Six Months Later

Aidan sat in his wheelchair in the waiting room of the clinic in Berlin. The walls of the room had once been white, but now they were almost gray with dirt. There was a odor in the room that caused Aidan's nose to twitch—he finally identified it as excrement mixed with sulfur.

Maybe this is a mistake, Aidan thought. He looked down and saw that he had started tapping his foot anxiously against the footrest of his chair. Soon he wouldn't be able to do that anymore. In only a few hours, he'd be a complete T12 paraplegic, just like he had always wanted to be.

A woman with a slight moustache in a white nurse's uniform walked into the room. "Herr Guttenberg?" she asked.

"No, I'm Aidan Randall," Aidan said, fear penetrating his voice.

"Yah, of course, Aidan Randall," the nurse said in heavily accented English. "I take you to surgery now."

Aidan allowed the nurse to wheel him out of the waiting room, down to the OR at the end of a hallway. The entire office smelled faintly of urine and Aidan heard a pipe dripping somewhere. Maybe this is a mistake, Aidan thought again.

But he knew he was going to go through with it. He had wanted this for so long and it was worth everything for even the slightest possibility that he might get to be a real paraplegic. He hadn't found any doctors in the US who could do this operation for him, so this was his only choice. He woke up every day excited about his new life.

They reached what appeared to be the operating room. It was a small room with some antique-looking machines and cracked paint on the walls. There was a stretcher in the middle of the room and an overweight man with a mask on was putting on gloves. This man was the surgeon, Dr. Knefler.

"Get on stretcher," the nurse instructed Aidan.

I must be crazy, Aidan thought as he transferred onto the stretcher. He lay down and watched the surgeon and the nurse exchanging a string of rapid German. Aidan gripped the sides of the stretcher, his heart pounding in his chest.

Dr. Knefler walked over to him and flashed him a broad smile. "Good night, Herr Randall," he said, pressing the gas mask against Aidan's face.


Aidan woke up hours later, feeling very dizzy, his mind clouded. He slowly became aware of the lack of sensation in his legs. He tried to test them by attempting to flex his knee, but he could tell nothing was happening. He smiled to himself. The operation was a success.

He blinked his eyes a few times before they focused themselves, bringing into view the cracked ceiling. Aidan watched a small drop of water forming on the ceiling and as it gathered weight, it plummeted and landed on his cheek. He tried to wipe it away, but his arm wouldn't obey his command. His right arm lifted barely an inch off the table before falling back down.

Aidan tried to lift his other arm and got a similar result. He frowned, confused. The anesthetic they gave him must have been stronger than he had thought. He attempted to make a fist with his hand, but he suddenly realized that he couldn't move or feel his hand at all.

Aidan felt panic growing inside him. Something had gone wrong during the operation, he was sure of it. "Doctor!" he screamed. "Nurse!"

He was screaming for a good fifteen minutes before Dr. Knefler entered the room. By that point, Aidan had discovered that in addition to his legs being completely paralyzed, his arms seemed to be paralyzed as well. He could move his shoulders a little bit, but not his hands, wrists, or elbows.

"Operation is a success, yah Herr Guttenberg?" Dr. Knefler said.

"My name is Randall," Aidan said through his teeth. "And can you please tell me why I can't move my arms at all?"

"Yah, is C4 spinal cord," the surgeon said.

Aidan stared at him, his heart sinking. "C4? I asked for T12!"

Dr. Knefler shook his head. "No, is C4."

Aidan felt nauseated. Somehow there had been a misunderstanding and the doctor had turned him into a quadriplegic. That wasn't what he wanted. As much as he liked being in a wheelchair, he had never wanted to be that dependent. Aidan knew a lot about SCI and he knew that a C4 quad was capable of only extremely limited independence. Thanks to this screw-up, Aidan was going to need full time care for the rest of his life.

"Time to leave," Dr. Knefler said to him.

"Huh?" Aidan said. His mind was still whirring.

"Next patient having surgery," the surgeon said irritably. "You go home."

"I can't go home!" Aidan nearly screamed. "I can't even wheel my chair anymore."

Dr. Knefler called in the nurse and despite Aidan's protests, they placed him in a manual wheelchair and left him out in the hallway. Aidan felt extremely dizzy and sick—he thought he might pass out for a second, but he didn't. They had only strapped him into the chair at the waist, so his upper body fell forward involuntarily. Aidan sat there that way for about half an hour, until another nurse came in and lay him down on a bed in another room.

I deserve this, Aidan thought bitterly, as he lay in bed, unable to even scratch his nose. He had no idea how he was going to get back home and what he would do when he got there. He only knew that his dream was officially over.

To be continued....