I first met Dan when we were assigned to the same project at work. I took an immediate liking to him, and the feeling seemed to be mutual. We were soon eating lunch together every day and chatting during breaks.
I enjoyed his company, and began inviting him to join me when I went to the movies, which I did often in those days. He never mentioned a girlfriend, so it didn’t surprise me that he was always available.
I’m a few years older than Dan and several inches taller. I also have an advanced degree. I don’t know which of those most influenced him, but as our friendship got closer he began coming to me for advice on a wide range of matters. It was soon apparent that he viewed me as a sort of older brother.
I liked that. It made me feel protective.
I started inviting him to join me not only at movies, but also in other leisure activities. It was not long before we were spending several evenings a week and at least a part of every weekend in some joint pursuit.
Chapter 1 – The Hike
So it was that on a warm, sunny autumn Saturday morning we were hiking together in a forest preserve. We had gotten an early start, and it was not yet 10 o’clock as we walked along several miles from the trail head. We were both captivated by the autumn colors, and were paying more attention to the leaves than to the trail under our feet.
I’m the more experienced hiker, and since I’m taller than Dan I also have a longer stride. I tried to hang back and match his slower pace but I tended to forget and wander a little way ahead, so when I heard his agonized yelp he was about twenty feet behind me.
I whirled around and saw him fall to the ground, clutching his foot.
I ran to him. He was moaning and rocking back and forth, holding the foot with both hands.
My first, horrified thought was that he had been bitten by a snake. I knew there were rattlers in the area, but if I had not been so panicked by concern for him I would have considered that even if we had startled a snake (unlikely – we had not been particularly quiet as we walked along), I would have been the one struck, because I had passed by before he did.
“What happened?” I asked, squatting down next to him.
Dan shakily replied that he didn’t know.
“OK” I said, grasping his leg, “Let me see. Take your hands away.”
He slowly withdrew his hands, still moaning.
I could see no puncture marks on his sock or on the sides of the hiking boot. I carefully drew the sock down as far as the boot would allow. The exposed skin was unbroken anywhere.
I looked closely at Dan’s hiking boots. They were made of a tough leather; no snake anywhere in this region could have penetrated them, and indeed there were no punctures. Nonetheless, something had happened.
“Looks OK so far” I told him. “Now I need to take your boot off. I’ll go slowly.”
I unlaced his boot, opened it wide, and very gingerly started to draw it off.
Dan yelled, and begged me to stop. I paused and said “Dan, I have to get the boot off so I can examine your foot”. Then I resumed manipulating the boot, being as gentle as possible.
By the time I finished, he was crying. I felt terrible. “All done” I told him, and softly stroked his head. “The boot’s off. I’m sorry it hurt so much.”
I cautiously removed his sock and examined the foot. It was a relief to see that there was no blood, no break in the skin, and no sign of subdermal bleeding. However, by the time I finished my examination, his ankle had swelled perceptibly.
I slowly lowered his leg, stretching it out straight and resting it on my rolled-up jacket to keep the ankle off the ground.
His crying diminished into sobs, and he turned a questioning, tear-streaked face to me, looking so childlike that I sat down, put an arm around him, and pulled him against me. “It’s ok, you haven’t been bitten by a snake” I said quietly. “And your foot isn’t badly injured.”
I was afraid that he might find my intimate gesture upsetting, but he didn’t object. In fact, his muscles slowly relaxed and his sobbing abated. Being held was soothing him.
I waited until he was calm. Then I took out my handkerchief. “Your face is all streaked” I told him, and wiped away the tears.
After I put the handkerchief away, he said “Thanks” and asked: “It wasn’t a snake?”
“No, there are no puncture marks.”
“So what happened, what’s wrong with my foot?”
“You must have twisted it” I answered.
I looked around and spotted a hole in the ground. “I think I see the cause” I said. “Some animal has dug a hole smack in the middle of the trail. You probably stepped in it and twisted your ankle. Either you’ve sprained it badly or you broke it.”
Dan turned pale at hearing “broke it”, so I quickly went on to say “If you did break it, it’s not a compound fracture. You’ll need to have it checked out, but you’re going to be alright.”
“How do you know?” he whimpered, “You’re not a medical doctor. And it hurts like hell.”
“I know it does” I said. “And no, I’m not a doctor. But I’m interested in medicine and I volunteered at a hospital for two years while I was in college. I learned a lot there. I know you have a sprain or a fracture because your ankle is swelling up. And I know it’s not a compound fracture because if it were, there would be signs of extensive bleeding under the skin, or worse.”
“What do you mean worse?” he asked.
“If it were a bad compound fracture, a jagged piece of bone would be sticking out through the skin. I definitely did not see that.”
I let the information sink in for a minute before adding: “This won’t be much of a consolation, but if I hadn’t taken the boot off when I did, it would have gotten more and more painful as the swelling got worse. It would have become intolerable, and by then pulling the boot off would have hurt a lot more than it did now.”
That seemed to satisfy him, and for a few minutes he was quiet, but suddenly he asked “How am I going to get back to the car?”
“We’ll need help” I answered, using “we” to remind him that he wasn’t alone in this. “Let’s see if there’s a cell phone signal.” I let go of him and fished my cell phone out of my pack.
I switched it on. The screen displayed “No Service”.
I could carry Dan a short way, but I didn’t even consider trying to carry him back the several miles we had come, and there was no way he could limp that distance even if I held him up. I could go for help myself, but I didn’t want to leave him there alone and scared, and anyway I was sure that help would eventually come to us: This was a Saturday, we were on a popular trail, and the weather was perfect. Other hikers would certainly be coming past here before long.
“No cell phone service” I informed him. “We’ll have to wait until someone comes by, but it shouldn’t be long.”
As I was speaking, I noticed that the light was beginning to fade. I glanced up and saw the sun disappearing behind a heavy overcast that was moving in rapidly.
Within minutes, it started to drizzle.
The forecast had been for a fair and sunny day, but the drizzle quickly gave way to rain.
“I need to get you out of this” I said, and silently thanked our luck that the injury had happened right at this spot. I pointed to a nearby rock formation that created a large enclosure, and said: “We can take shelter there. You’ll have to stand up so we can move quickly. I’ll help you.”
I slung both of our backpacks over my shoulder, got Dan up, and supported him as he began to hop toward the formation, wincing at every step. After a few hops he began to cry again and said “I can’t! It hurts too much!”
I lowered him to the ground and took off the backpacks. Then I slipped one arm under Dan’s shoulders, the other under his knees, and lifted him.
I carried him to the entrance of the enclosure, where I put him down. Looking in, I saw that there was a vertical back wall about five feet high, another bit of luck. I lowered Dan to a sitting position and helped him to slide back to the wall. It was slow work, and it was clearly a torment for him.
After making certain that he was sitting with his back firmly supported by the wall, I went out and got the packs. I put them on the ground near us and sat down next to Dan. The rain was falling heavily now, making it less likely that there would be someone coming by anytime soon.
At least the enclosure had a solid ceiling that kept the rain off us.
A few minutes after we had gotten settled, Dan announced: “I have to pee really bad, and I don’t think I could manage to get outside and back. To hell with it, I’m just gonna pee my pants.”
“There’s no need to do that” I informed him. “Just turn away and aim over there.” I pointed in a direction on the side opposite me.
I watched him undo his pants and turn partway onto his side. His arm moved, and from where I sat I was able to glimpse the first inch of his penis. My limited view showed me that like me, Dan is circumcised.
He released his stream and urine began to splash on the ground
When he finished, his arm moved again, his penis disappeared, and he turned forward.
Noticing that he had not reclosed his pants, I furtively glanced at the bulge that filled the front of his white briefs, and at the wet spot where the last drops of urine had dribbled out. I asked: “Did any of it get on you?”
“No” he said.
It seemed to me that he had said it uncertainly, so I pressed him further: “Did any run under you? I can help you move away. You shouldn’t sit in the wet. We’ll do it very slowly so it won’t be too bad.”
“It’s ok” he answered. “There’s a little bit near me, but nothing got underneath.”
With the rain there had come a cool breeze, chilling us in our wet shirts. Dan began to shiver. I unbuttoned his shirt and told him to lean forward.
After removing his shirt, I took mine off as well and directed him to put his hands on the ground.
“Why?” he asked, afraid of what new torture I might be about to inflict.
“You’re chilled. I need to move you so I can sit down behind you and help you get warm. First I’m going to shift you sideways, further away from the urine so I can spread my legs. Ready?”
Perceptibly frightened, he put his hands on the ground and said “OK”.
I grasped him just above the waist and pulled him about two feet sideways. Then I said: “Now I’m going to move you out from the wall. I’ll pull you by your legs, but I’ll be careful not to touch the ankle. Here goes.”
I grasped his lower legs and slowly pulled him a few feet from the wall. Then I sat down behind him, extending my own legs to either side of his body, and moved back until I made contact with the wall.
I reached over to my pack and took out two of the contingency items that I carry on hikes: a towel and a lightweight blanket. I dried his back and shoulders before drying my own upper body. Then I grasped him around the abdomen and pulled him back until I felt his buttocks make contact with my crotch.
Telling him to lean back, I reached around and dried his chest. After that I drew the blanket around us, noticing that when I had pulled him backward along the floor, it had forced his pants further down. Either he didn’t notice or he didn’t care.
Dan’s head was touching my shoulder. I could feel that his hair was wet. I used the towel, already damp from previous use, to dry it as best I could.
I was shocked by how cold he felt. I slid an arm around his chest, under the blanket. “Make as much contact as possible” I told him. “It will warm you up faster.”
He seemed to welcome the close contact. I liked it too.
I had never seen Dan without a shirt, so the smoothness of his chest against the skin of my arm was a revelation. I had to resist the urge to run my hand over it. I could also feel that he was more muscular than he appeared when fully dressed.
As Dan lay against me, his shivering gradually stopped and his skin began to lose its coldness. Attempting a smile, he turned to me and said: “Thanks, I’m warm now. This feels good.”
I smiled back at him and replied “Glad to help”.
Although I was sitting behind Dan, his head was not turned fully forward, and his frequent grimaces were visible. Obviously, his ankle hurt very badly. It tore me up to see how much he was suffering.
I took my arm from around his chest and fished from my backpack two other things I take with me on hikes: analgesic gels for minor but uncomfortable injuries, and antihistamine capsules for my allergies, which are triggered big time when certain plants are in season.
The analgesic package specified two gels. I handed them to Dan, along with eight antihistamine capsules and my water bottle. “These will help” I told him.
Chapter 2 – Brief Comfort
I had given Dan four times the maximum dose specified on the antihistamine package, because I was not using it to combat any allergies he might have: The package warned that taking more than two capsules would “cause drowsiness”, and it was this side effect that I wanted to make use of. In fact I wanted to produce more than drowsiness: My aim was to put Dan to sleep. I was confident that eight capsules would not be too much, because the amount of antihistamine in two of those capsules was just about half the dosage in a sleep aid that uses this particular drug, so I knew that even eight capsules would be well below the danger threshold for an adult male.
He took everything I gave him without even asking what it was.
Neither of us had eaten anything since a very early breakfast, so the medications worked quickly. It was not long before his anguished grimaces were gone, and shortly after that his eyelids began to droop.
“Here” I said, sliding my arm around him again, “Put your head down on me.”
I didn’t have to encourage him; he immediately rested his head against my shoulder.
As his eyes slowly closed, I stroked the back of his head and said softly: “It’s going to be ok, Dan. You’re going to be alright.”
He smiled sleepily, and over the next few minutes his breathing gradually settled into a slow, even rhythm.
I looked down at him as he sat nestled against me. He was sleeping peacefully, looking as untroubled as an infant.
I was flooded with feelings of tenderness. I ran my hand lightly over his face. Then I put my other arm around him and sat like that for … I don’t know how long, from time to time resting my cheek on top of his head. His hair was silky and soft against my skin.
Holding him felt good, and I was happy to have eased his pain.
After a while I looked down at Dan again as he slept in my arms. Impulsively, I kissed him on the forehead. He breathed a soft sigh, but his eyes remained closed.
I took his chin in my hand, turned his face to the side, and kissed him on the cheek. Again a soft sigh.
I had a momentary urge to kiss his slightly open mouth, but the thought scared me.
His reactions had shown that although he seemed to be asleep, he had some awareness of physical sensations. I decided to give him some pleasure in the midst of his suffering.
I reached down and fondled him through his briefs. The response was a faint moan and a slight smile.
Encouraged, I cupped his testicles and gently rubbed the cushiony orbs through the cotton. Another, slightly louder moan, but no sign of waking.
I pulled the blanket off us and then slid my hand inside the front of the briefs. Finding his warm penis, which had begun to grow and harden, I stroked the shaft. Then I pulled the briefs down a little way and once more cupped those smooth, round balls. With no intervening fabric, I began to manipulate them. The moan this time was louder still.
My wrist was resting on his penis; I felt it enlarging rapidly toward full erection. I continued fondling, now using just four fingers so that I could run my thumb up and down his shaft. He continued moaning with obvious pleasure.
I wrapped my hand around his penis, which was now fully erect, and began to stroke it slowly as I gave him a lingering kiss on the mouth.
His breathing began to accelerate. After another minute he grunted, his penis began to twitch, and I saw the first spurt of semen shoot toward his bare chest, followed by several more spurts.
At that point I realized that my own penis had become erect.
I continued stroking him until his ejaculation ended. He gave a contented sigh, and was quiet again.
Throughout the whole episode, his eyes had remained closed. I was positive that although he had certainly been dimly aware of what was happening, he would not remember the incident.
I pulled up his briefs.
Out of curiosity, I ran a finger through one of the warm puddles that populated his chest and belly, and licked the finger. To my surprise, I liked it.
I used my handkerchief to wipe away the semen from his exposed skin.
As his erection subsided, the last of its contents formed a darkening area on the front of his briefs.
I pulled the blanket over us again.
The incident puzzled me. I refused to believe that what I did was out of any desire for intimate contact with a man; I had merely wanted to do something for Dan that would bring him pleasure.
The fact is, I had never been aware of a desire for intimate contact with anyone of either gender. I had nocturnal emissions, but I know that they’re a normal, fully autonomic response to a buildup of semen in the testicles. If there were any ‘wet dreams’ I did not remember them. I had morning erections, which I learned are also a normal autonomic phenomenon. In short, I considered myself to be pretty much asexual. Yet now I had developed an erection in response to fondling and kissing him. Worse yet,
I had tasted Dan’s semen, and liked it.
I was confused, but I quickly put the disturbing thoughts aside, telling myself that I needed to concentrate on our emergency situation.
Chapter 3 – Arrival and Rescue
I continued to sit holding Dan, gazing down at his tranquil face and listening to his breathing, which had settled again into the rhythm of deep sleep.
From time to time I glanced outside, and soon I saw that the rain was slowing. Within half an hour it had stopped, and shortly after that I heard the voices of approaching hikers.
I called out to them as they were passing the enclosure. My shouting woke Dan, who slowly lifted his head and looked at me groggily.
Three hikers bent down and stared in at us. I explained our situation, and two of them went back down the trail to summon help, leaving one behind to show the rescue team where we were.
Dan was barely awake, and seemed not to have made sense of the conversation. “Those were hikers” I told him. “They’ve gone to get help. Put your head back down on me and close your eyes. I’ll let you know when they get here.”
He smiled up at me drowsily, snuggled closer, put his head against my shoulder, and as he closed his eyes I heard him mumble something that sounded like: “Thiz nice”.
“For me too” I whispered, but I doubt that he heard, because it appeared that he was already asleep again.
The Emergency Medical Technicians had not yet arrived when Dan woke up an hour later. He didn’t remember his brief period of earlier wakefulness, so I repeated that some hikers had shown up and had gone for help. “How’s the pain?” I asked.
“Not too bad” he replied. “How long did I sleep?”
“A few hours.”
“I guess the stuff you gave me really worked. What was it?” His voice timbre and the slight slurring of his speech showed that the antihistamine was still having a significant effect.
“I gave you Ibuprofen for the pain and an antihistamine to make you sleep.”
“Aren’t antihistamines for allergies?”
“They are, but most of them also produce drowsiness, including the one I gave you. In fact they’re used in some over-the-counter products for insomnia. I gave you enough to put you out.”
Dan smiled slyly at me and asked “Are you sure you’ve never been a doctor, or a pharma¬cist?”
“I’m sure” I answered. “I told you, that stuff just interests me. And it’s good to see you smile.”
“I really appreciate your doing all this” he responded, and the smile was now warm rather than sly.
“I feel awful when I see you suffer” I told him. I reached over and brushed the back of my hand lightly over his cheek, adding “I care about you”.
I would like to have kissed him again, but I didn’t dare do that, even if it were on the forehead, now that he was awake.
He was silent for a minute, and I thought I might have stepped over a line by brushing his cheek and saying that I cared about him, but he replied “Well I’m grateful for everything”.
That alleviated my concern, but his statement was also provocative: He had emphasized the word ‘everything’. Had he possibly been wakeful enough while I was fondling him to know what was going on? It was not likely, because at that time the blood level of antihistamine would have been high, so even if he had been dimly aware, he should have forgotten it afterwards just as he had forgotten about the hikers.
Yet I wondered just how carefully he had chosen his words. Eventually though, I decided that I try too hard to analyze things.
It was another half hour before we heard the sound of the approaching medical evacuation helicopter. Dan had been sleeping on and off, and was still slightly groggy, but the analgesic had largely worn off and he was again in considerable pain. He was fighting back tears.
I told the two EMT’s about the drugs I had given him, and asked if they were going to give him something for his returning pain. They said that they needed permission from the hospital, and warned me that the ER doctor who was on duty at the time rarely gave permission for palliative medication except in extreme cases.
They took Dan’s vital signs and examined his foot. I asked whether they concurred with my opinion about the nature of the injury. The senior EMT said that they were not allowed to express an opinion on the matter but then he added, with a wink, that if they were allowed, he would agree with my diagnosis.
They used their field radio to contact the hospital. As they expected, permission was denied. The Emergency Room physician said that based on the vital signs and the results of the examination, Dan’s pain “should be tolerable”.
I asked the EMTs whether the doctor would think it was tolerable if he were the one in pain. They looked at each other, smirked, and declined to state their opinions. One of them was willing, however, to say that with rare exceptions doctors are the worst patients and the quickest to demand palliative drugs.
They put Dan on a stretcher and covered him. As they were carrying the stretcher toward the helicopter, I noticed that the blanket seemed to be moving. Dan was trembling in spite of the covering and the fact that the weather was now warm and sunny again. I glanced at his face. He looked like a terrified little boy.
I took one of Dan’s hands between my own two hands and smiled at him as I walked next to the stretcher.
His trembling stopped.
Dan didn’t want me to let go when we got to the aircraft, but the EMTs told him that we had to separate so that they could get the stretcher inside.
Dan asked me anxiously if I was coming with him. Seeing him so afraid, I said “Of course”, but the EMT’s told us that they were not supposed to transport anyone except the patient.
Dan begged them tearfully to let me come with him. I know they see heart-rending situations all the time, so I was astonished that his piteous pleas got to them. They agreed to take me along, saying that they would think of some excuse if challenged at the hospital.
As soon as they had secured the stretcher and I was buckled into a seat next to Dan, he reached over and grabbed my hand. He told me in a shaky voice that he had never been in a hospital except as a visitor. He was petrified by the prospect of being there as a patient.
I asked the EMT’s which hospital we were going to. When I heard the name, I told Dan that it was an excellent facility and that he would get the best of care.
“Do you really know which hospitals are the good ones?” he asked nervously. I told him that I have a physician friend who has told me which are the best hospitals in the area, and that this was one of them.
Some of the fear left Dan’s face, but he kept hold of my hand throughout the flight.
At the hospital, in spite of Dan’s request the Emergency Room physician flatly refused to let me come into the ER with him, and Dan was too worn out by then to plead.
I recognized the doctor’s voice: He was the same one who had refused to give approval for analgesic medication.
At least I was allowed to watch through the window. I saw them undress and examine Dan and wheel him off to the X-Ray department. When they brought him back, there was a minute or two of conversation and I saw him shake his head emphatically “No” in response to a piece of paper the ER doctor presented to him.
The doctor came out and grudgingly led me into the Emergency Room, telling me that I needed to “talk some sense into the patient”.
I learned that the X-rays had revealed a fracture. A bad one. Dan had been told that he was being admitted to the hospital and that the following morning they would put a pin in the ankle. He had been assured that it was “a routine surgical procedure”, and the ER doctor had handed him a consent form. The reason the doctor had to let me in was that Dan refused to sign any document unless I reviewed and approved it.
Chapter 4 – Confrontation
Dan was still in great pain. When I asked whether he had been given anything for it, the ER doctor told me that in order for Dan’s consent to be an informed one he had to be fully alert, and that a narcotic would prevent it.
That made me furious! I stood within inches of the doctor’s face and asked, in a raised voice as I pointed to Dan: “Would you be able to think clearly if you were in that much pain?” Then I shocked him by mentioning several powerful non-narcotic analgesics, using their chemical names rather than their brand names, and demanding to know why he had not administered any of those. “They’re not as effective as opiates” I continued, “but they’re better than nothing. Now you give him some pain medication! Otherwise I’ll yank him out of here and take him to a hospital where the ER doctors are actually concerned about their patients and not just about covering their own asses!”
He glared at me but directed a nurse to give Dan an injection of one of the drugs I had mentioned.
Only when I judged that Dan’s pain had subsided sufficiently did I let the doctor explain the situation. He informed us that if they didn’t pin the ankle, the bones would not remain in proper alignment during healing and the resulting permanent deformity would make walking difficult.
I irritated him some more by requiring him to show me the X-ray. As I scrutinized it, he asked skeptically: “Do you want me to point out the fracture?”
“If you mean the major fracture near the talus” I replied, “it would be hard to miss. But did they notice the hairline fractures on the tibia and the medial cuneiform? Let me see the radiologist’s report.”
For a moment he just stood there speechless before handing me the report and saying, in a newly respectful tone: “You didn’t tell me that you’ve had medical training. Where did you go to school?”
I told him that I was an autodidact. His blank look showed that he didn’t know what the word meant, but he didn’t ask. It removed any doubt that he was one of those people who can’t bring themselves to admit that there’s anything they don’t know.
The radiologist had seen the hairline fractures, but had written that the navicular fracture (the one near the talus) was the only one requiring surgical intervention. He stated that the other fractures would heal on their own during the time weight was kept off the ankle for the repaired major fracture to bond.
I read the consent form, had the doctor fill in a few blank areas and cross out several inapplicable items, and then told Dan that it would be best to have the surgery and he should sign the form. I asked whether another operation would be necessary to remove the pin. The doctor said that in the absence of complications, the pin would be left in place permanently.
They made me wait in the lobby while they admitted Dan, but eventually they said I could go up to his room.
Dan’s face brightened when I walked in. “Hi” he said. “Thanks a million for standing up for me” and added admiringly: “Boy, you do know a lot about medicine! I thought the ER doctor would have a coronary.”
He said he was feeling much better, but I could see that he was very uneasy about the upcoming surgery. I reminded him that despite my words to the ER doctor, this was a topnotch hospital. I assured him that everything would turn out well.
When a nurse came in and told us that visiting hours were over, I went to the Nursing Supervisor’s station and persuaded her to let me stay a little while longer in view of Dan’s severe anxiety, but when I asked to stay overnight she said that the hospital had no accommodations for guests. I offered to sleep in a chair in Dan’s room. She said that she was sorry but it wasn’t allowed.
I thanked her for the extra time, and returned to Dan’s room.
After another hour, a nurse came in and said I had to leave.
I told Dan I’d be back in the morning.
“OK” he said. “Thanks for staying so long.”
As I was passing the Nursing Supervisor’s station, she called me over and said in a low voice: “You seem to be very devoted to your friend. Are you a couple?”
“I’m kind of like an older brother to him” I told her. “This is his first hospital stay and his first surgery. He’s very frightened. When I’m there it calms him.”
“Well he’s fortunate to have someone who looks out for him the way you do” she said. She chuckled and added, barely above a whisper: “I just heard about how you took on Doctor Pendleton in the ER. Good for you.” She put a friendly hand on my arm and added “I wish I could let you stay overnight, but there are strict rules against that and it would mean my job. Don’t worry, though. We’ll make sure your friend is well taken care of. He’ll get something for the pain, and something else to help him sleep. I’ll get him as much medication as he needs; I know which doctors I can go to when I want authorization for anything.”
I asked whether she could get in trouble with Pendleton. “Up here” she answered, “he’s not in charge”. Then she put a hand on my arm again, and smiled at me: “Go home and get some rest. We’ll keep a close watch on your little brother.” And she winked.
I thanked her for her consideration, and took a taxi back to the trail head to pick up my car.
Back at my apartment, I took a shower and went to bed, but I was awake much of the night thinking about Dan lying there by himself, probably apprehensive despite the medication. I was sure that if I were there it would give him confidence. I resolved to be back first thing in the morning. With that in mind, I finally fell asleep.
Chapter 5 –Surgery Day
I woke up with a start and looked at the clock. I had slept later than I intended. I threw my clothes on and left.
When I arrived at the hospital, I was devastated to learn that Dan was already in surgery. I hadn’t gotten to see him beforehand and let him know that I would be there when it was over. I had also wanted to speak with the surgeon and the anesthesiologist.
I waited agitatedly in the lobby, making a pest of myself at the Information Desk with constant requests for updates, until they told me that the operation was finished, that Dan had come through “with flying colors”, and that he was in the recovery area. They let me go right up to his room even though officially they were not supposed to allow me in until he was there and the Nursing Supervisor gave permission.
They probably just wanted to get rid of me.
Dan was still asleep from the anesthetic when they wheeled him in on a gurney and put him to bed. I was so happy to see him that I didn’t ask why he hadn’t been kept in the recovery area until he was awake and they were sure he was alright. (I later learned that this hospital’s policy was to transfer patients to their rooms as soon as their vital signs are strong and stable.)
A few minutes later, a nurse came in and gave him an injection. In answer to my question, she told me that it was a sedative to combat post-operative pain. As I settled into a chair, she told me that between the periodic injection of sedatives and the lingering effects of the anesthesia, Dan would be asleep all day and wouldn’t even know I was there. Then she looked at me and asked: “Have you had any sleep? Did you eat breakfast? Forgive my bluntness, but you look awful.”
I admitted that I hadn’t slept well and that I had skipped breakfast.
“Go home” she insisted. “The surgeon left orders to give him plenty of pain medication, so even if he wakes up before tonight he’ll be so out of it that he won’t know who’s in the room. You might as well take off until tomorrow.”
I managed to find the surgeon, and asked for Dan’s prognosis. He said that the bone was strong and should heal well around the pin if Dan didn’t try to use the foot too soon.
I went back home, but I was plagued by the possibility that Dan would wake up alone in the intimidating atmosphere of the hospital, so I went back.
I pulled a chair up next to his bed. Thinking of what he had gone through, my heart went out to him. I ran my fingers through his somewhat disheveled hair, took his hand in mine, and although I doubted that he could hear me I said in a soft voice: “I’m here, Danny. It’s all over. The surgery went beautifully. You’re going to be fine.”
I had never before used the junior form of Dan’s name, but he looked so vulnerable lying there that it had just popped out.
After a while, I leaned down and whispered “I wish I could be holding you when you wake up”.
I wanted to kiss him, but I was afraid that someone entering or passing the room might see.
I sat with Dan the rest of the day except for a quick break to buy a sandwich and a drink from the vending machines downstairs and bring them back to the room, dreading the thought of not being there when he woke up. Several times during the afternoon, I heard him whimpering and saw that he was struggling to open his eyes. I stroked his forehead and said “I’m here, Dan. The surgery went great. Everything is ok. Go back to sleep.”. That always quieted him down.
Once, toward evening, Dan’s eyes did open. When he saw me he broke into a sleepy smile and drowsily mumbled “Hiya Brandon”. Then his eyes closed again.
I don’t remember getting sleepy myself but the next thing I knew, I was coming out of a dream and the darkness outside the window told me that it was nighttime.
I rubbed my eyes and looked at my watch. It was 8:30 PM.
I looked over at Dan and was surprised to see him sitting up in bed, looking back at me.
“Hi” he said with a smile. “It was wonderful seeing you when I woke up. How long have you been here?”
“Not long” I answered, and was starting to ask him how he was feeling, when a nurse who was just coming into the room interrupted me:
“He’s been here since this morning. He arrived early and was beside himself when he found out that you had been taken to the operating room before he got to see you. During the operation he badgered the reception people so often to find out how it was going, that they broke the rules and let him come up here while you were still in Recovery, even though they were supposed to wait until you were brought in and given your first post-operative medication. Then he wouldn’t budge from your side even though we told him you would be asleep all day. When we finally convinced him to go home because you wouldn’t even know he was here, he left but he came right back. He would stay twenty four hours a day if the hospital would let him. Yesterday he asked if he could stay overnight. The Nursing Supervisor had to say no, but she felt bad because it was obvious how concerned he was for you. We give the best of care to all our patients, but you can thank your friend here for the fact that we have orders to give you special attention.”
Dan looked at me and his smile broadened. “I have a lot more than that to thank him for” he said.
As soon as the nurse had checked Dan’s vital signs and left the room, he asked wonderingly: “You’ve been here all day? And you wanted to stay overnight? I don’t know what to say.”
“You’ve already said the best thing I could hear” I replied. “You told me you were happy to see me.” Then, partly to change the subject although I really did want to know: “How do you feel, are you hurting?”
“No” he answered. “They’re always asking me if I’m in pain and offering to give me something for it.”
“Did they tell you that the operation had gone well?”
“Yes, but they didn’t have to. Somehow I already knew. Maybe it was intuition.”
Had Dan heard me after all when I had spoken to him that afternoon?
I asked whether he had been awake long.
“I woke up a few hours ago. When I saw that my guardian angel was here, I knew I was safe and protected. I’ve been dozing on and off since then.”
“Why didn’t you wake me instead of sitting there listening to me snore?”
“You weren’t snoring, but I wouldn’t wake you anyway, I was just glad you were here. Besides, you didn’t leave until late last night and they told me how early you showed up this morning. I knew you couldn’t have gotten much sleep.”
“I can always catch up on sleep. I came here to see you, not to nap.”
“I still wouldn’t wake you.”
“Because you looked …” he paused, searching for the right word. “serene. Ever since I broke my ankle you’ve been looking worried, even while you were reassuring me.”
“You noticed that?”
“Hey I may have been carrying on about the pain and whining that I was scared, but I saw how worried you were, and I felt bad.”
“So even in the midst of all your pain and fear, you were concerned about me?”
“Sure I was! I knew you care about me long before you ever said so, and I care about you. I care a lot. So I felt terrible to see you that upset. And knowing I was the cause made it worse.”
“Why did you think you were the cause?”
“Duh. You were fine until I fell.”
“Point taken” I admitted.
“Well when I woke up today, seeing that you were here made all my fears vanish. And seeing you looking so much at peace, that made it even better. There was no way in the world I would have wanted to disturb you.”
He stopped speaking for a moment but then he added: “I can’t tell you how sorry I am for all the trouble I’ve been”.
“You haven’t been any trouble” I told him.
“No of course not. How could I think such a thing? You enjoy coddling hysterical friends and arguing with doctors.”
“Dan, stop beating yourself up” I said. “You weren’t hysterical. You behaved the way anyone would when they’re in that much pain. Except that most people wouldn’t be concerned about anyone else. What’s the word for the opposite of selfish? Whatever it is, it applies to you. And as to arguing with that ER doctor, I had it up to here with arrogant and unfeeling physicians like him when I was working in a hospital. This isn’t the first time I’ve challenged a medical S.O.B.”.
Dan chuckled. “I believe you’ve had experience at it. Everyone was impressed by how you faced him down.”
“They were? How do you know?”
“I heard the nurses talking about it outside my door. I think the whole hospital has heard about it by now. No one likes him because he’s so arrogant. They were all saying how much they admire you for taking him down a few pegs. You’re such a celebrity that when a nurse came in today and saw you sleeping, she hurried out and I heard her telling everyone on the floor to be quiet”.
He chuckled again before going on: “I have to tell you this too: I heard the nurses saying how cute you are.” And he blushed.
Seeing Dan blush as he told me that, I think I blushed too. To cover my embarrassment I blurted out: “I’d throw this magazine at you, but it might hit the ankle”.
“That wouldn’t hurt it” he countered. “It’s in a cast.”
So I threw the magazine.
It missed him completely. We both laughed.
“You know,” I said, “this is the first time I’ve heard you laugh since the accident.”
“I guess it’s the first time I’ve felt like laughing” he answered. “The surgery is over, and you’re here.” Then he asked: “Why did you want to stay overnight?”
“So you would know I was nearby if you needed reassurance. And I wanted to see you in the morning before they took you to the operating room so I could remind you that I’d be here when you came out. I’m sorry I overslept and didn’t get back in time”.
“Hey!” he protested, “With all you’ve done, you’re actually apologizing that it wasn’t even more? You’ve been a godsend! I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am. I love … everything you’ve done. Please don’t think it wasn’t enough.”
The pause after the word ‘love’ caused me a pang of, I wasn’t sure what. Fear? Hope? Had he been about to say that he loved me? The possibility was simultaneously intriguing and frightening. If he had said it, how would I have responded? I certainly cared very much about him, but I didn’t even want to give thought to the possibility that I might love him.
Again I changed the subject: “So what have you been doing while I’ve been in dreamland?”
“I was sleeping too, most of the time. I think it’s all the stuff they give me for the pain.”
Dan told me that he had been served dinner. He insisted that I get something to eat. “I’ll be fine.”
I went down to the cafeteria but it was closed for the night, and there were no more sandwiches in the vending machine. I went back upstairs.
It was already well past visiting hours, so when the Nursing Supervisor called to me as I passed her desk, I expected to be told that I had to leave. Instead, she said: “You certainly ate fast.”
I told her that the sandwich machine was empty, and then I continued to Dan’s room.
About ten minutes later a nurse came in with a sandwich and a bottle of juice. I thanked her and asked what I owed. She said there was no charge because the food was excess from the day’s supply of patients’ meals.
When the nurse was gone, I showed Dan that the sandwich was actually the halves of two different sandwiches, and also pointed out that patients’ meals do not consist of sandwiches. “I think that some nurses gave me part of their lunches” I told him.
“That wouldn’t surprise me” he said. “They really like you.”
That touched me more deeply than I would have expected.
I was allowed to stay another hour, but eventually the Supervisor came in to say that the night shift was coming on and I would have to leave. She said that if Dan’s vital signs remained good, he would be released the next afternoon. I told her where I believed the sandwich and the drink had come from, and asked her to express my gratitude to whoever had given up part of their meals. She just smiled and said that she hoped I had enjoyed it.
I looked at Dan. He was smiling too: “I told you they like you” he said. “Now although I love … having you here, go home and get a good night’s sleep. I’ll be ok, thanks to you.”
Again the pause after ‘love’.
At home, I kept thinking about how Dan had acted that day: He had blushed when he told me that the nurses thought I was cute. And he had not said that it was just nice to see me when he woke up, he had said that it was wonderful. “Wonderful” was the word he had used.
I fell into a blissful sleep.
Chapter 6 – Arrangements
The next day was Monday. After a shower and a quick breakfast I called in to work and told them about Dan’s accident. I said that he would be staying with me for a while, and that I would be taking a few vacation days to get him set up. Then I spoke to the Human Resources Department and arranged for his medical leave.
When I got to the hospital, I drew up a chair next to the bed and told Dan about the arrangements I had made.
“You’re amazing!” he said. “You think of everything! Thank you.”
“No thanks necessary” I told him.
He fell silent for a minute. I studied his face and asked: “What’s wrong? What’s troubling you?”
He grinned and shook his head. “So I’m that transparent, at least to you. Well … there’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you, but I don’t know what you’ll think”.
“There’s one way to find out” I urged.
“Okay” he said, and began, somewhat hesitantly: “When I was very young, from time to time I’d think my mother was getting fat. Then she’d leave for a day or two and come back with a little baby. Some of my friends had big brothers, but I only had sisters, so not understanding about birth order I hoped that at least once instead of a baby my mother would bring home a big brother for me. I even asked her for one. She said that it wasn’t possible, and when I asked why, she just said I’d understand when I was older.
“By the time I was grown, I had forgotten all about that wish. Or thought I had. You see, I’ve been pretty much satisfied with my life except for one thing: It always felt as if there was an empty place inside me, and I couldn’t figure out why. Then you befriended me. You spent time with me, you invited me to go places with you. Any time I need advice, I can always come to you. You teach me things. You stick up for me. And I don’t know how I could have gotten through these past few days if not for you”.
I started to point out that if I had not taken him on that hike, he wouldn’t have had to go through the pain and anguish of those past few days.
Before I had spoken the first few words, he put up a hand to stop me. “Last night, as I was thinking about how I can never thank you enough for all you’ve done, it dawned on me that the empty feeling is gone. I don’t think it’s been there since you took up with me.”
His gaze was adoring as he said “There was an empty place because I was still wishing for that big brother, and now it’s gone because I’ve found a big brother in you. Anyway, that’s how I see you. I hope you don’t mind”.
“Mind? Oh Dan” I said, “I love that you think of me as a big brother. And stop thanking me; I like doing things for you.”
Hearing that, he grew radiant. “I know you’re not out for thanks, but it’s my way of saying that I don’t take you or anything you do for granted”.
I stayed with Dan the rest of the day. They released him late that afternoon, and while he was signing papers and reading post-surgery instructions I got my car from the Visitors’ parking lot.
They brought him out in a wheelchair (hospital policy). Lying across the arms of the chair was a pair of crutches.
I helped Dan into the car, made sure he was buckled up, put the crutches in the trunk, and we started out.
When he saw that I had passed his street, he said “You missed the turn.”
“I didn’t miss it.”
“We just went by my street.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Dan turn a puzzled face toward me as he asked: “Where are we going?”
“I’m taking you to my place. Until the cast is off, you won’t be able to do much without help. You can stay with me until then.”
His eyes lit up. “That’ll be great!” he practically shouted. “I promise I won’t be much trouble.”
“Don’t worry about that” I said. “Your job is to get plenty of rest and concentrate on letting the ankle heal.”
We rode in silence for a few minutes, and then he declared: “I can help out around the apartment. I’ll clean and straighten up while you’re at work.”
“I’m not bringing you home as a live-in housekeeper” I told him, “and I don’t want you to reinjure that ankle. Remember what they said about staying off it.”
“I’ll be careful” he promised.
“Amazing” I remarked. “I thought I knew you well, but I’ve just learned something I didn’t know. You may be a grown man, but on the inside you’re a stubborn little boy.” I smiled and adventurously gave his thigh a quick squeeze as I jokingly warned him: “If you don’t behave, your big brother will have to put you over his knee and give you a spanking.”
“What?” he asked, “No consideration for my poor, injured ankle?” His eyes were wide in seeming alarm, but he was grinning.
“Oh your ankle will be safe” I informed him. “That’s not what I’ll spank.”
I had expected that when I threatened to spank him I would get a retort such as: “You and what army”, but his reply had been submissive rather than combative. I wasn’t sure what that might mean.