The next time I opened my eyes I thought I had gone blind. Everything was black. My heart quickened and I started to panic. But then I realized that no, my eyes weren’t open at all, they were still shut. I tried to open them again but my eyelids would not budge. I had no idea what was going on and it scared me. Every time I got scared my heart would speed up, which in turn made some humming machine beside me sing with rapid beeps. I tried to move the rest of my body, any part of my body, but to no avail. I felt panicky all over again and the machine was feeding off of my fear. I heard footsteps. A woman’s voice hummed “You Are My Sunshine” as the squeak of shoes drew nearer. I heard a small tinkling sound directly beside me that I could not identify. The footsteps then turned the around and slowly faded away. Suddenly I felt very tired, and soon I could no longer distinguish between the darkness of my closed eyes and the overwhelming darkness of sleep.
That damned machine was beeping again. The incessant noise drew me out of what felt like the deepest sleep of my life. I opened my eyes, this time for real. Everything was just a white blur. I blinked and tried to let my eyes refocus. Slowly the white blur turned into a white ceiling. Where the hell was I? I tried to turn my head to the side to see my surroundings, but I couldn’t. It almost felt as if my head was bolted in place. The noisy machine triggered footsteps yet again. Only this time there was no soft melody that followed, only the squeak of rubber-soled tennis shoes greeted me.
I strained my eyes to see who this new intruder was. I didn’t have to strain for long because a face peering down at me soon appeared. It was a man. Well, you couldn’t even really call him a man, he was more like a guy.
“Hi,” the face said. “My name’s Tucker. You can call me Tuck. I’m one of your nurses.” I looked at his deep brown hair which was styled ever so slightly with the smallest amount of gel and pushed to the left side of his head. I’d seen plenty of gay guys with the exact same hair. His hazel eyes were patient and gentle. “Can you tell me how you feel, Skelly?”
It seemed like ages since the last time I had spoken. I opened my mouth to tell him, “I’m fine. I just want to get the fuck out of here. Where’s the nearest exit?” but all that came out was a croak.
“It’s okay if your throat’s a little sore for now. The doctors had you hooked up to a ventilator but it’s been removed. You should be fine.’ His reassurance put me at ease and calmed me. But I still had questions that needed answers building up in my head rather quickly. “Where the hell am I? What happened?” and most importantly, “why can’t I move?”
Tucker spoke up again. This time I noticed his rather heavy southern accent. “Now I know you’re probably feelin’ a little scared right now and wonderin’ why you’re body feels so funny. But don’t you worry about that right now, you just relax. The doctor will tell you all you need to know.” I’d already come to the conclusion that he was most definitely gay. He had the tendency to flick his hands here and there when he talked and had a rather prissy manner about him. “I’ll be back in a little while to see how you’re doin’.”
With that said, the face above me disappeared. I heard Tuck close a door behind him. I assumed I was alone in the room. If I listened closely enough, though, I could hear faint hospital sounds in the background; gurneys rolling by, whispering nurses, the soft murmur of a TV show in the next room. The time I spent focusing on various little things helped me gather my wits and sharpen my senses. I rattled my throat as best as I could, trying to clear it. I then breathed in long and deep and slowly released the captured air. “Say something”, I thought to myself. “Say anything”. And I did. I managed to squeeze out the word ‘anything’. It was a start.
For the next half hour I practiced what questions I was going to ask over and over until I had the hang of speaking again. I was actually in the middle of a sentence when a man’s voice interrupted me. “Well, hello there. I see you’re finally awake and talking. That’s a good start.”
A face appeared exactly where Tucker’s had once been. Only this face was much older, with a graying beard and a full head of salt and pepper hair. “Skelly, I’m Dr. Martens. I’m going to examine you today to test the extent of your injury. Do you think you’re up to it?” It wasn’t so much a question I was supposed to answer, I guess, cause he didn’t wait for one. “But first, we’re going to talk about your accident. Do you remember anything at all?”
I took in a quick breath and then let it back out again. Even though I could talk again, it didn’t hurt any less. “Yeah, I guess so. I was going to the gas station…to get Ollie’s cigarettes before the show.”
“And then what, Skelly?” I paused.
“Well, I…I don’t really know. Then I was here.”
He wrote something down on a clipboard he was carrying. “Are you aware that you were driving that night under the influence of not only alcohol, but LSD and cocaine as well?”
That part I didn’t remember, but it sounded like something I would do. I stayed silent. Martens spoke up again. “Mr. Shepard, you’d better thank whatever good graces prevented you from harming the driver and passenger of the car you hit that night. My own daughter was killed by a junk-head driver such as yourself nine years ago, and I have not one ounce of pity for the condition you’re in now. In my opinion, you weren’t punished severely enough.” I was in quiet shock stemming from disbelief. The hard look in his eyes soften somewhat and he continued. “Well, what’s done is done. All I can do is try to help you from here.”
He set the clipboard down and held up a long, silver pin. “Skelly, due to the car collision you were involved in you suffered a broken vertebra at the C6 level. Do you know what this means?” To tell you the truth, I didn’t even know where a vertebra was. I suppose Dr. Martens realized this so he explained, “In other words, Skelly, you’ve broken your neck. The level that your neck is broken at corresponds with how much sensation you will have in which parts of your body. Without therapy, you will most likely never regain the use of your arms. Your legs will remain permanently useless, but we can still hope the best for your upper body. But even with therapy’s help, you’re arms will never be fully functional. It’s a good thing you’ve finally woken up, it will be good for you to start as soon as possible.”
All of the information Martens fed me after ‘useless legs’ did not even register. What? Was I….paralyzed? “Now then, this silver pin in my hand here will be used on several parts of your body to test your sensation. I’m going to start with your feet. Tell me when you feel the prick.”
I watched his face travel from the side of my view to the far end by my feet. Dr. Martens cleared his throat. “Do you not feel this?” I stayed silent and bit my bottom lip. He shifted a bit and asked me again, “Do you feel this?” The lower lip I was biting began to quiver. Martens moved again directly next to the left side of my head and shoulder. At that point I could see what he was doing. The silver pin was being pushed with gaining pressure into the soft flesh of my left forearm….and I couldn’t even feel it. A tear slipped from the corner of my eye and rolled down the side of my jaw. I watched the pin as it slowly made its way up to the middle of my bicep. I suddenly drew in a quick breath and gasped. “Did you feel that?” Martens looked over at me for verification.
My voice was barely over a whisper, “Yes, I felt it.”
“Good, it seems as though we’ve found your ‘invisible line’. You will most likely feel everything above this line but probably nothing below it. This level of damage has left you what is called a tetraplegic, or as you’ve probably heard, a quadriplegic.” He put the pin in his coat pocket. “Now just because this is all the sensation you have now, doesn’t mean that there’s no room for improvement. Therapy will be good for establishing what you can and can’t do or what you’ll need help with. You’ll begin occupational therapy after your neck heals up enough to take you out of that halo brace. By then you’ll be able to move your head around freely. Until that time, we’ll have one of your nurses help you with some in-bed exercises to get your blood circulating and ease some of the tension in your muscles.” He grabbed his clipboard and turned around. “Try to get some sleep, therapy tends to wear patients out. You’ll begin tomorrow morning.”
And with that he left. I couldn’t believe all that had happened in the past 15 minutes. I had officially become a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the middle of my biceps down to the tips of my toes.
I don’t even think I really believe what had happened, I just wanted to wake up again and start all over. Only this time, I wanted to feel my body. I wanted desperately to be able to get up from this hospital bed and run to Buckhead park just in time to play with the band then get stupid drunk afterwards. But as far as I knew, those days were over. How could I play my guitar if I didn’t have my hands? That last thought threw me over the edge. The few tears that escaped before became a gorge of salty drops running down my face and onto my neck, soaking the brim of my hospital gown. I even choked myself up a couple times from trying to keep my sobs as minimal as possible. I cried freely hoping no one would come in and see me like this. But what did it matter? I was already sure there would be much more humiliating situations than this to come. So I cried harder. I cried for the loss of my body and the loss of my independence. I did not welcome this new life I was thrust into. Eventually I cried myself to sleep and wasn’t aware when Tuck came in to clean up after me.
To be continued...