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Joe the Welder

Chapter 7

Tuesday morning at 8 am and Joe's still unconscious.

Weekend was a blur. Chuck, my cop buddy, got Joe's phone and passed it to me on Saturday morn. Brandon was locked up, and preliminary hearing set no bail. Child Protective Services were stepping in for the kids.

Question, Rex: You know that new guy from southeast Alabama that's here? Sammy was reviewing my paperwork, and I'd had Brandon listed as Joe's cousin. He said he's Joe's nephew. Which is it?”

Joe is Brandon's uncle, Chuck—Brandon is a nephew. Why?”

I'd gotten that bit of info from the EMS guys, just wanted to get it right on my report. Glad I cleared up—hate to turn in a bad report—and glad Sammy noticed it!” Guess that need for accuracy is important in Chuck's job, and that's why Chuck is good at it. Sammy was obviously as much a stickler for detail as Chuck preferred to be.

Started calling people at noon. Called Joe's boss. His shop is doing a blood drive to replace the blood he's used, all 24 pints of it. Called Joe's mom. She handled it all ok—really didn't have funds to come down, and physically, probably couldn't handle it with the crippling arthritis. I promised to call every day, and I did, trying to be upbeat.

I slept in the ICU waiting room Saturday night. Didn't want Joe to wake up only surrounded by strange medical people. Every oddball beep at the nurses station woke me up with a start, or pushed my nervous edge. All the nurses knew where I was, though, and I knew they'd come get me.

Raced home to the house Sunday morn to shower and shave. Had I really been gone only one day? Time really doesn't fly. Grabbed a sandwich, then back to the hospital.

Sunday night I got to corner the doc. “Shouldn't he be awake? It's been 36 hours since his surgery.”

Doc looked at me, cocked an eyebrow, thinking aloud. “The anesthetic we used is out of his system. He's out now just as a part of the healing process. We'll run a brain scan in the next couple of days if he's not out of it by then. At least his kidney is functioning—no blood in the urine, and output is normal.”

Finally. A little bit of good news.

The sofa in the ICU waiting room is becoming my friend. One of the nurses brought me a pillow and blanket, even if they wouldn't let me stay in his room. I'm still only allowed to see him for 15 minutes every 4 hours. Another night of a variety of beeps and buzzes and little sleep.

I need my Joe back.

Sam, my buddy from ER stopped by late Monday afternoon. “They're watching him like hawks, Rex. His pain killers aren't what's keeping him out. They'll schedule a brain scan tomorrow just to make sure his body and brain do what they're supposed to. The rest of him is doing ok, no infection in the cut in the leg, blood flow to his toes is fine, his vitals are staying in solid ranges. When he wakes up, they'll get him on his feet and walk a little, just to keep the new knee from getting stiff.”

Sounds like there's some improvement.

Frank the bartender from “our” bar stopped by Monday night. Carrying a card, signed by what must have been 50 people, with encouraging notes from each of 'em.

What are you doing here? How'd you find out?”

One of the EMS guys who worked on Joe is my wife's brother. He told us about it yesterday when he stopped by after his shift. He'd also worked on Brandon, and remembered your name. It is distinctive.” With that, Frank grinned.

His face went serious again. “Brother-in-law told me how bad Joe was hurt. He really didn't think he'd make it. How's he doing?”

I filled him in, ending with, “...and just waiting for him to wake up.”

Damn! He'll be ok, Rex. You gotta believe that. It's not over yet. Now, how are YOU doing?” We continued to talk for a few minutes.

Well, I gotta get back to the bar. Elaine's working the bar, I'd only stopped there tonight to let everyone sign off on the card, but they all swore they'd stay until I got back with a report on how he's doing. I may go get a sandwich, though—they'll keep drinking for a little while till I get back. It'll help my sales tonite!” He grinned again, and broke out in laughter. I joined him—his optimism was just what I needed.

Tuesday morning the nurse woke me on the sofa in the ICU waiting room. “We're moving him to a room shortly. His test show that he can do without the ventilator, so one less thing to worry about. And, we're getting him into a private room—so you can stay in the room with him. Sam said 'you're welcome'.” With that, she smiled and was gone.

The gurney rolled him out of ICU toward the elevator. I followed. They moved him into his new bed gently, and re-restrained him. After they left, I just stood there and looked at my boy, my mind running away with me.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed some movement—his index finger twitched! I started yelling for a nurse, a doctor, someone.

Moved over beside his bed and took his right hand in mine. “Joe, you're waking up, take it easy, don't move, you'll be ok.” Med people starting flooding the room, tried to push me aside, but I held his hand and kept talking. “I'm doing my job here, you do yours.” NOT fucking moving from Joe.

Joe's eye's fluttered a couple of time, then fully opened. Wide-eyed in terror at the strange people and surroundings, he struggled against the restraints, and tried to yell, but the tube that'd just been removed had kept his throat dry, and he couldn't.

I pushed down on his shoulder to pin him in place. “Joe, I'm here. Calm down. I'll fill you in. Can you do that? Do you want some water?” He nodded.

Doctor Samuels stepped up, patted my and Joe's right hands, and introduced himself. “Welcome back, Joe. You've been away for a while. Let me fill you in on what you've missed.” With that, Joe started to understand everything that'd happened since early Saturday morning. He nodded that he'd understood.

Doc told him that he'd remove the restraints if Joe promised to move no more than necessary. Joe nodded agreement. “And if you need anything you buzz a nurse or ask Rex, ok? I'm sure he'll be around.” The doc smiled and Joe nodded again.

We'll be back later this afternoon to get you on your feet. You just rest. I'll send up something for you to eat.” Joe nodded again and gave a thumbs up.

And, poof, they're all gone. Again, how the fuck do they move so fast here?

The nurse brought back some ice chips, and Joe damn near inhaled 'em. “Thank you.” His voice was coarser and lower, but it was the best fucking sound I'd heard. Maybe ever.

The nurse left, and I fed Joe more ice chips in silence. Joe looked at me. Misty-eyed. Grateful.

You get some rest Joe, you're gonna be walking this afternoon.” He just closed his eyes, and was back out to sleep. He woke up just as lunch came in. He vacuumed the plate clean. A nurse came in and removed the cather. Back to sleep.

Mid-afternoon, the orthopedic doc and a therapist were back. “Joe, we're gonna have you walk a few steps today. We don't want you to over-do it, but you'll get some therapy to help you get back on your feet. Right now, we're trading out that full leg inflatable cuff for one that just goes over your thigh.” With that done, “Swing your feet off the side of the bed, and sit up. Don't try to stand yet, just get your bearings first.” Joe followed the directions, but was obviously eager to get going.

The orthopedic doc looked at me. “You're taller and bigger than either one of us. Get over there, and let Joe lean against ya as he gets up.” With pleasure.

Joe threw his good arm around my neck, moved down, and touched the floor with his good foot. He stood, shakily, and tested his left leg to gauge the support.

You can't move that leg fast, Joe,” the orthopedic guy cut in. “You've still got staples and stitches, so don't stretch it. Besides, it'll hurt if ya do. Take baby steps.”

Joe took maybe 5 steps, turned around, and headed back to bed, sitting on the side, but obviously exhausted. Not bad for a guy who'd been unconscious and immobile for almost 4 days.

Great job, Joe!” The orthopedic doc grinned. “Tomorrow, you'll do half the corridor.”

I'll do the whole corridor, Doc.” Hardheaded Joe.

Wednesday evening after he'd walked the whole corridor with a walker and the therapist and me around him, Joe had some other visitors: the little old lady next door and the single mom with her son. He was a cutie, sandy brown hair, green eyes behind glasses, maybe 9 or 10.

Mrs. Sheldon held a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies and passed 'em to Joe. “It's something maybe a little better than most hospital food.” Joe was ready to shred the Saran Wrap off right then. Hell, he'd had dinner, so I nodded to go ahead. He downed two of 'em so fast, not sure he tasted 'em, but rolled his eyes, and gasped how great they were—and they were still warm.

Mrs. Sheldon beamed. “Rex told us what was going on with ya when he was over checking on your place on Sunday.” I'd forgotten even seeing her; yeah, I was dazed and confused. “Sandy,” nodding at single mother, “ had to work until today, and I can't drive at night, so I'm just now getting here. Andy wanted to come, too. You're looking good, Joe. You've been through the wringer, but you're doing good. I'm looking forward to getting ya back, and I'm gonna keep praying for ya.'

Andy came over beside the bed, on Joe's good side, after exploring everything in the room. “When I was sick at Christmas, Mamma said if I'd stay in bed for a little while and read these, I'd get better. And I did. Maybe if you'd read 'em, you'll get better, too.”

A small stack of comic books, some still in their plastic overwrap, a couple well worn, obvious favorites. Who knew kids still read comic books?

A single tear rolled down Joe's cheek. I had to look outside at the lights—damn these fluorescents—always make my eyes water. “Thanks, Champ! That's the best gift ever! I'll read 'em, and get 'em back to you, and we'll play some Nerf basketball, ok?” The kid looked like he'd gotten a new puppy, both excited and pleased that he'd done well.

Joe was looking tired, so I suggested that he get some rest. I escorted our visitors out to the hall, and we chatted a little more.

Andy had strep throat, and took quite a while to get his fever down and get over it,” Sandy said. “ Do ya know how hard it is to keep an 9 year old still? The comic books helped, as did Joe's gift of the Nerf basketball. I mounted the hoop on the door, Andy could throw it, and it'd roll back beside the bed, so he didn't hafta get up. Saved me and Andy both. The comic books were his idea for Joe.”

He looks really good, Rex, “ Mrs. Sheldon continued. “After seeing that article and picture of the accident in the paper, it's a miracle he's alive. To be doing this good IS a miracle!”

Yeah, Joe's attack made the local paper, complete with photos. It's a small quiet blue-collar town, crime isn't tolerated, and when I later read the article, it sounded like Joe was a long-time resident attacked by a crazy relative from up North with a shady background. People here are protective of each other, so it was apparently the talk of the town for a few days. And, the photos were gruesome—Joe's van showing with the door and the roof peeled back like a can of sardines after he'd been cut out, blood all over the pavement, glass everywhere. And, since they'd either not gotten his full name, the whole article referred to him as “Joe the Welder”. Guess that's all the name he'll need to use now.

Hugged 'em all, invited 'em back, and told 'em I hoped we'd be getting out sometime next week. All of 'em, Andy included, promised to be over to check on Joe when he was home.

Thursday started Joe's leg therapy. Lots of work on an exercise bike. And some walking in the rehab center. They brought him back to the room in a wheelchair, Joe cussing the whole time about how he wasn't a damn invalid, and the walking was therapy. “Why couldn't I walk back! Walking is what they want me to do!”

We'd gotten an early lunch on Friday, and Joe's doc came in. “Joe, you've done far, far better than I'd have ever guessed you would from what ya looked like a week ago. I'm sending you home. You gotta do the therapy thing 3 times a week here, you gotta stay off your feet as much as possible, and listen to your body—rest when you need it. Your neck is still healing, and there's no obvious problems there, but wear your collar as much as possible, even in bed. You're gonna get more winded until the ribs heal and you can take a deep breath. We'll show you both how to clean and redress the wounds. You'll need to see me in a week or 10 days—we'll set an appointment by phone later. But....there's no reason to stay here; besides, we need the bed.” And he grinned. “You're going home.”

Joe looked like he was gonna jump through the roof, and was shaking with excitement. “Thanks, Doc! You and the staff here have really babied me and Rex. Can't thank you enough!”

Doc left, and I looked at Joe. He motioned me close, I leaned in and he kissed me—hot, hungry, and tender all at once. “Go get me some clothes, I can't go home in a hospital gown with my ass hanging out.”

We both laughed, had another hot kiss, then I went to his place, got some shorts, an oversize Hawaiian print shirt, and deck shoes. All easy to get on his still sore frame.

Back at the hospital, all the release paperwork was done, and Joe was waiting on me. He stood by the bed, undid the neck tie of the gown, and stood naked. Even battered and bruised, he's fucking hot. I helped him get into the clothes, and went to get a nurse---who rolled in a wheelchair.

I'm going to go over how to take care of your wounds. And after I'm done, you can leave. The wheelchair is hospital policy on discharge. You gotta take it to the door—no walking, and no bitching about it.” She grinned.

After she was done, we rolled to the front door, and she and Joe waited while I moved the van to the entrance. I parked it, got out, went around, and opened the door, standing there to see if Joe needed a hand getting in.

He stood, wrestled his way into the van with no help, put his hand on my shoulder, and pulled me to him. He kissed me, full tongue down the throat, groping my ass, caressing my back, right that at the main entrance of the hospital. What is it with this guy and his making out in straight public places?

Yeah, we do have it too good to stay here. I heard you—your voice cut through the fog I was in, and every time you spoke, every fucking time, all the other noise went away.” Another hot kiss.

I love you, too, Robert Rex. Take me home.”

(Chapter 8 next week)