Chapter 20. Yuri : Dawn.
Thirty two days after the accident found me in a meeting room. Unlike the meeting room I had in my office where I got total control of what would happen, this one felt more like a trap to me. It felt so small, so suffocating with the few people in white coat across the table.
There was a file folder on the table in front of me but I didn't feel like opening it. I knew I wouldn't like whatever was reported on those papers.
“From what I could gather from the data, the surgery for her spinal cord injury has been carried out successfully.” Dr. Benjamin Ghostine explained without even reading the notes in his open folder. His hair was all gray and there was some semblance of seniority in the eyes behind the thick sunglasses. Still I couldn't find comfort in the fact that he's the best neurosurgeon coming all the way from LA to help checking my wife's condition. “Herniated disks and fractured vertebrae that appear to be compressing the spine have all been fixed. The doctors here also have stabilized the spine to prevent future pain or deformity.”
“As you've probably been told by the doctors, the C7 vertebrae is associated with both the C7 and C8 spinal nerves. Jessica's C7 injury might result in tingling and numbness in the hands and fingers, as well as referred pain in the shoulder blade. The spinal nerves in C8 was not damaged but we can still expect some difficulty in movement of the legs, trunk, and hands, with patients maintaining shoulder and arm movement.”
“Can... can my daughter be completely healed?” My mother-in-law trembled in her question. “Can she walk again?”
“Full assessment of how far the injury affects the patients can only be done three to six months after the patient is fully awake.” With a comforting look that I had often received from other doctors, Dr. Ghostine explained to Jessica's mother. “The spinal cord injury was incomplete. It means there's a chance to preserve some motor or sensory function below the injury level. There are also many ways of rehabilitation and many means of medications that shall help Jessica continue her life with as few change as possible.”
Sooyoung who was sitting behind me touched my hand gently. “Yuri... do you have any question?”
I shook my head. Instead of what would be happening I was more interested on what was going on. His explanation was almost similar to what the doctors had told me after Jessica's spinal cord surgery.
“Jessica's Tibial shaft has the oblique fracture type.” Another doctor spoke as he pointed at the x-ray image mounted on the illuminated box on the wall. “We have installed these plates to kept the broken bone in place. Recovery will take some time but with proper therapy and rehabilitation, patient shall retain full movement of her leg in six months to one year.”
“If the spinal cord injury doesn't affect her ability to move her leg.” The neurosurgeon added rather mercilessly.
“Time and patience should make everything alright. I get it.” I finally let words out of my mouth. “Now tell me why my wife isn't awake yet?”
Before any of the experts present in the room could answer, I continued. “Some of you said that she would wake up once her sedative wear off after the spinal cord surgery. Some promised me that it was completely safe and necessary to fix her broken leg a few days after that. But why is my wife still unconscious? It's over a month already. Can someone tell me what is actually going on?”
I was calm. Every confusion and anger I felt was wrapped well under the surface. Thirty two days of waiting had taught me so. But there was a question drilling my mind right now. A question that I was afraid to ask yet I had to get out of my system for the sake of my own sanity.
“Is this permanent? Will she ever wake up?”
My mother-in-law gasped. I could tell that in this room, the people who knew my wife personally, were all gawking at me. It was a question probably haunted every member of our extended family, but none of them was brave enough to put it into words.
I needed to know for sure. I didn't use my power and connection to gather experts in this room for vague explanation. Just like in my meeting room at the office, I wanted fixed numbers, specific details of why, how and when.
“Based on the CT Scan, the trauma to her head is not severe enough to warrant a coma.” Another doctor took over. “However, at 5 on Glasgow Coma Scale, Jessica sometimes provides inconsistent motor responses to given stimulation but yet to regain full consciousness.”
There. They finally laid the word out. A coma. The corner of my eyes caught my mother-in-law's shocked expression but I felt no regret. The sooner we knew the fact, the easier for us to deal with it.
“To be honest, it's a condition where we can't quite put a finger on.” The doctor nodded at doctor Ghostine, probably asking for support. “She's not supposed to be in a coma but we can't get her to wake up too.”
“The thing is, in the three days I've spent to examine the patient and monitoring her brain activity, I've found her brain activity to resemble patient who falls into a deep sleep instead of a patient who falls into a coma. ” Doctor Ghostine kept his eyes on mine. I knew he's anticipating more questions from me. “If you're looking for a term, vegetative state is not correct either because her brain activity is more complex than those who fall into vegetative state.”
“I'm looking for reason, for numbers. If she's asleep, why doesn't she wake up with all the stimulation the doctors have given? Is she's in a coma, what can I do to wake up her up? When will she wake up?”
“The responses given were weak and inconsistent, Mr. Kwon. Trust me, all the doctors here have done every recommended treatment to help your wife regain consciousness. Every person is different. There are no exact measurement could be taken to determine when and how your wife will wake up. At this point I suggest you continue the current treatment to heal all her injuries first.”
“Will taking her to another hospital help? A more modern facility such as yours in LA? Isn't staying unconscious for too long will do her more harm?” The doctors that belonged to this hospital were definitely eyeing me at the moment. I had indirectly questioned their capability. I didn't care. I wanted to make sure that my wife would get the best.
“From my point of view, there's nothing much you can do at the moment but wait. Technology and medical team can only help as far when it's come to injury that impacted nerves system. Human's brain is still a deep mystery despite the many researches done in the field.”
“Waiting.” I huffed the air from my lungs, disappointed at the fact that the best neurosurgeon I could find couldn't even perfectly describe what was actually going on.
“Recovery is not impossible. I met patients with worst conditions before, people who have managed to get back to their life with minimal changes after a long state of unconsciousness.”
The rest of the doctors nodded. I gave the room a once-over before standing up, offering my hand to Dr. Ghostine. “Thank you for helping me so readily, Doctor.”
“My pleasure, Mr. Kwon. I promise I'll help monitoring your wife even from afar. I'm sure my fellows practitioners in this hospital won't mind sharing their observation with me. Together we can learn further from this case which in turn will provide the best treatment for Mrs.Kwon herself.”
Without much words, I excused myself from the suffocating room. A deep sigh escaped me as I started to walk down the corridor. My head pounded, my heart ached as I rode the elevator a few floors up. And then I reached the room where my wife was lying. In a coma or in a prolonged sleep, it's only a matter of term because whatever it was, she was not completely here with me.
She was an angel, despite the paleness of her skin and the obstruction of medical equipment. I sat by the edge of the bed, taking her cold hand in mine. My lips met her forehead, in a kiss that supposed to warm my heart more than it would do hers.
“Hey....” I smiled. Couldn't really talk to an angel with a frown on my face, could I?
“I know you're there. I know you can hear me.” My next kiss lingered on the back of her hand. “I love you, come back to me.”
Then, as I had been often practiced in the last few days, I maneuvered myself on the bed. Using the little space there was, I laid beside my wife.
“I love you so much, Jess.” With her hand in mine I closed my eyes, hoping for a good sleep just like those old days when she had been able to put her arm around me. “Wake up for me.”
I woke up groaning. My body ached all over after the extra hours spent at the office last night. December sun peeked softly between the blinds and I decided to do nothing about it. Days and nigths had gone by without me actually counting. I went straight to the bathroom and took a bath instead, hoping for the magic of warm water to fight my soreness.
I was shaving when someone knocked on the door.
“Come in.” I shouted from in front of the vanity. After dabbing aftershave while vividly recalled how Jessica always loved the smell of it, I stepped out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around my waist.
“Flowers for you, Sir.” A maid came in with a simple bouquet in hands. Another maid followed with a tray of breakfast. My mother had insisted on sending maids to help me at home because I had been so reluctant on living with her.
To me, it was easier to live alone at the moment. I could commute between home and hospital as I liked. No one would have to worry about me if I spent hours in my room or in the office without eating. In short, I didn't want to burden my parents more than I already did. Especially my mother who had been so hardworking on helping me taking care of my daughter at the hospital.
“Happy birthday, Sir.” Jisoo, the maid who put the bouquet on the vanity, smiled at me.
“Thank you.” I reached for the prepared cup of coffee from the bedside table. “Thank you for the meal too, Jisoo, Dahyun. The coffee is great today.”
They nodded and left the room. I walked for the bouquet of white and blue orchid, instantly recognized my mother's elegant cursive on the card. I picked up my phone to give her a call.
“Happy birthday, son.” Her soothing voice came from the other end.
“Thank you, mother. The flowers brighten my day.”
“Have you eaten any breakfast yet? Did Jisoo prepare the Miyeok Guk like I told her so?”
“Yes, mother. I have the breakfast of a king ready on my bed right now, ready to be devoured.” I eyed the many dishes on the tray, thinking that if I eat them all I might not need to eat for the rest of the week.
“Join us for dinner tonight, won't you? It has been awhile.”
“I'm sorry, mother. I have a plan. I'll come tomorrow night”
“I see, celebrating with your princesses?” From her voice, I could tell that my mother didn't really support my plan. I knew she'd rather have me resting than visiting the hospital almost all the time. I knew she worried about my well-being.
“Jihye is scheduled for a few screenings today.” I changed the subject to her favorite one. Her dear granddaughter. “The tests I told you about a week ago, remember?”
“Ah, yes. Those tests.”
“Yes. If she passes them all, we can bring her home in a few days.”
“Oh my, I've been waiting for this good news for so long.” It was easy to imagine the smile on my mother's face. We had been struggling so much on nurturing Jihye so she could get out of the hospital as soon as possible.
“Do I need to go to the hospital with you?”
“It's okay, mother. If it's not much of a trouble, can you prepare everything to welcome Jihye instead. I'm sure she'll pass the tests just fine.”
“I'll be glad to.” A pause, my mother was clearly thinking of what was to say next. “Do you still insist on bringing her to your place instead of mine or Jessica's mother's?”
“I'm sorry, mother. I want Jihye to grow up in our home. A few more things to be settled at work and I'll be ready to be a full-time father.” I had decided to give my daughter and my wife my full attention. In my head, there was already meticulous plan on how I'd spent the rest of my life taking care of Jihye and Jessica.
Of course both my mother and Jessica's mother were more than willing to take care of Jihye. And my father was all against me quitting work. Friends and family shared their objections too. Taking care of a baby and an unconscious wife wouldn't be easy, I knew. But this was the least I could do, especially for Jihye. With love and all the resources I had, I was sure I could conquer every obstacle ahead.
“Arasseo.” My mother sighed soundly on the phone. “I'll come to your place and prepare anything. Call me once you've got update from the pediatrician, yes?”
“Eat a lot of breakfast, Yuri. Have a happy birthday despite everything.”
“I will mother. See you.”
“See you, son.”
I ended the conversation while sitting on my bed. Before me was the breakfast tray, filled with every delicious meal I liked. My mind went to my wife. The one who used to prepare special breakfast for my birthday.
I missed her so much. I wanted her to be with me so badly.
Her presence lingered in this bedroom, in the house, despite the whole two months she had spent unconscious in the hospital. It was a wound in my heart that kept bleeding no matter how hard I tried to stay strong. It was a painful loneliness that could only be ended the day she went back into my arms.
I sighed, taking a sip of the Miyeok Guk. At least, in a few days, I'd have Jihye around. At least then I wouldn't feel as hollow anymore.
“Here you go.” I gently put Jihye, who was bundled up in a pink blanket, beside her mother on the bed. “I know you've been waiting to meet your mommy.”
My little daughter cooed a little. She had passed all the screenings and tests with flying colors a few hours ago. With the permission her pediatrician, I brought her to Jessica's room. It was their first meeting since Jihye's birth and I couldn't help the mixed feelings in me.
“Mommy is a little unwell, Jihye-yah. She can't hold you at the moment.”I put Jessica's hand so her fingers touched Jihye's fist. “But soon, when she wakes up, she will show you the most wonderful love ever.”
I got teared up at the sight. Jihye's arms moved as she wriggled on the bed. Her tiny fist brushed against Jessica's hand. In my heart, I wished for the interaction to be more lively. Where my wife would hold her daughter close to her chest. Where Jihye could coo to her mother as their eyes met.
“Jess... please wake up.” Nothing could stop me from begging. In a world where the accident hadn't happened. I should have been able to hear Jessica sings a lullaby to Jihye.
“Please, baby... open your eyes.” I held Jessica's other hand and pressed it against my cheek. As if sensing my distress, Jihye started to fuss.
“Please, Jess. We're all waiting for you.”
Jihye was whimpering now. My tears flowed to my cheeks. I had been trying so hard to stay strong and positive for Jihye. But I was about to bring her home without her mother. The possibility that Jihye might grow up without Jessica's love terrified me.
“Our baby is waiting for you.”
Jihye's cry got louder.
“Please, Jess. I love you.” I kissed Jessica's hand one last time before letting it go, ready to pick my crying daughter up.
Then I saw it.
Jihye's wrist was trapped in Jessica's hand. My wife was holding onto her daughter.
I blinked. My eyes hadn't deceive me. Jessica's long fingers clearly wrapped tightly around Jihye's thin wrist.
“Jessica...” I called for her. My heartbeat raced as I saw her eyes flutter.
Prayers and panic surged in me in that splitting second. Jihye screamed her lungs out while tears kept on falling from my eyes.
“Please wake up, baby. I love you.” I pleaded. Other words failed me but that one promise remained. I bent down to scoop our daughter. Jessica's hand was still tightly wrapped around Jihye's. I kissed Jessica's forehead, anxiously waiting for the fluttering eyes to spring open.
“I love you so much.”
--- tbc ---
Author's note : So,what do you think? ^^