Crystal finds out if she's healed enough to get her limbs. Choices must be made.
|Chapter 23: The Tests, and What Comes Next
”First off, Crystal, I’m going to firmly tap all along the end of each of your stumps. I need you to tell me if ANYTHING is sensitive, and if so, HOW sensitive because some spots might be more so than others. Understand?”
”Yes, doctor. Go ahead.”
About five minutes later, Dr. Bernhardt said, “Well, you certainly aren’t sensitive there now, that’s a good sign. Let’s see how much pressure can be exerted on each of them before it either hurts or becomes uncomfortable. Actually, Erick, it’s good that you’re here. We can get a more accurate test for Crystal if you’ll help. Would you mind?”
Erick and Crystal both laughed. “Doctor,” Crystal said, grinning, “you will find as we go along in my recovery that your question to Erick just now was totally unnecessary. Doing anything he can do for me fulfills HIM. He loves the fact that I need him. From now on, all you have to do is ask, and you‘ll see what I mean. Right, darling?”
”You can bet your sweet, tender little 18-year-old Bippy on that one, baby!” Erick laughed. And I’m more than thankful to have another chance to prove it right now. What do you need, doctor?”
”Before we go on, I have to say one thing to you both,” he said, a warm smile on his face. “You two openly show more love between you than I see out of almost all of my other patients. What you have is very rare, and it pleases me very much to see it. I admire the rare couple that has that, and you two do. And it will go a LONG way in helping Crystal get back to a normal life. I congratulate you on having something truly rare and so very meaningful between you. Never lose it.”
Erick and Crystal, both remembering what Professor Parker had said, looked at each other, and, again, the look on their faces said it all. They both knew they have something special, but they never thought about it being that obvious, or special to others. Now they were, wonderfully, beginning to find that out in many ways. Crystal sniffed.
”Thank you, Doctor Bernhardt. You’re not… the first to tell us that, and it means even more now that you have. We love the fact that our love is so evident. Because people can learn about how love is supposed to be from this. And we love that. Thank you again,” Crystal said, sniffling again.”
”Yes, thank you very much, doctor,” Erick added.
”No problem, you two. Just an honest feeling I felt you deserved to know about,” he said warmly. “Now back to business,” he said, smiling at Crystal. “Erick help her up please. Crystal, when you’re standing, I want you to put as much of your weight as you can on your right leg stump. Erick, try your best to only provide balance and not support her any. Are you two ready?”
”Ready, doctor,” they said together. Dr. Bernhardt laughed. “You two DO think alike, don’t you? I love that! Okay, here we go,” he said, placing a scale under Crystal’s leg stump and raising it till it touched the stump. Whenever you’re ready, Crystal, and hold it as long as you can. I’ll watch for the highest reading right till you back off.”
Crystal leaned on the stump, and stayed there about 2 minutes.
”Ok, doctor Bernhardt said. That’s an excellent pressure reading. I had to make sure you could handle the force of standing on it again before we put a limb on it. Now we’ll do the same for your arm.”
Crystal smiled. “You mean I pushed as hard as I normally would walking??”
”Indeed you did, Crystal,” he said warmly. Now. Erick, change your position, and do the same thing while we measure the force she can safely exert with her arm.”
”Ready, doctor,” Erick said. “Go for it, honey!”
”Dr. Bernhardt laughed as he put the scale in place beneath her right arm stump. “I wish all my patients’ families would support them the way you are Crystal, Erick. They deserve that, and their healing would be much faster. The mind can work wonders in the healing process, you know. OK, Crystal, whenever you’re ready. Same story.” He waited.
”Oh, we know how the mind can help with that healing, doctor,” Crystal grinned again. “You wouldn’t believe how my whole recovery picked up starting the moment I knew Erick was still here for me after the accident happened and hadn’t changed his mind.” She began pushing on the scale.
”Oh, yes I would,” the doctor responded, grinning. I’ve seen indications of it in other couples but nothing as deeply as you two share it. OK, Crystal I got that reading too,” he said as she backed off. “Excellent. Now you can sit down for the last two tests. We know you don’t feel any soreness now,” he said picking up a needle. “But we need to make sure it’s NOT because your nerves have quit working at the end of those stumps. I’ll tell you why after the test. For now, Crystal, I need you to look away from me. NOT to watch what I do, but only to let me know when you feel something. Every TIME you feel something. Got it?”
”And um… this time it would probably be a good idea not to look at Erick either. I um.. don’t want you getting distracted. It could hurt your test results,” he laughed. They both laughed with him.
”Now THERE is a left-handed compliment if I EVER heard one,” Erick laughed, “And I love it. Just look to your right baby. At the door.”
Crystal did as Erick suggested. “Ready doctor.”
”OK, here we go. Just assume the test continues till I tell you I’m done. Starting now.”
Dr. Bernhardt began sticking Crystal in the end of her stumps with that needle, just fractions of an inch between his touches. “OW!” “OW!” “OW!” “OW!” Crystal began a chorus of “OW!”s at that point, jerking her arm or leg away momentarily but all of them knew that not only was her pulling away instinctive, but that this was a VERY good sign. It’s what he’d hoped would happen. On very rare occasions, she would say nothing, but those were VERY rare moments. As the doctor said, this was proving her nerve endings in the stumps were still very active.
”OK, Crystal. That was excellent, but I have a feeling I didn’t really have to state the obvious, don’t you?” he laughed. They nodded and laughed with him. “OK, now, Crystal. One last test. This will feel like a series of three paper cuts you’ll be getting on each stump. I need to take skin cell samples that we can analyze in the lab and make sure that the blood circulation in the very end of your stumps is as it should be, by checking the health of the cell samples I’ll take now. Like I said, these will hurt like paper cuts, but only for an instant. Three on each stump, in different spots. Stay as still as possible, Crystal. Erick, hold her arm stump as tightly as you can to help her stay still. Try not to let her move, even instinctively. I don’t want to really cut her here. Are we ready?”
”We’re ready,” said Crystal, smiling at Erick. “OUCH!” “OUCH!” “OUCH!”
”Got ‘em,” Dr. Bernhardt said. “Nice going you two! Now for the leg stump.” Waiting a second for Erick to get in position, he continued, “Ready?”
” Yep,” Crystal said, gritting her teeth this time. “OUCH!” “OUCH!” “OUCH!”
”Ok, you two can relax. We’re done. I’ll call you at home tomorrow evening with the test results on those cells,” he said as he stood up. “It’s nice to meet you both, and even better to see the love you share. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, and we’ll go from there.”
“ Thank you, doctor,” they said in unison as they left.
That next evening, Friday, Crystal and Erick were all but sitting on pins and needles after finishing dinner, waiting for that phone to ring. When it did, they both jumped a mile, then laughed about it as Erick reached for the phone. “Hello?”
”Erick, this is Dr. Bernhardt. I’ve got the results of Crystal’s test on those cells. If you’ll have her take the extension, I’ll tell you both. We’ve got something here she’s going to love hearing, and if she gets too hyper she won’t remember the important stuff. That’s why I need you on here too. Can we do that?”
”Sure, doctor. Hold on just a minute.” Erick put the phone down. “He wants both of us on for this, honey,” Erick said. “I’ll get you the cordless.” Back moments later, he handed it to her. “Ready, doctor,” Erick said. "I haven’t told her anything yet.”
”Got it. Crystal?”
”Yes, doctor?” Erick saw both eagerness and uncertainty in her face. He decided not to take his eyes off her. He had to see her face when she got the news.
”I’ve got your test results back, and you’re about 2 months ahead of schedule on the healing. Whenever you’re ready, we’ll start working on fitting you with those new limbs. Just say the word.” Erick saw her face light up brighter than it had been since the day they met face to face. The only day he’d seen it brighter than this was their wedding day. He wiped the tears that dripped from his eyes on his shirt sleeves, smiling widely himself as he watched her elation.
”I’m saying it! I’m saying it!” she squealed loudly. “Let’s get started! God how I’ve wanted this!” Erick embraced her one handed as the tears of joy began literally streaming down Crystal’s face. He couldn’t tell if she was laughing or crying, but he knew whichever it was that the only thing that meant more to her than this was being with him. And he loved knowing that something she’d wanted so desperately to be a reality was finally coming to pass, not quite eight months after the accident. He squeezed her again. She smiled at him, leaned over and kissed his cheek. He kissed some of the tears from hers.
”Ok, then. Erick, got a pencil?”
”Ready and waiting, doctor!”
”Next Tuesday, 9:00 AM, my office. Um… this will take right up to lunch time. Can you afford that much time off?”
”I’ll get through my classes, doctor, even without that morning. I’m not putting this off!” Crystal said emphatically, but smiling.
”Well, that’s sure the answer I expected from a fighter,” he laughed. I’ll see you two then. OH - wear something comfortable, Crystal. We’re going to have to make plaster impressions of your stump ends, and take some measurements that will be a little… personal. A skirt would probably be best for your modesty. Just wanted you to know. I’ll see you Tuesday, then?”
”Count on it, doctor!” Crystal all but shouted. They all laughed.
”Great. I’m looking forward to this one myself,” he laughed.
That Tuesday, Erick and Crystal arrived at Dr. Bernhardt’s office right on time. Erick had arranged for one of his closest friends, former college classmate Andria Pinkham, now a widow who lived nearby, to look after Melinda’s situation this morning, so they were all set. Andria even has a van equipped for disabled passengers. She and her late husband had needed it for him in his later years.
Naturally, when Dr. Bernhardt walked into the room, all three were already smiling. “Ready to get down to the serious stuff, Crystal?” he asked teasingly.
”You can bet YOUR bippy on THAT, doctor!” she shouted. All three of them knew this would be fun as well as a challenge. Not your usual visit.
”OK, then let’s get to it. Like I said on the phone, we’ll do plaster impressions of your stump ends first. Those will be used to shape the ends of your limbs to fit you more securely and comfortably. Then we’ll look at the choices you have to make about those new limbs. And yes, we’ve come far enough that some patients, especially those in Crystal’s position who have such firm and well healed stumps, finally do have options in artificial limbs, and I’m glad to see that come down the pike. OK. Erick, while I mix up the plaster, would you put Crystal on the examining table please?”
”Sure thing, doctor,” he said as he picked her up and laid her gently down on the table. He made sure the pillow was under her head. “What now?”
”I love your eagerness to help, Erick. I see she was right about that, too,” Dr. Bernhardt smiled. OK. I’ve got two specially designed bowls of plaster here. They’ll fit over the ends of her stumps, and they have a curved tray attached that her upper arm and leg will sit in to help keep them in place. Your challenge, both of you, is to see that once I put these in place, Crystal does not move either stump at all for three full minutes. Got it?”
”Got it.” they said together.
Dr. Bernhardt then spread a greasy liquid over the ends of the stumps with a brush. “This is so the plaster doesn’t stick to her stumps,” he explained. Having done that, he said “lift up your leg a moment, Crystal.” When she did, he placed the bowl in position. “Ok, lower your leg slowly till it’s on the table again. Good. Now, we’ll do the same with your arm. Remember - don’t move that leg at all or we have to start over. Lift your arm slowly,” he said, and be careful that you ONLY move your arm. When she did, he put that bowl of plaster in place and she lowered the arm to the table.
”Now, Crystal, stay perfectly still,” he said as he set the timer on his desk. “While we’re waiting, we can start to talk about the limb choices. Obviously, you can always get the older, solid limbs that are the most proven. But that also means that your using them would be more obvious to people because your fingers, elbow, and knee would be stationary. You’ve both seen those limbs, I’m sure. At least in pictures, right?”
”There are a few students I see on campus with them, doctor,” Crystal said. The flesh color is good, but you’re right - they look as stiff as they move. I thought I had to settle for those, but the way you’re talking about choices, I don’t think so anymore. Am I right?”
”Yes, you are, Crystal. Now. It’s not a lot, but it’s a wonderful improvement over those limbs. If you’re willing to take a chance, and a lot of practicing, at least a year of it before you venture away from Erick’s side for any moment while you’re wearing them, you are a perfect candidate for the newest movable limbs that just came out this past year. They’re under AMA scrutiny right now, but they’re being tested on certain patients as part of that study. That means they wouldn’t cost you a penny because the study will pay for them, and you get the benefits if you want them. But remember, they are experimental. We need to see how reliable they are, and there might be times when they don’t work, whatever, that you would have to document for me so I can notify the study managers and they can take appropriate action to correct any problems. Do you want to consider them? If you do, I’ll tell you what your options are.” Even before he finished that last sentence, he had his answer in Crystal’s face, and he knew it. He smiled.
”You bet I DO!” she shouted. What choices do I have?”
Dr. Bernhardt picked up a flip chart from the side of his desk. “For your arm, Crystal, you can choose one that will let you bend the elbow, close the fingers, or do both of those. NOW,” he said with emphasis before she got too excited. You have to keep in mind when you choose, that the elbow will only close in the obvious direction. It cannot rotate, so your fingers will always be pointed to your side when the arm is hanging down, for example. The wrist doesn't bend. And the fingers all close together, to allow you to pick things up. But they won’t work separately. Understand so far?”
”Yes, I do, doctor. What limitations are there?”
”I was getting to that,“ he smiled. “The motors that do these motions are low speed for safety, so you have to be patient. They will be triggered by the nerves in your stumps, which is why I had to make sure they still worked. We’ll be putting gold plated contacts in the ends of your stumps to connect with the wires in the arm and leg,” he began.
”Geez, doctor,” she chuckled. “You make me sound like the Bionic Woman! I’ve seen that in reruns, you know,” she laughed.
”In a sense, you will be, Crystal. A very basic version, without all the strength or power. But it will work. Now. As long as you concentrate on a motion, that motor will keep running. Closing your fingers at a slow rate of speed so you can stop them anytime by just going on to thinking what you want to do once they’re in position. You stop thinking about moving them, they stop. Same with the elbow. And the knee in your leg, but that has a couple other things to watch that we’ll get to in a few minutes. You get the idea, right?”
”Yep, and I can’t wait!” she yiped as the timer on Dr. Bernhardt's desk went off.
”OK, let’s get these bowls off of you, and we’ll take those measurements I mentioned, then finish talking about the limbs,” he said as he lifted her leg and arm in turn and carefully moved the bowls away, sitting them on a nearby table after checking them. “Perfect,” he said. “Nothing smeared. That means you stayed perfectly still. Nice going!”
”Thanks, doctor!” she said excitedly.
”Now, Crystal, would you rather Erick or my nurse assist us with the measurements. They will um… be reaching up to your torso, and accuracy is tantamount here if you’re going to have proper motion to your walking and arm movements that looks normal to yourself and others.”
”To be honest, Dr. Bernhardt, I trust Erick more than I do your nurse. No offense intended, of course.”
”None taken, Crystal. Not many of my patients have a choice like you do here. So I wanted you to have it. I understand perfectly. Erick, let’s do the leg first. It’s the most intimate of them, and we’ll get that out of the way so she can relax about it.”
”Sounds good here, doctor. What do I do?”
”Stand by her left hip, and take the end of this measuring tape. Be very sure of your position on the tape Erick. Fractions of an inch will make big differences in how well the leg looks, feels, and works for Crystal. But I also understand easily why she wants you doing this,” he said, smiling.
”Exactly that reason, doctor!” Crystal laughed. She turned to Erick. “Honey, relax. I know you’re nervous but remember - I’d rather have you right there right now than anyone in the world. It’s part of our trust, baby. And it has ME relaxing very much right now knowing you’re doing this for me. OK?”
”Thanks, honey. I needed that,” Erick said, leaning down and kissing her quickly. “OK, doctor, where do we start?”
”Put the end of the tape on the outside of her LEFT leg, but right at the point where the leg meets her torso. If I can use a rather crude term for the sake of your accuracy, the end of the tape should be right where that crack between her torso and leg stops, on the outside of her leg.”
Dr. Bernhardt measured the length of Crystal’s left leg, to the bottom of her foot. “OK, now do the same thing, on the INSIDE of her leg, and yes, this is where you being there helps her modesty. It has to be right at the other end of that crack, against her pubic area.”
Dr. Bernhardt measured the inside length of Crystal’s left leg. “OK, you two, now we do the same two measurements on her right stump.” Erick moved to the other side of the table. “Outside first as before, Erick.”
”Got it.” When Dr. Bernhardt had taken that measurement, Erick moved the tape to the inside of her right thigh. “Ready doctor.” Smiling, Dr. Bernhardt took that measurement.
”Good. That will let them tell where the new right leg actually starts so it will be the right length when it’s in place. Now let’s do the same thing with your arms, Crystal.”
Once that was done, Dr. Bernhardt measured the size of Crystal's foot, toes, hand and fingers, including the diameters of each of her fingers and toes. Writing those numbers on a printed diagram, he said, "That's so they make her new right foot and hand the same size as her left. She's going to be back to wearing a whole pair of shoes, and gloves soon, and I don't think you want to have to buy two different sizes to make that possible, right?" he laughed.
"That's true," Crystal said, laughing. "I guess I've really gotten more used to being like this than I thought I had. I... never gave that a thought till you mentioned it, doctor." She looked at Erick. He could tell she didn't like the fact that she'd gotten so used to being this way.
"Honey, I know it hurts, but look at the new side of this. Now it's about to go BACK the way you WANT it. Normal living again. So this won't be bugging you long anyway. Why let it do that at all?" Crystal looked at him with love all over her face.
"God I'm lucky to have you, honey! I didn't think of that, either! Thank you, darling!"
With that done, they got back to the choices. “Now on the leg, Crystal, the fact that it’s experimental has more bearing than it does about the arm. If the knee circuit triggers when you’re not thinking about it, it could cost you your balance. And if you start worryiing about that, it could trigger it because you're thinking about the leg. It'll take some serious effort on your part at first to only think about it when you want to bend it. But it can be disabled for a while if you want if that starts happening. And for the fingers, since you have no feeling in them, you shouldn’t pick up anything breakable or that you can damage, at least for a long time till you get used to how far to close them in picking up certain things. Get the idea?”
”Yep, sure do!” she said, smiling.
”Then you want to go for the works?” Dr. Bernhardt asked, laughing.
”I think you know the answer to that, doctor,” she laughed back.
”Just making sure for the record, Crystal,” he smiled again. “OK. Now. Along with this comes an agreement that you will notify me of any problems that occur, and check with me every month to let me check the operation of the motors and check the condition of the contacts. It’s kind of like getting your car checked out before a long trip. Checking out those “bionic” parts of you to keep them working right while they learn how to fix problems and improve them. And they want to do this with you for at least 5 years. And the monthly visits, by the way, will only be about 15 minutes each. Is that OK with you, Crystal?”
”Sure, doctor. Once a month isn’t that often, and the advantages will be worth it.”
”OK, that settles it then. It’ll take about two weeks to a month to get them, so when they get here I’ll be sure and give you a call,” Dr Bernhardt said as he stood up to go. “Thanks for your help, Erick, and for your patience and determination, Crystal. Those will do you well in the times ahead. And not just where your physical situation is concerned,” he said, smiling as he left the room. Erick helped Crystal to stand, embracing her.
”We both need one ‘the right way’ I think, baby, don’t you?” he said, grinning lovingly at her as he tightened his arms around her.
”You’ve got THAT right, Mr. Metcalf,” she said warmly, pressing herself against him. He kissed her briefly, sat her in the wheelchair, and they headed to lunch. If they were lucky, they’d be at the Student Union in time to eat before her afternoon classes started, and Melinda would be waiting for them to find out how things went. And knowing Melinda, she'd be just as eager to find out about the test results from Crystal as Crystal was to find out about Melinda's first date with Harold.