by Andrew Foote
That evening back at Mapledurham we were all invited up to the house for supper. I did wonder what the atmosphere would be like considering I'd sort of had words with Mrs Armstrong and definitely had words with my Mum but in the event it turned out to be a very nice evening, the mood upbeat and friendly. I desperately wanted to raise the subject of Jus's continued schooling once and all assuming he made a decent recovery but no mention was made of it and with me being the kid in the gathering, I kept my mouth shut on the issue.
Mrs Armstrong kept lavishing praise at my feet which I found very embarrassing. Somehow nobody seemed to grasp the fact that my love for Jus meant that I'd do anything for him at any time so I couldn't see that I'd done anything that a boy wouldn't do for a girl he loved, maybe even his sister or brother so why not his boyfriend? The fact that our relationship was at best unconventional doesn't make any difference to the way love works?
I disappeared back to 'Spook' at ten o'clock. It had been an exciting if tiring day and given I had to be up at six in the morning in time to catch the bus, I needed to get to bed.
That night I slept through to the alarm clock for the first time since Jus did a runner. I felt good for a change, not zombie-like as had become the norm.
At the hospital I asked for news. The Staff nurse gave me an update.
"Well Alexis, his temperature is smack on 98.4 degrees and holding steady, his heart is beating at 62 bpm, except, that is , until he hears you and then? God! It's up down, up down! His blood pressure is absolutely spot on so what else is there to tell you. For all the world he's perfectly okay. His arm is looking good, no signs of infection although we are keeping him on antibiotics just as a precaution until the bones start to knit together. Now it's up to him to fight. We're powerless to help him so you keep him laughing inside but don't go overdoing it, remember busted ribs are very painful and will be for a month or so yet."
I thanked her and went and got changed then made my way to Room 7 and my precious boyfriend.
I gave him a big cuddle and snuck a peek at the monitor going bananas!
"Oh good! You're awake already!
Hey! We had a lovely evening last night up at the house. You know, your Mum is really sweet! I get to like her more every time we meet. That rhymes. Sorry! I meant it, I wasn't meaning to be flippant so no hitting me please!
For some reason I glance at the monitor. His pulse had speeded up but it wasn't settling down like usual and I began to worry but then I understood. He was trying to cry.
I cuddled him. "No Jus, don't cry? Whatever it was I said, there's no need for tears. You have to think nice thoughts then nice thing happen so please? For me?"
After a few minutes he seemed to settle down. "Nice one Jus. Wanna hear more Tom Sharpe? Well you're going to like it or not!"
The monitor displayed 'a giggle'! Back to normality!
This time, instead of sitting on a chair, there was enough room on the bed for me to sit beside him. I held his hand in mine while I read then shortly before my Dad arrived, I felt the need to take a piss.
"Jus? I need a slash. I'll be back in a couple of minutes, okay?"
What happened next is something that I will take to the grave. Jus squeezed my hand!
"JUS?? You can move! Do it again for me!"
"Two this time."
One squeeze, two squeezes!
"Jus I really need the crapper, man? One for yes, two for no."
One squeeze, two squeezes.
"You can't be serious! I need to GO!"
I looked at the monitor, Jus was laughing his socks off!
"You bastard! Please Jus, can I go?"
One long squeeze!
I raced down the corridor used the toilet and ran to the nurses station almost knocking the Staff nurse off her feet.
"Alexis? What's the matter?"
"Nothing, nothing! Where's Doc Holliday?"
"You know Justin's doctor!"
"Doctor Mc Fee. I'll try and find him for you. Wait here."
A few moments later, he appeared. "What's the problem Alexis?"
"No problem but he's moving!"
I went on to explain what had happened with the hand squeezing "And it wasn't like he didn't know what he was doing. He even played a joke on me, you know, one for yes, two for no!"
He thought for a moment before speaking.
"Staff? Get everyone who isn't busy to come here to the nurse's station."
About fifteen nurses of varying ranks assembled then 'Doc Holliday' spoke.
"Right listen up everyone. I would seem that young Justin is waking up. We need to be aware he might go into shock although it is unlikely but as of now, NO VISITORS ARE ALLOWED until I say so! We must put in place a constant twenty-four hour bed watch and be aware he might defecate so be on your toes."
I listened but didn't like what I heard.
"Doc? No visitors at all?"
"You are not a visitor Alexis, you almost live here! Actually I need you to stay and if your folks are okay with it, I'll have a bed set up in the room so you can be with him until he comes around. Go back to him now. He'll be missing you."
I got back to his room and gave him a cuddle. The monitor reflecting Jus's feelings and taking hold of his hand he squeezed it fit to break my knuckles!
"Miss me then did you?!
Another, lighter squeeze.
"Look Jus, you're gonna be waking up soon. Don't freak out but you've been asleep for like four weeks man so I need you to say cool, right? I'll be with you now and forever. so please don't rush things. Grip my hand once so as I know you understand."
One firm squeeze.
"Brilliant! Do you want me to read to you while we wait for the doctor?"
"You wanna rest?"
"Okay. I'll be right by your side. Don't you even think about going anywhere!"
Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze.
"Hey! What's with the three squeezes man?"
Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze.
"Oh I get it! Three words!"
"I hate you?"
"I love you?"
"I love you too, very much. Before you take a rest, there are just a couple of things you need to know, okay?
"When you wake up you will see you're in hospital but you probably realised that already, right?"
"But it isn't like a normal hospital ward, you're in intensive care and you're like wired for sound. There's a tube that they use to feed you, it goes up your nose and into your tummy and there's another one in your left arm that gives you water. You are wired to a gizmo that monitors your heartbeat and body temperature which is connected to you by wires so when you wake please don't worry, don't get all hot and bothered. Promise me?"
"Okay. You get some rest. I'm not going anywhere."
With Jus resting and with nothing better to do I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep in the chair only to be woken an hour later by the nurses as the wheeled another bed into the room and proceeded to make it up.
"Yes, what is it Alexis?"
"Do you check on him during the night?"
"Regularly. Why do you ask?"
"I was just thinking that if you pushed that bed right alongside Jus's, turned it around, you know, top and tail us, well then I could hold his hand and if he needed anything or came to during the night I could be your eyes and ears."
"I can't see any harm in it but I'd have to get it cleared with Staff. I just wonder what would happen should we have to examine him."
"The beds on castors, I just push it out of your way. I'm not ill remember?"
"Let me ask the question. I'll be back in a minute."
A short while later the nurse reappeared with 'Doc Holliday' in tow.
"That's not a bad idea Alexis but just a couple of thing to remember though. If you have any cause for concern or if Justin shows any signs of waking up, you are not to hesitate to use the call button. We have to 'manage' his consciousness if you will. It mustn't happen too quickly which means we might have to give him a mild sedative to keep him calm but you say you've already explained some of this to him and he understands?"
"Yes Doc but why not ask him yourself. Take his hand and ask yes and no questions. One squeeze for yes, two for no."
He took hold of Jus's hand, looked at me and smiled.
"This is a real first for me!"
"Justin? This is 'Doc Holliday'. Well actually it's Doctor McFee but Alexis has got the entire staff here calling me Doc Holliday so I'm thinking of changing my name by deed poll!" He looked over at the monitor. Jus was in 'laughter mode'! "Well I can see you understand that at least but just out of curiosity, are you in any pain?"
"Okay. Is it your chest that hurts?"
"That's understandable. You have two broken ribs and they can be a real bitch. Not much we can do until you're fully conscious I'm afraid but once you are we can give you some pain killers. These days we don't strap your chest which can restrict your breathing and encourage mucus to settle there. Okay so far?"
"Do you hurt anywhere else?"
"Your arm? Does that hurt, itch or ache?"
"That's good to hear! How about your throat? Is that sore?"
"Okay, that's due to the feeding tube Alexis told you about. You are so close to coming round I'll have one of the nurses remove it. That will help it settle down. It isn't like you have an infection so you will feel much better almost immediately. Any other pains?"
"Good! Just one other thing? When the nurse removes the feeding tube, she will give you a small injection to numb your throat. We have to do this otherwise you might be sick. It's a rather odd sensation not being able to feel your throat but I promise you, it is so localised that it takes only a minute or so to remove the tube and five minutes after that you won't even know it's been there and your throat will feel as normal. Happy with that?"
"Are you excited about waking up fully?"
"Good but don't try to force the issue. Your body and brain know far better than us how to manage this so maybe Alexis should read to you and take your mind off things."
"One last thing Justin? You have been resting now for the best part of a month and so when you come round you will be very, very weak so don't get distressed if you find it difficult to move, it's all perfectly normal! We will be arranging lots of physiotherapy for you that will help rebuild your muscles and within a couple of months you'll feel fine. Alexis will be with you day and night until you wake up.
Can I suggest another code? Three squeezes if you need me or a nurse?"
Two squeezes then a pause and then four squeezes.
"Okay. Four squeezes if you need us but what was wrong with three?"
I laughed. "That means something else Doc. Something private!"
"Fair enough! I'll get a nurse to get rid of that tube. You will feel heaps better once that's out of the way! See you later Justin. See you later Alexis."
Jus stayed really calm when the nurse removed the feeding tube, his heart rate hardly altered and as the last of the tube popped out from his nose he inhaled deeply as if giving a sigh of relief! The nurse seemed pleased.
"That's very good Justin. Can you do that again for me?"
Jus took another lungful of air.
"Can you try and swallow?"
I saw his larynx twitch slightly but that was it. He squeezed my hand twice.
"He can't do it nurse."
"That's maybe because I numbed it. We'll try again in about ten or fifteen minutes. Once he can swallow purposely we can give him a small drink with something to ease the discomfort in his throat and even better, he should be able to take some solids later today. It will be nice to have real food for a change won't it Justin?"
One squeeze of my hand.
Fifteen minutes later saw Jus swallowing to order so the nurse raised his head about sixty degrees to his body then poured a small amount of orange cordial into a cup.
"This is some orange flavoured water Justin. Do you want to try to swallow a little of it for me?"
She gently opened his lips slightly and offer the cup to them and seconds later I saw him swallow. He squeezed my hand once.
"Was that alright Jus?"
"Want some more?"
"He would like some more nurse. Is that allowed?"
"Gosh yes! It'll do him more good than any pain killers! The thing is, he's been breathing through his mouth which has dried his throat and that together with the feeding tube has made it rather sore. If he can get some fluids down him, that will help him produce saliva which will lubricate his throat naturally. Here you go Justin. Take as much as you can. Just give Alexis two squeezes once you've had enough."
What a trouper! He downed the entire cupful!
That evening a nurse appeared with a tray.
"Are you feeling hungry Justin?"
One squeeze of my hand but this time he also gave a very slight nod of his head.
"Very good! You are making progress! Would you like Alexis to help you eat? It's chicken broth but we've liquidised it so you don't have to chew. He can spoon feed you if you like."
This time there was no need to open his mouth for him, he could do it for himself and little bit by little bit he managed to eat the lot.
"Feel better for that Jus?
One squeeze and a nod of his head said it all! The nurse looked on with interest.
"You two are really close, aren't you?"
"Nah. Don't like him much really. I'm just doing this out of charity."
Jus laughed. JUS LAUGHED!!!
"Hey, hey, HEY!! What the fuck?? Can you say anything Jus?"
"No I can't! My throat's sore. I'd kill for some more orange squash though?"
The nurse handed me the jug and the beaker.
"I'm going to find the doctor. We'll be back shortly."
I poured some squash into the beaker then paused.
"Can you move your right arm Jus?"
"Not easily. It's as if I've got no muscles just like the doc said I'd feel. I am going to be okay Alex, aren't I?"
"'Course you will! I know just the people to get you back up and fit! Now you take a grip on this beaker and I'll help your arm take it to your mouth then you can drink all you want."
"Nice one! Who are these people then? The fitness freaks?"
"A story for another time! You just get that juice down your neck!"
Just as he was on his second beaker of juice, 'Doc Holliday' and the nurse came into the room.
"That's the spirit Justin! Well done! How are you feeling?"
"Weak, just like you said and by the way, this drinking method wasn't my idea, Alex threatened to thump me if I didn't try!"
"Oh dear! Nurse? We have two bloody comedians in the room now! Justin? Are you able to open your eyes yet?"
"Work in progress doc. To be honest I haven't really tried but I don't think so, not just yet."
"No, that's okay. Just you take your time. Once you've done drinking I just need to check your motor-neuron functions, reflexes and so on, make sure you're all in one piece. How are your ribs doing?"
"Better. Much better thanks. Are you still worried about my arm?"
"No I don't think so but I'll be keeping you on antibiotics for another week or so just as a precaution then when you come back in for a check-up we'll reappraise you and so long as no nasty's rear their ugly heads then we'll take you off them."
"I can go home?"
"As soon as you've got your vision back, I can see no reason why not but that brings me to the delicate matter of your personal hygiene. Now you can go back to eating solids and drinking proper liquids, your bowels and your bladder will start to function normally but the simple truth of the matter is, you don't yet have the strength to get yourself to the bathroom. This will mean you having to wear a nappy just in case you have an accident. Is there someone at home who you wouldn't mind helping you?"
"Yes. Alex. That is if he's up for it?"
"Sure. I don't mind Jus."
"Alright. That's fine. It won't be for very long, just until you get some mobility back which should be in a week to ten days, maybe even sooner if we can really get going with the physio. Alexis? I'll have one of the nurses show you how to fit the nappy a little later on. Let Justin do what he needs to do, in other words let him sleep if he so wishes, read to him or just talk. Let him drink as much as he wants and if you run low, use the call button. I'm going to finish my rounds now but I'll look in on you before I leave."
Shortly before the lights were dimmed for the night, one of the nurses showed me how to fit the nappy but she gave it a more 'adult' name. An incontinent pad then once satisfied I knew what I was doing and how to clean Jus up in the event of spillages she left suggesting we tried to get some sleep so Jus could get back into a routine.
We talked for a short while then both of us fell silent and drifted off to sleep.
"Alex? Alex are you awake?"
As if I'd only been cat-napping I woke instantly.
"Yes. Are you alright?"
"Yeah. Can you look at my face please?"
"Sure. What's wrong with it?"
"Nothing I hope. Just take a look please. It's important."
I hopped out of bed and sat beside him.
"Looks good enough to me Jus? You sure you're okay?"
"My eyes. Look at my eyes!"
As I looked so his eyes opened and the biggest smile spread across his face!
"I can see! I knew I could so I woke you. Before I passed out at the tree, yours was the last image in my head so when I knew I was able to open my eyes, I wanted you to be the very first thing I saw! Oh my GOD! I love you Alex!!"
We cuddled and talked for ages and ages but then I remembered the call button, I threw caution to the wind, removed my facemask, kissed Jus on the lips and pressed it.
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