Minute By Minute

Flesh N Blood
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  March 2019.

  Donghae held the hospital gown in his hands, looking at Hyukjae expectantly, "The radiologist says the MRI is ready now." 

  My first MRI, Hyukjae let Donghae throw the light fabric around his shoulders, feeling utterly unbefitting. Hyukjae spluttered stiffly, "This is so not me. I miss my-" 

  "White coat?" finished by Donghae, and to Hyukjae's distress, he was half chuckling, "Hyukkie, you rock the hospital gown just as well." Hyukjae scowled defensively.

  Donghae of course knew what was behind Hyukjae's words. Hyukjae had just applied to leave the surgical table for at least half a year.

  Finally, after all, Hyukjae bid goodbye to the scalpels, gauzes, and ECG.



  There was something fascinating about letting Donghae envelop him. For a brief second, it felt like a hug. It distracted Hyukjae from his depressive nostalgia and Donghae had moved in front of him and fixed the clasp, fingers brushing against Hyukjae's throat. 


   "Sorry to disturb your intimate moment, love-birds. If you two don't get out a minute later I can reasonably suspect you are up to fishy things other than changing clothes." Sihyun bemoaned from outside the door irritably, "Dr. Mang is sending me to hurry you off."


  Blushing all the way down to his collarbones, Donghae yelped back, "Coming! Oh, and for your information, are we people who do such things in the hospital?" 


  Sihyun replied nonetheless, "At least I won't sneak a date in the changing rooms?"


  "-Because you prefer the pathology labs after 2 am," snapped back Hyukjae effortlessly, shutting Sihyun up in defeat. 


  Donghae gave Hyukjae a victorious high-five like a kid, "Nice strike, Hyukkie-"






  Loud, thumping, and humming noises made Hyukjae's stomach wiggle in discomfort as he lay in the MRI tunnel. His patients compared having an MRI scan to cremation- you laid peacefully in a tunnel. Hyukjae rejected dramatizing a critically scientific machine, though the newness felt sudden to him.


  "Please hold your breath." asked Dr. Mang the radiologist, her voice distant and rumbling, "Now...breath. Let's do it one more time, shall we?"


  Hyukjae followed. He couldn't recall the last time being this obedient.


  Meanwhile, Donghae scrutinized the MRI scan on the screen. The thought of actually seeing through Hyukjae fascinated Donghae as if the greyish viscera and white spine proved Hyukjae a human after all. 






  Hyukjae kept his mouth compressed into a firm, thin line when he got shown the MRI scan. 


  "All right, Mr. Lee," Even Dr. Mang hesitated to refer Hyukjae as 'Mr. Lee', risking a glance at Hyukjae's face.

    Donghae watched Hyukjae carefully for a moment.  Hyukjae looked cold, his profile set in sharp lines. Something in Donghae wanted to reach out and smooth those lines away. 


  Hyukjae looked up from leafing through the files to give Dr. Mang a sour look. He waited.


  "...We detect a ligament disruption near the zygapophyseal joint and stress posterior vertebral element fracture in the scans.  I looked back at your examinations this month noting a guarded range of motion in your trapezius." 

  During the initial 100 milliseconds after the collision, Hyukjae's cervical spine was compressed from below. Multiple anatomical structures along the cervical spine were therefore injured after the rapid acceleration. 


  "And upper limb radicular symptoms, due to an acute compression in the neural foramina at the time of my collision." Hyukjae corrected bitterly. He could diagnose himself just as well.

  "Indeed," Dr. Mang looked uncomfortable with the line of conversation, very cautious with her words, "...You may be at high stakes of developing chronic WAD (Whiplash-associated disorder)." 


  Hyukjae flinched away as if Dr. Mang had pelted him with stones. He didn't need kind words, "-I already am." 

  Dr. Mang didn't argue. 


  The silence was awkward and the longer it stretched on the more difficult it became to break it.

  Donghae cut in with a comforting smile, "Thank you so much, Dr. Mang. What will be your advice?" Donghae paid his respect to the role of a patient's family.   


  "I will refer your case to the physiotherapy center focusing on pain management and motor control. You may expect a more detailed treatment plan there." Dr. Mang brightened with Donghae's presence. 


  Hyukjae let his gaze sweep over his own MRI scan on the screen again-


  "Patient: LEE, Hyukjae" was spelled in the upper left corner. 

   ... I think I can get used to this.




  Donghae suggested accompanying Hyukjae to his PT sessions but Hyukjae declined the proposition without a second thought.  "I can't have doctors taking sick leaves on will," Hyukjae fought, "You are a role model to our colleagues." 

  Convinced by Hyukjae's considerations, Donghae resumed his normal track of life with regular surgical rotations and night shifts- with a chronic patient at home making no difference. Except Donghae would spend more time on chores that Hyukjae was incapable to fill in. 

  This completely aligned with Hyukjae's expectations- because Donghae, although his other half, shall also have his freedom to pursue his life undisturbed. Marriage was not .


  But never in his heart did Hyukjae expect to accompany was in fact, his old parents. Donghae sent them, apparently. Making him a child all over again.

  Hyukjae gingerly made his way to the registration window, "Room 3, am I?" 

  This time, Hyukjae's retired father, Cheongyin the former Dean of Hospital, forged ahead. Cheongyin, still a handsome man for his age, cleared his throat. “May we follow him inside?” he blurted out. Minyoung, Hyukjae's mother, looped her arm firmly through his son's and nodded in agreement, "In case Hyukjae feels not well."

  Hyukjae's head whipped around to face his always solemn father and made a small choking noise. “What?” 

  Now even the physiotherapist, Dr. Cho, was flabbergasted by their request. He didn't dare to say only parents of five-year-olds would ask for this. 

  Hyukjae felt his face flame slightly as he realized the implications, "Keep sane, the treatments are all non-invasive-" 

  "Of course! Welcome in," Dr. Cho opened the door and sent an abhorrent wink at Hyukjae.




  Hyukjae's face hadn’t cooled even when he was receiving a therapeutic ultrasound. He didn’t dare turn back to face his anxious parents. 

  As Dr. Cho placed an ultrasound head onto Hyukjae's nape of his neck using specialized gel, rubbing to add heat and pressure, Hyukjae could feel the sizzling pain eating away.

  "I shall give kudos for physiotherapy,"  Hyukjae felt muscles throughout his neck and shoulders that he hadn’t realized were clenched tight suddenly loosen and relaxed. He breathed in and out slowly, "It quite...worked." 

  With damaged tissues raised to 45°C, hyperemia (an excess of blood in the vessels supplying the body) resulted. Temperatures in this range were also thought to help in initiating the resolution of chronic inflammatory states like whiplash. 


  Dr. Cho assisted Hyukjae to perform sets of neck-rotation exercises, "PT for whiplash can allow your neck muscles to become stronger and more limber. You can't just rely on Advil or Aleve (painkillers)." 


  Hyukjae shrunk down and took a look around a physiotherapist's clinic. From adjustable height pulleys, recumbent bikes to reflex hammers, Hyukjae was captivated by the arrays of interesting yet unfamiliar therapeutic equipment. Never could Hyukjae conquer the endless knowledge realm of medicine despite his proficiency in surgery.


  "Lucky that you are a knowledgeable surgeon, most patients will have hyperlordosis; they over arch their neck and adopt bad posture to avoid pain," Dr. Cho updated on Hyukjae's electronic records after more massage sessions, "I will arrange spinal decompressions starting next week, lad. Don't be late." he waggled his fingers at Hyukjae.

  "When have I been late," Hyukjae quipped dryly with a pointed glance, "lad."  He was a year older than Dr. Cho. 

   "Alright! Remember to send my greetings to Donghae," Dr. Cho tipped his head back and laughed fully, "My time has finally come to order you around."

  "Don't get used to it," Hyukjae cut him off with a raised hand, "It won't last." 

  Because I can be well again very soon.




  Donghae turned to see Hyukjae walk into the dining room with a teacup and saucer balanced in one hand,  a thin stack of folders, and a book tucked under his other arm. 

  "Your hands look less shaky now," Donghae pointed out happily as he was distracted from his pre-operative files, "Three months of visits to Cho really helped!"

  “Better if Cho can't speak,” Hyukjae replied, sitting down at the opposite side of the dining table. He sounded more cheerful than Donghae thought he would, considering he’d apparently spent a month at rest, "What are you working on?" 

  Donghae sipped at his tea. He placed the cup back onto the saucer with a small clink.

  "Rewatching some surgery recordings,"  Donghae nudging the timeline back when the surgeon trimmed away the inflamed fascia, "Do your hands still remember the scalpel, Hyukkie?"

  Hyukjae leaned back in his chair, his right-hand gesture to hold an incorporeal scalpel- his fingers flexed and extended slowly to make invisible small diameter curved cuts.  His innate easy grace had deserted him.

  Hyukjae paused with a bitter smile, "They still have quite a long go." 


  They began to work in comfortable silence, the splatters of night rain outside s

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