“Oh good” she said. “You’re awake. Hunter, I’m Dr. Gallagher. How are you feeling?”
Hunter eyed the doctor with cautiously. “Alright. Little groggy.”
Dr. Gallagher picked up the clipboard by Hunter’s bed and looked through it, leafing through the pages.
“Good,” she said. “Everything appears to be stable. How are your legs feeling?”
“I dunno, a little weak I guess, but I can feel them.”
She nodded and lifted the sheets so that Hunter’s legs were exposed. “I’m going to do a sensation test. Just tell me when you can feel me touching your legs okay?”
Dr. Gallagher pulled out a cotton ball from the metal cart at the side of the room and started touching it to different spots on Hunter’s legs. He seemed to notice most of the times the cotton touched him. That was a good thing, right?
Then she moved on to poking him at various spots on his leg with a pin. He seemed to notice most of those as well, but when she asked him to lift his legs or wiggle his toes, he could barely muster any movement at all. Sweat beaded on his brow with the effort and I could tell he was getting upset.
After she was done, she started writing notes on her clipboard while Hunter and I watched. Hunter’s face got progressively darker, as we waited for Dr. Gallagher to finish taking her notes.
“Well? What is it?” Hunter demanded when it looked like he couldn’t wait any longer.
“I’m sorry Mr. Jensen. You had an exacerbation of your MS, which seems to have affected the nerves to your lower extremities. The good news is your sensory nerves still have roughly seventy percent functionality.”
“So how come I can’t move my legs?” Hunter pointed angrily toward his lower half, taking shallow breaths.
“Your motor nerves, the ones that control your muscles, seem to be the most negatively affected. That’s the biggest factor in reducing your mobility at the moment.”
Hunter’s jaw clenched, his hands making fists by his side. I tried to meet his eyes, but he was staring off into the distance.
My stomach dropped. This couldn’t be happening. Just yesterday he was fine and everything was going so well. I looked at Hunter but he just kept shaking his head like he was dazed. Why was this happening to him? He stopped fighting like the doctor told him too, so why had this happened now?
“For how long?” I asked.
Dr. Gallagher gave me a sympathetic look and then turned to Hunter. “It depends. Along with the motor nerves healing, there are issues with muscle degeneration since you’ll be in a wheelchair for a while. Physical therapy can certainly help. With some patients PT is enough to restore full mobility in as little as six months. Other patients may never recover their mobility again.”
My heart sank.
“The hospital can provide you with a wheelchair and we can refer you to a counselor to help you adjust to the . . . changes. You’ll come back for a checkup in two weeks and if it’s appropriate we’ll get you started on a physical therapy regimen.”
Hunter started rocking back and forth, not making eye contact with either of us.
Watching him like this was too much. I hugged his head close to my chest, kissing him on the forehead, and holding him to me. I wanted to cry but I bit back my sobs. If I let myself cry now, I wouldn’t be able to stop.
When the doctor left, Hunter continued staring off into space and rocking himself. I held him and didn’t say a word. What could I even say? After a few minutes, he finally stopped, seeming to snap out of it suddenly.
“Shit. What day is it?”
“What? I think it’s Saturday?” I looked at him, confused.
His face sank. “Damnit. Your convention is today.”
With everything that had happened, I had completely forgotten about it. He was right. The day of the convention had come. We had both been looking forward to going to it, but it didn’t matter now.
“Oh yeah, I guess I can’t make it,”
“No, what are you talking about?” he said, speaking quickly, his words tripping over themselves. “You can still make it if you leave now. When does it start? Like two? It’s only seven in the morning right now.”
“I don’t care about the art convention, Hunter. I want to be here with you.”
“You worked so hard for it. You can’t miss your chance to exhibit.”
“Hunter, I’m not leaving you to go to some art convention. How is that even a question?” It was irritating that he was so concerned about my stupid art convention when the doctor just told him that he might not be able to walk.
“It’s fine, you heard the doctor, I’m stable now.”
He looked anything but fine.
“Why do you want me to leave so badly?” I asked, a little hurt. My face felt heated.
“It’s such a big opportunity. They’ll have all the art schools there recruiting and stuff.” Hunter pointed in the direction he must’ve assumed Studsen was going to be.
“I would have never won that competition if it wasn’t for you, I probably wouldn’t even have entered it. So stop talking, I’ve already decided. I’m not going without you.”
Blood rushed to my ears and I felt a stinging in my eyes. Hunter let out a sigh, shaking his head.
“You said you thought you were gonna drag us down, but now I see that it’s me,” he said, his voice low.
“Don’t say that. You know that’s not true. We talked about this before, I know you’re strong enough for this.”
“It’s different now. It’s not just some far off thing that might happen to me, now it’s f**king real.”
He pounded the hospital bed with his fist. “I can’t f**king walk, Lorrie!”
His words echoed in the room. Hunter grimaced, trying to hold a brave face, his eyes glistening. My heart was breaking into pieces but I didn’t know what to say to make him feel better.
He continued before I could say anything. “Just leave me here. You need to go to the convention. Whatever happens to me, you can’t give up your future for me.”
“YOU ARE MY FUTURE!” I shouted. My lips trembled as warm wet streaks fell down my face.
Hunter’s eyes went wide and then he looked down into his lap. I sobbed, my entire body shaking with emotion.
As I cried, rage boiled in my chest.
This isn’t fair.
We were so close to our happy ending. Hunter didn’t deserve this. He deserved so much more. I didn’t know if I could give it to him, but it didn’t matter. Hunter needed me now more than anything and I wasn’t going to let him push me away. Even if it hurt me. Even if it broke me.