The Long Trip Home - Chapter 9
Elizabeth froze, watching his eyes for some sign that he was aware of his surroundings. "John, can you hear me? It's Elizabeth. I'm right here." She grasped his hand firmly.
His eyes were unmoving and unseeing at first . She could see awareness creeping slowly into his face. "John, I'm right here. I'm just going to give Carson a yell. I'll be right back." Only when she tried to leave his side did she realize he was gripping her hand. She touched his shoulder and hovered over his face. "I'll be right back John, I promise." He blinked and released her hand, seeming to understand. She raced to the door and called down the hall, "Carson, come quick. John's awake."
She hurried back to the bed to find him grabbing at the respirator tube and fear in his eyes. She firmly gripped his wrists and pulled them away from his face. "It's okay John, calm down. You're on a ventilator to help you breathe."
Beckett came flying into the room. As soon as he saw Weir struggling with Sheppard, he knew what was happening. As Elizabeth continued to hold onto John's arms, Beckett leaned directly over his face where he knew Sheppard would see him. He spoke to him calmly. "It's Dr. Beckett, son, and I need you to calm down. You've been seriously injured and we've had to put you on a ventilator to help you breathe." Sheppard's eyes still registered fear. "John, I know you feel like you can't breathe, like you're goin' to suffocate, but you won't. I promise. Just relax and let the machine breathe for you. You need to save your strength to get well."
John stopped struggling, but Elizabeth continued to hold his hands. "I'm still here John. Just listen to Dr. Beckett."
"I know it's uncomfortable, lad, so I'm goin' to give you something to help you relax." John blinked again and Beckett could only hope that meant he understood. He had no sooner turned away from Sheppard's IV than he saw the major's eyes fluttering as he slipped into sleep.
Elizabeth gently laid John's hands back on the bed, her heart racing in her chest. "What was that?" she asked Beckett. "Is he okay?"
Beckett nodded. "It's a normal reaction to waking up on a ventilator. You have to remember, he woke up to find a tube down his throat. I've been told it makes you feel like you can't breathe and you're suffocating. It's a very terrifying experience. Keeping a ventilated patient sedated is really the only humane thing to do."
Weir nodded, the worry leaving her face. "How long will be on the ventilator?"
"Well, he seems to be gettin' stronger. I'll probably try startin' the weanin' process tonight. We could have him off it completely in a couple of days, depending on how soon he gets his strength back."
Her eyes on John's sleeping form, she asked Beckett, "So, now is he going to be okay?"
Beckett smiled broadly. "Aye, lass. he's goin' to be fine."
Two days later, McKay and Weir both sat in Sheppard's room. McKay was working on his laptop and muttering something about incompetent boobs being allowed to screw up really important, life-changing experiments. He had been furious that Sheppard woke up while he was getting lunch, insisting that the major did it on purpose just to piss him off. He was most assuredly not going to miss the next time, even if it meant camping out. Beckett had assured him he would keep the major under until time to remove the ventilator, but McKay wasn't taking any chances.
Elizabeth was sitting in the other chair next to Sheppard's bed. She also had a laptop, but hadn't done anything on it in quite some time. Mostly she was just staring at Sheppard's still form. His color was a lot better. He was still on the ventilator, but Carson had been weaning his dependency on it for the last couple of days. His blood gases had come back good enough that Beckett had suspended the sedation and was going to take him off the ventilator as soon as he woke up. She hadn't talked to Sheppard in over a week, at least not when he was conscious and lucid enough to listen and participate. She was so anxious to have him back.
Elizabeth suddenly sat straight up. McKay almost knocked his laptop into the floor as he reacted. "What? Is something wrong?"
She slid forward in her seat. She had seen his hand move. "I think he's waking up. Get Carson."
McKay set the computer on the chair and rushed out of the room. He returned in a minute with Dr. Beckett, who moved immediately to the head of the bed. Weir and McKay flanked the sides. They all watched as Sheppard struggled to open his eyes. Almost immediately, one hand began moving toward his mouth. Beckett gently took hold of his arm and pushed it down as he leaned down in front of him, as he had done before. "Major, it's Doctor Beckett. I need you to relax. Remember, you're on the ventilator, so just try and relax, lad." Sheppard relaxed as he came awake and began processing what the doctor was telling him. "Good. Now if you'll give me a minute, we'll get that tube out of your throat and I think you'll feel a lot better." Beckett turned to Weir and McKay. I need you two to leave for a minute and send in the nurse."
McKay looked frustrated. "He just woke up and you're already booting us out?"
"Aye. I'll let you back in in a minute. I need to remove the ventilator tube and it's not a pleasant experience. I thought he might like a little privacy."
"Oh," McKay said sheepishly. "Well, okay. But we get to come back when you're finished." He and Weir turned and left the room.
Sheppard was trying hard not to panic. He was aware of everything Beckett had told him, but that didn't stop the incredible sensation that he was suffocating. He just wanted to breathe. He felt his muscles beginning to tense in his neck, shoulders, and chest. He dug his hands down into the covers to try to keep himself from grabbing the tube and pulling it out himself. The panic was building and his gag reflex was starting to kick in. Just when he thought he could stand it no more, Dr. Beckett and a nurse appeared by his bed.
Beckett disconnected the tube from the ventilator and leaned over Sheppard. "Son, I'm goin' to count to three. On three I want ya to give me the biggest cough you can."
Sheppard nodded ever so slightly. The room seemed strangely silent with the ventilator turned off. When Sheppard heard Beckett say three, he coughed with as much force as he could muster. He would have screamed if he could have. When Beckett pulled the tube out, it felt as if he was ripping Sheppard's throat apart. He continued to cough and sputter after the tube had been removed, kicking up some serious pain in his side and abdomen. Exhausted and hurting, he finally relaxed back onto the bed, his eyes closed. He drifted for a minute.
"Major Sheppard? Major, can you hear me?" Sheppard opened his eyes to find Beckett hovering over him again. Did that man never get tired of doing that? Sheppard nodded slightly. There was no way he was going to try to talk. His throat felt like ground meat and raw nerve endings being dangled over a hot fire.
The nurse played angel of mercy and offered him some ice chips, which he gratefully accepted. She then placed an oxygen mask on his face and left to fetch McKay and Weir.
"I've a couple of people that have been very anxious to see you," Beckett began. "They've been camped out here for days waiting on you to wake up. Maybe now I can get rid of them."
Sheppard pointed to the oxygen mask, a question in his eyes.
"Just a precaution, major. I always put patients on oxygen after removing the ventilator tube. It just gives you some extra support while you adjust to breathing on your own. It's just for a little while."
Sheppard nodded. It was so much more comfortable than the tube in his throat, he didn't much care how long it was there at the momemt. The flow of air actually felt good, since it let him get the needed air without much exertion. He was so tired.
Beckett glanced back as Weir and McKay entered the room and then turned back to Sheppard. "Welcome back, lad. You cut it pretty close this time. I'd appreciate it if we didn't do this ever again." He patted Sheppard on the arm and turned to leave. "You don't need to stay too long. He needs his rest."
McKay and Weir watched him go and then turned back to Sheppard, whose eyes were only about half open. The fear was gone from his face and eyes, now that the tube was out of his throat. He seemed relaxed and the oxygen mask didn't look nearly as frightening as the ventilator had. Maybe it was just the knowledge that he was breathing on his own.
"I've missed you," said Weir softly, almost in a whisper. She squeezed his arm, careful not to disturb the IV. He concentrated on her face. There was something about her he was trying to remember, but it just wouldn't seem to come. Something she had said...or maybe done...
McKay's voice interrupted his thoughts. "Okay Captain Kirk, I have a couple of bones to pick with you. First you act like you're not really hurt and then you wait until you're practically in a coma before waking me up. I haven't even gotten to the..." Sheppard had very slowly turned his head to look at him with an almost childlike expression on his face. He just looked so ...peaceful...and ...sorry...and grateful. McKay didn't have the heart to continue. He felt his jaw clenching against the building emotion as he remembered the major on the floor of the jumper, almost dead and bleeding out internally. "Well...we can discuss that...later. For now, it's good to have you back."
John watched them both as he felt his eyelids getting heavy and a grin forming under the oxygen mask. He lifted his hand a couple of inches off the bed and flashed them a "thumbs up" just before slipping into peaceful darkness.
Sheppard had been moved from the intensive care area of the infirmary to the general care area. Less privacy, but more company and things to watch. He was very proud to have made it to his first day of scrubs, meaning he was slowly but surely making his way towards being discharged. He shifted positions in bed, flaring the pain in his ribs and the incision site in his abdomen. But it was a duller pain and didn't take his breath away any more. He was making progress, but he wasn't there yet. He moved his right leg. Hip still sore. Beckett said he'd probably have a limp for while until it healed. That didn't matter much. He was still quite a ways from light duty, much less active duty.
McKay walked in and plopped in the chair next to his bed. "How are you feeling today? You're almost starting to look human again."
Sheppard slid him a sideways glance. "Gee, thanks McKay. Way to work on my self esteem. Hey, I got scrubs!" He smiled his boyish smile and pointed proudly to his shirt.
McKay nodded. "Congratulations! You've made a lot of progress since they hauled your skinny butt in here."
Sheppard nodded enthusiastically. "No doubt. I hate those gowns. Those things are so humiliating."
McKay shook his head and looked annoyed. "No, no. You're not listening, man. I meant when they first brought you in. You know, those first few days when you were on death's door scaring us all out of several perfectly good years of our life." He shook his head as if he were talking to a child.
Sheppard looked confused. "I know. That's what I meant. With the hospital gowns. Up until today, that is."
McKay looked at him funny for a minute before a look of understanding crossed his face. He laughed. "Oh my gosh, you don't know, do you? No, of course you don't. You were unconscious that whole time."
Sheppard looked even more confused and he was looking less happy by the minute. "McKay, what are you talking about?"
McKay had a nasty smirk on his face. "Major, you didn't have any clothes on for the first few days you were here. Just a blanket. There were so many tubes and wires going in and out of you, there was no way they were even getting a gown on. Don't worry though, I'm sure everyone was very professional -- no peeping."
As if on cue, a young nurse walked by Sheppard's bed. "Need anything, major?" Then she winked.
Sheppard mumbled, "No," as he pulled the covers up to his shoulders and sank deeper into the bed.
McKay couldn't resist rubbing Sheppard just a little more. "Does the term catheter mean anything to you?"
"McKay!" Sheppard roared.
Beckett stuck his head out of his office. "Is there a problem? Rodney, if you're goin' to upset my patient, I'll have to kick you out."
McKay brought his hand up defensively. "I'll be good." He sat for a minute and then his expression went to something a little more serious. "Can I talk to you about something?"
Sheppard started to snap out a sarcastic reply, but he saw a desperate need in McKay's eyes. "No problem. Shoot."
McKay seemed to struggle silently for several minutes. Sheppard had begun to think he had changed his mind. Finally, McKay opened up to him. "On the planet...Gaul...It was my fault."
Sheppard began shaking his head. "Absolutely not, McKay. There is no way..."
"Let me finish. You don't know the whole story. It's been eating at me since we got back and I have to talk to someone. I definitely don't want it to be Heightmeyer. She wouldn't understand, but I think you will. I'm responsible for Brendan's death." He hesitated and Sheppard gave him the minutes he needed before he continued. "Brendan...shot himself." There. He'd said it. "I was babbling on about needing to help you and that I couldn't leave him alone and the next thing I knew...he shot himself."
Sheppard seemed lost in thought for a minute and McKay wondered if he had even been paying attention. "McKay, that doesn't make it your fault. We both saw Gaul. He's probably better off and I think he knew that. Do you honestly think he would have been better off if we had gotten him back here? It was his decision, not yours. If there is guilt, then I have to share in it too. I should have kept us together instead of leaving them alone. We made mistakes McKay. It probably won't be the last time."
"Doesn't that scare you? That you might make mistakes that cost men their lives?"
"Yes, it scares me. It scares the heck out of me. I have a lot of ghosts to deal with. People that are dead because I made a bad decision. But you have to go on with life because if we shut down, we end up losing even more. You have to keep trying." Sheppard paused for a moment before looking up at McKay. "Speaking of lives, thanks for saving mine."
They both sat silently for a few moments before McKay could stand the somber mood no longer. "Don't get all sappy on me major. You didn't really think I was going to let you die after that vomiting in the jumper stunt, did you? I so owe you for that one and, major, paybacks are tough."
Weir entered the infirmary to find Sheppard standing beside his bed, arguing with Beckett, Things were most certainly getting back to normal.
"Gentlemen, is there a problem? Maybe I can help."
"Same thing I always go through once the major starts feelin' a little better. He wants me to dismiss him and he's not ready. You almost died, lad. I've still got a couple of things I'm keepin' an eye on and ya still get dizzy ever so often. You could fall and hurt yourself in your quarters and no one would be the wiser. You can barely walk. No, you're stuck here for another couple of days. I think I liked ya better on the ventilator. At least then you couldn't talk back."
"But I need to stretch out. I'm so stiff and sore and that's not getting much better because the only thing I get out of bed for is to go to the bathroom. I'm never going to get my strength back sitting around. And we haven't even discussed the boredom factor. Can I just take a walk then?"
Beckett seemed to think about it. "Aye, a short walk might be good for you at that. But you can't go alone and you can't go very far."
"I could walk with him," Weir offered. John looked so excited at the prospect of getting out of the infirmary, she thought he might explode.
"Okay, but I want you back in...20 minutes and don't over do it. Call me on the radio if he gets too tired to make it back and we'll come fetch him."
"30 minutes," Sheppard countered, a pleading look on his face.
Beckett opened his mouth to object and then thought better of it. He sighed loudly. "You're like kid, you know it? Okay, be back in 30 minutes. Call me if you need me."
Weir looked at Sheppard. "Where do you want to go?"
"Balcony. I need to get outside for a few minutes. I need to see it and smell it." They began slowly walking down the corridor, toward a door to the balcony, Sheppard limping. Weir offered her arm for support and was suprised when he took it. She realized after a few moments that she wasn't really supporting any of his weight and wondered why he had taken her arm. She reasoned that it probably helped steady him and provided that connection that only touch can. When they reached the balcony, they each leaned against it and looked out toward the ocean.
He closed his eyes and felt the warmth of the sun on his face. He breathed the ocean air in and was grateful to be alive to do it. Now he was starting to feel alive again. He smiled.
"A penny for your thoughts," she said as she watched him enjoy the ocean air.
"Oh I was just thinking about how lucky I am. I've gotten to see and experience the most amazing things since coming here. I've survived several things I probably shouldn't have. I have more of a family now that at any other point in my life." He paused a second and then looked down at her. He stepped closer and moved his face until it was only inches from hers. Elizabeth's heart raced wildly in her chest and she could scarcely breathe. He was so close she could feel his breath on her face. "By the way, I think I love you too." he said softly. And then his hands were cupping her face and his lips were on hers and she didn't care if anyone saw them or what they thought. John was finally home.