Elliot didn’t remember the exact moment he woke up, but once the haze lifted, he saw his parents at his bedside. He felt completely drained, but at least he knew one thing for sure: he was alive. And the goddamn tumor was finally out of him. For good, this time.
He lowered his eyes and could see his mother was holding his hand, but he couldn’t feel it at all. Just for kicks, he attempted to move the fingers of his hand... nothing happened. He had expected it, of course, but it would have been nice if things had gone better than he had planned.
“Elliot,” his mother was saying, “honey, can you hear me?”
He nodded slowly. His head still felt foggy.
She started saying something else, but the fog deepened and he couldn’t focus on her words. He tried to bend his right wrist and found that it wasn’t obeying him. He tried on his left wrist and that didn’t bend either. What was going on here? He felt a sensation of panic building inside of him. He had expected his fingers to be useless, but he hadn’t expected this. Suddenly, he realized that something had gone wrong during the surgery. He couldn’t fucking believe this had happened again. He should have known better than to trust those goddamn doctors.
“Why can’t I move my wrists?” Elliot nearly screamed.
“Honey...” His mother put her hand on his thigh and he was slightly relieved that he could feel it a little, although not the way he used to. “Did you hear what I was just telling you?”
He shook his head.
Before his mother could tell him what was going on, Dr. Black walked into the room. At that moment, Elliot felt that he despised the doctor. You did this to me, he thought. He should have known going in that he’d wind up like this.
“Elliot, how are we doing?” Dr. Black asked in a concerned voice.
“We’re not too fucking good,” he croaked. “Why can’t I move my wrists?”
“The tumor was larger than I had predicted, Elliot,” the doctor said. “In order to remove it, we had to take out a lot more than I originally thought.”
Elliot found that he was able to flex his elbow, but when he tried to go in the opposite direction, it wasn’t as easy. “Shit,” he breathed. “My elbows are fucked up too...”
“I know this isn’t what you expected,” Dr. Black began.
“No fucking kidding...”
“You can still lead a very full life with your disability,” Dr. Black reminded him. “And you’ll still have a lot of independence.”
“But not complete independence.”
Dr. Black hesitated. “No, not complete independence. You’ll need someone to assist you in your home.”
At least the doctor was honest. Elliot took a deep breath, trying to absorb everything he had just been told. “So what will I be able to do?” he asked.
“I need to examine you before I can answer that question.”
Elliot nodded his approval. His parents stayed in the room while the doctor tested what was left of his motion and sensation. As had been predicted before the surgery, he couldn’t move his legs at all anymore. A small amount of sensation was preserved, although he couldn’t tell the difference between a pinprick and a cue-tip. His fingers were completely paralyzed. He found that he could extend his wrists weakly, but couldn’t flex them at all. He could bend his elbows, but had trouble extending them.
“I would say you’re about a C6 level of paralysis,” Dr. Black said at the end of the examination. Elliot listened as Dr. Black explained that this meant he’d need at least minimal assistance in nearly every aspect of his life. He’d be able to feed himself with a special cup and hand splints, brush his teeth and hair, and bathe himself with special adaptive equipment. He’d be able to dress himself, with the exception of his shoes and socks. He’d be able to write, type, and use the telephone, and he’d be able to do transfers by himself. He would need assistance for his bowel and bladder care.
“Yes, your life will be different,” Dr. Black said. “But you’re already used to living with a disability, so the adjustment won’t be as much as for a person who became a quadriplegic after being able bodied.”
“And you can stay with us as long as you need to,” his father assured him.
“Thanks,” Elliot breathed. All of a sudden, he was very dizzy. He felt beads of sweat forming on his forehead. He turned his head to the side and gagged, attempting to throw up, but his stomach was empty. “Oh christ...”
He felt his mother’s hand on his shoulder. She was speaking to him but he couldn’t understand a word she was saying. He still felt very dizzy and the world around him started to fade away. He heard Dr. Black calling for a nurse and that was the last thing he remembered.
When Elliot woke up, his parents were gone. He was grateful for this time alone; he remembered after his last surgery, his mother had made herself a constant presence in his hospital room. It looked like it was getting dark out now and he hoped they were gone for the night.
He looked down at his hands, lying at his sides. He concentrated his effort on bending his right elbow to lift his forearm into the air. His wrist sagged and his hand hung down, useless. Okay, now lift your hand. He concentrated very hard and was able to extend his wrist to straighten it, although it felt like he was lifting a piano instead of just the weight of gravity. Dr. Black told him that his wrist extensors would get stronger as time went by. At least that was something. He’d probably still be able to use his old wheelchair, but he wouldn’t be able to do wheelies anymore or move on anything other than level surfaces. He’d at least need to keep a powerchair in the house.
Elliot knew his life was going to be a lot more difficult from now on. When he went back to graduate school, he wasn’t going to be able to teach anymore and he’d need an assistant. God knew what kind of idiot they’d hire to help him out.
He sighed and looked down at his hands again. He was exactly what he’d always predicted he’d become: a disabled mathematician. That was how he was going to be known from now on. It was unavoidable.
It could have been worse, Elliot told himself. He had known going into the surgery that his hands were going to be severely affected, so it was no big surprise--at least that fucking tumor was finally gone for good. He was still going to be able to do the work he loved, which was really the important thing. And he had Lise, of course. He smiled at that last thought.
Elliot heard a knock on his door and before he could say to come in, he saw Dr. Black’s face peeking in on him. “Elliot, I’m glad to see you’re awake.”
“I guess I freaked out a little bit,” Elliot admitted, embarrassed. “Sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Dr. Black entered the room and sat down on a chair by the bed. “There’s something I need to speak with you about, Elliot.”
Elliot didn’t like the sound of the doctor’s voice. He had heard that tone before... “What is it?”
“I just got back the pathology report from your surgery,” Dr. Black said. “Unfortunately, the margins of the specimen we removed... still had some tumor cells. I don’t think we got it all out.”
Elliot stared at him. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “What?”
“I’m sorry,” the doctor said. “These things happen. We thought we got all of it.”
“I’m not having another surgery,” Elliot said resolutely. “I won’t do it. I won’t fucking do it.”
“That’s your choice, Elliot,” Dr. Black said. “There’s no urgency. But I’m telling you so that in the future...”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Elliot felt the tears rising in his eyes. “You’re going to have to take more? I’m already...” He broke off, unable to continue.
“You’ve seen high quads in rehab,” Dr. Black reminded him. “They function without their arms. They lead productive, happy lives.”
“I won’t be like that,” Elliot said firmly. “I’m not going to be a high quad.”
When Dr. Black didn’t say anything, Elliot felt a sinking sensation in his chest. Oh god...
“You think I will,” Elliot stated, as if the realization had just come to him. “You think that’s what it’s going to take to get rid of the tumor, don’t you?”
Dr. Black nodded. “Yes. Yes, I do.” He heaved a long sigh. “I’m sorry, Elliot. This isn’t something you have to do now... I don’t even think I’d recommend it right now. Maybe the tumor will go into remission. But there’s a decent chance that in the next few years...”
“Yeah, I get it,” he said before the doctor could complete his thought. He closed his eyes. “I don’t want to think about this right now.”
“I understand,” Dr. Black said. “I just thought it was your right to know.”
Elliot wished he didn’t know. He would have preferred that the tumor grew silently all these years and then suddenly killed him without warning when he was forty. That would have been better than what he went through over the last ten years.
In a few days, he was supposed to go to rehab to learn how to transfer, feed himself, and all that. But what was the point if he was going to lose all those abilities in a few years? What was the point of anything anymore?
I know my destiny now, Elliot thought. I’m going to be a helpless quad.
He couldn’t remember ever having felt this awful in the past ten years, even when he first found out about the tumor. In a split second, he lost all his desire to return to grad school and become a mathematician. He didn’t want to go anywhere, do anything, see anyone, or even leave this bed ever again.
He realized that Lise was probably going to come visit him at some point in the next few days. For the first time since he had met her, he dreaded seeing her face. She’d come in here, acting like it was no big deal that he couldn’t move his hands or wrists, that she’d still think he was “sexy” even if he couldn’t move his arms at all. He didn’t think he could stand to hear her optimistic lies... or feel her pity. He hated pity more than anything, but he knew he was in for a truckload of it.
And what good was it having a girlfriend if he was a high quad? She could only be a nursemaid to him. That was all he needed—having his girlfriend helping him with his bowel regimen. It was just a matter of time before she’d become disgusted by him. Then there would be the awkward break-up.
He loved Lise. More than he would have thought possible. And he really wanted her to remember the way he used to be, not like this. And definitely not like what he’d someday become. He had to end it now.
To be continued....