“I know it’s kind of a bummer, spending Thanksgiving stuck in here.”
“So we don’t get to celebrate the genocide of Native Americans by shoving vegetables up a dead turkey’s ass and then eating it,” he deadpanned, “who cares?”
“That’s the spirit,” the young nurse responded as she adjusted his fluid levels and Scott attempted to choke back a laugh.
The doctors had basically forced Mitch to renounce his vegan diet on the grounds that he needed to put on weight, but that didn’t stop him making snide, graphic remarks about eating animal flesh whenever they brought him a bland hospital hamburger.
Spending the holiday in the hospital certainly wasn’t ideal, but at least Scott had a long weekend off and was able to stay with Mitch. Besides, with the constant fluctuations in Mitch’s lung condition, the hospital had become like a second home over the past couple years.
The timing worked out pretty conveniently actually. Mitch’s dad had spent the last week with him but had to leave to catch a place back to Texas for work the previous day, just as Scott arrived to relieve him. Mitch’s mom couldn’t take any more time off work either since the family’s health insurance was tied to her job so if she were let go, they wouldn’t be able to pay Mitch’s medical bills. Since they’d chosen to go to college 2,000 miles from Texas, that left Mitch with Scott as his only person to lean on, a responsibility Scott had taken on wholeheartedly when Mitch received the diagnosis their sophomore year.
“We’re going to bump up his dose of Sildenafil to 30 milligrams,” the nurse announced, typing something into the computer in the corner.
Scott nodded and wrote that down in the notebook he used to record everything from the time and contents of Mitch's daily meals, to all his complex medical information. He referred to the notes often so he could track patterns in his condition, keep up with the medical jargon, and converse competently with the doctors.
“Y’know, I bet by the time they cure me, we’ll have enough material in there to do our own spinoff of The Notebook,” Mitch joked. “About two gays that found love in a hopeless place. We’ll make millions."
“And be best friends with Rihanna,” Scott added as he carefully highlighted the new dose in pink.
The head RN came in awhile later to check in. Unlike the team of pulmonologists at this hospital that had worked with Mitch from the beginning and understood the intricacies of his condition, she was new to his case and it showed.
“I want you to take a slow breath in for ten seconds,” she instructed.
He can’t do that, Scott thought.
“Then hold it for ten seconds,” she continued.
He can’t do that, Scott thought.
“And then exhale forcefully to help dislodge any fluid.”
He can’t do that, Scott thought. But he stayed quiet and watched Mitch breath in for four seconds, hold it for three, and cough weakly on his exhale.
The nurse was about to make him try again when Scott decided to intervene, asking her to talk with him in the hall.
It had taken him too long to figure it out, but the key to improving someone’s condition in the hospital isn’t just experienced doctors, medication, and excessive amounts of hand sanitizer. Patients need a strong advocate. Mitch needed someone to sit by his side and monitor his mood in a way the incessantly beeping machines can’t. Someone to help him to the bathroom the very second he decides he needs to pee. Someone to say no for him.
No, you can’t test his vitamin D levels again. No, you can’t wake him up for that. No, you can’t bring him pizza with pineapple on it.
Not every patient has someone like that, and it shows. They languish in bed, waiting on nurses who are far too overloaded and busy.
“Honey, I have a masters degree in pulmonary health,” the nurse stated once they were in the hallway.
There was a time when Scott respected that level medical knowledge above almost anything else, back when he believed doctors could fix Mitch. Now he sees that even with all their knowledge, they’re just as clueless as he is.
“I have a masters degree in Mitchell Coby Michael Grassi. I’ve known him for ten years and lived with him for three and I might not know what’s causing his lung disease but I know every little thing it does to him and I sure as hell know he can’t do those fucking breathing exercises.”
It wasn’t Scott’s traditional Thanksgiving argument, but the nurse’s critical gaze almost made him wish he were back home in Texas arguing about Trump with his conservative relatives.
“We’ll try again tomorrow,” she finally conceded and left to continue her rounds.
“She was a fucking bitch, but you really didn’t have to cuss her out Scotty,” Mitch scolded playfully when he reentered the room, clearly having heard the conversation.
Mitch never had an issue sticking up for himself and Scott tried to let him handle things as much as possible. But lately, the witty remarks Scott always anticipated from Mitch sometimes never came. And that scared him. It scared him even more than the tubes and needles.
After checking with the nurse on shift, Scott helped Mitch into a wheelchair, tucked a blanket around his legs, and brought him down to the third floor sun deck for some fresh air.
“Ugh, I’m vitamin D deficient in more ways than one,” Mitch complained as he removed his sweater to allow the afternoon sun to warm his pale skin. Scott tried not to focus on how thin his arms had become.
“Tell me about it,” Scott sympathized. The hospital is a tough place to fuck.
Mitch had received accommodations to finish his exams online due to his situation, but Scott had make the two hour drive back to the college campus to sit his finals in person. After that, he’d be free to return to Mitch and have three weeks off for winter break, sometime during which Mitch would hopefully be discharged.
Scott kept the goodbye brief because he would be back in just three days and Mitch would be fine. He’d be fine.
Thankfully, the tears didn’t spill over until he reached the elevator. The more he cried, the better he felt so he kept crying until he drove out of the dark parking garage into brilliant sunlight that hurt his eyes. And the further he drove from the hospital, the lighter he felt and that made him sad so he cried some more.
Somehow, bombing 3 finals had been the refreshing break he didn’t know he needed. Now he felt he could sit in the hospital for several months straight with Mitch if necessary.
Possibly motivated by guilt, he made a stop at Target before making the drive back to the hospital. Wandering aimlessly through the aisles, he searched for things that might make any marginal improvement in Mitch’s time at the hospital. He picked out a couple of games they could try. Maybe Mitch would like a strawberry scented shampoo. Or perhaps he’d like to try a new soft pillow. Some bright nail polish might cheer him up. The squeaky wheel on his rapidly-filling cart reminded him of all the hospital noises that bothered Mitch so much. Finding his way to the electronics section, he spent all of thirty seconds staring at the ten different options of noise-cancelling headphones on the shelf before he unceremoniously tossed the most expensive one into the cart. Student loans be damned.
Scott breathed a huge internal sigh of relief upon returning to the hospital room to find Mitch working his way through a bowl of ice cream, complaining of nothing but boredom.
They spent the rest of the evening catching up as though they hadn’t FaceTimed multiple times per day during Scott’s absence.
He immediately startled upright in the dark room, heart pounding, but found Mitch just looking calmly at him, his shallow, tired face illuminated by Spongebob on the TV.
“What do you need?” Scott asked automatically.
“Nothing,” he answered, then seem to think hard for a long moment about what to say next.
“I’m really excited for when we meet Rihanna,” he stated eventually.
“And for when we graduate.”
“I might die before we get to do that.”
“I know,” Scott said. He knew.
“You’ll be okay,” Mitch said like a command. “Even though we’ll miss each other.”
Scott nodded and waited until Mitch laid back in bed. Then he wrote that in the notebook.