind of hell. Sitting here, not knowing if he is going to be okay, not knowing if he’s going to wake up, not knowing if he can even hear me…” His voice shakes. “This is hell,” he says quietly. “Absolute hell.”

Michael puts his hand on his shoulder. “Yeah,” he says. “I know.”

James swallows. “I just need a sign,” he says, squeezing Alexander’s hand. “Just something to hold onto.” He stares at Alexander. He looks peaceful. Like he could simply be sleeping. “Squeeze my hand, buddy,” he says for the thousandth time. “Please. Uncle Michael is here. He came up to see you.”

“Hey, Alex,” Michael says quietly. “I miss you.”

“We both miss you,” James says, running his thumb over Alexander’s fingers. “We miss you so much. Come back to us. Come back. Please, Alexander. Come back.”

Alexander’s finger

twitches.

James gasps and lets go of his hand.

“What??” Michael asks, panicking. “What is it??”

“His finger.” James stares at it, willing it to move again. “His finger…He moved his finger!”

“What?” Michael stares at Alexander's hand too. “Are you sure? Did you see it??”

“No, I felt it,” James says, taking his hand again. “I felt it. I’m sure of it. His finger moved. It moved. It did.” He stares at Alexander. “Come on, buddy,” he whispers. “Come on. Come back to me. I need you. Please, buddy, I need you. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.”

He squeezes Alexander’s hand.

Ever so lightly, Alexander squeezes back.

“I saw it!” Michael yells. He quickly lowers his voice. “I saw it. His hand moved. His hand moved, J!”

“Call someone,” James says, still staring at Alexander’s eyes, praying that they open. “Get someone in here! They need to see this. They need to know he’s…”

The words sound too good to be true. He’s scared to say them out loud for fear that it will break the spell and he’ll find it’s all been a dream.

Waking up.

“On it,” Michael says, wheeling away.

“Come on,” James whispers, scrutinizing Alexander’s face. “Come on.”

Alexander’s eyelids flutter.

And he starts to convulse.

******

Friday, 17 April 2015

Orange Sky: Part Thirty-Nine

[Parts 1-38 are here. Thank you for reading Xo]



When James gets back to Alexander’s room, it's still empty. He paces back and forth, unable to sit still. The pain in his shoulder worsens. It eases some of the tension in his stomach.

After what feels like hours, the door opens and the interns wheel Alexander inside. James flies to his side, getting in the way of the interns as they try to re-attach the wires and monitors to Alexander’s frail body.

“How is he?” he asks as Dr Williams enters the room. “Is he okay? Does he need a second surgery? Is he still leaking bone marrow? Is his…Is his brain…” 

He can’t bring himself to finish the question.

The interns finish hooking Alexander up to the monitors and to the ventilator. Dr Williams gives them a slight nod and they leave, closing the door behind them.

“Why don’t you take a seat,” Dr Williams suggests, eyeing James’ clothes. James shakes his head.

“Just tell me,” he pleads. “Tell me he’s okay.”

Dr Williams gives him a small smile. “He’s okay for now. His brain is still showing signs of activity.”

“Thank God,” James breathes, hanging his head down between his shoulders. “Thank God. I knew you’d be okay,” he whispers. “I knew it. It’s going to be okay. You’re going to be okay.”

“He’s not in the clear yet,” Dr Williams says.

James looks up.

“His brain is active, yes, but obviously it’s showing less signs of activity than a normal, non-comatose brain would. This is good news, Mr Axton, it is, but…You have to understand that the longer he is in a coma, the more his brain activity will decrease.” He pauses. He still has pity in his eyes. “I’m not trying to scare you or take away your relief in this moment, but it is important that you understand. It is important that you prepare yourself, should the worst happen.”

James looks at Alexander. His skin is so pale that it almost looks translucent. “No,” he says softly. “I don’t need to prepare myself.”

I already know what I will do if the worst happens.

“Mr Axton…”

“Is his arm okay?” James interrupts. “Does he need a second surgery?”

Dr Williams sighs. “No. The first surgery was successful. There is no need for a second surgery at this stage.”

“Good,” James says, feeling some degree of relief. “That’s good.”

“Mr Axton, I really think you might benefit from talking to one of our grief counsellors. It is one hundred percent confidential, and it could help you come to terms with what is happening. I can have one of the nurses arrange an appointment for you. I really think it would be beneficial.”

James doesn’t look at him. “Is there anything else I need to know about Alexander’s progress?”

Dr Williams takes a moment to answer. James can feel his eyes on him.

“No,” he says finally. “He is stable for now.”

“Thank you, Dr Williams,” James says.

Dr Williams can read between the lines.

Leave.

“Okay, Mr Axton,” Dr Williams says, picking up Alexander’s chart and writing a few things down. “Okay. But should you change your mind, you need only ask.”

James doesn’t answer. Dr Williams finishes updating Alexander’s chart and leaves the room, closing the door behind him. James crumbles into a chair beside Alexander and rests his head on Alexander’s chest.

“You did so well, buddy,” he whispers. “You did so well. Now all you need to do is wake up. I know you can do it. I know you can.” He raises his head and takes Alexander’s hand. “Squeeze my hand, buddy. Tell me you can hear me. Tell me you’re still here. Squeeze my hand.”

James stares at their hands, waiting.

Watching.

Hoping.

Praying.

He is still sitting there when Dr Anderson comes in to check his shoulder and subsequently re-do his stitches, one hour later.




“Michael’s been asking about you.”

James looks down at his hand. “How’s he doing?”

Elizabeth sighs. “He’s okay. He’s eager to start physical therapy. I keep trying to tell him that he can’t possibly think he could be ready for physical therapy in just four days.” She laughs, but it sounds strained.

James waits for it.

“He wants to know why you don’t come to see him.”

“I do come to see him,” James says quickly. “I see him every day.”

“He wants to know why you don’t come to see him while he’s awake,” Elizabeth clarifies. “I told him you do come when he’s asleep.”

James shifts in his chair. He looks at Alexander. In the last three days, there’s been no change. No decline. But no improvement.

“You can tell him I’ll come by today,” James says, watching Alexander breathe.

Or rather, watching the ventilator breathe for him.

“When he’s awake?”

James doesn’t answer.

Elizabeth sighs again. “Sweetheart, you know he doesn’t blame you. Nobody blames you because it’s not your fault.”

“I blame me,” James says roughly. “And that is enough.”

Elizabeth puts her hand on his arm. He wants to pull away, but he knows she would take it as a gesture against her, rather than how he means it.

I don’t deserve to be comforted.

“James,” she says gently. “This is not your fault. Look at me. Look at me.”

He does.

“This is not your fault. Sometimes bad things happen. That’s life. We can either let them ruin our lives, or we can learn from them and move on. But this, what you’re doing, blaming yourself and shutting yourself away from the world…It isn’t healthy, sweetheart. It isn’t right. You’ve always tried to carry everything on your own, but you don’t have to do that. I’m here. Michael is here. We want to help you. Let us in. Let us know what is going on inside that head of yours. Let us share the weight of your burdens.”

James drops his gaze, terrified that she will see what he is thinking.

Are you going to help me if Alexander…

He can’t even finish the thought.

“I don’t see how this could be anything but my fault,” he says instead. “You and Michael, you act like I’m the best thing that ever happened to Alexander while ignoring all the ways I’ve hurt him. His heart has stopped three times, Mom. Three. He has…He has died…” He has to stop. He can’t say it. “His heart has stopped three times. You can’t sit here and tell me that wasn’t my fault.”

“You can’t sit here and tell me it is,” Elizabeth counters. “You’re acting like you deliberately set out to hurt him, to hurt Michael, but you can’t think like that, James. You can’t blame yourself for things you had no control over.”

“I wrote that screenplay. I didn’t listen to the threats. I got Michael shot. I listened to that fucking Dr Tate even though we were happy. Even though we were getting better. I took us to the snow to try to fix what Dr Tate broke. I was even the one who told Alexander to go wait for me under the tree across a frozen lake! And those are just some of the things I’ve done! Those are just some of the ways I’ve hurt him!”

He pulls his arm away from her.

“Sweetheart…” Elizabeth starts. “James, please…”

“This is my fault, Mom,” he says roughly. “And nothing you or anyone can say will ever convince me otherwise, so please stop. Please…Just stop.”

Elizabeth starts to say something, but she stops. The sound of the gentle beeps of Alexander’s heart rate monitor fills the room, drowning out James’ ragged breathing. It is over ten minutes before Elizabeth speaks again.

“Alright,” she says softly. “Okay, James. This is not your fault, and I will never accept your belief that it is. But we don’t have to talk about it right now. Not until you’re ready.”

“Thank you,” James says quietly. It’s better than nothing.

Elizabeth puts her hand on his arm again. He doesn’t pull away.

“You’re an amazing brother and an incredible father,” she says, trying to meet his gaze. “I am so proud of you.” After a moment she lets go of him and stands up. “I have to go to the store to get a few things for Michael.” She picks up her handbag. “Is there anything you need?”

James shakes his head.

“Okay.” She walks over to Alexander and smooths out his blankets. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. Maybe consider what I said about going to see Michael while he’s awake. He’s worried about you and he’s worried about Alexander. I’ve told him everything we know, but I’m sure he’d like to hear it from you.”

James nods, but he doesn’t mean it. Elizabeth sighs and leaves the room, leaving him alone with his thoughts.

******

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Orange Sky: Part Thirty-Eight

[Parts 1-37 are here. Thank you for reading Xo]


Thomas forces James to get back in the wheelchair before taking him back to the ICU.

“My legs are fine,” James says as they get into the elevator. “I can walk.”

“It’s hospital policy,” Thomas says as the doors close. “You just had surgery. You need to stay in the wheelchair until your doctor says it’s okay for you to be wandering around the hospital.”

The elevator dings. Violet is waiting when the doors open.

“How’s your brother?” she asks, taking the wheelchair from Thomas.

“He’s okay,” James says distractedly. “How’s Alexander?”

Violet pushes him down the corridor to Alexander’s room.

“No change,” she says, opening the door to Alexander’s room. James’ eyes fall on a bed set up along the far wall.

“I had them set up a bed for you,” she says, wheeling him inside. “My supervisor said it was okay.”

“Thank you,” James says softly, staring at the bed. “I appreciate that.”

“Are you hungry?” Violet asks, walking over to check Alexander’s chart. She glances at the monitors and writes something down. “I could get you something.”

James shakes his head. “No.”

Violet puts Alexander’s chart back. “Alright. Well you know where I am if you need me.” She leaves.

Without her voice filling the room, all James can hear are the sounds of the machines. The beeping of the heart rate monitor. The gentle, rhythmic sigh of the respirator. The dripping of the IV. The mechanical whirring of all the machines working in unison.

It’s maddening.

He pulls his wheelchair closer to Alexander’s bed. He tentatively reaches out and touches his hand. Convincing himself that he is there. That he is alive.

“Wake up,” he whispers, cutting through the sound of the machines. “Open your eyes. Open your eyes, buddy. Look at me. Tell me you’re okay. Tell me you’ll be okay.”

He stares at Alexander’s eyelids, willing them to open.

Come on, he thinks. Come on. Wake up.

Time passes. He has no idea how much. Violet comes in and out of the room at regular intervals, checking on Alexander and offering James food. He declines each time.

“Mr Axton?” she says on her ninth or tenth visit. James forces himself to look at her. She’s been kind to him. She deserves his attention.

She looks apologetic. “My shift is ending now, but I’ll be back tomorrow. Can I get you anything before I leave? Some food? A cup of coffee? Anything?”

“No,” James says.

She nods like she expected this. “Okay. Um…Dr Williams is coming by soon to examine Alexander and see how he’s doing.”

“Okay.”

Violet shifts on her feet. She seems uncomfortable.

“They um…They need to take him down to radiology for some tests. You can stay here or go back down to your own room, but unfortunately…” She lets the sentence hang.

James’ heart sinks. “Oh.”

“He won’t be gone long,” Violet says. “I could take you down to see your brother…?”

James considers it for a moment. “I’ll wait here until they come to get Alexander,” he says eventually. “But thank you.”

“Okay,” Violet says. “Well…I’ll see you tomorrow. Try to get some sleep.”

The door closes.

About ten minutes later, Dr Williams comes in with a couple of interns.

“Mr Axton,” he says warmly. “How are you doing?”

“What kind of tests does he need?” James asks, ignoring the question.

Dr Williams directs the interns to hook Alexander up to a portable ventilator and picks up Alexander’s chart.

“We need to x-ray his arm to make sure it is set correctly. It was a complicated break made worse by delayed treatment, and may require a second surgery. We need to ensure that the bone marrow has stopped leaking into his bloodstream. We will also…” He clears his throat.

“What? You will also what?”

Dr Williams looks up. “We will also check his brain function.”

James blinks. “You think there’s something wrong with his brain?”

Dr Williams puts the chart down and comes over to James. He sits down beside him. “As I told you before, Alexander was without oxygen before the paramedics arrived at the cabin. It is…It is possible that in that time his brain…”

“No,” James says. He doesn’t want to hear it. “No. NO. His brain is fine. His brain is fine. He is going to be fine.”

Dr Williams has pity in his eyes. It makes James want to scream.

“We still need to check. It’s standard procedure.”

“Do your tests,” James says, turning away from him. “They’ll only prove I’m right. He is going to be okay. You’ll see. He’s going to pull through.”

Dr Williams stands up. “I hope so,” he says sincerely. “I really do.” He looks over at the interns. “Is he ready?” They both nod. “Okay,” he says, moving aside so they can wheel the bed out. “Let’s go. We’ll be back in roughly an hour,” he says to James. “You are welcome to wait here.”

James watches them go.

Please buddy, he thinks. Prove them wrong. Come back to me.

Come back.




After they leave, James unhooks himself from his IV and slips downstairs unnoticed. He goes to his room and finds his clothes. They’ve been washed and placed on a chair in the corner of the room. He pulls them on as quickly as he can, cringing as he tries to use his shoulder. He pushes on anyway, awkwardly pulling his sweater over his head and keeping his left arm tucked inside. He doesn’t want to look like a patient. He doesn’t want a nurse to try to force him into a wheelchair or insist that he go lie down or suggest that he sit and wait for Alexander to come back. He doesn’t want them to say they’ll come outside with him and try to hold his hand and comfort him. He doesn’t want any of that.

And he doesn’t want to see Michael.

He can’t stand the thought of seeing Michael lying there with over a year of physical therapy down the drain. Lying there in pain, unwilling to take something to help. The thought makes him want to throw up. After he puts on his shoes he straightens up too quickly, sending a wave of pain through his shoulder and down his spine.

Good, he thinks harshly. I deserve pain. I deserve to hurt. This is my fault. All of it.

All of it.


He walks over and opens the door, peeking outside. Everyone is preoccupied. No one is giving him a second look. He walks out of the room and heads towards the entrance of the hospital. No one tries to stop him. He bursts through the double doors into the freezing night air. For a moment he wishes he had put on his jacket, but quickly decides otherwise.

He deserves to be cold. He deserves all the pain and discomfort in the world.

But not the pain of losing Alexander, he thinks, looking up at the stars.

Well.

Maybe I do deserve that.

Maybe I don’t deserve to have something so pure and wonderful in my life, but…He shouldn’t suffer because of me.

Not more than he already has.


He wraps his undamaged arm around himself and walks away from the hospital. He’s not going anywhere in particular. He’s just killing time. The idea of sitting in that room while they check if Alexander’s brain is still working is too much to bear.

He’s only been walking for a few minutes when he becomes acutely aware of someone behind him. He turns around. A light flashes in his face. He staggers back.

“What…” he starts, regaining his balance. He blinks against the spots playing in his vision. His eyes settle on a camera pointed at his face.

“I knew it was you!” a young man says excitedly.

Another flash of light.

“All the others left, said you’d definitely have been airlifted to LA by now, but I knew you’d still be here!”

A click. Another flash.

It takes James several seconds to understand what he is saying.

“You’re here…To take pictures of me?” he asks, backing away.

“Yeah!” Click. “Someone said that you were staying here and,” Click. “a bunch of us came down! Hey I’m real sorry about what happened.” Click. “Can you give me a statement? Something to sell to the mags?” Click. “I heard your brother lost his leg. But you look okay. Wait, where’s your other arm? Oh my God; did you lose your arm?!” Click click click.

James turns and walks away as fast as he can. The man follows him.

“Hey wait!” Click. “Tell me what happened! Is it true you were out in the snow for a week?? Is your kid gonna die??”

James stops. He turns around.

“What did you just say?” His tone is deadly. 

The man lowers his camera. “Hey man,” he says nervously. “I just wanted you to talk to me. I just wanted something I could sell the magazines, you know. I’m trying to make a living.”

James stares at him. In his mind’s eye, he sees himself kicking his teeth in. His hand twitches.

“Get out of here,” he spits. “Now.”

He turns to leave.

“Can I get a quote?” the man calls after him. “Maybe something about hoping your son pulls through?”

A flash of light dances before James’ eyes, but this time it didn’t come from the camera. He flies at the man, closing his hand around his neck hard enough to almost lift him off the ground.

“My family is falling apart,” he growls through clenched teeth, “and you want a fucking statement? You’re hanging out here like a fucking rodent hoping for a picture?? You’re looking to exploit that??” His grip tightens. The man struggles for air, clawing at James’ hand.

“You paparazzi are all the worst parts of humanity rolled into one fucking pathetic package,” James spits. “I could kill you right now and no-one would miss you. No-one would mourn the loss of another scumbag with a camera.”

“Please,” the man manages to choke out. “Please. I have a family.”

“Yeah?” James laughs bitterly. “I have a family too. The one you’re currently stalking. What, will it make a better story if my son dies? Will it entertain the masses if he doesn’t make it through??” James squeezes even harder. The man’s eyes bulge. His attempts to escape grow weaker. His hands slide off James’ arm and hang limply by his side. James stares at him. His anger and fear seem to ebb away with every weakened beat of the man’s heart. It leeches into him, giving James a problem he can fix. Giving him an enemy to fight.

Giving him an enemy to kill.

Alexander’s voice echoes in his ears.

Stop, he hears him say. James. Stop.

James takes a sharp breath in and lets the man go. The man trips over his own feet and falls to the ground, gasping for air. A dull ache blooms in James’ shoulder. He’s fairly certain he’s ripped out his stitches.

“You want a statement?” His hand trembles, still aching to punch the man in the nose. Aching to make the man hurt as much as his does.

Aching to transfer his pain.

“Here’s your statement,” he growls, struggling to remain in control of himself. “If I ever, and I mean EVER see your fucking face again I am going to take your fucking camera and shove it so far down your throat that you’ll be taking pictures of your colon.”

“I was just doing my job,” the man stammers breathlessly, scrambling to his feet. “I was just doing what I need to do to get by.”

James curls his hand into a fist. He can almost feel the man’s blood coating his knuckles. Almost hear the crack as he breaks his nose.

“Leave,” James spits. “Before I change my mind and shove that camera down your fucking throat right now.”

The man turns and runs.

James breathes out heavily. His body is shaking. He looks around to see if anyone saw what happened, but he is alone. He watches the man get further and further away until he can’t see him anymore. Then, with a heavy heart and an overwhelming desire to chase down the photographer and beat him to a bloody pulp, he makes his way back into the hospital.

******

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Orange Sky: Part Thirty-Seven

[Parts 1-36 are here. Thank you for making this the third most read thing on my blog. That's incredible. You are all amazing Xo]


“Mr Axton?”

Someone enters the room. James registers that the voice belongs to Violet.

“Your brother is awake.”

Beside him, Elizabeth gasps.

“He’s asking about you.”

James stares at Alexander indecisively. Part of him desperately wants to go see Michael, but a larger part knows that leaving Alexander’s side would feel like ripping out his own heart.

“You can stay,” Elizabeth says softly, standing up. “I’ll go. I’ll tell him how you are and where you are.”

Fear pierces James’ heart. He tries to imagine Michael hearing the news about his leg for the first time. It’s enough to bring him to his feet.

“I’ll come,” he whispers, shuffling over to Alexander. “He’ll need us both.”

Elizabeth chokes back a sob.

James leans over Alexander. “I’ll be right back, buddy. I’m just going to see Uncle Michael.” He hesitates, then lowers his voice even further. “Keep your heart beating.” He kisses Alexander on the forehead and straightens up.

“You should stay in the wheelchair,” Violet says, standing behind it and holding on to the handles. “You need to rest after your surgery.”

James sits down. It’s probably for the best, really. He’s not sure he could make himself leave.

Violet wheels him into the elevator. He drags the drip trolley along beside him. Dr Anderson had come up a few hours ago and replaced the drip and checked his shoulder.

“I’ll come down with you,” Violet says as Elizabeth comes inside. “Just to make sure there’s a nurse waiting to meet you.”

The doors close.

A moment later, the elevator dings. James can hear the noise of the floor before the doors even open. The sound reminds him of a beehive.

The doors open. The nurse who took him up is standing there, waiting for him.

“I’ll take it from here,” the nurse says, taking Violet’s place.

“Wait,” James says, catching Violet’s wrist. He looks up at her. “I can come back, right? You aren’t going to make me stay down here, are you?”

Violet looks at him sympathetically. He wonders when his life became a series of sympathetic stares from people young enough to be his children.

“Of course you can,” she says, patting him on the hand. “Just tell Thomas here and he’ll bring you straight up. It’s already been arranged by the ICU Nurse Manager. You’ll have to come back down here if there are any complications with your shoulder, or if Alexander is having a procedure done, but other than that, you can stay.”

James manages a small smile. Or at least he thinks he does. “Thank you,” he says, releasing her wrist. “Thank you.”

She smiles and goes back into the elevator. The doors close.

“Come on,” Thomas says, wheeling James towards Michael’s room. “He’s been asking for you.”

“Does he know?” Elizabeth asks. Her voice trembles. “Has he been told?”

“Dr Phillips is in there with him now,” Thomas says, not needing to ask know what. “He’ll be telling him about his surgery.”

“Hurry up,” James says quietly. “He shouldn’t hear this alone.”

Thomas picks up the pace. When they arrive at Michael’s room, he knocks on the door.

“Mr Axton? I have your mom and brother here to see you.”

The door opens. A man James assumes to be Dr Phillips steps aside to let them in. Thomas leaves.

“J,” Michael breathes. “You have no idea how good it is to see you. How are you? How’s Alexander? Is he awake? Where is he??”

James feels like he’s swallowed rocks.

“I’m okay,” James says through the gravel in his mouth. “He’s still…”

“Asleep,” Elizabeth says. “He’s asleep.”

James looks at her gratefully. Michael doesn’t need to hear that now. Not yet.

And saying it out loud makes it true.

It’s not true.

It’s not.


“I was just telling Mr Axton about his surgery,” Dr Phillips says. 


Michael smiles easily. “Call me Michael. Pretty sure you saw everything there is to see of me in surgery, so…” He laughs. Trying to lighten the mood. Trying to be strong.

You’ve always been the stronger one. Always.

Dr Phillips smiles kindly. “Michael, then. As I was saying, the muscles in your thigh were quite weak from your previous injury, and not up to this much exercise. It caused some…Complications.”

“Okay,” Michael says, still sounding bright. Mildly curious. Like he expects to be told we fixed the problem and you can go home in a few days.

Dr Phillips glances at James and Elizabeth. Elizabeth takes a few steps forward and holds Michael’s hand. Michael looks down at their linked hands, and then up at the fearful expression on her face. His smile starts to fade.

“You had something called an infarction,” Dr Phillips says, turning back to Michael. “It’s an obstruction of blood supply to an organ or tissue. When it happens in the heart, it causes a heart attack. When it happens in a muscle like the muscles in your thigh...It causes muscle death.”

Michael stares at him. “Muscle death.”

Dr Phillips nods. “Yes. The muscle death occurs very rapidly, starting in as little as four hours. The only way to control the death is to surgically restore the blood supply to that muscle group. In your case, being out in the snow with no access to medical care…”

“What happens to the dead muscle?” His smile is completely gone now.

Dr Phillips takes a moment to answer. “We have to remove it.”

Michael stares at him as the gravity of what he has said sinks in.

“So how much of my muscle died?” he asks slowly. Elizabeth grips his hand. “How much??” he repeats. “HOW MUCH??”

Dr Phillips clears his throat. “Unfortunately…The death had spread throughout your entire quadriceps. We had to remove it all.”

Michael’s voice shakes. “You took my leg? You took my whole leg??”

“No,” Dr Phillips says. “Your leg is still there. But we had to remove the muscle in the front of your thigh.”

“That’s the SAME FUCKING THING!!”

Elizabeth jumps. James grips the side of his wheelchair.

“That’s the same thing,” Michael says again, more controlled this time. “It’s the same.”

“It won’t be so bad, sweetheart,” Elizabeth says, trying not to cry. “You’ll get through it. You’ll be okay.”

Michael looks up at Dr Phillips. “But I will still be able to walk, right?” he asks hopefully. “I mean it will take work and physical therapy, but I’ll still be able to learn to walk again, right? Like last time?”

“It’s—”

“Last time they said I wouldn’t walk again and I was out of that chair in four months,” Michael says, cutting him off. “I’ve done it before and I can do it again.”

“It’s…It’s unlikely,” Dr Phillips says. “I’m sorry.”

Michael’s eyes narrow. “Don’t tell me what I can’t do. You don’t know me. You don’t know a single thing about me so don’t you fucking dare come in here and tell me what I can and can’t do. I was shot in the fucking leg and I was walking again in four months. Four fucking months. My physical therapist took me around the damn hospital like I was a TROPHEY! She was so damn proud of me and she would kick my ass up and down this fucking town if I just sat here and accepted your bullshit conclusion that I will never walk again. No. NO. You don’t get to decide what I can and I can’t do. Only I can do that.”

Dr Phillips’ expression changes from shock to anger to concern and back to shock. Finally he settles on amusement. Respect.

“Okay, Michael,” he says, smiling slightly. “Okay. There is no limit to what the human mind can overcome. What the body can do. If you are determined to walk again and you are prepared to stick it out for the long haul, then…I wish you all the best.”

Michael’s expression loses some of its menace. “Yeah? That’s what my last surgical team said, too. You doctors, man. Always covering your asses with the worst case scenarios. You can all fuck right off when it comes to me and my body. I know what I am capable of and I know, I fucking know that I will be walking back in here in a year to tell you to kiss my ass.”

Dr Phillips chuckles. “I honestly hope you do,” he says, seemingly unoffended. “The patients who make the best recoveries are the ones who are unwilling to lie down and give up. They are the ones with the most fighting spirit and you, Michael Axton, have the most fighting spirit I have ever seen.”

Michael smiles. “I’m sorry for swearing at you.”

Dr Phillips waves him off. “It’s not the worst I’ve heard. Hazardous job, you know. You never know how people are going to react. Now if it’s okay with you, I’d like to check on your incision. I can drape you if you’d like. So you can’t see. It can be quite confronting.”

Michael shakes his head. “I gotta see what I’m up against.”

Dr Phillips smiles, but he seems apprehensive. He glances at James and Elizabeth.

“They can stay,” Michael says. “Don’t tell them to leave.”

“Okay,” Dr Phillips says, coming over to Michael’s bed. “It is important to have a support network during your recovery. That can be the difference between success and…” His voice trails off.

“Failure? We don’t believe in that word. There’s no such thing as failure. Only finding ways it doesn’t work.”

Dr Phillips chuckles again and pulls back Michael’s blankets. “I like you,” he says, removing the gauze on Michael’s leg. “You’ve got a fighting spirit. A little crude, sure, but still. You’re a fighter.”

Michael watches him unwrap his leg. “It’s all part of my charm, doc,” he says, staring at his leg. “It’s all part of my charm.”

The last of the bandage comes away from his leg. Elizabeth gasps. Even Michael pales. James swallows the cry bubbling in his throat. A long, red incision runs down the length of what is left of Michael’s thigh. The skin is wrinkled and empty, as though something has come and taken a bite out of him and stitched him back up. Dr Phillips examines it silently.

“Alright,” he says, redressing the wound. “It looks good so far. Are you in any pain?”

Michael shakes his head. James narrows his eyes.

Liar.


“Okay,” Dr Phillips says, covering Michael with the blankets. “A nurse will be in here to check on you every half an hour or so, so if you need anything, you can ask the nurse and they will page me. You also have this.” He taps on a green box beside the bed. “This is your morphine drip. If you need more, you can press this button here and it will increase your dosage. You can press it as often as you like; it is capped at a certain amount so it is impossible to overdose. Any questions?”

Michael shakes his head. Dr Phillips smiles.

“Okay. I’ll be back to check on you tomorrow. Just press the call button if you have any questions or experience any discomfort.”

Michael nods. “Thank you,” he says seriously. “And sorry again for swearing at you.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Dr Phillips says, turning to leave. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He leaves the room.

“Well then,” Elizabeth says when the door closes. She laughs nervously. “That went well.”

Michael smiles and closes his eyes. “I’m going to be fine,” he says, sounding drowsy. “I don’t care what anyone says. I’ve proved them wrong once. I’ll do it again.”

“You will be.” Elizabeth says. She raises her eyes to James. “You all will be.”

James doesn’t respond. Once Michael starts to snore, he stands up and walks over to the door with his drip trolley.

“Where are you going?” Elizabeth whispers. James looks back over his shoulder.

“Back up to Alexander. You stay here with Michael.”

“I’ll come with you.”

James shakes his head. “Michael needs you. He’s putting on a brave face, but he needs our support, especially now. Stay with him.”

“What about you?”

James’ hand lingers on the doorknob. “I need to be with Alexander.”

“I know, but I mean…You shouldn’t be alone.”

James opens the door. “I won’t be alone.”

He leaves before Elizabeth has the chance to say anything more.

******