Buck, Josiah and Nathan returned the next morning to find Chris still asleep next to Vin. The sharpshooter looked a little better than he had, but not much. Nathan was just happy to see that Vin had remained breathing on his own. Chris woke up when Buck moved closer to Vin.
"Hey, Pard," smiled Buck. "How's he doing?"
"Better. He woke up for a short time early this morning."
"That's great!" Nathan exclaimed.
"Yes, that's wonderful news," Josiah agreed.
"I still can't look at the kid without getting the creeps," Buck said. "What the hell is all these stuff anyway Nathan?"
"Well, let's see if I remember everything," he said as he came next to Vin. "This one on his left wrist is an arterial line so they can take blood samples without having to stick him every time and they can tell his blood pressure every second. The right hand has an IV and this fingerclip on the same hand is called a pulse oximeter. They can tell how well his blood is saturated with oxygen. The pads for the heart monitor you know. This one in his jugular is called a central line. It measures the amount of pressure inside the right side of his heart and they can give him large amounts of fluids quickly or concentrated amounts of antibiotics."
"What about this one here?" Buck asked pointing to a fine flexible tube that disappeared behind Vin's back.
"That's an epidural," Nathan answered. "It's delivering painkillers."
"But where the hell is it going to?" Buck wondered.
"It goes into his spinal cord."
"Shit!" Buck exclaimed, pulling his hands back.
"And these, brother Nate?" Josiah asked pointing to the tubes coming from Vin's chest.
"Whatever you do, you don't want to touch those," warned Nathan.
"Why?" Chris asked concerned.
"Because they hurt like hell."
"What are they?" Buck asked backing away from Vin.
"They're chest tubes," Nathan explained. "They go from inside his chest to these bottles on the floor. Those bottles are connected to vacuum suction on those machines. The nurses can measure the drainage to see if Vin is still bleeding and when they stop bubbling we'll know his lungs are fully reinflated. The reason they hurt so much is because they go between his ribs and rub whenever he moves or breathes."
"You know your stuff, Mr. Jackson," commented the nurse who had been listening at the door.
She walked over to Vin with a test tube and inserted it into the arterial line. It filled with blood then she unhooked it. She then checked all the wires and tubes. As soon as she touched the chest tubes, Vin clutched Chris's hand and opened his eyes.
"Sorry, Mr. Tanner, but it has to be done," she apologized and continued checking the tubes.
"Easy, Vin, it will be over in a minute," Chris soothed as Vin squeezed his hand tighter
"I'm afraid they need to be drained," she said. "I'll be back."
They watched as Vin tried to ride out the pain. Josiah walked to his left side and took his hand. Chris could tell the pain was subsiding when Vin loosened his death grip on his hand. Vin pulled his hand out of Josiah's and went to pull the oxygen mask off.
"No, Vin, leave it be," Josiah said capturing his hand.
He tried to pull away from Josiah but gave up after a few seconds. He turned to look at Chris begging him to take it off. Chris just shook his head. Just then two nurses came in.
"I'm going to have to ask you gentlemen to leave," said one of them.
"Why?" Buck asked.
"Getting in the chair for the first time will be painful for Mr. Tanner and it's something you really don't want to watch," she explained. "It's just better if you wait outside."
"Let's just do as she says," Nathan suggested.
"I'm staying," Chris said.
"Mr. Larabee I don't think that's a good idea," the nurse disagreed.
"I'm staying," he repeated.
"Suit yourself," she said as she ushered the others out.
"Mr. Tanner, this is what we need to do," Kathy explained. "We are going to move you to this chair here at the side of the bed. Your chest tubes will drain better with gravity and sitting up will help your lungs reinflate. I also need to do some manual chest therapy while you are up. I'm going to give you an extra dose of your pain medication in your epidural and another nurse is getting some Demerol to make all of this as pleasant as can be."
When the other nurse returned she gave Vin the shot in his hip then hit the dose button on his epidural. They then transferred all the monitor wires and tubes to the left side of the bed where the chair sat. Now Chris understood why all the wires and tubes were so long. The nurses where as careful as they could be with the chest tubes, but Vin still cried out when they moved the tubes arranging them the way they wanted.
"What can I do?" asked Chris
"Why don't you come over here on his left side, Mr. Larabee," Kathy suggested.
"Just make it Chris. It will be easier," he said.
Chris followed the nurse's lead as they had Vin roll onto his left side and face Chris. Vin reached out for his arm and held on. When the nurses swung his legs to the side of the bed and sat him up he dug his fingers into Chris's arm and clenched his teeth.
"Ok, let's sit here on the side of the bed a minute," Kathy said.
Vin nodded and leaned against Chris. Chris could fell him trembling just from that slight movement. He also noticed Vin was breathing a little faster causing the tubes to rub. Vin was holding so tight to his arms that he was sure they would be black and blue later.
"OK, Chris come over here behind me and take Vin's right arm," Kathy instructed. "We're going to move you to the chair. Ok, Vin I want you to put your feet on the ground and turn towards me, Chris is right here at your elbow and Regina and I will help you turn and sit down. Are you ready?"
He wasn't but didn't see he had any choice. If it had only been the nurses he might have protested. With Chris there it was another story. He didn't want Chris to blame himself for how much this was going to hurt. Besides he didn't want to disappoint him by not trying. He nodded and they began the move. He stood and felt Chris's strong arms support him and he finally got settled in the chair. The nurses moved the tubes and lines and connected his chest tubes to suction. He tried not to cry out from the pain but it was no use. He moaned and started to lean forward out of the chair. He felt two strong hands brace him and pull him back so he rested against the back of the chair. Chris stroked his hair and told him everything would be fine. Chris wasn't sure whom this was hurting more. It broke his heart to hear Vin cry out from the pain. About 15 minutes later Vin was feeling better and nodded when Kathy asked if she could do her chest therapy on him.
"Chris come around and stand in front of Vin and support his head and shoulders against your chest," Kathy said.
Chris came around in front of Vin and held him close. Vin took a hold of his hand and leaned his cheek on it. When they were settled, Kathy began a gentle slapping of her hands on the lower part of Vin's back. He cried out and arched his back away from the assault. Kathy nodded to Regina to give him another dose of painkiller through the epidural. Chris knew this was hurting Vin horribly because he felt warm tears land on the hand he was holding. He stroked his hair and tried to reassure the younger man.
"Just give me a minute, Vin, I'll make this as quick as possible," Kathy explained. "We've got to do this to make sure you don't have fluid sitting in the bottom of your lungs that could give you pneumonia."
Five minutes of slapping up and down on Vin's back had him pale and exhausted despite the extra painkillers. When she was done they started to rearrange the tubes and lines so they could get him back in the bed. When Vin realized what they were doing he kept shaking his head No.
"I'm sorry Vin," Chris said afterVin turned pain-filled blue eyes to him.
He just nodded and held on tighter to Chris. He tried not to cry out when they lifted him but it was no use, it just hurt too much. They got him back in the bed and the nurses rearranged all the tubes. The damned oxygen mask pulled at his nose and Vin again tried to take it off.
"Leave it," said Chris.Vin struggled for a short while then gave up.
"Hold on," said the nurse. She switched the mask for a nasal cannula.
Vin stopped struggling and settled down. Chris dampened a cloth and wiped the tears from his face.Vin looked at Chris and gestured for the pen and paper. Chris handed them to him. He watched as Vin shakingly wrote something on the pad and handed it to Chris. It had one word on it, WATER. The word was written with the 'E' and the 'R' backwards. He poured some water and placed a straw in the cup then held it whileVin drank. When he was finished he wrote something else on the pad. Chris read HURTS; again the 'R' and the 'S' were backwards. One of the nurses was still in the room.
"He's still in a lot of pain," Chris said.
"No problem," she said and adjusted the epidural.
Chris watched as the painkillers took effect and Vin slowly drifted to sleep.
"How many times will we have to do this?" Chris asked.
"Every few hours," she said.
"Shit," Chris cursed.
"I warned you," she said. "It's tough enough on us."
"There isn't anything else you can do?"
"I'm sorry," she said in sympathy.
"This pad and paper isn't working," Chris said. "His hand is shaking so bad it's hard to read."
"We have a picture board," she said. "I'll get one."
She came back with a board that had pictures of things he would need. He thanked her and settled next to Vin. After the nurse left Chris looked down at his hands and saw them shaking. He didn't realize how much this had affected him. He wasn't sure he could do this every few hours. Chris knew he would do it. He wouldn't abandon Vin. He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. He opened them when he heard the others walk in.
"Damn Chris," Buck said. "You're as white as Vin."
""It was that bad?" Josiah asked.
"Yeah it was bad," Chris answered. "They have to do it every few hours."
"What's this?" asked Buck as he held up the picture board.
"Vin tried writing but it's impossible to read," Chris lied.
"I see they took the mask off," Nathan commented.
"He kept fighting it. They just decided to take it off."
"Come on, Chris, why don't I buy you some breakfast," said Buck. "Looks like you could use some air."
"Yeah I could."
"What's this?" asked Josiah amazed. "That must have been really bad if you're willing to get out of here."
"You just don't know Josiah," said Chris as he followed Buck out the door.
Buck kept Chris out for a couple of hours. They came back to find Josiah was the only one with Vin. He was leaning over Vin wiping his face with a damp cloth. When Chris got closer he could see Vin was awake. He looked into the kid's eyes and could see only pain. Buck came to the end of the bed and squeezed his right foot. Vin glanced towards Buck and smiled.
"Hey kid," Buck smiled back. "You're looking a little better."
"Where'd Nathan go?" Chris asked as he took his seat next to Vin.
"Went back to the office," Josiah answered "we figured someone better make an appearance."
They talked and joked with Vin for awhile. He tried to answer with the picture board but gave up after awhile. Chris seemed to know what he wanted half the time so he didn't need it. Buck was in the middle of an outlandish story when the nurses walked in. Vin took one look at them and shook his head no. He went to talk and Chris put his hand over his mouth.
"It'll be all right Vin," Chris said.
Vin shook his head 'No'. Josiah offered to stay and help this time but Vin became agitated at the suggestion and Josiah left with Buck. After the others had left Chris looked at Vin. He was staring up at the ceiling and Chris could see tears running out of the corner of his eyes to disappear in his hair. Chris went to push back his hair and Vin pulled away from him. He sighed and they started the painful procedure again.