Jason left her about six months after his 21st birthday. Well, he didn’t leave exactly; he was still there ─ so to speak.
Sookie walked into the private hospital room he was in and started unloading her bag. Chap stick, hairbrush, and Paul Mitchell shampoo, some of his cologne, music and a book. She yanked the blinds open and the sunlight streamed in, highlighting his incredibly pale skin.
“Hey, brother.” Sookie said, forcing a smile into her voice. She stroked his hair and held onto his hand, leaning down so he could see her face if he chose to open his eyes. He had done that quite a bit over the past few months.
Jason’s hand gave her a tight squeeze, which she returned. She settled onto the edge of the bed and sighed. “Boy, that drive was hot and long today, Jason! I felt like I would never get here!”
She reached for the brush and began to comb his short hair, running it firmly against his scalp. A soft groan filled his throat and he moved his lips. She knew how good it felt to have her scalp brushed close, especially when it wasn’t gettin’ done on the regular.
She looked up when his nurse came in to check his vitals. “How are you doing today, Sookie?” His nurse asked with a pleasant smile.
Sookie knew they all thought she was crazy, they were all sure he was gone and everything he did was a reflex. Sookie knew better though.
“I’m doin’ just fine, Holly. How about yourself? Isn’t it a beautiful day today?”
“It sure is!” She responded, making notes on his chart.
“When will y’all be getting him up today? I’d really like to wash his hair good and take him outside for it to dry. It’s so warm and pretty, I think he’d really like it.”
Holly paused for a moment. Sookie knew they just humored her. They didn’t think any of it really mattered. The only reason they got him up for therapy was to keep his limbs from atrophy. Holly looked into Sookie’s eyes and she must have seen the hope there because she nodded and said, “I’ll send Tim and Eric right on in. They can get started on his therapy then you can go ahead and do with Jason whatever you need to do.”
“Thank you, Holly, I do appreciate your kindness.” Sookie leaned over and kissed Jason on the head. “We’re gonna have a nice day today, you and I.”
He moaned again and his eyelids fluttered, giving her just a hint of his chocolate brown eyes.
Sookie pulled her “smell” kit out of her bag and went through the same routine she did each time she was there. She read an awful lot about brain injuries and that sometimes people who are in coma’s wake up simply because a smell triggers something in there mind- a memory of a person, a place, or a food.
She started with coconut essential oil from the health food store and put just a tiny bit on a Q-tip. She didn’t want to overwhelm him after all. She waved it gently right under his nose and he breathed in real deep like, then released it with loud moan.
“You know that smell, don’t ya, Jay? Smells just like the suntan oil I use every year when it gets warm enough to lay out!” She smiled happily to herself, sure that it would only be a matter of time before he would come back. “You used to get so mad at me, greasin’ everything up I touched with that stuff. Well, you’d be happy to know that I haven’t done that in a long while, I am too busy now.” Her voice trailed off. Between working and driving the two hours to see him nearly every day, Sookie didn’t have much time for anything, let alone sunbathing.
Sookie noticed how chapped his lips were and sighed. It seemed like there was always something needin’ to be taken care of. She understood there were a lot of patients in this rehabilitation hospital, but it hurt her heart when she saw his chapped lips, a knick from when he was shaved, or him lying’ in an uncomfortable position with his head smack against the rails on the side of the hospital bed. She had even take to putting a flier above his bed that said, “If you wouldn’t be comfortable in this position what makes you think he would be?” That helped for a while but the staff had a fairly high turn-over rate, it was an awfully tough job, and it seemed like she was forever teaching someone new how to take proper care of him.
She found a washcloth by the sink and got it nice and damp. “I’m gonna wash your face now, Jason.” Sookie said softly, before pressing the luke-warm rag to his face. She didn’t want to startle him. For someone who ‘reacted solely on reflex’ he was awfully jumpy.
She was just finishing washing him up and rubbing all of the dead skin off his poor lips when one of the physical therapists walk in. She put some lip balm on her finger and gently massaged it into Jason’s dry lips. He groaned again and pressed his lips together, breathing in nice and deep. The Chap Stick smelled like cherries.
“Hi, ma’am, you Mr. Stackhouse’s relation?” He stood next to the bed and she could see his badge said Tim.
“Yes, sir.” Sookie responded politely, stroking Jason’s arm. She read how important physical touch was during the healing process. “We’re just getting him ready for the day.”
Tim looked at her like she was daft, but she was used to that look. “All right, ma’am.”
Sookie found Jason’s deodorant in her overnight bag and gently raised his left arm, applying it liberally. Since he didn’t move much on his own, if at all, he got stinky real fast. She knew he wouldn’t like that- not having good hygiene.
“Would you mind helping me with his right arm?” Sookie asked as she leaned over. “You have to be real careful─” She was cut off by the horrific moaning that came from Jason as Tim wrenched his arm up. “Stop! Stop! He broke that arm and shoulder! Let him go! You’re hurtin’ him!” Tears were streaming down her face watching Jason’s body curl into itself; his eyes wide open in horror.
“What the hell is going on in here?” A tall blond man strode into the room, his face masked with anger. She assumed he was Eric.
Tim quickly dropped Jason’s arm and Sookie spoke to him soothingly, stroking his face.
“Sorry about that, Doc.” Tim responded. “I guess I was a little too rough on him.”
“A little?” Sookie gasped. “You damn near tore his arm off!” She wiped angrily at her tears and glared into his face, then turned to Eric. She’d never seen him before, but heard they were bringing in some bigwig specialist to help with their more seriously injured patients.
“Ma’am, I beg your pardon but it’s not even known if the patient can feel pain like you and I do-” Tim began.
Eric opened his mouth to say something as Sookie stomped around the bed and went toe-to-toe with Tim. “Oh really? You want to count on that?” She socked him in his upper arm hard, knowing she packed quite a punch. Jason always thought it was important for her to learn how to defend herself.
“Ow!” Tim cried out, rubbing his arm and giving her a nasty look.
Sookie heard a chuckle behind her but ignored it. “I’ll tell you what, Timbo. For every time you hurt him, I’ll hurt you. Maybe next time you’ll think twice before you treat him like an empty shell!”
Tim opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted.
“Miss Stackhouse.” A deep voice spoke from behind her and she felt a hand on her shoulder. “I am terribly sorry for what happened here. If you would let me, I would like to handle this matter.”
Sookie stepped backed and craned her neck to look up, up, up at the man speaking to her. He was quite handsome with blond hair and brilliantly blue eyes. She nodded and sat back down on the bed, gently stroking Jason’s forehead, trying to ease the furrowed brow he was now sporting.
“Your name is Tim, is it?” Eric asked, his voice changing. He opened the chart in his hand and perused the pages.
“Yes, Dr. Northman.” Tim was abashed.
“Hmmm…. Tim, can you tell me when Mr. Stackhouse had his accident?”
“I’m really not sure, Doctor.” Tim was looking down, avoiding eye contact.
“July 14th of last year, Dr. Northman.” Sookie responded softly.
“Eric, please.” His voice was kind.
She nodded. “Please call me Sookie.” She patted Jason’s hand. “And this is Jason.”
Eric stepped forward and took Jason’s good hand, giving it a nice firm shake. “Good to meet you, Jason.”
“Tim, can you tell me the cause of Jason’s injuries?” Eric was once again all business.
“How about what injuries he has?”
“He’s a vegeta─ …sir.” Tim looked panicked as his eyes darted between Sookie and the doctor.
“What was that, Tim?” Eric’s voice scared Sookie and Tim looked like he might pee his pants.
“I am sorry, Doctor. He has a traumatic brain injury, sir.”
“Tim, I think you and I are done here today. You can leave.” Tim damn near ran out of the room as Eric took a chair near Sookie.
She wiped the lingering tears from her eyes and tried to smile as he flipped through the chart.
“You guys have had a rough time, haven’t you?” He asked softly.
“Yes, it’s been a tough year,” Sookie tried to not sound like a pitiful pearl, it wasn’t how her late gran raised them.
He nodded thoughtfully. “Would you like to tell me how it happened?”
Sookie was taken aback. Usually the medical professional told her what happened, assuming she knew nothing about Jason, his injuries or the type of care he had been receiving. “Sure.” She drew in a shaky breath. “Jason… he really loved life.” Smiling a bit, she remembered those times. “He was real happy, everyone loved him. Loves him. A real lady killer and the life of the party.”
Eric listened patiently, making her feel like he had nothing but time. It was nice to know someone cared about their plight.
“About three months before his accident, he did something real stupid. He left a party and was driving when he maybe shouldn’t have been. He wasn’t drunk, but someone rear-ended him at a light. The cops came and he got ticketed for DWI, even though he hadn’t caused the accident, the lady who hit him did. He blew a .08 exactly.” She sighed, remembering how upset he was when she picked him up at the police station.
“Anyways, after that happened, he just wasn’t himself. He was real blue and partied more than he should. He even lost his job for a while, but they took him back because he is such a hard worker… was such a hard worker. The night of the accident he and his group of friends were going from party to party. JB was drivin’.” She shook her head ruefully. “My best friend Tara, she even called me that night. She told me she’d been ridin’ in the car with them and they were awful drunk. She told me where they were.”
Sookie stood up and walked to the window, blinking back her tears, trying to keep her voice calm. “I chose not to get up that night and go lookin’ for him.” Shrugging she turned back around. “Next thing I knew the police were bangin’ on my front door telling me JB had wrapped his car around a tree doing 135 miles per hour down the road from our house and Jason was in real bad shape.”
Eric shook his head solemnly and leaned back in his chair, appraising her. “It’s not your fault, Sookie.”
“Yes, it is. I accepted that a long time ago. Had I only gotten out of bed, I could have brought him home and he wouldn’t be laying here in this bed.” She said angrily.
“It’s normal to blame yourself.” Eric stood up, his kind eyes boring into hers.
“It’s truthful to blame myself,” Sookie whispered. “They told me, that Jason’s window was open and his head hit the tree. They picked bark out of his skull. They used the Jaws of Life to pry him out of the car.”
She gasped for air and felt Eric’s hand rest gently on her shoulder. “They told me… they told me the only reason they knew he was still alive was because they could smell the beer on his breath as he exhaled.”
“How about his buddy?”
She laughed hollowly. “He was fine. He was wandering around on the road pissed because he’d heard his phone ringing and couldn’t find it. He walked away without a scratch.”
“What did he blow?”
Sookie shook her head, biting her lip. “Three times the legal limit.”
Eric whistled under his breath and sat back down, bracing his arms on his legs. “Well, that’s why he wasn’t hurt. He was so drunk his body was completely relaxed. How about Jason?”
“.04.” Sookie sat back down on the edge of the bed, facing him. “He was hurt pretty bad.”
“I see that. Basically shattered every bone on the right side of his body. Severe head trauma, emergency brain surgery, swelling into the stem which could have caused instant death…” Eric flipped through the pages slowly. “He’s lucky to be alive.”
“I didn’t even recognize him.” She whispered, looking at Jason sleeping soundly over her shoulder. “When they wheeled him out of surgery he was so swollen and broken… the only way I knew it was him was by the Grateful Dead tattoo on his shoulder he got when he turned 18.”
“I’m sorry you guys are going through this.” Eric said sincerely, tucking his pen into white overcoat.
Sookie noticed that it read ‘Dr. Eric Northman: Neurosurgeon’. “Neurosurgery, huh? Where are you from?”
Eric shifted in his chair and smiled tightly. “New York.”
“Wow! What are you doin’ all the way down here?” She wondered what would bring someone like him down to Louisiana.
“I was ready for a change of pace.” His face said differently but he didn’t elaborate. “So it looks like your brother’s breaks are all healed up.”
“Yes, but they didn’t heal so well on his right side. He can’t straighten out his hand and the rest of his bones healed through his muscles and scar tissue. His leg, arm and shoulder are in a real bad way. I think his hip really bothers him too, but they don’t pay him much mind here.”
“They don’t take care of him?”
“They do all right,” she said, “but they don’t really treat him like he’s in there. I know he’s in there, I can feel it in my heart. He can hear me when I talk to him.”
“There is solid research that leads us to believe the TBI patients can hear what is going on around them.”
“Do you believe that, Dr. Northman?” She looked up hopefully, wondering if this man was their savior.
He stood up and tucked Jason’s chart under his arm. “I do. I also believe where there is a will there is a way. As long as Jason still has will, we have hope.”
“I believe he does.” She whispered, touching the side of Jason’s face. “He wouldn’t still be here with me otherwise.”
Eric nodded thoughtfully. “Let me go put his files away and change out of these clothes. I’ll put some scrubs on and we’ll get him up for you, okay?”
“Thank you, doctor.” She smiled.
“It’s Eric; you’re welcome, Sookie.” His smile reached his eyes this time and she listened to his dress shoes click down the hall as he walked away.
A short while later Jason was up in his wheelchair and Sookie had him layered in towels. She wet his hair and scrubbed it really good with the shampoo she bought special for him. She knew he didn’t care a whole lot about brand names, but it sure smelled good and she thought he might enjoy the scent.
He moaned in his throat as her nails worked his scalp, massaging the shampoo in. “Does that feel good?” She asked with a smile. “I bet it does. Poor guy, they probably don’t wash your hair as good you did.”
When she was finished she toweled it dry. Someone had given him a buzz cut after his brain surgery. She missed his longer hair, but elected to keep it short since it was easier to keep clean. Once it was dried she put his hat on his head and grabbed his sunglasses out of his bedside drawer.
“Let’s roll!” She said as she pushed him in his chair out the door and down the hallways towards the courtyard. Nursing staff smiled and waved as she passed them.
“He looks good today, Sookie!” A nurse named Lupe called to her.
“He looks good everyday, Lupe!” Sookie grinned in return.
“And don’t that boy know it!” Lupe teased and the other nurses laughed.
Sookie couldn’t help but join in, then hollered over her shoulder as they went out the door. “He sure does!”
She quickly put his sunglasses on; the sun was shining bright today. She pushed him down the ramp to the little garden area where there was a nice sitting area, with benches and picnic tables. It was really an escape from the reality of the hospital. There was even a Koi pond and a small area with a waterfall. She parked him facing the water and locked his brakes.
“Does the sun feel good?” She asked, pulling sun screen out of the pocket in his wheelchair. She rubbed some on his white legs, choking back a bit of a sob as it hit her again how different he was. The old Jason would have been dark brown and would have swatted at her for trying to put lotion on his legs. “I love it, summer’s always been my favorite time of year.”
She could see his eyes open behind his shades and she watched them to see if they looked around. He seemed to stare into space and she sighed. She sat down next to him and held his hand.
Eric was very kind when he came back to help get Jason dressed and out of bed. She knew that wasn’t his responsibility, but appreciated his help. She felt hopeful again, now that he was here. A real, deep hope not just the front that she put on for Jason and everyone else. Hope was all that kept her going, even if she didn’t always believe in it.
She pulled out her laptop and did a Google search on Dr. Eric Northman, New York. She scrolled through the pages, finding him to be 35 years old, a graduate of Harvard University and Medical School, did his residency at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and then worked for New York Presbyterian University Hospital of Columbia. One site said he was set to be the Chief of Neurosurgery when he suddenly left the program due to a private family matter.
She leaned back in her chair, taking it all in. He was the foremost respected surgeon in his field on the east coast and his specialty was TBI. If anyone could help Jason, it would be him.
A/N: I wrote this about a year ago and haven’t touched it since. Stumbled across it tonight and thought I might was well share it. It hasn’t been betad so you will have to forgive the errors. Also, while you reading- take a moment to give a shout out to MissyDee, who really helped me get this story out. Her health hasn’t been very good lately, and I am sure she would love to hear from everyone. Support means a lot, you know?