note. In this chapter I would like to acknowledge that the 'Little Mermaid' tag
is not mine, but comes from 'Quarantine' by Virgil4ever.
John stayed at Gordon's bedside every day for the next three weeks, chatting, reading to him or playing games with young Sandy. He quickly volunteered to take over feeding his brother, something Gordon would not have liked any of his other brothers to do, but it felt OK coming from John.
One evening, nearly three weeks later, John had just finished giving Gordon his supper when he looked at his brother. "There's an idea I want to run past you," he said.
"Well you know I'm going home tomorrow to see Dad and Grandma for a few days before I head back to the Cape for another month on the station."
"Yes, Scott's coming out the day after to visit me."
"Well how would you like it if I could get leave of absence so I could come back here and be with you again? Or maybe I could even resign, then I could be with you all through your rehab. What do you think about that?"
Gordon lay back and looked straight up at the ceiling. "I think" he said, slowly, "that I would like to have the use of one hand for about thirty seconds."
"Why?" said John, puzzled, "What could you do in thirty seconds?"
"I could punch you on the nose!" Gordon turned his head and glared at his brother. "John Glenn Tracy, you are supposed to be the intelligent one of the family! If that isn't the stupidest, craziest, half-baked notion I've ever heard then I don't know what is!" He took a deep breath, then continued, keeping his voice low. " It's a lovely thought, and I do appreciate it, but there is more going on here than just you and me. Dad's going to need you as a fully trained astronaut. We've both got three other brothers, and there might come a time when any one of us might depend on the skills you are learning now. I can't let you jeopardise all that because your damn fool kid brother can't keep control of his boat!"
"Hey, don't go on about that. You know the inquiry decided that the fault was with the hydraulics controlling one of the hydrofoil blades. There was nothing you could have done to prevent that crash."
"Alright, I won't mention it again if you promise to drop that hare-brained scheme of yours." He looked at his brother. "Deal?"
"OK, it's a deal"
"Right, then we'll say no more about it. What have you brought to read tonight?"
The two boys had been working through all the favourite books of their childhood. John reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a copy of 'Wind in the willows'. "How about this? Or have you changed your mind that 'there is nothing, absolutely nothing - ."
" - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats" they finished the line together, laughing.
Gordon endured the next long weeks, punctuated by visits from members of the family, friends from the WASP base, and young Sandy, counting off the days till the detested body brace would be removed. He had been told that it would take another operation to remove all the pins, and the day before this was due he had a new visitor.
"Good afternoon, Lieutenant Tracy" said a burly, bearded man. "I'm Brian Curtis, but most of my patients call me Frank. I'm going to be your physiotherapist. May I sit down?"
"Please do - Frank", replied Gordon, "and please call me Gordon."
"OK, then, Gordon. I always like to meet my patients and get to know a bit about them before I start working with them. In your case that's been fairly easy". He paused, "I presume you are the Gordon Tracy who's been winning medals in the U.S. National swimming championships for the last few years?"
"That's me," replied Gordon, grinning. "Do you follow the swimming/"?
"I've got a friend who works in that area. You probably know him - Peter Long?"
"Yes, I know Pete. I think I've even got a card from him somewhere," answered Gordon, looking round at the mass of cards that covered the wall beside his bed. "Great guy. You know him?"
"Yes, we did our basic training together, then he went into the sports side of physiotherapy and I went into rehab." Frank paused. "Often with my patients I have to find some goal to motivate them, but it shouldn't be too difficult in your case. I gather we have to get you ready in time for the Nationals next January - and that there is a place in the Olympic team for the following September riding on the results."
Gordon looked at Frank. "Am I going to make it? Be straight with me, please."
"I'm always straight with all my patients. The truth at the moment is that I don't know - yet. Once they've taken all that ironmongery off you tomorrow and I've had a look at the X-rays, I'll have a better idea. If the bones have all knitted together properly and the joints are all true, then the rest is up to you." He paused "I must warn you though, when you wake up after the operation, don't expect to jump out of bed and start running around. It's going to be a long, hard slog. You've been immobilised for over two months: your muscles will have wasted and your joints seized up. We've got a lot of work to do to get you moving again. In fact, don't try to move at all on your own. I had a patient once who'd broken both his legs. The day after we took his casts off he tried to stand up and fell over and broke one of them again, in a different place. He had to go straight back into plaster again."
"Oh, no" said Gordon, trying to smother a laugh. It was an awful tale, but still funny. He changed the subject "How soon can we start?"
"Well, the operation is scheduled for tomorrow. I'll give you a day to get over the anaesthetic, so that means we'll be starting on Thursday. Any more questions?"
"Just one. If your name is Brian, why do people call you Frank?"
Frank grinned. "You'll find out Thursday."
Thursday morning saw Gordon counting off the hours until he was due to be taken to the physio unit. When he arrived there Frank lifted him easily out of his wheelchair and put him on a couch. "Good morning, Gordon" he said cheerfully. "We've got a lot of work to do today" He looked at his patient. "Have you tried moving yet?"
Gordon looked a bit sheepish, "Well I managed to make a fist this morning", he confessed.
"Good for you! I thought you'd try something. Pete says you are a determined young man - he sends his regards, by the way. How did it feel?"
"Hard work" admitted Gordon.
"Right" said Frank, "Well, we'd better get cracking then!"
Gordon soon found out why Frank had been so named - it was short for Dr. Frankenstein. One of his favoured treatments was electrotherapy - placing pads on the muscles to run electric currents through them. "I know it's old- fashioned," he said, "but it still works. I'm going to start you on just five minutes on each muscle group, then we'll gradually build up later."
The massage that came after was quite pleasant, though at the end Gordon felt like he'd been put through a wringer. However a few minutes of the manipulation that followed next was enough to leave him white and shaking. Frank looked up from where he was working on Gordon's ankle, stopped, and came to the head of the couch. "Gordon", he said gently, "I'm not a sadist, you know."
"No?" said Gordon, still trying to catch his breath.
"Look, this isn't some form of torture. I'm going to need some feedback here. You've got to tell me when you've had enough." He paused "I can usually tell with my adult patients when the air starts turning blue."
Gordon smiled "You won't catch me swearing, Frank."
Gordon shook his head. "Ever had your mouth washed out with soap?"
Frank laughed. "No, can't say I have. Who did that? Your father?"
Gordon shook his head. "No, my Grandma."
"She sounds like quite a formidable lady"
Gordon nodded. "She is. But then she had to be, to bring up us five boys."
"OK", said Frank. "We'll start again. And this time let me know when to stop. I'd hate to have your Grandma after me for beating up her grandson!"
A week later John walked back into the ward, then paused when he saw Gordon's bed was empty. "Hallo there, John" said Tessa, coming up to him. "Nice to see you again. I think you'll find Gordon out in the garden. He likes to sit on the terrace where he can look at the sea." She pointed to a side door. "That's the quickest way."
John stepped outside and stopped. All the times he had visited the hospital before he had never had chance to appreciate the view. Kane Hospital had been built on the heights above Honolulu, giving it a lovely view across the town and out into to the bay. In the distance off to the right he could see the funnels from the ships of the WASP fleet that were moored in Pearl Harbour. He made his way to the terrace, where Gordon was sitting in an electric wheelchair. "Hi there, Gordon" he said, "it's good to see you out of that infernal Iron Maiden". As he spoke, however, he couldn't help but be shocked at his brother's appearance. The matchstick thin arms that protruded from the sleeves of his T-shirt were covered in red pinpricks, and as he bent to embrace his brother he could feel how frail he was, and how little strength there was in the arms that returned his embrace.
"Hi there, John" replied Gordon "You've no idea how good it is. How was your flight?"
"Fine" John sat down next to Gordon's chair. "How's our young friend Sandy?"
"I haven't seen him for a couple of days - he's having some therapy at the moment. He was thrilled with that photo you sent him" John had sent a photograph of himself and the rest of his crew that they had all autographed. "Oh, and he met Grandma last time she was here. She says we were both wrong - he's not me or Alan - he's you!"
"Does she now" said John, amused. He looked down, pointing "What's that on your arm?"
"These?" replied Gordon, fingering the red marks. "That's were the pins were. The doctors tell me they'll fade eventually."
"Glad to hear it - you don't want to spend your life looking like the world's worst junkie. But no, I didn't mean those, I meant this" He touched a loop of ribbon that was tied round Gordon's left forearm.
"Oh, that" said Gordon, pulling on it awkwardly to reveal the other end attached to a small silver harmonica. "That was a present from Virgil. He and Dad were here for my operation, and Virgil had bought me a kid's toy grand piano - he said it would get my fingers working. When Monica, my occupational therapist, saw it she asked if I was musical. I said I played the piano and the guitar a bit, and she suggested I get one of these - it's supposed to help with my breathing. Virgil got it and a book of tunes, and we spent a day working out the notes. Want to hear it?"
"OK, go on then"
"I only play it when I'm out here. I think I overdid it a bit the first day on the ward. By evening the other guys were voting whether to sew my mouth up or put me back in traction" After a few fumbling attempts he managed to bring the instrument to his mouth and play a few bars of 'Clementine' before it slipped from his grasp. "Oh for heaven's sake!" he exclaimed, petulantly.
John looked at his brother closely. This didn't sound like Gordon - there was more going on here than a dropped instrument. "How's the physio going?" he asked gently.
Gordon pulled a face. "Well, it's not the most fun I've ever had. The only good part is when they let me in the pool." He looked at his brother. "Remember at school when the older boys used to call me 'Little mermaid'?"
"Yes, you hated it."
"Well, wouldn't you?" He hesitated "But that's just who I feel like at the moment. When I'm in the water I can move. On land I'm helpless." He looked down "I can't even sit in this chair without being strapped in in case I fall out" He gestured clumsily to the restraining strap across his chest. "Oh, John, suppose I'm stuck in this damn chair for the rest of my life, and have to watch you and the others carrying out the rescue business without me?"
John knelt beside the chair and put his arms round his brother's shoulders. "You won't be there forever, Gordy. You've just got to give it time. You've only been out of that frame for a week, and muscles take time to grow. I should know!"
Gordon looked at his brother in surprise "What do you know about it?"
"Up on the space station we only have one third gravity. When I get back down here I feel as weak as a kitten for the first few days, until my body has had time to adjust. The first morning I woke up back on Earth it felt like I had both Scott and Virgil sitting on my chest!"
"Not both of them!" said Gordon, smiling at the thought of his two strapping brothers.
"Yes, so I know something of how you are feeling." He paused "If they let me, I'll come with you to the pool this afternoon and we can get strong together. How does that sound?"
"OK - it's a deal"
"That reminds me," John looked around to make sure there was no-one within earshot. "Last time I was back home, Brains was showing me his designs for the new space station."
"What does it look like?"
"It's a sort of doughnut shape, with a tube at one side for boarding, and aerials coming out in various directions. He's got this idea for installing gravity plates, and I've told him to make sure they are a full one gravity - I don't want Alan or myself feeling weak every time we return from a month up there, or we won't be able to go out on rescues."
"Did he show you what my craft is going to look like?"
"No, I didn't see any of the others. But I've had an idea I want to talk to you about."
"Well, as long as it's better than the last one you came out with"
John chose to ignore this remark and carried on. "I've always thought that just calling the craft Rescue One, Two and so on just doesn't sound right, somehow." John paused "I've been doing some reading"
Gordon snorted, "Tell me something I don't know -you're always reading something."
"I came across this in a book about native American mythology. The North American Indians worshipped a god who took the form of a mighty eagle. When he flew, the beating of his wings made the sound of thunder. Now, it's not so appropriate for your craft, or mine, but for the others - how does the name 'Thunderbird' grab you?"
When Gordon won his Olympic medal the following year he asked for two copies of the photograph of himself holding up his medal. One he inscribed 'To Frank - I wouldn't have done it without you' and the other 'To Sandy - now it's your turn'. Gordon kept in touch with his young friend over the years and the whole family were thrilled when Sandy finally applied to NASA and was accepted for the astronaut training programme.