I shook my head. “It’s okay. That’s what we’re here for right? To save each other from doing stupid things? You’ve saved me a few times already, so I guess it’s my turn now.”
He nodded slowly, a thoughtful expression on his face.
“Let’s go back inside. They’re probably gonna call me in soon.”
When we got back inside the clinic we each spent a few minutes in the bathroom, cleaning ourselves up.
Hunter and I sat down after we’d straightened ourselves out. We waited for his name to be called. The old lady and the guy in the wheelchair were gone; they must’ve been called inside already. A few minutes later a doctor cracked the door open.
I squeezed Hunter’s hand and we got up and walked over to the doctor together. The doctor had to be at least sixty. His hair was completely white, and his thick black rectangular glasses covered his wrinkled eyes.
We followed him to the back. The room was like any other doctor’s room, with posters of veins and nerves up on the walls. The beige exam table had seen better days. Its cushioning looked lumpy and uneven and the wood laminate on its base was chipped. Hunter eyed it with a distaste and sat down in one of the waiting chairs. I sat down next to him.
“Hello Hunter,” the doctor said. “I’m Dr. Miller and I’ll be interpreting your MRI results today.”
He gave us a small smile, then pressed a button on the wall behind the counter. The light box hummed on. Apparently Dr. Miller wasn’t one for small talk. Hunter didn’t say anything, but he did nod. I watched him carefully to see if he was still okay, but I couldn’t read his expression.
I thought I was ready and his mini freakout from earlier had distracted me from my own emotions, but now I was feeling the full weight of what was about to happen. When Dr. Miller produced an extra large manila envelope, I didn’t feel prepared.
“I’ve received the scans back from the test center and had a chance to read them,” he started. He pulled out the films and began put them onto the light box.
Hunter fixated on the images, as if he was trying to interpret them himself.
“Now, your primary care doctor over in Illinois sent me your records. The notes said that you sustained physical trauma to the head recently from ‘cage-fighting.’ Is that correct?”
Dr. Miller raised an eyebrow at Hunter. I held my breath.
“Yeah.” Hunter replied, tearing his eyes away from the MRI scans.
“Well, I’ll cut to the chase. Your doctor was worried about extremely rapid progression of your MS symptoms as a result of the physical trauma you suffered, but the good news is we’ve avoided the worst case scenario.”
We both let out a breath and I gave Hunter’s hand a small squeeze. We were going to be okay.
Dr. Miller cleared his throat and continued, pointing to a few spots on the MRI film. “However, it does appear you have some new lesions on your spinal cord and brain since your last scan.”
The hairs on the nape of my neck rose and my palms grew sweaty. What? I thought we had avoided the worst case scenario.
“So what does that mean?” Hunter asked, frowning.
“Well, even though we’ve avoided the worst case scenario, these lesions are worrying, and could make your next flare-up a lot worse.”
“How much worse?” Hunter asked.
“I can’t say. But I would strongly advise you to refrain from continuing to fight. Sustaining lesions like this is not good for your long-term prognosis with this disease.”
I looked to Hunter’s face, but his brows were furrowed and he didn’t seem to register my concern. Dr. Miller’s words echoed in my mind, but I was only slowly starting to understand what he meant. Hunter was okay for now, but his next episode could be a lot worse if he didn’t stop fighting?
Hunter squinted at the scans on the lightbox. “So if I stop fighting, will it prevent another attack?”
“It would certainly help a great deal, but there are no guarantees. MS is an autoimmune disease. Your body is attacking itself and it’s very unpredictable.”
Hunter clammed up and looked down at the linoleum tiles on the floor. I could tell he was tense. He looked the same as when he stormed out of the clinic earlier. I stroked his hand gently, trying to provide whatever comfort I could.
Even if Hunter did everything he could to be healthy, his MS could still knock him down at any moment. It made any preventative action he took seem trivial. I was starting to understand why he felt so helpless.
“Is that all?” Hunter grunted. I could tell he was upset, but I didn’t know how to make it better.
“Yes, that’s all we can tell from the MRI. Treatment-wise, we don’t need to make adjustments. Have you been continuing with your injections regimen?”
“Other than that, make sure you stay healthy and call the clinic immediately if you notice any new symptoms. Do you have any other questions?”
“Nah, thanks doc.” Hunter stood up and I followed his lead. Dr. Miller walked us out to the waiting area in front while Hunter seemed deep in thought.
After the doctor parted ways with us and Hunter had completed his post-visit paperwork at the front desk, I followed him outside in silence.
It seemed like we had avoided the worst case scenario, but there was still a terrifying cloud hanging over our head. Beyond that, we hadn’t even started talking about Hunter’s fighting. Would he be willing to give that up to stay healthy? I didn’t know, but what I did know was that it was a sensitive topic.
When we got to Hunter’s car we both sat down inside without a word. Hunter stared out the windshield without putting his key into the ignition. I thought about what to say to him, opening and closing my mouth several times. What could I even say though?
Hunter saved me by speaking first.
“Fighting was the one thing that made me feel alive,” he said, still looking out the front of the windshield.
I reached over and put a hand on his thigh to let him know that I was listening. His fighting was clearly a sensitive topic for him.
“After I got kicked out of ROTC, I was f**king lost. I’d been working at it for so long that when I realized it was over, I was outta control. Fighting gave me something to focus on.”
He turned to me, his eyes shining and intense.
“It was like a drug. I had boxed and wrestled a lot in high school, so it was like returning home for me. It was something I knew, something I had control over when everything else in my life was so f**king outta control.”