Listening

Dr. Andy Yablonski remembered him as the boy who had said thank you to him in the ER. His own words came back to him. "Save your applause until the end." Andy had recognized the signs of paraplegia. The boy had said that the pain was gone, and the he could not move his toes. Andy had hoped that his assessment was wrong, but the lab results had come back, and the nurse had told him that he was right. The boy would never walk again. Andy continued thinking about the boy as he walked the dim-lit halls of Three Rivers. As a teenager, he hadn't had played any sports. His home situation had prevented it, but as soon as he was a freshman in college, Andy understood why so many people his age were passionate about track, soccer, and football. Now this patient, whose name was Lionel Morales, would not experience that feeling again.

Andy's patient Brandon had a heart transplant, and now would live his life with his wife and children. His life was beginning again. Over the years, Andy had many paraplegic patients, and most of them had said that their lives were over as soon as Andy had made his diagnosis. This was not true, Andy personally believed. People in wheelchairs had productive lives and had been successful. He now wondered if Lionel would feel the same as with his patients in the past. He was surprised when Pam paged him and said that the former patient wanted to see him.

"Lionel?" Andy was now in the ER. The nurses had told him that the seventeen year old boy had not been moved. He saw that the IV pole had been removed from the boy's arm. Andy walked closer to Lionel's still form. The boy would not look at him. Andy hesitated, not certain if he should touch the patient. Suddenly the boy's head looked up, and he faintly smiled.

"I suppose I should be thanking you," Lionel's voice was oddly vacant of emotion. "Some of my teammates died, and some of them have horrific injuries." Andy inwardly flinched at the irony of his words. "I…" Lionel licked his lips, which were dry and scabbed from the water he had not been drinking. "I can't walk. I can't run. I can't jump, or do anything." His dark eyes stared into Andy's blue ones, as if he expected judgment, pity, or scorn. There was none. "I lost…" Suddenly the boy's lips trembled, and a whimper escaped from him. "I lost my legs. My legs." Tears slowly dripped down the boy's cheeks. "Since I was a small boy, I loved football. My father and I used to play the sport every day after he came home. He died five years ago of cancer, and now my mother and little sister will have to support me when I told them I would take care of them." The tears wet the sheets as Lionel's hands trembled. "Now I can't do anything for them," he whispered.

Lionel Morales' whole body was shaking. He's lost just as I was, Andy thought, remembering his horrific youth. Lionel has lost the use of his legs and now he will have a new life to begin, a new life he doesn't want to take. Slowly and carefully, not to scare the boy, Andy embraced him. For a moment Lionel was shocked, but then he calmed into Andy's soothing embrace. The boy continued to cry, soaking into Andy's white coat, but the physician didn't care. He didn't notice. All that mattered was his patient, Lionel.

When it was over, the boy's eyes were red and puffy. But there seemed to be a sense of release in his eyes. "Thank you, doctor," was all he said. He untangled his arms from Andy's own. He gave his attending doctor a watery smile.

"You're welcome," Andy told him.