I, Elizabeth Long, and my friend Muffy Jones were walking to our favorite mall when we heard a woman’s scream come from a nearby alley. I turned toward the alley to investigate, but Muffy said, “Liz, don’t get involved! You don’t know what is going on in there and you could get hurt.”
“Muffy, I have got to investigate. My conscience won’t let me sleep until I know that somebody doesn’t need my help. Now, turn loose my arm. You can stay here if you want to. If I don’t come back within five minutes, please call 911 to ask for the cops.”
Muffy was not happy, but that was a compromise that she could live with. She was frowning as I walked fast to the alley entrance. I could not see anything because of a couple of Dumpsters in the way, so I walked farther into the alley. That was where I saw an elderly woman being held by a man who looked to be in his 20s and another man, about 30, was going through her purse. The woman begged, “Please don’t take my money. That is all I have left from my Social Security, and I’ll go hungry without it.”
“Tough tittie, you old bat. We need the money, too, and we are going to take it. You just shut up and we might let you live.”
That was enough to shake me up. I had taken a self-defense course after school, so I might be able to help. I grabbed a short piece of plastic rod from my pocket and ran to help the woman. I didn’t know which of the men I should hit first, so I just went for the one who was the closest. That was the one who was holding the woman’s purse.
I was holding the plastic rod with about half an inch projecting past my thumb from my clasped fist. My target was not paying attention to anything but what was in the purse, so he didn’t notice me as I ran close to him. I was hardly a super fighter, but I had been taught how to hit with the plastic rod. I was tall enough to reach up and hit the man as hard as I could with a roundhouse blow just above his ear with the end of the rod projecting from my fist. As advertised, the man dropped like a felled tree. I didn’t know how badly he was hurt, but I had to turn my attention to the other man.
He threw the woman aside and pulled a switch-blade knife from his pocket. He flicked it open, and I saw that it had a blade around three inches long. He looked like he knew how to use that knife, so I was scared, but determined. I tried to hit him the same way that I had hit the other man, and that was a big mistake!
I slipped on something just as I swung, and I missed my target completely. I had screwed up further by swinging with all of my might. That caused me to swing around and expose my back to the second mugger.
Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain somewhere between my shoulder blades, and then I felt nothing anywhere on my body. I simply collapsed because I could not remain standing. I knew that I hit the pavement of the alley, but I couldn’t feel anything until my head hit. There was another pain, this time in my head, and I fainted.
Okay, that was the last I knew until I woke up in the hospital. I was lying on a bed and wearing nothing but a johnny. I couldn’t feel anything, and I couldn’t talk. That was when I realized that I had a breathing tube in my throat. I could see, but not feel, as my chest moved up and down as the machine breathed for me.
I was relieved that I could see, and I looked around to try to find out what was going on. I had a hell of a headache, but I literally did not feel anything else. I had some movement in my fingers, but not very much. Why was that? I could move my head and anything attached to it, but that was the limit of what I could do. I guessed that I was suffering from being hit by the second mugger and from the fall, and I assumed that I couldn’t feel anything because I was doped up by the doctors.
I saw my mother sitting in a corner, crying, no, sobbing, and holding my father’s hand. I didn’t think that I was hurt that bad, but I couldn’t tell for sure. I couldn’t say anything because of that tube in my throat, but I did manage to push out a groan when the air was coming from my lungs. That caught my father’s attention, and he rushed to me. “Liz, oh, my God, Liz. You are awake. Can you move anything?”
Well, that was kind of a dumb question considering the fact that I could not talk with that darned tube in my mouth. Dad turned to Mom and said, “Lucy, Liz is awake and seems to recognize me.”
Just at that moment, a nurse came bustling into the room. She said, “You folks will have to leave for a few minutes while Dr. Thomas examines your daughter. He will tell you the results of the examination as soon as he can. Please wait in the waiting room just down the hall.”
Neither of my parents wanted to leave, but the nurse practically pushed them out the door just as a doctor showed up. The moment that they were out of the room, the nurse closed the door and said, “Dr. Thomas, the patient just woke up from the induced coma. She seems to be alert, but I have not had a chance to check her vitals.”
Dr. Thomas said, “Okay, you do that while I check her wound.”
Medical science had made some great advances in the last few years, and the doctor was able to push a button that raised me to something like a sitting position. Strangely, I could not feel any change, but I could see what was going on. He did something behind my back, and I heard him mumble to himself, “The wound is healing very well. In fact, it is healing a little faster than I had expected. It looks to me like we will no longer need to keep her in a coma.”
Just on principle, I was happy to hear about that coma part, but I wondered how he was able to check on a wound on my back. Of course, this darned johnny was embarrassingly open in the back, so he could get to my skin very easily. Then I remembered that I was very proud of the way my body looked and wore the skimpiest bikini that Mom would let me get away with. Next year, when I turned 18, I might even go topless at the beach. She couldn’t stop me then. I was not sure about going bottomless, but some of the girls said how much they had enjoyed doing it because of the way the boys stared at them. With that thought, I figured that I didn’t care how much of my body he saw.
The nurse went through the usual routine of taking vital signs, and she told the doctor the numbers. He seemed pleased, and that was fine with me because I only had a vague idea of what the numbers should be. The doctor pushed a button and I was lowered to a reclining position. “Nurse, please make sure that her position is changed regularly; we don’t want her developing bed sores.” The nurse mumbled something and the doctor walked out, probably heading to the waiting room to talk to my parents.
The next week was darned, no, damned, boring because I was still unable to move any part of my body except my head and my fingers. At least, they pulled the breathing tube that day and fitted me with some sort of contraption that moved my chest for me so that a machine still did my breathing. I was happy that I could now operate the TV remote and use the telephone keypad. However, I did have to have a special telephone headset because I still could not hold it to my ear or in front of my mouth. Nevertheless, I was able to phone my friends and talk to them, even if my speaking was a little peculiar because I had to phase my speech to fit the breathing machine.
I was surprised at first because none of them would talk to me about the reason that I was stuck in the hospital. Then it happened. Muffy, who could never keep a secret, let the cat out of the bag. I made some remark about going to the beach next summer topless and maybe bottomless, and Muffy said, “Oh, but you can’t do that because you are paralyzed. Oops, OMG, I was not supposed to mention that. I’ve got to hang up now before I get us both in trouble.”
I almost fainted when Muffy said that I was paralyzed. She was kind of a dumb blond, but she was my friend and never lied to me about important things. I don’t know why it took me so long to put things together, but I thought about what she said, and I realized that was why I was so limited in the things that I could do. I was taking an IV to make sure that I stayed hydrated, and I had sort of deluded myself into thinking that I couldn’t move because of some drug in the IV solution.
I was also getting nutrients by IV because I could not swallow very well. My throat was very sore because of that damned (there, I said it again) breathing tube. I wondered if I would ever be able to eat normal food again if I was paralyzed. That was just one of the things that suddenly bothered me. I was tempted to buzz for the nurse and to ask her a lot of questions, but I thought better of it. Instead, I decided to wait for my father and ask him.
He had always been up front with me, and I figured that I could rely on what he said. He was due in to see me in about an hour. This was Thursday, and Mom always did her grocery shopping on Thursday, so I knew that I would not see her for at least an hour after Dad came by. That was the perfect time to catch him without her going all emotional on me.
Dad showed up on time, just as he always did things. “Hi, Precious, how are things going?”
“Hi, Daddy. Things are going about as well as could be expected, I suppose.” Of course, I didn’t talk exactly like that. I was talking a few words at a time, but I figured that you guys who were reading this didn’t want to go through the agony of having to read that and had rather see how I meant to say it.
“Uh-oh, that sounds ominous. What has happened?”
“I found out the big secret today. Muffy let it slip about my paralysis.”
“Dammit, I’m going to kill that girl!”
“No, Daddy, don’t be upset with her. That’s just the way she is. She couldn’t help it and is terribly upset about telling me. If you fuss at her, she will never talk to me again for fear that she will say something else wrong.”
“Okay, I’ll keep quiet, but I must say that I am pissed off. Your mother and I had planned to break the news to you tomorrow, so there is no great harm done. The doctor was concerned about your mental and emotional state if you were told too soon. Maybe we should have told you sooner, but we were just following the doctor’s orders.”
“Please tell me what happened in that alley.”
“Okay, according to that woman you helped, Mrs. Hudson, you laid out the first mugger and went after the other man like a tiger. She was very impressed. He had pulled a knife and stabbed you in the back when you slipped. He panicked and ran. The first guy was knocked out and was unconscious for hours before he finally woke up in the part of the hospital reserved for people in police custody.
“Mrs. Hudson was able to give a good description of the man who ran, and the cops were able to get his fingerprints from the knife that he left sticking in your back. Mrs. Hudson recovered her purse with all of her money there along with her free cell phone. She called 911 at about the same time Muffy did. Anyway, the cops and the medics brought you to the hospital and you were rushed into the operating room. You were in a medically induced coma to keep you quiet while they tried to put you back together.
“You had been stabbed between two vertebrae and you spinal cord had been completely severed. With the permission of both your mother and me, they were trying some new therapy on you to try to make the nerves grow back together. It is still too soon to tell if the therapy is working, so they want you to go through the normal rehab that has been used for several years on people with your problem.
“There is no telling at this point, but there is a good chance, based on primate experiments, that you can regain some use of your lower body. Experience with the primates has shown that there is an induction period before the regrowth of the nerves takes place.”
“How long will it be before we know anything?”
“The primates took three months to show any improvement. You are the first human to have the treatment, so there is no data for humans. You will be setting the stage for other people if the treatment really works on humans. You were in the coma for three weeks, and this is the first week since you woke up. That adds up to about a month, so don’t get your hopes up for at least eight more weeks.”
“Okay, Daddy, I appreciate the way you have answered my questions. I’ll try to be patient, but I don’t know how patient I can remain.”
“Precious, I am amazed at how calmly you have taken the news. I was always impressed at your good sense, but this is a new high.”
“How soon can I see Helen and Bob. I suddenly have new feelings for my siblings.” I grinned at that.
“My, my, such fancy talk. We had planned to bring them in on Saturday because there is no school for them to miss. Both of them have been terrors for your mother and me about getting to see you. We had been keeping them away because we were afraid that one of them would blurt out the news that we were keeping from you. There would have been no problem about that after Friday.”
We went on to talk about trivial things until Mom showed up. Dad told her that I had found out about the paralysis, but he didn’t mention Muffy. I was glad of that. Sometimes my father can be a real dear.
Dad sat quietly while she and I discussed what clothes I would wear while I was in rehab. We settled on skirts and blouses and went into detail about which ones to select. I was supposed to be moved to a rehab center on Monday, so that gave her time to find what I wanted and to wash the necessary items. She would bring a suitcase to the hospital on Monday morning because I was adamant that I was not going to travel in a johnny, even if I went by ambulance.
My brother and sister came to visit on Saturday, and they were remarkably well behaved. That was probably because of the hospital atmosphere putting a damper on their usual exuberance. Anyway, I was very happy to see them, and they acted as if the feeling were mutual. I think it was.
The whole family came in on Sunday and spent most of the day with me, even if the Yankees versus the Red Sox were on TV. Dad was a devout Red Sox fan, and I knew how much he hated to miss the game. There was some consolation when he found out that the Red Sox had won the game and that series two out of three. However, it was still early in the season and disaster could still happen for the Red Sox as it so often had. A Red Sox fan had to be philosophical.
Dad had to go to work, but Mom was there to go to the rehab place with me. I was sent by ambulance and she followed in her car. I got checked in and wound up in a private room because of the specialized treatment that I was going to get.
Most of the day was spent getting me familiar with the people and the hospital and filling out the paperwork needed by the medical company that was paying for all of this special treatment. I was exhausted by the time supper came, and Mom went home to feed the kids, as she laughingly said, “all three of them.” I spent the evening with some TV, but I went to sleep early.
I had no trouble falling to sleep, but I had the strangest dream. A woman whom I could not see clearly talked to me about the therapy that I faced. Mostly, this was just encouraging chatter about applying myself and not getting bored with all of the repetitive work. She did say that I would develop some amazing abilities as a result of the medicines that I was taking, but I should not talk to anyone about them. I would understand why as these abilities developed.
Well, that didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but what could one expect from a dream. Then it dawned on me—how did I know it was a dream if I was still dreaming it? I woke up as soon as that thought occurred to me, but I went back to sleep very quickly and slept normally for the rest of the night.