Forecast is for cast inspection. No Heinrich or Rita sightings predicted.
“And how long ago was the original injury?”
A short, round nurse in bright green scrubs was typing Gus’ health history on a tablet. Her frizzed blond hair stood out from her head and contrasted with the dark blue painted wall behind her. It vibrated in the bright fluorescent light. Her brass name tag read Brittany Grimes.
“Five weeks,” Gus replied.
Rick squirmed in his metal and faux leather exam room chair, feeling hemmed in by medical equipment with uses he could barely guess at in the small exam room. Gus displayed far more patience than he would have, going over his story, repeating the same answers over and over.
“And you got the cast wet how, exactly?”
“A boating accident.”
Nurse Grimes glanced at the damp grey and blue mess of cast on Gus’ wrist and forearm. She grimaced and shook her head. “Did you feel anything when you fell in?”
“I really don’t remember.” Was that a smirk showing on Gus’ face?
“Grinding? A pop?”
“No. Definitely no pop.”
“And there’s no pain now?”
“Maybe an ache in my elbow. Up here.” Gus pointed above the cast with his good hand.
“Okay,” the nurse sighed. “Doctor Nesbitt will be in a minute. She’ll probably order an x-ray, and then we’ll see.”
Rick watched the formica wood-grain door close with a whispered groan behind her as she bustled out.The room was silent. “It’s hurry up and wait, I guess.”
“That’s to be expected,” Gus said with a smile.
“You spend a lot of time in emergency rooms?”
“Not if I can help it.”
Rick stood, bumping an elbow against a sleek, white monitor on rollers. It rattled and wobbled ominously, but remained upright.
“You okay?” Gus asked.
“Fine. Just antsy.”
“You want to know how the game turned out.”
“No. I’m just tired of sitting.”
“Sure you are.” Gus was definitely smirking now.
“Hey! It’s true. We were waiting for what, an hour and a half?”
“Well, don’t worry. The Yankees won.”
“You have no way of knowing that.” Rick challenged.
“Doesn’t matter. I just know.” Gus teased.
Rick stepped closer to where the other man sat, bare legs hanging off the exam table. “You know everything, huh?”
“Maybe. What do you think I know?” Gus’ face was tipped upwards, eyes bright and full of life.
“That I’d really like to kiss you again.” Rick leaned down. His lips brushed against Gus’. The skin of his neck tingled with anticipation. To be able to kiss: how his life had changed in a few short weeks.
A brisk double rap on the door sounded, followed by the sound of the door opening.
Rick sprang back.
A tall, graceful African American woman in purple scrubs and white lab coat entered, glancing at notes on a computer tablet.
“Hello, I’m Dr. Nesbitt. I’m the resident here today.” Her voice sounded like aural silk as she advanced across the room toward Gus. “I understand you have a wet cast?”
“Oh, um. Hello. And yes, I got my cast very wet. Sorry about that.”
The doctor fixed Gus with a sharp gaze for a few moments, then returned her attention to the cast.
“Let’s have a look at it.” She lifted the arm and cast, giving them a full inspection. Her nose wrinkled at the cast’s redolence as she patted and squeezed gently, searching for and finding soft spots. “You must have gone swimming with this.”
“I fell out of a canoe.”
“You went canoeing with a cast on your arm?” The smooth, almost buttery, voice rose several notes, registering disbelief.
“I was fishing.” Even under the doctor’s glare, the corners of Gus’ mouth were upturned.
“Fishing. Huh. What on earth made you do that?”
“My friend asked me.”
“This friend right here?” The medical stare of opprobrium swiveled in Rick’s direction.
“Yes, me. I admit I asked him to come fishing.” Rick acknowledged.
“And you went along with it?” She asked Gus, frowning. The doctor appeared to be inspecting him closely.
“He was very convincing.”
“He hasn’t asked you to jump off any bridges, has he?” The doctor sounded like an exasperated parent.
Gus laughed, lowering the tension in the room. “No. But don’t ask me what I’d do if he told me to.”
Dr. Nesbitt narrowed her eyes and concentrated for several long moments. An eyebrow rose; she cocked her head to one side. Then her face broke into wide grin. “I know you.”
Rick felt confused, but Gus’ face took on a patient look.
“You – you’re –Gustavo Morales!”
“Of course I am.”
“No, I mean the Gustavo Morales. You’re a piano god.” Excitement added an edge to the doctor’s voice.
Gus allowed himself a modest smile. “I have a fan?”
“Oh my gosh, yes. I’ve heard you in concert. Atlanta, Rachmaninoff Number Two with Robert Spano. In med school, my husband proposed to me after hearing you play the Emperor in St. Louis. You were incredible. We have five of your CD’s.”
“I’d offer to autograph them for you, but –” Gus held up his injured hand.
“This is amazing! Gustavo Morales in my ER. My husband’s never going to believe me.”
“I’m sorry he’s not here.”
“Dinnertime conversation’s going to be so good – hey, honey, guess who showed up at the hospital today?”
Rick’s brow furrowed. He didn’t like that Gus could be a topic of casual conversation, even amongst fans. He didn’t feel like sharing the man with anyone, even though he knew that to be unreasonable.
“Oh, don’t worry, I can’t tell him, even though he’s an ophthalmologist himself, and sworn to patient secrecy.” Doctor Nesbitt sounded resigned. “Your treatment’s confidential.”
“I don’t mind if he knows. How about a selfie?”
“You would do that? It’s completely unprofessional, but … Yes!” She dug in her lab coat pocket and drew out a cell phone.
She maneuvered herself next to Gus and extended her arm.
“Wait, wait,” said Gus before she could snap the picture. “Get over here.”
“Come on, you need to be in this.” He gestured.
He moved over next to Gus, who put the arm with his cast around Rick’s shoulder. He hardly minded the smell and damp.
“Smile, guys,” the doctor ordered.“Look at that. Visual proof,” she crowed a moment later.
“Could you maybe send that to Rick?” Gus asked. “My phone got destroyed in the lake.”
“Rick? Who’s – oh, that’s you, is it?”
“Um, yeah. That’s me. Let me give you my number.”
While the giddy doc entered Rick’s contact information, Gus cleared his throat. “So, this cast thing. It’s really okay, isn’t it? Just has to dry out, right? Nothing to make a fuss over?”
“Oh, we’ll definitely want to replace it,” she replied, still typing on the phone. “You got it absolutely soaked. Leaving it wet could lead to some nasty skin problems and infection, and that’s not something you want to risk. I’ll need to order x-rays. Don’t want to take any chances with your recovery. Oh, and I should get the name of your orthopedic surgeon.”
“Is that really necessary?”
“Uh huh. It is. You’re based in Chicago, right?”
“You really are a fan. Wow. Yes, I live in the Windy City. It’s Dr. Jiang. Daniel Jiang; Northwestern University.” Gus pronounced the Chinese name as if he spoke Mandarin every day.
The doctor entered this information on her tablet. “Right. I’ll try to contact him while your X-rays are being done.”
She smiled more professionally and exited the room.
Gus looked to Rick, crestfallen. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have gotten you into this. And the insurance – I don’t want to think about it. I just thought it would be a quick thing; check to be sure I’m all right, and then off we go.”
Rick smiled, trying to be reassuring. “It’s fine. If it were any other way, I’d have worried.”
“You’re a good man, Rick.”
“Hardly. I’m full of failings, like anyone else. I’m not a plumbing god.” A definite smirk accompanied that remark before turning more serious. “Besides, I thought we were done with being sorry.”
A quick double-rap on the door announced another arrival. The pink nurse, Brittany, was back. “Okay, Mr. Morales. Let’s get your wrist x-rayed,” she said with bouncy good cheer.
“That’s fast,” Rick commented.
“Doctor Nesbitt put you on the fast track. She likes you,” the nurse informed Gus. “And the sooner we get you out of that stinky cast, the better.” She sniffed the air in the little room.
Rick had to admit he hadn’t noticed much. A lifetime of working with other people’s plumbing made him immune to some kinds of odors, perhaps. Or maybe with Gus, he just didn’t care.
The darker man slid off the exam table with the simple physical grace Rick so admired. “As long as she’s sure it’s necessary.”
Rick made to follow Gus and the bustling nurse as they headed for the open door.
“You can wait here,” the nurse told Rick. “Your friend won’t be long.”
“Oh. I thought –”
“It’s okay. Really. It’s not like anyone’s going to kidnap him.” she laughed.
“I’d just as soon come along, if it’s okay.”
“Suit yourself. You can wait in the X-ray lounge.”
Gus and Rick followed nurse Brittany down a green-tiled hallway. She may have been short, but the woman set a brisk pace.When she turned abruptly to her right, Rick almost skidded trying to keep up. She burst through a set of double doors, and turned right again through a door marked X-Ray in black and white bakelite.
Turning to Rick, she gestured toward an empty row of molded plastic chairs against the wall. “You can sit there. He won’t be more than a few minutes.”
Rick watched Gus disappear through another set of doors. For the first time since he’d picked Gus up in the early morning, he was alone. Taking note of his surroundings, Rick decided the room wasn’t much of a lounge. The only distractions breaking the beige monotony of the walls were signs posted in Spanish and English about patient rights and an appeal for hospital hygiene and infection control. Only a tattered copy of People graced the sole end table.
He fidgeted and worried. I pulled pretty hard on Gus’ arm getting him into the boat. What if I broke it again?He’s got to be all right. He’s got to be.
He stared at the floor, examining the scuffed tiles.
His senses snapped to alert when the entry door opened. A boy, probably in his early teens, rode in on a wheelchair, pushed by an aide Rick hadn’t seen before. He wore a baseball uniform dirtied by hard play. The word MINERS in block capitals proclaimed his team. They were followed by a mousy, brown-haired woman with sad eyes, clearly the boy’s mother.
“There’s someone in the x-ray room right now, but they won’t be long.”
The mother sank into a chair.
The aide smiled at the boy. “Is the pain bad?”
The boy shook his head. “I’m fine.”
Silence returned to the lounge.
“What happened?” Rick asked after a few awkward moments.
“I slid into second base.”
“Hurt his ankle. Just hope it’s not broken,” the mother added.
Rick nodded. The youngster looked as if he might be a dangerous baserunner – lean, light, and sinewy. “Your coach told you to steal second?”
“I was safe!” the athlete protested.
“Well, at least you got your team an extra base.”
“I could have stayed in the game.”
“You had to be helped off the field by Coach Cekic,” his mother pointed out.
“I bet it’s nothing.” Rick smiled. “But it’s best to get it checked.”
The young Miner scowled.
“My friend and I were fishing, and our boat tipped over. We let all our fish get away so he could get looked over.” Rick stretched the truth a little. But it was true – their fishing was definitely done for the day, if not forever.
The boy’s face softened a little, but he said nothing.
“Is your friend all right?” The mother asked.
“He’s in the x-ray room now. We’ll see.”
At that moment, the x-ray room door opened, and Gus emerged, followed by the technician.
Rick jumped to his feet. “What’s the news?”
“We go back to our exam room. The radiologist will read the pictures, and then? We’ll see.”
Rick’s face fell. He’d hoped for a quicker exit. “Okay. Guess we wait some more.”He turned to the youngster and his mother. “Good luck. Hope it all turns out fine.”
“Thanks,” mother and son replied, the latter mumbling, while the former added with a smile: “and good luck to you both.”
Gus gave them one of his best radiant smiles. They walked out together.
“Think you can find our way back?” Rick teased.
“Of course. Is it that way?” Gus pointed to the right.
“Here, let me show you.” Rick took Gus’ good left hand and gently squeezed. He tugged to the left.They passed through the double doors.A nurse concentrated over a workstation at her desk. Dr. Nesbitt held a phone to her ear with her shoulder, using her hands to write on her tablet. Nobody seemed to notice Rick and Gus returning.
“You want the chair?” Rick asked as the door eased shut behind them.
“No, you take it.” Gus told him.
“You’d be more comfortable.”
“They’ll probably want to have me here, anyway.” The shorter man climbed back onto the exam table.
Rick sighed and sank back into the visitor’s chair.
“How long do you think this will take?” Gus asked.
“Beats me. Could be a while, I guess.”
The hospital air handling system hummed and breathed overhead. Rick looked around, inspecting labels and equipment.
“There’s no television in here.” The shorter man remarked.
“What makes you think I’m looking for one?”
“Oh, I don’t blame you. You just need confirmation of the inevitable Yankees win.”
“I could just look on my phone to see the score.”
“Why don’t you?”
“What do I get when the Brewers pull out the win?”
“You’re pretty confident. I was just thinking about my prize when you see the bad news.”
“We’ll just see about that.” Rick stood, pulling his phone from his pocket. A few additional taps on the screen took him to the information they both sought.
He stared at the screen for a moment. Top of Inning Ten. Yankees 5, Brewers 5.
Rick shrugged. “Score’s tied in extra innings.” He started to sit back down.
“You don’t have to use the chair. There’s plenty of room.” A dark-skinned hand patted the crinkled paper covering the surface.
“Shove over, then.”
Gus moved to leave a corner of the exam table for Rick to sit on.The bigger man took immediate advantage, seating himself so the two were close, shoulder to shoulder.
“There. That’s better.”
They rested in silence for a moment.
“The air conditioning’s running cold in here,” Gus observed, shivering.
“Oh. You’re cold? Should I go ask for a blanket?” Rick started to move.
“No, no. Just put your arm around me. That’ll be warm enough.”
Rick hastened to act on the suggestion, pulling Gus closer still. The shorter man leaned his head on Rick’s shoulder.
“I know it must sound crazy, but I’ve never been as comfortable with anyone as I have with you.” Rick surprised himself by speaking aloud what he’d been thinking.
“That doesn’t sound crazy to me. I’ve been feeling the same way.” Gus wrapped his arm around Rick.
Gus nodded against his shoulder. “There’s just something about you.”
“Yeah, the smell of drain pipes.”
Gus snorted and turned to reply, but a swift rapping on the door ended the moment.
Rick disengaged and slid off the table as Doctor Nesbitt entered.
“Good news,” she began. “Your x-rays show everything’s healing normally. There’s still evidence of the break on the pictures, but it looks good.Now, I heard from your surgeon, who’s advising us to re-cast instead of splint –”
“But is that necessary, if the wrist looks healed?” Gus interrupted.
Dr. Nesbitt sighed. “If you were a typical patient, maybe I might suggest a splint or even an aircast. But you’re not at all typical, and I’d never forgive myself if the least thing were to go wrong until your surgeon can see you himself.”
Gus scowled. “What if I just said ‘no?’”
“You could do that, and I’d have to note that you refused my advice, and the advice of your specialist in Chicago. He’d have to be informed.”
“I suppose there isn’t any choice, is there?”
“I really think it’s for the best.” Dr. Nesbitt sounded apologetic.
“Good. Let’s get you down to casting.”
“Sounds like we’re in the movies,” Rick joked.
The doctor’s eyebrow rose.
“You know, like, central casting?”
Gus rolled his eyes as he grinned. “Where do we go?”
The casting room at Great Forge Regional Hospital appeared to be a more spacious version of the exam room, with a wide hospital bed at its center. Rick assumed Gus would be propped up on that bed, but that turned out not to be the case.
Instead, Doctor Nesbitt instructed Gus to pull a chair up to the side of the bed so his arm would rest on its surface. Next, she donned a pair of heavy blue gloves and wheeled over a machine that Rick couldn’t immediately figure out.
She glanced at Rick’s face and took pity on him. “This is a cast saw. This circular blade cuts through the outer layer of the shell so we can more easily remove the layers underneath.”
“Oh. Now I see. And that hose: that must vacuum up the stray dust and debris. Kind of like a shop vac.”
“Exactly,” the doctor laughed in her fluid voice.
“As long as you’re not the magician sawing me in half,” Gus added. He tried to sound cheerful, but Rick could hear the edge of anxiety in his companion’s voice.
“Don’t worry. It has a special blade, so there’s zero chance you’ll get cut.”
With that, Dr. Nesbitt picked up the business end of the device and turned on the power. A loud, high pitched, nasal whine filled the room, and she bent to her task. Using swift, gentle motions, the doctor pierced the bright blue cast, and cut in a line down Gus’ arm toward his hand. In a matter of minutes, the hard shell was sliced through.
The doctor smiled as she switched off the machine. “There. That was easy. Now, to cut the padding off.”
She picked up an odd-looking pair of shears, which gleamed in the light. With quick, sure snips, she cut her way down the cast, cutting the material underneath the hard cast. Once finished, she pried apart the cast to reveal Gus’ wrist and forearm.
“Aha! You’re revealed.” She sniffed and blinked. “And not a moment too soon.”
Rick peered at the skin newly exposed to light and air. His eyes widened. “Your arm. It looks –”
“Like an iguana. Ugh.” Gus’ arm was crisscrossed with discolorations and scaly dead skin.
“Is there any pain?” The doctor asked.
“No. No pain.” Gus flexed his fingers.
“Good.” The cast was peeled off like a nutshell.
“You’re free!” Rick exclaimed.
“Only briefly. He still has at least a week of incarceration left.” The doctor grinned as she disposed of the damp sodden mass in a tall steel trash can.
“Do I really have to have another one?” Gus asked.
“I’m afraid so. Dr. Jiang in Chicago insists. However, we can at least get your arm cleaned up a little.” Dr. Nesbitt motioned Gus to a deep stainless-steel sink against the wall. “You can wash some of the crud and smell away here. Just be gentle with the skin; don’t scrub too hard. You’ll find some lotion you can use in that bottle.” She pointed.
Gus nodded and rose, still flexing his fingers. He ran the water and tested the temperature as it hissed.
“I’ll be right back,” the doctor said as she pushed the heavy door open.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” Rick asked. “You keep wiggling your fingers.”
“They’re okay.I’ve tried to keep them limber since the injury. Everything just feels a little stiff.” Gus pumped soap into his good hand and applied himself to removing some of the detritus left behind on his arm.
“Sorry. I don’t mean to pester you.”
Gus grinned. “I thought we agreed not to be sorry. You’re really nice to worry.” He tried moving his wrist in a cautious, experimental fashion under the running water.
“Wow. Look at the gunk you’re washing away.” Rick looked over Gus’ shoulder.
“Yeah. Pretty gross, isn’t it?”
“Looks like stuff I find in old sewer lines.”
“Ugh. Thanks for that thought.”
Rick watched Gus scrub for another minute until the water was shut off. The shorter man looked around for something to dry off with, but didn’t see one.
“Paper towel?” Rick asked, grabbing a few from the dispenser.
“Oh. Yes, thank you.”
“Let me.” Rick held Gus’ arm with a gentle grip and patted it dry.Without letting go, he pumped a dollop of lotion from the bottle into his hand, and applied it Gus’ skin with slow, even strokes. He savored feeling the length of tendons and muscles under his fingers.
“You sure you’re not a masseur?” Gus breathed. “You have an amazing touch.”
Rick grinned and flushed. But he didn’t stop. Just that simple contact felt so good, he wouldn’t, couldn’t break it. The inevitable double rap sounded, followed by the rattle of the door handle. Rick didn’t let go, not even as Doctor Nesbitt entered.
“Getting some moisture back in the skin?” She inquired, with a silken voice and wide smile. “Good. Guess it’s time to cast you up again.”
“I don’t suppose…” Gus began.
“No. Sorry. No escape.” The doctor shook her head. “Shall we get this over with?”
“The sooner you get it done, the sooner you’ll be out of it.” Rick volunteered.
Gus sighed. “I know, I know.”
“Would you mind getting up on the bed, please?” Dr. Nesbitt arranged the necessary supplies on counter. “What color cast do you want?”
Rick watched the procedure with interest.
Gus had a pillow on his lap, and his injured arm lay upon it.
Doctor Nesbitt placed a splint on Gus’ wrist and wrapped it into place. From a drawer, she produced a package containing a tube of material very like a stocking. This was slipped over Gus’ hand and arm. She cut off excess material with her scissors. Smoothing it out, the doctor took care to leave no wrinkles.From the counter, she took padding material and wrapped it generously around Gus’ hand, wrist, and forearm with sure, swift turns.
“You’ve done this a few times,” Rick murmured.
“One or two,” the doctor agreed with a smile.
Next, she applied a layer of stiffer material. She folded the stocking back over this layer, so that the cast would be soft and padded at each end. She put on a pair of gloves.
“Last chance to choose a color.”
Gus shrugged. “It’s only for a week.”
Rick observed the doctor rummaging in a drawer. She extracted a box labelled casting tape in blue letters. She opened it and unsealed the interior packaging.
“This was new this year. It came as a sample. Nobody’s asked for it yet.” The woman began to apply vivid rainbow fiberglass tape in overlapping layers to Gus’ arm.
“Um. Wow. Never seen that color cast before.” Rick commented.
Gus smirked, then laughed. “It looks pretty good to me.”
“You asked for it. Or, rather, you didn’t ask for it. Instead of a specific color, you got them all.” Doctor Nesbitt laughed.
Gus turned to Rick; their eyes met. “It’s perfect.”
The woman continued wrapping. The effect made Gus’s forearm and wrist glow with splashes of color. She trimmed off the last of it.
“All done?” Rick asked.
“Not yet,” the doctor said, shaking her head. “We have to let it dry, and make sure it forms to the wrist and arm.” She lifted Gus’ now multicolored arm and began to press upon it. “You just want to make –”
A loud commotion in the hallway outside the door interrupted her flow of conversation. She frowned in that direction. “What in the world?”
The door burst open, and an armed, blue-uniformed young man surged in.On his heels was a red-faced nurse Grimes. Her protest, “He’s with the doctor now …” died on her lips.
“Immigration and Customs,” the intruder announced. “Nobody move.”
I continue to feel the deepest gratitude to @AC Benus and @Carlos Hazday for their help in making this a better story. Should you have any comments, observations, random thoughts or declarations to make, please leave them here. I am always interested in what you might have to say.