He had no idea what time it was, except that it was time to sleep, but he couldn’t. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw red. Could be it was the light over the head of his bed that the nurses would not turn off. Hospital policy, they said. Could be he saw his own blood coursing through his eyelids. Could be the pain meds they doped him with had a weird, visual, side effect. The point was, there was nothing else to do except sleep and he couldn’t. His shitty, I-am-a-pathetic-gimp attitude brewed in the pit of his stomach.
It was either attitude or hunger brewing there. He thought about food all the time, until they brought his tasteless meals, which consisted of differently colored spoonfuls of puree. He ate them because he knew they were calculated to make him feel better but they didn’t fill his need for real food. His hunger never went away. Hospital staff told him to ignore it, that it was probably gastro-reflux from lying down. They raised the head of his bed and propped pillows under him, so he spent his hours of captivity canted at an unnatural angle. His back ached, his butt ached, but when he tried to squirm away from the discomfort, it felt like he was tearing stitches. Of course, that was ridiculous, but he couldn’t stop worrying about it.
Oreos. Crunchy outside cookie, soft, sugary goodness sandwiched between. He smacked his lips. He could taste the grainy sweetness on his tongue. The machine down the hall offered Oreos, regular ones and some with interesting pink frosted centers. The problems were that the Oreos were not on his approved food list and even if they were, he would have to get out of bed, push the damned walker down the hallway to get them, and then find the strength to get back to his room and back into the bed. The whole business was problematic.
He lay in the hospital bed, a stranded snapping turtle with a yen for Oreos. To Oreo or not to Oreo, that was the question. He swallowed, relishing his imaginary treat. “How long are you goin’ to stare at the ceiling, you ol’ fool,” he said. “Grow some balls and break out of here.”
His pain was under control, why was he so afraid to get up?
He shut his eyes, squeezing his face into a grimace. “Just do it,” he thought.
Carefully, timidly if he was honest with himself, he scooted to the side of the bed, the way the therapist had taught him. He rolled to his side and opened his eyes. It didn’t hurt as badly as he anticipated. Encouraged, he pushed himself into a sitting position and let his legs fall over the edge of the mattress. Again, it wasn’t as painful as he expected.
The walker was a few inches to his right, so he grabbed it and pulled it toward him, centering it in front of his body. Slowly, he slid his butt forward until he could place his feet on the cool tile. He sat there for a few breaths, with his feet caressing the floor, his weight held by the mattress. How much did he want those Oreos?
His belly shouted, “Chocolate.”
Pain was quiet, though. He was on enough medication to tranq a horse.
Fear. Fear of causing pain froze him in place. How was he going to get along at home if he couldn’t find the courage to get off the damn bed by himself? He gritted his teeth and slowly shifted his weight onto his feet. As he did, the stretch to reach the floor flared against the stitches below his left ribs. He quickly grabbed the walker exacerbating the situation. The aluminum contraption bucked and banged against the floor. Slowly, he straightened until he, and the walker were upright.
A nurse popped her head through the door. “Need help?” she asked.
“No, I’m good,” he grunted. And as he stood there for a few seconds, he was.
She smiled, patted the door sill, and went back to her station. She returned thirty seconds later with grippy socks, which she cheerfully rolled onto his bony feet.
He watched her leave, moving so easily through the world. Sighing, he pushed the walker forward. Then he carefully scooted one socked foot, and then the other, step by step until he crossed the room. He shuffled down the darkened hall toward the softly lit waiting area and the vending machine. Standing in front of it, he knew he was ready; he could do this. Now if he just had change to buy some Oreos.
He really deserved Oreos.