Chapter 20 – Illusions
“You know what?” A.J. asked.
“What?” Howie replied, only half-paying attention.
“I actually kinda like hospital food.”
Howie whistled. “Man, you have been here way, way too long.”
“I’m serious. It is not that bad. Have you tried some of those cookies from the cafeteria?”
“That was never in dispute.”
Howie looked up to say something, and saw Denise McLean standing in the doorway. She looked upset.
“What happened?” he said immediately. A.J. followed Howie’s gaze to his mother.
“Mom?” he asked. She looked ready to cry. “Mom?” his voice was quiet and afraid. “Oh, God. Tell us. Tell us what happened.”
“Something happened to Nick,” said softly.
“What?” A.J. demanded. His voice began to rise as fear took over. “What happened to Nick?”
“They took him back to surgery. There was a complication with his last operation.”
“No,” Howie said, almost inaudibly. “Is he going to be ok?”
“I don’t know,” she said with a small shake of her head.
“Where’s Brian?” A.J. said immediately, just a nurse came in to see them. Mrs. McLean shook her head. “I don’t know, A.J.”
He swung his head towards the nurse. “Where is he?” His voice was becoming shrill.
“He was in the room with Nick when something went wrong. They’ve taken him back to his room, I think,” she said, a lone sob escaping.
A.J. swung his legs over the side of his bed and grabbed his crutch. Howie was hard on his heels, and just managed to snatch A.J.’s IV bag as he tore off in Brian’s direction.
When they got there, they found Kevin, looking ashen, out of his bed and sitting with his cousin. Brian was staring straight ahead, stricken with that same empty look that Howie had seen when he’d first come to visit him. A.J. and Howie quickly took over for Kevin, who was trembling with the effort of sitting up. With a grateful nod, Kevin made his way painfully back over to his bed with Howie’s assistance. The older man leaned on him so heavily that Howie almost fell. He never did figure out how he’d gotten over to Brian in the first place. Surely no one approved of his movement, and Howie was fairly certain no one had been there to help him out of bed. With a broken femur it seemed almost impossible for Kevin to get around without help.
“I’m sure he’ll be all right,” A.J. said comfortingly.
Brian nodded listlessly. “Yeah,” he managed to say. “I’m sure he will be.”
“Have you heard anything yet?” Howie asked Kevin quietly so Brian wouldn’t hear.
“No,” Kevin said with a shake of his head. He looked absolutely grief stricken, and Howie realized that he had not really had to face the fear of not knowing if one of them was going to be ok.
“They haven’t told us anything. It’s already been half an hour.”
“How has he been doing?” Howie asked, nodding towards Brian.
“He’s terrified,” Kevin said. “So am I. God, Howie, they brought him back in here, and he… he…” Tears came to his eyes, and he looked away.
Howie’s heart went out to him. “Train, it’s ok,” Howie said. “We’ve all cried over this at one point or another.”
“He was just staring ahead, at nothing,” he choked out. “It was like he wasn’t even there. I’ve never seen him… how could anyone hurt so bad?”
“I don’t know,” Howie said softly. Kevin was a wreck.
“I don’t want this to happen,” he said, his voice trembling. “Not to Nick. He’s too young.”
“Nick will be fine,” Howie said, louder. Brian and A.J. looked up at him.
“He will be,” A.J. concurred. “He’s Nick. He’s gotten this far. He’ll make it the rest of the way.”
* * *
An hour later, Dr. Westin came to see them. All four were still in Brian and Kevin’s room, refusing to separate until they knew Nick’s status. They looked up at him as he entered, hope scrawled across all of their faces.
“He’s going to be fine,” Dr. Westin assured them. They all breathed a huge sigh of relief. Kevin squeezed his eyes shut and turned his head toward the ceiling in a quick prayer of thanks. Brian had a mixture of shock and relief painted on his face. A.J. clapped him on the back.
“What happened?” Howie asked. “What went wrong?”
“There was a complication stemming from the surgery he had a few days ago. He got an infection. With his immune system as weak as it was, it’s not all that unexpected, I suppose. We’ve taken care of it. It’ll set his recovery back a little bit, but he will be fine.”
“When can we see him?” Brian asked.
“You can drop by in a few hours. He’s in recovery. When he’s back in his room we will let you know.”
“Thanks,” Kevin said. They glanced at each other.
“I can’t wait until we all get out of here,” he muttered.
* * *
“Ok, Nick. We are going to take this slow. You tell me if you start to feel dizzy or if it starts to hurt.”
“Gotcha,” Nick said. The infection scare had ended. And scare it had been. He couldn’t forget how terrified he had been when Brian’s voice had faded away. This time though, he was really on the mend. He was being moved out of the ICU to another floor, and it involved him moving out of his bed for the first time. Dr. Westin was present to make sure that all went well. Two orderlies helped ease him slowly toward the edge of his bed.
“I need you to try and sit up now, Nick,” Dr. Westin said.
“K,” Nick said, drawing in a deep breath. He hoisted himself up into a seated position, and immediately felt dizzy.
“Wow,” he said, lying partway back down.
“Too fast, move slower next time,” an orderly said.
When he was ready to try again, someone placed a hand behind his back to give him a little extra support. When he finally made it into the wheelchair, he was exhausted.
“Tell me it’s going to get better from here,” he muttered.
“It will, don’t worry.”
By the time he reached his new room, his stomach was killing him. He told the nurse that had come in with them this.
“Ok, we’ll look you over. You may have bothered the sutures from your surgeries.” She had no idea how much this terrified him. The last time there had been a problem with his surgery…
Dr. Westin came in to look at him, and determined that no further damage had been done.
“It still hurts,” Nick said painfully.
“We’ll give you some morphine. Your body just objects to moving around a lot right now.”
“So how about I just lay here,” he said with a weak smile.
“Sorry. You need to be moving around a little and using your muscles. Otherwise, your recovery will be a lot harder.”
“So this means those stupid exercises with moving my legs and stuff that my mom and the nurses have been doing have to continue?”
Westin chuckled. “Well, perhaps not quite like that, but you will need to be doing some form of physical therapy. All of your other friends are. Howie has even been making trips to our little gym here in the hospital we have for just those purposes.”
“That’s what we call it. It’s not like what you are picturing.”
“Well, I’m not all that surprised,” Nick said. “Howie lives in the gym. He’s downright obsessive about staying in shape.”
“Well that’s good. He’ll get back in shape quickly.”
Westin departed, and a nurse came back with some morphine to take the edge off of the constant ache in his stomach that wouldn’t go away.
Why does this all have to hurt so much? he thought. It hurts too damn much.
A disturbing thought had begun to enter his mind. It was more like a distant memory, or even a dream.
Brian? No, he thought, disgusted. That’s ridiculous. This is no one’s fault.
But the dreamlike memory wouldn’t go away. Brian always seemed to be there when things went wrong. That meant nothing of course, normally when things went wrong Brian was the one he would want to be there. But something was still bothering him. Somewhere in the back of his head a memory was trying to surface. He kept seeing images from a tunnel, a tunnel that was filled with intense pain that offered suffering to all who dared enter it. And Brian… Brian wanted him to walk through it.
Stop it, he thought angrily.
But it still bothered him.