My life is over.
Behind the morphine dreams is the nightmare of reality.
A reality I can't face.
I cry myself back to sleep wishing, pleading, praying that I'll wake up from this, but the same nightmare always awaits me.
"Shhh," my mother whispers. "It'll be okay." But her eyes are swollen and red, and I know she doesn't believe what she's saying.
My father--now that's a different story. He doesn't even try to lie to me. What's the use? He knows what this means.
My hopes, my dreams, my life . . . it's over.
The only one who seems unfazed is Dr. Wells. "Hello there, Jessica!" he says. I don't know if it's day or night. The second day or the first. "How are you feeling?"
I just stare at him. What am I supposed to say, "Fine"?
He inspects my chart. "So let's have a look, shall we?"
He pulls the covers off my lap, and I find myself face to face with the truth.
My right leg has no foot.
It's just my thigh, my knee, and a stump wrapped in a mountain of gauze.
My eyes flood with tears as Dr. Wells removes the bandages and inspects his handiwork. I turn away, only to see my mother fighting back tears of her own. "It'll be okay," she tells me, holding tight to my hand. "We'll get through this."
Dr. Wells is maddeningly cheerful. "This looks excellent, Jessica. Nice vascular flow, good color . . . you're already healing beautifully."
I glance at the monstrosity below my knee.
It's red and bulging at the end. Fat staples run around my stump like a big ugly zipper, and the skin is stained dirty yellow.
"How's the pain?" he asks. "Are you managing okay?"
I wipe away my tears and nod, because the pain in my leg is nothing compared to the one in my heart.
None of their meds will make that one go away.
He goes on, cheerfully. "I'll order a shrinker sock to control the swelling. Your residual limb will be very tender for a while, and applying the shrinker sock may be uncomfortable at first, but it's important to get you into one. Reducing the swelling and shaping your limb is the first step in your rehabilitation." A nurse appears to re-bandage me as he makes notes in my chart and says, "A prosthetist will be in later today to apply it."
Tears continue to run down my face.
I don't seem to have the strength to hold them back.
Dr. Wells softens. "The surgery went beautifully, Jessica." He says this like he's trying to soothe away reality. "And considering everything, you're actually very lucky. You're alive, and you still have your knee, which makes a huge difference in your future mobility. BK amputees have it much easier than AK amputees."
"BK? AK?" my mom asks.
"I'm sorry," he says, turning to my mother. "Below knee. Above knee. In the world of prosthetic legs it's a critical difference." He prepares to leave. "There will obviously be an adjustment period, but Jessica is young and fit, and I have full confidence that she will return to a completely normal life."
My mother nods, but she seems dazed. Like she's wishing my father was there to help her absorb what's being said.
Dr. Wells flashes a final smile at me. "Focus on the positive, Jessica. We'll have you up and walking again in short order."
This from the man who sawed off my leg.
He whooshes from the room leaving a dark, heavy cloud of the unspoken behind.
My mother smiles and coos reassuringly, but she knows what I'm thinking.
What does it matter?
I'll never run again.
I am a runner.
That's what I do.
That's who I am.
Running is all I know, or want, or care about.
It was a race around the soccer field in third grade that swept me into a real love of running.
Breathing the sweet smell of spring grass.
Sailing over dots of blooming clover.
Beating all the boys.
After that, I couldn't stop. I ran everywhere. Raced everyone. I loved the wind across my cheeks, through my hair.
Running aired out my soul.
It made me feel alive.
I'm stuck in this bed, knowing I'll never run again.
The prosthetist is stocky and bald, and he tells me to call him Hank. He tries to talk to me about a fake leg, but I make him stop.
I just can't listen to this.
He gets the nurse to put a new bandage on my leg. One that's thinner. With less gauze.
The room's cold.
Everything feels cold.
I want to cover up, but Hank is getting ready to put on the shrinker sock. It's like a long, toeless tube sock. He pulls it through a short length of wide PVC pipe, then folds the top part of the sock back over the pipe. I don't understand what he's going to do with it, and I don't care.
Until he slips the pipe over my stump.
"Oh!" I gasp as pressure and pain shoot up my leg.
"I'm sorry," Hank says, transferring the sock from the pipe onto my leg as he pulls the pipe off. "We're almost done."
Half the tube sock is now dangling from my stump. Hank slides a small ring up the dangling end, then stretches out the rest of the sock and doubles it up over the ring and over my stump.
There's pressure. Throbbing. But Hank assures me it'll feel better soon. "The area is swollen," he tells me. "Pooling with blood. The shrinker sock will help reduce the swelling and speed your recovery. Once the wound is healed and the volume of your leg is reduced, we can fit you with a preparatory prosthesis."
"How long will that take?" my mother asks. Her voice starts out shaky, but she tries to steady it.
Hank whips out a soft tape measure and circles the end of my stump. "That's hard to say."
Copyright © 2011 by Wendelin Van Draanen. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.