“Good morning, Alex,” a friendly-looking man in blue scrubs said as he stepped up next to Alex’s hospital bed. He held a metal clipboard box against his left hip and reached out his right hand. “I’m Malik. I’ll be your physical therapist for the next eight weeks or so.”
“Do you think I’ll be able to walk again?” It was the first time Alex had dared utter the words out loud. Everyone was so glad he was alive that they were avoiding the discussion about the lack of feeling in his legs. Damage to the spinal cord. That was the official diagnosis. Telephone pole – one, Alex – zero.
“Well, I’ve touched exactly one part of your body so far, and from what I understand, your hand wasn’t damaged. Even if it had been, that wouldn’t hinder your ability to walk.”
“Thanks,” Malik said, pulling up a chair. “I pride myself on my humor. If I can keep my patients laughing, they won’t realize how much I’m torturing them.”
“Well since I have very little feeling in my legs, I won’t notice you torturing me either.”
“It is my job to work those muscles and tendons and nerves until they repair themselves and you can swear at me and wish you remembered about the humor thing.”
“I will never swear again.” Alex shook his head and felt a tiny pang of guilt in his heart for the multitude of times he’d sworn in his lifetime.
“Why not?” Malik cocked his head to the side.
“Because God doesn’t like it.” Alex thought it should be so obvious. “He told me.”
“He told you?” Malik raised his eyebrows. “The big guy?”
“Well no,” Alex admitted, and Malik relaxed. “It was actually an angel who told me, but he was referring to the Father.”
“An angel said not to swear?”
“I’m not sure they ever actually used those exact words. It was more that I knew what they were thinking,” Alex said.
“All the angels. There were, like, thousands of them.”
“Th—thousands?” Malik stammered. “What else do you remember?”
Alex shrugged. “I dunno. Everything.”
“Yeah, it was beautiful. I didn’t want to come back.” Alex averted his eyes.
“Huh…” Malik wrote something on his clipboard then stood from his chair and walked to the foot of the bed. He exposed Alex’s legs and conducted a visual examination. “Sorry if you’re cold. I’ll try not to take too long.”
“I’m okay,” Alex said. “I can’t feel much down there.”
“Your skin developed goosebumps right after I uncovered your legs,” Malik said. “I’m going to poke you in a lot of places and see where you react to stimulation.”
“You’re propped up a little and I’m going to lower your head in a minute so you can’t see what I’m doing, but I want you to see what I plan to do, so you can make a determination about how that feels. Then when you feel similar reactions, you’ll know.”
“Sounds logical,” Alex said.
“See how I’m pressing on your thigh? Can you feel that?”
Malik pressed harder, and harder, and finally Alex felt pressure, but almost thought the pressure was more that his leg was being pressed into the bed, not like he was actually feeling any pain.
“Okay, now I’m going to poke you with this metal rod, and I want you to tell me when you feel anything.”
“Okay.” Alex could see Malik pressing his rod into Alex’s leg but never really felt pain from the action.
“Now, these needles are a little larger than acupuncture needles and I’m going to press them into your skin. Have you ever experienced acupuncture?”
“That’s okay. I just want you to be aware that these are safe and sterile and I’m using a new one each time,” Malik said. “I’m going to lower the head of your bed and start moving your legs around. I want you to tell me every time you feel even the slightest physical reaction and try to describe it to me.”
“Is that a permanent marker?” Alex asked.
“Yep, I’m going to sign my autograph to your leg, so you’ll think I’m a rock star.”
“If you can get me to walk again, you are a rock star in my book.”
“I’m going to make some notes and markings on the places where you react, or don’t react, so they’ll be readily obvious when I come back tomorrow.” Malik pressed the button to lower the head of the bed.
“That’s genius,” Alex said.
“Thanks, I think so too.” Malik smiled then disappeared from view. He was quiet and Alex wasn’t sure when he’d get started.
After several minutes, Alex lifted his head to try to see what Malik was waiting for. He was hunched over, writing something on Alex’s leg.
“Keep your head down,” Malik grumbled.
Alex laid his head back onto his pillow and felt tears prick the corners of his eyes. The lack of feeling as Malik worked was a testament to the severity of his injury. He was never going to walk again.