“Do you feel ready?” he asks me once everything is set up and I’m all that’s left to deal with.
“As I ever will,” I tell him.
I’m scared. What if this hurts? What if this doesn’t work? What if I have to stay in this bed for the rest of my life, and I can never move, and this is it for me? What if my life is sugar-free Jell-O and dry chicken dinners? I’ll just lie here in a hospital gown that doesn’t close in the back for the rest of my waking days.
Oh, God. Oh, God. This gown doesn’t close in the back.
Henry is going to see my ass.
“You’re going to see my butt, aren’t you?” I ask as he moves toward me.
To his credit, he doesn’t laugh at me. “I won’t look,” he says.
I’m not sure that answer is good enough.
“I’m a professional nurse, Hannah. Give me a little credit. I’m not gonna sneak a peek at your tush for kicks.”
I can’t help but laugh as I consider my choices. Which is to say that I consider that I don’t really have a choice at all if I want to get out of this bed.
“Cool?” he says.
“Cool,” I say.
He takes my legs and spins me. I inch myself toward him.
He gets up close to me. He puts his arm around my back, his other arm under my legs.
“One,” he says.
“Two,” I say with him.
“Three!” we say as he lifts me, and then, within seconds, I’m in the wheelchair.
I’m in a wheelchair.
Someone just had to lift me into a wheelchair.
I was going to have a baby, and it died.
“OK?” Henry says.
“Yeah,” I say, shaking my head and pushing the bad thoughts out of my mind. “Yes!” I add. “I’m excited about this! Where are we going?”
“Not much of anywhere this go-around,” he says. “Right now, we just want to get you comfortable in the chair and familiar with it. Maybe just wheel around the room a bit.”
I turn and look at him. “Oh, come on,” I say. “I want out of this room. I’ve been peeing in a bedpan for days. I want to see something.”
He looks at his watch. “I’m supposed to check on other patients.”
I get it. He has a job. I’m a part of his job. “OK,” I say. “Tell me how it works.”
He starts showing me how to push the wheels and how to stop. We roam around the room. I push myself so hard that I crash into the wall, and Henry runs toward me and grabs me.
“Whoa, there,” he says. “Take it slow.”
“Sorry,” I say. “Got away from me.”
“I guess we know you probably won’t ever be a race-car driver.”
“Pretty sure I ruled that out when I got hit by a car.”
Henry could, at this moment, feel bad for me. But he doesn’t. I like that. I like that so much.
“Well, don’t be a pilot, either,” he says. “Or did you already cross that one off because you were hit by a plane?”
I look up at him, indignant. “Do you talk to all of your patients this way?” I ask him. There it is. The question I’ve been pondering for days. And I said it as if I didn’t care about his answer in the slightest.
“Only the bad ones,” he says. Then he leans down and grabs the arms of my wheelchair. His face is in mine, so close that I can see the pores on his skin, the specks of gold in his eyes. If this were any other man in any other situation, I’d think he was going to kiss me. “If you happened to roll yourself out of this room,” he says with a sly smile across his face, “I’m sure it would take a minute before I caught up with you and wheeled you back in here.”
Henry slowly takes his arms off my chair, clearing the way.
I don’t look at the door. I stare at him. “If I just happened to scoot my wheels this way,” I say, “and push myself right out into the hallway . . .”
“I might not notice until you’d had a nice breath of air out there.”
“So this is OK?” I say, looking at him but heading for the door.
He laughs. “Yeah, that’s OK.”
“And if I get to the threshold?”
He shrugs. “We’ll see what happens.”
I keep rolling myself forward. My arms are already tired from pushing myself. “If I just roll on right past it?”
He laughs. “You should probably take your eyes off me and watch where you’re going,” he says, just as I ram a wheel into the door frame.
“Oops,” I say, backing up and then straightening. And then I roll myself right out into the hallway.
It’s busier than I would have thought. There are more stations, more nurses, than I get a glimpse of in my room. And I’m sure it’s the very same air I breathe from my hospital bed, but it seems fresher somehow out here. The hallway is even blander, more banal, than what I imagined from my bed. The floor underneath my wheels is squeaky clean. The walls on either side of me are an innocuous shade of oatmeal. But in some ways, I might as well have landed on the moon. That’s how novel and foreign it feels for a split second.
“All right, Magellan,” Henry says, grabbing the handles on the back of my chair. “Enough discovering for one day.”
When we cross through the doorway back into my room, I thank him. He nods at me.
“Don’t mention it.”
He wheels me back to my bed.
“You ready?” he says.
I nod and brace myself. I know it’s going to hurt when he picks me up, when he puts me down. “Go for it,” I say.
He puts his arms underneath my legs. He tells me to put my arms around his neck, to hold on to him tightly. He leans over me, putting his other arm around my back. My forehead grazes his chin, and I can feel his stubble.
I land back on my bed with a thud. He helps me move my legs straight and puts my blanket back on me.
“How are you feeling?” he asks.
“I’m good,” I say. “Good.”
The truth is, I feel as if I am about to cry. I am about to break down into tears the size of marbles. I don’t want to be back in this bed. I want to be up and moving and living and doing and seeing. I have tasted the glory of sitting in the hallway. I don’t want to be back in this bed.
“Good,” he says. “So I think Deanna is taking over for me in an hour or so. She’ll be in to check on you and see how you’re doing. I’ll tell Dr. Winters that it went well today. I bet they will have you headed for physical therapy in no time. Keep it up.”
I know that a nurse telling a patient to “keep it up” is normal. I know that. I think that is what bothers me about it.
Henry is by the door, heading out.
“Thanks,” I call to him.
“My pleasure,” he says. “See you tonight.” And then he seems to suddenly feel nervous. “I just mean . . . if you’re awake.”
“I know what you mean,” I say, smiling. I can’t help but feel as if he’s looking forward to seeing me. I suppose I could be wrong. But I don’t think I am. “See you tonight.”
He smiles at me, and then he’s gone.
I’m so jittery that I can’t sit still, and yet sitting still is all I’m capable of. So I turn on the TV. I sit and wait for something interesting to happen. It doesn’t.
Deanna comes in a few times to check on me. Other than that, nothing happens.
The hospital is a boring, boring, boring, quiet, sterile, boring place. I turn the TV off and turn onto my side as best I can. I try to fall asleep.
I don’t wake up until Gabby comes in around six thirty. She’s got a pizza in her arms and a stack of American magazines.
“You snore so loud,” Gabby says. “I swear I could hear you down the hall.”
“Oh, shut up,” I say. “The other night when you slept here, Henry compared you to a bulldozer.”
She looks at me and puts the pizza and magazines down on the table. “Who is Henry?”
“The night nurse guy,” I say. “Nobody.”
The fact that I call him nobody makes it seem as if he’s somebody. I realize that now. Gabby raises her eyebrow at me.