Hutch leaned against the wall and braced himself for the pain to come. It would sear through the shoulder and chest, pulling muscles until they protested, sending red hot pokers of sensation through an already pain-wracked body. He felt tears threaten, burning at his already tired eyes.
"We're not progressing here, Mr. Starsky. You need to work with me a little," the young blonde woman said, her tone sounding calculatingly gentle. The expression on her face was one of bored frustration. The stifled moan that came from Starsky as he struggled to raise his arm to the level she felt it should go could have just as easily been wrenched from the pit of Hutch's own soul. With the bed in a flat position and Starsky on his back, today's project was getting his arm as far up as possible, the ultimate goal being for him to raise it above his head.
Just butt out, Hutchinson. You wanted to stay here and watch this, so now you're just going to have to get used to seeing him in pain. It's part of the healing. Hutch ran his hand over his face and found his palm came away damp with cold sweat.
"Okay, that's good. You're doing great. Now, just a little bit more," she encouraged, starting to put a bit of pressure on Starsky's left arm to move it farther upward. His eyes were closed, and Hutch watched a single tear leak out from beneath the dark lashes.
"I know it hurts, but the doctor said you're ready to start working more aggressively on regaining your motion and strength. He wouldn't advise that if it weren't safe. You can do it."
Easy for you to say, lady. You haven't had three bullets rip through your flesh and chew up your muscles and your bones and your tissues. Hutch did his best not to move forward, not to go to his partner. Starsky had to make progress, and with that progress would come pain. That was inevitable.
"No more," Starsky said, and despite his weakness and the pain he was in, there was a note of decisiveness in the voice that flooded Hutch with relief. What're you relieved about? It's not you lying there in agony...but, God, I feel every pull on those incisions as if they were my own.... Well, at least the torture session is over for today.
"Just a bit more. We're almost there," the therapist said, her voice holding more than a little impatience, as if she were dealing with a whining child.
"That's enough," Hutch spoke up, and found himself at Starsky's bedside before he even realized he'd moved. When the therapist didn't release Starsky's arm fast enough for his taste, he grasped her wrist in one large hand and pulled her hand away from his partner, while supporting the downward motion of Starsky's arm with his other hand. "If he says 'no more,' no more."
"Mr. Hutchinson, if your partner hopes to regain the normal use of his limbs, he's going to have to move them. And moving them is going to hurt. If you're going to stay in the room and watch his therapy, you're going to have to understand that." She crossed her arms over her chest.
Hutch looked back down at Starsky, whose eyes were still closed, lashes damp. His hand found and held onto Hutch's tightly.
"Let me help you understand something, lady. This man has been through hell and he's in a lot of pain. There's nothing he wants more than to get better again and to get back to normal. He's endured pain in his life you can't even imagine. Do you know this is the third time he's been shot in the line of duty? If he says he can't take it anymore, then he can't, and if you had one ounce of compassion or concern for your patients, you'd know that without being told."
"What I know is what the doctor has instructed me to do. And I don't recall hearing where you got your medical degree," she shot back, gathering up her chart and the two small rubber balls she'd brought for Starsky to squeeze. "I take my orders from Mr. Starsky's doctor, not his police associates."
Hutch gently disengaged his hand from Starsky's and followed her across the room.
"I'm more than his 'police associate.' I'm listed on his hospital records as his next of kin. I have his power of attorney when he's unable to speak for himself. And I'm giving you an instruction you better listen to. You stay out of this room and away from my partner. If you touch him--if you so much as come near this room again--I'll have you arrested for assault."
"You'll have me arrested for doing my job? I should like to see you try that," she said, tucking her pen in the pocket of her lab coat.
"Don't push me. I mean it. You stay away from my partner. You have no business working with patients. You don't keep pushing someone when they're afraid and their muscles tense up. The doctor approved him working on raising his arms--not doing resistance exercises with you pushing one way and him pushing the other! You could seriously re-injure him trying to force his arm beyond the range he can endure. That's what you were doing, isn't it? Not supporting his arm, but pushing it--and then continuing to push it even when he clearly couldn't take it anymore and started trying to resist it?" Hutch demanded, and he saw a momentary flash of guilt cross the woman's features. "You're a disgrace to your profession and this isn't the last you've heard of this."
"Of all the...!" She stormed toward the door. "I don't have to take this kind of abuse!"
"Neither does my partner." Hutch watched her stride out the door and slam it angrily behind her.
"Hutch?" The soft voice from behind him made Hutch turn suddenly to look back at the bed. Starsky was looking at him now, a distressed expression on his face. "I'm really doin' lousy, huh?"
"You're doing fine, buddy. Your therapist was a jerk, that's all." Hutch moved closer to the bed. "How's the pain?"
"Call for back-up, will ya?" Starsky joked weakly, holding up the buzzer that would summon a nurse. Hutch had to smile at that, despite the fact he was putting in a call for more pain medication. A moment later, a nurse walked into the room, and Hutch smiled with relief when he saw it was Gretchen. The older woman had taken a sort of motherly liking to Starsky, and she had a compassionate attitude toward his constant companion who could, at times, get under the nurses' feet.
"Could he have something for pain? The therapy session was pretty rough on him," Hutch said.
"I think so." She consulted Starsky's chart. "He's due for his medication in about fifteen minutes, so I'll bring it in a little early," Gretchen said, smiling pleasantly. "Getting started on therapy is always a big adjustment, but it'll get easier," she added, smiling at Starsky. "You're doing much more on your own than you were a few days ago. It just takes time," she said, heading for the door.
"I also need to talk to the doctor sometime this afternoon, if he's around."
"He should be stopping by to check on David when he does his final rounds." She looked at her watch. "I'd say a couple hours from now."
"Hey," Starsky said quietly. When Hutch turned back to look at him, he managed a smile. "Not the therapist's fault I'm a basket case."
"Starsky, you're not a basket case. She had no business forcing you." Hutch picked up the control that determined the position of the bed. "You want to raise up a little?" At Starsky's tight nod, he raised the upper half of the bed so Starsky was no longer flat on his back. He walked into the bathroom and wet a washcloth with cool water, then returned to sit on the side of Starsky's bed. "Close your eyes and try to relax, okay?" Hutch gently bathed Starsky's face, removing the fine sheen of cold sweat that was brought about by the painful therapy session. He paused in his ministrations when he saw a fresh tear leaking out of one closed eye. "Pain bad?"
"I'm sick of it," Starsky managed, swallowing audibly. "I don't wanna hurt anymore."
"I know." Hutch shifted positions so he sat with his back against the upper part of the partially raised mattress, and eased Starsky closer, managing to get his arms around him in the process.
"I just want it to stop," Starsky muttered, his breath hitched with tears. Hutch imagined the crying hurt, too.
"Hurting is part of healing, buddy. Hurting means you're alive." Hutch choked on his own encouragements, and he didn't have the heart to keep up the pep talk anymore. "I know it hurts, babe. It's not fair and I wish I could take it for you so you could go to sleep and rest easy without it." He stroked Starsky's hair. "It'll get better, I promise." He rested his head against Starsky's and held him as firmly as he dared.
"I couldn't do it, Hutch. I tried. I...it pulled and the pain was really bad."
"It wasn't your fault, Starsk. She had the technique of a lady wrestler."
"I shoulda been able to do that much," Starsky said miserably.
"When it hurt, you tensed up and tried to fight the motion, didn't you?"
"Yeah, like I said, I shoulda--"
"You didn't do anything wrong. You had a very natural reaction to the pain. The doctor okay'd you moving your arms to a certain extent, but he didn't approve resistance exercises. That's what it turned into when you wanted to stop and she kept pushing. She was doing it wrong. Not you."
"You mean you weren't just mad at her because the therapy hurt?"
"No, there was a little more to it than that." Hutch smiled, carefully rubbing Starsky's back, making sure his hand was clear of putting pressure on the healing exit wounds. "You did just fine. I know some of your therapy's going to hurt. No getting around that. But I also know what she was doing was wrong."
"Then I didn't mess up?" Starsky asked, his voice holding a trace of hopefulness.
"She messed up, not you." Hutch was relieved to see Gretchen arrive with the little cup containing Starsky's pain medication. She handed it to Hutch and left the room with a smile and no further comment. "The good-time pills are here, buddy." Hutch rattled the two small pills in the paper cup. Starsky snorted a little laugh, then tensed a bit at the pain it caused. After he'd swallowed them with a few gulps of water, he rested quietly against Hutch for a few minutes, then broke the silence.
"Could we try it?"
"You said it hurt because I was tensing up. I'm real relaxed now. Maybe I could do it."
"I don't know, Starsk...I don't want to get you hurting again."
"Please?" Starsky moved away and treated Hutch to his best hound dog eyes.
"Okay." Hutch smiled and shook his head, moving to sit facing Starsky instead of next to him. "Let's lower the bed a little so you're flatter again." Hutch did just that, and then took a gentle hold of the arm that had been the source of so much pain. "I'm going to support your arm just to take some of the pull away, okay? You do the moving yourself."
"Okay. I'm not real fast."
"No stopwatch running, partner. Take your time." Hutch watched, sorely tempted to tell Starsky not to push himself, wishing his partner would be content to just take a nap before dinner and let the pain meds do their magic.
To his surprise, Starsky's arm moved up to the point it had with the therapist, and then, just a bit farther.
"Let's let it back down, buddy, you're doin' great," Hutch encouraged, guiding Starsky's arm back down to the bed. The other man was a little out of breath and had obviously felt pain in the motion, but he'd managed it.
"I did okay?"
"You made it farther than you did a few minutes ago with the Marquis de Sade." Hutch smiled and Starsky returned it, managing to avoid an actual laugh this time.
"I'm not afraid when you do it." Starsky's face lit up as he seized the idea fully. "Maybe you could do my therapy."
"I wish I could, but I don't know enough to do it. I'm not qualified, and I could end up hurting you by mistake."
"You wouldn't do that. Besides, that girl was supposed t'be qualified and she hurt me worse than you ever would've. This isn't all that hard, Hutch. Just pullin' my arms up and down."
"I'm sure your full therapy regimen will be a little more complex than that," Hutch said, chuckling at Starsky's summation.
"Okay, so some'a the stuff you can't do, but you could do some of it," Starsky argued, giving Hutch the full benefit of his pleading expression and beseeching eyes.
"Tell you what. I'll do whatever parts I can learn how to do, and I'll stick around for your sessions--at least until you feel like you can handle 'em without back-up," Hutch added, grinning. Starsky smiled back, more brightly than Hutch had seen since before the shooting.
"Okay." Starsky yawned widely. "Oh, man, those pills knock me out."
"Don't fight it, buddy. Get some sleep. I'll run down to the cafeteria and get a bite to eat."
"Get me some chocolate ice cream, okay?" Starsky asked as Hutch slowly lowered the upper part of the bed until it was only slightly raised. He turned off the light and drew the drapes.
"Chocolate ice cream? I better clear it with Gretchen."
"Who do you think brought me some last night after you left?"
"Chocolate ice cream it is, then," Hutch agreed, smiling and patting Starsky's shoulder before leaving the room, closing the door behind him.
Gretchen was at the nurses' station, talking on the phone, making notes on a chart. Hutch waited until she'd finished. A stout woman with gray curly hair and a pleasant manner, she always seemed to be in a good mood--even when the hours were long and the work tedious.
"He asked for chocolate ice cream--there's no problem with that, is there?" Hutch asked her. "He said you got him some last night, but I didn't know he could have ice cream."
"Just a little scoop, and I cleared it with his doctor. He was having a lot of pain last night after you left, so I thought it would distract him." She smiled. "Sometimes I think you work better on him than the pain pills. He never complains until after you go home."
"Maybe I should stick around--"
"You have to sleep sometime and we do sedate him at night, so that's your best time to go. Besides, you usually come back about three in the morning anyway, don't you?" she asked, tidying up some papers on the desk, not noticing Hutch's stunned expression until she looked up to see why he'd fallen silent. "Oh, honey, don't tell me you thought I didn't know? Just don't let one of the doctors catch you, because if they do, I'm pleading the Fifth," she joked, tapping him on the shoulder with the file she was holding. "Go have dinner. He'll sleep a while now, and he'll be looking for his ice cream when he wakes up." With that, she turned and walked toward another patient's room.
Completely disillusioned with his inability to slip in unnoticed in the small hours of the morning, Hutch trudged down to the cafeteria for his dinner, which he didn't want to think about too much. He imagined he'd consumed more sodium, fat and preservatives in the last two weeks to last him a lifetime. As he stood in line in the cafeteria, pulling somewhat unappetizing selections off the shelf to add to his tray, he had to smile at Gretchen's words. Sometimes I think you work better on him than the pain pills.
That thought made all the late nights, back pain from sleeping in chairs, and rubber cafeteria meals fade into insignificance. Hutch could hardly contain his smile, even in the face of Memorial Hospital's Tuesday night tuna surprise dinner special.
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