Elliot sat in the examining room, waiting for the doctor to come in to talk to him. He kept shifting in his wheelchair, trying to get rid of the butterflies sensation in the pit of his belly. He knew he was going to get bad news. He could feel it.
Dr. Black came into the room and the look on his face confirmed Elliot's suspicions. Dr. Black sat down and folded his arms, "Elliot, the scan showed that the tumor is back."
For a moment, Elliot was scared he might throw up. He felt the bile rising in his throat, but he swallowed hard and pushed it back down. He had to be strong. He couldn't let this get to him. "How bad is it?" he asked.
"It's bad," Dr. Black admitted. "But I think we can remove it."
"You can?" Elliot nearly started crying with relief.
"But you have some choices to make," Dr. Black went on. "If we remove it like we did before, most likely it will come back like it did this time. How old are you now? Twenty-five?"
"Twenty-six," Elliot said.
Dr. Black nodded. "You don't want to go through this every five years. My suggestion is that we take the tumor out with a wide margin to make absolutely certain we get all of it."
"And what's the downside to that?" Elliot asked.
"It would involve removing a large chunk of your spinal cord," Dr. Black explained. "Right now you have some sensation in your lower limbs, but you'd lose most of that sensation. Your hands would probably be a little more affected than they are now as well. You won't be able to move your fingers at all."
Elliot stared at him. "Wow, that's..."
"I know that's a lot," Dr. Black said. "But every time you get a tumor like this, you're going to lose more of your spinal cord. If you don't get rid of it now, you could wind up even worse off in the future. You may get weakness in your wrists or even your upper arms. This way, we nip it in the bud and it never comes back."
"Right." Elliot closed his eyes, trying to focus on what the doctor was saying. It was so easy to focus when it was a math problem, but the doctor's words were hard to hold on to. "So, um... if I... if I lose my fingers completely, what... what will that mean?"
Dr. Black frowned. "I don't think I understand the question, Elliot."
Elliot couldn't even look at his doctor when he spoke, "Will I still be able to live by myself?"
"For the most part, yes," Dr. Black replied. "You will need to equip yourself with some adaptive devices, but you should still be able to use the same wheelchair, transfer independently, feed yourself, bathe... and even write with a pen. We'll put you in a physical and occupational therapy program that will help you with all these things. How do you manage your bowel and bladder right now?"
"I use a catheter to void and I stimulate a daily bowel movement," Elliot said.
Dr. Black nodded, "It may be difficult for you to insert the catheter on your own, but there are men who do it."
"That's good to hear." Elliot didn't like the idea of someone having to help him with something as intimate as his urination.
"Just in terms of planning this out," Dr. Black went on, "you're going to want to have someone around to help you out when you first come out of rehab."
"My parents live nearby," Elliot said thoughtfully, "I guess I'll move back with them for a little while..."
"I think that would be wise."
Elliot stared down at his fingers, trying to imagine what it would be like not to be able to move them at all. It would change his life, that was for sure. He couldn't imagine how he'd be able to do anything on his own anymore. Dr. Black was probably being optimistic in saying he'd be able to live on his own... at the very least, he'd need a part-time assistant.
"...schedule the operation as soon as possible," Dr. Black was saying.
"Huh?" Elliot had zoned out for a minute.
"The sooner we schedule the operation, the smaller the tumor will be," Dr. Black said gently.
"Right, right," Elliot breathed. He wanted to put this off as long as possible, but he didn't want to risk losing more than he had to. "Can... can I think about it for a few days?"
Dr. Black nodded, "Certainly. Take a few days. Call my office when you've decided what you want to do."
Elliot left the doctor's office and wheeled himself over to the front desk to give the copay. As he waited on line, he watched some kids playing in the corner of the waiting room and felt tears rising in his eyes. Fuck no. Don't cry. Not here, not in front of all these people.
He couldn't help it though. A second later, there were tears streaming down his face. He tried to hide it the best he could--he felt like an idiot crying in the doctor's waiting room. Thank god he didn't know anyone here.
"Are you okay, son?" Elliot felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up and saw the man in front of him on line was frowning with concern. The man was about his father's age, with a head of gray hair.
"I'm fine," Elliot managed.
The man pulled a dry tissue out of his pocket and handed it to Elliot. "Here."
The receptionist called for the next person on line and the man offered to let Elliot go ahead of him, but he refused. He needed a minute to compose himself. He couldn't even remember the last time he had started crying like this.
It was ridiculous that he was reacting this way. Okay, so he was going to be very badly disabled from now on. So fucking what? It wasn't like he needed his hands to do math. He was going to win a Fields Medal even if he lost both his arms. Like he always said, his office was his brain. That was all he needed.
But before he lost his hands, there was one last thing he wanted to do.
Elliot had never been to Lise's office before. It was one of the offices on the first floor that had only a tiny window, and she shared it with one of the other first year grad students. The office that Elliot and Peter had shared during first year was only a few doors down.
When he reached the office, he saw that the door was closed, but the light was on inside. He knocked, hoping to catch Lise inside.
Just as he was about to give up on her being there, the door opened and he saw Lise standing before him. She was dressed in jeans and a sweater, which curved around her figure. She had a great body. "Elliot!" her eyes widened with surprise when she saw him. "What are you doing here?"
"I wanted to talk to you about something," he explained.
That was when Elliot realized that Lise wasn't alone in the office. Brent came out of nowhere and was suddenly standing next to Lise. "What's up, Meyers?" Brent said, grinning like he had just aced his quals.
Elliot's face burned. "Sorry, you're busy..."
"No, it's okay," Lise said quickly. She turned to Brent, "Uh, would you mind giving us a few minutes?"
Brent didn't appear to be threatened at all by Lise's request. Clearly, he felt secure in his relationship. "I've got to get to class anyway," he said as he kissed her.
Elliot knew that he had upset Lise last time they had talked. He wanted to apologize and offer an explanation, but he couldn't tell her that the reason he got so upset when she saw him on the floor was that he had feelings for her. That was probably the last thing she wanted to hear.
"I need your help," Elliot said. He looked down at his legs. "That is, if you're not still pissed at me."
"Well, a little," Lise said, but she was smiling. "What do you need help with?"
"I decided I want to give the presentation at the AMS convention."
Lise's face lit up. "Seriously?"
"Yeah. I already told them."
Lise squealed, actually squealed. Then she grabbed him to hug him. Elliot knew he should have hugged her back, but instead he held onto the wheels of his chair so he didn't slip.
"One thing, though," he went on, "the only way I'll give the presentation is if... if I can walk up on stage and stand up through the whole thing." That was what he had decided in the doctor's office. If he wasn't going to have that surgery, he wanted to give one last presentation standing up. That was how he wanted to be remembered.
Lise frowned. "What? But you..."
"I can walk a little," he explained. "I need braces on my legs, but... I can do it. But it's been a while and I'm out of practice. I thought maybe you could... if you have some free time... maybe you could help me with that..."
Elliot saw Lise's mouth fall open and he nearly hit himself in the head. What a dumb thing to ask her to do. Why would a girl like her want to play physical therapist? It was bad enough he ever asked her to grade those problem sets. "Listen, forget it," he said quickly. "I don't really need help."
"I'd be honored to help you," Lise said.
Elliot blinked in surprise. "Really?"
"Just tell me what to do."
To be continued...