A continuation of the Alastair Saga
Chapter 5: 24 February 2021
When she enters Alastair's room, he is standing: ruddy, body hunched over, knuckles white from gripping the walker, sweating, panting, but for the most part upright. Two nurses accompany him, wheeling his IV stands and his oxygen alongside him, words of encouragement issuing from their lips.
He looks up at Marie as she approaches. He's short of breath, but his eyes light up, and for a moment Marie can almost believe the old Alastair is still in there somewhere. She lets herself think that he isn't completely broken.
"Hi, darling." Marie threads her arms under his shoulders and wraps him in an embrace, pulling him close to her. He feels so fragile in her grasp. She can easily wrap her arms around him, something she was not always able to do, because he's always struggled with his weight. But now he's so much thinner; he still has some extra kilograms on his frame, but his shoulders are bony, and she can feel his spine. His face looks very different, too--it's narrower, paler, older, sadder. Rarely is a smile seen on it. His eyes are often distant and wrought with pain and sadness, and they're always rimmed by puffy circles. He just looks so world-weary, so downtrodden, like all of his hope has been taken away.
"Hi." His voice is a warm vibration in her ear. Feeling the puff on his breath makes her feel so grateful, so relieved. It means he is still alive, and he's not a figment of her imagination. He is real, and he is here, and he has not stopped fighting.
Allie lets go of his walker to drape his arms on her shoulders. He slumps forward, unable to support himself. Marie staggers, surprised by the sudden burden of holding up Alastair; she adjusts her arms and tries to straighten her posture, but her arms are burning. "Allie--Allie--I can't--"
"Come here, Alastair..." One of the nurses lifts him up, careful not to move him too abruptly lest his IV ports are disturbed. Marie heaves a deep sigh, relieved not to be supporting Allie's weight by herself, and rests her head on his collarbone.
"Sorry," he murmurs, hugging her tighter. "I didn' mean to...I didn't mean to hurt you."
"'Tis alright," she wheezes. And it is. He is just excited to see her, is all. He momentarily forgot how feeble he really is, how he has not regained the strength to do things on his own. But he is getting better, even if he will not fully recover.
"I'm sorry, Marie, I'm sorry...."
"You did nothing wrong. 'Twas an accident." She smiles at him. Peers into his forlorn blue eyes. For ten horrific days, she remembers, she feared she would never see those eyes again, and that she'd never get to cuddle him or hold him or hear his voice. Six months later, that fear still lingers, so she savors each second she spends with him. She works hard to accept him and cherish him just as he is, even though he is broken and sick and dying, because he's her Allie. He's still the smiling boy who would always take her hand and hold doors for her, who talked nonstop about law and politics and Hamlet, who had such a bright future ahead of him that he wanted to share with her. The things about him that she loves so much are still there, just buried deeply inside of him, because he can't be...he cannot be so far gone that he hast lost every piece of his soul.
Marie and the nurses escort Alastair back to his bed, a process that takes a few minutes. She does not mind as much as she used to, though. Maybe she is still in denial, or maybe she has come to accept the fact that she will have to help take care of him. Whatever the reason, she is more than willing to help him, and she feels joy in the fact that she is at his side.
In wedding ceremonies, at least in the West, each lover promises to cherish one another in sickness and in health. That one phrase rings loudly in Marie's head now: In sickness and in health, in sickness, in sickness. Alastair is afflicted by a grave sickness; for years, he has been hiding it, concealing it, and she countenanced it.
She sits next to him on the side of his bed, her arm lovingly wrapped around him. He leans into her and lets out a contented, tired noise. But his chest is heaving, and she can tell he's gasping for air, even with the supplemental oxygen he's receiving. And she knows how scarred his liver is. He does not have long to live unless he gets a transplant, and even then, he...he has so many complications from alcoholism and sepsis. He might not even survive long after a transplant, if he lives to receive one at all.
Part of his mental difficulties, she has learned, stem from his advanced liver disease. Hepatic encephalopathy, 'tis called. Judging by how badly his brain is already damaged, he will never regain his cognitive faculties. He gets confused easily, and he will lose his train of thought often, become irritable. His fine motor coordination is poor, although physical weakness is also a factor, and recent eye tests revealed that his vision is blurred. 'Tis very likely he will need corrective eyeglasses. He is not doing very well on his cognitive activities, and, while his neurological team have assured them he might be able to make improvements with his cognitive function, they are not optimistic.
She gently pulls his blankets toward his person and tucks them in around him. She can see in his face that he is uncomfortable, that he is hurting, but she does not know how to help him. Perhaps he is fatigued from physical exertion, or perhaps 'tis one of his myriad of ailments.
If she could take away all of his pain, she would do it in an instant. She'd cure him, alleviate his discomfort, give him a healthy liver, put a smile on his face. She'd escort him right out of the hospital to the car, and then they'd drive home with Alastair nestled in her arms.
She wants to believe that day will happen soon. He will walk out of here alive, and he will get better. He will be able to come home, and the sweet, kind man she knows and loves will come back to her.
Marie knows he will never be the same. She knows he has brain damage, that his addiction has warped his mind. But she sees a glimmer of faith whenever his eyes light up, or when he tries to muster the courage to smile. She tells herself, all the time, that he is not completely gone, not yet.
Her fingers are entangled in his hair now, and she's tenderly massaging his scalp, mindful of the spot where he fractured his skull. "You're hair's getting long," she tells him. "You need a trim again." He's not wearing his hat right now, so his mocha curls are visible. When he was younger, he kept his hair close-cropped, but he started growing it out in his thirties. 'Tis a good look for him, in her opinion; it makes him seem friendlier, livelier. And he is both of those things--or was.
"I like my hair," he mumbles, partially to himself.
"I know. I know you do. Just a little trim to keep it from getting overgrown again."
He draws a few raspy breaths before responding. "I like it."
She hates listening to him breathe. She knows how scarred his lungs are, and he does, too; they've shown him the scans. And he knows that he's been sick, very sick, but not the full extent of it.
"We'll keep it curly. Just give it a little trim to keep it healthy."
He grunts at her response, but says nothing. Did she hurt him in some way? His chin is tilted downward, and he's staring into space. His hands are limp, like they often are, and now he's simply wheezing, wheezing, struggling to get in air.
Is there really no hope for him? Is he going to die, weak and defeated, at the hands of his horrible maladies? What if he is too sick for there to be any point in giving him a liver transplant--is he truly terminal?
She leans closer to him, rests her head on his shoulder. "I like your hair, too, Allie. And I really like being with you."
"You...do?" he rasps.
The linear scar on his neck bobs as he swallows. "I...I always love it when you visit me."
"Aaww...I always love visiting you." She kisses his head. "Being with you always makes my day."
He used to be incapable of responding to her. Back when he had a trach, he could not let out so much as a hoarse noise or a whisper. He'd make attempts to speak, then become frustrated when nothing came out. She'd watched him feebly flail about countless times, or strain against the confines of his battered body. Frequently, he'd shed tears, but not as profusely as he does now. He had been very sedated on account of his injuries, and his TBI had rendered him profoundly dazed. The best he could do was watch her, vaguely gesture, and squeeze her hand while she held his.
He's come so far since then, even though he does not believe or comprehend it. He used to be unable to move, let alone sit up and walk by himself. He would just lie there, immobile, with all of those IV lines in his arms. He only has three now, thank Gott. And he only requires a nasal cannula for breathing.
"You...you make me happy. You make me, you make me feel like I...matter."
"You do matter. You are the love of my life, Alastair. And I love you with all of my heart and soul." She hugs him as tightly as she dares and shuts her eyes. Her throat constricts, and she feels liquid gathering behind her shut lids, but she will not let it fall.
Marie inhales, breathing in the scents of antiseptic and that general hospital smell she has come to both ignore and loathe. And she breathes in the scent of Allie, her sweet, precious Allie, and thinks about all the times she's almost lost him.
He's still here, she tells herself. He's still here. He hasn't left you. You're holding him. He's right here.
"I love you," he croaks, albeit belatedly. "Marie, I...I love you. I love you. I am...I am...so...sorry I hurt...sorry I let my...let it all get...away from me. Like that. And that I'm sick, and that I hurt you." He draws a gasping breath. He's been gasping a lot more lately. In fact, she can feel a rattle from deep within his lungs. "I never wanted to hurt you."
But he has hurt her, in one of the worst possible ways. Through no fault of his own, he is going to die, and then she will have been abandoned.
He drowned himself in alcohol; he may have even been trying to end his life. But he did not intentionally inflict this horrific fate upon himself. He wouldn't, he would never, he could not have done this to himself on purpose.