Elliot's surgery was to take place two days after the conference. Lise insisted on staying with him in the waiting area outside the operating rooms. Elliot tried to refuse, saying that his parents would be showing up and it wasn't a big deal, but she could tell he was glad that she was there.
Elliot was dressed in a hospital gown and the covers were pulled over his lower body. She could take one look at his face and know how terrified he was. He clutched her hand in his until she could see her fingers turning purple. For somebody with weak fingers, he certainly had her in a death grip.
"I won't be able to hold your hand anymore when I wake up," he pointed out.
"I'll still hold yours," she promised him.
He gave her a squeeze and she squeezed back. She couldn't imagine what it must be like for him, knowing that after this surgery, he wouldn't be able to move his hands at all anymore. Under the circumstances, he was doing very well.
One of the nurses came by and introduced herself as Anita. She checked Elliot's blood pressure and clucked her tongue when she saw the value. "Getting a little anxious, are we?"
"Yeah, you'd think I was having surgery," he commented.
Anita smiled tolerantly as she thumbed through his chart. Lise noticed the nurse stopped when she got to the page that described what the operation would entail. Anita's forehead wrinkled in concern. "You'll be fine, Elliot," she said, but there was no conviction in her words.
Elliot just nodded.
Anita flipped a few more pages. "Says here you're a graduate student. What are you studying?"
"Math," he said.
"A mathematician, huh?" Anita mused. "Well, how interesting. I was just reading The Da Vinci Code and I thought the math in that book was fascinating."
"Fascinating?" Elliot said. Lise made an effort not to roll her eyes: Here we go again. "I think a better word to describe it would be 'erroneous'."
"Excuse me?" Anita said.
"I just have a problem with a book that compares questioning the existence of God to questioning the existence of i," he explained. "And for some reason, writers seem to think that mathematicians spend their days mulling over the Fibonacci sequence. I guess the Fibonacci sequence is the only thing in math that's simple enough for a writer to understand."
"I guess you didn't like the book," said a befuddled Anita.
"I didn't read it," Elliot said with a shrug.
When Anita had gone from the room, Lise smacked Elliot in the arm. "Was that really necessary?" she demanded.
"I fucking hate books and movies about math," he muttered. "They never get it right. These writers think just because they have a basic understanding of some scientific concept, they can apply it to general life situations. I mean, I honestly don't see how the uncertainty principle can be applied to, say, love." He shook his head. "People who don't understand math shouldn't try to write about it."
"Don't you think you're being a little arrogant?" she said.
Elliot smiled. "Well, maybe. Isn't that what you love about me?"
"I don't know, what does the uncertainty principle have to say about that?" Lise teased him.
Elliot tugged on her hand to bring her closer to him. She pressed her lips against his desperately, suddenly frightened that she might not ever be able to do this again. What if something went wrong during the surgery? She cupped his cheek with her free hand as she kissed him, trying to keep him close.
Lise jumped and pulled away from the kiss. A middle-aged couple was standing in the room, looking at them with frank concern. Lise wiped her mouth self-consciously.
"Mom, Dad..." Elliot said, his face turning red. "Hi..."
The awkwardness was palpable. Elliot's parents stayed by the door, waiting for their son to introduce them. Unfortunately, Elliot was too socially naive to know what was expected of him. Lise figured his own parents should have known better.
"I'm Lise," she said finally.
"I'm Jeanne Meyers," his mother said, holding out her hand. "This is my husband, Leo."
Leo Meyers nodded, "It's nice to meet you, Lisa."
"Lise, actually," she corrected him. "I was named after Lise Meitner, the Austrian physicist."
"Really?" Elliot eyes lit with interest. "You never told me that..."
"What can I say?" Lise smiled. "My parents always wanted their daughter to be a scientist. I'm sure you wanted the same for Elliot."
"No, Elliot did all of that on his own," Jeanne Meyers sighed. "He was always reading math. All we wanted was for him to be healthy and happy." She looked very sad as she spoke.
"You're bringing down the mood in here, Mom," Elliot said.
"Maybe I should step out," Lise said, sensing the Meyers wanted to be alone with their son.
"Lise, no..." He grabbed her hand to prevent her from going.
"They're going to take you to surgery any minute," Lise pointed out. "You should have some time alone with your parents." She wanted to remind him, You didn't even want me to be here.
"Okay," Elliot agreed reluctantly. He grudgingly let go of her hand, but his eyes still begged her to stay. She had never seen him look so frightened. She wished she could stay, but she could tell his parents wanted to be alone with him and she couldn't deny them that. She told herself that the surgery would be a success and she'd see him again in only a few hours.
Jeanne Meyers always knew her only son Elliot was different from other kids. He was quiet for a boy and generally preferred to play by himself. Even as young as four or five, he would choose sitting alone with a book over playing with other kids at the park. Her husband Leo would offer to toss around a ball with Elliot, but the boy always refused. Jeanne was scared something was wrong with him, but the doctors assured her that he was perfectly normal.
But when he was seven, she found out that wasn't true. An IQ test was administered through the school and her son was found to be a genius, although it wasn't that big a surprise by then. Leo was thrilled that their son was so bright, although he wasn't quite sure how it happened. Jeanne was the only one who recognized that such intelligence could be a mixed blessing. Elliot was unable to relate to other children his age. He had a tendency to get easily irritated by people who he deemed "stupid"... unfortunately, this included nearly all of his peers. She remembered meeting with his teacher when he was in fourth grade: Mrs. Meyers, your son is very disrespectful of the other students in the class. Not all of them are at the same level as him.
Jeanne tried to sit nine year old Elliot down to discuss this problem, but she could tell that even with his high IQ score, he couldn't understand basic social interactions. I was just trying to explain to them multiplication of fractions, Mommy. It's so easy.
True, math was so easy for him, but other things weren't. As he got older, Elliot began to realize what he was doing wrong, but it was too late by then. He was years behind all the other kids in knowing how to act in basic social situations and Jeanne suspected he just gave up.
Elliot pretended that he preferred a life of isolation, but Jeanne knew otherwise. Her son couldn't help his inability to connect with other people. Only Jeanne sensed that he was lonely and desperately wanted another human being that he could relate to. Elliot kept these thoughts to himself, for the most part, but opened up to his mother on one occasion, after the first surgery on his spinal cord at age 16 left him dependent on legbraces in order to walk.
Mom, he had said tearfully, the other kids are going to think I'm a freak.
You'll just have to prove otherwise, she told him.
Nobody talks to me already, Elliot said bitterly. And now I'm the crippled kid.
Her heart ached for him. She had tried her best to comfort him, but he had been absolutely right, as usual. His disability served to isolate him completely. And after the second surgery left him unable to walk, bound to a wheelchair permanently, Jeanne feared that her only son would stay a lonely bachelor for the rest of his life. She knew Elliot thought so, at least.
When she saw that pretty girl kissing her son, she felt a spark of happiness for the first time since Elliot had told her the tumor had returned. Jeanne could see in his eyes that he cared about this girl very much. And the girl seem to feel the same way about him.
Jeanne sat by her son's bedside and put her hand on his arm. "Lise seems lovely," she commented.
"Yeah," Elliot murmured.
"She's your girlfriend?"
His face flushed. "Yeah, she is."
"Good for you, son," Leo spoke up.
Elliot was looking down at his hands, making fists then straightening his fingers out again. His Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed hard. "It's going to be a tough few months ahead."
"It's going to be fine," Jeanne tried to reassure him. "I've been reading up on the internet and it seems like you're going to be able to do everything just like before."
Jeanne smoothed her son's tousled dark hair, inherited from her side of the family. She wished she could do something to make everything all right for him. Unfortunately, Elliot had never been easy to comfort, even when he was a small child. He was way too smart for that.
Jeanne sat in the waiting room, her hands clasped together. Elliot was nearly an hour into his surgery, and while it wasn't a particularly risky surgery, she was still very scared. Elliot was her only child, after all, and she couldn't bear the thought of anything happening to him.
The girl, Lise, was sitting across from them, looking nearly as worried as Jeanne felt. That was Elliot's girlfriend. Jeanne still could hardly believe it; even though she had prayed for him, she had thought her son would never find himself a girlfriend. Lise was quite attractive too, Jeanne noted. I wonder what she sees in him, she wondered. She felt guilty for thinking such things, but she knew how Elliot treated most people.
Jeanne felt a flash of worry when she saw Dr. Black enter the waiting room. There was still a significant amount of time left in the surgery and it could only be bad news that he was coming out here early. "What's wrong?" Jeanne asked.
"Mrs. Meyers, Mr. Meyers," Dr. Black began, "I've discovered that the tumor in Elliot's spine is much more extensive than I originally thought."
For a second, Jeanne felt that she couldn't breathe. She loosened the top button on her blouse and tried to focus on what the doctor was saying. Oh god, please let him be okay...
"What do you mean?" Leo growled.
"In order to get it out, I'm going to have to remove more than I had intended," the doctor explained. "Now I could close Elliot up and we could perform another surgery if he wants it, but there are risks involved with that and we wouldn't be able to operate right away. As his next of kin, I need to know: should I remove the tumor or should I wait?"
Jeanne had this terrible feeling that this might be the most important decision they would ever make for their son, since the day they decided to conceive a child.
"What will happen to him if you remove the whole thing?" Leo asked.
"I can't say for certain," Dr. Black said. "But unfortunately, I can guarantee his disability will be quite severe. However, if you wait, the tumor will only enlarge and he may wind up worse off in the end."
"What would you recommend, doctor?" Jeanne asked in a small voice.
"I think we should get it out now," Dr. Black said.
Leo glanced at his wife for a second before nodding. "Okay, do it."
Jeanne felt sick. His disability will be quite severe. Elliot expected to wake up with his fingers paralyzed, but how would he feel when he woke up to find that he couldn't move his arms? It was hard enough for Elliot to live with a disability, but Jeanne knew his biggest fear was losing his independence. This was going to destroy him.
Jeanne's eyes met Lise's. Lise looked like she was going to break down crying at any second. She's upset, Jeanne thought, but she's not his mother. They'll break up someday and she'll never have to worry about him again. For a moment, Jeanne felt angry at Lise for being there and wished she'd leave to let them have the privacy to grieve over their son. But her anger was quickly overwhelmed by the tears rising in her eyes.
Leo took her hand, "It was the right thing to do. This will be the last surgery."
Jeanne nodded, trying not to think back to her son's first surgery ten years earlier. They had to hire a contractor to make their home wheelchair accessible. She had cried when she first saw the ramp leading to their front door. Leo had put his hand on her shoulder and said, At least the tumor is out and he's okay. How wrong he had been.
What if Elliot came home as a high quadriplegic? What if he couldn't feed himself or dress himself anymore? What if he needed one of those wheelchairs controlled by his mouth? She supposed no matter what, he'd adjust, the same way he adjusted after the other two surgeries. Jeanne vowed to do whatever it took to make the transition easier for him.
To be continued...