"Sounds a lot worse than a chest infection." Guilt was not an emotion Delia was accustomed to. She kept to herself and limited her interaction with others unless required, which left very little room for opportunity to disappoint. She should not be feeling like this. Certainly not over some obnoxious stranger with what sounded like the lungs of an eighty year old man, whose very existence trampled over her every last nerve. And that was just in the first five minutes. "Oh." Delia mumbled lamely, eyes trailing over to study his small frame, taking in all the little details about him she could process through blurry eyes. She could feel him doing the same, eyes widening ever so slightly as he examined her. Rolling her eyes defiantly as he spoke, Delia found herself sinking further in bed, arms folded as she scowled in his direction. "Yes, I’m aware I look like roadkill. Thank you for confirming what I already know." Her expression softened involuntarily as Lynn apologized for waking her, a soft sigh of defeat escaping from her lips. Do you have to make it so hard to hate you without feeling like Hitler for it? Delia appreciated the softness of his voice, the gentle lull of his words, light amusement coloring his features. This wasn’t good- she was already coming around to him, something she pointedly did not want to happen. Maybe if she ignored him, he’d disappear. Wishful thinking. “Look, I don’t know what you think is going to happen here, but we’re not going to exchange friendship bracelets anytime soon.” Dodging the question, Delia hoped her blatant rudeness would put him off and they could go back to ignoring each other’s presence in silence. Her eyes flickered to the small leather bound journal laying idly on the nightstand beside her hospital bed, filled with lists— things she’d like to do, places she wanted to visit, people to meet.. and death. Lists upon lists of various methods of suicide she continued to ponder over for years. It wasn’t like she could tell him the truth, anyway. Despite the throbbing, headsplitting pain that wracked her body, Delia let out a defeated sigh and ran a hand gently over her bruised face. “It’s okay,” It was torture, having to lay there and watch him suffer, try desperately to hold in coughs and wheezes that left her own throat feeling torn and sore in sympathy. “You can cough. Don’t hold it in.” Sitting up a little straighter, prepared to call for the nurse incase he took a turn for the worse and needed help, Delia let the silence between them build a little before she spoke once more, knowing she’d regret it later but letting guilt overcome her for the moment. “I fell.” She began, avoiding his gaze as she spaced out, remembering how cold the water was, how sharp it felt when it hit her face. She could almost feel the waves again, crashing over her as she sank, blood from her head polluting the previously crystal clear water. “Off the cliffs, I mean.. Almost drowned, but I made it. Lucky me.” The bitter tone of her voice was palpable no matter how hard she tried to hide it. Brushing it all off with a shrug, Delia decided to steer the subject back to him. “Something tells me this isn’t your first time almost coughing up a lung on a dingy hospital floor. Here often?”
Well you’ve got that right. Lynn never really was much of a liar, was he? Even if he was, his lungs ruined that lie for him, they ruined an awful lot. Don’t. Think. Like. That. Nothing is ruined. “Uhh…” He laughed weakly, more of a force of habit than real laughter. Something he had picked up over the years through trying to diffuse the awkwardness that came with the next words he had to say. “I’ve got Cystic Fibrosis— so uh, chest infections are never just chest infections.” Lynn took a deep breath, one that rattled and twisted in his lungs, bracing himself for the awkward stinted sympathy and almost mechanical reaction it would illicit. No one ever really knew what to say, he’d long since stopped begrudging that of them. The steroids and antibiotics the doctors pumped into his system in a steady stream left him floundering with a flimsy grasp on reality. Swimming swimming swimming, swimming in a fishbowl, drowning in a fishbowl. That’s what this place felt like. What this life felt like. Suddenly made conscious of his breathing by the awful analogy, Lynn dredged another laborious breath. Everyone in this place tiptoed around him, gentle, cloying, painfully kind. They spoke in sticky sweet pet names and mercifully detached medical jargon. Doc, it’s my lungs that are fragile, remember? Not my heart. You can tell me, you can be honest. I won’t break. Promise. That’s what he wanted to say. Instead he just listened as best he could, focused as best he could, struggled through his morphine made fishbowl with the too bright hospital lights and voices that reverberated through his skull. Stop thinking about it, Jesus. Something about Delia’s anger and scowl brought a laugh out of him, one he couldn’t withhold in hopes of making a good first impression, it simply bubbled up from his ruined lungs: scratchy, bright, still vibrant. At least she was real. There was something admirable to that. He could appreciate the sentiment behind a gentle hand and gentle approach, but God, it was relieving to hear something not tinged in sadness or saccharine. “Right, like I look any better than you do.” The hospital had a way with people – stripped them of their vanities, their dignity, took took took until there was nothing but tired eyes and tube riddled arms. He didn’t mind, used to, but not anymore. Maybe he had long since accepted the fact that he looked like shit but Delia certainly had not. If only to be polite he sought a distraction to anchor his gaze upon, but there was nothing. Nothing but dingy white walls and Mylanta colored bed curtains. An odd smile flit across his face with realization, a laugh scratchy as fine sandpaper upon his lips. Genuine laughter, not put upon, not punctuation, not softening any sort of blow. “Hey – I just realized, I’m not the one being stared at for once. Besides…” Weird. The smile on Lynn’s face twisted into something rather teasing. “As far as roadkill goes you wear it pretty well.” Before Delia even finished giving him permission the tremor took over. No no no no. Each cough wore him down further and further, slow, steady, painful. A week into this fight with inflammation and infection each wheeze was elevated from uncomfortable to agony. The repetitive motion burned in his lungs and ached in the muscles of his abdomen, they locked his jaw and made his eyes tender, sensitive to any disturbance, any movement. Just barely he managed to hold himself in, like a storm trying to escape its own skin. “Mm’okay…” He mumbled, a breathless force of habit. When his mere existence was one of stress giving Lynn made a habit of lightening the footprint he left on people’s lives, even if it meant downplaying his pain. The room reeled around him, hard to still and even harder to grasp a hold of. In quiet defeat he sunk into himself, knees to chest and hands to head, quiet tiny wheezes from burning muscles that could cough no longer. An ugly, sticky gurgle sounded from the tube lodged in his chest as he coughed. A thick yellow substance funneled into the drainage bag hooked on the side of his hospital bed. Even after catching his breath Lennon let his eyes remain shut, he didn’t want to see the look on her face. Be it disgusted or piteous he didn’t care, he didn’t want it. “I’m fine.” Lynn repeated once more, voice grit and determined despite the way it trembled. “No. Nurses.” Blearily he forced himself to return to the surface, fluorescent lights too bright overhead and the steady puff of his oxygen tank filling his lungs once more. In slow deliberate fashion he willed his muscles to work, wiping the metallic stain of blood from his lips upon the sleeve of his sweatshirt. His thumb hovered over the pain button in hesitation, but as Delia spoke up once more he knew he didn’t want to go back there, he didn’t want to miss this for the thick artificial sleepy sludge painkillers would make of his mind. Reality was nice, was worth the pain. “Fell?” Lynn’s throat felt foreign and raw as he swallowed, it roughed his voice into something dry and brittle. “Holy shit!” He laughed, a quiet shudder escaping on its heels, no doubt a cough he hadn’t the strength left to fight. Slowly the hypoxia eased off his chest and stopped blurring his vision, oxygen ebbing and flowing through his veins once more. “Those are tall. You must be Superman or something.” Lynn broke out in a wry smirk as he shrugged. “Aw well… it wouldn’t be a month without a trip to the ER. So… you’re not wrong.” He shifted in his bed, leaning against his hospital bed table, propped up against one bony elbow. “Something tells me this is your first time falling over the side of a cliff though.” Even though he bit his lip to hold back his laughter there was a clear teasing lilt to his voice and a glint of mischief in his eyes.
Delia hadn’t meant to fall in that night. Well.. maybe at first. Gregor had come home for a visit, one she tried desperately to get out of attending, but failed. Her parents summoned her for a family dinner and when she’d immediately refused, they threatened to withhold her rent and grocery expenses. Her fear of human interaction or being touched made it impossible for her to hold a steady job, and she counted on their weekly checks for survival. Needless to say, Delia had no choice. She put on her best poker face and sat through two hours of Gregor bragging about his promotion at the law firm he’d only been working at for less than a year. His newest girlfriend, beautiful but bland, absolutely no personality, just the way he liked them- sat beside him throughout dinner. That didn’t alleviate his leering gaze from across the table, one that Delia felt down to her very core. Revulsion kept her from finishing her dinner, and the moment she could escape, she took the chance and stalked off to the guest room to take a moment and regroup. Gregor had cornered her in the hall on the way back downstairs, his breath hot on her neck, every word going through one ear and coming out the other as a jumbled mush of syllables and consonants, nothing but static noise- a coping mechanism she’d somehow fallen into as a child during moments like these, where his stare could burn a hole right through her chest, his touch felt like a swarm of angry ants traveling up her body, her hands shaking so much she had to dig her nails into her palms to hide it, leaving behind angry, bleeding crescent moon imprints in their wake. Relief came the moment she’d gotten in her car that night, hurried out with mumbled excuses and rushed goodbyes as she tried to put as much distance between her and the man she’d tried endlessly to escape since childhood. She hadn’t meant to end up at the cliffs. Somewhere a left turn taken instead of a right had brought her to the opposite end of town, a place she knew like the back of her hand, cliffs covered with moss and weeds, just high up enough that a fall into the water at the right temperature, right speed, could kill. Wiping away the remnants of tears she hadn’t realized she’d allowed to escape, Delia sat at the edge, legs dangling over as she rest her head in her hands, stared defiantly down at the rippling waves below. The wind picked up as she stood back up, took one deep breath after another, tried to decide. Come on, Delia. Do it. You’ll never escape him. This is the only way. Just. Fucking. Do. It. Briefly, she wondered if it’d hurt, or if she’d die before she even hit the water. Does it matter? Taking a step toward the edge, she held her breath, shut her eyes. She lifted her foot to take another step but hesitated, shaking her head and moving to stand back. Not yet. Not like this. The decision had been made- she couldn’t do it tonight, not now, not with Gregor’s face still so fresh in her mind. She refused to let that be the last thing she saw. Just when she was ready to turn back to her car, Delia’s foot caught on a rock she hadn’t previously noticed. She reached out to brace herself but slipped further, fell headfirst off the edge of the cliff, her scream tapering off into silence as she heard her skull crack against the rocky surface. The last thing she remembered was how the freezing water bit through her clothes as she plunged into the ocean, hands reaching up toward the surface with desperation.
They told her she’d had an accident when she finally woke, head throbbing as she tried to shield her eyes from the blinding light that filled the room. She was lucky to be alive, they said. She couldn’t stifle her laughter. Lucky. Sure. Delia searched the room for her parents, any sign of her family the moment her eyes adjusted, but was met with only a nurse, her tone soft and light and perfectly condescending. Delia hated her already. Her room was bare, no get well cards, no flowers, balloons.. Ah, well, she was better off without all the bullshit. She just wanted to get out and go home. They’d only come to change her bandages once since she’d woken, although she’d preferred they never did it at all. The pain was excruciating at times, but they never exceeded the minimum amount of medicine in the IV, despite her incessant begging. They let her use the bathroom on her own after awhile and she caught sight of her face in the mirror, cut up and bruised, enough that she could barely stand to look at herself. She’d heard them moving someone new into the room after she’d already been there half a week, but she’d fallen asleep before she could investigate. Now, as she slept soundly for the first time in days, Delia could feel the familiar ache in her skull as her eyes flickered open, the most wretched sound she’d ever heard echoing throughout the small room. A loud groan escaped from her chapped lips as she tried to turn over, every bone in her body still in agony from the fall. The noise got louder as she became more alert, dragged unwillingly out of her deep sleep. “Is this Hell?” Delia mumbled, voice hoarse from not being used. As she finally turned over to investigate the sound, her eyes landed on a thin boy sitting in the cot parrallel to hers, hand over his mouth as he coughed violently. With each cough his body looked as if it would effortlessly break in half. Delia wondered if it was as painful as it looked. Speaking of pain— her head throbbed more and more the louder he coughed, a soft whimper emitting from the back of her throat as she shut her eyes and brought her hand up to the bandages around her head. Great. They’d stuck her with Grandpa Wheezy. “Yup,” She muttered, tense with pain. “Definitely Hell.” Finally the coughing stopped and an unfamiliar voice cut through the ringing in her ears, the static in her head. Lynn. His name was Lynn. “Congratu-fucking-lations. Are you done coughing up a lung or should I invest in some earplugs?” She caught sight of the blood spattered napkin in his hand, the one he’d just been holding up to his mouth as he coughed, and Delia felt her stomach lurch. Oh, fuck off. Don’t you dare feel sorry for him. “I—” Delia let out a frustrated sigh, ran a hand over her face as she tried to lean back without inciting another stab of pain. “Delia. I’m Delia.”
His carefully crafted smile, bright despite the burning sensation in his chest, faltered in surprise as she snapped her reply. “Oh uh.” Painfully Lynn choked back another cough, trying not to be obvious about it, instead attempting to hide it in a soft laugh. “Definitely not done.” He piped up, mouth twisting. “I’ve got a—“ Again, he tried to stifle a cough by clearing his throat. “—chest infection so.” Humiliation burned on his cheeks, but even worse, the incessant need to cough still clawed up the back of his throat. The inside of his chest felt as angry as the red that stained his fingers looked. Only once the black static and stars cleared from his eyes did Lynn realize just what a state his new roommate was in. The mere sight of her injuries was painful. In bewilderment he studied her, eyes slipping over the bandages and over the cuts. “Whoa…” He murmured without thought or realization he had spoken at all. A pang of guilt settled heavily in his chest when he realized just what a mess she truly was, what he had woken her up to. A shitload of pain. Sleep was the best reprieve the hospital held, unreliable as it was. Drugs could numb your mind and make it easier to handle for a precious few hours if you were lucky, but sleep could knock it out completely. “Sorry for waking you.” Sheepishly he bit his lower lip, offering her an apologetic look. Not that it would count for much, he didn’t know a thing about her, but it was clear she was a tough cookie. “So… I told you mine, you’ve gotta tell me yours. Hospital rules, not mine.” Lynn teased, his smile playful but his voice soft, accommodating her probable headache. Even if his tone was friendly, he was dying to know why she was in there. Sort of the same way people slowed down driving past a car crash, they just couldn’t look away. Trying his damnedest to hold in the urge to cough, Lynn remained tense, his face and his body both telling conflicting stories. He tried to smile but his shoulders were taught, pulled in close as if he could smother the sensation building up inside. His lungs felt like a pressure cooker. Finally he could hold it in no longer, shoulders shuddering as a ragged cough ripped through him and resounded throughout the room. Reflexively Lynn’s hand snapped to cover his mouth, deafen the sound, weaken the blow. This wasn’t how he was supposed to clear his lungs, this was just damaging them. The worst was this, there was nothing he could do to stop it. In the fragile silence that followed Lynn’s gasps for air came in uncomfortable wheezes, rattly sounds akin to nails on a chalkboard. Then, finally, he could breathe, slow and steady and deep. Closing his eyes, Lynn took a greedy breath. And then another. When the spots of light and static from his dizziness dissipated he finally opened his eyes. His hair was too long, getting in the way and falling in his face, it was annoying. His mom kept scheduling appointments for him to get a trim, but every time the day swung around he felt too sick to bother. Brows furrowing, Lynn paused, going silent as he stole a look up at his forehead despite not being able to see it. After a moment he blew a wispy curl out of his eyes and looked back to her with a meager smile. “Delia?” Delia. It was a nice name, he liked the way it sounded. Lynn wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his sweatshirt, his throat tightening anxiously when he caught sight of the stain his lips had left. This infection was bad, really bad. Sometimes he felt like a cat with nine lives, eking out as much time as he could have, but this could do him in. Not immediately, but eventually. Batter him up too much to ever get that lung transplant he needed, truncate months off his life. And when all he had to begin with were a handful of months, he couldn’t bear the loss. His lungs were already a mess of mucus and scar tissue, cells that never knew how to work right. They didn’t need any more. “Hm?” Lynn flicked his gaze up from the hem of his sleeve, trying to focus on her instead of the anxiety pressing against the walls of his chest. There would be scans and x-rays and tests, if something was horribly wrong the doctors would know, don’t think about it, just stop thinking.
Everything was sunnier outside of the ICU, anything would be in comparison to staring at the same dingy ceiling tile for six days straight. At least, when he had the strength to stare that was. The baby barf pink tiling and almost unsettlingly cloying baby bear decorations in the pediatric ward had never looked quite so inviting as they rolled by that morning. It was almost a little disappointing when Lynn realized that wasn’t where he would be staying anymore. At least those rooms had decorations. He even kinda missed the twee inspirational posters the nurses hung on the walls, the kind with kittens reaching for butterflies and golden retriever puppies running around in the grass with little sayings like “You can do it!” emblazoned overhead.
But really, Lynn had more important things to be excited about today than getting let loose from the ICU. The fact that he’d finally escaped was nice enough on it’s own, but coupled with his victory, he was practically euphoric. In the emergency room he and his mother made a bet, well, he made a bet at least. She just cried. Seeing her in pain was… it was uncomfortable. He always wanted to fix it, make it go away, but God in the end he wouldn’t be able to. That made him uncomfortable too. He had to make her happy while he was still around. That was the hard part though, jokes didn’t mean much when your child might be dying.
That night each of his attempts to cheer her up had been met with nothing more than a sniffle or weepy observation of how strong he was. No mom, I’m trying to be funny right now, not strong. Please smile. Please. Hopped up on pain narcotics and delirious due to lack of sleep, giddy to be pain free for once despite slipping in and out of consciousness amid a tangle of tubes and hurried orders for chest x-rays, Lynn managed to flash her his best grin. Mom, he declared, voice almost airy, I’ll bet you a whole candy bar I’m gonna be outta the ICU in… a week. At that, she finally laughed. Maybe at his audacity, they had both lived through months long hospitalizations, but it was a laugh nonetheless and he could breathe a sigh of relief. That night he could just feel it. It was gonna be a week. Just a week. This could be bronchitis, pneumonia, edema, he could be here for months. But he wouldn’t be.
And he wasn’t. His lung had collapsed. That was the thing though. It was a collapsed lung, but it wasn’t that kind of collapsed lung. It was a burst-blisters-from-an-infection-let-air-leak-into-his-chest-cavity kind of collapsed lung, not a bipap machine + too much air & not enough lung = complete-collapse-and-trash-compactor-amount-of-pressure-on-his-heart kind of collapsed lung. It was the kind people lived through, the kind doctors didn’t need to cut open his old surgical scars for. They put a tube in his chest to drain the air and he cried, his mom called him strong again, but that time he didn’t feel like it. But that didn’t matter anymore, Lynn felt like a person again. He was awake. The blisters stopped and the air got drained, his body even started fighting back.
And even better, he was one day shy of his self imposed deadline.
After getting poked and prodded that morning, checked over thoroughly, he finally got the okay to leave. The nurses fussed over him on the new floor, but he didn’t mind, he liked the company. Once they finally had him all hooked up with all his machines in order and left him to rest, Lynn shot his mother a text.
"Guess who’s getting moved? YEAH. THIS GUY!
Better have that candy bar you promised me when you visit. (I wouldn’t mind if it was one of those one pound Hershey’s bars, if you were wondering).”
Really, it was fool proof. How do you tell your almost died a week ago child that you wouldn’t buy them their promised candy bar? After a moment the guilt for sending her such a snarky message after the week he put her through was overwhelming.
“PS: I love you, I hope work isn’t too hard today.”
Just to top it off he threw on some emojis, a bunch of hearts and some of the cat ones she liked so much. It was only after he waited eagerly for a response from her for five minutes did it dawn on him just how desperately he needed a social life. Biting his lower lip he cast a shy glance around the room, it was nice, but lonely. One of the other beds had the curtains pulled all the way around while the other patient, a girl, was asleep. Even with the air pressure gone his lungs still felt heavy, like each breath was too shallow and no breath could get past his throat. In a desperate attempt to not make the sensation more than it was in panic, he closed his eyes and tried to work through it rationally. Just gotta cough, that’s all. With the chest catheter he couldn’t wear his oscillation vest to clear his airways, he was just starting to feel the effects, that was all. Nothing that bad. He just had to cough.
Setting his phone aside with a shaky hand, Lynn lay the other over his chest as he took a deep breath. He dared a nervous glance around, hesitant to make noise while the others. The first cough was gentle, more of a huff than anything. With each cough he could feel the tube in his chest, bizarre to say the least. Tender, but not exactly painful, a strange pressure where pressure wasn’t meant to be. Somewhere along the line his coughs stopped being voluntary and controlled, practically compulsory instead, his huffing turned to wheezing as his chest rattled. Doubled over in pain, Lynn squeezed his eyes shut, beginning to feel lightheaded. All the wheezing was making it hard to breathe. Feeling like he was about to choke, he made a desperate grab for the kleenex on his table. He covered his mouth with it, hacking up a sticky sickening mixture of blood and mucus. “S-sorry…” Lynn mumbled breathlessly, someone was awake but he was distracted, brows furrowed at the sight of all the red in his hand. Shit. Pushing his free hand over his face and through his hair, Lynn took a deep breath before glancing to his new roommate. He managed the best smile he could, still dazed from trying to clear out his lungs. “I’m–” His voice was weak, he took another deep breath, making a stronger start this time. “I’m Lynn.”