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.”


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?”


“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.


“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.