Title: You Learn
Disclaimer: This all belongs to the rightful copyright owners and not me. I wish it did!
Chapter Notes: The end is drawing near and I am indeed dragging my feet just a little bit. I'd really adore some feedback even if it's just a little SMILEY FACE in the reviews. It's good to know I was heard. It's shorter this time. I ran it by the Beta, and well, it's about time, and it was a good stopping point.
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to anat-astarte for making me do it again until it is right and encouraging me when it's right the first time around. Thank you if you're still reading, or new to reading. I really appreciate it. (School is going well, but I'm EXHAUSTED!)
The Curtis' cooking was amazing. It would have been even better if I hadn't nearly fallen asleep at the dining room table. The decision was made for me that I'd be headed straight to bed after supper. Sciezka lessened the blow and helped me bow out gracefully, suggesting that the Elrics might want time alone with their teacher. Al suggested they adjourn to the library, just in case his brother got loud.
My original plan to send Mr. and Mrs. Curtis off in style was to cook them breakfast complete with Ma's muffins. I set the alarm, woke up, and as I was exiting the bathroom was told in no uncertain terms, "As your future wife, I'm ordering you back to bed."
"But I want to do it!" I protested.
Sciezka's mouth was set in an expression I'd come to know well. She wasn't budging. "I've got it handled, Jean. Now back to bed."
"Fine, you win," I replied as I put my hands up in surrender. I must have moved wrong as my shoulder seemed to catch fire.
"I saw that. It's still bad, isn't it?"
I nodded in reply. Once I got to the bed, ready to transfer, she moved toward me. I just had to accept the help as she took the weight of my legs. "I'm calling Jim."
I didn't have it in me to protest. When she's right, she's right.
The session with Jim did wonders. Before he started my regular range of motion exercises he examined my shoulders. "No permanent damage, but watch it. You'll need them for at least the next fifty years."
Between Jim, Winry and myself I knew we'd figure out some way to save me from wear and tear. I chuckled. My salvation was going to come down to them outvoting my own stubbornness.
We'd all sat down to dinner when the phone rang. Al hurried to get it. I was surprised when he called me to the phone. I figured it would be the Curtises checking in.
I excused myself from the table to take the call. It was Ron on the line.
"Jean, I'm glad you're home. Sorry to tear you away from your dinner," he started.
"Don't worry about it. It's good to hear from you. I've been ridiculously busy. How are you?"
He hesitated just a bit before answering, "Not great. Can you pencil me into your busy schedule to talk?"
His reply sounded forced. I considered my words carefully. Of course anything for a friend, I had just the thing, "Everyone has to eat. How does lunch in the faculty lounge sound? It'll be my treat."
He chuckled before replying, "That's the best offer I've had all week. Whenever works for you…"
"Tomorrow then, for lunch?"
"It's a date."
Dinner conversation was in full swing when I returned to the table. Sciezka arched an eyebrow, her standard, "What is it this time?" look.
I helped myself to some food first. Spaghetti with meatballs, one of Ed and Al's favorites, green salad and bread too. Someone had made sure there were was some left for me.
"That was Ron; no it's not an emergency."
"That's a relief," Sciezka replied.
"My schedule has been so packed. I feel like I've been neglecting him. His schedule's as bad as mine is."
Al smiled and said, "I'm glad it was nothing serious."
"I'm sure Ron understands," Sciezka added.
Al volunteered to clear the table and do the dishes. There are almost never any leftovers to put away; two growing boys in the house made sure of that. Sciezka teases that I do my fair share.
Before Ed had the chance to offer to dry I said to him, "I'll dry tonight."
He started to object, and then thought better of it, "Thanks a lot, my refresher course with Teacher was as bad as I'd imagined it."
Talking to Ron and the trouble I had getting around at the festival had started me thinking. I never asked about what happened from the moment I went down until I woke up in a hospital bed.
While Al filled the sink and started soaking the pots and pans I went outside for a cigarette. It wasn't a question of whether or not I had the courage to ask Al to see my records. I wasn't sure I wanted to know how close to dying I'd been.
"You're just in time, Jean. You don't have to help. You and Sciezka do so much for us. I'm just trying to earn my keep, even though you don't expect me to. It doesn't feel equivalent otherwise."
My nerves started in again. Al's just a kid and his life was finally normal. I would be asking him to help me make sense of my medical records, which I knew were probably pretty nasty. Researching them was one thing, but explaining them (to me) in detail in a way I could understand? I started to think I was about to ask too much of him.
"I figure I can get in some vertical time and help with the chores," I said as I grabbed hold of the counter and hauled myself up to stand. "I also have a favor to ask you, that is if you're finished with your class assignments."
"I'm ahead in all of my courses. I may do some reading after I finish up here. Mei found a great book on the medical applications of alkahestry."
I swallowed hard and then blurted out, "That's part of the favor…"
"Oh no! I'm sorry to have brought that up. You have so much to think about already! Please forget I said anything," he said, sounding dismayed.
"I went about this all wrong, Al. I was hoping you could explain some of my records to me. I've seen them, but even with biology and a medical dictionary, I wouldn't be able to make heads or tails of some of it."
He let out a breath, visibly relieved. "Jean, you had me worried. OF course I can do that. I feel bad I didn't offer…"
"You're fine. Relax. I'm going out for another cigarette. Meet you in the library? Or do we need table space? It's a thick file from what I gather."
I'd asked, and Al obliged, so why did I feel like my guts were full of lead as I took my first puff?
I paused in the doorway and saw Al sitting in the big leather arm chair with a pile of file folders on his lap. I pushed the sliding door to the side before rolling in slowly.
"Any particular reason why we're doing this tonight?" he asked.
I pulled my chair up next to him. He motioned to the chaise and waited until I transferred. I was still favoring my shoulder and I was sure he noticed.
"So why now?" he asked again pointedly.
I busied myself arranging my legs before answering. Did he really need an answer? However much it hurt to tell him why, he deserved to know why. "He called. It has to be something. I want to be prepared to answer any questions Ron has. I know I've blocked most of it out. I need to know sometime, right? May as well be now…"
"You're absolutely sure?"
"For Ron, yeah sure, but I want to know what we're up against too… me and Sciezka… it's only fair… and you and Mei. I want to be able to make an informed decision… and it's time. I can handle it."
Al sucked in a deep breath before starting, "You know yourself best. Stop me if you need something explained, or if you… you know, just need to take a break."
"It's a school night, but I reckon this is going to require a beer or two."
I started to transfer back to the chair and Al stood up abruptly, "I'll get them, Jean. Are you sure you're not stalling?"
Damn kid is far too perceptive. "Hand over the stack and I'll start reading. I'm a lot slower than you are. Can't very well give Ron advice when I've avoided the truth myself. Wouldn't be right."
I already had questions by the time Al returned. "I get that I was in bad shape when they brought me in, but what is hypovolemic shock? I know that exsanguination is 'bleeding out'."
"It means not enough blood volume… hand your records over," he said. "The tachycardia was because your blood volume was so low that your heart rate went up to fix it. Not enough blood was going in, so not enough blood was going out… your heart rate increased dramatically to compensate for low stroke volume…"
I cut in, "So how did they fix it?"
He quickly read down the page before replying, "Transfusions." Then his eyebrows shot up practically disappearing into his bangs, "Three from the blood bank, one from Feury, and one from Hawkeye."
"So I came close to dying?"
"Your heart stopped once in the emergency room and once in the operating room, the first time at least… you were medically stable for the other surgeries."
"Wait, what? I died?"
"Technically, yes. They had to perform CPR to get it going again. I heard that Hawkeye was ready to start lining up blood donors at gunpoint if they ran out of blood to hang for you until they got the internal bleeding stopped."
I attempted to crack a joke to lighten the mood, "I always donated to the vampires at HQ. I'm a universal donor which is good for everyone else but me. Did they really run out of O negative at a military hospital?"
"Just about," he replied meekly.
"At least I was in demand somewhere…"
"Are you sure you want to know what they had to do in the trauma room and the first surgery to stabilize you medically?"
"May as well, Al, maybe it will help on bad days? Even at my worst now, I'm glad to be alive."
"Just be ready," Al warned. "This is brutal… the first surgery took out part of your large intestine, not by much, but still… and sutured it back together. Your liver had a small laceration that was repaired. It's a miracle that your kidneys weren't destroyed. Your spleen was nicked, so that had to come out. I'm amazed that there wasn't more damage. Thankfully the nature of Lust's 'Ultimate Lance' spared you from more impairment. From what I observed, it came out smooth. Not like pulling out an arrow… after that, they waited until your vital signs were improved to do any more work. You still had bone shards from your vertebrae pressing on your spinal cord…"
"You were still in intensive care when they did the initial clean up of the initial trauma."
I asked incredulously, "There was more? There were two surgeries after I was scraped off the pavement?"
"They had to. They stopped the internal bleeding and kept you under heavy sedation with medication, so you wouldn't move around. Looking at your charts, I think they hoped that removing the bone shards would take the pressure off your spinal cord and stop the swelling."
"So looking at the x-rays…"
"It was a given that the initial injury damaged the cord at the lateral grey horns, so there was nerve damage immediately, and in the peripheral nerves too," Al stated matter of factly. "Your pain now, that's where I'm fairly sure is where the spinous processes were snapped off or chipped… the transverse processes too. So the cord wasn't completely transected."
"It may as well have been," I replied glumly.
He solemnly nodded in reply.
"So how long was I out?" I asked, not quite wanting to know.
"You were in intensive care for two days; you were only moved due to security issues."
"Was that Hawkeye again?"
"She made sure you had the same care… there were nurses in the room around the clock, and doctors were on call as well."
"So what then?"
"It looks like they kept you heavily sedated. Wow… the amount of morphine they cave you was massive. You spiked a fever for awhile, they administered antibiotics. That was probably an infection… I'm not surprised."
I started reading again where Al had left off and then asked, "So what is this adverse reaction to medication and psych consult about?"
Al stifled a laugh and nearly choked. Once he was composed he said, "You were hallucinating. A lot… and that was an understatement. You told Captain Hawkeye that she has really really nice boobs."
"Oh man, I really did that?"
He nodded, trying his best to not crack up.
"I think we're done here, Al. You're the best for helping me wade through all of this."
And we left it at that.
Sciezka was reading in the big armchair when I emerged from the library. She marked her page and put down her book when she noticed me. She looked me up and down and then said, "You look ok. Are you?"
I smiled, shifted my weight in the chair, and then gestured toward the front door.
"Well then, I'll join you. Want another beer?"
"That sounds like a plan, Sciezka. I feel kind of bad. You used to be so proper and refined. Now you're drinking lager out of a bottle."
"Perish the thought," she replied, snickering as she clutched her pearls.