Thursday, August 13, 2009

STORY - First Day Back

Flash Fiction - First Day Back by ParaCathy

Cathy used her wrists and palms to grasp the soft sheets, tossing them to the side and uncovering herself. She pushed herself up with some effort, using her forearms and elbows as she learned in rehab, until she was sitting, then pulled her limp, numb lower body a foot, so she was leaning against the oak headboard.

It was her first day back at work since the accident, and she was nervous, couldn't sleep. She woke up an hour before her alarm, which was already set an hour earlier than it had been before... before her jogging accident, before her broken back, before...

She looked to her left, to the chrome and black wheelchair that sat there, wheels locked, ready to carry her, to take her wherever she needed to go. She focused back on her normal routine, the routine that had been drilled into her over weeks and weeks of rehab.

Her braces were first, and she used her wrists and mouth to pull on the nylon and plastic splints, holding her wrists rigid, her lifeless fingers curled against her palm. She pressed the Velcro closures and then went to work on her diaper. It was a bulky overnight diaper that she hated, but also understood she needed. Changing her sheets every other day would be much more taxing - and more embarrassing, considering the reason behind it. She remembered the first time she saw the nurses change her sheets after she had wet them, and blushed a little, embarrassed at the memory.

Using her braced wrists and hands, she was able to remove the nighttime diaper and dispose if it, then took out some cleansing wipes and cleaned herself. There was no feeling, no sensation, nothing at all any more, not from her nipples down. Feet, legs, sex, stomach - it was all just numb now, useless. It was still her, of course - her body, her parts - but they were different now. She was different now.

Her panties were next. No more exotic thongs, though. She pulled open her nightstand drawer using the pull-loop that Miranda had added to it for her. Pulled out a pair of pink cotton panties and a 'protective undergarment' - a fancy way to say a small diaper, again in case she didn't cath in time, or her schedule was off a little. She struggled first to pull her limp left leg up until her knee just about hit her chest, then struggled with her mostly useless hands to get the panties on over her curled left foot. She did it, then pulled up the right leg and, after a few tries, finally got that leg into the panties too. Then it was just using her braced wrists to pull the panties up her unmoving legs, until they were up to her thighs. She slipped in the padded diaper insert and pulled them all the way up, rolling her hips side to side clumsily to get them all the way up.

Her bra was next - no more Victoria Secret for her. No way she could manage the clasps. She pulled an adapted bra over her head and pushed her arms through it, then used her braced wrists to pull and push it into place over her full - though half numb - breasts.

This process had already taken a full twenty five minutes and Cathy was feeling frustrated. She hadn't even made it into her wheelchair yet, hadn't even tried getting her stockings on. She had don it a few times in rehab, as she liked wearing stockings and pantyhose, but she knew it would be hard, that she might not even manage it.

She pulled a pair of nude pantyhose from her drawer and began the laborious process of scrunching them up onto her limp hands. First her left leg, floppy dead weight. She pulled the scrunched hose over her curled foot and began pulling it up past her ankle, to her calf, using her wrists and braced palms. Then the same process for the right leg, scrunching the hose over her crippled hands, then pulling the stretchy material over her unfeeling foot, up her leg, matching the level of the left. Then she pulled and slid and manipulated her stockings, her legs, her half-dead hands, to get the hose up her limp legs, up to her hips, tugging and pulling, rolling her hips from side to side like they showed her in rehab. Smoothing the stockings out with her braced hands, her wrists.

It took her another half hour. Thirty two minutes, to be exact - she was keeping track on the digital clock by the bedside. Thirty two minutes to put on a pair of nude colored pantyhose. And they still didn't set right on her right foot, the toe was noticeably crooked, but she didn't have the energy or the patience to fix it. She was just satisfied, even proud, that she had gotten it done all by herself. Something so simple a few months ago, barely a second thought in her daily routine, but now....

Cathy grabbed her smooth transfer board from the bedside and propped it between the bed and her wheelchair, pushing thoughts of 'before' out of her head. It would drive her to madness, thinking of 'before', because with a broken back and a diagnosis of low-level quadriplegic there was no 'before'. There was just 'here and now'. Just ugly words like 'wheelchair' and 'cripple' and 'catheter' and 'assisted devices'.

She began the slow, careful transfer into her wheelchair, first setting the transfer board firmly, moving her buttocks onto it, slipping her already atrophied legs off the bed limply, getting her balance - or what was left of it. She pushed with one braced hand, pulled with the other, slid her bottom over the smooth transfer board into the seat of her wheelchair. Seat belt first - she made that mistake already, second day home, and toppled to the floor. The Velcro belt was secured in place, then she started pulling her legs into the chair's legrests. Positioning them as best she could, though her toes always flopped and pointed in odd directions now. Not very ladylike, but then again was she even still a lady? Or just some 'thing' in a chair, numb and lifeless from her nipples down? The things that made her a woman now foreign to her, familiar yet distant, like an aunt you remember form childhood but haven't seen in decades.

She moved the transfer board back to it's spot by the bed and pushed on the knobbed rims of her manual chair, using the strength in her biceps and triceps to move herself, turning towards the door. She could have had a power chair - probably should have had a power chair. Hell, wished she had a power chair the first time she wheeled over moderate carpet, and Miranda's parent's house. She had to ask for help, she couldn't get the chair moving once it had stopped. Too much resistance from that plush carpeting. She cried that night on the way home. Miranda held her hand, but she barely felt it.

She made it to the bathroom and started that process. Pulling down her pantyhose, then her panties and diaper, took a while, but wasn't as difficult in her chair. She took out the catheter, cleaned everything as she was expected to, and then proceeded to 'do her business'. The color looked OK, no infections or other things to call the doctor about. She still had a hard time getting used to things like that, checking her pee. Just part of the deal now - lots of ways to land back in the hospital when you can't feel two thirds of your body. Infection, pressure sores, circulation problems. The doctors had gone over so many things, showed her films that were more like horror movies than medical treatments. And this was her life now.

She finished, cleaned everything, then took her 'adapted' hairbrush - that would be a regular hairbrush with a loop around the handle that cost $40 instead of the normal $8. She slowly and clumsily brushed her hair, hated the way it looked, brushed it again, made it worse, then finally got it to a point where it was at least passable. Small victories were about the best she hoped for since the accident.

Done in the bathroom she wheeled to her closet, all her clothing now hanging 'wheelchair height', and picked out a very conservative skirt and blouse. The skirt was, of course, 'adaptive clothing' - specially made for someone in a chair, someone who wouldn't be standing up in it. She pulled on the white blouse and used the 'button puller' to get it buttoned up. A simple tool, she actually thought it would have been handy even before her accident, when she could use her hands, because it made buttoning her blouse very simple. After her blouse, she took the skirt - Velcro closures and a specially cut waist helped her to get it on without too much struggle, though it still took her nearly ten minutes to get it on and fastened properly. She pushed herself to the floor length mirror and looked at herself.

She tried to see 'Cathy' - her face, the curve of her breasts, the fall of her auburn hair. Instead she saw the wheelchair. She saw her useless legs. She saw the braces on her hands. She saw her curled feet. She saw the silver SUV that had thrown her twelve feet into the air as she was jogging, shattering her spine. She saw the rest of her life in a wheelchair. She turned her eyes away.

She wheeled to the kitchen and started the coffee, then took out some bread and slid it into the toaster. Everything was 'adapted' for her, true, but it was still a pain in the ass. Just putting something within easy reach didn't really make it easier for someone who couldn't move or feel her fingers, she thought bitterly, grabbing a coffee mug between her wrists and placing it under the Keurig machine. Once it was heated up, she dropped a K-Cup into the hopper and hit the flashing button, the machine whirring to life and brewing her morning coffee.

She ate her toast and slowly drank her coffee, watching CNN, talking heads debating about something or someone she had never heard of. She used to be so interested in the news, wanting to sound 'informed' and 'worldly'. Now her world was very different, and she really didn't care about those things any more. Her world was about getting through the day without falling out of her wheelchair or spilling her drink all over herself or pissing herself. that was about the biggest deal in world events she could handle at this point.

Things would get better, that was the mantra in rehab. Not her legs, not her hands, but 'things'. They meant, of course, that with practice and rehab and exercise and adherence to a 'program', living with her disability would get better, be more managable, daily tasks would seem less daunting. But that was after years. Maybe three or four of five of them. ans some things she would never 'get used to'. Never just 'accept and move on'. That was from Mike, one of her rehab coaches, who had been a paraplegic for a decade. A decade in a chair, and the only ray of hope he could give her was 'It will get better, but it will take a few years, at least'. Awesome.

And it was her first day back at work.

She wheeled to the door and reached over to the plant stand she had converted to her 'easy-reach shoe storage'. She only had one pair of 'approved' shoes, black leather things that were 'good for her feet' and 'protective' but looked like an elderly librarian had designed them. She lifted her limp left leg first and slipped the shoe onto her curled foot, making sure her toes weren't pinched or twisted, then placed her foot back onto the foot bar. She did the Same for the right, almost dropping the shoe but catching it by pressing it between her left leg and forearm, then struggling to manipulate it back into position. She got it on and placed her foot back on her footrest, trying to position her feet 'normally', but no matter what she tried they always slid or flopped back into looking 'wrong' - curled and turned in at her ankles. She stopped fidgeting with them in annoyed defeat and wheeled to her desk, rummaging through her paperwork, making sure she had her door card, her ID badge. Work had elevators and ramps, she wasn't worried about that nearly as much as what her co-workers would do, what they would say. She was going to feel like she was in an aquarium or zoo exhibit for a few weeks, she was sure.

She told herself she was ready for it, but as the clock ticked closer and closer to the time she had to meet the car they were sending, the wheelchair accessible transport they were providing until she got her license back, she wasn't as sure. She was starting to feel nervous. Afraid.

The clock struck eight thirty and she wheeled out of her apartment, taking her keys and placing her leather bag on her lap. She wheeled down the hall, pushing against the knobs on her rims with her braced palms, and reached the front door. She pressed her door card to the panel on the wall and it swung open for her. She saw the 'car' - an adapted mini-van with the side lift already down and waiting for her - and wheeled up to it , forcing a smile at the driver, and elderly gentleman. He locked her chair to the lift and raised her up eight inches, then she wheeled into the vehicle and loced her chair by the window. The lift folded in and the doors closed, and she was suddenly on her way...

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