The day began as most others for Cassie; she woke up with various twitches and itches in her legs, letting her know that they are still there. She was anxious for activity, any activity; her patience was wearing a bit thinner with each passing day.
Sarah and Adam would be coming to see her today and she was really looking forward to that. It was their last visit before they left for California for a week so it would be bittersweet. Cassie was amazed at the change in Sarah; the change that Adam had made in her friend. Sarah glowed with happiness and while Cassie was thrilled for her friend she let her own heart wish for just a moment that she could find that too.
There was a brief knock on the door and Cassie’s heart skipped a beat for a half second and then settled down – it wasn’t Georgio’s knock. His was a bit softer always, or so she imagined. She always thought of him as Georgio in her head now, in fact she had a hard time remembering to refer to him as ‘Dr. Gorman’ when he was here in the room.
Karen, her nurse came into the room to check on her. Cassie grinned when she saw Karen, she liked her a lot. Karen was young and cheeky with a wicked sense of humor, just like Cassie.
“Well, good morning there Cassie! Still lying around here I see!”
“Ha ha! I figure I need to give you something to do, you know? Don’t want you to get lazy!”
“Yeah, because I ain’t got anything better to do, let me tell you! Keeping a husband on track and chasing 2 year old twins around is a breeze!” she laughed as she opened the curtains in the room so that the morning sun could shine into the dark room. “How’s that?”
“Um good. Looks like there are some clouds heading our way.”
“Yeah, well it is October, bound to be some storms sooner or later. We could use a good rain though; everything is so dry and dusty out.”
Another knock sounded on the door and this time Cassie smiled; it was Georgio. He didn’t wait for an invitation, just pushed the door open and came into the room. He smiled as he saw that Karen had opened the curtains because it showed a huge smile on Cassie’s face. He could only hope that part to the reason for her smile was seeing him.
“So, how are you this morning? Any complaints?”
Cassie giggled and opened her mouth, prepared to list a few dozen random complaints but he saw what was about to happen and held up his hand in a ‘stop’ gesture. “Okay, let me ask this another way otherwise I’ll never get out of here! So, any leg related complaints?” He returned her grin, his eyes flashing brightly with humor.
“Same old, same old. I thought I’d be dancing by now. What’s the deal?”
“We’re getting there Cassie.” He focused for a moment on her right leg, turning it a bit to test her flexibility. He repeated the motion with her left leg and nodded, apparently satisfied. He placed both his palms flat against the bottom of her feet and asked her to push a bit against his hands.
Cassie was shocked; it was the first time he had asked her to try to move them and she stared at him, dumbfounded for a moment. “Really?” she asked.
“Um hm. C’mon, give it your best shot!”
So Cassie pushed – hard. And it didn’t hurt at all.
“Whoa! That’s good, no, that’s great,” he said and made a note on her chart. “Small, but powerful,” he quipped to Karen, whose eyes were sparking with delight over it all.
“Yeah, I’ll bet she’s got a hell of a kick,” Karen replied. “Remind me to stay out of her way when she’s up and running!”
“Okay, this is good. Cassie, we’re going to send you down for an MRI this morning to check on your back, okay?” he said as he made another note in the chart. To Karen he said, “See if you can get imaging up her in the next hour or so?”
“I’ll call the orders in right away Dr. Gorman. Anything else?”
“Yes, I hope you have a good pair of running shoes because this one,” he said, pointing his pen at Cassie,” is going to be up and running before we know it!”
Karen’s laugh could be heard as the room door closed behind her. Cassie swallowed hard, replaying what Georgio had just said through her brain. “Are you serious? I mean, I am getting better?” she asked.
Georgio hear a vulnerable tremble in her voice and it made him want so badly to hold her close and tell her that it was true. Instead he could only nod and gently touch her hand. “Yes Cassie, I do mean it. You are doing better than I ever expected.”
Her breath caught in her throat for a moment as she stared at him. She didn’t trust herself to speak for a minute; she could only stare into his beautiful eyes and try to blink back the tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks.
The spell was broken just then when the nurse’s aide came in with her breakfast. She stopped in her tracks for a moment as she stared at Cassie and Georgio, knowing that she had interrupted something.
“I’m sorry – I was just dropping off your tray Cassie. I, uh, didn’t mean to interrupt. I can come back in a few minutes!” She made to leave the room in a hurry; she thought that Cassie had just received bad news because Cassie had tears in her eyes, which broke her heart. Everyone loved Cassie and they were all pulling for her.
“No, no Beverly, come back! Ge…Dr. Gorman just told me that I’m getting better, that I’ll be walking, well, maybe not soon, exactly, but I will be walking!” Her words came out in a rush, all jumbled together in her excitement.
“Cassie!” Beverly squealed, her excitement clearly showing. “That’s fantastic! The BEST news!”
Georgio took this moment to say his goodbyes, telling Cassie that he’d see her later in the day. Cassie watched him go raising her hand in a gesture he didn’t see and one he probably wouldn’t have approved of if he did.
Every time you go away,
You take a piece of me with you…
Hall and Oates was playing in her head again. Sheesh Cass, you should be paying them royalties she thought with a wry grin.
Beverly had missed all that; she was busy pulling the cover off of Cassie’s breakfast so that she could feed her. “Ugh!” she said, “It’s oatmeal this morning. I’m sorry!”
Cassie hated the oatmeal, it was like mushy cardboard but this morning she didn’t care. She just didn’t care…
Marcus from imaging was up to get her within the hour, just as Georgio had wanted. She was used to it all now and 45 minutes later she was back on her way to her room. Her mom and dad were waiting for her and they bore gifts, some banana muffins that her mom had baked that morning. Her mom broke one apart and fed it to her and she savored each bite.
“Um, Mom, that is so good! Thanks so much; I had oatmeal for breakfast this morning. Well, they call it oatmeal but really it’s more of a facsimile of ground up wet cardboard – I can’t figure out how they do that to oatmeal, you know? I mean, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make oatmeal…”
“You know, the army cooks couldn’t make oatmeal either,” her dad said, reminiscing about the ‘good old days’. “We used to wonder if they went to school to learn how to make food taste so bad!”
“Yes, we know honey,” Alice interjected, afraid he was going to go off on a tangent. “Cassie, Max misses you so much! I always tell him we’re coming to see you and you should see him; he just sort of cocks his little head as if he understands. And when we come home he always sniffs us over and then just lies down, so dejected. Poor little guy!”
Cassie missed Max too and it broke her heart not to see him. He was her ‘baby’, her only child and she adored him. Sarah always called him the ‘yappy little dog’ but she said it with affection and would spoil him just as badly as Cassie herself did. He often stayed with Sarah when Cassie made overnight business trips to set up events and they both seemed to enjoy it. Sarah always said she had ‘allergies’ but Cassie never noticed her sneezing around Max, she thought with a smile.
“Hopefully when I get transferred I might have a chance to see him, at least once. Dr. Gorman said I was doing really well this morning, that I’ll be walking before too long! Isn’t that exciting?”
“Oh honey, that’s wonderful,” both of her parents chorused together. “The very best news! Cassie, we are so very proud of you, of how hard you have worked to do what they told you to, even though it is so hard for you. We know that you will be walking soon, we believe it!” her mom finished.
They chatted for a while longer and then her parents left, after putting a CD in the player for her. Hall and Oates…Cassie laughed because she might as well listen to it; it was running wildly through her brain anyway.
Early in the afternoon Georgio came in, Karen trailing behind him. Both of them were wearing cat-that-ate-the-canary smiles and Cassie was immediately on edge. Something was up and while she couldn’t wait to find out, she was also scared.
Karen immediately began removing the wedge from under her legs. Cassie sighed with pleasure because it felt so good to have her legs out straight. Before she realized what she was doing started flexing her toes and she smiled, until she saw Georgio watching her.
“Oops, sorry,” she said sheepishly. “It uh, just feels so good.” She gave an apologetic shrug and grinned.
“It does, does it? Karen, why don’t you throw that thing away?” he said, throwing a wink at Karen.
She grabbed it and set it aside and smiled herself. Cassie looked from one to the other, bewildered.
“What is going on?” she asked, her heart in her throat.
“You’re done with that, no more wedge Cassie.” He gave her a moment for it all to sink in and watched confusion play across her beautiful face.
“Why? What does this mean?” She held her breath, waiting expectantly for his next words.
“It means that your spinal cord looks great; it has mended well and the swelling is gone. We are going to slowly start you on some movement.”
“S-L-O-W-L-Y Cassie, okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, okay. Slowly, I can do that! So no more wedge, really?”
“No more wedge, I promise!”
“Can I kick the crap out of it? Stomp on it, tear it to bits? Pretty please?” she asked, grinning like a fool.
“I’d love to tell you yes but that is actually a very expensive piece of hospital equipment,” he laughed. “But I do understand!”
“You have NO idea, I promise you!”
“Okay. Now, we’re going to try something new. We’re going to raise your head up a few inches. Let me know if you feel any discomfort, okay?”
She nodded and felt the bed start to go up. One, two, maybe 10 inches. It felt heavenly. “No pain!” she told them in an excited voice. “No pain,” she repeated more quietly.
She was grinning when there was a soft knock on the door and it opened a few inches. She saw Sarah’s head poke around the edge of the door and called out for her to come in.
“How does that feel Cassie?” he asked her, watching her face for signs of pain or stress.
She was breathing slow and deeply, trying to adjust to the movement. After a minute or so she said, “It feels okay. I don’t know how long I can handle it, but it doesn’t hurt.”
Dr. Gorman made a note in her chart and then closed it with a crisp click. “Okay then, no more than 30 minutes at this height. You can go back down to the first level and stay like that as long as you want, okay? We’ll leave now, but Karen will come back in a half hour to move the bed down again. If it gets too uncomfortable before then, let her know, okay?”
Cassie nodded at him and smiled. It totally lit her face up and Sarah realized how much she missed that smile. Dr. Gorman nodded his head at Adam and Sarah as he and the nurse left the room and closed the door.
“Well, well, look at you, Mr. Hollywood,” Cassie chided good-naturedly. “I almost didn’t recognize you, except that since you arrived with this one,” she said, pointing her thumb at Sarah, “I knew it had to be you!”
Adam took his sunglasses off, but left the hat on, before pulling a couple of chairs around to the side of the bed so we could sit down. He put a chair very close to the tray table so that Sarah could help Cass dig through a huge basket of goodies before bestowing on her his very best dimple smile.
Cassie exuded happiness at that smile and Sarah knew she had already figured out the differences of Adam’s smiles and she was delighted about that. Sarah bent over and kissed Cassie on the cheek and her eyes were sparkling brightly.
She looked over at the basket of goodies and Sarah saw excitement renewed in those grass green eyes. Sarah felt like Santa Claus and couldn’t wait to help Cassie go through the basket.
“I’ll have you know Cass, that I built muscles carrying this up to you. Sarah was adamant about the fact that you needed all of this,” Adam told her, grinning from ear to ear.
At Cassie’s delighted “Ohh”, Sarah pushed the tray table as near to her as I could so she could get a good idea of what all was in there. She poked around and moved things until she had seen most of what was in there, and then started to pull things out to sniff.
“Oh Sarah,” she said, excitement bubbling over, “Thank you so much. I’ll finally smell good again and I can’t wait to actually take a real bath and wash my hair. And lotion, my skin is so dry, that is the best part!”
She pulled a bottle of Magnolia scented lotion out of the basket and opened it, deeply inhaling its fragrance. “Oh, this is heavenly.” she said, pouring some into her palm. She rubbed the lotion onto her hands and arms, massaging it in with a sigh of pleasure.
“Sarah and Adam, thank you so much! This means so much to me!” She found a tube of lip balm and opened it and sniffed the vanilla fragrance before spreading it over her lips. “Oh yes, yes! This is almost better than sex!” she laughed. “At least, right now!”
One of the items in the basket was a large hand mirror, which Cassie picked up with some trepidation. “Do I want to look?” she asked me, a look of dread on her face.
Sarah grabbed her hand and squeezed it for a moment before speaking. Cassie’s face had grown thinner and her grass green eyes were a bit shadowed but Sarah said, “Cass, you look fine. A little bedraggled maybe, but that’s to be expected. And nothing that a long hot shower won’t cure…”
She slowly held the mirror up, but kept her eyes closed for a moment, as if dreading what she would see. She opened her eyes slowly and looked into the mirror, staring into it solemnly. Huge green eyes looked into Sarah’s and blinked back tears.
“I can’t believe that I look so…normal, I guess. I don’t really look much different, do I?”
“No you don’t,” Sarah told her, smiling at her in reassurance.
“I feel so different Sarah, like I’m not the same person at all anymore, you know? I don’t know if that’s good or bad, you know?”
“In some ways you aren’t ,Cass. Neither of us are. You’ve been through a life-altering situation, how could you NOT be different?” Sarah paused for a moment, thinking over what to say to her, how to say it. “Cassie, I think that what we, especially you, have been through has made us stronger, better people. A bit more compassionate and caring and for me, patient, maybe,” Sarah said, shrugging her shoulders while wearing a grin plastered on her face. “The point is I guess, what I’m trying to say, and not very well, is that it’s our choice what we take away from all this. We can choose to use the new attributes to our benefit or we can just think about how bad it has been. This whole experience has brought me a greater understanding of myself and what I want,” Sarah told her, smiling at Adam as she said that. “I might not have been so willing to take a chance, you know? Of course you know, me I mean. It scared me, on an emotional level. It showed me what and who is most important in my life, worth fighting for, you know?”
“I feel like that too Sarah, but I still feel unable to take charge of anything and that is so frustrating to me. I hate only being allowed these small steps. I want to run, not walk and yet it’s my own body that is betraying me. I lie here in this damn bed and think about everything in my life that is on hold, just sitting there collecting dust.”
Sarah nodded, sympathy tugging at her. She did know exactly how Cassie felt. Except she had been hurt so much worse, her struggle to regain her quality of life was far more difficult than Sarah’s had been.
“You know what Cass? I decided to look at it as a new start to things; maybe that’s how you need to think about it too. You can’t change what is happening except to be determined to be the winner, and I know you have already done that. So focus on one day at a time, one step at a time. You will get through it, I promise you. I’ll help you every step of the way. It’s going to be tough, but you are far tougher Cassie!” Sarah told her, taking her hand and rubbing it gently.
“I believe it was three musketeers, not two. Unless you two don’t want a third?” Adam told them, taking both of their hands into his. Sarah looked at him, and what she saw in his eyes was genuine empathy for Cassie and caring. She realized that Cassie saw that too. Cass nodded, almost imperceptibly and said, “Deal!” Adam and Sarah both repeated that, and each knew that the bargain was struck.
Karen came back in and lowered Cassie’s bed and Sarah could tell that she was tired. It had been an exciting day for her, but it had been a wonderful day and Sarah felt fortunate to have been able to share in her happiness. They stayed awhile longer, but Cass was fighting yawns so they decided it was time to leave; although that was reluctant on Sarah’s part. She knew it would be a week before she would see her again and she tried to focus on all the wonderful new things that would be happening in her life by then.
Sarah hugged her, as best she could and kissed Cassie soundly on the cheek. They both were crying; inherently they both knew what the week apart would bring. Adam hugged her too and kissed her on the forehead again and it was so touching to see them interacting. “Hey, maybe you can get your doctor to move that basket for you! You can see if he has any muscles!” Adam quipped.
Sarah stood in the doorway of Cassie’s room and blew her a kiss before waving goodbye. Adam pulled the door shut behind them Cassie closed her eyes for a moment. She felt good, better than good. She would miss Sarah and Adam too she realized but good things were happening and she realized that she couldn’t wait!
Copyright 2010 by Cynthia Hope Hodge
All rights reserved. You may not reproduce, or retransmit by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying, recording or by any other means without permission by the author.