Annie sat in the bed, a tense nervousness running through her muscles. Ten minutes. The company shrink would arrive in ten minutes. She wasn't looking forward to this; even knowing that the woman was there to help didn't alleviate the tension at the idea of having to go through this with a stranger, a professional stranger at that, trying to talk to her. Hell, she could only just handle talking to Auggie, the closest friend she had, and even him she couldn't tell everything.
Auggie hadn't been in yet this morning, because he knew she had her first 'appointment'. He had promised to come by after her appointment was done. It was three days since her last surgery, and they had been talking about moving her out of the bed for a little while this afternoon, depending on how she was feeling.
She heard footsteps approaching, and turned her head to the door in time to see a well-dressed woman in her late thirties with dirty blond hair pulled back in a loose bun enter the room, closing the door behind her.
"Hi, Annie, I'm Doctor Daniels, but please call me Cheryl," she said, stepping to the bed and holding out her hand to shake with a genuinely friendly smile, and Annie felt a tiny amount of the fear melt away.
"Hi,' Annie mumbled, feeling shyer than she ever had on one of her (numerous) first days at a new school. She didn't want to like this woman, but she already tell that Cheryl was the sort of person she could easily get along with.
"So," said Cheryl, pulling the chair down to the foot of the bed so they could sit facing each other without Annie feeling crowded, tucking her briefcase under the bed, "How are you feeling?"
"I don't really know," Annie said slowly.
"Let's start off easy – how are you feeling physically?"
"Tired and sore, but better than I was," she replied softly, avoiding the doctor's eyes.
"How have you been sleeping?"
"Alright, I suppose," Annie said slowly, uncertain what this woman wanted to hear.
"Any nightmares?" the query was gentle, caring, but Annie had to keep herself from physically flinching.
The nightmares were coming more and more often; last night she had woken no less than six times to find that the nightmare didn't actually end when she opened her eyes. Simple things that she had taken for granted just weren't possible anymore; before when she had nightmares she would either toss and turn to find a cold place in her bed or she would get up and do some form of exercise; Tai Chi or something similar. She wasn't even able to turn over her pillow without assistance, and she felt guilty for asking the nurses to do that in the middle of the night. At least she seemed to have mastered the art of silent dreaming – she no longer woke up to a nurses hand on her shoulder and a sedative in her drip.
"Some," Annie offered guardedly when she realized she hadn't actually answered the question yet.
"They're to be expected; your mind is adapting to a huge life change and it's trying to figure things out using your subconscious. If they keep you from sleeping too much, though, we might want to look at some medication for that. Not just yet though, I think." Cheryl pursed her lips. "How are your family taking the news?" This, she had found, was often telling in how a patient would eventually cope, because, generally, a patient's family reacted to events the same way they would but in a much faster way.
"My sister's been by a few times, brought her girls to visit," Annie gestured to the glittery cards on the bench at the side of the room. "She's pretty upset, but trying not to let me see it. My parents…I actually haven't spoken to them yet, I don't know what to say, and I don't know if my sister has or not."
"Okay. Now, you know what the next months are going to entail?" asked the psychologist, leaning forward. She wanted to hear what Annie understood of how things would go from here, because hearing her articulate it would also give her a sense of how she was feeling about it.
"I start getting out of bed, this afternoon hopefully, and over the next couple of weeks I'll start on more intensive physio here in preparation for going to the rehab center, to be sure my body's up to the strain. At the rehab centre, I'll basically learn how to do everything over again, everything I need to live and work and…everything." She finished with a shrug. "Then I guess I find an apartment, go back to work and get on with my life, or what's left of it."
"That's a fairly accurate summation, as far as it goes," agreed Cheryl. "Well, our time for today is just about up, but I'll be back to see you in two days and we'll talk more then." There came a gentle tap on the door and Cheryl stood, opening it. "Auggie, how nice to see you again," she smiled, genuine pleasure in her voice.
"Cheryl, I didn't know they'd assigned you to Annie," Auggie replied, smiling as he held out a hand, which the therapist gave a quick shake.
"Well, I'm just on my way out, I'll see you both soon, I'm sure." Turning back to the bed, she smiled and raised a hand to Annie, who waved in return, then she slipped out of the door past Auggie.
"Hey, Annie," Auggie's voice was gentle, soft. "How are you feeling?"
"'m okay, Auggie," she murmured, turning her head to look at him in the doorway. "You know Cheryl?"
"Yeah, she was my therapist after Tikrit," Auggie replied softly as he made to move into the room.
"Oh, she moved your chair," Annie said quickly, and Auggie paused, carefully swinging his cane around in a full arc, attempting to locate the missing seat. "It's at your five o'clock, two more steps in front of you – by the foot of the bed."
"Thanks," Auggie said, moving into the room and quickly locating the chair, pulling it back up to its normal position and sitting down facing Annie. "So, how are you feeling, really?"
"Rung out," Annie admitted softy. "It wasn't even particularly tough, but I guess I was just so nervous that I exhausted myself anyway."
"Yeah, I remember that feeling," Auggie agreed, thinking back to his own first session with the therapist. He'd felt like a limp rag by the end of it, and it hadn't been the toughest session he'd faced, by far.
Annie sat in silence for a long moment, thinking, then turned her head to look at her friend. "I hate this," she muttered to him, and he nodded silent acknowledgement.
"So," he said, tone upbeat as he tried to turn both the conversation and her mood around. "Are you ready to get out of that bed?"
"Oh, god, yes," she grinned suddenly, her tone raw longing.
Auggie chuckled and raised her hand to his lips, brushing a kiss along her knuckles. "Patience is a virtue, my dear," he reminded her, and she groaned at his over the top RP English accent.
"Whatever, you're not the one stuck in bed sucking all your meals through a straw," she groused back, even as her cheeks stained red from the kiss.
"Been there, done that," he grinned at her, his boyish expression startling a giggle out of her and pulling her right out of her bad mood. "Now, what shall we do to pass the time?"
"Oh, I have chess," Annie grinned, remembering the board that her sister had brought for her, glad to be able to surprise Auggie. She reached out only to find, to her frustration, the table was just out of reach. "Damn it," she muttered, fingers twitching as though she could pull the table, and its contents, closer by use of the force.
"What's wrong?" asked Auggie, and Annie growled.
"I can't reach the table, the nurses keep moving it around and it's just out of reach!" The frustration in her voice was a palpable force, and Auggie's eyes closed against the anger in it.
He took a long, slow breath, then another, hoping that the pattern would pass on to Annie, who he knew was as ready to explode as a dry powder keg, and that this could easily be the trigger that made her blow.
Annie felt the rage and frustration at her hopelessness, her uselessness, rise, and all she really wanted to do was scream, but at the same time she didn't, she didn't want to scream, knew that screaming was pointless and wouldn't actually make her feel better. She fought against the temptation, trying to slow her breathing, and she became aware, slowly, of the soft, rhythmic sound coming from her handler, and found herself matching her breathing to his, anchoring herself with the sound as she would anchor herself to his voice in her ear during a particularly stressful moment. Slowly, the anger receded until she was calm again.
"Thanks," she mumbled, and Auggie just nodded before he stood and made his way around the bed, his right hand sliding along the blanket, keeping him oriented, while his left swept the air in front of him, looking for the table. He found it just as he came round the foot of the bed, and carefully propelled it forwards and in, towards the bed. After a moment, he encountered slight resistance, and Annie spoke. "I've got it, thanks, Auggie."
"You're welcome," he replied, returning to his chair by the same route. He didn't make any of the stupid comments people had made to him during his convalescence, about 'see how easy it can be?' when they helped him do something he had been despairing of or angry about. Nothing had set his temper off faster than those little statements, grating on his nerves and making him want to curse them roundly. "So, chess?"
"Yeah, Danielle thought since you were spending so much time here we should have something to do, and she went and found us this," Auggie could hear her opening a box, then she took his hand and raised it to the table, running his fingers over the surface of the board so he could see what she had. It was a chess board, one with raised edges on each of the squares and small holes in the center of each, and the letters and numbers in Braille. She then passed him a piece, a knight by the feel of it, and when he turned it over in his fingers he found the small Braille letter 'B' at its base. "That's not all," Annie told him, taking the piece and placing it on the board. There was a soft beep, then from the board came, "Black knight to E4." "And if you press the button here, it will give you a full run down of every position on the board." She guided his fingers to the button positioned in the right hand corner of the side of the board facing him. "So, shall we play?"
They had finished their first game by the time lunch appeared, Auggie just barely beating Annie and both laughing hysterically because Auggie had come up with an odd rule that stated that whenever you took an opponent's piece you had to tell them a funny or embarrassing story to make up for it.
A couple of minutes after her lunch tray had been collected, Jess, Annie's PT, and an orderly appeared in the doorway of her room with a wheelchair.
"So, Annie, you ready to get out of bed?" asked Jess.
"Definitely," Annie replied.
"Okay, well if your friend here could move out of the way," Auggie stood, releasing Annie's hand and unfolding his cane, using it to maneuver until he was standing in the corner, facing back towards Annie. He heard the bed whirring, he assumed as they lowered it to make transfer easier, then heard her pained grunt.
"Later, of course, you'll learn to do full transfers on your own," Jess told Annie conversationally as she closed the heplock on Annie's drip and disconnected it from the IV catheter in her hand before she and the orderly lifted the blond bodily into the chair. "For now, you'll just have to let us help." Annie grunted acknowledgement of her words, too busy trying not to make audible sounds of pain for Auggie to hear.
"There we go," Jess said as she swung the side of the wheelchair back down into place. "Now, have you ever used a wheelchair before?"
"Just in school, you know when they made us do those 'learning what it's like' days," Annie replied with a shrug.
"Okay, well for today, we're not going to go very far," Jess told her. "You're going to learn to turn and go in a straight line. You'll learn how to handle things like doors later. So, I'm going to push you down to the end of this hallway here, don't worry it's only about ten meters. You put your hands here, on the wheel grips," she positioned Annie's hand, showing her not to grip. "Be careful you don't grip them when you're being pushed, you'll quickly regret it. I only want you touching them so you can see which way each wheel is moving, okay?"
"Okay," Annie replied, determined and feeling better now that she was actually situated in the chair, the pain in her back receding to a dull throb. She concentrated on the feel of the wheels under her hand, carefully memorizing the way each moved depending on the way the chair turned, or went straight ahead. By the time they reached the end of the hallway and turned her back to face her room it seemed like an immense distance, but Auggie was waiting for her in her doorway, both hands resting on top of his cane as he 'watched', his head turned slightly to one side and his face lit with his most encouraging smile, one she'd seen once or twice before.
Hands now firm on the wheel grips, she pushed herself forwards. The throbbing in her back intensified with the motion, but the chair did move, not far or fast but it moved. Inch by inch she made her way back down the hall, panting with the struggle. This was nothing like as easy as it looked, that was for sure. The chair was awkward, square and stiff, and the wheels resisted her movements. She could tell that if she could just get enough force behind it, they would start to turn freely, and everything would become much easier, but she couldn't work up enough speed to reach that threshold, her body too weak to supply her needs, so she made her way labouriously back towards her best friend. By the time she was halfway there she was drenched in sweat and breathing as though she was running a marathon. By the time she drew even with Auggie she was as limp as a noodle. Jess was beside her, coaching her, but all of Annie's attention was on two things – the next turn of the wheels, and the encouraging, understanding expression on Auggie's face as he patiently awaited her return.
"Auggie, I just need you to move out of the door," she panted to him, and he nodded, carefully backing up three paces on an angle, which placed him inside the room to the right hand side of the door, still facing her. She concentrated then on moving the right wheel forwards and the left backwards, and inch by agonizing inch she turned on the spot. When she was finally done, she collapsed, panting, in the chair, needing to rest before attempting the last leg of her journey, the Everest like two-meter trek to her bed.
"You can do it, Annie," Auggie told me softly. Annie suddenly had an image of what his own PT may have been like, learning to navigate a simple hallway much like she was. At least she could clearly see where she was going, and if the wheelchair was stiff, it kept her going straight until she wanted to turn, neither of the wheels turning faster than the other. That image gave her the determination to prove him right, and she pushed at the wheels, not harder but still determinedly, and finally reached the bed.
"Great job, Annie," Jess told her. "Lets get you back in bed, and get you some pain meds, because you must be hurting right now."
Annie just nodded, limp with exhaustion, hair plastered to her head with sweat. Back on the bed, she allowed her head to fall back on her pillow with a sigh of discouragement.
"That was very good, better than most people manage on their first attempt. You made it all the way back to your room in almost record time," Jess told her encouragingly as she made her way around to the IV and started reconnecting it. "The nurse is going to give you a sponge bath, then I'll come back and do your massage. And here we go," she hit the button and the pain meds booster shot of pain meds went into Annie's blood stream. "That'll help with the pain from the strain. You're learning to use a whole different set of muscles, as well as causing some aggravation to your still healing injuries. You will be hurting, but now is the time to start, before you start losing the condition you had by spending too long in bed. We've found that the sooner patients are able to start, the better their outcomes are."
"Yeah," Annie replied, teeth gritted. Jess just smiled, keeping her very real sympathy off her face, and left the room, the orderly following. Once Auggie had heard them leave, he made his way back to Annie's side and took her hand.
"How are you feeling? That sounded exhausting." Her hand was damp with perspiration, and shook slightly from strain.
"It was hard, but…I was out of bed," the tone of triumph, even mingled with the inevitable exhaustion and pain, was good to hear. "I think I need to get a better wheelchair, though, that thing was a piece of crap, and damn uncomfortable to boot."
"Well, you'll need to get your own eventually, but I suggest waiting a while. They'll be able to work out exactly what you need at the rehab center, and help you pick it out."
"Yeah, you're right, of course," Annie agreed. "I just…that one is so bad!"
Auggie just smiled sympathetically. While trying to learn to move in a crappy wheelchair wasn't a situation he could quite empathise with, the simple fact of relearning was one he knew very well.
"Alright, sir, time for you to go and have a coffee, or a meal, or something," a nurse told him suddenly from the door, her voice light with an obvious smile. "We'll be about half an hour, then you can come back in."
"Go on, Auggie," Annie squeezed his hand gently. "You didn't get lunch yet, anyway."
"Alright, warrior woman. I'll be back in half an hour." He stood, and leaned over the bed, running one hand up her arm to cup her cheek and, leaning in, pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead. "I'm proud of you," he whispered, then left.